Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto or its characters. Kishimoto does.

Chapter 1: Prologue and Return

Though the office had seen constant use through years on end, it suddenly felt forlorn, as though a part of it had died with its owner. The scrupulously cleaned desk now seemed coated in a thick layer of dust. Specters of future cobwebs hung in every corner. The room was dead. In spite of the sounds of both celebration mourning outside, its three occupants sat in silent contemplation, caught up in an oppressive silence.

"So what are we gonna do with him?" asked a white haired man at last, holding a blissfully quiet bundle of blankets.

"It's difficult to say Jiraiya," responded an elderly man. His stern appearance gave the impression of a man who would be easily irritated, but at that moment the only emotion he radiated was sadness, "I know Minato wanted to be treated as a hero, but that you know as well as I do that the people won't share his sentiment."

Jiraiya sighed in agreement with Hiruzen. It was unfortunate, but that was the most likely case. After the destruction the fox had brought down upon the village, the people would need someone to blame. The perfect target for their hatred was now resting peacefully in his arms.

"He won't live peacefully in Konoha, that much is certain," continued Hiruzen Sarutobi, "The marks on his cheeks are a dead giveaway. No one here will treat him like a normal human being," a defeated look that made him seem decades older settled upon Sarutobi's face.

"Unless..." the old man looked up hopefully, "would you be willing...?"

"NO WAY!" shouted Jiraiya. Suddenly worried, he glanced down, but his yell had thankfully not awakened the child, "No way," he repeated much more quietly, "do you really want me of all people to raise any kid, let alone Minato's kid?"

"You can take him to Mount Myoboku, can't you? The toads could train him and keep an eye on the seal at the same time. You knew Minato better than almost anyone," he winced at his use of the past tense, but pressed onward, "You know he wouldn't have sealed the fox inside of a child without a reason. Minato gave this boy some sort of destiny, so we had best make sure he's prepared for it. And who else could better prepare him for it than you and the toads of Myoboku?"

Jiraiya sighed again, this time in resignation. His sensei was right, as usual, "All right. I'll take him to Fukasaku. I'm sure he won't object to this."

"Good," said Sarutobi with a nod, "take care of him and train him well. Bring him back here for the genin exams when he's twelve. He should be prepared by then. And I'll make it known that the child containing the nine tailed fox passed away, taking the demon with it. If all goes well, nobody will look twice at him once he returns.

Twelve Years Later:

"Well, well? Are ya gonna tell me about where we're going? C'mon, tell me, tell meee!"

"Fine, I'll talk, now will you just shut up for a minute Naruto?"

The blond youth did not say anything, but merely nodded in affirmation, afraid that vocally answering would break the 'shut up' rule. Naruto and Jiraiya were sitting in the shade of a giant leaf at the cratered peak of Mount Myoboku, home of the toads.

"Alright, we're going to Konoha.."

"YAHOO!" the boy leaped to his feet and literally began bouncing off the walls, or trees more accurately.

"What did I just say!?" shouted Jiraiya.

"Oh, sorry." the child sat back down and began fidgeting, almost trembling in anticipation. He had been to a few small villages on trips with Jiraiya, but a city the size of Konoha was a sight he had not yet seen.

Jiraiya cleared his throat. "As I was saying, you'll be going to live in Konoha from now on. I'll be spending most of my time there with you, but I'll still have to go out on the occasional mission."

That was alright. Jiraiya left often enough that he was used to it. He was however a little scared that the toads wouldn't be with him either.

"What'll I do when you're not around?" he asked worriedly, "I don't know anyone there."

"Don't worry, once you get there and ace the genin exams, you'll be assigned to a team. Not only that, but I've trained you well," Jiraiya winked, "so you'll have a girlfriend in no time at all."

Naruto folded his arms. "Yeah, whatever..."

Jiraiya sighed. He hasn't spent enough time around the opposite sex to realize how wonderful women are. That'll change soon enough, though.

"So when do we leave, huh? Are we leaving soon? Are we? C'mon, tell me we're leaving soon!"

How did I put up with this kid for twelve years? Jiraiya wondered as he buried his face into the palm of his hand. Steeling himself, for the coming explosion, he said, "We'll leave as soon as you're ready."

"YAHOO!" the kid shouted in a loud voice that nearly made Jiraiya's ears bleed as the call echoed through the mountain. "I'm ready right now! Let's go let's go let's go!" and with that he turned around and began running in a random direction.

"Hold your horses, kid. You aren't ready yet. You still have to get dressed."

Naruto snorted, "I am dressed."

Jiraiya took a good look at his apprentice and adopted son. The child's messy long hair was tied up in the same fashion as his own. Dirt was smeared across his face, obscuring his whiskers. He was barefoot, wearing only an utterly plain brown robe over his undergarments. No the boy was most certainly not dressed.

"Go wash up and I'll show you your new clothes when you're done."

