There was a particular silence in Leaf Village at night. In a way it was the sleepy quiet of any not too large village after a certain point in the evening when almost everyone had gone to bed. The only noise was the wind through the trees, the occasional bark of a dog when a nighttime pest found its way into the animal’s domain, and the soft movements of tired people in their homes. Yet the silence of Leaf Village after dark was a lie, for many shinobi were awake and moving silently through it.
As an ANBU running across the rooftops to report in after a long mission, Kakashi was one of those moving silently so as not to disturb his comrades. He liked to think that those lucky enough to sleep deeply were able to do so because they trusted those in the darkness to keep the village safe. When the particular thuds of blows being landed and the soft sobs of a child reached his ears, Kakashi turned at once to find the fight.
What he found in a dark alley between two buildings wasn’t a fight at all. Four adult men were surrounding a small, bleeding boy. One man—an Inuzuka by the markings on his face—was kicking the child repeatedly. All of the men smelled of alcohol and bad feeling. Observing further wasn’t necessary. Ripping the man off of the boy, Kakashi pinned the Inuzuka to the wall by his neck. He was old for a genin, unlikely to advance, but frustration with life was no excuse for violence against a child of the village. There was no excuse for violence against a child of the village.
“Report,” Kakashi demanded.
“ANBU, sir,” the only chunin in the group said in surprise. “It isn’t what you think.” Which could only mean that the boy wasn’t a child of the village; he was a spy. Quickly winking open his Sharingan behind his ANBU mask, Kakashi checked to make sure that the boy was in fact a boy. There was no transformation or illusion on the child, so the men had still been using excessive and unnecessary force. There might be shinobi children who were strong enough that subduing them would require so much anger, but the way this boy was curled around at least three broken ribs suggested that he was not of that number. More likely, he was sent in as a spy because his age and lack of finesse would make Leaf Shinobi treat him kindly. Kakashi was not proud that his village had proven otherwise.
“What village are you from, boy?” He didn’t bother to release the Inuzuka while he addressed the kid. He wouldn’t let cruelty go unnoticed, and it would serve the genin well to worry a little.
“Leaf Village,” the child said, coughing blood onto his hand and looking up at Kakashi with alarmingly blue eyes. “I live in Leaf Village.”
“You’re right,” Kakashi said, lifting one leg almost casually to kick the chunin hard into the brick wall opposite the one the child was leaning against. “This isn’t what I thought.”
“ANBU, sir,” one of the other men started, perhaps thinking he had a right to explain himself. Kakashi was only using his left hand to hold the child-beating Inuzuka by his throat. His right hand was free to pin the speaker’s sleeve with a kunai.
“Silence. Who are your parents, boy?”
“I don’t have any parents. They died in the war.”’
Four men—four active shinobi—had been beating a war orphan of their own village in an alley. Something was missing, some key element, but if the boy had done something to deserve such treatment, the men would be shouting about it. This wasn’t the righteous anger of men who had been robbed; this was something darker. “Do you have a name, then?”
The boy pulled himself to his feet. Kakashi could tell it hurt him badly to do so. He wanted to tell the child to stay down. Standing abruptly could cause one of the broken ribs to puncture a lung and do even more damage. It was obvious that any advice would go unheeded, though. By the defiant way he shoved his chin in the air, Kakashi could tell that this was a point of pride for the boy. His name was important and he expected Kakashi to react to it. Kakashi didn’t have the heart to tell the child that he had never cared much about the different clans, even if the kid was a Hyuga or an Uchiha outlier born with blond hair and the wrong eyes.
Chidori in hand before he’d even consciously decided that all four men needed to die; the only thing that stopped Kakashi from thrusting it through the Inuzuka’s heart was the voice of the Third Hokage.
“ANBU Hound, release him.”
Kakashi paused for a long moment before releasing both the neck of the traitor and the lightning in his right hand. “Lord Hokage,” he said, taking a knee as was proper for an ANBU giving a report, “these men are guilty of a treason punishable by death.”
It was technically true. Leaf Village—like every village with a jinchuriki—had a written law stating that attacking the jinchuriki was treason immediately punishable by death without trial. Jinchuriki generally killed attackers with extreme prejudice and they often lost control in the process, doing even greater damage to the village. Idiots needed to know what the consequences for their actions would be, and tailed beasts were enough trouble to control without being mortally threatened. A village couldn’t afford to punish a host for such an irrepressible response, so they made it legal. Generally others didn’t carry out the punishment if the jinchuriki left it incomplete.
Kakashi thought an exception in this case would be appropriate. It had been five years since Kakashi had seen the screaming little baby with the black Uzumaki seal swirling around his newly tied belly button, but that didn’t mean he didn’t care about the child. Men who attacked Minato-sensei’s son did not deserve to live.
