Warning: Mild spoilers throughout series. Mostly manga-based.
It's not odd to form first impressions of people; and often these first impressions are very influential. They tend to shape the way people view acquaintances, even friends. Eventually they will probably be wrong, but even if those initial impressions are completely spot-on, they generally don't remain fresh in people's minds.
Uzumaki Naruto is ever so slightly unique. His first impressions are not quite the same thing as those of other people. His first impressions are actually almost never first and they are each embedded into his consciousness like flaring stars. He doesn't go a moment without remembering them and feeling them, and it's impossible for him to hear certain names or see certain faces without recalling to the point of almost reliving whatever exact moment it is he associates with the first time he ever met them.
This is true of everyone that matters.
The first time Naruto meets Uchiha Sasuke is when the other boy chokes slightly. Blood flies out of his mouth and splatters on the ground. "I don't know…" the stranger in front of Naruto says. "My body just moved on its own."
Naruto meets Sasuke for the first time when the other boy protects him from a hail of deadly senbon and falls seemingly forever in the process. Sasuke calls him an idiot like always and falls back, limp, to land in his arms with a soft 'flump'. The ice-mirrors all around are bright and cold and they glitter with Haku and Haku and Haku.
Sasuke dies, and Naruto doesn't understand why or even that he is dead, but as he sets Sasuke down on the ground something inside him trembles and overflows in red and that is his first impression.
Years later, people ask why Naruto still chases after Sasuke. They point out all the terrible things he's done, they insist what a monster he's become, and it's a hopeless effort from the start because they're saying his name and Naruto is remembering that first time and growing more determined than ever.
The first time Naruto meets Haruno Sakura is the first time Naruto sees Haruno Sakura. She is small and frail and crying. Her forehead is big and her hair is pink and she does not see Naruto, and he does not know who she is.
He watches her, sitting sideways on his favorite swing. It's raining lightly. He wants to go over to her, but knows her parents wouldn't want him to. They don't seem to be around though, and he's just about to get up when she raises both fists to her eyes. In two violent, swift motions, she scrubs the tears away. Her face, as she lifts it, is pale and determined. She stands up and walks out of the park without looking back.
Naruto stays in the rain for the next three hours, staring at the bench where she sat.
It takes a long time. But when Sakura finally grows up Naruto gets a warm feeling in his chest, because it's like he's meeting her for a second time, and she's just as beautiful as before.
Naruto first meets Nara Shikamaru when he wakes after Gamabunta has tossed him about for a full day, groggy and confused in the too-white of the unfamiliar hospital room. The lazy shadow-nin turns to meet his blurry gaze. Shikamaru has a slight, near-sarcastic smile on his face, and he says, "Hey. Finally awake?"
It is the first time in his life Naruto has ever woken to a smile. No matter why or what else happens, he does not forget that.
Sometimes the first time Naruto meets someone is also the last time. It's that way with his mother.
She tells him she loves him. Her hair is red.
Naruto meets Inuzuka Kiba in Iruka's classroom. It's a place of Naruto's failure, never a scene of fond memories for him, and this last year things are only worse. Because the first time people laugh at his Hokage henge Naruto is sweating and nervous but determined. He will do it right next time, prove himself right, the first time was just a joke.
The second Hokage henge is exactly the same. Everyone sees it; everyone knows what it means. They all fall silent and Naruto burns with that silence, with something like shame of the worst sort and something like hatred that is red in his veins.
Kiba bursts out laughing, shocking in the still room. He laughs long and he laughs loud, not with any intent to be cruel but with a genuine, selfish amusement. That doesn't make it any less cruel though, nor does it make Kiba's joy any less that of a bully.
That laughter strikes Naruto to the heart. It affects him so much that he forgets his shame and his hatred in favor of some shallow sort of fury that consists of screaming, "I'll be the real Hokage someday! You'll see!"
