Oh my god, I'm actually still alive. Surprise! It sure has been a while, huh? I know you're all thinking, "WHO CARES. GIVE ME MY CHAPTER." I can totally sympathize. So, I'll just give my owed apology for releasing a chapter over a year late, and my thanks to everyone who reviewed/alerted/favorited for their encouragement.
But hey, there is some good news! This story is no longer being written by a thirteen year-old. Fifteen and counting, people. You're welcome. (However, I don't think my writing skills have improved much, if at all.) Plus, this fifteen year-old has a much better idea of where she wants this story to go than that thirteen year-old did.
I'm going to do my best to work past my writer's block and finish this story, but it might take a while. Plus, next year (sophomore time! woo!), I have 5 AP's lined up, so that will suck a huge chunk of my writing time up.
Okay, enough of that. Time for PLOT DEVELOPMENT! And a super long chapter, too! I was considering breaking this up into two parts since it got so long, but I wanted to give you guys the entire chapter instead. So here you go. :)
Chapter 6: A New Life
Word Count: 11,035 (gaiz, the word count... the word count, gaiz… it's over 9,000. :3)
Minato and Naruto walked down the street with their appetites sated, footsteps thudding on the soft dirt path as they headed to buy some clothes for Naruto.
Though Naruto was attempting to act cheerful, inside he felt a nagging sense of worry. What if the shopkeeper recognized him? What if he refused to sell him anything? Normally, Naruto wasn't surprised by the merchants' behavior, and had learned to tolerate it, but what if they told Minato, and made the older man hate him? He didn't want that to happen! Minato was being so nice; he didn't want that to change!
"Oh, shoot!" Minato's voice shook Naruto out of his anxious thoughts. Naruto looked up, and saw that the older blond man had stopped in front of a small shop. A wooden 'closed' sign hung limply on the front door.
"I didn't know they closed early today," Minato said sheepishly, rubbing the back of his head with his hand. "Guess we'll have to go tomorrow, then. Sorry about that!"
Naruto quickly plastered a look of disappointment on his face to mask his relief. He knew that waiting until the next day was only prolonging the agony, but at the moment he couldn't find it in himself to care.
"That's okay!" he said. "I don't mind, really."
"I'll find you something of mine to wear," Minato promised, before turning in the opposite direction. "Come on. Let's go see your new home."
Naruto was suitably curious as Minato led him all the way across the village, past the Hokage Tower, and down a trail into the woods. He was in awe; he'd been in forests before to scavenge for food, but they hadn't been as beautiful as they were here. Tall, imposing trees rose from the ground, and clusters of wildflowers were scattered all around him. Up ahead, some trees bent over the path, forming an archway that ran as far as he could see.
He was so enthralled by the canopy of leafy trees that he didn't see the upturned root in front of his foot.
He tripped most spectacularly, and was speeding toward the ground before a warm hand grabbed his own moments before his face smashed against the road.
"You okay?" Minato asked, pulling the boy back to his feet.
"Let's keep going, then," Minato said.
As the two continued on their way, Minato made no motion to let go of Naruto's hand. Neither did Naruto.
It was several minutes later that the trail finally ended, and when Naruto looked up at the house they'd arrived at, his breath was taken away.
Naruto was amazed at the magnificent house standing in front of him. It was practically a mansion, something fit for royalty, yet with a refreshing simplicity uncommon in houses such as this. The house overlooked a large pond and garden, and with the abundant wildlife surrounding it, the entire area had a tranquil serenity to it. He supposed it made sense. Minato was the Hokage; of course he'd live in a gorgeous house like this.
And now, Naruto thought gleefully, he got to stay there!
"Home sweet home!" Minato declared, sliding open the door with an exaggerated flourish that made Naruto giggle. "After you."
Naruto stepped inside the house, his eyes wide open with wonder. The house was a large building that combined aspects of both modern and traditional housing. While the exterior and interior architecture was very traditional, the house was decorated in a way that made it seem both classic and contemporary. The floors were covered with tatami mats, and dozens of paintings, photographs, and tapestries hung from rich mahogany walls.
"This place is awesome!" he said.
Minato laughed. "It sure is," he agreed. "This is the Hokage's Mansion. Every Hokage has lived here at one point in their lives."
Naruto didn't answer, still taking in the sight of the incredible house.
"Come on," Minato beckoned, "I'll give you the tour."
Minato led Naruto throughout the house, showing him the kitchen ("It's open all day, every day! Just try not to eat too much before any meals."), the dining room ("We have a lot of guests, if you were wondering about the thirty foot table."), the library ("The only room you're not allowed to have food in!"), and the rest of the rooms, before they came up to the last hallway.
"This is where all the bedrooms are," he told Naruto. "Hmm… Let's see…"
Minato stood thoughtfully for a few seconds, before snapping his fingers. "I know!" He went to the furthest door down the hallway, and peeked inside. "Good, it's clean." He gestured for Naruto to enter.
Naruto poked his head inside the door, and instantly fell in love with the room. It was so orange! The walls and floors were brown, but the bed, the rug, the dresser: it was all orange!
"Do you like it?" Minato asked, to which Naruto nodded enthusiastically. "I'd hoped so! Kushina decorated this room just in case we had any children staying here. It's a good thing you two have the same favorite color!"
For Naruto, Kushina's awesomeness just rose by at least four levels.
"Wait here a second," Minato said, walking back down the hallway. "I'll find you something to wear. You're probably sick of those paper hospital clothes."
Personally Naruto didn't think his current attire was that bad, (hey, it was free!), but he nodded anyway.
While Minato was scavenging for clothes, Naruto eyed the orange bed in the corner of the room. 'It sure looks comfy…' Figuring that Minato would take a little while to get back, he ran up to the bed and jumped, landing flat on his belly.
Naruto couldn't remember much after that. All he could think of was that this was the nicest bed he'd ever slept in. It was so comfy!
'I think I'll close my eyes for a little bit…'
Minato stepped back into the orange room, bearing an armful of clothes. "All right, Naruto, I think I found a couple of-"
He stopped talking when he saw Naruto. The six year-old was fast asleep, his arms wrapped tightly around his pillow.
A smile tugged at the corners of his mouth, and he quietly set the pile of clothes on the dresser. He carefully picked up Naruto from the bed, rearranging the covers and placing Naruto under them. The boy was in too deep of a sleep to notice.
Minato turned the lights off, and shut the door enough so that a crack of light still shone through. 'Sleep well, Naruto.'
After reassuring himself that Naruto was alright to be left alone, he quietly retreated into the kitchen. He went to the locked cabinet in the corner of the room, took out a single bottle and cup, and sat down at the table.
Only then did he allow his calm façade to slip. He propped his elbows up on the table and let his head fall into his hands.
What an eventful few days it had been. Everything had seemed perfectly normal; better than, actually. His wife told him she was pregnant, they'd had an enormous celebration, and he was overjoyed that he was going to become a father.
