1 D0 N01 0Wn N4rU10, D1dN't y0U Kn0W 1H4t 8Y n0W?
"We are only puppets, our strings are being pulled by unknown forces." - Georg Buchner
Among the civilian population of the elemental nations there were many thoughts regarding the Hidden villages that fell across the map. Most thought of them as simple settlements, containing garrisons of shinobi ready to leave at a word's notice from their leader. Others thought of them with scorn, or jealousy, regaling accounts of their use of techniques that made the fighting force so famous; their 'jutsu'. Few however, believed them to be simple villages, with a bustling, vibrant life, filled with merchants calling out their wares, children running through the streets, pervaded by a general hum of activity.
In the case of Konohagakure no Sato of Hi no Kuni, that was exactly what it was. Shinobi were an everconstant presence of course, so tightly engrained within the ethos of life there. For the most part though, they worked in the background. Their main presence in the village was in fact the many D-ranked so-called 'missions' that were the bane of a young Genin's life. The only other place where civilian and Shinobi really met was the academy, squirreled away near the Hokage tower with the monument of Hokage's past and present looming overhead in their silent vigil.
Here, children were brought at the young age of six to be first introduced to the life of their home's silent guardians. Slowly, over the years, they would not only learn this lifestyle, but adopt it for themselves, training their bodies and minds into the service of the village. Of course, in those early years when their bodies were untrained and their minds were filled with idle fantasies of rescuing princesses and flamboyant techniques, their studies were far more mundane.
That morning, with the summer sun burning hotly overhead, there was one six-year-old not in class. Uzumaki Naruto sat on a rooftop that gave him a prime view of the academy, a street away. At first glance, one might have thought he was skipping the class due to boredom. They would be wrong. Naruto was actually incredibly interested in the history of his village. They often told tales of the famous shinobi that had come before them and their rise to fame and power, along with the battles that brought them there.
In fact, Naruto had chosen this very spot because, despite the small rebellious streak present in any child, he wanted to be caught. It would be simple enough for his Sensei to notice his absence and with only a single glance out of the window, spot him sitting there, waiting expectantly.
It had already been half an hour since the start of class and Naruto was still sitting there, slowly swinging his legs back and forth as his posture grew increasingly slumped and despondent. His hands clenched and unclenched beside him, making his nails click rhythmically along the tiles of the roof until he finally jumped to his feet, an irritated scowl plastered across his whiskered cheeks.
"Fine then –ttebayo! If they don't want me, then I don't need them!"
The young spikey-haired blond ran across the roof, jumping the small gap before grabbing a nearby drain pipe and sliding all the way to the ground. Many would have seen the feat and been rather surprised that such a young kid could do something so fearlessly. Then again, in Konoha most would have simply turned away once they had seen that it was that particular child.
Landing in a crouch, Naruto quickly took off in a random direction, pawing at his face to remove the slight wetness that had entered his eyes. He had told himself a long time ago that he refused to cry anymore… it had never gotten him anything anyway.
When the old man, that Naruto would later come to realise was in fact the Hokage himself, first told him that he would be entering the academy, his childish mind had done what so many before had done, conjured up images of death-defying missions, praise from thankful clients and many awesome Jutsu to learn. However, unlike many other children that took for granted simple things that Naruto never had, like family, or friendship, there was something he craved far more.
As a younger child he had loved those rare days when he could walk up to a group of kids playing Ninja and they would allow him to join in. Unfortunately, the next day, like clockwork, he would return, only to have them turn on him. They would either run away or tell him to get lost. He had caught more than a few suspicious or hostile looks from the parents when he approached their children, to the point where he had stopped trying, preferring to sit by himself. He would listen to their happy cries so that he could close his eyes and, just for a while, pretend he was amongst them.
The academy was supposed to be different, he would be joining other kids looking to become shinobi. They would be learning together, as classmates. Those young, naïve hopes had been soundly crushed within the first week. Both the children and Sensei alike ignored him as if he carried some disease. At first he tried to persevere, hoping that if he showed he was good enough, like that Sasuke boy, they would see how good he was.
A lot of the other kids seemed to have some training beforehand though, and there were a lot of things he just didn't understand in class. He refused to ask though, thinking it would make him seem stupid to the others.
