Author's Notes: This is a prequel to Gleam. If you haven't read that fic, don't read it. I'll be rewriting it after I finish this one to raise the quality and fix some continuity issues. Anyway, this is a very vague fusion with the original Xmen animated series, part of my Gmen-verse. For those who haven't read Gleam, there will be quite a few of the Naruto kids showing up eventually, with a few more pairings added to the mix. For now, it's mostly NaruSasu with a side of KakaIru.

Category: Yaoi, Naruto, AU
Pairings: KakashixIruka, NarutoxSasuke
Warnings: will be shonen ai
Author: Arigatomina
Email: arigatoumina (a) hotmail . com
Website: www . arigatomina . com

Embracing Dreams

Part 1

It was nearly noon before the house was ready for the new arrivals. The floors gleamed, there were fresh linens in two of the upstairs bedrooms, and judging by the silence in the kitchen, they'd have a cool lunch waiting when they got back. If there was anything left undone, it was the lawn, which hadn't been mown in over four days. Ah, well, couldn't be helped. Their new house guests weren't expecting perfection, anyway, or they wouldn't have flown halfway around the world to live in a house that was nearly one hundred years old.

Umino Iruka had gotten the house, and the land it sat on, for a steal. The little town of Lyberday had a number of such properties, former mansions built at the turn of the century and kept like family heirlooms until the families, most often political refugees, moved on and never looked back. New Switzerland, like her contemporary, had a history of taking in any who wanted asylum. Unfortunately for little gems like Lyberday, the wealthiest visitors never contributed enough to the economy to support the extravagant estates they left behind. They fell into disrepair and became public eyesores no one could afford to even tear down.

When Iruka had come here, the sprawling estate had been overgrown and almost scary with neglect. The thin wall of forest used to separate the west side of town from the surrounding fields had crept into the yard and merged with grass and weeds, high enough to wade through. It had taken weeks to cull the yard, and much longer to make sure stepping on the wrong board on the second floor didn't send a person crashing down into the hall below. The town council was happy to see the property cleaned up, but they hadn't offered any assistance with the repair costs. While they welcomed strangers, they preferred wealthy ones.

Fixing up the estate had wiped out Iruka's savings, mostly bonds left by his estranged grandparents. He didn't worry about it too much since he had a guidance position at the high school, and he'd gotten quite a few offers to tutor or lecture at the local university branch. Apart from steady work, the consulate in Osaka had given him a monthly stipend for taking custody of one of their more troublesome wards. He'd kept that in a separate account for when Naruto got a little older and decided he was ready to break out on his own. But the money was there, available in case of emergencies. All things considered, he thought he was doing rather well for a single parent with big ideas.

At twenty-three, Iruka was far too young to have a teenage son. He simply didn't have any world experience, and he couldn't remember a thing about his own parents, or how he'd been raised. He'd seen a lot, though, since he realized what he was - an early-bloomer and late-comer in the first generation of mutants. If he'd been born a few years earlier or later, he wouldn't have had to go through as much pain and confusion growing up at a time when the world was still coming to grips with the fact that mutants were real and that they wouldn't disappear just because a few military factions and religious groups wanted them to.

Because he'd been born at the end of the first wave, Iruka hadn't known to hide like the early mutants had. But neither had he been ostracized and studied like Naruto's generation. He'd suffered in his own way, being lost in the middle, but in a way it was also a blessing. He'd thought himself normal with dark personal secrets, just like everyone else, so he was used to blending into normal society.

Because he'd never considered himself a pariah, he'd been able to convince the people in this isolated little town that the rumors and fears spreading through the outside world were unfounded. He hadn't tried to hide what he and Naruto were. Instead, he'd let them see for themselves that Naruto was just as wild, rambunctious, and normal as any other kid his age. Because that was all Naruto and mutants his age were, children in need of guidance and a safe place to grow.

The council had supported him, probably because his plans would stimulate the economy without requiring any monetary investment on their part. Iruka didn't really believe it was all because of his exemplary people skills, no matter what Naruto claimed. There were still a few holdouts in the town. There would always be a few close minded individuals who were against anyone who was openly different. Most of the people Iruka talked to, though, were eager to see their town become a safehaven, extending a welcome to children who had nowhere else to go.

