Disclaimer: Naruto is not mine... Sob.
AN: So I had this idea, and it was going to be about one or two pages of pointless fluffiness. ...Then it turned into 32 pages of pointless fluffiness. HOW? I dunno know! Anyway, please enjoy it!
Naruto was six years old when he met him.
He was the quiet man on the outskirts of the village who didn't smile often and didn't smile well. His house was big, bigger than Naruto's tiny apartment, and filled with the coolest stuff Naruto had ever seen. He had magic scrolls and crystal balls and weapons and a big black box that made noise when he let Naruto's fingers clunk on it.
The first time Naruto met the man was at his swing, his third day of Academy. It was just starting to rain, and Naruto was just about to head home, when a shadow went over his head and the cold little drops stopped hitting his arms.
He had to look way up to see the unsmiling face and raised eyebrow.
Naruto waved, slightly in awe, almost falling off the swing he leaned so far back.
The man waved back.
"It's raining," he said. "Are you going home soon?"
"You don't have an umbrella. You want me to walk you?"
Naruto got to hold the man's hand the whole way back to his apartment and he got to talk the whole way too.
The man frowned when he saw his house, and Naruto guiltily kicked a pair of underwear beneath the couch. He should have cleaned, like Hokage-sama always told him to.
"This is where you live?" Hokage Rattus the Fourth skittered over one of the man's sparkling clean socks and a lip curled.
Naruto nodded. "That was Hokage Rattus the Fourth. He don't mean no harm."
"I see," Man said, and walked into his kitchen. Naruto trailed after him in wonder, imagining what it would take to keep your clothes so white—a washing machine that worked, good soap, that bleach stuff that absolutely should not ever be drunk. Man opened several cabinets, frowning in distaste at each before closing them. Dust stuck to his fingers when he ran a hand over a shelf. "Where is your food?"
"I spent food money yesterday," Naruto admitted. He hadn't been able to help himself. The little cakes wrapped up in their bright, shiny plastic had just looked so good. How was he to know they wouldn't last long? He stretched up on tippy-toes, grabbed his cup, filled it with water, and handed it to Man. "Here. It's yummy."
"It's unsanitary," Man replied.
'Unsanitary'. Naruto didn't know what that word meant.
"I have an idea," Man said suddenly, pouring the water out and setting the cup down on the chipped, multi-colored counter. "Why don't you come eat dinner with me?"
Naruto's stomach growled. "'Kay!"
He got to talk the whole way to Man's house too.
"…So I like Iruka-sensei best because he keeps suckers on his desk and he gave me one once and it was cherry flavored and really good. He sez he gives it to me 'cause I'm so cute and I sez to him that I wasn't cute 'cause I'm so big now and big boys ain't cute, is they?"
"No. So he sezs to me I was wrong and big boys can be real cute, but I sez to him that only gay boys thinks boys is cute when they is big and so he must be gay! But he sez to me he ain't so I still like him even though he won't tell me where the funny thing on his nose comes from. Do you know?"
"Well he once sez to me: I got it from a bear, and another time he sez to me: I got it from a lion, and I told hims he is a liar and he sez he don't tell no lies just have-troofs and I sez he lies all the time, like a rug, and then he sez I had to go sit down or I wouldn't get snack that day and snack is the best part of the day so I sez okay and went and sat down. Acourse I left a pin on his chair to git him back, but he's a sneaky ba-"
"No swearing in my presence from you. Ever."
"Baaaaa—aaby! A sneaky baby and he found it before he sat on it and he looked right at me like he knowed I done it but he let me off nice."
"Fascinating. Sit on this stool while I make dinner."
It was a tall stool, but Man had picked him up and set him on top of it so fast Naruto's head was dizzy. "Okay. Hey! Are you making onigiri for dinner?"
"Tuna and fruit."
"Yay! I like that stuff."
"Hey, didja hear about what 'kage-sama did?"
A sigh. "Your ability to not run out of subject matter is astounding."
Naruto blinked. "Well, didja?"
"Which thing?" Man asked patiently.
"The underwear thing."
This time Man let out a creaky smile and said, "No, tell me."
Naruto was only too happy.
Man's name was Kinazawa Senji-san, and he picked Naruto up from school every day.
Even on days it wasn't raining.
After school, he would take Naruto to his house and feed him the best dinners, sometimes with dessert, and then Naruto had to do his homework.
Naruto hated homework.
After that though, he got to run around for as long as he wanted and play. Sometimes Senji-san would play with him when he wasn't busy.
He wasn't busy a lot.
"What do you do?" Naruto asked in exasperation one day when Senji set aside a paper to play with him again.
"I live," Senji said, dark eyes sad, and carried Naruto outside by his ankles.
Naruto figured something out early on, if he could get away from Senji for a little while and pretend to go to sleep somewhere in his house, Naruto booked himself a sleepover and breakfast in the morning.
He fell asleep before it was time to go often, and Senji would just smile his not-quite-so-rusty-anymore smile and take him to bed.
Naruto quietly started leaving clothes there, and Senji bought him a dresser.
He left soap, and Senji bought him towels.
He left toothpaste, and Senji bought him a toothbrush and a little stool.
Naruto thought he was very sneaky about the whole thing, and bragged to the kids at school what a good ninja he would be when he grew up.
Senji tried very hard not to give it all away by laughing until his sides hurt and hanging a sign on the second door on the left entitled 'Naruto's Room'.
"Do we have to take a walk every day?" Naruto asked, huddling next to one big leg as he tried to jump over mud puddles. He had been told he wouldn't get dessert tonight if he got himself dirty.
"Yes," Senji replied. "Walking is good for you, and I like it, it's relaxing."
"I don't," Naruto grumped, trying to ride more on Senji's foot than the ground.
Senji sighed and picked him up, slinging Naruto over his back.
"Yay!" Naruto yelled.
"Naruto! Not in my ear."
"Then run, Senji! Ruuuunnnn!"
