Disclaimer: All your base are belong to Kishimoto
Mature Content / AU
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Chapter 2 - The Ghost the ANBU made


Naruto moaned at the morning light shining most unwelcomely in his face and buried himself underneath the comforter. Now, if only the damn alarm would shut the hell up.


"Damn it, you're not gonna stop are you?"

Grumble, grumble …

"Ok I get it!" He cried out. Naruto tossed the tattered covers onto his floor and grimaced at the brightness of his room. He didn't have a window shade in this room since the old one fell apart, and the towel he tried stapling up didn't help either since the plaster was so old it wouldn't hold the tiny metal fasteners. He made a mental note to figure something out, the unforgiving natural light made it way too easy to see what a rundown dump he lived in.

Standing up and blinking a few times Naruto peeked out the window and tried to estimate the time, it looked about noon from his reckoning.


"Aw Jeeez," he sighed, looking down at his stomach. "I need get down to Ichiraku's and turn this thing off."

The young blond tumbled off to the bathroom to go to relieve himself and brush his teeth. Then he could get started on his next exciting day of dodging angry villagers, digging through the garbage of the affluent (it really was amazing what some people threw away), and looking for his next meal. It was truly an exciting life.

Naruto paused when entered the bathroom to regard himself in the mirror. His wild blond hair was a lost cause and it always would be. Thick spikes shooting out in every direction that simply defied control. Honestly it was so thick it felt more like fur to him. He never bothered combing it as it was simply no use. Then there were is legendary whisker marks, three on each cheek and coal black, about as thick as a strong pencil line. And finally his eyes, the brightest blue he'd ever seen.

There was no one else in all of Konoha that looked quite like him. This was part of his curse. The villagers hated him desperately, and hiding was impossible when you stood out like a sore thumb. This was also evidence of lineage, or lack of it. His final proof that he was alone, and he had no family.

His final defining characteristic most never noticed that he was aware of, but some did. The ever present dark circles underneath his eyes. Insomniac. That was the word the old man had given him. He was an eight year old insomniac. From what he gathered that wasn't supposed to happen until you were older. But to this day the fox still hunted his dreams every night, and sleep didn't come often or easily.

Three minutes later, one for the relief and two for the teeth (always take care of your teeth!), he tumbled out of the bathroom and made his way over to the closet to grab an orange jumpsuit. Every human being living in the village that would actually talk to him had shared the same distinct, yet apologetic opinion upon first seeing his wardrobe of choice.

The jumpsuits were hideous.

It was actually a test of sorts, the worse the person seemed to feel when they told him how bad he looked the more they probably liked him. In all honestly even he had to agree, but then again most people weren't they raised as orphans who had nothing and learned the hard way how to treasure what little they did have.

So one day when a young Naruto was wandering through an alley and spied an employee from a ninja surplus store throwing away boxes of what looked like brand new something's, he couldn't help but investigate. Imagine his shock when he found the boxes filled with brand spanking new utility jumpsuits!

And they were just throwing them away?! Most of them were still sealed in the plastic from the factory, it was the worst sort of wastefulness he could imagine.

A quick inspection showed they were made from a durable looking material, had lots of pockets and hidden compartments, and overall seemed to be of the highest quality. They also just happened to be blindingly orange. Though Naruto would never know it, there was a typo on a custom order that the owner couldn't return, and after trying like mad to sell the things he gave up and decided to just throw them all out. He couldn't even give them away in a promotion.

Naruto made three trips to make sure he got them all.

Hideous or not it was the coup of the century in his mind, he not only had free cloths but with all the different sizes he had free cloths for the next several years! A big deal for a kid who not only had very little money but couldn't even step foot inside a normal clothing shop anyway.

When he'd shown up at his first monthly meeting with the old man he thought the geezer was going choke. He knew it looked a little funny, but truth be told the color had sort of grown on him after a while. Besides, the entire ordeal gave him a great leg up on surviving life in a village that seemed to hate him just for existing, it taught him the true value of scavenging.

