A little late in the day, but as promised, here is the first chapter of my new story. This one is all finished, and only four parts. So long as I don't forget, you should get the other chapters every Friday for the next few weeks. In the meantime, I will try to get writing on Storms and/or SA.

Forgot how much work goes into setting up a new story in ...

Anyways, just a random idea I had that seemed fun! Hope you enjoy!

Warnings: crazy ladies, unbeta'd, if I wrote it right, might cause some tears

Disclaimer: me no own

It started out as a joke. Or, at least, it was supposed to be a joke.

Kiba, the dog-faced mutt, dared Naruto to climb that fence and sneak into the ginormous house where the crotchety old lady lived. She was well known around the neighborhood as the grouchy old lady who always yelled at people and talked in circles. No one ever visited her, and it was no big surprise to her neighbors why.

But the gossip around the neighborhood children was that she held some great treasure in that huge old mansion of hers, and that it was guarded by her and her deceased husband's grumpy ghost and their half a dozen deranged cats (plus a couple of ghost cats, or so the story goes).

Naruto, who hated even the thought of ghosts, couldn't say no to a dare, most especially one presented by Kiba.

Sure he was already seventeen going on eighteen, just half a year away from graduation. That didn't have to mean he had matured any since his ridiculously immature years of twelve and under. Well, maybe a little, but not enough to wimp out on a dare.

And so there he was, eyeing the fence between the street and his glorious win against Kiba, the next in a long line of stupidity. He nodded once in anticipation of showing Kiba up once again. Then up he went over the fence and into the overgrown yard.

He crouched low, ducking and weaving through the tall grass, keeping an eye out for anything unordinary and ghostly. The only thing which registered as a little odd, however, as he stealthily maneuvered through the grass, was the overabundance of tomatoes…

And soon he was at the slightly open back door, blue eyes peering this way and that, looking to see if the way was clear.

The dare had specified touching the back shoji(1) door, and taking back with him a piece of that old crumbling wood from the paneling. He had made it across the yard and stood shins against the wood porch. Now all he had to do was reach for it…

And he fell.

Well, no one ever said he was the most graceful thing around…

Suddenly he could hear the slow shuffling of feet down the rickety hallway, and he dove for cover behind a short sofa just inside the now fully open door.

"Who's there?" a female voice asked into the empty space. It sounded old, timid… even a little bit scared. It sounded nothing like the screeching, scary old woman all the neighborhood kids were afraid of. Naruto pursed his lips, his brows scrunching together as that irritating feeling filled him- that feeling he absolutely dreaded, the one Iruka instilled in him whenever he did something even remotely wrong… Guilt.

So she was loud; she was old. She probably couldn't hear all that well and spoke loudly to be able to hear herself. That didn't mean she was actually yelling; the kids just assumed that's what she was doing because they were always doing something worth getting yelled at for.

And just because she talked in circles didn't mean anything more than she probably had Alzheimer's. She forgot what she had already said just a few moments ago, thought it still needed to be said. Again, she was old. Maybe even ancient. Maybe she had even been around at the time of Tokugawa Ieyasu(2)!

Now that would have been cool…

Naruto shook his head of golden hair to clear it from the random thoughts spinning out of control. He was seventeen, too old to get carried away by random fantasies of samurai and ninja…

Though he really loved ninja.

He carefully peered around the edge of the low sofa, a hand resting against the firm but yielding fabric of the back, and blinked at the small figure which slowly entered the room. He knew her, had seen her before plenty of times (more often than not he was a part of that group of kids getting yelled at for coming too close), but he had never had such a close view of her.

She was tiny, thin, her wispy silver hair pulled up in a bun on the top of her head, her thin lips pursed as she squinted into the dark room, the light streaming in across her back from the open doorway. She stood hunched over, but Naruto perceived it wasn't because she was someone who was now naturally bent over with age, but because she wanted to appear as small as possible. Maybe it was to appear unintimidating to any unwanted intruder. Maybe it was because she was afraid and really wanted to take up hiding as far away from the room as possible but was chancing the search anyway. Hell, maybe she was really a ninja, and she was trying to look smaller because she was preparing an attack!

Okay, Naruto really needed to snap out of it.

He pursed his lips and shrunk back as she came closer, carefully measuring each step. She was used to being small, now it seemed she knew how to use it to her advantage. And maybe she really was some sort of ninja, because before he realized it, she was peering over his shoulder, and he nearly jumped three feet in the air at the quietly whispered, "Found ya!"

"Gah! I'm sorry!" he screeched, his voice coming out high pitched and squeaky as he threw his hands in the air and tried to scramble away before abruptly colliding with a wall.

"Hmph. Young brats these days," the old lady grumbled. "What are you doing intruding in my home, eh?"