Senji rolled his eyes, and ran.
One day, Senji didn't come to pick him up.
Naruto wasn't worried, Senji had warned him that might happen, and he just went straight to the house hidden behind the trees far, far away from the school.
Senji wasn't home.
Naruto knocked and knocked, because Senji had told him never burst into someone's house without permission, but he never answered.
Naruto was not to be deterred.
He scrambled up the side of the house using a ladder Senji had left and wiggled down the chimney like Santa would have.
Halfway down, a rope snagged his ankle and he came flying out, covered in soot, to hang suspended in the middle of the room, bouncing slightly.
The kitchen was only feet away, and he could see cookies on the counter.
Naruto only bit his own foot once when he was gnawing through the rope, and his head got a bump when he landed on the floor, but he got the cookies.
Senji still didn't come home.
Naruto washed the soot off, watched a T.V. program, fed the monster in the sink his homework, gorged himself on cookies, brushed his teeth, put on his pajamas, and curled up on the couch to wait.
Senji still didn't come, and finally Naruto fell asleep.
The next morning dawned much too bright, and much too early, and Naruto wasn't ready for the big arms that pulled him off the couch or the rush of wind as he was raced to the Hokage tower.
He was a very indignant child by the time he reached the Hokage's office.
"I was sleepin'!" Naruto protested, walking around the desk and kicking Hokage-sama in the shin.
Hokage-sama grunted, and his pipe quivered. "Sorry, Naruto," he said. "But you were in danger."
"I was sleepin'," Naruto repeated to make sure the old man had heard him correctly. How could he be in danger from sleep?
Hokage-sama just shook his head. "Bring him in."
Senji was dragged in, leaving a trail of dark blood on the wood floor, and tied to a chair in front of the Hokage's desk. His hair fell into his eyes, and he was breathing hard, red staining him everywhere. Naruto gasped and tried to run to him, but Hokage-sama grabbed him and set him precariously on a thigh. Naruto hit his hand.
"Lemme go! Lemme see, Senji!"
"That is not," Hokage said firmly. "Senji. Kinazawa Senji has been dead three years."
"Nu-uh," Naruto said, pointing. "He's right there, Dummy."
"That man says he is Uchiha Itachi."
"Who?" Naruto asked, wriggling forward onto a hard knee so he could be closer to the bloody man in the chair.
"An eleven year old jounin in our village, Naruto," a big hand dragged him back to the thigh. "He's trying to pass it off as time-travel."
"Cool…" Naruto said appreciatively, and saw Senji's lips turn up a bit at the corners.
"Not cool," coughed Hokage-sama, smoke coming out of his nose. Naruto hit him hard on the back. "Not cool at all."
"I think it's cool."
"Naruto," Hokage wheezed. "I need you to answer a few questions for me."
"Choose your words wisely," he added. "They determine that man's fate."
Naruto shrugged. "What's 'determine' and 'fate'?"
"In this case it means what you say could mean he either goes to prison or goes home."
Naruto nodded, taking the responsibility as best as his six year old shoulders could. A pen on the desk distracted him for a minute, and he had to pick up the shiny gold thing and hit the button for a minute, but then he was ready.
Hokage-sama shook his head. "Alright. Naruto, has this man ever hit you?"
Naruto thought hard about it. "He slapped my hand when I was gonna touch the stove once."
The big hat tipped forward in a nod and Naruto giggled when it tickled his cheek. A note was made on paper with the coveted pen.
"Has this man touched in a way you didn't like in areas where you're not supposed to be touched?"
"I have not!" Snapped Senji, and one of the two big ANBU beside him cuffed his head. Naruto frowned, confused.
"Like… in the bath…?"
"At any time. Does he ever make you sit on his lap or touch him or-"
"Hokage that's disgusting," Senji snapped again.
"Oh…" Naruto said, understanding dawning. "Oh, Senji-san isn't gay, Hokage."
There were chokes from the ANBU.
Another note on the paper.
"What do you do when you're with Senji, Naruto?"
"We take a lot of walks," Naruto said, counting on his fingers. "And he cooks, and he makes me eat vegetables, and brush my teeth, and do homework, and he plays with me when he's not busy and that happens a lot 'cause he never seems to be busy unlike Iruka-sensei who is always busy but that's okay 'cause Seji plays with me and we play all sorts of stuff like ninja, and horsey, and mud throw, and-"
"I'm not done. And board games and sometimes he lets me watch T.V. but he sez-"
"Says," Senji corrected, and got cuffed for it again.
"Says," Naruto repeated dutifully. "He says it will rot my brain and then it will leak out of my ears but I think that would be cool so I tried it once and I could actually feel it happening so I stopped and-"
"Wait your turn, Hokage-sama," Naruto said. "I'm still not done. …Where was I?"
"Brain leaking out your ears," one of the ANBU prompted, his mask like a bear's face.
"Yeah, so I stopped even though one of my favorites was about to come on. You know, the one with the space aliens and the astronaut?"
"Yeah, that one and-" Naruto took a deep breath. "Now I'm done."
Hokage-sama's face was in his hand and his shoulders were shaking, with a groan he pulled back and ruffled Naruto's hair. "You are the most precocious child…"
"I'm supposed to be precosis," Naruto said, offended.
"That does seem to explain all," the other ANBU said, pretty curlicues coming in to make a tiger's roar on the mask.
"Alright," Hokage-sama sighed. "You may go."
"Kay!" Naruto said happily, patted the Hokage's gnarled hand to show there were no hard feelings and walked over to Senji. He tugged on his hand. "You need to take me home now."
Hokage-sama coughed. "He can't, Naruto. He has to stay here for questioning."
"But he always walks me home!" Naruto yelled, stamping his foot, tears prickling at his eyes. "What if that pedo snake man finds me and-"
"—TAKES ME TO BE ONE OF HIS LOVE SLAVES AND TURNS MY SKIN INTO SCALES AND IT ALL FALLS OFF AND I DIE?"
