A/N: This is my very first Naruto fanfic! I'm pretty excited about it considering how long I've been writing fanfiction and how long I've been reading Naruto. So welcome to my wacky world view, Naruto-lovers! I have a couple other stories for this fandom that I've been working on for longer, but this one came to me and demanded to be written. I seriously think this is the fastest I've ever written a story over 3000 words before. Go me!
Anyway, I really hope you enjoy it. =D
Summary: Whoever decided it was a good idea to leave Naruto alone with three twelve year olds for a YEAR should be stabbed. Repeatedly
It all started because Naruto had penpals.
But for convenience' sake, let's start a little earlier.
Naruto was the last living apprentice of Jiraiya of the Sannin, Konoha's most important spy master, and was therefore tacitly expected to take over for his mentor. But after the war, when Tsunade finally got around to asking what had become of the old pervert's spy network, Naruto's answer had been a blank stare.
At further—and rather panicked—prompting, Naruto revealed that Jiraiya had not passed the network on to him. During their travels, while Jiraiya was off meeting with his contacts, he had left Naruto to wander the streets on his own. With some embarrassment, Naruto admitted he didn't know who any of Jiraiya's contacts were, and didn't have a single one of his own.
No. Naruto had penpals, village intelligence was horrified to learn. All he had were some friends he had made in his travels who he tried to keep in contact with. People he had helped on his journey, people who had helped him. Hundreds of them in fact. Across the globe and in all walks of life: from a fisherman in a little, out of the way peasant village in Tea Country to merchants in Stone; scullery maids in noble houses to daimyos' daughters.
It took a shamefully long time—almost three months—for anyone to realize what this meant.
When it finally occurred to Shikamaru that what any normal, well-functioning, sane shinobi would call a 'contact', Naruto might very well call a 'penpal', he stopped where he was, turned on his heel, marched to the nearest wall, and began his earnest attempt to bash his head against it until he lost consciousness.
The only reason he failed was because two chunin and a very confused clerical-nin were eventually able to pry him away.
Once it was understood that Konoha's spy networks were as widespread as ever, though going by a decidedly friendlier name, the mass panic that had existed throughout the upper ranks began to calm.
But not completely.
After all, Naruto hadn't been in personal contacted with many of these so called 'penpals' for years. He hadn't made physical contact, hadn't done anything to maintain their loyalty long-term. So it was decided that he would go on another trip—as Jiraiya often had in the past—to check in.
There was only one, small problem with this.
Naruto, newly promoted and village hero that he was, had just taken on his first genin team the previous week.
But then again, long-term training trips had never hurt anything... right?
"When is that boy going to report in?" Homura Mitokado demanded impatiently. "His team was spotted approaching the gates almost an hour ago."
"Now, now, Mitokado-san, I'm sure he's just escorting his genin to their homes before coming," Kakashi soothed, glancing up from his book. "After all, the gate guards would have told him to report directly to the Hokage's office."
Tsunade grunted in affirmation. She was as excited as the next person that the brat was back—especially because retirement was starting to look better and better and Naruto kind of had to be in Konoha for her to do that—but Koharu and Homura were going to be hanging around until this was over and they refused to let her drink in her office. The sooner this report was over, the sooner she could get properly sloshed in celebration.
There was a sudden scuffling from out in the hall. The four shinobi in the office turned to face the door just as Iruka pushed through the entrance, red-faced with exertion and smiling gleefully. "Hokage-sama! I just heard, Naruto was seen entering the village! I can't believe he's finally back after a whole year. And his genin are..." He trailed off as he finally realized that not only were Tsunade and Kakashi in the office—both people he knew would be as excited as him to see the blond again—but so were the two elderly village councilors. His smile slowly faded, replaced with a vivid blush. "...N-nevermind, I'll just come back later," he said as he edged backwards out of the room.
"Get in here, Iruka," Tsunade sighed, leaning back in her chair. "Naruto's about to come in, and we all know you're going to hear everything he tells us over ramen if you don't now."
Iruka stammered a little, flustered, but quickly subsided and took a place by Kakashi's side. He did want to see Naruto after all.
"I can't believe it's been a year already," Tsunade sighed as she leaned back in her chair. "I want to see what the brat has done with those genin of his."
"I'm sure he's done a fine job," Iruka cut in before he could stop himself. He knew it wasn't exactly his place—especially with the more traditional councilors in attendance—but he had full faith in the young blond.
