I don't own the Naruto franchise or any associated characters/plots. Written for fun, not profit. R&R, enjoy!
Kakashi almost ran into his young student's back when he stopped dead in the middle of the crowded market. "Something wrong, Naruto?"
"No, this is perfect!" he said, his entire face lighting up as he waved enthusiastically at someone across the market. "Suyo! Hey, Suyo, c'mere a minute!" With that, Naruto sprinted off through the crowd, both his sensei and the day of training he'd promised them instantly forgotten.
Jiraiya met Kakashi's gaze for an instant, then rolled his eyes. "I thought he'd be after food, not a girl," he laughed. "My student finally makes me proud!"
Kakashi shrugged and reached for his book, deciding to vanish behind it and let Jiraiya deal with whatever distraction Naruto was cooking up now. Not that he probably would–there were plenty of women in the market, and women always took priority for the old sage.
A glance to the side confirmed his suspicions. Jiraiya was already straightening his clothes and smoothing his hair, no doubt preparing to turn on the charm as he did whenever a female was around. Old, young, that didn't matter to him in the least. Kakashi sighed inwardly again and turned the page. Legendary sannin though he was, at heart Jiraiya was just a ladies' man, more interested in his next conquest in the bedroom than on the battlefield. And while he might enjoy the spicy romances the old sage wrote, Kakashi was really getting tired of watching him flirt with every female who passed by.
"Hey hey," Jiraiya said, nudging Kakashi with his elbow a moment later. "I guess maybe Naruto's good for something after all, eh? Apparently this beautiful girl's for me, not him!"
Kakashi glanced up and saw Naruto on his way back, pulling a woman by the hand. She wasn't much taller than Naruto, and the plain tan and blue outfit she wore covered her from neck to wrists to ankles. An empty woven basket dangled from the hand Naruto wasn't clinging to. Despite Jiraiya's words, she wasn't beautiful–really, Kakashi thought he'd be kind to call her passably pretty. But as usual, the Sannin reacted to her as though she were a supermodel.
"Naruto, really, I'm sure they're busy–" the woman protested as Naruto practically dragged her over. Far from sharing the boy's enthusiasm, she was doing everything short of digging in her heels to resist Naruto as he towed her through the shoppers toward them. "I don't want to inconvenience anyone–"
The blond boy showed no sign of listening to her. "Nonsense, are you kidding? They don't bite and I've been wanting them to meet you for a really long time." Kakashi stashed the book, figuring he'd better pay attention to the inevitable introductions as Naruto stopped in front of him and Jiraiya. "Okay! Listen up! This is Kimura Suyo. Suyo-chan, meet Kakashi-sensei and Jiraiya-sama, my sensei."
Kakashi caught the faintest hint of some soft fragrance from Suyo's hair as her long braid fell over her shoulder when she bowed. In contrast to her rather plain face, her hair was pure beauty–the thick braid hung nearly to her waist, glossy as an onyx mirror. But it was that scent that truly caught his attention. Nothing like the floral reek of perfume, it was just strong enough to tease his heightened sense of smell without triggering any instant recognition of what it was. He bowed in return, murmuring a polite response to the introduction while inhaling deeply and trying to decipher what it was about that fragrance that caught him so strongly.
Jiraiya, of course, wasn't nearly so restrained in his greetings. Rather than bowing, he caught her hand and pressed a kiss to the back of it. "Lovely Suyo-chan! It is my very great honor to meet–" he began extravagantly, but Naruto scowled and knocked the ninja's hand away.
"Cut it out, Pervy Sage," he growled. "I've already warned her about you, so don't even go there."
Jiraiya glared back at him. "Warned her? That was completely unnecessary, and how many times have I told you not to call me that!" he hissed.
Naruto ignored him, turning back to Suyo instead. "So come on, give me the list! I know I can beat my last time."
She smiled at him but shook her head. Her braid whipped back behind her, casting another soft wave of fragrance over Kakashi. "I'm sure your sensei have better things to do than stand around here while you try and beat your record," she said gently. "Next time, okay?"
"You do remember we're supposed to be training today, right?" Kakashi reminded him, trying to give the clearly uncomfortable woman a graceful exit.