Naruto's rump hit the floor and he burst into tears. "Ho-hokage-sama wants me to die!"
Everyone else in the room was momentarily distracted following the logic, and then the pipe was set down with a sigh and hands were folded over the notes.
"I do not want you to die."
"Yes—you—doooo!" Naruto wailed piercingly, a full on fit hitting. He drummed his heels against the floor and screamed.
Poor Senji had been beaten, tortured, and tied up, but seeing Naruto cry broke the limits of his patience and he broke free of the chair, fell down, and wrapped Naruto in his arms.
No one stopped him; they all had their hands over their ears.
"Naruto," Senji called. "You are not going to die."
The wails increased in pitch.
The men in the room grew frantic.
"Naruto! Naruto if you don't stop screaming then—then-" A look at the Hokage, a helpless shrug, and "—you won't get any ramen for a year!"
The tears and yells stopped out of shock.
"…good," Senji said cautiously, settling back in the chair with Naruto on his lap, only wincing slightly. "Very good. Okay. There we are," awkward pat on the back, "there's a good boy."
Naruto sniffled. "You smell funny," he muttered.
"Ahem," Hokage-sama said. "Considering your obvious concern for, Naruto…" A pause, quick ear clean, "You may have temporary guardianship but-"
"But I'll have to have an ANBU guard because, really, who knows what I'm capable of, what secrets I know, if I really killed the real Senji Kinazawa?" Senji finished dryly. "Your speeches don't change much, Hokage."
Naruto dragged Senji's head down by his black ponytail. "You're supposed to add a 'sama' at the end," he whispered loudly.
Sandaime sighed, and took a deep drag from his pipe. "Get out of my office."
They were gone, and a motion sent the two ANBU after them.
Sandaime's head hit the desk, and he laughed until his sides hurt.
"Please tell me you didn't come down the chimney and gnaw through that rope."
"But you told me not to lie."
"At least tell me you did your homework."
"But you told me not to lie."
"I wish you were older."
"So I could beat you."
"…I'm never gonna grow old!"
Naruto picked at his dinner, occasionally glancing up at his brooding and silent partner. He very, very carefully tried to push his spiced tomatoes into the napkin on his lap.
"Don't even think about it."
Naruto put them back, pouting.
"…Are you okay?" Naruto asked.
Senji sighed, and put down his chopsticks. "Tomorrow is your birthday, isn't it?"
Naruto nodded unhappily. "I guess."
"What do you want?"
"I dunno know…" Naruto muttered. "Not done it before."
Senji raised an eyebrow, his lips twisting. "Not done what before?"
"Celebrated what?" Senji prompted.
Naruto threw down his chopsticks. "Celebrated my birthday!"
"Don't snap at me," snapped Senji. "I was just asking."
"Whatever," Naruto muttered, and shoved his chair away from the table.
Senji blew out a deep breath, and collected their plates.
"Do you want dessert?"
"I'm going to bed."
Naruto stuffed his seal hat onto his head, and curled up under the covers, angry. Why couldn't Senji just leave him alone? He didn't like talking about his birthday.
There was a knock on his door and a thin band of light spread up over his swirly coverlet. "Naruto," Senji called. "Can I talk to you for a minute?"
Naruto pulled the coverlet up higher and squeezed his eyes shut.
A thump landed on the bed and his sides were attacked.
"No!" Naruto shrieked, laughing. "It tickles!"
"And it will continue until you talk to me," Senji replied, fingers moving faster.
"Okay! Okay!" Naruto cried, kicking. "Okay!"
The fingers stopped, and Naruto collapsed across Senji, still giggling.
"Mm," Senji said, ruffling Naruto's hair. "That's better."
Naruto snuggled up, pressing closer when Senji tried to wriggle away. "Yup."
There was silence for a while as they just lay there and stared up at the plastic stars stuck to the ceiling.
"I want kunai," Naruto said suddenly. "And cake—chocolate—and I wanna go to the movies, and I wanna spend the whole day with you."
A nod. "Okay."
"Good. Tell me a story."
Senji sat up and backed away. "I don't do stories, Naruto."
"Puh-lease," Naruto begged. "An early birthday present!"
Senji hesitated, his eye twitching. "…Fine."
Naruto cheered, and made room for him, snuggling up when he sat on the bed. "Okay, go."
Senji snorted. "Okay, let's see… okay. Once upon a time-"
"Ooh!" Naruto interrupted. "This is gonna be a good one. All the good ones start like that."
"Uh-huh. So, once upon a time there was a boy named… Naruga, and he had a rival named Sanji."
"Those are dumb names."
"Can you come up with better ones?"
"No, then shut up. Anyway, Naruga and Sanji were ninja, and they were sent on a special, top secret mission to the Land of Waves to escort a bridge-builder named Tessai…"
"Higher! Higher! Higher! Higher!" Naruto chanted, pumping his legs.
Senji snorted. "Any higher and you'll flip over the bars."
"I know! Higher! Higher! Higher!"
It was nearing sundown, and the park was lit up with the light of the dying sun turning the sand gold and the rusty equipment to shining, twisting masterpieces. The park was a small, out of the way affair with one swing set, a slide, monkey bars, and a metal jungle gym to climb propped up in the middle. Very few even knew that the little playground existed, tucked back into twisting streets broken by rain and enthused with grass, and closed in on three sides by a tall wooden fence as it was.
It was Naruto's favorite park.
"Yum," he said, licking the sticky remnants of chocolate ice-cream off his face. "Good birthday."
"Good," Senji replied, his shoulders dropping a centimeter in relief. "I'm glad."
"Hey, Itachi, when's my birthday?"
Naruto looked up to see a boy standing at the entrance to the park, his hand clutching a soft looking guy's fingers, peering in at them.
"You have already had your birthday this year, Sasuke-kun," the older boy replied. "It won't be here again until summer."