The laughter is loud and nothing Naruto says will make it stop. It is cruel and bright and perfectly honest. Naruto can still hear it, even after Iruka makes Kiba shut up and sends Naruto back to his seat. He clenches his hands into fists, fingernails cutting into his palms.
Naruto wants to punch Kiba, wants to cry; wants to hug Kiba for some reason that hurts like a toothache in his ribcage. Instead he clenches his fists until his palms bleed. To all indications, Kiba forgets all about it by the next day.
When Akamaru is twice Kiba's size and Kiba is still just as sharp and selfish as ever, he becomes one of Naruto's most precious people. Naruto never mentions that in a way, Kiba always has been, and will be all Naruto's life. Because he will never stop hearing that laughter, and he will never be able to deny the pure honest hurtful joy it holds.
The first time Naruto meets Jiraiya, the Toad Sannin is peeping into the girls' bath and giggling lecherously. His hair is white and all down his back and he seems utterly invincible and incredibly stupid and everything Naruto wants to be, except the peeping bit – and even that's negotiable since practically everyone he admires is a pervert anyway.
Jiraiya is full of life and hidden depths that don't really make a difference, and he glares at Naruto through eyes that are begging for silence. He knows exactly what lurks in Naruto's belly and it's not so much that he doesn't care, as it is he thinks it should be there, and the red in Naruto's veins feels warm, not hot. It doesn't hurt so much, although that's probably just in his mind.
This first time could really be the first time, or maybe it's the thousandth, because this happens almost daily and like so much about Jiraiya, it doesn't matter. It is, and Naruto is warm with something he thinks probably comes with family, until he doubts himself and shouts to let the girls know they're being watched.
He's grinning as he does so, and Jiraiya scowls back with everything he's got; Naruto musters up extra grin that he'd never really needed before, because the old pervert deserves it after all.
The first time Naruto meets Iruka is not the same time he meets Kiba, but it's in the same place and only several months later: he's being held back after class for a discussion on his terrible grades.
The so-called discussion consists of Iruka shouting, red-faced, and waving various tests with failing grades in the air. Naruto purses his lips and scuffs his foot along the ground, going out of his way to pay no attention.
And then with absolutely nothing to prompt it that Naruto can see, Iruka quiets and stares at him for a long time. Naruto begins to feel uncomfortable. He crosses his arms and, in his moodiest voice, snaps, "What?"
Iruka blinks several times, then abruptly shakes his head. "Nothing," he says, then goes right back to yelling.
Six months later Iruka takes a giant shuriken in the back for Naruto, who is splattered with blood and the knowledge that the hatred was deserved all along because he is a monster. Two minutes after that, Iruka shouts that he's not, and he replaces the father Naruto's never had.
The first time Naruto meets Hyuuga Hinata is not when she tells him she is in love with him, nor is it when he vows on her blood to defeat Neji. It is not when they are children or when they are adults. The first time Naruto meets Hyuuga Hinata is a quiet day shortly after she's gotten mostly over her weird fainting disease (he's never understood why no one sent her to a doctor for that).
The sun is warm but paling into dusk and the air is slightly cold from the snow that has not yet all melted. The first flowers are peeking up from the dirt, announcing spring. Six various people have conspired to have Naruto walk Hinata home, and Lee went so far as to kidnap Neji so he wouldn't happen to be a third wheel. Naruto is completely oblivious to this; all he knows is that he is eighteen and the war has just ended. He is tired and despite achieving the most important victories, he doesn't know exactly how to smile the same as he used to.
But when he waves goodbye to Hinata at the gate to her family's compound, she blushes brightly before aiming a tiny wave back at him, and on her face there is the most beautiful smile Naruto has ever seen. It's soft and small and timid just like Hinata, but somehow strong anyway – again, just like Hinata.
At the sight of it, something in his chest breaks open and he laughs out loud. His grin lasts until he falls asleep that night and dreams of blood and rage and poisonous chakra, and it resumes shortly after he wakes, joyful as he is ever going to be.
