AN: Like pretty much the rest of the world, I'm in quarantine and I have very little to do. As such, this is my contribution to keeping you all occupied.

The first, original chapter is on slythefoxx2's account, under the name "I Quit!". I modified it but at its's core, the same things happen.

As a personal challenge, I'll try to update daily, with short chapters (circa 3.000 words) but there is no guarantee I'll manage it. I also do my own things, 'ttebayo.

Hiruzen Sarutobi was having a miserable day. "Miserable" was actually an understatement. As if the aches and pains that came with half a century of being a shinobi and the general lack of sleep he was suffering from due to his function weren't enough, his advisors and old teammates were being especially difficult today. Plus, he had run out of his favourite tobacco, preventing him to relax with a good smoke. According to the daily report, his ANBU division was over its budget while the military hospital is direly understaffed.

Then there was the organization of the up and coming Chuunin Examination and Danzo had created another fuck-up with a dignitary of Earth Country.

All that would make his day shitty but one no name, no account, asshole villager had decided to make it miserable. One stupid cretin had decided to create a situation that made all his problems pale in comparison.

Apparently, one Naruto Uzumaki had decided that enough was enough.

As he made his way to the tempura restaurant where the blond boy was safely detained by his ANBU, Hiruzen had too much time to think about how ultimately, this situation was no one's but his fault. Mainly. One could levy almost any - no, scratch the "almost" - criticism on how he dealt with Naruto and he would have no choice but to accept it if he were honest.

When the information about the boy's status as a jinchuuriki had leaked, he simply ordered no one to speak about it on pain of death. However, he did absolutely nothing about the village-wide ostracization that quickly was established against the child.

Certainly, any physical violence against the boy was punished severely but the discrimination and the neglect Naruto had been and still was the victim of, he had not seen fit to curb. How can an orphaned child live in a village where he is universally loathed and feared? A village where people swerve away from him in the streets, where they more often than not pretend he isn't there when he wants to buy something, where they forbid their children to play with the brat.

Hiruzen could argue that jinchuuriki are loathed and feared in general and it wouldn't exactly be a lie. Yet it wouldn't be the truth either. According to his spies, Sunagakure's jinchuuriki was actively tortured by the Kazegake until he became completely unstable. In Iwagakure, the two jinchuurikis had had their identity protected for a long time and could grow up normally. In Kirigakure, the Mizugake was adored before he flipped his lid. In Kumogakure, the two jinchuurikis are loved and considered to be the guardians of the people, the Raigake and his brother Bee made sure of that.

Hiruzen could have done the same for Naruto. He could have cashed in some favours - after being Hokage for close to forty years, the number of people in the village who owe him one is staggering. He could have been firmer, he could have been a true leader, he could have used the full power his title gives him over the village and the villagers.

Hell, he could even have revealed Naruto's true heritage. The official reason he hadn't was for fear that Iwa or Kumo would attempt to kidnap or assassinate the boy. The truth was, Konohagakure is considered the strongest ninja village for a reason and any attempt would have led to severe retaliation. The Tsuchikage's granddaughter and the Nibi's jinchuuriki from Kumo would have been killed or abducted. No matter how bad Naruto would have been treated, the two girls would have been treated worse.

A part of Hiruzen would have died had he had to give this kind of order but he could have done it. That would have led to another ninja war and Hiruzen didn't want that. So, in order to preserve the cold war, to avoid needless death, to protect the village, he made Naruto pay.

It's always easier sacrificing one. The good of the many, after all…

To be perfectly honest, it was highly likely that Iwa and Kumo knew of the boy's heritage anyway. Naming Naruto Uzumaki was nothing but powder to the eyes. According to his best agent, the two rival villages were very suspicious, up to ninety-five per cent certain, yet they had done nothing. Because they were ninjas but they were also humans. They had morals as vague as they were.

