Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto in any form.
Uzumaki Naruto, age 8, walked the streets of Konoha, oblivious of the hateful stares that most who recognized him sent his way. The boy was not usually unaware of his surrounding, especially when it came to the contempt the village seemed to hold for him, which was impossible to miss, but the grin that threatened to split his face and the lightness in his step spoke volumes of his current emotional disposition. The reason for the happiness that the child felt was simple - he was finally going to join the Shinobi Academy of Konoha. Naruto had a dream, ever since he was a small boy, a dream that had helped him live through the hurdles his life had set for him. He wanted to be a shinobi and he wanted to make the Hokage, the only person in the entire village who seemed to care, proud. He wanted to live up to the standard that he had set for himself. And he was taking the first step to realizing his dream today. Well, to be fair that was no entirely true. The child had gone a long way in the last years from the hyperactive ball of energy and emotion he used to be. But to truly know how big the difference was, one must know his history.
Naruto was born on October 10th, the day the Kyuubi no Kitsune attacked Konoha. This in itself wouldn't matter much - there had been much destruction and death that day, but his birth could have been seen as a new beginning, a triumph of life over death. Sadly, it wasn't so, because unbeknownst to him, he was the jailor of the demonic fox, the Jinchūriki of his village. Everyone who was old enough to actually remember the attack knew that fact, and the village was split in its opinion of the boy. The shinobi of the village, with some small, viewed the boy neutrally - he was a potential threat, but at the same time he was an asset that simply could not be thrown away. His very existence would protect the village when he was of age and his status was revealed, for the Jinchūriki were feared by the entire ninja world. On the other hand the civilian population, which was the largest in any of the great Shinobi villages, viewed the boy with barely concealed spite and hate. They blamed Naruto for the disaster that the fox brought upon them and for the death of the Yondaime Hokage, their powerful and beloved leader when the Kyuubi struck. The civilians called for the execution of the boy, without understanding what that would entitle - once the boy died, the fox would eventually reform, and in all like hood, attack the village again. This forced the Sandaime Hokage's hand, prompting him to establish a law that forbade people revealing the information about the boy, as well as harming him in any way. Sarutobi Hiruzen was old and until the faithful day of the attack, happily retired. And yet he was forced to take up the mantle of Hokage again, for lack of a better candidate. And while he was old, especially by shinobi standards, he was still powerful in the extreme and largely respected by both shinobi and civilians. And yet, despite all the power he wielded, he was not able to prevent the civilian part of the council, with the help of his old rival Danzo, pass a law that forbade any shinobi from interacting with the boy, at least until he was in the Academy. The civilian council did this in the hopes of stinting the boy's growth, making him less of a threat when he finally went on a rampage, which they considered simply a matter of time. Danzo did it in the hopes that when he eventually approached the boy, he would be so overcome with despair over his own weakness that any help he was willing to offer would be gladly taken. And it was then when he would make him a weapon and a shield, to serve and protect Konoha until the day of his death.
These circumstances led to Naruto being placed in an orphanage, due to the unavailability of a better home to accommodate him. And it was there that he spent the next 5 years of his life. While Naruto was not mistreated in any way, the staff always held him at arm's reach, never actively interacting with him and, for the most part, leaving him to his own devises when they were not strictly needed. In fact, Naruto would have probably grown up to be mentally and socially underdeveloped if it was not for the visits that the Hokage paid him. The old man, who felt it his personal responsibility for what happened to the boy, always found time out of his busy shedual to come and simply play and interact with the boy. This act firmly inserted the old man into Naruto's heart and made him by far the most important person in his life.
That was not to say that Naruto did not at least try to interact with the other orphans. Most of them were children of shinobi that had died at the attack and had nowhere else to be placed. Sadly, all of the children seemed to shy away from Naruto. As soon as he went inside the room, everybody froze and the small children even started crying. No one, save the Hokage, understood why the children had such reactions - the staff was not actively trying to portray Naruto in a bad light, they just tried to stay out of his way most of the time. The predicament became so bad that Naruto was given a room of his own and was encouraged to not try too hard to interact with the other children.
