Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto or any of Kishimoto's characters or plot.

A/N: There will be no yuri or yaoi in this fanfic. Pairings undecided if any at all.

Child of the Curse
Chapter 1: The Life-Changing Moment
By: Zashire

The end of September was an exciting time for people in the village of Konoha. Autumn celebrations stretched from the beginning of the season at the equinox, all the way up until the tenth of October, otherwise known as the Day of Heroes. It was on that day that the Yondaime Hokage and hundreds of Konoha ninja gave their lives to defeat a great monster, known as the Kyuubi no Kitsune. They did this to secure the future of the village they served and loved.

A week-long festival would begin on the fourth of October, and continue up through the Day of Heroes. While the Yondaime was the central focus of this somewhat long event, no one ever forgot to honor the others who have died protecting the village that day. The Memorial Stone was always overcrowded during this period of time.

It was currently September twenty-fifth; the October Fest was still over a week off, but people all over Konoha were getting ready for it. Shopkeepers were setting prices and cleaning up their stores in an effort to attract the visitors from other parts of the country who would be attending the festival. It was the best time of the year for merchants to sell their products in Konoha, as well as the time when local hotels made the greatest portion of their yearly profits.

While the attention of shop owners was mainly on foreigners, they never forgot about the needs of the locals. Especially not the needs of the ninja force. Ninja spent large amounts of money on equipment and weapons, and no shopkeeper ever wanted to miss a chance to capitalize on such needs. Some shops were even specialized to suit ninja only. Civilians could still visit such stores, but the merchandise available was often of little use to them.

A young woman with long brown hair, which was tied back in a ponytail, let out a sigh as she paid for some new tripwire and explosive tags. The sun was beginning to set and she had been out shopping since noon. She hadn't needed much, but the lines at stores were long because of the foreigners who couldn't figure out the whole process of exchanging currencies. The young brunette had had to restrain herself on multiple occasions from strangling the couple in front of her with some of the tripwire she was buying. They were from Suna, meaning they spoke in a different dialect, so the process of successful haggling was extremely difficult.

"I'm sorry about that, Sayuri-chan," the shopkeeper apologized when the Suna couple was out of earshot.

The young woman smiled. "It's alright. This is how it always is during the Fest." She watched the lady place her items in a bag. "I just wish some people would plan their vacations better."

The shopkeeper nodded. "Will that be all?"

"Yes," Sayuri said as she paid for the items. "Thank you, Yumi-obasan!"

"You're very welcome, my dear. Tell your father I said hello," the older woman smiled. "I close at ten, so I should be home shortly after. See you later, Sayuri-chan."

The young brunette offered a smile, and then headed for the door. Once outside, she saw that it was much later than she thought it had been.

I hope father won't be annoyed about me getting home so late, she thought. She briefly considered taking to the roofs to make it home faster, but she really wanted to see all of the decorations before it became even harder to walk through the village as more people arrived. Besides, she could just blame the delay on the long lines at stores; it wasn't a complete lie. He'll probably be working later than normal, considering all of the people that are arriving.

With that decided Sayuri turned to the left and wandered down the road through the marketplace. Every few stalls or so someone would try to get her to buy something she didn't want or need at an outrageous price, but once they recognized her, they would quickly stutter out an apology and try to offer her a sale on the item.

Sayuri groaned as she waved off yet another salesperson. Yes, she understood that they needed to make money, but really, couldn't they be a little less persistent?

She passed by a window and glanced in to see a beautiful kimono on display. It was a grand combination of autumn colors, from the brown linings to the deep reds and oranges that covered the outfit. She thought about trying it on, but continued on when she realized how much time she was wasting… and when she saw the price tag.

Sayuri came from a wealthy family, but she was by no means a spoiled brat. Her family had taught her to be humble at a young age-it was one of the things that led to her becoming so well-known throughout the village. She was nineteen years old, and stood at five foot seven inches tall, half of a foot shorter than her husband. She had married at the young age of eighteen, but had known the man who would become her husband since she was seven.

The life of a ninja was often a short one, she knew, and she never wanted to have any regrets, so that was how she lived her life. She was a Jounin of Konoha, and often wore the standard attire for someone of her rank. She loved her job almost as much as she loved her husband, which definitely said a lot about her dedication. Her mission record was clean and she was proud of it.

Her thought process was jerked to a halt when she heard a piercing scream cut through the noise of the crowd. It was her "day off," but she was still a ninja twenty-four seven. She was always there to help no matter what time of day it was.

Her jaw clenched as she sprinted over to the origin of the shrill noise. It hadn't sounded too far away.

