T a k e n a t t h e F l o o d
B y B r o k e n F l a v o r s
Disclaimer:All publicly recognizable characters, settings, quotes, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author, aka Me. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
Warnings: Alternate Universe. Mature themes (violence, death, etc). Use of potentially crude language. Possible spoilers for manga.
P r e l u d e
October was a busy month for the citizens of Konohagakure. Large shipments of imported merchandise were received and sorted, re-stocking the numerous shelves that belonged to the various stalls lining the great village's bazaar; although the stock quickly dwindled again as plans for the mid-October Festival were complete and purchases were made. Children romped around the streets, care-free, and the Shinobi completed an unprecedented amount of D-Rank missions: Gennin, Chuunin, and Jounin alike.
Everyone pulled their fair share of the work, all so that the celebration of the Great Kyuubi no Kistune's defeat to the brilliant Yondaime went off without a hitch.
When the tenth of the month came around, everyone took a day of silence. There were no classes, all establishments were closed, and the citizens donned black garbs as they gathered at dusk to light candles for the fallen. The entire village went and the Sandaime Hokage spoke highly of all who had given up their lives during that dark day. It was seven years past the tragedy, and yet that speech still gave the crowd a boost in moral and a sense of companionship that created a unification between Shinobi and commoners alike—something unprecedented in any village other than that of the Hidden Leaf.
Five days later, the celebrations began.
A r c I : D i s q u i e t u d e
Where the vast cloudless sky was broken by one crow, I sat upon a hill - all alone - long ago;
But I never felt so lonely and so out of God's way, as here, where I brush elbows with a thousand every day.
Chapter I: O f H o n o r a b l e I n t e n t i o n s
The simple word was the only thought plaguing the mind of a young boy as he disrupted the many partiers crowding the streets one chilled October morning. Having the agility equivalent to that of a newborn giraffe, the seven year old kept stumbling into person after person as he pushed against the throng of the crowd, despite his attempts to fit through small openings without causing any disturbances. Of course, it didn't help that some bystanders intentionally threw themselves in his way while others spat at him, temporarily blinding his eyes as the saliva hit his face.
Uzumaki Naruto was, by no means, a malicious person. After all, he was just a young and innocent boy with an equally young and innocent mind. But no matter how kindhearted he was, Naruto couldn't avoid the persecution of his fellow villagers.
Normally, the citizens of Konohagakure were quite passive – by the spiky-haired blonde's standards. They would only give him angry glares and mutter the occasional 'monster' or 'demon' insult under their breath when they thought he wasn't within their hearing distance. Naruto didn't understand any of the treatment he received, but growing up by himself had taught him enough maturity to just turn the other cheek. If nothing he did would change the views of the general public, then giving into their hatred would only give them the satisfaction of proving his so-called 'demonic' nature. Instead of taking out any frustration he may have had on the citizens, the boy spent his energy through a more creative, and much more satisfying, outlet – pranks.
But, naturally, that only led to negative consequences. Such as what was happening this day.
Naruto continued to weave in and out of the crowd as he desperately tried to evade his pursuers. He was unable to duck inside any of the nearby shops, for most of the storekeepers seemed to share that inconceivable grudge towards him, and his bright, sunshine yellow hair made it practically impossible for him to blend into the crowd. So that left the young prankster with two options: to fight or to flee. The primal urge to fight was strong in the boy, but he knew that there was no way in hell he could win against the group following him. So he ran.
Thankfully, due to his daily explorations of Konoha, Naruto had a phenomenal grasp of the village's intricate layout and he was soon able to locate his wanted destination. The boy quickly ducked through the curtains of a dining stall and hopped (or rather, slammed) up onto the counter.
"Teuchi-saaaaan!" the blonde shouted towards the back of the establishment with no regard to the two other customers already situated at the counter. "One Miso please! Make it an extra large and I'll even pay this time!"
An older man sitting to the right of the boy just smirked, glancing down at the two fingers twisted tightly behind the child's back, before returning to the saucer of sake in front of him while the citizen next to him grimaced. He laid a few bills on the counter before hurrying out of the shop, shouldering past a group who were entering the ramen stall.
