Foreword: Second shot at a Naruto fic. Joy to the world.
Soundtrack: Naruto - Hinata vs Neji
It had been a long day. A stressful one. The kind that would've helped turn his hair grey if it hadn't already been as white as it was on the day he was born. On such days, Jiraiya had a tendency to blow off steam in the most productive, non-lethal ways possible. He didn't meditate, didn't practice jutsu, didn't brood and he didn't try to drown whatever was bothering him in vices like alchohol, sex and gambling... Or by gutting people like fish in an attempt to study how their chakra highways worked in order to get a better understanding of how to perform a technique that didn't even exist yet.
Instead, Jiraiya did the simplest, easiest thing that came to mind. He drew porn. With a storyline. And violence too, but mostly porn. Porn with a storyline, some background violence and the occasional edge of philosophy. Mostly centered around a young blonde woman with so many vices that she probably would've keeled over and died back on page one if he tried keeping it realistic.
Granted, the basis for said-blonde woman had punched his lights out on six seperate occasions. And gave him a few chakra diseases too. And the poison, can't forget that.
Regardless, it was a lot more productive than the alternatives chosen by his former team-mates. Sure, it lacked lifelong meaning and the relief it gave him was relatively empty, but he was rich enough to buy three out of the five most powerful villages on the continent, and when it came down to it... Wasn't that smug sense of self-satisfaction that came with being richer than a princess or a would-be Hokage all that mattered?
Unfortunately though, Jiraiya wasn't going to be able to maintain his reverie for long. Naruto had been tasked with fishing up dinner for them... And gutting, cleaning, skinning and cooking it. The little runt wasn't the most talented student he'd ever had, but living entirely alone for most of one's life meant that he'd had lots of room for experimenting on what he ate with reckless abandon. Granted, Jiraiya had been forced to teach him how long he needed to cook meat, but aside from that, the kid was probably one of the most talented cooks he'd ever seen.
At present though, the boy who was supposed to be doing something as productive as Jiraiya's work on his masterpiece-of-the-moment was instead sitting at the edge of the river. His legs were curled upright, and his arms were propped up against his knees. His head was propped up on his fists in turn, and the fishing rod that he'd taken over an hour ago lay unused beside him. It had no bait of course. Part of Jiraiya's bid at teaching the kid what little he knew of Genjutsu was to make him try to channel chakra into the hook and make fish think it was a helpless worm or something. It also meant teaching him greater control to compliment how he had more or less started to master using both of his chakra-types, but that was beside the point.
"Looks like he hasn't gotten over it yet," Jiraiya thought with some blandness. He'd seen this kind of thing before. Three times, at the bare minimum.
Flashes of movement so quick that they hurt the eyes just to try and follow. A missing-nin of some foriegn country, probably looking to gain a reputation as a lone wolf to be feared by assassinating a Konoha elite.
Kage Bunshin were flying everywhere, and at almost every step of the way, some pointy, sharp object was coming from at least one of them at any given time. Heedless of personal danger though, perhaps even welcoming of it, the light haired boy had let out a scream and charged into combat without a second thought.
It was always the same. Stupid kid rushes in. Stupid kid makes hasty decision. Stupid kid regrets it later, even though nothing could be done to help it. Even though the stupid kid was always puppeted into it to begin with.
Blood flashed through the air. The boy let out a shocked yell as he dispatched one Kage Bunshin with a kunai and turned to find three more ganging up on his Sensei. The man held his own beautifully, but even as he ran roughshod through them, he made the critical error of ignoring the real deal. The missing-nin was already behind him, hands sweeping through a series of hideously complex seals as he prepared to execute a lethal jutsu.
Jiraiya grimaced as he heard what sounded like an empty sigh come from his student. The kind that comes from the feeling of a sinking stomach made of solid iron, and one that hadn't been filled with anything but bile in days. He was probably chewing on his lip, but Jiraiya couldn't tell since the youth's back was pointed at him. He was still wearing the same jacket he'd had on before, even with a few openings in it from an errant set of strikes a while back, when they had been on a mission. Just because Naruto was in training didn't mean that he wasn't being worked to the bone. Jiraiya had been decent enough to contribute to Konoha's need for ninjas in far-away places, taking odd jobs from Konoha as often as necessary. He rarely did any of the work beyond taking care of the stuff that Naruto was still too green to handle.
