Title: When We Were Small

Author: Kenhime

Genre: Drama

Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto. The decision of who gets to be with who should better be left in the hands of the creator Kishimoto-sensei. *shudders* I don't want to decide.  I also don't own Johnny Rzeznik's song.

Long Author's Note:  I was planning to write a romance story for Naruto, since it's fun, but then I couldn't tell who was with who…  ^^;; I don't want to risk having to pair up two people that the creator personally didn't want to pair up (the big question of the couples is still not answered, grr)…  I thought maybe I should just write a fic for each of the three possible pairings in Team 7: SasuNaru, SasuSaku, and SakuNaru…  But…I don't know…something's stopping me from doing that…

In the end, for the sake of trying to be IC, there are no pairings…just a SasukexNaruto friendship…

Anyway, this thirteen-page one-shot (this is the longest one-shot I've written so far) details the events that happened in Naruto's life, from when he was six years old to thirteen. BEWARE OF SPOILERS!  I know people are so gonna kill me because this is chalk full of spoilers from the anime episodes AND the manga volumes 1-15.  *horrible thought enters mind…and bashes pea-sized brain* -_- *tells herself* Usuratonkachi…

I was inspired to write a songfic because the song, "I'm Still Here" seemed to match Naruto's character really well.  Guess where the first and last scene came from…


I am a question to the world…

                The little boy stumbled across the streets, his blond head bent down to his chest as if it was weighed down by grief.  He stared down at his shoes, tattered from overuse, like his ragged and dirty clothes.  As he passed by, he didn't have to see nor hear them.  He could feel those cruel whispers cutting through his innocence, those stares stinging him with their iciness, the thoughts that ran through their mind at the sight of the pitiful child.  And he didn't know why.

Not an answer to be heard.

                His wobbly foot got caught in a hole and he fell forward, his hands barely stopping him from tasting dirt.  The humiliation brought tears that distorted his vision and he struggled to stand up.  He began to run, his tiny legs carrying him down the streets.  He ran faster and harder, the muscles in his body tightening painfully.  But he didn't care—he wanted to lash these feelings out on himself.  The world blurred in a blob of colors, indistinct and unimportant.  Time seemed to not exist, life diluted and not so agonizing as before.

                He was beginning to like running.

All a moment that's held in your arms.

                By then, he was out of the village, and hot tears flowed freely down his whiskered-like cheeks.  He continued to run until finally he tumbled down the green hill and landed face down on the grass.  He breathed its fertile smell, the small leaves tickling his face as he turned his head to get air.  His chest heaved up and down from sprinting, small beads of sweat running down his forehead.  His wash-out blue eyes gazed at the horizon, the never-ending line separating land and sky.  Must everything be so clear—so distinct?

                Cries filled the air as he curled himself into a ball.  Each sob grew louder as each thought plunged him deeper into despair.  Everyone hated him.  The other children refused to play with him.  And his parents…his parents died, leaving him alone.  What came after misery and bewilderment was anger.  Angry because no one told him why they hated him.  It was as if he was condemned even before he was born.  Angry because those children ignored him, making his existence seem so hallow.  And he was angry at his parents, who left him in this state of hell, so suddenly and so quickly that even the others began to think that he had been the cause of their demise.

And what do you think you'd ever say?

                 But they were wrong.  They died from a lousy disease.  They were distinguished shinobi, braving many battles and near-death experiences, yet they lost to a disease.

                Everyone always seemed to blame him as the cause of every bad incident—treating him like as if he was bad karma.  They were ignorant to think that he wouldn't hear their distant voices, their words that were like spikes of ice that were thrown at his heart.  They believed he would die one day, and save them from the terror he didn't know he held inside.  They wanted him to be cast away, a ghost—not even a shadow—that lurked in the streets, ignored and avoided.  They didn't want to see him—they wanted to think that he was harmless, never going to do any good.

I don't listen anyway…

                But he would show them.  He would melt the ice, break the hellish destiny they had envisioned, become the flame that would never be extinguished, and save them… Those people would then look at him with proud, friendly eyes.  Just like how they would look at that man, dressed in those white crinkled robes and straw hat.  He made a promise on that day, to be acknowledged, to be trusted, to be…accepted as a human being, not as a monster.

You ignore me,

And I'll never be what you want me to be.

                A long while he laid there, venting these painful emotions and bitter thoughts out in the open air and grass, until at last he settled into silence, too weary to think and feel anything.  His half-lidded eyes continued to watch the grass gently swaying in the wind, the birds flying overhead, the clouds drifting sleepily by.  One thought managed to cross his dull mind: he was sad and the weather was beautiful today.

                "Hey, boy, wake up…Boy!" Someone was shaking his shoulder.  The child opened his eyes groggily, his sight becoming clearer.  He blinked at the blinding light of the afternoon, trying to make out the silhouette before him.  He let out a sleepy moan as he pushed himself from the ground to sit up.

                "W-what do you want with me?"

                "Nothing, kid, it's just that it's getting late."  The stranger smiled at him kindly as he bent down.  "You should go back home to your family."

And what do you think you'd understand?

