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When I was a kid, the morning used to be my enemy. I would fight it at every turn, my eyelids always struggling to keep the ocean of sunlight at bay. I never could afford blinds, so the light would flood the room and shine straight onto my unwilling face. Inevitably, it would shake me from my slumber, and put me into that weird state of half-sleep where the blankets just feel so damn good but the light is just too freakin bright.

Back then, sleep was my only peace. The fight with the sun was only my first of many battles. Sometimes, the fight would take place in the streets, between my subconscious and the half-conspicuous glares of those around me. Other times, the fight moved to an alleyway or dark corner, and the wounds would take a more physical form. Fight fight fight. I had to struggle and work, and it made me strong. It made me who I am.

But that same struggle made Gaara who he was. It created both Madaras. People say that I was strong, that I was able to overcome, but that isn’t it at all. I was just lucky.

I was lucky that the Hokage cared for me, even a little, because of my parent’s legacy. I was lucky that a certain scar-faced sensei opened his eyes. I was lucky that two of the most powerful ninja the leaf had ever seen would become my teachers and steer my clueless ass away from the darkness that I had so narrowly avoided.

Funny, that I gave Neji so much shit for all that fatalistic destiny talk. At the time, I thought I was just another dead-last, dealt an unbelievably bad hand in life. Now, well, I know that my argument was blatantly false. I’m the reincarnation of the First Hokage, the ward of the Third, the son of the Fourth, the great-nephew of the Fifth, and the student of the Sixth. Heck, with that pedigree, it woulda been pretty pathetic if I didn’t get the hat.

Now, my mornings start with the glow of dawn. Sleep used to be a break from a bleak reality. Now, my sleep drags down the rest of my life. I finally have a family. I have a wife, a pair of wonderful kids, a brother (in some spiritual bullshit kinda way). Konoha not only respects me, but loves me. I’m among the most powerful ninja the world has ever seen. I’m the mothafuckin Hokage.

But that’s not the whole story. I learned early on that nothing in this life comes free. My life is pretty awesome, but my dreams are like the receipt, reminding me just how much it cost for me to get there. Everytime I close my eyes, I see them. I see Jiraiya, usually off perving with that stupid grin on his face. I see Neji, still protecting Hinata behind my closed eyelids. I see Obito, and Itachi, and Chiyo, and all the others who sacrificed themselves along the way. The Leaf calls me a living hero. I don’t think such a thing exists. Heroes pay the ultimate price. I’m just the idiot that they paid for.

What do I do when one of them wants a refund?