Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto
How honorifics work.
San - Kinda like a rough equivalent to Mr and Mrs - It should be used on someone older or of the same age. Its main function, like all honorifics, is to express a polite distance between two people. Once one has warmed up to the individual or if they desire to close the distance to them, they can detach it from their name. Sai does this in Shippuden after his arc. Although, someone can just leave or attach the san-honorific to someone's name out of habit and respect. Lee still calls Naruto and Sakura "kun" and "san" respectively in Shippuden after getting to know them because he respects them and it's in his nature to be polite.
Kun - Kun's an honorific most people misinterpret. I can't blame them. It's like anime in general seemingly only uses it on boys. Kun isn't as simple as "the honorific for boys" or "the honorific girls use on boys." No. While yes, kun is a little more masculine than san it can still be used on girls, too, no problem. After all, one wouldn't call a female they just met and 10 years their senior "chan" or "san". "San" would be implying they're on their level and "chan" could be interpreted as either insulting or inappropriate. Kun is the middle ground; a semi-formal honorific used on students and employees by the corresponding superiors.
Chan - It should only be used between close friends, lovers, small children or animals. It can even be taken as derogatory otherwise. For instance, in the original Japanese of Pokemon, Deplica used it to mock Ash, teasingly calling him "Sato-chan". Naruto gets offended when Fukasaku referred to Jiraiya as "Jiraiya-chan" and has to be reprimanded and told by Tsunade that Fukasaku trained Jiraiya, and thus can call him whatever he wants. It's fine for Ichi and Naru to attach the chan-honorific to each other's names right now because they're still children and children are informal by nature. They can still call each other "Ichi-chan" & "Naru-chan" even when they're older out of habit. Naruto still refers to Sakura as "Sakura-chan" for this reason. It would be weird if he suddenly dropped the chan-honorific from her name without warning. It could imply they've formed a romantic connection and thank fuck that didn't happen because I despise the NaruSaku pairing. He can't just up and start calling her Sakura-san either because that would imply he's being cold to her.
So, he's kinda stuck calling her Sakura-chan.
Sama - People of higher status (including deities, guests, and customers). Neji and the other branch members of the clan Hyuga clan refer to Hinata and those of the main house with the sama-suffix. Hokages get the sama-suffix by default.
By all else, honorifics should NOT, and I mean, NOT be used as a love confession unless they're being detached from a person's name. They're meant to signify a polite distance between speakers, though they can be used as nicknames names, too. You can glean a lot from a character's personality with their use (or lack of) honorifics when they're used correctly
Chapter 5 – The Legend of the Ramen Chef
"Look, Ichi-chan!" Naru bounced, pointing toward our destination while shepherding me past our final turn on the right. "There it is! Just like she said!"
"It's there and it's perfect," I intoned in absolute awe.
There wasn't a more fitting meme to accurately express my overwhelming elation of drinking in Ichiraku in real life. I'd wager Mama's life that every Naruto fan from diehard to casual dreamt of pigging out at Teuchi's humble abode at least once. I know I did. Hell, Naruto's undying love for ramen was the reason why I sought out any and every Japanese-styled restaurant inside my old hometown of Birmingham just to experience even 5% of the taste, even if it wasn't authentic.
"Uh-huh!" She grinned beatifically, leading the charge to downstairs heaven. "I'm so excited!"
Teuchi's ramen shop was wider and bigger than I expected. While still minuscule even by Konoha's standards, I could tell from a glance it was large enough to accommodate the living conditions of Teuchi and his family. Speaking of which, that led me neatly onto the flat roof with blue wooded tiles around the edges. It crowned a small one-story apartment coloured with the same silvery-white paint as the king it sat under. What looked to be two red gas tanks were built into the wall of the shop down below, connected by pipes. A rectangular window the chef could see out of when whipping up feasts for his starving customers was built into the side of the small establishment.
A Japanese-styled lantern hung motionlessly on the corner of the open entrance, spelling out Ichiraku in red kanji on white banners.
We were so short right now that we didn't need to brush under them.
"Hi ya, chef!" We greeted cheerfully in unison.
"Welcome!" A significantly wrinkly less face than I had been expecting turned toward us, shining a ray of fatherly warmth upon us, "What can I get you two?"
