Prompt: Minato chose to give Naruto a few minutes with his mother rather than a lifetime with his father. Right or wrong, it happened, but how would the world have looked if the other choice had been made…?

Five Years Old

"Mi—Minato, you're the first person who's ever believed in me. I—I—I've never been very good at school, or even at eating, and my parents love me but… but I know that they think I won't amount to anything either. It's because of you Minato, that I've learned that I too, can help out. Thank you." ~Akimichi Nobu, Team Jiraiya

Cleaning for Dummies

and four months (Seventh District Konoha)

Sunshine spilled through the tall, wide sheets of glass, bathing the room in glorious light. Dark curtains fluttered at each side of the ornate windows, ready to be pulled closed and plunge the room into darkness. The furniture—though not expensive—looked comfortable enough, and littered the room in a pleasant and airy manner. Off to the sides were multiple doors connecting to other places of the floor, and from the arrangement of the whole building, and one could guess that they had about four rooms available to them.

Normally such an area would have looked gorgeous, but in light of the grey clothing which should have been white hanging from the edges of the furnishings and the upturned ramen cups littered just about everywhere, the sunlight only served to accentuate how sloppy the place looked.

Minato couldn't help but wince as Naruto stepped past the doorway to the living room and yelled a brilliant, "Tadaima!"

The words echoed in the empty apartment, but Naruto didn't seem to care as he took off his shoes, humming a tune he'd heard on the streets. Naruto, Minato supposed, had his own way of dealing with their new living arrangements.

A month ago they'd been contacted by the Hokage, and had been offered a private place to live.

Naruto wasn't kicked out of the orphanage per say, but the bias had gotten so bad that even his little angel couldn't handle it anymore. Or rather, it wasn't that the prejudice got any worse; it was just that Naruto was getting better and better at detecting it.

That, combined with the Head of the Orphanage's complaints, and Naruto's age, allowed for the five year old to move into his own space.

The door swung shut behind them, enclosing the two in a place that was now solely their own. The ANBU guard was situated outside, ready in case something drastic happened, but otherwise not privy to any of their privacy.

To be honest Minato had mixed feelings about this place. On one hand it was a much more spacious room for Naruto to play around in, but on the other hand, he wasn't too fond of the reasons why Naruto got an apartment all to himself.

It was just awfully lonely, especially for one little boy.

"What else are we doing today?" Naruto chirped as he trailed to one of the small couches. They'd just spent the past three hours in the marketplace playing a new game Minato had invented three weeks ago.

Minato's lips quirked, although not all of his humor was good, "You know what Naruto? What do you think about doing some cleaning?"

It'd been only a month since they'd moved in, and the immaculate space that the Sandaime had initially left for them had turned into a completely whirlwind jutsu.

Minato barely held back a sigh. The Hokage had done his best in getting Naruto a good place to live, but the fact of the matter was that Naruto was only a five year old. Even with Minato here to tell Naruto what to do, it'd be hard for a mere child to cook, clean, and eat every day. Heck! Even Minato had hardly been able to manage it.

Minato hadn't really taken note of the increasing mess, because Naruto didn't spend a lot of time in the apartment anyway, but when he tripped over a pile of dirty clothing that went up to his knees, Minato decided that enough was enough.

Unfortunately, Naruto didn't see it that way.

"No!" The young blond huffed, crossing his arms. After all, nobody liked cleaning.

Minato sighed, and resigned himself to thinking about a way to make the idea of cleaning into something positive. It was almost funny in its way. The Yellow Flash of Konoha, hailed as a genius in his generation… had to use the same vein of thinking that had created the Hirashin to get a five year old to do chores.

"How about this?" Minato asked after mulling it over for a while, "I'll teach you something neat to get the job done."

Naruto brightened immediately, and Minato knew he had him.

With a laugh, Minato sent an image of the tree walking exercise to Naruto's mind.

Naruto gasped, a hand jumping to his mouth in awe. He squeezed his eyes shut, and then leapt into the air and clicked his heels together as he pumped his fists into the air. Minato laughed. He had no idea where Naruto had gotten the idea that the posture was cool, but it was certainly adorable.

"You're the bestest daddy!" Naruto gushed when he settled down a bit. "I'll clean! I'll clean!"

"First things first," Minato said lightly, "do you know what it would be used for?"

Naruto's face scrunched up in thought, and after a moment, he nodded. "Uh-huh. Fire Country has tons of trees, so if shinobi could walk on trees, it'd help them with mobility. I'd also wager that part of tree walking allows them to learn how to be silent amongst leaves, and that'd give them a huuuge advantage in hiding."

"Very good Naruto," Minato said proudly. He was always impressed by how much his son managed to pull from one hint. "But this isn't limited only to trees, here…"

He explained to Naruto the intricacies of tree walking, and how it could be applied to other surfaces too, like their wall. He also gave a detailed lesson of how one went about mastering the technique, and Naruto listened very intently.

"So, what we're going to do," Minato finished, "is learn to tree walk and clean your room at the same time. Every time you fail and fall back down, you're required to pick up one piece of trash or clothing. Fair?"

Naruto nodded, "Fair."

"Alright. You may use the feather duster to mark your progress."

"OK!" Plodding along, Naruto found the aforementioned tool and took a breath, and then he ran towards the wall. He actually got up five steps from sheer velocity alone before gravity had its way.

