Author's Note: Chouji really does need more love...and I don't know. With as many bulimic people as I know, I get tired of skinny people. Bet there's not much Chouji angst on this site... -wanders off to check-

"Fatass!" the kid shouts, enjoying the feel of a new word in his mouth. The stench of blood let to the air, they're on him like a passing flock of sharks; 3 boys, 4, with nothing better to do and no better hope than to pretend they're tough.

"Chouji the Elephant! Hey, you fat freak! Look, someone's moored a blimp in the Academy yard, haha!"

Face folding, crumpling like butterfly wings you close your hand around, little Chouji scooches to the earth. He is eventually seated in the mud, a huddle of mocking, dirty boy faces filling every direction of possible escape. So he sits, chips in his lap and watches them all, which just makes them shout louder. He stuffs his grabby little mouth faster, faster, trying to stifle the cry; and little tears of disappointment are trailing down his dimpled cheeks, one after the other, creating a stream.

He grows up and learns to roll with it, to roll over his enemies and use that spare tire to quash those who pose him any threat. It still hurts when they say it, and even when they don't; so Chouji keeps eating chips, and sometimes they're saltier than they should be.

Chouji learns to like salty chips, simply because he has the strength to go on eating them; they best nurture his bitterness, and the weapon he uses to strike out at it with.

It's fun to be skinny for a while, but the hospital time isn't. Ino and Shikamaru taunt him with food, but Shikamaru stops before the Chouji begins to seize with anxiety; he's Chouji's friend, his only friend, and he respects better than anyone else the sacred tenants of being a freak. It is he who slips him the first vending-machine prize when the okay is given by Tsunade, and Chouji takes him for ramen out of gratefulness. Healthy again, Chouji's grateful to be alive, and glad to have someone who understands. He eats chips now because he wants to, and he's getting taller; Naruto went away, but Chouji digs in and draws from this land the anger and offense in the people's hearts, and converts it into strength. He eats to defy them, the schoolyard kids and his scolding mother, the people who looked down on Naruto, and is all the more powerful for it. There's nothing to angst about; Chouji has a remarkably good life, and he makes sure to partake of it as fully as any meal.

He eats some good things over the two years, and is a big, strong boy by the time Akatsuki begins to unfold it's various plots.

They're on Asuma like sharks, all babbling and weeping like they're academy-kids again; things happen when there's no adult around, people get hurt. They're begging, pleading with Asuma to stay in so many words; he puts one of his big, scabby hands on top of Chouji's and tells him, in a torrent of blood, that he's everything Chouji's wanted to hear himself called. Then he dies, still touching his misunderstood, chunky student when the life sighs from his shattered form.

There's a funeral, but nothing feels put to rest. Shikamaru is inconsolable, crabby to the point of unbearableness; Ino shouts and him and stomps away to weep in massive collapses, but the boys know intuitively that grief is a relative thing. They handle it their way, Shikamaru by closing up the walls around his wounds and shouting at everybody, at Chouji for not understanding.

And Chouji copes by taking the hits, and walking home; sitting down on the small porach and eating an entire bag of salty-unto-death chips. They sting his eyes, but the tears of old continue to both soothe the problem and make saltier chips at the same time.

He tries to remember how he's made it this far, and what all of this is going to make him into. These salty chips are feeding something else, he thinks; something he's destined and determined to become.

AN: Review, please; por favor; onegai shimasu; kahm sah ham nee dah; bitte. And in any other language you can think of.