Two Rivers Meet

Disclaimer: I do not own any character used or mention from Naruto, which is owned and created by Masashi Kishimoto. All other characters as well as the story plot are created by me so they are mine and mine alone. I make no profit from this.

Dedication: To my beta who helped my so much. Thanks, hun.

It was very late when Xiloxochitl finally crawled into bed. Tired as she was, she found herself wide-awake, lying on her back, staring at the ceiling. With her mind racing a mile a second, rest refused to come. The day's events kept replaying in her head. With a frustrated groan, she sat up and leaned back against the headboard, drawing back the covers just enough to expose her feet and calves. The remainder of the sheet pooled around her waist and the cool air raised bumps on her skin. Dangling a foot over the edge of the bed, Xiloxochitl thought of how rapidly things were changing in her life. There was an ancient saying in her old tribe, 'be careful what you wish for, it might come true with more than you bargained for.'

Having spent most of her life isolated and unwanted she was searching for a change that would bring her a sense of belonging and form roots to this village. Now she finally met two people who seemed to truly want to know her; not just as a fellow shinobi, not as a sex partner or as a tool to a means. No, these two men wanted to know her as a friend and maybe as family. Dare she think they could love her? They didn't see her as an outsider or an intruder, just a true friend. The strange part was how she was both scared and thrilled at the same time.

Up to now all Xiloxochitl had was her honor and a sense of duty to a memory. She couldn't fool herself any more; she wanted to belong. Could Iruka and Naruto be able to give her that sense of belonging that no one else wanted to? The clan and the tribe did not want her. One sent her away and the other made it very clear that they would have abandoned her too had there been no interference. Now the clan views her as a tool for attaining recognition, but still not as a member. Never, as a member. She will always be the outsider. Had she not been a good shinobi they would have gotten rid of her a long time ago. There was no love or caring; there was nothing, but schemes and demands.

She thought back to the conversation she had earlier with Iruka. They had just escorted Naruto back to his place after discovering he had a mission the next morning. Iruka insisted on escorting Xiloxochitl to her quarters even though she protested. She was a big girl she said, but Iruka got her when he said 'it's what friends do.' Bastard. They had walked in silence most of the way until Iruka ventured to break the tension between them.

"I want to thank you for becoming friends with Naruto, Xiloxochitl. It has made him very happy," he said quietly.

"Why do I feel there's a 'but' there, Iruka? Is it you do not approve of this friendship?"

"No, I do approve. I think this friendship would benefit you both. I just don't want to see either one of you hurt. I care for Naruto very much and although we have known each other a short time I consider you a friend."

Tilting her head slightly, she glanced sideways at him. "Then why to sound sad about it? I find the prospect very appealing."

Taking a deep breath Iruka looked at the woman before he continued. "Naruto has not had an easy life before he graduated the academy. He didn't have very many friends or people to care for him. He barely graduated but then things started looking up for him. He finally made friends and he has grown enormously as a ninja. Unfortunately, there are many who hate him and would be very happy if he was gone." Iruka paused to take another deep breath. "When did you come to this village?"

Not sure where Iruka was going with this, the female chuunin decided to answer anyway. "About three years after it was attacked by a demon. I think it was called the Nine-tail Fox. Why?"

Iruka continued in silence for a few moments. Aware that he was struggling with something, she gave him time to compose his thoughts. When he finally spoke, Xiloxochitl could detect the pain in his voice.

"The day of the Kyuubi attack, everyone in this village was affected. Not only did we lose many shinobi that day, we lost the Fourth Hokage. Everyone's lives were changed that day, especially Naruto's. The Third resumed the position of Hokage and passed a law that no one will speak of the events of that day again. I wish I can tell you more, but just know that Naruto is a good person and a fine shinobi. All I ask is that you please do not turn your back on him. Now that he has found you, it would shatter him if you abandon him."

Xiloxochitl was confused, but she was well aware of the law regarding that attack. However, the law really didn't prevent the whispers or gossip from slipping out. Through the years she had heard bits and pieces of that day, but not much. She knew that a great deal of animosity was focused on Naruto, though. Since first coming to the village she had her own difficulties to work through, so she did not pay much heed to those hasty whispers. Now she wished she had been more attentive. Studying Iruka she could feel his pain about that day, so she took pity on him.

"Iruka, please do not tell me any more. I do not want you to violate that law. I know there is a lot of hatred focused on Naruto. Kenta has proven that earlier by what he said. There is just something different about Naruto and he makes that difference a true strength, not a hindrance. I admire that in him. I feel a kinship with him because of what happened to me." Xiloxochitl ducked her head down slightly in shame before continuing in quiet voice. "I was never as brave as Naruto, seeking to be known and acknowledged. I allowed myself to fade, just to exist. Having met him, he makes me want to become better; he makes me want to grow. He has such fire within him. It's inspiring." She finished with a shy smile.

Chuckling out loud the academy teacher nodded his head in agreement.

"Naruto has always had that talent. His dreams and drive have always inspired people. That is why he makes friends every day. He never feels sorry for himself. Despite having so many people know him, I really don't think they truly understand how much he wants their love too. Most just see him as a loudmouth who talks big or is just an annoying brat. No one sees the child in pain, wanting to be loved. I don't want to see him hurt anymore."

Xiloxochitl realized that Iruka maybe the only person who truly loved and cared for Naruto. She cursed herself silently for being hesitant, not because she thought Naruto was a monster, but because she felt so flawed that he would reject her like everyone else. Iruka's words comforted her.

