Nothing To lose

A/n- YAY! My first Naruto ficcy! I know this doesn't exactly follow a timeline, but I tried my best to keep up with what I know so far. Really hope you like. PLEASE REVIEW! .:begs:.

Disclaimer- …HAHA. HAHA. Kakashi is hot. And Naruto. And Iruka. Sasuke can die. (Oh dear, this isn't much of a disclaimer, is it?)

The swing wasn't always empty. Not any more, at least.

"Look, mama! There he is!"


"I hear there's something wrong with him…"

And forth…

"Oracha sensei called him a fox, but I don't see his tail. What kinda fox doesn't have a tail?"

On a pendulum of spiteful words no seven year old should be called. It didn't take years of training to imitate a smile, but to maintain an illusion day after day, despite the words and the looks, that had taken years to perfect. Maybe if he always smiled, someday… somebody would smile back.


"Um, sensei… why did you fail me this time?" Baffled blue eyes looked up at the man behind the desk as he clutched yet another paper with the same hated mark scrawled out on the top right corner. "I studied really hard like you told me to do last time. See?" He handed over the sheet to the elderly man, hope written in his eyes. Hope that there had been a mistake, that this time, Oracha sensei would smile at him, just for once, and hand him his genuine scores.

"Look, Naruto," The man began, not bothering to hide the contempt he felt towards the child. "I just don't think you're ready to progress with everyone else. Maybe next year, yeah? Until then…"

Another transfer. No matter how hard he tried, how long he worked, how good his scores, there was always a reason. He had thought, maybe this time… but no one showed him the same compassion they reserved for the other kids. The higher kids. The better kids.

"It's okay, sensei…I'll do better next time, I promise!" There was a pause, and another strained smile.

"There…won't be a next time, Naruto. I'm going to have to transfer you."

And the smile faded. Just as it had the last time and the time before that.


Iruka suppressed a shudder at the very proposal the man had proffered to him.

"I'm not sure I'm the most qualified-"

"You're the only one left who can take him. I trust you read his file already?" Who hadn't read the kid's file? The whole town knew him by sight, or at least, the sights he made while destroying famous…well, sites.

"What I'm saying is, maybe it would be wise to find someone else with more time…more patience…"

"He's thirteen for crying out loud, and the boy's still fumbling around the academy." The man had a point there. What kind of adolescent had such a substandard record that he was handed off twenty eight times to new teachers in the course of five years, and who's scores indicated a toddler's conceptual understanding of the world? Obviously the very boy he was so unwilling to accommodate.

"You understand why I can't just take him, right?" Iruka struggled hopelessly to win his case over. "You know my position would be bias, to say in the least."

Nudging the boy's file folder closer to the scarred chuunin, the man smiled sadly. "Haven't we all been?" Then, "Give him a chance. God knows you'll be the first who has." The silence raged so loudly it was giving the man a migraine. He sighed.

"…alright. We all deserve a chance." Suddenly the prospect of a warm bed and some headache pills appealed to him far more than the tests he had yet to grade.


"…You're late, Naruto."

"Naw, Sensei… everyone else is just early!" The boy attempted a pout, but in the seconds it took for the man to scowl, it had transformed into wild snickering.

"You know your grades could stand for a little more of your attention, Uzumaki." It seemed Iruka had hit a vulnerable spot. Was this short termed mood swinging child really the monster who had murdered-

The chuunin shook his head, wiping the thin layer of sweat off his forehead with the back of his hand.

Naruto pointed an accusing finger at a slumbering student drooling on his desk in the back of the room.

"He never pays attention and he's still passing!"

"And that's because dear Achi-kun manages to stay awake for at least half the class. You, on the other hand, arrive here in the middle of class, and either sleep it off, or prate it off. In your seat, Naruto." The man rubbed his temples and sighed for what must have been the hundredth time that day. "Anyway, before the class was so reprehensibly interrupted, I was saying that today we'll be having-"

"Hey, sensei, where do I sit?" The man peered up into his rather small classroom, complete with over fifteen empty desks, and massaged his closed eyes with two fingers.

