Title: Innocence
Fandom: Naruto
Characters: Nara Shikamaru, Uzumaki Naruto,
Category: Relationship - Friendship
Rating: G
Notes/Warnings: Takes place while they are children.
Disclaimer: Naruto and characters belong to Kishimoto Masashi
Summary: Naruto has always been alone. The children avoid him just as much as the adults, but there's one person who does not see him as a monster.
A/N: I was recently re-watching the first part of the series and got inspired to write this from the Sasuke Retrieval Arc. Mostly by how nice Shikamaru was to Chouji when they were kids. So, I wanted to show his same kindness towards Naruto as well. This will probably be a two-shot as I want to show Naruto meeting Chouji and Kiba as kids, too.

Warm was the spring breeze, bringing with it the sweet scents of newly bloomed flowers. The few scattered petals tickled the young boy's face as they danced on with the wind, disappearing toward the cloudless sky. It was quiet here in the field, the only other noise aside from rustling leaves was the laughter of distant children. They were much too far away for Naruto to discern their faces nor could he place their voices. It did not matter any to him, however, they would never come over to say 'hello'. No one ever did.

He had grown accustomed to being left alone, more so avoided. Those angry stares of the adults had been passed down to their children, leaving him without any chance for friends or bonds. But his acceptance of the situation did nothing to ease the pain he felt in his chest. Every day he passed alone was another day that only added to his frustration. It was unfair, he had done nothing wrong to bring about those malicious eyes. Yet, they were his first memories. While he would walk down the cobble streets, people would leave a great distance and only leer at him...for as long as he could remember. There had to be some reason. Though even if there was, he doubted he would be allowed to know.

Soft pinks were beginning to mix into the dulling blue above. It was growing late. The echoing mirth had ceased, leaving only the buzzing of cicadas and chirps of crickets. He remained still. It was not as though he had anyone to return home to unlike those other kids. Naruto would rather enjoy the way the grass gently scratched at his skin than return to the village. It was too difficult for him to put on an uncaring façade as he passed by the judging eyes. He fought back tears and continued watching the darkening sky. Being isolated was definitely more preferable than that.

As he was too absorbed in his own thoughts, Naruto failed to notice the new presence behind him. It was only when the other child crouched down and slowly peeked over his blond hair, eyes meeting, that Naruto reacted. Quickly he sat up, almost bringing their foreheads into a collision. His face flushed from embarrassment at his own clumsiness. But the other boy smiled, causing his expression to contort into confusion. He was nervous but curiosity forced him to fully face the other boy. They remained silent while the young Uzumaki studied his new companion. There was no anger nor fear in this boy's eyes. Instead, they were warm. Possibly caring.

"Ne," finally said the brunet, "Aren't you that Naruto?"

His voice sounded as lazy as he looked. The boy was still crouched and Naruto noticed his overly relaxed posture. Loose arms were resting on his knees, elbows jutting toward the ground. The look on the boy's young face was mostly bored with a small hint of interest. Naruto was not quite sure what to make of this other child. He wanted to say something, initiate some kind of conversation, yet hesitated. The other boy smiled again. He could tell Naruto was uncomfortable.

"That question was just a formality. I know that you are. But you know…"

Naruto averted his gaze as the brunet's voice began to trail off. He had already prepared himself for the insult.

"You don't look like a monster to me."

Immediately, his sapphire orbs locked with the other's chocolate ones. So badly he wanted to cry and he now noticed how his face became ugly from the effort it took not to. Yet his best attempts would not keep back his resilient tears, they freed themselves into a steady stream over his reddening face. The former embarrassment compared nothing to what he currently felt. Had his vision not become blurry, he swore he would run away. How much of a fool he most look in front of his new friend.

"I-I'm sorry, I must look like a complete idiot…" Naruto managed through sniffles.

"Yeah, but so do I."

Instead of judging or laughing, the brunet simply pulled a ridiculous face; his cheeks puffed out and his eyes squinted into slits. Naruto's cries soon turned into laughs as the other boy continued on with a variety of looks. Happiness was erupting in his heart and he goofily grinned. Was this what it was like to be normal? The blond hoped so, he could easily get used to this. With the task complete, the child returned the smile and stood up, reaching out a hand. Naruto followed his lead and took the other's hand, giving a firm shake.

"I'm Nara Shikamaru. My family owns most of the land around here," he casually stated.

"Uzumaki Naruto! I'm glad to meet you!"

Naruto's smile grew, he truly was glad. For the first time in his life, someone was treating him like another human and not a demon. It was as though some of that pain had vanished. Together they stood and watched the bright stars above, flickering as though they were contented too. From the corner of his eye, Shikamaru noticed a single tear glistening on Naruto's cheek. He knew of the hurt Naruto experienced and it saddened him as well. It had been the reason he came over to begin with. Shikamaru easily sympathized with people like Naruto, he knew what it was like be looked down upon.

The Nara's small voice pierced through the night calm.

"Naruto, I want you to meet my friends. I know they'll like you."

"Do you think so?" Naruto meekly answered, "Most people don't."

To show his sincerity, Shikamaru reached for Naruto's clenched fist and laced their fingers together. His eyes did not move from the star-painted sky even though Naruto's head was turned toward him. The blond had a quizzical demeanor. He wished he could believe Shikamaru, but he knew how most people reacted to him. Just because one person could see him as an equal did not mean that others would do so as willingly. Shikamaru finally looked over, his expression the most kind that Naruto had ever been offered.

"They will. You're just like the rest of us. Chouji gets made fun of because he's big. The other kids don't play with him either. And Kiba has the same kind of energy as you do, so he's looked down on a lot. They think he's annoying. And me…"

Naruto was listening intently to every word.

"I'm really lazy and don't like doing much. People think I'm gonna be a failure so they avoid me."

Suddenly, the young Nara seemed much older than he was. Naruto was drawn to his maturity in the situation, like he was fifty not eight. There was something more to this boy. He was not just lazy and kind - he was intelligent. The blond could understand now why Shikamaru had been so certain before. It was because he just knew, and if that was the case that is how it would be. His eyes made their way to the grass, wishing he could have that same kind of confidence in life. Perhaps, as long as he had Shikamaru, he could in a way.

He did not know what else to say at this point, but knew something needed to be said.

"Thank you, Shikamaru."

"Mendoukusei…but this was the right thing to do. Don't thank me for that," said the brunet, giving a slight smirk.

The pair shared one last smile before heading their separate ways for the evening. Shikamaru explained how his mother would probably scold him if he was any more late, and that would be even more troublesome. The blond understood. He did not have parents of his own, but he had seen enough families to have an idea. His walk home took longer than the norm. A part of him had not wanted to leave that field, he would have rather waited there to make sure his friend returned the next day. But, Shikamaru had given a promise to return and this time with others. Soon, he reached the door to his apartment and gave a quick glance over his shoulder. Tomorrow would be a good day. He knew it.