Ramen Budget

Uzumaki Naruto had always known he was different from other kids.

Instead of spending his free time playing games like chopsticks, or Darumasan ga koronda, or Kagome Kagome; his uncle would teach him games that none of the other kids could play with him. He wasn't sure any of them even knew what chakra was, after all…or a kata for that matter. But that didn't stop him from learning all those other games when uncle was busy talking business.

Neither did he have a mother or a father like all the other kids his age. In their places he had an uncle who wasn't really an uncle and more neechans than he could count on his fingers and toes. Because unlike the other kids, he and his uncle didn't have a home; they were always travelling. And at each new stop Naruto would get a new neechan. Sometimes more than one.

His uncle was really popular like that.

And finally, Naruto was pretty sure that none of the other kids he met travelling with his uncle had a demon sealed inside them. His father had put it in there so he could protect all the people he loved, including Naruto. It was a big responsibility. But that was just how things worked in his life. Nobody wanted a demon in their stomach, but Naruto wouldn't wish it on anyone else.

Being different had never bothered him. In fact, he liked being different. He got to see lots and lots of neat places! And he got to meet lots and lots of people! And someday Naruto was going to be a super-strong ninja just like his uncle and the old monkey that they visited once a year back in Konoha! He had made a promise. And he never broke his promises!

Naruto hummed to himself happily as he chewed on a piece of Mitarashi-dango, a glazed cup of green tea wedged between his legs. He sat on the edge of an old wooden porch, his sandaled feet scraping the dusty road beneath as they swung freely back and forth.

It had been two long years since they'd been back to Hangyakusha, a port-town in southern Fire Country. Naruto had been looking forward to it all year—mostly because he missed playing with kids his age. But Jiraya had said they'd stay for a couple of weeks this time, so he could catch up with his friends before uncle made them move-on again. He hadn't spotted them yet, but he was sure they'd come by sooner or later. In the meanwhile, Naruto would enjoy his sweet sticky dango, watching all sorts of busy people that packed the broad street: Sailors with funny caps, traders with their carts and harried expressions, pretty neechans hiding under lace umbrellas—big towns were so interesting! So much more to look at than the country! Not as beautiful…and kinda funny smelling sometimes…but still super interesting!

Naruto was just licking his fingers as he finished another stick of his dango when he spotted a particular pair of persons threading their way through the crowd. Jiraya had a way of sticking out in any crowd: blinding white spiky hair, red tatoos streaking both cheeks, and flashy red getup…you would have to be trying pretty hard to miss him. He caught Naruto's eye as they approached giving him that look. The significant look that told him to be on his best neechan behaviour.

"Oh, there he is!" Jiraya said loudly, pulling the neechan through the crowd to stop beside Naruto. "Naruto!"

"Ji'han!" Naruto crowed happily, his mouth full of dango. He swallowed as the neechan giggled at him. She looked kinda old under all her makeup. But she had a nice smile that warmed her eyes. How someone smiled could really tell you a lot about a person. And it just so happened, this neechan had a smile that was kind and genuine. He liked those kind of smiles the best! "So, so…who's the pretty neechan, uncle?"

"Oho!" Jiraya puffed out his chest as the neechan blushed. "Naruto, this wonderful woman is Kaya! She'll be taking care of us while we're staying here," he explained then shot him a stern look. "So be good!"

"What?! I'm always good!" Naruto puffed out his cheeks in protest before he morphed his expression into a blinding smile for the neechan beside Jiraya. "Kaya-neechan is super pretty!" Earning himself twinkling eyes and an amused smile.

"I thought you were kidding when you said you had a cute kid!" Kaya-neechan extricated herself from Jiraya's arm so she could crouch down beside him and stroke his whiskered cheeks with the back of her fingers. "These are so cute! They're like little cat whiskers! How did you get these Naruto-kun?"

"Uh…I was born with them?" Naruto didn't think 'because of kyuubi' would have gone over too well.

