Seven years after the Kyuubi attack
As the sun began to set on the horizon and everyone's watches chimed for six, the village of Konohagakure began to close their shops for the day and go home. Chunin guards at different gates in villages were exchanging shifts and were turning in their visitor check-in logs to the council. Genin teams wrapped their daily missions/chores around the village. The village guard were taking their positions for they nightly watch. And finally, the special Jonin and ANBU were either reporting to the Hokage about the success of their missions or were leaving for their current ones.
But in the hour of closing down, one business chose to remain open for a few more hours. Ichiraku Ramen, like any restaurant, remained open for customers who worked late in the evenings and didn't want to fix their own meals. It was a small stand, only room for handful of people to eat. The chairs were positioned right at the counter that separated the kitchen to the outside.
In a small room in the back, there was a man shifting through ingredient boxes. He was tall, but reaching past his prime. The wrinkles around his face sagged due to the loose skin, making his eyes look like he was squinting. But they were more featured around his mouth, where he gave the impression he smiled a lot.
In the front, wiping off the counter as another full customer left, was a girl around the age of ten. Her brown hair was tied in a ponytail and accented her bright, brown eyes. She was just barely taller than the counter top and had to use a stool to clean and cook.
Ichiraku's never made a lot of money, but they had enough to live on and that was enough.
Just then, the man walked out carrying a medium-sized box. "We're about out of shrimp, Ayame, so I'm bringing out the miso ingredients. We over-ordered so we need to sell it before we can order more."
"Okay, dad. I'll put it as our special," Ayame said. She walked to a board that hung outside the shop and wrote the new price for miso ramen. She then walked back inside to serve a couple of chunins that were just getting off their shifts.
Just a few blocks away from the shop, a young boy was walking to his apartment after his daily. He was skinny, too skinny for a average seven-year-old. It didn't help that his clothes were extremely baggy with holes and faded spots on them. His mop of blonde hair hung in spikes around his head, giving the impression he gave his own haircuts with a pair of safety scissors. On each side of his face were three marks that made him look like a overgrown cat.
These marks were only a slight distraction to the boy's blue eyes. Eyes that hold a infinite amount of sadness and loneliness that only a few people noticed.
The boy had just gotten his weekly allowance from one of the few people who cared about him: the Sandaime Hokage, leader and strongest shinobi of Konoha. Sarutobi Hiruzen.
The Hokage had watched out for the boy for as long as he could remember. He often gave him the knowledge on how to be a true ninja when several of teachers at the academy wouldn't tell him. The pair would often go shopping together for groceries, spend time at the park, or would often just stay at the top of the Hokage tower and watch the sunset.
But today, the Hokage was busier than usual and couldn't accompany the boy on his grocery run. And whenever the boy would buy groceries alone, he would get charged more than the regular price. When he tried to point that out to the cashier, they would just throw him out of the store.
It just wasn't the food stores. Many clothes stores would charge him more than the average price for a regular t-shirt and pants. Even if he was at a second-rate shop buying hand-me-downs. A few restaurants would charge him expensive prices for a simple meal or would simply ignore him until he left.
Then there were the looks and whispers. Anywhere he went, he would often get dirty looks for just simply giving people a glance or he would hear very bad things whispered and hushed about him that when he asked the Hokage what they meant, he would see the old man scowl and tell the boy that whatever they said was not true and the people were ignorant.
The boy noticed that the one word the mentioned the most was 'demon'.
To top off his loneliness, the boy never had any friends. When he was done with his classes, he would often go to the park to try and play with the other kids. He was always encouraged by the Hokage to play with children his own age, but whenever he arrived, parents would immediately pick up the children and leave. A word was never spoken to him, just a cold glare and a hurried retreat. Furthermore, when there were children for him to play with, they would just turn away and tell him that he was a bad kid. That he was a negative influence on them because their parents said so.
So there were often times he was setting alone on a swing, just gazing out at children with their parents.