With a yelp Naruto fell back towards the ground, but not before he had forced a patch wall to crumple slightly with the chakra he had exerted through his soles. He twisted himself in the air to land on his palms and with a simple bend of the elbows, flipped himself over to a standing position again.

Minato winced. Although he was only five, Naruto had inherited the Uzumaki reserves and added to that, he was the slowly but surely absorbing the Kyuubi's chakra. Although Naruto wouldn't be doing any higher ranked jutsus any time soon, he did have considerably more chakra than any other child his age.

Naruto stared sadly at the little patch that signified how high he'd been able to climb before spinning on his heel and plucking the nearest piece of trash, just like he promised. "Oh muck it."

"If you break the walls," Minato joked, "you'll have to fix that up too."

Naruto just stuck out his tongue at the nearest reflection, and Minato laughed.

The small blond however, took his father's words to heart. He was more careful with how much chakra he used, and Minato was proud to say that the wall didn't get dented again.

As Naruto worked, putting away a piece of garbage with every failure, Minato allowed his mind to wander.

He honestly wasn't a big proponent for a small child living by himself, but he supposed that if they were at the orphanage, they wouldn't be able to do something like this.

Perhaps if there were one or two matrons who cared for his child at the orphanage Minato would have convinced Naruto to stay, but it seemed that ever since the death of the little lady named Chosi Kimiko, the nurses had become ever increasingly paranoid around the blond child.

It wasn't quite that they believed that being in close proximity to the Jinchuuriki had done Kimiko in, but it seemed that they decided to stay far away just in case.

Of course, Minato would never trade Kimiko's attention to his baby for the world, not even the fondness of the few of the other nurses back at the orphanage. Despite her frail body she had cared for him, and there wasn't a day back then that Minato didn't wish that he could somehow repay her for what she'd done.

Everyone was redeemable, but from the start Kimiko had not judged Naruto based on his burden, and that to Minato was hundreds times better than the care that the nurses might have provided in the future if that did not happen.

It was all has-beens anyhow. It was unlikely that Kimiko's death actually had much to do with how the nurses viewed Naruto. Like everything else, it was likely only another excuse to stay away from the Jinchuuriki.

When he'd found that Kimiko had passed quietly in his sleep, Minato had been sad for her. But she'd lived a full life and was more than ready to meet the shinigami.

Naruto had been far too young to remember her, and Minato didn't know if he should tell the tale of the kindly old woman to his son or not. On one hand it'd show Naruto that not everyone cared about whatever it was that set Naruto apart. On the other hand, it seemed asinine to bring up the forgotten character of someone who'd been dead for over three years.

That thought brought a stirring of discomfort, and Minato hurriedly pushed it away in favor of bringing his attention back to his son. The progress he saw shocked him.

"Alright, that's enough."

There was a momentary pause before Minato's request got through to Naruto. Naruto fell off his place on the wall again, his concentration ruined. Like always, he landed no worse for wear, although his expression was far from happy.

"But I want to get this!" Naruto cried.

"You've already done more than enough for today Naruto, I'm very impressed. Good job. But, we don't want you to get chakra exhaustion, do we?"

"But um," the five year old's face scrunched up in an expression of hard thought before he suddenly jumped up with a crow of triumph. "Ah-ha! But what about my room?"

Minato only laughed in reply. "Look around you Naru-chan. The room is spotless."

First Day

and seven months (Academy Entrance Gates)

Naruto shifted from foot to foot, twisting the edge of his shirt nervously as he took a few deep breaths in an attempt to calm himself. Today was his first day at the Academy, and he didn't want to mess this up!

Children of various ages streamed past the gates, either chattering with their friends or hiding back a yawn from waking up too early. A few of them shot Naruto a curious glance as they passed, obviously wondering about the small child stood frozen in front of their school's gates with nothing but a backpack in his shaking grasp, but Naruto was too nervous to really take note.

He was standing at the threshold between the civilian identity and the ninja one, but he couldn't bring himself to take the final step and enter into the place where he would finally be learning to become a true shinobi.

"Really big breakfast, check. Notebooks and writing utensils, check. Packed lunch, check," Naruto muttered to himself, once again mentally going through his list to make sure he'd forgotten nothing before taking a deep breath. It was now or never.

Nodding to himself, Naruto took a step forward. And then another. And then another.

"See Naru-chan?" Daddy said encouragingly, "It's not so bad, is it?"

Naruto breathed out, his whole body sagging with the released tension. He smiled, "No, it isn't!"

Feeling much brighter now, Naruto shifted his pack from his back and fumbled around for the standardized yellow paper he'd been issued. Finally, he found it.

Blue eyes scanned the pages, and Naruto let out a sigh of relief when he saw that the number on the sheet matched the one that he remembered. It was a notice telling him what his classes would be, and where they would take place. It'd always been on Naruto's mind, but he had to admit he was afraid he'd gotten it wrong somehow and would end up making a complete fool of himself.

"Room 102," he confirmed, and then put the paper away as he walked confidently towards his new classroom.

It was, thankfully, easy to find. The rooms at the Academy were numbered in a really orderly fashion. Naruto even ended up being stopped a few times by other new students who thought he was a senior and questioned on which way to go for their classroom.

He happily pointed out the directions to them.

