Disclaimer: Naruto is the intellectual property of Masashi Kishimoto and various companies. No money is being made from this story, and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Author's Note: This is an AU story. I am pretending that in the canon timeline, Yukiko died during the Kyuubi's attack... but in this world she lives. And everything changes. (It's the Butterfly Effect in action -- the changes in this story are relatively small, but they snowball as time goes on.)
Summary: The Epilogue, in which Iruka is uncomfortably perceptive, Kakashi continues to sneak up on people, Naga is used as a threat, Yukiko pretends to juggle, and the author throws in another OC as a reminder that this is a divergent universe and there were more than nine students in Naruto's academy class. Also, the author clearly needs to get some saltwater taffy before her obsession gets out of hand. :-)
The Way of the Apartment Manager: Epilogue
She was later than she'd wanted to be -- she'd run into a group of bandits on her way back from River Country and it had taken her two days to shake them off her trail -- but Yukiko made it home in time to lean against the sun-warmed walls of the academy and wait for Naruto to finish his first day of classes. She kicked off her sandals and sketched floor plans in the dirt with her toes. She was almost sure she had the money to modernize the building next door and convert the ground floor into a restaurant (and possibly a little shop of some sort), but she had to talk to Yura first.
Well, she could stop by her cousin's yatai with Naruto -- Yura specialized in udon, but she could whip up a bowl of ramen in a pinch, and the kid deserved a treat today.
Yukiko spun at the unexpected voice, and then scowled at Kakashi. "Don't do that. And why are you here anyway?"
The jounin's eye crinkled into a smile. "Just checking up on the brat," he said lightly, "and seeing how our dear Iruka-kun is managing in his new job. Speaking of which, how did your mission go?"
Yukiko shrugged. "Reasonably well. I brought home some long-grained rice and saltwater taffy for my uncle's store, picked off two bandits, and got floor plans and security notes for several businessmen whose dealings seem a little shady." She fished a pink-and-yellow candy wrapped in wax paper from her jacket pocket and offered it to Kakashi. "Want some taffy? I think this one is strawberry and lemon."
Kakashi eyed the candy suspiciously, but plucked it from Yukiko's hand and slipped it into his vest. "Thanks. For future reference, I prefer mocha flavor."
"I am so sorry," Yukiko said, rolling her eyes. "Vanish again, would you? I hear feet and I don't think you really want to deal with a horde of kids. Go bother Iruka instead."
"Point," Kakashi said, and flickered out of sight in a swirl of leaves.
Yukiko shoved her feet back into her sandals and jumped up onto the wall, using chakra to stick herself to the stones and stay well above any risk of getting trampled. And then the academy emptied. The main flood seemed to be second and third year students running for freedom -- the older kids slouched along more casually, trying to prove that they were too cool to hurry like babies. Finally the first year students arrived, all thirty-odd kids, babbling to their new friends about how cool it was to get their own kunai, they had reading for homework and that was so unfair, and wasn't Iruka-sensei scary when he yelled at Kiba for letting his puppy piss all over the floor?
"It pissed on my feet!" a brown-haired girl said loudly, her tone an interesting combination of disgust and pride at having something interesting happen to her. "I'm going to do something horrible to Kiba tomorrow."
"Really? Hey, hey, I can help you!" Naruto chimed in. "I know lots about playing tricks!"
The girl looked at him skeptically. "Really? You're the boy with whiskers -- my mama says you're a menace and shouldn't have been let into the academy, and I should stay away from you. And then my papa said it would be better if you were dead." She frowned. "I don't think he meant to say it so loud. But you have to be horrible or papa wouldn't have said it."
Yukiko told herself that swooping down like an avenging samurai and slapping a seven-year-old girl for having no manners would be incredibly stupid, especially when the girl's parents were the ones truly at fault. She held her breath, waiting to see how Naruto would react. "Come on, kid," she whispered. "You know you're better than that."
Hurt shone in Naruto's eyes for a second before he buried it and grinned. "Well, that means I'm really good at doing horrible things, right? So, so, you should let me help you be horrible to Kiba!"
The girl cocked her head, letting her ponytail swing out past her narrow shoulders, and studied Naruto. She bit her tongue and screwed up her face in concentration, and then said brightly, "Okay! I'm Kigaru Shinnin."
"Uzumaki Naruto. Let's be friends!" He stuck out his hand.
Shinnin grabbed it and shook up and down violently. "Okay. Let's go to the park and figure out what to do to Kiba." She started running off down the path, still holding onto Naruto's hand; he stumbled after her wearing a dazed grin.
Yukiko dropped from her perch on the wall and wondered whether to laugh or sigh -- after all the trouble she'd taken to be here, Naruto rushed off without stopping to wonder where she was. Still, it was good for him to make friends. Very good. And she could wait a couple hours before taking him out for ramen.