He finished tugging on his screaming loud clothing, grabbed his goggles and headed out the door. He paused at the threshold to glance back at his tiny apartment, it was a wreck, even by his standards. There were dirty cloths hanging from every available surface, garbage consisting mostly of ramen take-out containers littered the floor, and the entire kitchen counter was taken up by stacks of dirty dishes. Sadly half of those were paper plates. "Maybe I'll clean it up tomorrow," he muttered. "Plenty of free time tomorrow."

He slipped outside and closed the door without making a sound.

Sarutobi strode down the street and nodded at the people as they bowed and waved at him while he passed by. The village was bustling with activity this afternoon and he loved seeing the people like this, it was just so full of life! He laughed as he watched a group of children playing some unfathomable game that seemed to revolve around a ball and three circles they'd drawn in the dirt. The circles seemed like they were 'safe' zones but the object of the game was to transport the ball from one circle to another without being captured. Every time a point was scored they all screamed in triumph or defeat.

Grinning he continued on, he supposed being a sentimental old fool was simply an occupational hazard of old age. To survive this long as a trained killing machine you either had to embrace your humanity and find someone you loved enough to protect, or simply become an emotionless sociopath. Sadly that reminded him of most of his peers.

But perhaps today he could put a dent in the ranks of emotionless shinobi drones, because in his hand he carried something he'd been thinking about for eight long years. The acceptance letter for one Naruto Uzumaki to attend the ninja academy of Konohagakure no Sato. The child had been dealt a raw deal, that much no one could deny.

Most of the village treated him lower than dirt in spite of the example he himself tried to set. He'd visited the poor thing in the hospital more times than he cared to remember from all the times his own ANBU ignored their duty and allowed some grieving or angry villager beat him within an inch of his life. And he knew how lonely the blond had become, it was as plain as the nose on his face whenever he visited the youngster.

But despite it all whenever he saw the child he could see his father shining through like a beacon of light in the those deep blue eyes, and he knew, he really knew, that this child was special beyond being some vessel. And he was going to find out exactly how special if it killed him.

Now, if he could only find the pint sized stealth master. Oh yes, he knew all about the boy's uncanny ability to hide and evade detection. The first time he heard about it was from Kakashi himself back before the eternally masked nin had retired from the ANBU corps as head of his own security team. After that he'd done some surreptitious investigations of his own and discovered that indeed the child did have an almost unnatural talent for evasion. He regularly ditched even his best ANBU when they were sent to keep tabs on the boy, not always mind you, but enough to raise more than a few eyebrows.

Interestingly enough this very ability had become something of a legend among the mysterious elites, and tracking Naruto when he didn't want to be seen had actually become something of a rite of passage for the black ops these days. Sarutobi had become understandably concerned when Kakashi first informed him of the phenomenon. The ANBU were a notoriously high strung lot and while he wanted them to take an honest interest in guarding Naruto he didn't want any of them viewing the child as some sort of glorified target.

But Kakashi assured him it was a good thing and true to the man's prediction Sarutobi noticed that some of his men's attitudes seemed to be changing in regards to Naruto. The occasional comment or stray piece of body language almost gave the impression of, dare he say … protectiveness?

Though whether that was because the men (and kunoichi of course, there was no sexism in Sarutobi's military) actually cared somewhat for the boy, or they viewed him as some form of ANBU property he couldn't be completely sure. He suspected there were a few on each side of the fence.

They even gave him a nick name, the Hekigan Shin, or 'Blued eyed ghost'.

He continued his search for another fifteen minutes, but fortunately for him he was wise enough to throw his lot on ramen. Sure enough when he got with shouting distance of the tiny stand there were two orange legs sticking down from behind the curtains. Kami those cloths were awful.

Naruto was enjoying the morning, old man Teuchi and his daughter Ayame were always nice to him and the food was absolutely top notch. This was really the best part of his day, every day. He was gratefully slurping up the delicious noodles when he felt someone sit down next to him and … stare. Without looking he felt his pulse quicken a little bit, not many people bothered him here but it wasn't unheard of.

