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A Consequence of Loyalty

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Uzumaki Naruto has known for most of his life that his neighbors do not like him.

They’ve never told him so, of course. They don’t really talk to him, but it’s not the distant kind of not-talking-to that you get from someone who doesn’t know you, it’s more than that, and Naruto’s an idiot, okay, but he’s not so much an idiot that he doesn’t notice.

It’s hard not to notice when it happens that much: the stares, the dark looks, the adults pulling other kids his age closer and holding back the younger ones. Thing is, it’s always been that way as far back as he can remember, and he’s never known why. He’s not sure the why really matters, ‘cause it is what it is. It’s not a big deal; he doesn’t know them, so he doesn’t care.

He doesn’t care what any of them think, which is definitely why he’s up here at the ass-crack of dawn painting the Third Hokage’s nose red, because he doesn’t care what those assholes think. It’s perfect timing. Soon as the sun rises everyone’s gonna see the Sandaime’s big red nose right there smack in the middle of the monument.

Iruka said he shouldn’t call people assholes.

Well too bad, ‘cause that’s what they are. Nosey, staring, stupid--

“You could be doing this much more efficiently.”

Naruto’s really, really glad he’s wearing a harness, because the sudden voice right next to him makes him draw a big old line straight across the Third Hokage’s stone cheek as he yelps, loses his grip, and flails against the ropes.

“Excuse me, I didn’t mean to startle you.”

There’s another person talking to him. On purpose.

Naruto peaks up under his ass. He’s hanging upside down like an idiot, so that’s about the best he can do. Watching him, head tilted curiously, is a man who looks a little familiar. Dark hair, dark eyes, that sort of pretty face the girls love. Wait, he doesn’t look that old, actually. Older than Naruto is, definitely, but he’s not Iruka-old.

Naruto pulls himself up by one of his lines and realizes one more thing: the guy is standing sideways on the monument without ropes, as if it’s nothing.

And okay, there’s something really, really familiar about him, but Naruto can’t quite place it. A hundred yen, he’s going to think of it ten seconds after this guy decides to make like everyone else and leave him hanging here.

But Naruto can’t help blurting out anyway: “Teach me how to do that!”

The guy looks startled. Floored really, like no one’s ever asked him something like that before, or like he’s as surprised that Naruto wants to know something from him as Naruto is that he’s here in the first place.

What Naruto does not expect, because he has no reason to expect it, is that he might say yes.

That his startled expression might soften into a very measured, but somehow genuine smile.

That he might say: “All right.”

That in a moment of mischief, anger, and desperation, Naruto might accidently and unintentionally make himself his very first friend.