He didn't want to admit it, but he was lost.
Naruto fumbled along the dark pathway, night pressing in on all sides. He knew his way around the village during the day, he believed, so night shouldn't have been a problem—until it was.
Someone was following him, loud footsteps crunching gravel. It wasn't the soundless movement of a shinobi, but he thought that made it worse. The footsteps had sent him skittering off the road that he knew he knew, seeking something out of the way, where no one watched him with those eyes.
Now he was lost.
Whoever was following him was still there, and they were getting closer. Naruto slunk into the shadows of bushes and trees, hoping he was just being silly. Why on earth would someone be following a five year old, anyway? Leaves and twigs rustled to his side and he broke into a frantic run, heart hammering in his throat.
He burst through a clearing and didn't quite make it to the other side before a small cluster of people appeared behind him. No matter the logic, he was convinced they were following him and they were dangerous.
Something melted out of the shadows between him and the people, awash in the silver of the moonlight. It stared across the clearing menacingly, a feral growl stirring its chest. The people scattered instantly. For one shining heartbeat, Naruto felt relief. His savior turned in profile, pale moonlight exposing their face, and he nearly let out a shriek, shrinking back into the shadows and hoping he hadn't been seen.
Whatever his savior was, it didn't have a human face. It was all angles and lines on bone white, mouth frozen in a horrifying snarl without end. The one eye he could see as the beast surveyed the area flickered a malevolent red. Words formed in his throat and started to pour out—
And then Naruto stopped himself. Even a demon's heart could break under the strain of too many hurtful words. He knew it keenly, maybe more than anyone else, and certainly more than any child should. Monster was the worst word. He refused to use it and he ignored the faint rumbling growl that echoed from deep within himself.
"Thank you," he said instead, voice tiny and meek. The demon turned its focus on him, the full moon casting it into shadow, save its glowing red eyes and a silver outline. It stepped closer and went to its knees beside him—and how odd that was, how human, even though its face was frozen snarling at him. With no warning, the demon gathered him into its arms. Naruto hesitantly relaxed into its grasp, snuggling his face against the armored ridges of the demon's chest. If it wanted to hurt him, it could have already. But it had saved him. It felt...safe. So odd. "Thank you," he said again, barely a whisper.
The demon's arms tightened around him firmly, holding him extra close as it stood. "Let's get you home…"
Naruto's thoughts stopped. He peeked up at the demon's face, only then realizing it was a mask. He was glad the demon—the person—couldn't see him blush in the dark. He rested his cheek against the person's collarbone, curling into their grasp. In silence, they made their way up into the trees and then through the wooded area Naruto's harried journey had taken him through.
The cool night air ruffled his hair. There was a rebellious sort of freedom in the night, so long as he was kept safe within the confines of the warm arms that surrounded him. He peered over the persons shoulder in fascination as the trees fell away to rooftops, chakra enhanced jumps and the perfect balance of a shinobi keeping them from sliding off to the road far below. Naruto could only wistfully wish to one day master such skills.
A soft oh left his mouth when he recognized his own street. He had really been so close to home. They landed at the window to his bedroom, and the person shifted him in their arms, freeing one hand to open the window. They slipped in, the person making no noise as they landed on the floor. They crouched down, placing Naruto ever so gently on his feet, hands fussing at his shoulders before they gathered themself to stand.
"I'm hungry," he said quickly, voice wavering pitifully. It was why he had left home in the first place, and he would not argue if the masked person would stay with him a little longer. The person faltered and rocked back on their heels, their vaguely hound-like face turning about the room. They very slowly and carefully placed one gauntleted hand on top of his head, ruffling his blond hair. “Can you stay?”
The person inclined their head and then nodded slowly. They stood up and crossed the room to get to his tiny kitchen. The person looked through each of his cabinets before finally reaching the refrigerator. They shifted their feet, shoulders moving in what looked like a defeated sag. The long blade belted carefully to their back shifted with the motion. Naruto suppressed a little laugh at his own expense. To think he had been silly enough to think this person was a demon and not so entirely human!
