AUTHOR'S NOTE: Hey guys, it's been a really long time. I've been meaning to complete this chapter by the end of winter break, which had just ended last week, but I couldn't grasp how to write this chapter until this week. I apologize for making you guys wait for so long. It's not that I mean to abandon this story without completing it, it's just hard coming up with new ideas and putting them into words that work together smoothly. Just know that in the future, if one of these periods of not updating happens again, I am NOT going to let this fic go without completing it, even if it means to wait a year. Enjoy!
The day was ripe despite the murky weather and the lifeless streets. Food vendors sold their goods for abysmal prices due to slow harvest. 'Konoha is at its worst,' Jiraiya evaluated as he walked steadily down the muddy path.
His hands sank deeply into his pockets, molding his hand onto a lithe scroll.
He passed Konoha's resident homes, taking the nostalgic sight of the shore. On the shore, there was a pier that led to a lake gazebo. Inside the gazebo, a lady's figure sat; Jiraiya felt less tense.
"Hey, Tsunade!" The white-haired man declared, taking the scroll from his pocket and waving it animatedly when he reached the middle of the pier.
Tsunade did not reply to him, staying placid where she sat on the edge of the gazebo. She seemed to be looking for something, or maybe pondering upon something.
Jiraiya reached the entrance of the gazebo, lightly knocking on the wood to give sign of his arrival. Tsunade still did not acknowledge him. "Hey, Hime?" He said much more quietly and carefully. "A penny for your thoughts? Well, actually, a rice wine from rice county for your thoughts?"
Tsunade finally turned her head to face him when she heard the magic words come out from her childhood friend's mouth.
The scroll Jiraiya had was laid out onto a table. The man unsealed it, and out came the beloved wine.
Her jaw dropped as she eyed the familiar-yet-near-impossible-to-get beverage. "Is that…How'd you do it?"
"Do what?" The white haired man feigned ignorance.
"How'd you get that wine?" She demanded with a slight desperation coloring her tone. "That's only supposed to be in rice country and it would be impossible to get to rice country in this time of war. Also it's said that rice harvests haven't been coming lately, so it would be hard and much more expensive to make wine."
A smirk formed its way to Jiraiya's face, "I have my own ways of doing things. And why are you so concerned? As long as it goes down to your stomach to warm it, it doesn't matter where it's from as long as it's alcohol, right?"
Her mouth twitched in a silent agreement as she hurled herself to the wine and hugged it. "Oh, Kami." She moaned as she opened the bottle and breathed in the smell. Then she seemed to remember that Jiraiya was still here, and quietly muttered a small thanks.
Jiraiya chuckled and pulled out two cups from the scroll. "Then, shall we?"
"We shall." Tsunade smirked back.
They sat down in the gazebo drinking the wine, having little to no conversation. They were savoring their drinks after not having tasted it in a long time due to the war. Like the old times, the two of them sat there, thinking about life, about the war, about the well being of themselves, and about the well being of each other.
The rain pattering down on the wooden gazebo and into the lake created a calming sound. It seemed foreign in contrast to the sound of war. Jiraiya closed his eyes and dwelled inside this renewed sensation. Tsunade must've been feeling this too, he thought.
Sighing in content for the first time in a long time, Jiraiya turned his head to face his blond companion. Her eyes were closed, just like his a minute ago. The cup of wine that was once in her hand was not on the table in between them. She seemed to be sleeping.
"What is it Jiraiya?" Tsunade said in a small voice. Her eyes were still closed.
Jiraiya hadn't felt embarrassment for being caught, as that feeling had grown out of his relationship with Tsunade. Instead, he felt a bit of surprise. "You were awake?"
"Only resting my eyes." She finally opened them, revealing her chestnut eyes, "Now how about a penny for your thoughts?"
Jiraiya raised his eyebrows. "But I still hadn't gotten what's been occupying you, Tsunade. Even after I nourished you with some wine."
"My thoughts?" He nodded. "My thoughts," she repeated, "well, I've been thinking about Orochimaru."