It wasn't. A small group of people were gathered around the base of a building. Everyone in the group had their heads angled upward, a few of them even pointing. Sayuri followed their line of sight and saw a small child hanging onto… nothing? She dropped her bags and began to push through the gathered civilians.

What the hell? was the only thought that crossed her mind as her body went into action automatically. As she worked her way through the crowd, she applied chakra to her feet. Soon, she was ascending the building. The child was about four stories off the ground, and would almost certainly die if he or she fell.

It took her a matter of seconds to reach the child. A moment before she reached the child, she saw his or her hands slip from whatever the child had been hanging onto. Thankfully, she managed to line herself up a few feet below the child so he or she fell right into her arms. Sayuri snaked her arms around the child protectively and tightened her grip, before she bounded of f the wall and landed on an adjacent roof.

She looked back at the building and saw a window just above where the child had been hanging. It was shattered, but she couldn't see anything inside from her vantage point because of the shadows caused by the setting sun.

Sayuri could hear some applause from below, but paid them no attention as she looked at the child in her arms. The young child looked like she-it was definitely a girl-was about four or five years old. She had blonde hair that was surprisingly bright, considering the state of malnourishment the child was obviously in. Sayuri bit her lip as she moved the child around in her arms because of how easily she could feel the little girl's ribs. It was sickening.

The child blinked her eyes open, only to meet the curious and sad gaze of Sayuri, who noted the piercing blue color of the child's eyes.

"Are you alright, little one?" the Jounin asked softly.

The young girl looked at her with wide eyes, but managed a small nod.

The blatant fear expressed by the child made Sayuri's heart clench. The young Jounin had seen comrades die on the battlefield, villages burn in the times of the Third Great War, and even other children die. The difference between those situations and the current one was that this one was happening inside Konoha. Inside her home. Who in their right mind would do such a thing to a child? Konoha wasn't at war with anyone. There wasn't any sort of lack in the food department.

Sayuri glanced back at the building from which she had saved the child.

Konoha's West Orphanage? If this child was an orphan, why wasn't she healthy? Orphanages in Konoha were funded well; that she knew. But something was wrong. What was she not seeing?

And then it all clicked.

So that is what father was talking about, she thought. She looked back down at the little girl who was still staring up at her in fear.

"What are you gonna do to me?" the child's voice was empty and hollow.

It took all of Sayuri's will not to break down right then and there. She bit her lip in an effort to keep a level head. The little blonde sounded broken. She thinks I'm going to harm her, Sayuri swallowed.

She shifted the child into what she believed would be a more comfortable position. The blonde stiffened in her arms.

"I know this may be hard to do, but please trust me," Sayuri said. "I'm not going to hurt you. I'm trying to help."

The little girl seemed to have mastered the art of showing no emotion. Her expression offered no clues as to what she was thinking.

Sayuri waited. "I'm going to take you to see a kind man now, alright?" she asked slowly.

The girl's eyes glanced around. "Are the meanies gone?"

Sayuri couldn't help but feel a bit relieved at that. The child was no longer wearing the blank expression. "Yes, sweetheart," she hugged the girl closer to her. "They are. I promise that no one is going to harm you anymore."

The child's mouth curved upward, if ever so slightly. "Thank you for catching me!" she cried as she firmly clutched onto Sayuri's shirt and buried her face into the Jounin's shoulder.

"You are so very welcome." She pulled the girl into a protective hug when she felt her shoulder getting wet because of the child's tears. "Please don't be scared. This will feel weird for a moment."

The blonde raised her head just before the pair disappeared in a swirl of leaves.

xxx

They arrived just outside the door leading into the Hokage Tower. Sayuri would have teleported them to the inside of the Hokage's office, but not only would that have been rude, but it would have also been impossible. Protective seals covered the Tower to prevent such things from happening. Though inconvenient for ninja, it served as a barrier to protect the Hokage, as well as any important diplomats staying in the Tower at the time.

Shifting the child to one arm, Sayuri opened the door and entered the administrative building. She walked up to the front desk.

"Is Hokage-sama in?" she asked the secretary.

"He has an appointment in-" she cut herself off when she looked up. "Oh, Sayuri-sama! He will be free to see you for the next fifteen minutes."

She would have groaned at the whole privilege thing if it weren't for the situation.

Shortly after the conversation, Sayuri was just outside the door to the Hokage's office. The ANBU guards nodded to her as she passed, and she offered them a quick nod in response.

The door to the Hokage's office was quite large. It was made of some rare type of wood that she could care less about, and the echo it caused was always surprising.

"Come in," a voice on the other side called, so she entered.

As she approached his desk, the Hokage looked up to meet her eyes.