                The blond boy stared at the man cautiously.  No one had ever been this nice to him.  There was a scar running across one cheek to the other on his nose, clumps of spiky hair tied back, making his head look like a pineapple.  But the foreigner passed the mental test—his gentle eyes seemed to prod him to tell him—tell him everything. The young boy cast his eyes down on the ground.

                "I…I don't have a family," he replied curtly.

                Startled, the stranger asked, "How long have you been alone?"

                "Mom and Dad died a week ago."

                "Sorry about that.  Where do you live now?"

                "No where.  My house was sold couple days ago…"  His answers were automatic, as if they had no meaning to him now.

The man's eyes hardened at the answer for a flickering moment.  "You mean to say that no one took you in?"


"…How old are you, kid?"

                "Six."  He could sense the concern and pity in the man, the natural sympathy one has for an orphan like himself.  However—

I'm a boy, not a man.

                "What's your name?"

                The boy was silent for a long time.  He hated his name, the two words that turned people into glaciers, kindness into aloofness.  But it would be the deciding factor whether or not the man was truly kind.  "The name's…Uzumaki Naruto."

                The man stiffened.  Naruto did not look at him, waiting with a sinking heart for the man to abruptly apologize and leave.  Or maybe the man would turn angry and hit him, blaming him for pretending to be a normal child.  After all, who wanted to give pity on the likes of Naruto?  The little boy stared down at the floor, his hand idly touching the grass.

You can take me and throw me away.

                But he felt a hand on the top of his head, and it ruffled his hair.  His azure eyes widened, mouth slightly agape.  He could hear the man's words, distant yet clear.

                "Come on, kid, let me take you to the leader."  The man smiled at the incredulous look in Naruto's eyes.

                "…Who…who are you?"

                "I'm a teacher.  They call me Iruka-sensei."

                A hand was stretch out before Naruto, and with dazed eyes, the blond boy took it.  Two people, one taller and older than the other, walked up the hill.


                The whole room was dimly lit by the surrounding candles, the incense thick yet soothing to Naruto's nose.  He had never known that the leader was the same white-robed man he had just thought of awhile ago.  His eyes strayed from the leader's backside and to the scriptures engraved on the walls, archaic and almost creeping, the way it seemed to bore into his head.

                "It seems like you don't have a home now, Naruto."  The voice, weary and wise, brought the boy's attention back to the chief in a snap.

                "Can't do anything 'bout it," Naruto muttered, instinctively—yet childishly—wary of the unsmiling and tactless old man.

                "Indeed," the old man turned around, his mouth in a firm line, worn deep lines running down his stern eyes.  "You're at an age in which you must start your education.  In a few months, school will be starting."

                The thought of those kids giving him the cold shoulder was enough to fuel his bitter resentment inside of him.  "I don't want to go."

                The Hokage's voice was final.  "You're ordered to go, child."

                "I'm…I'm not a child," Naruto looked up, his blue eyes afire with indignation and stubbornness.  "I—I can take care of myself, old man."

                Iruka shot an apologetic look in the village leader's direction, but the Third Hokage paid no attention.  Instead, the ends of his mouth crinkled and curled into an affectionate, tired smile.  He took off the large straw hat and set it aside to look at the boy more closely.  The old man bent down to the boy's short height.  "Why don't we make a deal, hmm?

                Naruto narrowed his eyes suspiciously.  "What kind of deal?"

                "If you go to school, I give you a place to live and something to eat."

                "Can I eat ramen?"

                "As much as you want."  The blond-haired child cocked his head to the side thoughtfully before he broke into a grin.


                A little later, Naruto left the room to wait outside under the watchful eyes of the two ninjas.  The Hokage turned his sagacious gaze on the tall young man.  "I thank you for bringing him to me.  I was concerned about him the past few days."

                Iruka dropped his eyes to the floor respectfully.  "I don't mind.  What is it that you want to speak to me about?" 

                His superior stood before the portrait of the Fourth Hokage, studying it thoughtfully, until he said at last, "I have a request to make of you."

                "Please, sir?"

                "Will you please take care of him?"


                The older man didn't have to look over his shoulder to see his hesitation. "You are nineteen years of age, Iruka, strong enough to become Jounin.  Yet you stayed here to become a teacher instead…  In the memory of your parents, you wanted to guide these students to a path different from yours.  But you will make an exception for this child—all because of what is sealed in him?"

                "…The position of Anbu didn't fit me…  I felt that because of this weakness, I could not possibly succeed in the missions."

                The Hokage glanced sharply at him.  "You didn't answer the question."

                Iruka was silent for a long time before he closed his eyes, "When I found him, he was crying.  Ironically, there was this feeling inside of me that wanted to help him. I suppose…out of the teachers here, I am the best person for the job, despite what happened six years ago."

                The leader turned away from the painting and picked up the large headdress.  "Iruka."

                "Yes, Lord Hokage."

                "I know how you feel, but…like you, Naruto had no parents…"  He set the hat on his head once more.  "Please understand him."

                Iruka bowed.  He wasn't sure if he could or if he wanted to, but…  "Yes, I'll try."

                The old man reinstated his status, his eyes now stern and commanding.  "You may go."

