Here goes my first attempt at a Naruto fan fiction. I can only hope that this little one-shot is on par with what you expect of it or even more.

No real plot behind it all. A cute little NaruIno. Just an idea why Naruto's the way he is and the reason why he likes ramen as much.

I hope you enjoy.


A sniffle—ill suppressed by the young snub nose—and reddening skin—from being handled far too roughly by the balled fist of its possessor. Time passed, the sun was sinking closer to the horizon and his grief only grew—like the shadows the dying day was casting.

He hadn't wanted much. He hadn't done anything to deserve this kind of treatment. He just wanted someone to play with—like any normal boy—or girl, for that matter—his age. He was always alone, rejected, by every one and everything for no apparent reason he could comprehend. He tried never to despair—really, he did!—but there was as much loneliness and imposed solitude one could take before breaking.

The sobs he repressed, sent forcefully back down his throat when they threatened to escape, raked his being mercilessly, became harder and harder to hold back. A shinobi must never show any signs of weakness, was one of the main rules in the nindou book. And as little respect as he had for rules in general, he couldn't agree more in that case and yet had a hard time keeping to his principle in this predicament.

The only thing that you could tell him apart from any other child was the odd pair of whiskers on his face—at least physically, that is. And it wasn't like those were intimidating in any way. He actually liked to think of them as a completion of his entire complexion, a complement. Yet none of his fellow classmates seemed to think so, for some unfathomable reason. Aside from those, he was no different than all the other kids of Konoha.

Why was it that they hated him with such a passion then? Why did they always strive to break him, to hit him when and where it would hurt most? His innocent, four-year-old mind couldn't wrap itself around the concept. Why did they have to act like that?

"Hello!" he greeted cheerily, despite the nervousness coiling painfully in his stomach as he did so. His accursed stomach on which that atrocious seal glowed to life whenever he tried to mold chakra for his ninja exercises. "Can I play with?" His forced grin spoke of feelings he did not possess in that moment yet he did behind it, hid his fear of their rejection; hid his hope that this time it would be different.

Harsh glares and hard pouts were what welcomed him to the kids' playing ground.

"What?" exclaimed incredulously one kid. "Who'd want to play with you?"

"Yeah!" Another stabbed the knife in the wound deeper. "My mom says not to play with you because you're a little monster and that you could eat us any moment if I'm too long around you!"

"My dad says you're dangerous and doesn't want you around! Why don't you take a hike before they come to take us home because there'll be hell to pay if they see you around us, stupid Naruto!"

"Yeah!" energetically added the first, grabbing a handful of sand from the sandbox. "Get away from us, Naruto!"

Before he could flee and spare his own feelings, he could already taste the grating grains of sand on his tongue from having a fistful of it thrown in his face. He stood, nailed on the spot, staring vacuously at the cruel children that laughed and pointed at him and how "ridiculous he looked with sand all over him". He couldn't move—his legs defied him traitorously. Instead, he stood there, taking all their blows to his young psyche, incapable of lashing back, of defending himself.

Because they were really right, weren't they? Maybe he was a monster. Only a monster wouldn't have parents. Only a monster could be as unlovable as him, right? And only a monster wouldn't have a reason to live. That was why monsters were so irritable, weren't they? Because they don't have a goal in life, because they hate people—normal people—for having what they don't—something to live and die for.

The kids were soon led away by their parents who threw him malicious glares and whispered cruelties about him over their shoulders. But that was alright. Because he probably deserved it, right?

It wasn't the first time he was wondering this. It wasn't the first time he would be thinking of giving up—since he had nothing to live for anyway, you know? Who'd care if he disappeared tomorrow? He'd make many people's day much brighter if he was gone anyway. Why not end it all and make at least someone happy? He sure as Yondaime's death wasn't with his life in the Leaf. He did dreadful at the Academy; he sucked at molding chakra which was essential to a shinobi if he really wanted to become one; he had no one to tell him if any of this was worth his time of the day. What was there to live for?

He hiccupped and pushed his fists tighter against his eyes leaking bitter tears. He was near hysterics now; he knew it and couldn't stop it. There was no one left on the playground anyway—why should he fight the inevitable? Here or at his dingy flat—it didn't matter where he cried, where he wallowed in self-pity; the pain was just as intense everywhere he went.

In his distress, he failed to hear the footsteps of someone closing in on him. He was really abysmal at being a shinobi.

