This is basically the main Naruto story with one major difference- this version of the story has four-man squads in front of three, and all new members are completely new characters. (One of which is the main narrator of the story) It might seem like you've seen all this before, but I promise I will get original! I only posted the prologue and chapter one to see what you guys thought... I hope you like it! (:

Prologue

Twelve years ago, as the legend is told, among thick woods that stretched on for miles, a Nine-Tailed Fox appeared. It was so tall that it could smash a cloud in with the swing of a tail; so strong and cruel that it could crush a nation in the blink of an eye.

And, nestled in that forest, hidden from the rest of the world, was a village which the demon had found. In a fit of rage it cried and shrieked, dashing around and leaving destruction in its trail.

A band of Ninja from the Village rose up to protect their home, but none were strong enough and were inevitably lost in the beast's anger. Hundreds were killed within the hour, and tears of survivors streaked across the floor.

Now I, personally, don't believe in legends. Especially not impossible ones, ones about phenomena that only happen in books or dreams. One Ninja, they said, was strong enough to kill that demon, but lost his life doing it. That Ninja was known as the Fourth Hokage, a hero.

I don't believe in heroes, either.

If heroes were real, I would've been saved twelve years ago on that very night, my birthday.

But no one wanted to save me. No one ever cared enough to try.

Part One

Demons

Chapter 1
Final

CHIASA

I woke up to one of my many fears- silence. When the sunlight slid through the window and pried my eyes open, I found myself staring across the room at the bed where my best friend should've been sleeping.

I was alone.

Heart thundering, I scrambled to free myself from the clutches of my covers. Why would he do this to me? I thought, finally able to heave my sleeping bag off of me. And so late in the year, too…

I often told the day by how I woke up. Some days, if I was lucky, he'd already be awake and the sound of him rustling around in the kitchen would wake me. Those were the good days. The rare ones. Then there were the normal days, where I'd wake up to his snoring and have to drag him out of bed and all the way to school. He wasn't one to go on his own, and when I managed to get him there he'd usually just leave in the middle.

Then there were days like today: the worst kind of days.

After rolling out of the disgustingly ancient bed mat, I forced myself up to a stand and cringed as my feet slammed against the cold, hard, wooden floor. I could practically feel the entire, run-down apartment smiling at me, teasing at me.

Well, good morning, Chiasa. I chuckled darkly and grimaced at the chipped, white walls of my pathetic excuse for a bedroom. Another day in paradise.

The floor boards groaned in protest as I ran up to our one window, and it was all I had not to sneeze when the dust that flew up as the boards squeaked down made its way up my nose.

I had to stand on the tips of my toes to see out of the cracked piece of glass in the wall, and even then if I really wanted to see I had to jump.

It was times like this when I really wished that I could make it to five foot.

The full light of Konoha was blinding, and at first I had to squint. When everything cleared up, I was shocked to see everything running in perfect function.

It was funny, but not a single one of their faces was disturbed, angry, annoyed, or shocked. They were all just walking around, saying their "good mornings" and making their nauseating small talk. The buildings stood, unscathed in their colorful juxtaposition above the villagers making small talk below.

Could Naruto have…? I shook my head, answering my own question. No, he's not one to do something out of character… Someone gasped from the streets. My eyes snapped to the pedestrian- someone I didn't recognize- and his face was horror-stricken.

I tensed. It looked like I had found Naruto.

I followed his gaze up towards the sky, and nearly fainted at what I saw. Towering above, in the center of the Village Hidden in the Leaves was a wide plateau of maybe six thousand feet, so monumental that I didn't even have to jump to see it.

Carved on that giant plateau were four god-like faces. The Hokage, our village leaders, were the strongest Ninja of their time. They were each worshiped to the point of nauseating idolism, and they were viewed as heroes. It was pathetic.

Only the Third remained alive, and he still lead us. He was a perverted old man who has long since passed retiring age, hailed, obviously, as though he was our creator.

All over his rock-hard face, and plastered over those of his predecessors, was paint. They had glasses, boogers, swirls on their cheeks, bloody noses, you name it. There was even a game of tic-tac-toe going on the Second Hokage's forehead. Heading away from them from not too far away was a roaring laughter, a sound that I knew better than my own voice.

"This is it you little bastard!" Someone screamed after it. "I don't care how old you are, or what the Hokage says! This is the last straw!" It was just a Chunin, one of the Hokage's minions. They said that every time Naruto did something like this. Nothing ever happened, yet I still almost killed over.

Naruto laughed harder and I struggled to find him soaring thirty feet up through the air. Sure enough, there he was, paint bucket in hand, orange jumpsuit tied around his waist. His neon yellow afro of spikes was more radiant then the sun. I groaned and glared at him in all his nonchalance.

"Do you know what you are?!" He called after the Chunin in his high pitched voice, "Jealous! You wish you had the balls to do that, you dumb bitch!" I suffocated a laugh and stared at him. I met his deep blue eyes for just a second as he was approaching the ground, and he winked at me. I tried my best to scowl at him- it was hard to do to Naruto- but it was too late. He was already focusing on landing.