                When the teacher came to the hall, he found Naruto leaning on the wall, staring listlessly at the floor.  He was suddenly aware of the looks the passer-bys sent in the boy's direction and he stiffened in anger.

                "…Iruka-sensei?"  The blond-haired child looked at him questioningly, doubt clouding his mind again.  Iruka's eyes fell on him and softened.

                "It's all right, Naruto."

                "…Okay," the boy said reluctantly.  "I got the keys to the flat now.  I'll just be going home, then."

                "Hmm…" Iruka scratched his nose, searching in his mind for a way to befriend him.  The kid seemed to like ramen, and he just got his pay today…  "Before you go, why don't I treat you to some ramen?"  He couldn't help but grin at the look of shock on the boy's face.  "Well?"

                But he got a taste of his own medicine when Naruto suddenly hugged him around the waist.


                Naruto stretched out his arms, his face split into a grin.  He ran around the schoolyard after the butterfly, sometimes tripping on the grass.  The insect's flinty wings tickled the fingertips of the child, rousing giggles from him.  Its colors were vivid in the noontime sun, flickering hues of red, orange, and yellow.  To Naruto, it was the most beautiful living thing.  But after awhile the butterfly flew above him and away, leaving the blond-haired boy disappointed that the fun was over.  He glanced at the small wooden cage lying on the floor and smiled, unaware of the argument raging within the classroom.

And how can you learn what's never shown?

                Iruka slammed his hands on the table, trembling in fury.  He tried to keep his voice leveled as he spoke.  "Are you meaning to say that you choose prejudice over the education of your children?"

                A just-as-furious woman stood from her chair so abruptly that the chair fell over.  "It's not prejudice, Iruka-san, it's security.  You know what's possessed in that child.  He could harm the rest of the class—he could harm our own children!"  The rest of the people sounded their agreement strongly until the noise died down to hear Iruka's reply.

                The teacher was quiet for a long time, his head bowed down in contemplation.  "The Fourth Hokage…" he said finally, "sealed the nine-tails demon inside the child for the safety of the village.  He wanted us to regard Naruto as a hero, not a monster.  Is this how you will respect the last wishes of the Fourth Pillar?"

                The parents shifted uncomfortably in their seats.  The large conference room had grown unusually hotter.  The woman, who seemed to be the representative of the rest, bravely held onto her petition by ruthlessly attacking him.  "Why are you protecting the very demon that killed your parents, Iruka-san?"

Yeah, you stand here all alone.

                The people murmured, appalled of the woman's audacity to ask such a personal question.  However, Iruka held her stare calmly and unfazed.  He was winning this argument.

                "I'm not protecting the demon, Shizumi-san, I'm protecting Naruto."

                Nothing could be said after that.  After a few mumbles of apology, the adults filed out of the room.  Shizumi dropped her head and exited as well, but not before shooting a hateful look at the boy standing outside.

They don't know me 'cause I'm not here.

                Naruto cocked his head to the side, beginning to understand what the topic was in the room.  Iruka found him gazing at the retreating backs of the parents, his azure eyes dejected.

                "Oi, Naruto!"  The boy glanced at him and broke into a grin once more.


                The young man picked up the cage, puzzled.  The little door was wide open and the occupant gone.  "Where's the butterfly I gave you?"

                Naruto chuckled sheepishly.  "I…I let it go." 

Iruka was startled, but then he smiled back.  "I see."


And I want a moment to be real,

                The blond-haired academy student, the three-year failure, sat on the swing, watching as the other students walked away with their parents.  Their head guards glinted in the light.  Everyone had passed except him, leaving him by himself, covered in the shadows of the trees.  Jealousy weighed in his heart as he saw men and women ruffle the hair of their children, or pat them on the back with approval.  No one even comforted him, cheering him up with the fact that he could always try again.  But it seemed like everyone didn't want him to succeed.  Even Iruka.

Wanna touch things I don't feel,

Wanna hold on and feel I belong.

                He jumped off the swing and walked away.  His hands curled into a fist and he blinked hard.  No, he wasn't going to cry.  There was always another chance—another year.  However, despair was eating him away like a steadfast parasite.  When would he ever become a ninja?

                His gaze turned to the Hokage monument, remembering the marks and swirls that he painted on the day before.  He was a no-good prankster, a troublemaker that everyone disliked.  No one took him seriously, but it was better than having no one paying attention to him.  He wasn't smart or talented enough to be acknowledged in class, so he took to the other extreme of the spectrum.

And how can the world want me to change,

They're the ones that stay the same.

                He tried so hard to prove his own worth.  He trained his body, continuously doing pushups, sit-ups, running, and taijutsu.  Dolls hung at the corners of his messy flat, torn with the many shuriken and kunai thrown at it.  Books and scrolls were scattered across the floor of his apartment and he relentlessly studied them all night until his head would drop onto the paper.  While his form was muscle-toned from the harsh training, he was uncoordinated with his movements, thus he lacked the grace of taijutsu.  The intense studies did no good for him—he couldn't understand it and it would slip past his mind like water through fingers.  His grades were the lowest in class. 


                "There's no way the demon fox wouldn't try to use the power unlike what you're assuming," a long-haired man sneered.

                "Hmm…you're right," Iruka agreed.

