Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto.
All posted chapters have been revised. This basically involved cleaned up typos, rewording a little dialogue, fixing a messed up name and correcting a continuity error. While there are very likely still errors because I'm not perfect, these should be a little cleaner. I have redone all that was already posted in order to get myself back in the game of writing. I know it's been getting close to a year now since I've last updated, but I am working on it. Life happened and I'm sorry but I'm back. And if it makes you feel better, my little sister is going to be badgering me to update and since I live with this person and I'll want her off my back, it is likely that you will get more frequent updates now.
No Thanks Necessary
Shikaku stood in the doorway of the room that Naruto and Kiba were sharing in his home.
He had done this when Shikamaru was a baby, feeling an incessant need to watch over the child, as though something horrible was going to happen the second that he looked away. Shikamaru had been this tiny little baby and he had been brought into the world where so many bad things can and did happen fairly regularly. For all his genius, he had stared at that little boy and found himself baffled as to how he was supposed to keep him safe when the possibilities that something horrific could happen to him were endless. And Shikaku knew that he wouldn't be able to survive if something happened to his son, the little boy who had captured his heart while the child's tiny little fingers had clenched around Shikaku's pinkie as he held the boy in his arms for the first time.
That sudden attachment and determination to protect something so helpless was as terrifying as it was exhilarating. He had obsessed over the boy's safety, a part of his mind constantly running over different possible scenarios, no matter how outlandish until Yoshino banged him over the head with a soapy frying pan one morning as he related yet another one to her before demanding that he join her back in reality and attend more pressing matters – like the fact that their son clearly needed a diaper change. His obsession had receded slightly after that, but he still kept an extra close eye on his son as he had grown.
And now, he did the same for these two new boys, curled up on pallets on the floor since they didn't have quite enough bedding just yet to handle the new children running their halls. His introduction into these children's lives was just the sort of terror that he had feared his son would endure, and he had though only by proxy.
Kiba had curled and twisted and flailed about in his sleep, seemingly attempting to occupy as much space as possible. The blanket had been completely tossed to the side and he was now perpendicular to the mat, face mashed into the floor, mouth open and gaping into the night.
Shikaku watched quietly as Kiba shifted fully onto his stomach, his legs inelegantly flopping about and landing on Naruto's mid-section. It was enough to awaken the small blonde whose blue eyes swam in confusion for a moment before focusing on the wayward limbs.
Shikaku narrowed his eyes as he watched Naruto, trying to figure out what was going on in that little head of his. Instead of pushing the legs off of him, like a normal person would, or forcing Kiba awake and into a fight as someone might expect a boy of Naruto's temperament to do, the boy just stared. He looked at those stick thin legs with the intensity of a scientist. After a full minute of study, Naruto cautiously reached out a hand and allowed his fingertips to rest against the skin of his friend's prone leg. Eyes darted between the point of connection and Kiba's mashed face. Finally, Naruto removed his hand but still didn't force the legs off of his body. A small contented smile on his face, Naruto fell asleep once again.
Shikaku finally drifted back to his own bedroom running the scene through his mind over and over again. His heart had clenched in his chest when he finally figured out what Naruto was doing. The child was so starved for positive physical interaction that he literally didn't know what to do. And that wasn't even positive interaction. It was just neutral, something done accidently in the Inuzuka's sleep that the boy wouldn't even know he had done by morning when he would likely have shifted position a dozen more times without waking or taking notice. But Naruto, Naruto had reacted like it was a hug. Like someone was intentionally wrapping him up in their embrace and he took great comfort in it.
Shikaku scrubbed his face hard with his hands, grimacing at the scratching of stubble against his palms. He sat at the edge of his bed and stared momentarily at the wall, feeling a bit overwhelmed at the notion that he was now directly responsible for more children, ones that he had not brought into the world, who shouldn't be his responsibility, and yet they were there none the less. They were in his house, under his roof, and totally his responsibility. And they were going to be so much more complicated and troublesome than his own Shikamaru was. So much more damaged. So much more fragile.
"Can't sleep?" He said after a moment, aware from the sound of her breathing that Yoshino was still just as awake as he was.