There's only so much a young child can take, which saw the blond running away from the academy where he was obviously unwanted, just like in the rest of the village. He paused in a lonely street for a few seconds to catch his breath, considering where he should go now. A pang of guilt passed through him when he thought of the Ichiraku's. His first thought had been to return to the Ramen stand where he felt so warm and wanted. But Teuchi and Ayame had seemed so happy when he told them about the academy; to return there just to tell them he had just given up? The idea hurt more than words could describe.
A burst of determination flooded the young child. He hadn't given up yet!
In a twist of fate, just as he resolved to return to the academy, walking out of the alleyway with a determined step, he managed to run into a large man going past. After a few mumbled curses the man continued on with barely a passing glance, leaving the young kid sitting on the dusty street, clutching his head and suppressing tears. As he wiped them away, he looked up to see a large building he had only ever noticed in passing on the trip between his small apartment and the academy; the library.
With a bright grin Naruto burst to his feet with a previously hidden energy. Shibuki-sensei's words about the library flashed through his mind. He had told the class it was somewhere they could go to supplement their own learning, but Naruto had never bothered with it before as reading was difficult for him. If it helped him become an awesome Shinobi that his classmates would respect and admire, he'd try just about anything. That was why around ten minutes later he was happily walking out of the building with a stack of books that almost cut off his view of the path in front of him.
He had expected some trouble from the librarian, but the bored-looking man lounging behind the desk, a Chuunin by his forest-green flak jacket, had barely given him a second glance. It still bothered Naruto how the adults would always ignore him, as if his existence was so negligible it wasn't even worth noting. He wasn't going to complain on the rare opportunities it helped though.
There was a truer than usual grin spreading his cheeks, turning his eyes into fox-like slits, as he jogged towards the training grounds reserved for academy students. There was one he was particularly fond of, that was fairly far away from the academy, because it was close to the real training grounds. Occasionally he could catch the sounds of shinobi sparring.
As he sat down on the soft grass, books spread about him like petals of a flower to which he was the stem, he couldn't help but feel like this was a turning point for him.
"Ah screw this –'ttebayo!"
Naruto clutched a book on Chakra theory in a white-knuckled hand held over his head. The only thing stopping him from throwing across the clearing was the librarian's absent parting words on damaging the books. Instead, he set it down next to the pile of other books he had tried to read, only to be blocked by words he didn't understand, diagrams that hurt his head to look at and sometimes even confusing titles. In later retrospect, he would realise that choosing the most advanced books he could find on the subject was a poor choice, but right at that moment he was just frustrated at his own inability.
He jumped to his feet so that he could run through some exercises, figuring he could at least work on his fitness. It was just about the only thing he seemed to have over the rest of the class. He had no idea that he hadn't been alone in the clearing for some time now, and a single eye watched him curiously from the trees.
"Aren't you supposed to be in school kid?"
Naruto, shocked by the sudden voice, span so fast that he managed to trip over a haphazardly stacked book pile and ended up in a heap on the floor. He ended up looking dazedly at the silver-haired shinobi staring at him with clear amusement. At least, Naruto assumed it was amusement, as the man wore a facemask and had his headband tilted over one eye. It left just a single eye visible that was currently closed in a strange facsimile of a smile. The blonde quickly gathered his bearings and scrambled to his feet, an indignant look on his face.
"What's it to you Cyclops?"
To his frustration, the man's amused exterior never changed or flickered for a moment and he simply chuckled before looking down at the stacks of books surrounding the boy.
"Well, I was heading to a training ground and spotted you here, seemingly in deep thought. While I admire your work ethic kid, maybe your studies would be a bit more effective with a real sensei?"
Naruto glared at the man suspiciously for a moment, thinking about what to say.
"This isn't the way to the training grounds, Cyclops," he pointed out suspiciously.
Far from being caught off guard, the man only chuckled again, shrugging before scratching his head almost helplessly.
"Oh, well, guess I got road on the road of life; oh, and my name is Kakashi by the way, not Cyclops."
Naruto blinked at the response; the more time he spent next to this man the more confused he got.
"Yeah well, whatever; I'm not going back to that place!"