                Naruto's heart clenched and he choked.  He unconsciously held the large scroll closer to him, his sweaty palms soaking into the old yellowed paper.  His body had never before felt so numb from this newest rejection.  Even…even the man who had been the only nice person to him didn't accept him from the bottom of his heart.  All those years of talking to Iruka, eating ramen…it seemed to dissipate like paper burned away from the flame.

They don't know me,

                Naruto was terribly conscious of the emptiness inside of him, the hollow sense of worthlessness that had finally settled on him.  He was beginning to crumble under the many years of hardship and misery weighed on his small shoulders since the beginning of his life.  He…really was a failure, a nobody that would never become Hokage.

'Cause I'm not here.

                "The demon fox would do that." There was more to Iruka's words.  Naruto snapped out of his anguish to listen for what else the teacher had to say.  "…But…he is different.  He is…"  Naruto looked over his shoulder to peek over the trunk of the tree.  Iruka was smiling, even though blood trickled down his mouth and his words came slowly in pants from the running and fighting.  "I've acknowledged him as one of my excellent students." 

And you see the things they never see

Naruto was stunned, so much that his heart stopped for a moment.  "He may not be the hardest worker…And he's clumsy so nobody accepts him.  But he already knows what it is to feel pain in your heart. He isn't the demon fox anymore—he's a member of the Hidden Leaf Village…He's…"  The academy student's cerulean eyes watered as Iruka said the last words.

All you wanted, I could be

                "He's Uzumaki Naruto!"

                Tears slid down his face in a stream.  He couldn't stop crying—crying from relief, from joy, and from love.  No one had ever been so kind to him, so accepting of who he was.  Naruto had killed his parents, made him suffer as an orphan, but he had still asked for his name, still ruffled his hair.  Naruto stole the forbidden scroll of seals, stupid enough to fall for Mizuki's trap, but he shielded him at the risk of his own life.  Naruto ran away from him, unable to take in the blow of Mizuki's words, but he still protected him.  The boy no one loved—no one saw—finally felt what it was like to have the tender feeling in his heart.

                "Okay, whatever…" Mizuki sighed.  "Iruka, I said I would take care of you later, but I'm changing my mind."  The sound of shring rang in the air.  The Leaf Village traitor was going to use his second large shuriken.  Naruto stood up with a scowl on his face.   Bastard.


                Iruka closed his eyes.  The cut on his back almost paralyzed him; he couldn't escape.  At least, he hoped, he got his words across to Naruto.  If it did, then he would die content.  Naruto was like a surrogate son to him, even with the thirteen-year age difference.  As the years had gone by, he had begun to understand the meaning of the Hokage's words.  The boy was so much like him when he was young, and he had realized that this was the very reason he had become a teacher in the first place.  He wanted the students to know that they were accepted no matter what, that they were part of the Leaf Village family.  A smile crept up his lips.  Well, his job was done.

                The shuriken whirled around Mizuki's hand as he snarled, "Hurry up and die!"

                Iruka waited for the weapon to tear his body apart, but it never came.  Instead, he heard a loud popping noise.  His eyes flew wide open to find a blurred figure kicking Mizuki at the chest, causing the man to fall and lose grip of the shuriken.  The star-shaped weapon flew past Iruka into the rustling trees.  The blond haired, orange clad…It was Naruto!

Now you know me, and I'm not afraid

                "You shouldn't have done that, punk…" The irritated Mizuki picked himself up.

               "Don't touch Iruka-sensei," Naruto's voice was dangerously low and hoarse.  He stood up and set the scroll of seals on the ground.  "I'll kill you!"

                The traitor snapped back, "Shut up!  I could kill a punk like you in one shot!"

                The boy's two arms formed two seals.  "Try it, trash!  I'll return the pain a thousand times over!"

                "Then do it, demon fox!"

And I wanna tell you who I am

                "Kage Bunshin no Jutsu!"   Suddenly there were many Naruto's, spread all over the place from the high tree branches to the ground below.  Mizuki stepped back at the sheer number of the boy.

                "What—what is this?!"

                "What's wrong?" all the Naruto's sneered at once, "Weren't you going to kill me with one shot?"

                Iruka leaned forward.  Naruto had failed the test because his worst jutsu was the Bunshin no Jutsu.  Ironically, to Iruka's surprise, he seemed to have mastered the forbidden Shadow Clone skill—a higher form of the clone technique.  A feeling of pride overtook the young teacher as he looked on.

                "Well then," Naruto pushed his jacket sleeves up his arm.  "I'll start things off!"  Mizuki's scream wrecked the forest air, followed by the endless sound of punching and kicking.  When the smack-down finally ended, and Mizuki's pitiful body was lying on the floor, Naruto scratched his head sheepishly.  "I went a little too far…"  He glanced at his teacher.  "Are you all right, Iruka-sensei?"

                Iruka let out a sigh, smiling.  "Naruto, come over here…  There's something I want to give you."

Can you help me be a man?

                "Okay, you can open your eyes."  Naruto squinted, adjusting his vision to the dawning light.  He noticed Iruka's bare forehead, and then the pair of goggles held in his hand.  Slowly, his hand reached up to touch the metal plate on his head.  He could feel the engraved symbol of the Leaf.