"Naruto?" His whole posture stiffened when the small high pitched voice addressed him informally. "Is that you, Naruto?" He pulled his fisted little hands away from his eyes to look into the azure eye that was unexpectedly close to his face. He pulled back slightly—partially in fright and partially in embarrassment. The platinum haired girl didn't seem to mind though. She kept studying him close with a firm pout of her slightly fuller bottom lip. He sniffled while she scrutinized him. "What in Sandaime's name happened to you? You look terrible!"

It wasn't as if he needed to be told that, to have it rubbed in his face. He looked away from her tantalizing cerulean gaze only slightly brighter in tone than his own.

"Look at you—all dirty and grimy." There she went, having fun at his expense, just like anyone else. A frown took control of his youthful features. He should have guessed that the most popular girl in the Academy would be just as cruel as everyone else, if not even more. He should have—what was she doing? His mind was in panic when he felt her chubby smooth creamy skinned hand rubbing the filth off his face as gentle as a four-year-old girl could manage. No one had ever vowed to touch him before. "Your face is all blotchy and grubby. And don't do that with your hands! Your eyes are all red and raw flesh from doing that!" she said bossily, pushing his balled fists away from his face.

He hiccupped again in his attempt to say anything.

"Go away, Ino!" he said snippily, turning around so his back was facing her. She gave a lopsided childish frown at his antics. What an idiot! "Stop telling me what to do!"

"Whatever, you big dolt! It's not as if I care anyway!" she snapped back, turning her back to him as well. Who did he think he was, anyway? Acting as testy with her when she was trying to be nice with him? She'd seen him on her way out of the kindergarten building, huddled up all alone and crying his eyes out and had taken pity on him with her big infantile heart. It all seemed rather stupid and pointless to her now. He didn't deserve her generosity anyway!

They stood like that for a while, back to back, both pouting. She could hear him trying to submerge his sniffling and doing a poor job at it, like he did at everything he tried. He was pathetic, really, when she thought about it seriously.

"Aren't you going home?" he asked suddenly, breaking her from her train of thought. She glared at the back of his spiky haired blond head over her delicate shoulder.

"I'm waiting for my mom and dad to come and get me." She huffed and turned back around, angry at his attitude to her. She was the Academy's brightest girl and he was just ignoring her! Any boy craved for her attention and when she was giving it to him willingly, of her own volition, he was turning her down. The nerve of him! "It's not as if I can't find my own way home, of course," she boasted proudly. It was quite a big deal for people her age to be able to orientate around the village. "I just don't want to worry them, that's all." Her voice was haughty and annoying. Wouldn't she just leave him alone to cry his eyes and body dry?

He snorted at her but didn't grace her statement with a comment. If anything, that pissed her off even more.

"Why are you still here, then? Don't you have a place to go to?" Her arms were crossed over her perfectly flat chest as she turned around fully to look at him. The boy she was talking to stiffened like a board. "Well?" She urged impatiently when he showed no sign of answering that either.

"No…" he muttered barely audibly and she grimaced. If there was anything she really couldn't stand, that was people who were down in the dumps.

"What do you want to play until my mom and dad come to get me then?" she asked him as she circled around him to come in front of the blond boy who stared up disbelieving at her until she sat down on the grass next to him. "I don't much fancy the sandbox and there's little we can do when it's getting so dark but I'm sure I'll be able to come up with something."

Her confidence staggered him. Her boisterousness and loudness almost made him wince in his state of mind. Her bossiness was incredible—in the bad meaning of the word—but he couldn't help gaping in wonder at her.

"No, I… You'd really play with me? For real?" His voice was shaky with desperation and hope. She looked up with her intelligent sapphire gaze to glare at him. He flinched back.

"Only if you stop acting pathetic." His blond eye brows narrowed over his red-rimmed eyes.

"I'm not pathetic!" He argued weakly while hastily scrubbing at his eyes with the back of his fist, hoping to rid himself of the trails of his weakness. When he fixed Ino with his sea blue orbs again, she was looking skeptically at him.

"Uh-huh, right," she said, completely unconvinced.

"I'm not!" he protested again.

"Are too," she said with a sly grin.

"Am not!"

"Are too!"

"Am not!"

He must be dreaming. There was this girl in his dream—a girl that every child his age would give an arm and leg to have the attention of—that wanted to play with him. For the first time in his life, someone wasn't being spiteful to him and rejecting him. Well, scratch the former but that still didn't change the fact that she was there with him, willing to pull him out of the darkness of his loneliness. He hoped that moment in the sunset with the overbearing girl would last forever.

He should've known it was too good to be true the instant he thought it.

