Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto.
Soft shafts of morning sunlight illuminated the forest. Pieces of blue sky could be seen through the boughs of the tall pines. Two young men walked the same small path between the trees, moving towards each other.
One wore his black hair swept back in a spiky style, except for some bangs that hung down to his chin, framing his face. The other had golden hair, like the sunlight surrounding them. His hair was spiky too, but his spikes were unruly and stuck out all over. He wore a black headband to keep them out of his face, the ends trailing down past his shoulders.
One had black eyes, so dark the pupils disappeared in them. They were blank, like still pools where you could not see past the surface and so could not be sure where the bottom was. The other had sky-blue eyes. Perfectly clear and endless. These pools were easy to see into, but again you couldn't be sure where the bottom was, because there was no bottom.
The dark-haired one had pale skin and a blank expression on his slim, angular features. He wore a finely-made, dark blue yukata with the symbol of his family–a red and white fan–at the shoulders. He also wore a dark blue headband with a metal plate on his forehead. A stylized leaf with a swirl in the middle was etched into it. A katana hung at his left side. He moved along the path gracefully and calmly, barely disturbing the leaves of the bushes on either side.
The blonde had tan skin—at least, it was tan compared to the pale one—and two dark marks on each cheek that resembled whiskers. He was grinning and chewing on a piece of dried foxtail grass. The bushy end of the grass bounced up and down with the animated steps he took. He was wearing a less-finely-made black and orange yukata, tied with a simple black belt. A red swirl ending in a leaping flame was emblazoned on the back. He also had a katana at his left side and his right arm was out of his sleeve, crossed in front of him, the hand resting lightly on the hilt, the fingers tapping out a beat that matched his footfalls.
They came closer, and passed each other as if neither had seen the other. But, after exactly two steps, each paused. Each knew the other had stopped too. Neither turned their head. Neither changed their expression. If anything, the blonde's grin grew wider and the black-haired boy's face became more still. If such a thing were even possible.
The dark teen silently laid a hand on the sheath of his katana and slid the blade out slightly with his thumb. The blonde's fingers went from tapping on the handle of his sword to gripping it firmly, ready to draw it in an instant. The forest was quiet. The air was heavy.
Any moment now…
Suddenly, the tension snapped, but not in the way the two had expected. A bright yellow frog hopped onto a stone marker next to the path, between the two. It croaked, and the spell was broken. Each young man relaxed taut muscles. The blonde laughed–a loud, ringing sound–and the dark one smirked, but neither turned. They simply resumed their journeys.
The frog looked between the retreating figures, then hopped off the stone after the blonde.
Out of sight of the other, the blonde stopped and looked behind him at the frog.
"Well, come on," he said and the frog took a mighty leap to land on his head. "I expect Sensei wants me back?"
The frog said nothing, but then, he didn't have to.
The black-haired teen continued at his slow pace down the path, deep in thought.
What was that?!
He hadn't thought much of the blonde with his goofy grin until they had passed each other. At that moment, when they had been closest, shoulders almost touching, he had felt…something. He wasn't really sure what it was. It was familiar somehow, yet also utterly alien. A whisper in the back of his mind. A tingle across his skin. A fire sparking to life in the pit of his stomach. The air around him had suddenly felt heavy, thick. It had pressed on his shoulders and made it hard to breathe.
He had taken two more steps and stopped. He knew the blonde had stopped too. The feeling hadn't gone away.
The blonde had made no move, had not been threatening in any way. But he knew, he knew with absolute certainty, that the blonde was dangerous. Despite his appearance to the contrary. And it was better to be cautious. So he had loosened his katana in the sheath and waited.
But the tension had been eased by a frog—a frog of all things!—and the feeling had disappeared like it had never been in the first place. The blonde had laughed and it was so incongruous with the feeling of danger just moments before, the dark teen had to smirk. It was the closest he ever came to a smile. He found himself smirking now, just thinking about it. That laugh…
He shook himself. What was he thinking? He most likely would never see the strange teen again. And if he did, he wasn't entirely certain that laughing is what he would be doing. He set his features into an expressionless mask and continued on his way.
The blonde arrived back at the camp he had stayed in the night before with his sensei. The man was waiting beneath a tree, his back resting against the trunk. His white hair was just as spiky and unruly as the blonde's, except the man's was much longer, falling in a ponytail almost to his knees. He kept it off his face with a wide metal band that read 'oil'. He had dark eyes and two red marks extending from them down his cheeks to his jaw line. He wore dark green pants and a matching uwagi shirt belted at his waist. Over that he wore a dark red sleeveless coat with two yellow circles at the shoulders. When standing, he was tall–over six feet, not counting the extra height his wooden clogs gave him–and broad-shouldered. Now, he was sitting hunched over his notebook, scribbling something. His pack was waiting by his side.
The blonde rolled his eyes at the man. His sensei was incredibly powerful and skilled in the ninja arts. He lived his life by a strict code—loyalty, duty, courage, and honor. All things the teen admired. But…those damn books of his…and the 'research' he conducted to write them…
"Oy! Ero-sennin," he called, stopping in front of the man. "You wanted me?" He pointed to the frog on top of his head.