Finally he arrived at Room 102. The door was propped open, no doubt in anticipation of all the new students to come, and the laughter behind those doors spilled out into the hallway.

A quick glance told Naruto that there were seventeen in the room, and if he went by the empty chairs, twelve had still yet to arrive. The children were scattered everywhere about the room, sitting already either in clusters of two or three or in a little space to themselves.

A quick glance also informed him of a prescience he hadn't expected at all, although really, he should have.

Naruto froze.

"What's the matter, Naru-chan?" Daddy inquired, obviously having noticed Naruto's discomfort if not the source.

"It—it's Sakura-chan…" Naruto said hesitantly, looking at a very familiar head of pink hair standing easily in the third row. They'd only played together that one day, but it had been one of the best days of his life! And she was one of the only people who had ended up playing with him at that park after all.

She was talking to another girl, a blond one. There was a strong air about her, but she didn't look mean like those other girls at the park. The happy expression on their faces told Naruto that they were at talking about something probably really fun.

He shifted from foot to foot, suddenly unsure of what to do. He really did want to go up and ask what they were talking about, but it was Sakura who hadn't come back last time and he still didn't know the reason.

Daddy's warm chuckle brought Naruto out of his whirling thoughts.

"Naru-chan," Daddy said gently, "If you want to do something, you should go it. Go on."

Naruto briefly closed his eyes, and gave a determined nod to show that he understood. Taking a deep breath, Naruto bounced over to the two, a bright smile on his face.

"Hi!" He chirped in greeting, causing the blond one to stop her chatter mid-sentence and instead turn to look at him. "I'm Naruto."

The blond one smiled. It was a slow smile that spread all the way to her eyes, "I'm Ino."

Sakura, who'd looked taken aback by Naruto's introduction, was quick to revert back to her shy self at Ino's easy acceptance of the other blond. "I'm uh… Sakura. Pleased to meet you."

Pleased to… meet you?

There was only one way to interpret that sentence, really, unless they were super secret spies who had codes which he knew they didn't. He'd become an expert in reading body language, and she had no spark of recognition in her eyes.

She didn't remember him!

He quickly exchanged some pleasantries and excused himself, mind whirling with shock and disappointment. The only reason he hadn't isolated himself immediately to think was because the manners Daddy taught him didn't allow it.

Naruto spent the next hours of class in gloom. The teacher came in and he followed the instructions to his seat, but he did so like a zombie with an overlord and showed no enthusiasm at all. Even his introduction was lackluster. He couldn't get over the fact that Sakura-chan had completely forgotten him!

"Naru-chan," Daddy tried to soothe, "it was a long time ago. I didn't even remember about Sakura-kun until today, and she was really young and it was only one day. Normally people would have forgotten by now."

He knew Daddy was trying to make him feel better, he did, but there was the fact that he hadn't forgotten. He could see how the meeting might mean nothing to Daddy, but Sakura-chan had played with him! If she forgot, then it had to mean that it wasn't an important memory to her.

He was depressed all the way until the lunch bell rang and they were let out for their daily meal.

"This sucks," Naruto mumbled to himself as he unpacked the bento box he'd bought from a en route convenience store on the way to school.

"What sucks?" asked a boy with triangular tattoos on his cheeks as he popped over Naruto's shoulder, "Your lunch?"

Naruto nearly jumped out of his skin. While he was usually good at picking out when people were coming up to him because of the sounds that they made, it was a very rowdy classroom and he kinda started not paying attention to his surroundings.

"Oh hey! Your lunch isn' bad at all!" The tattooed boy exclaimed. He sounded excited, "You have a spwring roll. What do you dink of twrade? Come eat wid us!"

Naruto perked up, wondering if he'd just been invited to lunch. Blue eyes grew wide with delight, "Okay!"

The brown haired tattooed boy, who'd introduced himself as Kiba, led Naruto to his group of friends. They all had really awesome meals, and there was a lot of exchanging of goods going around before they were all happy with their lunches and just set down to eat.

"Wanna play a game?" One of the other boys asked through his sandwich. Some small pieces were spewed out onto his desk. "Sitting 'round 's bowring."

Though Daddy had taught Naruto to never eat and talk at the same time, he didn't really care when other people did it. The blond was immediately taken by the suggestion, "Hey hey I know! Let's play 'I Spy!'"

Kiba snorted, "Dat's a game for babies."

Naruto shook his head, "Na-uh! It's a super special version! Alright, here's how you play—you see that teacher over there?"

He proceeded to detail everything that he saw and what he thought that they meant.

Everyone's eyes were wide with wonder.

"Dude!" Another boy, a red haired one this time, exclaimed, "Dat's awesome!"

Naruto couldn't help but puff out his chest in reply.

"Alright," Naruto beamed, "Your turn!"

"OK!" The redhead point at a random girl, "Dat girl has black haiwr and… blue eyes!"

Naruto frowned. He squinted at the girl the other was pointing at. Sure enough, she didn't have blue eyes.

"Oooh! My turn, my turn!" One of the other boys exclaimed, and the challenge was on.

At first it was kinda awesome because all the boys thought he was super awesome for being able to pick out all the intricacies of the teachers who'd passed them, but the novelty of being praised quickly tempered off. Somehow it didn't feel the same as it did when Daddy praised him. Not as good, somehow.