Naruto wasn't giving up that easily, however. "This is training!" he protested. "C'mon, Suyo-chan, let me have it. You hate shopping anyway, and I'll get it done for you in… yeah, I can do it in five minutes this time. All right? Please?"
Suyo looked up at Jiraiya, but if she thought help would come from that quarter, she was mistaken. Jiraiya smiled broadly. "Go on, let the boy have his five minute challenge," he urged her, reaching out to take her hand again. Naruto pointedly stepped between them and ignored the glare Jiraiya sent his way. The old sage recovered his charming smile quickly, though, and winked at her over Naruto's head. "It's not enough time to truly get to know such a lovely young woman, but I would be honored to spend the time basking in your beauty."
Kakashi fought not to roll his eyes, but when he glanced sidelong at Suyo, she didn't appear charmed at all. He wasn't the only one who noticed her lack of enthusiasm, either. Naruto glared at Jiraiya, and if he didn't know Naruto was completely head over heels for Sakura, Kakashi would've sworn he was jealous. "Can the cheesy lines, Pervy Sage. She's not your type–she's got a brain."
Kakashi laughed, earning one of Jiraiya's glares for himself. Naruto turned his back on the two ninja and gazed imploringly up at Suyo. "C'mon, please? Five minutes–no, under five minutes. I can do it, believe it!"
Suyo held the boy's gaze a moment longer, then shook her head in defeat. She smiled at Naruto as she held out a little coin purse and a scrap of paper to him. "All right, scamp, you win." He jumped and whooped as if he'd just won a thousand bucks. She didn't let go of the paper when he grabbed it, though. "Will you be done with your training by dinnertime?"
The boy looked hopefully at Kakashi, who just shrugged. It would take more than puppy-dog eyes to get the boy out of his training. "It depends on him entirely," he said. "If he gives an honest day's work, he could be finished earlier than that. If not… well, I've got no plans for the evening."
Naruto grinned back at Suyo. "Then yes, definitely! I'll work as hard as it takes."
"In that case, add ramen noodles to this list and show up at seven, got it?"
He jumped and whooped for joy again. "You got it, Suyo! Now time me, okay?"
"All right, all right… wait…" She looked at her watch, one finger in the air. "Okay… go!"
Naruto didn't waste a second. "Shadow clone jutsu!"
Kakashi shook his head as ten Narutos scattered across the market. "When I was his age, going to the market was a drag," he remarked as the enthusiastic orange-suited group swarmed through the crowd. "Definitely not a treat I'd beg for."
Of course, that wasn't true–when he'd been Naruto's age, he'd been a jounin for two years and had completed half a dozen solo assassinations. He'd been living on his own for eight years. Something like shopping didn't phaze him in the least–in fact, he'd found the normalcy of the chore deeply comforting, and eating something that wasn't a ration bar was a luxury.
By the time he was Naruto's age, Kakashi had also learned that a little lie or two often helped ease out a few truths.
Suyo laughed and shook her head. "He likes to challenge himself, and to help me."
Jiraiya waved a hand to dismiss Naruto from the conversation. "Kimura… you know, I thought I knew all the pretty girls in the Leaf Village, but I don't recognize that name. Are you visiting family here in Konoha?"
Kakashi had been wondering the same thing. Big as Konoha was, it was still small enough that he knew almost every family who lived here–by surname and reputation, if not by sight. Suyo shook her head at Jiraiya's question. "No, I have no family here. I'm originally from the Land of Tea."
"Ahh, the Land of Tea, a beautiful place," Jiraiya said, clasping his hands over his heart. "Like you, Suyo-chan. To what do we owe the remarkable good fortune of your presence here in the Leaf?"
Her smile faltered. "My village was destroyed a few years ago," she said after a moment, recovering enough to bring the smile back, even if it looked a bit strange. Her tone was stranger–determinedly light in a way that only emphasized that she was putting an effort to make it so. "After that, I wound up here, and Hokage-sama was kind enough to let me stay. I've lived in Konoha for over a year now."