Now he wasn't going to be a father, his wife was hospitalized, the Kyuubi had disappeared, and a six year-old orphan who may have possibly been in an abusive situation had traveled back in time.
He'd be damned if that didn't deserve at least one drink.
He poured the sake into the cup, and downed it in one gulp. For Kushina's suffering.
The next cup came soon after. For the Kyuubi's disappearance.
Another cup. For Naruto, thrust into the past with no way to return.
He drank the next cup especially quickly. For when I have to go back to work…
His head felt light, and he leaned back in his chair and sighed. For once, it had seemed as though everything would go right, as though maybe he could have a chance at the family he was deprived of as a child. Clearly, there was someone up there who harbored a deep hatred for him.
'The baby would've been a boy,' he thought absently, and reached for the bottle once more. 'I know it.'
He poured himself one last cup of sake and drank to the son he never had.
"Wait… what?" Kushina froze, the stick of dango in her hands halting inches in front of her face.
Minato had brought dango to the hospital that morning, as promised. Kushina had been awake when he'd arrived, gazing out the window with a wistfulness that sent a cold pang through his heart. She grinned when she saw him come in, and eagerly dug into the dango he'd brought. Once he was sure no one else was listening, he'd told Kushina exactly who Naruto was.
"He's from the future," Minato repeated, snatching a piece of dango for himself. "I know it's hard to wrap your head around, but…"
"No, no, I believe you," she said, placing the stick of dango back on the plate. "Still, though… a time-traveler. I didn't think something like that was even possible. Who else knows?"
"Sarutobi-sama, Kakashi, and Rin. We're planning on telling Tsunade and Jiraiya as well, but aside from them no one else can know."
Kushina nodded. "Right. So… what exactly happened?"
Minato sighed. "We don't know. Naruto says that he was blown off the Hokage Mountain by a strong wind," here, Kushina sighed in relief: the boy hadn't tried to kill himself, "and next thing he knows, he's in the hospital, six years in the past. The story we're telling everyone is that Naruto was orphaned not long ago, and that we're taking care of him until we can find a permanent caretaker."
"That sounds like it should work," Kushina said. "But what do you mean, he was blown off the Hokage Mountain?"
Minato shrugged sheepishly. "I don't know! That's just what Naruto told me. I'm sure it was caused by the strange person he mentioned seeing before he fell. If I had to guess, I'd say that in order to travel back in time he had to be moving at a certain speed."
Kushina frowned. "Sounds like a stupid method if it sent him to the hospital."
He agreed silently, the sight of the bloodied and broken boy still cemented in his mind.
"Did he get settled in alright?" Kushina asked.
"He sure did," Minato said. "Fell asleep the moment he hit the bed, I'm guessing – the one in that extremely orange room you decorated. He was still sleeping when I came here, so I left him some breakfast in the kitchen."
Kushina shivered. "Breakfast? Breakfast that you made?"
"It's onigiri!" he quickly assured her. "I know how to make onigiri, I promise it isn't poisonous!"
She gave him a look, before conceding. "Well, you can at least make a mediocre onigiri, I'll give you that. Anyway, did you buy him any clothes yesterday? These hospital gowns aren't very sturdy."
"We tried to buy clothes after we ate dinner yesterday, but the store closed early," Minato explained. "Luckily, I found some clothes at home that looked like they'd fit; my first shinobi outfit."
"I remember that old thing," Kushina said. "The giant blue blob. Didn't know you kept it!"
He grinned. There were too many memories associated with that outfit; there was no way he would've thrown it away. And what did she mean, blue blob? Blue was a perfectly acceptable color!
The two of them finished the rest of the dango in silence. After the food was all eaten, Minato saw Kushina's hands fist the sheets on her bed. She was looking anxiously at her lap, and Minato knew something was upsetting her.
"Minato…" Kushina said softly, her voice betraying her unease. "There's something that's been troubling me."
She didn't have to elaborate any further: Minato knew exactly what she was referring to.
"Jiraiya told you, then?"
She nodded. "He didn't need to, though. I could… I could feel it. Like a weight was lifted that I didn't know I was carrying." She looked him straight in the eyes. "Minato… how could this happen? How could the Kyuubi just… disappear?"
Minato stared at the floor, his hands balled into fists because he didn't know, he didn't know how anything like this could happen. And this ignorant, pathetic, uselessness he felt was something he'd always hated.
"I just don't know," he said, making no effort to hide the self-loathing he was feeling. "I don't know if it's dead, if it's been captured, if it escaped, I just don't know, and I'm sorry-"
He almost didn't notice when a warm hand grabbed his own, and his blue eyes met hers.
"We'll figure it out, Minato," she said, a knowing glint in her eyes. "It's alright. If anyone can find out why this happened, it's you."
And hearing those words from her mouth, he could believe them.
"Thanks," he said gratefully, before smirking in self-mockery. "Look at me, getting so worked up like this. I'm the Hokage; it's pathetic. I should be trying to fix the problem, not panic about it. And people say I'm the level-headed one."
Kushina smacked him good-naturedly, and opened her mouth to respond before a nurse walked into the room.
"Good morning Hokage-sama!" the nurse greeted, setting down a clipboard on the bedside table. "How are you feeling, Kushina-san?"
Kushina grumbled. "I told you all, I'm fine. I just need to get out of here!"
The nurse giggled. "Unfortunately, we have to run a few more tests, just to be safe," she told her, before turning to Minato. "If everything turns up alright, she'll be ready to leave later this afternoon."
He smiled. "See, that's not so bad, right Kushina?"
Kushina's face twisted in fear. "Minato, that's hours!"
The nurse went to help her out of bed. "We have the first test ready, Kushina-san, so if you could follow me, please?" The nurse had already grabbed Kushina's arms and was pulling her toward the exit.
"No! Minato-kun, save me!" she cried, already being pulled into the hallway.
"Can't do, Kushina-chan! But I'll be back this afternoon with Naruto, don't worry!" Minato said reassuringly.
He could hear Kushina shouting expletives at him all the way down the hall, and he sighed in amused exasperation. She really hated hospitals.
He supposed it was time for him to head back home and check up on Naruto. They still had some clothes shopping to do, after all. He just hoped that the boy hadn't gotten into any trouble while he was gone.
When Naruto awoke the next morning, he was taken aback by how well-rested he felt. The deep-set tension that had always rested in his bones seemed to have eased, and his muscles were more relaxed than they'd ever been before. His chest felt funny too, like someone had been sitting on it for the past six years and had finally gotten up.
He decided that he wasn't going to think about anything. He was just going to here, basking in the sunlight shining through the window, perfectly content. Eventually, he supposed that it was time to get up, and reluctantly he pulled the covers down and rolled out of bed.
He looked at the large, orange room, and everything came rushing back.