Without thinking, the boy leapt from where he had been standing, even as the Sensei was only just beginning to react. The man seemed to almost purposely freeze though, just short of doing the actual deed and taking the enemy down.
It left responsibility solely on the boy's shoulders.
Kunai in hand, the youngster crash-landed on his Sensei's back and shoulders, chakra already in his feet to stabilize him while the man faltered forward. Without even thinking, the youth lashed out from there. A blur of movement later, the missing-nin fell to the ground without so much as a word, hands frozen in the last seal required for the technique.
It was always the same.
The Sensei hit the ground and the student was left to crash almost face first into his handiwork, knocking over the nin if he was somehow standing on his knees in the process. For all of a second, everything was silent outside of the noise of Kage Bunshin bursting into puffs of smoke. Then, realization dawned as the light haired boy had straightened up onto all fours and stared down into the face of his enemy.
The Kunai was lodged into the nin's head. His existence was over.
The only sounds to follow were shocked breathing, a few hiccups and muffled sobbing that was, more often than not, suppressed to nonexistence within a minute or so at most.
"May as well give 'im the generic pep-talk then," he reasoned. It was part of the job of being a proper mentor anyway. Even if he found it distasteful enough to want to puke at the thought.
Without so much as a word, he finished the linework on a frame that'd make a nun die of a nosebleed, then closed up his sketchbook slipped it back into its usual place in one of his jacket's oversized inside pockets. The pencils followed suit, and then the lantern was blown out. After that, he'd stood up and popped his neck to either side. Age wasn't really catching up to him like it did most Shinobi who lived past 50. Almost thirteen or fourteen years of well-earned relaxation had taken the edge off of old injuries when combined with the occasional visit to a few well-meaning medic-nins and the occasional spat of meditation. His combat skills had been a bit rusty, but that was wearing off like it had never been there at all.
As silent as he was when he was doing 'research,' Jiraiya made his way over to Naruto and shoved his distaste to the back of his thoughts for the time being. With that, he dropped down next to the youth in a crouch, hands dangling over his knees and eyes narrowed at the kid's reflection in the river.
"You never did it before, did ya?" He asked, even though he already knew the answer. He'd known it from the moment he'd met the kid, and he'd known it even more when he'd decided to force Naruto to do it earlier today.
"No," came the unusually bland answer. "That guy..."
"He was your first kill in a battle," Jiraiya finished simply.
"And I didn't even know his name," Naruto replied. His voice was so low that it didn't even sound like the blonde punk that Jiraiya had spent the months honing into a proper fighting machine. "It was just..."
"Death is impersonal in the world of the Shinobi," Jiraiya cut him off in mid-pause. "It's something you'll have to adjust to as time goes by. I'm not gonna tell you to deal with it and get over it though," he said, and in spite of his contempt for what he was saying, meant it. "That empty feeling in your gut's never gonna go away after you take someone out. The only way it ever feels good is if you know someone deserves it. Dehumanizing them doesn't really work, either. I tried it," he admitted with a shrug.
"... Yeah," Naruto agreed. "It felt a lot different though... I thought it'd be like the... Other times. Slower, I mean."
"Other times?" Jiraiya asked, glancing over at his protege with a curious look. Then it dawned on him. "Ah. You've come close before, but never actually did it. What were their names?"
"... A boy named Haku. And after that, another named Gaara," he replied, now sounding more mechanical than depressed.
"I see. What almost made you do the deed to them?" Jiraiya asked. He was prodding at the youth out of pure curiosity now, more than anything else. That and, in some roundabout way, he figured it'd probably help if the runt got it off his chest now, as opposed to a decade later during a bid for Hokage.
Naruto didn't answer him for a while though. When he did, it was in a more humanized kind of voice. Depressed all over again.
"I robbed Haku of his purpose. He said that his only reason to exist was to be a powerful tool for a guy named Zabuza. I don't really remember how, but I broke his bloodline and shattered his hunter mask. Then he talked me into killing him," he explained. "He changed his mind before I could though. I was swinging right for his neck when he blocked me, said something and disappeared. The next time I saw him, he had a fist-sized hole through his heart."