Then, no content to do nothing, he had deluded himself and tried to give Naruto a "normal childhood". Rather than explain his situation to the kid and take his training in his own hands, Hiruzen had dreamed of Naruto having the choice. As if the boy was not the prison of a terrible beast and incidentally Konohagakure's trump card in case of war. As if the boy could be anything but a ninja. As if he himself hadn't stuffed the young boy's mind with ideas of becoming one.

Naruto had entered the Academy, obviously, and Hiruzen had trusted the teachers to do their jobs. This had backfired splendidly when the teachers of the Academy, ninjas who were supposed to know better, had shown the same bias towards the boy and had basically not taught him. There had never been any direct sabotage, no, they weren't foolish but they had never taken the time to help to the orphaned boy who obviously would be slightly behind his peers. They had ignored him, like the rest of the population.

His second term as Hokage was one big failure and its name was Naruto Uzumaki.

Suddenly appearing in front of the restaurant where he would have to question Naruto, Hiruzen focused his thought on the problem at hand. After a deep breath, he opened the door.

So one villager, apparently, felt that he could try to deny Naruto service when the boy came for some food. Naruto refused to leave as was his right as it' was perfectly illegal to refuse service to a shinobi in good standing. Some might argue that Naruto's very existence was antithetic to the term "good standing" but Hiruzen didn't care. He was the Hokage and he didn't define it as such.

Unfortunately, this useless shopkeeper caught Naruto on a bad day because not only did the boy refuse to leave, he threatened to quit.

Not being a shinobi. No, that would have been manageable. Hiruzen would have had to convince Naruto that he didn't have the choice anyway and he would have had the shopkeeper disappeared in the meantime. But no.

Naruto had threatened to quit as a jinchuuriki. From what his ANBU told him, Naruto had said out loud that if he was doing such an apparently lousy job at containing the Kyuubi, given nobody seemed to appreciate what he did, he should just stop doing it. That caused every adult in the tempura restaurant to quake in their shoes and some had even soiled themselves if the smell was any indication. As they should.

While Hiruzen was confident he could reseal the Kyuubi into someone else - even if no child would be as adequate as Naruto was for the task -, it would be nowhere as sophisticated as his predecessor's work, even if he were to use the same basis for the seal. As an aside, he would die and be eternally tortured in the belly of the Shinigami.

He would do it to save the village but because a worthless shopkeeper couldn't behave? Not. Today.

What hurt Hiruzen more than anything was that he would likely have to punish Naruto for this. No matter how much these deserved some form of sanction for their bigotry, Naruto could never extract it. It was unfair. The fact Hiruzen himself maintained the unfairness cut deeply. There was no justice in it but it had to be this way; he couldn't allow Naruto to be a tyrant, holding the village hostage to get the respect he deserved. The villagers would just fear him more which would cause him to act out more in turn and eventually, something would have to give. And as far as Hiruzen was concerned, nothing justified the return of the Kyuubi.

But to tell a boy - as Naruto was a boy in the Hokage's aged eyes - that he had no choice but to suffer the scorn of the people, that the village, the nation, the entire shinobi system required it, made Hiruzen sick. To tell the boy that there was no wrong - even one perpetuated village-wide - grievous enough that the entire village was forced to suffer for it twisted his insides.

It was what the title of Kage required of Hiruzen: to lead and protect his people, even if he had apparently forgotten how to lead and his people were a bunch of small-minded assholes.

It took a second for Hiruen to take in the inside of the restaurant. It was empty save for two ANBUs and Naruto who was sitting leg crossed on a table. The blond boy looked indifferent to his surrounding, not even greeting Hiruzen with one if his usual smile.

"Naruto-kun, what have you done?" Hiruzen asked gently, approaching the table.

The boy shrugged. "Nothing. I've done nothing."

"Then why all this commotion? Why did the people flee?"

"Because they are two-faced bastards," Naruto answered in a neutral monotone.

The Hokage pulled a stool and sat in front of the boy. "Explain Naruto-kun. From your perspective, what happened here? What lead to you making that threat?"

