Naruto awoke with a start in a cold sweat after yet another one of his many nightmares caused by the villagers of the village he called home. This time it had been a group of around 25 angry villagers all armed with pitchforks and other such improvised killing implements ready to in their own words kill the demon child and save their village from his very existence. Looking to his left he could see it was now nearing six in the morning and seeing no real need to remain in his secondhand bed that he had spent an ungodly amount of time dragging up the ancient steps of his apartment complex and into his one-room apartment just last year he quickly jumped off and rushed into the shower. Unsurprisingly the water that flowed out of the showerhead was freezing cold but he knew better than to complain to his landlord, Mrs. Misaki Keto. The last time he did so she beat him so bad he had to be sent to the hospital.
But even then he was treated like he was contagious. Like being near him would make you sick or something and so they would always do the absolute bare minimum for his care. They would do enough to keep him alive but never enough to keep him comfortable and unlike everybody else, he was only allowed one meal a day and that was whatever was left in the cafeteria the day before. If that wasn't bad enough whenever he wasn't being attacked he was constantly being picked on by the older kids or in the case of the adults being run off by the shop owners and streetside vendors. It was due to this that he had mastered the art of the ninja. He knew every street corner or shortcut the village had to offer a twelve-year-old with no real family to speak of. He was almost always alone. The only people who seemed to care at all for him were the third Hokage who he called grandpa Hokage and the two ramen cooks who would come to visit him every now and again or feed him a few free bowls of ramen. It was in those rare visits of his that he knew love and kindness. Otherwise, it was near-constant bullying or worse being beaten into unconsciousness. But that was his life each and every day. He was Naruto Uzumaki Namikaze. He was the demon child. The social pariah. The butt of everybody's jokes. That fact didn't look to be changing anytime soon no matter how much he wished it to. By the time he was done with his ice-cold shower, it was around 6:10. So with the speed befitting a ninja twice his age he was out the door and jumping from one rooftop to the next with great speed. No sooner had he dropped down onto the school grounds did the bell sound. He had just made it. Unbeknownst to him, however, he wasn't the only person still outside the school. Ino Yamanaka eyed her fellow blond with great intensity. She was his polar opposite in all matters great or small. She was beloved by all who knew her while he, on the other hand, was utterly despised by the same. However, unlike the others in her class she never once mocked him. For she knew how sad his life was. How he was being beaten by both her fellow classmates and the adults. Yet time after time he would slowly get back up and go about his day as if that horrendous act didn't just happen. Today she was going to do something about that. She was going to make his life a little better no matter what. He deserved happiness and she was by sage going to give the boy a day of happiness. He deserved that much at least.
Naruto entered the classroom and like clockwork, the jokes began to be sent his way. He did his best to ignore them but even so, it still hurt all the same. Sure he wasn't as book-smart as Sakura Haruno or as skillful as Sasuke Uchiha or even as graceful in his movements as Hinata Hyuga but he did his best each and every day. Taking his seat near the back of the classroom he hoped the Chunin instructor wouldn't call on him today. That hope however like everything else in his life wasn't meant to be.
"Naruto what's the name of the battle that took place on this date"? The Chunin instructor asked as he pointed to an area on the western edge of the Land Of Stone. Eyeing the date listed beside it Naruto struggled to remember the exact name of the battle or even why it was relevant. He lived in the Land Of Fire, not the Land Of Stone. How should he know their nation's long history or why he should care about the battle anyway he thought to himself before answering the man with his best guess.
"I don't know...sir". Naruto replied. No sooner did he say that a new round of jokes were being sent his way. In time even the Chunin instructor himself joined in on the mocking of his lack of basic ninja knowledge.
"Maybe you should just drop out. You're clearly a failure boy. Why waste everybody's time with your ignorance". The instructor said before kicking him out before locking the door behind him ensuring he wouldn't be able to enter the classroom again. For the rest of the school day, Naruto sat with his head down low as he sat on the old swing near the back of the school. It was only when a shadow blocked the light of the afternoon did he look up from his place on the old swing.
"Ino...do you want this? You can have it". Naruto said as he began to get up freeing the seat for her.
"No, it's fine Naruto that's not it". Ino said her face now red in embarrassment. This would be the first time she talked to the boy and being so close to him she would be lying if she said he wasn't kind of cute with his fox-like whisker marks. At her words, Naruto couldn't help but look confused.
"So why are you near me then"? Naruto said before looking around just in case anybody could see them together. "Aren't you worried you would be seen with me"?
"No". Ino replied flatly. At this, his face grew just as red as her own face was only seconds before. "You can join me and my family for a fun day. That is...of course if you want to". Ino said awaiting the boy's response. Naruto for a time eyed the girl before him closely. This wasn't the first time he had been invited by one of his classmates for a fun day out. An escape from the loneliness. However, the last time he did so it had ended with him being cold, wet, and covered in mud on his tenth birthday. But she had never said an unkind word to him or belittled his skills or really anything else in all his time at the school. If anything she was at the very least not mean to him. So just this once he would take a chance on her. He would accept the invitation.