"Anywhere, Naruto. I don't care, just sit down and let me at least finish my lecture for today." Why didn't his chuunin training cover teaching impractical students? "As I was saying-"

Someone screamed.

"Sensei! Make him give me back my desk!" The man took in the scene with all of the temperance of a wounded animal. The Haruno girl, Sakura, if his memory served, was sitting on the floor, looking for all the world as if she were ready to get up and slug the troublesome boy sitting backwards atop her desk until he begged for mercy.

"No, but sensei said I could sit anywhere, and when I become hokage, I'll own it all anyway!" Then, as an afterthought, "And the ramen stand!"

"Get off!" With a swift kick, the floored girl overturned the desk, and to everyone's sick mirth, upending the blonde unto his backside, bits of paper drifting to land on his head and stomach.

Naruto melted backwards, away from the fiery female.

"No you don't, Naruto! Pick it back up!" There was a moment's pause. "NOW!"

Iruka raised an eyebrow as the problematic boy sped to right the upturned desk. Hands thrust deep in the pockets of his orange jacket, the teen moved to the back of the classroom, extending a leg to trip the livid girl as she stood up. It would have worked too, if Sakura's foot hadn't lodged itself seven inches into Naruto's behind.

"Sensei, did you see that?" The blonde pointed an accusing finger in Sakura's direction, a safe distance away from the fuming girl, whining pathetically loud over the cackles of the class.

"Gee, I'm sorry, Naruto…I must have missed it." The man looked up over the top of the book he now held, gazing innocently down at the incredulous teen. "Tell me sooner next time, and I might be able to do something about it. There's a seat right over there in the back. I'm assuming you can make your way over without more hassle?"

Naruto flopped angrily into his seat, the backrest flipping around to smack him smartly in the shoulder.


"Oh, and watch out for the backrest there, it's rather loose, but you should find it rather obliging so long as you don't slam into it. Do be careful." The teacher flipped the book closed with one hand, standing up from his seat with a disinterested side glance at the sulking teen, a thick stack of papers imprisoned in his free hand. "Now, with out further distraction, I'd like to move on to the main event of today. I'll be administering your first test, but it's only to gauge how far along you are in your studies. It won't be graded, whereas it will find it's way into your permanent records, so do try to put in some effort." Naruto caught the indistinct glance in his direction, and grinned.


"Hey, sensei! I'm done! Pretty quick huh? And I put all my effort in to it, just like you said!" The boy waved the paper around, not attempting to remove himself from his seat.

Iruka found himself retracing the scar along his nose with a finger, staring at the child who had manage to disrupt well over half the class by now with his rather loud displays.

"So bring it up here. I'll grade it now." He tried to sound sensible, but a little more disgust than he would have liked played sharply into his words. Naruto, happy to oblige the man's request, leapt from one occupied desk to another, throwing papers and pens, and even an occasional unaware person or two, into chaos all around him.

"Here you go!" The blonde seemed to be waiting, so with a shrug, the teacher turned the sheet over and glanced at it, anxious to see the results.

An eyebrow slowly disappeared behind his slightly sagging headband.

"Pretty cool, huh sensei?" Naruto flipped the thumbs up sign at his teacher, waiting for the man's reaction.

He sighed.

"Well, you managed to skip half the test, and as far as I know, the answer to problem 19 is not a- hey, what is that anyway?" The man scrubbed the bridge of his nose as he took a second look at the sadly drawn figure that was not unlike the rear end of horse…or maybe it was a monkey getting high off poison ivy?

"Oh, that's you, sensei! Misuki-san said that when pigs fly, I'll be the most talent artist in the world, but I got up a little late this morning, so I guess I missed them. Pretty nifty, isn't it?" His grin grew wider.

"I feel… old."

"Don't feel bad, sensei! I'm sure you're not really as old as you look!" The exuberant grin grew with every wrinkle that embedded itself in the man's frown.