"Oh, hello there Naruto, how have you been?" an oddly friendly voiced asked.

Naruto jerked his head toward the voice and was surprised to see the only other person in the world that was actually nice to him, "Old man!"

Naruto actually jumped off of his chair he was so excited and lunged at his lifelong guardian but at the second made an abrupt stop. They both stared at each other for an awkward moment before laughing just as uncomfortably. Naruto managed a blush and hopped back on his seat, "Uh, so anyway …"

Sarutobi turned and ordered a miso ramen, gracefully allowing Naruto regain his composure and pretend nothing happened. Secretly he wished the boy would have given him a hug, at least that's what it looked like he was going to do. Ever since his three week stint on the street two years ago Naruto had displayed a pronounced aversion to physical contact of any kind. The counselors he spoke to on the subject confirmed his suspicions that such tendencies in a young child pointed to deep seated emotional trama, but beyond that they couldn't say without examining the boy themselves.

Naruto recovered from his embarrassment and gave the Hokage a big smile. "So what are you doing here? Our next lunch isn't supposed to be for another two weeks isn't it?"

"Well yes that's true Naurto, but today I came to talk to you about something very important, and it couldn't wait another two weeks."

"Really? What's so important about me?" Naruto asked.

Sarutobi winced at the wording. "Now I'll have none of that Naruto, you are a very important person. Not just to me but to the entire village."

Naruto plastered on a fake smile and turned his attention to his broth. He stirred it idly. "Must be your other village," he muttered.

Sarutobi wanted to pull his hair out, it just wasn't natural for an eight year to be so, morose! He'd better hurry up and spill the beans before the kid tried to commit seppuku. "Naruto, do you remember some time ago when I told you that you might make a fine ninja some day? Well what would you say if I told you that you have exactly that opportunity?" He allowed himself a smug looking grin and pulled his pipe out to start packing it with some fresh tobacco.

Naruto's demeanor changed instantly. He went from a sad little boy playing with his food to a wide eyed hopeful staring down the greatest dream his life in the blink of an eye. "S-so wait, you're saying that I'm gonna - that you can get me into the …"

Sarutobi struck a match and puffed gently on his pipe, eyeing the blond the whole while. "… the academy? Well now that you mention it I do happen to have a letter from them, and it's addressed to you. One can only imagine what it says." He produced the simple letter and handed it to the now frozen child.

Teuchi and Ayame had overheard and were both now equally statuesque, Naruto was almost like a member of the family to them and the thought that he might have a chance at a real future, a future that seemed up until two seconds ago a total impossibility was nothing short of a miracle. Sarutobi noted their reactions along with Naruto's and made a mental note to help these wonderful people out somehow.

Naruto's mind was racing, the Academy?! He knew all about the academy, everyone in Konoha did. The village hidden in the leaves may have housed all walks and creeds, but it was a ninja village after all. You couldn't become a Konoha shinobi if you didn't start attending the academy by age nine. He was already eight, the standard entrance age. The envelope in his hands was quite possibly the most important thing he'd ever held in his hands and he could scarcely bring himself to open it.

The orphan Naruto Uzumaki could barely even show himself out in public, he could barely shop for food, he could barely go anywhere or do anything without being hassled, scorned, or attacked. Even though he was only eight, he had no illusions about what his life was going to be like. He could never grow up and find a job like a normal person, and once he became an adult and the village sponsored checks stopped coming in, he'd have nothing. Homeless and destitute.

But Naruto Uzumaki the ninja! This would change his life forever.

"Go on, open it," Sarutobi urged.

Naruto looked up at him with barely restrained angst, if this was some kind of joke … no, it couldn't be. The old man would never do that. He willed his hands to stop shaking and turned the letter over to carefully open it and removed the parchment from inside.

