A/N: Heh, it's taken me a while, but HERE IT IS – the last of 'three big ones' is seeing daylight! (waves bonbons) This is a request fic, so I'm particularly happy to get to ship this first chapter out. (grins)

First of all, once again THANK YOU, from the bottom of my heart, for all those votes you've given! (HUGS, and always gives some candies) Almost seventy votes people! (faints) That's tons more than I expected. You can't even imagine how happy it makes me feel to know you care THAT much. (wipes eyes)

Awkay, before I'll get all sappy and stuff, let's get going, yeah? The first chapter is here, folks – I REALLY hope you'll enjoy!

CHAPTER 1: Prelude

Gekkou Hayate had always had a special place in his heart for children – that's why he'd chosen to become a teacher of Japanese. That day just before the beginning of a summer vacation, he felt his heart break at what he found when emerging the school building.

There, sitting on a bench, was a slightly chubby, fourteen yeas old boy with somewhat long grown, quite untidy hair, huge eyeglasses and extremely worn clothes. That obviously lost and sad looking teen was Uzumaki Naruto, he recognized immediately – number one on the list of lonely students and skipped classes, and his favourite student. During the years the boy had spent in Hayate's school he'd had no friends whatsoever, and he could only imagine what things were like in the local orphanage where the teen lived.

Giving a deep sigh, he took a look at his watch. Yes, Yuugao could very well wait for a while. This was much more important.

Naruto jumped with mild startle when hearing approaching steps, but seemed to calm down when recognizing him. Blue eyes turned away. " Hey, Mr. Gekkou. What are you still doing here?"

" There was some paperwork I needed to take care of." He observed the boy, feeling a twinge inside him when noticing all the signs of sadness. " What about you?"

Naruto remained silent for so long that he became discouraged, thinking there wouldn't be an answer. Eventually, however, a whisper carried into his ears. " I just… Well…" The blonde looked downwards. " Everyone's going to summer camps with their friends and celebrating the end of school year, but I've… got no need to hurry."

It didn't take Hayate a lot to understand. And at that moment he made up his mind.

Naruto glanced towards him with surprise when he took a piece of paper and wrote a little bit of text to it. " You know what? I've noticed how gifted you are at writing. You're one of the best students I've ever had, and I'd like to see more of your work. So, whenever you get something done and want feedback call me, okay?" He gave the paper – which included his address and phone number – to the baffled teen. It was quite clear the boy hadn't received many compliments during his life. " And if you want me to, I'm willing to help you with other things as well."

Naruto's blue eyes shone with understanding and hope, and after a moment a heartbreakingly huge grin appeared. " Thanks, Mr. Gekkou."

He waved a hand with a smile, starting to walk away. " It's Hayate. And no problem." After giving it a little thought, he added. " It'd be great to see you smile a bit more often."

While hopping into his car, he took another sigh.

He'd done what he could. The rest was up to Naruto.

That day, it took Naruto a lot longer than usually to make his way into the orphanage. Once entering, he was so deep in thought that he almost bumped into his roommate and only friend, Gaara. He gave the redhead a sheepish look. " 'Sorry." He then frowned, noticing where the other was coming from. " Hey, wasn't that… Deidara's room?"

No one else but he would've probably noticed the faint rosy tinge on the redhead's cheeks. " He's leaving after this summer, so…" A somewhat hard look was aimed his way. " You won't tell anyone, right?" He understood the boy's agitation very well – they both knew how dangerous and forbidden romances between inhabitants were.

He waved a hand. " You can trust me. You do know that, right?"

Gaara's shoulders relaxed. " Hn." The redhead then arched an eyebrow. " Now that's different."

He blinked, not quite catching on. " What is?"

" You were smiling. What's up?"

He realized that he didn't really have an answer. Nor did he have to come up with one, for just then the orphanage's owner's – Danzou's – hard, chilling voice called out. " It's dinnertime! Everyone into the lunchroom, now!"

Gaara looked like the boy would've wanted to ask more, but in the end they started to walk away in silence.

While going, he understood that he'd already decided what to answer to Hayate's proposition.

/ One Summer Later. /

" Alright, Naruto. You can open up your eyes."

His eyes – no longer covered by horrendous glasses but blue contact lenses – inched open slowly, warily. A gasp left the blonde. " Holy damn…!"

Saying he'd changed would've been an understatement. Not only had he thrown away those butt ugly glasses Danzou had once bought for him, but he'd also lost quite a bit of weight and his hair had now been cut neat, short and spiky. And the new clothes Hayate had just given him, carrying colours of black and orange… He could barely be recognized as the kid he'd been before the summer.

Seeing his expression the man smiled a bit, then coughed. " So… I take that as you're happy with the changes."

He nodded eagerly. " Definitely!" He looked at the brunette with a frown when the man coughed again. " Are you okay?"

The man made a dismissive gesture. " Yeah." There was a third cough, after which the older cleared his throat. " This has been bugging me since I was five. It's nothing to worry about." His teacher then took a glance towards a clock. " Shouldn't you be going already?"