'Oh, right! I'm in the past, sleeping in the Yondaime Hokage's house… This is so cool!' It might've been strange how easily he was adapting to the situation, but then again, he'd never been normal.
He glanced at the clock hanging on the wall, and almost stumbled. It was after ten-thirty! He couldn't believe he slept in so late; what if Minato got mad? He tried to convince himself that if the man was actually angry, he'd have woken Naruto up by now, but his efforts failed.
He hesitantly went to the room's door, and saw a small note pinned on the door. He ripped it off to get a better look at it.
Good morning, sleepyhead!
I'm at the hospital right now to visit Kushina. I would've brought you along, but I figured you'd want to sleep in a bit.
I won't be gone too long, and once I get back we can buy you something to wear besides my old clothes! (I put those on the dresser.)
There's breakfast on the kitchen table if you get hungry. Eat as much as you'd like!
Naruto smiled as he read the note, his apprehension vanishing. And, if possible, his chest felt even lighter.
He checked above the dresser for the clothes Minato left and was surprised to find an outfit that was almost his size. A small, deep blue turtleneck was folded next to a pair of cargo pants of the same shade, and both looked very well-worn. At the foot of the dresser lay a pair of sandals.
He tried on the outfit, and although he had to roll up the sleeves and pant legs a few times, they fit quite nicely (although they could stand to have just a little bit of orange in them). The sandals were only a size too large, but he didn't have to wear those yet, so he left them by the dresser.
At that moment his stomach grumbled particularly loudly, and he decided that eating breakfast would be a very good idea.
He folded up the note and stuck it in his pants pocket, and ventured outside his room to find the kitchen. It took him a little while; he found many doors that looked like the right one, but led into various other rooms: other rooms that had no food in them, and were therefore useless.
Eventually he stumbled into the right room, and nearly cried tears of joy at the sight of food. The plate on the table contained several onigiri, and there was a tall glass of orange juice that was surprisingly still cold. The breakfast was very simple, yet better than what Naruto usually ate.
A look of horror crossed his face when he remembered Kushina's warning of Minato's atrocious cooking skills. He looked at the innocent-looking onigiri with suspicion; they didn't look inedible, but Naruto knew better than to trust by sight alone.
Hesitantly, he nibbled on one of the onigiri, and guessed that to the average person they might've tasted pretty standard. To Naruto, they were absolutely delicious.
He ate greedily after that, determined to eat as much as he could. He managed to consume five of the rice balls and most of his orange juice before his stomach was full. He leaned back in his chair, holding his belly that ached after eating so much, so quickly.
There were four onigiri left, and Naruto frowned as his old habits kicked in. Did he leave the leftover food there, or did he save it for later? He'd been so used to never knowing when he would get his next meal that the thought of leaving the food there seemed almost unfathomable.
Reaching a compromise with himself, he took two of the onigiri and wrapped them in a napkin. He ran back to his room and evaluated it carefully, before deciding to hide the food inside his nightstand's drawer.
'Just in case,' he thought, memories of his stomach churning in hunger flitting through his mind. 'Just in case.'
He stood there for a few seconds in thought, before realizing something.
He was bored.
Minato hadn't mentioned when he had left, or when he'd return. Naruto could be by himself for mere minutes or a number of hours.
Well, he supposed Minato wouldn't mind if he played outside for a bit. He was itching for some fresh air, and the chance to run around without a care in the world sounded too good to pass up. He slipped on the sandals by the dresser and left the room.
It took a bit of navigation, but finally he found a door that he thought would lead to the garden outside. He swung it open, and his jaw dropped.
The door didn't lead to the garden. It led to somewhere even better.
A training ground.
Excitement coursed through his veins as he took in the sight of the grounds. He'd never seen so much cool shinobi equipment before! There were training dummies and logs off to the side, and a large cabinet nearby seemed to hold all sorts of weapons. The entire grounds seemed to have areas with completely different environments. There was a small lake, a forested area, a large stretch of sand, and a grassy field as well.
'No wonder Minato wanted to become the Hokage!' Naruto would want to become the Hokage too, if it meant he got to live in a super cool house with an amazing training ground like this.
He decided that he would start with some kunai practice. His class at the Academy had only recently begun to practice with kunai, and they were still months away from using shuriken. Their sensei explained that shuriken lessons would come later, as more experience was needed to avoid hurting oneself.
While his peers were steadily getting the hang of throwing the kunai, he had still struggled enormously to hit even a single target. He hadn't bothered to ask his teachers for additional help; he knew they wouldn't give him any.
He ran over to the cabinet of what he hoped were weapons, and was not disappointed when he swung open the doors. There were some swords hanging on the inside of the doors, and there were boxes of shuriken, kunai, explosive tags, shinobi wire, and even a few Fūma shuriken he'd seen some older shinobi wear on their backs.
The sight almost made him drool. As much as he wanted to pick up a sword and practice with that, he knew he had to work on his kunai skills. He reached for the box of kunai, before he saw a box of a type of weapon he'd never seen before.
They were shaped like kunai, but they had a smaller prong on each side. The handle was thicker than normal kunai, and had a strange seal wrapped around the hilt. He picked one up, noting that they were a little heavier than normal kunai were.
It was very tempting to practice with the special kunai, but he knew that he needed to get his regular kunai skills up before he should use those. Reluctantly, he put the strange kunai back in its box, and grabbed the box of regular kunai instead.
With the box in hand, he went over to where the training dummies were lined up. He stood ten feet away from one of the dummies and set the box down, picking up a single kunai and twirling it in his hand.
'Alright, just like Sensei showed you.' Naruto took a deep breath, and moved into the stance that his sensei had instructed him to use. He focused intently on the circled target on the dummy's chest, evaluating its position and distance from his kunai and adjusting his stance accordingly.
He took another deep breath, and with the utmost concentration, threw the kunai.
The kunai buried itself into the wall, two feet away from the dummy's right leg.
Naruto gritted his teeth as his chest fell with disappointment. He tried to shake off his frustration; he knew his aim was terrible, that's why he was practicing!
He reached for another kunai from the box, reassumed the stance, and threw the kunai again.
Three feet away from its left arm.
A foot away from its head.
One kunai even went through the small space between the dummy's chest and its left arm.
Again and again he threw the many kunai, his brow furrowing in concentration until he reached into the box to find he'd run out of the knives.
His heart hurt with the disappointment he felt as he glanced at the result of his throwing spree. Aside from a few nicks made in the sides of the dummy, not a single kunai had landed on the target.
His hands clenched into fists, before he shoved the feeling of failure in the back of his mind. It didn't matter; he'd just keep practicing some more. With enough of it, he was sure to get better.
He carried the box over to where most of the kunai were lodged in the wall, and pulled each one out carefully. It took more effort than he'd thought; the kunai were buried very deep inside the wall.