"Sayu?" he called her by her nickname. She saw his eyes flicker to the child who was curled up in her arms, but still awake, judging by the pattern of her breathing. The older man's eyes widened. "What happened?" he asked as he got up from his chair and moved closer to her.

Sayuri glanced down. "You know who this is, right, father?"

Hiruzen nodded. "Uzumaki Naru."

The young girl's head snapped up, turning to face the Hokage.

"What happened?" he pressed.

"Can we sit down?" she asked, motioning toward the couch that was off to the right. Hiruzen nodded, so they walked over to the piece of furniture and took a seat.

The Jounin loosened her grip on the child. "To be brief, the orphanage has been abusing Naru." The blonde stiffened again, confirming the obvious. "Hold her for a moment," she told her father as she passed Naru over. The girl had other plans, however, and clung onto Sayuri tightly.

The nineteen-year-old met the young girl's gaze. "It's alright, Naru. I've known this man since I was born. He won't hurt you," she said as if Hiruzen wasn't even in the room.

The girl looked skeptical for a few moments, but eventually released Sayuri's shirt.

When Hiruzen held her, he felt sick. She was tiny for being almost five years old. She had to be four because the fifth annual October Fest was coming up, given that she had been born on the tenth of October the year the Kyuubi attacked.

Sayuri then recounted the events that had transpired, beginning at the point where she left her aunt's store, up through the moment where she had Naru in her arms on the roof of the building next to the orphanage.

By the end of the explanation, Hiruzen looked furious, though he did his best not to frighten the child in his arms.

"I will see to it that this facility be… investigated," he managed to grind out. He looked down to the little girl. "Naru-chan, can you tell me, to the best of your knowledge, why you were hanging from the window? What I mean is… how did you end up in such a situation?"

The small girl stared up at him in silence. "Mean kids took my friend. I asked them to give it back, but they wouldn't." She looked down. "I tried to grab my friend from mean kid, but he…"

The old Hokage and his daughter watched Naru as she trailed off. Sayuri shared a glance with her father. Hiruzen rubbed the young blonde's back soothingly.

"Don't lie," Naru said and covered her mouth with both of her hands. "Don't lie," she mumbled again.

Sayuri frowned as she reached over and lifted Naru's chin to meet her eyes. "Who told you that?"

For a moment, a look of pure terror crossed her face, but it was gone as quickly as it had come.

"Naru, please tell us," the Jounin said.

She looked directly into Sayuri's eyes. "People in charge. They hit me one time last year, but that's it." She bit her lip. "Cook lady always gave other kids more!"

"To eat?" the Jounin asked.

Naru nodded. "Mean kid hit me really hard after I tried to get my toy back. We wuz at top of stairs, and I fell down. Building is old, so window broke."

The brunette saw her father's fist clench.

"But Red saved me!" Naru finished, smiling brightly.

The two adults shared a look of confusion.

"Who is 'Red,' Naru?" Sayuri asked lightly, not wanting to completely ruin the girl's good mood.

Naru beamed. "My friend that no one else can see!"

So she has an imaginary friend? It made sense. She had to get through the loneliness somehow. If she wasn't making any real friends, she would always have her imagination to turn to.

Neither of the two ninja present desired to point out what was obvious to them, so they kept quiet about the truth of the matter.

"That's awesome, Naru-chan!" Sayuri smiled. But that still doesn't explain what I saw. I swear she was hanging onto air when I arrived at the scene. The Jounin sighed. Or I just couldn't see very well. The shadows from the building made it almost impossible to even see Naru.

The Hokage nodded and smiled as well. He couldn't resist the contagious grin of the four-year-old. She was just so darn cute. The fact that she could smile after having been underfed and pushed around for so long at such a young age was nothing short of amazing. He was deeply regretting having sent Naru to the orphanage in the first place. The other clans hadn't been very willing to take her in. The only one that expressed any interest in her was the Uchiha clan, but they had been acting suspicious, and the old Hokage had believed Naru would have had a better chance at the orphanage, and possibly being adopted into a loving civilian family.

He should have realized he couldn't throw her past out the window. It would always catch up with her, unfair as it was. He would have had the Sarutobi clan take her in, but the majority of his clan were ninja, and didn't have the time needed to commit to raising a child. When he took a step back and thought about it all, he really had just been trying to convince himself of something that could never really happen.

He had been keeping tabs on Naru occasionally, but his work always got the better of him. The ANBU files would either tell him that they saw the young blonde for a brief period of time, or just flat-out couldn't see a sign of her. And judging by the paleness of her skin, Naru probably hadn't been let outside very often.

But this time, it was an issue he couldn't ignore. He had betrayed his deceased successor's trust by letting the man's daughter be harmed. He had betrayed the trust of the child's mother, his children, and so many others by letting harm come to Naru.