“ANBU Hound, report.”
“This boy is Naruto Uzumaki, a war orphan of the village. These shinobi of the village attacked him without provocation. They knew the law, and they knew that their actions are punishable by execution. If you will allow me, Lord Hokage, I will carry out the sentence immediately.”
“Perhaps a little leniency is permissible in this case, ANBU.”
“They will report to me in the morning and I will make clear my opinion on violence against a fellow villager. Is that understood?”
The four drunks chimed in an obedient chorus of “Yes, sir,” and “Lord Hokage,” but Kakashi’s murderous intent wasn’t soothed. The men were shinobi enough to sense as much and they fled the moment the Hokage offered them a stern nod.
“As for you, Young Naruto, what are you doing walking the streets so late at night?”
“I can do what I want, you know! I didn’t do anything wrong.”
“Still,” the Hokage said blandly and Naruto deflated.
“I was at the park and everyone’s parents came to take them home and Choji’s mom yelled at him for talking to me even though I only asked if he wanted to have my piece of candy. Then Taro said that Choji was lucky his mom looked out for him since hanging out with me was the only thing worse than being a fat kid and if I had parents maybe they would care enough to stop me from trying to be friends with a loser like Choji. But then Choji said maybe I was lucky that I could stay at the park as late as I wanted because he’d never been allowed after dark. His mom was really mad at him for talking to me again, but he said it anyway. So I thought maybe if I did stay at the park late then I could tell him about it tomorrow if his mom wasn’t watching. But it wasn’t cool; it just got dark and cold. And then I couldn’t find my apartment because it was dark and everything looked different. And then those guys saw me and I asked them if they knew where I lived, but they got really mad and one of them threw a bottle at me and so I ran away. But then they chased me. And then I ran into this alley. Well I thought this was an alley, but then it didn’t go anywhere. And then I couldn’t get away. But then Mister ANBU came and he saved me.”
While he was speaking, Naruto looked down, holding his ribs and scrubbing a restless hand through his spiky blond hair or wiping aimlessly at his face. He didn’t look at the Third Hokage at all except to occasionally peer up at him sideways, like a puppy waiting for a scolding. When he reached the end of his tale, though, those bright blue eyes looked to Kakashi with absolute adoration. Being looked at that way felt like a strong kick to the gut.
“Very well,” the Hokage sighed. “ANBU Hound will escort you home.”
“Lord Hokage, I am afraid I misheard you. My orders are to escort the boy to the hospital, where his broken ribs will be treated, correct?”
Looking down at Naruto with cold analysis, the Third Hokage spoke. “I wonder. Does Naruto need to go to the hospital?”
“No,” Naruto said quickly, standing up even straighter. “I’m strong.”
It was true. Kakashi could see that the boy was already holding himself less like someone with broken ribs and more like someone with very bad bruising and possibly a crack or two. The cut just above his eye was steaming a little and closing as Kakashi looked on.
“I’m going to be a shinobi when I grow up, you know,” the boy continued obliviously. “I don’t need to go to the hospital just because some guys knocked me down.”
“Good,” the Third Lord said. Compared to the absolute reserve he had shown since appearing at the end of the alley, this praise was almost kind. Naruto looked thrilled by it. Kakashi had seen the Third Hokage get on his knees to play with other five year olds, laughing and teasing the way young children seemed to like best. Strict formality was clearly a strategy developed specifically to deal with the jinchuriki. Kakashi wasn’t sure how he felt about that. It was slowly occurring to him that he didn’t know much at all about his teacher’s son.
“I will come to deliver my mission report after I see the child home safely, Lord Hokage.”
“Take your time, ANBU Hound. It was a long mission and I cannot see that you need to rush.”
Kakashi nodded, not entirely certain what that meant as far as his orders were concerned, and remained on his knees until the Hokage was gone. “Do you require assistance to walk?”
“No,” the boy said stubbornly.
It was hard to maintain the reserve necessary for an ANBU while dealing with a child. At five Kakashi would have understood the subtleties easily, but Naruto obviously did not. Most children would not. Naruto was normal, nothing like the child Kakashi had been. Kakashi let his manner slip a little. The Hokage might still be watching, but Kakashi sensed no one in the dark alley except Naruto.
“Well, if you’re sure you don’t want to ride on the shoulders of one of the tallest ANBU in the village, I guess I can’t force you,” he said with a teasing lilt in his voice. “It might make a good story to tell your friends at the park tomorrow. I’m sure none of them have ever even spoken to a black ops shinobi, but you probably have a lot to distinguish you from your peer group already.”
