Author: Pickled Death
Summary: one-shot; Iruka does not believe in vengeance. He does believe in forgiveness. Forgiveness has its extremities. For example, Iruka is too young to be a father, especially to a hooligan like Naruto. …But somehow, he fits the bill just fine.
Author's Notes: Um, yeah. Love to Iruka. And seven-year-old Shikamaru wears fishnet. In small quantities. Admit it; it's hot.
He is 13 and unused to the concept of an empty home. However, he, being 13, tires of standing beside his parents' gravestone at times; he tires of crying because he is a boy, and tiring of crying seems the natural way to deal with things.
He is 13 and unused to the scent of blood, though he once casually observed that a distinct fragrance clung to the ANBU mask of his (late) father. His parents then exchanged shifty glances, and then smiled patiently and told him that he would understand when he got older—that he would understand how and why the masks of his father's colleagues smell similar.
The words were annoying then. The words resound in his ears.
Umino Iruka is not past the grieving stage.
Lanky and malnourished, he casts a final, suspicious glance about the house before leaving.
He believes in ghosts at times; he believed that the innate search for meaning is more profound in death than in life. As strong and as profound his belief was, 13-year-old Umino Iruka is not stupid. He is wise enough to realize that his search has begun at an early age.
He is wise enough to realize that this signifies that he is to die an early death.
Or not, he rationalizes desperately. At 13, Umino Iruka is not morbid enough to entrust any darkly ethereal being with his fate.
With that, he etches a smile on his face and reenters a world where he was looked at with the imperceptive pity he has grown to dislike.
People ask him silently, lips unmoving but eyes glinting with failed attempts at perception, "Do you seek vengeance?" And then their eyes, squinty and imperceptive, shift to a little boy who bears a queasy resemblance to (the late) Yondaime-sama. It's almost as if they want someone to resort to madness, and that itself sickens 16-year-old Umino Iruka to no end. He gives the townsfolk the dirtiest look he can manage, and they look away, disgust evident and weakly hidden.
The boy's name is Uzumaki Naruto. He is four years old and does not understand why he must play by himself.
Although disgusted by the behavior of others, Umino Iruka finds himself reluctant to outwardly oppose them.
Now a chuunin, Iruka sighs and pulls his hood over his head and continues walking to the cemetery to give his parents the news of his promotion.
The villagers whom he quietly scorned look at him as if to remind him that he is no better or worse than anyone else, and that, too, sickens 16-year-old Umino Iruka to no end. He continues walking, making it a note to inquire as to what the right path is.
He never considers the possibility, or the certainty, that he will not receive a response.
Whether coincidence or fate, 18-year-old Umino Iruka is determined not to carry the same unsettled attitude with which he is treated. Word is spreading quickly that the demon boy is in his class. They look at him with sympathy and pity and urge him silently to quit his job before he has even begun. The youngest instructor at the academy…simply doesn't deserve to have to teach a miniature monstrosity; why is the boy in school in the first place? The parents of the other children must pay for their children's schooling. It seems unfair.
To Iruka, it is a small price to pay. Taxes are insignificant. Family is priceless. He decides with a lopsided smile that this, too, will be part of his curriculum.
A small but nonetheless bustling crowd is gathered in the clearing beside the park, and uncertain he approaches; the crowd parts. Again with the sympathetic faces. Inwardly he hums with annoyance, but outwardly his face is patient and curious.
Lo and behold, Uzumaki Naruto.
Uzumaki Naruto, balanced precariously with one foot on a large rubber ball, busying himself with juggling four blunted kunai knives.
Iruka's first thought is: Wow, he's pretty good.
Iruka's second thought is the one to register the dangers of balancing one-footed on a large rubber ball and simultaneously juggling four blunted kunai knives.
Whether coincidence or fate, just as it registers, six-year-old Naruto loses his balance. Four kunai knives go soaring into the air; the ball tumbles westward, soon to be forgotten. Naruto yelps just as any six-year-old about to die yelps; he's slightly airborne and those knives—
Kawarimi no Jutsu, Iruka's mind hisses of its own volition as his hands perform the seals. And suddenly, he's on the ground. And suddenly, the knives are flying at him, but he instantly realizes that's okay. Some simple taijutsu maneuvers; he kicks away three of the knives in the blink of an eye, but his left hand fumbles and quite suddenly and quite painlessly there's a knife vertically imbedded in his palm.
Blood spurts out. Iruka blinks and sits up, growls quietly as he pulls the kunai out of his hand. And then there's pain, and he grits his teeth and bears it as he stands, fumbling with his sleeve and ripping off a strip to serve as a makeshift bandage. It's not too deep. He won't die or anything.
He blinks again as he realizes the crowd's still there, deadly silent. He almost growls again as a select few shoot Naruto contemptuous glances, as though the boy had somehow assumed control of Iruka's mind in order to save his own life.
But Iruka instead smiles and treads quietly to the blond whose blue eyes are wide and owlish.
"Are you okay?" Iruka asks softly.
Just like that, the crowd shuffles away, murmuring amongst themselves. What new rumors will arise tomorrow?
"Y-yeah," Naruto stammers, eyes still wide. Then the boy bares his teeth in an unabashedly true grin. "That was so cool!" he exclaims. "Will I be learning that? A-at school?"
Something inside Iruka swells. Fondness, his mind discerns. Strangely enough, the thought of being fond of Uzumaki Naruto doesn't seem something to be ashamed of.
"Yes," Iruka says, still smiling. "You're…Naruto, right?"
The hesitance is a mere grace.
"Yeah!" Naruto beams and flashes a peace sign. "Uzumaki Naruto! I'm going to school soon!"
