The Caretaker 7

Teuchi Ichiraku had seen many things. He had had many customers along the years sitting at his stool. His only policy had been, since the day of opening, 'Everyone is welcomed and no-one is thrown out'. So, when he found himself serving ramen to the Kyuubi Jinchuuriki, he did so without batting an eyelid.

He did so for the following weeks and months, and finally came to the sad realization that the kid had grown on him. The realization had been sad, because he had no way of adopting him and at the same time sustaining both him and his daughter. At the same time, he knew deep down that he was a coward, and should be ashamed of himself.

Still, when Naruto came back, after three days of absence with a fellow he had never seen before, Teuchi instinctively gazed at the teenager.

It was the very same gaze that any father gives off to the boyfriend-to-be of the daughter, but in this case it was far more lax. At first sight, the teenager seemed normal.

That was what made him immediately suspicious in Teuchi's eyes. There was no 'normal' in Konoha. Sure, there might have seemed to be normality, but in truth it was just another glint of madness.

So when a perfectly normal teenager entered right next to Naruto, and both clearly talked to one another with a colloquial tone, Teuchi was ready to jolt to his trusty cutting knife and teach the teenager in question that no, one should not 'play' with that particular child…not on his watch at least.

"Teuchi-Ojisan! Meet Slive-Oniisan!" Naruto piped in with a bright smile.

The poor child! If this man thinks he can abuse…

"It is a pleasure to meet you," Slive nodded in reply, while looking at the menu for something to order.

"Likewise: it is really great that someone befriended Naruto-kun here, I'm sure there are no second intentions in doing that, right?!" Teuchi gritted through his forced smile, as Naruto was already lost in ramen dreams and thus completely out of the equation.

"Of course," Slive replied, "He's family."

You liar! He can't be! I know for a fact that he's the Yondaime and Kushina's son…who do you think was awake at three in the morning to cook ramen for the two, huh!?

"Oh my…but I never saw you in town before…where were you, if you left him alone till now?"

"Out of this particular dimensional plane," the teenager replied with a shrug, "Had to mark the area, so the others knew not to come barging in."

What is he talking about? Mark the area? Did he…did he already…

"Oh…tell me Naruto!" Teuchi exclaimed looking at the blond haired kid, "Have you already played with your Oniisan?"

To that answer, Naruto lit up like a firecracker.

"Yes! We went to the park today Teuchi-Ojisan! We played tag and built sand castles! Slive-Oniisan is teaching me how to read and write, and now I can use really complica…compli…" A small frown on Naruto's face stood for a second, before the boy finally finished the sentence, "complicated! Yeah, complicated words!"

"Oh well, nothing else?" The old man asked, as he stirred the broth for the ramen. Maybe, just maybe, he had exaggerated his reactions. It's not like there really had to be a pedophile aiming at the Kyuubi Jinchuuriki…

"Nu-uh! I also play with Basil-san too! But he's a bit of an emotionless," Slive whistled at the 'emotionless' word, "guy…but he's nice! Really! He plays with me even if it's annoying!"

"If I had known that a day with a dictionary would have worked like that…I'd have done it sooner," the teenager stated, as he made his own order.

He ordered Pork ramen, with triple extra layer of pork, the very same order that Naruto made not a second later.

By the time the bowls were there, Naruto looked worriedly to his sides, flinching lightly.

"Isn't Basil-san coming?"

"I did mention cake this afternoon, right?" Slive queried more to himself than to actually anyone, "So it means that he now has his mind busy with 'cake'-thoughts. He'll probably empty a bakery or two before remembering there's dinner with ramen…not that it would matter any longer, considering the quantities of cake he can eat."

"Oh." It was a single mutter, yet for some reason it felt extremely sad. It didn't take Slive more than a second to understand what the reason for said low morale was, nor how to fix it.

"Neh Naruto," the caretaker said with a light smile, "There's always tomorrow at lunch, or tomorrow night, and then you'll be able to go with Basil and me. I'm not going anywhere, and neither is Basil," or the rest of the brood and the family.

"I…I know! You're right!" The boy replied with a bright smile, the sulking mood completely forgotten, "So is the ramen good!? It's way better than cake, right?"

Slive narrowed his eyes on Naruto, who felt a strange shivering emotion.

