Content warning: While this fic is a comedy and very rarely serious, all readers should be warned that there are frequent and casual references to canon-typical death, violence, bullying, child soldiers, discrimination, and child abuse. If you are sensitive to these things, or would prefer not to read about them being discussed in a lighthearted manner, please find another story. Thanks, and enjoy!
Dedication: To my roommate and anime-watching buddy, literallyseaweed95, for joining me in re-watching every Naruto episode from the very beginning. In our hearts, Itachi will always be an Eco-warrior and Deidara will never hit the ground. Keep on seeping poisonous miasma until the end. Who knows: someday we may actually finish. Then we can get started on One Piece.
Chapter I: On Books and Secrets
If it got any hotter, Naruto was going to spontaneously combust.
The air conditioning in his apartment was being fickle, as usual, and the result was that being inside was stifling. Leaving the window open hadn't helped much either. So even though the sun was bright and directly overhead, the twelve-year-old Academy student left his apartment to go and wander the village in search of a refuge from the heat.
The streets were mostly empty, and only a few green-vested ninja leaped from rooftop to rooftop- that was unusual for Konoha, whose narrow streets were usually bustling with people walking about, running errands, chatting with neighbors, haggling with street vendors. Today the dust was hanging heavily on the streets under the blistering sun.
No one sane was out today if they had somewhere else to go.
But no one had ever accused Naruto of sanity.
He poked his head into a shop- a heavenly burst of cool air enveloped him. Thank god; he couldn't take being out in the sun much longer.
The shopkeeper, a thin young man with eyeglasses and a wispy mustache, regarded him suspiciously. "What do you want?"
Naruto glanced around.
It seemed he'd walked into a bookstore- not the kind he usually hung out at, with pervy magazines and cheap manga- no, this place was much snootier. Fancy wooden bookshelves with leather-bound books and artsy wall scrolls decorated the walls, and everything looked super expensive.
"Um," he said, stalling. "I'm looking for a book?"
The clerk snorted skeptically. "Which book?"
"I dunno. I'm, um, browsing. Yeah, that's it. I'm browsing."
Clearly, the clerk wasn't convinced. "Then hurry and find one, already," he snapped. "You'll drive away customers: you're filthy."
Naruto glanced down at himself. He was a little dusty from walking the streets for a while, but it wasn't anything for this guy to get himself all worked up about.
"What's your problem, man?" Naruto demanded sourly. "No one's out on the streets anyway. It's too hot."
"If you're going to be aggressive, I'll have you thrown out," the clerk threatened. "Mind your tongue."
"Sheesh, calm down," Naruto said, starting to feel a little irked. "Look, I'm going over to look at the books now."
"Don't touch the nice books. You'll get them dirty."
Naruto gave him an exasperated look.
"I can't be in here if I'm not shopping. So how do you expect me to shop for books without reading them?" he complained. "What am I supposed to do, stare at the binding?"
The clerk frowned. "You can look at the clearance items," he decided finally. "They're in the corner."
Naruto looked. The clerk was indicating a small pile of dog-eared, dusty books that looked sad and neglected. He even thought he saw cobwebs on them- that was just excessive. He groaned.
The clerk folded his arms.
"Fine, fine, I'll look at your stupid clearance books."
He went over to look at them halfheartedly. He didn't really like books much, but anything was better than going back out into the heat. He'd maybe stand around for another few minutes and then leave and go find somewhere else.
Sure enough, the books looked terrible.
No wonder no one bought these, he mused as he shuffled through them. I mean, seriously. The titles made him snicker or roll his eyes in variation. 101 More Uses for a Dead Cat was probably one of his favorites, but Extreme Ironing was up there too. And of course, Home Drainage Encyclopedia: Volume One couldn't be counted out either.
He flipped through 406 Ways to Die in Water Country but put it back soon enough. Despite the title, it managed to be incredibly dull.
The clerk was tapping his fingers on the desk irritably.
Naruto ignored him and reached for the last book in the pile.
Tales of a Gutsy Ninja.