"I'm not completely wasted yet, kid. I'm only twenty si-" His eyes widened. "Gods, I am old," he finally muttered into his hands.

Naruto nodded fervently as finishing students turned their…rather more completed… tests over in a growing pile on the desk. Iruka's headache grew with it. How could this kid, any kid, succeed in making him into a complete idiot? He raised his head slightly, eyes focussing on the class behind Naruto's abnormally large skull.

"Eh, dismissed, dismissed…" He waved his hand absentmindedly in the air. "I'll see you all tomorrow in any case. But… not you, Uzumaki." Said boy had already turned heel and begun to run, halfway out the door when he spun back around.


"Come back here, Naruto…we have to…discuss some things…"

Umuino Iruka was not easily startled. At least, not visibly, but this had to be one of the rare moments that he was truly taken aback. The piercing blue eyes that shot daggers through his body had turned cold, the sorrow they once displayed in this exact position exactly twenty eight times in the child's life had turned into a petrifying bitterness no boy of thirteen should know.

" Well?" he demanded, and the harsh tone set the man back even further. Had he seriously misjudged the boy? Was this the monster that had murdered his parents making it's existence known? The fury and…was it pain? Hovering in those eyes that had been laughing only moments before…

he cleared his throat in an attempt to compose himself.

" You're behavior isn't exactly showcasing desired material, Naruto. I think that we should-"

A hand with the same whisker like scars as on the child's face sliced through the air to land on the desk.

" Get to the damn point! Another transfer? Well, sorry, but I'm stuck with you. It's not exactly a secret that no one else will take me."

" That wasn't what I had in mind. If you'd listen to me, I'd really like to give you a fair shot with the rest of-"

" Give me a break, sensei. You can't honestly say that you haven't been treating me any different than all the other screwed up kids here."

And what really hurt the man most was… it was true.

" I won't deny it, no." The shocked expression lingered only a heartbeat on the blonde's marked face. "But I'm making an effort-"

" You call looking the other way when miss six-inch-heel ninja decides to stick it where the sun don't shine an attempt at making an effort?

"You were brooding on that this whole time?"

"No. You get used to treatment like that when it's been an ongoing bias all your life," he hissed back at the startled chuunin. "So what the hell do you have against me?"

Words choked in the back of the man's throat. Spiteful words he had wanted to yell at the damn kid for some time now, lodged there, as the man stared dumbly back at the smaller boy.

"…you honestly don't remember?"

"Well you better spit it out, cause no one else will, that's for sure." How could his eyes be so old, and yet his tactics be so underdeveloped?

"If you really don't know, than it's not for me to inform you."

Fire burning the stables, the houses, the people.

"How could it be…"

The screams of the trapped, of the hurt, of the brokenhearted.

"That you've no memories…of that time?"

A child left crying by his unmoving mother's side, her dress blowing over her face as he begged her to open her eyes.

"Well, I don't know what the hell I did, but if this is about that time I stole the hokage's boxers, I don't see why everyone would be so damn uptight about it still-"

"No, it's not that, but look, I can't allow this to go on in my classroom, regardless of the reasons. It doesn't make me look too sharp when I can't even keep a tab on what's going on in here. I don't want to suspend you, Naruto, so I'm going to go easy on you this once. Instead of dropping you farther behind everyone else than you already are, I'm only going to revoke your eating privileges at the academy with the other students. Maybe that might retard your obsessive gorging habit in class, yeah? Just don't forget to grab something when you get home, okay?"

Iruka smiled, even if it wasn't sincere. "And I'll drop this test for you, but I expect better results at the field assessment next week, okay?"


"You can thank me later. Now get out so I can actually tell my superiors that I've been working."


Something had changed, and it had taken the chuunin an exact three days to appreciate what it was. And he wondered how he ever got his certifying headband. He'd be damned if the discussion with the boy had any impact, but something had reformed the caustic child since the previous three days. Iruka frowned as he looked at the fox boy fiddling with his pen, wondering what about the air in the classroom made him so uneasy, when the click of a pen hitting the solid ground woke him from his thoughts.