She adverted her gaze to the lake in front of her. Even though Jiraiya couldn't see her face, he could tell that she was pained though her voice. Hesitation filled her, "Please tell me if I'm overthinking it, but," she paused again, "he just seems different. Maybe it's because of the war. I mean it is our first war and all, but..." She paused and hooded her eyes, remorseful for her old friend. She seemed to be in the same state she was in when Jiraiya first entered the gazebo.
"Orochimaru, huh. It must be a coincidence."
"I've been thinking the same thing. I mean, the last time we've talked to him was last week, but that was for the mission. So that doesn't count." Jiraiya sighed heavily.
Tsunade nodded, "That's right." She thinned her lips, "He seems so distant. It's like he's gotten more pale, much thinner, and is even talking less than before." She shook her head and knitted her eyebrows, "I mean, we've been a team for close to a decade. There is nothing we hide to each other anymore."
Jiraiya felt the woman's remorse. He shared it with her. Tsunade continued, "What if he's going through something, Jiraiya? Maybe anemia? Even worse, insomnia?" She widened her eyes in worry, for she was a medic at heart, "What if he's suffering from something psychological like PTSD. You know he would never do anything like seek help if it cost him his pride!"
It was true, Orochimaru seemed sick, however, Jiraiya felt like it was something much more than being just "sick".
Orochimaru's distance from them did not dictate his health. Jiraiya, again, looked ahead at the picture that was portrayed in front of him–a rainy midday inside a gazebo. The white-haired shinobi looked to his left, onto an empty seat.
Although Orochimaru never said it himself, his favorite was rainy days. Even though the war, Orochimaru would look out into the rainy days, up into the atmosphere with a look of longing on his face. It wasn't like Orochimaru to share his thoughts, so Jiraiya never asked him of just what he was longing for. Ame, the country of rain, always brought this expression on Orochimaru's face.
Jiraiya breathed in the wet scent, and let himself get carried away with his thoughts. He frowned deeply. In realization, Orochimaru had never opened up for Jiraiya or Tsunade to actually understand him. He knitted his eyebrows in the horrible reality–he didn't really know Orochimaru.
It was sad, he thought, but it was true.
In actuality, Orochimaru had always seemed distant. However, this time it was noticeable.
Tsunade looked across the table at her teammate as she put a pause to her worrying. Jiraiya had already been drunkenly lost in his thoughts and fell asleep. She frowned, feeling quite annoyed at him for not listening, but eased when she saw that a calm expression had replaced the serious one on his face.
Her smile was so minuscule it was almost uncatchable. That pained look on his face had finally vanished. It seemed like whenever she met him that week, he almost seemed sad. Jiraiya must have been bottling up his feelings, she thought tenderly.
That rainy day, Jiraiya never really told her what was on his mind.
It had been the signal flares that woke Jiraiya and Tsunade up in a harsh volt. Both sat up. Jiraiya exhaled deeply and rubbed his face. The flares sounded just like the war.
He looked up to the clouded sky. The blue flares were visible even though the thick fogs, glowing brightly for all to see clearly. Their blue color signified that there was a flash flood scare. Men, women, and children were to pause their activities and take shelter inside.
Jiraiya stretched and went to the edge of the gazebo to look for the sun, which was hiding behind a herd of clouds. He saw that it was already two in the afternoon. It was obvious that the rain was getting heavier by the minute.
"Tsunade, I'll be off," he waved.
"Okay," she grumbled, "I'll stay for a bit more."
The man reached the exit of the gazebo, casting a look back to Tsunade with his eyes shadowed behind his bangs. He hoped that she would be fine.
The sights of Konoha were very much flooded, even more so than before. He estimated about four inches above the ground. As he walked, he conveyed his feelings in long, slow strides. He didn't bother to walk over the water, flooding his sandaled feet with the cold water with every step.
In the heart of Konoha, Jiraiya took comfort on a park bench underneath a willow tree that stood next to a park lake, not yet willing to go home. Alone, he felt a comfort that felt different when he was with Tsunade in the gazebo.
