Title: Close Encounters
Author: Reaper Nanashi (a.k.a. Lady Shinigami)
Pairing: None intended
Word Count: 3,479
Type: One-shot (Complete)
Rating: T (for bad words)
Date Submitted: 12/15/06
Disclaimer: If This Were Mine equals This Would Not Be Fanfiction.
Claimer: Concept mine.
Summary: A picture is worth a thousand words. Listen to them.
The Reasoning Behind It: Totally by accident (was looking for a good Naruto image for an avatar), I found this screenshot of Naruto running down a crowded corridor with a hand on his butt while someone shouts the first line of this fic at him. Turns out the image was from the Konoha Sports Festival (which I had not seen up until about a month ago, so I had no idea of its premise at the time, which means this fic deviates from that event immediately after the first line) and on the left side of the image, as someone had so kindly pointed out on the shot itself, was the Fourth. I did a little research and found out he was added in there for fun, but seeing the image brought me this little gem and so . . .
"Naruto! Where are you going?!"
Annoyed, he headed down the hall, ignoring the voice calling to him. This whole day so far had just been too much special crap piled up on top of everyday crap. He passed someone in a primarily white coat who may have tried to greet him but who could just as easily have been greeting someone else, so he also ignored that person. Even if he was the one being spoken to, he would only be viewed as rude and that was hardly a designation he was unused to.
He spent the rest of the day wandering through the village with no set destination in mind. His stomach, however, eventually led him to Ichiraku's. All but one of the stools were occupied and while he figured his presence would drive away at least the man who was sitting beside the empty stool, he was much too hungry to go around back and get something to-go like usual. It was strange, though--Ichiraku's usually did not have so many people there at once who were not getting take-out. Shrugging, he hopped up onto the stool at the end beside a guy in a mostly white coat--surely not the same guy from before--and ordered some miso ramen.
"Oh, hello again."
He looked up at the man, who had blond hair slightly longer than Naruto's own but no less spiked and sky-blue eyes that were narrower but no less expressive. They could have been related--father and son, uncle and nephew, brothers, cousins--but somehow Naruto doubted it or the greeting would undoubtedly have been less formal.
"Hello," he murmured wearily, not particularly interested in talking. Since nobody in the village would bother to talk civilly to him normally, this guy had to be a traveller. Under ordinary circumstances, Naruto would have wanted to hear every possible detail about where the man had been. Now, however, he just wanted to eat and then go home and to bed.
He snorted. "You could say that."
"I'm sorry to hear it. Kids your age shouldn't have to worry about bad days."
"Most probably don't. I'm a ninja."
"Yes, I could tell." The man smiled and gently poked at the headband that Naruto still wore. "I was including young ninja in that statement."
Naruto slurped up a mouthful of noodles. "It's my job to have bad days, it seems."
"Only if you allow it."
The man was unusually annoying; Naruto felt his temples throb warningly. " Believe me, if I could stop having days that were this shitty, I would."
"It can't be that terrible."
It was the final straw. Naruto simply could not take the man's casual behavior any more. His hand tightened on his chopsticks, snapping them in half with disturbing ease. Turning on the man sharply, he spat, "Do you know who I am?"
The man had the balls to look startled by his behavior and said, "Of course I do. You're the kyuubi no gaki everyone's muttering about."
"Then you know why I never have good days." He was caught totally off guard by the man's saddened countenance. Unsure of the cause, he asked, "What?"
"It's just . . ." The man stirred his bowl of shrimp ramen and gazed absently down at the swirling contents. "It's just that I'd hoped . . . I'd hoped they'd . . . but they didn't . . ." He sighed heavily and closed his eyes briefly.
"You hoped they'd what?"
The man shook his head and smiled sadly. "Never mind. I just realized that this day is a bad day for me as well."
It might have been a lie, but Naruto was not going to challenge him. Somehow, the man had made the day not so bad simply by being friendly despite Naruto's own hostility. "If you say so. In that case, though, we can commiserate on what a crappy day today has been."
The man chuckled. "That we can. But we'd be more productive if we concentrated on the good things in life. Ninja can't always dwell on the bad things that happen to us or we'd go crazy a lot faster."
It was only then that Naruto realized that underneath his overcoat the man was wearing a standard-issue Konoha vest. ". . . You're a ninja too?" That would possibly explain why the man had been so nice--as a rule, the ninja in the village were kinder to him than the villagers. There were still some harsh and cruel ones, but overall the treatment he got from ninja was more cold shoulders and dark looks while the villagers cursed and threw rocks at him.
"Yep," was the proud reply. The tone quickly dimmed, however. "Of course, I find I'm rather sad and ashamed of it right now, but once upon a time . . ."