"Ino?" a calm voice called the girl, making both younglings startle from their little meaningless fight and look up at the tall frame of ashen blond man who broke the magic of the moment they were unbeknownst sharing. He looked uncertainly at Naruto and the sitting boy braced himself for the severe glare that would kill a tiny piece of his as it always did when he received one. But it never came. Instead, the elder man gave them both a shaky grin. "Time to go, honey—you'll play with Naruto some other time."

By the time the blond boy was certain he was dead or asleep or delirious or insane. There was no way that in normal circumstances someone his age would offer him company on their own accord or that any adult in the village would refrain from resorting to cold behaviour towards him. He blinked, hoping and in the same time not that he'd wake up from whatever unrealistic dream he was having because he knew when he woke up he'd feel worse than ever for having such hope given to him and then ripped from his trembling fingers afterwards.

But the vision just wouldn't end, stubbornly so.

The girl frowned with a childish ferocity at her offending parent.

"But daddy!" She whined in the way that got her anything she wanted per usual. Both Yamanakas knew that this instance would be just more proof to that statement. "I promised Naruto I'd play with him now! You're too early! You go back home and then come back again—we'll have plenty of time while you do that."

Yamanaka Inoichi wasn't really sure how to react to his precious daughter's attitude. He knew for a fact that she was quite headstrong when she decided on something and wouldn't give up before she got it—he'd spoiled her in that way. Still, he wasn't convinced in her reasoning. Ignoring him completely already, the girl turned to her accomplice and started pestering him with queries of what game they should play.

The man threw a glance at his wife over his broad shoulder that Naruto didn't miss, despite his famed lack of observation skills. The woman by the fence sent her husband a look just as uncertain as his and the father turned to look at the children on the ground once more.

"Mom prepared a special meal for tonight, honey," he began tentatively, taking his offspring's hand and leading her away slowly, afraid of setting off her disagreeable temperament. The remaining boy on the ground looked heart-breaking crestfallen.

"Nuh-uh!" glared the girl at her predecessor. "You're just saying that to make me come with you! I don't believe you!" Inoichi submerged the urge to wince—when did she become so astute? Maybe it ran in the family, he decided. "Besides, Naruto has no home to go back to!"

The man gave a doubtful smirk.

"I don't think that's the case, dear." His grayish eyes turned to the boy in question for confirmation. Instead of receiving it, the child averted his gaze embarrassedly to the ground and started picking on the grass. Inoichi sighed lightly, throwing another look at his wife.

"Then he doesn't have anyone to take him to it. Which is just sad, you know?" Ino said, crossing her chubby little arms over her tiny body.

At that point, Mrs. Yamanaka, who was still watching the exchange from afar, gave a worried indiscernible nod at her partner, whose face in return was adorned with a small smile as he turned to the juveniles.

"Alright, Ino-chan—you win." Maybe he shouldn't have phrased it like that if the award-winning tell-tale grin of his daughter was proof enough of that. "You may play a while longer but be sure to come home soon."

"Okay, bye!" she shrugged him off with the selfishness innate to little kids.

"You guys take care and play nice, okay?"

"Okay, bye!" she repeated, a bit more forcefully this time. Inoichi sweatdropped at her bossiness. If only he knew that this kind of thing would be happening on a regular basis from then on.

The Yamanakas were gone in no time and Naruto stared after them, unintentionally ignoring the energetic girl before him but he was too distraught to care about pettiness like that. He was unsure what to make of these people's attitude to him—it was mystifying. Where was the scorn, the loathe? Where was the distrust and unbridled fury? He'd longed for it—decent treatment, that is—but was now at a loss at how to handle it, what to think of it. Why were they being nice to him? Because he was pathetic, like Ino said? Because they took pity on him?

"Are you even listening to me?" This time it was hard to ignore the noisy girl when she shoved her face in his, their noses only centimeters away from each other. Naruto pulled back, frowning once again. "If you don't want to play, you should have just said so. It's not as if I much enjoy your company all that much either!"

"You should have left with your parents then," he muttered distractedly, turning his eyes away from her. The action only fuelled the blonde's anger.

"So I should have, huh?"

"Yeah, you should have!" Naruto snapped back, head whipping around to meet her gaze challengingly. The girl merely huffed and pushed herself up from her place on the ground.

His cerulean orbs followed her retreating back wordlessly until he could no longer see her storming away. Once she was gone, though, his shoulders slumped and he pulled his knees up to his body, enclosing them in his arms and burying his head in the small space between his knee caps. He was really such an idiot. He had driven away the only person to have ever approached him with no ill intent in his despair and confusion. He felt his eyes well up again when she was no longer around to scare away his inner demons with that overwhelming attitude of hers.