"And Gaara?" Jiraiya asked, even though he already knew most of the details as it was. Frogs were gossipy creatures, after all. Especially the young ones who didn't even know that they weren't supposed to be.
"... I was trying to protect Sakura. And Sasuke, but mostly Sakura. He was trying to kill her to draw out my power and crush me or something... I don't really know why, but I just snapped and decided I'd either beat him or die. Even if it meant killing him to do it," he explained in short order this time. He didn't bother elaborating on why he'd changed his mind, and Jiraiya honestly didn't care to know the specifics as far as that was concerned.
"Sounds like you had a healthier relationship with your team-mates than I did," Jiraiya replied with a smirk. "The first two people I ever tried to kill were Tsunade and Orochimaru. Got my ass kicked big time, too."
At this, Naruto let out a sound akin to a snicker, even though it was shortlived.
"Yeah... I bet they'd be laughing at me right now," Naruto finally commented. "Sakura's... Sakura, and Sasuke practically lives to kill his own brother. Bet they've both already killed an enemy a day for a year by now," he pointed out. Jiraiya found it somewhat disheartening that the little bastard hadn't given up on Sasuke yet. Even more so that he still viewed him as a friend. Or at least enough of a friend that he was able to joke about him. Even then, he could relate. Barely.
"I doubt it. You'll probably end up killing two or three times as many as either of them put together," he said. It wasn't meant to be comforting. Even so, Naruto seemed to smile almost fatalistically at it, nodding his head in agreement.
"I just wanted to be acknowledged..."
"So did I. It's why I became a ninja. Also why I became the hardest working ninja in village history," Jiraiya replied. "I thought my hard work would make them acknowledge me. They didn't. But everyone else did. Know what they all called me?" He asked, then answered before Naruto could hazard a guess. "Konoha's Underworld Shogun. They also called me White Demon Jiraiya..."
He paused. Deliberately, to let the information sink in. With that, he looked back down into the river at his own reflection.
"I had about 1840 or so missions to my name by the time I retired. It was right after Snake-Face went missing-nin. I'd killed at least three men, one woman and a child or animal for every single mission I took part in. I did some barbaric things, kid. I went weeks without sleeping during the Third Shinobi War, and even Orochimaru started to feel afraid of me after he and Tsunade did their last mission with me. I killed every single enemy ninja on the battlefield. Those I didn't off at first, I left alive until after we'd accomplished our objectives. Then I went out of my way on the return trip and murdered every last one of them. Didn't bother trying to bring back corpses or prisoners. I just killed. And killed. And kept killing."
It was a rather unpleasant memory to recall. Enough that he had flashes of Tsunade looking at him like a monster, Orochimaru seeming genuinely frightened of even coming within jutsu range of him and the look on Sarutobi's face as the trio had reported back to him just after returning to the village. As disgusting as it made him feel though, he still held a vague sense of satisfaction over it even now. It had been the first, and one of the only times that all three of them had actually acknowledged how dangerous he was. Even more so, he'd had the smug satisfaction of knowing that none of them could do anything about it. There wasn't an ANBU team alive that could take him, and none of the other Jounin of the day even wanted to try fighting him. Tsunade and Orochimaru had both known they would die trying if they'd made the effort and Sarutobi just didn't have the stomach to kill one of his own students, even if Jiraiya had never been his favorite.
There was also the further satisfaction of knowing that he hadn't even broken any actual rules. That was because Shinobi warfare didn't have real rules.
"That's... Sick," Naruto replied after a long pause, finally looking over to Jiraiya with a blank expression.
"The Hokages have always had to do almost as much. It's part of the reason they become Hokages to begin with. They have to be able to handle the strain of death, and the dirty feelings that come with it," he pointed out.
At this, Naruto half-surprised him.
"How did Yondaime deal with it?"
Jiraiya paused. His expression gradually withered between indecision, brutal honesty and impatience. He didn't like being personal. Not with Naruto or anyone else. He hadn't even liked being personal with any of his former Genin or his old teacher.