What Naruto did not know at this point in his life was that he was unintentionally radiating a very slight killing intent, constantly and unconsciously. This, as well as the unnaturally fast healing that was discovered when the wound from a fall healed before the very eyes of the orphanage caretakers, were traits that Naruto acquired from his prisoner. The other effect that was later found was that a small amount of the beast's chakra constantly leaked out of the seal and was assimilated in his own reserves. This pressure constantly put pressure on his chakra coils, making his already formidable genetic predisposition to a having access to a large pool of chakra even more potent.
While the killing intent, which was a too small of an amount for civilians living in a hidden village to notice, having been exposed to bigger amounts from shinobi on a nearly daily basis, the kids, who were much more sensitive to perceived threat instantly labeled Naruto dangerous even if they did not consciously know what dangerous meant and if they did, could not understand why they felt that way. The only one who both interacted with Naruto on a regular basis and was sensitive enough to feel the killing intent was the Hokage. Sadly he did not know of a way to help the boy he considered a grandchild, for he was too young to be able to control his killing intent. It was for this reason that he started giving him different scrolls and books, both on the shinobi world as well as fictional stories.
Naruto grew up to be an energetic, bright and independent child, although few cared enough to notice. The Hokage, for his part, was very proud of the boy and when he turned 4 years old, started periodically allowed him in his office. There the boy was exposed to the shinobi of the village in all their eccentric glory. He kept quite while there were other people in there, for fear of being a bother to the Hokage, but he noted the respect they all seemed to hold for the Hokage, as well as their complete devotion to the village. Little by little those observations accumulated in the boy's mind, until one day he found that he knew, without a doubt, that someday he would become a shinobi that would serve the village and the Hokage with all his might. The day he shared his new dream with the Hokage was one of the happiest he could remember. The kind and proud smile that the Hokage wore while he listened, the belief he had that Naruto could definitely make his dream come true gave him strength for many years to come. In fact, this simple gesture was the moment Naruto became incapable of giving up and letting someone he considered precious down.
Naruto did not really know how he should proceed to become a great shinobi, so he turned to the one thing that had kept him company, except the Hokage that is, since he could remember - scrolls and books. He quickly found out about chakra and that it was the turning stone of all ninja arts. Once he read about ninjutsu his mind went into overdrive imagining all the completely awesome ways in which he could use them and how cool it would be to make a fireball or make it rain or make an earthquake... it was somewhere around this point that the Hokage saw the look in Naruto's eyes and was quick to tell him that ninjutsu would still be out of his range for a couple of years, secretly dreading the moment when this was no longer the case. This made Naruto sulk for the rest of the day. He continued reading about chakra and jutsu, so that he could be ready for the moment he got the old man's agreement to start actually training in their use.
That was Naruto's life in the orphanage. When he became 5 he asked the Hokage to move out to an apartment on his own. Naruto felt that he was independent enough to be able to take care of himself, not to mention the added bonus of not having small children cry the moment he stepped in the room. After a week of a combination of begging, pleading and giving subtle threats of escape, Sarutobi finally relented and allowed the boy to move out to a small apartment in the village, to the visible relief of both the other orphans and the workers there. Naruto's new apartment was very small - one room, with a small kitchen box and a bathroom. To him, though, it was the greatest place and the world, simply because it was his. Of course, there were some problems the boy faced when he started living on his own. The first one was that because of the village's disdain, many shops did not want his business. That was very perplexing for the blonde, after all who turns back a paying customer? Nevertheless he left the shops without causing any problems and went directly to the Hokage, who immediately gave Naruto the address of an ex-shinobi owned establishment. When Naruto went there, he actually received help with his groceries, instead of being let to buy different flavors of ramen as he probably would have, had he been left alone. This made for Naruto actually eating something akin to a varied diet. He had similar troubles every time he needed to buy anything, be it clothes or utensils, but soon he learned that the establishments that deal with shinobi were not inclined to turn him back and he started to give them his exclusive patronage, not that he had much choice in the matter.