"Hey brat!" Naruto froze and his tanned face paled. Slowly, he turned to face the three pre-teens who had entered. The three were obviously still Gennin due to their unmarred forehead protectors hanging from their necks—although one would find it strange that all three were covered from head to foot in a vast array of colored paints. The one in the middle, a tall boy with nondescript features and short, brown hair sneered at the seven year old. "Don't think you can just hide from us, Blondie. You're gonna be so sorry for-"
"Excuse me children, but I don't appreciate you threatening my paying customers." The Shinobi looked over to a man who had emerged from the back of the shop. A scowl formed, marring his young face.
"We're sorry sir, but you don't understand! This little mons-"
Teuchi Ichiraku interrupted the boy again. "Now don't go throwing insults with nothing to base them upon. Everyone knows that young Naru-chan here loves a good prank or two." The chef smirked as Naruto sent him an indignant glare, before leaning in closer to the teens, a hand placed to his face mockingly. In a 'stage' whisper he continued, "Now, what you're actually doing is giving the little idiot the satisfaction of a prank successfully executed. If you really want to get back at the little bugger, just ignore his attempts. Now that'll really get his jumpsuit in a twist."
The blonde have an annoyed 'Humph," as if to emphasize the man's point about being ignored. The three teens, although disgruntled about the lack of punishment for the blonde, didn't want to push their luck with the kind old man and quickly made their way out of the food stall. Teuchi slowly turned towards the seven year old and gave him a hard glare.
"Now what in the world did you do to those kyaku-yarou (1)? If word gets to their parents that I stick up for no good miscreants, my business is going to decline hastily." The chef reprimanded with no real malice in his voice as he returned to his kitchen.
"Old Man, you don't have anything to worry about. Everyone knows that Ichiraku's has the best ramen. They don't care about who you serve as long as I'm not here when they want to dine on the noodlely goodness." The boy threw up his right hand, two fingers extended in a 'V for victory' sign, pairing the childish movement with an obnoxiously bright grin that stretched across the blonde's entire face.
Teuchi only snorted as he placed a large smoking bowl of Miso ramen in front of the boy. Naruto quickly snapped open his pair of chopsticks and savagely tore into his food. "You still didn't answer my question. What did you do?"
"Use your manners."
The seven year old swallowed the ramen in his mouth before restarting, the large grin returning to his face. "I poured some red, orange, green, blue, and pink paint into some water balloons and rigged trap at their team's meeting place. Sure enough, they didn't even think to look for a trap and just walked right through all of the triggers. The look on their face was priceless!" Naruto just laughed as he put another scoop of ramen into his mouth. The chef frowned.
"What about their Jounin Sensei? Did you get him too?"
The boy swallowed and grinned again, not at all sorry about his part in the others' plight. "Nope! That's the best part. Of course she didn't miss the obvious trap— 'cause I didn't try really hard to hide the prank—so she treated it as a kinda test for her students. And they failed. Miserably. I mean, she was laughing just as hard as I was before she started yelling at the three about being more alert and stuff. Then she dismissed them for the day and they decided to attempt some payback. In which they failed. Again."
"Why?" Teuchi asked with a raised eyebrow as the boy erupted into a fit of giggles.
"To prove a point, of course! That lousy Riian—you know, the one in the middle—was bragging that he was the best Shinobi ever. I, of course, told him that when I become Gennin that I'll be waaay better than he ever was! 'Cause I'm gonna be Hokage!"
"So you poured paint on him?"
Naruto snickered. "He said I was just a dreamer. So I said that I could beat him even now. He just walked away laughing, and you know how I always want to have the last laugh."
The man hid his smirk as he continued moving about the kitchen, cooking and cleaning dishes. "What about his two teammates? Weren't they just innocent bystanders?"
The blonde groaned. "Old Maaaaan, don't you listen at all? Why do you think I didn't go through the effort to hide the prank? I gave all three of them, including Riian, enough of a chance to realize what they were walking into. They didn't pay attention, so they suffered. They'll get over it." Naruto puffed his chest out arrogantly before he continued stuffing his face full of noodles. Teuchi just shook his head before glancing up at a clock.