Looking the same way, he jumped up with startle. " Oh crap!" First day of school as a different person, and he was already running late!

Hayate seemed to come close to smiling, then coughed again. " Calm down, Naruto. Everything's gonna be just fine."

He nodded determinedly. " Yeah…" He managed to create a smile while waving and dashing away. " Thanks, Hayate-sensei! I'll see you later!"

While storming towards Konoha Junior High, he allowed his eyes to darken with determination.

Yes, everything would go just fine this time around – he'd already changed his surname and looks to ensure that. In school's books, he was now a completely different Naruto – a new student in all meanings of the words. If they wanted his personality to change as well… He'd do that, too.

He was prepared for anything to stop being a damn ghost.


Hayate looked at the door through which Naruto had disappeared deep in thought for a while, then gave a sound of satisfaction when feeling a kiss on his neck. " It's unbelievable how much you've changed that kid", his fianceé, Uzuki Yuugao who'd just clipped Naruto's hair, murmured. " You've changed his life forever."

" Yeah…", he muttered, leaning against the woman's warmth with yet another cough. " I just hope I did the right thing."

Stood in the school's stinking toilet, Uchiha Sasuke took one more look at his wristwatch, satisfied to notice that he still had ten minutes. Had he not been granted as much pride as he had, he would've winced when looking into a mirror and meeting a dark, very noticeable bruise decorating his right eye.

He definitely needed all the time he could get to fix this one.

After making sure no one was there to see what he was doing and ask questions, he started the work. His eyes were halfway closed while he smeared thick cover to the bruise, fingers moving delicately to hide the damage. In his eyes, flames of rage and self-hatred burned, so brightly that it could've made anyone looking gasp for air. He grit teeth to hold bile down.

/ " Hold still, Sasuke. We both know you deserve this." /

It would've required the sharpest of eyes to detect that his hand trembled while he put away a bottle of makeup cover, then washed his hands, erasing all visible signs of what had happened. No one would be staring anymore.

/ " You are pathetic, Sasuke. A piece of filth. And I won't treat you as anything else before you've proven me that you're worth your family name. So stop that whining – it's giving me a headache." /

" Sasuke!" Glancing at the mirror before him once more, he found irritated Suigetsu stood behind him. " Geez, are you deaf or something? I've been here for at least half a minute."

His dark eyes calmed down a little, but didn't lose all their concealed wrath. " What is it?" he asked in his usual, cold and even tone.

Suigetsu watched his face with a strange expression for a while, and he already thought the boy caught something. Pretty soon, however, all traces of realization disappeared. " There's that meeting for all new students, remember? It's time to go."

He fought the urge to groan. Great. Two hours of meaningless, excruciatingly boring monotone from some teacher was the last thing he needed. " I'll be there in a minute", he stated somewhat gruffly.

Suigetsu nodded, seeming very thoughtful, then left the room, leaving him into a thick, heavy silence.

He closed his eyes and inhaled sharply through his nose, squeezing the sink before him so tightly that his hands hurt. A small sound of relief erupted through his tight throat when he discovered that his stomach was finally in order once more.

He opened his eyes again slowly, almost reluctantly, and after making sure he didn't seem greenish or too pale walked off as though an inmate approaching an execution.

After all, the show had to go on.

Naruto's heart thumped while he made his way through the school's hallways, casting nervous glances at the people passing by, looking for any signs of recognition or resentment. There was nothing. All he met was curiosity that was usually expressed when meeting someone for the very first time. Some girls, he noticed with glee, gave him very appreciative glances.

In some other occasion it may have bothered him how no one seemed to even know he'd been here before. But now… He was more pleased than anything else.

He'd been planning on starting a new life. This was a perfect beginning.

" Hey!" He jumped a bit at the female voice, then looked over his shoulder to meet a brightly smiling girl with long, blonde hair and blue eyes. He wondered if the girl's smile was as clear fake as it appeared to be. " I'm Yamanaka Ino, one of the tutors. Are you a new student?"

He didn't even think before creating a huge grin and answering. " Yeah… Yeah, I am. I'm N – Naruto." He then cleared his throat to ensure that his voice would work properly the next time around. " Namikaze Naruto."

Ino nodded while writing something to the paper she'd been holding, seeming just about as interested as she would've been if he'd been a piece of meat. " Right…" She gave him a swift glance. " Just go in. They'll be starting in a bit."

He nodded and took a deep breath, then entered the school's huge auditorium as though he'd never been there before.

It was time for the show to begin.


A/N: And so the masquerade begins. (huggles the two boneheads, although Sasuke keeps struggling violently) Poor things!

So, what do you think? Should this baby deserve a chance to go on, or should I declare this dead on arrival? It's your call. (gulps nervously)

PLEASE, LEAVE A NOTE before going, yeah? Awww, I know you want to. (gives huge puppy dog's eyes)

Awkay, it's getting VERY late around here and I have a nerve wrecking day ahead of me tomorrow, so I'll start tuning out.

Until next time, guys – be it with this story or some other!
Be good!