They seemed to have finally made a choice and reached into the refrigerator, withdrawing a carton of eggs and some butter. They backtracked to one of the cabinets and pulled out a half loaf of bread before setting the food by Naruto’s stovetop. The person turned and looked in his direction, their angry hound face still a little jarring. Just one of their eyes glittered red behind the mask and Naruto stared, transfixed until they pointed at the table. He scurried to take a seat at the unspoken command.
He watched their back as they returned to cooking. They picked through a few drawers looking for utensils and plates and such. Naruto rested his cheek on the table, listening as the person cracked eggs into a bowl and beat them. Very quickly, the kitchen was filled with the scent of buttery eggs and toast. It made his stomach rumble audibly.
Soon enough, a hand on his shoulder prompted him to sit up and Naruto found himself staring down at the plate that was placed where he'd been resting his face. "It's so—so perfect!" It was simple, really, just scrambled eggs and toast, but Naruto was exceptionally bad at cooking himself. He was only five, after all. And the eggs just looked so light and airy and precisely golden. The toast had been sliced into symmetrical triangles. The person faltered as they rounded the table. "Thank you!"
The person sat across from Naruto at the table. They didn’t seem to know what to do with their arms, whether they wanted to rest them on the table or fold them against their chest or let them hang at their sides, and it made him giggle. The person tilted their head at him, and he thought it looked stern. He took a bite of his eggs. They tasted just as perfect as they looked.
“Are you not allowed to talk?” he asked curiously around a mouthful. If he wasn’t watching so carefully, he might have missed the way the person's shoulders shrugged ever so slightly. “Are you going to get in trouble for talking to me before?” he asked, and his voice faded to a whisper, because that was very much Not what he wanted. The person only shrugged again, this time more firmly. “I hope you don’t. I really like you. You’re really nice and your food tastes really good and I bet you practiced a lot. And maybe we can be friends and you can teach me how to cook? Cause you’re so good at it?” His words finally caught up with his ears and he looked down, blushing fiercely at his plate. “I mean if you wanted to be friends, because-because—”
He didn’t see it coming, but the person reached across the table, fingers ruffling his hair again. “Eat,” they said firmly. Their touch lingered for a long moment and then withdrew. They crossed their arms on the table, leaning forward slightly, as if they’d only just then decided how they wanted to sit. Their one eye glowed with that faint red sparkle again, and Naruto hastily took a few more bites. He finished eating in silence with the person watching him, and then they took his plate away to clean it.
He put his cheek back to the table again and his eyes drifted closed without his knowledge. The next time they opened the person was crouched in front of him. They gathered him into their arms carefully and brought him to bed, tucking him in gently. Naruto looked up at them and gave them a sleepy little smile. They paused as they watched him and then with a small shake they crossed the room to shut off the lights. They climbed back out the window they’d come in by.
The person lingered in the window frame for a long moment. With the moon behind them, shadows hid the angry face painted on their mask. Naruto thought it made them look soft and almost maybe not real. Like they might just disappear, like they hadn’t even been there at all. He held onto the picture desperately, hoping to keep it in his mind forever.
“Good night!” he called insistently. “Thank you for—thank you!” He didn’t even know what his thanks were for at that point, just that he needed the person to know about how grateful he was, from the very depths of his heart. The person bowed their head to him, crouching there for another long stretch of time, like they just couldn't bear the thought of leaving. Naruto thought that was odd. Finally, the person slipped back out of the window and stopped to close it from the outside. Naruto knew even if he jumped out of bed, they would be gone before he got across the room.
By the morning, the picture of the person had already started to fade from his mind, leaving only the impression of silver moonlight, warmth, and a fond hand ruffling his hair. Afterward, on nights when he couldn't sleep, Naruto would edge out onto his balcony and stare longingly into the dark. If sometimes he caught a glimpse of silver and a snarling hound mask that would never actually approach him, he didn't tell anyone. It was enough for him to know that person was still out there, watching out for him.