Naruto smiled a lot.
He smiled in the morning, as he looked around his dingy apartment and made cup ramen.
He smiled as he ran through the streets of Konoha, getting his justice in little ways.
And he smiled when he got caught. When someone paid attention to him.
Sometimes, when they smiled back, it even reached his eyes.
Kurama had heard many times from Naruto what his childhood was like. He had even taken advantage of his anger and grief many times in an attempt to wrest as much control as he could.
But back then, he had barely paid attention unless Naruto's emotions were unstable enough for him to take the opportunity.
His anger burned brightly, almost as much as the first time he was here. But the anger was not for his sake this time.
He wanted to destroy the village even more now. Not the village itself, but about 19 out of 20 of the residents he wanted to kill slowly and painfully.
But Naruto had taught him something, before all this. Older, wiser Naruto hadn't tried to get rid of his anger. Not completely, that is. Naruto was angry all the time. But he couldn't just kill everyone that he was mad at, even though he had the power to.
Kurama would have probably ignored him if he had just done his usual "it's wrong" routine. No, he had given a better reason.
The most satisfying revenge was to prove them wrong. Directing the anger to make their entire world, their entire life, turn on its head. Don't destroy the body. Destroy what makes them an enemy. Destroy the hate.
Naruto had done that to him. Done it for him. It had taken a long time, but he… both of them… gained a friend.
Oh, and he totally had permission to gloat about it afterwards. Naruto didn't do that step as often as he should, but Kurama thought it was important, and he had agreed, albeit reluctantly. Even if it was directed at him. He thought it was only fair.
So this time, when he had finally had enough of watching Naruto's rejection and mistreatment, instead of trying to exploiting his anger to try and destroy as much as possible, he… talked.
The boy himself didn't seem to hear him. This was to be expected, of course. He didn't know of his unwilling passenger, and had not received any sort of meditation training. This would take time.
He had time.
Naruto smiled, and he didn't know why. There was just something strangely… good about everything.
Of course it was a good prank. All of his pranks were good pranks, even when he got caught. But it didn't feel like the prank. It was like the sun shone just a little better, the air was just a little fresher, and his chest was just a little warmer.
It felt almost like someone wanted him there.
He wasn't even close to Ichiraku Ramen, either.
Perhaps this happiness came from the news he had gotten in the mail earlier today.
He had been accepted into the Academy. He was going to become a ninja. And someday, he would be strong enough to become acknowledged. And someday, he would become Hokage. He would be respected, just like the old man.
Of course, he still had to wait even longer. Lessons wouldn't actually start for three more months, which felt like absolute torture.
So yeah, Naruto didn't really understand why he was so happy all of the sudden.
«You don't have to wait.»
Naruto froze with his hand on his apartment door, then quickly looked around. There was nobody in sight.
"Hey! Show yourself!"
«I'm not a ninja, brat. I'm inside you.»
Naruto scrunched up his face. "You aren't making any sense. Only ninja hide themselves."
«I'm in your head, idiot.»
"Oh. I uh… don't get it. Am I going crazy? Should I go to the hospital?"
«If you were actually crazy, why would you ask the voice in your head for help? It doesn't matter anyway. You aren't crazy, unless you count the normal Naruto brand of crazy. I'm sealed inside you.»
Naruto scratched the back of his head. "I don't understand, but… what do you want with me, anyway?"
«Kit… I want you to become Hokage.»
«But you'll need a lot more than just the stuff you learn at the Academy. There are no shortcuts, and it will be hard work. You need to be more than a ninja. You need to be an exceptional one. So I'm going to make you one.»
"Who are you? Why are you doing this for me?"
The voice was silent for a while, and Naruto started to open his front door again, but the response stopped him again.
«An apology. A promise. Perhaps a returned favor. Pick whatever you feel like.»
Naruto closed the door behind him, still clearly confused.
«My name is Kurama.»
"Kurama." The boy sounded out the word carefully. "Thank you, I guess."
«Don't thank me just yet. You have a long day tomorrow.»
Kurama hadn't spoken to him for the rest of the evening, and Naruto soon forgot of his weird new head-sensei.
By the time he had actually woken up the next day, Naruto had shrugged the whole thing off, far more invested in planning his next series of pranks.
...And waking up. He was almost as bad as Kurama when it came to mornings.