'Huh?' I mused, instinctively boosting Naru up on a tall red stool and effortlessly springing up myself after, 'He's a lot younger than I thought he was.' Unless this was man's other kid, but I doubted it. Ayame was only sixteen in part one. Why did I think he was in his forties again? He resembled a guy in his late twenties here, chiselled darkened cheeks tanned by the sun only starting to fatten and an average build. He even still had mostly raven hair, though man could see streaks of grey likely from the stress of being a single father seeping through, I presumed anyway.
Ayame's mother was never depicted in either version of the manga or anime.
Fanfiction fabricated the horrific excuse of the completely non-canon "Civilian Council" forbidding Teuchi from adopting Naruto so they could watch him suffer. Ugh. I couldn't work my head around the farcical concept of a council of civilians essentially running the village and walking all over Hiruzen. Well, tell a lie. I guess could to an extent. They were made up to plug up the 'holes' (if they even were) and deflect criticism away from flawed characters.
For instance, why was Naruto all by himself growing up when he had people like Kakashi and Jiraiya that bore connections to his Dad?
Simple. The Civilian Council kept them away.
Why didn't Teuchi adopt Naruto?
The Civilian Council.
Why were twelve-year-olds being used as baby-making machines?
The Civilian Council created the absurd concept of a 'Clan Restoration System' to recreate Naruto's, (and, mainly, Sasuke's) clan(s) and hand him a 'valid reason' to have a harem of under-developed bitches. You would think if such an absurd concept like the "CRS" existed it would've been used to keep the Senju clan from going extinct save for Tsunade, although considering her age she wouldn't be reproducing at any point in time. They were finito; as good as history once she ascended the golden escalators to god's front doors.
They've even been used to rid Hiruzen of his more questionable decisions in canon like bending over backwards to soothe over things with the cloud village after their representative was caught and killed by Hina's Dad trying to steal her. (That wasn't even mentioning the fact the cloud backstabbed the leaf, pretending to want peace to infiltrate the village and take the Byakugan)
I almost lost my train of thought. All this was to say there was no such thing as a Civilian Council that could overrule the Hokage. There was no external reason why Teuchi didn't adopt Naruto and really, he didn't need one. Raising children was hard, especially with a potentially absent mother. Man was stressed as it was. Did people think it was a coincidence he was greying by his late twenties? That was stress, cuz!
"Um." Naru dabbed a finger on her ear contemplatively, turning to the menu on the wall. She turned my way, smiling, "I'll have what you're having, Ichi-chan."
"Okay," I brightened and my arm skyrocketed through the air like I was attending class, "Two of your best miso-flavoured ramen with extra chashu and fishcakes, please."
"Excellent choice!" The often-parodied version of Naruto's resident godly figure praised, pirouetting, "Coming right up!" He really did possess the face of a friendly buddha, always smiling with perpetual warmth and closed eyes. I understood why many authors thought he needed an external justification to avoid taking in Naruto.
In a village that seemed to universally despise Naruto for reasons out of his control, it made sense that authors would want to expend on Teuchi's relationship with the little Jinchuuriki, seemingly being the only civilian that gave a damn about him.
Canon-wise, though, Teuchi was just the kind chef. Nothing more and nothing less.
"I'm so excited!" Naru exclaimed, knocking her pumped fists against her knees, watching Teuchi turn on the heat of his stove.
"Me too!" I rotated my stool around, facing her fully and offering my hands up. She perked up, shifting her seat halfway and raising her own hands. We then pushed our hands into each other audibly, happily cheering together.
"Yay!" We clapped our knees, then our hands twice before gently pressing each of our palms on the other's, innocently singing, "Ramen soup, ramen soup, ramen man." Repeating the rhythmic pattern and continuing the remixed children's song, "Make us ramen as fast as you can." We glanced over at Teuchi's prop work and the ideas flowed like clockwork. Kinda. "Boil it, stir it, and sprinkle it with fishcakes. Put it on the stove for Ichi and me."
Spirited mirth danced from Teuchi's tone in a light laugh, providing a cosy noise while we continued playing our remixed version of patty cake. We filled the ambient air with our childlike innocence, reminiscent of a cutesy, wholesome slice-of-life anime with ultra-high-quality crystal-clear bubbles floating around the characters' faces. Such was the serene mood we basked in after making our own fun.
We enjoyed a few more choruses of "Ramen soup" before switching it up and changing to rock, paper, scissors.
