For an orphanage, it was eerily silent. No sounds indicating that the barn-like structure housed over forty children, a vast majority of them under the age of five. The blonde teen that stood at the main entrance chocked it up to excellent discipline skills on the part of the caretakers. He also knew that that wasn't necessarily a good thing.
He rang the bell again.
"Hey? Is anybody there? I'm here on a mission from the Hokage!" He called out. Silence echoed through the empty halls ahead of him, and then he heard the tell-tale clicking of high heeled shoes on the cement. A woman came in to view then. She was thin and short, wearing the standard nursing uniform he had been expecting. Her face was full of hard lines, which indicated to him on a subconscious level that this woman was by no means a nice person. Her brown eyes were cold as they met his bright, expressive blue ones.
"You're here for her then, I presume." Her voice was just as cold as her eyes. "It's fitting, that they would send you of all people to collect her."
Naruto Uzumaki felt his blood freeze. She knew who he was, alright. How could he expect her not to? He hadn't changed much in four years. He was sixteen now, but he still had all of his identifying features. His shockingly yellow-blonde hair, which stuck up every which-way just like his father's had. His big blue eyes, a trait that also came from the Fourth. But his soft, kind face he inherited from his mother, Kushina Uzumaki.
But this woman didn't know his parentage. She only saw him as Kurama, the Nine-Tailed fox demon that had ravaged Konoha and killed so many people, shinobi and commoner alike. This woman couldn't see past that, nor could she see past the fact that the little girl Naruto had been sent to collect was also a Jinchuuriki. She contained the newest (and youngest, in demon-years) biju, the Ten-Tailed feline, Himitsu.
"Stop staring and follow me, boy." The woman's harsh voice broke him away from his thoughts. He nodded quietly, and stepped around the desk to follow her down the hallway. The rooms for the children were lined up on either side, side by side. They all had doors with a big window, and inside he could see them sleeping. It was early in the morning. He smiled sadly. He knew how they felt. They had no parents, and were all alone in this world. Oh yes…he knew that feeling well.
A sigh from the woman broke his concentration yet again. They had arrived at a door that was unlike the others. It had no window, it was made of what looked like solid steel, and it was bolted shut. Naruto felt himself swallow thickly.
"Why…why all of this? She's only a two-year-old little girl." He turned his face so the woman could see it. She looked bored, like she didn't care that this room looked as though it belonged in a prison, not an orphanage. She rolled her eyes.
"You of all people should know. She's dangerous." The woman scoffed. She reached out and unbolted the door with her dry, boney fingers. She sent him one last callous look and then turned away, her heels clicking once again across that cold, cement floor.
Naruto pushed the steel door open slowly, and surprisingly it made no sound. He looked around the dark room, noting the lack of personal items. There was a desk, wooden and chipped away from years of use. A matching wooden chair stood slightly crooked, as though whoever had sat in it hadn't pushed it in properly. And then, there was a steel-framed, single bed, which is where he found her sleeping.
Her short, choppy brown hair was almost as unruly as his own was. This is what caught his eye. She was a little girl, her hair should have been much longer. It didn't look as though that was how it naturally grew. It looked, frankly, like it had been cut off in a hurry. She was curled up on her left side. Her small face was round and sweet, with a tiny button nose, and a cute little mouth that was parted slightly as she breathed softly. Her tiny fists were curled under her chin, and her knees were drawn up to her chest.
He was suddenly aware that her eyes were open. He blinked his own slowly, before a smile broke out across his face.
"Hello! My name is Naruto Uzumaki! I'm here to take you to Miss Hokage. She's very excited to see you, you know." He said softly, as he approached the bed. She regarded him with her wide, shockingly yellow eyes.
"I'm gunna leave?" Her voice was high and still a little thick from sleeping. She rubbed one of her fists across her cheek, and then the other on the opposite side. Naruto nodded.
"Yep! You're gunna come with me back into the village, and meet with Lady Hokage. And then, we're gunna find you a home and a family! What's your name?" Naruto sat down on the foot of her bed. She shook her tiny head, her brown hair fanning out across her pillow.
"Miss says I'm Onanako." She was still learning how to talk, but that's not what made Naruto's breath catch in his throat. Onanako meant 'girl.' They hadn't even given her a name. They'd just called her 'girl'. He took a deep breath, and gave her one of his biggest smiles.
"How about we call you Nako? That sounds much cuter! That silly old lady doesn't know anything, huh? A cute little girl like you deserves a cute name, right?" He leaned forward and tickled her tiny tummy through her scratchy linen tunic-like shirt. She broke out into a fit of laughter, her own huge smile brightening up her adorable face.
"Yes!" She exclaimed happily. She clambered over into his lap then, and he smiled sadly when she couldn't see his face.
Tsunade smiled softly as her favorite hyperactive knucklehead came strolling into her office with a small girl in his arms. The girl was clinging to his chest, and he had a protective arm wrapped around her waist so she wouldn't fall. She was grasping his orange jacket tightly in both of her fists, and her forehead was buried in between them. Tsunade looked at Naruto.
"Is she?" She began.
"Asleep. She fell asleep almost as soon as we left the orphanage. She was sleeping when I went to get her, actually." He whispered softly, looking down at the top of her head. "Baa-chan…they had her locked up in a windowless room with a locked, steel-reinforced door! She didn't have any toys, and these are the only clothes she has."
