Itachi ducked his head and pretended not to hear the whispers as he passed through the marketplace on his way to meet his team at the mission assignment desk. He'd graduated the Academy three months before, and had been placed on a team with Yamanaka Santa, and Nara Kara under the older and soon to retire Senju Kazuma who was amongst the last of the Konoha shinobi to bear that family name since the Senju Clan had long since broken apart and married into other families. There were however a small number of Senju living and working in the civilian sector, but that had no bearing on him, his team, and the reason why he was trying to escape the whispers that followed him wherever he went.
The reason for the whispers that surrounded him was because people were questioning him, questioning his ability, and his preparedness for life in Konoha's shinobi ranks. Since it was no-longer a time of war and there was no pressing need for more troops, such an early graduation as his was seen as unnecessary, and unnecessarily cruel to say the least. To make matters worse, rather than believing that he had graduated on his own merits, the villagers had chosen to believe that his father had somehow bribed the Academy officials to push him through early in an attempt to gain prestige for the Uchiha clan which had been steadily falling in popularity since the Kyuubi attack.
The fact that he was roughly the same height as an average Konoha five year-old didn't help things at all. His mother had said that he'd go through a growth spurt soon, but soon wasn't now when people looked at his short stature and shook their heads.
Everywhere he went, the whispers of the villagers followed him, and here was no exception. But, then again, if he didn't hear it from the villagers, he heard it and worse from his teammates who hadn't been happy to be shown up by someone who was five years younger than they, and his sensei who held some sort of grudge against his paternal grandfather that had been carried down to him.
Eventually, after he'd made an effort not to bristle at a particularly cutting remark that had been made by one of the Hyuuga, he'd reached his team in time to learn that they'd scored a C Rank mission. He'd internally cheered along with his teammates who were cheering aloud, since he'd been growing tired of the chores to which his team had been constantly assigned. He stopped mentally cheering when he'd heard the specifics of the mission. It was yet another baby-sitting job, albeit one that had been mislabeled as a C-Rank.
When he heard the name of his team's future charge, he found that it sounded vaguely familiar to him for some strange reason, despite the fact that he was reasonably certain that he didn't know anyone named Uzumaki. When he arrived at a small apartment in a neighborhood that was mostly inhabited by the lower middle-class and the poor that didn't quite make the cut and saw the small yellow-haired toddler that was racing around the room, he realized exactly why this particular job was a C-Rank rather than the standard D, as he had been old enough to understand at least some of what his mother and the pretty red-haired lady had been whispering about back when they used to meet up in the marketplace. His team had been given the honor of watching the son of the late Yondaime, and the pretty red-haired lady who had used to visit his mom sometimes back before the Kyuubi attack.
Neither of the people who had looked at them as if they were saviors who had just pulled them from the battlefield before racing to grab some of their belongings which had been scattered about the small apartment looked anything like the Kushina lady, whom it was probably safe to assume was dead since he hadn't seen her since the Kyuubi attack. Both of them, who looked to be about two years or so older than his teammates, were male, for one, and he was reasonably certain that he'd seen them on gate guard duty recently.
Having had experience with Sasuke, he could tell that the toddler who was racing around the apartment while the previous watch shift ducked out the door and ran off was tired of being cooped up inside the apartment which had a number of cheap toys scattered across just about every available surface. He said as much to his teammates, and suggested that they bring the child to a park where he could run around until he tired himself out in time for his afternoon nap.
That had been his first mistake.
His second had been taking his eyes off of Naruto for the two seconds it took to hand over his share of the payment for the lunch his sensei and Kara were fetching for the team. By the time his eyes had returned to the small sand-pit that little Naruto had been playing in, occupying himself with the task of shoveling sand into a pile, the boy was nowhere in sight.
The panic he'd felt when he'd realized this had caused his Sharingan to activate. Had his Sharingan not activated, he probably wouldn't have seen the small flash of yellow that was the back of Uzumaki Naruto's head as little Naruto slipped into the bushes that separated the park from the residential neighborhood that surrounded it.
"Where's Naruto?" the auburn haired Yamanaka Santa asked, having finally noticed that their charge had gone missing during their moments of inattention.
"He went off to go play in the bushes. I'll go get him." he replied, having already been in the process of getting up in order to do so knowing how much trouble a two year-old could get into in five seconds, as that had been exactly how long it had taken for Sasuke to get into his kunai pouch last week when he'd made the mistake of setting it on the counter when he'd gone into the kitchen to fetch a glass of water.
"Alright, whatever. Just be back in time for lunch." the Yamanaka replied in a bored tone as he almost idly turned his attention back towards the playground where a couple of his younger cousins were playing.
When he reached the bushes, Naruto was nowhere to be found. He frantically searched the bushes and the area surrounding them to no avail. But, in the instant he was about to give up hope, call for reinforcements, and kiss his ninja career goodbye so soon after it had started since he'd never live down losing the Yondaime's son while he was supposed to be watching him, he heard a familiar voice shriek "Kitty!".
Oh, thank the gods! he thought as he rounded the corner and headed into the alley from which the joyous cry had come, preparing to separate Naruto from his newfound feline friend and bring him back to the park, only to find his charge being carried off by a tiger that had somehow escaped from Training Ground 44.
Paling rapidly, he raced after the large feline which had the back of Naruto's diaper in it's mouth.
Something up there obviously hated him.