The blond scoffed. "I just wanted to have lunch. Today was crappy, like yesterday was, just like every day since I've been put on my crappy team. I hate them, you know? Sasuke is a bastard, Sakura hates me, Kakashi doesn't care and doesn't want to be here. I'm a crappy shinobi, I know I am, and I'm not getting any better. I survive doing chores for people who hate me. So when I decide to spend that money, I expect to be allowed to. Except the host didn't want to seat me. He pretended there was no seat available when the restaurant was half-empty."

A small nod from one ANBU confirmed the boy's story so Hiruzen nodded and gestured for Naruto to continue.

"The funny thing is, he's never done it before. What changed today? Don't know, don't care, but he thought he could take it out on me like basically everyone else does when they are having a bad day."

Hiruzen winced. "I'm sorry this happened but you should have come to me Naruto."

Naruto scoffed once more. "Would any other shinobi under your command have to come to you for a similar problem."

"No," answered Hiruzen, stung by the truth of the boy's words.

Naruto grinned mirthlessly, his eyes full of disdain. "Well, guess I'm just special huh?" The boy spat, acid dripping from his tone. "Anyway, when that bastard tried to block me, I went around him and sat there. Then I started thinking out loud: these people hate me for something that isn't my choice. maybe they think someone else would do a better job than me. There is no law that says I have to keep doing it so I can quit and be done with it."

"You would die, Naruto," explained Hiruzen, his voice leashed in a monotone to hide his slow mounting anger. "You would doom yourself along with countless others. Is that what you want? The village in ruins?"

The blond cocked an eyebrow. "Why should I care? What's so special about this place I should accept their treatment?"

"Naruto, they are good people," and even as he was saying that, Hiruzen tasted ashes in his mouth. "Scared and confused but ultimately good."

"A great man beats his wife. Should she stay because he is great despite the beating?"

"No, but your situation is unique. Many would be in danger if you decided to quit, as you phrased it."

"Again, why would I care? If I'm' the key to their safety, they should make me want to protect them. They have done the opposite."

"Not everyone has scorned you, Naruto. would you see them perish just to spite the others?"

"Nope, but you assume I want the Kyuubi to go on a rampage. I just want to be free of it."

"Yet you realize that is surely what it would do?"

The blond shrugged. "Maybe, maybe not, that would be its choice. Unless you know how to reseal it, then everyone would be happy because the new jinchuuriki would be obviously better than me."

"Maybe Naruto. We don't have a seal master the equal of the Yondaime and the seal wouldn't be as advanced as yours. I would die in the attempt, regardless." Hiruzen said, hoping that informing Naruto of the cost would deter him.

It didn't. "You'd choose to. You could always run to safety with your family."

"That's not what a Hokage does. The entire village is my family."

For the fraction of a second, a terrible snarl of anger deformed the boy's features. "Except me," Naruto remarked with poison lacing his words. "They have been clear on that. You have been clear on that. You've yet to give me a reason I should continue. Why should I serve when no one appreciates it? I get nothing out of it."

"Because it is necessary." And as Hiruzen said it, the emptiness of the non-argument struck him like a punch to the face.

"Not my problem. I'm not important to these people, they are not important to me. The village doesn't value me, I don't value the village. You've yet to give me a reason why it'd make sense for me to keep at it, only how it'd make sense for the rest."

Hiruzen felt himself floundering. "What about the Yondaime, he was your hero. Would you make his sacrifice meaningless?"

This time Naruto snarled. "Your villagers would make his sacrifice meaningless, not me," The boy spat. "Also, he was my hero until I realized he killed my parents."

This shocked all three adults in the room, Hiruzen even more so.

"The Yondaime was a great man, why would you think that?"

"All clan heirs of my generation are older than me save one. Why didn't he choose one of them? They would have had a clan to help them, to support them." Naruto smiled crookedly and mirthlessly. "But no one wants a jinchuuriki as family, do they? They would have fought the Yondaime who had no time to lose. But what about civilians or a lone family of ninjas? No one would miss them, they could pass as casualties. It becomes much easier if I'm an orphan, doesn't it?"