"Hey Naruto, can you go see Ayame home from her school for me? I'll give you two free bowls tomorrow?" The boy glanced forlornly at his empty bowl before nodding in confirmation, quickly bounding out of the food stall. After a few minutes the older man in the corner of the establishment laughed as he shook his head.
"So that's the village pariah, huh?" The white-haired man moved to the spot the lad had just vacated. "A clever little bratisn't he? With big ambitions too."
The ramen chef smiled. "I was surprised, Jiraiya-sama, that you didn't make yourself known to him. You liked Kushina's fiery spirit, so you'll get along with the boy just fine. Plus he does has Minato's determination. Honestly, he makes sure village life isn't boring for everyone. Most protests are just a front."
The pervert grinned sagely. "Ah, so you correctly guessed his lineage? We really didn't put too much effort into hiding it in retrospect. But don't worry about my relationship with the brat, it'll happen soon enough. I can't really associate with him Teuchi, it'd be almost as bad as recognizing him as a Namikaze."
"Jiraiya… I'm the closest thing to a parent that that boy has, and I'm doing a poor job of watching over him. I have a business to run and Ayame is enough of a handful as it is. The sad thing is, he can survive perfectly fine on his own. Imagine yourself at seven. How self dependent were you at that age? I'm guessing not much, if at all."
The toad sage frowned at the chef. "You know I'm hardly ever in the village. How is that better than him not knowing me at all?"
"At least he'd have the extra support," was the only reply that he got. After a few moments of silence Jiraiya paid for his sake and left Ichiraku's, a thoughtful expression on his face.
Sarutobi Hiruzen sighed as watched the Village Hidden in the Leaves from his office near the top of the Hokage Tower. The setting sun doused the village in various hues of red and orange while shadows of traveling Shinobi danced across the rooftops.
The sage didn't waste any time as he emerged from the shadows. "Whispers of the 'Red Dawn' are rising. It seems that they've been increasing their recruitment rate. Rumors say that all admissions have been of S-Rank and obviously classified as a Missing-Nin. Through my resources, the only confirmed member at this time is Uchiha Itachi; although, in a somewhat related note, Orochimaru's movements are last known near the border of Ame. My correspondents in Rain Country believe that to be the base of the Akatsuki, so this situation is worth looking into on different facets. There haven't been any confirmed objectives for the group, but if the snake's on board, it's nothing to just ignore."
The Sandaime nodded thoughtfully as he packed tobacco into his pipe. "And what of the reclusive Princess?"
"Drinking and gambling, while on the run from debt collectors. The usual. I did have a small chat with her and, well, I don't think she's planning on visiting your sorry ass any time soon," Jiraiya answered with a snort. "Shizune-chan seems to be flourishing under Tsunade's mentorship though, so the old bat's not a completely lost cause. You've just got to throw her a bone or two and she'll find her way home. Eventually"
"There's not much I can do to replace the past Jiraiya. I fear she's too caught up in her memories to see what's truly in front of her." Sarutobi sighed again as he relaxed into his chair, his face lined heavily. "Enough of this lost Sannin business. To what honor do I owe with the pleasure of your presence Jiraiya? You usually just leave a report."
A perverse grin crossed the man's face. "Oh, you know Sensei. I was on my way into town and saw a few inspiring… scenes for my latest book; I was in such a good mood that I thought I'd give you a chance to lay some of your senile ramblings on me. For old time's sake." Hiruzen graced the lecher with a small chuckle before returning his expression to neutrality. Now, it was Jiraiya's turn to sigh.
"I talked to Teuchi a bit today and I saw a real interesting kid. The Gaki was in a bit of trouble because he pulled a prank on a couple of Gennin and the old chef had to bail him out... The topic of Minato and Kushina came up," He took a deep breath before continuing, ignoring his former teacher's sharp gaze. "It got me thinking Sarutobi-sensei. I've made a lot of excuses of why I've kept myself busy out of the village, be it concerning Konohagakure's security or just research ventures for my novel, but none of that accounts for how I've failed Minato. I'm the kid's only family and he doesn't even know it. Seriously old man! A seven year old living by himself with no one to look after him? It's nonsense."