Dear Naruto Uzumaki,

Congratulations! This letter has been sent to inform you that you have officially been accepted to begin attending classes this spring at Konohagakure no Sato's central shinobi academy.

Furthermore, it is our pleasure to inform you that you have been awarded this year's prestigious Will of Fire Scholarship. With this one of a kind opportunity your full tuition, books, and miscellaneous supplies will be provided to you free of charge.

If you have any further questions please contact the registration office in building four ….

Naruto looked up with an expression of wonder, "You did this."

Sarutobi nodded and took another puff on his pipe, "You're damn right."

"Way to go Naruto!" Teuchi yelled and pumped his fist in the air in a most uncharacteristic display. Ayame squealed in delight and joined in with her father's celebrating.

"B-but I didn't do anything!" Naruto protested. Teuchi, Ayame, and Sarutobi all went still. "What if … someone else who was supposed to get this didn't because of me? You only gave this to me because you felt sorry for me didn't you?"

Naruto flipped the letter over in his hands a few times admiring it, oh Kami this was hard. "I'm sorry, I can't accept this. Please give this to someone who deserves it old man," he said, handing the letter back.

Teuchi and Ayame looked they were both going to cry. The Hokage made no move to take the offered notice, and then after a moment's silence he surprised everyone present by laughing out loud. Naruto looked incredulous, "What's the big idea old man? I feel bad enough as it is you don't have to laugh at me too!"

"I'm sorry Naruto," he chuckled. "But I'm laughing at you because you're such a fool!"

"What did you say?!" Teuchi and Ayame face faulted. Naruto looked like he was actually going to throw his ramen.

Sarutobi shook his head, "Do you honestly think I would have awarded you this scholarship if I didn't know you would succeed? That I would deprive someone who was more worthy? I'm the Hokage Naruto, and everyone in this village is my adoptive family, not just you. I awarded you this honor because I honestly believe are the most worthy to receive it, and I'll have you know that I have very high expectations for you."

Teuchi and Ayame turned their heads simultaneously to Naruto. He looked like he'd just been punched in the gut. "Oh … I should have just kept my mouth shut huh?"

"Maybe, maybe not. But your motives are pure and only reinforce my decision, you are the best choice Naruto. You will go to the academy and you will be a great shinobi."

Naruto blushed a little and put his hand up behind his head, "Thanks old man."

"Don't mention it." The two turned back to their meals and made idle chit chat with each other and Teuchi and Ayame for the next two hours. It was one of the best lunches he'd had in quite some time.

The next two weeks were a bit of a whirlwind for Naruto, what with getting ready for the academy and all. The first order of business was actually just showing up at building four and signing up for his classes.

This was his third try.

Naruto was so embarrassed about how much the old man Hokage had helped him that he couldn't bring himself to ask for even more help after the academy office staff ran him out the first time. The second time he tried wearing a disguise which worked great right up until the nice lady at the front desk asked him for his name.

Probably should have thought that one through a little better.

The day before registrations were due found one Naruto Uzumaki hiding behind a tree just outside the academy grounds desperately racking his brains for a solution to his problem without bothering the old man. He kicked a rock and groaned, it was hopeless! He couldn't sign up without telling them who he was for crying out loud!

He put his hand to his chin in a pose of deep thought and started pacing around. Maybe if he beat himself up they'd take pity? No. People beat his ass all the time just for fun, they'd never go for it. Hell, they'd probably take an extra swing just because he was still standing. A bribe? You need money for that.

'I could always tell them that I'll be angry if they don't sign me up and I'll breath fire on them and their families! Nah, nobody would believe something stupid like that.' This was bad, he was running out of time.

"Damn that Minato," he muttered.

How in the hell his successor ever invented a totally undetectable privy seal capable of blocking the Shodiame's famous crystal ball of seeing he'd never know. Why in the hell he chose to hide several in and around the hot springs he'd never understand. "I can't believe I took this stupid job back."

