1: Jiraiya Steps Up
In only a matter of hours on what was supposed to be a happy day, everything for the village hidden in the leaves had come crashing down. Hiruzen Sarutobi sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose, taking note of the gather shinobi and civilian council members. Each and every one of the civilians looked ready to commit murder right in front of their leader for the losses they had taken throughout the day.
What made it worse was that the object of their hatred was a bubbling, gurgling child still wrapped in his swaddling blanket in the crib beside Hiruzen's seat. It was this child that was supposed to be the cause of so much happiness, yet here he was, orphaned just hours after his birth, and already branded with a stigma that would make even the old Sarutobi cringe.
"I assume you know why I've called you all here today?" Hiruzen droned, keeping his voice low and emotionless.
Danzo Shimura was the first to speak up, "I believe it is to discuss the fate of the new Jinchuriki, am I correct?" Hiruzen resisted an urge to summon Enma and beat the man with his adamantine bo staff.
"We are here to discuss the fate of the last of a once proud clan, Shimura-dono," Hiruzen said, "This child is, if anything, the last Uzumaki. Or have you forgotten who his parents were?"
"Parental lineage aside," a civilian council member said, "The child is dangerous, and most likely will remain so throughout his natural life span. It should be dealt with immediately so that this tragedy doesn't happen to us again!"
"Are you suggesting that we kill an innocent child that has barely come into this world," Hiashi Hyuuga growled in a tone that could only be anger coming from the Hyuuga clan head. "What you suggest is nothing short of cruelty, Haruno-san. I would not suggest such a thing even if this had happened to one of my own clan, even my own soon to be born daughter."
"Hyuuga-sama is correct," Fugaku Uchiha said, "As much as I disagree with the Hyuuga clan on many things, I must agree with this. Why punish a child for something that was forced upon him without his knowledge? Such a thing will only turn him into the demon he contains."
"You would risk letting this child live and giving the Kyuubi a chance to break free to destroy us again?" Another civilian said, "It's wrong to even keep the child alive if only to tarnish the Yondaime's name!"
"BAKA!" Yelled the Inuzuka clan head, Tsume, "He's the Yondaime's legacy! We would tarnish his name if we didn't let him live!"
Shikaku Nara, along with his two companions, Chouza Akamichi, and Inoichi Yamanaka, remained quiet, though the Akamichi clan head looked ready to flatten many of the civilians.
Hiruzen sighed, "I will not be killing an innocent child, let alone the last of once mighty clan known for their Fuin no Jutsu, and their Kenjutsu. I wish to know, if anyone in the shinobi clans have room enough in their hearts to adopt the child."
"You're giving our village's most powerful weapon to a single clan?!" Danzo croaked loudly, "Are you insane?! What's to stop that clan from planning a coup de ta?"
"He's a pup, not a weapon!" Tsume roared in outrage, "And what gives you the right to question our loyalties, you crippled old buzzard!"
"Why you insolent bi- "
"Enough!" Hiruzen roared, startling the baby into crying. Hiruzen sighed, and picked the child up to soothe him, "Listen well, all of you. If you must think that one clan raising this child in the proper way so that he will grow strong and kind like his mother is out of the question, then you leave me little choice but to put him in the orphanage."
One of the civilians grinned, "That's an excellent idea, Hokage-sama, give the boy to the orphanage. he'll have plenty of care in their capable hands."
"Who are you foolin'?" Shikaku yawned, "I know for a fact that you wouldn't care for the boy in that place any more than if he were on the streets."
"Will you take him, then?" That same civilian sneered, "Will the Nara clan play host to a demon child?"
The child in question had stopped crying now, and was looking around the room curiously with the biggest, brightest blue eyes Hiruzen had ever seen, including the ones of his father. Hiruzen replaced him in the crib when the child yawned and started slipping back to sleep.
"I will take him," Tsume snapped, "Our pack has been blessed with many pups this year, so one more will not make a difference to us. I've only recently had my second pup. And the boy would not go without love!"