"Oh. …Can I have another one?"
Senji stopped the swing, and Naruto almost fell out before he righted himself. He looked up, ready to yell and kick Senji in the shin (the only part of him Naruto could reach), but Senji was rather pale and sick looking, his eyes hooded, and one hand shaking.
"Hey," Naruto asked instead. "Are you okay?"
Senji gave a plastic smile, and took his hand. "Of course I am, Naruto."
Naruto frowned. "I'm not stupid. Did you eat too much cake?"
"Maybe," Senji allowed. "Are you ready to go?"
"But we just got here," Naruto protested, digging in his heels and leaning back. He left two furrows as Senji kept moving, Naruto still clinging to his hand. "Why do we have to leave?"
"Please," Itachi interrupted. "Don't leave on our account. There's plenty of room to share."
'Share'. Naruto wasn't so sure about that, and the way the little boy—his brother had called him Sasuke?—was looking at him told him he wasn't either.
Senji paused, and nodded, the plastic smile falling away. "Of course there is. I was just worried about the hour."
Itachi smiled a real smile. "I-"
"What's with your face?" Naruto interrupted, pointing at him. "You have funny lines."
"Naruto," Senji hissed. "That was very rude."
"They are not funny!" Sasuke yelled, stomping over to Naruto. "I like them!"
"They are too funny!" Naruto yelled back, letting go of Senji's hand and glaring. "My Senji doesn't have any!"
"Well then he's funny!"
"Boys!" Senji snapped, dragging them apart. "That's enough."
"But he-" Both boys protested.
"No buts," Senji said. "Naruto, you shouldn't have been so rude."
"I was just wonderin'!" Naruto protested.
Senji ignored him. "Sasuke, you can't fight all of your brother's battles, there was no need for you to get involved. Apologize to each other."
They looked away, feet kicking at the ground and pouting.
"Sorry your brother has a funny face," Naruto muttered.
"Sorry you're so stupid." Sasuke replied.
"I am going to knock your heads together," Senji warned.
"Sorry," they both spat, turned away, thumped down on the ground, and pouted.
Itachi raised an eyebrow.
"I'm sorry," Senji said, turning to him. "I don't believe we've met."
"Uchiha Itachi," a bow. "Thank you for shutting my brother up."
"Kanizawa Senji," a bow, less polished. "Thank you for the entertainment."
Itachi nodded, smiling a little. "It is too bad," he said a little louder. "That no one is playing on such a nice night."
"Indeed," Senji said. "A pity. Well, there's fresh broccoli at home anyway, and another way to work off sweets besides exercising is eating broccoli so…"
Naruto made a dash for the swings.
"Oh dear. Only two swings. I wonder if anyone is fast enough to get over there before I do…"
Sasuke took off, and jumped on it triumphantly, looking back with a smirk. Senji held up his hands in defeat.
Naruto frowned at the other boy taking up his other swing in his park where he went with his Senji.
He pushed off, throwing his legs forward and into the air. He couldn't help but notice he was higher than Sasuke, and turned his nose up at him.
Sasuke shot past him a moment later.
Naruto worked harder, and he went higher.
Naruto laughed, starting to sweat a little. "I'm gonna win."
"Are not!" Sasuke grunted, his face red.
"Hey!" Naruto yelled, staring at Sasuke's pocket. "Is that Commander Doom?"
Sasuke patted the action figure proudly. "Brand new."
"Woah…" Naruto said in appreciation, his swing slowing down. "They were all out when I went there earlier, but I got Lieutenant Spaz and their arch-nemesis Bloog."
"The one that fires authentic Bloog balls!"
"Cool!" Sasuke chirped, the swings at a stop. "Go get them!"
Naruto tugged at Senji's pant leg, and made his eyes extra wide. "I know you said I couldn't have them until we got home, but please let me have Lieutenant Spaz and Bloog!"
Senji raised an eyebrow, but then Sasuke was there to help. "Please," he added.
The pieces of plastic dropped to the ground, and the boys set off to save the galaxy with a cheer.
"Wait a second!" Naruto yelled, stopping in the middle of the street on the way home from the park. "Didn't you say you were Itachi from the future?"
Senji froze, looked around, and then knelt down next to him. "Yes I did," Senji said. "But you must never mention it again."
"Because it could cause a lot of trouble, Naruto, trouble we don't want. Promise me you won't ever mention it again." Senji said, his eyes hard and piercing, the hands on his shoulders like iron.
Naruto swallowed hard. "Promise."
Senji nodded. "Good."
"Just one thing," Naruto said. "Where'd the lines go?"
Senji paused. "I… outgrew them."
"That's good," Naruto said. "You were gonna be ugly otherwise."
Senji just shook his head, and dragged Naruto home.
"Hey, Senji," Naruto said, head lolling on Senji's shoulder, his arms limp around his neck. "Sasuke's gonna be my new best friend. Can we go back tomorrow?"
"We'll see," Senji replied.
"Please," Naruto begged. "I've never had a best friend before."
"…Alright. Tomorrow it is."
"Thanks. Love you…"
"Love you too, Naruto-kun."
"I'm telling you it was like this! Pshwoo!"
"No, like this: Pwaboom!"
"Senji!" Naruto yelled, looking up. "Is it 'pshwoo', or 'pwaboom'?"
"I would say it was more of a Kwabam," Senji said laconically, turning another page in his book.
"It was nothing like a kwabam," Naruto said seriously, waving Commander Doom at him. "Seriously, gosh."
"Yeah," Sasuke added. "Gosh."
"Hn," Senji replied. "Ten more minutes, then we need to take Sasuke home."
Naruto fell back onto the living room rug with a groan. "Do we have to? Can't he just spend the night?"
Sasuke nodded. "I like that idea!"
"And you can make ramen!"
"Sasuke spent the night last night," Senji said patiently. "His family must be missing him."
Sasuke shrugged. "They like Itachi more anyways."