Kakashi just quirked a single eyebrow, not that Naruto could have seen otherwise, and looked off absently in the direction of the academy.
"Oh, is that so? How else do you expect to become a Shinobi?" The older man almost seemed like he wanted to chuckle again, considering Naruto was increasingly looking like a bird that had just been doused with water, feathers ruffled and everything.
"I'll do it myself! I don't need people who don't want me!"
Kakashi tilted his head a little, oddly reminding Naruto of a dog, before giving that strange smile again. "Ah, and I see that is going well based on all these books you've read?" His tone was thick with sarcasm as he motioned to the books strewn about, none of them open past the tenth page.
For the first time in the conversation Naruto allowed something other than indignation on his face as his cheeks turned a pale red hue.
"I-It's not my fault if the books all use stupid long words. They should just say what they are trying to say -'ttebayo."
Kakashi suddenly surprised the younger boy by plopping to the ground, his head cocking to the other side again as he seemed to peer right through Naruto. Infuriatingly, even sitting down he was still at eye level with the diminutive six-year-old. He continued to stare at Naruto – who grew increasingly weirded out – before finally giving out a thoughtful hum.
Naruto blinked, the man had been silent for so long that when he finally spoke Naruto had just been expecting… more.
The man nodded succinctly, smiling again as if he had come across some great revelation with this simple word. "No. I don't think your problem is the books, or the academy; after all, you seemed pretty quick to give up on both."
Suddenly Naruto's face was red for a wholly different reason as he bristled, much to Kakashi's amusement again.
"Hey, I didn't give up, dattebayo!" However, much to his chagrin, Kakashi simply waved away his angry words absently as if he were shooing some irritating puppy.
"Sure, sure, but like I was saying, they aren't your problem."
Naruto paused at that, suddenly feeling a little interested despite his previous irritation.
"Your problem is, that you lack a goal," Kakashi summed up sagely.
Naruto blinked, his anger gone as he slowly sunk to the ground, his shoulder slumping a little.
Kakashi gave him an eye-smile as he saw him become less aggressive, and a little more receptive to what he was saying.
"Uh huh, a goal, a driving force behind what you do, motivation so that you don't just quit as soon as it becomes a little difficult." Kakashi motioned towards the books again and Naruto rightfully looked sheepish, before looking back up at the Jounin questioningly.
"So what should my goal be?"
At that, Kakashi could only shrug, still with the odd expression of his.
"I can't really tell you that kid, it has to be yours, otherwise it's pointless."
Naruto frowned at that, internally pondering just what could be his goal. It started to make him think about why he did anything in a village that didn't seem to even want him which just made him depressed like what always happened when he was alone with his thoughts. It was the reason he was so fond of distracting himself, so he wouldn't have to think about these painful things.
"But you know…" Naruto looked up as he saw Kakashi peering at him intently, smile gone and replaced with a more contemplative expression. "…A lot of powerful Shinobi, like the Hokage for instance, make their goal to become strong enough to protect what is important to them, and…"
Naruto was now rapt on every word Kakashi said.
Kakashi chuckled at the boy, suddenly reaching across to ruffle his hair, much to his annoyance.
"And, like the Hokage, you need to start at the bottom, in the academy," he concluded.
Naruto groaned, pulling away from the man and his hand and clambering to his feet.
"Fine, fine, I get it –'ttebayo! I'll go back."
Kakashi stood up as well, mock saluting the boy with two fingers as he turned to leave.
"Don't worry about it too much kid, once you have that goal, I'm sure you'll be fine." With that, he suddenly flickered before vanishing completely, making Naruto's eyes widen with awe. He walked forward a few steps to where the Jounin had been only to look down as his foot landed on something that wasn't grass. At first glance he thought it was one of the library books, but it was too small. Picking up the non-descript black book and flicking it open to the first page, he realised it was filled with various profiles of different Ninja, some of them clearly marked as Nuke-nin.
"Hey Cyc… ah, Kakashi-san?" The blond called out into the trees, but when no answer came he looked back down at the book in confusion, wondering how the man had managed to drop it. With a shrug he threw it atop the pile of books he already had, frowning as he realised he was going to have to return them before going back to the academy.