"You can't control a demon with love," someone yelled, "You must keep it bound in chains!"
"He's a child, not a demon!" Hiashi roared.
"Are you really so blind to that?!" Fugaku yelled, just as furious as his distant relation. "A demon would have ripped us all to shreds by now, but no! This child keeps the beast locked away inside. It should be an honor to care for him and watch him grow into the finest of all shinobi, maybe even greater than his father!"
"It's too much power for one clan!" Danzo yelled.
"Silence!" Sarutobi intoned, his voice low and even as it was before, but with a hint of danger in his voice. "You all seem to have various opinions on how the child should be raised, or dealt with. And many I would approve of, but it seems that bar my approval, some of you would do anything to see this baby murdered in the dead of night. I can even see a few of my fellow shinobi with hatred for the Kyuubi in their eyes that is directed toward the child."
"Justly earned hatred," one of the few cold-hearted shinobi, "We lost many to the monster's rampage."
"Did this boy commit those crimes," Hiruzen asked, "No, he did not. The Kyuubi did. This child is innocent in my eyes, and in the eyes of many of the people gathered here this evening. Minato did not risk and lose his life to seal the Kyuubi only for the container to be destroyed."
"He gave us a chance to finish what he started!"
"He did not!" Hiruzen yelled, "The Kyuubi is a being of pure Chakra, it cannot be killed. If the boy dies, then the fox will only reform and reap its vengeance on the village."
"Then let me take the boy," Danzo suggested, "When the time comes, he will be trained by my best ANBU shinobi, and he will be the strongest we- "
"That will not happen," Hiruzen said, "Your men are good, Danzo, but they lack any emotion at all. The boy will need love, as Tsume-dono has said, but he will also need - "
"Jiraiya-sama, please!" Someone yelled, "You can't go in there!"
There was a loud, brief scuffle, and the sound of someone crying out in pain before the double doors of the council room were thrown open, revealing a very angry man with stark white hair pulled back into a spiky pony tail. The man's eyes, ignoring the looks of disbelief on the other faces in the room, locked onto Hiruzen Sarutobi. "Where is he?!"
"He's here, Jiraiya-kun," Hiruzen said, gesturing to the cradle beside him, "To what do we owe this little visit?"
Jiraiya sneered, something he didn't do often, "I've come for my godson!"
"Godson?" Danzo asked, looking from the Sannin to the cradle, "You don't mean the baby?"
"I do mean the baby, Danzo!" Jiraiya said, stalking into the room, "Minato named me the boy's legitimate godfather, and I intend to hold that place!"
"You have you're spy network to keep up, don't you?" Fugaku asked, "Can you take on such a responsibility?"
"I don't give a damn about my network," Jiraiya said, stopping in front of Hiruzen, "The boy is all that matters to me. Now hand him over!"
"You know I can't do that," Hiruzen said sadly, "He must have a proper family in order to -"
"I'm the only family he's got left!" Jiraiya roared, "I loved his father like he was my own son, and his mother became the daughter I always wanted. You will not deny me of the rights given to me by them!"
Hiruzen quirked an eyebrow as the rest of the room fell silent, waiting for the reaction of their Hokage. "And if I refuse?"
Jiraiya eyed the man that had once been his sensei as a shinobi. "Sarutobi-sensei, I respect your authority as the Hokage, but if you don't give me my godson, I'll make you sorry you ever trained me. The toads loved Minato as much as I did, and he had good relations with Gamabunta. We both know that if he stays at an orphanage, he'll be kicked out the minute he's old enough to fend for himself. Then he'll be at the civilians' mercy. If any of the shinobi clans take him in, he'll be the cause of a civil war because of what he contains. If Danzo takes him, he'll become an emotionless puppet devoid of the love he needs as a human being.
