Chapter 1 – A New Beginning
"Naruto again?" Iruka's grimace seemed particularly severe as he squinted against the light from the morning sun. It wasn't as if these events had gotten worse, but their frequency appeared to have spiked dramatically in recent weeks. "And where is he now?"
"Laughing like a madman and leading a few jōnin on a chase through town," Mizuki sighed, shaking his head. "Why the Sandaime allows him to continue living in the village is beyond me. He's a nuisance, discounting simply what he is." There had been a significant pause in the man's statement that Iruka hadn't failed to pick up on. But then, many of the villagers and shinobi of Konohagakure had similar feelings about Uzumaki Naruto. If his fate had been left in their hands, he would not have survived past the day of his birth.
Both instructors were standing at the base of the Hokage's Tower. If it had been a normal morning most of the citizens would be bustling by on their way to this or that, perhaps nodding respectfully to the two chūnin. Instead, a small crowd was gathered just behind the pair, and they did little to hide their gawking and angry muttering. The object of every person's attention was a large swath of graffiti, which depicted crude representations of the Sandaime and a handful of senior staff. Calling the images rude would be the understatement of the century. Even Iruka had to admit that it would be hard to pin this prank on anybody other than the Uzumaki boy.
As the onlookers turned into an increasingly outraged rabble, the scarred chūnin closed his eyes, thinking back on the words the Hokage had recently imparted.
"Iruka . . . Naruto grew up without knowing the love of a parent, and for so long he has been treated poorly because of his birthright. He has to pull those pranks to get attention. Whatever the form, he wants somebody to recognize his existence."
Iruka ground his teeth, turning on the crowd with a sharp look that quieted even the most disgruntled onlooker. "The situation is being handled. Please return to your duties." It was a slow dispersal, but at least they all left without making a scene. Mizuki glanced at him with a quirked eyebrow before shaking his head and sidling off towards the academy building. Iruka stared up at the 'mural' for a long moment, considering his leader's words again. He had been struggling with a difficult decision for weeks, but it seemed that he had finally stumbled upon an answer. With a sigh he turned and leapt onto the nearest building, making his way towards where he knew Naruto would be hiding.
It had taken a few minutes, but Naruto had successfully evaded his pursuers and now sat lounging against a tree with a cheeky grin on his face. The youth was average in many ways, although his height was nothing to be jealous of. One might even consider the six-year-old cute if they could look past arguably ridiculous green aviator goggles on his forehead, or the whisker-like scars on his cheeks. But that was all anybody ever saw. When they looked at Naruto, it was the Kyūbi no Kitsune that forced its way into their minds. To them, Naruto was a haunting reminder from a dark past. The amiable blond, however, knew nothing of this history. All he knew was that the villagers hated him.
His smile faltered and faded as the citizens came back to his mind. The previously elated expression soured as he pouted to himself in a low mumble. "Not my fault they don't like my artwork. Jerks." It was difficult for him to grapple with emotions and deal with hardships in life that most people barely even considered. He had been an orphan from birth, so he had been told, and no one in the village had been willing to take him in. The Sandaime had set him up with an apartment and a weekly stipend after the orphanage had removed him from its care. Apart from the Hokage – who obviously had very little time to spend with Naruto in the first place – there was only one other person that had ever expressed a benign interest in him.
Iruka-sensei. The thought came as the man in question appeared in front of him, arms folded and looking cross. Iruka was not actually Naruto's teacher, but for better or worse the child seemed to have adopted him as a loose relative after being shown only a modicum of kindness. "Oh, hey Iruka-sensei," he chimed, with only a small amount of pink coming to his face to indicate any embarrassment at being caught. His sole role-model's petulant look told him that a lecture was coming.
"Naruto, this is the third incident this week, and one of your worst to date. What were you thinking when you decided to publicly insult the Hokage, who has shown you nothing but good intentions your whole life?" Nothing was said about the other members included in the graffiti; Iruka knew the reaction he would get simply by mentioning the old man. "If your dream is to become the best Hokage that Konoha has ever seen, why would you do such a thing? Why, Naruto?" He knew what answer that he'd get, but he wanted to hear the boy to say it.
