Four years old and already questioning his disappointment of a life, an exhausted and pained Naruto slowly trudged back home to his rundown, second story apartment on the edge of the village, hands in his pockets and an upset look on his face as he attempted to avoid the stares of those around him.
Dragging his feet, the blonde shrugged his shoulders and ignored the murmured comments and insults thrown his way. Having put up with these, as well as other far worse abuses and ridicules for some time, somewhat left a rather deep impression of hurt, sadness, and mistrust in his personality. But rather then let the responses to these feelings bubble to the surface, Naruto just dispensed with them, and went on his way.
Escaping into the empty side streets of the village, away from the main crowded roads and boulevards, the spiky haired blonde walked on for half-an-hour or more longer, not really caring where he went, so long as it was away from everybody else. Earlier today, he had tried and failed once again to make small talk with some of the local kids, asking them whether he could join them, but was once again chased away, or pretty much ignored.
He sighed at the recent memory.
"This isn't fair," the four-year-old boy mumbled to himself. "Why does everyone hate me so much? What did I do that was so bad?"
As much as he attempted to fathom the roots of his memories and self for the answers, he couldn't find any reason about himself for anyone to hate him so much. He always smiled and greeted others politely, didn't make fun of others, was kind to everyone, approached people unthreateningly, and he certainly didn't smell or look unappealing. But then again, taking a second glance at himself, he was wearing second hand clothes; the white shirt with an orange spiral on the back, and casual blue shorts, with a side of dirt smudged and slight tears here and there, certainly weren't awful at all. After some consideration, Naruto figured that his clothes weren't at all offensive enough to cause displeasure and spite towards him for.
His mind further wandered on like the path he walked on.
"Don't look at me…"
These were some of the words that echoed in his head. He scratched his head and tapped his stomach, as if trying to feel something out of place.
No extra limbs, horns, tails or anything. He was just a normal kid.
Naruto scrunched his face up in thought and displeasure.
"But all the boys and girls from the playground don't want me to be around, and they don't call me a demon. They just don't want me to play with them, and the older ones just chase me away…"
Needless to say, he was rather disgruntled. It was definitely something that can be heard from a upset and miserable kid of his age.
Kicking a stone lying on the path, he continued walking, repeating this step every time he reached the rock. He rubbed his right arm along his triceps, noting the scars and bruises on his arms. Naruto, knowing what these scars were made from, quickly returned his left hand to his pocket.
"Everyone just hates me…"
Kicking the rock one last time, Naruto turned down another road, this time certain where he wanted to go. His stomach was, at this point in the afternoon, growling at him. He was hungry.
Soon enough, after wandering the village streets for what seemed like hours, Naruto arrived at his destination. His spirits were lifted slightly, as well as his head, when he caught a whiff of the delicious concoctions being created beyond the threshold of Ichiraku's Ramen Stand. Smiling, the boy ducked underneath the banners of the bar, and with a spring in his step, took his usual seat at the bar, second seat from the left wall. Because of his small size, he literally climbed the stool like a ladder, and quietly got comfortable.
Still feeling a little bit down, Naruto, instead of immediately shouting an order of his usual Miso Ramen to 'Old-Man' Teuchi behind the counter, just sat there quietly for a bit, playing with his fingers as he thought about the day before hand. He was still puzzled and upset by why everyone resented and hated him so, but the more he thought about it, the more questions began swimming through his head. But then again, what was a four-year-old to do? Unlike a normal child's world, his was enormous. He had more weight on his shoulders then anyone else in his age group, and more burdens of loneliness and responsibilities.
While Naruto was continuing to sit in his own little world of thought, twiddling his thumbs tediously, the boy failed to notice the big man sitting a seat away from him to his right, writing in a little note book and every so often pausing to think quietly from his mumbled ranting; after which, the man would then grumble and rip out a page, or giggle and scribble something down. This, though seemed odd to Teuchi and Ayame working, didn't bother Naruto one bit, since he wasn't paying much attention.
It was only when the old man shouted out "Eureka!!!" did Naruto finally notice the white haired stranger in the corner. Upon setting his eyes on the elderly gentleman, the blonde was a little taken aback; a really tall man, around his fifties, with long, white and spiky hair, and had red lines painted below his eyes. The old man was also wearing faded green pants and t-shirt with a ninja's fishnet mesh, red arm guards, wooden sandals, a vest, and a strange forehead protector, not to mention carrying a huge scroll on his back, and a couple of pouches around his waist. Furthermore, this man was sitting, and eyeballing the little notebook he held in his hands rather too fondly for a normal person.
