Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto.

Naruto's always been alone. His shadow clones know this well enough.

"NO! I won't date you, stupid!"

A slap. Whispers.

"Quit asking Naruto!"

A push. Snickering.

"I DON'T want to go out with you!"

A shove. Chuckling.

"Hmph, baka…"

Another day. Laughter.

The wind picks up, winding its way through the street, grasping at dirt and twigs. It swirls, small twisters blowing around the ground, snaking their way into side streets and alleys. Small red and orange rays of light are dying in the sky, the evening beginning to set fully into Konoha.

There is shuffling on the ground, hands pushing off against a stone paved road, and heels digging into the dirt as a young boy pushes himself off the ground. The last beams of sun play with the shadows around his mouth, hiding the small frown that has snuck its way onto his ever smiling face. Fists clench as he gets to his feet, orange clad frame straightening out in the middle of slowly emptying street. He can hear them whispering still, can hear the chuckles and the snickers as he lifts his head. He watches her go, can see the last of the light glistening off her pink hair. The creases of his frown deepen.

He watches her chase after 'Sasuke-kun'.

He tears his gaze away, ignoring the sympathetic Ayame behind the ramen counter and the fading laughter of other villagers. His feet carry him away, blue sandals dragging against the road.

Rejection. Again.

But it's just another day. And he knows this all too well. It will happen again. And again. As long as he keeps trying. Because he's unwanted. Undesirable. And the laughter and the snickers and the taunts are a testament to this.

His feet carry him away from the sounds, carry him farther down the road, and he finally rips his gaze from his feet and the dirt beneath and looks up. She's still following him, still asking, still waiting, still wanting. He sees the smiles of the people in greeting, the nods and the laughs of happiness. He sees the parents point out the black haired ninja and his pink haired teammate, sees the children glance up, wide eyed in awe. He knows it won't last.

The smiles fade and turn to frowns. The laughs cut off quickly, whispers almost like thunderclaps as they pierce the abrupt silence. Children are pulled away and parents glare. Uzumaki Naruto pulls his body through the narrow street and tries to smile. The corners of his blue eyes crinkle and a half grin, half frown morphs onto his face. There isn't praise or warm greetings for the blonde haired boy. Now there are only cold shoulders, masks of indifference and glimmers of hate behind frosty eyes.

He tries. He really does. But the smile just won't come. And so he keeps walking, faster now, because he can feel the glares, can feel their eyes boring into him and he just can't take it, can't take the silence, can't take the hate and rejection. And he's faster and faster and his feet are pounding against the ground and he can hear his heart thumping in his chest, a rapid beat that's echoing in his head. He's drowning out everything around him, drowning out the whispers and the taunts, drowning out the laughter that he knows is directed at him… But he can still feel them, he can still feel the hate dammit, can still feel the anger and the contempt that's swirling in the air. And he just can't do it…

Uzumaki Naruto runs past his two teammates, not even giving a glance in their direction. Uchiha Sasuke looks up briefly, black eyes holding no hint of curiosity. Haruno Sakura doesn't even notice.

And Naruto realizes just how alone he is.

When Naruto returns to his small, cramped apartment, there is no one waiting for him. There is no mother to welcome him home, no father to ask about his day. There is no sister, no brother to talk to. There is no one. When Uzumaki Naruto walks into his apartment he hears the creak of the door behind him and the jingling of his keys in his hand. He sees four white surfaces with peeling wallpaper and fading paint.

Naruto calls this, 'home'.

His sandals are kicked off and his feet shuffle around the floor.

"I'm back!"

His voice rings out. Silence responds.

With the same half grin on his face, he puts his things away and moves to his room.

As the blonde slumps into a lumpy and patched up armchair, he hears the squeak of the springs underneath, eyes looking blankly at the empty wall in front of him. He still has that half frown, half grin frozen on his face. But now his teeth are clenched, glints of white sticking out past his lips. His sky blue eyes are empty, and his head is propped up on his hand as he lays back into the arm chair.

'Sasuke-kun!' 'Sasuke-san! Go right ahead!' 'Sasuke-sama!' 'Sasuke…Sasuke…Sasuke…'

Naruto can hear it in his head. And the half grin on his face is fading, his teeth clenching tighter and his fists balling. His fingernails are ripping into his skin but he hardly notices.

'Sasuke! Nice job in training today!' 'Sasuke, you've improved.' 'Sasuke, the best in your class.' 'Sasuke-kun! You're so cool!'

He stares up at his ceiling and his hands come together in a familiar hand seal. Images blur into existence next to him, orange clad figures standing and sitting on the floor around him.

"Yo boss!"

The clones all murmur greetings of their own, their voices dying off as they notice the blank look on their creators face. They are quiet, watching the emotions that are shadows behind Naruto's eyes. They already know. And with hearts as heavy as their creators, they begin to henge. Silver hair, pink hair, brown hair, each kage bunshin turning into someone new. They all change until there are none left but the original, still slumped into his arm chair, staring blankly at the wall.

Slowly the group of people part and a pretty young girl comes from the back and places her hand on the still one of Naruto. She's a bit older than the blonde, maybe the same age. There's a small, shy smile on her face. Her lips travel the Naruto's ear and she whispers.

"Let's play…yeah?"

And as the sun sets and night falls, one by one the shadow clones act out their roles. Naruto just plays along.

Naruto doesn't understand.

All of his life he's been trying to get one thing. All his life Naruto has just wanted one little thing. Recognition. Acknowledgment.

And every day he watches his teammate throw it away, trample it. And every time Uchiha Sasuke rejects those who acknowledge him, every time he scoffs in contempt at them and ignores them, the despair and sadness and anger and envy in Naruto grows.

Every day, Naruto wishes for the exact same things that Sasuke has. Every day Naruto wishes that the villagers would smile at him, wishes the merchants would give him gifts, wishes the Sakura-chan would look at him the same way…

Every day Naruto wishes for the skill and talent that Sasuke was born with. Every day he wishes he was born into a shinobi clan, wishes he had a doujustu, wishes that Kakashi-sensei would praise him just once…

He watches his teammate grind it all under his foot like dirt.

And every day Naruto secretly wishes he was Sasuke.

Wishes he had someone there for him. Wishes he'd had a family. Wishes for anything.

And so he pretends.

His shadow clones come to life.

And they are the realest thing to a family that Naruto will ever have.

AN: Back from a very long absence… Had to start it off the classic way. Too angsty? Just the right amount? Let me know.