AN: Just something I've been working on in the late hours of the night and early hours of the morning when any other person would be happily asleep... i had to go change the chapters around because I accidently put two in one... and it took me a while to figure out how to post... but its all good now... reviews and suggestions are welcome!!!

Chapter One

Training was the always the same. Kakashi always read his perverted book, Sasuke was always annoyed by both his teammates, Sakura was annoyed by Naruto, and Naruto was always screwing up. And Naruto hated every minute of it.

Team 7 had been together for over four years now. And since they had been on their first real mission they had been bombarded with so much crap, and so much trouble that the current peace that the village was enjoying was becoming unbearably boring. They were forced to do the same training everyday. The same exercises, the same routines, and for no reason except to hone their already exceptional skills.

Today was no exception. Naruto had been sparring with Sasuke. But by now they were so used to sparring with each other that every sparring match they had ended in a draw. This seemed to frustrate Kakashi to no end, but Naruto wasn't sure why. Sakura seemed to get it, but whenever Naruto had interrogated her about it, she had remained stubbornly silent, and Sasuke never bothered to ask.

If Sasuke had asked, Naruto was sure she would tell. Four years hadn't changed Sakura's feelings for Sasuke. She was still just as "in love" with him as she had been in the academy days. Only now she didn't annoy him by hanging all over him or constantly asking him out. But if Sasuke ever asked her for something, she would do it, no matter what.

But when Naruto asked all bets were off. Although a decently strong friendship had formed between her and the blonde, Sakura was still thoroughly annoyed by almost everything Naruto said or did. He hadn't changed at all since she had first met him. He was still loud, still stupid, and still obsessed with ramen. And he still had that annoyingly obvious crush on her. Or so she thought.

Sasuke left as soon as Kakashi had dismissed them for the day and disappeared, leaving Sakura with Naruto. She turned down his offer to eat some ramen with him and left him alone at the training ground.

If she had looked back, Sakura would have noticed the sad look on Naruto's face as she walked away. And she also would have gotten the wrong idea about why the blonde was so sad.

"I hate this." Naruto said out loud, to no one in particular. He sat down on the edge of the training ground with his back against a tree. He was alone again. Completely alone. Always alone. It never changed. Every day, after training he would be alone, mentally kicking himself for every stupid comment, every act of idiocy, and every screw up he pulled through the day. He hated who he had become. Or who he had pretended to become. He really wasn't as loud and stupid as everyone thought he was. It was all an act. It was all a mask. He had first put it on when he was little, to protect himself from the hatred that seemed to be radiating off everybody he met.

He hadn't known why, but everywhere he went he was shunned. No one wanted to be around him. No one wanted to talk to him. No one wanted him playing with their kids.

At first, he had cried. But when he had broke down into tears because of someone's nasty comment, the only thing he got in return was a smug, "serves you right" smile. Like he deserved to be treated like shit. He had never done anything to them. And all he was trying to do was be accepted.

By the time he had got to the academy, his crying had successfully earned him the title of "crybaby." If anything, it made him want to cry even more. But he didn't. He stopped crying, and instead took everything that was thrown at him in silence. He packed it all away inside.

It had worked for a while. But eventually he needed an outlet. He needed to relieve all the pressure, all the pain that was built up inside. So he gave himself a goal. He didn't really want to become Hokage. It was more to convince other people that he wasn't fazed by their disapproval. And it seemed to convince them, even if it didn't convince himself.

He also started pulling pranks. In a way, it was his way of getting back at everyone, but at the same time it helped him relieve some of the stress he built up from hiding his real emotions. He didn't really enjoy it. It just fit the "uncaring, happy despite what you say" personality he was trying have.

And that was why he acted so stupid. Because it just felt right for the part. He was such a clown, such a prankster, he might as well be an idiot too.

And everyone bought it. Everyone accepted it like it was the truth. No one saw through his charade. No one saw underneath his "loud and happy" exterior. No one bothered to look closer.

So now, years later, Naruto was still wearing that same mask, using the same defenses to hide his real feelings. To hide the insecurity, depression and loneliness. And still no one noticed.

