Friendship With the Wolf
For as long as Naruto could remember, there'd been that one ANBU soldier.
He'd forgotten how old he was when they'd first met. Maybe he was five. Perhaps a year younger. It didn't matter, really. Those details were irrelevant. All Naruto cared about was that for the first time in his life, he had been acknowledged.
It was a day of hunger. Orphans were given a small sum, but it was never enough. If Naruto wasn't very, very careful, he'd run dry within a week. He had been counting his pennies, his heart sinking a little bit with every tiny addition. All he'd wanted was a hot meal. No. Forget hot. Warm food was a luxury on days like these. Anything edible would do. Absolutely anything.
The day was only beginning. It was barely dawn yet. Naruto's sleep had been broken by a desperate craving for something to eat, but…His kitchen cabinets were bare. It was hopeless. He hated to do it, but he would have to steal. It would have to be planned to the last detail, but his head was too dizzy with sleep and lack of food to even think.
That's when he heard an odd tap-tap-tap on the glass. He jumped off his bed and took several steps away from the window.
The man was scary. He was tall, thin, and faceless. An ANBU with a white wolf mask on his face. Naruto felt terror grip him. The ANBU? Why? He hadn't done anything wrong. He hadn't! Was he going to die? Or go to jail?
The man stopped tapping on the window and let his hand fall to his side.
"I'm not going to hurt you," the ANBU said. "Open the window."
The voice was slightly muffled through the glass, but Naruto picked up every word. He shook his head ferociously. "No! I don't believe you!"
The man seemed unfazed. He stood completely still for almost ten seconds before repeating, "Naruto, I'm not going to hurt you. I just want to talk."
No-one had ever called him by his name before. Not unless they were screaming at him or complaining about him. Naruto. Naruto. "MY NAME IS NARUTO UZUMAKI AND I'M GOING TO BE HOKAGE SOME DAY!"
Had someone actually been listening when he said that? Did someone really care?
The ANBU seemed to sense the boy's sudden hesitation. He persisted. "Open the window, Naruto. I promise, I won't hurt you." His voice was gentler this time, more coaxing.
"…No, go away!"
That's when the blonde boy's eyes suddenly stung. Please. Please. What was that word? What was it, again? Please. Please, Naruto. Please. I won't hurt you. I promise. Please.
Promise. Please. Promise. Please.
So Naruto didn't really realise how it happened, and he didn't know what he'd been thinking, but suddenly, he was opening the window and tasting dawn's breeze. The ANBU didn't move. He simply watched the child. Several seconds passed.
Nervously, Naruto asked, "You wanted to say something to me? Did I do something wrong?"
"No, you didn't do anything wrong." The ANBU bent down and picked up something from the balcony's floor. It was a bouquet of flowers. "But I want you to come with me."
"What? Why?" the child cried, panicking. He tried to back away, but the soldier was too fast. He simply shot out and grabbed the boy's arm. His grip wasn't too tight, but it wasn't too loose. As Naruto struggled, the man's hold only grew firmer.
"I told you I wouldn't hurt you, and I won't. But I want to show you something. So you need to come with me."
Naruto stopped resisting, simply out of surprise. "Show me something?"
The ANBU suddenly let go of his small prisoner. "But you ought to come willingly. It would only be special if you came willingly."
"No. Go away!"
The masked man jerked very, very slightly. In surprise, perhaps. Surprise at Naruto's vehemence. He composed himself and paused. The boy could see his obvious conflict, before the man's shoulders slumped.
"Alright. Fine." He shrugged, appearing nonchalant. "If that's what you want…I'm sorry to have scared you like that." With that, his palm tightened around the flowers. He turned to leave, to jump out of the balcony, when—
"What did you say to me?" Naruto asked, his voice becoming even rougher than usual.
The ANBU paused and turned his head. "What did I say?"
"You said…you said you were sorry. To have scared me. That's what you said, right?"
The adult turned to face him fully now. "Yes…?"
Naruto's posture took a defeated stance. "I'll come with you."
"Well, come on. Before I change my mind!"