Now, less than a week after putting the invitation on the global, they were cleaning up the house in preparation for the first of what Iruka hoped were many. The only thing left was to grab Naruto and go meet them.

With a bright smile, Iruka pushed open the swaying door that separated the dining area from the kitchen. He was relieved to see Naruto sitting backwards at the counter, not a broken dish or splash of blood in sight. He still didn't trust him alone with anything that had to be cooked, but Naruto had wanted to help and sandwiches and salad were fairly basic.

"All finished?" asked Iruka.

Naruto lifted his head and looked over, his elbows still propped on the counter behind him. He was at that age where his face was a little round with baby fat, making the three whisker-like scars on either cheek stand out. He was on the short side, with an awkward lanky yet compact figure that said he was going to shoot up a few feet or die trying. At the moment he was dressed in an overly baggy jacket, the ugliest orange possible, and loose pants that Iruka knew he wore just to annoy him and make people accuse him of spoiling and over-feeding the boy. It made him look chubby, which he really wasn't, no matter how much food he shoveled away. His self-cropped blonde hair was jagged and standing up all over the place. Iruka sighed and wished he had time to grab a comb, sit on him, and try to rake some order out of the mess. Instead, he focused on the clothing.

"I thought you liked that jacket I got you," Iruka frowned.

"I do!" Naruto said quickly, all bright sky blue eyes and wide untrustworthy smiles. "That's why I'm only gonna wear it to school. I mean, we're gonna walk, right? It could get scratched or a bird might fly over and crap on it and that'd be awful! I guess it might be different if we were, say, driving, but...well, that's how it is."

Naruto flashed him a wistful smile and gave a helpless shrug. Iruka felt his left eyebrow twitch in response.

It was hard to believe with all the excitement, Naruto was still focused on the car. Now that it wouldn't just be the two of them, he'd felt obligated to get one, in case of an emergency. But he didn't plan to ever have to use it. Everything in the town was within walking distance with very well maintained sidewalks and there were no fees for the public bus that made constant rounds on weekdays. Even the mayor didn't drive to work, and he had a chauffeur waiting at his beck and call. That was half the charm of the town.

Iruka forced a smile onto his face, determined not to give in. Naruto liked it when he lost his temper and yelled loud enough to make the windows rattle. He swore the boy got some weird kick out of cowering and going on about how mean and scary he was when he was mad.

"We've had the car for two days," Iruka reminded him calmly. "I said I might teach you to drive it. This summer. If you're good. You couldn't even go one day without ending up in my office."

Naruto gaped at the unfairness of it all. "That wasn't my fault! You know that Sven guy was-"

"Besides," Iruka interrupted smoothly, "Kakashi-san said they'd rather walk and get a feel for the place. I told you they'd been living in hotels. A walk across the fields will be a nice change for them."

"A walk," Naruto scoffed, grumbling under his breath. "More like a trek. What kind of moron wants to take a five hour walk in the grass when you coulda got picked up at the airport? I don't know, Iruka-sensei. These guys sound messed up in the head."

Iruka sighed and gave him a sad, studious look. Naruto could only take a few seconds of it before he cracked and fidgeted. He flashed a weak, but real smile.

"Stop looking at me like that," Naruto waved. "I said I was fine with it. I've been helping fix up the place, haven't I? Besides, it'll be cool to have more mutants around here. Someone to wrestle with, you know? Kyuubi thinks so, too. Plus, I can't wait to have them going to school with me. Old pinched-face will snap if he has to teach a bunch of mutants in his class. That'll be great!"

Iruka winced a little. He was glad to see Naruto so enthusiastic, but he couldn't help worrying about the mischief he had planned. For now, he tried to pretend he hadn't heard anything ominous. "Are you ready to go, then? We're going to meet them partway."

"Yeah," said Naruto. "You should get a jacket, though. Kyuubi thinks it's gonna rain tonight. So it'll be cold on the way back, windy and all."

Iruka blinked in surprise. "He picked that up?"

"Yeah, when I was upstairs earlier. Airing out the rooms? He says it smells good, like right after you-" He grimaced and blushed and cut himself off, hopping off the stool. "I'll close the windows down here. We'll get back before it starts, but still..."