At first, Naruto thought that the man was a little strange, but who was he to question another man's personality. Then later, he saw that it was just another happy person enjoying himself and his blissful life. Naruto shared a small smile at the sight, before looking back at his hands, shot-down once again.
"He's happy, and on his own… why am I the only one unhappy and on my own…"
Things didn't go any better in Naruto's mind when the stranger at the end of the stand began sharing a nice descent conversation with the owner of the bar, like they were old friends.
Knowing that this 'too' happy environment was suffocating enough as it was, Naruto was about to leave, until he was stopped in his tracks by the stranger.
"Hey kiddo, what's the matter," the white-haired man asked, taking a seat beside the kid. "You look a little under the weather. Did something happen?"
"Oh uhh… n-nothing! Nothing happened, mister," Naruto replied quickly, wanting to leave as soon as possible. "I… I was just leaving…"
"Oh nonsense! The afternoon is still young, and all the restaurants and bars are still open! Relax and enjoy yourself!" the old-man exclaimed. He paused just a bit to see the uncertain and cautious look on the boy's face. The white haired hermit grinned. "Ah, don't worry. I won't bite. The name's Jiraiya: Toad Sage of Mount Myōbokuzan and former ninja of the Hidden Leaf Village. Perhaps you've heard of me!"
Naruto just stared at him. After a minute or so, without seeing a change of expression or pace in the boy's observations, the toad Sage got the hint that this boy hadn't heard of him, and quickly tried to break pace from this awkward moment.
Clearing his throat, he continued. "So, kid, what's your name?"
The blonde hesitated for a moment, not quite trusting this surprisingly energetic man. But after a few seconds of thought, he figured that no harm would come from just mentioning his name. "M-My name is Naruto… Naruto Uzumaki!"
"Naruto, aye!" Jiraiya parroted with his grin widening. "Nice to meet yah!"
Naruto smiled a small smile, and merely nodded back, before passively returning to staring at the desk in front of him. Seeing the lack of a lively response from the boy, Jiraiya immediately deduced something was wrong. He craned his head a little to get a better look at the downed look on the boy's face. For a ninja well versed in experience, he knew that look well.
The old man smiled and patted the kid on the back. "Hey, cheer up. What, did someone make fun of you that's got you so down?"
"I-It's nothing," Naruto replied, facing away. "I… I don't want to be any trouble…"
"Neh… come on. I've got time on my hands!" Jiraiya exclaimed, thumbing himself in the chest in emphasis. "I have another hundred years ahead of me before death himself decides to come after me, and even then he's going to have a hard time trying to get at my soul!"
Naruto looked up at him oddly for a moment, but then after seeing his grin and confidence shining in his eyes, couldn't help but snicker slightly at the old man's antics. This made Jiraiya's grin widen all the more, and he elbowed the by lightly in encouragement.
"Yeah! There we go! See… 'A smile on a face makes the whole world brighter'!" the old hermit quoted. "Now, tell me. What's been going on with yah?"
A frown quickly donned on his face, Naruto looked back at his hands and twiddled his fingers. Taking a deep breath, he finally got up the courage to talk to this stranger. He didn't know why, but he felt that he could trust this old codger.
"Well… I… I've had it pretty rough…" the blonde said in a low voice, closing his eyes and lowering his head. "Everybody hates me… and I don't know why. B-But… they call me a monster… and stuff. And nobody in this village wants to be near me… or even look at me…." He wiped his brow, showing that he wanted to hide away his depressing memories, as if rub them back down. "Y-You wouldn't understand…"
Jiraiya raised an eyebrow at this, his thoughts troubled by this boy's predicament. He couldn't fully comprehend what kind of torment this boy was going through, or wonder why the boy was picked on for something he resembled nothing alike. That was until he suddenly recognized the kid's name, and where he had heard it from. He mentally stabbed himself for not recognizing him earlier.
The force of the shock the hermit was hit with didn't show on the surface, and he did a good job of hiding it. Instead, he patted himself on the back, wishing himself good luck, before smiling down at the boy, and in so doing, giving Naruto a reassuring pat on the back.
"I want to try though," Jiraiya said, Naruto looking back up at him in response. "It's hard to explain, but you might get the gist of it later. Just… try to look for a light; there's always a path way leading to a brighter side to any situation, no matter how grim or dark it may be." Reaching into the pouch he had on his back, the old man fumbled around for something. Grinning triumphantly, he pulled out what looked to be a collection of four pocket books, tied together by a belt. He then handed it to the by with a smile. "Here… I'm sure this will help yah understand, kiddo…"
Naruto, blinking in puzzlement, curiously and cautiously took the books from the old man, and looked down at them. He looked upon the title of the first book, Tale of the Utterly Gutsy Shinobi.