Sighing he turned the artifact's gaze to another section of the village, same old, same old. He was about to put the thing away when a speck of blond hair caught his attention. "Oh? And what are you doing hiding out behind the academy eh Naruto?"

Then he saw it, Naruto was still clutching his acceptance letter in his right hand. Of course the question was why hadn't he turned it in yet, was he nervous? Not likely. Naruto might be wary of strange people and situations and for good reason, but he wasn't exactly shy either. Too many times through the fire already for such trivial things to stop him. 'Far too many…'


A moment later a masked woman appeared behind him bowing respectfully. She was relatively new but very talented, and she was one of the ANBU whom actually didn't seem to hate Naruto. Probably because she was one of the very few who still a perfect record tracking him, or because she could relate in a way the others couldn't.

"Naruto Uzumaki is currently standing outside the academy campus. Today is the last day for registration, you are to ensure he's signed up and properly equipped for the start of the new term."


"Dismissed." In a flash, she was gone. It wasn't a normal assignment for an ANBU, they were elite shinobi after all. Yet she didn't protest or display any outward signs up negativity. Interesting.

Naruto was still pacing back and forth when the hairs on the back of his neck stood up and he froze. Someone was watching him. He whipped around to see nothing but empty space. Then he felt something tap lightly on his shoulder …

"Argh!" Naruto jumped three feet into the air and twisted wildly. He came down hard on his back and nearly got the wind knocked out of him. Groaning he looked up to see a painted mask looking down at him.

It was one of them.

Naruto had very mixed feelings about the guys in the masks. Some of them were actually nice from time to time, and some of them were anything but. But they sure did like to follow him all over the damn place. His best guess was it had something to do with old man Hokage since the first time he remembered talking to one was "Cain", the one with the mask painted like a dog. Cain was pretty cool, but he hadn't seen that one in a long time. This one looked more like a cat of some kind, and … a girl?

"What do you want?" he asked a bit irritably. Naruto looked like an old man trying to straighten himself back out. She didn't respond, she just kept staring. At least he thought she was staring, with those stupid masks you could never tell. Maybe she was sticking her tongue out or something. "What?"

"Did you sense me?" she asked in that odd voice. It was almost monotone. All the masked ones did that, it was kinda creepy.

"Well I thought there was someone behind me, but I turned around and there was nothing," he said with a frown. "But then you were behind me after that, so I don't really know what happened. How did you do that anyway?"

"What do you think happened?" she asked.

Naruto returned to his hand on chin thinking pose, he remained this way for nearly a minute. "I think you were in front of me the whole time," he said suddenly.

Lynx paused, that was not the answer she'd been expecting. "Oh? Explain."

"I only turned around because I felt like someone was watching me and I couldn't see anyone in front of me. But if you were behind me than you would have be awfully fast to get all the way around me in the time it took for me to turn back around after that. You're a ninja, I'm not saying that you couldn't do it, just that it would be pain. Plus I'd expect that kind of movement to disturb some leaves or dirt or something. And I didn't see that. No, I bet you got into position when I was pacing and you were actually in front of me somehow when I felt something. Then you revealed yourself after I turned around."

Lynx allowed herself a grin behind her mask, that was an almost perfect description of what she'd done with the help of a very minor genjutsu. She just wasn't about to let him know that. "But how could I have been hidden from your view while I was in front of you?"

Naruto's grin nearly split his face, "Easy! I do it all the time. You just have to be good at blending in and other people will look right past you." Naruto looked around like he was trying to make sure no one was listening. "Hey, you want to know the secret?"

To her credit Lynx didn't giggle, she just leaned down a little and kept her voice flat. "Yes."

"Sometimes the best way to disappear is in plain sight, you just have to look like you belong there, and people won't notice a thing," he whispered.

She regarded him silently for a moment. "Perhaps the Hokage is right."


"Perhaps you will make a fine shinobi someday."

Naruto did a bit of a double take at that before he looked at the ground. "Yeah right, I wish."