"Yay, I won!" The biggest mistake I ever made in my short second life, I quickly learned, staring at my 25th consecutive loss. "You stink at this, Ichi-chan." She rubbed it in, standing atop her stool on her knees and flashing the peace sign.
'I swear she has two seven leaf-clovers and the number seven carved into her very soul.' Why did I think to challenge a female Naruto to a game of chance? She was born with the devil's luck. I was vividly recalling Jiraiya spending all of Naruto's bread like a dickhead and Naruto winning it all back and then some in the Search for Tsunade arc.
I never stood a chance.
"More like you're too lucky," I retorted and shook my closed fist in frustration.
She sat back down on her rear, folding her arms and crossing her legs, "Hehe." She snickered, looking too damned smug, "Maybe if you stopped picking rock ten times in a row, you mighta won."
"I was trying to trick you." Key word being try. Somewhere deep down I knew playing rock over and over again wouldn't work since she would just shut her brain off and go on instinct but my stubborn mind kept insisting it would work eventually.
"Well, it failed," She said, cheekily sticking out her tongue.
Why that little…
"Okay, one more-." A trail of steam carrying a delectable fragrance caught my nostrils, causing saliva to drool from my bottom lip.
"Order up!" Teuchi announced.
"The ramen's here!" She exclaimed, scooting forward.
"Let's go!" The game can wait. A childhood dream needed to be fulfilled first.
Teuchi delicately dropped our order(s) in between us, swiftly removing each bowl from a brown tray he had brought them on. "Enjoy, kids!" He smiled wholesomely.
Bro, I got shivers just inhaling large nose-fuls of its scrumptious aroma. It was elegantly assembled, noodles dipped into a hot golden brown broth blanketed by thinly chopped green onions, enoki mushrooms, four naruto cakes, trademark pink swirls and all, and five round pork bellies. All topped off with an egg with three green-tinted black seaweed sheets laid on the side.
"We will!" We chorused and continued, bringing our palms together, "Itadakimasu!"
I excitably pried apart my chopsticks, literally shaking whilst I weaved them through my fingers and moved them to my mouth in what felt like slow motion, 'I am not worthy.' I decided to let my instincts take over because I couldn't decide what to try first. It all looked so finger-licking good.
My fingers wrapped a portion of paled-yellow noodles around the chopsticks it held and plucked a slice of fishcake between them, flying it straight into my mouth like the choo-choo train, gasping for air from the intense heat before swallowing.
"Ahhhhhh." I died again. "This is heaven."
Naru learned from my mistake, appropriately blowing on her noodles before shovelling them into her mouth like a sensible girl. Then she chewed, cherishing the delicious taste of Teuchi's divine cooking, "Mmmmm!" She lifted her head, squeezing her fist in barely contained exhilaration. "Yummy!"
"I'm telling ya!" I echoed the sentiment with the most real enthusiasm possible, plucking slices of seaweed and pork from my bowl and burying them on top of my tongue; after quickly cooling them of course. I savoured the juicy nature of the pork combined with the seaweed's saltness, excitably knocking on the bar, "Whoa! It's like there's a party in my mouth and everyone is invited!"
"It's just so tasty!"
A bark of fond laughter reminiscent of a comforting cuddle rang true from Teuchi's belly, "If you two like the taste so much, you can have seconds on the house." He assured, arms proudly folded over his broad chest.
Like a star lighting up the night sky, our eyes glittered, "You really mean it?"
"Of course!" He assured and a large grin wider than a bridge stretched his cheeks like Luffy, "Nothing makes a chef happier than to see his customers savouring every bite of the food he prepares with all his soul." A heavenly aura almost seemed to surround him. "So, eat up and have another on me."
"Thank you so much!"
He truly embodied the spirit of the community's good-natured meme crafted in his honour: The Sage of Six Bowls. According to the myth, Teuchi, a descendant of the Sage of Six Paths, travelled the world spreading his power throughout the lands through his ramen, depicted as truth-seeking orbs floating behind his back. He settled down in Konoha eventually and because he liked Naruto, he infused his miso ramen orders with a special kind of chakra that elevated him a cut above the rest.
The tales regaled of a time Teuchi warped to DBZ and faced off with the mighty Farmer with a shotgun.
It was ridiculously silly, but also charming in that very absurdity.
Naru and I shared a giggle between us and dived right back into our feast with gusto.