True to his word, Naruto did go back to the academy that day, simply walking into class during the second period and sitting down. The teacher said nothing, continuing his class like nothing had happened, even while the other kids whispered amongst themselves about the 'troublemaker'. Far from his usual loud self, Naruto was surprisingly withdrawn during the rest of the day, thinking about the little black book he now had in his sleeveless orange hoodie's front pocket.
He had tried to return it at the library with the other books, as he had assumed that was just what you did with books, but the Chuunin had told him he couldn't just give the library any old book he hadn't checked out. So now he was holding onto it, his fingers clicking across the table as he felt its weight in his pocket. Looking up he saw the teacher was writing maths equations up on the board, complicated things Naruto couldn't even begin working out. Instead his hand almost subconsciously slipped into his front pocket, fingers tracing across the smooth book cover.
He took it out and opened it up discretely, idly flicking through the first couple of pages. At first it was just out of idle curiosity. After all, it was basically filled with pages of powerful shinobi, along with a bit of information on them. The more he read though, the more he found himself engrossed. These shinobi and kunoichi were from all over the elemental nations. Their headbands, scratched out or not, were showing a plethora of different symbols, some they hadn't even been taught about. All their skillsets were so different it almost boggled the young boy's mind how they had all become so powerful through such different methods.
Then of course it happened, Naruto flipped the page and there, at the top, marking the Shinobi's rank and therefore ability, was a large, bold 'S'. Naruto paused, looking at the page to see if he had gotten it wrong, but sure enough it was an S, the highest rank a shinobi could be given. Akasuna no Sasori. That would be the name engraved into Naruto's mind for the remainder of his life. At first glance Naruto could see a lot of similarities between himself and the young-looking redheaded teenager staring blankly out of the page at him, the spiky hair for one.
As he read down he only grew more intrigued, completely uncaring that this man was also a Nuke-nin. Puppeteer. At that moment Naruto had no idea how much reading that one word would affect his life, but he knew he was interested. The whole concept seemed to appeal to him; building puppets to use in fighting almost sounded like making your own friends, ones that would never be able to rebuke or disappointment him, because he controlled them completely. Slowly a grin spilt his features as he read on, the lesson continuing around him forgotten.
It was almost disappointing when he reached the end of the profile. He immediately flicked through the book to find more puppeteers, but there were only a few B-ranks, nothing as impressive as the supposed repertoire Sasori had at his command. It was disappointing, but it didn't get Naruto down. For once he had found something that honestly and truly interested him, something to aim for, to be good at, to become powerful with.
The rest of the day passed far too slowly for Naruto's liking. As soon as the last bell rang he was out of the classroom so fast it was as though he had used the body flicker. It took him only a few minutes at that pace to reach the library, and he immediately rushed up to the desk where the bored Chuunin still sat, leaning back on his chair and flicking through a small orange book. Much to Naruto's annoyance though, when he asked for a book on puppetry the man had looked at him with a raised eyebrow and a snort before walking off and coming back with a children's book for beginner puppets... unfortunately not the type Naruto wanted.
"What's this –'ttebayo?"
The Chuunin didn't really seem interested in talking, instead returning to his little book, at least until Naruto threw the offending manual at the teen, nearly causing him to fall backwards off his chair.
"Oi! What the hell was that, Gaki?"
Naruto just returned the angry expression as he motioned to the brightly coloured book now lying on the floor.
"That's not what I asked for you jerk!"
The Chuunin with the bandage across his nose simply picked up the book with an indignant sneer.
"It's about puppetry ain't it?" He tried to force the book back into Naruto's hands but the blond simply looked at it as if it were vegetables in his ramen.
"Yeah, the stupid kind –'ttebayo!" Naruto didn't care about some silly civilian form of entertainment, his puppets would be awesome and scary, not for cheap laughs.
The Chuunin just looked confused as he scratched his head. "What, you're talking about the ninja art those sandy-sandals use? Why the hell would you be looking that up?"
Naruto just grinned, jabbing himself in the chest with a thumb. "I'm going to be the best puppeteer ever – 'ttebayo!"