And when his sense of pride fell, so did his sense of fun. Playing 'I Spy' with Daddy or Kabuto was always really challenging, because they'd always be able to pick out things that he'd missed, so he'd be forced to be super careful. That wasn't the case with Kiba and the others.

They never got any observations right, and when they did, it was so obvious it could hardly be called an observation at all. When it was Naruto's turn, they never pointed how what he had missed, but Naruto knew for sure that he was missing lots of stuff!

And they weren't even getting better as each game passed! It was really frustrating.

So it was a relief when Kiba yawned and suggested that they play something else.

"'s bowring," he said, "let's play Ninja!"

And nobody turned down Ninja. Never.

"Okay, so the setting's like dis," one of the boys, Hibiki, said with a gleam in his eyes as he leaned forward. Everyone leaned forward with him to hear better. "It's ten yeawrs in the futuwre and we're all shinobi. The Sandaime still hasn't eliminated all the Iwa ninja, so now it our job. We habe to compete wid each othewr to see who can kill the mostest Iwa nin!"

Everybody cheered.

"I'll get the mostest," Kiba boasted, "I'll win!"

"We'll see!" Another shouted back.

"No, I'll win."

Naruto, who had been waiting for a continuation of the story, realized that it was it.

"But the Iwa nin didn't even do anything wrong in that story," Naruto protested, confused about why they needed to be hunted down.

Hibiki, who had been joining in the puffing of pride and making of bets with the others, turned back to Naruto in bewilderment, "So? Iwa nin are evil, everyone knows dat."

"No they're not. They're people, just like you and me."

"But dey killed a ton of Konoha citizens in the Third Gwreat War!"

"And we killed a lot of their people, too," Naruto retorted back stubbornly. This was a lesson that Daddy had stressed a lot, and after Naruto had thought about it, he got why. It was dangerous to go around thinking that some people didn't deserve to live, because that wasn't true at all! They all had sons and daddies too!

"Yeah but, dey're from Iwa." Hibiki stressed, as if somehow that explained everything.

Naruto ran a hand through his hair, for a moment unsure of what to do. And then he brightened and decided to just used Daddy's method on him on Hibiki. It had to work! "Just think about it. Real hard."

Hibiki's face scrunched up in thought, and for one delightful moment Naruto thought that might have actually gotten through to him, but then the dark haired boy sighed in frustration and shook his head.

"No way! My bwrain hurts. Your game sucks Nawruto."

"But—" Naruto protested, because this wasn't a game. If they were going to become ninja, it was vitally important that they understood that they couldn't just go around killing people.

"If you're going to be bowring," Hibiki interrupted tiredly, "go be bowring somewhewre else."

Naruto's jaw snapped closed.

He glumly decided that it might be better keeping his opinions to himself because he really did want to play Ninja. He'd never had the opportunity before; he'd always looked on with envy as the other children did it, and he didn't want to ruin this chance.

The thing was, the game wasn't nearly as fun as he had envisioned. They played out in the park area of the Academy where there was lots of hiding spots and places to run, but his newest friends only chose the most obvious ones. And nobody could catch him.

When the bell for recess finally rang and they were all ushered back into the classroom again, Naruto was congratulated for winning the game, but Naruto for some reason didn't feel as if he'd won.

Daddy as always, caught on. As soon as they'd been left relatively alone because the lesson was starting, Daddy spoke, "Why do you look so down, Naru-chan?"

Naruto hesitated. For the first time, he had found people who were willing to play with him and didn't judge, which was what he had wanted for his whole life. He didn't want to sound ungrateful, but—

"Being liked is lots of fun," Naruto said forlornly, "but that's it. But they're so…"

He struggled for the word. He didn't want to say stupid, because stupid was bad and he didn't want to call people bad things, but that was the first expression that had come to mind. They couldn't pay attention to details, couldn't think outside of the box for hiding spots, couldn't tell a good story, and couldn't seem to understand any of the important stuff! It really felt like his new 'friends' couldn't do anything.

There was a moment of silence, and Naruto somehow got the impression that Daddy was closing his eyes in pain.

"I'm sorry," Daddy finally said, his voice sad, "this is all my fault. I've put you through too many drills too quickly, and now you can't even connect with your peers. I—I wanted you to be the best, but I guess somewhere along that road, I've forgotten about making you happy. Do you accept my apology? It's alright if you don't."

Whatever Naruto had been expecting, it hadn't been that.

"What?" He exclaimed, shocked, though it still came out of him in a whisper. It was virtually engrained in him now to not talk too loudly to his Daddy. He shook his head venomously, hoping that his daddy would understand, "That's ridiculous Daddy. I'm the happiest when I'm talking to you. Besides, I like the way that I think. I wouldn't want to change that for the world. I was just surprised that everybody at the Academy doesn't think like me, I guess."

"That's not—" Daddy began, only to stop mid-sentence. When he spoke again, Naruto could practically hear the smile in his voice, "Thank you, Naru-chan."

Naruto beamed in reply.

But the issue wasn't quite resolved because it reared its head again when the teacher began speaking.

The second half of class, Naruto did pay attention. What he found however, was that it might have been better if he'd continued not paying attention.

"Is it really boring for you Naru-chan?" Daddy asked when Naruto had to stop his head from falling to his desk for the fifth time out of sleepiness.

