Of course he remembered the Kyuubi. Teuchi was a simple man and far from a shinobi, but he knew true terror when he saw it. When he saw it flatten buildings, crush trees, kill his wife in front of him - there could be no mistake.
Of course he hated it. It. The thing that he saw, sometimes, running past him. Running away, most likely, no doubt from some no-good deed. It wasn't a good sign if It was starting so early; surely things would escalate? He had trusted the Hokage to take care of it until he saw him walking down the street with It one day, listening to It's childish babble. The Hokage was smiling. (The old fool may as well smile while he can.) It was a child now, or living in a child's shell, but one day It would be older, more dangerous by far.
Of course he was by nature a practical man. He never joined in the discussions, mostly mere daydreaming, of getting rid of It. It had too many powerful men under It's power. He would prefer to live quietly whilst he could. (Make the most of life whilst they still have it.)
Sometimes he woke up screaming in the night, seeing her body ripped again in two. Ayame would start crying then. His precious daughter, who must now grow up without a mother.
What did they care for his screaming? (He was no ninja, only a man, and no great one at that.) What did they care for his struggles? Fewer people stopped at a ramen stand whilst they were still in mourning, when he was still in mourning; eyes sunken into dark circles from so many sleepless nights, obvious in grief, in the terror of slipping into poverty, but no one wanted to be served by someone with such dark eyes when they were trying to forget their own.
Business continued at a sluggish pace. Five years, three months, and two days passed, before It found Teuchi himself.
The first he was aware of It was when he felt eyes on him, heard distant whispers. He turned and watched It, the child It, stopped in the middle of the market with a wide circled of clear space around him. It was looking right at his stand, curiosity in It's features. There were whispers, looks of pity. Teuchi turned bitterly away, and made an effort to smile at Ayame's dark eyes. What good was their pity now? He would much rather their money. The only schooling he could give Ayame was in his trade, and she deserved better than to be a ramen chef, but he had nothing else to offer.
There was the sound of scuffling. He turned again. It was trying to clamber onto a stool far taller than It. The effect was comical, or might have been, had his wife not flashed before his eyes. He stared at It darkly, with his grieving eyes, but It seemed not to care once it had found It's way onto the stool.
Hair the colour of the sun and eyes the colour of the sky. Made so perfectly - a son anyone would kill for. (But It mocks It's own perfection, marking whiskers on It's face. It's true identity.)
It played a role well, though. It swung It's legs like any boy would, grinning proudly at being able to get up without help, like an orphan without anyone to call to help might. The grin faded when it turned on him, on his dark eyes, but did not disappear entirely.
(Real smiles are easier to kill, he thinks, remembering practising how to fake happiness for Ayame, but he dismisses the thought.)
"Hey!" It said, like It was a real child. "I'm Uzumaki Naruto!"
He didn't answer. It was unperturbed.
"I'm hungry," It said. "You sell food here, right?"
"Ramen," Teuchi answered, as shortly, as curtly as he could.
He didn't turn It away. Any money was money right now.
"I've never tried ramen before..." It muttered, staring curiously at the menu over his head. It smiled again. "Can I have a bowl?"
"Can you pay for it?"
It looked confused, and pulled out a bulging purse - shaped like a frog. "Um, is this enough?"
Ayame stared. Teuchi laid a hand on her head. She hadn't seen that much money in a purse for a long time. "That's more than enough. What flavour do you want?"
He spoke monotonously, mechanically, the bare necessities only. (His whole life has been stripped to the bare necessities; he knows them well by now.) Somehow, though, It only reacted with a brighter smile, more happiness. It found pleasure in the strangest places. It radiated contentment. It... confused him.
"I dunno! You pick something for me!"
So Teuchi did. He even took his normal pride in the bowl, though with a heavy heart - he was still a chef and every bowl had to be at its best. That was his rule, the one rule he refused to go back on. Only the best at Ichiraku's.
It bounced eagerly in It's seat as he prepared the food, and Ayame watched, silently. So much energy. Where did It get it all from? Ayame had been lively as a toddler but this was in another league altogether.
The bouncing soon stopped and was replaced by babble. Now, at least, he knew why the Hokage listened to It: there was no other choice. If It thought you were ignoring It, It would just speak louder than before. It talked about the Hokage, mostly, though It called him Jiji. (Of course the Kyuubi can be so dismissive of him; a Hokage is still a human.) It talked, too, about how It was going to enter the academy next year, and become super-awesome-powerful, and then become-
"Hokage?" Ayame asked in astonishment, as Teuchi froze. He hadn't realised she had been listening, too busy with his ramen - but yes, she was barely peeking her head over the counter, watching It with slightly wide eyes.