"It's funny seeing the villagers react," he grumbled, pouting and averting his eyes from Iruka's chastising gaze. A quick glance back showed the chūnin raising eyebrow, as if to say 'Is that all?' Naruto sighed, folding his arms. "I don't know." The response was honest, Iruka knew; how was a six-year-old supposed to explain that his actions were meant to instigate a reaction from people in order to garner attention? The Sandaime's words echoed again in the man's mind. With a tired exhale Iruka stepped over to the broad tree trunk, sliding down it to settle next to the troublemaker.
"Look, Naruto," he began, staring up at the summer sky. "I know you want the village to recognize you, or at the very least not spurn you at every turn." The questioning look in the boy's eyes elicited a fond eye roll. "To not hate you, I mean." The blond's grimace returned swiftly at the more explicit term. The question was coming; he could see the words forming on Naruto's lips, and he held up a hand. "I've told you already: I can't tell you why they do, at least not beyond saying that they're foolish. Anyway, as I was saying, this isn't the way to go about getting people to acknowledge you. You want to become a ninja, right?" The boy's vigorous nodding only confirmed his passion. "And you know that to become Hokage you have to be a really strong ninja, right?" Another nod. "Then why not focus all of this energy you seem to have on training instead? Pick up a kunai or a few shuriken and do some target practice, try some sparring, or go to the library and . . ." Naruto's features had gotten darker and darker as his mentor continued, until finally he was simply staring at the ground. Iruka stopped, hesitant to inquire; the boy saved him the trouble.
"Iruka-sensei, none of the stores will sell me any ninja stuff. I can only practice my taijutsu on the wooden training posts, and the library is always closed." The chūnin had to bite his tongue to keep himself from commenting on the last note. The library was never closed, but the keepers obviously felt the same as the shop owners did. It was hard to look at the downtrodden orphan, the child that should have been revered by all reduced to the village prankster because of unreasonable cruelty. Iruka stamped down the righteous anger building in his chest before continuing.
"I want to ask you something, Naruto," he began hesitantly, not sure if even he was ready for what was about to leave his mouth. The somber blond looked up questioningly, the rims of his eyes shimmering with unshed tears of frustration. It was hard to look into those blue eyes and see the little boy inside instead of the demon fox that had killed Iruka's parents. But that was the difference between the chūnin and most of the village: he knew that Naruto was a normal child, simply suffering from the refusal of his whole world to accept him, and all because of something that was outside of his own control. "Would you like to come live with me?"
The silence that followed was deafening. Naruto's eyes widened, narrowed suspiciously like he was expecting some kind of trick, then widened again when he realized that the man was serious. After lacking a response for a few moments, Iruka coughed and continued a bit awkwardly. "I mean, you don't have to if you don't want to. I know you don't like having supervision, and you probably don't want an adult looking over your shoulder constantly, and . . ." He trailed off lamely, rubbing the back of his neck. Naruto seemed to be even more upset now, his face contorted with tears beginning to escape down his scarred cheeks. Iruka nearly apologized and retracted the offer when the small boy gripped his sleeve tightly. No response was given in words. The huge, ridiculous smile and unchecked tears streaming down his face were answers enough.
It took a while for Naruto to get himself together enough to talk again, but once he did his exuberance was palpable. Iruka understood more than most what not having parents meant for a child growing up. The poor boy's reaction only confirmed what he had learned on his own: more than anything else, Naruto wanted a family, somewhere he could be appreciated just for being himself. It may not be everything a normal child had, but for Konoha's pariah – the boy shunned from birth – it was the world.
I'll do my best, Yondaime, to see your son become the man you would have wanted him to be.
If gossip were a sport, the citizens of Konoha would likely be the best in the world. Their whispers naturally frequented topics involving Naruto, although recently for reasons other than his unmentionable heritage and history. Rumor had it that an academy instructor had adopted the boy – one Umino Iruka. Of course, while in a normal society the charitable act of adoption might raise a person's status to some degree, this was a special case. The adoptee was Uzumaki Naruto, the Kyūbi no Kitsune. Almost overnight Iruka became the talking point of the village, and almost as quickly began drawing the same looks his new house guest always garnered. At first he would glare back, but when Naruto started mimicking the action he decided a change of tactics was necessary. Instead, he smiled, and slowly the boy began smiling as well. Naruto's was more of a defiant smirk, but it was better than the alternative.
