AN: the entire story is co written with Ignus Dracorex. (If you go to his profile you'll find he doesn't have any stories of his own. Also: hello again to anyone who read WYSNK.)
Once there lived a giant nine-tailed fox who was so large and powerful that he could knock the tops off mountains and level valleys with a swipe of a single tail. For years he roamed the Land of Fire, mostly minding his own business. Then one day, he was enslaved by a powerful man and forced to attack the Village Hidden in the Leaves. The people of the village fought desperately until their leader, The Fourth Hokage was able to seal the fox away, dying in the process…
Five years later, a small boy is sitting on his bed, staring longingly out of his bedroom window at the carved stone faces of the four Hokage of the Hidden Leaf. Unknown to him, watching over the boy from the shadows is an young man. This young man watches over the little boy as much as he can, even though his duties as the ANBU captain Dog keep him very busy.
The little boy sighs, wishing he could have met his hero, the Fourth Hokage.
"Naruto!" calls the woman who is Naruto foster mother. "It's dinner time!"
Sighing, Naruto scrambles off his bed and heads downstairs. They get angry if he is late. Naruto's foster parents make no secret of the fact he is not their child. Nor do they pay him much attention, but he never lacks anything, except affection.
Once Naruto has disappeared downstairs, ANBU Dog vanishes into the gathering dusk.
Iruka stretches his arms above his head and yawns. His jounin sensei, Shikaku Nara, regards the smallest member of his team critically.
"Did you finish that report for the Hokage?" Shikaku asks.
"Yes," replies Iruka. "Can I go home now?"
"Aren't you going to tell me what happened after you got separated from the rest of us?" asks Shikaku, raising an eyebrow.
"It's too troublesome," says Iruka, coining Shikaku's favourite phrase. "I'm too tired to tell you right now!"
Shikaku starts laughing. "You little ratbag! Get going, little scamp!"
Iruka scrambles away before Shikaku sensei can change his mind and demand an explanation. Iruka makes a beeline for Ichiraku's Ramen. The mission they just got back from took a week and he is in need of some Ramen.
Once he arrives, Iruka settles down for a couple of bowls of ramen and a nice quiet evening avoiding any questions about what happened after he got separated from his team. Iruka pushes the memory of what happen to the back of his mind. He would rather not think about it right now.
As Iruka is shoveling down his bowl of ramen, he sees a small blonde boy creep up to the stool beside him and climb up. Iruka watches out of the corner of his eye as Ichiraku gives the little boy a free bowl and asks him kindly how he has been.
There is something familiar about the boy, Iruka thinks, racking his brains to try and figure out who the boy reminds him of. As he is thinking, Iruka listens to what the boy is telling Ichiraku.
"So, what brings you here at this time of night?" Ichiraku asks the boy.
"Well," the boy takes a deep breath and starts to talk.
Naruto sits quietly at the table, trying to force down the vegetables that his foster mother gave him for dinner. He hates vegetables, but he knows he has to eat them. Trying to take his mind off what he is eating, Naruto asks, "Can you take me to the park tomorrow, please?"
His foster father glares at him. "And why would we do that?"
Naruto ducks his head and mumbles an "I dunno."
Naruto manages to force down a second mouthful of vegetables. As hungry as he is, he still finds it hard to eat the disgusting greens.
Unfortunately, his foster mother notices how much trouble he is having with his food. "Why aren't you eating, you ungrateful boy?"
"I'm trying!" protests Naruto. "But I don't like vegetables!"
"You should be glad you have food," snaps his foster mother. "What if you lived on the streets and had to fend for yourself?"
"Go to your room, you ungrateful beast!"
Naruto scrambles to his feet and runs back upstairs to his room. Right now living on the streets fending for himself doesn't sound too bad. Maybe he should try it. It's not like they would even notice.
Determined, Naruto shoves a change of clothes and his favourite soft toy into his froggy backpack. The toy was a present from a mysterious person called "Your Godfather". It is a red toad wearing a blue happi vest with a kanji on the back. Naruto cannot read the kanji yet, but when his foster parent grudgingly read him the card he found out the toad's name is Gamabunta. Naruto hugs him whenever he feels lonely.
Grabbing the coupon for free ramen that the nice man at Ichiraku Ramen gave him, Naruto climbs out his bedroom window. Jumping to the tree just outside his window, Naruto then lowers himself carefully to the ground. There is a vague scent in the tree branches that Naruto recognizes as belonging to the strange ANBU who appears sometimes and then disappears when he thinks Naruto isn't looking. It is a favourite game of Naruto's to see if he can spot the ANBU. He can always tell if he missed the ANBU because of the smell he leaves behind.
Once he is safely on the ground, Naruto heads straight to Ichiraku Ramen for some of the best food in the world.
Naruto's little story tugs at Iruka's heart strings. What kind of foster parents does he have, anyway?
And who does the kid remind Iruka of? It's driving him nuts.
Throwing subtlety to the wind, Iruka turns and gets a good look at Naruto. Blonde hair, huge blue eyes….
He looks like the Fourth Hokage.
Iruka remembers something about the Fourth's wife being pregnant around the time of the Kyuubi attack. Who was the fourth's wife again?
Damn. Iruka can't remember.
I know this! He berates himself mentally. I know I know this! Who were you? Come on, memory! Work for me!
Naruto sees Iruka staring at him. "What are you looking at, dattebayo?" he demands, frowning.
Iruka hears a bomb go off in his mind. Kushina.
The container for the Nine Tailed Fox is Kushina and Minato's son.
"Hello!" Naruto waves his hand in front of Iruka's eyes. "Why are you staring at me?"
Iruka gets back down to earth with a shattering thud. "You're so adorable. Can I keep you?"
"Are you a ninja?" asks Naruto. "Cause I didn't know ninjas were so short. And why would you want to keep me, dattebayo?"
"Ninjas come in all shapes and sizes," replies Iruka. "And yes, I am a ninja! And, um, I… always wanted a little brother, and you're adorable! Can I keep you?"
"Look, mister," says Naruto. "I don't think I should trust you, since you're a stranger and all!"
"Don't call me 'mister'!" snaps Iruka. "I'm just a kid!"
"I would never have guessed!" sasses Naruto sarcastically.
"Now, now, you two," laughs Ichiraku. "There's no need to argue." he turns to Naruto. "Naruto, I don't like the idea of you fending for yourself. But I do like the idea of you living with Iruka. He's a good kid, and I'm sure the Hokage will approve. I certainly do."
Naruto stares up at Ichiraku with wide eyes. "He's a nice person?"
Iruka holds his breath.
Naruto turns to Iruka. "Okay, you can keep me! But no giving me yucky food!"
"I'm not making any promises!" laughs Iruka. "But we'll brave the yucky healthy food together!"
Naruto grins at Iruka.
As Ichiraku watches Iruka and Naruto leave together he reflect on how fate seems to take a hand when it needs to. He never thought that the last remnants of the Hidden Whirlpool would be thrown together like this. Nor did he think Iruka would be the one to initiate contact.
Ichiraku can almost feel the future changing in response to this one single event. Whether those changes will be for better or worse remains to be seen.