"He's found a friend?"
"Looks like it," Yukiko said, leaning back against the wall. "Did he behave himself in class?"
"More or less," Iruka said. He walked over to stand beside her and watched the two kids run through the gate. "He fidgeted, of course, and I think he was the one who threw a paper airplane at me, but compared to Iinuzuka Kiba's puppy -- and I'm going to have a long talk with his parents about sending him to school without housebreaking that dog -- he was no problem."
"Were there a lot of problems?"
Iruka smiled ruefully and scratched the base of his ponytail. "Well, yes, but it's the first day of class. There are always problems -- or so they tell me. I like it, though. They're good children, and I think most of them have a good chance of graduating on time. One or two might even make genin early."
"Huh. Early graduates." Yukiko looked at the fence around the academy grounds and tried to remember which park was closest and therefore most likely to be the one Naruto would end up in. "Twelve is still young for dealing with death," she said. "You'll teach them to be good people anyway, but we're at peace right now. There's no reason to push them." The small triangular park with the mermaid fountain was closest, but it wasn't very interesting for kids. The long stretch of grass and trees down by the stream was a better bet.
"...He won't be young forever," Iruka said gently.
Yukiko blinked, and then winced. "I know, I know." She couldn't protect the kid forever either; she hadn't been here this morning to see him off to class, had she? She couldn't make everyone in Konoha stop hating and fearing him. He'd have to do that himself.
"Hey," she said, forcing herself to sound cheerful, "I'm going to stop by my cousin Yura's yatai for dinner -- I know Naruto likes Ichiraku ramen best, but Yura's always up for a culinary challenge. Would you like to come along? I figure you deserve a treat too."
Iruka flushed and rubbed his scar. "Um, okay. If I wouldn't be imposing."
"I invited you, didn't I?"
Iruka turned pinker and nodded.
"Then you're not imposing," Yukiko said firmly. Then she reached into her pockets. "Here, before I forget: saltwater taffy from River Country." She dropped the paper-wrapped candies into Iruka's hands and folded his fingers over them. "Enjoy, and stop by my place at six."
She turned and walked toward the gate, and very deliberately didn't turn to watch Iruka's expression or see what he did with the taffy; there were limits on how far a person should go when embarrassing a younger brother. Yukiko smiled to herself, and then tilted her head sideways. "You can come too, but I'm not paying for you," she said lightly.
"So heartless," Kakashi said from behind her. "I think I should come just to make sure you don't scare poor Iruka-kun or the brat to death." Yukiko grinned unrepentantly; Kakashi's eye twinkled and he whipped his latest orange book out from his vest. "By the way, I hear Naga-kun is in town this week."
"Then I'll have to invite her, to keep you from embarrassing 'poor Iruka-kun' to death, or corrupting Naruto," Yukiko said.
Kakashi raised his eyebrow. "You expect her not to embarrass Iruka?"
"Point." Yukiko shrugged. "But she'll go after you too, so it should even out. Besides, I hear she's been taking lessons from her mother." She stared pointedly at Kakashi's book.
"Ah, right. I'll see you later." Kakashi hurried off, clutching his book a bit more tightly than usual. Yukiko waited until he turned the corner, counted to ten, and stopped holding back her laughter.
The afternoon sun streamed down from the clear blue sky, warming her despite the brisk air. She could smell autumn on the wind: exotic spices and oils from the restaurant districts, fresh grains and vegetables in the open air markets, the sharp crackle of fallen leaves, and a hint of woodsmoke as the butchers started smoking and curing meat from the first slaughters. Yukiko slipped her hands into her pockets and strode off, smiling to herself. She had packages to deliver to Uncle Yutaro, reports and diagrams to turn in to Heika-san, and an invitation to give to Naga. Then she had a little brother to track down and drag home to clean up -- she was dead certain Naruto would be dirty by the time she caught up with him.
She unwrapped a piece of taffy and popped it into her mouth. Huh -- watermelon. Not her favorite, but it would do. She crumpled the wrapper and tossed it from hand to hand as she walked, idly adding two illusionary duplicates so she looked like she was juggling. That was a trick more often used with kunai, to make enemies wonder which knife was real, but it was good to keep in practice. She'd have to teach the trick to Naruto one of these days; the kid could probably come up with some interesting variations.
Life, Yukiko thought to herself, was good.
AN: It's been ten months and 74,000 words (give or take a little), but this story has reached its end. It's kind of funny to look back and remember that I first meant this to be a one-shot, and then thought I could finish it in 7 chapters. Clearly I had no idea what I was getting into... but it's been a great trip, and I'm glad you've come along with me.
I look forward to seeing you again in December, when "The Guardian in Spite of Herself" begins.
As always, thanks for reading, and please review. I live for constructive criticism. :-)