The willow shaded Jiraiya like an umbrella save for a few drops. The chill felt nice and so much like Konoha, he reminisced. The rain was not like Ame's; Ame's rain was hard and never ending, and always gave off the scent of the asphalt roads. Konoha, however, was oddly melodramatic and melodic, wafting the scent of the trees Konoha produced.
However, the tune of the rain was interrupted by loud steps and splashes of the flooded water, lightly annoying Jiraiya. The noise was coming from behind Jiraiya, just a few dozen yards behind the park lake. He cast his attention to the noisemakers and squinted his eyes to four figures, three of which had very vibrant hair.
He heard muffles of their voices, which became much more clearer as they came closer. He turned his head away from them as they were coming under the tree to take shelter just like how he was.
Then, he felt it–that familiarly strong presence. His lips thinned in wonder, trying to picture the person's face in his mind. However, he didn't need to, as she and the other three came to shelter underneath the willow tree.
Naruto, he finally remembered her name. After all, who could forget such a unique name? They were right next to him, in their own world.
Jiraiya looked towards the children's direction and saw that they were dirtied. He looked at Naruto, then back at the kids. It was visually obvious that they had just trained. His gaze on the children grew and was reminded of his task. He decided that today was the day of important discussion.
"Naruto-san?" Jiraiya approached her sheepishly with a tiny wave in his hand.
She heard that familiar voice before. Her heart clenched tightly. Naruto turned around, "Jiraiya-san?" She creased her eyebrows, "You were here?"
"So you've been training them?" Jiraiya worded slowly.
It was decided that the rain outside wasn't a suitable environment to discuss, Naruto had decided. That's how she and Jiraiya were inside Naruto's apartment.
Naruto looked at him in question, "Was that a bad idea?" She averted her gaze to her lap and felt flustered, "I mean I know they're from Ame, but-"
"No, no," Jiraiya reassured, "it's just I was thinking of doing so." He looked back to where the orphans were–in the adjacent room they were in–and quietly added, "Well, you see, I felt something in one of them, something very powerful. It was the red haired boy, if I remember correctly."
"Nagato," Naruto clarified. She gulped a bit and thinned her lips. "Nagato," she repeated, "he is very special."
Jiraiya looked questioningly at her, wanting Naruto to shed light upon the matter.
"I've already discussed this with the Hokage, but he holds the Rinnegan," she put it bluntly.
Jiraiya wanted to laugh, but he couldn't, not with the way Naruto said that so seriously. "The Rinnegan, huh?" Was what he could only make out.
The blond across him have him an analyzing look, "Is that all you could say, Jiraiya-san?"
He looked at her, "No, I'm still processing this." He put his hand on his forehead, "The Rinnegan." The Rinnegan, he thought in his head. It rang loud and clear. Nagato was his name. He was still a child and he possessed the most powerful doujutsu known to mankind. The only time man possessed the Rinnegan, he was known as the founder of Ninshū: the Rikudo Sennin.
Jiraiya pinched his chin and shut his eyes tightly. He remembered the prophecy of the Great Toad Sage. The crazy, old toad was always quite mysterious. Always smiling and shaking, the Great Toad Sage appeared senile, but his prophecies were always spot on.
He opened his eyes and drew out a great breath. "Naruto-san, may I see him?"
Naruto stared at him with uncertainty. She didn't know what the Jiraiya of this time would do and how he would react. She just hoped he wouldn't be too dramatic and obvious to surprise. "Please follow me," she gave in.
Opening the squeaky, dark wooden door, Naruto heard the children's banters inside the living room. The TV was turned on high, sounding out what appeared to be an action movie. When upon entrance of the room, she could smell the memorable scent of instant ramen.
She saw the children sitting too close to be safe in front of the TV with cups of noodles in their hands. She shook her head and pinched her nose. "What did I tell you guys about sitting too close in front of the TV?" Instantly, they backed away from the glowing screen.