"Aa," Kakashi agreed. "Naruto is sure to have taught the children well and to have had a successful trip." He eye-smiled. "After all, there have been no reports of mass destruction or war being declared on Konoha."
"Kakashi-sensei's mean!" Came the protest from the window.
As one, the shinobi turned.
"Hey," Naruto waved with a wide grin. There was a wave of reflexive smiles in return. Even Homura and Koharu were glad to have the vibrant young man home. And the year seemed to have treated him well. Naruto had grown nearly two inches, his bangs hung long into his laughing eyes, and his skin was tanned and rosy as ever.
"Welcome home, brat," Tsunade said with a fond smile. "Glad to see you haven't blown anything up."
Naruto laughed and scratched the back of his head, "Ha ha, about that..."
Tsunade's smile froze.
Kakashi lifted his hands in a calming gesture. "Maa, maa, I'm sure it wasn't that bad."
"Yeah!" Naruto jumped to agree. "Nothing actually blew up. Well, nothing important," he amended. The other's let out sighs of relief. These things were expected to happen during even lightest of shinobi training. So as long as it was nothing the village would have to pay for, no one really cared.
"So what did you mean?" Koharu asked warily.
"Um, well... You know how me and Kurama are friends now?" Naruto said a little nervously, glancing at the councilors out of the corners of his eyes.
"Yeah, I know," Tsunade said with a roll of her eyes. Seriously, this kid would call a tree his friend if it stood still and listened to him talk. ...Which was probably why he liked gardening so much, come to think of it.
"So I let him out of the seal!"
There was a single, perfect moment when every adult in the room—men and women who had known Naruto in one manner or another since he was a tiny child—believed he was joking. It didn't last long.
"How, how could you do something so monumentally stupid? So uncompromisingly dangerous, and reckless, and...and treasonous, you stupid child?"
The blond scowled. "I knew what I was doing. And it's not like I just let him out. There was kind of a situation, okay?"
"Kind of a situation," Tsunade muttered to herself in horror. Releasing the seal—Naruto could have died from that alone and she'd heard nothing, the brat.
"Yep," Naruto agreed, finding himself a seat at the edge of the Hokage's desk. "But don't worry, I handled it."
"Handled it by releasing an evil, four-hundred foot tall, fox demon!" Koharu raged.
"Not exactly," an amused voice purred from the floor near the window.
This time when the occupants of the room whipped around, it was a red furred, chakra infused, nightmare-inducing demon who greeted them.
He was also two and a half feet tall.
With a canine laugh, the fox trotted to sit at Naruto's feet—all nine of his tails waving happily behind him.
"Oh!" Naruto exclaimed into the horrified stillness of the room, "This is the first time I've gotten to introduce you because he was always trapped in my stomach." He reached out and clapped the fox on his shoulder, "This is Kurama."
"Do not introduce us to that filthy beast." Homura snarled. "At least you retained some small margin of sense and did not release it entirely, but even this is a reprehensible dereliction of your duty—"
The fox snarled, hackles raised and lips pulled back to expose vicious fangs. "Say that again," he hissed, growing rapidly in size even as his chakra gathered around him, killing intent so thick that—
"—Bad!" Naruto reprimanded sharply, the squirt bottle he had summoned to his hand still held aloft after spraying a burst cold water in the biju's face.
Kurama yelped, then whined, rapidly shrinking even as his chakra dissipated. "Why the hell did you—"
"Bad!" The blond sprayed again.
"Don't do that," the mighty beast whimpered, hiding his muzzle between his paws.
"Then don't make me, Kurama," Naruto said sternly even as he returned the bottle to the storage seal on his wrist from which it had come. He held his stern expression for another few seconds before crumpling and scratching the still oversized fox between the ears. "Just don't do it again."
"Yeah, whatever, that's the spot..." the fox muttered happily, snuggling down to rest his head against Naruto's knee.
The gathered shinobi could only stare blankly.
Homura shook his head. "You...you treat the kyubi...like a pet?"
"Hey!" Naruto glared at the man. "I do not. This is just how I train people! And Kurama's got to learn when his behavior isn't acceptable."
"Yes. Like you would train a pet," Koharu suggested helpfully.
"No way," the blond dismissed, nose wrinkled in distaste. "I train my genin team the exact same way."
There was a single moment of frozen horror as that statement sunk in.
"Naruto," Kakashi said as delicately as he could manage, "What, exactly, do you mean by that?"
"That's right!" Naruto said, perking up, "I haven't shown any of you my team since we got back! They're doing so well, you're all going to be so proud of them. And me! I taught them a whole lot."