Naruto sat under the tree for a long time, half hoping that someone would show up to train and he could try to strike up a conversation. But at the same time he was hoping that no one showed up, so he wouldn't have to put his mask back on, so he wouldn't have to force another smile.

And of course, someone came. And of course it was one of the people that Naruto secretly loathed for never noticing the lie that Naruto was living.

"Hi Iruka-sensei!" Naruto said loudly, making the newly appointed Jounin jump.

"Hi Naruto." Iruka smiled warmly. "Done with you're training today?"

Naruto nodded, giving his huge phony smile that took over his whole face whenever someone was around. "How bout you? Just starting?"

Iruka answered the phony smile with a real one of his own. "Yeah. I passed the Jounin exam, but just barely. I figure I have some catching up to do." The sensei explained. "You'll be taking the exam next year, right?"

"Yeah." Naruto got up and brushed himself off. "Well, have fun training Sensei." He slowly left the training ground.

"Bye Naruto!" Iruka called after him. He was frowning slightly. Over the passed few years he and Naruto had slowly drifted apart, but Iruka was aware that something was bothering his old student. Although he appeared to be the same as he was when he was twelve, if only taller, there was something about his behavior that didn't seem genuine. He had mentioned this to Kakashi, who had spent more time with the boy in recent years, but Kakashi hadn't noticed anything. Iruka wondered if it was just because him and Naruto didn't share the same closeness as when Naruto was still at the academy.

Naruto used to admire Iruka. He even had a small crush on him, one of those student teacher crushes. Not that he would ever admit it. Just the idea of a same sex relationship would cause a riot in the village. But that was all in the past. Naruto had lost all feelings for the older man as he had lost all hope that his sensei would notice the lies he had built his life off of. It was obvious that he would never see exactly how unhappy Naruto was, and Naruto had long since given up.

Naruto dragged his feet all the way back to town. He was a little hungry and contemplated stopping by the ramen shop before he went home, but decided against it. He was so sick of ramen that he wanted to puke just thinking about it. That's right. Naruto Uzumaki absolutely hated ramen.

He had never liked it as much as he had made people think in the first place. Again, it was all part of the act he was continuously putting on. Even now, he pretended that it was his favorite thing in the universe. But he couldn't stand it. The times he did gorge himself with it when he was treated to it by one of his "friends" he had ended up going home and puking his guts out all night.

All in all, Naruto hated himself. He hated everything, from his stupid obnoxiousness to his horrible dress sense, to the real him that was locked inside.

"Hey Naruto!" The voice of Shikamaru made Naruto's eyes snap off the ground and a smile snap back onto his face.

"Hi Shikamaru!" He said in his fake cheerful voice- the one that no one knew was fake.

"Hey. Are you doing anything? Wanna get some ramen? My treat!"

Naruto thought Shikamaru was a nice guy, and did consider him the nearest thing to a friend Naruto had, with exception of a few people, but he couldn't have offered anything worse at that moment. But being as he wasn't willing to risk showing through his invisible mask, he accepted.

"Sure!" Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! Naruto mentally berated himself.

The ramen shop guy looked thrilled when Naruto and Shikamaru got there. Naruto used to be his best customer, but hadn't been coming around as much as he used to, and his profits had significantly dropped because of it. He was more than a little disappointed when Naruto only ate three bowls of miso ramen, which had been his all time favorite.

Shikamaru was surprised by this too.

"I don't wanna make you go broke." Was Naruto's explanation, but in reality his stomach was turning and everything he just ate was threatening to come up at any moment. He had to get out of there.

"Hey Shikamaru, thanks for the ramen. I'm kinda tired and I have to get up really early to train tomorrow, so I think I'm gonna go home and go to bed."

Shikamaru nodded his acknowledgment, still staring in disbelief at the three bowls at Naruto's place. One of them still had some ramen in it. He wondered briefly if his friend was sick as Naruto walked away.

"That boy is acting strange." The owner of the ramen shop told Shikamaru as he gave him the check. "He has hardly been stopping by anymore. I miss him." Shikamaru was sure that something was wrong.

Naruto was trying to keep up his cheerful smile as he passed other people on their way home. It was hard. With every step, his stomach lurched and he almost lost the recently eaten meal. But he was determined to get home first.

And he probably would have made it if he hadn't met Sasuke.