"I promise you, Naruto, that the Yondaime didn't kill your parents-"

"Then they abandoned me, so why should I care?"

"They didn't, Naruto, I can't tell you who they are but they didn't abandon you. They died during the Kyuubi's attack and the Yondaime wanted you to be seen as a hero."

"Well, so much for that, huh? And was that supposed to make me feel better? Because you just told me you lied to me all my life about not knowing who my parents were and now you tell me you've known all along. How do I know the rest of your story isn't a lie?"

Hiruzen sighed. "It's complicated Naruto. The information could put many people in danger, you included."

"I'm about to release the Kyuubi and die anyway, so how could that information hurt me?"

"Naruto, I would never allow you to release the Fox and now that I'm here I can stop you."

"Forever? You can stop me for the rest of your days? Even if I just kill myself?"

The boy, Hiruzen thought, was set on ripping his heart out. "Yes, Naruto. We have ways to prevent you from doing that. It'd be a hellish life but it could be done."

"And you would do that because I have no choice but to suffer for something I didn't do?"

"I know it isn't fair," Hiruzen said lowly. "I know it isn't fair and you deserve better but I can't let you destroy the village or put it in a weaker position."

Naruto smirked but his eyes were cold as ice. "You never cared. You pretended I was part of the family but you never cared." The boy said without any emotion in his voice.

It was an observation, not an accusation and it cut Hiruzen even deeper.

"No, I do care-"

Naruto snorted.

"I do care," insisted Hiruzen, "but one boy can't be more important than the entire village. It can never be that way. Even if you deserve more than you have ever gotten, I have to put their needs above your own."

Just as he said that, Hiruzen had to jugulate the urge to slap himself.

"Oh? I'm less important than your other citizens? So, I'm a slave. The Yondaime made me a slave after he killed my parents. It's no wonder the village treats me like trash, I am!" The blond barked a fake laugh that made Hiruzen cringe. "You said the would see me and accept me one day but that was a lie. You don't care, you never cared if they did or not, no one has to see a slave as their equal. Is that why I'm assigned to Kakashi? Why he won't teach me shit? He just has to protect your precious prison and keep it from acting up, is that it?"

"Naruto, you aren't a slave-"

"But you just admitted I'm less than your other citizens," remarked the boy, twisting the knife in the wound.

"Poor choice of word from an idiotic old man, Naruto. You aren't a slave and the Yondaime didn't kill your parent, he wanted you to be seen as a hero, someone who protects the village every single day."

Naruto laughed. "Like a guard dog! As I was saying, I'm just a pet."

"No Naruto, not like that. It's complicated but you shouldn't lose faith. Things can change but not if you give up. I thought you didn't go back on your word?"

The blond gave the Hokage an incredulous look. "Why should I even keep my word to you? You lied to me all my life, you take their side, even now I haven't broken any law yet the one who did get to go home and I'm the one being detained. You let them hate me."

"I can't make them love you, Naruto. Only you can do that by proving you-

"You're the Hokage!" Naruto screamed abruptly. "You're the village leader, you're the Professor and you can't do anything!? And how could I ever prove myself if I don't get better? I told you, Kakashi doesn't teach me anything! No, your way is wrong and you don't even mean it. If you did, I'd have been taught properly at the Academy when I needed it and I'd have a proper sensei now set on helping improve. But if I quit then I show them they should have treated me better and whatever damage is done will be their fault."

"They will never see it like that, Naruto, just as evidence they were right about you. No one would change and it would benefit no one."

"I'd see my parents," retorted the blond with heat in his voice. "Even you can't keep them from me in death." He bit acidly before continuing in a crescendo snarl. "And if they really did love me, they will understand it was all yours and the Yondaime's fault! And I don't care what those idiot villagers tell themselves, I'll know the truth. Besides, why should they have a family when I can't have one? why should they friends and peace and choices when you and they have denied that to me? Again, why should I suffer for them? If they don't care then they should hurt as they hurt me!" Naruto shouted with rage.