"A year," Kakashi mused aloud, nodding and watching another pair of Narutos arguing over something at a fish seller's cart. He wondered how much of Jiraiya's flirtation was information gathering and how much was simply trying to get a date. Really, he'd like to know more himself. This woman was no shinobi–that much was blatantly obvious–but he was intrigued by her guarded answer. How had her home been destroyed? Her expression and tone made it clear it hadn't been some kind of natural disaster. And what had made the Hokage allow her to stay? Konoha, like every other hidden village, was founded and built on secrecy. While visitors weren't uncommon, immigrants were rarely allowed to stay in any shinobi village. Allowing outsiders to learn their ways was hardly usual procedure… especially outsiders who so quickly formed attachments to someone like a jinchuuriki.
Kakashi shrugged internally and dismissed the thought to worry at the back of his mind. Lady Tsunade had apparently met her and been convinced that she was harmless. Who was he to argue with the Hokage? He suppressed a sigh, knowing he couldn't let it go that easily, and tried to continue the small talk until Naruto got back. "How are you enjoying our little village?"
"Little?" Suyo laughed, and now her smile looked natural again. "Compared to Junyato, Konoha is enormous. I'm still learning my way around. I don't know what I would've done if it wasn't for Naruto."
Jiraiya sent Kakashi a pointed look. "Don't you have a book you'd like to read?"
For once, Kakashi didn't feel the urge to bury his nose in the pages. "I've read it," he said with a shrug. This conversation was more interesting than rereading the same old story. "How did you meet Naruto?"
Her smile vanished entirely this time as though cut off by a switch. She was silent so long that Kakashi thought she wouldn't reply at all. Finally, she spoke in a bare whisper that underlined the haunted desolation in her eyes. "I owe him my life."
Kakashi sensed Jiraiya's sudden tension. A quick glance showed that the familiar leer had left the sannin's eyes altogether. It was replaced by an expression that was… almost like respect… and was certainly tinged with recognition. How could he recognize a woman he'd just met? Kakashi's curiosity, already piqued, cranked a notch higher.
Then a Naruto dashed by and the moment passed. At the sight of the teenager, it was as though life returned to the woman's face. She still didn't smile, but she did manage to meet their eyes again. "You've got an amazing student there, if I may be so bold as to say so, nin-san."
Jiraiya raised an eyebrow. "He's certainly unique," he said sardonically as another of the clones zipped past, this time nearly hitting Kakashi with a swinging bag of oranges on his way past. If the sannin had indeed experienced some kind of revelation, his reaction to it was once again hidden behind the flirtatious expression he usually wore. "I hope he isn't a bother to you. He can be… persistent, and rather oblivious to hints. We can get him to leave you alone if you want."
She looked positively alarmed at the prospect. "Oh, no, please, he's no bother at all! Naruto is a joy to be around," Suyo hastened to reassure them. "I'm thankful every day that I know him."
"Then you are one of God's chosen," Jiraiya muttered, but quickly smiled when she glanced at him in surprise. "But why are we talking about Naruto? I'd much rather talk about you."
Suyo blushed, but Kakashi could sense it was due to discomfort and not because she was flattered at Jiraiya's attention. It made him wonder just what Naruto had told her about the legendary ninja and his penchant for young women. Whatever it was, every bit of it was probably true. With an little sigh, he decided to be a gentleman and try to rescue her from Jiraiya's clearly unwelcome flirtation. Maybe it wasn't as impressive as saving her from some unknown horrors, he thought with an inward smile, but he didn't doubt she'd be grateful for his efforts nonetheless.
And perhaps he could work the conversation back around to what had happened to her village since Jiraiya had clearly finished his questioning. He could be a gentleman and still be a jounin, after all. "Naruto said he could break his record," Kakashi commented before Jiraiya could speak, blurting the first thing that entered his mind. "Does he do this for you often?"
She sent him a look of such gratitude, Kakashi actually felt his own cheeks warm beneath his mask. Plain she might be, but her expressive green eyes were nothing short of lovely. "No, not really. Usually it happens just like today–I run into him at the market and he begs to have a chance to beat his best time. So far his record is six minutes and seventeen seconds."
Kakashi scanned the crowd, seeing blond clones dancing this way and that, leaping over stalls and shoppers. "It does appear to sharpen his reflexes, I suppose."
Jiraiya was growing clearly frustrated with Kakashi's continued interruptions and Suyo's talk of Naruto. "Would you care to make a small wager on his outcome today, then?" he asked, stepping forward to put Kakashi behind his shoulder–a not-so-subtle way to cut him out of the conversation. "If Naruto beats that time, you have dinner with me, but if he doesn't, then I'll have dinner with you. What do you think, eh?"
