A/N: I'm aliveeeee! Sorry folks, life's been rough on me and i've hardly had time or motivation to keep writing. I actually had over half of this chapter written over a year ago but i just couldn't find the inspiration to finish it. At any rate, here's chap 3.
I'd also like to give a thanks to all the lovely people that liked, followed, added to their favorites and left reviews! And also to Solara Myles for some excellent feedback and suggestions. (go check out her stuff, she's got some good stories!) Hopefully this time around, it won't take me another year to publish another chapter. ^_^U
Disclaimer: I don't own anything from the Naruto anime/manga.
No memory of your past, no friends nor family looking for you, and waking up in a dungeon after six months in a coma, only to learn that you might have been a criminal, would be enough to make just about anyone wonder what to make of their lives. And yet, the Hokage offers you an opportunity for a fresh start, to build a new life, as long as you do not harm anyone nor endanger the village. So now I go by the name of Fiore, trying to make an honest living in the ninja village of Konoha, as I recover from my injuries and amnesia, while always having a ninja or two shadow my every move. I can't help but feel alone, trapped, untrusted and unwanted. And yet, as bad as things may look, I can't help but smile at the crazy antics of a young blond boy with a knack for mischief. Naruto Uzumaki, my first real friend, and also my new little brother.
Chapter 3: An unexpected friendship.
It had been a long time since Iruka Umino, chuunin teacher at Shinobi Academy, found himself both embarrassed and dismayed. The source of his current turmoil was no other than the little blond boy that was currently scrubbing the floor clean from the results of his latest prank in a frantic manner, while Iruka himself stood watch along with the boy's latest victim to make sure the boy did the job right.
The boy was the one and only Naruto Uzumaki, Konoha's infamous Pranking King.
But try as he might, Iruka just couldn't remain mad at the boy for long, even if the kid did test the limits of his patience more often than he would have liked. Still, for all of Naruto's mischief and mayhem, the boy wasn't actually that bad, just really attention starved. Unfortunately, the little blond boy's chosen outlet for trying to get attention (pranking) was not making him any friends or favors.
Not that the boy had any other real options on the table to begin with anyway…
As he watched over Naruto, Iruka began to think about just how much his life had changed in a few short months since he had become a teacher at the academy. Never in his life would he have imagined that Naruto would make such an impact on his life. Granted, the boy had put him through the wringer more times than he could remember, but in a way, he was deeply grateful to the young blond for the important life lessons Naruto had thought him.
A couple of months ago, Iruka would have found himself among the vast majority of the village that hated Naruto, but that eventually changed after one little mishap. After saving the boy from a group of Taki miscreants, both student and teacher somehow just clicked. That was when Iruka discovered that Naruto was almost a living reflection of his own life, both having faced similar situations growing up (albeit Naruto had it much worse).
After that point, Iruka had befriended the lad, occasionally inviting the boy out to eat or with silly idle chatter not related to academy things. The boy still pranked the living daylights out of him and the rest of the in-turn teachers, but nowhere near the intensity Naruto had been known to be able to pull.
That is, unless someone had royally pissed off the little knucklehead. And when that happened, all bets were off and it became everyman for himself. Literally.
The irony about it all was that Iruka had used many of those same tricks and traps to prank his own teachers and fellow classmates when he was the student. Naruto however, had rewritten the book and mastered it from start to finish. If not for the fact that he often found himself on the receiving end of remastered versions of his own pranks, Iruka would have found himself in awe of the boy's rather impressive pranking skills, and shuddered at the thought of what would happen if the boy replaced harmless little things with various pointy objects of varying sizes.
Regardless, their unlikely friendship had provided some extra bonuses. Iruka knew by now most of Naruto's hiding places and schemes (up to the point where ANBU ended up knocking on his door at odd hours in the morning just so that he could find the little pipsqueak), and he quickly learned how to better read the boy's mood. Being able to tell if the boy was happy, sad, or the verge of pulling the next mother of all pranks had really made Iruka's life a whole lot easier.
But most importantly of all, he learned how to get Naruto to do what he wanted. Fear tactics and punishments never really worked for the little troublemaker since the boy only retaliated with bigger and nastier pranks. So when all else failed, Iruka resorted to the old 'carrot-on-a-stick' technique. Or in Naruto's case, it was ramen instead of carrots for bait.
It was bribery. Straight up bribery. It wasn't pretty, it wasn't glamorous, and his wallet sure as hell didn't like it, but bribing the boy with a couple of bowls of ramen was about the only thing that worked on him.
Oddly enough, the Hokage himself had picked up the same technique in order to get Naruto to behave better from time to time.
At any rate, bribery was more of Iruka's last resort than his first go-to measure. He knew that if he bribed the boy with a dozen bowls of ramen a day for good grades, he knew that Naruto would probably jump from dead last to leading student in a blink of an eye, but his wallet simply wouldn't be able to handle such strain. And to a lesser degree, he really did not want to further fuel the boy's bad eating habits. The twerp needed to eat healthy, balanced meals if he wanted to grow right dammit!
But much to Iruka's dismay, his single sure-fire tactic had finally failed him. And oh what a bad time did it have to backfire on him.
Anyway, when had all this mess started? Oh right, yesterday afternoon….
/- LINE BREAK -/
It had been another tiring day for Iruka at the Academy. School was out for the day and all the kids had gone home, along with most of the teachers and other personnel, but once again Iruka had found himself stuck staying there even later than usual. And no, he wasn't stuck there grading a year's worth of overdue papers.
The reason? School cleaning. Again.
Interestingly enough, after experiencing a lengthy series of D- rank mission during their gennin days, almost all shinobi hated doing any sort of hard or manual labor. This eventually led to having some of the more mundane activities being delegated towards civilians when there was no real danger or need for secrecy. So it had become a rather common practice to have civilian janitors and other workers in some of the more open-to-the-public-but-shinobi-oriented buildings. For a long time, the Academy had been among the list, up until about a year ago. The cause for that could be summed up in one word: Naruto.
Due to Naruto's rather notorious reputation, both warranted by his own actions and not, the academy tended to have a hard time finding janitors. And when they did manage to hire someone, they didn't last long. Most got fed up getting caught in more of Naruto's trap pranks and/or cleaning after the 'demon brat'. This ended up forcing the academy to relay on the chuunin teachers to do the clean-up. Unpaid to boot.
And thus the teacher's black market was born about a year ago, where the many teachers could draw straws, trade, gamble, persuade or do just about anything to worm their way out of doing the after school clean up. Or if your rank was high enough, you could simply redirect those on the bottom end of the pecking order to do it. Alternatively, you could also bribe a jounin sensei buddy of yours to get his or her three gennin charges to cleanup for a day.
Not all too surprisingly, school cleanup soon became a viable punishment for wayward gennin teams. It was right up there next to chasing Tora the cat.
At any rate, Iruka got strapped with the cleanup almost on a daily basis, due to him being one of the newer teachers, and thanks to his near Tsunade-like luck at the teacher's poker table. And that was even with cheating with everything he had in him. The teacher soon began to wonder if he really just sucked at cards and chips, at cheating in general, or if it was all just some mother-lode of karmic revenge for all the hell he raised back when he held the title of Pranking King.
… Mmm, probably the last one.