But right now, he was walking home to an apartment that the Hokage was kind enough to provide him with. It was a little bit run down, but he appreciated it all the same. The Sandaime paid for all of his bills, so he never had to worry about getting a job. B ut there were times when his apartment door would be vandalized and he would have to pay to clean it up.
On his way, he was trying to figure out how he was going to eat this week. His weekly allowance was enough, but once again, he was overcharged for the basic necessities. He didn't want to bother the Hokage anymore than he had to. But he had to do something or else he would have to resort to digging out of dumpsters again.
So he thought it was a miracle when he saw a sign outside of a small, ramen stand with curtains covering the entrance. It read 'Miso special: Two for the price of One'. He always knew ramen was cheap, but was always discouraged for eating it. The Sandaime said it was unhealthy for him. But with this new price, he could almost get a full-meal's worth of food.
The boy cautiously walked up to the stand, memories of previous restaurant and food stand visits flashing through his mind. He raised the curtains and peeked into the stand. He saw only four people: two chunin guards sitting at the counter and a young girl and old man working behind the counter. The old man noticed the boy's movement and smiled at his new customer.
"Hello. Welcome to Ichiraku's Ramen shop. How can I help you?"
The boy timidly walked up to one of the chairs, gazing around as he moved. "I saw your special outside. Can I have a couple of bowls?" the boy asked as he sat down.
"Coming right up," the old man said and turned to his daughter. "Ayame, serve up two bowls of miso for our young friend here."
"Sure thing, dad," said Ayame. She turned to the stove and began to boil a fresh batch of noodles. The boy followed her movements, a light blush rising on his cheeks.
The man saw his blush and smirked. Through the years of his life, he could always spot a crush. And he could tell this young boy was smitten with his daughter.
He leaned against the counter as his daughter cooked. "My name is Teuchi. What's yours?"
The boy was about to answer when a voiced coughed 'demon'.
Teuchi saw the boy's eyes falter and look the ground. He then turned to other side of the counter to see one of the chunins snickering.
"I don't appreciate any kind talk that discriminates my customers. Especially kids," Teuchi said hotly.
"That isn't a kid," replied one of the chunins. "He's just trash. Scum."
"A demon," finished his friend.
Teuchi heard the boy sniffle and felt his anger rise even more. Two grown men, ninjas nonetheless, were picking on and degrading a child.
"You call yourselves men? You're belittling a boy who has done nothing to deserve it!" he yelled.
"Boy? This isn't a boy, he's a d-" The chunin was cut off by a loud 'thunk' on the counter in front of him. He looked down to see a giant butcher knife halfway into the wood, right between his fingers. He then shakily looked across the counter to see Ayame, perched on her box, and holding on to the handle of the knife. Her eyes had a look of unmatched fury for a ten-year-old.
"If you say the 'd' word one more time, next time, I won't miss," Ayame gritted through her teeth.
The chunins looked scared for a moment, before scoffing and standing up from their seats.
"Let's get out of here. This place is good enough if they're going to serve 'him'". The two left and everyone heard them chuckling.
Ayame sighed and pulled the knife from the counter. "They didn't pay, dad."
Teuchi was about to assure her it was ok when he heard coins clattering the counter. He turned to see the boy emptying his frog wallet of all the coins it had. He shook a couple of times, then groaned.
"I'm sorry. They didn't pay because of me. I'll pay for them, so no harm done."
Teuchi felt his heart tug at the boy's nobility. The boy did not say one word in the past few minutes as he was degraded by those two cowards, yet he was willing to pay their fees because he believed it was his fault.
He walked up to the boy and pushed his coins back to the boy. "Keep your change, son. What happened just now was not your fault and you shouldn't feel responsible for something you have no control over."
The boy sniffed and looked back down at the counter. A few moments later, he slowly gathered up his coins and put them back into his wallet. Then sat down and waited for his meal.
