"A Twist of Chance"
Warnings: This story is AU. It is NOT Ch. 367 compliant, as I began this before it was published and don't intend on changing anything now. It's also based after the last episode of the Wave Country arc, and relies on a suspension of disbelief regarding the amount of time that passes between that mission and the Chuunin exams. No romantic pairings as of yet. Some swearing, some violence, and much bad grammar is ahead. But, if you review, you get to criticize all of that! Please, enjoy.
Few things in Naruto Uzumaki's life were worth waiting for. "Instant" ramen usually took two or three minutes to stop being crunchy even after water was put into it, the road to being the Hokage of Konohagakure was shaping up to be much harder and much longer than he'd first believed, and it was taking a damn long time for Sakura to get around seeing what a fantastic, strong, handsome guy he was.
One thing that was definitely worth waiting for, however, was the conclusion of a well-planned prank.
Naruto pressed his back against the plain, undecorated wall of Iruka's patio. One hand was gripping a coil of rope firmly while the other was twitching, forming seals out of reflex. The blond didn't pant, as it turned out that nearly five years of ninja experience counted for a lot less than five years experience being Konoha's most notorious prankster. Keeping calm was something skimmed over in the academy (in as much as he'd actually been there for a few sessions, and it'd been covered for a lot longer), but it was something he'd gained sometime between the prank on his second grade teacher involving super glue and the prank on his taijutsu instructor in the academy (which involved vegetable oil).
The moment was golden. Iruka-sensei was stomping through his apartment, and Naruto tracked his progress through the volume of the curses - though, "curses" were debatable as Naruto regularly called his team mates worse - and the almost regular clang on Iruka's foot against the metal trash can, writing desk, foot stool, coffee table, and dry cereal land-mines.
Naruto decided on the spot that he'd need to involve plaster in more of his pranks.
Iruka's neighbors were pounding on their walls, and Iruka fell over once or twice trying to scurry over fast enough to apologize. The unwilling Kyuubi-vessel had to use all of his hard-earned composure not to laugh like a hyena, and instead bit his cheek as a focus. Naruto loved Iruka. It wasn't in the same way that Kakashi loved his porn, or the way that Sasuke loved brooding, and it definitely wasn't the same way that Naruto loved Sakura. Instead, there was the sort of love that Naruto imagined belonged to a family between them.
The blond still couldn't peg down exactly what Iruka was to him. It was too distant to be a father-son relationship, and they were closer than Iruka just being his uncle. They weren't even brothers, as there were too many differences and secrets that hung between them for too long.
Naruto decided shortly after the Kyuubi revelation months ago that it didn't matter what he called Iruka, because Iruka was there, and really, he would've loved an Uchiha if they'd shown him a scrap of kindness as a kid. It was just his luck that he managed to latch onto someone who was actually a nice person (arguably the single nicest person in all of Konoha, and without question the only Academy teacher who managed to retain both his sanity and his cheerful disposition around Naruto).
But, the fact that Naruto loved Iruka didn't change the fact that he also loved to irritate the hell out him. This, Naruto decided, was what family was all about.
"NARUTO!" The shout came through the walls of Iruka's apartment, through the stone of the patio, and through the ear-plugs the kyuubi-vessel had prepared shortly after the stomping began. "That whipped cream had better be off my bed by the time I get out of the shower! I have parent conferences today - I don't have time to spare to remove this nail polish. And this...this..."
The blond snickered as he covered his ears with the flats of his palms.
"...never again, Naruto! Don't make me count to fifty after this is all over." Naruto had always wondered what exactly would happen if his sensei ever got the whole way through his count. He hadn't tried it yet, and he was actually starting to realize that even Iruka had no clue what would happen after forty nine.
The genin flexed his fingers once more, licking his lips as the steady thumping of Iruka's foot against the floor came closer. If Iruka saw the tripwires above the patio window, they would give him away and completely ruin the rest of the set up. Naruto waited with bated breath while Iruka placed one hand on the glass (and Naruto felt a surge of pride at the long, hot pink talons on his teacher's fingers), and exhaled heavily only after Iruka stomped back to the bathroom.
The door shut with a grumble and a click (due respectively to Iruka and a squeaky hinge), and Naruto heard the exhaust fan start up. The blond grinned, and quickly used the thin metal strip carefully hidden on his side to jerry-rig the lock open. He lifted the door over the slight bump that anyone other than Iruka's most frequent guest - him - would hit.