Iruka smiled and didn't pry. "I'll get the ones upstairs, then. I'll be right back."

Naruto waved him off and scowled the moment he was out of sight. It was hard enough living with a pervert in his head without the fox hitting on the man who was practically his dad. Iruka had assured him he wouldn't be insulted by anything Kyuubi said, since it was just another part of him, but still. Even if incoming rain did smell as good as Iruka did right after he showered, he didn't want Kyuubi saying stuff like that to him. It was just wrong.

They'd talked about it a lot, and Naruto understood that Kyuubi was like his Id - the hungry little demon everyone had that cared only about want-want-want. It was just harder in his case, since he was a mutant. His little demon wasn't so little, and it talked to him and took on a personality of its own. The trade-off was that it knew stuff and had powers that meant, as long as they worked together, Naruto could do stuff, too. So he had to get along with it. At least, Iruka told him it was better to get along with it. Naruto had his doubts sometimes.

He'd met Iruka a few years ago in a hospital. He didn't remember the name of the place because he'd been switching hospitals a lot back then. They'd ended up seeing the same doctor, a funny fat guy with soft chairs and a cute nurse who wasn't at all nice like she looked. At least, she wasn't nice to him. He was pretty sure she'd liked Iruka just fine. Kyuubi said it was because Iruka was shy and naive and people liked to take advantage of that. Naruto didn't know about that, but he hadn't liked the nurse nearly as much as the doctor. He was the one who finally got Kyuubi to talk. And he was the one who introduced him to Iruka, which made him great, in Naruto's opinion.

He didn't really know why he'd been living in hospitals before Iruka took him in. No one would ever tell him, and all Iruka said was that he'd had an accident when his mutant talents woke up. That seemed to happen a lot with the second generation of mutants, according to Iruka. Naruto didn't know personally because Iruka was the only mutant he'd ever met. But it seemed most kids who found out about them being mutants before they hit puberty found out by accident. Really public accidents. Often violent.

Kyuubi had told him a little about it, once they started talking and getting along better. According to him, Naruto had gotten lost and hurt, and Kyuubi had woken up angry. Kyuubi didn't remember anything before that, either, so Naruto guessed he'd never really know about his parents or where he'd been before he ended up living in hospitals. Kyuubi just said he'd woken up angry and threatened, and he'd killed some people. A lot of people. He'd enjoyed it, too. Naruto sort of wished Kyuubi had kept that last bit to himself, especially since Iruka and the doctor both told him Kyuubi was just another part of him. He didn't like the idea that a part of him enjoyed killing people. But really, it didn't feel real. He didn't remember it himself, even if Kyuubi did, so it didn't feel real. Iruka said it was best that he didn't remember, since that meant he wouldn't ever feel guilty about something that wasn't his fault.

Whoever Kyuubi had killed couldn't have been very important people because the hospitals hadn't blamed him for it. A lot of the doctors and nurses were afraid of him back then, though. Kyuubi had gone back to sleep after that first time and they'd been afraid he might wake up and hurt people if Naruto was angry or upset. Naruto hadn't known that at the time. The doctors just did tests on him and put him to sleep so they could ask him questions. It was funny thinking about that now. They were talking about hypnosis, putting him to sleep so they could find Kyuubi and talk to it instead of him. They didn't know what Iruka and the fat doctor knew - that Kyuubi was a part of him and they'd have to talk to him if they wanted to talk to Kyuubi.

He'd first met Iruka in the fat doctor's waiting room. Naruto was really clumsy back then. He was still a little clumsy now, but only when Kyuubi distracted him. He'd bumped into the pretty nurse and banged his arm on her desk. Iruka was as much a softy back then as he was now. Kyuubi said he'd probably been born a softy, and that it just got worse as he got older. Naruto thought he was probably right about that. Iruka had been worried and he'd held his arm and went in to see the doctor with him. Once they were away from the pretty and really not very nice nurse, Iruka had made the bruise on his arm go away. That was really cool, too, because it was the first time he'd ever seen a mutant talent. Now he knew that Iruka's ability to heal little stuff was a very minor talent, but it was still useful, and he'd been in awe back then. The fat doctor had known all about it, because he'd introduced them with one of his big smiles that made his eyes get lost in his cheeks.