It was the silence.

Or to be more exact, it was the lack of energy that used to emit from the boy in great waves of destruction.

And as desperately as he had wanted it before, he wanted it gone. The put out expression on Naruto's face had no right to be there…like a fly on a spider's back.

Was it something he had said before?

"Sensei, do you have something I can eat?" Iruka froze in his seat, wondering idly how he could have let the boy he had been watching all day sneak up on him. Then again, it wasn't exactly sneaking when the kid was two feet in front of him, holding out a hand for food with another one of his annoyingly fake grins tagged into place.

"The whole idea of cutting off academy food was to inspire you to go out and get your own, Naruto. In any case, they fairly starve us teachers as it is." And without further question, the blonde turned to leave. Why did such a simple, and undoubtedly startlingly quiet act bother him so much?

…because it was quietly done, his thoughts voiced off in his head. Naruto was, by no means, a quiet person.

"Naruto." The boy turned. "Here." He threw his orange clad pupil the apple he had reserved for a lunching snack, and was rewarded with a smile that didn't quite reach his student's pure blue eyes. And he left, his fingers turning white as he clutched one of the desk's edges on his way out in a moment of instability.

It's demanded in a ninja's most basic training to detect any subtle movements and behaviors in those around him, and Iruka was no novice to such recognitions.

"What are you hiding, kid?" the man whispered to the walls of the empty classroom. "Why can't you tell me what's wrong?"


There are some mornings that upon waking up with the same bitch of a headache you get after some shorty ninety pound nerdy ninja kicks your ass into next week, that you just need a solid cure of tea and a hot bath. He could do without the tea for the moment, because frankly, he wasn't sure if he was capable of making the damn beverage, but the bathing facilities at the academy were bound to be empty so early in the morning.

It was nice, really. Stepping out onto a path barely touched by the sun's first rays, knowing that your destination wasn't quiet yet a cramped and rather hot classroom. The pre drawn out water of the tubs was with no doubt going to be warm and soothing…

Stripped of his clothing with nothing but a towel hanging loose around his waist, Iruka stepped into the first bathing room…

And nearly toppled right back out again. Standing hip deep in steaming water, and still naïve as to what was unfolding rapidly around him, a certain blonde haired youth watched the ripples in the waters about him, occasionally scooping the liquid in his hands to splash over his face in a brilliant cascade of broken imaged droplets. The teen sighed for a moment, then dipped his hair under the surface, lightly scrubbing out the built up grime. As he pulled up, he froze, eyes shooting open wide, meeting the equally startled stare of the flummoxed chuunin.

"Um, hi, Naruto…"

"…Iruka sensei…?"

Bathing plans abandoned, Iruka shook his head and turned around, heading back out the way that he had entered.

"I'll… uh… see you in…uh…class today. Or, well, the field, cause you know, the test and all…"

Naruto watched the receding figure disappear into the shadows, still baffled and quite miffed by the sudden, and rather unexpected, encounter.


"Final fucking exams today, guys. Get in your damn places." The field instructor, looking bored out of his skull, pointed to Naruto. "Didn't I fail you last year? What the hell are you doing out here with the smarter batch of intellectually challenged suckers?"

Iruka frowned slightly from his watch post on the outer edges of the training field. What was this man playing at?

"What're you talking about? I told you! I'm gunna become a ninja!"

"You're destined to scoop ramen into fat people's dishes at the store downtown."

"Damn straight! That would be cool… but I'll become Hokage first!"

"Not under my command you won't."

Iruka's scowl deepened. Even if he himself had at one time or another been motivated to fail the kid, he had at least been discrete about his feelings and actions. Naruto bounced back with the other members of the class where they had assembled in a not-so-perfect line.

"Alright, dammit." The instructor began pacing the line, like a drill sergeant to his troops. "All you brats have to do is finish the damn course." He huffed a breath and smirked down on them. "In three minutes."