"Boy…nothing is better than roasted meat, not even cake."

"Somebody said cake?" Basil commented, entering the stall with a sort of satisfied expression and a dose of whipped cream on the lower half of his chin.

He also had a couple of cherries, those for cake decorations, nestled on his head while on his right shoulder stood a half-chewed candle with the number '18' half-eaten. He looked, for all purposes, like a veteran of war. A war that involved cream and various assorted pastries. He even had a smudge of whipped cream on his right cheek, and didn't seem to mind at all.

"Teuchi-Ojisan! This is Basil-san, he's Slive-Oniisan's son!" The blond haired boy exclaimed, before recalling just what Slive had said.

"Roasted meat? But it's crunchy! Ramen is way better!"

"Crunchy!? You have no idea what you're talking about! My roasted meat is perfect! You'll see!"

"Cake beats all," Basil deadpanned, before ordering a 'sweet' ramen.

Teuchi, meanwhile, was eying pretty clinically the scene. The two 'did' seem honest in their interactions with Naruto, however there was a tiny little problem that he could make no sense of it. Sure, Basil seemed a carbon copy of Slive, but he was pretty much the same age as him! How could he be his son? Maybe he 'was' a bit smaller than the teenager, but that was all.

Either Slive was lying, but then again, why not simply say that they were brothers? There was something fishy hidden below the surface…and he'd fish it out for Naruto's sake.

"One sweet dango ramen coming right up!" As the Ichiraku stall owner moved to the broth, a female voice chirped from outside the street, catching everyone's attention.

"Otou-san!" Ayame exclaimed, coming right in, "I'm here to help you!" The fourteen year old girl moved right behind the counter, grabbing a knife in the meantime.

"Ayame, maybe that's not a good…" Teuchi did try to stop his daughter, but it was too late. The knife left the clumsy hand of the stall girl, who had tried to literally fling it downwards against the mortal enemy of hers: the carrots. It ended up straight ahead into Basil's forehead, however, 'thunking' as it hit.

The boy stood very, very still for a moment, as everyone froze in the stall.

Slive rolled his eyes and hissed for a second. A small and completely black creature crawled from beneath the stall's counter and gently touched one of Basil's legs. The knife was suddenly jerked outside by the caretaker's son own hand, who dropped it gently on the counter, before the wound on his forehead closed in a split second.

"Basil here loves to joke on people with Genjutsu." Slive nodded to himself, earning a set of sighs of relief and one very, very flustered Ayame.

Naruto's face, however, showed a sort of angry snarl at Basil. It took little less than a minute, for the reason to appear clear.

"Stupid! That was a stupid joke! Stupid! Stupid! It was stupid!" The boy dashed off the next moment, leaving the stall, as Basil cast Slive a sour look.

"Next time, you learn to dodge cutlery," the teenager screeched in low murmurs to his son, who darted off too to catch the four years old.

Slive, the sole remaining in the stall, paid in silence. It was just then, as Ayame had gone in the back, that Teuchi narrowed his eyes.

"That was not a Genjutsu."

"I can resurrect the dead," Slive deadpanned, "as long as they are members of my family."

"That's impossible!"

"Then, you see…it was a Genjutsu." The teenager retorted with a quick nod. "And my son has the uncanny nature of being a bit on the suicidal line."

Teuchi gritted his teeth, before muttering.

"That's a lie."

"Not it's not. He is kind of suicidal…in his own way."

"He's too old to be your son!" Teuchi snapped, "And I don't know what you're planning to do with Naruto, but when I'll find out, because I'll find out, I'll make sure the Hokage gets you thrown into the highest security jail there is!"

Slive raised an eyebrow, perplexed.

"I'm…over two thousand years old." He pointed out. "Well, it depends actually. If I'm a reincarnation of the Queen's or of the Overlord's synapses, then I'm probably a hell of a lot older."

Teuchi's face sported shock. Just what was the boy talking about!?

"In any event," Slive commented, looking straight into the eyes of the ramen vendor, "I am here for the wellbeing and the care of Naruto, and not even hell itself will prevent me from doing just that. So we will see each other again pretty soon, I suppose. Have a good night."