The ANBU said nothing for a second. Then, abruptly, he handed the flowers to Naruto. "Hold these and follow me."
He took Naruto off the main roads, towards the greener sides of Konoha. Every so often, he would glance at his young charge and Naruto would feel the hair on the back of his neck tingling. They walked in a sacred silence. The sort of quiet that was either too uncomfortable or too uncertain to break.
"Where are we going?" Naruto asked, his voice barely a whisper. He was scared. What was going to happen to him?
"You'll see," the ANBU replied with an air of finality that refused to answer any more questions.
The clearing was beautiful, with fresh, crunchy grass underfoot. And the strange stone structure right in the middle of it…?
"What is this place?" Naruto inquired. He blinked at the adult.
"You see that memorial?" the man asked him.
"The names of Konoha's heroes are written on it."
"One of those heroes is the Fourth Hokage. And today, especially today, we must visit this site."
The ANBU glanced at Naruto. It was just a simple flick of his head before the man's eyes went right back to the memorial. "Because today was his birthday."
Naruto stared, open mouthed, at the strange situation. Then, irritated, he crossed his arms. "You got me here to say happy birthday to some weird dead guy?"
The comment awoke a reaction from the masked man. He stiffened and his fists clenched. "Be more respectful," he spoke, his voice very quiet, very severe. "He died to protect this village. Without his sacrifice, you wouldn't be here."
Naruto's lower lip quivered. He spoke in an undertone, a whisper. It was not meant to be heard. "And would that be such a bad thing?"
The ANBU turned to look at him completely. His posture was frozen solid before he suddenly dropped to meet the boy's eyes. Placing both hands on the child's small shoulders, he answered, "Yes. It would be a bad thing if you weren't here." The…what was the right word…affection? The affection in the man's tone…it caught Naruto off guard. Never, not once, had anyone spoken to him that way. With such kindness. With such worry.
Naruto felt the tears coming. It was difficult to force them back.
"Come on now. Let's pay our respects to a brave, wise man." Gentle as ever, the masked warrior took Naruto's small palm in his large one and led him to the memorial stone.
"Should I…should I put the flowers here?" the child asked, choking on the burning sensation in his throat.
He did as he was told, carefully placing the bouquet at the foot of the structure. The ANBU watched him do it in silence, and then took Naruto's hand in his again. He pulled Naruto forward and then lifted him up—because the boy was still too short to reach the engraved lettering. He held the boy secure before bending towards the stone.
"Here," the ANBU said, guiding Naruto's tiny fingers to touch the letters etched into the stone. "This was his name."
The boy sank into the adult's grip. He felt safe. For the first time in his entire life, he felt safe.
Quietly, he asked, "Minato Namikaze?"
"Yes. That was the Fourth's name."
"It's a nice name," the child commented.
The ANBU chuckled. "I suppose it is."
That's the moment when Naruto's starving body decided to protest. His stomach growled like a wild animal and the child had a sudden head rush. He whimpered, pressing his face into the man's chest.
"Are you alright?" the ANBU asked, with that foreign sounding tone of concern.
"...'M hungry," Naruto murmured.
"Oh. Well, that can be easily solved, right?"
The man didn't set him down. He simply carried him off, holding Naruto protectively in his arms. The earliest vendors were just starting to open. They didn't speak to each other as the adult quickly found a restaurant. They were, understandably, the first customers.
Their still sleepy-eyed server shot Naruto a dirty look. But then he took in the child's companion and averted his eyes. Nobody dared argue with an ANBU.
"What would you like to eat, Naruto?"
Naruto, now sitting on a chair, was quiet. Then finally, "Tamagoyaki?"
The adult nodded once towards the server. "You heard him."
"Yes sir," shooting Naruto another dirty look, he asked the masked man, "And what will you have?"
"Nothing yet. I'm not particularly hungry. So just get the Tamagoyaki for now."
"Yes sir," the other man replied before quickly scuttling off.
Naruto looked at the ANBU now. He was sitting back against his chair, his arms crossed on his chest, his white mask looking straight at Naruto.