A few moments later, Ayame placed two bowls of ramen in front of the boy. He picked a couple of chopsticks, broke them, then slowly begun to eat. The two behind the counter just watched him, both feeling terrible for what just happened.
"You never did tell me what your name is, son?" Teuchi asked.
The boy took his time swallowing before he answered.
Teuchi didn't even blink. He knew who the boy was the moment he walked into his stand. He heard the rumors about who the kid was from other venders, ninja, shopkeepers and kids. That he was orphan demon and deserved to be put down. That he caused a lot of trouble around the village for everybody and had frequent chases with the ANBU guard after pulling a prank.
Teuchi was a man that didn't believe in rumors. He only believed what he could see for himself. Only what he could determine with his own judgement. And what he saw was a lonely child, with no family or friends. A boy who had been kicked too many times as he laid on the ground.
And Teuchi also knew the secret and burden the boy held.
He turned to his daughter, who was staring at him with her eyes glistening. One look told him she believed the same thing.
"My name is Ayame. We're glad to have you in our stand," Ayame said with a smile.
The boy perked up and stared unbelieving at the family. He had only a voice with that much care come from the Third Hokage.
"Really?" he asked.
Teuchi smiled and placed a hand on his daughter's shoulder. "Of course."
It was several hours later, as their were beginning to close down, that Naruto finally left. The three spent the entire time talking and laughing. Naruto would talk about his schoolwork at the ninja academy and the time he spent with the Hokage and one his teachers at school named Iruka. Apparently, only Iruka seemed to teach Naruto anything at the academy, whilst the other teachers just ignored him. Iruka would help him out with his homework, shuriken training, and jutsu theory. They way Naruto described him was that he was a strict individual and like to give Naruto lectures on what it means to be a ninja.
But Teuchi saw what was underneath Iruka. The man truly cared for the boy. Probably the only one besides the Samdaime.
The Hokage, on the other hand, Naruto saw the man as a grandfather and even let himself be called one. Naruto had the upmost respect for the man and proclaimed several times that his dream was to become Hokage of the village. This way, he could earn the village's respect and make his grandfather proud.
Ayame and Teuchi paid attention to his every word, especially when it came to his pranks. They would both laugh uncontrollably when he told them each prank in graphic detail with dramatic arm movements. Teuchi especially loved the ones when Naruto would prank the store vendors Teuchi had problems with.
As Ayame placed a 'closed' sign outside the shop, Teuchi began to clean up.
"Wait! How much do I owe you?" Naruto asked.
Teuchi smiled and went to the sink to count the bowls that Ayame placed there over the evening. He was surprised about the amount the boy ate. It was like he couldn't get enough of their ramen.
Or the boy had never enough to eat.
"Well Naruto, you total comes to about 1000 yen."
Naruto's jaw fell open. Normally, he was charged five times that amount at other restaurants. He quickly reached for his wallet and began to dig through it.
"But....seeing as this is your first time, we'll allow this as a freebi," grinned Teuchi.
Naruto's body froze, then he shakily returned to his seat. "I....I can't..."
Ayame came back from outside and put a hand on his shoulder. "Just be sure to tell everyone where you could such great ramen."
Naruto blushed and nodded quickly. "I will! Believe it!"
Teuchi laughed. "Thanks, kid. Ayame, let's get this place cleaned up."
Naruto jumped out of the chair. "Can I help?"
Father and daughter looked at each other, surprised at the boy's eagerness. Ayame knew that the 1000 yen her father charged was actually too low than the actual amount he ate. But Ayame didn't care. After the story Naruto told and the way those chunins were treating him, Naruto deserved a break.
But here he was, eager to help out his new friends in any way he could. Ayame thought this boy was really something else.
And that she believed he was completely adorable was another thing.
She looked at her father, who smiled and nodded. Ayame grinned and pulled a rag from her apron.
"If you really want to help, you can wipe down the counters and them sweep the floor," she told him.