When Naruto had lived in his new apartment for a couple of months came the day that more than anything else, forged the path he would take as a shinobi. It was a day like any other. Naruto had finished his daily work around the house and was just sitting down to have a well-deserved lunch, when the Hokage entered his home. That in itself was slightly surprising, because he rarely had the time to visit in the middle of the day. After talking about everything and nothing the Hokage made to leave, but not before leaving a new book for Naruto. The book held the story of a shinobi, who on the orders of his master, had to go against his people. After an internal debate he did go through with his assignment, knowing fully well that he would be branded a traitor and would live the rest of his life on the run, for he knew that had he not done the deed disaster would have struck. The story was interesting by itself, but there was a part of it that burned itself in Naruto's mind. The shinobi from the book lived and died by his nindo, which left an enormous impact on the young boy. It was so impressive, that he instantly decided that he too would follow it for the rest of his life, in honor of the shinobi who did his duty. The nindo, which might have as well been a religious statement for Naruto, stated:
A shinobi lives in shadow.
A shinobi seeks no fame.
A shinobi strikes at weakness.
A shinobi is shrouded in deception.
A shinobi blends in the environment.
A shinobi knows his enemy.
A shinobi does not hold back because of pride or pity.
A shinobi trusts his senses.
A shinobi lives the impossible.
It was from this day forward that Naruto started taking a real interest in becoming someone worthy of being a shinobi, instead of simply waiting for the time he could use "cool jutsu". When he visited the Hokage's office, he started actually looking in the shinobi who came to meet with the leader of the village, and he saw that despite their eccentricity, they were all deadly serious when it came to actually participating in mission for the village. When he started noticing this trend in all the high ranking shinobi, Naruto decided to emulate them, and slowly started actively trying to be more serious in everything he did, be it working around the house, reading a book, or simply talking with the Hokage.
This change did not go unnoticed by the old man, who despite being glad that Naruto was starting to grow up, was also somewhat concerned. He did not know if it was concern born from the possibility of Naruto growing too fast, or from the simple sadness that all adults felt when they realized children were beginning to walk their own path. In any case he decided that once Naruto's 6th birthday came, he would point him to the information he needed as to start preparing for the Academy.
Soon after the new changes in Naruto started taking hold, his birthday came and the Hokage gifted him with access to the Konoha library and a list of books and scrolls he needed to go through before he started the Academy. The child was somewhere between comical and adorable that day, as he tried not to cry from gratitude for the trust and belief the Hokage placed in him.
Naruto himself knew that he was neither the smartest, nor the most patient person in the village. And yet he was determined to read and understand the list of books the Hokage gave him in its entirety, so that he could excel at the Academy. Anything less would be a betrayal to the old man who placed such trust in him.
The next year of Naruto's life was spent almost entirely on learning shinobi history. He learned about the establishment of the shinobi villages all around the wand. He looked at the Great shinobi wars, the reasons behind them and the reasons for their end. He looked at where shinobi came from, what they were, what they did. He learned everything that could be considered useful for a ninja in training. He did not know every fact by heart, because honestly, who needed to be some sort of walking dictionary to be a shinobi? Still he felt that he knew more than enough to be at least relatively knowledgeable, both about history and the current situation in the village. He was especially knowledgeable about the shinobi of Konoha, since he often saw many of them when he visited the old man. He made it his personal goal to know as much as possible about Konoha and its protectors, as he felt nothing but respect for them.