"Really?" Iruka muses aloud. Naruto nods enthusiastically. "You know, I'm teaching at that school."
"Yeah. Maybe you'll be in my class, Naruto!" Closed eyes arch into happy slivers.
"Wow! That'd be great!"
Iruka laughs quietly and is suddenly interrupted by a long crooning noise, rather feral, emitting from—
Naruto rubs his stomach sheepishly and glances around with shifty eyes. Iruka blinks and glances behind Naruto, where an emptied and empty pickle jar sits. Ah, so he was…
"You wanna get something to eat?" Iruka asks suddenly, as if acting on a stroke of genius.
"Where would you like to eat?"
Naruto pumps his tiny fists in the air and cheers. "Ichiraku!" he cries in a dignified manner, as though eating at the ramen stand is an honor. (A dubious honor. But an honor.) Iruka's smile widens and he takes the little boy's hand.
"Iruka," a wizened voice calls from behind, and then adds, "sensei."
The chuunin stiffens, and then stands at attention. "Sandaime-sama!"
The Hokage shakes his head with a wry smile, a pipe jutting out of his mouth and emitting smoke. Has he observed the entire exchange? Iruka briefly wonders as to whether or not that would be a good thing. "That hand of yours…will it be alright?" Ah, so perhaps he has. Iruka has never been a good medic, admittedly—at least when tending to himself. Inadvertent selflessness. Odd how these things turn out.
"O-of course. T-thank you for your concern." He makes as if to bow, but the old man waves his hand dismissively.
"No need for formalities. It appears I missed the show," the Hokage says, eyeing the fallen knives. Naruto places a hand on his waist and adjusts the goggles on his forehead before striking a comical stance.
"No worries, old man! There's sure to be another show tomorrow!"
"God forbid," Iruka mutters in spite of himself.
The Hokage just laughs.
"But, my father, mother—they were tortured by the demon for the sake of this village…and they're not considered heroes!? And I'm the son of those heroes!! Are you telling me that I can't cry for them!?"
"He isn't the demon fox anymore… He is a member of the Hidden Leaf; he's… He's Uzumaki Naruto!!"
"…But everyone knows that the most important thing is to die for a cause."
Nara Shikato takes a vague approach to a problem that thus far has had no solution. The entirety of Konohagakure is haunted by the very same conundrum.
He is 21 and puzzled; he is challenged, but remains collected in the face of a situation that could make or break his reputation. A schoolteacher of three years and running, he is more analytical than before but less coldly so. The courtyard buzzes with activity. Umino Iruka has little reason to join the festivities, but even littler reason to care.
"Why not?" the schoolteacher says with a smile.
Shikato frowns. "Don't smile like that."
"Why not?" the schoolteacher says with a smile.
Shikato hesitates, and takes the moment of silence to curse himself and the Kyuubi and the people who died and lastly, Umino Iruka: a man who overcomes the trepidation plaguing those he considers his betters. "Because that boy," he emphasizes, nearly snarls though he hasn't got the energy to, "smiles like that."
Iruka shrugs. "That isn't a horrible thing."
A man who not only overcomes.
Twisted, in its own right…and simultaneously, strangely admirable.
"Do you think he's your son?" Shikato asks, reverting back to his flat and unassuming tone.
At this, Iruka laughs as though he's been laughing all his life.
When he hasn't. Has had no reason to, really.
"Ah…I'm a little young to be a father, don't you think?"
"Perhaps," Shikato nearly agrees, but stops because his son is approaching, wearing a high-collared shirt above two layers of black mesh and fishnet.
Nara Shikamaru is also wearing a wry smile with the faintest gleam in his eye as he thrusts a card into his father's hands and taps his father twice on the forearm. A ritual. Affectionate enough in its simplicity. "Happy father's day, old man," Nara Shikamaru says matter-of-factly. Shikato is pleased because he knows better than to take his son's morbidly shielded emotions for granted, and graciously accepts the card and tells his son to go find Chouji and Chouji's father. Shikamaru obliges.
"Ah, so that's what the buzz is all about," Iruka muses sagely.
"Buzz?" Shikato says innocently, propping the card on his forehead to shield his eyes. The sun streams through the crevasses between the leaves. The tree above is in full bloom.
"That so," Shikato says innocently, tone touched with the faintest bits of uncertainty. Iruka is winning. "Didn't you know today was…?"
Iruka laughs again. "I don't seem that stupid, do I?"
At this, Iruka brandishes a card from beneath his vest. It is riddled with paints and crayons and glitter and crude stick-figure drawings and sardonic comments about how Iruka needs a woman in his dismal existence. Taped to the back is a package of ramen with a post-it note subtly proclaiming that if Iruka finds no use for prepackaged noodles, Uzumaki Naruto (at the age of seven) will be glad to take it off his hands.
Shikato has never seen anything more impressive.
Umino Iruka. Here is a man so pathetic or so alone that his beloved foster son housed the demon responsible for his pathetic loneliness—perhaps, Shikato recalls, the entirety of Konohagakure is correct. Everyone else is correct, dubiously glancing at the lunatic who teaches their children the value of compassion and family and life and living. The lunatic is doing something wrong…something they have yet to put their fingers on but they know exists.
Or maybe, just maybe, Umino Iruka is correct and everyone else is the lunatic doing something wrong.
The idea doesn't seem farfetched at all, and in disbelief Shikato watches as an orange blur speeds across the courtyard. The grass bows beneath and beside Naruto's feet and he latches onto a now-standing Iruka's legs rambling about some pretty pink-haired girl…
Iruka laughs as though he's been laughing all his life.