"Well the Academy is stupid for teaching such basic stuff," Naruto mumbled, because seriously, who didn't already know the twenty seven nations which comprised their land? The three areas which were in constant civil war and may or may not be nations didn't count. That really depended on what year you were looking at.

"I—wow, again, I'm sorry. I guess I got really bored and taught you a bunch of stuff I should have left to the Academy," Daddy apologized again, sounding guilty which was wrong because he'd done nothing to be ashamed of and Naruto didn't want his daddy to be guilty, "Should I finish up our lesson on the skirmishes in the grasslands previous to the Second Great Shinobi War?"

Naruto perked up immediately. "Yes."

And Daddy began talking. He explained the underlying reason for why the skirmishes of the grasslands started and the repercussions of the outcome which eventually lead to the Second Great Shinobi War

"Uzumaki-san!" The teacher suddenly barked, breaking Naruto's intense concentration on his father's lecture and bringing it back into the physical realm.

Naruto gave no outward appearance that something had changed. It was something he'd mastered since… well, forever, really. Daddy had always been a sticker for not letting others know that Naruto was conversing with him, and it was second nature not to react to changing between talking to Daddy and talking with others. "Yes?"

Their teacher crossed his arms, an impatient expression on his face, "Well?"

"I think he might have asked a question," Daddy said gently.

Naruto's mouth made an 'o' of understanding and he nodded.

"Could you please repeat that?" Naruto asked the teacher politely.

The teacher's eyes only narrowed.

"Since you are obviously not paying attention," the man at the front said derisively, "why don't you go and burn off some excess energy outside? Reflect on what you did wrong."

"Ha?" Naruto was confused. It sounded like the teacher was giving him an extra recess, but that didn't match with his angry face.

"It means go stand in the hallway!"

Oooh! That made more sense.

And when Naruto made that realization, his face fell. He didn't want to get in trouble the first day of school!

"But," Naruto protested, "I didn't do anything wrong! The only reason I wasn't paying attention was because what you were teaching was really really boring—" here he got a lot of snickers from around the classroom, and Naruto couldn't help but reply to them with a grin "—but I think I can answer your question."

But that comment only made the teacher angrier, "Get out. Get out!"

Naruto hurried out.

"I don't get it," Naruto said sadly once he was outside and the door had long closed behind him. He gazed into the window pane, seeing the teacher lecture the rows upon rows of children. Despite not having found the lessons very interesting, it had been nice to be in there. He'd felt included. "I didn't do anything bad, did I?"

"Not paying attention is usually considered bad," Daddy said with a sigh. "It's because Naru-chan, with most children, it means that you don't respect the teacher's opinions, and that's enough to make anyone mad."

"That's not true! It was just really boring!"

"I know that, and you know that, but he doesn't know that."

"I tried to tell him," Naruto mumbled, refusing to be consoled.

"Yes and, unfortunately, adults don't like to listen to children. Hmm… think about it this way—if a three year old were to come up to you right now and tell you his opinions on the Second Great Shinobi War, and demand that they were the right ones, would you be pleased?"

Naruto wrinkled his nose. He'd bumped into three year olds before in the orphanage, and all they knew how to do was to fall down. "No way! They'd probably think that a magical rabbit started it or something."

Silently he apologized to Usa-chan. He loved the rabbits, but the fact of the matter was, they weren't a factor when it came to war.

"Exactly. See Naruto? You think that people younger than you are pretty silly, and Akemi-sensei thinks the same. Except of course, in this instance, you are the one younger than him."

"But I'm not silly!" Naruto protested, only to hesitate at the end, "…am I?"

"No Naru-chan, you are not," Daddy replied gently. "You are pretty special. But do you understand where Akemi-sensei is coming from?"

Naruto let out a sigh. Sometimes he hated it when Daddy did that. If Naruto ever got angry at somebody, like a villager who'd 'accidently' trip him or someone who said some especially mean words to him, Daddy would always tell Naruto a piece of a story about their lives. It was always very understandable, and always showed that nobody really meant to be mean. How could Naruto stay mad after that?

"I get it, I get it," Naruto mumbled, and then paused in thought for a moment, "but do you think I could show him that I understand everything?"

"Yes, definitely." There was a hint of laughter in Daddy's voice, but there wasn't a single moment where Naruto thought it might have been at his expense. Daddy was always considerate of Naruto. "But you'll probably have to wait until class ends. I don't think that Akemi-sensei would like another interruption."

"Alright then," Naruto agreed, and, that piece of difficulty solved, decided to turn his attention elsewhere. He didn't like to dwell on problems once he already had the solution, and that meant finding something fulfilling to do until class ended!

Naruto plodded back to the play area he and the others had been at during their recess, deciding that now that he was done reflecting, he could take his break. After all, just waiting around was no fun.

But he saw that the area was already taken over.

They were a group of older kids, eleven or twelve if Naruto had to guess. The sheer amount of them however told Naruto that it wasn't just a random group of kids. It had to be a class.

Naruto scrunched up his nose, thinking hard about why there would be a class out here when it wasn't recess time. And then, he realized what had been missing from his own break. There hadn't been any kids of other ages during the recess for the first years!

The Academy system had to have every class has a different recess times, probably so all the classes can have the whole yard to themselves or something.