"Nagato! Come here for a sec, Jiraiya-san wants to meet you." Nagato obeyed and followed Naruto and Jiraiya to the kitchen.
Once Jiraiya caught sight of Nagato, his eyes widened. A blue eyed boy as the Great Toad Sage prophesied. Jiraiya gulped. He didn't know that the prophecy would come so soon.
They all sat together in the dining table with Naruto and Jiraiya sitting across from Nagato. For the longest time, it seemed, there was silence. In that silence, Jiraiya seemed to be analyzing Nagato in amazement.
"You," Jiraiya finally broke the silence, "do you remember me?"
Nagato looked at Jiraiya with reassurance, "Yes, you were the one who brought me to Konoha."
A smile embraced Jiraiya's lips, "That's right."
"But why am I the only one you want to talk to? Why not the others?"
"That is because there is something I want to ask from you personally." Jiraiya looked at Naruto for approval; she nodded. "It has come to my understanding that you possess the Rinnegan."
Nagato looked to Naruto with wide eyes. She nodded to him also in reassurance. The redhead started to play with his hands, feeling a twinge of uncertainty. Yes, Naruto Nee-san had educated him on his doujutsu, so he wasn't as clueless as he had been before.
Nagato's attention finally shifted to Jiraiya's eyes. "Yes, Jiraiya-sama." He continued on to remove his contacts.
Jiraiya's eyes widened as he saw the completely lilac eyes, patterned with rings. "It feels so different looking at them in person," the man told himself. The seasoned shinobi could feel the sheer power of the so-called mythical eyes.
Again, Jiraiya remember the words of the prophet toad. With this, he finally understood his standpoint in making sure to make this prophecy may ensure successfully. He turned to Naruto, "I see you've been training him."
"Again, yes." The blond kunoichi was surprised at his sudden question. "Yes, I have," she finally answered.
"That's good, that's really good. The basics, right?"
"Yes," she nodded. Naruto gulped, she knew where this conversation was headed to.
"Even better!" He stood up from his seat in a burst of excitement.
Widening her eyes, Naruto was surprised at Jiraiya's sudden change of demeanor. She was confused. "What-"
"Let me train him!"
"That's what happened." Naruto sulked on her spinning seat inside Ichiraku Ramen. It had been two hours since the rain stopped. Though Konoha was still damp, Ichiraku was still thankfully opened.
Kushina clenched her fist and closed her eyes tightly. Once she opened them, there was a fire resounding in her eyes. "That Ero-Sennin! I didn't know he would also be a child abductor! That pervert, even after being a super pervert. How bad can he get?"
Naruto sat up straighter, feeling deeply moved by her mother's concern. It felt nice talking to her again after a long time.
"No, but I agree with Jiraiya-san. He has so much more capabilities in training Nagato than I do."
A confused expression littered Kushina's face. "But you're an Academy teacher."
Naruto's brittle laughter resounded. "Yeah, that's true, but the thing is, I can only teach him what the Academy can teach, and that can only go so far." Her eyes softened, "Well, you see, Nagato, he's special."
Kushina have her a funny expression, but did not further on the subject. She chewed on a bamboo shoot, then asked, "What about the other two?"
"Yahiko and Konan?" Kushina's nodded. Naruto's mood dampened, "Jiraiya will also be taking them on the journey."
"Not just a child abductor, but a children abductor- !" the redhead looked to Naruto.
Kushina looked like she was going to say something more about Jiraiya, but Naruto shook her head. "No Kushina-chan. You see, the three are inseparable. Even Konan could keep up with those mischievous boys. Everything they would do, they had to do it together. They all saved each other from loneliness and to sever that bond would mean to go back into a life of loneliness." She smiled sadly, "And sadly, that means if one goes, then all three have to go."
The blond thinned her lips, trying hard not to cry. "Jii-san!" She waved her hand flimsily which held a small porcelain cup, "More saké!"
Teuchi heeded her wish solemnly and Kushina patted her back in comfort. "I'm gonna miss them," she finally gave in to her tears. "I think I already miss them."