"Are you saying that you're going to quit maintaining you spy network to look over young Uzumaki?"
Jiraiya walked over to window and sat on the sill, facing away from the Hokage. He rubbed his forehead roughly with his hand. "No, of course not; I just want to talk with the boy and help him out whenever I'm around. I want to at least attempt to fulfill my God-fatherly duties rather than deny the boy what he deserves."
Hiruzen kept his face neutral as he studied his student, considering what the decision could lead to. "If word got out about your relationship with the boy, before he's able to protect himself, then his life is in grave danger. Isn't that the reason why we gave him his mother's maiden name? To deflect his father's infamy away from him?"
The Sannin looked sharply at the older man. "Funny, that's what I told Teuchi. But damn it old man, the kid needs someone besides a ramen chef in his life. I can't take him away from the village for obvious reasons, besides; he needs to make friends his own age and join pass the Academy. No, but if I give him a few pointers here and there, maybe take him out for some ramen, he won't be completely ostracized by this village and, hopefully, I'll be able to bring out his true potential, which you know is there. Namikaze blood is too potent for him to be a complete dunce."
Sarutobi laughed heartily at this.. "So you looked into the school's records? I suppose it would help if Naruto actually went to his classes instead of skipping out to do pranks. Who knows, maybe you'll be a good influence on the lad."
"Me? A good influence? Damn, I knew you were going senile!"
The sage took his former Sensei's warning seriously, grinning softly. "Well, I'll be see'n ya, you old coot!" With that parting, he bounded out the window and once again faded into elongating shadows of the village.
Said blonde bristled at what he took in as an insult. He turned in mid-step to see an elderly-looking man wave at him from a little bit farther down the street. "What do you want you old bag of bones?"
The white-haired man just laughed boisterously as he caught up with the boy. "What? Don't like Naru-chan? How about Naru-tan (2)? I'll admit it's a bit hip for an oldster like me," the man laughed again as a growl from the seven year old interrupted him. "I'm joking, geez kid you've got to loosen up. I mean, you're in the presence of nobility here. The almighty Gallant Jiraiya from the tales of old!"
"You mean the old pervert that the ladies down in the hot springs are always complaining about?" Naruto deadpanned.
"Gaki, you've just got to remember that I'm famous. Not only am I one of the Sannin, I'm also student of the Sandaime and mentor of the Yondaime. You're lucky that I'm even talking to a child like you."
"Yeah, yeah Ero-jii. You keep flappin' your pruney lips but all I hear is a pervert's flimsy excuses."
"Useless bag of bones."
"Okay Ero-jii, I don't exactly have all day to tend to your senile whims. Get to the point." The blonde smirked at the incredulous expression on the older man's face—but immediately scowled as said man ruffled his hair while he had a hearty laugh.
"Okay boy, how about this? I help your useless ass graduate the Academy and see you into your Shinobi apprenticeship. Then we'll see just how 'senile' I am."
Naruto looked at the man, his expression veiled. Cautiously, he reached out a hand, which Jiraiya enthusiastically shook. Almost immediately, as if some switch had been flipped, the blonde grinned and began to bounce on the heels of his feet.
"Okay Old Man! Train me already! I'm going to be so awesome! BELIEVE IT!" Jiraiya winced and poked at his right ear with a finger.
"Calm down Naruto, we'll get to that. Geez, I think we'll need to start with some proper etiquette lessons." The blonde scrunched his eyebrows as he looked up at the Toad Sannin.
"Ehh?" The man just slapped his forehead.
"You really don't attend the Academy that often, do you? Although, it's not like I can blame you." Jiraiya tugged on the boy's arm and led him up the street. "Okay Naru-Chan, we need to pay you a visit to the library.
"Remind me why I'm wasting time with you again," Naruto whispered a bit too loudly as he stared incredulously at the stack of books the Sannin had placed in front of him. After waving off the librarian who was just a bit annoyed with the loud seven year old, Jiraiya just poked the kid in the forehead.
"It's because I know things kid, and the Third speaks highly of you. Now do you want to be Hokage or not?"
"God damn it kid. You're going to burst my ear drum if you keep that up. But, I digress, to get to the top—ya got to start at the bottom."