One of the ANBU agents, having heard enough, hit the blond boy on the back of his head, planning on knocking him out, only to see the boy turn into smoke.

The Sandaime couldn't help himself. He laughed. He laughed off all the anger against himself and the village that had slowly but surely welled inside him. He had been arguing - rather badly - with a shadow clone the entire time.

"So no one thought to check if, and excuse my language, a fucking! Shadow clone! Was causing an uproar!" He asked, punctuating his bout of anger with three punches that reduced the table to ruins and scaring his ANBUs. Hiruzen sighed. "This miserable day," he muttered before looking at one of his agents. "Bring the real Naruto-kun to my office. We have things to discuss."

The two operators disappeared in a body flicker, apparently relieved not to be in the presence of their leader any more than what was necessary.

"I assume you caught much of that," Hiruzen told a shadow behind him.

"Yes," answered Kakashi.

"Can I also assume that I don't have to make my displeasure known?"

"No Hokage-sama."

"Yet I will. I have no idea what the repercussion of that will be but it might have set Naruto back for years."

"Not more than being not taught in the Academy. Oh, and figuring he is the village's designated whipping boy couldn't help." Kakashi replied and the Hokage could feel anger well within him once again.

"Is there something you want to say to me, jounin Hatake."

"Nothing you don't already know, Hokage-sama."

"I didn't seal the Kyuubi inside him, never forget who did that. I was just left to deal with the fallout."

"And how splendidly you have dealt with it, Hokage-sama. And as I recall, Hokage-sama, you did engage the Kyuubi before the Yondaime even did." The jounin answered, not liking the implication about his sensei.

"But I didn't perform the sealing ritual, is your point?" Hiruzen asked, his eyes narrowed dangerously.

"Merely an observation, Hokage-sama."

"Despite what you may think, I wasn't levelling an insult towards Minato-kun. He is every bit the hero all claim him to be and I'm certain he had many reasons for what he did but that doesn't change the situation. Add to that that none of my ANBU thought to detain the customers here so they couldn't spread what happened. Do you think I'm happy about any of this?"

"I think that as long as Naruto didn't break you were fine with it and if he does you'll punish when it's the fault of your precious family."

"So I have been negligent, complacent? Is that the charge? Then tell me, Kakashi: why do you repeat my alleged mistakes?"

"I'm teaching them teamwork."

"Is that supposed to be a legitimate answer? You're teaching them teamwork? Every jounin sensei teaches teamwork, they teach other skills as well, so what makes you so different?"

"Nothing is as important as that."

"Oh really?" Hiruzen said threateningly. It wasn't enjoyable to have the failures he had allowed to fester put right under his nose, even less Kakashi was looking so smug about it. But then, if he had been so bad and Kakashi knew it, why wasn't the jounin doing better? The Hokage knew he was being petty but he had been pushed too far. "Then I'm removing Naruto form team seven, effective immediately. I will arrange for another genin to take his place."

"I have done nothing to deserve this."

"You have done nothing and that's exactly why you deserve it," retorted Hiruzen. He had never said to Kakashi to stay away from Naruto. While he can admit he had never encouraged it and that could have been seen as an unsaid order, the elite jounin had enough brain to take his responsibilities and act on them. And seeing as it was Naruto's displeasure with his team that primed him, Kakashi wouldn't get away without punishment. "You're dismissed."

Hiruzen didn't miss the look of fury and betrayal on the jounin's masked face but he didn't care. He had an important discussion with his surrogate grandson coming and he had to return to his office.

Naruto was in a more negative space than he had been in some time and the stupid clone taking all day to come back with some food was seriously getting on his nerve. He had taken to practising his shurikenjutsu while waiting, as to show up to the bastard and impress Sakura but his agitation was negatively impacting his performance which led to a growing sentiment of annoyance which in turn impacted his performance.

