AN: If I ever decide on the pairings they won't be showing up for a while. The main characters are still pre-teens at this point, and it would feel weird to write about serious relationships when they aren't even out of the Academy yet.

- I haven't attempted to write about one in any of my other stories either, so it might be tricky. I guess I'll find out how it goes if we get to that point.

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Chapter 13: New Friends & New Ships

I walked with the rest of my class to grab our belongings and exited the Academy shortly after. My face was kept carefully neutral as I sat down and watched everyone from my seat on the lone swing. While most of the kids walked home with an older sibling or parent, others simply left with their friends. It was with no small amount of envy that I stood up, stuffed my hands in my pockets, and left the school on my own.

I entered my quiet apartment with a heavy sigh and put my school supplies away. When I looked around I could only think of how utterly empty it was aside from me. Even though I'm antisocial most of the time I'm still used to being around two or three people when I come home. I spent the next few moments thinking about how different my life is now before I realized that I was depressing myself again. My resolve to put a stop to my thoughts led me to use my hidden transformation technique, change into some different clothing, and walk towards my usual training ground.

A half hour of practicing the kage bunshin no jutsu paid off when I could make one more clone than before. I was worried that I didn't have enough chakra to safely pull off making another clone, but was thankfully proven wrong. I noted that I didn't feel the effects of chakra exhaustion despite my continued training. "I think I can make at least one more with my current reserves."

I excitedly cancelled both of my clones so I could test my theory. Ten more minutes passed and I was pleased with my progress. Instead of two clones I now had four standing in front of me. That turned out to be the max amount I could pull off with the 'safe' version of the jutsu. It was amusing when they adopted my happy expression and eagerly set off to complete the task I sent them on.

"Four clones should be enough for now. I guess I'll just have to wait for the multi-shadow clone technique to make more in the future." I focused back on the present and joined in on the exercise that my clones were practicing.

We all were panting on the ground in exhaustion when an hour passed by. Shuriken training wasn't usually so tiring, but I took it to the next level. I was determined to better myself at throwing them so I won't hold my team back in the future. Every ten minutes I had it where the oldest clone would poof out of existence so we could collectively gain more experience. Then I created another to take its place each time and went straight back to practicing alongside them.

My skill with a shuriken was noticeably better when I finally decided to rest. I watched as my final round of clones dispelled themselves five minutes apart from each other and then slowly stood up from my place on the grass. A short dizzy spell let me know that I was definitely done training for the day. It seemed like the perfect time to go home and take a well deserved nap.

I shed myself of my clothing and set my alarm to go off after an hour once I arrived back at my apartment. Then I fell face first on top of my bed, and let my body and mind relax until I fell asleep. When I woke up it was in a much better mood than when I first left the Academy.

"I still need to get my books for this year. I doubt anything good will come out of me trying to get them myself though..." A tentative plan was made as I got dressed and ready to go.

I was going to go to Ichiraku Ramen for supper while I had my clone change into Haru to go and buy my books. It seemed like a good idea to have at least one instance where 'Naruto' and 'Haru' were seen in different areas. "There won't be a chance for any sudden price changes to my items either." I knew I was being a paranoid bastard, but it couldn't hurt to be a little cautious when it comes to living in a hidden village.

"It's not like it would be the first time that a villager made the price of something skyrocket in my presence. Just another great perk of being the current nine-tails Jinchuuriki."

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A wide berth was given for me as I walked towards the familiar restaurant. The silent stares of the people passing me by were cold, but not aggressive in nature. It wasn't surprising, but it somehow still hurt despite being a common occurrence. I was glad that the sight of Teuchi's shop alone was enough to bring me out of my funk.

I was close enough to the ramen stand that I could smell it now. The mere thought of the delicious food had me almost salivating on the spot. In my inattention I managed to walk straight into someone.

"Shit!" I fell onto my ass with a thump while the other person managed to keep their balance just barely. "Christ, I really need to pay more attention to where I'm going."

While the boy in front of me didn't fall to the ground, his bag of chips wasn't so lucky. It turned upside down and spilled all of its contents to the floor during the collision. Within the first few seconds his facial expressions rapidly changed from shock, to anger, and finally settled on saddened acceptance. I quickly got to my feet with a sincere apology on my lips. "Ah, crap. Sorry about that Akimichi. I wasn't looking where I was going."

The bag was slowly picked up by his slightly shaking hands as he mourned the loss of his food. He turned to me with the most pitiful expression I've seen so far as silent tears streamed down his face. "That was my last snack before dinner. I didn't even get a single bite." He looked down at his dirtied chips with a frown while his stomach gave a grumble in protest.

I rubbed the back of my head with a frown of my own while I looked back at my previous destination. A small smile then took over my features as an idea quickly took hold. "Did you want to get some ramen from Ichiraku's? I can pay for a bowl since I was the reason you lost your food."