He looked up at the smiling old timer. "W-Why… did you give me these…?"
Jiraiya grinned at him and gave him the peace sign with his right hand in a cool and okay gesture. "Read the first book. Once you do, come see me at the West Gate on Friday, I'll be leaving the village then for the Land of Grass. Tell me what you learned from that story, and what you made of the character's aspirations and goals. Two days pass very quickly till Friday. Think of it as a little challenge for yah."
Staring at the man for a moment or so, Naruto then smiled happily for the first time today and nodded affirmatively. As young as he was, he wouldn't dare pass off a challenge like this.
"Okay! Thanks old-man!" Naruto exclaimed, getting off of his seat and dashing out of the bar. "I'm going to read it all tonight!" was heard as he ran down the dark, medium crowded street.
Jiraiya's tick-mark throbbed at the boy's address. "Hey! It's Jiraiya, kid! JIRAIYA! J-I-R-U… or is it A? Ugh… forget it…" The old man slumped on the counter and rested his head on his arm. He huffed out a breath.
"It's hard to get people interested in anything I do… even kids…"
For a few seconds, he sat there in silence. That was before a certain thing clicked in his head. He stood up straight all of a sudden, bumping the counter, rattling plates and drawing the manager's attention.
"OH NO! THAT BUNDLE I GAVE HIM HAD MY ICHA-ICHA POCKET BOOK COPIES!"
That very next day…
Tears brimmed Naruto's eyes as he read the conclusion to the fantastic story the old hermit had written, and lent to him last night. For a boy, this was definitely a highly realistic fantasy, and it had everything he ever wanted in a story.
Lying flat on his stomach on his one bedroom apartment's bed, after hours of reading, finally came to the end of a wonderful tale. Sniffing, Naruto wiped his eyes clear and turned the page to the back, where he saw a mug shot of the author, in his younger years, grinning at the cameraman.
Naruto smiled at the photo, catching wind of the scribbled note the author, Jiraiya had left under the photo. "This story was inspired by a formal pupil of mine, and I am grateful to him…" was what the young boy read, before closing the book and letting out a sigh. He placed his forehead to the cover of the book, praising the magnificence of the tale, then set it aside and rolled onto his back.
Fascinated and awe struck by the sheer impressive magnitude, Naruto then began thinking, and dreaming about ne day becoming like the main character from the book. The man, the warrior, the hero from the book, possessed all the qualities he admired; determination, courage, kindness, and especially the will to never give up. Naruto let out a sigh, envisioning himself as becoming that very same warrior.
"And… it's my name…"
Rolling over again, Naruto was about to get up. It was then he spotted the rest of the books the author had written. Blinking, the blonde looked up the stack of three, and he deduced from their similar titles that it was a series of some sort.
"Icha-Icha Paradise… Icha-Icha Violence… and Icha-Icha: Make-Out Strap," Naruto read, shrugging, and picking up what he presumed was the first of the series. "If these are as good as the Tale of a Gutsy Ninja, I've got to get his autograph…"
On his stomach, on his bed, Naruto opened to the first page, and began reading…
Later that night, when almost everyone in the local neighborhood surrounding Naruto's home had gone to sleep, in the deafly silence, there emerged a scream of admiration and utter joy. The yell was so loud, people thought that they were either being invaded, or someone had just been murdered…
"THIS BOOK IS AMAZING!"
Jiraiya stood patiently by the West Gate leading out of Konohagakure, arms folded and tapping his foot rhythmically on the ground. He was both anxious and worried, wondering how the kid would react to his book… not to mention the other ones if he read them. If the young lad had, then he was in place for a right good scolding by the boy. However, he was hoping the kid would show up with a positive response.
Knowing the nature of the kid underneath the dexterity he saw at the ramen stand, the old hermit knew that Naruto would have come up with some sort of answer.
A couple of hours after the sun had set; Jiraiya was still waiting for the would-be blonde to show up. It was when he was half-considering leaving a clone of himself to wait in his stead while he went to go and get himself a drink, he soon spotted the recognizable silhouette of said boy running towards him from up the road. Within seconds, Naruto was in front of him, panting, and holding the stack of four pocket books up towards the old hermit. A grin on his face, the spiky haired boy bowed to him.
"Thanks old-man!" Naruto exclaimed excitedly. Jiraiya blanched at this, but figured scolding the boy would be un-cool, and instead took the books from him. He didn't notice that the boy had a back-pack on him till after he took the books.
"Your welcome, kiddo," Jiraiya replied. "I suppose you enjoyed the story, neh?"