The academy had gone nearly a full month without a janitor. And much to Iruka's dismay, he had only managed to swindle his way out of cleaning up for a grand total of two days out of the whole month. So here he was, grading papers in an empty classroom waiting for the rest of the school to clear out when one of the higher ups at the academy walked in on him to inform him about some good news.
A janitor had been hired.
At first it had been too good to be true, but the senior teacher had reassured him that it was no joke. Someone had been hired and that person would start the next day.
Needless to say, Iruka had been over the roof with joy. He maintained his composure just long enough so say his thanks and bid his fellow coworker farewell before shooting up with glee and joy, even doing impromptu moonwalk cross with disco/boogie/happy-dance on top of his own desk (once the manager had been well out of eyesight and earshot) when he remembered that Naruto would still up to his old mischief. Relief and excitement was soon replaced by fear and dread in his gut, causing Iruka to falter misstep and fall face first off his desk. Once he had sufficiently recovered from his faceplant, he spent the rest of the afternoon cleaning like a madman in record time, then ran off to find Naruto. He knew that no amount of pleading and begging would work with the blond troublemaker, so he had to resort to his trump card.
10 bowls of ramen later, and a much lighter wallet, Iruka had managed to convince the boy to not pull any more pranks for at least the next few days, so that the new janitor would hopefully stay for a while and not quit on the spot like the last three had done within the first few hours.
He also spent the rest of the evening and night praying at various shrines around Konoha hoping that Naruto would for once rein in his pranking sprees for good measure. The next day, Iruka would have described himself as walking on eggshells. He knew that even if he did bribe Naruto considerably, if something riled the boy up enough, it would have been all for naught. For that reason, Iruka found himself almost borderline paranoid, watchful of every little detail and event that was taking place under his watchful glaze. More than once had he intervened in order to quickly defuse a sticky situation, but it all went to hell the minute he had stepped out of the classroom in order to get some copies of the assignments he would give out for homework. His fellow coworker and teacher whom he left the kids with while he went out had caught Naruto trying to start a fight with Sasuke and ditch class (again), for which he had sentenced the lad to four hours of after school detention.
It took Iruka every ounce of willpower he had to stop himself from doing a facepalm right there and then.
He really should have known better by now.
After that episode, the rest of the class went rather smoothly. It was only after that the rest of the students leaved the classroom did Iruka escort Naruto to an empty classroom where the prankster would stay for the duration of his detention. Once the other teacher assigned Naruto a very lengthy list of additional math problems to keep him busy, did Iruka leave the boy to his fate. For the time being any way.
In truth, while Iruka had been escorting his (as a Nara would say) most troublesome student, Naruto had adamantly protested that he had done nothing wrong, and that he had not tried ditch class or pick fights. And boy, was the blond fired up.
It broke his heart, but Iruka had seen several such false accusations before. Once, not too long ago, he would have enjoyed seeing Naruto get reprimanded for anything and everything, but now it made his stomach twist and churn, threatening to violently reject his last meal. He knew now that Naruto and his charge where no different than a storage scroll and what it hid within, but alas so many people were still stuck in their haze of anger and grief, seeing only a nightmare of their own making. And yet, Iruka felt as helpless as Naruto did in the situation, because he was too far down in the pecking order to being able to revoke decisions made by other teachers, and because he had already been threatened with dismissal due to insubordination. Even if the other teachers decided to stoop so low, Iruka vowed to himself that he would never go back to how he had been, and to strive to be the best teacher he could possibly be.
At any rate, Iruka could do nothing to ease Naruto's sentence, save check up on him every hour or so to see his progress on the math assignment and answer any possible questions regarding the problems.
In other matters, if not for the fact that he could potentially find himself stuck with another month on cleaning duty by ticking off the newest janitor, he would have given Naruto the green light to prank the hell out of the other teacher. Hell, maybe he should go dig up his old bag of tricks and show the blond how it really was done…
But first things first. He had to make sure the whole school was trap free and that there were no new pranks that Naruto could have somehow set up during a class break. A quick sweep around the Academy grounds proved that the place was free of all nasty surprises. This discovery both relaxed and unnerved Iruka, because if Naruto had not dished out his own special brand of justice already, then as the hours ticked by it would be either the teacher that reprimanded the boy (for no reason other than his own sick pleasure), himself, or the new tentative janitor.
He hadn't been sure which of the three would have been worse.
Dreading for the worst, Iruka made a silent bow to keep a close eye on Naruto while he remained in detention, phony as it was. If he could keep the boy on his toes long enough, then Naruto would not have time to plan out and prepare whatever evil machinations his little mind would undoubtedly be cooking up.
Shame Iruka's bad luck decided to pull an encore in the form of one of the senior teachers asking him to do a few chores. He had no way of backing out, so the young teacher found himself stuck for the next two hours sorting and filing long overdue paperwork.
He had to agree with the Hokage there, the stuff was downright evil and multiplied more than mad rabbits in spring! He could have sworn that when he took his eyes off a stack of papers for a split second, the stack had turned into a five foot dangerously swaying tower.
The idea of throwing a good old fireball jutsu at the whole mess had never sounded so tempting to the scarred teacher. And he would have laughed like a possessed madman that would have given even the infamous Orochimaru of the Sannin the shivers.
Maybe one day he would do just that.
By the time Iruka had finished with the extra chores, it had been near the end of Naruto's detention time. Quietly and with the stealth that would have made a few ANBU envious, he made his escape from the records room before someone else decided that a young chuunin would have the energy to tackle six months of unfinished paperwork.
He honestly felt bad that he had gotten tangled up in that mess and hadn't been able to check up on Naruto as he had wanted to. Still, he could make it up to the boy in the half hour that remained, helping him out solve whatever unfinished problems his wayward student still had left. Maybe even offer to walk him home and see about getting both of them some dinner. That new teriyaki place that opened up a few weeks ago looked good. Maybe they had orders to go.
Iruka lost himself in his thoughts as he walked towards his destination, thinking upon dinner options and how to get something ramen-less for Naruto without the restaurant kicking them out or throwing a tantrum. He was just coming down from the last set of stairs when he heard something that made his blood freeze. The metal clacking of a bucket falling to the floor, followed by a high pitched shriek that could only come from a woman… right from the direction where Naruto had been carrying out his detention.
Abandoning all other plans, Iruka swore under his breath and ran at top speed to where he heard the noise come from. He sensed no lingering chakra other than Naruto's, which could only mean that whoever was the victim had civilian level chakra reserves.
All of the current teachers and workers at the academy were Chuunin or higher save for a few others that had already left the grounds, so…
The new Janitor. Hadn't some of the other teachers said that she was a civilian?
Iruka cursed to high heaven inside his mind. He cursed at his lazy superiors, he cursed at unpaid extra work hours, he cursed at the morons in the village, he cursed at the thrice-be-dammed paperwork, and most of all, he cursed at his horrible luck.
When he finally made it to the room, he found that his fears had come true.
Naruto had effectively pranked the new janitor, who was fully drenched in a sticky gelatin mixture.
At least the boy looked like he was genuinely sorry for the mishap, or just plain scared for his life upon seeing his teacher mad at him.
Once Iruka managed to get Naruto to somewhat explain himself, he ordered the boy to start cleaning the mess he had created, while the teacher tried to make it up to the lady. His student quickly snapped to action and started scrubbing on the double.