Naruto shook his head. Well it didn't matter! The playground was still the playground. There was also the little spring of hope inside him that the Academy students wouldn't automatically shy away from him, and he'd be able to make some more friends on this spontaneous trip.

The little blond skipped over to the gaggle of people, fully intent to make the most of his ban from his classroom.

It didn't take long for someone to notice him. Unfortunately, it wasn't the kind of notice that Naruto wished for.

"Hey!" One of the boys, a brown haired one with a mean look on his face, called out with a sneer, "Who brought their little brat here?"

Everyone looked up briefly to see what had changed, but seeing nothing interesting, most of them turned their attention back to themselves.

Naruto wrinkled his nose, about to reply that he wasn't a little brat when somebody else did it for him.

"Cut it out Daiki," a rough but distinctly female voice shouted out. A moment later a girl with cropped black hair walked up to them, her forehead ceased in a displeased expression, "Don't call the kid a brat, 'cause you aren't one, are ya?"

The last bit she said to Naruto, giving him a wink which he replied with a beaming smile.

At that gesture, the two froze.

"Whatever," the boy proclaimed as 'Daiki' snorted. He waved a dismissive hand, already moving away, "Have fun matching wits with a six year old."

But Naruto was hardly paying any attention to him. He was swiftly trying to place where he'd seen the girl before, and why she appeared so familiar. It wasn't just a random encounter on the streets, otherwise he wouldn't have remembered her this well. But who was she…?

And then the images of trees and campfires came to his mind, the phantom scents of honeysuckle and pine.

"It's you!" They both cried at the same time.

It was one of the Academy students he'd met in the forest two years ago. She was one of the ones who'd helped him realize that the world wasn't so bad after all.

But he also knew why he hadn't recognized her immediately. When he'd pictured the Academy trio, it was always the trio. Naruto couldn't help but become a little flustered at the thought that he'd never imagined the three to have individual lives, because it was silly and of course they had to do some things by themselves.

Nevertheless. "Where's um—"

"Shirou and Yuuta?" Kaoru guessed shrewdly, dropping the finger that'd been automatically raised to point at him at their declaration. "Kaoru, by the way."

The blond blushed, realizing that she'd probably guessed that he didn't really remember their names. It was only fair though, because she hadn't remembered his. He nodded sheepishly, "Naruto."

She narrowed her eyes, and for a moment he wondered in panic if he'd said anything wrong, but he'd only uttered his name—and then she snapped her fingers, "Naru-chan!"

He went a predictable shade of pink, "I'm not that little anymore."

Kaoru let out a boisterous laugh, leaning down to ruffle his hair. It stuck up endearingly. The dark haired girl gave him a wink that would have put Shirou to shame, "You'll always be Naru-chan to girls, don't you know that?"

Naruto deflated, thinking of Sakura.

Kaoru blinked, "Oh hey hey, I might not be Rookie of the Year, but heck, I've brought up next to omnipotent!Yuuta and volatile!Shirou. What's up kid?"

"It's Sakura-chan," Naruto said sadly, "she doesn't remember me."

He'd kind of ignored the issue after Kiba and the others had invited him to lunch, because it was such a novelty and a wonder being liked that it'd momentarily pushed away the bad stuff. But now, meeting up with Kaoru again who he'd only met once in the past but still remembered him, Sakura forgetting him just seemed that much worse.

"Girls?" Kaoru asked with a slightly panicked look on her face, "Oh wow, I'm no good at this type of stuff. Do you want to talk to Shirou about it?"

"Are Shirou and Yuuta here?" Naruto asked, eyes brightening. He had only vague memories about the three of them, but he felt really comfortable with them.

Kaoru snorted, beckoning Naruto as she began moving away from the crowds, "Of course they are. Shirou's parents would kill him if he missed school, and Yuuta just wouldn't do it. Anyway it's our recess, so we're all out right now. But hey now that I think about it—Naru-chan, aren't you supposed to be in class or something?"

Naruto smiled sheepishly, "Well…"

"Trouble on the first day of school?" Kaoru asked, looking back once again. When she saw Naruto's expression, she laughed, "Naru-chan, you're something else. I knew there was a reason we were friends with you."

It was at that moment that Naruto spotted Kaoru's two teammates. They were sitting on one of those spinney rides on the playground, though they weren't spinning. Instead, they had their heads tilted in what appeared to be a rather intense conversation.

"Oi! Shirou! Yuuta! Look who I've brought back!"

The two looked up from their discussion. Yuuta blinked, and pushed his glasses up.

"Well well, if it isn't our genius savior from the forest," Shirou grinned.

Naruto beamed.

Maybe the Academy wasn't such a waste, after all.


and eleven months (Hokage's Office)

There was a moment of stunned silence.

"Could you repeat—" the Hokage began, only to stop halfway through the sentence and close his eyes briefly as if in great pain. He heaved out a sigh, his whole body moving with the gesture, and put a hand to his forehead, "Are you absolutely serious, Naruto? This is not a… prank or anything, is it?"

"I've already given you the secret passcode," Naruto reminded firmly, ad-libbing for his father as he'd been told. And then his eyes lit up, and his voice took on a much more cheerful tone, "And wow! That was so cool! I never knew that there was a phrase like that which identified Hokages. 'The wind blows and may uproot the flowers but—'"

"Naruto," the Sandaime said sharply, "that's enough."