Naruto patted his shoulder. "I like you more."
"Okay!" Senji announced, setting aside his book. "Time to go."
"But it hasn't been ten minutes yet…" Naruto whined, putting on his shoes. "Can't we wait…?"
"No," Senji said, handing Sasuke his backpack. "Besides, don't you want to meet Sasuke's family? Usually Itachi just comes to pick him up, this'll be your first time."
"Where is Itachi?"
Sasuke puffed up proudly. "He was called to a super-secret council at the Hokage's."
Naruto's mouth dropped. "Hey," he asked suspiciously, poking Senji. "Why don't you ever get called to super secret meetings with the Hokage?"
"Just lucky, I guess," Senji replied, ushering them outside. "It's chilly."
"It's cold," Naruto wailed.
"It's February," Sasuke snapped. "Is supposta be cold."
Naruto glared at him. "Like you're not cold?"
"Ninja," Sasuke replied, turning up his nose. "Are never defeated by the elements."
"…I can see your boogers."
Sasuke's hand slapped over his nose. "I do not have boogers."
"You are a booger."
"Ew," Naruto giggled. "Gross."
"Here we are!" Senji announced. "The Uchiha compound. Which one is your house, Sasuke?"
"There," Sasuke said pointing at a tiny palace.
But Senji was already going there, thought Naruto. He's so weird.
Senji knocked, and Naruto stamped his feet, trying to warm them up. He hated cold.
The door opened, and a sweet smile with long black hair and gentle eyes pulled them all inside. "Hello."
"Hi," Senji said, that sick look on his face again. "We're just here to drop Sasuke off." He pushed the dark-haired boy forward like a peace offering.
"How kind," the lady murmured. Naruto stared. She was the prettiest mommy he had ever seen.
Senji coughed. "Right. So, we're just gonna go now…"
"Oh no," Lady said, "Please warm up first. I have tea."
Senji hesitated. "We should really…"
"Tea!" Naruto cried. "She said we could have tea!"
Lady looked down at him, her head tilted curiously to the side. She squatted, her arms wrapped around her knees. Naruto slid behind Senji a bit, blushing. "And who are you?"
"Naruto," he said, pressing half his face into Senji's pant leg. Usually he wasn't shy of strangers, but she looked like she might break if you breathed on her wrong. "Uzumaki Naruto."
"Hm," she said, and stood up. "And you are?"
"Kanizawa Senji, Ma'am," he said promptly. "And I do appreciate your offer of tea, but we really have to-"
"Yes," Lady interrupted, her smile never wavering. "I believe that would be best." She pushed Sasuke behind her with an instruction to bathe. Sasuke waved at Naruto and raced away.
Naruto was confused. One minute they were going to have tea, and now they weren't? Why?
Lady looked at him again, and Naruto shrank back from the look in her eyes. He had been faced with those eyes in many different faces. He didn't know why he had expected this lady to be any different. He scrunched up his face and gave her the sunniest smile he could.
"Yes," Senji said coolly. "I believe we should. Good day, Uchiha-san."
"And to you, Kanizawa-san."
The door shut with a snap.
"Will I still get to see Sasuke?" Naruto asked, as Senji picked him up, holding him close. Tiny shivers ran down Senji's back, and Naruto hugged him tight.
"I chose your side," Senji said. "Over theirs. You'll see him again. I'll make sure of it."
Finding ways to see Sasuke was fun.
Naruto wrote a note (he became better at writing quickly) and then Senji somehow got it to Itachi. Itachi took Sasuke on a walk to their meeting place, the boys would play, and then leave silently.
"It's like that episode of C&L when the two people have to meet each other in secret but win in the end," Naruto said one day.
Sasuke wrinkled his nose. "I am not a princess."
"No duh," Naruto said. "It's just the same con—con…"
"…I would be okay with being the dragon," Sasuke offered.
"But I would have to slay you," Naruto pointed out.
Sasuke shrugged. "I would win."
"Naruto," Senji said with badly veiled impatience. "What are you two doing."
Naruto grinned so hard his eyes squeezed shut. "Bein' ninja."
"Mm-hmm. And that's why you're both hanging upside down from a tree."
Sasuke nodded. "Itachi showed me this cool new trap, and we set it up."
"Then we realized we would have to test it," Naruto added, wiggling his arms to try to look back at Senji from where the rope had spun him in a slow circle—a merry go 'round in their own backyard. "It's like the one on the chimney… and we triggered it."
"Good job," Senji said drily. "It works."
Naruto's grin got bigger. "Thanks!"
"Will you cut us down?" Sasuke begged, his face turning an interesting shade of red.
Senji tilted his head to the side, smiled, and shook his head. "Nope. Ninja need to learn to get out of traps. Be home in time for dinner, Naruto."
"Senji-san! Senji-san, wait! Senji-saaannnn!"
"Stop whining and use your kunai."
"Needs more scratches."
"Fine, but I'm not cutting you down."
"I kinda miss being able to just go shopping for new action figures with Sasuke," Naruto told Senji one day as they left the meeting place, remembering bright awnings and smiles on sunny days and snow ball fights in the cold.
Senji nodded. "I'm sure he does too."
"Do you think he'll find a new best friend to do that with?" Naruto asked, kicking a pebble.
Senji squeezed his hand. "No, Naruto," he said. "I don't think he could ever find a friend like you."
Naruto hummed to himself as he did his homework, lying on the rug and kicking his feet in the air. Senji was spread out over the couch, an icepack on his head.
Naruto still kinda felt guilty that Senji had hit his head on that rock when Naruto had jumped off a cliff in the hopes of catching a wayward kunai. He was trying to be quiet to make up for it.
There was a knock on the door and Senji groaned. "Coming," he called, falling more than getting up from the couch and stumbling more than walking to the door.
Naruto watched him go, then crawled over to peek around the corner.
Naruto shrank back, eyes going wide when he saw Lady at the door, frowning.
