"Wh-Where did you get that dobe?" Sasuke asked, sounding unusually nervous as he stared at the marking on Naruto's shoulder. A mark that Naruto'd had for nearly as long as he could remember.

Usually the odd tattoo was covered by either his t-shirt or his jacket but, he and Sasuke had been sharing a shower at Tazuna's house in order to save on hot water since Kakashi-sensei and Sakura-chan took most of it before they could get their own showers in. He still didn't know why Sakura-chan had reacted the way she did, and went all red and stuff when Kakashi-sensei had ordered him and Sasuke to share what was left of the hot water after their fight over it had nearly trashed Tazuna's house. He and Sasuke had shared the communal shower in the locker-room at the Academy before. It was basically the same thing here, but there were less people, and there was far less space to move around in. That, and since there was only one showerhead, they couldn't keep eyes front like they usually did in the locker-room at the Academy because of that really weird instructor who seemed to think bad things would happen if they "peeked" at each-other.

"The people I used to play with when I was little gave it to me a long time ago." Naruto replied, wondering why Sasuke seemed so jumpy around him all of a sudden.

"The people you used to play with?" Sasuke asked, eying the mark strangely.

"Back when I was little, there were a bunch of people I used to play games like Hide-and-Seek, Tag, and Ninja with. Sometimes we'd even run mazes, and the person who got to the center first got a prize." He replied, his mind wandering back to the time when he hadn't been lonely.

Not that he was lonely now, with his team and Iruka-sensei mind you. But, for a long stretch of years that had seemed like an eternity, he'd been so very alone, and it had hurt. Especially after his friends had started to outright refuse to play with him. The Old Man was very busy and couldn't take too much time out of his schedule to see him, but he had tried, and continued to try. Without his team, Iruka-sensei, or the Old Man there for him, he had been alone for more than half of his life. He didn't remember the first time he was alone very clearly, other than having a sense of joy when his friends had started playing with him because he'd been alone before then. But, he remembered the intense pain of loneliness he'd experienced after his friends had left him very clearly.

The nervous look vanished from Sasuke's face as if it had never been there after he'd given his reply, and the usual dismissive look he gave just about everybody took its customary place as he finished dressing and left the bathroom.

Naruto stood there sadly as he dressed more slowly and remembered.

Back before the Academy, he'd had a bunch of grown-up friends who had wanted him to play with them, unlike everyone else who had chased him off when he'd tried to join in on their fun. He had been four when they'd let him join their games. When it was time to play with his friends, he would wake up to find himself in a strange place where his friends helped him put on the things he would need to play that night's game, including a cat mask of his very own which had the most beautiful blue markings on it. The games they played together under the starry sky had been similar to the ones he'd seen the children who ran around the village play during the day but, they had also been different somehow. Maybe it had been because he was playing the games with adults rather than other kids.

After he was dressed in his play clothes and his mask was on, he would be taken to where that night's game would be played. He would sometimes get tired as they traveled and fall asleep on the way but, every time they reached their destination, he had been wide-awake and ready to play. At first, they had played out in the woods near the village. Later, they had started playing in places he'd never seen before, and hadn't seen since. When he was five, they had started running mazes as well as playing Tag, Hide-and-Seek, and Ninja.

The games of Tag had always been strange and somewhat backwards. Rather than declaring someone "It" and running away from them, he was supposed to find a new person to join their game, and everyone would run after him or her when they arrived at the spot where the game was supposed to take place. He was supposed to pick the person who was going to join their game by finding the person who looked most like the picture his friends showed him before the game started. He was usually accurate at that part of the game but, once or twice he'd made a mistake and gotten yelled at by his friends because he'd ruined the game.

Hide-and-Seek had been pretty much the same as the game the kids played, except that you were supposed to surprise the guy from the opposite team if they got too close to where you were hiding. He didn't like that game as much, because his team's opponents would stop playing, and play dead instead after you surprised them. That, and there was always alot of that foul coppery smelling sticky black stuff that got everywhere when they played that game. It always felt itchy and uncomfortable when it dried.

The sticky black stuff had also been there during the games of Ninja he'd played with his friends. The shuriken in those games of Ninja were heavier than the cardboard ones the village kids used, but much lighter than the ones used by the Academy. It was probably what threw his shuriken throwing off at the Academy, because he'd gotten too used to throwing the lighter ones over the years and the Academy shuriken were very unwieldy in comparison.

Running mazes had always been tricky. Rather than being like the ones in the puzzle books he'd seen Sakura-chan doing during her free time, the maze he was supposed to run through was always set up like a town, or a big house, or a fortress, and he had to get to the center and back out again without getting caught. Fortunately, his team was always there to help him win the game.

The games had all ended when he'd started at the Academy. His friends suddenly quit coming around to play with him, and every time he tried to get them to play, they would avoid him. They didn't look at him like the other villagers did but, he didn't like the looks they gave him, especially the looks Crow had given him the few times he'd run into him before he disappeared. With nobody to play with, he had gotten lonely, and had stepped up his pranks in order to stave off the boredom that constantly plagued him now that there was nobody to play with and no mazes to run. One day, one of his pranks caught the attention of a group of his former friends, and he had managed to lead them on a merry chase through the village. He then decided to do everything he could to get their attention so he could play with them again. It wasn't the same as it had been before but, it was better than nothing...

Sighing, he pulled his shirt over his head then, over the mark that had meant that he'd once belonged somewhere and exited the bathroom so Tazuna's family who were just waking up could get their showers in.

As Naruto passed by the room he was staying in, Kakashi once more felt a pang of guilt as he was assaulted by the memory of a small boy clinging to Lynx's body and sobbing brokenly as he repeatedly tried and failed to wake him up. After Lynx had died in front of him, the child didn't eat or sleep for over a week until Itachi had...done something. Because they had shielded the small child from the consequences of his actions, he had thought it had all been a game up until that point when Lynx's demise had driven the reality of the situation home.

It was for the best that thanks to whatever Itachi had done, Naruto didn't properly remember his time in ANBU. It would probably drive the gentle and caring child who was on his team mad if he ever realized what he had already done in the service of Konoha. The Dark Side had been no place for a child. Itachi was living proof of that.

Edited 8-21-15.