A/N: Disclaimer, yeah. I don't own, in any way, shape, form, or fashion, Naruto or any rights thereof. I do however, own this story (as much as one can own intellectual property, I suppose) and I very much hope you will enjoy it. And so, without further ado, read on, dear readers.
"Hokage-sama," began one of the desk-chuunin as he stepped through the door, bowing respectfully as he did so. "Ashida-san is here to see you. She says it's about the Uzumaki br-" With a visible effort and an apologetic wince, the chuunin changed his phrasing to a more neutral word. "Boy, that is. My apologies, Hokage-sama."
"Accepted," the Hokage answered, inclining his head toward the chuunin as he removed his smoldering pipe from his mouth. "Try not to let it happen again."
"Of course, Hokage-sama," responded the chuunin.
"That aside, you said Ashida-san has come to see me again? That would make the tally what, four times this month now?"
The chuunin looked up enough for both Sarutobi and the ANBU (who the chuunin could not see, but knew were there regardless) to see the small smirk twitching at his lips and making his eyes light momentarily in amusement. "Seven, sir. She's won me my fair share of drinks, I'm not afraid to say. It's too bad my winning streak appears to be at its end. Who knows if the next one will be quite so regular?"
Sarutobi, after allowing himself a moment of amusement, sobered and pinned the chuunin with the same eyes that had witnessed the rise of the Legendary Sannin. "You judge this to be the end, then?"
"Hai, Hokage-sama. She appeared most distraught," the man replied without hesitation.
Rubbing his temples tiredly, and shooting a death-filled glare at his immortal foe, paperwork, he turned back to the chuunin, face set. "Send her in, then. Best to get this over with. And of course, this will mean more paperwork..." Behind him, he was absolutely certain he heard one of the ANBU snicker.
Eyes narrowing underneath his hat, he resolved to make certain the shipment of books Kakashi was oh-so-eagerly awaiting met with an unfortunate "accident" before it reached Konoha. Penning a short reminder to himself, which he then stowed in a convenient pocket in his outer robes, he reached for the next sheet of the never-ending stack sitting ever so innocently next to his ink brush and seal.
He hadn't finished looking through more than half the page when Uzumaki Naruto's most recent caretaker entered the room, directing a low bow to the Hokage before lifting her head, signs of her ire evident in her red face and the clenched fists held tightly to her sides. "Hokage-sama, with all due respect, I no longer find myself capable of caring for that de-child. I have tried, and tried to give him a chance, but he refuses to behave in a civilized manner, and I-I can't take it anymore. I apologize most sincerely, but I refuse to be his caretaker for any longer. I feel I have more than fulfilled my duty as a citizen of Konoha."
Sarutobi nodded slowly, allowing the woman to recover from her speech before replying. "Very well, Ashida-san. I cannot, of course, force you to reconsider your decision. For the sake of clarity, however, would you please inform me of what it is he's done this time?"
Relaxing slightly the rigid set of her spine, and calming considerably now that her piece had been said, the woman took a deep breath before answering the Third's question. "He dyed the entire building's laundry orange. Orange! As if it wasn't enough that he insists on wearing that disgusting color himself! Everyone's clothes are ruined now because of him!"
Ignoring the sounds of Dog's stifled amusement (those books were definitely meeting with an accident, preferably one involving heavy use of the Katon jutsu), the Hokage met Ashida's eyes, which had regained their earlier fire after the recollection of the events which had led to her standing in front of her employer. "I presume you attempted to clean the affected items of clothing?"
The woman looked pained. "Hai, Hokage-sama, but... Whatever he used, it wouldn't come out, no matter what we tried. It was all I could do to keep the other residents from hunting him down and dying him orange."
"Of course," Sarutobi assured her, "Your conduct was most exemplary, I'm sure. Are you positive I couldn't persuade you to remain with him?"
"I'm deeply sorry, Hokage-sama, but I don't think I could handle even one more day with him. Today was simply the last straw."