"Kanizawa-san," she said, her voice like a velvet whip. "There is a problem that needs to be addressed."
Senji ushered her in. "Sure," he said. "What can I help you with?"
Naruto quickly scooted back to his homework, and shrank down, his back to the couch. He didn't look up when Lady came and sat down on the couch with Senji, her back stiff and her hands clenched.
"My child," she said. "Has had continued association with your ward, yes?"
"Yes," Senji said.
"I see. And you were in full knowledge that I did not wish such a relationship to continue?" Lady asked, and Naruto felt like a speck of dirt on the floor.
"I was not," Senji replied. "You, nor your husband, have ever brought up any personal opinions on the subject."
"Yet you kept further altercations a secret."
"I assumed you had been informed. When the boys first begged for the game and I gave in, along with your esteemed offspring, I presumed you had been informed of all the pertinent information and was intimately acquainted with every particular."
Naruto wasn't exactly following the conversation, but he was pretty sure Senji was trying to put all the blame on Lady.
"I was not."
"I will be sure to do so in the future."
"There will not be a future Kanizawa-san," Lady said, standing with a rustle of silk. Naruto's heart thumped hard, and his hands tingled. He could suddenly feel every woven fiber in the rug, every brush of air on his neck, and he growled. Eyes like banked coals drilled into his back. "For exactly this reason."
Senji blocked him from the drills. "Any child would be upset when they learned a mother was trying to cease any possible means of seeing a most dearly loved friend again, my lady."
"Any good mother would not allow association to continue with a monster."
"I AM NOT!" Naruto yelled, surging to his feet. "YOU'RE JUST A MEAN OLD LADY AND I HATE YOU! YOU—YOU DON'T KNOW ANYTHING! SASUKE IS MY BEST FRIEND! And I… and I…"
Lady looked down at him, cold and regal, her mouth twisted into something like a sneer.
"And—and—" Naruto choked, trembling, his hands clenched into fists. Senji looked frozen, almost swaying on his feet. Naruto sobbed. "And you have boogers in your nose!" He kicked her shin and ran into his room.
Big, hot tears rolled down his face as he crawled under his bed and wrapped his arms around his knees, wailing. He wasn't a monster, he wasn't, and she had no right to take Sasuke away and he hated her, he hated her, he hated her.
He vaguely heard the door slam, and then his lights were flicked on, and Senji had wiggled his head under the bed. A hand brushed his knee. "Naruto…"
Naruto shook his head, hunkering in on himself, his sobs quieting and something a lot like a snowball squeezing his heart.
"Naruto, come here. Come on," Senji said, and carefully pulled Naruto out and into his arms, settling them onto the bed.
Naruto just sat there and sniffed, knowing that a seven year old was a big boy and big boys shouldn't have to sit and cry in their Senji's laps.
"I think you left a bigger bruise on her shin than the one on my head. She was limping when she left," Senji said with a smile.
Naruto's lower lip was trembling too hard to smile, and he hiccupped.
"You remember that story I was telling you," Senji said. "About the two boys that were best friends?"
"You wanna know what happened?"
"Well, they were having their final face off, you remember that, when Sanji told Naruga that he couldn't stop his revenge anymore, and asked Naruga to kill him. Well, Naruga wouldn't, but he said he would give him a fair final bout. Sanji thought he was being cruel, so they fought once again, and at the end of their battle, when they were both very, very tired, Sanji wasn't really fighting to win anymore."
"Why was he fighting then?" Naruto asked, curiosity getting the better of him.
"Well," Senji said. "He didn't know."
"Oh. Seems kinda silly to fight without a reason."
"I think you're right. Naruga thought the same thing, but he fought for something very important."
"His best friend. Sanji had a sword, and he stabbed with it, expecting Naruga to dodge, but instead Naruga stepped right in front of it."
Naruto gasped. "Did he die?"
"Yes, Naruto," Senji said quietly. "He did."
"Yes, but as he died, he smiled and said 'told you I would bring you back'. You see, when Sanji killed Naruga he felt a change of heart. He realized he didn't want to kill anymore, and he discovered the reason he was fighting. With that knowledge, he used all his power and Naruga's to try to fix things."
"What was he fighting for?" Naruto whispered, his tears dry.
Senji smiled. "Salvation."
Naruto snuggled deeper into his covers, trying to block out the sun and the tapping sound rattling around his skull.
"Naruto, you dummy, open your window!"
Naruto frowned and sat up, the fog gone from his brain, and looked at his window. Sasuke was tapping a finger against it, perched precariously on the sill, and looking seriously annoyed. Naruto jumped up and opened it, excited.
Sasuke was visiting him in secret. This was the coolest thing to ever happen to him.
He moved away and Sasuke landed silently on the floor, still in his ANBU style pajamas. Naruto wanted those pajamas.
"My mom says I can't see you anymore," Sasuke announced, hands on his hips. Naruto nodded, sitting down on his bed.
"I know. She came here last night and was really mean."
"She doesn't like you," Sasuke replied distractedly, as if that lessened her meanness, and then scrambled on top of Naruto's dresser. "The point is," he continued standing tall and hands on hips. "Is that it's not going to happen, is it?"
"No!" Naruto yelled, jumping up.
"We're going to be friends forever, aren't we?"
"We're going to keep being friends no matter what anyone says!"
"Naruto," Sasuke snapped, jumping down and bonking him on the head. "Shut up, people are sleeping."
Naruto shrugged. "It's just Senji. He never sleeps anyway."
Sasuke's eyes got wide. "Never?"
Naruto nodded seriously. "He goes to bed but he doesn't sleep, and he always gets up with his back and shoulder hurting, like a grandpa. I jumped on him once and he threw me into a wall."
"How old is he?"
"I dunno, like, old though. Twenty five, or something."
"Huh. Do you think Senji will let you see me?"
Naruto shrugged. "He was really mad at your mom… but I know how to fix that."