"And the bottom means books?"
"Yes. The bottom means books. If you had actually paid attention the few times you attend class, you'd be learning about the history of the elemental nations and such, right? Well, all that gives you knowledge which, with experience, leads to wisdom, which can make you a legend. I know a bunch of words on a page can seem boring kid, but if you actually take it seriously, you could enjoy this." Jiraiya's stern expression softened slightly at the look of determination on the blonde's face. "Who taught you to read, Naruto?"
"I taught myself."
Shock flickered briefly across the man's face. "See, that right there shows potential. Words are a tricky business, especially without help, but you persevered and learned a basic skill. But what use is knowledge like that if you don't put it to use?"
The boy bit his lip as he looked between the man and the stack of books. "I guess that makes… sense. In a boring sort of way."
Jiraiya only laughed. "Of course."
Iruka nodded as he checked of the Uchiha's name from the list. It was just an average week day at the Academy and taking attendance was always at the top of the list. After listing a few others as accounted for, Iruka almost glossed over the name of Konoha's residential prankster. The only reason he said the name out loud was because, according to the teaching protocol, he was required to ask if every enlisted student was present.
One could imagine the surprise on the teacher's face when a firm "Here" resounded from the back of the class. Every student, even the passive Sasuke, turned to look at the whiskered blonde. The boy's cheeks reddened slightly after a few minutes of the classroom staring intently at him in amazement. Technically, it was the first time he had attended class in four months, two weeks, and four days.
Iruka shook himself out of his surprise-induced stupor and hurriedly continued with the rest of the list. For the rest of the day, the scarred Chuunin watched the Kyuubi holder intently, surprised by the differences he could see in the boy. First of all, while he was still animated, Naruto wasn't half as unruly as he had ever been and, while he did play a small prank on one Inuzuka Kiba, the blonde didn't try to sabotage the class's lessons in any way. In fact, he actually listened to Iruka and Mizuki's lessons. Granted, he looked a bit strained to not sleep as per his usual routine on the rare days that he attended class. At the end of the day, Iruka just passed it off as a strange occurrence and the Uzumaki boy wouldn't be there the next day.
But he was.
Weeks went by, and the blonde attended class: daily and attentively. The severe lack of rude interruptions and an honest attempt at learning from Naruto had Iruka rattled at first, but slowly it became routine. Even the students were reacting to the boy differently. During the breaks, the blonde could be found conversing with Chouji and Shikamaru, although the Nara mostly just listened (naturally), with also, the occasional interaction with Shino. Sakura and Ino hadn't even complained or reacted violently at the boy for days because of the lack of (excessive) verbose rivalry between the Uzumaki and Uchiha.
Without his usual abrasive nature, Naruto actually seemed to fit in with the rest of the students for once, and strangely enough, Iruka was pleased by the fact.
Not that he'd admit it.
"Why so glum Gaki?"
Naruto jerked into awareness as he looked up from the swing on which he was situated towards the white haired man sitting on a high branch of the tree. "Jiraiya-jii? When did you get into the village?"
"Minutes ago," The Toad Sannin took a parcel out of his jacket and threw it at the boy. "Here. Sorry for missing your tenth birthday Naruto. I tried, but you know how life can be; pesky research for novels and such."
The blonde laughed as he opened the package to reveal a book entitled Legend of the Gutsy Ninja. "A book? By you? Wow, Ero-jii, I thought you promised the Old Man that you wouldn't corrupt my innocent mind until I was at least twelve."
Jiraiya scowled at the halfhearted jesting. "That, my dear Gaki, is my very first book and your namesake. I thought it'd be a good inspiration for your future as a Shinobi. And you should be fully aware that I am counting down the days dutifully until I can defile your mind with the wonder that is the female body."
At the mention of Shinobi, Naruto's upbeat demeanor changed savagely. His face fell into a frown and he scrunched up his forehead. "Ero-Sennin, I tried the Gennin exam today, ya know, 'cause I thought I was ready. And for the most part it was fine, but the stupid Bunshin portion of the exam caused me to fail. It's so not fair! No matter what I do, nothing helps me make a simple clone! Even Sasuke can make one! And he's a prick!"