Two bowls later saw myself stretching up my arms and exhaling with supreme satisfaction, "Good stuff. Gochisōsama-deshita." I reached into my pocket and pulled out the note Dad gifted me before we left and placed it on the tray Teuchi provided, "Compliments to the chef."
"Mmm-hm!" Naru agreed, pressing her palms together, "Gochisōsama-deshita."
"Glad you like it!" Teuchi took the small tray, grinning warmly, "Come back anytime!"
"Will do, oji-san!" Especially after we got an extra bowl on the house. 'Actually, now that I think about it," I mused, watching Teuchi walk over to the till and dial up our orders, 'Maybe giving us two free bowls was all a part of his plan to incentivize us into coming back.' I polished my chin in thought before a wide grin burst across my face, 'Pretty sneaky, old man.' He knew how to play the game, that was for sure.
The crafty old man returned, "Here's your change." He said, propping the tray in front of me this time with a dozen coins scattered all over it. He bowed, "Thank you and please come again."
"Thank you," I grinned, pocketing my change. The chef's buddha-esque smile warmed once more before he headed to the back to wash up.
Naru's giggle averted my gaze to her, where she had her head resting on her hands upon the countertop, kicking her skinny legs that couldn't reach the floor with childlike amusement, "Hehe."
"What're you laughing at?" I queried, snorting.
She looked at me with a mischievous smile playing across her lips, barricading her mouth with a hand, "It's a secret."
I rolled my eyes playfully, scooting closer to her and dropping on the counter, "Is it a good secret?"
She nodded, lifting her head over mine and cupping her hands over my ear, "…I think your Mama's cooking is better."
I blinked while Naru retracted her head, smiling meekly, crossing her ankles and fiddling with her hands on her lap.
I grinned, tittering affectionately, "Yeah, I think so, too." She brightened anew, circling her arms around me. I gave her head pets, smile softening, 'Who would've thought Naru would choose anything over ramen?' Especially that fanfiction would have you believe she would go around exclaiming that 'ramen is the food of the gods.' I could see the logic in it to be fair. Canon Naruto had no one to look after him, forcing him to live off mostly instant ramen noodles.
Here, though, this version of Kishimoto's iconic main protagonist had already tasted the greatness of Mama's home cooking prepared with all the love and care of a mother even before trying Teuchi's. It only made sense that ramen wouldn't be at the forefront of her mind, and, honestly, that was for the better.
Ramen, for as delicious as it was, wasn't the kind of nutritional meal one should be having daily.
We stayed in the shack for a little while longer, allowing our food to digest. At some point during the waiting period, Naly received the tree-walking information from one of her clones, though she tried to hide it from me. Snicker. The realization that a clone had dispelled, emailing the details to her, was written all over her preciously surprised face.
Still, I didn't press her on the matter and even tried to act surprised when she demonstrated her newfound ability to coast up walls like Gwan-Stacey when we left Ichiraku. She pouted adorably.
To quote Yoda, "An actor, I was not."
That aside, we spent the rest of our day playing in the park, enjoying the luxury of having the children's area entirely to ourselves. If other kids wanted to avoid Naru at the behest of their parents, that was their loss, not ours. We spent our hours well moulding sand castles, zipping down the slide, dangling from the jungle bars and swinging on the swings set in bubbly innocence.
At the end of our session, we visited a kind elderly's tea parlour and dined on the greatness that was Red Bean Soup and Green Tea. (Part of me hoped we would run into Anko given her alleged similarities to Naru since she had a sweet tooth for Dango, but alas, we had no such luck)
"Guh…" Naru groaned miserably, head perched on my shoulder and arms loosely around my neck. Bathed underneath the moon's pearlescent glow, we set foot back home with a lukewarm breeze rustling through the nightly air, "Too much info."
I tittered, hands tucked underneath Naru's legs holding her against my back, "Yeah, your clones all dispelling even one by one can be a doozy." The good news was, she had mastered both tree-walking and water-walking within a day.
One had to wonder how on earth Naruto didn't graduate from the academy two years ahead of his peers. He failed two times and still graduated in the same year camp as the Rookie nine because he was recommended for early graduation. That had to mean something. Naru's chakra control was fairly exceptional in this timeline. If Naruto's was so bad, then you would've thought he wouldn't have had a prayer of clocking the tree-walking exercise at the same time as Sasuke.
Gah! Canon Naruto was a mess.
"Good thing my clone warned your clones not to dispel all at once, huh?"