"Y-yes, I'm sure we will be." Tsunade gave a wooden smile and whispered out of the corner of her mouth to the nearest person (who happened to be Iruka), "Hold my hand."
The man gave her the look a startled rabbit gives a salivating wolf. "Wha—?"
"I said hold it!"
No fool, Iruka held her hand.
Naruto graced them with a giddy grin before turning and leaning toward the open window. "Duckies!" he hollered for the whole village to hear.
There was an awkward silence.
When the seconds continued to tick by with only Naruto's cheerful humming to break the silence, and no genin miraculously appeared, the group began to shift uncomfortably.
After an entirely silent conversation, communicated only in sharp gestures and a quick jab to the ribs, Kakashi stepped out of the huddle. "So," he began, looking off-kilter even under his mask, "um..." He glanced back to the others for help, but Iruka just made a shooing motion at him. "So!" he started again, turning back to Naruto. "...Why do you call them duckies?"
"Oh!" Naruto bounced slightly where he sat, grin widening into a full on beam. "It's because they always follow each other around in a line! And sometimes—don't tell them I told you or they'll get mad—they follow me around like that too. It's so cute!"
"Don't tell them that," an annoyed voice demanded sulkily from the other side of the room.
As one, the assembled shinobi whipped around to face the voice that had somehow managed to take a position at their backs.
"Duckies!" Naruto greeted with a broad grin. He turned his attention back to the older group of shinobi and introduced, "Everybody, these are my duckies. Duckies, this is everybody."
"Don't call us that," the tallest genin, a boy with spiky brown hair and a thin scar that just missed his green eyes, complained.
The girl—the one who had spoken before—buried her face in her hand so that her short lavender bangs fell forward. "If you have to keep calling us that at least don't introduce us that way, Naruto-sensei!"
"The Hokage knows me as 'Ducky' now," the shortest member of the team muttered to himself in horror. "I now have no future as a shinobi."
The young blond teacher rolled his eyes. "Come on, guys, it's not that bad."
"Says you," came the discontented mutter from one of the children. Naruto ignored it.
"Anyway," the proud jounin-sensei continued, "If they're so unhappy with 'duckies'—which I meant with love, by the way—then these are Kosada," the short boy waved shyly, "Takashi," the taller boy gave a two finger salute, "and Megumi," the girl smiled in the what-can-you-do? way that all those closely acquainted with Naruto picked up eventually.
Iruka studied the children with interest. They hadn't been in any of his classes at the academy so he really didn't know too much about them besides the most general information. Takashi was from a civilian family, Kosada and Megumi from very minor clans. All three had been known to be middle of the road students with high potential, but... "They have impressive stealth." More than impressive really, for genin to sneak up on the caliber of shinobi gathered in the office.
"Yes," Kakashi agreed, once more behind his book. "How did you manage to drill that into them so young?"
"That one was easy," the blond said, standing and propping a hand on his hip. "So I realized something recently... I used to wear bright orange."
Awkward silence number two ensued, with only the sound of Tsunade facepalming to interrupt.
"Hehehe," Naruto laughed awkwardly, before clearing his throat. "I mean, I used to wear bright orange...and regularly escape from ANBU as a kid."
"That is impressive," Iruka began, "But I don't see how—"
"I made them all wear orange jumpsuits until I was satisfied with their skills!" Naruto proclaimed proudly.
There was a collective shudder from the genin. "Do you know how badly orange clashes with lavender hair?" Megumi demanded with haunted eyes. "Do you?"
"It was awful," Takashi agreed. Megumi elbowed him.
Iruka hummed contemplatively. "An unusual approach, but apparently effective. Maybe we can implement it in the general student body—"
"No," Tsunade cut off.
Iruka started, "But the results—"
"No." Tsunade slanted the man a look that had him shutting his mouth and instinctively sliding behind Kakashi for protection.
"I knew you were my favorite Hokage for a reason," Megumi said reverently.
The male councilor shook his head, "That's all very well, but you are missing the point! To have our ninja so degraded—"
"I'm not degrading them," Naruto protested, looking truly upset. "I only do it because it works! Besides, they don't mind." He turned to look at the kids, hefting the quickly-retrieved squirt bottle into the air as a visual aide. "Do you?"
But at the quick motion of the spray bottle, the three took an instinctive step backwards. Kosada whimpered a little.
Naruto blinked, then looked from the bottle in his hand to the three genin. Running his free hand through his hair, he asked, "Would you really rather be punished with something else? Like...a time out would work, right?"