Soon Naruto started looking at the more practical aspects of being a shinobi, namely taijutsu, ninjutsu and genjutsu. He had an understanding of how chakra worked from when he thought only of getting to try out "cool" jutsu. And yet, thanks to really taking the nindo which he adopted very seriously, he came to the conclusion that most ninjutsu were too flashy to be used by what he considered a "true" shinobi. That was the reason why he simply skimmed through the ninjutsu section, concentrating instead on taijutsu and genjutsu. He knew that he would be required to fight and kill when he became a real ninja. And yet he had a very specific taste when it came to the way he wanted to do that - he wanted to be deadly and efficient, to target weakness, to bring a quick and decisive finish to confrontations. He did not find any such style in the book, as it talked mostly about the basics and the physical conditioning every ninja, no matter his or hers specialty, should have. Naruto decided that actually finding a style that would suit him could wait until later and instead gave his complete concentration on the one thing he found the most in sinck with his nindo - genjutsu. Illusions, deception, playing with the opponent's mind, that was what a shinobi was all about and that was what he was going to learn, no matter how hard it could prove.
All this did not come without outer changes. The one which was the most visible was the change in wardrobe. Naruto had read in a book on stealth that dark grey, dark blue and dark green were the most difficult colors to be seen at night. He started wearing those colors exclusively, even though he wore the usual for children of his age t-shirt and shorts combo. What was unusual though, was that he started commonly wearing a bandana that covered most of his hair. He was pretty proud of his blond locks, after all the Yondaime Hokage had the same color of hair and there really weren't all that many blondes in the village, but it was very easy to spot from a distance, which was not something desirable for a shinobi.
Naruto himself was of average height for his age, neither tall nor short, mostly thanks to the shopkeepers that helped him with his groceries. It was very likely that if he had been left to his own devices, he would've eaten ramen exclusively, stunting both his body and mind in the process. All in all if the boy was inserted in a random shinobi village around the world, he would most probably blend in easily. Sadly for him, he lived in Konoha, where he could not blend in, no matter how he looked, simply because every adult knew who he was, and the vast majority of them thought negatively of him.
After a while Naruto decided that he had enough theoretical knowledge for the moment and started thinking of ways to train his body, not only his mind. His first instinct was to go to the Hokage and ask him for training, or failing that, someone to tutor him. Sadly the Hokage explained that he could not personally help him, because he was extremely overworked and tutors were far too expensive for his financial situation. What the Hokage didn't tell him was that even if that was not the case, he could not approach a tutor due to the law passed by the council. The old man rationalized that if he shared that piece of information with Naruto, it would alienate him even further from the population of Konoha, and that was something that could not be permitted, as the boy was deemed a flight risk anyway. The Hokage was the only meaningful connection the boy had with the village, at least at the moment, and if something happened to him, disaster could strike.
The realization that there was no one that could help him with training, as he neither had no friends his age, mostly thanks to either the civilian villagers badmouthing him, or the growing killer intent he let off, nor did he have anyone aside from the Hokage in the adult world. This left him with little choice but to stick to the basics and work his way up through self-study and improvisation.
Naruto knew the basic physical conditioning exercises that were required to even start training in any style of taijutsu, so he took to running basic strength, speed and balance drills whenever he had the chance. Unknown to him he was training for far more hours than an average shinobi could, simply because the fox kept him from getting tired or hurt for unnaturally long hours. This was the reason he soon had the basic physique to start training actual taijutsu katas, but since there was no one to point that out to him, he relentlessly continued with the basic exercises.
From time to time Naruto would have the chance to look actual shinobi sparring in one of the various training field around the village. All of them were on a completely different level than him and he completely realized that. And yet his after a while his senses started, very slowly, accustoming themselves to the speed and movements of the shinobi. It was at such an occurrence that one of the defining moments of Naruto's young career happened. While browsing around the training fields, Naruto heard two shinobi fighting and as was natural for him, went to observe. There he witnessed a very high level spar, where both shinobi used live steel. Both shinobi wielded short ninjato blades and their styles were virtually the same. They fought using no jutsu, obviously practicing their physical skills. What caught Naruto's attention was the way they used the ninjato - more as a supplementary tool, using it with one hand, aiming for gaps and weaknesses in each other's guard, helping the blade find its target by creating distractions with kicks and jabs. They regularly switched the hand that with which they used the blade and relied on speedy and precise attacks, instead of powerful swing. The two shinobi were evenly matched and looked as if they were in a choreographed dance and not a heated battle. And it was in the sound of the slashing blades clashing, in the sight of the steel that captured the surrounding light, in the beautiful dance of death that Naruto found beauty. The spar that he witnessed left him breathless and determined - this was what he wanted his taijutsu style to be. Soon Naruto supplied himself with a low quality ninjato and after training his basic physical exercises, started accustoming himself with the blade, with its balance and weight, the way it was easiest to move with it. He had no teacher and no sparring partner, so he largely worked by feel and instinct, knowing that once he entered the academy he would have the chance to really learn how to fight against a real opponent.