The rest of the set up was quick. A fan here. A bucket there. Three cans of soda, a handful of dulled trip wire, two heads of lettuce (which were very hard to get a hold of), and a few carefully placed textbooks completed a prank that Naruto ranked somewhere in his top thirty. It wasn't nearly as complex as his graduation gift to the academy had been, and it wasn't nearly on the grand scale as when he'd painted the Hokage's Monument.
Naruto felt that, after the nail polish chipped off, the hair dye washed out, the permanent marker scribbles on the back of his neck were discovered and washed off, and after the rest of Iruka's leg hair grew back (as Naruto knew from experience that plaster peeled that and three layers of skin off), that his teacher would look back on this prank and laugh.
Iruka had a good sense of humor. As a cheerful chuunin, he saw the good in everyone, and as a teacher, he strove to make everyone seen good within themselves. Naruto had wheedled a few more stories about Iruka's childhood out of him, though it was a topic as delicate as china that frequently toppled their dinner conversation into awkwardness. Some of Iruka's pranks had gradually made it to the light, and Naruto couldn't help then a feeling of great pride that still resonated within him.
Because of his long discussions with his favorite chuunin, Naruto knew that reactions to large pranks, either good or bad, showed more accurately what kind of a person someone was more than any conversation, test, or battle could ever attempt. Small pranks were bad measuring sticks because their reactions were generally small and could be hidden or lied about rather easily in a village of ninja. But, large reactions to even larger tricks couldn't be completely disguised, and it reflected directly on a person how they behaved, or, in most cases, retaliated. Pranks were one of Naruto's most useful tools because it showed exactly what would drive a person to defend what they loved.
Some people went straight to violence at even the most harmless of pranks, but those same people usually would laugh whenever it wasn't their own house, property, or children involved. Some people tried their damnedest not to react at all, and Naruto had to devise a careful Nara-grade prank-playbook just to judge Shikamaru's character while they were partnered for a school project.
The resulting prank war seemed like a guerilla siege on all of Konoha. Though the basement of his apartment building still smelled like mint, and the rooftop of the academy was still covered with green house paint that even fifteen gallons of thinner wouldn't remove, Naruto finally found out that the Nara did react to pranks. It was tough, dirty, exhausting work to finally find out what would call Shikamaru to defend his territory. As it turned out, tough, dirty, exhausting work was his answer all along.
The people who laughed about pranks on their own property were usually rather fun to hang out with. Sarutobi might've had an entirely different reaction to the first few pranks directed at him (though, those did tend to destroy whatever paperwork he was working on the time), but over time he either grew or began showing an almost wry sense of humor. Iruka had won his "favorite person" award for a record number of times, though his consecutive run was broken when Old Man Ichiraku introduced the Mega-Bowl at his stand.
Naruto felt that he was the undisputed king of pranks in Konoha, as Iruka had hung up his crown sometime before he became a teacher, and though he did show promise, Konohamaru was still in the fledgling stage of practical jokes. He believed that there was no one in Konoha that would surprise him, and that there was nothing left anyone could tell him that would throw him for a loop. The Kyuubi had, but frankly, even Shikamaru would have gone into spasms if someone told him that there was a demon inside of him.
Aside from the occasional prank war, Naruto believed that there was no one who would dare to turn their ambitions onto Naruto to try to challenge him for his title.
This was, in its own way, true. It was no person who pulled the greatest prank of history on Konoha.
Looking back on it what felt like centuries later, Naruto still didn't know what pulled the prank. If it was a deity, it was one with a horrible sense of humor who probably enjoyed pulling the wings off flies and then setting fire to them. If it was all part of some master plan decided billions of years before, whoever decided it was drunk, sleep-deprived, and possibly completely out of their mind because the majority of Naruto's life made no sense even to Naruto himself, who was living it most of the time.
It was decided later on that it was something in between good luck and general chance that events arranged themselves like they did - that is, incredibly out of order and jammed together all at once.
When it was all over, and Naruto came out at the end of it mostly alive, mostly sane, and incredibly happy, he'd look back at it all and laugh because his life was the greatest prank in the history of Konoha.