“Hey, no,” the boy said, suddenly indignant, “I want a ride!”
Scooping the child up easily, Kakashi perched the boy on his shoulders. Naruto’s hands gripped the ears of Kakashi’s porcelain dog mask like it was the most natural thing in the world. Strangely, it almost felt as though it was.
“Where do you live, kiddo?”
“I don’t know,” Naruto said. Kakashi could practically hear him rolling his eyes. “I got lost, remember.”
“So lost that you forgot what your house looks like, what compound it’s in, and who you live with? That is pretty bad.”
Naruto laughed, loud and carefree, shattering the quiet of the evening. “I live in an apartment by myself,” he said, rattling off an address. “I didn’t forget, I just don’t know where it went.”
Frowning a little underneath his mask, Kakashi turned left. He knew the place, of course. There wasn’t a corner of the village that he didn’t know, but it wasn’t exactly the nicest building. Minato-sensei’s son shouldn’t live in a rundown apartment with leaky pipes every winter and shingles that fell from the roof every spring. A normal five-year-old boy had no business living alone. Still, Kakashi sprinted dutifully toward the apartment complex, taking the rooftop route because he knew the boy would enjoy it. In that much at least Kakashi was correct, if Naruto’s giddy laughter was any measure.
Theory was once again borne out in reality when Kakashi set the boy down in front of his door. The tiny one room apartment was a mess. Clothes—that all seemed to be standard issue white t-shirts with the village emblem, cheap black shorts, and a single orange sweatshirt—were strewn across the floor around an unmade bed. A small heap of dirty dishes were haphazardly piled in the sink. Moving the wrong plate even slightly would collapse the thing and break at least one glass, assuming that the glasses were as cheaply made as they appeared. Only a child who clearly didn’t understand why things broke would leave glassware sideways at the bottom of several days worth of dishes.
“Would you like a cup of tea?” the boy asked. It was a strangely specific display of manners for a child whose table was covered in papers with messy drawings and a few scribbled kanji.
“Yes, thank you.”
Punching the air, Naruto whooped and spun in a circle. Kakashi stared a little. “Sorry,” Naruto said, blushing quickly. “Here, sit here and I’ll make it.” Naruto shoved a few picture books off one of his two chairs and pushed his writing practice papers onto the floor. Bouncing up a teetering stepstool, he filled the electric kettle with water and started it up before getting a box of tea down from cupboard. He also pulled out a teapot and two teacups. From the fact that they were clean and not chipped Kakashi surmised that the set was either new or used infrequently.
Setting the tea things on the table, Naruto bounced back over to the cupboards. “I’m going to have some ramen, too! I didn’t have dinner because I stayed at the park and now I’m really hungry.” After Naruto pulled out a cup of miso flavored noodles, there were seven packs of instant ramen left in the boy’s pantry along with a sad, half empty bag of rice.
“Just tea is fine for me,” Kakashi said, making Naruto snicker like he’d worked some mischievous trick that Kakashi couldn’t see quite yet. “Instant ramen is hardly a nutritious supper, though. You should put some vegetables in that or eat a piece of fruit as well.”
“Oh,” Naruto said, opening the small refrigerator. It was completely empty except for a carton of expired milk and a bottle of soy sauce. “I don’t have any of those things,” the boy said unnecessarily. “I don’t really like vegetables.”
Whistling, the kettle began filling the little kitchen area with billowing steam. A little whirlwind of energy, Naruto raced over and snatched it off the heater. Kakashi winced internally when the boiling water splashed around the counter, but Naruto managed not to spill any on his arms as he filled the little teapot and his styrofoam cup of instant ramen. Picking up the little white kitchen timer from beside his electric kettle, Naruto very carefully set it for three minutes and placed it next to his cup ramen. Showing far less care, he splashed tea from the pot into both cups. It was lucky that the boy healed so quickly. Kakashi imagined that he injured himself frequently just doing simple chores and cooking meals. He took his time with things that required thought like reading numbers, and was careless when it came to things that might hurt him like boiling water. He needed supervision.
“This is very nice tea,” Kakashi said politely, pretending to sip by holding the cup to his porcelain mask. Naruto didn’t question the mechanics of Kakashi’s drinking, just snickered happily again and took a big sip from his own cup before burning his mouth and wincing at the taste.
“I don’t like tea,” Naruto scowled dumping his in the sink and filling his cup with cold water instead. “You can have all of it.” Blinking quickly, he looked up at Kakashi with those wide blue eyes. “Because you like it, right? So you can stay and drink it.”
“Yes,” Kakashi said, pretending to take a second sip. “One might call me a tea drinker..”