"I'll make you this promise, Iruka. On my honor as a shinobi and as a warrior I will never hurt Naruto intentionally. I was serious when I said I wanted him as a precious person."

Arriving at her door, they paused, neither saying a word. Iruka turned to face Xiloxochitl; she was looking at the wall across from her door, lost in thought. Wisps of hair were caught up in the gentle night breeze as she debated with her inner self whether or not to reveal her problems and stress to this man. Could he truly be of help to her? Or was she being weak? After an awkward silence the young woman finally made up her mind. Still staring at the wall she found her voice.

"I'm drowning Iruka, and I can't find a way to save myself."

For his part, the male chuunin was surprised to see this dramatic change in his friend. She always seemed so confident, although a bit standoffish. She was actually allowing him into her world by revealing her vulnerability. Impulsively he reached out, gently pulling her into his arms. He felt her stiffen slightly at first, but immediately relax into his embrace. After a moment Iruka felt Xiloxochitl attentively wrapped her arms around him. Her hands clung to his shoulders as she rested her forehead against the crook of his neck. After a few moments Xiloxochitl came to her senses and gently, almost regretfully pulled away from her comforter.

"Uhm, sorry about that. I must be more stressed than I thought. I-I should be stronger than that." She looked down embarrassed.

Iruka smiled and placed a hand under her chin to make her look at him.

"It's ok, that's what friends are for. Now do you want to tell me what has you so upset?"

Looking around Xiloxochitl nodded. "Let's go inside and I'll tell you. It's late and it might look suspicious with us standing out here. Besides I don't want anyone overhear my business."

Iruka nodded and followed her inside. He took the opportunity to look around her apartment. He was certain that he might be the only person permitted inside her inner sanctum. The d├ęcor was a mixture of her life with the tribe and her life with the village. She had made it uniquely hers and Iruka liked it. He made a mental note to ask her later what some of the objects were since he had never seen some of them before.

Xiloxochitl made tea for them. After she sat down with him on the sofa, she told him exactly what had happened at the clan meeting. She detailed her feelings on becoming a jounin and of the doubts that plagued her since the death of a teammate. How she felt empty since that mission and that now she was at a loss on what to do.

To her amazement, Iruka, didn't judge her for not becoming a jounin. Instead, he offered her a solution.

"Why don't you become a teacher, Xiloxochitl? It is very honorable position. It may not be as prestigious as a jounin, but it is well recognized. There are so few academy teachers right now, we could use the help. It would also get your clan off your back."

Xiloxochitl considered it for a moment.

"I don't know if I can handle children. I have very little experience with them. I don't think I have the patience. All I can say it sounds more appealing than being forced to become a jounin. I know, without a doubt, that I am not ready for that."

Nodding his head in understanding Iruka stood up to leave.

"Think about it, and if you decide to, I'll help you prepare for the test. I think you would make a great teacher."

Stretching and trying to stifle a yawn the male chuunin continued.

"I better go. It's late and I should let you rest."

Getting up to walk him to the door, Xiloxochitl gave into impulse by hugging Iruka and giving him a kiss on the cheek. Too embarrassed to look at him, she buried her face in his chest.

"Thank you, Iruka for listening to my childishness and for the advice." Lifting her head she looked him in the eye and continued. "I'm glad you're my friend. You gave me a lot to think about."

Stepping away, she noticed a slight blush on Iruka's face as he nervously rubbed the back of his neck.

"I'm glad I could help, especially after what you did for Naruto. Later, I want to discuss with you that technique you used on Kenta and about your fighting style. That is, if you don't mind."

"No, I don't mind. How about over lunch tomorrow we can discuss it? I'll make food from my mother's tribe so you can taste it."

"That would be great. Tomorrow then, I'll see you. Goodnight."

Smiling she closed the door after him and then went to prepare for bed. A smile graced her lips at the memory of her talk with Iruka. Coming out of that memory, she reluctantly turned her thoughts to what might happen the following day. Tomorrow she would be summoned by Zakuro to explain what happened with Kenta. She was not looking forward to it.

Sighing, the young woman threw off the rest her covering to sit at the edge of the bed. She never wore the traditional sleepwear of the clan, although Zukuro sent her a few through out the years. Xiloxochitl always wore a loose, collarless, and sleeveless cotton nightdress that ended mid-thigh. It was similar to the ones she wore when she was with the tribe.

She padded through her small apartment to the kitchenette. In the dark she took a glass from the cupboard and filled it with water from the faucet. Downing the entire glass she placed it in the sink to wash the following morning. Moving to the small living room she settled down on the couch. Curling her legs under herself, she watched the shadows play across the walls. After a while she got up to leave her living quarters. It was so late that no one was about as she hopped to the roof of the building. She sat down on the incline of the roof. She had learned a long time ago not to sit on the edge or top because one could be easily spotted. So, she stayed in the middle of the roof close to the shadows as she stared up at the stars.

For a while she silently contemplated the stars when an ANBU suddenly appeared beside her. He crouched low as he watched the woman. She turned to look curiously at the intruder of her peace. She gave a short nod as a form of acknowledgment. Returning the nod he held out his hand, which contained a scroll before speaking.

"The Hokage requests your presence tomorrow at dawn. Do not be late." With that he disappeared in a puff of smoke.

Sighing, Xiloxochitl opened the scroll. The contents were verbatim to what the ANBU had just told her, no further information, making his statement unnecessarily redundant. Re-rolling the scroll, she got up and hopped down from the roof and re-entered her dwelling. She had a feeling that tomorrow would be an interesting day for her whether she liked it or not.

A/N: Another installment so soon. Enjoy.