No One Will Ever Call Me Sweet Heart

A One-Shot Naruto Fanfiction by Aoi Kami Sarah

            The rain patted in a staccato rhythm on the pane just to the left of Naruto's head. A comforter was bunched at his feet and the thin sheet covered only his midsection. Despite the chilly weather, Naruto snored comfortably through the night.

            But when he woke, the rain had not lifted. The boy sat up slowly, rubbed his eyes and remembered it was Sunday. "Day off," he murmured and fell back on his pillow. Unfortunately, he was already awake. His eyes barely open, he looked out at the grey morning. The sound of the rain filled the room. He sighed and pulled the discarded comforter up around his chin. If anyone could have seen the soft frown on his face, the pinch of flesh between his arched brows, they wouldn't have thought this melancholy baby was Uzumaki Naruto; anyone perhaps but Umino Iruka.

            Iruka zipped from awning to awning, artfully avoiding the rain as he made his errands: somen noodles from the fancy pasta store on Vine, some Jordan almonds for Anko from the confectioners, and a quick jaunt to the bodega on Broadway and 6th for some cup ramen for a certain former student of his. Through the gloom of early Sunday morning, Iruka smiled.

            At eleven Naruto was roused to the sound of knocking on his door. He knew there was only one person it could possibly be. Wordlessly, Naruto opened the door and turned back to bed.

            "Ohayo!" Iruka chimed cheerfully. His smile drooped from the less-than-warm welcome. Not to be deterred, the teacher scuffed his feet on the mat and let himself in. "I brought cup ramen!" When Naruto didn't come running out of his bedroom, Iruka began to worry. He stuck his head in the doorway. "Naruto, daijoubu?"

            "I dunno…" came the muffled reply. His friend sat on the edge of his bed and waited. Iruka was often short tempered with the boy's rebellious ways, but he could also be endlessly patient when necessary. After a few minutes the covers squirmed and a blond head emerged.

            "There you are," Iruka smiled. "Come on. Let me make you some ramen." He shook one of the cups for emphasis. Naruto shrugged but did finally slide out of bed.

            Iruka busied himself with the teakettle and threw some expired items out of Naruto's fridge. He washed a few dishes until the water was ready then prepared two of the cups he had brought with him. He set them in front of Naruto and himself and pulled a chair up to the little kitchen table.

            "Ne, Iruka-sensei…" Naruto mumbled, watching steam rise through the gap in the paper lid. "How old were you when…?" he began, but lost his nerve.

            Iruka straightened up a little in his chair. He reached out and warmed his hands on the little paper cup of Sapporo Ichiban Miso ramen before him. "I was thirteen when I lost my parents." He chose his words carefully; unsure of what Naruto wanted to hear.

            "So you remember them?" Naruto too laced his fingers around his cup, but kept his eyes on the steam emanating from it.

            "Yes I do."

            "Do you miss them?"

            "Of course."

            "Would you miss them if you had never known them?" he asked quickly but quietly.

            Iruka's heart twisted. The apartment seemed suddenly very quiet. The rain had stopped. "I don't know," he replied.

            "Doesn't make much sense, does it?" Naruto added and looked up as if he wanted agreement.

            "It's only human." The teacher fidgeted a bit. He tried to think of the right thing to say. "Even if you never experienced it, you long for it."

            "Were my parents killed by the Nine Tails, too?" the boy asked softly.

            "I don't know, Naruto," he admitted.

            Naruto sighed and took the cover off his ramen. His eyes fixed on the pale noodles. "I like to think that's what happened," he said as he mixed the soup up with his chopsticks. "I don't wanna think they abandoned me, but sometimes I feel like they did…"

            "Naruto…" Iruka whispered, his heart breaking.

            "When the kids an' even their moms and dads look at me like they do… I think I'm not any good for anything. So maybe that's what my parents thought and so they dumped me."

            "That's not true!" Iruka gripped the edges of the table and struggled to find just the right words. "No one would do that to you, besides, you were just a baby…"

            The boy's lower lip quivered. "I just wish I knew, Iruka-sensei. It sucks to be alone…" A few tears patted down on the tabletop. Involuntarily, the teacher pushed his chair back and stood up. Naruto continued to look down, unable and perhaps today unwilling to put on a brave face. "It sucks."

            His mentor crouched next to his chair. "Naruto," Iruka put his hand on his shoulder. "You're not alone." The boy sniffled and without hesitation launched himself at Iruka, knocking him on his ass. The teacher wrapped his arms around him and let him cry it out. Slowly, Naruto caught his breath, but still clung to Iruka's shirt. The clouds grudgingly parted and let some sunlight into the little apartment. "Hey now." Iruka patted his back reassuringly. "Your ramen's getting cold."