In fact, he was honestly amazed that she hadn't gone off on some tyrannical rampage after snapping out of her temporary stupor. She had somewhat accepted Naruto's apology, perhaps after seeing how the boy nearly cried his heart out during his apology, or seeing how the boy scrambled into a cleaning frenzy.
Due to necessity after having befriended Naruto, Iruka soon learned that he needed to be weary of anyone that stumbled upon the boy when he was around. More often than not, people went hostile when they saw Naruto, even to the point of attacking the child in broad daylight if they thought they could get away with murder. Iruka had stopped a few over a dozen attempts on Naruto's life in the last few months, all the more reason why he worried for the boy. But what really drove him into paranoia was when someone showed the boy uncharacteristic kindness. Only Kami knew how many times had people used the child's innocence to try to poison him.
So when the woman showed no true ire towards Naruto, even after the boy had hastily presented himself, alarm bells where going off like fireworks in Iruka's mind.
However, neither his full name nor appearance brought out a change in her mood after the initial freezing from surprise. No muttering about 'demon brat' or anything of the like. He couldn't even sense a chakra flare or a tiny amount of Killing Intent coming from the woman, as even civilians would generate small amounts (compared to shinobi anyway) of both when angry. The fact that he could not sense either, when he himself was a fairly good sensor type nin, almost caught him off-guard. In fact, her body posture and gestures showed no ill-bearing either. No devilish smirk, no poison-laced sickly-sweet words, no visual tensing, no nothing.
Was she a highly trained kunoichi that could suppress her chakra down to near non-existent levels and control her emotions equally well? Or was she a clueless civilian that got caught in the crossfire?
For the moment, Iruka decided to go with the idea that she had never met Naruto and somehow managed to not pick up the village's bigotry and hating the boy for no known reason, or that she hadn't as of yet connected the dots. Improbable maybe, but for the sake of pleasantries he would go along with it. Either way, he was not about to look at a gift horse in the mouth, so if the woman proved to not be an enemy, he would extend the olive branch of camaraderie.
For the moment at least.
Knowing that the woman wasn't about to pull something bad, and that Naruto wouldn't try to escape from his teacher's wrath if he did not leave the classroom squeaky clean, Iruka offered the gelatin soaked woman if she wanted to wash up in the teacher's shower rooms. The woman looked hesitant for a bit, but eventually agreed.
As Iruka was guiding the woman to the teacher's lounge he started up some small talk with the woman in order to apologize and to get to know her a bit, and gauge her better. He tried to get a good look at the woman but her current predicament did mess her up somewhat. Still, even with the mess that had fallen over her, Iruka could tell that there was some beauty hidden under all that gelatin mix. He did have to look away a few times with a slight reddish tint in his face every time he caught a glimpse of how her wet clothes just stuck to her frame. She was rather… gifted where it counted. Certainly very much Icha Icha worthy.
Actually, wasn't there a scene in the latest installment of the series where one of the main female characters, the beautiful and very sexy Aiya, accidentally fell into a river, but got rescued by the protagonist? Who then proceeded to take the lovely Aiya somewhere where she could dry off and change, but from there it started to get rather steamy—
Whoa back up. Back up! Back. Up. Bad Iruka!
He had barely met the woman less than an hour ago and his mind had already a turn down into the gutter. Not that the wet clothing helped much… but still!
'Damn you Icha Icha. Damn you and your irresistible perverted smut. Can't talk to a woman for 15 minutes without making a fool out of myself. No wonder my luck with women is about as bad as at the poker tables.'
One quick henge later, so that he didn't look like a cherry red tomato, Iruka found himself engaged in polite chit chat with the woman, mostly to keep himself distracted and not remember more Icha Icha shenanigans. A few minutes into the chat, the teacher had overcome his awkwardness and actually started to enjoy talking to the woman beside him.
He soon learned that her name was Fiorelynn and that she was indeed the person who had signed up to work as a janitor at the academy. She also revealed that she was not from Konoha, but she did not know from where she hailed. Apparently she got caught up in the collateral damage from some ninjas fighting in a small village, resulting in her being in a coma for half a year and with no memories of her past when she finally woke up. She had only recently been cleared to start earning her living, but had to take it easy, evading heavy, strenuous labor. Which was why she had picked light manual labor, such as cleaning at the hospital and the academy.
Now that answered some questions. It was a bit of a long shot, but still within feasible means. If he truly wanted, he could probably do some snooping around on the outside to see if the stories matched up or not. But until then, he would reign in his doubts and continue with the polite chit chat.
Since Fiore had told him her story, in return Iruka talked a bit of himself, such as how he decided to go from active duty, mission taking ninja to teaching. That lifestyle just wasn't for him. Teaching however, had turned out to be his calling, and he truly loved it, drawbacks included. He also gave Fiore a quick background lesson on the history behind the academy, including how and why it differed from the civilian schools. Naturally, he kept to himself some of the nastier and darker sides to himself (such as potentially gearing up kids for full out war), letting the conversation remain light and somewhat carefree. On a happy note, he explained why there were shower rooms inside the shinobi academy.
It turns out that shower rooms had been installed near the teacher's lounge because after dealing with a bunch of kids with pointy objects for half the day, just about anyone would need a good shower. Especially if they got called to do a mission and had to get presentable quickly. They had been sparsely used for the most part, but after Naruto had started to pull his pranks (or during Iruka's reign), they had turned into a must.
Oddly enough, Fiore chuckled at the explanation, and then replied 'I can see why now'.
Upon reaching the teacher's lounge, Iruka remembered one tiny little detail. After some squabbling and fighting, it had become a silent agreement that every teacher had to use his or her own supplies when taking a shower on the school grounds. Considering that Fiore did not have a spare set of clothing on hand or soap of her own… Bashfully, Iruka went over to his own locker and pulled out the spare shirt, pants and belt he always kept in there, along with a clean washcloth and a bar of soap and handed them over to Fiore. The woman had eyed him oddly for a bit but accepted the offered items and quickly walked over to one of the stalls.
Once the door was closed, Iruka waited until he could hear the creaks from the turning handles followed by the sound of falling water. Only then that he allowed himself to release the breath that he had been holding, along with his temporary henge, and allowed himself to rest his back against the wall. The teacher didn't need to see his reflection to know that he had taken a deep red color from the embarrassment, mostly on how his rather vivid imagination decided to torture him by being extra devious that day.
'Suuuuure, nothing wrong from having been sneaking glances at a woman that had been following him for a few minutes, even if she was soaking wet and her clothes were practically stuck to her skin, making her large bosom and wipe hips very much visible… Oh who am I kidding, they were bouncing with every step for Kami's sake!' Iruka felt like yanking his hair out in frustration. 'Oh wait, she is currently rinsing off in the teacher's showers, using your things, and will probably walk out in your spare set of clothes. My, aren't you a sly dog today Iruka? And you just met her!'
"Not helping dammit." He scolded himself in a barely audible whisper.
The last thing he needed was for his imagination to run wild and put him in an even more embarrassing situation.