Iruka Sensei will be catching him soon, I reminded myself. You don't want to be late to the academy. So I turned away from the window, knowing that I had about five minutes to get ready.

"Naruto!" Iruka Sensei, a man in his early twenties who for some reason chose teaching as his profession, screamed. I was sitting at my desk, right up front, being the closest seat to where Naruto now sat: all tied up on the floor. Iruka Sensei's shout had woken me from one of my usual daydreams, startling me and sending the all-too-familiar flood of adrenaline straight through me. I was suddenly at the edge of my seat, praying that he would calm down before Naruto got hurt. His empty chair was beside me, and the creeping sensation of solitude was nearly suffocating.

He was struggling to free himself pointlessly, as though he had the strength. The sad thing was, if it were anyone else in the entire classroom I'd be just like the others; bored, zoning out, waiting for Iruka Sensei's lecture to start.

"What the hell are you thinking? You failed the last graduation test, and the one before that. This is no time for practical jokes, dumbass! Your last chance is tomorrow!" I cringed at the way he yelled at him.

In the Ninja academy, we had three final exams. In order to graduate, you needed to pass at least one of them, but any major slip up during any exam and you were disqualified. Naruto hadn't passed a single one, and tomorrow was his last shot at being a Ninja. I couldn't bear to imagine what would happen if either of us failed.

The day that we became Ninja was something we both had been dreaming about our whole lives. The day that we could walk around the Village and be seen as something more than two hated orphans…

"Are you even listening to me?!" He roared, baring his teeth. I jumped again, having drifted into another trance. Naruto jutted out his lower lip into a pout, looked the other way, and grunted indifferently.

By this point, Iruka Sensei's patience was shot to hell.

"That's it!" He bellowed. "Everyone's having a re-test on the Transformation Jutsu, even if they passed the first time!" Now the entire class was groaning, most of them even glaring at Naruto on the shiny beige wooden floor. My heart was sent on another automatic frenzy. Jutsu were special techniques that Ninjas used, allowing them to do superhuman things. They were what set us apart from normal people. Everyone in the class thought of a Jutsu as walking; something that you're not born knowing, but something that becomes as easy as breathing once mastered.

Everyone except me.

"And you can thank Naruto!"

"Sakura Haruno!" Iruka Sensei called off of his clip board. I was leaning on one of the off-white desks, one of the ones that was closest to the front of the room. They were all two-seaters, and each row was a little higher than the one in front to set them back on an inclination. They were all pretty spaced out from each other too, making the classroom look bigger than my entire house.

A girl in a sleeveless maroon dress and apple-green eyes stepped forward, a smile glowing on her face. Sakura was one of those girls who really needed to get her priorities straight. There was a bow that matched her dress tying up her long, surprisingly naturally light pink hair. She put it there to draw attention away from her slightly oversized forehead, and she cared so much about what other people thought of her that she never bothered to put any work into being a Kunoichi. (A female Ninja.)

"Here I go!" She squeaked as I stared at her back. I noticed her pale elbows jutting out to each side, meaning that she was weaving the hand seal to perform the Jutsu. "Transform!" Right on cue, a mist started at the soles of her traditional navy blue sandals. In less than a second, it thickened into a steamy fog and hid her from the rest of the class, and had covered her all the way up to the tip of her bow in no time at all.

Just as quickly as it came, it cleared and a clone of Iruka Sensei emerged from it. Instead of pink hair, it was pulled back into a spiky dark brown pony tail. Every aspect of his clothing was perfect, from the giant red swirl on the back of his high-collard vest to his baggy blue-grey sweat pants and the long sleeved undershirt to match them. She even had the navy blue clothed metal plate that every Leaf Ninja had tied around their forehead, more commonly called a headband.

Though probably useless in battle, Sakura might've been the smartest person in the entire class.

Iruka Sensei was marking something down on his clip board, and there was a warm smile across his face.

"Transformation into me, perfect…" he mumbled, nodding for her to transform back into herself. She broke the hand seal and wove a different one, resummoning the fog.

"Alright, I did it!" She squealed, jumping up and down after it cleared and released her. After she had finished gloating, she turned and stared at the boy next to me and a light blush ran beneath the skin of her cheeks.

"Did you see that, Sasuke?!" Without turning my head, I tried to see him in my peripheral vision. He acted as though she hadn't said a thing, like she wasn't even there. His jet black eyes stared past her, at Iruka Sensei. He was waiting for him to say his name. After a second or too, Sakura moved to the end of the line, rejected but not beaten down.

I let my eyes slide over completely, to see him.

He was tall, five foot three, maybe. He had about five inches on me, but the complete and total intimidation of his features made it seem like a foot. I was the second shortest kid in our class, beating Naruto by half an inch. I wondered how pathetic I must've looked standing next to him.

His eyes were bold in contrast with his pale skin, almost as pale as mine, and they were so dark that they even made his spiky black hair look light enough to have a bluish tint, bolding his eyes further as his top and side bangs framed his face.