The teen then left, leaving behind a befuddled Teuchi who was kind of wondering why, while looking into Slive's eyes, the idea that the teenager was in truth a two thousand years old had made so much sense. Nobody could have such lonely eyes, right?

Slive whistled as he walked along the streets, the cold breeze doing nothing to sooth his raging emotions. It was a bad thing for him to be enraged, of all people. It was a really, really horrible idea: because if he was enraged, then so were his slivers, and if they were enraged, their fury would be unleashed upon anyone near them.

He tried to calm down, but he knew deep down that it was futile. It was like the wave that is made in the stadiums, during soccer matches or any sport event. Once it starts, it cannot be stopped. His mind wasn't only his. It was the intertwined connections of thousands upon thousands of Slivers across the interdimensional planes.

He was at the same time Slive and a Battering Sliver, fighting for supremacy against another one. He was the Crypt Sliver that gave new life upon the deceased in the plains of Dominaria, and the wicked Fungus Sliver, that grew upon the scratches of his own brood.

He was the Might Sliver and the Lymph sliver. He was the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. He was the first and the last.

Yet he was all of them, and at the same time none. He was the mind of the Legion, he was the Legion, yet he also remembered not being that in the beginning. Being someone else, far younger.

He knew that somewhere, somehow, he had lost sight of him. Yet he also knew that he was there, with every one of his movements. He remembered by instinct, he acted upon morals that weren't his and yet were.

He was good because his other self was and not because Slivers were intrinsically so. He was the Caretaker of future Planeswalker by choice, but it wasn't his. It was Slive's, it was him.

It was him, whoever he was, that had chosen to help. Slive had come afterwards. The first of the children, the last of them, the in-between and the father of them all, the mother and the grandparents were all but various faces of himself.

He was all of that, and the more he thought about who he was the more his anger receded, because philosophy was something no Sliver was good at, and for that their minds removed themselves, letting him come to his own terms and reasons.

It was a trick, one of the many he, whoever he was, had learned to keep a glimmer of himself within the brood. It had worked. The Overlord, the Queen, they paled in comparison to him, to the Legion. Even then, he had to be careful.

He could come back.

If he did, then things would be sour indeed.

They had been wiped out once. Only once had they lost all of their numbers, only once had their frenzy and mindless destruction taken their lives, from the first to the last of the born. This time, however, a Planeswalker was one of their Kin, and as long as he lived and breathed and was one of them, then they too were. This was the law of the Slivers, this was the law of the brood.

One is all and all are one.

He barely remembered what he had been so angry about, before. It probably wasn't anything important, and so he let it drop.

It was as he was making his way back home that something caught his attention.

That something had pink bright hair, and seemed in the middle of quietly moving along the already dark streets towards the park. Slive merely raised his gaze, meeting the puzzled one of an Anbu who was patching, perched from above a rooftop, said scene too.

Slive gave the Anbu a couple of hand-signals, meaning he'd keep a watch out for the girl, and the Anbu, nodding, left to go back to his patrol. The teenager followed in complete silence the young girl, who, while seeming distraught and scared, nevertheless kept walking forward, the park being her clear direction. As she reached it, she began to pace around the tree where she had been reading her book during the day, going as far as touching the ground and dirtying her hands while at it.

"It can't be…can't be gone…" she began to whimper sadly.

Slive rolled his eyes, before taking a couple of steps back, and then starting to literally stomp on the ground as he made his way towards the girl. He could have kept silent until reaching her, but a scream was the last thing he wanted so late at night. Furthermore, there were people who were trying to sleep, at least, somewhere.

The girl, whose green jade eyes had seemingly begun to fill up with tears, suddenly jerked her head to the origin of the noise, hurriedly standing back up.

"What are you doing out here at night?" Slive asked, getting down on one knee to reach the same eye level as the young girl.

"My book!" She muttered, "I lost it! And I came to look for it!"

"Oh! It's that one filled with pictures, right?" As he asked that, Sakura sheepishly nodded.

"Well, shouldn't you be at home, sleeping?" Slive queried back, only for the pink haired girl to shake her head.

"Nu-uh, I need my book! If I don't I can't tidy the room!"

"Tidy the room?" He queried, raising an eyebrow.

The girl merely nodded quickly.

"Yeah! Kaa-san says I need to tidy the room before going to bed. If it's not tidy she gets really angry!"