The man placed a hand on his head without a moment of hesitation. Naruto was caught by surprise at the gesture; the Third Hokage and Kakashi-sensei were the only ones who had ever touched him so readily. "Because I've heard things on both side of the fence. You're a good kid, but you're living in a big shadow that a lot of people forced you into. It wasn't fair of them to not give you a chance and I don't doubt they're going to regret it one day."
"I'm going to become the next Hokage," he told the man with firm conviction, bracing for the laughter or incredulous expression he was sure to receive.
The man only smiled warmly and ruffled Naruto's hair affectionately. "Good for you. You know, I wanted to be the Hokage, too, when I was even younger than you."
He shook his head, still smiling. "It doesn't matter. I just wanted to wish you luck, from one Hokage-hopeful to another."
Naruto took that to mean that, for whatever the reason, the man had not gotten very far with his dream and did not pursue the subject any further, in case it was a sore spot. "Have you been away on a long assignment? I don't remember seeing you around."
"Yes, it's been a long assignment. It's still going on, really, but every year I end up here on a day-long pass, you might say. When everyone's emotions run high. I've been doing it for . . . well, I've been doing it since you were a baby. And I imagine that I'm going to be doing it for the rest of eternity."
Naruto's eyes went wide with shock. He was sure the eternity part was an exaggeration, but . . . "What kind of assignment is it?"
"Don't worry--the likelihood of you having to do it too is very low. It's an extremely rare and unconventional assignment; I accepted it voluntarily to protect the village."
"Ah." Then it was probably undercover work. Ninja were occasionally sent out to spy on the other villages and since a solid presence was key both for gathering information and to not be suspect in the eyes of the village being spied upon, those ninja almost never returned home until they got old and were discharged from active duty.
"It goes both ways, though. This is the first time I've seen you too. I heard so much about you every year, but I never saw you. It was silly, but I almost started to think you were avoiding me on purpose."
"I avoid just about everybody on purpose if they show an unusual amount of interest in me," Naruto told him. "They usually lead to bad experiences."
"You didn't mind me."
"Yes I did."
"Not now, though?"
"Because you don't give off asshole vibes."
The man smirked, amused. "Well that's nice to hear."
"Why?" Naruto echoed.
"Because you're done eating and I'm done eating and I thought we could wander around while you told me about all the things you've done since you were little."
It was an odd request, but the man was very nice and even if he was not, all Naruto would have to do was keep from letting himself be isolated. He could slip away and get lost in a crowd easily if he had to. Placing the payment for his ramen down on the counter, he slid off his stool and as he went to join the man noticed that the back of his coat bore a short series of embroidered red characters. He took note of them, but did not bother to really read them. Instead, he walked at the man's side, enthusiastically listing all of his accomplishments to date and giving biased renditions of his assignments. The man was attentive and quiet, occasionally asking questions but usually letting Naruto speak without interruption.
"Well," the man said as Naruto unlocked his apartment, "all things considered, I think you're well on your way to becoming the Hokage."
Naruto grinned. "Thanks." He had not intended to do this at all, but he was tired and he still was not receiving any warning signals from the man's presence. "Wanna come in? It's not much, but it's home."
The man stepped silently into the apartment and looked around. "Roomy."
Naruto shrugged and closed the door, pocketing his keys rather than dropping them in the basket on the floor like usual. He may have trusted the man enough to let him in, but he did not trust him that much. "It has a great view of the Monument, but that's about it."
"Look at it this way--you have more room than Kakashi does."
Naruto blinked. "You know Kakashi-sensei?"
"Yeah. We go way back."
"He's never talked about you."
"What? Doth mine own ears deceive me? Has Kakashi turned into a chatterbox since I last saw him?"
Naruto recalled Team Seven's first meeting with Kakashi-sensei and his 'introduction' of himself. ". . . Actually, no. So never mind."
"Mm. Watch out for the people who don't talk a lot, Naruto, but watch out even more for the people who talk too much."
"Is that a tip?"
"Firsthand experience, yes."
"I see. Oh, hey, you want anything to drink? Water? Milk? Hot chocolate?"
"Don't tempt me with chocolate . . . And don't look at me like that, either!"
"Are you sure?" Naruto prodded, grinning. "I'm going to have some."
". . . Damn it. Okay, okay, I give. But not a lot--it's getting late."
Naruto made up two mugs of hot chocolate and placed one down in front of the man at the table in the kitchen. He sat down on the other side and sipped at his own mug, watching as the man wrapped his hands around the ceramic and smiled at the mug's contents.