            Naruto choked out a laugh and nodded. They ate their lunch wordlessly. When he had finished, Iruka cleaned up and invited Naruto to come out with him.

            "Uh uh," Naruto grunted as he scratched his hair. "I gotta train. Wasted almost the whole day already."

            Iruka grinned. "There's a good boy. You call me if you get bored," he advised, still choosing his words with ultimate care.

            "Arigatou, Iruka-sensei."

            "Any time."

*

            Well after dark Naruto dragged himself home and fell into bed with his clothes on. His chakra almost completed depleted and his body bearing a number of cuts and bruises from a rigorous session against his own shadow clones, he was asleep in moments.

            Just before he dropped off to sleep, Naruto listened to the silence of his apartment. The things he contemplated that morning, which he thought he had gotten over, came back to haunt him.

            This place he called home had no soul. There was no one waiting for him when the day was over, no one to wake him when it began. No smell of food waiting for him, no din of conversation or laughter like he had heard coming from other people's houses. Maybe he should get a cat, he thought.

            That was crazy. He'd probably malnourish the thing to death. No. He didn't need something to take care of. He needed someone to take care of him. But did he need it? He got along all right by himself. He hadn't burned the place down or even ever locked himself out before. He didn't need it; he wanted it. He wanted 'welcome home!' and 'how was your day?' and 'time to wake up now, Sweet Heart.'

            "Sweet heart," he muttered. "No one will ever call me Sweet Heart." Not even his own mother whom he had never known. Iruka, and even that jerk Sasuke had known their mothers… Naruto felt the tears come again and curled up into a ball. "Kaasan…" he whispered, just to see what it would sound like. It didn't help. He pressed the comforter to his eyes and wept like a child, all the while forgetting he was still just that: a child.

            And weeping, Uzumaki Naruto fell to dreaming.

*

            The pond was familiar. It reminded Naruto of one in the upscale northwestern area of town, relatively close to the Uchiha Ichizoku. A steady but calm breeze gently pressed small waves that undulated across its surface. He looked up at the sky; cerulean blue with perfect, crisp white clouds ambling from left to right.

            Didn't he have to be at the bridge to meet up with Kakashi-sensei, Sakura and Sasuke soon? Surely yesterday was Sunday and he'd have to be there, but something in the air made the day feel so much like a Saturday.

            A lone willow tree dipped its branches into the water and under its dappled shade sat a young woman who stared out at the water. Her face was obscured by a large sun hat but even from a distance and not seeing her expression, Naruto could tell she was happy.

            The feeling was contagious. Without even thinking about it, Naruto gravitated towards her.

            "Ano… 'scuse me, Nee-san? Mind if I join ya?"

            She turned her head to look up at him. The large hat framed her round, heart-shaped face. Her eyes were a pale green and her hair even paler blonde. It lilted around her like strands of silk thread in the ever-present breeze. Her skin was alabaster and her limbs were delicate. She seemed a living statue, such was her perfection. So when she spoke, Naruto almost fell over with surprise.

            "Sure! It's great to have company on such a nice day!" A bold, confident voice boomed from her slight frame. She patted the ground with one of her thin, china-like hands and smiled. When she did, her eyes turned into the most adorable crescent shapes. Naruto blushed, falling instantly in love and without hesitation sat down beside her. She faced the pond again, the contended smile hanging on her lips. Naruto stared at her, unable to look away. He wanted to memorize her face. Something about her seemed fleeting, as though if he blinked she would blow away.

            She must have felt the intensity of his gaze because she looked back to him, but rather than scold him for staring, she grinned, amusedly. "Do I know you?" she asked.

            Naruto shuddered. "N-no! I mean I don't think so…"

            "Really? You sure I don't know your family?"

            "I… don't have one," he admitted.

            For the first time, her features drooped. "I'm so sorry…"

            "No! It's ok! I mean… It was a long time ago… I never knew them."

            She bit her lip. "That's horrible. There've been so many wars, and so much loss and sadness in this village. Sometimes I wish I had never been born into a shinobi clan."

            "You're a ninja?" Naruto asked tentatively, unable to imagine her giving or receiving any sort of violence.

            "No." She rubbed her thin hands together. "Because my body's too weak, I can never be a ninja…" When he didn't respond she looked up. "I'm sorry! Now I've made you upset!"