Hey, now. That didn't sound half-bad. The book was pretty beat-up, but not in the way it would have been if someone had read it frequently. Instead it looked like it had been kept in the back of someone's storage shed and pushed back and forth between bookshelves. The pages were stiff and yellow.
He pried it open and flipped to the prologue.
In a forest on the outskirts of Shuku village, the leaves rustled in the wind. The air was cold, and the shadows were long. A ninja was crouched behind one of the large oak trees, kunai in hand. He turned his head to search the treetops for his assailant, the one who had pursued him into the woods.
There was a sudden motion to his left.
He leaped back, deflecting the sudden barrage of shuriken with his kunai. With his other hand he reached for his wire-
Absently, he flipped a few pages ahead.
"It's destroy or be destroyed," snarled the enemy, reaching for a kunai. "You're a ninja too, aren't you? Then you know! We live in a world where you'll die if you hesitate!"
Naruto was entranced.
"Hey, kid! You! Brat!"
Naruto frowned and looked up.
The shopkeeper had his hands on his waist and was red-faced with irritation.
"What do you want?" he asked, annoyed. "Look, I'm standing still, I haven't touched any of your nice things, I'm being quiet-"
"Are you going to buy that book or are you going to sit there reading it all day?"
Naruto looked down at Tales of a Gutsy Ninja.
He didn't have much money. He got his spending money from old man Hokage every week and it had been six days since his last allowance. Plus he'd kind of eaten six bowls of ramen at Ichiraku's yesterday, instead of just buying it instant. If it was too expensive…
But he really wanted to see how it went.
"How much does it cost?" he asked.
The clerk's eyes glinted. "One hundred and thirty ryo."
Naruto folded his arms. "Yeah, right. I thought you said these books were on clearance?"
The man just shrugged indifferently, though his eyes showed his ill-concealed greed. "Do you want the book or not?"
"You've gotta be kidding. It's just a crappy paperback."
The clerk sneered. "The author, Lord Jiraiya of the Sannin, is a best-selling author. The collector's value alone-"
"Don't screw with me, it's on the clearance shelf. Besides, isn't that the guy who writes those cheap smutty novels? What part of that is high-class?"
The man flushed. "The price is non-negotiable."
"Hey, how do you even know about Jiraiya's other books?" Naruto asked suspiciously as a thought occurred to him. "Do you read them?"
The man adjusted his glasses nervously. "Certainly not. I am merely familiar with such a prolific author."
"Don't use big words. You do know him. You even knew he wrote this thing." Naruto held up the paperback. "Come on. If I don't buy it, it's just going to sit around here for another few years."
The clerk didn't have a retort for that.
"I'll give you twenty ryo for it, and that's being generous," Naruto offered. "I'll bet I could find it somewhere else for fifteen."
"Don't waste my time," he sniffed. "I could perhaps let it go for eighty ryo, but my employer would fire me if I went any lower."
"Eighty? Maybe if it was brand-new, but that's just crazy! Look at this thing, it's all beat up! Who else is going to make you an offer? I'll go for thirty-five, because I'm apparently out of my mind."
The man brought a hand to his temple as though he were getting a headache. "Fifty ryo, or get out of this shop."
Naruto grinned and slapped down five 10-ryo coins onto the counter. "Deal. Nice doing business with you, sir."
He snatched the book and ran back outside into the heat, feeling much more pleased with the day than he had before. He would have something to do instead of wandering around town, at least.
"Say, old man… do you think I could have a little more money for this week?"
The Hokage gave Naruto a stern frown. "Naruto, that money should be more than enough to last you all week if you spend it efficiently. What have you been buying?"
Naruto looked shifty. "Food."
"And what else?"
"Don't insult my intelligence. I can tell when you're lying to me, young man."
"Now, answer me honestly."
The blond boy looked down at his feet and muttered, "I bought a book from a store in town."
"Is that all?" the Third Hokage said, sitting back with a laugh. "Well, I have no problem with you buying books. What's it about?"
