In the aftermath of their argument, Naruto was silent. Jiraiya found a quiet, nearly deserted restaurant and got them a table. He ordered barbeque pork for Naruto, and fish for himself. When the server, a man in a white apron, had gone, Jiraiya said quietly, "You like pork, don't you? Pork miso ramen is your favorite flavor…"
Naruto folded his arms on the table and slouched, resting his chin on his arms. He appeared sulky and regretful, but Jiraiya wasn't sure about what. Perhaps Naruto had spoken hastily, and that was it, or perhaps Naruto was just afraid that now that the cards were on the table, Jiraiya would choose to leave.
Jiraiya sighed. "I'm sorry we fought."
Naruto straightened incredulously. "You're sorry?"
"Yeah, I'm sorry you kept those feelings locked inside, and I'm sorry my response was to yell at you," Jiraiya said.
Naruto stared at him.
"The truth is…I feel pain that you were left alone that way, and you had to fend for yourself. I was alone most of my life, too. I had parents, but I never saw them unless I was in trouble. They were both ninjas, and died in the Second World War. I never formed much of a relationship with them, but I was sad about what could have been." Jiraiya never imagined telling Naruto this. "I acted out a lot, and I felt like everyone around me hated me. I was always the loud kid on the team who was behind everyone else."
"Like me," Naruto said blankly.
Jiraiya nodded. "Your father was not that way; he was very much loved and supported. That is what I imagined for you. When I found out that you suffered like me…I wanted to take you from the village and adopt you. But Sandaime never made a final decision before he died."
Their server came back with rice, miso soup, and tea, and then left again.
Naruto picked at his rice. "You mean…Jiichan was going to let you be my dad or something."
Jiraiya nodded. "Your godfather. Like I was supposed to be. I was afraid to explain myself, because that would set me up for rejection."
Naruto shrugged. "I might've gone for it." He took a bite of miso soup.
Jiraiya sensed his opening. This might be the only opening for a discussion that he got. "When did you start thinking you needed to transform into a girl to get people's attention?" Jiraiya asked quietly. Asking why wouldn't get him anywhere. That had already been done, and Naruto had only gotten angry and spouted off some crap about sex being the only thing men paid attention to.
"When it worked." Naruto looked at his bowl of rice glumly and picked at it. "I was desperate, Jiraiya. I'd try anything once. I just wanted some attention. I wanted people to stop picking on me." His frown deepened to a scowl. "I didn't want to starve to death or be in trouble with Jiichan again. Every time I stole something to get by he'd get mad at me."
Jiraiya had nothing to say to that. Literally nothing. He nodded slowly and ate a bite of rice to make up for the silence. So that his mouth was doing something, at least.
"The first time, I didn't really know what I was doing," Naruto said. "I got the transformation down alright, but I couldn't hold it for very long…and she was naked. I made her using anatomy textbooks Iruka-sensei didn't know I was borrowing."
Jiraiya cleared his throat. "That's very clever of you, Naruto. Most people wouldn't be able to construct a Henge from a picture. It's a very advanced technique."
"Thanks," Naruto said without any enthusiasm. "I'm in trouble, aren't I? Again."
"No," Jiraiya said. "I wouldn't say that."
Naruto glanced at him warily. "What would you say?"
"It's my fault. For not being there for you," Jiraiya said.
Naruto furrowed his brow incredulously.
"If I had been there to provide for you, then you wouldn't have had to come up with measures to be seen," Jiraiya said. "Likewise, you would not have skipped class and discovered the classes on feminine wiles. Which are flawed, by the way, because tricking someone never works in the long term. You can trick someone a few times, but eventually, they're not going to respond to you the same way that they did, because people don't like being tricked."
Naruto ate a bite of rice. "So how is that your fault?"
Jiraiya sighed. "Because I am your godfather. You became my responsibility the moment that your father died."
"Then how come you weren't there?" Naruto asked.
"All the wrong reasons," Jiraiya said.