"Squirt bottle!" Takashi blurted immediately before scurrying to his teacher's side.
"Squirt bottle!" Megumi agreed quickly before joining the boy.
"..." Kosada hesitated, eying the hated spray bottle fearfully.
Naruto crossed his arms, considering. "If you'd really rather, Kosada, I could—"
"Squirt bottle!" The boy squeaked before hurrying to hide behind his taller teammates.
"Well, there you have it." Naruto said, satisfied, as he turned back to the group. "They're all happy with it, and it works."
"The point is, you shouldn't be punishing them at all for minor infractions," Tsunade grated out.
"Why?" Naruto asked with real surprise. "Children need boundaries, right? That's what Iruka-sensei always used to say, and he's the best teacher ever!"
Tsunade turned a vitriol glare on the school teacher.
Iruka glanced around at his superiors—all giving him dirty looks—and sighed. "And I'm out of that job," he muttered under his breath.
"What was that?" The blond asked innocently.
"Nothing," the the man sighed.
"Okay," Naruto said slowly, before continuing. "Besides, it's not like I always punish them. I reward them when they're good, and a lot of the time I don't even need to because I find ways to motivate them!"
Out of morbid curiosity more than anything else, Kakashi asked, "And how exactly did you do that?"
Here Naruto paused. "I...uh...found ways..."
"But Naruto-sensei," Kosada whined as he sat at the bottom of a great tree, "You don't have great chakra control, and you're a really strong shinobi."
"Yeah, why do we have to do something this tedious when we won't even need it?" Takashi demanded.
"I have enough control to tree climb," the teacher pointed out to his slacking students.
The three, each at the base of their own tree, glared up at him sullenly.
"Or..." Naruto scratched the back of his head in thought, "Well, I guess in general I get past having lousy control by having huge reserves. And I have that because I'm a jinchuriki." Here he paused contemplatively. "I've never really known of anyone who wanted to become one before, but...I do know the seal, and I'm sure we could find a few minor demons around here somewhere," he said while absently reaching for his best sealing brush.
There was a beat of silence—and then the kids ran for their trees.
Kakashi opened his mouth to ask, but Tsunade cut him off. "Don't, Kakashi. I don't think I could take it just now."
The jounin shrugged and let it drop. It was probably for the best.
Kosada frowned, glancing from his sensei to the adults in the room. "Why are you insulting Naruto-sensei like that?" he demanded. "He's a great teacher. He looks out for us, he trained us really well, and we're way stronger than I thought we would be this soon after graduating!"
Naruto blinked, then turned to grin widely at the boy. "My students are so awesome," he gushed, reaching out and pat the boy on the head. "Thanks for defending me, ducky." And with a little slight of hand, he pulled his hand away and pulled a chocolate out from behind the genin's ear.
"Yes!" Kosada cheered, grabbing the treat, popping it in his mouth and settling back to bask in his teammates' jealous glares.
"Where did I go wrong?" Iruka said faintly as he watched the scene with morbid fascination.
"...Maybe it was the whole 'treating him to ramen when he did well' thing?" Kakashi guessed.
"All right, that is it!" Tsunade announced suddenly, determination glinting in her eyes. "Let's just not tell anyone about this. If none of this craziness goes further than this room then we won't have any problems."
She spun on the blond teenager, pointing a finger under his chin. "Naruto," she jabbed him in the sternum, "Stop petting your genin."
Naruto retracted his hand reluctantly with a wounded expression. The three genin glared. They liked when sensei pet them and gave them treats.
"And for goodness sakes," the Hokage snapped, "put the kyubi back in the..." Here she trailed off as she finally realized that the large, talking, demon-fox was no where in sight. "Naruto," she said slowly, "Where did the kyubi go?"
Naruto's face screwed up in confusion. "He went to go stretch his legs while we were waiting for the duckies. You didn't notice?"
Awkward silence number three.
Homura made an abortive step forward, "W-where did it g—"
"Ahhhhhhhhhh!" the bloodcurdling shriek went up from the village proper, soon joined by the cries of many others.
"Damn it, not again," Naruto muttered before jumping onto the windowsill, trusty squirt bottle already in hand. "Hang on for just a second, Baa-chan. I got this." And he was gone.
"...I need sake to deal with this."
Everyone blinked. Kakashi looked to the man at his side. "I didn't know you drank, Iruka."
The teacher pinched the bridge of his nose to try and stop the pounding in his head. "I do now."