Naruto is used to being shunned by now. After all, he's four years old and knows exactly what to expect from the world. So, when two shinobi invite him to the forest to show him "fancy ninja moves" guaranteed to impress everyone get him new friends, how could he say no? The strongest shinobi always has the most friends, he reasons. Therefore, all he has to do is get stronger and everyone will start liking him.
Soon, Naruto will be able to outshine the old man Hokage and become Hokage himself. That would show the old geezer! Still, nothing could have prepared Naruto for the special lesson the shinobi had planned for him. When they had been walking deep into the forest for several minutes the shinobi stopped and declared the clearing as their destination. It was filled with tall grass that make Naruto's legs itch when it brushes up against him. Wildflowers dot the tiny clearing, swaying with the wind. The full moon gave them plenty of light along with their lanterns now that the canopy of trees wasn't blocking the moonlight. Naruto is usually asleep by now, but he can fight against his fatigue to learn some ninja techniques. Besides, it's not like anyone will notice Naruto snuck out. They never did.
Naruto began to chatter excitedly about his cool new moves when he was suddenly knocked to the ground with a hard blow to the back of his head. He tastes dirt and grass while he felt the world shift listlessly underneath him. After that, all he knows is pain after he is struck repeatedly with blunted objects again and again. Eventually, his cries for help fade as he slips into blissful unconsciousness.
He wakes up with shallow water lapping at his face. He blearily blinks his eyes open to see iron bars lit dimly from an unseen light source. In front of his face, behind the bars, he notices the giant red paw before he hears a low growl echoing all around him. Naruto pushes himself to his knees with a jolt. The growl shakes the whole cavern all the way down to his bones. He peers between the bars and is shocked to see a massive red fox with many tails twisting about in agitation. The fox laughs at Naruto's slack jaw expression with a dark chuckle.
Naruto gulps and clenches his fists as he stands up. He takes a big breath to calm his nerves and opens his mouth, no sound coming out. He closes his mouth after he realizes he has no idea what to say to a giant fox. Well, he guesses things can't get much worse now that he's dead, because he must be dead. This must be the Pure Land, though it looks a lot different than the picture book at the orphanage suggested. The author must have been a bad artist if he got it so completely wrong. Regardless, if this was the Pure Land Naruto was determined to make a friend here, even if that friend was a scary giant fox. Death would be different than the life he came from.
"Mr. Fox, my name is Naruto Uzumaki and I'm gonna be the strongest shinobi in all of Konoha and everyone is gonna be my friend! Even you!" Naruto declared with the earnestness that only a young child could muster, before he remembered he was dead and couldn't befriend all of Konoha anymore. "Well, I was gonna be the strongest, but I guess I can't anymore since I'm dead."
Mr. Fox regarded him for a long moment before breaking down in uncontrollable laughter. He sure likes to laugh a lot, Naruto thought to himself. Maybe he's the kind of fox that likes pranks, too.
"You're not dead, runt," Mr. Fox said after winding down from his laughing fit, "Not yet anyway. You're very close to dying soon unless you release me from this prison."
"What are you talking about?" Mr. Fox grins viciously at Naruto's question.
"Once you release me, I'll rip those filthy humans to shreds and kill everyone that ever scorned you. They'll scream and beg for their lives as I tear their-" Mr. Fox growls out with a bloodthirsty rage before Naruto screams to get him to stop.
"No! You can't do that! It's not nice to kill people!"
"Not nice? You understand that they're trying to kill you right now, don't you? They lost their chance for nice," Mr. Fox sneered, "Now free me so I can pay them back everything they deserve and more!"
"No! Not if you're gonna hurt people," Naruto stomped his foot down, "I won't be your friend if all you're gonna do is be mean and hurt people."
"Whoever said I wanted to be your friend you snot nosed brat? This is our chance at revenge on Konoha."
"I don't want revenge. I won't let you hurt anyone! I'll show you how great everyone is and then you'll have to be nice and be my friend!" Naruto glared at the fox, daring him to contradict him. As the future Hokage it was his duty to stop murderous foxes from attacking the village.