Before he could surrender to weakness for the second time that day though, his hand was snatched from its place around his knees and he was painfully hauled to his feet by a newcomer who ended up being the same girl that had just left him on his own. He blinked—partially to restrain the tears from escaping his eyes—at her as sharp pangs of pain shot up his arm to its joint by his shoulder. The tiny female didn't relent though—she kept dragging him until they were by the front gate of the kindergarten.

"As if I would be chased off as easily. Who do you take me for? Iruka-sensei? Did you really fall for that? Seriously, Naruto, that has to be the oldest trick in the book!" What book was she talking about? Did she finally snap for real? "You're so naïve." They were marching off in an unknown direction and all the spiky haired blond could do was gape at the small girl's back as she dragged him away.

Her grip was so firm and securing and her hand was warm. He looked at the way she'd entwined their fingers together, feeling slightly dizzy from the haste of her steps. Who would have known a girl could have such long and quick strides? He was amazed. Again, not exactly in the good meaning of the word.

"Where are you taking me?" he asked, slightly alarmed by her fieriness.

"I'm taking you to your home, of course. No one should have to walk home alone," she said in a matter-of-fact tone, as if she was stating a fact about the universe in general. He was silent for a moment as she pulled on his hurting arm.

"We're going the wrong way in that case." His statement definitely succeeded in getting her attention as she halted sharply in her steps and snapped her head around to look at him. "My house is that way." His tiny finger was pointing in the opposite direction of the one they were headed to."

"Say that sooner then, idiot!" she chastised him, turning round-about on her heel and starting off—with the same ferocity—in the direction he had pointed.

"I can walk on my own, you know." He tried but failed to make her release him from her death-grip. It wasn't as if it was causing him any real damage but it somehow made him uncomfortable, her unnatural closeness and forwardness. He'd never had experience like that before today.

"Good for you." She was acting dumb; he knew it but didn't object either way. He just let himself be dragged. He let himself be led away once he explained where he lived. It was good to rely on someone else for once. It was great not to be all alone for once.

"Does someone cook for you at home?"

"Nuh-uh…" he said solemnly, looking at her quickly shuffling feet. "I live alone. I can't cook since I'm a boy."

"That's stupid," Ino decided, glaring at him with no real malign over her shoulder as she kept walking. "My daddy is a boy too but he helps momma in the kitchen all the time. That's a really lame excuse."

Naruto felt his irritation bubble again.

"Well, sorry for not being able to cook!" Sarcasm wasn't really his strong point and he rarely resorted to it if not vexed. But his companion seemed even more unused to it as she ignored it completely.

"That's alright. There are plenty of places which can cook for you." They took a little detour, heading for a place which Naruto learnt was called by reading haltingly on the front "Ichiraku Ramen Bar". "It's not nearly as good as momma's home made meal, but I guess it would do." Turning from him, the adorable little girl turned her sparkling charming eyes to the aging man behind the bar. "Mister, can we have a miso ramen bowl?"

Totally captivated by the little girl as he was the father of one himself, old man Ichiraku smiled warmly at her from above. It was just then that he noticed that she wasn't alone. The boy that Ichiraku faintly recognized as the Kyuubi's living prison shrunk back under his gaze and self-consciously hid behind the much more outspoken girl's back. It was difficult to see such an innocent creature as a threat in any way—he couldn't understand why people were picking on him as much as they were.

He tilted his chef's hat on his head slightly while studying them.

"Sure thing, little lady, but do you have what to pay for it with?"

"My dad will come by tomorrow to pay." The old man gave a generous laugh at which Naruto hid further behind Ino's back. She was getting them in trouble, wasn't she? What had he done to her to deserve that? The blond stole a peak at her face and found it the description of smugness and with not a trace of discomfort to be found and her certainty somehow relaxed him.

"You're quite the young business woman, aren't you?" Ichiraku turned to the stove and wrapped up a bowl of miso ramen, as ordered, in a neat package for home. "I like you little guys—you remind me of my daughter when she was your age."

"I get told that a lot." Ino said, full of childish conceit, but instead of becoming angry like Naruto suspected he would, the old man just laughed merrily some more at her.

"Here you go—one miso ramen for take out. It's on the house." He winked at Naruto who—feeling a bit more courageous—grinned toothily back at him. Unbeknownst to either of them, a bond formed between them from that moment on which would only solidify over the years. But we're getting ahead of ourselves.

After retrieving the bowl, the two blonds set off towards Naruto's place again. Once they were inside, Ino placed the dish on the table, unwrapping it carefully and fishing for some chopsticks in his cupboards as well as napkins. She wasn't pleased to find that there were none and she barely managed to scout out a shabby pair of dining wear but she opted to settle for whatever was there.