As annoyance was beginning to turn to anger, he was assaulted by strange memories. They felt like his yet weren't, as he was quite sure he hadn't been just discussing hurtful things with the Hokage.

It took the blond a minute to sort through the experience of his clone and Naruto found himself shaken by what had been said. More than that, however, he was dismayed: he didn't think what his clone had said. Or at least, he didn't think he did.

The Yondaime was his hero. The clone had some excellent, truly logical points and Naruto was loath to admit it. No, the Yondaime was a hero, Naruto was certain about that.

"Why did he choose me, though," muttered the boy. "Why not someone with a family for protection?"

Because no one wanted a jinchuuriki, the cage of a monster, as part of their family. The clone was right on that, the village had made that clear.

Naruto shook his head. No, that clone was wrong, even if he wasn't really. The blond looked to and fro in a panic. He didn't want to die! That he was sure, absolutely completely certain. Also, he had gotten the old man angry, he just knew it. He had to explain himself.

Naruto started to run towards to Hokage Tower, assuming he would find his grandfather there. He was halfway to his destination when an ANBU appeared in front of him.

"I must ask you to come with me to the Tower, Uzumaki-san."

Naruto nodded frantically and before he could speak, he was hoisted in the ANBU's arms and both flickered to their destination. It wasn't a pleasurable experience.

The Hokage was sitting in his chair behind his office, smoking his pipe and apparently waiting for him. Naruto swallowed hard and noisily but the old man smiled at him - if wearily - and gestured for the boy to sit and relax.

"No worry Naruto, I'm not mad. Not at you at least. At myself certainly, but not at you," assured Hiruzen before he cleared his throat. "We need to talk, my boy. I know shadow clones are independent but they still are you. They feel like you, think like you. If you were feeling this way, why didn't you come and see me?"

A traitorous thought struck Naruto and the blond spoke before he could stop himself. "That wouldn't have changed anything."

Hiruzen grimaced but before he could say anything, the boy's features distorted in horror and he rose from his seat, visibly panicked.

"No, no, no!" Naruto exclaimed. "I didn't mean that! I wasn't feeling that bad, at least I don't think I was."

Hiruzen massaged his temples and sighed. "No worry Naruto. You can speak your mind to me."

The boy sat back down and scratched the top of his hair. "Really, Old Man, I'm okay."

"Naruto, please be honest. When you have a… a bad day," Hiruzen winced at that. When was Naruto's day not bad? "What do you do?"

Naruto looked at the Hokage, a look of clear puzzlement on his face. "I don't know? I train, maybe I prank someone if they were really mean and then I go distract myself."

"But what about the anger? The bitterness? Surely, you must feel some," Hiruzen prodded.

Something flashed in the boy's blue eyes but it was gone before Hiruzen could say anything.

"I-I don't think about it."

Hiruzen felt his heart stop for a second. "He doesn't trust me. Not anymore, after what I said to his clone. He is afraid. Oh, Hiruzen Sarutobi, what have you done, you stupid monkey?" The Hokage thought, pained.

"Do you often force your emotions away, Naruto?" Hiruzen continued, hiding his own hurt and remorses.

"I don't know, Old Man. I… Maybe? I guess. I don't think about it so that shadow clone out there? That wasn't me!" The blond assured with an empty chuckle. "I didn't even know I could remember what they did, 'cause I'm an idiot, see?"

Hiruzen sighed. "Naruto-kun, you don't have to fear me. What I said to this clone was… It was my mistake and I apologize for it. That clone, however, was you. They can't do anything you wouldn't or couldn't do. I guess he didn't suppress your feelings since he was just a clone."

The fearful glance the boy gave him was like a dagger in Hiruzen's heart. "I've really made a mess of things, haven't I?"

"What do you mean?"

"I've been lucky you were so accepting and forgiving. This incident showed me that, had you been combative or demanding, I would have been forced to be more proactive."