Sasuke was the silent type. If it weren't for the circle of girls that constantly swarmed and screamed around him, you probably wouldn't be able to tell that he was there. I tried to keep my distance from them.

"Sasuke Uchiha!" I could see his head turn slightly, he was ready to meet my eyes. Quickly, before he could see, I shifted my glance away and started thanking whoever was out there for my reflexes. Staring at Sasuke Uchiha was not something that I typically did, nor something that I ever wanted to get caught doing.

As he stepped forward with his arrogantly nonchalant scowl permanently etched on his face, I noticed a symbol on the back of his royal blue shirt. It was white on the bottom and red on the top, but it had a weird shape, almost like a lantern. It was probably a family crest, but it seemed familiar to me somehow…

"Hey, Chiasa." Someone whispered. I tensed again, feeling a small but powerful blast of adrenaline shoot through me. I looked around frantically, then met the eyes of the other boy standing next to me. I looked down ever so slightly into his ocean blue eyes and smiling face. I don't know what it was, be it his whiskers sticking out from his nose or his neon yellow hair being held up by giant green goggles into an insane, spiky afro. Maybe it was his bright orange jumpsuit with the raised white collar or the royal blue shoulders, or that permanent, adventurous smile that I couldn't not smile back at. Be it the way he looked or just him, I was just… not angry at all anymore.

"Chiasa!" He whispered again, getting frustrated. "Snap out of it!" I wasn't daydreaming anymore, but I refused to look at him. I was mad before for a reason, so I used any willpower that he hadn't killed to try and ignore him. "Chi-"

"What do you want?!" I snapped, keeping my voice low and giving in. I barely even looked at him, but I could already see his eyes going all wide and innocent.

I just wanted to apologize… He thought. I was almost completely turned towards him now, and his whole gaze just dropped to the floor.

Ever since I was about nine years old, I could read minds. There were Jutsu far more complex then the Transformation, but I only knew one, called the "Mind Possession." I came up with it myself.

Other than that, however, I was probably more useless than Sakura.

When it was fully activated I could do a lot more than hear thoughts, but ever since I mastered it I could hear every thought within a ten-meter radius. It was like being in a busy hall full of people, so that even when it was silent it wasn't totally silent. At least not to me.

"Bullshit." I whispered back. At the word, his smile was back. He was even shaking a little, laughing like he was an hour ago, shooting through the sky. Only quieter.

And, because I couldn't help it, I started smiling too. I felt the pure hearted laughter shoot up my throat, and I could feel the taste of happiness- sweet and a stranger- spread through me.

Naruto was the only one who could do that.

Our brief moment of apology-and-forgiveness was interrupted by a kind of blast of wind that came from ahead. We both looked forward and saw that Sasuke had already returned back to his normal self and was walking towards the back of the line.

Sakura may have been the smartest, but Sasuke was by far the most skilled. He never even said "transform."

Iruka Sensei had lost his smile, and was a little dumbstruck at what he had just witnessed. My heart skipped a beat as he mumbled something unintelligible, and I gulped, knowing what this meant.

"Chiasa Uzumaki!" Iruka Sensei called, meeting my petrified light brown eyes.

I took a shaky step forward with my sandal like Sakura's, in front of the other fifteen children. They were all staring at me now. I was the center of attention. My palms got sweaty and I could gradually hear my own breathing.

Iruka Sensei's smile was more forced now than it was for the others, but at least for me he tried. That was a lot more than most other people could muster up for me. Maybe he does have a heart… I thought sarcastically.

I pulled my hands in front of my white and navy blue horizontally stripped shirt and looked down to see my body for what was hopefully not the last time. You're not going to die. I reminded myself, trying to be calm. You've done this plenty of times before. My head started throbbing.

Slowly, I weaved "tiger," the simplest hand seal.

"T-transform!" I felt the Chakra immediately respond, swirling around my body at ten times its normal speed. Maybe it was what kept my heart going, or maybe my heart stopped a long time ago.

At this point, the pain was so strong that I couldn't be sure of anything.

The fog began to erupt like the tremors going throughout me, and I watched as my upper-back length light brown curls began to shrink and turn darker.

That was the painless part.

Have you ever had your bones stretched out an entire foot? It feels like someone's ripping them all out of their sockets. At the same time. Hard. The worst is having to go through that with a straight face. If I wince, he'll take points off.

No one else had this problem. I've heard it in their heads. Not even Naruto; it was just me. Then again, being a thirty five pound twelve year old girl of barely four foot nine had its problems.

No stamina was one of them.

After what felt like an eternity, the fog cleared. I was seeing eye to eye with him, trying to represent his friendly disposition as the pain inside of me twinged and sizzled away.

My blouse and tight, dark blue denim pants had become Iruka Sensei's clothes. I could feel the red swirl on my back, the very same one that was on my own shirt.

I had done it.

"Good." He nodded. I groaned internally. If growing was bad, shrinking was a hundred times worse.