Naruto meets the Kyuubi no Kitsune for the first time when he is six years old. He has just moved out of the orphanage to a tiny, broken-down apartment where he lives alone, rarely checked-up on. He is very skeptical of the place and soon becomes convinced that it's full of ghosts; ever since he left the orphanage he's seen glimpses of bone-white faces out the windows. It keeps him up nights.
As a result he's exhausted during the day, and when he is abruptly run over by a cart one day not even Naruto, painfully aware of the villagers' hate for him, is sure if it was intentional or if he did actually walk out in front of it.
What he is sure about is that there's no one else on this particular road, and that his ribs have been trampled. The cart driver speeds on without stopping once he recognizes Naruto's bright hair and clothes, but Naruto is in no shape to complain, lying flat on his back and feeling a stabbing in his lungs every time he gasps a breath. His head was knocked about by the horse's hooves and blood trickles into his eyes. The world is spinning and almost screaming or maybe that's him, and shadow-black ghosts with white faces crouch on the rooftops watching. They don't move closer but Naruto is convinced they're just waiting to steal his soul, and he is frightened and then his vision is swallowed in redder-than-red.
He's hot, a burning, sizzling heat that destroys and rebuilds him all at once. He is no longer scared but angry, and his screams peter out into hoarse laughter. The pain in his chest and head is rapidly disappearing, and Naruto moves with no effort into a low crouch on all fours. He feels limber, violent, and he cocks his head at the ghosts up above and it burns throughout him like poison, acid intent on wiping out his mind along with everything else, and then it's over as sudden as it began. Naruto vomits onto the street, shivers wracking his frame, and when he finally wipes his mouth and looks up, the ghosts are gone. The pain is, too, but when Naruto touches his hair, blood is still matted into it.
Something deep in his very core shivers in fear. Though Naruto leaves the apartment the very next day, he never quite escapes the feeling of being possessed by malevolent ghosts.
The day Naruto meets Subaku no Gaara is dry and hot in the way that makes Naruto's tongue feel scratchy against his teeth. Naruto is extremely irritated, as only a snooty secretary can make him, but Tsunade's managed to beat some of the concept of diplomacy into his head over the years. Not much, of course, but enough that even Naruto can acknowledge the wisdom in not interrupting other kages' potentially incredibly important meetings (even though he knows they spend 90% of their time avoiding paperwork, if Tsunade is any example). So he waits, feet tapping and throat cracking apart due to lack of moisture. He waits, arms crossed and only humming at half-volume in a remarkable show of patience that only pisses the secretary off further. He waits, for seven hours straight with only one ramen break (which gets him shoved to the end of the line again, damn her).
The sun has set and the stones are becoming surprisingly cool by the time Naruto finally gets to see Gaara, and then it's only because the work day is over and the Kazekage is going home. Naruto leaps up from his sprawl in the corner, pointing a dramatic finger and shouting in a voice that is hoarse and cracked about having been kept waiting and he needs to drink a lake or something and how irritating Gaara's secretary is.
He has much more ranting saved up, but at this point Gaara's unblinking stare finally leaves Naruto's face and swings round to the secretary in question. Gaara remains expressionless, and there is a long silence.
The secretary breaks first, stammering about how this wasn't even much of a diplomatic mission at all, and the Konoha nin had been extremely rude and Kazekage-sama had been so busy with more important matters –
Gaara cuts her off easily, blankly: "This ninja will always have unlimited access to me."
He turns and leaves immediately after, without bothering to clarify or repeat himself. It's unnecessary, and the secretary blanches at her desk.
Out in the street, Naruto catches Gaara's eyes for a moment. The Kazekage's gaze is a blank, tepid green, and though it is devoid of the madness it once held, it carries the same understanding.
Smiling has been second nature for almost all Naruto's life; however there are few times he does it without intending to. Few times he feels almost like crying (anymore). This is one.