He only realised what It had said when It laughed and grinned at his daughter. "Yeah! I'm gonna be the best Hokage ever! Even better than the Yondaime!"
"What do you want to be Hokage for?" Ayame asked.
The grin faded. The sun disappeared behind a cloud. The brilliance, tainted brilliance though it was, had gone. It traced lines and knots in the wood with It's fingers. (Real smiles are easier to kill, he thinks, only this time it rings uncomfortably true.)
"I'm gonna be acknowledged by this whole village," the boy muttered. "I'm gonna be the best so no one will be able to ignore me, and everyone will respect me."
"That's cool," Ayame said, smiling a little timidly, though only Teuchi could see it. "I want to be the best ramen chef in the world, just like my dad!"
He almost let the noodles overcook because he was trying to stop his heart bursting with pride.
(Even if it is all that Teuchi can give her, it's the perfect gift if it's all that she wants.)
The boy brightened and looked back up again, smiling again. (He has hair like the sun, and he shines just as much - like it is bursting out of him and it can only be suppressed, not destroyed.) "That's awesome too! When I'm Hokage you'll be my Chief Ramen-Maker!"
"But you haven't tried ramen yet."
"I know it's going to be good, though! It has my name in it!"
Teuchi had only just realised himself that the name the boy gave is indeed a ramen topping. His back was turned to the children now, and he felt safe in smiling, just a little, for this once.
The boy babbled more, and Ayame barely got a word in edgeways, but she looked a little disappointed when Teuchi set the ramen in front of him and the boy immediately focussed on the food.
Teuchi was only worried when the boy stopped half-way through the first bite. Ayame looked at him nervously, shifting from foot to foot and biting her lip.
The boy slurped up the noodles and blurted out: "Ohmygodthisthebestfoodever!"
Teuchi is surprised first by how many words he can fit into one breath. Then-
The girl with the long red hair opens her eyes wide and slurps up the noodles. "Ohmygosh! This is, like, the best food ever!
Her date, the blonde-haired boy who will one day become Yondaime, laughs at her and says, "I told you it was good."
"Can I have another bowl?" she asks immediately, ignoring her boyfriend, and turning pleading eyes to Teuchi instead. "When I'm done? Pleeeease?"
"Can I have another bowl when I'm done? Pleasepleaseplease?"
"You're the first person to say mine's the best food ever." Teuchi laughs, although he is younger then, and finds her love of it amusing. It's just food, not his life and livelihood. "Next bowl's on the house!"
"You're only the second person to say that," he said slowly. "The next bowl's on the house."
And the boy smiled brighter than ever before. (Real smiles are easier to break. Be careful with this one.) "Really? Yay! More ramen!" and then, as an afterthought: "Thanks! You're even cooler than Hokage-jiji!"
"What's your name again?"
"It's Uzumaki Kushina!"
"It's Uzumaki Naruto!"
"And don't forget it, because I'll be Hokage some day!"
"And I'm going to be Hokage one day, so remember me!"
"I'll remember you," Teuchi promised.
(He has a lot to live up to, this sunny boy, but Teuchi starts to hope that the stares and whispers aren't going to hold him back.)
When Uzumaki Naruto finished his meal, Ayame waved goodbye, and Teuchi said:
"Come back whenever you like."
(And the story ends happily: the Hokage might be an old man, but he still eats at Naruto's favourite foodstand whenever he is able; the Hokage's recommendation is hard to top. And Naruto smiles all his real smiles, and Teuchi forgets that he once had dark eyes, and he thinks: Kyuubi killed my wife.
I'm glad that it's gone.)
A/N: I finished Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys recently, so blame that book for the... different style. Teuchi seems to get neglected or forgotten a lot, but he was one of the few figures who actually cared about Naruto for a very long time, so I think he deserves a bit of attention. This is blatant and probably incorrect speculation about how their friendship(?) developed, but I felt like I needed to write this somehow. Also, this probably seems to have happened super fast, but I am justifying this by saying a) chibi!Naruto is adorable and no one can believe he is a demon after more than five minutes in his company, b) Teuchi has a kid himself, and c) they had something in common.
As always, reviews, be they compliments or criticisms, are welcome!