"And if that happens, then you will know not only the wrath of the toads, but the wrath of a second rogue Sannin, and the toad sennin. Know that if you don't give him to me, and harm comes to him, any harm at all, I will not hesitate to raze this village to the ground. So you'd best make up your mind fast whether or not I'm serious." Jiraiya growled angrily. The room had now grown deadly silent. Jiraiya's threat hung in the air like a dense miasma as Hiruzen continued to gaze at his former student.
He had known Jiraiya long enough to know that when the man was well and truly angry, he could be a force of nature. "What will you do with your spy network?"
"If you're so set on it," Jiraiya said, "Then I give full possession of my spies to you, the Hokage and whomever you deem worthy as your successor. I don't care about it. I have enough money from selling my novels, as well as the money I racked up from all my missions over the years. The child will not lack for anything."
Hiruzen smiled thinly, "You've thought this out."
"I was a fool for not training Minato better than I did, and I was an even bigger fool to be away from the village during Kushina's time of need." Jiraiya said sadly, "I will not fail their son as I failed them."
The Hokage sighed, looking around the room for a moment then said, "Shinobi council of the leaf, Jiraiya of the Sannin has offered take the child, Naruto, into his care. Are there any objections to this?"
"I have one," Tsume said, crossing her arms , "Won't his tendencies rub off on the boy?"
"I will not do such a thing," Jiraiya said, though the look on the Inuzuka's face clearly said that she didn't believe him, "If you have more objections to that little pass time of mine, then I'll find Tsunade-hime and bring her back to keep a leash on me."
Hiruzen raised an eyebrow at that. He remembered the pounding his other student had given her teammate when she'd caught him peeping on her in the onsens. He really meant what he said. No one else objected after that.
"Then it is settled," Hiruzen said tiredly, "Naruto Uzumaki will be placed under the care of his godfather, Jiraiya, until he reaches sixteen, where upon he will be named head of the Uzumaki clan."
The shinobi clan heads all nodded, happy that the boy's fate had been settled for the better. The civilians looked like they had been denied. Jiraiya smiled gratefully and bent to pick the sleeping child up. He held the baby boy close to his chest, "I'll need a few things for him. Did Kushina and Minato have anything ready for his birth?"
"Yes, but I'm afraid Minato locked down his home with seals that only he could work." Hiruzen sighed, "Only one of his immediate family members could dispel them. But don't worry, I'll have a few things brought over for you."
"Arigatou, Sensei." Jiraiya bowed lightly, "I'll be at my home here in the village for the time being, but I'm planning to purchase a small area close to the village to build a house. It would be better for the boy to have some space to grow in."
"That is a sound idea, Jiraiya-kun." Hiruzen smiled, "I'm sorry that I had to make you say such things. You understand that I had to make sure you would be a proper father to the child?"
"Perfectly," he said, "But you didn't make me say anything. I meant every word that came out of my mouth. It still stand should one of your shinoi try to harm him in my presence. He or she will wish for the Kyuubi to attack by the time I'm through with them."
"Oh, come on, Naruto-chan, please stop crying!" Jiraiya crooned, half-crying himself with frustration. Three days after the incident, the little boy had woken up around three in the morning, and started crying for all he was worth, and no matter what the old sennin tried, there was no stopping him. This had been a sort of routine with the child. But tonight he was not to be pleased.
Jiraiya had checked his diaper three time, offered him his bottle, and toys, but nothing seemed to be working. The child was just plain upset. Jiraiya was now pacing back and forth across his apartment bouncing the boy in his arms. Then Jiraiya placed the boy on his shoulder, forgetting that he hadn't tried burping him yet, and patted his tiny back gently. Naruto uttered a small burp, and finally stopped his wailing.
Jiraiya sighed in relief, "Oh, boy," he chuckled, cradling his godson in his arms again, "Still not so great at this parenting job, huh, Gaki?" Naruto burbled at him with a small smile, making his godfather smile, "Okay, little man, back to bed we go." Once Naruto was settled in his crib, Jiraiya returned to his bed and settled in for a few hours of sleep.