I switched to the bird symbol, and looked forward as the fog encased me again. When I knew I was hidden, I closed my eyes and gritted my teeth, balling my hands up into fists and squeezing.

This felt like my bones were crunching up against each other, and every time I moved ten thousand needles were stabbed into the body part that was trying to escape.

I had to sit here and be tortured as the pain ate away at me. I was drowning in it, fighting for air, swimming to reach the surface from the bottom of the abyss. By the time the fog cleared and I had to act like nothing happened, I crossed my arms just for the pleasure of clutching something.

Like a ghost, I started drifting across the line of towering kids, almost all giving me that glare. They did it every day. They were wishing me dead, cursing me out, planning ways to give me hell. All that, added in with the physical pain.

Just another day in the life.

Tears were barely forming at the base of my eyes as I resumed my place next to Sasuke. I could feel him tense up, acknowledging my presence. I didn't hate Sasuke like I hated most of them, because he didn't hate me.

"Naruto Uzumaki!" As I was biting my lip to hold in a burning scream, I looked up at the sound of my own last name.

It was weird to think that Naruto and I were from the same clan. Since neither of us knew anything about ourselves, not who our parents were or how they died or if any other Uzumaki was still living, we just assumed that we were distant cousins or something. That was probably why the Third Hokage gave us the same house to live in.

Naruto Uzumaki stepped forward, glowering at Iruka Sensei with his hands on his hips.

"This is all your fault…" A boy mumbled, probably standing next to him. I recognized his voice as Shikamaru Nara's, the laziest person in the world.

"Like I care." Naruto didn't even look back at him. He was smiling a different smile now, another one that I knew.

My heart started pounding for what must've been the tenth time today. It was sad that I couldn't call that a record. That smile was the smile that could scare me from a hundred miles away. That smile could destroy an entire Hidden Village. I was surprised that it hadn't yet.

Naruto was about to do something very stupid.

Iruka Sensei, who knew the smile just as well as I did, became extremely nervous. Not my level of nervous of course, but nervous enough to stop him.

The only problem was, he was a second too late.

I was aware of maybe three things before it happened. The first was Hinata Hyuga, a shy girl almost as small as me who's thoughts often revolved around Naruto, blushing and staring at him. I could barely make out her breathy, soft spoken thoughts among the rest.

Good luck, Naruto… She thought, pushing her pointer fingers together again and again.

The second was the final stage of my little nervous breakdown, where my heartbeat literally stopped. My lips probably turned as white as my skin, and I couldn't feel anything but my teeth chattering.

Why, Naruto? Just why?

The last thing was my hair blowing out behind my shoulders, pushed by the wind of a transformation.

I never even heard him yell "Transform!"

Blue Chakra surrounded him, making a spherical cage around his body. He was using too much! Nevertheless, fog surrounded him, but it was thinner than the rest of our fog. So thin that you could see a shadowy figure of the person he was transforming into.

It definitely wasn't Iruka Sensei, I can tell you that much.

When the fog cleared, it didn't calm my nerves. It only made things worse. Much worse.

My heart was going again, believe it. I wasn't even scared anymore, but you'd never see me so mad, embarrassed, or shocked. I felt like crawling into a hole and dying.

There, for all to see, was a naked woman in Naruto's place. That's not even the worst part. She looked exactly like a tanner, older, blonder version of me with longer straight hair and blue eyes. She had Naruto's whiskers, but it wasn't very hard to see passed them. She wasn't skin and bones like me, either. She was beautiful… and I wanted to throw up.

I swear my jaw hit the floor. I could feel my face glowing a vibrant red, it was so hot that I thought I was going to pass out from heat stroke or hyperventilate or something.

All the attention was on me again. Roars of laughter split my ear drums into two, and I felt faint. Naruto was only encouraged, because he thought they were laughing at him, not me. So what did he do?

Wink and blow Iruka Sensei a kiss, of course.

Blood shot out of Iruka Sensei's nose and he fell back as though someone had knocked him out.

"Oh, Naruto…" I groaned, covering my face. Hot tears slid down my cheeks. I hoped that no one was still looking. I felt the gust of wind go again and brush past my hands. Stupidly, I peeked through my fingers.

The real Naruto- fully dressed- was pointing at Iruka Sensei and dying of laughter. Everyone in the entire class was hysterical- everyone except me and Iruka Sensei.

"NARUTO!" He roared, quickly getting to his feet. "YOU IDIOT!"

"Did you like that, Iruka Sensei?" He was still chuckling, holding his stomach with one hand."I call it the Sexy Jutsu." Before I knew it and for the first time ever, I was running out of school right in the middle of the morning, charging for the door and not looking back.

Nobody stopped me.

NARUTO

When you have a teacher this stupid, you tend to want to drive them insane. I know I did. In return, he decided to get revenge.

So here I was, standing on a platform hanging up five thousand feet in the air, scrubbing a rock until paint got underneath my fingernails. Isn't that a fun way to spend a Thursday evening? To make things even better, Iruka Sensei was sitting over me on the First Hokage's headband as I scrubbed the holy cheek or whatever.