The scarred chuunin cast a quick glance at the boy he had been eyeing since his arrival, then did a double take, peering closer at the blonde's paling face. What was wrong with the kid? A thin sheet of sweat covered his brow and upper lip, his knuckles shaking as his fingertips dug into the flesh of his hands.

"You, with the pink hair. You're first."

"Me?" Sakura squealed, pointing to herself, whether in pleasure or nervousness, it was anybody's guess.

"I don't seen any other pink hippos lazing about, do you? Go!"


Naruto silently cheered the girl on from his position, smiling inside every time she flawlessly executed a move or threw a kunai. He shouted, only one in over 20 people as she finished in under two seconds, beaming brightly and throwing vain glances at an unacknowledging dark haired teen.

The procession seemed to thin as each person completed the obstacle course in the allotted amount of time, and for the first time, he was truly unsure.

"You, with the blonde hair. You might as well go for it."

The teen looked up, wondering idly when the line had actually disappeared. And was it apart of the course for the scenery to be…spinning… before his eyes?

"You're right. You wouldn't have made it anyway, boy. I told you before, you don't belong with this bunch."

Naruto took a step forward, his smirk growing into the grin that had become his crutch for all these years.

"Are you kiddin'? I'm gunna finish this so fast it'll blow Sasuke's skirt over his head."

Some of the girls squealed in delight, while others cooed over the imagery.

"Then go! I'm counting down!"

Naruto took off, kicking dust into the man's face as he left, laughing all the way down the track. Funny, how short his breath was coming, not even half way through the course. Scary, how his legs nearly gave way while jumping. Odd, how-

He stopped, his vision darkening for a moment, sides heaving as his muscles went lax, swaying from side to side in an effort to stay upright. He hadn't even noticed that the throwing knives he was supposed to be using here were still in the instructor's hands. They had been this whole time, of course. After all, no one would make the time limit if they turned back at the weapon stage. And now he was in the exact position everyone wanted him to be.

A wave of nausea swept through him and he gagged, but of course, nothing came out. It wouldn't have anyway, would it?

"..uto?" Ah, he thought he had heard his name being called before.

Someone a distance away laughed. The voices whispering were loud… so loud…but he couldn't make out any of the words… maybe if he strained just a little more…

"..ruto…!" And there it was again… how amusing, and yet, so perplexing. Maybe he should check it out…

But checking it out required moving his legs…something he could not afford to do without toppling forward…

He just couldn't maintain this. His legs would give way any second. Why was everything swimming around in his vision?

And somewhere from the field, a voice, so triumphant…


And he pitched forward, unconscious before his head slammed down to meet the ground.



"He's just playing around, right sensei?"

Sakura? He wanted to grin…really grin and really laugh, to know that Sakura couldn't hate him, no matter what she said and did. Her voice couldn't deny what little worry she felt. …maybe she might even share some of her lunch with him…

"We should get his jacket off. See if he's injured." Naruto tried to shake his head no. Tried to move, but gentle hands had already pried the clasps apart and unzipped the orange jacket. It slid off his shoulders, and he hoped pointlessly that he hadn't sweated too much. Sakura shouldn't have to smell him like this.

"Shit. Look at his ribs. Who the hell's been feeding him?" The same hands that had removed his jacket slid carefully down his side.

"…uka sensei?" He cracked first one eyelid open, the other following suit just a moment after. What was he doing on the ground, looking up at all his classmates, and a very concerned Iruka-sensei?

"Naruto?" He tried to force his grin on, but wasn't sure if he had succeeded. They couldn't see him like this. Couldn't see him so weak, so…human. Maybe if he was lucky, they wouldn't see the-

"Bruises? Naruto, what happened?" The man's voice was soft. Caring, and for a moment, he could pretend the chuunin really did care. But only for a moment. Soft fingers removed the sweat stained tank top he had been wearing under the jacket, and small gasps oozed from the group. So they had seen the results of all the beatings people had administered on him in various isolated places around town. Now he was in for it.