Naruto cursed as he dodged another civilian as he raced down the street. The rooftops might have been a better choice because as it turned out, civilians didn't have homes to go to and just liked to stand still or walk slowly in the marketplace. Aside from that, he would be on them now, and Naruto actually hoped that the huge, generally irritated crowd (as any crowd in a marketplace in temperatures this high was bound to be irate) would grant him some cover. He only needed enough time to figure out a plan. He was good at figuring out plans on the fly.
He ran headfirst in the back of a woman with no warning. It rather figured, because even though Naruto would be ...not the last to admit that he wasn't the greatest ninja, he liked to believe that he could've dodged her if the circumstances were any different. If elbows weren't coming from eight different directions, he might have hit the other old lady, and might have even preferred it because it was the old lady in the apartment across from him who always glared. As it stood, even though he hadn't been running at anywhere close to full speed because he had, of course, been around the villagers, the woman still plowed over as if it were Chouji who slammed into her, not a wiry twelve year old.
Naruto cursed aloud, rubbing his head because, even though he had no injury there, a few good smacks might knock some sense into it. Catlike, he flipped from the utterly revealing position of being completely laid out into a ready stance, glancing down only to realize that the woman wasn't getting up.
He glanced closer, carefully making his footsteps make noise as he approached her. She didn't respond, and Naruto found himself worried at about the same time a few forgotten ninja techniques from the academy choose to reveal themselves for the first time (as they were too lazy to show up when there were TESTS on them. Naruto was reminded of Shikamaru).
He moved to where he estimated the front of her was and found one hand partially extended on the ground. The subtle twitches of her wrist and of the veins on her neck proved that, at the very least, she wasn't dead. He crouched down beside her, using the back of his hand to feel hot breath from her lips.
He glanced around quickly as he heard murmurs from a crowd who'd quickly form around them. These people didn't just have no homes, they had no lives either. He decided to try to speed things up a bit because Iruka was too damn smart not too notice a large crowd bustling around a smaller orange blur was normally a sign that something was afoot. Bad things were just waiting for him if Iruka found him.
So, he decided, that wouldn't happen. He hopped up and reached for the woman's hand. She clasped his and squeezed about ten times more firmly than Naruto thought a civilian could as he pulled her upright.
He fell into shock.
Naruto was right on the mark - the woman was alive. At first the tilt of her head and the sag of her head-wrap hid everything but the movement of her lips. Naruto decided that she was whispering a name so faintly that her very air disbursed the sound, until only the movement of it remained. She raised her head, and Naruto found out that he could freeze even further because her eyes were a bright, vibrant shade of blue, like sapphires floating in the middle of the sea under a canopy of fluffy white clouds. Really, really blue.
Naruto faced those eyes every day in the mirror, and wondered if his were ever that shadowed.
Her face was gaunt. Her cheeks were slightly sunken, her eyes had dark circles that almost looked like black eyes, and he could've sworn he saw puffy rings around them as if she'd been crying very hard and very often. Even though the miracle of her eyes being both puffy and sunken at the same time, Naruto couldn't help but see the crows feet around her mouth and her eyes, and he couldn't tell if the things around her mouth were jours or smudges of dirt.
He put her initial estimate at about eighty, maybe more and maybe less. Naruto couldn't exactly be sure of age because so few shinobi survived long enough that their age was ever in question.
"Arashi." She murmured.
He didn't realize that she had even shifted until her hands were on either side of his face. He didn't realize that he had let his guard down so damn much until her forehead pressed against the top of her head, her arms wrapping themselves around his shoulders in an embrace ten times tighter than any rope could be.
It was then that Naruto realized she was a foreigner. Her clothes were of a rough material, like what they made sacks of in Konoha, and they were just saturated with the dirty smell of what he used to polish his kunai and shuriken. He caught whiffs of smoke, the odors of horses, and small imprints of someone else - someone female.
The fox had given him more than just whiskers. He'd just never told anyone about how strongly he could smell something like desperation clinging to the (crazy) woman's skin, or how sharply he could hear the scattered conversations from the crowd around him (he heard "fox", "crazy", "foreigner", and "shinobi" patched together most often.). He figured that one day, the fact that no one really knew what he knew might come in handy.