                "Congratulations…on graduating…"

                Naruto was speechless.

                "Let's celebrate!  I'll treat you to ramen."

                Silence.  Iruka was puzzled.

                All of a sudden, Naruto jumped on him and hugged him ecstatically. 

                "Hey, that hurts!"

                The new shinobi couldn't help but laugh joyfully.  "Thank you, Sensei!"


                Zabuza was too strong.  At this rate, the three Genin would be killed.  Naruto shook in fear and backed up, just about to run away.  But as he used the left hand to push him up from the floor, he winced from the pain of the deep cut, startling him to remember the blood oath he took earlier.

                He had promised himself, on the pain of his left hand that he would never run away again, that he would never need to be saved again.  Was he a man to go back on his words?  The taunting ebony eyes of Sasuke fired his determination more.  Like hell he would lose to that guy!

                He glanced at his Leaf head protector under the arrogant foot of Zabuza.  It was Iruka's head guard, the symbol that he was no longer a student—but a shinobi.  This wasn't an illusion, a nightmare he was having—the situation was real.  Zabuza was wrong about the genin.  They weren't acting like ninjas—they were ninjas.  Azure eyes narrowed and he lowered his head in a determined glare.  No…  He howled as he sprinted forward. He wouldn't run away!

They can break me

                "Naruto, what are you thinking?!" Sakura shouted, terrified to see her teammate ready to commit suicide. 

                "He…" The blond ninja was such a fool that Sasuke was at a loss for words. 

                With a snort, the jounin kicked him easily away with one foot, muttering idiot under his breath.  What did the brat intended to do?  Strangle him? 

                Naruto's body skid all the way back to where she and Sasuke were standing.  "What are you doing jumping in by yourself?! We genin have no chance against him!" Sakura rebuked.  She stepped forward to help him, but he already pushed himself up by the arms.  Her jade eyes widened at the object he clutched in his hands.  The forehead protector?

                "Hey, you eyebrow-less freak…" A stream of crimson ran down his mouth.  His body was aching painfully to the vicious kick on the chest, but he managed to stand up.  "Put this in your handbook… The man who will become Hokage…"  He tied the head guard back around his forehead, his eyes a flaming blue.  "…is the Leaf Village Ninja Uzumaki Naruto!"

As long as I know who I am


                He struggled to open his eyes and when his vision cleared, he saw the bloody foot of Sasuke.  Behind that was the prostrate body of the masked ninja boy they had worked hard to try and defeat. 

And I want a moment to be real,

                "Geez…all you ever do is get in the way…" Sasuke's voice was breathless and raspy.

                "Sasuke, you…!" Although his rival was the one to bring him down, Naruto was elated by the fact itself that Zabuza's invincible subordinate was beaten.  But joyous expression fell off his face as he noticed the stream of blood gushing to the floor.  He looked up and realized the boy he hated had blocked him from the needles.  The sharp needles had pierced all around Sasuke's neck.  It was almost déjà vu.

Wanna touch things I don't feel,

                "What's…with that face…you total moron…" Sasuke slowly turned to glare at him, sweat and blood dripping down his face in beads.


                Sasuke managed to snort derisively back.  "How should I know…?  I hated you."

                Naruto was incredulous. "But…but why? Why me?"

                The other dropped his head, and said nothing.

                "I never asked for your help!"  He had told himself that he wouldn't need to be saved again, but despite it all, in the end, he was always saved.  First by Iruka, and now Sasuke…

                "I don't know…  My body just moved on its own… Idiot," Sasuke muttered.  The pain was so overwhelming that he was starting to succumb to unconsciousness.  The brave genin fell off his feet backward and Naruto caught him, a choke ready to burst out of his throat.

                Uchiha Sasuke, the most popular guy during the school days, the object of every girl's affection, the number one rookie ninja…  He was acknowledged for everything Naruto wanted to be.  He hated to be in the shadow of this cocky raven-haired genius and immediately, from the very beginning, swore to outdo him.

Wanna hold on and feel I belong.

                And this damn boy saved him.  He accepted Naruto as one of his teammates, a friend—a precious person to be protected.    Two opposite ends of the spectrum—an inevitable clash—was the start of a close friendship.  The differences between them didn't matter—in the end, they were equals.

                "That man…" Sasuke struggled to speak.  "My brother…I told myself I wouldn't die until I killed him…Don't die…either…"

                Cerulean eyes welled up in tears.  To sacrifice his life—his goals—his dreams, just so that his friend could continue his own…

And how can the world want me to change,

                "He landed a blow on me without flinching…  To protect a precious person, knowing it was a trap, he was still able to jump in." The missing-nin stood up.  "He's a shinobi that deserves respect."  The elite ninja's voice was dull.  "Is this your first death of a friend?  This is the way of the shinobi…"  He stepped back into the mirrors to finish the other boy.

They're the ones that stay the same.

                "Shut up," whispered Naruto.  He set Sasuke down gently.  He hated him too.   He wasn't going to lose to Sasuke.  He shot a deadly glare at Zabuza's comrade.  For the sake of Sasuke, not only for revenge, but because that missing-nin took away Sasuke's dream to save his own, Naruto was going to kill him.

