Review at your leisure


The Kyuubi was perhaps the most fortunate thing for Uzumaki Naruto, since it was in him. All the injuries inflicted by the bullies of the village healed in minutes, stomach aches from over eating weren't a problem, and his body always held the perfect balance of warmth. So it wasn't technically necessary for him to have an adult to look after his medical health. Once every six months an ANBU would appear outside his door, drag him without explanation to the hospital where a medic-nin would brusquely give him a check-up and then dismiss him without a word.

It was confusing and frightening for a six-year-old, but not as scary as actually getting sick.

He'd just woken with a sore head, not the first time, and he went about his daily ritual of eating, washing his face and dressing before going out to watch the Academy students train. It was lonely on his side of the fence. At lunch he went to Ichiraku's for ramen; the ninja with the scar on his nose was there again. He glanced at him for a long moment but then looked at his food again. Naruto supposed he was alright; he wasn't harsh or cruel, just kind of ignored him and they ate lunch with an empty stool between them.

Today though, the man kept looking back at him he wondered why with a bit of uncommon irritability. So he had been coughing a little, maybe it bothered the man; he turned his face away when he started coughing again.

"You alright?"

Naruto jumped when the man addressed the question at him. They'd never spoken and beyond a glance the man had never acknowledged him.

"'M fine," Naruto replied, more gruffly than he meant.

"You sure? You look a little flushed."

Naruto wondered why the man insisted on talking to him today of all days when he had a distracting headache, a cough and his throat hurt; and yes, he did feel a little warmer than usual.

"Yes." he grumbled, glaring at the counter because if he glared at the man with the scar he would probably hit him like everyone else did. Old man Teuchi dropped his bowl of ramen in front of the boy; the old man wasn't unkind, but he made sure not to cross the line of civility with the boy. Naruto muttered a 'thanks' and took a bite.

His stomach rebelled immediately. Knowing instinctively it would be bad to let whatever was in his gut come out on the ramen he slid off the stool, knees buckling under him and vomited on the packed earth road.

Now Naruto was terrified. He had no idea what was happening to his body. A cool hand touched his forehead.

"You're feverish." It was the man with the scar on his nose.

"Leave me alone!" the boy snapped, fear and confusion and pain melding to reject this touch of humanity.

He ran, legs shaking the whole way. He was surprised to have made it home, but had the presence of mind to turn the lock behind him. Sometimes when he didn't the older kids in the neighborhood came over and trashed his apartment. He slid down the door to the floor, dry-heaving but fighting not to retch a second time; the acrid taste from before still burned his throat and nostrils.

After a few minutes he dragged himself upright, stumbling along to his bed, curling up in the nest of blankets and clothes discarded on his mattress, shivering.

Though the sun was beating unfeelingly down through the window, barely passed midday, Naruto drifted into a hazy sleep.

Half-images assaulted him, cruel people chasing him, throwing stones and rotted food and fists and booted feet. There was no defense against them but his own body and he balled up even tighter on himself. He cried and pleaded and tried to run but he was tangled in their malice and indifference.

A soft hand brushed his cheek; he flinched away, fearing the reciprocating slap. It did not come, but the careful hand pursued, and a gentle voice sliced through the rage and fear. He didn't understand it, but he yearned for it; the hand shifted and another was sensed and he was moved. He whimpered as his body protested the pain.

He broke through the cloud of semi-conscious. A familiar scar bobbed into view.

"Can you hear me?" It was the man from Ichiraku's.

Naruto tried to respond but only a hoarse groan came out.

"I'm going to take you to the hospital; you're very ill." Strong arms cupped, one behind thin shoulders, the other under spindly knees, blanket and all.

Naruto instinctively turned his face into the cool material of the man's clothes, seeking relief from the heat pounding in his head. There was foreign comfort in being held like this and he balanced uncertainly between reaching out to it and balking so that when it went away it wouldn't hurt so much.

He had the vague realization that he was moving and that there was wind in his ears but everything was strangely muffled and distorted, as though coming to him through layers of rock and metal and glass.

When the sterilized scent of the hospital registered in his nostrils he panicked; they were cruel here! He couldn't stay here. He struggled in the man's arms.

"Hush," the soothing voice rumbled through the chest, reverberating through his sweaty skin and sticky clothes. "Be still; you're safe."

No…he wasn't sure if the word came out. He didn't know if he was denying the man's words or his retreating warmth as he was laid on a flat, cool sheet. People were talking all around him, the man's voice and another's, crisp and clipped.

There were ungentle fingers on his forehead and then he knew no more.

When next he was aware he wasn't so uncomfortable. His body still ached but his head wasn't so hot and cloudy and his throat didn't hurt as much. And he wasn't alone.

The man with the scar was standing by the window in the sparse room, hands tucked into his pocket, humming idly. He fell silent and glanced over his shoulder when Naruto stirred. "I wasn't sure you were going to live." he remarked bluntly.

Now that he was actually looking at the man Naruto realized he wasn't really that old. "Huh?" he said eloquently.

The man smiled a little, scar stretching. "You were sick, and dehydrated. But no need to worry, you're on the mend now."

"Why did you come to my apartment?" Naruto asked uncertainly, voice raw with disuse.

The man shrugged. "I know who you are. No one else was going to check up on you."

"What do you care?" Naruto was a little angry; this was foreign ground, and he didn't like it.

He hitched just one shoulder this time. "Someone has to look after you."

And that is how Uzumaki Naruto met Umino Iruka.

A/N I'm curious, was this fic linked somewhere? (Thank you skella)