After all of the kunai were back in the box, he went back to the same spot he'd thrown the kunai from, and reassumed his stance. The next kunai he threw almost nicked the dummy's head.
He grabbed another kunai, and concentrated so intently on the target that he didn't hear the footsteps behind him.
He turned around slowly to face the man behind him, and he felt waves of cold terror roll over him.
Minato had a very stern look on his face, and his arms were folded across his chest.
His entire being constricted in fear. He'd ruinedit. He had absolutely ruined it. He should've known better; of course Minato wouldn't want him snooping around his house, let alone stealing his weapons and practicing in histraining grounds! What was he thinking?
And of course the man he infuriated was one of the strongest shinobi in history. Forget about avoiding harm – he already knew that was inevitable. His main priority was getting out of this situation alive.
"I'm so, so sorry!" Naruto choked, his body shaking with unconcealed terror. "I didn't mean to snoop around your house without your permission, I shouldn't have, I wasn't thinking! I know I shouldn't have taken your weapons and used them and damaged your training equipment, and I promise I'll buy you new ones and repair the training dummies I scratched!" He had absolutely no idea how he would get the money to do so, but he would do anything if it meant he didn't have to die.
The man blinked. "What?"
Naruto's mind reeled. He'd spoken too quickly! He didn't think he could repeat his apology without stumbling over the words. Oh great, now he'd be even more angry.
Minato's firm gaze softened substantially. "I'm not upset about that, Naruto – I told you, this is your home now. You're allowed to look around it."
At Naruto's blank stare, the man continued. "I'm upset because practicing with kunai is dangerous. What if you'd cut your hand? If you were seriously injured, nobody would be here to help you." The man paused.
"It's okay for you to practice; in fact, I'm proud of you for taking the initiative to train in your free time. But only do so with adult supervision! Okay?" Minato gave him a comforting grin.
Naruto was silent, still staring at the man. What did Minato mean? He was upset because he could've gotten hurt? He remembered when he'd accidently sliced his hand open with a kunai the first day of practice at the academy, and Sensei had just brushed him off with a, 'toughen up, brat. Can't handle a little pain?' Why was Minato so different?
Tense seconds passed, and Naruto remained silent. After a while, the reassuring smile slipped off of Minato's face.
"Naruto," Minato said softly. "Come here."
He stiffened. He knew this was coming… he just wasn't ready. He knew there was no way he could run; there was nowhere to hide, and the man would catch him for sure.
Little by little he inched toward the man, his hands clenched tight, stepping forward until he stood right in front of Minato.
Minato dropped to his knees, and Naruto closed his eyes and bowed his head. Minato reached his arms around Naruto's body. 'reaching to choke me, no, to stab me from behind, to tear out my throat, no, no, no-'
Naruto opened one eye tentatively. Minato had wrapped his arms around Naruto's body: tightly, but not painfully. It took him several seconds before he realized what was happening.
Minato was hugging him.
"I'm not angry with you, Naruto," Minato said quietly. "And I'm not going to hurt you."
The next words came out of Naruto's mouth before he could think to hold them back.
Minato hugged him tighter. "I promise."
He didn't know whether it was the sheer conviction in the older man's voice or the words themselves that caused Naruto to lift his own arms and hug Minato back.
They stayed like that for a few minutes. Eventually Minato pulled back, placing his hands on Naruto's shoulders and giving him a kind look. "You okay?"
He nodded slowly.
Minato smiled. "Good." He stood up, and walked over to where Naruto had placed the box of kunai.
"Since we're already out here, and you've already been practicing for a while, why don't we continue?" Minato asked, reaching for a kunai and holding it out to him. "I can give you some pointers too, if you'd like."
He blinked. "Really?" he asked hopefully, taking the kunai from Minato's hands.
"Really," Minato said. "But before we begin, I have a few questions to ask you."
Naruto was a little apprehensive, but nodded anyway. "Sure."
"You're not in the academy, right?" Minato asked.
Naruto blushed; the man had probably come to that conclusion from his terrible throwing skills. "Um, no… I'm halfway through my first year."
The man look confused. "Halfway? But it's only…" He trailed off, before his eyes lit up in understanding. "What day was it when you came back in time?"
"It was… November twenty-seventh, I think," Naruto replied.
"November, huh? That's what I thought," Minato said. "Today is April fourth."
"April?" Naruto groaned. "That means I have to start the academy all over again!" The last six months had been torture, and repeating them was the absolute last thing he wanted to do.
Minato chuckled. "Hey, at least you'll be a step ahead of everyone!" His eyes widened as he realized something. "Naruto, what day is your birthday?"
"October tenth." Naruto couldn't keep the distaste out of his voice.
If Minato noticed his bitter tone, he chose not to question it. "Okay. So, that means you're six years and… forty-nine days old. So, since today's April fourth, then that means you'd turn seven on," the man paused to do mental math, "…February fifteenth. So it's kind of like a temporary replacement birthday!"
"February? Replacement birthday?" Naruto asked.
"Yup!" Minato said. "Of course, I can understand if you don't want to switch your birthday-"
"No," Naruto interrupted quietly. "It's alright." A small smile spread on his face. "I didn't like my old one that much anyway."
He saw Minato frown, and wondered what the older man was thinking. Had he said too much?
After a few seconds, the man grinned weakly. "Right! So, for now, your birthday is February fifteenth. But before I got distracted, I meant to say: the Academy year begins next Monday. Do you want me to enroll you? I'm not sure how long you'll be here, so you technically don't have to, but I thought I would offer just in case."
Naruto was hesitant. He never liked the Academy: the teachers were mean, his classmates hated him, and he felt like he never learned anything. On the other hand, he didn't want to be a nuisance to Minato by lazing around all day. After a minute or two of thinking, he came to a decision.
"Sure!" He grinned. "Like you said, it'll be pretty cool to already know everything." He wasn't sure if he made the right decision or not, but only time would tell.
"I'll sign you up first thing tomorrow morning, then," Minato said, before turning to look at the nearly unmarred training dummy Naruto had been practicing on. "I see you were practicing your aim, huh? Let's keep working from there."
Naruto flushed, self conscious of his complete lack of skill.
Minato noticed, and gave him a pat on the shoulder. "Hey, no need to get embarrassed! All it takes is some time and practice."
Naruto took a deep breath, and his eyes regained their determined glint. "Right!"
"Alright, now, first things first; I want to see your stance," Minato said, stepping back a few feet.
Naruto nodded; when students first begin to train with thrown weapons, they're shown a stance that makes aiming much easier. As the students get older and more experienced, they can then start to move away from that stance, and practice aiming while in motion. Naruto moved into the pose that Sensei had shown him, eyes focused on his target.
He remained like that for several seconds, until he realized Minato had yet to say a word. He turned to look at the man, who had an unreadable expression on his face.
"Who showed you this stance?" Minato's voice betrayed none of his emotion, and Naruto wasn't sure what he was thinking.