His wife released a soft sigh and rolled onto her back. "Not even a little bit."
Shikaku laid himself down and reached out for his wife's hand. It was clammy and cold and he clenched a bit harder, trying to transfer his warmth over to her.
"I know he is just a boy. I do. I know it." She whispered softly into the darkness.
Shikaku's eyes drifted shut. "You told the Hokage to place him with us…" he pointed out.
"I know!" She hissed. "I know." She repeated, calmer the second time around. "I know. But I can't help the hitch in my breath when I see him standing there. I can't help my heart pounding when he speaks. I can't help my hands shaking when I put his plate in front of him. I can't help seeing him near Shikamaru and my fingers itching to snatch our boy away. I can't help it!"
"His name is Naruto." Shikaku pointed out flatly. People really needed to use the child's name. If they would, if they would just acknowledge that he was just as human as anyone else, as any other child running about the streets of Konoha every day, it would becoming dramatically more difficult to treat him the way that they did. But withholding Naruto's name, they withheld his humanity. He would become some 'other' in their minds and not just another child of Konoha, an orphan whose parents had died valiantly fighting against the threat of the Kyuubi. Instead, he was 'that kid' and 'that boy.' They could absolve themselves to some extent of the guilt that they should rightly feel for treating him so awfully or for failing to stop others when they had done so because in their minds, Naruto wasn't really anybody.
"Then use it!" His hissed harsher than he had intended to, but he still meant it none the less. Still though, he ran his thumb along Yoshino's knuckles in a calming manner.
"I'll try!" She insisted. "It's not easy. The fox killed a lot of people, a lot of our friends…"
Shikaku would have rolled his eyes had they been open. "That argument doesn't work. Naruto isn't the fox."
"But every time I see him I think of the damn thing!"
Shikaku darted his eyes open and huffed in annoyance. "Why? I see a lonely little kid. We lost the same friends. Fought the same demon. But I can look at Naruto and see Naruto. That has never been a problem. So tell me why? Why can't you? Do you so doubt the abilities of the Fourth Hokage?"
Yoshino sat up abruptly, yanking her hand from his. "How dare you?! I would never doubt the Hokage!"
Shikaku sat up slowly to join his wife, "Then why are you so scared of Naruto? The only thing you would possibly have to fear from him is the failure of his seal."
"Shikaku!" Her fiery eyes locked on his. "Look at the boy. Just look at him! You remember that demon. You know the anger, the malice that poured off of him. The terror that swept over the village as it began to destroy our home. You remember all of that. You're telling me that you can recall of that and look at that little boy and think that he can stand against all of that. That innocent little naïve boy?! He doesn't know how to fold his clothing properly! He doesn't know that you are supposed to take your shoes off in someone's home! He doesn't know how to talk softer inside the house so that people don't go deaf. He uses chopsticks like a shovel! He's just a child, a little boy! You're telling me that you think Naruto can face all of that every day and hold it back!"
Shikaku narrowed his eyes back at his wife. "He stands against all of the hate and all of the anger and all of the malice from the people of this village every day. And yet, he still smiles and laughs and acts every bit the child that he is."
"But nothing Yoshino!" Shikaku pulled at his hair to direct his growing anger elsewhere. "He is a child. Our son's friend. And we shouldn't be seeing him as anything other than those two things." He sighed heartily and glanced up to his wife and saw the conflicted emotions on her face. He knew she was trying, which was already more than most villagers would do on any given day. But Shikaku had seen the little boy as nothing other than that. Because he had seen the massive man-sized hand print on Naruto's child-sized neck, too small even for his young age. And he knew that Naruto had been forced to learn to get Iruka before seeking medical help. And he had heard the whispers filling the village since that night, not a single one making Naruto out to be the victim that he was.
And he knew it wasn't just the civilians either.
As a strategist, he was often expected to concoct plans involving the village jinchuuriki, based on what the previous Konoha jinchuuriki, as well as ones belonging to other villages, had been able to do. At no point is there ever reference to the jinchuuriki as a person. They are always discussed as a weapon. Even in his report about the Inuzuka incident, he had to refer to Naruto as a weapon.