"Uh, well, I … Uh…," Naruto, the ever eloquent one stumbled along, trying to get words out while he tried to calm his racing heart.

The old lady shook her head and wandered over to the sofa, sitting elegantly as the boy finally stopped trying to use coherent words. "You're Iruka's brat, aren't you?"

"I…" Naruto knew he was in trouble now. She knew who he was, where he lived, who he reported to…

Iruka was gonna skin him alive…

He stood there sweat-dropping, wondering if he could use his marvelous Uzumaki charm to get him out of this. "Look, I... I really am sorry. I didn't mean anything bad. Really!"

The old lady hmph'ed again. "Well, sit down already. If you're really Iruka's, then you can't be all bad."

Naruto quickly agreed to that assumption and hastily dropped down on the floor, pulling his shoes off as he got ready to do penance so long as Iruka was left out of the loop.

"But don't think that means you're out of the dog house. You break and enter, you gotta pay the price."

"B-But, I didn't break anything!" Naruto protested.

"Seiza(3) position!" she barked in that tell-tale loud yell of hers, and quickly he complied. "I'm gonna punish you the best way I know how," she began, her dark eyes squinting as she looked at him. He gulped audibly. "I'm gonna tell you a story!"

He blinked at her. Was that a joke? "Uh… okay?"

She nodded and sat back, her voice dropping in volume and smoothing over. Naruto tilted his head to listen as the words began to flow from her mouth, and they were nothing like he had expected. "It was the height of winter, but for some reason, the snow hadn't fallen in Konoha. We're not so far south that snow doesn't fall, but it's not an everyday thing in winter. But still, it was unusual."

Naruto swallowed and leaned forward on his haunches. She had just started, but already he was intrigued.

"I was a young girl back then, but even I could tell something was wrong. The skies were always dark, but it was as if the snow was being held back. A bad omen."

Naruto sat forward even more, eyes growing wide. This was the kind of thing he had heard of- old people droning on and on about stuff from their past. It was supposed to be the dull of the dull, but this-

"My father could tell something was off as well. Back then, my family was pretty well-known and well-off, and my father led the clan. We're all dispersed now, but then we all lived together, and everyone respected their elders properly. Not like kids do these days…" and she glared at the blond.

Only to notice the wide-eyed intent stare, the mouth hanging open as he nodded, ready for the next sentence like he was starving for a meal (in his case, of ramen).

The glare softened and she nodded, a small smile hanging from her lips. "He set off after the new year into the forest to check the mountains, hoping to find some clue as to what could be happening. Meanwhile, I stayed behind with my mother, left to worry and watch the ever-darkening sky."

It seemed even she was getting carried away, the small old woman, as she continued her tale in that slow hushed voice. She couldn't help it, with such a rapt listener sitting there, hanging from her every word. So she told her story, of the day they heard of the suspicious events of the town next door, of the strangers who appeared nearly at her family's doorstep while her father was still away. She went on and on, and never once did she repeat herself.

And in that same tone of voice she told of the way the stranger had looked, "dark and hidden, cloaked in dark silk as he walked through the town as if he was the only one who existed. We could have all been nothing more than trees in a forest to him."

Naruto was really starting to wonder, as the story went on, what happened to the scary old lady who lived in the haunted mansion guarding some secret treasure with her grumpy husband's ghost and a half a dozen cats (and a couple of ghost cats). In fact, as the thought struck him, he realized he hadn't seen any cats, and definitely no ghosts (thank god).

All he had seen was the old woman, who was vastly more interesting than he could have thought as she told her story. "It was at that time that my father came back from the mountains. But when we told him about the strange visitor, he didn't know anything about it, and even the information of the town next door who had played host to the stranger was an unknown tale to him, even though he, too, had passed through it. And stranger yet, when my father went to search out the visitor, he was gone. And the next morning, the snow fell."

Naruto was sure he was going to fall over from how far forward he was sitting. His legs were numb, but for the life of him, he didn't care. "That was awesome," he murmured.

The old woman laughed softly. "Well, it's nice to have a captive audience every now and then." Then she cackled at her pun.

The blond just blinked at her, never one to understand such things. Though he did wonder briefly if maybe she wasn't just a little bit mad.

"Well, how about a cookie?" She asked as she stood up, bones creaking. "I think you've been punished enough."

Naruto grinned and struggled to his feet, just as the doorbell chimed, echoing in the large, lonely mansion. "Well, who could that be, I wonder…" she murmured.

He followed her as she slowly made her way through the mansion, his eyes wandering the elaborate decorations in the rooms they passed, the floor creaking under his feet, shoes in his hand.

At the door stood a worried Iruka, Kiba hiding behind the man's back.

"Naruto! You're alive!" Kiba called when he spotted the blond.

"Of course I'm alive, stupid mutt," Naruto grumbled.