"Sensei did," Naruto said, confused by the man's tone. "He said that since I was smaller than everyone else, I had to learn a special stance." Had he messed up? He was sure this was how his sensei had shown him.
Minato stayed silent, and for a second he looked almost angry.
"Forget what your sensei showed you," Minato said, and Naruto thought he sounded somewhat bitter. "Clearly he didn't know what he was talking about."
Naruto looked at the ground. Sensei probably had known what he was talking about; or, rather, he knew who he was talking to. He should've known better than to listen to what Sensei said. He wished that he'd remembered the stance his sensei had shown the rest of the class.
"Lift your right elbow up," Minato said, and Naruto followed the man's directions. "Good. Now, move your right leg out and forward a little; it should be the closest thing to your target. And try moving your left arm out a little to help balance yourself."
"Like this?" he asked, noting that the new stance felt a lot more natural than the one his sensei had shown him.
Minato nodded. "Perfect. Now, throw that kunai."
He breathed in deeply, and he focused on the target more intently than he had all morning. His eyes were glued to the circled target painted on the dummy's chest. 'You can do it, Naruto. Just relax!' He took one more deep breath, and let the kunai fly.
The kunai soared through the air, and buried itself into the dummy's right shoulder. It hadn't hit the target he'd been aiming for, but he hit the dummy.
"I hit it!" Naruto cried, beaming up at Minato. "I actually hit it!" Normally it took him around a hundred tries to hit the training logs in class, but he'd just hit the training dummy on his first try!
Minato gave him a proud smile, and ruffled his hair. "You sure did! I bet it'll be no time at all until you're hitting the center every time!"
Naruto felt his heart warm up from the man's kind words. No one had ever believed in him like that before.
He continued to practice for the next half-hour, his aim steadily improving as Minato gave him tips every so often.
After he hit the dummy's center four consecutive times, he decided that he wanted to try something different. He pulled the last three kunai out of the box, holding two in his left hand and one in his right. He could see Minato glancing at him curiously, and Naruto hoped that he didn't mess this up.
After a few seconds of mental preparation, he let the kunai in his right hand fly through the air. Immediately after he let go, he grabbed another kunai from his left hand and threw that one as well, the third kunai following not long after. With anticipation, he looked to see the results of his throwing spree.
The first kunai had hit the dummy's target dead-center. The second had impaled the center of the target on the dummy to the left of the one he'd been training with. The third, the one on the right.
"Whoa! Did you see that?" Naruto asked, turning around to face Minato. "I hit them! I hit all three of them! Right in the target, too!"
Pride shone from Minato's eyes. "That was very impressive!" he said, and Naruto beamed. "The Academy won't know what hit them."
Naruto ran to pick up the kunai so he could hide the enormous grin on his face. Only a few were wedged in the wall, the rest having been firmly stuck in the dummy. He was excited to see that the majority of them were located near the target on its chest.
"Naruto, I want to ask you something," Minato said seriously, as Naruto ran back to place the kunai in the box.
"Okay," Naruto said, a little puzzled.
"Why do you want to be a shinobi?"
Naruto's eyes opened wide in shock, before a small smile of understanding crossed his face. That question, huh.
"What do you mean, Jiji?" Naruto asked.
The Sandaime finished signing a piece of paperwork, and looked him in the eyes. "I meant exactly what I said, Naruto. Why do you want to become a shinobi? The Academy training is much more difficult than the civilian school. Why would you want to go through that instead?"
"Um…" Naruto sat silently for a few seconds. "So I can become stronger?" He'd phrased it as a question rather than an answer.
The Sandaime sighed, and Naruto knew he'd said the wrong thing.
"I'll tell you what, Naruto," the old man said, leaning back in his chair. "If you can give me one good reason why you want to enter the Academy, I will gladly sign you up. Otherwise, I'm afraid you'll have to wait until you're eight years old, just like everyone else."
"What? But that's two whole years!" Naruto knew that there was no way he could wait that long.
The Hokage nodded. "Yes, it is. But if you can prove that you're truly dedicated to this, then, like I said, I will enroll you. The application deadline is next week, so you have some time to think it over."
Naruto grumbled, and ran to the exit door. "I'll be back in a little bit, Jiji! And I'll have your answer too!"
The Sandaime smiled at him. "I look forward to it, Naruto. Good luck."
Naruto was confident that he would find the answer Jiji was looking for in no time. After a few days, he'd come up with a few answers that he thought would work: so he could learn super cool jutsu and kick people's butts, and so he could get strong enough so that people would leave him alone.
The Hokage had flat-out rejected the first one, and gave the second one a moment's thought before refusing that one as well.
Naruto was upset that the Hokage hadn't accepted those answers, but he hadn't let that bother him. He still had some time left, after all.
By the end of the sixth day, he was rightfully nervous. He needed to have an answer by the next day, and he didn't know where he could find one!
He ended up walking to a park that afternoon, and settled himself on a branch of his favorite tree so he could think. After a few hours, he'd yet to come up with a good enough reason.
Frustrated, he'd moved to jump down, but stopped when he saw a commotion below.
"What do you want?" A boy around Naruto's age asked fearfully, protectively clutching a small white dog in his arms. He was surrounded by four older boys that looked about thirteen years old, and they looked less than happy.
"What do we want? I'll tell you, dog-breath!" one of the boys sneered. "Your sister made us all look like complete fools in the last Chuunin exams when she was the only one who was promoted!"
"And like we'd take getting outperformed by an eleven year-old girl and not do anything about it," another boy said menacingly. "So instead of going after her, we're going after her little brother."
The younger boy was shaking, and so was Naruto. He tried to will himself to move, to jump down from that tree and defend the boy and his dog, but his muscles were frozen.
One of the older boys pulled his fist back to punch the boy with the dog, before he was thrown to the ground by a large husky-like dog.
"HEY! What do you think you're doing?" a girl with long brown hair shouted, running up to the group with two more huskies at her side. She took one look at her brother's tear-stained face, and her face twisted into a snarl.
"Dammit!" one of the boys shouted, and ran away with the other two. They were quickly pursued by the three huskies, and the boy who had reached to punch the girl's brother was pulled up by his collar.
The girl punched him in the jaw, and he fell to the ground. He glared at her as he clutched his mouth. "You bitch!" he said, scrambling to stand up and ran to follow his peers.
"Stay away from my brother!" the girl shouted after them, before turning to the little boy. "Are you alright, Kiba? Did they hurt you?"
"No," the boy sniffled, and rubbed his eyes. "Nee-chan, you were so cool though!"
His sister laughed. "Just doing my job as a shinobi and a big sister, that's all. Now, come on! Dinner's almost ready, that's why I went looking for you!" She grabbed her brother's hand, and the two of them walked off, unaware of the boy watching them.
Naruto remained motionless in the tree for a whiles afterward, processing the events that had just occurred.