Two days after, the Sandaime already agreed on the condition that Jiraiya would return whenever the Sandaime needed him. Everything was set; Jiraiya was allowed to take the Ame orphans onto a journey of training in order to be strong and to find themselves. It wasn't set when Naruto could ever see the kids anymore. This gave her stomach a lurch of pain and fear of the unknown. She was scared that she wouldn't save the children on time if ever their lives were in danger. She was especially scared they would forget her.
The five of them stood at the entrance of Konoha. With Naruto standing inside of the village gates and Jiraiya and the kids stand outside the gates. Each one of the orphans could tell Naruto's sadness.
Nagato was first to move, hurling his tiny stature to the taller blond. Upon his embrace, Naruto started to convulse in her tears; she returned his embrace, crouching down to meet his height.
The other three followed Nagato's example, hurling themselves so hard to the blond, all of them toppled over to the ground. "I'm gonna miss you guys so much!" Naruto cried.
"Don't worry, Nee-san. We'll stay safe." One said. "We'll never forget you!" The words sounded so reassuring. "You'll always be our favorite person!"
That made Naruto laugh as she held the children more tightly. "I love you guys so much, dattebayo." She rained then with kisses, and instantly, the children writhed away from her. Naruto laughed.
"Will I also get one?" Jiraiya asked almost innocently. Naruto rolled eyes and pushed the kids outside the gates again.
They exchanged their parting words, and they were on their way.
It was the first time in a long time Naruto was woken up by the alarm clock. Most of the time, it would be the kids clattering in the kitchen, making a ruckus out of breakfast that they would bring for her to eat in bed.
The blond laid on her back to the mattress, staring blankly at the white, bedroom ceiling. She sighed then turned to her side to face her alarm clock to click it off. She sat up and rubbed her face. It was Saturday, she realized; it would be the last day of her seven-day break.
She ventured outside her room and into her small living room. She scrunched her eyebrows and squinted, had it always been that spacious, she thought to herself.
Even though before, when she was in her own timeline, Naruto had always thought her apartment was vile due to its lack of space.
Inside her kitchen, Naruto opened her cupboards to inspect them–they were completely full, just like how they were the day before. The blond sighed and decided to settle with a bowl of corn flakes.
It was going to take quite a while to get used to this.
Noon was approaching steadily on Konoha's high horizon. Naruto felt a haze of laziness to go to the TV stand's drawer in order to get the remote. As much as she wanted to watch TV, her laziness almost pulled through. However, when she thought about that Saturday being the last day she could spend so much free time by herself without a worry of being called on a mission, the TV weighed in.
As she held onto the drawer's handle, it latched itself stuck. She grumbled to herself, one of the kids, namely Yahiko–who is which was the most careless and destructive–must've made it that way. Well, he wasn't there to take the blame.
Her frustration and desire to watch TV mixed, that when she pulled on it, the section of the drawer became completely detached from the drawer.
Naruto sat there across from it staring at it with wide, bewildered eyes. Did she really just do that?
She panicked and tried to push the drawer back in, that somehow, if she were to do it carefully enough, it would attach back again. However, the only thing she achieved in doing was wrecking the TV stand even more than before.
After a couple of minutes in frozen thought, the blond peered inside the drawer, feeling that something wasn't quite right. Her eyes were murderous! The remote wasn't even in it! Now who could have misplaced it, she thought as she pictured Yahiko in her mind.
Naruto stared at the petite furniture store in front of her, which was embellished in signs and sales. Her eyebrows slightly curved upwards and her lips thinned. The sound of doubt immersed her. The doubt being, however, was the decision to buy a new TV stand. Although the drawer broke, it wasn't so damaged to replace it with a new one. She could have easily fixed it or had someone fix it.
A sigh escaped her lips; it had been another of a hundred that day. The blond knew it–she was just here for the hell of it. There was just nothing to do back at her apartment.
After a couple second's thought, she shook herself from her childishness and turned her heel to the other direction.