"Okay, I know you're ahead of your other classmates but don't you think three years is a little bit too early to take the exam?" The blonde merely shook his head and the elder sighed. "Fine; let's go get something to eat, and after I promise to take you to a training area and I'll give some pointers on completing Jutsu."
After thirty minutes of Naruto attempting the simple Bunshin, but remaining unsuccessful despite the Sannin's constant shouts of advice, the Toad Sage decided to take a different turn in the training.
"You see, since your Chakra reserves have always been so large to you, your 'small' amount of Chakra is vastly different than say, that bubblegum-haired girl in your class. That's the thing with Chakra control, it's all about perspective. That's why Kunoichi generally have easier time performing E rank Jutsu like Bunshin, their limit of Chakra is easily known, so they learn to limit their output faster." Jiraiya rubbed his chin as his lips slowly turned down. "I'm going to teach you something, but if the Old Man gets wind of it he'll have my hide, so keep it secret, ya hear?"
Naruto nodded eagerly and the Toad Sage formed a Tora hand sign. With a puff of smoke, a doppelganger appeared next to him.
"This is the Kage Bunshin technique. A B Rank forbidden Jutsu due to its taxing Chakra output. Now, they are more advanced versions of this Jutsu, but I'll save that lesson for another day. Just form the Tiger sign with both hands and channel as much Chakra as you usually do whilst attempting the Bunshin when you release."
"Okay," Naruto murmured as he placed both hands into a cross. "Kage Bushin no Jutsu!" he shouted, but was disappointed to see six sickly looking Bunshin on the ground next to him. A snort from Jiraiya caused him to focus and retry over and over again. Within an hour, he could successfully create eight healthy Shadow Clones.
"Damn, this is great Ero Sennin! They're even solid!" The ten year old panted while admiring his hard work. The Sannin looked proudly down at his godson and smiled.
"Well, Gaki, I'm sorry to say but I was only here for a short check up. I've got to go travel for another month or two, so I'll just leave you with this; I showed you this for a reason. Learn from the Jutsu. I'll see you around Naruto."
"Leaving already?" Jiraiya smiled softly at the pout that darkened the boy's face. He reached out to ruffle the boy's unruly blonde hair.
In a burst of wind, the blonde was left alone with a puzzled expression. "Learn from the Jutsu? He's ridiculous!"
When Jiraiya returned forty seven days later, he was pleasantly surprised by his Godson. Not only was he greeted by two Narutos standing side by side, but when he touched one of them, his hand passed right through the figure and the Bunshin popped out of existence. With a proud smile adorning his face, the Sannin simply said, "Explain."
The remaining Naruto didn't disappoint. "When you said learn from the Jutsu, I realized that you didn't necessarily want me to master the Shadow Clone technique, so I did some research. So, while searching through the dreary library, I found that Kage Bunshin are capable of passing on information from the clone to the user once dissipated. So I worked on that, but I figured that having an excessive amount of clones would only fry my brain once I destroyed all of them, so I kept focusing on a lesser amount of Chakra. Eventually, I was able to lower my Chakra output enough so that I could successfully create only a single doppelganger at will. But that seemed too easy for your standards, so I decided to keep furthering my ability to manage my Chakra output. It was only last week that I was able to actually create a simple Bunshin. It's still not a hundred percent perfect, but I succeed in the technique every three out of five times I try." When he finished his monologue, the blonde grinned brilliantly at his Godfather. "Did I get it right?"
Jiraiya put an arm around the short boy's shoulders and dragged him out of the training zone. "You get three large bowls of Ramen, my treat. Plus I'll teach you a bit more about utilizing the Kage Bunshin. But what's this I hear from Sarutobi about this sex change Jutsu and why have you been holding out on your loving godfather Naru-chan?"
Naruto growled and swatted away the hysterical Sannin's arm before sprinting away towards Ichiraku's. Jiraiya wasn't far behind.
1. kyaku-yarou: very impolite way of talking about a customer someone strongly dislikes
2. –Tan: Slang Japanese suffix; similar to –Chan
-word count: 5,341-
last edited: 9/04/11