"Wish you had warned me sooner." A sigh. "I feel sick."
"You'll get used to it."
"Don't wanna get used to it!"
I chuckled, feeling the physically and mentally exhausted girl tightening herself against me in comical distress.
The comforting sight of the Ito-family abode appeared over the horizon moments later. Thankfully I knew the route by heart so I didn't need Naru to guide me like the dumb five-year-old that I was.
I inhaled deeply through my nostrils like a vacuum cleaner, every tense muscle in my small superpowered body unwinding, "Home sweet home." I bent my knees, springing over the brown wooded gate, "You can lie down for a bit, Naru-chan." I said, setting trot on the bricked pathway, turning a beaming smile to her weary face, "I'll run you a nice, hot bath. You'll feel a whole lot better after a good soak."
"Okay," She said.
I strolled up to the door, taking one hand off Naru's knee curled against my hip and rummaging in my pocket. Removing my key, I pushed it into the lock and twisted, shifting the doorknob and walking inside the opened entry, "We're home!" I announced, kicking off my sandals and closing the barrier.
"Welcome back!" Both Mama and Dad practically burst out of the living room to greet us, "Did you have a fun playdate?" The former sang.
"We had lots!" I grinned, setting Naru down on the elevated step, "We did a bit of training in the fields, had some tasty ramen at Ichiraku's, played a bunch in the park and had tea and Red Bean Soup." I explained, taking off Naru's footwear.
"Sounds like you had a good time." Dad smiled.
"Yup!" I assured, turning to Naru, "Right, Naru-chan?"
She covered her mouth opening on its own accord to emit a sleepy sound, "…Yeah!"
Mama giggled and kneeled behind the blond, gently embracing her shoulders, "Sleepy, Naru-chan?"
She nodded, eyes lighting up with backup energy, "Uh-huh! I trained a whole bunch today!"
"I see that!" Mama's eyes twinkled with affectionate warmth, "I hope Ichi-chan didn't train you too hard."
"Only what she could manage," I insisted, propping myself beside my cherished friend and locking eyes with her, grinning merrily, "Right!?"
"Mm-hmm!" She nodded, "Ichi-chan's really strong. He picked up a whole boulder like it was nothing!" She relayed, stretching her arms out to emphasize the great weighty mass of sheer density I lifted up like a little stone, turning Dad's face into a gaping horrified painting of astonishment.
"My, will Ichi-chan ever cease to amaze us?" Mama praised, reaching over to fondly caress my cheeks. I sunk into her side, nestling in her motherly benevolence.
"Probably not!" I smiled without shame.
"I wouldn't want you to, either."
Dad joined us, then, slipping off his slippers and anchoring himself on the upraised step on my side, "Ahem." He cleared his throat; a clear subject change if I had ever seen one, "So, listen." He began, propping his hands on his knees.
I blinked, "Yeah?" This sounded like it had the makings of a family conference.
"We spoke with the Hokage today." My head whipped in the direction of Mama's placid voice. My eyes glowed with hope.
"…And?" I exhaled with palpable tension. Mama giggled.
Dad's voice, filled with so pride and joy, rounded my head back to him, "And he said we can adopt Naru-chan."
Time seemed to pause for a brief moment as I processed Dad's declaration, almost scrutinizing every inch of his nearly smug smirk as if trying to detect any lies. I knew the answer, though, that they wouldn't try to deceive me over something this serious. I know that but I still needed a moment to ensure this was real; that god wasn't going to harshly drag me back to reality.
It seemed too good to be true.
And that realization made me burst up like fireworks, knee sliding across the hard flooring above the elevated step, "C'mon!"
Dad guffawed, clapping his hands in euphoria, "Now that's the reaction I was waiting for!" He held out his hand and I marched over to him and bro-hand-fived him audibly.
"A…dopt me?" Naru mumbled with uncertainty, "You mean I don't have to go back to my cold home alone?" She glanced up at Mama looking at her softly, "I can stay here forever and forever?"
"Yes, sweetie," Mama replied, wrapping her arms around her and kissing her on top of her head. Naru's sparkly blue eyes dilated. "You're family now."
"I.." She gulped, "I don't know what to say."
I zipped straight to her, patting her lap ecstatically. She jumped. "Isn't this great?!" I gushed a mile a minute, throwing my arms around her, "You never have to be lonely anymore, Naru-chan!"