"Orange juice. Trust me, when I made it for his birthday he loved it."
"Alright. Orange juice."
"Out of the package?"
"One blueberry muffin out of the package."
"Stop! It's perfect."
Naruto carefully balanced the tray, and motioned Sasuke to open the door to Senji's room. He wobbled in with a smile. Senji was bent in half, his forehead touching his knees, obviously stretching out after training. He lifted his head, raised an eyebrow, and straightened up with a groan.
"What do you want? And why is Sasuke here?"
Naruto set the tray down and fell to his knees, turning on the puppy dog eyes. "Please let Sasuke stay my friend."
The eyebrow crawled up.
"And why wouldn't I?"
"Because my mom hates Naruto," Sasuke said from the door.
"So we made you breakfast, so you won't hate Sasuke."
Senji didn't bother trying to follow the logic. "I'm okay with it. Just don't get caught."
"Thank you!" Naruto yelled, bowing like a heathen with his knees on the floor and his stick arms stretching out as far as he could push them, rhythmically thumping on and off the floor—his head smacked on the hard floor every time, and he didn't bother to cushion it. "Thank you mighty Senji-sama!"
Senji waved a hand. "Hn. Go home, Sasuke, I'm sure your family is worrying about you. We'll figure out how you can see each other later."
Sasuke bowed, and in his ANBU jammies and with his serious face Naruto was almost tricked into believing Sasuke was a top-ranked ninja. He pouted. He could look just as cool as Sasuke if he had ANBU jammies.
"And Naruto…" Senji looked down at the soggy mass of orange juice, blueberry muffin, and water with an unreadable expression in his eyes. "…I…" He sagged. "Thank you for breakfast."
Naruto beamed. "You're welcome!"
Naruto's head hurt when he first woke up, and his vision was fuzzy— like tiny little balls of fluff were wrestling on the edges.
He was being carried over someone's shoulder, his stomach roiled, he barfed, someone cried out in disgust, and the world went black again.
The next time Naruto woke, it was to gnawing metal on his wrists and his ankles and darkness. It was cold, bitterly cold, the kind that had him wishing he could rub his bones to sweep away the chill. Faint moonlight wafted in from between bars set high in the low wall. It was disorienting, and frightening, and he called pitifully for Senji.
There was no answer.
It was dark in the tiny chamber, and the only noise was the clink of his chains as he pulled at them, trying to remember what had happened.
Had he been at home? No, he had gone to school, he could still remember not-so-accidentally putting that sucker in Mizuki-sensei's hair.
He had… gone to swing after that because Senji was going to be late that day. And then—and then—
He couldn't remember.
Naruto yelled in frustration, pulling harder at his chains. He could feel each muscle in his seven and a half year old body straining as he stood up and pushed—
…and fell screaming to the ground when the chains were stretched too far and electricity pulsed through his body. Every hair was on end, every muscle twitching. Blue sparks danced around him like stars, as tiny knives prickled through his veins from his head to his toes.
It was an excruciating eternity passed in a second.
Once the sparks had gone, and his limbs had stopped twitching, he curled up on the dirty stone floor and cried.
Still, no one came.
After the crying passed, he slept a little more—fitful and nightmarish—and then he gave up and propped himself against the wall, chains hugged close.
He scratched at the dirty floor, his finger tracing grooves etched into its surface, a tingle of the pain earlier still sleeping in his limbs. All of his movements were slow and heavy, and his eyes drooped constantly.
S'not fair, Naruto thought. It isn't bedtime. Why am I so sleepy?
He shivered, the cold numbing his fingers and toes and ears. I can't give up. Senji wouldn't give up. I have to—I have to… do something…
"Stay awake!" Naruto shouted loud enough to make his ears ring. "Stay awake, Naruto!" He slapped his cheeks and worked feeling back into his fingers. He felt a little more energized now, like he had drank a glass of chocolate milk as big as he was.
He got up, cautiously at first, and then with more confidence when the chains didn't shock him.
A good ninja sees what is around him and looks for a way out.
Walls, floor, no door, tiny window with bars—his chains wouldn't let him reach it.
A ninja does not fear pain.
Naruto glanced dubiously at his chains. He wasn't scared of the pain, he just didn't want it to ever happen again.
The ground shook, and dirt speckles rained on his head. Naruto frowned up at the roof. His old apartment used to do that, when the people upstairs threw a party. His roof would shake from their stomping feet and loud music and ceiling speckles would hit his head. Once, a whole section of the ceiling had fallen in.
He didn't think they were having a party here, so what was it?
"NARUTO! NARUTO UZUMAKI, WHERE ARE YOU?"
Naruto's heart thumped in time with the shakes. That was Senji.
"Senji!" Naruto wailed. "Here! I am HERE!"
More shakes, more dirt from the ceiling, but no Senji.
He cannot hear me, Naruto realized. He will hear me from the window.
He swallowed hard. His chains whispered like ghosts when he moved them, tiny clanking promises. His palms started to sweat.
I will go very quickly, and I will call his name, and then he'll come get me and the chains will never hurt again.
His legs trembled when he took the first step, the second, and then he had reached the end of his chains. The window was on the same side of the wall as the chains, one more step, and a jump, and he could call out.
A huge explosion threw him down, and dust and debris swept through the tiny hole. Naruto shook. Was a monster out there? Was Senji okay?
I will rescue him, Naruto decided, and glared at the window. No chains will hold back Uzumaki Naruto!
He jumped forward with a yell, the chains pulled tight, and the sparks began.
He screamed, but did not fall.
Energy coursed through his body, and twisted around his spine. The pain was all he could think about, all he could see were sparks, and he kept screaming.
One tiny foot shuffled forward and inch, and then another.
The chains groaned from their support in the wall.
Must. Save. Senji.
Red bubbled in his vision, and he took another step.
The chains were stretched to their limit—but so was Naruto. No sound came out of his throat now as he screamed, and his limbs convulsed sporadically, sometimes pulling hard enough to hurt.