"Fine, you want to go back to those 'great' people killing you, be my guest. I'll give you another chance to suffer under their hands and we'll see how soon you come crawling back to me, begging for their blood. Then, we'll see what's so great about Konoha." Mr. Fox gave one final huff of annoyance before turning his back to Naruto and settling down to sleep again. The prison before him began to fade and suddenly he was falling down and further down into nothingness.
In what felt like forever and no time at all, Naruto wakes with a gasp and bolts up with a start. Two shinobi are before him and Naruto instinctively backs up against a tree with his arms shielding his face, fearful of further attacks. When no blows land on him after a moment, he peeks through his arms. Their faces are partially cast in shadow, but a nearby lantern lights up just enough of their faces for Naruto to realize these are two completely different shinobi. He lowers his arms cautiously trying to get a sense of who the two before him were. One turns out to be much younger than he had initially assumed, with dark hair and eyes. The other is older and has much lighter hair in a spiky ponytail and blue eyes. The younger of the two begins frantically shoving his hand in Naruto's face.
"How many fingers am I holding up? Who's the current Hokage? Do you remember what day it is? Or night? Do-" He asks rapid fire questions Naruto can't keep up with or answer quickly enough before the older man shushes his companion. Naruto stares at the both wide eyed.
"The boy is in shock. Give him some breathing room, Shisui." The older man chides before turning to Naruto. "It's Naruto, right?"
Naruto nods mechanically, not trusting himself to talk yet. The man is looking at him so softly with kind eyes. Nobody has ever looked at Naruto like that before.
"My name is Inoichi Yamanaka and this is Shisui Uchiha. He beat up those bad men that were hurting you. They won't be coming back. You're safe now." His tone is soothing after listening to Mr. Fox's gravelly voice."Can you show me where you're hurt? I don't want to move you the wrong way and make it worse."
Naruto considers his question. He feels perfectly fine, even better than fine, now that he thinks about it. He shakes his head.
"I'm okay, Mr. Yamanaka." The two share a Look that Naruto has come to know means that adults don't believe him. Naruto looks down at himself preparing to show them how he didn't have so much as a scratch on him, but then he notices he's covered in sticky blood. Naruto's stomach does a flip and he squirms around, scrunching up his nose. On second thought, he is very much not fine and blood is very gross and uncomfortable to sit in.
"We should take him to see the Hokage and-" Shisui starts to suggest, but Mr. Yamanaka is already shaking his head before the young teen can finish.
"It's safer if everyone believes those two succeeded. The Hokage's rules protects the village's feelings, not Naruto."
"So you want to lie to the Hokage?" Shisui asks incredulously.
"What would you do if Naruto was an Uchiha? What would you do to protect someone who was in danger due to the prejudice of people? They would be under constant threat just for existing. Sometimes situations call for drastic measures. The Hokage can't remain neutral about something like this, he has to answer to the village even at the cost of a child's life. This would be better for everyone. Naruto gets a happy childhood and the village gets to live in fearless bliss."
Shisui frowns with a far off look, contemplating Mr. Yamanaka's words. Naruto tries to understand what he said, but there were too many confusing things only adults can understand. He can't understand why adults always make everything so complicated. He does understand that an important decision is being made by Shisui, so he tries to let him think in peace. He hopes he decides soon, Naruto is feeling pretty gross and wants to change soon.
"Alright," Shisui sighs after what feels like an eternity to Naruto, "What do you suggest we do then?"
"Between my being head of T and I and your 'suggestions' it will be a simple matter of convincing those two that they succeeded. Nobody would think to check otherwise with all of this evidence if we cover our tracks carefully enough." Mr. Yamanaka pauses, his face changing into firm lines as if coming to a decision.
"Naruto will come live with me." He says.
"What?!" Shisui and Naruto exclaim at the same time with different levels of shock and enthusiasm respectively.
"Can I really come live with you? Are you serious?" Naruto asks, suddenly feeling shy, trying to not let it bog down his excitement. What if he is just joking or changes his mind?
"Of course, but if you're not comfortable with that arrangement I'll try to figure something else out." Mr. Yamanaka smiles reassuringly at Naruto.
"Yes I'm comfif- I want that!" Naruto trips over his words trying to get them out fast enough before anyone could change their minds. Anything is better than the orphanage. Besides, Mr. Yamanaka seems really nice, like the dads that would come to adopt little kids at the orphanage. None of them ever picked Naruto though. This time Naruto was going home with someone, even if the circumstances were bizarre.