That girl was strong, enough to scare away four other shinobi. Her brother had stared at her with such admiration, said she was cool. And the girl…
'Just doing my job as a shinobi.'
He thought of Jiji, Teuchi-san, Ayame-chan, and he found his reason.
'That's it" he shouted, ecstatic at finally finding an answer. He knew that Jiji would be happy with this one, he had to be!
He jumped down from the tree and bolted toward the Hokage tower, running as fast as he could so he could catch Jiji before he left. He'd managed to make it in less than five minutes, and when he finally reached Jiji's office and flung the door open, he was completely out of breath.
The Sandaime had been finishing up for the day, and was startled by Naruto's appearance.
"I have your answer, Jiji!" Naruto shouted energetically.
The Sandaime quirked an eyebrow at Naruto's determined face. "Oh? Well then, Naruto, I'll ask you again. Why do you want to be a shinobi?"
"To protect the people I care about."
Minato's eyes widened, and he seemed shocked into silence. After a few seconds, a gigantic grin spread across his face.
"To protect people, huh?" Minato said, sounding absolutely thrilled. "You'll make a good shinobi, Naruto. Maybe you'll even end up a Hokage, like me!"
Naruto wrinkled his nose. Hokage? He'd pass on that, thanks; he didn't want to end up an old geezer like Jiji!
Minato laughed at his expression. He picked up the box of kunai, and went to place it back in the weapons cabinet.
"I think that's enough training for the day; look at how much you've improved already!" he said. "It's time to go get you some new clothes; I won't force you to wear my old clothes forever! We can grab some lunch after that, and then we'll go rescue Kushina from the hospital. Does that sound good?"
Naruto nodded, masking his anxiety at the prospect of shopping. The shopkeepers would always refuse to sell him any of their products; his only clothes were gifts from Jiji, and even then those didn't come often. He guessed that Jiji didn't know that he was refused service.
Still, Naruto was wary of shopping. The shopkeepers would see what a monster he was, then they'd tell Minato, and then Minato would think he was a monster too, and-
"I'm not going to hurt you. I promise."
No. Minato wouldn't do that. He wouldn't.
In the one day that Naruto had known the man, he had already grown to trust him, perhaps even more than anyone he'd ever met. Well, aside from Jiji. 'Maybe it's a Hokage thing?' So, instead of being hesitant, Naruto decided he was going to face this ordeal with unwavering resolve.
He wasn't alone, after all.
Minato had a difficult time wrapping his head around what just happened.
It should've been simple. He was supposed to get home, find Naruto eating breakfast at the table, tell him how Kushina was doing, then go and buy some clothes. Easy, straightforward, no worries.
Of course, it didn't exactly work out as planned.
When he'd arrived home, Naruto hadn't been in the kitchen. The stray thought that Naruto was still asleep crossed his mind, but was discarded once he saw the near empty plate of onigiri. No, Naruto was awake. All he had to do was find him.
He'd called around the house for him, but no one had answered. He'd considered the thought that Naruto was outside, and he went to the back yard door. On his way there, he passed by the half-open door to the training grounds.
He peeked out the door, and sure enough, there was Naruto, throwing kunai at one of the training dummies. From the back, it was almost like looking at a clone; the spiky blond-haired boy was wearing Minato's first shinobi outfit, and from the back he looked identical to Minato when he'd been that young.
Naruto was standing awkwardly as he threw each kunai, and failed to hit the target even once. The boy's aim needed a lot of work, but Minato was impressed by how deep the kunai were lodged into the wall. He was definitely stronger than he looked.
Naruto had collected the rest of the kunai, and was starting to throw them again. Minato doubted that the boy was in the academy; the school year hadn't started yet, and the boy was only six years old. Most people didn't enroll until they were eight. He did wonder, though, why Naruto was practicing his aim in the first place.
Minato had decided that it was probably time for him to step in and admonish the boy. While he admired the boy's determination, he needed to understand that practicing with kunai was dangerous, and he could only do so with adult supervision.
When Naruto turned around, Minato expected to see some embarrassment at being caught red-handed, maybe even a bit of panic.
What he'd not expected to see was the pure, unadulterated fear shining in Naruto's eyes.
Naruto had been afraid of him.
Minato had tried to assure Naruto that he was only upset because he could've hurt himself, and that had only seemed to confuse the boy. It was as if no one had ever been worried for his own welfare before.
Naruto had remained still even after Minato's explanation, and appeared to be expecting some sort of punishment for his actions.
So when Minato pulled Naruto into his arms for a hug, he had felt the boy stiffen in shock. And when he'd declared that he would never hurt him, the tiny "promise?" the boy had uttered had broken his heart.
After he'd been sure that Naruto was alright, he offered to help the boy with his aim. The boy had been embarrassed, but agreed, and Minato had asked to see his stance.
When Naruto showed him the stance his sensei had taught him, Minato had been absolutely livid. That stance would've gotten the boy killed in an instant. How terrible of a world would it be in six years, to where an academy instructor could get away with blatantly sabotagingof a six year-old?
What kind of life had that boy suffered through?
And yet, when Minato had asked him why he'd chosen to become a shinobi, that boy…
"To protect the people I care about."
"So, what kinds of stuff are we going to buy?" Naruto asked cheerfully, jumping across the rocks on the side of the trail.
"Mostly clothes; shirts, pants, underwear, shoes, stuff like that," Minato replied, deciding that now wasn't the time to dwell on what had happened. "I'd like to buy you a set of blunted kunai too, if we have the time."
"Blunt?" Naruto looked faintly disappointed.
"Hey, they're not so bad!" Minato said. "And you can practice with those on your own, but only those. If you use any of the other weapons without supervision, then I'll have to ban you from the training grounds." He wasn't particularly fond of the idea, but he didn't want Naruto to get injured due to Minato's negligence.
Naruto nodded sincerely, and Minato knew he understood. "Got it!"
The two of them continued toward the clothes store they'd stopped at yesterday. He noticed that the closer they got to the store, the quieter Naruto got. He wondered why Naruto was so nervous to go shopping; as much as he thought about it, he couldn't think of a reason why.
They walked for several minutes before they reached the store, and Minato was pleased to see that it was open this time. He opened the door for Naruto, and followed behind hm.
"Tetsuro-san?" Minato called, looking around the store for the man.
The man in question poked his head out from behind a rack of clothes, before visibly startling. "Hokage-sama!" He rushed over to the store's entrance to greet the man, before looking at Naruto in shock.
"I didn't know you had a son!" he said, visibly stunned.
Minato inwardly chuckled. That was the second time Naruto was mistaken for his son. He knew they had the same eye and hair color, but the similarities ended there.
"He's not my son," Minato explained, grinning a bit. "But don't you recognize him?"
Tetsuro looked intently at Naruto, who was looking at the man with an emotion Minato couldn't place, before the man's eyes lit up in realization.