"It's awesome," he enthused. "It's all about this ninja- and his name is Naruto, just like mine! I've never met anyone else named Naruto, and now there's a whole book about this guy, and he's super cool! He fights off enemy ninja and he's a jounin and he's trying to save his buddy Renge, and he's got this super epic awesome technique called Jinpu Hazan, and he blasts people with it-"
"Slow down," the Hokage requested with a laugh. "What's the title of the book?"
"It's called Tales of a Gutsy Ninja," Naruto said cheerfully. "And it's really, really great."
"Naruto," he said. "Do you mind showing me this book sometime?"
"Sometime?" Naruto asked with a perplexed frown. "Well, sure. I have it with me now. Hang on."
Naruto rummaged around in his pouch and drew out a tattered grey-and-green book with a very familiar name inscribed on the front.
The Hokage took it from him with a thoughtful expression.
"It's been quite a while since I'd seen this book," he said aloud, impressed. "I had thought you couldn't find copies of it anymore."
"Huh? Do you know this book, old man?"
"I do," Hiruzen said, flipping to the back of the book where the author's biography was written. The picture was one of a much younger Jiraiya, with a much more innocent grin. He was winking at the camera with his usual incorrigibility.
"How come? Did you read it?"
Hiruzen shook his head. "I never did get the chance. But the author was a student of mine."
Naruto's expression cleared. "Oh, yeah! Jiraiya of the Sannin, right?"
"Yeah," continued the blond-haired boy. "He must be really cool. That book is like, really deep and stuff. It's all about peace and destiny and it kinda makes my head hurt. But in a good way, I guess?"
"I don't know that he's ever been described as such by those who knew him," the Hokage admitted wryly. "But I'm sure he would be gratified to hear you say so."
"Is he dead?" Naruto asked.
"No. He's a survivor, fortunately for Konoha."
"But he isn't in the village, is he? Where does he go?"
"Oh, here and there. He travels around the world." Maintaining his extensive information and espionage network, but there was no reason to tell Naruto that. "He comes back to Konoha every few years to check in on things."
"Aw." Naruto's face fell. "I thought maybe I could meet him."
"Someday, I'm sure you will." The Hokage reached out and ruffled the blond boy's hair.
"Yeah, I guess. But it's still kinda depressing."
"A ninja's life is frequently sad," Hiruzen pointed out. "You should probably get used to it now. Besides, it's only a book."
Naruto perked up.
"That's what this one enemy ninja says," he said, restored to his good spirits. "He's all like, 'This is our fate as ninja!' and then book-Naruto poofs and whams him like nothing else, and then there's this super cool line, where he's like, 'no, you give up on me giving up!' It's awesome."
"I believe you," Hiruzen said, amused. "And you can have the extra money you needed. But Naruto, don't you have class today?"
"Shoot," he said. "If you don't see me, it's 'cause Iruka-sensei murdered me."
"I will keep that in mind."
"See ya, old man!"
"Is Naruto… reading a book?" Sakura demanded, aghast.
"No way," Ino said immediately. "Get your eyes checked."
"He is," Sakura said. "Right over there, under that tree, look-"
"I'm telling you - oh my god, he is." Ino stared. "Have you ever seen him reading before?"
"Never," Sakura breathed.
"What's this you're talking about?" Kiba asked curiously.
"Naruto's reading," Ino told him, not taking her eyes from where Naruto sat, flipping through the pages of a thin paperback under the oak tree in the center of the Academy courtyard. "A book."
Kiba snorted. "Not in a million years. It's probably a manga or something."
"What's going on?" Choji asked, ambling up to their group. "Is something wrong?"
"Sakura and Ino think Naruto's reading a book, but I'm telling them it's gotta be a manga," Kiba said. "You couldn't force Uzumaki to stay put and read."
"Well, I'll just ask him then," Choji said reasonably. "I'm sure he won't mind telling me, and that will resolve your debate."
"I feel like I should be getting photographic evidence of this," Ino breathed. "It's like a miracle. Is this one of the Seven Mysteries of the Ninja Academy?"