"Leave the brat there. I'll haul him off later." The instructor had managed to find his way over quite quickly, pushing through the crowd until he hovered haughtily over the boy.

"S'kay…I c'n stand up 'n my own," he slurred, rolling on his stomach and pushing himself up on to shaking knees.

"Stubborn kid," the chuunin muttered kindly, wrapping his arms around the blue eyed youth's torso.

"I said I'd move the boy out myself-"

"Don't you dare touch him," Iruka snarled, lifting Naruto to his feet. "You send the others back, but you leave him with me." And without looking back, he led the teen off the field, one arm pulling his student firmly against his side by the waist, the other steadying his shoulder. The blonde would never admit it, but it somehow felt good, almost right, to have someone he could lean against when he needed it most. He closed his eyes… and sighed.


"Where're we, sensei," he muttered sleepily into the man's…chest? What was he doing there? He stiffened, and his teacher set him down on an unfamiliar couch.

"You passed out again, so I had to carry you, but don't worry. You walked most of the way."

"Oh… so where're we again?" Naruto hid his uneasy by looking around the small room, not bothering to take in what he was seeing.

"I took you to my house. I…wasn't exactly sure where you lived, and I didn't think you wanted Asha-san, one of the most uneducated educated medics around, poking about your body. Was I wrong?" The blonde shook his head slowly.

"Mhm tired, sensei."

"What happened out there?" Naruto cringed slightly at the direct tone.

"Eh, just lost my balance and fell…Musta hit my head kinda hard too, huh?" And there was that annoying grin. Fake. Just like his laugh and the cheerfulness he replicated in another's presence. He lamely scratched his head in unease as the man stared him down, eyes not reflecting the false humor.

"Stop lying and tell me what happened. I don't like being taken for a fool, Naruto." The teen's eyes turned cold and restless once more.

"You wouldn't care, even if I did tell you." His voice lashed out accusingly, and Iruka could no longer see the blue in the boy's averted gaze. "You really don't understand that they've already tried what you're doing and, once upon a time, it worked."

"…tried what?"

"Dammit, don't play dumb! Don't act like you care, cause… cause…" He fought around for a moment for the right words to express the phrase he suddenly didn't want to utter, then gave up entirely. "Cause it always hurts more in the end," he whispered. "I was fine. I would've gotten up and moved on. I always do." He fingered the bruises against his skin, wondering indolently where his jacket and shirt had gone. The scarred man sighed, his patience wearing thin.

"And you. Don't believe that I haven't seen you, noticed you…the way you sway when you walk, the way you can't even run without wearing out…" He buried his face in his hands. "Don't think I didn't see how much weight you lost, that I didn't feel how light you were." His ribs… Gods…. How long had he been like that? This wasn't all something that had sprung up in the last five days…


"It was my fault though, wasn't it? I didn't know, and you tried to tell me." He laughed, no sign of amusement in his stony voice. "You only eat at the academy, don't you? And I took even that away from you…" So, where did the boy eat on the weekends, the holidays? But he didn't ask. He was afraid of the answer the thirteen year old might give him.

"…You didn't do that on purpose?"

"Dammit, no!" Naruto looked into the fabric of the couch he had propped himself up on. Suddenly the design was so much more interesting than looking into the other man's hurt face.

"It doesn't matter then."

"It does too!" Iruka shoved his hands against the younger boy's shoulders, pinning him to the sofa and forcing his gaze into the cold icy depths… "Stop hiding behind your smile and just…just get it out…" He dropped his voice lower. "Just get out what you've been wanting to tell us all these years."

Naruto laughed, cold and pressing. So unfeeling that it sent shivers up and down the man's spine.

"That's a first. Asking me what I have to say. Nothing. Not to you, not to any one of those selfish people out there. Let me ask you though. There's something on your mind. Is there something you wish to say?"

Iruka looked up and mimicked the boy's own grin for a fraction of a second.

"As a matter of fact, there is."