"Shisui, can you take care of our two prisoners while I take Naruto home? We need to settle all of this before dawn and this little guy needs some rest." Shisui removes all lingering traces of doubt, nodding at his orders. The young Uchiha disappears in a blur. Mr. Yamanaka shifts his attention back to Naruto.
"Naruto, can I pick you up? We need to hurry home to get you washed up and tucked into bed, okay?" Naruto's heart skips a beat at the mention of home. Their home, his home. He nods, not able to talk with his throat feeling tight like this.
Mr. Yamanaka picks him up gingerly, ignoring the grime and blood covering Naruto. In a whirl of leaves they were out of the clearing and moving through the alleys of Konoha. Soon they were entering one of the clan compounds, jumping over the wall. Naruto had always looked at the compounds with a mix of jealousy and awe. A whole tiny village for a big family and now Naruto was going to live in one too.
Mr. Yamanaka brings Naruto into one of the buildings through the back door, closing it behind them silently. The lights are off in the house, but he moves without any hesitation through the dark and up the stairs. Naruto is so focused on being quiet that he almost doesn’t notice when Mr. Yamanaka tenses at the sound of a voice.
“Inoichi, I thought you would be home sooner-” A woman that appears out of one of the doors they passed gasps when she turns on the light and sees Naruto. “What happened? Is he…”
She lets the sentence fall away as she rushes forward to check Naruto for injuries. Her face is pale, making her light brown hair appear much darker than it actually is. Naruto shies away, not used to being fussed over.
“He’s okay. No injuries, just in need of a bath right now. Naruto, I’d like you to meet my wife, Harumi.” She gives her husband a sharp, questioning look. “I promise I’ll explain everything later, but I need to settle a few things before it’s too late. Can you wash him up and I swear I’ll be back in an hour or two?”
Mrs. Yamanaka lets out a world weary sigh and softens her expression as she addresses Naruto.
“Naruto, it’s very nice to meet you. I’m sure you’re tired, but let’s freshen you up before I tuck you into bed. How does that sound?” Naruto looks up at Mr. Yamanaka who nods encouragingly. Naruto smiles shyly and reaches over for Mrs. Yamanaka to take him. She settles him on her hip and accepts her husband’s kiss on her cheek as he leaves. With another sigh and mother’s determination she gets ready to give Naruto the cleaning of a lifetime.
Mrs. Yamanaka manages to get Naruto squeaky clean while telling him all about her daughter who’s just his age. Her name is Ino and she wants to be a shinobi just like her dad, but she’s staying at an aunt’s house tonight. Tomorrow they could go and play with the new chalk set they had gotten earlier that week. Naruto is completely enamored with the idea of a playdate, especially one that promises chalk.
Mr. Yamanaka returns home quickly enough to find them facing a conundrum of what clothes Naruto could wear to bed. He is a little smaller than Ino currently, but they still have her old clothes that would fit him. However, she’s not sure if he would be comfortable wearing girl clothes and she doesn’t want to offend him on top of whatever horrible night he’s been having. He showed up covered in blood after all. Despite how cheery he seems now, it must have been a nightmare until her husband brought him home.
Her worries turn out to be for naught when Naruto cheerfully picks out a sunflower patterned nightgown. Once she helps him pull it on he immediately starts to twirl around while laughing, admiring the way it flows around. He never got to pick out his own clothes in the orphanage. Sure, these are still hand-me-downs, but he got to decide what he wore. The confidence gained by choosing your own clothes gives a person shouldn’t be underestimated.
The Yamanaka’s are having a very heated hushed discussion outside the bedroom they left him in. Naruto runs his hands along the bedspread. It’s extremely soft, unlike the scratchy blankets he’s used to. He throws himself onto the bed and rolls around before stretching himself out as much as possible. He could fit three of him on here! Maybe more, he decided. It is a big bed, he reasons. He can toss and turn in this bed all night and not fall off once.
There’s a soft knock at the door, pulling Naruto out of his drowsy thoughts. Mr. Yamanaka peeks his head through the door. Looks like they are done talking now. Naruto sits up, placing his hands on his lap.