Suyo clasped her hands together in front of her and took a deep breath, clearly about to refuse, but before she could speak Naruto was back–all ten of him. "Did I make it? What's my time?" they all asked, practically bouncing with anticipation as they cut between Suyo and Jiraiya to encircle her. It was as though the woman was suddenly surrounded by a fidgeting orange wall.
She checked her watch with clear relief. "Four minutes and fifty eight seconds! Well done, Naruto-kun! Did you remember to get the ramen noodles?"
All the clones laughed. "Did I remember the ramen? Come on, Suyo, do you know me at all?"
She laughed with him. "You're right, silly question. Here, I'll take all this, and thank you for saving me a long and boring morning of shopping." Each clone poofed out of existence as she relieved them of their burdens until just the real Naruto was left holding the bag of oranges. "Seven o'clock, right? Don't forget!"
He grinned. "Like I'd forget, you make the best ramen ever. I'll be there, believe it!"
Suyo ruffled his already-messy hair affectionately, then bent and murmured something in his ear before taking the oranges from him. Naruto laughed and nodded. Then she bowed to Jiraiya and Kakashi in turn. "It was an honor to meet you both, nin-san," she said politely.
"And you," Kakashi replied, bowing back to her.
Jiraiya gave a disgruntled look at the packages she held that prevented him from kissing her hand again. "Until we meet again, Suyo-chan," he said, bowing extravagantly until Naruto stepped on his foot.
Kakashi didn't watch her leave. Instead he glanced down at his young student. "I hear you're her hero," he said mildly.
Naruto waved a hand dismissively. "Naah, that wasn't a big deal. I was just in the right place at the right time." Then he shot a glare at Jiraiya, who was watching Suyo walk away with something more than polite interest. "Geez, take a hint already, Pervy Sage! She's not interested. Why don't you forget about her and chase after one of your usual airheads, okay?"
Jiraiya sighed and clasped a hand to his chest. "Alas, I fear you're right–although I'm sure it's because you poisoned her mind against me," he snapped, dropping the melodramatic act. "Haven't I told you never to interfere with a man's love life? Especially mine!"
"Ha," Naruto snorted. "There's no love to it. Don't think I'm too young to know just what your so-called research is all about. Pervert."
Kakashi tuned out their bickering as he led the way out of the market toward the training fields. Though Naruto made light of it, he'd been paying attention when Suyo had said the boy had saved her life. Kakashi had seen that look in her eyes before, seen it in haunting the eyes of a thousand victims and frozen on the faces a hundred corpses. Whatever Naruto had done for her, it hadn't been minor–at least not to her.
How unlike the hotheaded, prideful genin not to brag about it, too.
Predictably, once they reached the practice field, Jiraiya quickly lost interest in training Naruto. Kakashi wasn't surprised. While both were technically the boy's sensei, their training styles were far different. Where Kakashi taught, prodded, demonstrated, nagged, and generally badgered Naruto into learning new techniques, Jiraiya was more likely to show him something once and leave the boy to figure out how to accomplish the new jutsu on his own. Within an hour, the sannin had had his fill of it and announced his plan to head to the bath houses "and do a little more research for my next book."
Naruto kept practicing as Jiraiya walked away. Only after several minutes had passed did he pause and glance back at Kakashi, who caught the movement out of the corner of his eye as he read his book yet again. "Suyo wanted me to tell you that you're invited to dinner too, Kakashi-sensei."
Ahh, so that's what the whispering had been about. "Odd that she didn't want to share a meal with Jiraiya-sama," he commented, turning a page with a smile that was hidden beneath his mask.
Naruto scowled. "Like I'd have even passed on that message," he snorted. "He might be a big-shot legendary sannin, but that Pervy Sage is definitely not good enough for Suyo."
There it was again, that trace of jealousy. Kakashi looked up from the book and met the boy's gaze. Naruto only held his eye for a moment before going back to his training. "Go or don't go," Naruto said in a would-be-careless voice, as if he knew Kakashi had noticed his tone. Then, as though he couldn't stop himself, he added, "If I were you, I would, though. She's a great cook."