Regardless of his wayward mind, the teacher walked over to one of the nearby tables and pulled himself a chair, sitting down so that he was facing the hallway and with his back towards the showers. As messed up as he was, there was still a part of him that was a gentleman, which demanded that he had to wait until Fiore came out. It wouldn't do neither him nor Fiore any good if someone barged in and started causing problems when stumbling upon someone completely unknown in the teachers-only section of the school.
And so he would wait.
Taking a few deep breaths, the chuunin focused on calming himself, pushing away all… distracting thoughts. It took him a bit, but he eventually managed it. At that point, he thanked Kami thrice over for the small blessing that he was the only other person in the lounge, otherwise he would never be able to live it down. He could already imagine the slide smiles, whistles and cat calls he would have received if someone had seen him just now.
Yup, nothing short of hell.
Before Iruka got caught up in more internal struggles, he heard the sound of the water being turned off. Quickly he composed himself and patiently waited for Fiore to come out.
Soon enough, Fiore stepped out of the shower room, dressed in Iruka's clothing. They were somewhat big on her, but not too cumbersome. If anything, since they were so loose, they hid Fiore's curves rather well. Aside from that, she had her own clothes wrapped up in a bundle in one hand and had the rest of Iruka's things in the other. Also, now that she was no longer covered in sticky goo, he got a good look at her. She was a bit tall compared to most of the local women in Konoha, roughly just over five and a half feet without high heels, had lightly tanned skin, frizzy dark brown (maybe reddish) hair that reached her shoulders, soft, amber colored eyes, and a nice round face with no outstanding features. Not much of a beauty model there but she was pretty in a way.
Overall she looked calm and easygoing. Other than some slight fatigue that was visible on her, she did not look like a woman that had a firecracker like personality. Perhaps she was more of a practical, down-to-earth type of person. However he did sense something else, something that if not for his shinobi training, he would have missed it entirely. Her eyes tended to roam, and she fidgeted ever so slightly. She was cautions, weary of something, uncomfortable, or just plain scared of something. But scared of what?
"Sorry about taking your spare clothes. I'll have to leave these to soak overnight." Fiore told him looking elsewhere while she approached him. "I'll uh… return them to ya tomorrow as soon as I get here… I-if that's not too much trouble."
Or she was completely embarrassed from having to borrow a stranger's clothes. And a man's at that.
Iruka sighed, partially from his own embarrassment but also from relief knowing that the woman wasn't taking this the wrong way. "N-no worries. Tomorrow is fine." He said as he somewhat bashfully began scratch the back of his head. "I guess I really need to reign in my own students to keep them from pranking innocent people."
"It's almost hard ta' believe that the boy actually did something like this." Fiore commented as she held up the rest of Iruka's things for the man to put back in their place. "He looked like a little angel. Big doe eyes and all."
Part of Iruka couldn't help but chuckle at the comparison. So close, but yet so far. Either way, he was thankful that she did not hate Naruto, even after getting caught in one of his pranks. "He might look the part, but he's really quite the handful." Iruka said as he took the offered items and moved to store them. "Well, I guess I better go check up on Naruto."
"Heh, hopefully not planning more mayhem, huh?" she shrugged, but iruka could see a small smile on her lips, with in turn made him smile as well.
"Don't I know it." He replied.
Fiore snickered a bit. "You're going in first this time, in case he whipped up something."
"Fair enough." Iruka snickered back.
A few minutes later, both Fiore and Iruka were once again before Naruto. The little boy quickly perked up when he heard the duo come in.
"Iruka-Sensei! New lady! I've been cleaning like you told me to!" he greeted, earning a raised eyebrow from Fiore and almost a facepalm from Iruka. Of all the possible ways to address someone, he had to pick that. At the very least it wasn't as bad as some of the other names the boy knew of. That, and he had actually followed the order to clean. Shame he hadn't made a whole lot of progress.
"We're back Naruto." The teacher said as he gently ruffled up the boy's hair. "So, how's the cleaning coming?"
That caused the boy's mood to dampen and give a slight pout. Reluctantly, he pulled away the cloth he had been using to scrub the floors so that everyone could see his progress. "I've been trying but it just won't come out."
"Are you using anything other than water to scrub away all that?" Fiore asked as she kneeled down with some difficulty to get a better view.
Big blue eyes stared at her in confusion. "Am I supposed to use something else?"
The adults were frozen by the answer. Iruka knew that the boy was lacking some general knowledge but to this degree? Had no one taught the boy some cleaning skills?
In hindsight, that was a bit of a dumb question. Iruka would wager several weeks of his salary on that almost all, if not all, of Naruto's caretakers probably intentionally omitted topics of hygiene in hopes that he boy would be more prone to illness and disease, or so that he would get sick and die. Good thing the boy had proven time and time again that he was one tough cookie, getting up no matter what was thrown his way.
It also raised a few questions about who exactly had been Naruto's caretakers. Were they sorely lacking with all children, or just towards Naruto in particular?
The teacher frowned at the thought. Deep down, he knew that chances were that they did it just because it was Naruto. He also wondered what he would uncover with a little digging up, maybe enough to put some morons behind bars. Or better yet, ship them to T&I. There would be some very interesting stories coming out of the place within a couple of days, mostly courtesy of one skimpy dressed kunoichi.
However, before Iruka could continue planning how much of an improvement to Konoha's daily life it would be to expose some criminals, his line of thought was broken by Fiore.
"Uhh… how about some soap?" she asked the boy.
Naruto raised an eyebrow at that. "Soap? What's so special about soap? That stuff tastes nasty."
Iruka felt like hitting himself against the wall. He did not want to even know why Naruto said that soap tasted bad, but once again he'd bet that it was something along the lines of have-the-demon-brat-poison-himself-so-that-he-dies-and-looks-like-an-accident. He was definitely doing some digging up once he had some free time.
"I dun know what possessed ya to try to eat soap, but when you mix it with water and a little scrubbing, you can clean stuff up like this mess right here." Fiore piped in. "Here, I'll show you how."
The woman went outside of the classroom and pulled in the cleaning cart she had been using all day. She then began to show what each item was and their intended purpose. Naruto was skeptical of course, but when she started to demonstrate and allowed him to repeat her actions, he became marveled at how quickly the stains came off. In a few minutes she had cleaned more than Naruto had managed to scrape off with water alone.
Iruka watched on in awe as the two worked, his previous plans of righteous justice long forgotten. Rarely could he get Naruto to pay him as much attention as he was paying Fiore right there. And to keep the boy's attention for over 15 minutes? It was downright unheard off! Usually the only thing the boy wanted to learn were 'super-awesome-cool-justus' but quickly lost interest when he was put to work on the academy standard-fare justu repertoire. And yet, here he was standing behind the boy as he learned various ways to clean different things. From what worked best on floors, to what to use on wood, how to get nice streak-free windows, and so forth. Even going as far as telling him how to properly identify and handle the more dangerous and abrasive products, like bleach and acids. In fact, some of those tips were foreign to even Iruka, much to his surprise.
After witnessing the small lesson, nearly all of Iruka's doubts on the new mystery woman were cleared. No one could show such patience and kindness to someone they absolutely detested from the core. The way she just talked to the boy, and kept showing the proper way to do things, was more akin to how a mother would teach something to her children. Fiore did scold him a couple of times, but never harshly, and when she did it she made sure to tell the youngster what he did wrong, why it was wrong, and then the correct way to do it. She would also wait until Naruto finally got it right to properly praise him, much to the boy's delight.