They can't see me,

                He felt something inside of him unlock.  Chakra built up around him like the fury in his heart.  The energy whirled around him like a maelstrom and the elite ninja seemed so weak and small to him now.  Anger was his power.  He charged at him, a curled, hardened fist ready to let fly.

But I'm still here.


                Neji's eyes narrowed.  That boy wasn't going to last long with only persistence.  One more attack, and Naruto Uzumaki, the boy who dreamed to be Hokage, would be crushed.  "Your destiny is to lose to me.  There's no doubt."

They can't tell me who to be,

                "We won't know until it's over," Naruto snapped back.  Really, this guy was more annoying than Sasuke.  He had already been through what it was like to feel worthless—and damn it, he wasn't going to go through it again.  He may not have talent or strength, but these setbacks didn't matter.  All he had and all he needed were in his hands: strength—the strength of heart and determination.  Neji didn't reply as he tied the head guard back on over his curse seal.  "I don't know how much it hurt when your father was killed a long time ago but…" His face was contorted into a scowl.  "Thinking that destiny is decided because of that is a huge mistake!"

                The talented member of the Hyuga clan sighed.  "You're hopeless."  Veins rose above the skin around his pupil-less eyes as he lunged forward and landed a taijutsu blow on Naruto, causing the relentless idiot to fall and slide a few feet away.  Naruto wouldn't be able to stand any longer, his heart muscles would be constricting in pain and he wouldn't be able to breathe for a few minutes.  Neji glanced at Gemma.  "Examiner, it's hopeless." He straightened from his battle stance and turned away from the fallen ninja, muttering.  "…Damn loser…"

                Naruto slumped forward, holding his stomach.  A metallic-tasting liquid filled his mouth and he spat it out.  He struggled to bring himself together, but his senses were numbed to the point that he saw double-vision and couldn't hear the commotion going on in the spectator stands.  His muscles ached so painfully that he felt immobilized.  He concluded wryly to himself that being alive hurt.

'Cause I'm not what they see.

                But he pushed himself up, gasping.  For the bruised and beaten Hinata, who forced herself back up to fight; for Lee, even though he was unconscious and his leg and arm crushed, still stood up.  These people lost although they tried their best—but for them, he wouldn't lose now.  He couldn't—not only could he not stand this bastard, he needed to prove something to everyone that dreams can come true, that nothing is impossible.

                Before Neji could reach the stairs, Naruto rasped out, "D-don't run away."

                Neji frowned as he pivoted around.  He had never seen a guy so stubborn.  It was surprising he could actually still talk.

                "I won't run…I don't go back on my word," the persistent kid panted.

                The other ninja scoffed.  "I've heard that before."

                "There's no way I'll lose to a coward who's always whining about destiny," he said through clenched teeth.

And the world is still sleepin',

                The Hyuga boy furrowed his brow, the veins rising once more.  "An ignorant brat like you shouldn't be lecturing," he snarled.  He had used the Byakugen more in here than any other battle, which was careless, but the fool just couldn't help fueling his temper, could he?  "People are born burdened with a destiny they cannot oppose."  He pointed at him, hand trembling in fury.  "You could never understand what it's like to be burdened with a symbol you could never rid yourself of!"

While I keep on dreamin' for me.

                Nine-tails in his shadow…seclusion…isolation…the hatred in their gazes…the ice in their touch…the tears that fell from his eyes.  This time, it was Naruto who smirked.  "Yeah…I can…" he said slowly.  "And… So what?"  He could see the whining brat become angrier, but he snorted.  Served the arrogant ninja right to have his huge ego inflated.    "…Stop acting cool…you're not the only one that's special!  Hinata too…  She's suffered as much as you!" He promised her that he would kick her cousin's ass—a man wasn't to go back on his words.  "A member of the main family…but not acknowledged, trying to change herself… Thinking that as she was coughing blood while fighting you!  You're the same!  The branch family is supposed to protect the main family, yet doing that to Hinata…  In truth, you're fighting your hardest to disobey destiny…"

                Nothing could destroy the years-old grudge Neji built in his heart.  "Your sixty-four opening points are closed.  You won't be able to use chakra for awhile.  How can you fight?"  What a fool that Naruto was, blabbering his mouth off even when he had lost.  "In the end, you and Hinata-sama share the same destiny!"

And they'll want to just whispers,

                "Shut up!  Stop using that Byakugen to decide and act like you know everyone's destiny!"  Naruto was itching to give the cocky bastard a good punch.

                "Then prove to me that what you are saying is correct."

                "Yeah! I'm definitely gonna defeat you and prove that!"  The hell he had been through—the hell Hinata and Lee went through—wasn't so that he would lose to a guy who never experienced it.  To put it crudely, Neji needed some good ole Naruto-style ass-kicking.  But he cursed silently.  He couldn't feel any of his chakra, just like during training with Jiraiya.  If he had lost all of his regular chakra, then…then he remembered the perv-sennin's words…  The second, vaster store of chakra—the chakra of the nine-tails demon fox! 