Tsunade frowned, sitting back down in her chair. Naruto followed suit, sitting down on one of the guest chairs, cradling the little girl in his lap. She squirmed slightly in response to the shift, but didn't wake.
"What's her name?" The Hokage asked as she observed the girl with sad eyes.
"They didn't give her one. The…woman…that runs the orphanage called her the 'Onanako'. She thought that was her name. I told her we'd call her Nako. She likes it." Naruto's eyes lit up when he remembered how she had giggled and laughed when he tickled her.
He was growing so attached to her, and they had only been with each other for a couple of hours, and majority of that time she had spent sleeping. That didn't matter though. Maybe it was because they were both Jinchuuriki and he could understand her loneliness. Or…maybe it was simply because he knew the feeling of being unwanted. He knew the kind of life she had in front of her if she didn't find a family. He hadn't…and it was almost more than he could bear at times. Sure, he'd been able to put on a smile and brush off the abuse…the taunts…but not everyone could be as strong as he had been.
Just look at Gaara. He had been thinking about the young Kazekage more and more over the last two years. It had started out as a mild fascination, because the red head's transformation from feared, hated weapon to beloved leader was inspiring. He was making bonds with people, especially his siblings. From what he gathered from his friends letters, which were few and far between, Gaara was happier than he'd ever been.
But he missed Naruto. That was the bulk of all of the letters. 'I miss you terribly, Naruto-kun. I would like to come and visit soon. Hopefully in the fall, when the leaves change color. It's beautiful in Konohagakure then.' It was fall now. No sign of Gaara. Naruto didn't blame him. He probably had a lot on his plate, being the Kazekage.
Naruto still hadn't given up his dream of becoming Hokage. He was working towards it more and more each day, and he could feel himself growing stronger. He trained hard, with each and every Jounin that Jiraiya had recommended after their training session was over. After Sasuke's suicide earlier that year, Naruto threw himself headfirst into the development of his skills. He'd made closer friendships with Sai, Sakura, Ino, and especially Gaara. Even though they only corresponded through letters, Naruto felt as though he could confide everything to his red haired friend. He had to admit that sometimes, the content of their letters got a little…heated. In mid-December of last year, Gaara had told Naruto that he was sure, at this point in his life, that he favored males. This didn't bother Naruto in the slightest. Iruka, the man who had practically raised him, was gay. But after he'd received that letter, Naruto had written back 'Do you think I'm attractive?' Gaara hadn't written him since.
"We've tried to find her a family…no one is interested." Tsunade's voice cut through his thoughts, and he immediately remembered where he was. He looked down at Nako, who was still cuddled against his chest, sleeping soundly.
"I bet the Third said the same thing about me." Naruto whispered harshly. He was still gazing at the sleeping toddler. She was no bigger than Gaara had looked in his baby pictures. The red head had sent him many pictures, but only because Naruto had begged him. She must have been born premature, just like him. Her wrists and ankles looked fragile. She was helpless. She needed love…and who better to give it to her…
"I'll take her." He said, his voice unwavering. Tsunade looked shocked for a few seconds, and then she frowned.
"Naruto…you're sixteen. You're not ready to be a parent. You live alone…you're a shinobi."
"She's old enough for the Pre-Academy. I can teach with Iruka-sensei. He's been bugging me about it for a couple of years now. Now that Orochimaru is dead and Akatsuki is disbanded, there's no threat." He explained, as his arms wrapped tighter around the sleeping little girl. Tsunade scoffed.
"What about your dreams to be Hokage? To become the strongest ninja in Konoha? You're willing to give them up?" She sounded pissed.
"No one was willing to give up their dreams for me. Maybe I have another calling. Maybe I'm meant to be Nako's father. Maybe I clung to that dream because it was the only thing that made me want to get out of bed in the morning and face the loneliness this village suffocated me with. Maybe I don't want this precious little girl to feel that." He had a certain tone in his voice…gruff and angry. It didn't sound like the bubbly Naruto that Tsunade had grown to love. This was his mature side. The older woman sighed, looking down at the paperwork on her desk.
"Normally, we don't adopt children out to other children…but given the circumstances, I will appoint you as her father. She will take your last name. You're responsible for her now, Gaki." She sounded like she warning him.
He looked up at her with a huge smile on his tanned, whiskered face. There was her silly Naruto. She couldn't help but smile back.
"Thank you so much, Baa-chan. You know…I love her already. She'll be Daddy's little girl. Uzumaki Nako." He felt his chest swell with pride.
Uzumaki Nako. He mulled over the thought of being a father as he carried the little girl home. She was still fast asleep in the blonde's arms, but he couldn't blame her. This was probably the safest she'd ever felt in her entire life. He smiled to himself. So this was contentment. This must have been how his father, Minato, had felt when he was born…not that the man had had a long time to bask in the glory of fatherhood.
'I promise you, Nako…I won't let that happen. I'll always be here for you.' He silently sent a prayer up to the gods that he could keep that promise.
As they came to Naruto's apartment, the sixteen year old man noticed that his lights were on. This wasn't odd, since Iruka usually dropped by at night. Naruto pushed the door open slowly.
"Iruka! You'll never guess what happen-Gaara?" Naruto was shocked to see the Kazekage of Sunagakure pacing back and forth nervously in his tiny living room. The red head snapped his head to look at his friend.
"Naruto-kun! I…whose child is that?"