Perhaps, Iruka began to think, that what Naruto really needed all along was some attention. Or better yet, a woman's touch. A mother's touch.
A soft smile made its way onto the teacher's face. While he had his memories of his own mother treating him in a similar manner, Naruto never had that pleasure. Other orphans might have found solace in adoptive parents or close family, but for one jinchuriki like Naruto, it was bordering on impossible. But here and now, even if for a fleeting moment or a once-in-a-life-time meeting, the boy could have a taste of what he had been denied. He smiled at the boy genuinely, even feeling a bit of pride swelling up within him as the boy followed Fiore's instructions perfectly.
Without a second thought, he decided the woman was ok in his books.
With pride swelling up in his chest, Iruka smiled as he watched on. For having the day start out so badly, it had turned into a memory to treasure for the rest of his days.
Once Naruto showed that he had learned well, Fiore left him to finish up there while she went on to finish the rest of her rounds, even if it was already past her clock-out time. When Iruka asked her why she wanted to continue, her answer had been 'Work is work. Folks coming in tomorrow will expect clean classrooms, not mini pig stays. Even if we take Naru's little mischief here into account, it still wouldn't be fair for some people to luck out and getting a dirty room. Aaaand~ I only have four rooms ta' go.'
The chuunin saw reason in her logic, and his respect for her did go up by a few points due to her resolve to finish what she started. An admiring trait, he'd give her that. Still it did leave a bitter taste to make her stay even longer when it hadn't been through fault of her own.
Naruto, however, had picked up on the dilemma and had offered a compromise. 'Well it kinda is my fault Fiore's running late. But now that she taught me how to clean right, I can help her finish so that she can leave sooner.' Leave it to Naruto to be unpredictable and surprise him at every turn.
With a chuckle, Iruka agreed with his student's plan, on one condition. He would also help with the cleanup. After all, with an extra set of hands, they would all finish that much sooner.
They all shared laughs and smiles, and soon got to work.
/- line break -/
"Miss Fiore is really nice, isn't she?" the blond boy innocently asked as he wiped the sweat from his brow.
The teacher stopped momentarily cleaning the window pane before him to address his student. "Yes. Yes she is." The man replied with an honest smile on his lips, to which the boy grinned back in agreement.
Between Iruka-sensei, Fiore and Naruto, the cleanup had gone very smoothly. It had been nearly an hour since they started and they were almost done. The teacher had tackled most of the jobs that benefited from the extra height, such as dusting high up, and cleaning the windows and blackboard, while the student handled what was more within his reach, like wiping off the desks and chairs. Fiore was one room behind them, doing the sweeping and moping.
As the boy worked on removing the pencil doodles from one of the desks, he found himself immensely grateful that the woman had taken the time to properly teach him how to clean. He never would have known what those mystery cleaning products were for otherwise, but they sure did make things so much easier. He had been hesitant at first, because what she was saying was almost the opposite of what all his previous caretakers and the mean orphanage lady had told him, but he could not argue with the results. Results that he could now replicate.
On any other day, Naruto Uzumaki would have scoffed at learning how to clean, but for once, he made the exception. Even if at first he hadn't even realized it. Usually he would have tuned out anyone and everyone before long, but he couldn't dump the woman into the 'ignore-after-five-minutes-of-non-stop-talking' list after she hadn't been mad at him after his prank. There had only been two people, now three, that had fallen to Naruto's superior pranking skills that had not literally transformed into snarling and raging beasts. Old man Hokage and Iruka did get mad, but never gave him the crazy look that almost promised that a horrible beating was coming up.
Anyone that didn't go into mad-rampaging bull mode or secretly-plotting-to-set-you-on-fire (again) immediately got an extended time limit to how long he would pay attention to them unless they did something cool. Also, he had promised Iruka-sensei over ramen the day before that he wasn't going to pull any pranks, and he broke it. He got angry at the other mean teacher, he lost his cool, he broke his promise, and he pranked the wrong person. As simple as that. And that right there was like an automatic triple whammy.
But to have broken a ramen-bound promise? He had promised and sworn upon the name of the almighty ramen gods that he would do no such mischief, and he broke it. There was nothing more deserving of a full roundhouse kick between the legs than that in his mind. And probably the Yondaime's Hiraishin (Flying Thunder God) no jutsu in the guts as well.
Naruto knew that he had to man up and redeem himself before his sensei and the noodle deities. So when the full realization of how badly he had let down both teacher and ramen, he had resolved himself to do as the teacher told him. He did not even groan when the chuunin left him to clean, because he knew he was deep in trouble as it was. Also, Naruto Uzumaki always paid his depts. Always.
Not all too surprising, he had been irked by his overall lack of progress but he could not let his teacher down. Even if he wasn't going to get far, he was going to give it his best shot. He had been a bit put down when the teacher and lady came back with little to show for his efforts, but never in his wildest dreams would he have imagined that someone would suddenly start teaching him how to clean, right out of the blue, with no strings attached.
Before he even realized it, he was learning how to clean. There was just something about how Fiore was talking to him that made him want to pay attention. She didn't use big words he didn't understand, she didn't call him mean names when he didn't get something right on the first try… and well… she was just nice to him. He liked listening to her talk, and he really liked how she told him 'well done kiddo' and gently ruffled his hair while smiling.
Maybe that had been part of the reason why he had been so quick to volunteer to help out with the remaining rooms to clean, because deep down, he wanted to spend time with those that were nice to him. He wasn't sure why Iruka-sensei had also offered to stay behind and help, but then again the more the merrier. Plus, he would get to spend time with two of his precious people. Even if they weren't talking much, just being around two friendly faces was enough of a prize for the young boy.
But there was one thing that had started to bug Naruto as he cleaned the last room. As far as he could remember, the other janitors at the school had only worked one day and then quit. With a shudder he vaguely remembered that they had all fallen to one of his pranks, or had to pick up after him. Would Fiore fall under the same pattern? She wasn't a grumpy old man or a mean jerk like the other janitors had been, but she did fall for one of Naruto's pranks, even if it was a mild one by his standards. What if she decided that she did not want to spend her work hours cleaning up pranks? Would she quit the job? Would he never see her again?
As much as he did not want to admit it, he did not want to see Fiore quit. She was nice and friendly, and even Iruka-sensei had agreed that she was too. So maybe, just maybe, he would see Fiore doing her rounds after class was over the next day.
Naruto could only hope. But in the meantime, he could confide his worries in Iruka.
"Umm sensei? Do you think Fiore will come back tomorrow?" the boy asked in a soft voice. "Think she might still be mad at me?"
"I-I… I'm not sure Naruto." The teacher stated in an equally sad tone. Apparently Iruka had been thinking along the same lines as the little prankster. "I don't think she's mad anymore because you did explain that it was an accident and apologized. Plus, we are helping her finish up. I doubt that she will hold a grudge… but, we will have to make sure she doesn't get pranked any more eh?" he finished with a smile.