                "Enough talking," the conceited Hyuga shinobi cut in sharply.  He glanced at the referee again.  "Examiner, I'm going to go at him intending to kill!  If you want to stop it, then go ahead."  This boy's words infuriated him enough to want to kill him and close that big mouth of his forever.

                Gemma snorted, with one thought in mind: kids these days.

                Naruto dropped into a jutsu stance, his fingers fixed into two neutral seal gestures.  He was going to try and open up his chakra.

                "It's useless.  Your points have been pressed." Neji couldn't believe the thickness and density of that boy's head.

And lies that I'll never believe.

                Naruto ignored him.  He closed his eyes and concentrated, his whole body becoming tense as he reached into the depths of his soul to tap into the demon's force.  He could almost feel the energy spreading in the inner coils, static heat forcing the numbness of his body out.  It was coming…all he needed was a push of his will to charge it.

                 "Can I ask you something?" Neji was unaware of what Naruto was doing.  "Why do you go against your destiny so much?"

And I want a moment to be real,

                The azure eyes dimmed in remembrance.  "Because I was called a loser."  A great battle cry then rang in the air as he pushed the chakra out, causing the dust to fly up in the ferocious whirl of energy.  The pain disappeared as his cells began to regenerate the damaged parts of his body under the healing effect of the nine-tail's power.  Although Naruto and the demon's chakra mixed together, he was still Naruto—his eyes were still two bright sapphires, unwavering and determined.  "Here I come!"

Wanna touch things I don't feel,

                Neji shielded himself from the flying dust, his eyes filled with disbelief.  Naruto wasn't supposed to emit any chakra, but somehow, the strange boy broke through the sealed openings with more force than before.  Nine black waves of ominous energy burst out and circled Naruto like dark glowing snakes.  The Huuga ninja had never seen chakra so intense.

Wanna hold on and feel I belong.

                The blond boy disappeared from the ground and Neji, with his 360-degree vision, was barely able to sense him flying through the air.  He executed the heavenly spin to ward off the rapidly-thrown shuriken and caught three of them in his hand.  He sent them speeding back to its owner, but the throwing stars stuck themselves onto the stadium wall instead. Naruto was on the opposite wall.  Neji's colorless eyes narrowed as he whirled around with a kunai ready.  The two of them clashed kunai against kunai.  The two daggers spun as it hit each other and the opponents landed on opposite sides.  The weapons fell to the floor.

                "Hey, you're confident in close combat, right?" the orange-clad ninja smiled as he came charging forward. 

And how can they say I never change,

                Neji's arrogant words drifted into his mind: people living within an unchangeable flow…only a few are destined to become Hokage…  Naruto frowned defiantly.  The whole of his existence contradicted that belief.  Life wouldn't be worth living if you can't break the mold—defying destiny, believing in yourself when there was nothing else to believe in.  "I don't know about this Hyuga destiny of hatred or whatever," Naruto shouted.  "But if it's too much for you, then you don't have to do anything anymore!"

They're the ones that stay the same.

                Neji's eyes widened in horror and he performed his special technique to try and guard against the tremendous power.  Naruto rushed at Neji, his will and chakra merging together like an inescapable cyclone, his rough and boyish voice overriding the chaos. 

                "When I become the Hokage…I'll change the Hyuga!"              

                The two tornadoes collided, creating a blast of ground debris and clouds of sand to rise.  The forces sent the two flying into the ground on the far ends of the arena, forming two similar craters.  The audience was holding their breath collectively, anxiously waiting for the winner to arise from the smoke.  Sakura leaned forward on the railing, heart pounding.

                "Hey, which one is Naruto?" she asked the friend beside her.

                "I don't know either," Ino exclaimed.

                Suddenly, a hand appeared out of one hole, followed by a series of coughing.  The figure climbed out as the smoke cleared away, revealing a filthy and bruised, but very much alive, Neji.  An unconscious Naruto was found lying inside the other crater, defeated in spite of his courageous efforts.  Everyone fell back on their seats.  The winner had been decided.

                "Loser…" Neji panted as he stood looking at the other.  He was too tired to be triumphant.  He had to give the idiot some credit though to push him this far.  "Sorry, but… This is reality."  But then he felt Naruto's chakra appear again—below him.  It happened so slowly to Neji, but his worn out body couldn't react to the blow.  The ground ripped apart as a fist flew up and connected with Neji's jaw.  Neji's whole body was pushed up from the vicious uppercut and he fell sprawled on the floor, grunting in pain.  "My body…"  So incapacitated he was that he couldn't move a muscle except to breathe.  "To quickly use the Kage no Bunshin in that situation…  Your main jutsu, isn't it?  How careless of me…"

I'm the one now,

                Naruto trudged to his exhausted form and looked down at him, wheezing.  Finally, Neji got the punch he deserved.  It felt good.  He stayed silent until he was able to breathe a little more easily.  "I…I failed the academy graduation exam three times…"  He noticed Neji's puzzled expression.  "That's because unluckily for me, the ninjutsu test on the final exam was always decided as…always decided as my weakest ninjutsu."  He lowered his gaze in a pause and then met Neji's questioning stare again.  "The Bunshin no Jutsu was my worst ninjutsu."  A look of surprise crossed the Hyuga genius's face.