Birds were still chirping in the distance, giving me something to concentrate on rather than the sun that was beating down on my neck.

Iruka Sensei was watching me like a hawk, glaring at me with that God awful look in his eyes. His arms were crossed, and he looked down at me like I was some random piece of shit. It just left the best taste in my mouth, let me tell you.

"You're not going home until all of this is clean!" He yelled for the tenth time. I almost laughed. That wasn't exactly the best motivation. I glowered up at him and tried to match his level of hatred as I spat the words that flew out of my mouth.

"I don't care!" I roared. "It's not like there's anyone home waiting for me!" Chiasa was probably off in the woods. That's where she always went when she was upset. It wasn't very hard to find forest around here, considering the fact that this Village was in the middle of the woods.

I'd be alone when I got home, thanks to Iruka Sensei's stupid re-test. I looked away from him and went back to my scrub-sulking.

Suddenly, I didn't feel an intense glare pounding down on my head anymore. I ignored him, hoping that he had decided to leave me alone.

I was wrong, of course.

"Naruto…" He said, more gently. I looked back up at him, this time more annoyed then angry.

"What do you want this time?" He stared thoughtfully into the distance for a second, pondering what to say to that. He didn't look like he was going to scream at me, so I didn't reuse the Sexy Jutsu. Not yet.

"What I meant was…" He was silent, still thinking.

"Spit it out already!" This was just another form of torture. I was sure of it. He wanted me to stand out here all night so that I'd be exhausted and fail the Final Exam tomorrow. I wouldn't become a Ninja if he had anything to say about it.

"If you clean this up, I'll buy you Ramen when you're done."

It doesn't take much to make my day. That was one of the many magical phrases that could do it.

"YES!" I felt like thrusting my fist into the air or jumping up and down or running around the entire leaf village. But that would involve falling almost a mile, so instead I started bathing the first Hokage. "Why didn't you just say that in the first place?! Give me an hour, believe it!" I added my signature catchphrase at the end for emphasis.

I don't care what anyone else thinks, the best thing in the world is hot, freshly made Ichiraku Ramen.

The Ichiraku Ramen stand, on the side of the main road, was probably my favorite place in the world. The owner and his daughter were probably two of the few people in the Village who didn't hate me. Well, I suppose the only two, besides Chiasa.

So there I sat, chugging down my third bowl of noodles happily, wondering if they came from heaven itself. I made a mental note to vandalize things more often.

Iruka Sensei sat next to me, not eating his own bowl. I silently wondered what was wrong with him, but then I remembered that he was paying for this, so I figured I owed it to him to stop mentally insulting him for the night.

"Why'd you do it, Naruto?" He was scrutinizing my face and hunching over to see eye-to-eye with me. "I mean… don't you know who the Hokage are?" What kind of a question was that? I was born knowing. After I devoured the steamy chicken broth and let it calm my nerves a little bit, I turned- reluctantly- away from my ramen and towards Iruka Sensei.

"Of course I do! They were the best Ninja of their time, right? Especially the Forth Hokage… the strongest of them all." I pictured the carving of his face in my mind. He had always looked… bolder than the rest. To me, at least. "He died saving the Village from the nine tailed fox." The look he gave me told me that that didn't clear up anything at all.

"Then… why?" He asked, still puzzled. I sighed, trying to keep my cool because I owed that to him.

"Because I'm going to be Hokage one day." He didn't see that one coming. He paused and stared at me mid-noodle slurp. I took my chopsticks in my hand and pointed at him, winking like I did earlier. Okay, maybe this time it was less flirtatious, but still. "And I'm going to be a better Hokage then anyone else! That way, everyone will finally acknowledge me. They won't look at me or Chiasa like we're trash anymore. You'll see!" He cocked his head to the side, and after he swallowed his mouthful, he spoke.

"Chiasa? You being Hokage won't affect Chiasa." I smiled and stared into my empty bowl. The bottom reflected the dim light from the candle-lit room, like new.

"Chiasa believes that I can become Hokage." I said finally, picturing her frail, tired, overly worried face. "She's the only one who does… and I promised her; I said that I'd take her up there with me somehow, and I never go back on my word… because that's my Ninja way. Believe it!" I looked back at him, worried that I had said too much. He just didn't say anything for a while, so we sat in silence and let my words sink in. It felt like they were echoing somehow, flowing up with the steam of boiling noodles, lingering with the candles' flame. Then I remembered that I wanted to ask him something.

"Hey Sensei… I have a favor to ask." I eyed the Leaf Symbol engraved in his headband.

"You want another bowl?" I was liking him more and more. I wasn't one to turn down a bowl of ramen, believe it, but still, his headband was so drawing…

"No… I was wondering… Could I try on your headband? Just for a little?" I smiled at him as wide as I could, so wide that it squinted my eyes shut. I even clapped my palms together for the full effect.