Slive chuckled, "I understand…but the book isn't here. It's…" The boy bit his tongue. This seemed like a really bad two-lines pedophile hook. He truly, truly, did not want to pass off as one. He already had Naruto to keep an eye on, having another kid following? That would just invite nasty rumors.

"Know what? If you come back tomorrow in the afternoon with your mother, I'll have it found by then." The girl lowered her gaze, her face scrunching up in deep thought.

"Promise?" She asked quickly.

"Promise." He replied with a slow and deliberate nod.

"Okay then! Bye bye Slive-san!" and with that strangely quick goodbye, the girl dashed off.

The Legion of Slivers sighed, staring at the sky, "This wasn't in the panels. Or in the anime episodes." He muttered.

"Live with it? I'm not living with it!" He muttered to the skittering mass of tendrils walking right next to him, the gems shining in the moonlight, "And I'm not mad! I'm speaking to myself."

"We are the synapses of thousands upon thousands of slivers, I'm pretty darn sure I'm legally authorized to speak to myself without being mad!" He added quietly, "And be quiet you!" He warned to a floating and bubbly Sliver, "I'm not in the mood for your jokes."

Muttering once more, Slive was gone, disappearing without even the twirling of leaves. Needless to say, a certain Uchiha prodigy was terribly, terribly perplexed by said events, having followed him instead of going outright back to his patrol.

Meanwhile, on the other side of town, a half-angry and half-sad Naruto was mumbling about stupid jokes while trying to find his way back to his apartment. At first he had subconsciously moved along the familiar road to the orphanage, but he had managed to correct himself soon enough.

That was when he had begun to mumble about having ended up only Kami knew where, in the middle of the village, in downtown.

That didn't stop him from trying to retrace his steps, but coming short of it.

So, in the dark of the night, Naruto was mumbling to himself in order to avoid doing what every lost four year old would do: cry and call for his parents. Because he knew he had no parents that would answer, and he knew that he wouldn't be helped even if he did cry all the night.

So, as he kept on his walk and his mumbles, he didn't realize that had he actually cried, then one of the Anbus on patrol on the rooftops would have probably descended to help him. Instead, by keeping up a seemingly normal façade, he had unconsciously given the idea to those who could help him…that he knew where he was going.

Basil did reach him in time, though, before the trembling of the boy's lips became a full-out cry.

"Naruto." He whispered, "It's late and you should be home." He added.

Naruto looked with shock, his cerulean blue eyes teary and watery, at the form of Basil. He dashed over to him in less than an instant, using his hands to grab fistfuls of the boy's clothes.

It felt less like cloth and more like flesh, squishy and pulsing and warm, but to Naruto it didn't matter.

"You made Otou-san worried: he's going to be angry at you, you know?" Basil pointed out, as he gently patted the boy's hair, "You shouldn't have run away like that."

"I'm sorry," Naruto muttered.

"I know why you did it, but it doesn't excuse it," Basil added once more, "Heck, I ran away from home once too…my mother…let's just say she showed me some skeletons I didn't like, and then…I got hit by a Beholder's ray."

"I didn't understand half of it, Oniisan," Naruto chuckled grimly, "is Slive-Oniisan going to punish me?"

"I suppose I might not, if you promise not to do it again," Slive remarked, appearing out of thin air right behind the duo, startling Naruto.

"AH! Slive-Oniisan! That was…That was scary!" The boy whined, before flinching as Slive's hand made contact with his head, before he was pulled in a half-hug and half headlock.

"Don't you run away again, you heard me you brat?"

"Hai! I promise! I promise! Believe it!" He exclaimed, flailing his arms wildly. With a satisfied grunt, Slive moved the boy to his back, before giving a nod to Basil, who headed ahead.

"And we'll head home and go to be right away, right?" Slive added, "After brushing our teeth."

"Aw…fine," Naruto pouted.

"Good." The man added once more.

The night was still young, but at the present, everything was fine.

Author's notes

Booyah. Another chapter's out.

Decided to go for a Naruto/Sakura pairing of fluff. Because it turned out like that. Btw, for those who read 'The Harsh Truth' I'm at 22K of words and still writing forward. (Why don't I upload and go for a 29th chapter? Because I'm not like that! 28 I said and 28 it will be)