The man, Jiraiya, didn't even look up. "It's time to go, Naruto," he said.
Naruto had packed his bag before he had left the camp that morning, so it was easy enough to grab it and head out. Before he had time to really think about where they were going and what was waiting for him at the end of their journey. Before he completely lost his nerve. He walked obediently behind his sensei, quiet as he tried, and failed, to quell his emotions.
Being quiet and obedient was not his usual state, but today was a special day. He had been both eagerly awaiting and dreading this day for all of his almost-sixteen years. Now that it was here…he didn't know what to think or how to feel. And meeting that person earlier…he hoped it was a good sign.
Jiraiya spoke up. "You're awfully quiet today."
Naruto moved up next to his teacher. "I have a lot on my mind," he replied.
"Something happen on your walk?" his sensei asked. Naruto often went on 'walks' as he called them. Jiraiya knew he did more than take a leisurely stroll through the forest, but he'd never been able to discover what. Naruto never volunteered information about them and resisted all Jiraiya's attempts to pry.
Naruto glanced at the man next to him, then looked back at the road, a small pout on his face. He knew the frog hadn't spoken to the Toad Sage before he had been thanked and dismissed, but…maybe the man did have some sort of telepathic link with his summons. "I met the Kyuubi Jinchuuriki," he said reluctantly. He wasn't sure why exactly he was reluctant to mention it to Jiraiya. Nothing had happened; they hadn't even introduced themselves. And if he became a ninja of Konoha, surely they would meet eventually anyway? Of course they would, he would make sure of it. This person was half the reason he wanted to go to Konoha in the first place. Maybe that desire was the source of his unease. After all, Jiraiya didn't know anything about that.
His sensei's voice broke him out of his thoughts. "Really? How did you know it was him?"
Naruto slid his gaze over to the big man, looking at him out of the corner of his eyes in disbelief. What kind of a stupid question was that? Of course he knew!
Jiraiya had the grace to look sheepish. "Okay, stupid question. Sorry," he said.
Naruto grinned. "It's ok, Ero-sennin," he said. "We just passed each other on the path. We didn't even speak." He left out the part about almost fighting. "I figured we'd be introduced eventually." The grin disappeared. "That is…if…" he trailed off. This was the other thing he was pensive about.
"If you are accepted into the village?" the Toad Sage finished for him. Naruto only nodded, keeping his eyes down. Jiraiya smiled again. "You will be. There is no doubt in my mind. Don't forget, the Hokage was my student too, so I know him very well."
Naruto nodded again, but this time he looked up, a determined expression on his face. "I have to be. I will be no use to my father if I am not welcome in his village."
Jiraiya's smile deepened at his tone. "Are you sure you don't want a little information about him? Just so you are a little prepared?" he asked, not for the first time.
Naruto only shook his head, also not for the first time. "No. He is getting no warning, so I will have none either."
Jiraiya sighed. When Naruto had first met the Toad Sage, seven years ago, the big man had known in an instant who his father was—he had told Naruto they looked just alike. But Naruto refused any further information and he had sworn Jiraiya to secrecy as well. He would introduce himself to his father when, and only when, he could be of some 'use', as he put it. Jiraiya thought it was ridiculous, but Naruto had been adamant.
At any rate, that time had come. Jiraiya had deemed him ready and was taking him to Konohagakure, the Village Hidden in Leaves, to meet his father.
"Naruto," the Sannin asked, "how are you feeling?"
It was not an uncommon question, so Naruto wasn't really surprised by it. Learning to identify and control his emotions was part of his training, a part he still had trouble with. Jiraiya would ask him about his feelings in any new situation and this was most definitely a new situation. He frowned slightly, trying to sort through the chaos. "Excited, eager, nervous, and…something else," he finally replied. "I'm not sure, but I think it's fear."
Jiraiya cocked an eyebrow. "Really? Fear? That's a new one."
"I've felt it before," Naruto admitted. "But that was before I met you." He ignored Jiraiya's blatantly curious look. He was not telling the Toad Sage about the last time he'd felt afraid. "It's...I don't like it." He paused, gathering his thoughts. "How can I feel emotions that are opposite each other at the same time?"
Jiraiya chuckled. "Well, it is part of the human condition," he said, softly. "Feelings follow no logic or order. They are often a jumble, a mess. The more complicated the situation, the more likely it is that we will feel conflicting emotions. And this is most certainly a complicated situation. Wouldn't you agree?" Naruto nodded, hanging on his sensei's every word. "That is why we must learn to deal with them. Take fear, for example. It is one of those emotions, like anger, that we can use to better ourselves, or that can overwhelm us and make us act stupidly."
"How do you do that? Make yourself better with fear?" Naruto asked, eyes wide, face serious.
"You must face what you fear, head on. When you have done so, it no longer holds power over you."
Naruto cracked a grin. He liked facing things head on. "Well, that is what we are doing, ne?"
"Yes, yes it is," Jiraiya replied with a smile. "And soon. There are the gates of the village." He pointed ahead.