"Oh, this?" He chuckled, grabbing the shiny metal plate. "This is for Ninjas. When you graduate from the academy tomorrow, you can wear one." Ouch, rejected. I folded my arms and looked away. And I was just starting to like him…

"You're so mean!" I shouted. He started laughing. The people in the kitchen were starting to stare at us. Ichiraku was a bar with five seats, so we were the only ones in there. No one else was there to listen.

"Is that why you took your goggles off?" My hair was handing loose now, down draping in front of my forehead. He was right, it was why I had taken the goggles off…

But then of course, there's always a plan B.

"One more bowl, please!"

CHIASA

Do you ever have those days where you just can't win?

Yeah, welcome to my life.

I was glad that I knew the woods like the back of my hand, otherwise I would've gotten totally lost. The woods used to be my safe haven, my shelter from the rest of the world.

I had lived here, for a time.

After a while of walking, trudging along, the sun was setting. I knew that I'd really be lost if I didn't stop and rest until dawn or turn around, and God knew that I couldn't go back there for a while.

And it was just in time, too. I had just come across my favorite clearing in the entire woods, surrounded by all of the other forest trees. There was a stream running through it that made a peaceful, babbling noise, surrounded by only grass and violet and yellow wildflowers.

It was absolutely perfect, like it was made for me. This was my real home, this was where I'd always be safe. It was perfectly ten meters all the way around, so if anyone was coming close to me, I'd hear them in my mind. If I was out of Chakra for some reason, I had the strongest ears in the entire Leaf Village. I could probably hear them from a mile away.

The grass was greener here, the water was cleaner. Throughout the day you could hear the songbirds chirping, sculpting each other's melody and flowing into a perfect harmony, evolving into a symphony by noon time. At night the frogs croaked and the crickets rubbed their wings, composing a lullaby that always put me right to sleep.

And, about half way between the rest of the forest and the stream, stood a tall oak tree, alone. Not a soul grew near it besides the grass at its roots, but it never did greave. I remember hiding up in its branches, surrounded by its thick leaves ten feet off the ground. I'd rest there when I needed shade, either closing my eyes or staring at the creatures in the surrounding thicket.

This was no normal oak tree.

In the fall, the leaves turned brilliant shades of orange, auburn, and brown, and they cascaded down to the forest floor, decorating the surface and adding flavor to the already natural beauty. Sometimes I'd lay there and wait for them, waiting to let them bury me. I'd close my eyes and, for a very short time, be totally and completely happy.

Fall was a time of bliss.

In the winter, I'd run into the woods at night and huddle up in a not so windy place. It never got too cold here, as we were quite south and it hardly ever snowed, so I could return to the tree and the clearing by day time, cry every time I saw the lifeless tree stand there, pray that it would make it 'till spring.

Winter was a time of survival.

In the spring, the wild flowers would sprout and I'd watch as the whole world slowly began to blossom to life again. The oak tree grew brilliant white flowers on its branches that were easily blown off by the wind and sent towards the water. As they lightly grazed the creek, they drifted along, moving on with their lives, breaking off from the place of their birth. Though the flowers left often, I'd feel less lonely then I did in the winter, as the all of the animals started to come back with me. I could be one with them, one with the world in spring.

Spring was a time of redemption and unison.

Finally, there came summer. Of all of the seasons, summer was my favorite. Everything was the most alive, the colors were the most vibrant. All of the forest smells, they all smelt the sweetest… I could feel happiness here too, just like in the fall, but even warmer.

At least, I used to.

It's amazing how one scar can ruin the perfection of something forever. Just that one day, all those years ago…

The Kunai knife marks were still in the tree like a scar, not glazed over at all over time. I still got the adrenaline rush every time I looked at them.

Now this place served as a reminder for me, a reminder that nothing was perfect, and a reminder of that sunny summer day, already almost seven years ago…

I shivered at the thought of it, forcing it out of my mind. Still… it was amazing how even here, lying under a branch and peaking through the many leafs where the stars barely shone through, putting a twinkle in my lifeless eyes, I assumed…

Even here, I could still be unsafe. I was glad that my weak Chakra even had the strength to help me jump as high as ten feet… but I felt that even if I could jump a mile up, I could still be shot down. I remember wishing for freedom, all those years ago, wishing that I could fly away from here, my perfect world… fly not to escape, but just to be free.

I would be forever caged.

I turned over and sighed, knowing that it was no use staying here. As I managed to sit up on the branch, a tear rolled down my cheek. I hadn't been here since the day he was killed.

I was vaguely aware of the soft thud my feet made as they touched the ground. I was about to turn back towards the village when something caught my eye. It was bright and small, like a star hovering just above the ground. I turned to get a better look at it, and gasped at what I saw. It was a bright white light, flashing on and off.

A firefly! I realized, taking an involuntary step back. I wasn't one to go towards a bug on my own, but it was so radiant and beautiful that… I started walking towards it. What's the worst that could happen? A voice in the back of my mind said.