She started to tremble uncontrollably against me like the first time I reached out and pulled her from her desolate world. I feel her little hands crawling up and pressing against my back and her voice cracked giving the most heartfelt gratitude, "Y-Yes. Thank you, oniichan! Thank you so much!"
Mama and Pops stood, fondly watching us, "It'll be nice to have a daughter around the house." Dad stated, holding Mama's hand and swinging an arm around her shoulder, "I might finally get to be called 'Papa' for once instead of 'Dad' or 'Pops'." He mock-sniffed, "Ichi always calls Junko 'Mama' but never me 'Papa'. How unfair is that?!"
I pulled away from Naru, blinking blankly, "Is that… so?"
"Don't give me that innocent act! You know what I mean!"
Mama giggled, "Ichi-chan's just more of a momma's boy!"
I recoiled like I was stung, "What?" I grimaced and folded my arms, "I am totally not a momma's boy!" I whined. Mama held out her arms, beckoning me forward. My walls apart instantly, sending me running over the step and into Mama's tummy contrary to my childish insistence, "Mama!" I snuggled happily against her as she stroked my Vegeta-like light blue hair. I clocked a second later, turning my head to Dad giving me a pointed look. "Uh, this means nothing!"
Everyone laughed at my expense, and I couldn't resist the contagious air, chuckling myself.
Diary of Ito Junko – What Matters Most is Family
Ichi was special.
I know all mamas, well, good ones anyway, think their children are special, but I believe our Ichi-chan shined like no other.
He was pure and kind like no other, always going out of his way to see the good in people and lend a helping hand to those in need. We met Sakamoto-san, an elderly lady that lived on her own after her husband died and her children left the nest when Ichi found her struggling with her groceries. He carried all of them for her and escorted her home.
He was strong, far stronger than Ken and I could ever hope to be and he seemed so grateful to have such strength; strength that he had worked tirelessly for. I watched him convert his energy, which he seemed to have an unlimited amount of, into healthy exercise daily. rarely ever seemed to exhaust his stamina no matter how many press-ups, pull-ups, squats and star jumps he executed day after day.
He listened to us when we advised him he had to keep his feet on the ground, taking it all in and always expressing the utmost gratitude for his growing strength.
Perhaps that's why we never grew fearful or anxious around him the way other parents might. Daichi was still the same old lovable Daichi when all was said and done. His newfound prodigious strength was just another facet of his adorable personality.
"Ready, honey?" Ken asked, slipping on his long brown coat and opening the door.
I slipped into a pair of high heels and rose from the upraised step I sat on, picking up my waist-high leather white coat that had black fur lining the neck area, "I'm ready." I inhaled, breathing out. Ken offered me his arm and I gladly hooked mine around his triceps, ambling out with him. He shut the front door of our home before we made our way onto the road, heading straight for the Hokage monument.
To think Ichi would've brought home Kushina-neechan's daughter? It shouldn't have been surprising. He was kind-hearted. Even if the majority disliked or avoided someone like the plague, he would see the good in them and extend an olive branch.
It was just in his nature.
Still, a more pressing matter needed answering about Naru's… situation because I just couldn't wrap my head around the leak of her inheriting her mother's burden. The same happened when nee-chan inherited Mito's. Why? Did this leaker not understand the concept of white lies?
Not all lies were inherently bad and not all truths were good either.
That night five years ago caused such distress and heartbreak to our people. Would lying and claiming Minato-san slayed the beast at the cost of his own life really be so bad? It would've provided those hurt and traumatized by the attack some small comfort at least. Telling our people it was imprisoned in someone else does nothing but dredge up bad memories and unite them in their narrow-minded hatred of one innocent little girl.
Naru-chan was the sweetest thing we had ever met, cut from the same cinnamon roll of our Ichi. She never asked to be the container of some stupid giant beast!
"You okay, honey?" I perked up, looking into my husband's eyes filling with concern like warm tea. It seemed my internal rant had caused me to seethe.
"I'm fine." My exasperated tone said otherwise. Ken knew me well enough to not call me out on it. "I was just thinking how things could get this bad for poor Naru-chan."
He hummed, "It's a weird one." He gazed up at the sky, "I don't understand why, uh… that was ever leaked."
"I know!" I nodded eagerly, surveying my surroundings of any prying ears and lowering my voice and covering my mouth, "It just makes sense to say Minato-san slayed it."