"They're birthmarks common to his family," Jiraya added proudly. "I'm his godfather. Gotta take care of the little brat since I'm all he's got left in this world."

"Oh…that's…I'm sorry to hear that Naruto-kun."

Naruto grinned and stuck another piece of dango in his mouth, chewing and talking at the same time. "Uhn! It's okay Kaya-neechan! 'Cause I got Uncle! He's super-strong! And one day I'm gonna be a super-strong ninja like Uncle!"

"Oh, super-strong is he?" Kaya-neechan asked with a familiar glint in her eyes.

"Uhn!" confirmed Naruto, watched as Jiraya-uncle crossed his arms and threw-out his chest self-importantly. "He can run super-fast for days! And he can lift huuuuuge rocks! And he can do all sorts of cool ninja-stuff!"

"Really now?" Said Kaya-neechan with a predatory look on her face. "A ninja? We don't get too many of those around here."

"Uh-huh! He can make his hair super-spiky like a porcupine!"

"Really? I'd like to see that."

"Yup! And, and! He can make a huuuuuuge swamp appear out of nowhere that makes bad-people drown!"

"Oh! How dangerous!" Kaya-neechan was looking a bit flushed now as she fanned herself.

"Uh-huh!" said Naruto, who was ignoring Jiraya, who seemed to have figured out where Naruto was going if his frantic motions behind Kaya-neechans back to cease and desist were any indication. "And he can spit mud out of his mouth!"

"Oh, I see he can…what?" Her face screwed up in disgust.

"Uh-huh! It looks kinda weird when he does it. Kinda like taking a poop backwards!" Kaya-neechan didn't have the same appreciation Naruto did for the imagery. Then came the final blow: "And he can summon these HUGE slimy toads! And…and sometimes, when he doesn't want to be found, he lets them eat him so he can hide in their tummy!"

Jiraya smacked his hand over his face and groaned.

Kaya-neechan got that same look on her face that all the neechans did when they found out about Jiraya-uncle's mud-spitting and toad summoning abilities—pasty white and nauseated.

"What!?" Naruto asked Kaya-neechan loudly. "I don't believe it! You didn't know what they call uncle?! He's the one and only Toad-Sennin and SUPER-PERVERT!" Naruto adopted a thinking expression, with his finger poking his cheek. "Buuut…you can just call him ero-sennin like me!"

"Naruto…" Jiraya growled.

He tugged on Kaya-neechan's sleeve, ignoring the fact that her eyebrow was twitching dangerously. "So, so, has he shown you the books he writes yet?" He lowered his voice to a whisper. "It's a super-secret, okay? Ero-sennin writes Icha-Icha books. But you can't tell anyone."

"Those…disgusting orange books that have recently become all the rage?" Naruto nodded happily. "N…naruto-kun? You…he doesn't let you read them does he?" Kaya-neechan growled.

"Huh? Of course!" Naruto said, affronted. "How do you think I learned to read? I don't really understand them." Naruto laughed sheepishly and scratched the back of his head. "Ero-Sennin says I'll get it when I'm older."

"Arg! You'll pay for this brat!" Jiraya yelled over his shoulder as he dove back into the crowd to avoid Kaya-neechan's fist.

"JIRAYA! YOU SLIMY VERMIN! GET BACK HERE! I'M GOING TO CASTRATE YOU!" Naruto plopped back into his seat and took another bite of his Dango as he watched on with interest. Kaya-neechan literally began tossing bodies out of her way as she ploughed through the crowd, leaking significant killing intent as she chased after her white-haired quarry.

As much as he loved his uncle, he had bad habits around neechans. And normally Naruto didn't care if uncle used him to get neechans to like him, but that was only if uncle remember to give him his ramen-allowance—which, of course, he had forgotten in his haste to go find a neechan as soon as they entered the city limits, leaving Naruto to amuse himself on a tight budget.

Ramen, after all, was a very serious business. It was best Jiraiya didn't forget that.