There were about a dozen ways a civilian could get in trouble for just being around him, and he didn't want to put this strange, possibly senile old woman in any danger. He tried to squirm out of her surprisingly tight grip, but she moved one hand to the center of his back.
He glanced up. She smiled at him.
Naruto felt at once as if there was a fishhook in the center of him that bound the two of them together, because at that moment, with her arms around him and her smile and the way she was warm, he never wanted to let go. Ever.
He'd heard about it before, but seriously hoped that he wasn't falling in love with the old woman because, despite the fact that she had been pretty once (it showed in the warmth of her smile and the shape of her eyes) she was old now.
He didn't know whether to curse or cheer when a feminine voice called out behind them. "Mother! I think I've found something. This person, he says that he's..." she trailed off as she approached them, and Naruto got his first good look at her.
Even if the younger woman hadn't said anything about the old woman being her mother, Naruto probably could've made a damn good guess. She was roughly the same height as her mother, though she was smoother around the joints, and she had a small excess of hanging skin, as if she'd lost too much weight at once for her body to follow through with. Naruto got a better picture of what the older woman looked like when she was younger because despite the weight loss, the exhaustion, and the filth, she had a pleasant face with full lips and her mother's blue eyes. She had the same head-wrap as her mother and the same rough clothing - a tunic, pants, well worn, filthy shoes - and more than that, the same weary posture that, as she spotted Naruto, shifted into something like shock.
"Arashi". The name didn't leave her lips, but Naruto already knew what to expect. That same name repeated made him bite the inside of his lip and push away from the woman's loosening grip.
He scratched the back of his head while they watched him breathlessly, mindful always of the loose crowd around them. "Excuse me, lady," he said, trying to keep a level tone and not set them off just in case they were insane, "but I'm not this "Arashi" guy. The name's Uzumaki Naruto."
It wasn't just that the old woman's face fell. Instead, her entire body seemed to fall on top of itself like burning building. "'Naruto'?" the woman mouthed, looking at him with nothing less than confusion on her face. Suddenly, there was a light in her eyes as if she were standing in her own personal sunbeam. She licked her lips and stared at him (which he was used to) with approval slowly dawning on her face (which he was not used to). "Of course." She nodded to herself while her daughter looked on with confusion.
"I apologize, Uzumaki-san," the older woman began, glancing at her daughter and bowing. Her daughter got the cue and bowed in return, but Naruto waved her off, concerned about the fact that the crowd might be as weirded out by someone bowing to him as he was.
The daughter spoke up again. "You look very much like someone that we're searching for. I suppose she just mistook you for him and let her feelings loose." She paused. "I probably would've done the same thing. You look so very much like him."
Naruto cracked his knuckles behind his head and began to fidget, flexing the balls of his feet as he suddenly remembered that even though he wanted to get lost in a crowd to avoid Iruka, being found by Iruka while in a crowd would lead to massive pain from everyone involved. "Geez. It's never happened to me before, but I guess it has to happen to everyone once in a while." He paused and sucked his cheek as he tried to figure out just why being around these two ladies made him want to choice his words carefully in about the same way that being in an old library made him keep away the explosive tags and kunai.
"If you live here," the daughter continued, her tone proving that she was being cautious too, "do you happen to know where "Kazama Arashi" lives?"
He scrunched up his face in thought, and he knew she wasn't a ninja either because both she and her mother couldn't stop staring at him, and no ninja worth a grain of salt would be caught so many times in a row.
"Hm. Kazama. Kazama." He paused. "Sorry, but it ain't a family name that I know 'round here." Naruto glanced around. The crowd had started to thin, though "crazy" kept popping in his ears. He couldn't sense Iruka anywhere and felt a surge of pride at the thought that one of his bunshin he'd popped off miles ago had actually worked, and pulled the chuunin off the trail.
He turned back to the mother, whose blues eyes seemed to be watering. Later, he wouldn't possibly be able to say that he came to a decision, because that implied internal debate, and that was exactly what didn't happen. As soon as he saw the first glisten of tears, he caved in.
"Ah, hell." He swore, kicking at the ground with one toe. "Tell you what. I'll take you 'round to one of the Hokage's offices, 'kay? They'll have a record of pretty much anyone you could be lookin' for." Of course, Naruto had heard of these ninja information centers. He was almost sure he'd passed a few of them during various escape runs. He'd never actually gone inside of one, but he had the general gist of government from his time spent with Old Man Sarutobi and knew that shinobi had a hard enough time getting information out of them, and the idea of a civilian or, even less likely than that, a refugee milking information from them was just about as likely as Iruka letting up the chase and deciding that yes, pink really was his color.