"I agree," He nodded, dropping his head. Those beautiful eyes of his that I had fallen for hardened and glossed like a jewel, "All we can do is do right by Naru-chan. Minato-sama gave his life to save us that night. We owe it to him to do right by his daughter."
My expression glowed with maidenly pride, "Spoken like the man I fell in love with." He smiled and we continued on our way to the Hokage tower.
The Hokage tower, normally the symbol of peace and the divine promise of protection cast upon our land, appeared very daunting when we had an urgent meeting to attend with Hiruzen-sama. A huge, fiery-red - like the Land of Fire it resided in - circular building stood before us in front of the guardian mountain with all four Hokage faces engraved upon it. It looked like it was wearing two light brown straw hats, or maybe skirts; one above the front entrance and another further up underneath the fire kanji.
All things considered, It was a very impressive structure providing sustenance to the warm ambience of our home.
"Ready?" Ken asked, monitoring the towering walls of our leader's office with an unreadable expression.
I gulped down a deep breath like a glass of water, stilling my beating heart as best as I could, "…Yeah." I replied, "I'm ready." I felt Ken's concerned eyes on me but Ignored them and faced forward with the courage of a shoujo protagonist.
We walked through the heavy brown doors already opened resembling a dojo entrance, passing by a cute adult-teenage shinobi.
"Oh, hello!" He smiled courteously, bowing. I think he ranked Chunin in the classification system. I didn't know much of anything about shinobi fares, but I had enough knowledge from chatting with neechan to know that those with sleeveless green flak jackets were a cut above the base ex-student rank of Genin. He had a healthy medium tan complementing his dark-brown long hair, pulled back in a high ponytail.
Despite his boyish looks, my heart bled. Horizontally above the tip of his nose laid a thin scar, the evidence of an ordeal he had endured and lived through. The life of a shinobi never looked as easy or glamorous as it once appeared to me growing up. I just prayed Ichi wouldn't come home disfigured.
"Hello," We bowed back and continued onward. The entrance was already open granting anyone with a need for an audience with Hokage-sama free entry. We made our way up a flight of round stairs, stopping by the first closed door to our left labelled Hokage.
"This is it," Ken said.
A dropping pin needle sounded loud to us right now.
Ken lifted his hand, rapping his knuckles against the exterior of a dark wooded door.
Our hearts tightened, leaping up in our mouths when a kind voice drifted through the door, "Yes, you may enter."
Ken turned the doorknob, pushing it slowly inward and revealing Hiruzen's square-shaped neatly tidy office, "Forgive the intrusion, Hokage-sama."
He had his back to us, monitoring the serenity of the village he watched over from up high like the guardian angel he was, long white robes contrasting the golden dark flooring and walls of his office, "Oh, come now, Kenji-kun," He insisted, dispelling the tension in our shoulders just like that. He turned to us, one arm tucked behind his back and a pipe in his other hand, "You're welcome to pay this old man a visit anytime. Why, I was just thinking how pleasant it would be to have some company."
Our eyes warmed in appreciation. Hiruzen-sama's grandfatherly spirit truly embodied everything we adored about everyone selected as Hokage. They were so kind and friendly, saving the names of even nobodies like us to memory.
"You're not that old," Ken replied softly.
Hokage-sama smiled, "How very kind of you." He rolled his wheelie chair to the seat of his curved brown desk and sat himself upon it leisurely, "So, what can I do for you two today, as I presume today's visit isn't leisurely," A grizzled warm laugh sang from his throat, "As much as I would like it to be."
"Yes, Hokage-sama." I straightened.
"Please, Junko-kun; refer to me as Hiruzen," He requested, "Although today's visit may not be a sociable one, I needn't think it calls for such formalities, dear."
A light smile coloured my red lips brighter, "No, Hiruzen-san." I bowed my head slightly, earning his approval. I averted my gaze to our left to four portraits of the past and present Hokage, eyes landing on the last one on the far right. Naru-chan inherited much of her complexion and personality from her mother, but she got her gentle blue eyes and hair from her papa.
I glanced back at Hiruzen-san with newfound resolve, "It's about Naru-chan, sir."
I saw no subsequent change in his warm-hearted expression. If anything, it may have brightened a tad. "Yes, what about her?"
Ken picked up where I left off, "We would like to adopt her, if you'd allow us, sir."