I was in a strange trance, one where I was subtly aware of what was happening but couldn't do anything about it. I was walking forward towards the light hovering above the stream. The air was hot, humid as I walked. It caressed my face as I blew by.

When I got right up to the edge I stopped and looked down, noticing my own reflection in the water. I stared down at myself, looking at my illuminated features.

My thick, half up half down brown ringlets lay casually across my shoulders, curling the most around the edges of my face. In my ears were two incredibly small golden hoop earrings that brought out the golden tint in my eyes. When I started to look into the gold-brown balls, I couldn't stop.

They were dead. Completely lifeless. That was emphasized even more by the bags underneath them and the creases in my face. Somewhere deep inside their corpses lay something, maybe a spark of fear as a thin layering between the surface layer of death and the core of completely agonizing pain.

When the moon uncovered itself from a cloud and shone on the lake, I gasped and realized what I had been doing. I looked up and tried to tell the time from the moon's position in the sky. Oh no… Tomorrow was the final exam, and it was already midnight.

I would have enough trouble producing a clone if I was awake.

Clone Jutsu. It used to hurt more than Transformation Jutsu, but now it was painless. I had practiced it so many times… perfected it over and over again, until it finally didn't hurt anymore.

Now I was going to be tested on it.

A lot of things happened that day, from the very second I walked in the door. I got back around one thirty, and Naruto was already asleep. He was in the kitchen this morning, and I woke up to the sound of Ramen being cooked.

Today should've been a good day.

However, there was a kid in my class who seemed to hate me more than any of the rest of them. His name was Hibachi, and his life's goal was to ruin mine. He wasn't that big in comparison with everyone else; he wasn't even five feet tall, but he was still taller and much stronger than me.

After school, Hibachi was planning on attacking me with his three wimpy best friends. That meant that after the last person took the final exam, I had less than one minute to run. I was already shaking just thinking about it.

He was eyeing me from across the room like I was a fresh piece of meat. Look forward, Chiasa. Pretend like he isn't even there.

Naruto was sitting next to me, and I could feel his worried gaze on my face as I shifted uncomfortably in my chair.

"Are you nervous?" He asked, scrunching his eyebrows together. If I was nervous, he'd get nervous. I hoped that he didn't see me as some fearless person that only got scared when she really had too, because I was scared of my own freaking shadow, and he should know that by now.

"No." I lied. He didn't buy it, but instead of getting scared himself, he smiled at me, like he usually did.

"Listen Chiasa, you're going to pass this easier than anyone and be number one rookie, believe it!" Maybe, had I not still been completely furious about yesterday, I would've thanked him for having so much confidence in me. Instead, I said:

"I'd tell you the same, but you're probably going to be too busy indirectly calling me a slut, asshole." And I didn't meet his eyes. That left a really rotten taste in my mouth, so much that I wanted to take it back right after I said it. I stole a glance at Naruto to see if I'd hurt him, and at first it didn't look like I had. After he stared down at the desk, looking confused, he looked like he got it.

"Fine, the next time you're having a nervous breakdown, don't come crying to me." I deserved that, but it still hit me like a punch in the gut. I gulped and looked forward. I didn't even have enough sanity left- or enough emotional strength- to tell him that I was sorry before Iruka Sensei stood up in front of the class and began reading from the sheet of paper given to him by the village.

"We will now begin the third and final Academy Exam!" He said from his little podium that he used to lecture us from. "When your name is called, proceed to the next classroom. The final exam will be on Clone Jutsu." I could practically feel Naruto tearing out his own hair. Clone Jutsu was his absolute worst, and he obviously didn't pay enough attention to know that that's what we were being tested on.

You can do this, Naruto. I wanted to whisper. Believe it. That would've made him laugh. But because I was biting down on my bottom teeth so hard, I didn't say a word and forced myself to slip into another daydream.

"Uzumaki, Chiasa!" Eventually, if I never got used to waking up so abruptly, I'd give myself a heart attack. I stole one last, sideways glance at Naruto before walking into the room that would change my life forever. He didn't look at me, he only nodded.

You have time to make amends later. I reminded myself. This was no time to get sidetracked.

All eyes were on me one last time as I ghosted across the floor and over to the door connecting to a consecutive classroom. Iruka Sensei was waiting by the door, holding it open for me.

For some reason, he had no trouble smiling today.

My heart thudded against my chest, reminding me that it was still there. I clenched my fists, trying to unsuccessfully ease the tension poisoning the chilled blood that pulsed through my veins.

The next room was plain, and much smaller than our normal classroom. It's walls were white with brown wooded planks running down the sides, and there was a wide open space in the middle of the floor that Iruka Sensei led me to. After he made sure that I was steady and on my feet, he went to go sit down at one of the two tables that was pushed all the way against the wall. There was a man already at the table with him, another teacher that I recognized. I thought his name was Mizuki.

He was white haired and blue eyed, but his wide, bulgy forehead and narrow face and chin made him look like an alien. His smile was so innocent and friendly as he stared at me, waiting for me to perform my Jutsu, that I wanted to throw up.