"Well, you better get it out now," he growled. And he did.

"What the hell were you doing in the teacher's bathing house at four in the fucking morning?" Iruka had obviously thrown his last nerve into suicide, but it didn't faze the teen at all.

"I could ask you the same question. What kinda loser gets up that early?"

"Let me remind you that you also looked decently awake at the time. Unless you can pick locks while sleep walking?"

Naruto grinned impishly.

"Never mind. I don't think I want to know what you've gotten yourself into in the past. The fact of the matter is you know damn well that that's no place for you to be, or you wouldn't have been there so damn early."

"They…cut my water… my electricity. You know… not making rent and all…"

The response was so unpredicted and downright honest that it took the man a second to realize what the boy had said.

"You live by yourself in an apartment?" What a stupid question. Who else would the boy be living with? He had no family to speak of, no friends… no money. Maybe he should have spent a little more time to think it through. He tried once more. "Why don't you try doing what the rest of us have to do, and get a job?"

The boy snarled.

"You don't think I've tried? Now who do you think would even consider hiring me?"

"Well, maybe if you weren't so…" the man searched around for the right word… "destructive…"

Naruto laughed bitterly.

"Don't act like you don't see it, sensei. The way that people look at me, talk to me…You should know it pretty well yourself."

And he did. Hadn't he also judged the boy too soon? Hadn't he thought it impossible that the child could be anyone else other than the destructive teen who pulled pranks and got into trouble every day? He sighed. Again.

"So what have you been doing up until now then? Something's kept you going for all these years…"

"Why the hell should you care?"

"It's a curiosity matter, really. So?"

The boy looked to the ground and muttered something barely audible.

"Come again?"

When the teen looked up, the regret was evident in his pale blue eyes.

"I…I had to do it… No one would give me a job. I never went after anyone like myself though. Just the people who could afford to lose it…"

"You stole?"

He nodded, the growing lump in his throat too painful to speak around.

"Then why couldn't you just steal some food? Obviously it's not a matter of stealth for you if you've been at it this long. Food here isn't as precious as silver or gold."

The blonde's response floored the man once again.

"I promised myself I wouldn't steal more than I had to just to get by."

"But you would have starved to death!"

"You revoked my privileges for three weeks. I figured I could get by with the apple you gave me before, and I could always ask Sakura if I had to…"

How could so many people be so wrong about a character? How could they have all missed such morality in him? …but then again, Iruka had to admit that he himself had been fooled as well. Fooled by a smile, a laugh, and by a mere boy who sat alone and ate alone, and watched the world pass him by without a second glance.

"That's it," he said with blunt finality.

Naruto looked up, doubt and distrust etched into every defining line of his body.

"What now?"

"Come by my classroom tomorrow afternoon around midday. I'll give you a job."

Silence, and then in barely a whisper…


"You're my student, and it would look rather extreme on my record if you were to pass out either from lack of food or descent sleep on my watch."

Naruto's face visibly hardened, and the faint whisper of hope that had played in his eyes, blown away by an invisible wind of hurt.

Why can't I just say it? Why can't I tell him that it's because I care about him as a person? That I don't see him anymore as the monster that is his secret burden?

"Of course," was all the boy voiced, turning to leave the house.

"Naruto." He spun around, eyes widening ever so slightly as the chuunin tilted his head to the side and smiled. A true smile. For him alone. "Let me treat you to some ramen before you go, okay?"

He nodded, the corners of his lips turning up in true contentment. "I'd like that."

A/n- Hey guys! What'd you think? Hate it? Love it? Should I leave it here, or should I finish up? I'd LOVE to hear what you have to say, and btw, I'm hoping to make my goal of a certain amount of reviews, so make me happy! (And I shall reward you greatly with your choice of donut…and some mashed taters with brown gravy. Yum. ;-) lol, just thought you might find it interesting, but I was eating ramen nonstop the whole time I wrote this ficcy. :-p Okay, not all, but for most of it.

-Lexi (The evil twin)