Iruka never told him why he'd been seeing that doctor, but Naruto guessed they were friends. Iruka was really smart about stuff like split personalities and hypnosis. He'd started visiting him after that and showing up to sit with him when he went to see the doctor. Naruto wasn't sure how they'd figured out what none of the other doctors could about getting Kyuubi to wake up without it hurting people. Iruka said they'd just taken it one step at a time and made him feel comfortable - because Kyuubi wouldn't be comfortable if Naruto wasn't comfortable. That, and Naruto wasn't a little kid anymore.

Most mutants were fully aware of themselves by the time they were twelve, and even if the doctors didn't know when Naruto was born, they had a good estimate. Naruto guessed maybe Kyuubi would have woken up again, even if he'd never met Iruka and the fat doctor, just because he hit puberty and mutants always found their talents by the time they were that old.

Kyuubi said he'd just gotten restless and tired of sleeping. Naruto thought that was probably true because Kyuubi had been a real ass when he woke up. It was really hard listening to him at first. He talked all the time when Naruto wanted him to shut up, and he wouldn't talk at all when Naruto wanted him to. He wouldn't say anything to the doctor at first, either, and Naruto had been afraid he and Iruka would think he was making it up when he told them about the bitchy voice in his head.

It was bad at first. They argued and when Naruto tried ignoring him, Kyuubi would make him do stuff without meaning to. Like he'd go to pick up a cup and he'd hold it too hard and break it, even if it was really thick and hard to break. They fought like that for a month or two, and Iruka and the doctor did all sorts of funny mind stuff to calm them down. Iruka called them memory games and relaxation techniques. Naruto just remembered that they didn't really work, even the fun ones.

It got worse until Kyuubi accidentally hurt Iruka. They were just arguing in Naruto's mind, a little angrier than usual, and he knew Kyuubi hadn't meant anyone to get hurt. That was when he found out that Kyuubi didn't really have control of the stuff he could do. Naruto hadn't thought Kyuubi could do anything besides making him stronger than he usually was, but it turned out Kyuubi could do a lot of stuff. Somehow, while the doctor was doing one of his calming talks, Naruto had ended up catching on fire. Sort of. It was orange and red like fire, and the chair he was sitting on got hot and smoldered until the sprinklers went off. He'd jumped up with that fire-like stuff all over him, even with the water, and Kyuubi had thrown a fit in his head. They'd both been scared, and having Kyuubi scared was horrible because Kyuubi was the one who'd started it and neither of them knew how to turn it off.

He found out later that it wasn't like a real fire because his clothes hadn't burned. But he'd thought it was at the time and he'd tried to pat it out. Iruka and the fat doctor had tried to help, but Kyuubi had gotten scared and angry when someone touched him. Iruka ended up getting burned a little and somehow Kyuubi had made his fingernails sharp and he'd scratched him. Just one swipe to knock him away, but it was deep enough to splash blood on them both. That shut Kyuubi up, though, made him stop that weird wailing in his head, and the fire-stuff, too. Naruto guessed Kyuubi had liked Iruka as much as he had, even back then, which made sense, since Kyuubi was supposed to be just another part of him.

Kyuubi said he'd be good after that, said it was an accident and that it wouldn't happen again, ever. Naruto hadn't said anything because he'd felt horrible, even though everyone plus Kyuubi said it wasn't his fault. Iruka healed himself, too, so Naruto didn't get in trouble when the orderlies ran in. They didn't notice anything but the blood, and the fat doctor told them Naruto had gotten a headache and a nosebleed. Naruto wasn't sure how they'd explained about the chair having a big black spot on it, or why the sprinklers went off. Iruka wasn't a very good liar, so he figured the doctor must have made something up.

He'd ended up going back to his room early that day and having a long talk with Kyuubi. They decided they had to do like Iruka and the doctor said and start getting along, because Kyuubi didn't want to go back to sleep and Naruto wasn't going to talk to him anymore if he had to be afraid someone might get hurt every time he and Kyuubi disagreed about something.

Iruka didn't visit him for a while, and Kyuubi said he was probably done with whatever he'd been seeing the doctor for. Naruto had forgotten Iruka was only visiting him because he had to come in to see the doctor, anyway. Without Kyuubi to talk to, it would have been really lonely. They didn't blame Iruka for not wanting to visit anymore, though, even if it was an accident.