It wasn't long after he had accepted her invitation that he found himself now standing in front of a small flower shop in the middle of one of the many commercial districts that dotted the village of Konohagakure. Ino for her part opened the door to her family's small flower shop before stepping aside to allow Naruto to enter first.
He entered the small flower shop timidly at first before Ino forcefully pushed him ever deeper at great speed. The many different sights and smells soon overwhelmed him and before he knew what was going on he was once again face-to-face with yet another door. Just as quick as she had pushed him through the many rows of the shop she had opened the door and in he went. The sound of the door closing behind him felt almost like a death sentence to his ears. As if his fate was sealed by the closing of that unassuming-looking door. In his head, a million and one thoughts raced through his mind. How would her parents act when they saw she had the demon child with her. He didn't want her to get in trouble on his behalf. He was nobody. He was after all just a lowly demon child. His life mattered about as much as that of an insect and even then he wasn't sure it mattered even that much. At least some people liked bugs, nobody save for maybe Ino herself seemed to view him as anything but a worthless demon.
"Mom, Dad I'm home. Oh, and we have a guest over". Ino yelled down the hallway before the sound of a woman's voice answered back.
"That's fine dear. Come on in and help me with setting the table". Her mother said before she was down the hall and into the kitchen doing just that. As she ran past he caught the slightest hint of her perfume. That being none other than lavender. Naruto oddly enough found he liked that smell way more than he thought was even possible.
It took Naruto a full minute to walk the same distance Ino had done in seconds. As soon as he entered all movement in the room ceased almost immediately. Both her mother and father eyed him for what felt like an eternity but in reality, was less than five seconds. It was her father who was the first to break the awkward silence that now existed in the room.
"You're Naruto I take it? Ino has talked about you for weeks. I was about to give up all hope of ever meeting you". The man said before he returned to his paper. Eyeing it he could see it was the fifth edition of the Great Tree a local newspaper mostly read by non-ninja. Why her father a notable ninja of the village was reading it likely meant he was a fan of the puzzles on page nine. He himself was also a big fan of said puzzles though he didn't have the money to buy them most of the time. Her mother meanwhile gave him a kind motherly-like smile before she returned to the task of cooking the food and setting the table. Naruto for his part couldn't say a word. Here he was in the middle of the kitchen of one of the most influential clan heads and he wasn't being attacked for merely existing. It was only when nearly a minute had passed did he snap out of his daze and take his seat next to Ino.
"So". Ino's father began before Naruto responded with a timid so of his own. At this, both parents gave a concerned glance at Ino. Was it really that bad that he was so afraid to even have a basic conversation with them?
"So how was school today"? He finally asked the boy before him. Who looked about ready to up and run out of the room at the slightest hint of an attack.
"Not much. Just the standard stuff really". Naruto replied before digging into the meal before him like a wild animal. With that, yet another concerned glance was sent Ino's way.
Later that day Naruto was given one of the spare guestrooms to sleep in as Ino's parents talked into the late hours of the night.
"This isn't right. You know what that boy holds. Every day he lives is another day that thing can't kill any more of our people". Ino's father said as angry tears went down his face. His best friend's child was being abused and worst yet the Hokage knew all about it and did nothing save buying him an apartment and even then he was attacked nearly every day.
"I'm going to talk to Lord Hokage about taking him in". He said as his wife gave him yet another tissue to wipe the tears from his eyes.
"Inoichi you know he won't allow that. It would be viewed as favoring one clan over the others". She said but even she wasn't sure she cared. Naruto was a true hero in her eyes and what was his reward. Neglect from the very people he was keeping safe by just existing and a near-constant state of fear that today would be his last.
"Maybe you should ask Chōza and Shikaku to go with you. Who knows maybe with three clan heads voicing the same thought he may just consider it.
"You may be right my dearest love. I'll do just that come the first rays of light tomorrow". Inoichi said before they too went to bed.
The next day Inoichi, Chōza, and Shikaku stood side-by-side as Inoichi made his case. The Hokage all the while said nothing as the man standing before him now said his peace. It was only after he had stepped back signifying that he was finished did the Hokage speak after nearly an hour of relative silence save for a few poofs from his pipe.
"Had you come alone I would have said no immediately. However, seeing as you three are all in agreement regarding Naruto's current living conditions I have come up with an idea. You three shall train the boy. Also effective immediately I am having him be placed in a different class. I was going to do this sooner but it is my hope that this move will be good for him". The Hokage said in an even tone of voice not at all betraying his current emotions. Looking to his life-long friends he saw that they were in agreement. With that done the trio left the Hokage tower far happier than when they had entered.