"Isn't this a bit much?" Naruto mused as he and Fukasaku inspected the outfit Jiraiya had picked out for him.

"Of course it isn't! This is perfect! You want to be a sage when you grow up, right?"

Naruto nodded eagerly.

"Well then you'll have to look the part! Trust me, kid. In this, ladies will swoon over you and enemies will flee at the very sight of you! You'll be ten times the shinobi you are now once you put this on!"

"Whoa, it's really that important?"

"Not really," Fukasaku muttered so quietly that no one else heard him.

"Of course!" Jiraiya exclaimed so loudly that the entire mountain heard him.

Naruto silently mouthed 'wow,' and allowed Jiraiya to help him dress up without complaint.

Ha, perfect! This kid will be a real lady killer! All the girls at the academy will be clinging to him. He'll be living out my dream, this one. Jiraiya stood back to admire his handiwork.

Naruto's hair was now in a slightly neater ponytail, although it was still spiky. He wore a plain black t-shirt covered by a long, red, short sleeved haori with a black flame design near the bottom. Bandages (handy for concealing small weapons) covered his forearms. Long white pants covered his legs, and his feet were now clad in practical, easy to move in sandals. Completing the outfit, an dark blue cloth belt was tied around his waist on the outside of the haori, holding it in place so that it would not slip up in the middle of combat. A moderately sized scroll containing various ninja tools was strapped to the back of it.

Good looking, sturdy, and practical. I did a good job here. Heh, sometimes I amaze even myself, Jiraiya thought as he nodded in a self satisfied manner.

"Alright, now you're ready, kid."

Jiraiya grabbed Naruto's shoulder, and with a sudden burst of white smoke, the two of them vanished.

The 'bang' of a summoning jutsu, or in this case a reverse summoning, sent birds flying off in alarm from what had been a calm grove of trees by the road. Naruto squinted in the suddenly blinding sunlight, and immediately caught sight of Granny Shima standing in front of them with a smile.

"Welcome back to your true home, Naruto."

"It doesn't look like much," replied Naruto, staring down the desolate road.

Jiraiya chuckled, "Turn around, kid."

Naruto did as he was bidden, and suddenly forgot the bright sunlight, opening his eyes wide at the sight before him.


Massive stone walls rose dozens of meters from the ground, framing a huge gate that sat wide open. Inside, he could see closely packed buildings that dwarfed everything he had previously seen in any of the villages he had visited in the past. More people than he had seen in the entirety of his life bustled back and forth down wide streets. And this was just the small fraction of the city that wasn't concealed behind the wall.

"Well Naruto," said Shima tearfully, "I guess this is good b-"

"Cool!" shouted Naruto, rushing toward the hidden village without so much as a backward glance.

Shima couldn't help but laugh through her tears.

"Don't worry," Jiraiya reassured her, "he'll be back before you know it, hopefully for sage training."

"Right, well I guess I should get back home. Pa will probably be getting cranky by now."

She formed a hand sign and vanished in a puff of smoke identical to the one that had summoned Jiraiya and Naruto.

"Going back will probably make Fukasaku even more cranky," Jiraiya muttered helplessly. He turned to see Naruto almost at the gates. "Hey! Wait up!" he shouted.

"Morning!" Jiraiya shouted as loudly as possible while he forcefully slammed both of his hands down on the desk of guard house, waking up the two negligent shinobi.

"Wha- Master Jiraiya!" one of them said with a start. "Please forgive us sir! We, uh..."

"Forget it," replied Jiraiya. It wasn't as though he had never fallen asleep on guard duty himself.

"A-anyways, go right on in, Master Jiraiya and..." he turned questioningly to the youth.

"Ah, yes," Jiraiya swept the boy forward. "This is Naruto Uzumaki, my apprentice."

"Welcome to Konoha. I've already signed you in, so go on ahead."

Jiraiya nodded. There would usually be paperwork to fill out, but being one of the Legendary Sannin had its benefits. His hands were firmly clasped around Naruto's shoulders to prevent him from running off, but the boy was still trying to break free.

"Easy Naruto," Jiraiya said, "we're going to visit the hokage first. You can go exploring after that.

"All right," he replied grudgingly, clearly disappointed that he didn't get to go exploring now. Even so, what little he did see on the way to the hokage tower impressed him. Everyone was so busy in Konoha. The frogs at Mount Myoboku took things slowly, but these people seemed to in a hurry to get everything done. He had to admit that the sheer number of people, along with the fact that very few of them spared them so much as a glance was a little intimidating. The city seemed a little impersonal, but Grandpa Jiraiya had assured him that he would make friends quickly.

Naruto uttered another 'wow' upon their arrival at the hokage tower. Jiraiya wondered how long it would be until Naruto stopped saying that. It was nice to know that the kid was enjoying himself, but this was starting to get annoying. After Naruto charged up the stairs with an exhausted Jiraiya chasing him, the pair was admitted into the hokage's office. Naruto looked around the relatively plain room, but the only thing there was a grumpy looking old man sitting behind a desk.