Naruto's smile dropped from his face, and Minato bristled.

"Do not take this out on my son," Minato said coolly, only for his anger to abate as the sentiment passed through Naruto's lips. It sounded absolutely ridiculous.

The Sandaime let out a sigh, allowing his hand to drop from his face as he gave Naruto an apologetic look. "I'm sorry, Naruto. I didn't mean to be short with you. But you have to understand that the phrase you just uttered is not something meant for public ears, and you must never repeat it again, ever."

Naruto took a breath, and nodded eagerly. He beamed, saluting the Hokage, "I won't let you down sir Sarutobi sir!"

Minato smiled. His son had been absolutely perfect in regaling everything Minato said over to the Sandaime, not missing a single pronunciation.

He felt a little guilty. Once again he was pushing Naruto to be ahead of his peers, but sometimes the suggestions just escaped him before he could really think about the consequences.

It was hard to get Naruto to do some things, and before Minato knew it, he was always teaching Naruto more advanced techniques so that the child wouldn't have such an unhappy look on his face while he was doing his chores.

School had become boring for Naruto as it'd been for Minato all those years ago, and Minato couldn't help but wonder if he were the one to cause it. Would Naruto still have been so unable to connect with his peers if it weren't for Minato's upbringing?

Even the clan children, who should have been by all rights trained as equally as Naruto was, were not as fun for his child to hang around as his older friends.

There were about seven clan kids that he could distinguish in Naruto's class, and even two clan heirs. Minato had remembered visiting the Hyuuga compound and seeing Hiashi's heavily pregnant wife, and had even attended the birth of the Uchiha patriarch's second child, Uchiha Sasuke. While Uchiha Sasuke was not a direct clan heir, being the son of Fugaku, there was also no way that he would have grown up normally.

The rest of course, were civilian children. There was nothing wrong with civilian children of course. Minato had been one himself. And of course there was the fact that the Third Great Shinobi War accepted far more of them than was perhaps wise. But their potential was hard to judge.

Certainly, he'd never expected to make it to Hokage. And then Kushina had happened.

His train of thought was thankfully broken as the current Hokage of Konoha let out a chuckle, and settled back in his seat.

Eyes hooding, the Sandaime steeped his fingers together, looking deep in thought. "I must admit… I did not expect that of all things when you—or should I say you guys?—came bursting into my office today. Give me a moment to absorb this. You, Minato, are saying that you did not die that day of the Sealing and instead have been with your son in a spiritual form all these years? Added to that, the release of the Kyuubi was not an accident but an intentional act caused by none other than one of Konoha's founding fathers, Uchiha Madara."

"Unfortunately, yes," Minato said sadly, which Naruto promptly passed on.

The Sandaime nodded in reply, turning away to face the window that overlooked the village proper. The room fell into a deep silence as the acting Hokage no doubt did exactly as he had promised—think about what had just been told to him.

Naruto stayed deathly still, as if sensing what the Sandaime needed, but that didn't prevent the look of intense curiosity from taking over his face.

Finally the Sandaime let out a sigh, breaking the stillness that had settled like a mossy furnishing. A wry smile quirking across the edge of his lips, the wrinkled old man turned back to face them, a knowing look in his all too wise eyes, "You're not planning to integrate yourself back into Konoha, are you?"

Minato felt his breath catch.

The Sandaime's lips twitched when he saw that no immediate answer was forthcoming, as if he had guessed Minato's stupor. "You would have told me about all this earlier if you wished to still help with our politics."

Minato closed his eyes. How did the Sandaime always have the single ability to make him feel like the wide-eyed six year old at the Academy Entrance Ceremonies all over again?

Yes, it was all true. He had wanted to have some more time with Naruto without having to worry about the village. To be completely honest, Minato had actually wanted to keep his involvement a secret for just a while longer, but Naruto was nearing six years old and he was quickly losing excuses to evade his duty.

"There was also that Naruto wasn't at the level where he could convey everything I wanted without error," Minato replied with a smile.

The Sandaime's eyes twinkled, "A lovely excuse, I'm sure."

"It'll get you out of paperwork, I tell you," Minato laughed in reply. It was good speaking to someone again after all these years. He loved his son, he really did, but when half the time was baby babble, it did get wearing. Still, as fun as all this bantering was, there was one other item on Minato's agenda today. "Sarutobi-san… what's going on with the Uchiha situation?"

"Ah, so you've noticed that too?"

The previous jubilation that the Sandaime displayed seemed to all evaporate at those words. Sarutobi Hiruzen seemed to shrink at the mention of Konoha's largest clan, weariness permeating every pore of his being.

Minato felt a flash of momentary guilt at the sight. The Sandaime had always been someone he'd looked up to, if not felt intimidated by. But seeing him like this, old and world weary, made Minato realize that even the pillars could fall. The Sandaime had already chosen his successor, and he was not meant to become acting Hokage again.

The blond haired man felt as if he had run away from his duty. But then he quickly shook the thought away, assuring himself that there was nothing else he could have done to seal the Kyuubi other than give away his life.

"It was hard not to notice," Minato said after taking a breath, "what are you planning to do about it?"

"Who knows? I'm sure you've thought of this too, but who would believe me if I stated that it was Madara who attacked on that fateful night? They would think that I was nearing the end of my wits and using a fantasy idea to stall the tensions at best. But I admit that a part of me did wonder if it wasn't an Uchiha, and now that that part's been set to rest, maybe I can put my full force into working out a peaceable solution."