"I liked the tale very much. The adventure, the reasons, and the message… I can really… understand what the character is going through, and how he must feel. Even though he was always hurt, and knocked down, he… he always got back up, and kept pushing forward. It… it makes me want to be like him… to walk in his footsteps."
Jiraiya listened intently with folded arms and a flare of interest as the boy spoke. As he listened, the blonde looked around at his surroundings, putting emphasis on the village of Konohagakure.
"The ninja in the story… he encountered a lot of hardships in his life. Despite all those things, being hurt for showing kindness, and being hurt by those who hate him, and with whom he fights, he still cherished everything and everyone around him. I… believe I can accept my life, because I can understand the pain he must feel." Naruto smiled and looked back up at the white haired hermit. "I want to be that man!"
Jiraiya nodded. "I guess that's your answer then?"
Naruto nodded affirmatively.
"Well that just about sums up my work for the week. Changing the world little by little…" Jiraiya exclaimed, pocketing the books the boy had returned to him. "Like the character in this story, I myself have found a purpose in life. I believe that I can change the world by writing my books, and giving people hope through them. You could call it my destiny, but in spite of that, I believe that destiny can be changed, as it is not set within any boundaries. There are literally infinite possibilities and roads to walk down. All you have to do is choose the right one…"
The boy stared up at the old man as he shared with him this little truth. When done, Jiraiya let out a sigh and stretched his arms.
"Well, I'd better be heading off to Kusagakure," Jiraiya said. But before heading off anywhere, he gestured towards the backpack Naruto had on him. "What's with the bag? You going somewhere… or have you got something else in there for poor old me?" The sweetness in his tone in the last question was easily fake.
Naruto shook his head.
"I'm coming with you, Ji-sama!" he exclaimed.
"I want to go with you," Naruto repeated. Dropping to his knees, he bowed to the frog hermit, who was staring down at the boy gob-smacked and speechless. "Please… I humbly wish to become your student, Jiraiya-sama…"
Stammering, Jiraiya looked around to see if anyone was watching. Seeing no one, the old man looked back down at Naruto, trying to force out a response. "Ahh… ugh… uhh…"
"Please…" Naruto looked up with pleading eyes. "You've inspired me to become like the Naruto from the book… your book! I want to become strong like him, so that I can prove my worth! I want to become a ninja like you!"
"Listen kid…" Jiraiya began, taking in a few deep breaths to steady himself. Sighing, he looked into the boys eyes. "It's very dangerous out there. I know you mean well, but trust me, if I was to take you from this village, I'll be catching hell from a lot of the big players up top, especially from the old guy sitting at the big desk wearing the funny hat." He stopped. It was then a thought came to mind and he looked up in wonder. "That reminds me; I haven't seen or spoken to sensei in a while. I wonder if he likes the Icha Icha Gold Edition novels I sent him as a birthday present last ye- I'm getting off topic! The point is kid… I… I… uh… I can't take you as my apprentice. I'm sorry."
"Please, Ji-sama! Please! You are the first person other then Mr. Teuchi and Ayame-nii-chan to ever show me kindness, or even look at me! I want to go out and see the world and to learn from you!" Naruto begged. "I want to leave this village for a while and see the world out there, outside of these walls, outside of this cage! I may not be worth it, worthy, or show any promises of a true genius, but I want to try! I want to try and become strong, so I can help and defend others! I want to see the world from your eyes, Jiraiya-sama!"
Jiraiya eyed the boy as tears strung Naruto's eyes and threatened to break. Sighing, he rubbed the back of his lowered head and murmured a little, a small smile sprouting on his lips.
"Since when did I ever follow the rules…" he muttered, briefly looking back on his younger days, "Okay then… fair enough." He looked back up at Naruto, grinning. "I guess I can take you on, Naruto Uzumaki! I am a Sannin after all; the fat-cats upstairs are bound to trust me with the responsibility of babysitting a tike like you for a little while! Big whoop if they don't!"
Naruto beamed up at the old man, a smile appearing on his face.
"From this day forth, kid; I am your master and you are my pupil!" Jiraiya stated, jabbing himself in the chest with his thumb. "I'm gonna teach yah the way of living hard kid, and enjoying it. I promise you, you will be a ninja in no time!"
"Really?!" Naruto excitedly shouted, getting up on his hands and knees.
"Oh, thank you, Ji-sama! I promise I will not let you down!"
Getting to their feet and full-height, Jiraiya turned and headed-off, with Naruto quick on his heels. Sneaking past the guards, they then started down the road, a road Naruto felt would be the beginning of a grand adventure.
TO BE CONTINUED…