"He smiled a lot," he said, somewhat grimly. "And when he was done smiling after a mission, he went to the Cenotaph outside the village, threw up and prayed for forgiveness. Did that until he turned sixteen. By then, he was a Jounin. He'd also been given a Genin Team to look after," Jiraiya explained, only to pause and glance over at Naruto with the most blunt look he could manage right now. "He also took up sewing and origami. Lots of it."
Naruto blinked. Then stared.
"You're shitting me."
"Nope. He made origami birds out of excess paperwork. He put together the modern-day ANBU uniform, then put together the trench coat he wore as his trademark and then put together the coat I'm wearin' right now," he pointed out.
At this point, one could almost hear glass breaking in Naruto's head. At the same level where Jiraiya himself had once been a prankster, he felt a sense of satisfaction so deep that it was all he could do to keep from cackling like a maniac. The sad part, however, was that it was all true.
"... You're shitting me," Naruto said again.
At this, Jiraiya turned serious again. It was what he'd planned on from the start.
"Every Shinobi copes with reality differently, kid. Some of us just prefer to do it in ways that don't leave us unable to do our job or unable to achieve our dreams. I took up writing and art, the Fourth took up origami and sewing, and Sarutobi was a leacher who made me look like a saint. The point is, we all found ways to cope without letting it destroy us, and every single one of us either became a Hokage or wound up being considered for the job. You don't have to be like my old team-mates and drown yourself in gambling or alchemy and ya don't have to be like your former teacher and have a mental breakdown."
He paused for a few seconds, again letting it sink in. Naruto hadn't been prepared for the sudden shift. That was good, because it meant the words would sink in deeper.
"Find somethin' you're good at. Then channel every ounce of hatred, guilt and anger you feel into it. It won't make you feel innocent again - nothing you do ever will - but it'll let you cope with it. It'll let you grow from it and it'll let you become stronger from it. Understand?" He ordered more than he asked.
At this, it was Naruto's turn to try and throw him off balance.
"For a greedy, perverted asshole, you're actually kinda useful once in a while," he said with a bit of his normal fire back. It was almost refreshing to see the little bastard cheering back up.
Not that he was going to let him go unpunished for being such a pain in the ass though.
"And don't ever forget it," Jiraiya ordered, just before reaching down, grabbing the fishing rod and all but jamming it in Naruto's face. "Now get to work. I'm not gonna starve just because you needed a life lesson."
At that, Naruto fell over sideways in a flailing mess, screeching something about the fishing hook while Jiraiya stood back upright and turned back towards the campfire. It was night time now. The moon was high at his back and the fire needed rekindling. His lantern needed to be relit and his art supplies needed to be brought back out so that he could get back to work.
Before he could do anything but start walking though though, he was confronted with a question that he really hadn't counted on.
"So what was your first kill like?" Naruto asked from where he was still laid out on the ground.
At this, Jiraiya stopped.
Then smiled. Ruefully.
"Let's just say that history repeats and leave it at that," he answered cryptically.
Neither of them spoke after that. Not one word.
Author's Note: Hooray for insomnia and random strikes of inspiration. Hooray also for Chelsee, for writing Transition Anchor, the sixth chapter of which was the primary inspiration behind this little short story. I'd been wondering how Naruto would cope with his first kill for quite some time, but still.
Suffice to say, I came up with all the non-canon parts of Jiraiya's past on my own. I probably took some excessive liberties with his death count, but given that the data book lists him as having had 1,839 missions over his career, I decided to take it and run with it. Considering how violent a Shinobi's life is, I also decided to let him become a tad unhinged during his youth. To put it bluntly: He got better.
I also took some... >.> Liberties with Yondaime. Nuff said.
And if you're curious: Yes. Jiraiya intentionally put himself in that situation knowing that Naruto would have to kill the unnamed missing-nin. It's part of his way of preparing Naruto for life as a real Shinobi and making sure that he can deal with death ahead of time, as opposed to having a nervous breakdown in the middle of a warzone. As cruel as it is, he's still got good intentions. Speculate off of that all you want, because I'm sure you can figure out what he meant at the beginning and end about history repeating and how it was always the same.