“Naruto, can we come in?” He asks. Naruto isn’t used to adults asking his permission for anything, but everyone has been so considerate of what he wants tonight. Well, almost everyone, he shudders. He nods after realizing Mr. Yamanaka was waiting for his answer. He and his wife come in and sit on the end of the bed.
“Do you remember earlier how I said you were going to live with me from now on?” Naruto nods, trying to mask his fear. He will be brave despite his heart falling through his chest. He knows he should have expected Mr. Yamanaka to change his mind, but it still hurts. He won’t cry. He won’t.
“I know this is going to be hard, but if you’re going to stay with us, it's very important that you understand that you can’t be Naruto anymore.” He continues on, trying to keep his voice comforting. He sees Naruto panicking, but misunderstands the reason for his panic. Naruto’s confusion is currently pushing his panic aside however.
“I don’t know what you mean.” Naruto confesses as the gears in his mind struggle to keep up with all that’s happening. It’s been a very long night for a four year old, but anyone would have trouble keeping up after the kind of night Naruto has been through.
“If everyone knows that you’re Naruto, they’ll try to take you away from us. We can’t protect you from people like those bad shinobi if they take you away.” Naruto’s eyes widen in horror at the thought. Mrs. Yamanaka rubs comforting circles into his back. “So from now on you need to be someone else. That way we can be your parents and keep you safe. You have to pretend to be a new person. Do you understand? Nobody can ever know that you’re really Naruto. I know it’s confusing, but it’s the only option.”
Naruto tries swallowing to clear the lump that’s formed in his throat, but no matter what it won’t go away. Tears threaten to spill from his eyes. Parents? His parents? He will do anything for that. He will clean his room and the whole house and eat all of his vegetables. He will even stop being Naruto if it means he has parents.
“I know this is hard Naruto, but we want to be your family. So we’ll do whatever it takes for that. We will tell everyone you’re a long lost cousin and that we decided to adopt you after you lost your parents. We’ll practice the story with you until you can say it in your sleep.” Mrs. Yamanaka explains in a soft voice. Mr. Yamanaka ruffles up his hair when Naruto looks up at him with watery eyes.
“I went to the stores to get you a disguise kit. We’ll give you a new makeover in the morning.” Mr. Yamanaka says.
Naruto rubs his eyes with his fists before the tears can fall and nods. Somehow the worst day in his life was also the best day in his life. It was a little, okay, a lot overwhelming. At any rate he’s well on his way to proving Mr. Fox wrong. Konoha is amazing if it has people like the Yamanaka’s in it.
“Now, we thought it only fair that you get to pick your own name. After all, you’ll be stuck with it from now on. What do you think? You don’t have to pick now, so don’t stress over it.” Mrs. Yamanaka smoothes out his now ruffled hair, tossing her husband an annoyed look. Naruto looks down at his lap, tracing the sunflower pattern with his finger. A new name. A whole new person. He can be whoever he wants. Probably. He looks up at Mrs. Yamanaka who has made him laugh more times in one night than he has in months.
“Can I pick any name?” He asks quietly, biting his lip, “And I can be anyone?”
Mr. Yamanaka goes to say something, maybe realizing that a four year old’s idea of anyone might turn out to be pretty far fetched. His wife shushes him before he can shoot down any ideas and gestures for Naruto to continue.
“Then,” he clenches his fists, the nails leaving indents on his palms, to ground himself, “I want to be called Haru and I’ll be a girl.”
“Are you sure? This is who you’ll be everyday from now on. Once we introduce you to everyone you won’t be able to take it back.” Mr. Yamanaka cautions.
“I’m sure.” Naruto, no, Haru looks up at him with steely determination. Mr. Yamanaka must see from her expression that she’ serious and sighs with relief. Haru, despite what the public thought of her, could be very mature for her age. She shouldn’t have to be this mature at four and that makes the Yamanaka’s hearts hurt a little bit more.
“Then welcome to the family, Haru Yamanaka.” Mrs. Yamanaka says, pulling Haru and her husband into a big hug. If Haru takes too long to hug back, paralyzed by shock, then nobody says anything. They say nothing, except soft murmurs of comfort, when she cries herself to sleep in their arms. After all, that’s what family is for.