The Chuunin stared at the kid for a good few moments before bursting out laughing, walking off into the book shelves before returning a few moments later, still wiping at his eyes from his laughter as he plopped a book into Naruto's hands.
"That's a good one kid, a Konoha Shinobi becoming a puppeteer. Sorry to burst your bubble, but that's a secret-art, and damn if Suna don't guard their secrets like a merchant does his purse."
Naruto looked down at the book, it seemed pretty old and seemed to contain accounts of puppeteering from a Konoha perspective during the Second Shinobi War. Naruto blinked at that, he hadn't even known there were shinobi wars, never mind two of them. Suddenly, he remembered the Chuunin's laughter.
"I don't care, I'll do it anyway!"
The older shinobi looked at him for a few more moments before shrugging and sitting back down.
"Knock youself out kid. Hell, if you manage it I'll be able to laugh at those Suna-nin having one of their 'prized arts' being figured out by a gaki."
Ignoring the last comment due to his mixed feelings regarding the veiled encouragement, Naruto just nodded slowly before rushing out and back to his apartment.
That evening he stayed up reading that old book until lights had begun going out outside his window. There was definitely nothing technical and not even a single insight for how the Ninja craft could possibly work, but he had begun to gain a glimpse at how it might be done. First and foremost seemed to be these Chakra strings Suna-shinobi seemed to be able to make.
Now he just had to figure out what the hell Chakra was.
A niggling feeling in the back of Naruto's mind told him that learning puppeteering might just take a while, and more than a few trips to the library.
As Naruto sat on his favourite stool in Ichiraku Ramen, slurping at his noodles and listening to the bustle of the village behind him, he reflected on the past few months. Surprisingly, once he had set a goal in his mind, he found it a lot easier to think. Instead of his thoughts drifting to his past, he simply focused on what was now important to him. It was both liberating, and enlightening. For instance, he was amazed at the ease it took to unlock his own Chakra, managing it just a few days after first learning about puppeteering from helpful instructions he found in a book.
Making it usable on the other hand was, and continued to be, a problem. Controlling the energy that now coursed through his body posed a challenge he had never imagined before. Considering they hadn't begun to teach it in the academy, despite many of the clan children already having it unlocked, he could get no help there. He was instead forced to rely on his new home away from home, the library. Even then, the explanations offered by the many books on the subject were both difficult to understand, and rather long. Naruto was a doer, not a reader; but all the same he perservered, always keeping that goal clear in his mind.
He had gotten it to the point where he could expel his Chakra from his fingers, definitely a step in the right direction in his eyes. Unfortunately, every advance was met with another roadblock. Creating strings out of his Chakra proved to be damn-near impossible.
The problem was that Chakra had no real substance. When it came out of his fingers, it was just a wispy, purple, steam-like substance. It was somewhere between a liquid and a gas, with the consistency of a cloud. How he was supposed to turn that into something tangible, that could actually latch onto a puppet, was far beyond him. Considering Konoha had never invested time into working out how puppeteering worked, even the library couldn't help him on that front.
Maybe his control was simply lacking? While it was true he could somewhat push and pull the wispy Chakra he emitted, it wasn't to any great degree. Maybe if he just worked harder at those Chakra control exercises he had been reading about, he could manage a short thread and just make it longer over time. He sighed into his ramen, already feeling a small headache form as he thought of all the leaves he was going to disintegrate before he could get that damn exercise down.
"What's the long face for Naruto-kun?"
The blond looked up, spotting Ayame staring at him from the kitchen in the back of the stand. Teuchi must have stepped out for a while. She was kneading the dough that would eventually become the ramen noodles, watching her or Teuchi doing that as a kid had always calmed him, just watching as they span the dough, stringing it out, spinning it more before pulling once again, on and on, until they could form it into the thin, thread-like….
Naruto's eyes suddenly widened as he looked down at his hands incredulously, wondering just how stupid he had been to miss something so obvious. Suddenly, and to Ayame's great surprise, he vaulted the counter and threw his arms around the older girl, a beaming grin lighting up his face.
"You're the best, Ayame Nee-chan!" As quickly as the hug came Naruto was gone, vaulting back over the counter and off in the direction of his apartment. The poor ramen waitress was left shell-shocked and confused, blinking once or twice before chuckling to herself, shaking her head at the young boy's antics.