That was the first time Naruto really wished he didn't live in hospitals. He'd always been in one, so it was weird to suddenly wish he lived somewhere else, some place where it was okay to leave and go check on a friend. He'd had a few friends who were patients, but they were usually really weird, and he'd never stayed in one place long enough to get to know them. The doctor said he had the wrong idea when he asked him about Iruka, said he was busy with something but that he'd come see him soon. Kyuubi didn't believe a bit of it, and Naruto was starting to learn that Kyuubi was really good at reading people. The doctor just said that to make him feel better because he was moping and feeling lonely.

The doctor and Kyuubi were both wrong. The nurses told Naruto he was making 'progress' and that he'd be moved to a different facility soon. Iruka didn't visit him until he was getting ready to move to the new hospital. And it wasn't a visit. Naruto didn't really get all the details, but Iruka told him he'd been some sort of ward, in custody of no one, really. The city was paying to keep him and have the doctors try and figure out if he was dangerous or sick, or whatever. Iruka had to talk to a lot of people and take some kind of tests or something, and that was why he'd been gone so long. He ended up getting custody of him and taking him home with him, and since he knew the same sort of therapy stuff the doctor did, he wouldn't have to live in a hospital anymore.

They lived in Japan for a few years. Naruto had been overwhelmed by everything back then. The city, the fact that he was better off not telling people about Kyuubi, learning about mutants and recent history, and eventually school. He'd hated school. He'd known how to read and stuff when he'd woken up in the hospital, after Kyuubi went back to sleep the first time. But he hadn't really been taught anything in years, certainly not in a room full of kids who acted like it was easy to sit in a room and listen to an adult lecture for hours on end. He got into fights. The teachers didn't like him, the kids didn't like him, and Kyuubi didn't like having to be quiet all day long and not being able to help when he got into fights with wannabe bullies.

Iruka took him out that last year and taught him at their apartment, enough so that he'd be able to go to school with kids his own age. Naruto had done his best to convince him he didn't need school and that Iruka knew a lot more than any of his teachers, so he could teach him anything he needed to know.

Some things were already familiar, like the streets. He didn't remember anything before the hospitals, but walking on the sidewalks was familiar. The buildings seemed too far apart for some reason, but there was still that feeling that it was normal for them to tower like that. Kyuubi didn't like the city at all, hated not being able to stare at the stars, complained about the air like it smelled bad or something, and sent him dreams about forests and rivers Naruto had only seen on television. It was funny how stuff that was strangely familiar to Naruto seemed so alien to Kyuubi. He really had to keep reminding himself that they were just two sides of one person.

It was hard. It was nice, too. He learned all about Iruka's temper, which he just loved to provoke because it was hilarious how someone so calm and nice could erupt into a vein-throbbing monster, just like that. He still had trouble with his talents when he and Kyuubi got so bored with studying quietly that they took to bickering silently. It was amazing Iruka hadn't started bopping him over the head months sooner to get them to pay attention. Even that was funny, though, because Iruka didn't bop that hard, and when his vein wasn't throbbing, his eyebrow twitched instead. Kyuubi thought Iruka had a split personality just like him that came out as the twitchy veiny Monster-sensei. Naruto thought they were just really good at getting under Iruka's skin.

He learned that his teacher, because he and Kyuubi both agreed Iruka wasn't old enough to be called father, was a druggy. Iruka really didn't like that he called him a druggy, but Naruto thought it fit. He'd watched as much television as Iruka would let him get away with, so he knew all about druggies. Iruka had his vitamins every single morning, like a religious fanatic with daily prayers, some of which he forced Naruto to take, saying he'd missed years of sunlight and probably had a deficiency or two. Kyuubi agreed with the sunlight part but resented getting it in the form of a pill.

Then there were the little blue ones he took before he went to sleep that Naruto had been forbidden from touching. Kyuubi swore up and down that they were poison, and convinced him to flush two bottles before Iruka caught him in the act. Naruto still didn't trust them, but he promised to ignore Kyuubi since he knew Iruka ended up spending the entire night drinking coffee in the kitchen till he could go get more. If the vitamins were taken fanatically, the blue ones were more like an addiction. They had their own rooms now that they'd moved, but he knew Iruka was still getting those pills specially ordered for him. He'd only caught Iruka dozing off once without taking one, and he had woken up shivering and so white that Naruto guessed all those shows about druggies going through withdrawal were right. Kyuubi said he was just too dumb to get it, but Kyuubi was so dumb he didn't feel safe around strangers unless Naruto was wearing layers of baggy clothes, so what did he know?