Gaara is never going to smile back, his face an implacable mask.
Smiling isn't everything.
Naruto meets Yamanaka Ino the day she brings him back to life.
He's been in a coma for three weeks without a single change, long enough for Tsunade to try everything and finally admit the issue is nothing her vast medical ninjutsu can fix.
Saying the coma has been 'without a change' is a bit of a lie actually, because the marks on his cheeks have been darkening and widening at a slow but steady pace and his room gives chakra-sensitive people an awful, oppressed feeling. If his eyes were to open now, everyone who knows is sure they would be blood-red and gleefully insane.
Perhaps that's why Tsunade eventually lets Ino do the job. It's justifiable politics, because no one wants the Kyuubi getting loose; more than that, however, is the fact that she's unable to do anything and Naruto's going to be gone just like Nawaki and Dan. And Ino wants so badly to help, since she's the only one who can.
Naruto doesn't know this, however. All he knows is that he's trapped in his mental sewer (he mentioned that to Jiraiya once, and the old pervert spent the rest of the day laughing about Naruto's mind being in the gutter), with the Kyuubi lashing its tails and tugging and tugging and despite holding on with all his strength, Naruto is being pulled slowly between the bars. He knows that when the Kyuubi pulls him all the way through everything will be over, can feel it instinctively in the poison already eating away at his legs (which are held tight in the Kyuubi's mouth), but there's not much Naruto can do but shout curses and strain against the inevitable.
Naruto's done that all his life and he's gotten pretty good at it by now, so even when his entire lower body has become nothing more than a lump of bubbling chakra and he can't make coherent thoughts for the pain, he still shouts away at the Kyuubi and doesn't give in. He's in the middle of a particularly disgusting anatomy suggestion that's half a scream of terror and unending agony when Ino stumbles into existence two feet away.
Her face goes dark with fear almost instantly and Naruto half-pants her name out, "In…o?"
But the shock makes him loosen his grip and the Kyuubi yanks like Akamaru playing tug-of-war and before he knows anything Ino's leapt to him, her warm hands wrapped round his, hanging on tight. He didn't realize his hands were clammy and shaking, but now the contrast is clear.
Ino glares and the Kyuubi worries away at what's left of his spine and Naruto sort of moans out another insult, probably. And Ino takes a deep breath, swallows, then opens her mouth and shouts, "Hey! I'm in charge here!"
Which doesn't really make any sense at all but for a second it seems true, and she yanks Naruto right out of the cage until they fall into a puddle of stinking water several feet away. The Kyuubi crashes against the sealed bars, growling, but it's too late, Naruto's free and Ino is screaming…
He's dripping poison all over her and she shivers and melts away, and Naruto wakes up with no immediate recollection of what has just happened (it only returns that night in his dreams).
He's got a big grin and a hungry stomach, and Ino is in the seat next to him pale and vomiting.
1. The title is from the phrase "first and foremost", as Naruto's relationships are most important to him, and it's fitting/punny with the theme I have going.
2. I claimed "this is true of everyone that matters" but I'm not sure whether I'm going to show that many. It is a large number of people after all, and I'm not sure I want to branch off into all the enemies and less central characters. I'm also a little afraid of straying too far from canon, though I've already done so a bit with Hinata and Ino. But even if I'm not certain of doing everyone important to Naruto, I am going to continue this at least a little while longer. If you have any characters or suggestions, please send them to me in a review or PM.
3. Updates will probably be roughly the same length as this section, so they may take a little while. The character segments are in no particular order, just whatever occurs to me next.
4. Characters covered in this section: Uchiha Sasuke, Haruno Sakura, Nara Shikamaru, Uzumaki Kushina, Inuzuka Kiba, Jiraiya, Umino Iruka, Hyuuga Hinata, Kyuubi no Kitsune, Sabaku no Gaara, Yamanaka Ino.