"You're that boy we brought to the hospital a couple of days ago!" Tetsuro exclaimed. "And you look so much better! I'm glad you're alright."
"Thanks," Naruto said unsurely, and to Minato it almost looked as if the boy expected the man to explode like a bomb.
Minato had no idea that Naruto wasn't seeing the kind, worried clothes-store owner. He had no idea that all Naruto could see was the bitter, feeble man who glared at him with more hatred than most. Naruto was looking at the person the man in front of him would become.
Luckily, Tetsuro didn't seem to notice Naruto's uneasy attitude, and began to lead them excitedly toward the children's section. "So, Hokage-sama, I take it you're looking after him for the time being?"
"Yes," he said, and cringed as he looked at the bright, gaudy clothes around him. "Tetsuro-san, do you have something a little more fitting for a shinobi in training?"
Tetsuro blinked, before chuckling. "Joining the Academy already, huh?" he said cheerfully to Naruto, before leading them in another direction. "Luckily for you, we just received a new shipment of shinobi clothing, and I'm sure we'll find something that fits."
The section they were led to had much more muted colors, Minato noted with approval.
Tetsuro stopped in front of a rack with the smallest clothes size, and left with a, "let me know if you need any help."
Naruto seemed less tense after the shopkeeper left, and started to rifle through the clothes excitedly. The clothes on the rack appeared to be Naruto's size, and there was an assortment of shirts and pants in acceptable colors.
Minato was, of course, all too happy to help Naruto choose what he wanted to wear.
"Minato, you're only picking out blue clothes!"
"Am I? I hadn't noticed! You have to admit, though, this would be a great shirt, right?"
He laughed, and turned back to look for more clothes before he heard Naruto gasp. "Naruto?"
Naruto pulled out a shirt, his eyes shining. "This one."
It was a dark orange T-shirt, with black borders along the neckline, sleeves, and hem. On the front was the Konoha symbol, outlined in black like the borders were. It wouldn't have been Minato's first choice - the orange was a little too bright to be discrete - , but Naruto seemed absolutely taken with it.
"That should be okay," Minato said, "but just to be on the safe side, why don't we get you a jacket to go with it? That way if the shirt's too noticeable, you can hide it."
Naruto nodded in agreement. "Sure!" he said, before searching through the section of jackets.
In the end, Naruto walked out of the store wearing the orange T-shirt and a pair of baggy pants that went down to his ankles (and they were blue, Minato thought gleefully). A pair of standard blue shinobi sandals were on his feet, and he had a dark grey jacket tied around his waist. All in all, Minato thought he looked very prepared for the Academy next week.
Minato had also bought a few more shirts in all sorts of colors (in blue, green, grey, blue, black, red, and did he mentionblue?) and some pants as well. Naruto had seemed absolutely thrilled at all the clothes, and a little guilty too, which Minato had to assure him many times that it was okay, and he didn't have to worry about paying for it.
They'd also stopped at a weapons shop next door. Minato picked out a set of blunted kunai and shuriken for Naruto to practice with, and threw in a blank scroll as well.
"What's that for?" Naruto asked curiously, as Minato took out a small brush and began to paint seals on the scroll.
"You'll see," Minato said, before imbuing some of his chakra into the seals. He placed all of the purchases they had made on top of the open scroll, and with a hand seal, the bags disappeared.
"Whoa!" Naruto shouted, jumping back. "What did you do?"
"I sealed the clothes into this scroll," Minato said, picking it up off of the ground. "That way we don't have to lug around all those bags everywhere. Once you're a little older, you should consider studying sealing; it's really quite useful!" He pocketed the scroll, and the two of them walked down the road.
"Hey, can you seal a scroll inside of another scroll?"
Minato opened his mouth to respond, but stopped as he considered the question. "You know… I've actually never thought of that! Let's try it out when we get home, okay?"
Naruto nodded enthusiastically. "Awesome!" he shouted, before falling silent. The two of them continued to walk down the street, and it was quiet for a while before Naruto finally spoke up.
Minato looked back at Naruto, who had stopped in the middle of the road. The boy kept his gaze planted firmly on his feet, and seemed to be internally debating whether or not to speak up.
"Yes?" he asked, curious.
Naruto remained silent few moments, before he raised his head, and Minato was taken aback by the bright, utterly genuine smile on his face.
Minato blinked, and smiled back. "Anytime."
Naruto ran up a few paces to catch up with the older man, and the two of them resumed their walk. They managed around ten steps before a deep, rumbling roar broke the silence.
The blond boy blushed. "Uh…"
Minato chuckled, mentally scolding himself. It was already two thirty, a glance at his watch told him. Naruto hadn't eaten since early that morning; of course he would be hungry. He needed to make sure his young charge was fed properly.
"Hungry? Let's go get some lunch before we rescue Kushina from the hospital," he said, and Naruto beamed. "Where do you want to eat?"
"Can we get ramen again?" Naruto asked.
Minato looked positively giddy. "Of course! I was hoping you'd say that," he said, and Naruto cheered. "Ichiraku's, here we come!"
They hurried to the ramen stand with a skip in their steps, images of delicious miso ramen, pork ramen and chicken ramen dancing in their heads. Minutes later, the aroma of each delicious ramen flavor wafted through the air, and the two ramen addicts rejoiced.
"Long time no see, Minato!" Teuchi said with a chuckle. "Good to see you again too, Naruto. So, what'll it be?"
"Four bowls of miso ramen, please!" Minato said, helping Naruto onto a stool and taking a seat in his own.
Teuchi nodded, and turned around to begin cooking the ramen.
"Is there anything else you need me to get after we eat?" Minato asked Naruto. "I know I must be forgetting a few things."
Naruto shook his head after a few seconds. "Nope!" he said. "I've got everything I-"
"Tou-san! Tou-san, I got the kamaboko from the store!"
A little girl ran down the road toward the ramen stand, holding a wrapped package tightly in her arms. Her brown hair was pulled up into two pigtails held back by a white bandana, and she was smiling widely.
"They didn't have any green onions though," she said, almost at the stand, "so I - Ah!" The girl squealed as she tripped over a rock.
Before Minato could move, Naruto had already leapt out of his seat, diving out on the dirt road and catching the girl moments before she hit the ground.
"Are you okay?" Naruto yelled, helping her to her feet and handing her the package of kamaboko that had fallen out of her arms.
She nodded, blushing furiously as she took back the wrapped package. "Thank you!" she squeaked, failing to hide her embarrassment.
With the gratitude directed at him, Naruto's face took on a pink tint of its own. "Don't worry about it!" he said quickly, avoiding eye contact. He stepped back, his face becoming redder by the second, and quickly jumped back onto his stool.
Minato smirked. Looks like a certain someone just got his first crush.
"Is this the daughter I've been hearing so much about, Teuchi?" he asked jovially as the girl raced behind the counter to hide, still thoroughly mortified.