Things had been nice with just the two of them, three if he counted Kyuubi. He got why Iruka wanted to help other kids, because looking back he knew living in hospitals was like living in a cage. He got it, and he sort of liked the idea of helping people. He just wasn't as obsessed with it as Iruka was. He had to agree with Kyuubi on the matter, Iruka just had this thing where he wanted to save the world and as annoying as it was, that was one of the things that made him so nice. So he resigned himself to having to share Iruka with a crapload of ungrateful brats. He'd gotten him first, and he'd always be Iruka's favorite, so it wasn't like he felt threatened or anything. Really.

Kyuubi snorted in his head, and Naruto sneered back at him. He'd finished with the windows and was waiting near the door.

He was sort of surprised Iruka hadn't complained more about his clothes. He knew Iruka had bought him that new outfit so he'd look all nice and sharp when they greeted the new guys. That was why he wouldn't wear it. He didn't need to dress up to impress some leeches who were only coming to get a free place to stay. The bums. If he had any say in the matter, one of them would be out there mowing the lawn after the grass shot up from the rain that was coming. Anyone wanting to live in his and Iruka's house would earn his keep or get lost, end of story.

Kyuubi nodded in agreement and flicked his tails, but suggested that they make the man do it. The idea had him flashing Naruto a sharp, toothy grin. Naruto smothered a laugh at how evil his fox was when he was plotting.

Kyuubi was a fox. No matter what Iruka said about Kyuubi being a part of him, Naruto knew he'd always been a fox. That was just the shape Kyuubi took when he closed his eyes and got into a face to face talk with him. He was a big fox, too, a red one with lots of tails, nine of them - hence his name. Naruto was sure if Kyuubi had been outside his head, he'd be bigger than the house. It was appropriate, too, because his size matched his ego.

'I still don't get why we have an adult coming,' Naruto griped silently. 'If the kid has a guardian, he doesn't need to stay here. The whole point was supposed to be taking in kids who don't have any place to live.'

'He's hiding something,' Kyuubi shot back.

'Yeah, yeah, I know. Iruka-sensei can't lie to save his life. But I think he meant it when he said they didn't have anywhere to go, living in hotels and all. That's moving a lot, right? Maybe they're on the run, like criminals or something. We should get a way to do background checks on people where you just plug in the name and it tells you everything. But then they'd just give fake names. This is really dumb, you know? What if they lied to him and they're really here to catch us and do experiments and stuff? They do that to mutants all over the place! But...that's just mutants who break the law, and they don't have that sort of stuff here.'

'They say it's just the ones who break the law,' said Kyuubi, 'but we don't know that. Only the mutants they catch know for sure, and no one ever sees them again.'

'That's right...! Oh, man, this is such a bad idea. And we're not even taking the car, so we can't drive off the road if they try to take us hostage or something. What if they have guns? Even with you, I can't outrun a bullet! This is so bad...why are we walking! We'll be out there alone, miles from town and no one will hear a thing...!'

Naruto was fairly dancing in place, his eyes shut tight, hands curled into anxious fists at his side. A hand fell on his shoulder and he jumped a good foot off the ground. "Gyah! You'll never take me alive!"

'You tell him,' Kyuubi smirked in his head.

Naruto panted and blinked at Iruka from where he'd plastered his back to the wall. He could feel the heat rising up to radiate off his face. "Erm..."

Iruka just opened the door and stepped to the side with a knowing smile. "Ready to go?"

"Uh..." Naruto thought about sharing his worries about guns and isolated rendevous with strangers who might be anything from mutant-hating scientists to homicidal maniacs, but something about the way Kyuubi was snickering in his head told him to keep it to himself. "Yeah, I'm ready. But I swear, if they try to kidnap us, it's all your fault for not taking the car."

"I'll take full responsibility," Iruka nodded, prodding him out the door.