It doesn't sound like you go for the food, Kakashi thought, but did not say. Inwardly, despite his concern, he was glad to see that Naruto had found someone who'd taken an interest in him. He might try to hide how deeply he cared for the genin in his care, but truth was that Naruto's solitude was a source of great worry, and not just for him. Iruka, Naruto's former sensei at the Ninja Academy, was probably the closest thing he'd ever known to a father, and the chunin frequently nagged Kakashi for updates on his progress. Those conversations invariably turned to Iruka's concerns about the boy who was too often alone.
Naruto's life had never been easy, starting literally from the moment of his birth. His mother had died bringing Naruto into the world, and the Nine-Tailed Fox had claimed his father, the Fourth Hokage, less than an hour thereafter when he'd sacrificed himself to seal the demon spirit inside his own newborn son. It was the only way they'd known to stop the terrifying beast from killing them all, though it required a heavy price–the life of the one casting the seal, and forcing his own baby to grow up carrying the cursed name of jinchuuriki. His dying wish was for Naruto to be revered as a hero for containing the destructive demon.
But it didn't turn out that way.
Naruto grew up reviled, not revered. Konoha's inhabitants didn't see Naruto's irrepressible spirit, his quick smile, his loyalty to his home. They even managed not to see his striking resemblance to their beloved Fourth Hokage–almost no one, including the boy himself, knew that Naruto was Minato's son. No, the villagers saw only the Nine-Tailed Fox, and they hated Naruto for the death and destruction the demon had wrought in the hours surrounding his birth. Few would even look the boy in the eye. Raised impersonally by hate-filled nurses at the village orphanage, tolerated only because of the Hokage's decree, he was kicked out to fend for himself the day he'd started at the Ninja Academy at the age of six.
Somehow he'd managed to keep himself alive on his own since then, living alone in a tiny apartment and pretending the coldness of the villagers didn't hurt him. Kakashi saw right through that façade, though. Ninja he might be, and formidable though he was with the power of the Fox sealed inside him, Naruto was also still a child. And every child needed someone to care about him.
It seemed like Naruto had found it in this woman. Apart from his sensei and teammates, Suyo was the only villager Kakashi had ever seen actually look the boy in the eye, much less touch him with affection. Even if all she did was humor him when he wanted to send his clones stampeding through the market or feed him a homemade meal every once in a while, it was something Naruto sorely needed.
But that didn't mean Kakashi wouldn't take his own steps to make sure this woman was who and what she seemed, especially now that Sasuke had betrayed them all. Sasuke, the boy who had been more brother than teammate to Naruto, and who had nearly succeeded in killing him.
Another betrayal like that might just finish the job.
True to his word, Naruto actually focused for once and worked hard all afternoon on his jutsu practice. Kakashi took pity on him as the sun crept toward the horizon and the temperature dropped. "All right, you've made good progress, so I suppose you've done enough for one day," he said, standing and pushing his book back into his pocket. "And you're sweaty and filthy, too. Looks like you should just have enough time to get cleaned up a bit before your dinner date if you hurry."
Naruto wiped his forehead in clear relief. "Great! I was starting to think you'd never let me leave. Hey, do you need to know how to get to Suyo's apartment, or are you just going to follow me there?"
Kakashi shook his head, the reaction automatic. "I'm afraid I can't make it tonight, but give her my appreciation for her thoughtfulness. I've got other things to take care of."
"I thought you said you had no plans for the evening," Naruto reminded him. Kakashi just shrugged, not in the mood to come up with a more plausible excuse. He'd never been any good at plausible ones, anyway. Finally the boy shook his head. "You're missing out, but I'll tell her. See you later!"
But instead of going home, half an hour later Kakashi found himself silently trailing Naruto through the streets. Even though social events were something he avoided, he wanted to see what happened. All his mental alarms were going off. It boiled down to one thing–that odd note in Naruto's voice when he'd said Jiraiya wasn't good enough for Suyo, a tone that was not quite jealousy, not quite possessiveness, but a mixture of both. It had caught in Kakashi's mind and refused to let go.
Who was this woman who was apparently so important to Naruto, and if he'd known her for a year, why hadn't he spoken of her to the team that was the closest thing he had to a family?
(A/N: Tune in for the next chapter when we'll find out just how this woman came to Konoha! Angsty goodness, people, angsty goodness…)