Well, isn't this great. I thought, trying to get my arms to move so I could weave the hand seal. Standing in the middle of a small room being watched by two idiotic Chunin, who'd judge my performance and alter the course of the rest of my life. No pressure.

Steadily taking deep breaths, I put my hands together and let my Chakra flow throughout my body. Whether I liked it or not, this is what I was born to do. There was no getting around it.

"Clone Jutsu!" As I said the words and activated the rest of the Jutsu, I felt my Chakra accelerate once more. This sensation was entirely different. It felt like my insides were painlessly thinning, splitting apart into countless layers of pure energy.

Then, I became even weaker than before.

There was always that one moment in Clone Jutsu after you make the clones where you feel totally empty. Admittedly, I wasn't exactly "full" in perfect health, and being even emptier just knocked out a few senses.

As the clouds of smoke appeared beside me, I fell onto my knees and caught myself, spreading my palm out on the floor. I couldn't see anything, and everyone's thoughts just shut off.

Keep breathing, I told myself as the pain was wearing away. With one eye closed, I looked at Iruka and Mizuki Sensei. Mizuki was smiling his alien smile, but Iruka Sensei wasn't satisfied.

"I can't let you become a Ninja if you're going to cringe every time you perform a Jutsu, Chiasa." The world started spinning. Frantically, my eyes darted around the room, looking for something to help me. All that there was besides the three of us in the room were a few royal blue clothed headbands that lay on the other table.

Two of them were for the Uzumakis. They matched the color of the stripes on my shirt.

I couldn't lose now. Not after I had come so far, so close… I looked around at my clones, to see if they deserved his disapproving look.

They were prefect, every single one of them. And there were a lot of them, too.

I felt feverish.

"Iruka," Mizuki said in a pleading voice. "Look. She managed to make seven perfect copies- that's more than any other student! And even though the real body is weakened, the clones don't feel any pain. They could protect her until she got back on her feet." Iruka Sensei's disappointed face lightened a little bit as he considered this. He pursed his lips into a firm line, then he caved. Hope flickered inside of me like a candle, or something smaller than that. It gave me a little more power, enough to let me stand up.

Please give me the headband… please… He finally smiled and reached for it, and I had to keep myself from rushing towards him and grabbing it.

That was one of the happiest moments of my entire life, even though it meant that I had to repay Mizuki.

Maybe that was why, when I reached out my hand and Iruka Sensei gifted me with my milestone, enclosing my fingers around it, that I was expecting all of my problems to go away. I was expecting them to be scared of me, to run from me, to just fade along with every ounce of hatred I had.

Nothing even twitched.

The headband felt strange at first. The clothing felt like thin rope, and it was a lot heavier than you'd think. I had to make sure Iruka Sensei didn't see my hands tremble as I tried to hold it up, praying that he wouldn't take it right back.

It also didn't feel as amazing and holy as I'd thought it would. This was what every kid in the Leaf Village dreamed about. This was what I'd dreamed about. I'd always thought that at that moment, when I was officially a Genin, the first rank of Ninja, that I'd feel… stronger somehow. Yet here I was, holding it in my hands, weak as ever. In the end, it was just a piece of metal with an engraving that meant nothing to me.

"Thank you, Iruka Sensei." I said respectfully, not checking to see if he could see the disappointment in my eyes.

I could hear enough in his head.

I turned away in a daze, only vaguely aware of the soft thudding sounds of my sandals hitting the wood. I walked out of that classroom with my head bowed, eyes dark from the shadow of my forehead, lips trembling.

As always, I could feel the tears coming.

Why am I so… weak? I thought helplessly. Maybe if I was born stronger like Naruto, maybe then I wouldn't mind being hated. Maybe if I was born loved, like Sakura or Hibachi, I wouldn't mind being so weak.

My breathing caught wind and breath started rushing out of me in sudden gusts. If I was empty before, now I was just a shell full of nothingness.

I clutched my headband around the leaf symbol with all my strength. If I can crush it… or even make a dent… I thought, then I can beat it… then there's a shred of strength in me somewhere…

"Good job," Naruto said in a far away voice. It was colder than he was. Icy. I cringed and sucked in a giant breath, like I was trying not to scream. I looked down into my lap, letting my ringlets fall over my face and hide my teary eyes from him. If I was going to be weak, no one else was allowed to see. I could still feel his gaze as I tried to steady my breathing.

Something had broken between us, and I had never been so alone.

On top of my stretchy jeans lay my new headband, teasing me like my abandoned apartment. Another day in paradise, I thought again, a whole life in paradise.

Then I looked at it closer.

My heart sunk and my eyes flew wide open. I could feel all of the muscles in my back tense up. My hands, yet again, involuntarily clenched into fists.

There wasn't a wrinkle in the cloth. As for the plate…

Not even a fingerprint.

"Uzumaki, Naruto!" Was called just as Naruto watched tears fall from my eyes and make the smallest wet stains on the legs of my pants.