"Do you really want to know?" Jiraiya asked.
Naruto nodded. "I think I better. I got a lot off my chest by yelling at you…but I know it's not the whole story, or else I wouldn't be frustrated and confused. Nothing makes sense still."
"Orochimaru was my responsibility, too," Jiraiya said. "Before your father died. I didn't give it up. I didn't know anything about raising babies, and I chose to stick with what I did best: tracking and spying. I also searched for the man who killed your father and mother."
Naruto absorbed this. "So you wanted revenge, and you focused on that instead of raising me."
"Yes," Jiraiya said.
"You were an idiot."
"I know." Jiraiya looked at him patiently. "It's a lot like how you focused on getting what you want from people by force instead of figuring out how to get into their lives willingly. That was stupid, too. Because every advanced level kunoichi knows that by buttering someone up and being nice to them, you get a lot further than a ham-fisted seduction. And what friends you have, you have because you stuck with the nice bit instead of going after immediate gratification. I noticed that Hinata likes you, and that's not because you transform into a girl and shove your boobs in her face."
Naruto nodded and mumbled, "That's true."
"I was also gone because Sandaime didn't think it was a good idea for me to be raising you," Jiraiya said.
"Why not?" Naruto demanded, sitting up straight and staring at him.
"Because I've been known to be irresponsible, and babies are tough to raise. You have to put babies before everything else you do. The moment they need food, you need to feed them. The same with changing their diaper, or holding or swaddling them if they're restless, or taking them to the hospital the moment they get sick…I would have had to stay in the village, I would have had to give up my wild ways and stick to being at home with a baby for years…the old man didn't trust me to do it." Jiraiya took a deep breath. It had all come out in a rush.
"You mean he didn't even give you a chance?" Naruto asked.
"I was always the slow student," Jiraiya said. "I was Sandaime's disappointment. All the time, I didn't do exactly what I was supposed to do, or I failed at it. He didn't trust me to do anything so important as raising you."
"But that still would have been better than leaving me in the orphanage to die," Naruto said, scowling. "I ran away from there at least once a week since I was four years old."
"I'm sorry," Jiraiya said. "That's my fault, too. Everything you suffered, you can blame on me. Kakashi was fourteen when your father died, just a kid himself – no matter what he thinks on the subject. Iruka was even younger. Twelve."
"But Jiichan was plenty old enough to take care of me," Naruto said. "And if he wanted to do such a good job, why didn't he just take me in and adopt me?"
"He lost his wife in the Kyuubi attack," Jiraiya said. "His children had already moved out, and he wasn't on the best terms with them…he would have had to give up being Hokage to be your caregiver, and he couldn't do that. No one can be the leader of a village and a single parent at the same time. It just can't be done. They have to switch off in shifts, in which case they'd get really tired, or they have to get someone else to raise the child entirely."
"Then shouldn't Jiichan have trusted you…because he had to?" Naruto asked.
Jiraiya sighed. "I don't know."
"I think he should have," Naruto said. He nodded to himself and ate some more rice.
"The stereotype is that women are more nurturing," Jiraiya said. "I bet if I were Tsunade, he would have given me a chance. Not to mention her expertise in medical jutsu. He could have trusted her. I…who knows. Maybe I would have made a terrible godfather."
"You apologized to me," Naruto pointed out. "You can't be that terrible."
Either Naruto was calmer with food in his stomach, which was the case with most people, or Jiraiya was getting somewhere. He hoped it was at least a combination. "Thank you," Jiraiya said. "Maybe if you'll let me, I can figure out how to be a good godfather for you instead of some loser who's abandoned you all your life."
"You haven't abandoned me for all my life," Naruto said. "You're here." He ate some more miso soup.
Jiraiya relaxed and ate his rice.
The server came with their barbeque pork and fish, and took away Jiraiya's empty rice bowl.
"How come you didn't come back sooner if you felt so bad?" Naruto asked.
