Everywhere you looked, there were masks.
Lots of people had masks. Even Naruto had a mask. His mask was a smiling face. He may smile and act cheerful all the time, but this is just his own personal mask. The blonde ninja had gone without anyone to trust for the first five years of his life. That was no environment for a small child to grow up in. Chased, beaten, it didn’t matter how old he was. He was viewed as a monster. And he was treated as such.
But he knew that if he cried, he would be giving them exactly what they wanted. Everyone wanted to see him cry. So he put a fake smile on his face. If he acted happy, no one would consider him a threat. It didn’t matter if he was hurting inside.
But then, on his fifth birthday, the fateful October tenth festival, he was saved by his guardian angel. The Hokage gave him his own place, sending him some money to live on every week. He got to know the people at the ramen stand. Teuchi, Ayame, and the Third Hokage. They were his special people.
But he did not want them to worry. The beatings almost entirely ceased after his guardian angel saved him. This meant he could drop his smiling mask. But now he had three people who cared about him. So he continued to wear his smiling mask, no matter the pain he felt inside from the hateful glares of the people he passed on the street. He could not let his special people worry about him...
Then he added Iruka-sensei to his list of special people. But Iruka was different. His eyes had the ability to see through his mask, and gaze upon the sad face beneath it.
In truth, Iruka was the only teacher at the Academy who ever considered him a student. Every other teacher thought he was a lost cause. When he raised his hand to ask questions, they ignored him. When he asked for help, they didn’t give it to him. A few times a psychologist came around the school to talk to the children individually about killing others on the battlefield. He was supposed to explain that death was unavoidable, and work with the kids so they would not be traumatized when they were forced to kill. But the psychologist only told Naruto that a monster would have no problems killing, and just sent him on his way.
A monster... When it came right down to it, people only saw a monster when they looked at him. But he refused to be a monster. It wasn’t what other people viewed you as that made you a monster. It was what you did.
So he promised himself he would not act like a monster. He would one day become Hokage so that he could protect the village. Then no one would see him as a monster. They would respect him. They would respect him as the Hokage.
But as it turned out, Naruto was not the only one with a mask. Everyone had a mask. But everyone’s mask was different. And some people had masks that were far more complex than the masks of other people.