Naruto hadn't thought of that yet. If he made sure to remove all of his traps before Fiore arrived after school, then she wouldn't have any reason to get mad at him, right? Heck, with his new knowledge of cleaning, he would be able to remove most of the evidence from traps that were sprung during the day and no one would be any wiser! It definitely anted up the difficulty of the pranks and with the small time frame available between the time the last bell rang and Fiore's arrival, but it was doable. The prankster within him grinned devilishly at the thought of a harder challenge. Yes, it was about time he came up with new and improved pranks. His last batch had become too plain and boring for his liking. Otherwise someone else could come along and steal away his tittle of Pranking King.
Catching the worried look on Iruka's face, along with the slight pale tone on his skin, stopped Naruto from pulling off an evil madman's laugh. Still he grinned mischievously at his teacher.
"You're right sensei! All I have to do is make sure that Fiore doesn't fall into any of my traps. Then she won't get mad at me!"
The teacher didn't look all that convinced, but accepted the boy's unofficial promise. "I'll keep you to your word little man. Otherwise we'll both be in trouble."
"No worries sensei. I'll have it all covered. Believe it!" he stated proudly.
With newfound determination, the blond troublemaker made short work of the remaining things he had to do, and within less than half an hour, all three of them were done. Naruto had quickly gone back to his detention room to pick up his backpack while Iruka finished locking down the building and Fiore stored away cleaning supplies. And while Naruto had finished first, he stopped outside the Academy's gates and waiter for the other two. Unlike some of the snot-nosed brats he had to share the classroom with, the young Uzumaki was not about to run off without saying proper goodbyes. (He did know some manners, but often chose to disregard them when other people didn't address him in a socially-acceptable-manner.)
Soon enough he spotted Iruka coming out the door tucking away a small scroll into one of his flak jacket's pouches. Naruto really wished that the Academy actually thought their kids how to use storage scrolls, because then they wouldn't have to carry around their heavy backpacks all over, but apparently it was on the no-no list because most students couldn't handle chakra properly, not that the blond bought that explanation anyway. He firmly believed that the teachers just liked seeing the kids suffer. One day he would hound that secret out of Iruka, but until then, he could still lay out softer pranks for the chuunin.
Wiping the devious grin of his face, Naruto called out to the teacher. "Sensei! I'm outside already! Just waiting for you and Fiore!"
"I half expected to have seen you run off already." The teacher smiled back jokingly. "Are you waiting to say goodbye to Fiore?"
Ah how Iruka knew him so good at times. "Yup!"
"So I get two lovely gentlemen to see me off today?" came a voice from behind Iruka, causing the teacher to nearly jump out of his skin and flush ever so slightly, while Naruto just snickered at his teacher's reaction. Fiore too was chuckling softly as she stepped outside of the building.
"She got you good sensei." The boy grinned as the teacher was trying to recover. As much as he liked Iruka, the chuunin did once in a while forget what was going around him and made it so easy to surprise him, or prank him. If Fiore managed to get one up on the teacher, then the man was really off his game. Or did Iruka get too strong of a whiff of that window degreaser? It smelt pretty strong to him, even with the cap on and the bottle closed.
Either way, if the woman could enjoy a good joke, all the better.
"W-well… since we did make you stay so late, I'd figured that it would be only proper to walk you home." Iruka managed to stamper out after some blundering.
Fiore raised an eyebrow at that, but then she raised her sight unto the sky. She looked like she wanted to turn down Iruka's offer but the darkening sky had her thinking second thoughts. "Darn… it is getting late." She said softly.
"I guess time does fly by some days." The chuunin commented as he too looked around with a slight frown. "Even the street lights are already on."
Taking heed of their example, Naruto allowed himself to look around. Sure enough, the sun had set at least half an hour ago, because with the exception of a small corner of the western sky, everything else was already the color of deep blue. A few stars were just starting to dot the night's sky, along with a pale waxing moon that was trying to inch away from the eastern mountain ranges. In their mad dash, they had missed the sundown completely, and by now most of the village had their lights turned on. The air had yet to cool off, feeling dry from the lack of wind and rain, yet it was pleasant enough to walk around the city without feeling the blunt of the summer sun bearing down their backs.
It was also the time of day when most people got their second wind of sorts. Both adults and children had already wrapped up their day's activities, eager to relax and unwind for the rest of the day, be it having dinner at home, or enjoying what the night life of the city had to offer. The large influx of people tended to crowd around restaurants, bars and shops during the early hours of the night, and then slowly dwindle down as the night went on.
Either way, sometimes it could become a hassle to have to navigate through or around the crowds to get from point A to point B. Shinobi could easily jump over the room tops if they wanted, but that was one feat that most civilians could not pull off. They had to do it the old fashion way.
"Do you live far away miss?" Naruto found himself asking.
"Not too far away. It's close to the old Uchiha clan grounds." The woman responded.
Naruto mulled over the answer. While he could have made it to the old Uchiha grounds in ten minutes or less via rooftops, on the ground it could take at least half an hour. Give or take depending on the traffic and where exactly she lived.
And judging from the side glance he gave Iruka, his teacher was also thinking the same.
"True, it's not very far, but it is getting late." Iruka spoke up after a silent agreement with the blond. "But please allow us to escort you home. As payback for today's umm… sidetracking. I'll also throw in some carry out for dinner so that you won't have to cook for tonight."
'Well that's a new way to call my pranking.' Naruto had been almost dismayed at the comparison, if not for the reason that it had been somewhat true. He did however perk up with the offer of free dinner.
Fiore still looked a bit skeptical about the offer. "Ya sure? Are you not going to be running late for something of your own? Or shouldn't Naruto here be at home by now?"
The chuunin shook his head. "I don't have anything really pressing waiting for me. As for Naruto, well—"
"I live alone." The boy decided to cut in. He had lived alone long enough and wasn't about to sugar coat it. "I'm an orphan. But I do have my own little apartment, which is where I live."
The woman was taken aback by the revelation. "Good gods. On your own? And so young? Shouldn't you be, I dunno, living in an orphanage maybe?"
The boy nearly winced at the wave of bad memories attached to that foul pit, but he kept his cool and forced himself to put forward one of his brightest smiles.
"I used to be in one, but once I started going to the Academy, I was allowed to move out and have a place of my own." It was partially true anyway. "It's kinda nice to live on my own. The orphanage was too cramped anyway. Not enough space."
Naruto knew that his answer was about 90% nonsense with only a tiny sliver of truth to it, but he really hoped Fiore wouldn't press him for more information. He was having a hard enough time trying to keep away the nightmares from the orphanage. Iruka probably knew that he was lying through his teeth, but the man also knew just what kind of things he had to live through in that little corner of hell.
"It is true." The teacher stepped in when Fiore started giving him the 'I'm-not-buying-it' look. "Here in Konoha we do have some special cases where some of the older orphans are allowed to live on their own in a designated apartment. They are also given a bimonthly allowance to cover the living costs and other necessities." At that point Fiore turned her attention to Iruka, raising an eyebrow while a slight frown graced her face. "I-It's also done to allow the orphanages to focus more on the very young. There's…. quite a lot of orphans in the city due to this being a ninja village. Sometimes parents just don't come back from missions."
Even Naruto cringed at that because it was indeed true. Even back when he was still under the grasp of the orphanage matron, every so often babies and toddlers were dropped off because they had no family left to take them in. Supposedly Konoha was at peace with the rest of the nations, but there was something going on out there just beyond the great wooden walls. Something that resulted in nearly all of the Leaf's orphanages being over max capacity.