To say Naruto's illicit activities ceased immediately would be twisting the truth. The problem was – as Iruka quickly learned – that no structure had ever been introduced into his life. There were no consequences for his offenses, no praise for his accomplishments, and worst of all nobody to tell him the reasons behind anything. The first few weeks were some of the hardest the chūnin had ever experienced. Iruka was a teacher – although a fairly new one – and had some experience with kids. But being an instructor was a far stretch from acting as a parent. It took many hours speaking to the Hokage and discreetly asking the advice from unbiased parties to finally come up with a solution that worked. Even then, it took nearly a month to see marked improvement in behavior. But there it was. Uzumaki Naruto, renowned thorn in the side of Konoha, was improving. Through simply being consistent with punishments and criticisms, as well as always recognizing and praising his accomplishments, slowly but surely he stopped acting out.
About a month and a half after Naruto had moved into Iruka's apartment, they were sitting together and having a one-sided discussion on table manners. Iruka could tell he wasn't so much being ignored as Naruto had started to think of something else that had been on his mind. Living together for a while had given the shinobi a better grasp of how the boy's mind worked. "What is it, Naruto? You seem distracted by something."
"Ano, Iruka-sensei?" he asked uncomfortably, shifting around a few bits of rice with his chopsticks. Another marked change Iruka had been thankful to see was that Naruto seemed to think a lot more before something burst from his mouth unfiltered. He had not opened up much, but the boy dwelled on things to a greater extent than Iruka had thought. "You said that I should uh, focus my energies on being a great ninja, right?" He stopped for a moment at the man's nod. "Well, I was just thinking, 'cause uh, most kids start at the academy at my age. I was just wondering . . ." he repeated with failing confidence, looking down at his food.
"I already put in your paperwork," Iruka grinned, knowing where the question was leading. "You'll be starting at the academy after the summer session is concluded." He had wanted to keep it as a surprise for later, but now was as good a time as any other to tell him. The way Naruto's face lit up was a memory he was likely to keep for years to come. There was no need to tell the ecstatic prospective genin the pains he had gone through to allow him admittance to the Ninja Academy. The Hokage had personally pulled some strings for it to happen, for which Iruka had been extremely grateful – he was frustrated that such a thing had to be done, though. Most of the administrators had refused to cooperate, forcing the Sandaime's hand. "We're going to start training next week, alright?"
"But I thought I was going to the academy to learn things and train," Naruto wondered aloud. That was, Iruka supposed, a logical conclusion, but it simply wasn't what was expected.
"Naruto, I know you've tried to practice on your own, but you'll need to be a little more prepared. Training to become a shinobi takes serious work and dedication, and you can bet your classmates will have received some sort of training from their families before getting to the academy." A scowl that began to deteriorate into a dejected frown prompted Iruka to continue quickly. "And so, I need to make sure you're up to speed so you can make a good impression. Are you willing to train hard to become Hokage one day?" The vigorous nod at mention of his dream seemed sincere. Iruka felt a little guilty using the child's aspirations as fuel for his passion, but if it got him motivated then there didn't seem to be any harm in it.
The next month rivaled the first in its difficulties. Even though Iruka spent hours explaining and demonstrating the simplest jutsu, his protégé couldn't seem to mold chakra correctly. As he was beginning to doubt that the boy could even become a ninja, the answer to his problems came in an unexpected manner.
One uneventful afternoon when Iruka was attempting to explain the chakra control necessary to create a bunshin, Naruto threw his version of a tantrum, sighing loudly and falling into the grass on his back. "Ugh, Iruka-sensei! I can't concentrate like that! You said I just need to mold the chakra and stuff, but how? It's like trying to grab one tiny ant from a big group that's all running together!" His frustrated noises quickly devolved into him simply grumbling on the ground. The statement struck Iruka with a flash of inspiration, however. It was just a theory, but he was willing to try anything at this point. For some reason Naruto had some otherworldly stamina, and it could be connected.
After directing him to practice some hand seals, Iruka left to pay a visit to one of the most renowned ninjas in the village. Hatake Kakashi was in his usual spot: by a bridge in the northern part of the village, lounging in a tree and reading one of his 'adult-themed novels.' "Kakashi-sama," he began, stopped immediately by a raised hand that waved almost dismissively thereafter.