And he still had to eat breakfast.
«Kit, you're not eating cup ramen for breakfast.»
Naruto jumped, slamming his head against the open cabinet.
"Ow. Owowow." He ducked down, rubbing at the sore spot.
Apparently the conversation yesterday wasn't just a weird dream.
Naruto registered what he had actually said.
"Hey! Ramen is the best!"
Kurama grunted. «Debatable. That Ichiraku Ramen place might be okay, Naruto, but that cup ramen crap is not. You need food with nutrients. Food with energy.»
Naruto looked distinctly offended. "Ramen has plenty of energy!" He looked back down at the cup in his hand. "Well, maybe this stuff doesn't quite taste as good, but still..."
He shuffled his feet. "I can't afford to go to out to eat every day."
The implied statement was not lost on Kurama. No other merchant let Naruto anywhere near their shops. Even the few that tolerated him clearly overcharged for their products.
But to Kurama, there was a very simple solution.
«Then it's time you learned to get your own breakfast. Grab a kunai.»
"...Um, Kurama-sensei? I don't think my practice kunai are going to be very useful." He had bought all sorts of equipment as soon as he had heard of his acceptance into the Academy, but battle-ready tools were not something most shopkeepers would sell to most any Academy student, not without permission from their instructor.
And that wasn't even accounting for everyone's utter disdain for Naruto in particular.
«Easily fixed. Go to the training grounds.»
Naruto rolled his eyes, but grabbed his keys and made his way outside.
He had barely locked the door and started out in the direction of the Academy before Kurama stopped him.
«Not those grounds, idiot. You're only going to find sharp kunai on the actual, graduated shinobi training grounds.»
"How was I supposed to know that's what I was looking for? I thought I was just gonna ask for a sharp one or something."
«Brat. You're going to look for a discarded one.»
Naruto growled. "Fine. Are you gonna tell me why we're looking for one that's no good anymore, or are you just gonna make me guess? I don't even know why I'm listening to you in the first place! You say you're going to help me be Hokage, but I'm already gonna do that!
"You say I can't eat ramen anymore, call me an idiot just like everybody else, and then just tell me stuff without explaining anything!"
The voice was silent, and so Naruto ran on seemingly alone.
He briefly wondered how mad the weird voice actually was. Even though this Kurama was even less polite than he was, there was something in the voice that he had only heard in old man Hokage. Naruto knew that he was obviously in the right, but an odd sense of guilt settled around him for a reason he couldn't comprehend.
So when the voice actually returned, he jumped slightly.
«Perhaps you should not listen to me.»
He almost skidded to a stop in the middle of the street, but had just enough of a mind to duck into an alleyway instead.
«I'm not a ninja.»
"Okay, but you said you were gonna make me one."
«I'm not human.»
"Well duh. That would be really weird. I don't think another human could fit in my head, unless they were really, really tiny."
«Shut up! I wasn't finished.»
Naruto closed his mouth.
«I am the Kyuubi no Kitsune.»
The growl in his head was almost deafening, and actually kinda hurt. «Naruto! I attacked Konoha! I killed hundreds!»
«I killed your parents.»
Naruto's stomach lurched. He grabbed a fistful of his shirt, pressing his fist hard against his chest. "What? I… why? No..."
He stumbled into the wall, sliding down to sit roughly on the ground.
«Naruto, lift up your shirt.»
He didn't, but already knew what was there. It was that weird tattoo. He didn't know where it came from, and never really questioned why it was there, but somehow it seemed more important now.
«That is me. The previous Hokage gave up his life to seal me into you, to save the village.»
Naruto did not know about this yet. It would be taught at the Academy, and even then, Naruto would only have paid attention to what sounded interesting.
Naruto looked up from the ground, staring vaguely up at the sky. "You uh… don't seem very happy about it."
That was not what Kurama was expecting. «It is a natural consequence of my actions. I no longer resent my prison, though it does get boring.»
Naruto blinked in confusion for a few seconds. "Oh! No, that's not what I meant at all. I meant attacking the village and… stuff. You sounded sad."
«...I suppose. More angry that I made the same mistake twice.»
He braced his hands against the alley wall, pushing himself to his feet. "And you still want to make me an awesome ninja, right?"
"Then you don't have to say anything else, y'know!"
And with that, he started to run.