The other man laughed, placing two bowls of ramen each in front of him and Naruto. "She sure is! Ayame-chan just turned five a few months ago. Looks more like her mother every day." The man paused, and glared pseudo-menacingly at Naruto. "Which reminds me, kid – don't get any ideas."
Naruto looked absolutely befuddled as Minato and Teuchi both laughed heartily. After he realized what the ramen chef had meant, his blush returned full-force. He distracted himself by voraciously digging into his ramen. After the two men had stopped laughing, Minato joined him.
Teuchi sighed at the sight of the two ramen addicts inhaling the noodles. He was definitely not complaining, though – those two could probably keep him in business alone.
Throughout the rest of their meal, Ayame kept popping up in the kitchen, helping her father with the dishes and sneaking glances at Naruto every once in a while. Naruto, in turn, tried to subtly impress her in all sorts of ways, from drinking an entire bowl of ramen broth in one gulp, to telling tales of his adventures at the academy.
It was undeniably adorable.
"Ayame-chan was pretty cute, wasn't she?" Minato asked as the two of them walked away from the ramen stand, headed to the hospital to pick Kushina up.
Naruto blushed. "No!" he denied vehemently. "Wait, I mean yes! I mean… um…"
"I'm just messing with you," Minato said, grinning, before ruffling the boy's hair. Naruto would normally protest to such an action, but for once he let it slide, settling for a simple glare instead.
The two of them turned around, and Naruto saw Minato wave his hand at the owner of the voice. A woman with a bulging stomach approached, holding the hand of young boy.
She smiled in greeting, before a worried look crossed her face. "I heard about Kushina," she said quietly. "How is she doing? How are you doing?"
Minato sighed, and attempted a grin. "She's alright – physically, at least. Emotionally, well… it'll take some time. For both of us."
Naruto saw the pain in the older man's eyes, and wondered what had happened to his wife to make him so sad. He'd seen Minato try and hide it for the majority of the day; every once in a while, he would become lost in thought, silent and pensive until Naruto eventually gave him a nudge. Although somewhat emotionally oblivious, he understood that the man needed time to heal, and as such waited as long as possible before disturbing him from his thoughts.
The woman reached for Minato's shoulder in a comforting gesture. "I'm so sorry," she said. "I know you'll make it through, though. You're both very strong."
"Her, especially. Next to her, I'm just a sniveling three year-old brat. Her words, not mine," he said, and they both shared a laugh.
The woman turned her gaze on Naruto. "And who is this lovely little boy? He isn't your son, is he?" she asked, and Naruto's ingrained habit of tensing and waiting for cold glares overtook him momentarily.
"This is Naruto," Minato introduced. "He's an orphan Kushina and I are caring for as of yesterday. We just finished buying some new clothes."
"Hi," Naruto greeted, trying to shake off his wariness. No one had said done anything remotely cruel to him since he'd arrived in the past, and he had to keep telling himself that they never would.
"It's nice to meet you!" the woman said. After a moment, she gave her child a little squeeze of the hand.
"Hello," the woman's son said softly.
"We were just on our way to the hospital to see Kushina," Minato said. "Would you like to join us?"
The woman sighed. "I would love to," she said, "but we must be getting home soon. I'd only intended to be gone for a little while, just to get away. Things are a little… tense, at home."
"Tense? Why?" Minato asked with concern, and Naruto couldn't help but be curious too.
"It's my fault."
Naruto stared at the quiet boy who'd spoken up, and noted the boy's somewhat defeated voice.
"Oh, don't say that, sweetheart. Tou-san is just being difficult; it's not your fault at all," she assured her son, before looking at Minato to explain. "My husband was quite upset when my son expressed his aversion to enrolling in the shinobi Academy."
Naruto was shocked. The boy didn't want to enter the Academy?
"Well, I can sort of understand where your husband's coming from," Minato said, "but I guess he'll just have to-"
"You don't want to be a shinobi?"
Minato and the woman stared at Naruto after his interruption, but he was too focused on the boy in front of him to pay them any notice.
"No, I don't."
"But why?" Naruto asked, flabbergasted. Why wouldn't he want to be a shinobi? Sure, it took a lot of work, but didn't the pros outweigh the cons?
The boy frowned. "I don't want to hurt people."
Naruto made no notion to hide the shock on his face. To the boy, perhaps it looked as if Naruto hadn't even considered the fact that being a ninja meant hurting, even killing others.
"Are you stupid? That's not what it means to be a shinobi at all!"
It was the boy's turn to look shocked, clearly not expecting that response. He saw the surprised look on Minato's face from the corner of his eye, and Naruto continued on.
"You become a shinobi to get stronger and stronger, so you can protect people, not hurt them! When you have someone you're fighting for, you can get even stronger. And the stronger you are, the more people you can protect! If being a shinobi was only about hurting people, then why would anyone want to be one?"
Naruto knew that by that point everyone was looking at him, but he didn't break his gaze with the boy. They stared at each other for several moments, before the boy looked down at his feet, contemplating what Naruto had said.
Naruto felt a hand on his shoulder, and he looked up to see Minato give him a supportive smile.
"Well, I'm sorry to cut our chat short," Minato said, looking at the woman who appeared to be almost as shocked as her son. "But, Kushina is probably waiting for us by now. It was very nice to see you two."
"Oh… Yes, of course," the woman said dazedly, before shaking herself out of whatever reverie she was in and looking at Naruto warmly. "It was very nice to meet you, Naruto. And Minato, tell Kushina I said hello, if you would."
Minato nodded, before holding Naruto's hand and leading him back down the road.
"Bye!" Naruto called back with a wave, and the two of them went on their way. After a few minutes of walking, Naruto realized that he had never asked for their names.
As she watched the two walk to the hospital, Uchiha Mikoto looked down at her son, who had yet to say a word. "Are you alright?"
Itachi nodded, still deep in thought.
Mikoto stared at her son for a few seconds, before giving him a smile and an assuring squeeze of his hand. "Let's go home."
"'Kay," Itachi said quietly, and the two of them departed.
Did I surprise any of you there at the end? Yes? No? Darn. Well, I tried.
I hope this made up for the extremely long wait. I know it probably didn't, but personally I think this is the best chapter I've written yet. Once again, feedback is appreciated! I would especially like to know how this chapter compares to the first five. Is the writing better, or worse? Please let me know!
Playlist: (aka. The reason this chapter was written.)
Plan Three - Brush It Off (THIS ONE. ESPECIALLY. SO GOOD. It's like Breaking Benjamin with orchestral parts. 3)
Foster the People – Helena Beat
Draconian – Silent Winter
The Last Samurai OST – The Final Charge
Avantasia – Lost in Space
Chevelle – Closure
E.S. Posthumus – Mosane Pi
Kyle Landry – Naruto Medley (Piano)