Lynx's head cocked to the side, "Do you not agree?"

Naruto fisted up his acceptance letter and thrust it out. "I can't even turn in my papers! Every time I go in there they throw me out."

Ah, so that was the problem. She had to admit it was sort of an odd thing, training this one to become a shinobi. But if the Hokage thought it was safe then why not? What was the worst that could happen, the fox could be unleashed and they'd all die in a fiery maelstrom?

Oh, Right. Demon fox.

Well, at least it would be an interesting way to die. "Come with me."

Lynx walked off toward the administration building with Naruto following close behind, a look of worry mixed with hope on his face. When they entered it took all of two seconds for the woman at the front desk to recognize him.

"Get out of here you, don't make me call security again!" she warned.

Naruto blanched but didn't say anything, instead he looked up at Lynx. The woman behind the desk seemed to just now realize her presence. "He is here to sign up for classes," Lynx responded dully.

This caught her off guard, she didn't exactly want to argue with an ANBU after all, they scared the crap out of her. But this was the demon child they were talking about here, perhaps the other woman didn't understand. "Do you have any idea just who that child is?"


"Then you can understand perfectly well why we cannot allow that thing to attend classes like it was some sort of … little boy!"

Naruto ground his teeth together in frustration, he hated people like her. "Hey lady, I'm standing right here! Do you mind?"

"How dare you speak to me that way!" she shouted. "You watch your mouth you little dem -"

"- Ah, ah, ah. I wouldn't want you to say anything you'll … regret, in front of me," Lynx interjected coolly. The woman noticeably paled and Naruto wondered what that was all about. "Now then, Hokage-sama has ordered me to see that this boy is properly signed up for classes, and I always complete my missions. Do you understand?"

The woman nodded silently.

"Excellent, lets hurry up and get this done. We have other places to be." Lynx felt a tug on her arm and looked down at Naruto.

"We do?"

Lynx and Naruto stood outside a very plain brown storefront on the edge of the commercial district. At least Naruto thought it was a storefront, it had a simple door sitting in between two bay windows that looked like they were for staging merchandise. But other than that there was nothing he could see that indicated what the place was for at all. The window displays were empty, and there wasn't so much as a paper sign out front. At least it looked like it was clean.

"Naruto, I could have taken you to any supplier in the village and forced him or her to sell you their wares. But I doubt you'll always have an escort with you to make purchases in the future, so I've brought you here," Lynx explained in her smooth voice.

Naruto gave her a questioning look. "How did you know?"

"About your troubles acquiring goods?" she asked. He nodded. "This is not the first time I've been assigned to you, though before it was only to keep watch on you."

He figured as much. They didn't always follow him around, at least he didn't think so, but he knew he was followed a lot. It wasn't until he after he moved into his apartment that he'd noticed them for the first time. He tried to ditch the masked watchers whenever possible, he didn't like the idea of hidden eyes following his every move.

There actually was an upside, sometimes one of them would come to his rescue when the villagers were beating the crap out of him. And ditching them was a hell of a fun game when he was in the mood. But this was really only the second time any of them had actually spoken to him before, and a few things were digging at his conscious.

"What are you guys anyway?"

Lynx considered that for a moment, it wouldn't hurt if he knew. "We are the ANBU, we are a special group of elite shinobi that report directly to the Hokage."

"And do you guys watch me all the time?"

Lynx turned toward the shop. "That's enough questions, come with me."

"Yeah but - you guys don't watch me in the shower do you?" he almost whispered.

She froze, he did not just fucking ask that.

She turned to face him again and was surprised to find his crystal blue eyes shining with honesty, he was seriously concerned. Wait … Crystal Blue? Oh Lord what was wrong with her? This kid was already starting to get under her skin and she didn't like it one bit.

"Yes," she answered simply. All the color drained from Naruto's face. That would teach him. Or ruin his teenage years.

They entered the shop with Naruto looking like he wanted to die, but one look at the inside of the shop and he forgot all about it. There was ninja stuff piled everywhere! Cloths, armor, weapons, you name it, and it was there.