Surprisingly, Naruto took to stealth like a duck to water. When he consciously tried, his steps were silent and he seemed to just blend with his surrounding, becoming part of the background. He thought that this could be an extremely useful skill for a ninja to have; he started shadowing ninja around the village and trying to be as inconspicuous as possible, often to great success. Of course he was far from perfect in the art and it was very unlikely that he could pose much of a challenge to a chūnin, let alone a higher grade ninja, in a real situation, instead of in the village, where their awareness was not as sharp as in the field. Still, Naruto strived to excel at this particular art as it was directly parallel with one of the rules of his nindo.
Naruto had the most trouble with his chakra. When he first tried actively working with it he was met with little to no success. Naruto was sure he did everything the way he was supposed to, and yet even when he succeeded, even in the easiest chakra manipulation exercises imaginable, it was short-lived and a challenge. Naruto brought his problems before the Hokage, who explained that he had an extremely large chakra reserve for someone his age, which made it hard for him to exercise precise control. While this was partially true, the real reason, which could not be shared with Naruto, was that the Kyuubi chakra the seal constantly let out interfered with his Natural chakra flow, even though it was constantly assimilated. Sadly, this was not information the Hokage was willing to diverge just yet, so instead he proposed to Naruto that he should start meditating while actively trying to feel and get accustomed to the chakra flowing through his body.
Naruto started doing the exercises and after a while began to actually understand how his chakra worked. He started practicing the chakra exercises again, but this time he tried to point the energy, and not simply to wrestle control. With this method he managed to be enormously more successful, although he was still very far from perfect.
Naruto struggled so hard with chakra control simply because he read that it was one of the two most important factors when constructing and utilizing genjutsu. Ever since dedicating himself to his new nindo, he had started disregarding most ninjutsu - yes, some of them sounded extremely useful, but most of them were too, for a lack of better word, flashy. For Naruto, genjutsu was the true ninja art and he would be damned if he could not master it in time. He knew he possessed one of the two most important factors when constructing illusions - imagination, but he lacked the chakra control for any of the more complex and intricate illusions.
While the meditation eventually achieved its desired results, Naruto continued practicing it because it gave him an unexpected, but still welcome side effect - it made him calmer and his mind sharper, two qualities that he sorely needed. While Naruto did not completely stop blowing up when sufficiently pushed, he drastically reduced both the intensity and the quantity of these happenings.
The only direct way the Hokage interfered with Naruto's training was when he taught him about killer intent. The old man explained that the boy seemed to have a natural talent for that particular part of a shinobi repertoire, neglecting to mention the fox in his explanation. Never the less he taught the boy how to turn his boy on and off, how to focus it and how to harness it to its full potential, but also cautioned him to use it with caution, since there were not many children his age that could resist it.
Despite not having any real friends in his childhood, he felt neither alone, nor bored. He had the Hokage, who he considered more than family, and he had his studies and training, which occupied his time completely. He was not resentful towards the village, nor was he yearning for attention, as that would go against his beliefs. He strived to improve with a vigor few possessed and sought knowledge with the persistency all would envy.
It was such a boy that walked the streets of Konoha in his 8th year on his way to enter the Shinobi Academy for the first time.