"Please, Ino, be realistic," Sakura said bluntly. "There's no such thing as a miracle. That just what people call it when something of infinitesimal probability occurs despite all odds or evidence to the contrary, but it the probability does exist, even if it's remote."
"You say tomato, I say potato," Ino frowned, and then shook her head. "Or something like that."
"Shh!" Kiba said. "Choji's going over there!"
All three of them fell silent as they watched Choji walk over to where Naruto sat reading under the oak tree. It looked like they were talking. Naruto tilted his head and looked at his book, then- apparently- answered the question. Choji nodded. Naruto was gesturing with a focused expression on his face. Choji nodded again, and then walked back over to where Sakura, Ino, and Kiba were watching intently.
"What did he say?" Ino demanded.
"It's a book," Choji confirmed.
"I told you," Ino said to Kiba.
"That's just weird," Kiba said, shaking his head. "You think you know a guy, and then he goes and does something like that."
"What's the book about?" Sakura asked. "Did he tell you?"
"Apparently it's an allegory about the geopolitical struggle of the Second and Third Ninja wars, with some deep themes about loyalty and friendship. The protagonist is seeking the true meaning of peace while also seeking to subvert the guilt he feels at being part of a corrupt society that perpetuates values he can't condone."
"What?" Kiba asked.
Choji shook his head. "You'd have to ask him. I barely remember what he told me."
"I will," Sakura decided.
She never did get the chance to talk to Naruto about the book. Final exams were coming up, and as all of her classmates were busy cramming for their academic classes. She wasn't worried about the written tests- no, she was getting up hours before dawn to run through taijutsu katas. Practical exams were her weak point.
Sakura filed it away in her mind for later consideration.
"Old man, can I ask you a question?" Naruto asked, looking uncharacteristically serious.
"Of course," the Hokage replied easily. "Though if you just want to ask for the dozenth time where the ANBU secret headquarters are, I certainly won't answer you."
"It isn't that."
"What is it, then?"
"So, you know every ninja technique in the world, right?"
"Not at all," Hiruzen said immediately. "I am familiar with many techniques, but there are as many techniques in this world as there are people. No one could ever learn them all in one lifetime."
"But you know a lot of techniques, right?"
"I would say so, yes," the old man said judiciously. "Why do you ask?"
"Can-" Naruto hesitated. "Can you teach me Jinpu Hazan?"
"Jinpu Hazan," Naruto repeated earnestly. "It's this really cool technique that the main character uses in Tales of a Gutsy Ninja, and it's awesome. So I was thinking if you know all the techniques, you might be able to teach me Jinpu Hazan."
"I regret that I have never heard of that technique. And while my not having heard of it does not rule it out, I'm afraid it does make it unlikely that it exists."
Naruto deflated. "So it isn't real?"
"Probably not," admitted the Hokage. "So, of course, I can't teach it to you."
Naruto slumped. "What about Fuuton: Breath of the North Wind?"
"I don't believe that is real either."
"Oh. And I'll bet Shadow Clones aren't real either." Naruto grumbled. "That's not fair."
"Shadow Clones?" Hiruzen said in surprise. "Well, actually…"
"You mean they're REAL?" Naruto demanded. "Really real? Can you teach me? Please please please please please? That would be so totally awesome! I would crush Sasuke, it would be great!"
"Certainly not," he said sternly. "It is a forbidden technique."
"How come?" Naruto asked in disappointment. "They're just clones."
"They can only be performed by a shinobi with… huge… chakra… reserves…" the Hokage trailed off thoughtfully.
Naruto scuffed his shoe on the ground. "I never get to learn any cool techniques," he muttered to himself. "Sasuke can breathe fire, and Kiba can turn into a dog, and Ino can read minds, but all I can do is turn into a naked lady."
"Naruto," the Hokage said carefully. "If you can promise to be very careful and discreet about this, we may be able to bend the rules a little."
"Discreet?" Naruto yelped. "I love being discreet. Discreet is totally me. No one's more discreeter than I am."