However, in the midst of all that, Naruto hadn't been as fortunate as many of the older orphanage kids. In their own way, the other boys and girls would boast about how the matron and the assistants would tell them that they were now big kids, being old enough to live on their own and soon moving out of the orphanage. Naruto didn't get that pleasure. All he got was getting hoisted by the back of his shirt just after his fifth birthday and thrown out into the freezing rain, ordered to never come back.
For over a year Naruto somehow survived hiding between cardboard boxes, abandoned buildings, sewer tunnels and garbage bins. It hadn't been until that ANBU with the Dog mask had found him one day, in the wee hours of the morning, all beat up and bruised, half hiding in the entrance of a sewage drain, that things finally changed. The ANBU had carefully picked him up with shacking arms and held him close, carefully as to not further aggravate his wounds, and rushed to the Hokage Tower. Old man Hokage had been pissed, not at Naruto for once, but at the village in general. Especially at the matron that had kicked Naruto out. Still, grandpa had been happy and relieved to see him still alive, so he took the boy to get patched up and rest, while he went off to 'fix some things that I need to take care of personally'.
The next few days after that had been a blur for Naruto. He vaguely could recall staying somewhere in grandpa's family home, with one of those masked ANBU next to him nearly at all times. Later, once he was well enough to move again, old grandpa had taken him by hand to his new apartment. It wasn't big nor fancy, but it was in good condition and in working order. A big contrast to the slums and gutters that he had been forced to call 'home' for over a year.
Within those same few days, the matron and much of the orphanage staff had mysteriously disappeared from the city. Naruto never really brought up the courage to ask the Hokage what exactly had happened. He had a gut feeling that it had not been pretty.
At any rate, that had happened two years ago, and while his life had improved in some ways, not everything had changed overnight. Villagers still hated Naruto's guts with a passion, jacking up prices and overcharging him for anything and everything, his apartment was ransacked every other month and so on. Not to mention the yearly 'demon hunts' right on his birthday. At the very least, he now had a real roof over his head, a relatively safe place to stay on most days, and a few places where he could get a real meal.
Back to the present, Naruto could see that Iruka was still trying to reassure Fiore that it was ok for Naruto to be living on his own. He missed out on most of the conversation while he went down memory lane, so he opted to let the teacher handle it.
Eventually Iruka managed to win the discussion, even if Fiore sighed and grumbled something under her breath that sounded like 'better not be some crazy ninja thing.' Naruto had to chuckle at that because she was right up to a point. Just about everyone in the Leaf was a tad bit crazy. Heck, crazy was the actual norm on any day of the week.
And if anyone needed any proof, all they had to do was track down a certain green spandex-wearing jounin that liked to run around at the speed of light shouting out something about youthful exercises.
"Alright, fine. You win this round." Fiore raised both palms in the air in defeat. "Just make sure he gets home too." She added pointing towards Naruto.
"Hey!" the boy yelped.
The teacher's eyes shinned with mirth as he leaned over to ruffle up the blonde's hair, effectively cutting out any back talking form the boy. "You got it."
"So where to?" asked the boy once he succeeded in getting away from his teacher.
"Hmmm… Do either of you know where Kiki's Café is? My place is just two blocks away."
"Oh, I know that place. It's closed for remodeling right now, but they had pretty good sandwiches." Iruka responded.
Naruto on the other hand didn't recognize the name. Then again, he never ventured much into the Uchiha lands, not even now that they had pretty much been wiped off the face of the world, because the Uchiha had been among the people that hated him the most. Rarely did he ever see an Uchiha that was nice to him, maybe just a handful out of the whole lot. Actually, that Itachi guy used to be pretty cool and nice, up until he went full cuckoo. Shame really, that was one Uchiha he actually liked.
"I don't know where it is sensei." The blond shrugged.
"It's all right Naruto. It's a bit far away from your apartment and it's not on one of the main streets, so it's pretty easy to miss." Iruka smiled softly.
With a nod from Fiore, she turned around towards the direction of her apartment. "Shall we go?" She asked the men as she took a few steps forward before being interrupted by the teacher.
"I-if I may—" the man started to stutter, avoiding Fiore's direct eye gaze. "I-I c-could um… help us arrive… um… q-quicker."
Naruto could only grin slyly at his teacher who was starting to take on an interesting shade or red. The few times he had secretly tailed his teacher, he had noticed that the scarred man tended to really screw up around pretty ladies. Some of the women were mean and laughed at him, which in turn later on made Iruka sad. Fiore however, gave him the 'what-are-you-up-to?' look.
The best part was that it only made Iruka stumble even more and get even redder around the face. And Naruto was enjoying every bit of it.
Ok so he did have a darker, devious side that liked to see people in trouble. None lethal of course, just very awkward and embarrassing. You know, the type of stuff that turns into S class blackmailing material.
"Oh?" Fiore turned around to face the scarred teacher. "What did you have in mind?"
"Er—oh. Um… Body Flicker jutsu. It's a bit like teleporting from one place to another. I could try to teleport us closer, so that we don't have to make our way through traffic. It might take me a few jumps but I can get us there."
"That the jutsu where ya disappear in a puff of smoke and reappear half way across the village?" Fiore shifted her weight, bringing a hand to her chin, as if considering Iruka's offer.
"Uhhh yes. That's the most used version of it." The teacher replied with a nervous laugh.
The woman mulled over her options in silence for a bit, before nodding in agreement. "Very well. What do ya need ta do for this thing ta work?"
The teacher nearly went wide eyed when she agreed. Naruto took a guess that the man had thought that he would get turned down. Either way, it worked for him, because if they did not have to walk the people filled streets, then there were fewer chances of people calling him names in public or trying to attack him. Iruka's presence alone usually stopped people from getting violent, but it did not stop the hateful glares.
"Well, technically all you would need to do is to hold onto me. And make sure you don't let go."
Naruto noticed that Fiore was eyeing him suspiciously, so he decided to help out the teacher. "It helps him concentrate on the location." He began explaining as he threw his arms around the teacher's waist. "Otherwise we might get separated or end up in a different place."
"I guess that would make sense." She didn't look all that convinced, yet she too wrapped her arms around the man's chest in a partial hug.
"Ok. Here we go."
Naruto felt how his teacher tenses up in preparation of the jutsu, followed a flame of chakra and the mild dizzying feeling that came with the execution of the jutsu itself. It took the man four jumps to arrive at their destination. Across the street he could see part of the sign for the café that Fiore had mentioned earlier, it was faded with age and partially blocked by a stack of building materials.
"We're here." Iruka spoke up, letting go of both woman and child.
It took Fiore a bit longer to regain her balance, not being used to being teleported around via jutsu at all. It didn't face Naruto all that much, since the ANBU and Iruka used that method on him to drop him off before the Hokage after every good prank. The first few times however, he could recall the dizzying feeling accompanied by his stomach's near violent protests, threatening to puke his guts out. Fiore did look dizzy, but not borderline sick.
"The dizziness should pass in a bit. It takes some getting used to." The teacher said as he gently held Fiore by both arms while her senses returned to normal. "A few deep breaths can also help you recover quicker."