The pair had followed the road down from the mountains that surrounded Konoha and they now approached the west gates of the village. The gates stood, tall and green, open to let in traffic during the day, though they would be closed at night. The great wall they were a part of disappeared into the trees on either side. Naruto paused for a moment, drinking in the sight. His first glimpse of his father's village and the place he hoped he could call home. He smiled, ruthlessly suppressing the doubt that assailed him, and stepped forward again.
They entered the gates and Jiraiya moved to the side to give their names to the guards. Normally, he wouldn't even bother with the gates at all, let alone the guards, but since he was bringing an unknown person into the village, it was best to follow the protocol. He also wanted Naruto to have time to take in the village. They had learned his keen senses would need a few moments to adjust to the different stimuli of a city after being out in the forest for so long.
Noticing the blonde's awed expression, the guard with the bandage over his nose–Jiraiya could never remember his name–chuckled. "First time, huh?" he asked.
Jiraiya nodded. "We are heading to the Hokage's office now."
The guard gestured at the katana Naruto was wearing. "Going to apply to become a ninja?" Seeing the big man's nod, the guard continued. "Well, I'm sure anyone you see fit to nominate will have no problem with that at all."
The other guard–Jiraiya couldn't remember his name either–was still watching Naruto, but he looked more thoughtful. "What's his name again?" he asked.
"Uzumaki Naruto," the first guard replied.
Jiraiya knew what the man was thinking, but to the guard's credit, he said nothing. Well, any halfway observant person would be able to put two and two together. Naruto really did look just like his father.
Jiraiya kept one eye on his student as they headed into the village. Naruto was glancing all around him, wide-eyed, mouth slightly open, taking everything in. The Toad Sage didn't miss the surprised glances and double-takes his student was getting from some of the citizens, especially the ninja that seemed to be everywhere here.
As they neared the Tower, Naruto's eyes came to rest on the great stone faces carved into the bluff behind the village. "Is that the Hokage Monument, sensei?" he asked. At Jiraiya's nod, he exclaimed, "That is so cool! I know you told me about them, but seeing them is totally different!"
Jiraiya chuckled, but Naruto kept his eyes on the Monument. He studied the faces carefully, his gaze lingering longest on the last—the image of the Fourth, and current, Hokage.
Soon enough, they reached the wide front doors to the Hokage Tower. The guards waved Jiraiya through with a bow. He entered and proceeded up the stairs, Naruto at his heels. A rather lovely, dark-haired woman sitting at a desk came into view. The desk was placed on a wide landing with a few chairs scattered around as a waiting room of sorts.
"Ah, Jiraiya-sama!" she called when she caught sight of the tall man coming up the stairs. "Yondaime-sama is expecting you. You can leave your pack here; it will be taken to your room." Her gaze slid to Naruto, who was now visible behind his sensei, and her eyes widened, but she recovered well. "This must be the student you mentioned. I'll let him know you are here." She turned and entered a hallway opposite the stairs and was soon lost to sight.
Naruto looked at the Toad Sage. "Is my father well-known?" he asked, his expression pensive.
"Why do you ask?"
"People keep staring at me, or looking surprised."
"Aa. He is very well-known, and not just in this village," Jiraiya replied.
Naruto nodded. "Is that why you never took me with you to Iwa?" he asked softly.
Jiraiya looked at him for a long moment and nodded. Naruto let out the breath he'd been holding in a sigh. But before any more could be said, the woman returned.
She gestured to them. "Go right ahead. He's waiting for you," she said with a smile.
"Thank you, my dear," Jiraiya replied with a wink, while Naruto gave a small bow.
They walked down the hall. Jiraiya stopped in front of a set of closed double doors and turned to Naruto. He placed a hand on the teen's shoulder. The blonde looked up, surprised at the contact and grateful for the comfort of the warm, solid hand.
"Take a deep breath, Naruto," he said. When his student complied, he continued. "This is what you have been waiting for. You will do fine. He will accept you. Now, wait here, like we discussed."
Naruto nodded, concentrating on his breathing.
Jiraiya thought he should probably follow his own advice. His emotions were similar to Naruto's; he just hid them better. He was confident for his student's sake, but in the privacy of his own mind...well. The Hokage was a good man–kind, caring, and patient. But he was only human, and Jiraiya was about to drop one hell of an exploding tag on him. The Toad Sage could really only guess how he'd react.
Once Jiraiya had decided to bring Naruto to Konoha, he'd tried to prepare the Hokage as best he could without breaking his promise. He'd written letters to his old student describing his new one, dropping any hints he thought he could get away with. It wasn't much, to be honest, but it was something. Hopefully, it was enough.
Taking a deep breath himself, he opened the door.
Inspired by the end credits on Naruto Shippuden Episode 76 and "Naruto-A Time to Kill" fan art by Orin on Deviant Art. A link to the art can be found on my profile.
Reviews and constructive criticism are appreciated.
This is going to be a pretty long story, so expect most chapters to be around the same length as this one. It will eventually be Naruto/Hinata and Sasuke/Sakura. However, Naruto will have a close relationship with Sasuke (and with Minato for that matter). But it is NOT Yaoi. I won't change the pairings either, so don't ask me to.
Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed it!
Edits made 12/10/2012