He almost fell, his knees almost hitting the stone floor. He looked up at the window, pushed up, and took another step.
The chains screamed louder than Naruto as they left the wall, in one horrible long sssrrrreeeecccchhhh—and then, pop as they fell to the floor.
Naruto fell with them, totally spent, his heart hammering in his chest.
He couldn't move, could barely think, but the thought repeated itself over and over in his mind: Senji, Senji, Senji, Senji.
More dust fell, and with them came the biggest explosion of all. Dust filled his nose and mouth, coating him, but he couldn't move.
Senji, Senji, Senji, Senji.
Light filtered in between the cracks of his eyes, and with one last monumental effort, Naruto turned over.
He had to look way up to see the unsmiling face and raised eyebrow.
Naruto smiled weakly. "Senji."
It was still Senji, even encased in some big monster that held the ceiling in its hand and the red spinney eyes and the short hair that stuck up in the back. The monster threw the roof away, and Naruto glared at it so that it would run away and free Senji and, to Naruto's great joy, it disappeared in a ray of moonlight. Senji was safe, and, a blink later, Senji was with him. Big arms picked him up and held him close, and the familiar scent of pine trees in a lightning storm, dust, and metal filled his nose. He started crying.
"It's okay, Naruto," Senji said. "I've got you now."
"I've got you," Naruto repeated. "I've got you now."
Soap ran down the sides of Naruto's face as he scrubbed his scalp, trying to get all the tiny grains of sand out. Sasuke had put his head in the sandbox today, after Naruto had pushed him off the slide. Senji had rinsed him off with the hose before he was allowed in the house. It was very cold.
But, even though Naruto had sand in his hair and Sasuke had a bruise, they still got to see each other, and that was a definite improvement.
Ever since Senji had rescued Naruto from underneath the Uchiha compound, all the Uchiha had been very cooperative about the whole 'being friends' thing. They almost acted like they were scared of Senji—like he was the one responsible for destroying half of the Uchiha compound.
Not that Naruto would put it past him, Senji was really strong. Naruto didn't remember much of the walk back home after Senji had picked him up, but he remembered flickering fires and dust and houses just gone. It's not like anyone died though, Naruto still wasn't too sure what the big deal was.
"Naruto," Senji called with a rap on the door. "Time to get out. You still have homework!"
Homework. Homework that was in his backpack. Homework that was in his backpack that was in his books. Homework that was in his backpack that was in his books that had a paper tucked neatly between 'Chakra: A Beginning' and 'Math Can Be Your Friend'. (Math was still not Naruto's friend.)
Books that had The Paper tucked between them.
What if Senji said no? What is he hated it? What if he…
"Two more minutes," Naruto begged.
"You said that ten minutes ago. Get out. Now."
Naruto got out. He dried off with his big orange towel and wrapped up in his fluffy orange robe and stuffed his feet into his orange frog slippers, wriggling them around.
Naruto's favorite color was orange.
He crept down the hallway, feet soft as shadows, until he could peek around the corner of the wall and into the kitchen.
The oak table where they ate filled most of the small space, tiny whorls and scratches that he knew so well now; Senji was by the big steel sink, chopping fruit on the plastic cutting board so quickly the blade was a slice of flashing light and the only noise was a steady whir. With a flourish, strawberries were added to the fruit salad.
Naruto shrank back around the corner, chewing on his lip. Could he make it to the living room without Senji seeing him? The entry hall had a partition on each side, one shielding the living room, and the other the kitchen. If Naruto could make it behind the living room partition then he could get out the paper in secret, and Sasuke wouldn't see it until Naruto wanted him to.
He swallowed hard, and checked on Senji. His back was still turned, his hands braced on either side of the sink as he stared at the cherry tree planted outside the window, its big blossoms swaying in the breeze.
Naruto bolted as quietly as he could to the partition and sank behind it, the cold white wood comforting. He risked a glance. Senji hadn't even twitched.
Oh the cleverness of me, Naruto thought, and reached for his backpack.
With the paper carefully ensconced in his pocket, he went back to the kitchen and scraped his chair on the floor loudly as he got into it.
Senji shook his head and turned around, putting the fruit salad on the table next to a plate of steaming fish and rice. "Eat up. Dango for dessert."
Naruto smiled weakly, and loaded up his plate, shoveling the food into his mouth as fast as he could. He didn't want to talk.
"How was school?"
A thumbs up.
"What did you learn?"
Naruto gestured to show 'a lot of stuff' and speared a purple grape.
"What are you hiding?"
Naruto froze, next forkful almost to his mouth, his mouth half open, half-chewed food still inside.
"Hiwing?" Naruto asked.
"Chew. Swallow. Repeat question."
Naruto did as ordered. "Hiding?"
"Mm-hmm. Spit it out."
Naruto worked up a good spit, aimed—
-swallowed. "I… um…"
Senji steepled his fingers, and stared.
"Please tell me, Naruto."
Naruto cracked. He whipped the paper out of his pocket and pushed it at Senji. The paper leaving his hands was like a weight lifting.
Senji was silent as he read. Naruto's heart was a hummingbird's wings, and his fingers slipped on his fork.
"You want me to adopt you."
Naruto sank down in his chair, and closed his eyes.
"How am I supposed to sign this without a pen?"
Naruto dared to peek.
Senji was smiling somewhere in the corner of his mouth, and his hand was out, fingers motioning.
Naruto felt a smile start somewhere from his toes, and by the time it reached his face it was the biggest, truest smile he had ever given.
"Pen coming up!" He yelled, and raced away.
AN: I am not liable for anyone who choked on fluff.
So... tell me what you think! I probably should have been working on my other story instead of this thing but... those plot bunnies, they're rabid. Rabid I tell you! What did you think of the characters? Did you get that Itachi was Sasuke from the future? Were there any confusing bits? Did you like it AT ALL?
Lemme know with reviews!