"Hey gramps," Naruto said loudly, "where's the hokage?"

Sarutobi bristled at the statement. He wasn't that old, was he?

"I am the hokage. Since Jiraiya's with you, I assume you're Naruto."

The brat nodded, still seemingly amazed at the age of the hokage. Jiraiya stepped forward, pushing the kid aside and saying, "Why don't you leave the talking to me, eh Naruto? It's been a while, Hiruzen."

"It has indeed. You've trained him well, I hope."

"You think we would have come back without producing any results? He'll have no trouble with the genin exams next week. Actually, why don't we send him over to the academy right now? He should have just enough time to introduce himself to the other students, if I remember the class schedules correctly." And with any luck someone will take him out to eat and get him out of my hair for an hour or two. He turned toward Naruto and pulled something out of his pocket. "Here's some money for food. I'll come find you after I'm done talking with Lord Hokage here."

Sarutobi nodded and snapped his fingers. At once a ninja walked through the doors.

"Yes, Lord Hokage?"

"Please escort Jiraiya's apprentice to the ninja academy."

"As you wish." the man said, then turned toward Naruto. "If you would follow me?"

Shivering with excitement at the prospect of meeting other kids his age, Naruto allowed himself to be led from the office.

It was near the end of class, which meant that Iruka was once again contemplating retirement. The kids were too much for him all day long, but it was especially bad during the last hour. Everyone was too eager to leave to pay attention to anything he said. The door slid open, and a fellow chuunin walked in. Good, maybe he's coming in to replace me. But to Iruka's horror, the man simply led yet another brat into his classroom, yet another headache that he would be dealing with. He had spent enough time around children that he could usually judge their character on sight, and he could tell that this kid would be a handful. His odd clothing aside, the boy gave off a kind of hyperactive aura. This kid will be worse than Kiba, I can already tell.

"Who's this?" he asked the chuunin.

"Naruto Uzumaki, from out of town. I understand that he has already undergone training, and the hokage himself has informed me that he is prepared for the genin exams. He shouldn't be any trouble."

Iruka managed to restrain a sigh. 'He shouldn't be any trouble' was a phrase he had heard on many occasions. Never once had it proved to be true. Of course, if this Naruto really was ready for the exams, he would only have to deal with the boy for a week. "Very well then, why don't you introduce yourself to the class, Naruto?"

Not needing any further encouragement, the boy leaped forward and declared, "I'm Naruto Uzumaki. I was raised by the toads at Mount Myoboku. I really like toads, and my dream is..." he struck a pose, "to be the number one toad sage in all the world!"

Yeah, he'll be a headache, Iruka thought dryly as several members of the class, mostly the girls, began whispering to each other. From what he could tell, about half of them were excited by his exotic appearance, while the other half were disgusted by the thought of being raised by frogs. "Okay, class. I'll be letting you all out early today. Why doesn't someone show Naruto around the city..." so that I won't have to deal with him until Monday.

The entire class cheered at being able to escape from school, and most of them gathered at the doorway attempting to push their way through more quickly than the narrow door would allow. A handful of girls remained behind to talk with the newcomer, while a heavily blushing girl with pearly white eyes attempted to hide behind her desk. Great, now Hinata will be even more shy.

Naruto found himself being dragged through the streets by a gang of chattering girls. He couldn't help but feel a little intimidated. Grandpa Jiraiya actually likes this? These girls are scary.

"So what do you like to eat, Naruto?"

"Um..." he had never really thought about it. The only thing he ever got to eat back home was the soup Grandma Shima made. "I don't know."

"Whoa, that's so cool," one of them said.

How is that cool? "Uh, actually, I have to go meet my grandpa, so, uh, bye." It was technically true, even though he had no idea when that would be or where he had to go. He fled without a backward glance, leaving the girls muttering disappointedly behind him. When he sharply turned a corner, he crashed into someone. Picking himself up off the ground, he took a good look at her, and vaguely recognized the white eyes and purple hair as belonging to someone he had seen in the back of the room at the academy.

Noticing her face, he asked, "Are you okay, your face is all red. Do you have a fever or something?"

As soon as the comment left him, her face became an even deeper shade of red. Realizing she was still on the ground, he held out a hand to help her up. She took one look at it and became as scarlet as his haori.

"Th-thank you..." she muttered, refusing to meet his eyes, as he helped her to her feet.

"Say, do you know someplace where I can get some food? I'm starving."

Seemingly unable to speak, the girl simply nodded.

"Great! Lead the way!"

As they walked forward, she unsteadily and he excitedly, Naruto cast a sidelong glance at her. What's with this girl? She's all weird and gloomy... Oh well! Maybe she'll talk more while we eat. Still, she'd be kinda pretty if she wasn't all depressed...