Everyone sees the fox when what they should see that boy. That he was a child before he was anything else.
And the worst part was, Naruto didn't even know.
He knows that the village seems to hate him. He knows that he is all alone. He knows that the other kids can't play with him without that parents pulling them away or them getting in trouble.
He knows all of that.
But the child doesn't know why. And how cruel a fate was that? To force a child to be raised in the village that stressed bonds above everything else, and then deny him that very thing could almost be described as torture. Especially to someone like Naruto, who was the epitome of a social creature. He was forever on the other side of the glass, watching everyone else interact, make friends, share their lives, and never knowing why no one would do the same with him.
Shikaku felt a cold sensation settle in his stomach as he remembered seeing that horrifying acceptance in those big blues eyes that night. Kiba's eyes had been wide in shock and fear. Surprise and confusion had warred over the Inuzuka's face. Not Naruto. The blonde had been collected and disturbingly calm about the whole thing. There was not a trace of surprise or fear that someone would attack him. Seeing an all-out brawl in his tiny little one room apartment didn't seem that much of a shock either. As his possessions were destroyed and his home trashed the child had looked resigned. With a facial expression that seemed to ask the universe, Again?
"He is the strongest person in this village." Shikaku said softly. "But he's also the most vulnerable. He needs to feel connected to this village or he will grow up to hate it. The place he should call home will become a prison to him. All those things you said: that he doesn't know how to fold his clothing properly or speak in an inside voice. Who do you think is going to teach him? The orphanage kept him alive until Naruto requested to leave and then he's been alone in his apartment with occasional visits from the Hokage and the loose eyes of the ANBU when they can spare it."
Yoshino's eyes had furrowed. "What do you mean he 'requested to leave?'"
Shikaku sighed. "I looked into his file since we were taking him in. Just after his fifth birthday he asked the Hokage if he could move. Some drunks had come pounding on the doors demanding Naruto be sent out so they could 'take care' of him. The orphanage didn't send him out obviously, but it scared the kids and the workers alike. There were nightmares for weeks. And it was already well known which orphanage Naruto was in. Prospective parents weren't going there to find children, afraid that exposure to Naruto would mean that they were somehow infected or tainted, so the adoption rate from that orphanage had gone way down. The older kids knew that it had something to do with Naruto and started to bully him and the younger kids started joining in. The orphanage actually hadn't been too bad a place for Naruto before that, but there were so many kids it was hard to give a lot of time or focus to any one of them." He rubbed his face once more as the weight of the day and the conversation continued to settle into his weary body. "The Hokage directly quoted Naruto: 'None of the other kids are getting families because of me. Even if I don't get one, they should. I don't want them to be alone forever. Kids should have families.' A few days later Naruto was in his apartment."
Yoshino bit her lip and let her eyes drift closed.
"He isn't as naïve as you think. He is aware of more going on around him than he lets on. Because of how he had been raised so far, he is both beyond his years in some ways and stunted behind his peers in others."
Yoshino shook her head and then ducked it into his shoulder, sliding one arm around Shikaku's torso and clinging. "It's not fair…" she mumbled after a moment.
Shikaku snorted. "Life is rarely fair for anyone. And we're ninja, we tempt fate too much to ever assume that life would be fair to us. But still, we have to keep moving forward."
"We'll make things better for him." Yoshino whispered with determination. "Him and Kiba and Hana." She pulled her head and Shikaku saw a fierceness in her eyes that reminded him of just how formidable she had been as a ninja which he had somehow forgotten, or at least dampened in his memory over the years of her retirement. "While these children are with us we will be a family, a real family. This will be a safe place for them."
Shikaku smiled and wrapped his own arm around Yoshino's slight frame and pulled her in, indicating his agreement without words.
As the couple finally managed to drift off to sleep, Shikaku thought for a moment of that small little smile on Naruto's face – one of the only true smiles he had ever seen from the boy – and hoped that he would see more of them in the future and that Naruto, and Kiba, and Hana, and his own Shikamaru would find peace here going forward.