"I wish there were a way to prove that he was there," Minato sighed. "But I'm pretty sure I was the only one he revealed himself to."

"We have no idea what Madara's objectives are, and until he makes a move, we have no way to convince anybody that he's a real threat. I will call in Jiraiya, your sensei, to do some more investigating on it."

Minato brightened at the thought of Jiraiya.

"If there's anyone who could find someone who's escaped detection for over a century," Minato said fondly, "it's Sensei."

The Sandaime only chuckled in reply.

"Speaking of Sensei…" Minato trailed off, because this was as good a segmentation as he was going to get for his next topic.

He still kept up with his seals work after all these years. He'd even twiddled with the idea of changing the Dead Demon Seal, although he knew that he would never actually go through with it. And then there was the fact that sometimes, Naruto would try to read really complex books and puzzles, all for Minato, so that Minato too could challenge his mind. He had been touched beyond belief the first time that his son had done that.

Little Naru-chan was growing up, and Minato didn't know how to feel about that. Already his Naruto was needing less and less of Minato's attention, finding a lot of time for himself instead.

Already he was making a name for himself at the Academy.

The teachers may have disliked Naruto, may have conveniently found something extremely urgent that they had to do whenever it was their time to help him through his forms, but they were all shinobi, and they did mark fairly.

Naruto was light years ahead of all his classmates, so it only made sense that he tested first in nearly everything.

That had its positive and negative effects.

Naruto had quickly risen to popularity due to his superb skills, and by the time that the parents of the students found out who exactly it was that their children was enamored with, it was already too late. By that time it wasn't 'cool' to whisper bad things about Naruto, so the children quickly shut up and didn't let their parents' warnings faze them.

On the other hand, there were those select few who didn't care much for the hive mindedness of elementary school children, and those had especially come to light after Naruto's successes.

The adults for instance were both suspicious and wary, and the teachers especially did not like how Naruto failed to pay attention in any of their classes and yet still managed a 100% on all of their tests. There were some who even whispered about the Kyuubi's influence, but that idea was so farfetched that thankfully nobody of great importance had taken it seriously.

Minato could have easily asked Naruto to hide his abilities for concern over the civilians fearing Naruto's rise, but a Jinchuuriki was not all that Naruto was, and Minato was hardly going to let the burden he put within his son to dictate his life.

Naruto should have every good thing, and if a few toes had to be stepped on for that to happen, so be it. As long as no feet were broken, Minato saw no reason that they could not continue the way that they were.

But it also meant that Minato couldn't hang around his son all the time. Or rather, that he shouldn't. It wasn't quite time to leave Naruto altogether, but the intelligent young boy could definitely afford to have some privacy.

For some reason, this thought made Minato feel sad.

"He says," Naruto coughed, and then lowered his voice adorably, "Now that I think of it Sarutobi-san, you could help me with Naruto's seal. I hadn't originally planned to seal myself in, so that part is a tad sloppy and I'd like to fix it if possible. I was worried about tempering with it from the inside, but now that you know I'm here, I can make the adjustments needed and you could implant them, if that is not too much work for you."

The Sandaime's eyes hooded thoughtfully, and finally he gave a nod, "I'll see what I can do."

"Bow Naru-chan," Minato whispered to his son, "and please tell Sarutobi-san 'thank you' on our way out."

Surprisingly, Naruto didn't take any actions except for the ones that Minato had instructed him to take. Minato had thought for sure that his son would burst into requests for him to teach Naruto a new skill or play a game with him as a reward. After all, that was what he had asked for before they'd agreed to this whole thing, and although Naruto had done very well during the relaying, Minato knew that it wasn't in his son's nature to stay quiet for long.

But Naruto was silent on the way home.

"What's the matter, Naru-chan?" Minato asked after five blocks, concerned, "I didn't make you speak too much, did I? Your throat isn't sore?"

Naruto hesitated. He opened his mouth, and then closed it again. Finally, he shook his head, and when he spoke again, his voice was so nothing but a whisper among the winds, "I just… I love you, Daddy."

A/n: o.o I have to admit I did not expect the reception that I got to the last chapter. It's probably made me write this one a lot faster. Careful guys, if you review too much, this might turn from being a side project to a main one.

There have been a few questions about Naruto and Rookie 9, so I'll answer them here. Sadly this particular fic will not feature them all too much, because as Naruto has miserably pointed out, he has risen above them. Shikamaru might be the sole exception to this, but I don't think I'll bring him in because he (along with the rest of the genin we all know and love) might be a big part of a… sequel, potentially, where there is actually a plot. I plan much further than I usually write, so I might actually never get there, but if I do, I don't want to mess it up, lol.

p.s. If anyone's caught the fact that Naruto's speech ability drops significantly when talking with Kiba and the others vs talking with Minato, it's on purpose. Fact: children converse at a lower level with their peers than with adults.

p.p.s. Would you actually like for me to reply to reviews? Most of them I find aren't looking for an answer so I don't respond (because I am a very lazy soul), but I know that I like replies to the reviews I give, so… do the majority of you want a response? It's all or nothing, 'cause I won't go through them picking which ones to reply to although I do read them all very carefully—so vote.