When she saw that her escort wasn't getting the point, she threw him a tight-lipped frown in a motherly manner before steering him towards a chair and making him sit on it.

"What?" he questioned, still uncertain where this was going.

"Go on then, eat!" she ordered him, sitting on a spare chair across from him. He scowled.

"I'm not hungry yet." He crossed his arms stubbornly across his chest when she still urged him on. "Besides, why are you still here? It's not as if I asked you to be nice to me!"

"Of course you wouldn't ask—you're too naïve to." He was starting to doubt whether she knew the meaning of the word—he himself was quite unsure of its meaning—or she just liked the sound of it. "That and no one should have to eat alone all the time."

That definitely shut him up for a while. He looked into her clear eyes, searching for something he wasn't sure the name of. What he found staring back at him with burning intensity made his stomach growl and he flushed beet red.

"See? It's better when you're in someone else's company while eating."

Without another word, he dug in. He had never eaten anything like ramen before but for some odd reason he found it incredibly tasty. Ino watched quietly as he devoured his modest dinner, her eyes dulling with some emotion a bit too mature for her four years.

"Listen here, Naruto," she began seriously, waving an offending finger at him like a teacher would. "I'll tell you this since you're too much of a moron to find it out on your own."

The boy in question snorted which turned out to be a big mistake because he nearly spurted miso ramen from his nose, thus causing him to throw a coughing fit. Once he calmed down, Ino continued.

"Few people will take pity on you if you keep feeling sorry for yourself all the time. It's ugly to look at—it's too pathetic." She had all the cruel frankness and precision of a child. "You need to stand up for yourself. No matter what they say, keep your head high because you're you and different from them but special all the same." He refrained from snorting again, looking away from her. "My mom told me this once—that all of us on this planet are like the stars in the sky—all emitting a different kind of light. So regardless of what they say or do, stand out in that crowd of people and outshine them all." Naruto wasn't sure what a planet was but the words she said struck a chord somewhere deep in his chest.

She had taken hold of his shoulder at the time, looking him directly in the eye with that penetrating gaze of her.

"Show them you're better than them and that you don't need them to grow strong. Show them they can't get to you and that you can stand on your own. Become great and powerful and make them eat their words because we're all special."

He'd never dealt with it before but he was pretty sure this—what she and her family had shown him the entire evening—was recognition. It felt great. He couldn't get enough of it—he was insatiable for more.

"And don't cry so much—boys shouldn't be crybabies."

He pouted and looked away from her. Who was she to lecture him on such things? She wasn't even boy! What did she know?

Before he could come up with a good response—as he'd never had anyone to talk with, let alone argue with—she hopped gracefully off her chair and made her way for the door.

"Where are you going?" he asked, jumping after her.

"Home, of course; momma and daddy are waiting for me." Ah, that's right. She couldn't stay with him forever. She had a family; she had better friends and things to worry about. His face must have turned dejected because she added, "I'll see you tomorrow at the Academy, right?"

His eyes twinkled—much like the star she had compared him to earlier—and that goofy grin seized his features again.

"Un!" he confirmed energetically as she waved him goodbye.

They didn't see each other the next day at the Academy though because her father got badly hurt in an S-rank mission that night so she and her mother stayed by his side at the hospital all week long until he was strong enough to check out. But it didn't really matter because her words to him had definitely given him all the confidence that he needed to stop brooding all the time.

He wasn't a monster without a goal because soon he'd meet the Third Hokage and long for his greatness, for the recognition the old man received from the entire village. He wasn't unapproachable because Ino had talked to him when he was the worst for wear. Those around him just couldn't see how unique he was so they strayed from him, kept at a distance from him but that was alright, he forgave them their ignorance. He'd show them all how bright he could shine—more than the entire village—and they'd recognize his worth immediately, see the error of their ways.

Years later, after his tenth birthday, he'd be asked and wonder where his confidence stemmed from and would think he had it all along. Years later, after her tenth birthday, Ino would view Naruto's boisterous attitude as nothing short of annoying and a nuisance, unaware that she was the one who had given him that.

Years later, neither would remember the sun setting upon what could have been a strong bond, neither would remember that fateful day when a delicate boy's world turned upside down. Years later, neither would recall the day one girl unintentionally saved a small boy from the endless darkness that threatened to engulf him inside out. He wouldn't be able to answer when asked why he loved the ramen that once a strong girl had given him as his first real dinner.

And that was all such a pity. It was just sad, you know?