The good news about that was that it wasn't going to be these two women getting the information - it was more likely than not that Naruto would do that. If he couldn't get information out the honest way (by watching the facial tics of whoever it was that was there), he could always do it the shinobi way. The Forbidden scroll really hadn't been the first time he'd snuck into the Hokage's tower. It really only was the first time he'd been caught afterwards. If necessary, he knew he could go back to old habits, even if it was just for a day. If he could sneak out the Forbidden Scroll, he sure as hell could find out about this Kazama guy.
"Hey," he started, and he only took a tiny amount of pleasure in watching them jump, "what're your names?" He took a few steps forward and, looking back, bade them to follow him. The daughter paused, but the mother flowed freely through the crowd - they actually seemed to part around her - apologizing politely with a proud posture as she passed them. She seemed regal.
"Uzumaki-san," she started, but paused as Naruto admonished her with "Naruto, Naruto, please!". She smiled at him, and he felt that fishhook in his belly pull towards her again. "My name is Kazama Makoto, and this is my daughter Haruka." The woman, younger by far than her mother (being near the mid to early thirties, at first guess) bowed deeply. "We came here in search of my son, Arashi."
Naruto remembered that he was supposed to be the leader, and he found it hard not to just follow Makoto's long strides. Even though she had no idea of where she was going, she seemed like she did, and Naruto decided that was yet another secret Bloodline limit he desperately wanted. Forget all the freaky eyed people in Konoha, and the people who could pop into other people's heads or make their own portable showers - he wanted the ability to seem like he knew what he was doing when he really didn't.
"Our family," Makoto continued, "didn't know what became of Arashi. He disappeared far too many years ago, and now that Haruka and I have finally gained the," and she paused, alerting Naruto that something was amiss, "ability to travel, we sought to seek him out. However..."
"Let me guess - it's damn hard to find him here?" He waited for their nods. "You haven't been here long either, have you? Maybe a day or so?" He saw Haruka turn her head to her mother quickly, but Makoto made a small agreeing noise. He kept walking, watching the women following him through the corner of his eye and with his developed senses. They weren't a threat - Ninja developed a "danger-sense" early or didn't develop after that - and Naruto's senses told him that he was more likely to get impaled by a flagpole than be threatened by two exhausted, emotional civilians.
They rounded a corner again, and Naruto smirked, anticipating reactions from the ladies. He didn't get what he expected.
The faces of the Hokages on the memorial always seemed to be a bit screwed up for Naruto. He'd known Old Man Hokage all his life, as far back as he could remember it, and the old fart really looked nothing like the mountain. He didn't know when they carved it, but whoever did the first draft was apparently blind. Either that, or Sarutobi threw one of his sons in his place and told him to do his best. Ninja, as a rule, didn't take many photographs, if any. For security reasons, the Hokage monument was probably the only existing record of the the Shodaime or Nidaime. He didn't know if there were still pictures around of the Yondaime, but then again, he didn't know pretty much anything about the martyr who died sealing in the demon fox.
The two women, however, seemed to know a great deal about the Yondaime.
It was really a process of elimination. Old though she might be, Makoto couldn't have possibly lived around the Nidaime or the Shodaime. When they were around, Konohakagure was only just being born as a shinobi center. At the end of the Nidaime's reign and the beginning of the Old Man Hokage's, civilians were slowly integrated into the populace, forming a base that the city could fall back on in case of low shinobi population, attack, or war. If either Makoto or her daughter had known the Sandaime, they probably would've known about where he lived already, and they wouldn't be wandering around with no clue where they were.
The two woman were having visible reactions to the monument, and Naruto knew that it wasn't just about the size of it or the skill it took to carve it. The paths of their eyes were firmly cemented on the last face, a face that Naruto knew as well as his own because one day, he truly believed his face would be next to it.
"Who is that?" Haruka asked, her words faint enough that Naruto turned to face her. One of her arms sought her mother's in what Naruto decided was a search for comfort.