"Yo, Iruka-san. I've told you that there's no need to be so formal." He might be one of the most feared shinobi in the world, but he was also one of the most casual and least punctual.
"My apologies. I was taught to always respect my superiors," Iruka continued with a slight grin. It was hard to feel intimidated by Kakashi sometimes, although the questioning look from that one visible eye made him fidget a little. The mask over the jōnin's nose and mouth didn't help much either. "I came to ask a favor, if you're not too busy today. I've been trying to work with Naruto on some chakra control, but he can't seem to mold chakra as easily as other kids his age. After three weeks of instruction there hasn't been even a puff of wind to indicate a simple bunshin. Don't get me wrong – I don't expect any kid his age to be able to perform the Bunshin no Jutsu successfully, but most can make some ambiguous figure." He took a deep breath, realizing that he was speaking quickly due to a touch of anxiety. Kakashi, however, looked as impassive as always. "I think it's because Naruto has too much chakra – potentially many times the amount a six-year-old should possess. I think it might have something to do with the Kyūbi." The last sentence was stated a bit more solemnly than the others, though his audience still failed to react. "I was hoping that you might be able to demonstrate a clone technique that consumes a greater amount of chakra. If my theory is correct, this could help him a great deal." A very long moment passed, during which Iruka tried not to quail under Kakashi's flat gaze. Finally, a curt nod indicated his agreement, although it seemed reluctant.
"The only higher level bunshin technique he could perform – without knowing his element – is the Kage Bunshin no Jutsu. But as a B-rank jutsu, you should know that there's no way he'll be able to do it," Kakashi cautioned as they made their way back to where Naruto was practicing. It seemed that Iruka was taking this boy's development seriously, something the jōnin had little to say about.
"I know, but I can't perform the technique, and it's just a hunch." It was a lame response, but it was all he had. Iruka remained silent for the remainder of the short walk, arriving to see Naruto still screwing up his face in concentration and holding his hands in an imitation of the tiger seal. "Naruto, this is Hatake Kakashi. He is a jōnin that's mastered over a thousand jutsu." That was bound to get his attention and respect. As anticipated, the blond's eyes turned into saucers as he bowed like Iruka had taught him. "Now, Kakashi-sama is going to explain a different jutsu to you, alright? Please give him your full attention." Excited nodding ensued.
"Hmm," Kakashi began, dropping unceremoniously to the ground into a cross-legged position. The boy was more respectful than he had expected, at least. "Well Naruto-kun, this is a more advanced clone technique called Kage Bunshin no Jutsu. It takes a lot more chakra to use, and there's a different seal for it . . ." As the legendary jōnin began explaining exactly how to perform the jutsu, Iruka gratefully noted that the man was treating Naruto like an adult, and more importantly like a real person. After Kakashi completed his explanation – following an energetic nod from the youngster – he agreed to demonstrate.
"Kage Bunshin no Jutsu." In the blink of an eye and a puff of white smoke, there was another Hatake Kakashi was sitting next to the original, indistinguishable. What surprised Naruto the most was that the bunshin started talking to him, rather than the real Kakashi. "Now, the neat thing about this ability is that when you make a copy of yourself, it retains a portion of your consciousness." Naruto blinked at him, confused. Kakashi blinked back, not used to explaining things to children his age. "It has a mind of its own." An attentive and excited nod ensured his message had been understood this time. "Additionally, the two main benefits of the Kage Bunshin is that it can mold chakra just like you, and when it's destroyed you gain the memories the clone experienced. Do you understand?" A very slow nod accompanied a look that said 'Not really, but sort of.'
"Just give it a try, Naruto," Iruka encouraged. Naruto dropped into a cross-legged position – perhaps assuming that it was necessary since Kakashi had done so – and concentrated. The silver-haired man had said to use a funny hand seal where he crossed his index and middle fingers instead of the tiger seal used for a normal bunshin. After a few minor corrections to his hand positioning, he tried molding the chakra like Kakashi had said to. About ten seconds later, as Iruka was about to open his mouth and express his concern, Naruto yelled at the top of his lungs.