Teacher and student waited around until Fiore as sure that she could walk well enough, and then proceeded to follow her as she directed them to her place. Along the way, Fiore would indicate various buildings or businesses that made good landmarks to find their way around that part of town, since most of the streets there tended to curve around or zig-zag around buildings. Naruto made a mental note to later climb to the rooftops to get a better view, because he would have sworn that they had passed the same run down house with the light pink painting that was peeling everywhere at least three times. A quick glance to his teacher revealed that the man wasn't quite as lost as he was.
Out of curiosity, the boy asked the woman if there was a reason for taking all those twists and turns. The answer surprised even him. 'The main road that leads ta this part of town is filled with merchants and few businesses. Unfortunately they often leave the entrances to the side roads blocked with carts, crates, boxes of all sorts or even trash. That pretty much forces everyone who doesn't live right on the main road ta take the alleyways and back roads to go to wherever they need ta.'
It sounded odd at first, but then he remembered that she was a civilian. She couldn't jump over stuff like that like he could. A small reminder that even with his own misfortunes and past, there were some things that shouldn't be taken for granted. What would have been a skip and a hop for him, would require the red headed woman in front of them a good 10 minutes to navigate through the maze like alleys that made up that part of the city. It also gave him some good food for thought later, as to how many other things were easy for him, but were near impossible for others at the same time.
Before long, they stopped before an apartment complex, Fiore indicating that her place was on the uppermost floor. Two flights of stairs later, all three of them found themselves in Fiore's quaint little kitchen-dining room. It was a bit bare (not as bare as Naruto's own place) but it served its purpose. The woman quickly gave the men a quick rundown of where things were, and Iruka Body-Flickered himself away to buy dinner as he promised.
The next few hours were some of the best that Naruto had ever had in his life. All three of them sat around Fiore's table, passing around the food while they shared stories of their adventures, achievements (however small in Fiore's case), screw-ups and just about anything else that crossed their minds. Granted, Naruto found himself doing most of the talking, but it was not every day that he got to spend an evening with people he liked, laughing well into the night.
Before they knew it, it was passed midnight. Never before had time passed by so quickly in the boy's mind, (now if time went by that fast during Iruka-sensei's lessons…) nor would he have ever imagined that simply talking to people he cared about could be so much fun, over a meal that wasn't ramen no less. Either way he knew that this would be one memory that he would cherish for the rest of his days.
Once they realized how late it actually was, they all got up and cleaned both kitchen and dining room. Between the three it took no more than fifteen minutes. After everything was clean and its' place, they all moved to the doorway to say their goodbyes.
"Ready Naruto?" Iruka asked while he leaned lightly on the wall across the doorway.
"Comiiiiing!" The boy responded as slipped on his backpack and made a run to the door, where the others were waiting for him. "Ok, I'm here."
Fiore smiled at the boy and placed a hand over his head to gently ruffle his hair. "Good thing you don't have homework for tomorrow, otherwise you'd have to finish it before going to bed, kiddo."
Indeed Naruto was very much glad for that. "You bet!" he replied with one of his biggest grins ever.
"All right, then off ta bed with ya. Don't stay up any longer than necessary. It's late enough as it is." The woman smiled back before turning to face Iruka. "You did say that you would take him home. Are ya going to make sure he gets there?"
"Yes Ma'am!" The teacher mock saluted back in a jovial tone. "I'll make sure he gets settled in."
Naruto knew better than to argue with the teacher there, because he knew full well that he would go through with it. Still it was nice in its own way, to have someone that cared about him so much that they would go out of their way just for that. A soft smile graced his lips as he watched Fiore and Iruka share a quick half-hug and a hand shake. Naturally the teacher was caught by surprise judging for his sudden stutter and the red color that was creeping up his face. Fiore however smiled and laughed softly at the man's reaction, which made Naruto in turn mimic her, expect for a slightly devious grin on his face instead of the woman's carefree one.
But alas, all things had to come to an end. Thus it was time to leave.
He was about to turn around and jump to the nearest rooftop when he stilled his body upon feeling a hand on his shoulder. Turning his head sideways, he found that it was Fiore who was holding him back.
"Forgetting something little man?" The woman ruffled his hair once more.
"Uhh— huh?" he was honestly put off and caught off guard. Was he really forgetting something? He had his backpack on so that couldn't be it. So then….
Sensing his confusion, Fiore bended down just a bit so that they were closer to the same eye level. "You're supposed to say 'thank you' and 'good night' silly." What she did next completely froze him.
She placed a soft kiss on his forehead and wrapped her arms around his small body in loving embrace.
No one had done that to him. Ever. Not even Ayame from Ichiraku who was the only person he looked up to as a big sister. Many times had he seen the gesture whenever mothers would pick up their sons and daughters from the Academy, but never had he been the one to receive such affection. Jealousy had often coursed through his veins whenever other kids got hugs and kisses from their loved ones, while all he got was nasty glares and even nastier names called behind his back. And yet, here and now, a person who he had just met that very same day had given him one of the things that he had desired for so long.
Tears began to form around the rim of his eyes, and he soon gave up trying to keep them at bay. He threw caution into the wind and wrapped his own arms around Fiore's neck, returning the hug with all the strength that he could muster while he hid his face in the crook of her neck. Fiore must have been surprised because she tensed for a fraction of a second, but she soon relaxed, allowing herself to go down unto one knee, making the hug more comfortable for both of them. She didn't shoo him away for which he was every grateful. She just stayed there, in that position, gently rubbing his back.
"T-Thank you." He managed to croak after who knew how long.
"You're welcome, Naruto." She gently whispered into his ear.
Fiore waited for the boy to the first one to pull away from the hug. Once he was ready, Naruto took a deep breath to calm his shaking arms and pulled back. Fiore was still there, smiling at him, so was Iruka, off to the side, although his teacher's eyes had a slightly watery look in them.
"Goodnight kiddo." The woman told him as she stood up in a soft, comforting tone. "Maybe I'll see you tomorrow after school."
Naruto could barely believe his ears. If not for the warm hands still holding unto his shoulders he would have thought that it was all a dream. A beautiful, blissful dream. But it was not, it was actually real. For once, it was real.
Happier than he had been in the longest time, he wrapped his arms around Fiore's waist into another hug. "You bet! I'll make sure not to get into trouble or detention or any of that stuff! Believe it!"
Fiore chucked softly. "I'm sure you will. See you tomorrow then."
Naruto grinned back and moved over to where Iruka was standing, ready to go. "Good night Fiore, and thanks for everything!" He raised his hand to wave goodbye. Taking his cue, Iruka followed him, also waving back to their newfound friend before moving towards the open part of the stairway, hoping unto the rooftops to make their way home.
"Good night you two!" they heard behind their backs.
Side by side they traveled in silence, for neither of the man nor child needed to speak his mind when they were thinking the same thing. They were glad about how the day turned out to be, and happy to have made a new friend. With a quick glance back, Naruto could barely see Fiore's outline out in the distance, still waving to them.
Yes, the day had turned out very well. Grinning even more than he was before, Naruto's conviction for his newly made promise only grew. He would prove that he was not the monster that nearly the whole village claimed that he was. He would show them all! He would become the best dam ninja to have ever to come out of Konoha—no, the best and greatest ninja out of all of the Elemental Nations.
But first, he would have to prove that he could stay out of trouble. Or his name wasn't Naruto Uzumaki, believe it!