"Naruto! Ah, I'm so sorry about Naruto…" Iruka began, sending a glare Naruto's way.

"Naruto, ha? Don't worry, Iruka. Naruto-chan and I were just about to have some cookies. I suppose time got away from us," she rumbled on, her voice changing to the one Naruto was more familiar with, a little loud and raspy.

He wondered at the change for a moment before he realized something far more important. She wasn't gonna tell Iruka.

Though, if Kiba had run to him for help, he might know anyways. Stupid Kiba.

"Oh, well…" Iruka seemed a little lost for words. He had been expecting something awful, a furious old crazy lady and an unrepentant Naruto. But instead, the old lady was smiling, a bit distantly maybe, but Naruto seemed perfectly at ease, maybe even a little happy. Strange…

For Naruto's part, he just seemed to realize the sun had set. He had spent much longer than he thought in that room with the old lady's voice droning on. He considered for a second, as he recalled the story, if he should tell her the punishments would work much better if she didn't tell such awesome stories.

Oh, well.

But as he walked away from the old lady who seemed to be waving in the wrong direction, Iruka's soothing hand on his back leading him away, he had no idea what trouble a little old crazy lady could cause…

It began to be a regular occurrence, after that. Whenever he wasn't with Kiba or at home with Iruka, he was in that old house with that old lady.

For hours he would be there, listening to her stories, some eerie as the first had been, some just interesting. She told even the most dull tales in the most fascinating way. In those long stretches of time, he'd play with her cats (she did actually have some, but only two- both completely solid and definitely not see through), or he'd snack on the homemade cookies, candies and food she was always making.

And during all those many hours, he had begun to notice a few things. First of all, the old lady really must have been a ninja in a past life, because she could spring up out of nowhere and scare the shit out of him at any time, cackling her crazy old lady laugh as he sat clutching at his racing heart. It was after the fourth consecutive time of this occurring during the same visit that he decided she was definitely "Shinobi-baa"(4). And so that's what he called her.

She seemed to like the nickname. A lot.

And then there was…

The first time it happened, Naruto wasn't sure how to respond.

It started when Shinobi-baa handed him the clip. "A gift," she said simply, a wide smile on her face.

Naruto smiled back and took it, then carefully examined the small item in his hand.

Then he frowned.

"Ano, Shinobi-baa?" he began carefully. He didn't want to sound ungrateful, of course. He appreciated that she had thought to give him anything. But…

"Isn't it lovely? I made it myself. I thought the blue would go well with your beautiful eyes," she said. She was all smiles, beaming down at him as he frowned to himself, unsure how to continue.

He stared down at the small item and stammered a reply. "It really is great." The "But" continued to linger on the tip of his tongue. Really, a hair clip? With flowers? And… sparkly things?

Something… did not seem right, here.

Sure, it had been made perfectly clear to him early on in his getting to know Shinobi-baa that she was… well, not all there at times. He knew it wasn't to the extent most people believed. The neighborhood kids, for example. That was just a ploy. She was smart like that. For whatever reason, she didn't want people to get close to her. (Sometimes he wondered if she really didn't have some secret treasure hidden somewhere in that house.)

And so she acted like a crazy old cat lady, screeching and wild-eyed and creepy when people got too close. But she was actually rather brilliant, if not just a little crazy.

But this…

Naruto shook his head to clear his thoughts and peered up at the smiling Shinobi-baa. "Um…" A strange thought was occurring to him, something that had kind of approached him before in his mind but was hazy and distant and…

"Shinobi-baa," he finally began, forming the words he wanted to say and getting them out. "Boys don't really wear sparkly, flowery hair clips."

"Of course not," she waved him off. "That would be silly."

Naruto sighed in relief. Good, it was just his imagination.

"Now why don't you try it on so I can see!" Shinobi-baa continued, practically gushing.

Naruto hesitated again, sweat-dropping just a bit. "But we just agreed…"

"I don't see what that had to do with anything, Naruto-chan."

His mouth hung open a moment. There was no way. Did Shinobi-baa actually think he was a girl or something?

"Umm," he tried again, looking down at the clip in his hand. He couldn't hurt her feelings, but could she really think he was a girl? Did he not look manly and dashing? Of course he did. So maybe he was a little thin. And maybe he was a little shorter than most of the other guys in his age range. And maybe he had his mother's feminine-ish features. But he was most definitely a boy with all the proper boy parts, damnit!

So he tried a different approach. A bit more, delicate, in his wording. (Oh, how he hated to use that word right now). "Um, do I seem… girly to you?" he asked.

Shinobi-baa stopped her smiling and peered at him carefully. Then the smile was back, and she gently patted his shoulder. "Don't worry, Naruto-chan, dear. You're very feminine. I'll bet you have quite the number of suitors! A beauty like you!"

