Disclaimer: Don't own it. Don't sue.
When Naruto was eleven he should have died.
But in the end that isn't saying much.
When Naruto was ten he should have died. Nine had been no different and eight depressingly the same. Seven had been just as tense and six too close for comfort.
But when it came down to it, eleven was special all on its own.
He had always known.
He was Uzumaki Naruto.
And because of that he wouldn't let any stuffy villager tell him what he had already knew.
No talent, no luck, no helping hands. No friends, no family, and no one to tell even the stupidest of his childish secrets. It was surprising how someone could keep on walking despite that.
So despite swearing he didn't care about any stupid villager, didn't give a damn if they glared at him or died of apoplectic shock if they so much as touched him—by the time he was eleven he'd been broken in a way that no one recognized.
Because he would have done anything, sacrificed everything, accepted anything if it meant he could be one of them. In the end he didn't understand what was really so awfully wrong with him. What had been horrible that he'd have to swallow every terrible feeling that meant being alone.
So it wasn't so much that Naruto should have died when he was eleven but that two days later after that averted appointment he was back in the Academy, glaring loud and just as dismissed.
It was disgustingly routine.
But that afternoon, perched on a branch and still a little sore from his mistakenly self-diagnosed food-poisoning (the food itself had not been the problem), Naruto saw something that would come to bother him. Years later he would never be able to recall what was said or even who said it, only that a group of five children—friends since the first day of the Academy—laughed in a way Naruto knew meant he wasn't welcomed.
They laughed at him like that and he pretended he didn't know what it meant.
He'd done his best to pretend it didn't matter and suddenly those children were tossing a sandal back and forth, a girl in the middle, nearly in tears as she scolded and pleaded and really did cry for it back. In end she did get it back, and Naruto watched as she stiffly walked away.
The next day Naruto looked for her, curious if she was now as alone as he was but instead she was laughing and playing with the same children, and because Naruto was Naruto he could see the hurt resentment in her eyes and heard a laugh that was just a bit hollow. A laugh stiffly made as she tossed a pink ribbon from child to child, another crying girl in the middle.
He didn't know why it bothered him. Why it wouldn't leave him mind.
He brooded for two weeks over the matter, spied on the same girl during lunch and watched silently (suspiciously so in Iruka's mind who checked for flying chalk a bit more often). So while his classmates waited for prank of massive proportions (Naruto managed to ignore the urge to paint the Hokage monument), he finally realized what he had seen so long ago.
Too afraid, too lonely, too blind—he'd done anything for a friend. Snatched any flying sandal and sworn to protect the girl—but he'd known enough to know it wasn't going to be that easy. Never for him. It bothered him, so he'd mulled it. Worn the issue in his mind till he'd looked at it a hundred different ways.
That was when he realized.
It wasn't enough to call someone a friend. They could still hurt you, make you alone, ignore everything you were and everything they were to you.
That was how a boy without friends, without acknowledgement, without someone finally realized it wasn't enough to promise everything. It didn't make someone a friend.
Three days later the same girl held too-bright eyes as she struggled for a flying bracelet, newly crying as it was taken away.
Naruto had looked at her and watched the hurt-resentment return.
Two days later after he failed the exam for the second time, bowed head and angry eyes as derisive laughs echoed around him, he watched his eyes betray their own hurt.
The Academy broke for a two month vacation, summer light and laughter the last echo in cold hallways. And when the time came no one noticed when a loud, blond boy didn't reenroll.
He'd never been looked at enough to be remembered. No one had ever watched enough to understand.
And that was why no one realized till a kind old man, tired from too many duties and too many worries, meandered his day to a worn apartment. But by then it had been too late.
He'd been gone for months.
After all, three out of four Hokages have died in office and the last one hasn't much hope of escaping that fate.
So really, who wants to be the Hokage for those losers…?
A/N: Just a thought I had. A different path to growing up minus that annoying (in my opinion) devotion in the face of every let down.
Sometimes you do really wake up and walk away. It isn't because you've had enough but because you see someone else and you wonder why they don't walk away.
Given that thought you got to give the boy some credit. A half-trained ninja, so long as he avoids ninja, can protect themselves against anyone.