"Well, then, I think you are uniquely suited to learn the Shadow Clone technique."
Naruto's eyes shone. "Really?"
"Yes," the Hokage said. "But this is a valuable technique. Not only is it forbidden, but it is secret. It was created by Tobirama Senju, the second Hokage, and it is vital that you use this technique carefully. It can be quite dangerous if misused. Do you think you can handle it?"
"Heck yeah," Naruto said, grinning widely. "Iruka-sensei is gonna be so surprised."
"So if lots of Shadow Clones need a bunch of chakra, how come I have enough to do them?" Naruto asked practically. "I'm just an Academy student."
He could make something up about complicated bloodlines and familial inheritances and a lot of luck and genetics.
But honestly, would it be so bad to tell Naruto the truth now? He was almost a genin, for heaven's sake. In just a few weeks he'd be going on missions, and he had to learn how to keep a secret at some point. Besides, before long it would but up to him to tell people about his ability, and Minato had sealed the fox in him for a reason. If Naruto was going to be a ninja, it only made sense that someone should tell him how his own chakra worked.
And if he didn't tell him…
Sure, it seemed unlikely that some bitter Konoha ninja would decide to suddenly break the law and tell Naruto the news in the most emotionally scarring, intentionally twisted manner they could come up with, thereby causing a distraught young Naruto to run out into the woods where he could get into all sorts of trouble.
Then again, you never did know.
"There's something I should probably tell you," Hiruzen decided. "It's very important, so I'll need your full attention."
"Okay?" Naruto said hesitantly.
"You have a… unique ability that you don't know about."
Naruto gasped. "Is it a secret bloodline? Was my mom actually the great-great-granddaughter of the Sage of Six Paths and my dad was the heir to the seal of the priestesses of the sun goddess and so I have magic eyes and the power to stop time?"
"Not quite," said the Hokage, wondering if he should be concerned. "What on earth gave you that idea?"
"Oh. Nothing, really." Naruto looked down in disappointment. "I just thought it would be cool."
"I... see," he said, though he didn't really. "But no, it's a little bit of a different power."
"What is it?"
"Have you ever noticed that you heal more quickly than other children your age?" the Hokage began.
"Not really?" Naruto said. "I mean, I never get sick, so…"
"Naruto, you fell out of a tree when you were nine and broke your arm and it healed in two days."
Naruto winced at the memory. "Yeah, that was not a fun two days. It's hard making instant ramen with one hand. But that's normal, isn't it?"
"For most people, a broken arm can take months to heal, Naruto," the Hokage pointed out, wondering just how much being a jinchuriki messed up the boy's frame of reference. "Also, most people get colds at least a few times a year, if not more."
Naruto gaped. "That must be terrible. Normal people have it so hard."
"We manage well enough. But that's not all."
"You have unusually large amounts of chakra compared to a normal person."
"I do? How come I can't do clones, then?"
"Just having chakra isn't enough," the Hokage lectured. "There is a reason people train to control their chakra. Your control is quite frankly terrible."
Naruto looked abashed. "I'm working on that," he admitted.
"There is a reason for these abilities that I, ahem, haven't seen fit to mention to you until now."
"Is it a cool bloodline?" Naruto asked hopefully.
"No. This is even rarer, and even more dangerous."
Naruto clapped his hands together in delight. "What is it?"
The Hokage held up a finger. "First, you must promise me that you will not say anything about this to anyone, at least until further notice. This is a vital village secret, and if it gets out, it could cost an untold amount of shinobi and civilian lives."
"I promise," Naruto said eagerly.
"Second, I want you to promise that you will not experiment with this power without asking me. Or, I suppose, your jonin instructor in the future. It is very dangerous. If you use it without proper planning and supervision, you could seriously injure yourself or someone else."
"Uh-huh," said the boy, looking more excited with every word.
"Thirdly…" The Hokage paused. "Actually, I think that's enough for now."
"So?" Naruto prompted.
"Twelve years ago, when you were born, the Fourth Hokage fought the Nine-tailed Demon Fox."