There were no neat racks or shelves in this place, just piles and piles of barely folded pants, shirts, and miscellaneous clothing. The far side of the store was full of tables that had the weapons and armor laid out on them in an almost haphazard fashion. The walls themselves were a total mish mash of whatever they could hold, and you could barely see the surface of it at all. The front windows were basically blocked out by merchandise, leaving the store a bit on the dark side. There wasn't much room to walk through the crowded aisles(if you could call them that), and you had to turn sideways if you didn't want to be touching the something with your arms as you walked.

They pushed through the front of the shop until they found the owner sitting on a stool and hand sharpening a wicked looking sword. It was almost four feet long and gently curved to a graceful tip, and the blade looked sharp enough to cut through solid rock. Why it still needed to be sharpened he had no idea.

When they finally came to a stop in front of the man he stopped what he was doing and took notice of his customers. He hand sandy brown hair and sharp black eyes that seemed to take in everything and give nothing. He was covered in more scars than Naruto had ever seen, the kinds of scars one earns after years and years weapons training. The most distinctive scar was a long jagged one that ran from in between his eyes diagonally all the way down to his neck. It gave the man a very intimidating air.

He barely gave Lynx a second glance, but his gaze settled on Naruto and stayed there. Standing up, he took a step closer. "Well now, what do we have here?"

"He's a mission," Lynx replied.

That gave the man a start and he eyed Lynx warily. "Yeah, so what did'ja bring him in here for? I just cleaned the place up."

"It's not that kind of mission. Naruto, meet Ryota."

Ryota turned and took another step forward, giving Naruto another once over before grunting. "Hello … Ryota-san." Naruto didn't treat many people with respect, but he decided to make an exception just this once.

Ryota scowled and turned back to Lynx. "So what did you bring him here for?"

"He is starting in the academy in two days, and he needs supplies."

"So what? Does this look like a damn kiddy store to you?" he growled. "I wouldn't even carry anything sized for him anyway. It'd all be special ordered."

Lynx nodded, "I know. But no other vendor will deal with him, they seem to take … issue with his presence."

Ryota nodded knowingly and got right into Naruto's face. Naruto tried to lean back against the unexpected intrusion on his personal space but bumped up against a stack of blue pants. "Do ya know what kind of store this is boy?"

"Uh … there was no sign out front or anything sir. But it looks like a ninja store," he replied.

Ryota shook his head, "Not a chance, this is a place for killers," he whispered menacingly. Naruto's eyes opened wide and he believed every word. "I don't advertise because I don't have to. The regular nins don't ever come in here, snide little fuckers. No, the only people who come in here are the ANBU, the hunters, and a few personal friends of mine. And do you want to know why?"

Naruto nodded even though he decided he most definitely did not want to know. It just seemed safer to nod.

Ryota smiled, "Because most of them are more concerned with how they look in this year's newest vest, and where they can find some shiny dragon hilt guard for their nin-to. Well I don't sell that shit here, because there ain't no better guard than smooth, low smelt steel, if you like having two hands that is. And the best vest ever made is the COV-4. The new ones are full of thin spots that'll get ya killed and they use these crappy synthetic plates that most summons can smell a mile away. The nin who shop here make their livings killing the ones who don't. Do you understand?"

Naruto blinked in the affirmative.

Ryota looked down at Naruto's clothing. "So explain to me little kid, why I would bother going out of my way to buy supplies for a ninja who wears bright fuckin orange?"

The insult finally snapped Naruto out of his fear induced stupor and he slowly straightened up into a firm stance. He didn't mind what people thought of his cloths, but this guy could go screw himself if he thought that he suddenly knew who he was because of how he dressed!

He gave Ryota what he hoped was his best glare, "I don't exactly have a lot of money, and the cloths were free. They're warm and they don't have holes in em so I don't care what damn color they are."