"Sandaime told me to return on your twelfth birthday," Jiraiya said. "I missed it because I was finishing up a mission in the Land of Earth and couldn't make it. So I arrived in time for the break between the two halves of the Chunin Exam."
Naruto looked at him with wide eyes. "You did find me on purpose."
"I tried to tell you that," Jiraiya said. He paused and looked away. "You weren't supposed to walk in on me, but once you were there…yeah. I stole you from Ebisu on purpose."
"That would be saying I wanted to be with that closet pervert," Naruto said.
Jiraiya gave him a look. "Naruto, I found out from Konohamaru why you call him that. Any man is going to get a nosebleed when you assault him with thirty naked women. It's just a fact. Don't you think he has great willpower if it took that many naked women to make him react?"
Naruto pouted and crossed his arms. "Maybe."
"I think you're too hard on the adult male population," Jiraiya said. "Especially since you're going to be one someday. You're not a girl, Naruto. You're a boy."
"I'm trying to ignore that," Naruto said loudly. "Boys are disgusting."
"You might think that," Jiraiya said. "But I doubt most girls would agree. And doesn't that mean you think of yourself as disgusting?"
Naruto scowled and hid his face in his hands, propping his elbows up on the table. "I don't wanna talk about it."
Jiraiya sensed trauma. He got up and sat down next to Naruto, slipping an arm around his godson's shoulders. "Are you sure?" he asked quietly. "Talking might make you feel better. How can I help when I don't know what the problem is?"
Naruto bowed his head.
Jiraiya was relieved that Naruto didn't push him away. "Please…let me be your godfather. Starting today…I want to know about all your problems."
For a moment, Naruto was silent. Then he blurted, "They said –" Naruto started shaking. "In that kunoichi class, they said…boys like to put their hands up girls' skirts, and steal their underwear, and – and touch their naked parts. And that is perverted. And all men are perverted. And they like to get girls alone and do things to them. Like – like –"
Jiraiya hugged him tightly. "The teacher was wrong, Naruto. Not all boys and men are like that. And you were too young to hear that, weren't you? How old were you?"
"T-Ten." Naruto sounded as though he might cry.
Jiraiya rubbed his back. "Much too young. That shocked you – and scared you, didn't it?"
"Yes." Naruto sounded reproachful. "How am I supposed to feel?"
"No other way," Jiraiya reassured him. "Your feelings are your own. It's okay to feel disgusted by what the kunoichi teacher said. It's wrong. Boys shouldn't do things like touch girls without their permission, and steal girls' underwear. Just because that's a common perception of how boys act doesn't mean that all boys and men are like that, or that you have to be like that. You're not. You're a good person, and you don't want to treat girls that way. So you won't. There's nothing scary about being a boy…There's just some scary things about the way boys and girls talk to each other."
"It's better to be a girl," Naruto said. He sounded stuffed up. "Girls don't touch boys that way or chase after them and make them do things."
"That's not true," Jiraiya said gently. "Being a boy or a girl has nothing to do with it. Girls can be bad sometimes, too." He paused in rubbing Naruto's back. "I had a girl who used to pick on me all the time. And Sakura picks on you. That's not good behavior. Being a girl isn't the answer."
"But girls get all the attention."
"Not all of my attention," Jiraiya said. "It's a front. Part of being a spy is acting like a fool sometimes. Or a bad person. If people think I'm a womanizing drunk, they're not scared of me. Otherwise, they would treat me like the Great Sannin, and shady types I'm trying to spy on would never get near me."
"So you're acting all the time, too," Naruto said. He clung to Jiraiya. "I act happy because I have to be. If people see I'm sad, then they win. Everyone always wants me to be sad and upset. Everyone but Hinata. And I can't get close to her because I'm inspiring, or something. If she got to know me, she'd know it's all a farce, and she wouldn't want to be near me, then. She'd see me as a hero who let her down."
Jiraiya hugged Naruto tightly.