The moment Naruto got home he leapt over his couch and grabbed the small wooden doll he had left there the previous night, It was a simple thing that he hadn't even made; the academy used it in their anatomy lessons and Naruto had simply taken it one day. He had thought having something to aim at would help him create the strings. Even if it hadn't, he still kept it around anyway. Now though, as he placed it in front of him, he couldn't keep the smile off his face. He quickly felt through his body for the surge of energy contained deep within and brought it to the surface, focusing it to his fingertips.
Where before he simply allowed the wispy blue Chakra to steam out of his fingers, this time he did his utmost to spin it, trying to coil the insubstantial mist into a thread. His eyes widened greatly as instead of the purplish mist he usually got, he found an almost conical stream exiting each of his fingers. He was so surprised that he immediately lost control, and the Chakra quickly dissipated into the air.
He didn't care at all.
He jumped up in the air, pumping his fist up with his exclamation of excitement as he did a small dance of happiness around his table. It certainly wasn't a thread, but it was something, and Naruto could work with something.
He could finally feel his dream coming together.
Unfortunately, Naruto had no idea that 'finally' would take more than six months. It took him that long, practising every day after school, before he could form anything even vaguely reminiscent of Chakra strings. It was slow going, both because forming them as he was was inefficient and tiring, so he couldn't practise for long, and occasionally he would practise too hard and end up burning out the tenketsu of his fingertips. Those incidents cost him weeks of practise at a time before his Chakra system could heal.
That wasn't to say they were time wasted. Once he had gotten over the initial stigma, Naruto had actually found a lot to be enjoyed in reading, and not only about his favoured art or how to advance as a shinobi. Each book was like a portal to a different world, one where he didn't have to remember his past or focus on the ignorance the villagers gave him. Reading became his solace in a grey, ignorant world. He had even taken to doing it in class, not that his teachers cared.
In the end he had finally managed to form the thrice-damned threads, only to realise he had no idea how he was supposed to attach them to a puppet. Another three months of refinement passed before he figured out the trick, purely by accident. He had gotten frustrated and tired after almost an hour of attempting it on the little wooden doll to the point where he began to lose control of the threads, making them 'fray' at the ends. When he realised this and tried to fix them they were still touching the doll, and with the next twitch of his finger the doll's arm had jerked forward.
Naruto had fallen over his chair in surprise.
Naruto walked slowly through the streets of the village. He had just left the academy, his last day of the first year in fact. Many of the other kids had rushed out ahead of him, happy to talk with their friends or make plans for the break before their second year. Naruto was content to simply stroll out. It was amazing how little he seemed to rush nowadays, now that he actually had somewhere to be. As he walked into an apartment that a year ago he wouldn't have recognised as his own, due to how clean it was, he could help but smile. There on his table, as it always was, stood the small wooden doll he practised with.
From the door he reached up, grinning as thin purple thread span themselves from his fingers and almost instantly gripped the puppet in strategic places. With a twitch of his thumb and ring finger it took a confident step forward, its head turning to look at him. With his index and middle fingers he forced the little figure to raise a hand and wave at him, a gesture to which he returned with a content smile.
For a few minutes he made the doll run around, flipping and dancing about as his hands moved and his fingers flexed. He laughed as it performed a particularly flamboyant move of running up a wall, at least until the stunt caused a piece of paper he had tacked there to fall off and drift to the floor. He reached down to pick it up, only for his bright grin to suddenly sober as he realised what it was. A long time ago he had torn Sasori's profile from the Bingo-book and tacked it to his wall, as a reminder of his goal.
Looking between the torn page and the wooden doll that, ironically, had its head tilted up almost expectantly, he frowned. He had no reason to be happy right now. It took all of his fingers to even control a puppet this small, and his Chakra threads were so visible they actually glowed; compared to the mastery Sasori had over his art, it was pitiful. The man was reputed to control ten puppets at a time, a skill only his grandmother and the founder of the puppet art, Monzaemon Chikamatsu, had ever accomplished.
Slowly Naruto's hand clenched into a fist, he still had so much to do if he wanted to reach his goal. This was just the beginning.