Naruto nodded eagerly and started. Teuchi shut down the oven and emptied out the cooking oil from the cookers. Ayame packed up what ingredients they had and put them in a refrigerator in the back room.
In no time at all, the stand was clean. The trio stepped out of the small building and Teuchi reached at the top of the stand's opening. He pulled down a metal shutter and locked it at the bottom.
"Well, this is where we part ways," Teuchi announced. He turned to Naruto. "Which way are you going?"
"That way," said the blonde.
Teuchi frowned. The direction Naruto pointed led to the bad district of the city, where the red light district was. Teuchi learned to always avoid that area and told Ayami not to get within a quarter of a mile of that place or else he would ground her for life.
"Be careful, ok Naruto?" Teuchi asked.
"Always," Naruto grinned. But then he looked away.
"What's wrong?" Ayame asked.
It was a few moments of silence before the blonde finally answered. "Is it ok if I come by tomorrow?" Naruto whispered.
"Of course," said Ayame. "Dad and I will always welcome you to our stand," Ayame said cheerfully.
Teuchi smiled. She took the words right out of his mouth.
Naruto looked up. "Thank you," he said.
If it wasn't for the street light, the two would have noticed the tears falling from his eyes.
"Is something wrong, son?" Teuchi asked as he knelt down to look the boy in the eye.
"It's just that....besides the Hokage, you two are the first to ever show me any kind of kindness. Why?"
Teuchi sighed. "Naruto. Never believe anything you hear from the villagers. They just believe only what they hear from others. They had never took the time to see what you really are."
Naruto looked up from his feet. "What?"
"A child. A ninja. And the future Hokage."
Naruto's bottom lip quivered as he jumped into Teuchi's arms and hugged the old cook. Teuchi hugged him back. Ayame soon joined in as she hugged Naruto from behind. The only sound was on the dark and empty streets was Naruto's quiet sobs.
The three stood their for a nearly five minutes before Teuchi finally pushed Naruto away and held him at arm's length. "Feel better?"
Naruto sniffed, rubbed his nose with his sleeve, and nodded. He then tried to move, but noticed Ayame still held him from behind. Her father noticed she had a few tears in her eyes as well.
"Ready to go, Ayame?" Teuchi asked.
"One moment, dad," Ayame said. She let go of Naruto and faced him at the front. "When you become Hokage, you better still come and visit us, no matter how busy you become in the office."
Naruto laughed. "Kami couldn't keep me away from your shop."
"Good. Because I don't want my future husband to spend his time cooped up in a stuffy office," she said defiantly and kissed him on the cheek. Teuchi almost had to stuff his fist in his mouth to keep from laughing out loud at Naruto's beet red face.
"See you tomorrow," Ayame said cheerfully and walked away.
"Bye, Naruto," Teuchi chuckled at the still frozen blonde and followed his daughter down the street.
Naruto watched them fade into the dark. When he couldn't see them anymore, he turned and walked to his apartment. The smile on his face was brighter than the street lights.
About a mile away, in an office at the top of the Hokage tower, sat the Third Hokage himself. He felt really guilty about leaving Naruto to leave shopping to himself, but he had several meetings today, one of them with the Fire Daimyo himself. When it was over and the paperwork still piled high, he decided to check on him with his crystal ball.
Expecting the boy to be at his apartment, he was surprised to find the boy at a ramen stand speaking with the owner and his daughter. He smiled as he could see Naruto talking cheerfully with the two cooks. Using his lip-reading skills, he could see Naruto was talking about his past pranks, Iruka, and himself. The Third forget about his work and spent the next hours watching Naruto interact with his new friends. Only when the three started cleaning up did the Sandaime realize how late it was.
He put his crystal ball away, stood up and stretched, feeling all his joints pop at once. He groaned at the slight pain and at the paperwork he still had to do.
"To hell with the paperwork," he said to himself. "Naruto's bound to be here tomorrow talking about his new friends. And I want to be there when he introduces me to them."
Well I hope everyone enjoyed it. Please tell me if you did.