She let herself get led by her instinct, in which ended up to the Academy's swing set. The swings themselves looked very much polished and new than what she had remembered in the future. The chains that supported the seats were waxed over for a means of protection. It was different, Naruto reminisced. The swings should have been worn out and too old to be used–not the opposite.
Naruto snuggled into the seat easily. It was too comfortable to actually be comfortable. The swing set she remembered was squeaky and the waxy coating surrounding the chains were worn off, sometimes pinching her skin.
The Kyubi holder looked up the sky and squinted. In her Academy days, the sun was blocked by an ancient, ginormous oak. She looked behind her left. Inside, a large plot stood a minuscule sapling by size.
It was different–very different. She had never taken her kids for granted as much as she did now. Her loneliness made her think to herself, and sometimes those thoughts lead to a deep understanding of how things really were.
Naruto hooded her eyes in dishearten. This world she was now living in was foreign to her. Distracted by the kids and finding company in her mother blinded her of what she got herself into.
Looking at the people around when she would take trips to the supermarket, she didn't recognize anyone. At least, when there was war in her world, she was always with the ones she loved.
All her aspirations, dreams, and seemingly unbreakable bonds were of no more existence. She glanced at the Hokage monument and swallowed a lump in her throat.
Her lips tightened to the point of becoming completely colorless. She sighed for the umpteenth time and her posture sunk down low. Naruto didn't even know how to speak to Jiraiya normally two days back and he was considered her father. Tsunade, she sighed, was a complete stranger. The Sandaime didn't even trust her.
At times like these, she felt insignificant.
Pained, she closed her eyes. Now that the kids were gone, Naruto didn't know just who to consult to anymore. The Ame orphans and Naruto were very similar. They were both foreign and suffered losses that led them to Konoha. Maybe that was the reason they'd been close–they didn't have anyone until they had each other.
The blond's head shot up at the call of her name. Eye bright and heart beating erratically, she felt embarrassed. Naruto didn't want to get caught in such a vulnerable state.
"Naruto?" Again, her name was called.
The said blond finally calmed herself down, finding herself looking into dark eyes. Sakumo was crouching almost a foot in front of her. His look of concern comforted Naruto. She knitted her eyebrows and exhaled slowly, a look of relief in her demeanor.
"Sakumo, what are you doing here?" She sat up straighter, rising to the eye level of the man in front of her.
Sakumo's eyes grew tender, seeing how obvious the blond across him looked. "It's already two in the afternoon. I'm here to pick Kashi up."
The jounin analyzed the blond with worry. Of all the times he saw Naruto, she had never been in a state like this. It made him feel the need to comfort her, for she had always been the one to comfort him upon Kakashi's behavior.
He stood up, already coming up with a solution. "C'mon, Naruto. How bout this time I help you. We could talk over it after I pick Kashi up." The silver haired shinobi rubbed the back of his head sheepishly, "We could all get ramen?"
Naruto looked at him and her heart burned. The corners of her lips slowly drew upwards. Her brows knitted slightly and she also stood up. That's right, she remembered, even with the kids gone she would always have Sakumo.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: As you guys could see, I've portrayed more emotion in this chapter, towards the Sannin and especially towards Naruto. If you guys did not like how downhearted Naruto was in this chapter and how she seemed as if she was sulking too much, try to put yourself in her shoes. She is in an unknown world where no one truly knows her. Practically, Naruto has no one but the Ame orphans. To take away the Ame orphans from her would mean to go back into an empty house. It would be like pre-Naruto era all over again. It is only natural she starts being more perspective about her reality. Going back into the past will mean essentially giving everything up. Naruto's friends would be no more and her dream of ever being acknowledged and being Hokage will come to pass. However, the only thing keeping her sane is Sakumo because although Kurama was still within her, he is still at rest.
Anyways, this chapter was a bit lighthearted for me to write because it would mean to build the bridge into Naruto and Sakumo's relationship. The next chapter, as most of you probably predicted, is Sakumo and Naruto's outing to ramen. Expect the coming chapters to begin another arc of adventure and romance. Until the next chapter.