"Yeah, he was so cool," Naruto agreed.
"You may not be aware of this, but there are nine bijuu, ranging from the One-Tailed Tanuki to the Nine-Tailed Fox. These bijuu are incredibly dangerous when they roam free, so they are frequently sealed into human beings, so-called Jinchuriki. These humans gain great power, and when they die, the bijuu must be sealed into a new human, lest they escape and wreak havoc."
"Ooookay," Naruto said, fidgeting. "Um, do you want to fast-forward to telling me what my magic power is?"
"Your mother was one of these jinchuriki."
That stopped Naruto's fidgeting. "Wicked," he breathed.
"On the day she gave birth to you, the seal was weakened and her bijuu, the Nine-Tailed Fox, broke free and began attacking the village. She sacrificed her life to stop the fox, and the Fourth Hokage sealed the fox into another human."
The boy's eyes were wide.
"Into you, Naruto. You are the new Jinchuriki of the Nine-Tailed Fox."
"Me?" Naruto asked, looking at his hands as though he was expecting them to have suddenly grown claws. "Um, I don't know about that. I don't feel much like a fox. Besides, if I'm super powerful, how come Sasuke can beat the crap out of me?"
"The Fourth Hokage's seal is nearly perfect. There shouldn't be many effects on you besides your increased stamina."
Naruto looked disappointed. "Couldn't he have made the seal less perfect, so I could've had more awesome powers?"
"He could have," allowed the Hokage. "It would have allowed the Fox's evil thoughts and intentions to contaminate the chakra you take from it, turning you into a bloodthirsty monster that indiscriminately destroys everything in its path, but it was possible."
"Oh. I guess that would've been bad," Naruto acknowledged. "Kinda cool, but bad."
They were both silent for a moment.
"Do you need some time to come to terms with this?" the Hokage offered.
"I know it may be a lot to have suddenly thrust upon you, but I'm always here to discuss it with you. It's important that you go into this without any doubts or misunderstandings."
"No, I think I'm fine," said Naruto. He considered. "Yeah, I'm good."
"Really? That's… a bit of a surprise."
"Well, at first I was kinda thinking, 'Whoa, I'm a monster!' but then I remembered that my mom was a jinchuriki too, and I don't know much about her but if she died trying to protect me she must have been pretty cool."
"I'm glad you have such a mature outlook on this," the Hokage said approvingly.
"Well, it isn't like having a demon sealed inside me makes me one," Naruto said reasonably. "Plus, the Fourth Hokage sacrificed his life to make me a jinchuriki, so that kinda makes me like his legacy or something, which is kinda depressing, 'cause he's dead, but also really cool. No one would be stupid enough to think a jinchuriki is inherently evil."
"I expected rather more shock," the Hokage admitted. "I'm starting to wonder if there was some important detail I left out."
"Perhaps it will come to me later. For now, shall I begin teaching you the Shadow Clone technique?"
As Naruto was about to leave that day after standing in the corner of the Hokage's office learning the Shadow Clone technique for a few hours, Hiruzen finally remembered.
"I have it!" he said suddenly.
"What is it?" Naruto questioned.
"Well, I don't know how to put this, but I'm afraid that all the villagers know you're the jinchuriki, so not only do they fear that you're going to suddenly turn into a raging demon, they also resent you because of all the family many of them lost to the demon fox and they view you as the reason the well-loved Fourth Hokage lost his life, but since they're forbidden to tell their children or discriminate against you outwardly, they manifest their fear by means of passive aggression and telling their children not to associate with you."
Hiruzen had to admit, he could've broken the news better.
Notes: This is the result of writing while sleep-deprived. It will be continued. It will probably devolve into insanity. It is a comedy and a parody, so if you're hoping for deep themes or a jaded!overpowered!Naruto, you will be very disappointed. For future reference, you should keep in mind that I dislike bashing and I absolutely love Team Seven.
Interestingly, Tales of a Gutsy Ninja was made into a real-life book. However, I can only find it translated into Japanese and German, and therefore am basing its content on internet summaries.