It was high time he fixed his mistakes. His clan could easily afford to support Naru. The first order of business was to get Kari to fix up some real food for this child.

Hiruzen brought himself out of his thoughts to see that Sayuri had reclaimed Naru and was goofing around with her by making funny faces. He smiled when he saw how Naru was laughing. She looked much happier than she had when his daughter first brought her in.

"I hate to be the one to interrupt such a touching moment, but I have a meeting that begins in three minutes," Hiruzen sighed. It was a hard fact of a ninja's life: work before family.

Sayuri nodded and looked down to Naru.

The blonde's eyes widened as tears formed in her eyes. "Do I have to go back?"

The Jounin stared with sadness in her eyes at the expression of the child. If they 'sent her back' to anywhere, it would definitely not be the orphanage of Konoha West. She had a feeling that her father would be ordering the close of that one, as well as the relocation of all the orphans living there. But who was to say that the same thing wouldn't happen to Naru elsewhere? Even if she wasn't ever hit, who was to say that she wouldn't lose even more weight than she already had?

Well, technically, she never had the weight to begin with. She was half tempted to run back to the orphanage and take her anger out on those that had starved Naru. I wonder how they would like to starve, rotting away in a jail cell. She tried her best to keep her thoughts in her head, and her anger in check.

But what can I do to stop anything else from happening?

It was at that moment that Sayuri made a decision that would impact her life for years to come.

She turned to face her Hokage.

"Father," she began, "With your permission, I would like to adopt Uzumaki Naru this evening."

Naru sat on Sayuri's lap, staring up at her in bewilderment.

Hiruzen stared at his daughter for a moment as well, but soon broke into a grin. "I was just about to suggest something along those lines, Sayu. I thought you might ask, but not until you had talked it over with Atsui. Take one of the guest rooms in our household and give it to Naru. You have my full-fledged support."

Before he could blink, Hiruzen was tackled to the back of the couch by two girls, one who was his daughter, and the other who he had just made his granddaughter. He wiggled his arms free and wrapped one around each of them in a group hug.

"Thank you, tou-san," Sayuri whispered.

"No, thank you, Sayu." His daughter pulled out of the hug, and quirked her head.

"Thank you? For what?" she asked.

"For helping me fix one of my mistakes." He smiled brightly. "And for giving me a granddaughter."

xxx

Sayuri walked toward the Sarutobi clan compound with Naru on her hip. Shortly after the group hug and adoption (which would be finalized later), the pair had been ushered out because of a meeting her father had with some important man she knew nothing about. The Tower wasn't too far from the compound, but Sayuri wanted to enjoy some peace and quiet with her newly-adopted daughter.

It still feels weird saying it like that, she thought. I mean, yeah, it's true, but to think I'd adopt a child at the age of nineteen. She knew Atsui wouldn't mind. In fact, he would probably be overjoyed at the thought of taking Naru in. She and her husband had wanted the Sarutobi clan to take the child in right after the Kyuubi attack, but understood the problems that could come with it.

Sayuri focused her attention back on Naru when she felt a tug on her shirt. Naru had been quiet for quite some time, always looking like she was trying to think of how to say something. It looked like she finally figured it out.

"CanIcallyoukaa-san?" she blurted out as fast as she possibly could.

The Jounin raised an eyebrow. "Care to repeat that? I'm sorry, but I couldn't understand you."

The little girl took a deep breath. "Can I… call you kaa-san?" She bit her lip when Sayuri said nothing. "If you don't want-"

Sayuri shook her head quickly. "No; I mean, it's fine." She smiled. "You can call me kaa-san."

Naru grinned, but then paused. "Who's Atsui?" She frowned. "Said name earlier."

"Well, since I'm your kaa-san," the brunette continued, "Atsui is your tou-san."

The blonde's eyes sparkled. "I have a mommy and a daddy?" she asked in excitement.

Sayuri nodded in confirmation. "Are you happy with that?"

"Yes!" Naru cried. "I always heard that mommies and daddies make the bad stuff go away from the other kids! I always wanted one, but never thought I would get both! Thank you, kaa-san!"

Sayuri smiled down at Naru and wrapped her in a tight hug. She kissed the small girl's forehead. "If there is one true thing you've learned so far in life, it is what you just said. I promise you that nothing will ever lay a finger on you so long as Atsui and I are here to protect you."

At first, Naru's response to the affectionate gesture was to stiffen, but soon after, she melted into the hug and returned it. For the second time that day, the little girl cried into Sayuri's shoulder. This time, however, it was not into the shoulder of a strange ninja, but into the shoulder of a loving mother.

Her loving mother.