"I haven't had hot chocolate in forever," he mused quietly, his gaze unfocused. "I used to drink it like water during the winter, but then . . ." He stopped, shook his head, and turned the smile on Naruto. "Well, things happened."
They were quiet for a while.
"You've heard everything about me, so why don't you tell me about yourself?" Naruto asked. "Like your name, for example."
"I didn't tell you my name?" At Naruto's shake of the head, the man rubbed the back of his own self-consciously. "Oh, how rude of me! Just call me Kayaku. But don't use it in casual conversation with me or anyone else, okay? It might raise a bit of a stink with the higher-ups if they find out some random kid off the street knows my name."
It was undoubtedly to protect his assignment. "Okay."
Kayaku went on to speak of his childhood and his time as a ninja, but just as he got to the part of becoming a jounin and getting a team of genin students, Naruto fell asleep. It was not that Kayaku's story was boring--far from it, actually--but hot chocolate had always had a soothing effect on him and it was late; he never had a chance. He was in a state of restful wakefulness that he had perfected over the course of his short life--his body getting all the rest it needed while his consciousness monitored his surroundings--so he was aware of Kayaku rising from his chair and shifting him to pick him up.
"My stay here's going to be cut short by about an hour if I do this, but I'm not going to leave you out here where it's uncomfortable and cold. If you're asleep, I don't have a reason to mill around for an extra hour anyway."
He was carried in gentle arms to his bed, where he was set down and covered up. A hand pet his head gently and the backs of the fingers of another brushed over his cheek. He could not help but shiver a little and mumble sleepily, ". . . You're cold."
"Yeah, I know. I'm sorry. Hey, I'm going to have to go soon, all right?"
". . . Will you be here tomorrow?"
"I'm afraid not. I have to get back to my assignment."
"Will you ever come back?"
"If I do, the most likely day will be this one next year. If I find myself here, I'll meet you at Ichiraku's at six, okay?"
"I'll see you then. Don't be late."
"Don'chu be late neither."
"I promise I'll try to . . . Hey, is this a picture of your team?"
"Yep. Me n' Sakura-chan n' Kakashi-sensei n' that bastard Sasuke."
Kayaku chuckled warmly. "I see. They look like very good friends. Hold onto them and be there when they need you, got it?"
"You won't regret it. Oh, one more thing. I know the people in the village don't like you, but whenever they really start to bug you I want you to think of me. Even though I can't be here with you all the time, I'll be watching over you."
It was a strange thing to say, but . . . "Th'nks."
"Good night, Naruto."
The last thing he knew was the touch of what felt like cold lips kissing his forehead.
Looking out the window at the village, Kakashi could tell that it was going to be a crappy day even though it had barely gotten started. The sun was not out yet because of a thick layer of storm clouds, first of all, and the second was that he actually had overslept rather than waking up on time but just entertaining himself with something else until he decided he had made his kids wait long enough.
It was a funny thing, really. He could remember his own teacher referring to their team as 'his' kids and had both resented it--he was not a kid, after all, even if he was only five--and not understood the point. Now he did understand; he had no family and as a result his students had become that family. Maybe it was loneliness or just a basic human desire to exist in a close-knit group, but whichever it was it did not really matter, because two of his kids undoubtedly needed that closeness more than he did.
Speak of the devil . . .
He opened the window and leaned out. "Naruto! Why aren't you with the others?"
"I wanted to be alone for a while so I could think."
Well, he certainly could not have that. Bad things happened when someone was trying to isolate him- or herself to 'think'; mainly depression and a lack of desire to do anything for days at a time. "Come up here, I have something for you."
He left the window open and stepped away from it, trying to remember where he had put the little birthday gift. Naruto obediently came in through the window and stood nearby, his eyes on the floor but his gaze distant. Kakashi had just started to move toward the closet--it could hold a lot when packed correctly--when Naruto inquired almost shyly, "Sensei? Do you . . . Do you know anyone named Kayaku?"
Something cold grabbed his stomach and yanked on it harshly, reminding him that this was going to be a crappy day. ". . . I might."
"He said he knew you."
"How did you meet him?"
"I think he was in the hall at the Academy when I left yesterday, but I didn't actually talk to him until I went to Ichiraku's. He's friendly."
Boy, what an understatement. "Yes."
"So do you know him or not?"
"What's that supposed to mean?"
He turned to his student. "I did know someone named Kayaku. He's dead now, though."
Naruto frowned. "That's weird." His gaze drifted around the tiny apartment and fell on the pictures Kakashi kept above his bed. One was of Team Seven, but the other . . . "Hey! That's him!" He grabbed the second picture and pointed at the smiling blond who was at the top of the image. "His eyes aren't open here, but his hair is just like mine!"