I was grateful he didn't leave us in suspense for any length of time, responding immediately, "Hmm." Did he sound… amused?
We didn't know what to make of his reaction, stuck in a paradox of tension and relief, for a small moment.
"Well, that is certainly more than acceptable." We heaved gigantic massive breaths we didn't realize we were holding in as our shoulders sagged. He chuckled warmly, "But If I ask out of mere curiosity, what made you consider taking young Naru-kun in?"
Ken and I turned to one another, a knowing fondness radiating between our toasty smiles. We twirled back to Hiruzen.
"Because of our son, Ichi," Ken answered.
Understanding shone on his face, "Ah, Ito Daichi-kun."
"Have you seen Ichi around, Hiruzen-san?" I asked gently.
"In a matter of speaking," He said vaguely. Well, I suppose it was understandable the Hokage had things he kept up his sleeve, so to speak. "A rambunctious, lively fellow you ever would see, that one." He commented, humming out a laugh that proved to be contagious.
"Yeah, that's our Ichi," Ken murmured.
"But I've not seen a brighter prospect since Itachi-kun." He continued, "His breakthrough could perhaps pave the way to many children who aspire to be shinobi but end up passing up on their dreams out of fear they would never be able to measure up to those from clans coming from civilian backgrounds."
Our words escaped us. We always felt Ichi had a talent like no other, taking to the lifestyle of a shinobi like a duck to water, but hearing it out of the mouth of the Hokage himself was something else entirely. It froze us, and left us staring in awe.
"I-I don't know what to say," Ken scrambled for words, setting for sincere gratitude, "Other than thank you."
"You're most welcome," He assured, "Perhaps I should be thanking you for nurturing such a prodigious shinobi who not only possesses formidable strength at such a young age but considerable kindness, too. He sought Naru-kun out, perhaps not specifically, and extended an olive branch of friendship," He puffed delicately on his pipe. "All because he saw one lonely five-year-old girl all by herself and sought to change that. He truly bears the Will of Fire."
Our eyes lowered with smiles partly reaching them.
"We couldn't be prouder of our little boy," I murmured.
"He even cried for Naru-chan, too," Ken explained.
"I presume he's not one for tears, then?" Hiruzen queried.
"Uh-huh." I shook my head, "That was his first time strangely enough. Even when he was a baby, he never really cried. Sobbed a little bit if he needed a bottle or a fresh nappy, but he never fully cried. Even when he hit his head."
"He sounds like a tough lad," Hiruzen remarked in amusement.
"He is," Ken smiled.
"Nonetheless," Hiruzen stood, removing his triangle-shaped red and white Hokage hat that hid his nearly receded hairline and age spots. "Allow me to express my most sincere gratitude for adopting Naru-kun." And then he lowered the entire upper half of his body to our bewilderment. "Thank you very much for taking her in and accepting her into your family."
"Please raise your head, sir!" I fretted. "It's unbecoming of a Kage to lower his head to commoners like us!"
A robust laugh exploded from him, "I needn't think it matters in matters such as these."
"But still," I hesitated, mirroring Ken's expression.
He rose and propped his hat back on his head, drawing sighs of relief from us, "Humour this old man's brief bit of foolishness." He tittered, "In truth, I had hoped someone would step forward and bare the mettle of responsibility for Minato-sama's only child, but it seemed none wished to saddle themselves with such a task." He closed his eyes, musings, "Truthfully, I cannot blame them."
Our gazes averted to the floor, images of a gigantic reddish-orange fox with nine tails flashing through the forefront of our minds, "Yeah."
"And with Minato-sama coming from a strictly civilian background and Kushina-kun moving to Konoha from abroad, it appeared Naru-kun remained destined to be alone." He bestowed us the full warmth and brightness of his utmost gratitude. "Until yesterday, when Daichi-kun brought Naru-kun into your home, which led to your brave decision to adopt her, and for that, you have my thanks."
We beamed back at his cosy expression.
"You may find times grow troubling and people you thought were your comrades turning against you over this decision to take in a young child who had been unfairly ostracized over something, not in her control, but please, continue to endure and help Naru-kun grow into a proud kunoichi and most of all, an upstanding young woman."
I snuggled into my husband, holding onto his hand as he wrapped an arm over my shoulder.
"Don't worry about that, Hokage-sama." He grinned. "Even if everyone turns on us, as long as we have each other we can endure anything."
"What matters most is family."