It was disturbing how Choji's demeanor took a complete turnaround immediately after the noodles were offered. "Really?" His unsure expression disappeared when I nodded. "Okay, I'll hold you to that!" He traveled the last few remaining feet in a blur in his haste to order a bowl for himself.

I hurried the rest of the way myself as I was very hungry from my training. The seating area looked almost full aside from the open chair to the left of the Akimichi heir. I jogged the rest of the way and took my place next to him. Turning towards him left a small smile on my face. It was amusing to see how much focus he had as he was poring over the menu. "Hey Teuchi. Hey Ayame. How've you guys been lately?"

They must not have seen me come in since they both turned to me in surprise. Ayame was quick to greet me while her dad waved and went back to filling orders. "Oh! Hello Naruto it's nice to see you. Business has been pretty good today." I didn't need to put in my order since the two chefs already knew what I wanted.

We spent a short time chatting about the day when she wasn't taking orders to the other customers. I thought Choji seemed a little too quiet after a moment of silence came over the shop. When I glanced over at him in curiosity I felt a little guilty for not checking sooner. His eyes were still frantically darting from one item to the next with no signs of stopping anytime soon. "Did you need any help choosing what you want?"

"God, yes!" He blushed after his sudden outburst. The gaze of the other patrons along with my resounding laughter only caused his cheeks to darken further, before I stopped and suggested my usual order. A bowl of miso ramen was placed in front of me right after.

"Awesome! Perfect timing you two." I pushed my bowl towards Choji and ordered another round for myself. "You can try mine out. If you don't like it I can get you something else. It's only fair after all."

He readily agreed before digging in with gusto. I was happy to note that he continued after his first taste, so he doesn't hate it at least. I tucked into my own bowl not long after and we both finished with a satisfied sigh.

"Thanks for the save back there Uzu- Naruto. I always have trouble deciding what to get when I go to restaurants for the first time. Shikamaru's the one that usually gets me to pick something when I take too long."

"That's all it took, hmm? I guess it shouldn't be too surprising at this age." I gave an easy grin and said, "No problem Choji. I'm just embarrassed that I didn't help you out sooner. I assumed you ate here before since I do all the time."

He waved away my concern with a smile. "I know what you mean. I've done that before too, so no hard feelings."

We talked for a while before parting on good terms with Choji leaving the restaurant and me staying to continue eating. I was close to finishing my third bowl when Teuchi spoke up. "So, Naruto. That boy seemed nice. Have you both known each other for very long?"

I paused with my chopsticks midway to my mouth and answered with a smile. "Yeah. Choji's been in the same class as me since I started at the Academy. He's pretty cool."

"That's good to hear." He leaned forwards and lowered his voice when he spoke next. "The next time you both wind up here I'll make sure to give you a discount."

"Oh, that's really nice of you. I'll make sure to take you up on that when we come here again." I finished eating at a sedated pace without thinking too deeply about the offer. It wasn't until after I paid for the food and started walking away that I understood what he was implying. The quiet remark of, "They look so cute together," from Ayame along with a giggle only cemented it.

"They think we're dating? Isn't it a bit early since we're only twelve and not even out of the Academy yet?" My thoughts quickly turned to Sasuke's obsessive fangirls and I changed my mind. They're definitely ready for a date with him.

Teuchi's equally as quiet, "Yeah, and he seems like a good kid," had me walking out a lot faster than before. I knew my face was burning a bright red by the time I left the vicinity.

I rushed back home at an even faster pace and waited for my clone to return to me. I knew that it shouldn't be too much longer even with the added command of shopping for any groceries I was out of. However, instead of planning for tomorrow I was still stuck on what the duo were whispering about only minutes before.

"God damn shippers are everywhere! I thought I still had another year or two before I had to hear about that. Plus I thought it would've been about Lee and Sakura, or Sasuke and everyone else. I mean, he already has a fanbase, but it's only going to get worse as he gets older." I cracked a smile in amusement over what will surely be Sasuke's personal hell.

"I guess it wasn't too bad since it was the Ramen shop owners. They sounded like they meant well at least."

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AN: Thanks for all of the nice reviews everyone! I'm happy that a lot of people are still interested in this story and that they're rooting for my OC to come out on top.

- For those who are wondering about the bunshin no jutsu scene in a previous chapter - Naru doesn't want to stand out too much in his last year so he didn't use, or disguise the use of, the shadow clone technique. The same goes for him not alternatively creating many illusory clones since he doesn't have enough control for a few.

- He needs to be underestimated during this year for his plan to work. He can do that by maintaining his 'dobe' persona when he's at the Academy. I don't think he can pull off the original Naruto's personality completely, as we've already seen, but he'll try his best to focus on the main parts.