"Kage Bunshin no Jutsu!" If Naruto had been a jōnin performing the technique, it would have been fair to have a hearty laugh at the result. He was six, however. Half of a square meter beside him had erupted in white smoke. Rather, it fizzled. A small and unrecognizable blob vaguely the color of his t-shirt and shorts had materialized, quivering for only a few seconds before going up in an alabaster mist. Naruto just sat staring at the spot, unable to fully process what had happened.
"Well that was . . . unexpected," Kakashi muttered, clearly surprised anything had happened at all. A glance up at Iruka showed a shocked but simultaneously satisfied expression.
"Naruto that was great!" Iruka's exuberance snapped Naruto from his momentary daze.
"But sensei, it didn't work," he responded, perplexed and disappointed. He had not been expecting much after his days of failure, but after seeing the plume of smoke his hopes had shot up. Oddly, it was Kakashi who responded first.
"Naruto, you need to understand that this is a pretty advanced jutsu. It's impressive that you managed to do anything with it at all." Iruka smiled appreciatively at his superior, knowing the effect that the other man's praise would have on a child that had only received it from one source prior. A broad, bashful grin spread across Naruto's face as he acknowledged the compliment with a bow, scratching at the back of his neck embarrassedly. Iruka was beginning to wonder if the boy had picked up that quirk from him.
The rest of summer went by quickly. With chakra control worked out – in theory at least – the remainder was spent getting Naruto's basic taijutsu forms up to par and working with kunai and shuriken. It was incredible how eager he was to learn and train. On days Iruka was busy, Naruto would take it upon himself to practice, and often even on days his sensei was free he would begin and end far outside of the chūnin's availability.
Before he knew it, Iruka was preparing for classes to begin in only a week's time. Naruto had finally removed his aviator goggles in favor of a simple indigo headband tied the style of a hitai-ate. His wardrobe had changed to consist primarily of grey t-shirts and beige cargo shorts that reached just past his knees. Iruka was sure his tastes would change as he grew older, but at least he had been able to pick his own clothes for once. Some 'encouragement' had been offered to the shop keepers, of course.
The night before his first day of class, Naruto approached the man he had nearly called 'dad' a few times now. "Um, Iruka-sensei? I know you're going to be my instructor for classes, but I don't want any special treatment okay?" There was a defiant spark in his eyes that Iruka would not forget any time soon. It reminded him a bit of the rebellious Naruto of the past, but spoke more of the young man standing before him now. He wanted to be the best ninja he could be, using only his own strength and determination.
"I promise I won't, Naruto. I know you'll excel on your own power." Furrowed brows communicated that his words hadn't quite registered. With a fond ruffle of the boy's hair Iruka pulled him into a hug, the first time he had done so since welcoming the blond to his home. Naruto froze momentarily, causing Iruka to quickly relax his hold and back off, thinking a boundary may have been crossed. However, a tight grip pulled him back, a few errant sniffs tugging a soft smile to the shinobi's lips.
Minato, Kushina – tomorrow your son begins his journey to follow in your great footsteps.
This is my first attempt at fanfiction writing, something I was inspired to do after reading S'TarKan's "Team 8" story. I was also having trouble finding something I wanted in a fic, that being a realistically developing relationship between Naruto and Hinata, so I decided to go for it on my own and see how it turned out.
This story focuses on Naruto and his team's developments based on a few changes early in their life. These alterations will have a ripple effect in a way, and as the story continues it can be expected that a greater number of things will be different than they are in canon. As an additional note, Naruto's lineage is known in this AU because I purposefully filled in the plot hole left by Kishimoto. If you have any questions about that in particular, feel free to send me a PM!
I went back and edited this chapter around the 200k word mark, mainly for clarity and flow. A caution for those looking for an immediate introduction to the AU: I am basically rewriting the Naruto story to give a solid frame of reference, beginning from five years prior to the start of canon. Is the story unique? I'd like to think so. There are important differences, there are major divergences, but the meta plot generally follows canon until around Chapter 17. I'd only ask for some patience, and I hope that you enjoy the journey of growing up with Naruto and company the way I always thought it should have happened.
Final note: I am a bit of a [read: hopeless] romantic. NaruHina will definitely be a thing, but at a reasonable pace. Sasuke hits the dating scene a lot later. Side fluff for some other favorites down the road, too.
See you next time!