His mouth dropped open. No way. She really did think he was a girl? Really!?

"In fact, Naruto-chan," she continued, and it struck him then, that other thing that was kinda weird. She had always called him "chan"(5)! The only other people who did that were just trying to irritate him. "I've been meaning to talk to you about that…"

Naruto caught his breath and tried to slow his all of a sudden racing heart. He couldn't believe this. But he really, really liked crazy Shinobi-baa, so, well… Maybe he could put up with it? Maybe even play along?

She was old, after all. And he really loved her cooking and her stories…

It couldn't hurt, right?

"Oh, uh, sure. What is it," he finally stammered out.

She smiled, and suddenly his play along idea seemed really unappealing. "You see, I have a grandson…"

Wait, grandson? She was not about to suggest what he thought she was going to suggest. No way. There was no way in hell he was gonna go on a blind date with a boy.

"He's a good boy. Handsome. About your age." And she was still talking, going on and on about her wonderful grandson. Well, Naruto couldn't help thinking, if he's so freaking wonderful, why does he need his grandmother to set him up on a date?

"However, he's a bit… shall we say, shy," she replied to his thoughts.

Naruto decided he needed to step in. "He really sounds great, Shinobi-baa," and he swallowed thickly at the forced words, then tried his best to plaster a fake smile on his face. "But I'm," how to get out of this! "not quite comfortable with blind dates."

"You don't already have someone?" Shinobi-baa asked. And she looked so disappointed at the idea, he couldn't lie.

"No, no one like that. I mean, there was someone I kinda liked…" But he couldn't say a girl if Shinobi-baa thought he was one. "But that… wouldn't have worked." And he prayed she wouldn't ask questions.

"Ah, what a shame, for that other person," Shinobi-baa scoffed. "But fortunate for my grandson."

"Uh…" Naruto was lost for words, his face struggling to keep a cheerful smile.

And he started to wonder, for just how long would he have to play along with this? Maybe he really shouldn't, after all. Yeah, he would clear this up, openly declare to Shinobi-baa that he was a boy, and that would be the end of it!

But she was still smiling that happy, peaceful smile as she continued talking about her wonderful grandson, and he couldn't do it.

He just had to hope it would go away on its own.

Naruto firmly believed in promises, and keeping promises. Once one was made, there was no going back.

When he arrived at the house that day, he was surprised to receive no answer after the chime echoed through the house. Shinobi-baa always answered right away, like she already knew he was there. That was when the bad feeling hit him, and he dashed in, searching room after room until he found her lying passed out in that room in which they had first met.

He scooped her up and shook her gently, whispering frantic words to get her eyes to open.

Finally they did, those dark pools focusing in on him, examining him as though into his heart and soul.

He sighed in relief, and again it struck him that maybe she really did have some weird power about her.

But the thought was pushed away in favor of more important things.

"Are you alright?" he asked gently.

"Naruto-chan." She smile faintly, like it was a struggle. "I'm so glad… you're here…"

Naruto nodded. "I know. I'll call the police, get you an ambulance," he said, trying to gently place her back on the floor to find a phone.

"Naruto-chan… You don't… need to do that."

"What are you talking about, crazy Shinobi-baa. Of course I do!" He was frantic, trying to find a phone and finding none. He was throwing aside pillows, moving pictures, even scooped a cat out of the way as if the creature was hiding a phone under its fat belly.

"Naruto-chan. I need… to ask you something… Something important…. Please come here."

Naruto stopped what he was doing, his eyes stinging, biting on his lip to keep from crying as he turned back to her. She had never looked so frail, so pale. She was dying. They both knew it, but she had something she needed to say to him.

He nodded and moved toward her, kneeling respectfully beside her. "Yes, Shinobi-baa?" he whispered, his voice tight.

"There's a paper… in a drawer over there," she lamely indicated a large chest of drawers to the side of the room "… It has… my final wishes on it."

Naruto nodded. "Yes. I understand."

"There's something… I want you to do. Will you promise… to fulfill my wish?"

Naruto swallowed thickly, fighting to speak. "Yes, of course I will. I promise."

Shinobi-baa smiled, and her eyes closed. Naruto jumped up, and searched again for a phone, wetness beginning to stain his cheeks. Finally he found one, and made the call. Then he sat back down beside the old lady and waited.

(1) door of wood frame with translucent paper covering

(2) First shogun of the Tokugawa era which began in 1600

(3) kneeling with the tops of the feet flat on the floor, and sitting on the soles

(4) Shinobi is the same as "ninja", "baa" is short for "obaasan", which means grandmother, so he's basically calling her Ninja Granny

(5) Wasn't sure if this needs a note, but thought I'd add it in, just in case. Typically in Japan "–kun" is used for boys around Naruto's age range, and "–chan" is used for girls or small children.