A moment of silence passed while Ryota considered him. 'He's not even in the academy yet and he's actually glaring at me. Most adults won't even hold my gaze when I try to intimidate them, not bad. So this is the demon child eh? Shorter than I expected.'

Lynx was getting antsy, this wasn't going over as well as she had hoped. "Perhaps this was a bad idea -"

"It's fine," Ryota cut her off. "I'll deal with the kid. You said you don't have much money, how do you intend to pay?"

Naruto was so surprised that Ryota was going to sell to him that he nearly forgot to answer. "Oh! Uh, I have these vouchers, from my scholarship."

Ryota turned to glare at Lynx, "Vouchers?"

She shrugged.

"You at least know what the hell he needs right? You never know what those jackass's at the academy tell em to get," he said.

Naruto offered up a list he got from the registration office. Ryota took one look at it and sputtered, "What the fuck is this shit! Dummy kunai? And they want Hatsuhin brand? I wouldn't peddle that trash if you put a real knife to my throat! No wonder the genin are so damn pathetic these days."

Lynx watched her old friend piss and moan over the academy list with a hidden smile beneath her mask. Of course the academy only specified the cheapest goods, many non-shinobi families wouldn't be able to afford better and it was just for a bunch of kids anyway. Ryota was also well aware that many families supplied their children with better, hell it was practically expected from those with wealth or lineage. He just liked to bitch about other people's gear.

The man was a fanatic, but he was a fair fanatic and he'd probably sell to the kid at a loss just to make sure those meager vouchers Naruto had would be enough. It looked like the Hekigan Shin owed her one big time. "I need to get back, I assume you two are good?" she asked.

"Yeah, get out of here," Ryota nodded. Naruto wasn't exactly sure about that but before he could speak up she was gone. He sure as hell wasn't afraid of Ryota, but he wasn't exactly sure he wanted to be here alone either.

"All right kid, here's the deal. I'm not gonna sell you any of the shit on this list."

"WHAT?! B-But you just said -" Naruto sputtered.

"Shut up! I'm gonna sell you what you need, just not the crap they specified. I'm gonna get you something worth buying alright? I'll dull em up for you so as you don't go killing yourself, but you're not walking out of my shop with trash. Understand?" he asked gruffly.

"Yeah," Naruto said defensively. "Why didn't you just say so?"

"Good, now come here. I need to measure your hand," he said, and grabbed Naruto's arm. As soon as he realized that Ryota had grabbed him Naruto yanked back as hard as he could and nearly took them both to the floor. Ryota let go at the last second but Naruto spilled into a pile shirts.

"What's your fuckin problem kid?!" he yelled.

Naruto jumped to his feet and started picking up some of the cloths as fast as he could. Ryota watched him work with a scowl. A few seconds later he was finished and stood straight up to glare at Ryota, the older man was surprised to see look he didn't the first time the kid glared. This one would actually back you off, hell, even he wanted to take a step back, the kids face was full of real pain … and anger. "People don't touch me."

Ryota looked at the little blond for a moment with an expression that Naruto couldn't place. "Fair enough."

Ryota gestured for Naruto to follow him to the back of the store for the measurement. A few minutes later the blond said his thanks and walked out of the shop, leaving Ryota to his thoughts. There was no doubt in his mind that this kid was going to make things very interesting in the years to come. But was it going to be the good kind of interesting or the bad?

The sound of a door opening in the back broke him out of his reverie. "Is that you sweetie?" he called out.

"Yeah it's me. Anything interesting going on?"

"Nothing much, you mind watching the front for a sec while I go place a special order?"

"A special order huh? Who's it for?"

"New customer, you wouldn't know him."

"Awww, and I missed him? Was he interesting?"

Ryota chuckled, "Just watch the counter would ya? It doesn't pay to be nosey with our customer base." He was rewarded with an exaggerated pout.

Authors Notes: So much for my supposed sneakiness! Most of you already figured out the little girl :)

Ryota means Stout or Strong.