Kakashi frowned in reply. "Naruto, Kayaku was my teacher. He's dead."
"But I saw him!" Naruto insisted. "His mug--his empty mug--of hot chocolate was in the kitchen this morning when I got up! How do you know he's dead?!"
"Because he was the Fourth Hokage."
Naruto's face paled. "W . . . What?" Kakashi shook his head, knowing he did not have to repeat himself, and Naruto turned away, eyes searching the wooden floor blankly. Suddenly, all the little things began to make sense. ". . . He was cold, like he was frozen . . . and his coat . . . the characters on the back . . ."
Kakashi removed the picture from the blond's hands and placed it back where it belonged above his bed. It was a lie, but he still said, "I don't believe in ghosts, Naruto."
"Well I do!" was the defensive snap. It dwindled back to an unsure murmur. "He . . . He said he was on a day-long pass, that he seemed to show up when everyone's emotions were high. He said he was taking a break from his assignment, that he'd been doing it ever since . . . ever since I was a baby and that he'd probably be doing it for the rest of eternity. I thought he was exaggerating, but . . ."
There was a stretch of silence, the little gift forgotten.
"He didn't hate you, Naruto."
". . . I know."
"Will you . . . Will you tell me about him? When you were with him? Last night I . . . kind of fell asleep when he started telling me about becoming a jounin and getting his own team of students."
Kakashi hesitated. Today was certainly going to be a crappy day if he had to go salvage all those old memories and drag them up from the bottom. Then again, the Fourth Hokage and Naruto were so similar both in appearance and behavior . . . there was nothing that said Naruto's loudness would not allow him to be the same kind of devoted listener that the Fourth had been. It was a trait that, if nothing else, Kakashi had appreciated dearly and it would be nice to discover that trait in his own loudmouth student so that he knew all hope was not necessarily lost in trying to teach the blond stealth.
". . . All right. But only if you don't try to get a date with Sakura---"
"---and don't pick a fight with Sasuke."
As expected, Naruto balked at that. "What?! Don't be so harsh, sensei!"
"I want to see if you can control yourself. Just for today. Then I'll take you out for ramen and tell you everything you want to know."
"Ramen too?! You have yourself a deal!"
Kakashi smiled behind his mask and patted Naruto on the head affectionately. He could remember using the promise of free, fresh ramen against his teacher many times and was, when he thought about it, rather glad that he had been able to reuse that tactic.
Keep watching, sensei. He hasn't reached his limit yet.
Answers To Questions You Didn't Even Know You Wanted To Ask:
I tend to think Naruto was a bit too accepting of a total stranger, but that's the kind of thing that happens when you don't have a lot of family/friends--you look to strangers for acceptance because they're the only ones who don't know your secrets. Thoughts?
Though I admit to being a shameless Daddy!Yondy fan (or, if not a father, an uncle or brother or cousin because they look way too similar for it to be a mere coincidence--for the sake of avoiding an identity crisis among fans, the main character should be utterly individual UNLESS there's a secret to be told--and I'm still waiting for viable evidence that the Fourth is Naruto), I did not write this with the intention of conveying that. In fact, after I got the initial inspiration I tried to avoid the Fourth being too fatherly because I was already writing such a fic elsewhere anyway and I'm aware there are people who don't fold to that theory.
So yes, the Fourth is a little fatherly, but it's intended to be more in the 'I feel responsible for you because I caused this' way rather than the 'Naruto, I am your father' way.
I don't know if 'Kayaku' is the Fourth's real name, but the last thing I knew--and I admit that I am a bit behind, but I doubt it's that much--it was the newest rumor going about, so I nipped it.
Some kind reviewers were quick to point out that the Fourth's name is generally assumed to be Arashi Kazama/Kazuma (I've seen it either way in at least three fics). While I'm familiar with that opinion, I've also read in a Yondaime-centric LJ community that Kishimoto-sensei tends not to reuse a name, which as far as I can tell is a true observation, and he has named a character (who was not the Fourth) 'Arashi' around anime episode one-forty, I believe (others have pointed out this was a filler arc character, but I don't think they would have used the name if Kishimoto-sensei had plans for it). A short time after that, someone's roommate translated the mishmash from the frog scroll as 'Kayaku', which apparently translates to 'gunpowder' and is a nickname for an ingredient in ramen. This is all secondhand information, so I won't swear by it, but it's still intriguing and in this case, that was what I went with.
I'm thinking about a sequel to this and I already have a basic idea of what I want to do, but have no oomph to put in it, so anyone who's interested, feel free to leave a review with your idea and I'll consider using it. It may not be out for a while, though--it completely depends on how stoked I get on the concept.
Reviews always appreciated, thank you.