“I knew you would,” Naruto said, tearing the paper cover completely off his noodle cup just as the timer rang its little bell. “Ever since I got it, the old man always stays long enough to drink a cup. It’s magic tea.”
“The woman at the store told me so, you know. She said when someone comes to your home, if you offer him a cup of tea, he’ll stay and drink it. It’s called Poe Light. I think it’s a special jutsu.”
Kakashi allowed a small chuckled even though he was still wearing his ANBU mask. “I suppose that is a sort of magic, isn’t it.”
“I’ve got the old man with it three times now. He stayed and drank the whole cup,” Naruto said wistfully, pausing his rapid inhalation of ramen noodles briefly. “He even asked me how my reading practice was getting along since they told me I didn’t need to go to the preschool anymore.”
Usually children of the village attended the preschool in preparation for entry into the academy. If the writing practice littering the floor was any standard, Kakashi thought the boy could use another year or two before he was ready for the level of work required at the ninja academy. “When you say the ‘Old Man’?”
“You know, the Old Man—the Hokage. He comes every month and gives me some money.” Naruto pointed to a wall calendar with crossed out days and a red circle showing that he only needed to wait five days for the next visit.
“Naruto, do you have any money left from his last visit?”
The boy blushed tomato red and looked despondently down at his empty ramen cup. “No,” he said softly. “I would give you some if you wanted it.” He perked up with a sudden thought. “If you come back again after the Old Man comes, I could give you some money then as a reward for saving me!”
“I don’t want your money, Naruto.” Kakashi watched the boy’s face fall. Apparently without friends and unwelcome in the local school, the child was so desperate for company that he would eagerly pay for it. “You are aware that you do not have enough food in this house to last you comfortably until the Hokage brings your next stipend, are you not?”
It was strange that the Hokage was personally delivering a war orphan’s stipend, though certainly not stranger than a five year old settled on his own. Perhaps the Hokage did not trust the money to be delivered otherwise. Perhaps Naruto had been living alone for some time now. Perhaps tonight’s danger had not been an isolated incident.
“Oh.” Naruto bounced over to his calendar and laboriously counted out the five days then he skipped back to his cupboard and counted out the seven packages of ramen. When he finished his counting he sat down on the floor and scowled for a minute before saying, “Well, I guess I’ll have to eat rice for a while. Thanks for telling me,” he added happily. “Now I can still eat one pack every day, and I can eat two packs on three of the days and just eat the rice when I get hungry again later.”
“Two days, Naruto,” Kakashi said gently, not at all certain that there was enough rice left in that bag to really tide the boy over. He looked again at the nice teapot and the expensive brand name on the box, thinking uncharitable thoughts about the woman who convinced the boy to buy them. “Seven divided by five leaves two remaining. You have two days when you can eat two packages.”
“Oh. Thanks, Mister ANBU. You’re really smart, aren’t you?”
Kakashi had never felt more foolish in his life. For five years after the death of the most important person in his life, the man who had shown him what character really was, the person who had been the father to him than Sakumo Hatake couldn’t be, Kakashi had ignored his debts. Living his life, hiding behind his duties as a shinobi, Kakashi had never once even looked in on his teacher’s son. He’d just assumed that the boy would be happily placed with a foster family, as was the case with most infant war orphans. Perhaps the Uchiha would have taken him in. Minato-sensei and Kushina had been very close with some of Obito’s cousins who had a son that was only a week or two older than Naruto. Instead, the boy had been living so deeply in squalor and neglect that he didn’t even know it.
“I have to go.”
“What? Why? You didn’t even drink all of the tea,” Naruto said, his eyes filling with fat, wet tears.
“It is late and I need to report in to the Hokage.”
“Everybody always does what the Hokage tells them to,” Naruto shouted, a few of the tears shook loose from the corners of his eyes, but he wasn’t exactly crying. “When I grow up, I’m going to be the Hokage and then you’ll have to stay and talk with me!”
“Naruto.” Kakashi knelt down and took the boy by his shoulders. His ANBU mask lessened the effect, but he couldn’t possibly take it off. “It is late. You are tired and you were hurt earlier. You need to sleep and heal. I will come back tomorrow and see you again.”
“Promise?” Naruto sniffed and wiped his tears away with chubby little fists.
“I swear it on my life.”
“Okay.” Naruto twisted the edge of his filthy white t-shirt between his fists, looking down at it rather than meeting Kakashi’s eye. “I’ll see you tomorrow, then.”
“Do you have everything you need for tonight?”
“Then good night, Naruto,” Kakashi said, releasing the boy and opening the apartment door quickly before the tears could start again. “Sleep well and I’ll see you tomorrow.”