                "Destiny can't be changed, blah, blah, blah…  Stop whining about stupid crap like that," he continued.  "Since…you're not a loser like me."

                There was a smirk on Gemma's face, but the special Jounin was pleased to announce Uzumaki Naruto as the winner.  The stadium was so quiet, stunned at the change of victory.  Until…

                A grinning Sakura stood up and yelled out, "Yay!  Naruto won!"  Suddenly, the people burst into applause and cheers.  No one would have known that the fox demon boy had such a strong resilience.  Naruto swerved around to face the audience, startled.

                "That was incredible!"

                "That was great!"

                "Great fight, shrimp!"

'Cause I'm still here.

                Naruto grinned so widely that his face could have split in half and flashed a peace sign.  He was tired, but the cheers and clapping erupting from the spectators fueled his energy and he ran around, waving and bowing.  The boy who was ignored was being seen.  People had foreordained him to a void existence, but he had broken through it.  He had defied destiny.

                And of course, he wouldn't stop from there.


                Obsidian eyes narrowed.  "Never again…" Naruto look up at him.  Sasuke's voice was trembling with emotion, but he was resolute.  "I already lost everything before…I don't ever want to watch those dear to me die before my eyes again…"

                Naruto realized…  Sasuke risking his life to save him from Haku's deadly needles…  Sakura's intense, hardened eyes as she leaped in front of Sasuke, kunai gripped in her hands…  Kakashi's smile that sealed his promise to protect his comrades…  Naruto stood up beside Sasuke.  "It's true…isn't it…?"  Sasuke shot him a questioning look.

I'm the one,

                "Because he was like me…Because he lived the same kind of loneliness and sadness I did…I thought he was strong 'cause he survived that solitude, fighting for only himself."  He watched Gaara's mutated form without disgust or contempt. 

                Naruto fought for his dream, for revenge, to prove himself…  Now…

                "But I was wrong.  His strength isn't real…" The orange-clad ninja glanced at Sasuke.  "Strength doesn't come from fighting alone.  Real strength is not what you have when you fight for only yourself."

                Now it was time that he fought for those he loved.  Like Haku, who sacrificed his life for Zabuza…like Iruka, despite everything, saved him…  How can he reach his goals when he's alone?  How can he obtain the meaning of his own existence when others have died?  Without Iruka, without Sasuke and Sakura, without Kakashi…he wouldn't have been walking on the path to his dreams.

'Cause I'm still here.

                He finally knew the difference between him and Gaara.  Naruto had people who acknowledged him from the bottom of their hearts.  Their caring saved him from insanity—from being worthless.  He had never felt so blessed in his life—to experience this feeling that many took for granted and some didn't have at all.  And he wasn't going to have this feeling slip past his fingers like a ghost of a flickering flame.  He was going to protect it because…

                "When you have something special that you want to protect…" Naruto formed a seal with his fingers, the resolve in his gaze drastically different from before.

                Sasuke was startled.  "Naruto…"

                "Only then can you become truly strong!"  For the second time that day, Naruto unlocked the key to open a demonic power—this time to protect others.  "I'll protect them no matter what!"


                The blades of grass brushed against his tanned face as he turned on his side, sighing contentedly.  Washed-out blue eyes blinked drowsily as it traveled past the green fields and afternoon sky.  Colors of blue, white, and green seemed to blend together into a hazy jumble of today.  Another array of colors flew in front of his eyes and landed lightly on his hand.  He didn't dare to move as the butterfly flapped its wings slowly at him, and then fluttered away.  His eyes closed and a smile drifted across his lips.

I'm still here.

                Someone's hand was on his shoulder, shaking him.  "Hey, you total moron, wake up… Naruto!"

                His eyes opened once more to see a familiar raven-haired ninja's face.  He grumbled as he sat up.  That ugly face wasn't the first thing he wanted to see when he woke up.  "What do ya want?"

                Sasuke straightened and thrust his hands in his pockets, snorting.  "Is this what you call training?"

                "Shaddup, Sasuke," Naruto replied as he rubbed his eyes.

                Sakura bent over and lightly tapped the metal plate on his forehead, smiling.  "What are you doing here?"  She seemed to be nice to him today.  He wished she was the one he saw first.

                The orange-clad ninja grinned sheepishly and scratched the back of his head.  "I just fell asleep, that's all."

                "What were you dreaming about?" she asked.  Sasuke raised an eyebrow as well.

I'm still here.

               "I…" He dreamed of many things.  He dreamed about a tiny blond-haired kid, a pineapple-headed teacher, ramen, becoming Hokage, fighting for his belief and to protect, challenging the odds.  He dreamed of things that happened and of things that have yet to pass.  Thirteen years and he had come a long way, though thirteen years was just not enough for him.  He was going to live to the end of his day—maybe just like that old man Third Hokage.  The dreams would never end…because they were real.  But that was not for us to tell him and for him to know anyway, since…

                "I forgot."


Author's Ending Note: If you had read this far, thank you.  ^^;;; …I don't know how you guys like it, but despite all the mistakes I made, I hope it was okay…  *bows on floor*  Maybe, sometime soon, I'll revise this…  In the meantime, I have to work on some of my other projects.