Naruto wilted under the Hokage's eyes. "Oh," said the boy in a white voice. "You're going to lock me up."

"No, Naruto, I'm not. You've done nothing wrong. All your life you've been the focus of unwarranted negativity from the entire village and I fooled myself, believing that your smile meant the ostracism wasn't getting to you."

"It didn't!" The boy protested, maybe out of pride, he wasn't sure. Naruto was confused right now, about his relationship with the Old Man first and foremost but he didn't like seeing the aged Kage so defeated.

"Oh? Because the little boy I met in the forest so many years ago, the one who shared some fish with me, that little boy was quiet, almost shy. You didn't become loud until your third year in the Academy when you decided it was the way to get the attention you desired." Hiruzen countered and Naruto had nothing to answer to that.

The blond didn't like to think back to his younger days. It was when he had been the most alone, almost suffocated by the silence, the cold and wary glances, the mean whispers. There had been some freedom, however, as back then, he hadn't known why everyone ignored him and he hadn't yet committed himself to change it.

Hiruzen watched Naruto digest the words that had been said. He could tell the boy was thinking deeply. The Hokage knew he had to press on; if Naruto was going to become what he had the potential to achieve and not some projection of a broken boy, he had to lay the foundations now.

"It was I," said Hiruzen," who told you to earn their approval. I thought it was the best solution but a child's mind can often surprise. How could you earn their approval if they were ignoring you? If they didn't want to see you? So you began your campaign to be noticed. It's perfectly logical yet I failed to see it. I should have started you on better tracks. I should have done many things differently." The Hokage muttered, as much to himself as to his audience.

"It seems I forgot what it means to be a Hokage." The old man snorted. "I forgot what it means to be a ninja if I deluded myself enough to believe the way you grew up wasn't affecting you." The Hokage looked at Naruto and bowed his head. "I thought you were a kid who needed to mature, a knucklehead who would change and for that, I apologize deeply, Naruto."

The blond boy was taken aback. The Hokage was apologizing to him? Naruto's arms flailed for a second. "Hum, it's okay, Jiji."

"No, it's not but I will endeavour to make it okay. I can't believe I let things slide to a point some part of you believe the Yondaime killed your parents and doomed you."

"I don't really believe that, that was my clone Old Man," protested the boy.

"If only. It is the time I correct my mistake, my boy."

"What do you mean?"

"Your clone was right. I have my part to play and I will play it but as for you, if I want you to change the mind of the villagers, then I should make sure you're trained by someone who will maximize your talents. You don't need to be taught the Will of Fire, you have it already, in a deeper way than any I've seen before. Hence why I'm pulling you out of team seven."

That momentarily shocked the young Uzumaki whose eyes widened as his brain milled the information. It begged so many questions he didn't have the breath to voice his concerns.

"I will oversee your training, Naruto. As I'm the Hokage, it won't be every day but I will teach you what I can. When I'm not available, you will apprentice under a jounin. His name is Ibiki. He can be intense in a way but he is a good and fair man and I guarantee you he will take your training to heart. If you listen to everything he says, you'll become a very good shinobi, of that I have no doubt. I'll work out what team you join for missions once you are ready for C-ranks."

Naruto was feeling so many different things, excitement, confusion, fear, incomprehension, that the only intelligent he managed to say was "why?"

"Because, Naruto, you have been protecting this village every day since your birth. None of my ninjas can say the same, I can't say the same. And you've been doing for free, something none of my shinobi would have done either. Services rendered deserve compensation, so consider it twelve years of backlog pay and my sincere apology. I have been foolish. I swear to you, Naruto, that I mean well but I've been foolish."

Hiruzen watched as the emotions warring inside the boy seated in front of him bled out until only a palpable excitement was left, a kind of contagious anticipation that made the old Kage smile. His smile widened as he thought about what would become of his last student and what lay ahead.

AN: Don't hesitate to review. Or maybe the next chapter, as it'll be my own. Yeah, let's say that.