Two hours later, Naruto woke Jiraiya up again just in time for breakfast.
When Naruto celebrated his first birthday, Jiraiya was very pleased with the turn out. Many of the shinobi families had turned up to bid the boy a happy birthday, as well as let him meet their own children. First, well tied at first, were the Uchiha and Hyuuga clans, both hoping to beat the other to arriving first. Hiashi and his wife had brought along their tiny daughter, Hinata, who was close to her own birthday in December. She was a curious and bright little child well on her way speaking full sentences, and walking long distances, ten feet being very long for a child her age.
Naruto adored her. The moment she was set down in front of the little blonde, the two toddlers had hit it off immediately and started playing together.
Then there was the Uchiha clan heads, Fugaku and Mikoto, who'd brought their sons Itachi and Sasuke. Itachi, Jiraiya knew, was an intelligent boy from the praise his father often gave him in public. At only five, Fugaku was thinking of having him enter the academy early in hopes of speeding his growth as a shinobi. Little Sasuke was a different story. Like Hinata, he was a bright-eyed and curious little boy that had just turned one in July.
He and Naruto had been introduced before and seemed to get along like any child would at their age, though Sasuke did have a tendency to be a little moody at times when his brother wasn't around which suggested a deep bond between the two.
Jiraiya could already see the sparks flying between the two male clan heads. Yui, Hiashi's wife, and Mikoto, however were both doting over how their children had grown over the past year. Itachi watched his brother playing with the other two toddlers.
Yui smiled at the three of them, "He's grown so much, Jiraiya-san. He looks more and more like his father each day."
Jiraiya smiled sadly, "He does at that."
The look on his face told Hiashi and Fugaku everything they needed to know. "There are still assassination attempts after everything that's happened?" Fugaku asked, stunned, "I'll give our people one thing, they certainly don't give up!"
"Indeed," Hiashi nodded, "And I admit that they're fairly brave to take on one of the Sannin, as well as practitioner of Senjutsu."
"How many?" Mikoto sighed, thoroughly disgusted that people from her village would try to harm such young child.
"There's been twenty since I took him in," Jiraiya said, taking a seat on one of the couches that dotted his newly finished home, "They've slowed down since I moved out here, but they still come."
"It's a shame that you're still doing this alone," Mikoto sighed, sitting down next to the man, a bold move given his questionable background, but she knew him better from the time her children spent around the man. "How many times have you proposed?"
"This month?" Jiraiya chuckled, "Or in total?"
"I'm sure she'll come around sooner or later." Hiashi smiled, "After all, it's hard not to love the boy once you've spent some time with him."
Jiraiya laughed as Naruto stood up on shaky legs, imitating Sasuke as the boy toddled over to his brother. Naruto had been walking for some time now, but he still had a little trouble adjusting from crawl to walk. "Oh, she adores that boy, but she can't stand the thought of being married to me. Can't say I blame her, though. All those fights we got into, I'm surprised she didn't put me in the ground ages ago."
"Well, you did peek at her a lot, and that last time nearly got you killed," Yui giggled, which Hinata imitated a moment later. Naruto made his way over to Jiraiya and made it clear he wanted to be picked up. Jiraiya obliged, setting the boy on his knee.
"It's not just that," Jiraiya sighed, "Remember how much she's lost in this village. Her lover, her little brother. What could hold her here?"
"Papa?" Naruto squeaked, reaching for Jiraiya's coat. Jiraiya smiled, "Ah, sorry, kiddo, it's your first birthday, and here I am being an old coot." He rose up off the couch with the boy in his arms, "Time for some cake! Then we can open presents!"
Naruto grew from happy toddler to an energetic five-year-old in what seemed like the blink of an eye to Jiraiya, and the boy was beginning to get curious about certain things. Things like the stares he always seemed to get when Jiraiya took him out for a walk through town or to play in the park with his friends. It broke his heart to lie to the boy about what he was, and he knew that in time he'd have to tell him the whole truth, but for the moment, he just wanted the boy to be happy.
