Title: Fathers
Rating: G. Seriously, folks. There's nothing objectionable here.
Characters/Pairings: Naruto, and all the father figures he's had over the years--Iruka, Kakashi, Jiraiya, and finally, the real thing. No pairings.
Notes: Written in a fit of angst a while ago. Thought it was cute enough to post. Have fun, and remember to review!

Naruto has had many fathers over the years.

Loneliness is his first father.

It teaches him to crawl, and then to walk. It teaches him that when it thunders outside at night, and the trees lash at his windows, and something big and scary with vicious eyes roars in his head and makes his entire belly feel hot, that no one would answer him when he calls, child voice thin and reedy with fear in the dark apartment. It teaches him to cry silently, so that when no one comes, he can pretend it was because no one hears him. It teaches him to smile so wide and talk so loud and so fast no one can see past his crinkled eyes and toothy grin and tanned, scarred cheeks, to be so loud that everyone can hear him.

Loneliness keeps him company during his waking hours—when he's pulling on a too-big shirt and looking out windows into streets that are so full of people that don't like him very much, or when he's sitting at an empty table and his minder slams down a plate of food for him.

It sleeps with him in his bed, too, and that's when Naruto hates it the most. He only has one blanket, and it's never thick enough to keep all of him warm.

Iruka-sensei is his second father.

Iruka-sensei chases him all over Kanoha and yells at him and treats him to Ramen. Sometimes, he even tries to teach Naruto a little something.

Naruto thinks he might love Iruka-sensei, in that strange, warm kind of way children seem to love their parents. It sometimes makes him feel funny down in his stomach, like he's falling out of a tree, or he's about to throw up. He sometimes thinks, when loneliness sits with him on his bed in his little apartment, or when it's pushing him on the swing that maybe he could ask Iruka-sensei about it. After all, Naruto has never loved anyone before.

He never asks, though, because if he is honest with himself, he's too afraid of the answer. Iruka-sensei's eyes are warm for now, even if it is a lie, so Naruto hitches a big stupid smile on his face and keeps it there.

Kakashi-sensei is his third father.

Naruto respects Kakashi-sensei. He listens, he obeys, he follows.

But he will never love Kakashi-sensei.

It's stupid, Naruto knows. Sasuke is a genius, after all, and Naruto is just a loud idiot. And he should have been used to being an afterthought, a mere footnote on the page that has 'Sasuke' emblazoned all over it. In that way, he knows he has failed Kakashi-sensei, and it is how Kakashi-sensei has failed him.

Ero-senin is his fourth father.

Naruto loves Jiraiya, he knows that for sure. He loves the old man like he loves sleeping under pine trees and jumping in rivers on hot days.

For three years, when life is just a series of endless roads and endless little towns and endless days of training, Naruto thinks, Is this what family feels like? Naruto's not so sure about that one. He's never had a family before, but he figures it must be like this if it means he can yell and stomp and laugh and jump and run as fast and as far as he wants, and Jiraiya will still be standing there, with his ridiculous hair and crazy broad shoulders and his ever-present grin. It's something Naruto can count on, and that's pretty weird, too. No one's ever stood waiting for him before.

He doesn't really know. He doesn't ask Jiraiya this, either. He knows by now that Jiraiya has his own nightmares and demons. Naruto doesn't want to add to the number, so he keeps his mouth shut.

The Yondaime is his fifth and final father. (Or maybe it's his first father, his original father?)

And like so many other things in his life, Naruto is not sure what to make of this, either. (He is sure that he is glad he punched the Yondaime in the gut, though.)

So, when he thinks of the Yondaime now (he won't call him dad, because he doesn't deserve it, not yet), he thinks of bright yellow hair like his, and light blue eyes like his, but he'll also think of the Kyuubi pacing behind its bars in his stomach and how the villagers used to look at him and the whispers, so full of hate and disdain, that used to snip at his ankles.

Then he thinks of a big hand on his head and broad shoulders and hair that's longer than his is. Maybe he'll grow his hair out or something.

No one's ever told him they believe in him before, not before he has to fight and bleed and walk through fire and nearly die for it. No one's ever just given it to him like that, like he might not screw up with that trust in a million different ways, like he's actually worthy of it. The thought tip-toes through his little-boy heart—how it had seemed so easy, so natural for the Yondaime to say it, like he was snapping his fingers or something—and it keeps him up at night sometimes.

I finished the Rasengan, he says no one (his father) when he's alone. I became a sage. I fought Gaara and Kabuto and Sasuke and that crazy guy with all the hearts. I fought Pain. I fought for what you fought for, I protected what you protected.

Do you know? He wants to ask. Do you know all of these things?

And suddenly, he wants to tell his father stupid little things too, like how he has a cactus plant, and how he likes to wear orange because you can't ignore somebody in orange, and how he likes his ramen noodles a little overcooked, and how he learned to fix small broken things around his apartment early on because his super is a bastard and wouldn't send someone up, and how he wants his birthday to happen on a normal day of the year so he can have a cake and a party because he's never had either one before, and how he managed to dye all of his underwear a violent shade of maroon that one time he did laundry and a million other things that no one has ever wanted to hear.

He thinks Yondaime would want to hear them, though; so he says them when he's alone and no one can hear him.

He stops before he can ask if his dad is proud of him, though. Like always, when it counts, Naruto doesn't ask.