He raised an eyebrow. "Well, that's the Yondaime. One of the great leaders of the village. Much better than the old coot we have running it now, in my opinion." He scowled briefly, then shook his head. He kept one eye focused on them as he slowly kept walking. "He died a long time ago, though."
"D-died?" Haruka's hand looked like it was welded to her mouth, and she turned so pale that Naruto was shocked she didn't faint on the spot. Makoto glanced towards her daughter, and even Naruto couldn't miss the way Makoto glanced at the mountain, squinting and turning her head from side to side.
"Haruka," Makoto began, and her voice sounded exactly like Kakashi's in the middle of battle and exactly like Iruka's when Mizuki tried his whole "I'm evil!" theft phase. It was a voice that made everyone around stand up straight and listen. "We don't make assumptions. We didn't come here for rumors. We came here for facts, and for the truth." She turned her head towards Naruto, and despite himself, he couldn't help but lift his chin and straighten from his slouch. "You said that this office would have records of my Arashi-kun?" At his nod, she inhaled. "We'll see then."
Naruto coughed and drew Makoto's eyes towards him. "Oh." She glanced around, and she saw what Naruto knew ten minutes ago - there was no one around to listen in to them. "My son, Arashi? He looked so very much like your "Yondaime". Do you think there's a chance that he..."
Naruto sucked his cheek again. Aside from how incredibly unlikely it was, if this "Arashi" guy was really the Yondaime and their kin, it meant that he was dead. If he disagreed, and said that it was unlikely, it would probably kill whatever hope had just been born between them, and somehow, he just couldn't do that.
He shrugged. "Don't know. Never met the man. Even if the Yondaime were still alive, there aren't many ninja around here that actually see the Hokage - the town's leader, that is - on a regular enough basis to figure out what he was like, or about his past." Naruto carefully omitted the fact that he was around Sarutobi enough to know, by scent, the old man's favorite tobacco, whiskey, laundry detergent, and calligraphy ink.
"Oh," Haruka started, the widening of her eyes seeming to dissipate what tears still lingered there, "you're a ninja?"
Naruto nodded enthusiastically. It wasn't as if it was a village secret or anything. Not only would most people be able to tell it from his hitai-ite, but also by his sandals, his shuriken holders, and his uniform itself. He decided to let the fact that they didn't know he was a ninja from fifty feet away slide under the fact that they really hadn't been in Konoha for more than a few hours. Aside from that, when he was Hokage, everyone would know who he was, so it didn't really matter who he told he was a ninja now. "I'm the greatest ninja in this village, you know? Everyone here knows the name "Uzumaki Naruto"!" This, he soothed himself mentally, was technically true. Of course, he could count on his hands the number of people who knew his name in a good way, but he didn't add this on.
"Well," he broke, "Information, here we come!". He turned them down a back alley he often used as a short cut between the major shinobi transportation system (also known as "the rooftops") and the market. Ushering them in front for a moment, he quickly formed the seals for the Kage Bunshin technique while they weren't looking, sending more clones on different paths through the city. He went so far as to change a few into copies of Haruka and Makoto, in case Iruka-sensei had been very, very observant. "And after that..." he started, catching up to them, leaping over them, and settling down into a brisk walk that was little more than a ninja crawl, "We can go eat food. More importantly, we can eat ramen!" He grinned, fangs over his lips. "And you can tell me all 'bout yourselves, 'kay? If you really did know the Yondaime, you probably know a whole bunch of secrets about why he was so cool, and stuff."
Makoto laughed. "It would be our pleasure, to dine with you, Uzum-" Naruto cleared his throat meaningfully, and she paused slightly. "I mean, Naruto-san. But, I must ask this. What is this "Ramen"?"
And thus, a connection was formed, however tenuous and slight it appeared at first. But, even the mightiest trees of Konoha were once seedlings, just as the greatest Hokage were mere snot-nosed brats with ambitions, and the greatest stories often began with the most ignoble incidents such as this day, when Uzumaki Naruto met his only surviving relatives by stumbling into them.
The odds were astronomical - a million to one didn't scratch the surface. But, thousands of legends continuing on even after his death stated one fact that echoed through his life and actions: Uzumaki Naruto was the number one Ninja when it came to screwing the odds.
First fic. Don't laugh.
This chapter revised on 8.30.07, originally published on 6.17.07.