The whisker marks on his face were a dead give away to anyone that knew about the Kyuubi. It was for that reason that he was grateful for all the other children's blissful innocence. Most of the shinobi clans, with the exceptions of the Shimura clan, held the boy in high regards, and had little fear of letting their own children play with him, and be his friends.
On this particular trip, however, Jiraiya wasn't alone. Tsunade had come to pay them a visit with her young apprentice, Shizune, in tow. The young woman loved the little blonde boy as much as Tsunade did, and never missed a chance to play with him whenever they visited. Jiraiya and Tsunade watched them from a park bench as Naruto and his friends went up and down the slide with Shizune watching them.
Tsunade was a little edgy around Jiraiya. He hadn't once proposed to her like he always did when she was in the village. "You're not planning to make the usual twenty proposals?" She asked.
Jiraiya chuckled, "Would they get me anywhere?"
"No," Tsunade blushed, "It's just a little odd that you haven't even tried to convince me at least once today."
Jiraiya sighed, "Look, I know it's become a habit, but I can see when I'm beat. I'll stop. Besides, it won't be long until Naruto enters the academy. If I've lasted five years, I can last another four."
Tsunade sighed, "It's already been that long, huh? Strange how time seems to fly by just when you start to enjoy yourself, isn't it?"
"Yeah, it is." Jiraiya sighed, "He won't need me much longer."
Tsunade scoffed, "Oh, come on, of course he will! He's just as much your son, now, as he is Minato's!"
"That's what I mean," Jiraiya said, "He's a smart kid, and he knows about his parents. It won't be long until he's a superb shinobi worthy of his lineage. I just dread telling him the rest of the story." He sighed, "You know he still wonders why people glare at him when I take him out for ice cream, and why the man at the ice cream shop won't let him in unless I'm there?"
"Idiots," Tsunade said, "He's no danger to anyone."
"They know that," Jiraiya said, "They just want to blame someone for their losses."
Tsunade nodded, "Have you thought about telling him the truth?"
"After he becomes a shinobi," Jiraiya nodded, "He's gotten pretty good at the Taijutsu style from that scroll you gave him last year. If he was stronger, I bet he could give Gai a pretty good bruise if he let the kid get a hit in."
"Oji-chan!" Naruto yelled, running over to them, "Can Hinata-chan and Sasuke-kun come have ramen with us tonight?"
Jiraiya chuckled and patted the boy's hair, "Of course they can, but you'll have to ask their parents when they come get them, okay?"
"Hai, Oji-chan!" Naruto giggled happily and ran back to his friends.
Jiraiya sighed again, "The world is cruel. That boy hasn't got a mean bone in his body, and yet the whole population of civilians think's he's a demon. Why can't they see boy and not the monster?"
Tsunade nodded sadly, "That's just people, Jiraiya. They're afraid of what they can't control or understand. It's the same for most shinobi. We're on a level higher than most civilians. We're killers, healers, living weapons that the village relies on to keep going."
Jiraiya nodded, then smiled as he saw Fugaku and Hiashi coming to collect their children, and Naruto ran to meet them. "Maybe that boy can change that. He says he wants to be Hokage someday, so maybe he can change the way the world looks at his kind."
"Have you got your lunch?" Jiraiya asked.
"Hai, Oji-chan." Naruto said.
"Kunai and shuriken pouch?"
"Hai, hai." Naruto grinned, excitedly, "I'm all set, Oji-chan!"
Jiraiya smiled, "Then let's go, Naruto-chan, we don't want to be late for your first day of shinobi academy."
So begins the journey toward becoming a shinobi. As Naruto takes his first steps toward his dreams, where will his path lead him?
This is the first of many chapters to come, and I hope you'll all enjoy it. The pairing for this story is still open, but be aware it won't be anything outlandish, just Naruto's age group. Please review if you like the chapter!