"Very well, deliver your letter of resignation to Hoshino-kun before you leave. He will ensure you receive the last of your pay."
Ashida bowed one last time before exiting the way she had come, her face forming an expression of utmost relief. Sarutobi waited several moments after she was out of sight before rubbing his temples wearily. 'More paperwork...' he thought to himself, before setting his mind to the problem presented by Naruto's now-former caretaker.
Who could he get to look after the boy now? He had turned six just a few months before; it wouldn't be unthinkable to find someone to teach him how to live fully on his own. But who? There were not many people in the entirety of Konoha who would treat the holder of the Kyuubi fairly, even with the Hokage himself as his benefactor.
As he lit his pipe and leaned forward in his seat, steepling his fingers and pondering the possible candidates, his gaze fell onto a folder placed rather precariously a fourth of the way through the monstrous pile of paperwork currently dwarfing his desk. Recently Promoted Chuunin.
Carefully maneuvering the file out of the paperwork mountain and onto the cleared portion of the desk directly in front of him, he flipped through the pages, noting how few of them there were. If he recalled correctly, only five Konoha teams had competed in the most recent Chuunin Exams, held in Suna. Of those five teams, only four individual genin had been promoted.
His fingers paused, holding the second to last page, which he regarded with interest. That particular young man had demonstrated a thorough knowledge of the basic shinobi skills, made glaringly obvious when held up against the flashy and ostentatious jutsus utilized by his opponents in the third portion of the exam. In addition, he would likely find more in common with young Naruto than either of them would like to admit. 'Yes,' Sarutobi thought, 'he'll do just fine. Now, to determine his mission status..."
Iruka wearily let himself into his apartment, making his way to the secondhand couch that dominated his small living room. Collapsing onto the worn and discolored cushions with a long sigh of relief, he leaned his head up against the back of it. 'I just completed my first B-rank mission,' came the thought, struggling upwards through the fog of utter exhaustion. A brief flash of pride filled his mind before quickly being consumed by the bone-deep fatigue filling his body.
The captain of his team had required that each member give their very best, which, admittedly, was no less than he routinely demanded of himself. His name was practically legend amongst the shinobi of Konoha, and Iruka felt honored to have served under him. Honored, yes, but at that exact moment, he also felt very, very tired.
Blinking his eyes slowly, he decided that the couch was as good a place to sleep as any. It wasn't much less comfortable than the bed, after all. Before he could commit to a final blink, however, a flash of red from the side table located directly next to the side of his couch caught his attention.
His eyes, regrettably, remained open after recognizing the seal and ribbon used by the Hokage for messages. He slowly forced his arm to reach out and grasp the scroll, drawing it back to him in the same manner that a child would hold a particularly offensive vegetable.
Bringing it close to his face, and making his blurry eyes focus, he noted the Hokage's seal, clearly emblazoned and standing in sharp contrast to the stark white of the paper beneath it. Reluctantly, he broke open the scroll, feeling a moment of pleasure at the short length of the missive, before that moment was cruelly ripped from him as soon as he began to read it.
The phrase, as soon as possible, in that instant, seemed worse than the foulest curse ever thrown at him by an enemy. He whimpered, unable to face the prospect of dragging himself to the Hokage Tower when his body was so desperately craving sleep. The postscript, in which the Hokage once more cemented his reputation as the Scariest Man Alive, was to Iruka a blessing straight from the kami themselves.
It will do no one any good for you to show up when you're too tired to even stand.
Iruka set the scroll back onto its original position on his table, then decided that if he was awake enough to comprehend what he had just read, he was awake enough to change out of his dirty and bloodied mission clothes and sleep in his own bed. And so, moving in a manner reminiscent of a man five times his own age, he did.
A huge thank-you to everyone who's read this far! I hope you'll stick around for chapter two, but if not, I can't argue with your personal preference. Reviews are definitely welcome, and are like onigiri for my soul... Anyway, thanks again, and I'll be back!