            "Uh? Oh no, no! I just don't know what I would do if I could never be a ninja…"

            She smiled again. "Now I know why I think I know you," she said and pointed into the distance behind Naruto's shoulder. "You remind me of him."

            Naruto craned his neck and looked for a person, but all he saw was the mountainside about five miles to the south and the four faces etched upon it. "What, the Hokage?" When he turned around he was blushing even redder. "I'm gonna be up there one day, you'll see!"

            "You will?!" she asked, excitedly.

            "You bet! Everyone will know me and look up to me!" he stood and shouted.

            "Ah! Sugoi!" The young woman used the trunk of the willow to help herself up and got a good look at the 12 year old.

            "So, Nee-chan? Which one do I remind you of? Nidaime? Please don't say Sandaime!"

            "No, silly. Isn't it obvious? Yondaime!"

            Naruto's chest puffed out. "Honto?!"

            She laughed. "Even your attitude! You sound a bit like him too."

            "Ne, how do you know so much about him?"

            "He's my fiancée!" she said proudly and beamed at him.

            The world seemed to stop. The clouds no longer raced across the sky. The water didn't glisten. Naruto felt something akin to nausea and fear with a mixture of confusion and sadness sweep over him. "Oh, Nee-chan…"

            "He's so amazing. Have you met him?"

            "Uh… no…"

            "He only just became Hokage last year but already they have the mountain carved. He's going to be the best, most famous Hokage, no the most famous kage the world has ever seen! And I don't have to worry about being a good ninja because I'm going to be the world's best wife." She brushed some dirt off of her kimono and walked to the water's edge. "We're going to have children too, as soon as possible! I want tens of them!" She crouched and dipped her fingers in the cool water. She patted her face lightly and took a deep breath.

            'Children…' Naruto thought. Had Yondaime had any children? How long had he been Hokage before he died? He wished he had studied harder when Iruka-sensei taught him History of Konoha. "I was just a baby…" he whispered.

            The young woman turned quickly. "What did you say?" she asked.

            "Uh, never mind…" Naruto tried to think of something to say to change the subject.

            "Do you think…" she started, but the words ran out of breath. The pale green eyes rolled back and her legs gave out.

            "Nee-chan!" Naruto shouted and caught her in plenty of time. "Daijoubu, Nee-chan!" Her face was so pale, he felt like he was holding a doll the size of a grown woman. Not having any idea what to do for her, Naruto started to panic. "Nee-chan, please…"

            As if she heard him, the green eyes fluttered open. He offered to help her up, but she asked him to let her lay her head in his lap till the spell passed. "It's all right, I just fainted. I stood up too fast." She laughed a little. "I get so excited when I think about the future. Do you think I'll make a good mother?"

            "Yeah," Naruto whispered. "The best."
            "I think so too," she smiled. "I'm a great cook!"

            "You are?"

            "Mmhm! You should come over for dinner some night and I'll show you!" she chimed as she slowly sat up.

            "Kozue!" a man's voice called from the distance. "Doko?" A long coated, spiky haired silhouette was just visible on the horizon.

            "Hai~! Coming!" the young woman answered. "I have to go. You understand, don't you?"

            Naruto nodded.

            "I'll see you later, then!" Naruto shook his head. The sky was almost dark. The clouds seemed to have piled up on each other in the last few tense moments. His shoulders slumped. Naruto opened his mouth to speak, but just didn't have the heart to tell her. "I'll see you right there, ne?" He turned and followed her pointing finger once more just as the sun broke through the clouds and illuminated the monument to the first four Hokage.

            Naruto's face brightened. "Mm!" He nodded. "I'll be the best Hokage the world has ever seen! You'll see."

            The young woman named Kozue bowed and kissed him on the cheek. "I know you will, Sweet Heart. Ja, mata!" She waved. Clouds flew past. Water rippled and willow leaves swirled in a never-ending breeze.

            *

            The sun shone bright and warm through the pane just to the left of Naruto's head. The comforter and sheet were wrapped tightly around him. Despite the warm weather, Naruto had snored comfortably through the night.

            When he woke, he sat up, rubbed his eyes and realized it was Monday. "What happened to Sunday?" he murmured and squinted into the sunlight. Across town, four sets of stone eyes watched over his village. He opened his own eyes wide, grinned, threw off the covers and charged headfirst into the new day.

            Anyone who could have seen the curl at the corner of his lips, the sparkle in his cool, blue eyes would have know this boy was Uzumaki Naruto: future Hokage of Konoha.

            "You'll see! I promise!" he shouted to the sky and ran out the door at top speed to beat Sakura and Sasuke to the bridge.

END

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thanks to leslina for listening -aks