"…Alright. Whatever you say."
And that's how it started. Every year, on exactly the same day, the ANBU would wake Naruto up by tapping on the window, and every year, they'd place a bouquet of flowers at the memorial stone. Neither of them would talk much, and when they did, they were only short conversations.
The second year they went to visit the stone, Naruto asked, "What's your name?"
The ANBU seemed uncomfortable with the question, and he hesitated. Finally, he replied, "You can call me Wolf."
On the third year, Naruto asked, "Why do you always take me here? Why only me?"
"Because I don't want you to grow up without knowing the Fourth Hokage."
The year after that, the question was, "Hey, Wolf? Did you know the Fourth Hokage?"
He masked man had sighed and put his hands in his pockets. "I'd like to think I did. But truth be told…I think he knew me better than I knew him."
The fifth year, the man didn't come. Naruto waited and waited before giving up and going back to sleep. A week later, someone was tapping on his window.
"Where were you?" Naruto asked, accusation heavy in his tone. But then his anger disappeared when he saw Wolf leaning on crutches. How had the man jumped onto his balcony with crutches for Kami's sake?
"Sorry about that, Naruto. I was in hospital. They wouldn't let me go."
"Why were you in hospital?"
"Because I was injured on a mission."
"Oh…Are you okay now?"
Wolf chuckled. "I'm absolutely fine. But I forgot to bring flowers."
"That's okay. I'm sure the Fourth Hokage would understand."
After that year, Wolf stopped coming. Naruto waited for weeks, but his friend never came. He felt angry, betrayed, sullen. He decided never to visit the memorial stone again.
The next time he paid his respects to Minato Namikaze, he was twelve years old.
"Mhhm..." Naruto mumbled in his sleep.
He drew the blanket over his head.
"Naruto, wake up."
"Mghmmh…five more minutes…"
The blonde leapt at the commanding voice and fell off the bed in surprise. His shoulder collided with the floor and he yelped, jumping to his feet and rubbing it gingerly. "Kakashi-sensei?"
His silver-haired teacher waited outside Naruto's window, arms crossed in obvious amusement. "Good morning."
The child threw the window open. "You wake me up at the crack of dawn and I fall off the bed and you say good morning?!"
"Yep, that's right." He eye-smiled and ruffled Naruto's hair.
"Ehh!" the boy whined, trying to straighten it out.
"Go wash your face and brush your teeth."
"Why, did something happen?" Naruto pouted.
"Hmm…just do it."
"Ugh, fine. Two minutes." Naruto stomped off, muttering to himself about being rudely awoken and returned to meet his sensei exactly one hundred and twenty seconds later.
Kakashi produced a bouquet of flowers and threw it into Naruto's hands. "Come on."
"Where are we…?" and then the blonde's voice died in his throat. Kakashi said nothing either. The two fell into step with a familiar silence. The memorial stone was exactly how Naruto had remembered it to be.
That year, Naruto asked, "Kakashi-sensei? You were in the ANBU, right?"
"Did you know a man named Wolf?"
His sensei smiled at him. "Yes."
Naruto gave his teacher a knowing look. "Could you please tell Wolf that I was upset when he abandoned me, those years ago?"
Kakashi laughed gently and put his hands in his pockets. "Wolf died a while back, around the same time that I left the ANBU Black Ops. You won't see him again."
Naruto crossed his arms and pouted.
Kakashi ruffled his student's hair again. "But I can hear you loud and clear."
Without warning, the boy attacked his teacher in a fierce hug. The jonin was taken off guard.
"Kakashi-sensei?" Naruto asked softly.
"You think…you think maybe we could go get some Tamagoyaki ?"
A/N: This idea actually came to me while I was thinking up a completely different story. It simply took over my mind and it wouldn't let me go. Not that I'm complaining. This isn't my usual writing style. I tend to put a lot more description into my prose and this seems somehow spartan, but I don't know...I guess I like it...? Either way, it's your opinion, not mine, that matters.
Thank you for reading. Please review!