Naruto hunched over the one of his secretly acquired scrolls, intently tracing the diagrams in the dirt next to him. He had read this particular scroll several times already, but by the third time, he had found that there were hidden meanings in everything written, a deeper implication between each surface one uncovers.
Through the three scrolls Naruto had discovered a year ago, he had become an avid fan of the researcher and subsequent author- a man so passionate in his experimentation, that it bled into his frustrations and victories he marked down, causing the reader to feel the man’s every emotion as he discovered the subjects.
Naruto had found three separate scrolls in the forest while he was training. This was at the beginning, when he was clumsy and got more injuries through taijutsu than beatings from the villagers. He had been using too much chakra while attempting to tree walk, and went flying backwards into a semi large boulder with enough force to make it move, uncovering a hole with a sealing scroll. He had eagerly opened it, finding three large parchments encased within.
The first was marked with a blue ribbon tying it together. Inside was a highly detailed, but most likely illegal experimentation on how to change the human DNA to be more. At first, he took it at face value, just reading the science and trials, asking his canine companion for clarifications when his five year old brain couldn’t comprehend things. The second time, he read it with a better understanding, a journal ready to take notes so he could learn more. The third time was for much the same as the second, however this time he found discrepancies in the text, revealing more. He looked at it through a new eye this time, taking in the subtle way certain words were more slanted than others, spelling out another experiment with ways to combine human and animal DNA, making someone have inhuman abilities, such as flying, or breathing underwater. After that, he looked for other codes, hidden meanings.
The second scroll was tied with a green ribbon, giving different ways to go about creating powerful jutsus; how to know what signs to use, and how to think of one. On the surface it was fairly innocent, but like the one before, it had codes, ones that detailed the writer’s invented jutsus, including the vaguely illegal means that he tested them.
Last, but most definitely not least, was a scroll with a seal instead of a ribbon. It took weeks to crack it, but it was completely worth the effort. Encased inside was a detailed description of how to achieve something called senjutsu, also known as Sage Mode. It was the ability to tap into nature’s powers and use them completely, sensing every living thing, and every drop of chakra. Within the scroll was data of all the times the author attempted to achieve Sage Mode. Naruto could feel the man’s frustration as every trial failed. The man had researched everything about the ability, including studying someone named Jiraiya who had supposedly achieved Sage Mode. He had analyzed every possible outcome, and every way that one could conceivably tap into nature’s powers, but every test failed. Naruto read as the man grew more and more desperate, the tests becoming more reckless and dangerous, the meticulous script becoming choppy and thick, like the man was putting his frustrations into each and every letter, until finally, the last sentence:
Jiraiya laughed at my frustrations, and I couldn’t take it. I destroyed all my experiments in my rage. I give up. I have better things to do with my time. I don’t need nature’s power. I am poison, and death, and I will become immortal. This scroll will be sealed, my other research destroyed. My next project will be countering this god forsaken ability. I hope Jiraiya rots in hell for his fatuous smug face. I am DONE.
Naruto had never heard of Jiraiya or Orochimaru, but he knew that they were of Konoha, as the scrolls had the leaf symbol on the sides, but he figured they were long dead, if the yellowed and aged pages were anything to go by, unless Orochimaru had unlocked the secrets of immortality as he said he was looking forward to. Either way, Naruto wished he could meet this brilliant man that had helped his training so much.
Despite how evil Orochimaru probably was, Naruto felt for the man. Perhaps he was only five, and didn’t quite understand the ways of the world, but he was a genius, and he had read through the several pages and the large thick scroll, and he felt like he knew this man. Maybe his ways were illegal, and he had probably hurt several people, maybe even killed them, but Naruto had read through everything. He knew about how this man’s mind worked, he read as the man penned his experiments on unwanted, sickly children, saw how his penmanship hesitated with every detailing as he wrote what he did to the defenceless kids, saw the old water stains of fresh tears and his desperate justifications that if it worked, he would be giving them a better life, and they were going to die anyway, he might as well give them a reason or a purpose. Naruto had felt as the man penned his regrets every time a subject died, or every time he had been forced to end the suffering. He had experienced with the man as he was waiting for the results to come forth, the swinging hope that this was the one, this time it would work , and then the dull, almost lifeless way Orochimaru wrote when it was a failure.
He had studied the little sentences about his life that Orochimaru put into his research, so obviously passionate about his work that he could hardly control what he wrote, just writing whatever his flowing mind could think of. Naruto read about the man’s family, how they had all died, and how much he wanted to see them again. How much Orochimaru was obsessed with living, not because he feared death, but because he wanted to be there to help his family when they were reincarnated, and wanted to live long enough to see them again. He wrote about his team interactions, how Jiraiya was an idiot obsessed with females, and Tsunade was scary but Orochimaru quietly looked up to her; it wasn’t expressly written, but Naruto could see it in the reverent way he talked about her, even though it was mostly dignified complaining.
So yes, although this man was angry, misguided, and probably a missing nin if he was still alive, Naruto looked up to him, knew he had a conscious, even if he buried it miles under smirks and heartless experimentation, Naruto knew that he was just trying to help. Through everything that Naruto read, he understood one resounding thing: Orochimaru thought he wasn’t worth love and kindness, and that he deserved to go to hell, but that for everyone else to live a safe and good life, he had to sacrifice his morals, and everything that makes him human. He would damn his soul, he would take the fall, if it meant those he cared for would be safe and have no worries. Because he thought no one cared. He saw the comments Jiraiya made as mocking and slander, words of hate and disgust, and he viewed the attention Tsunade gave to Jiraiya as her wishing Orochimaru was not a part of their group, and that he wasn’t worthy of attention.
Orochimaru cared so deeply for his teammates, but he felt unwanted and unneeded; the creepy genius that people keep around because he would be dangerous left to his own, but he’s no better than the strength he can provide.
And that, above all else, is the reason Naruto understands Orochimaru. Because they were the same.
Naruto loved Konoha. He adored the nature, the Hokage Mountain with the great view, he loved watching the citizens interact on the street, the shinobi drunkenly fighting over who has the sharpest kunai. He enjoyed the smell of happiness and the sound of laughter. He entertained himself by finding the hidden ANBU and trying to guess who was under each mask. The ramen stand with the only citizen that would smile at him, giving him free food sometimes. And he loved the Hokage, and his kind vissage, yet underlying strength.
He loved Konoha so, so much, but they hated him. He was unwanted, unloved. People would scowl at him, avoid him like the plague, throw trash at him, or heavier objects that bruised. Parents would tell their children to leave him alone, not to play with him or look at him. Shinobi would ignore him, ANBU were watching him, as if afraid he would blow up, and even though they were there, they would never stop the large, drunken men from beating him up, leaving him broken and bruised, never helping him as he dragged his way slowly, and painfully back to his small, one room apartment with the molding walls and rusted, leaking pipes.
He loved Konoha, but he also hated. He hated the slurs, the looks, the refused service, the beatings... but above all, he hated the families. The children would swing between their loving parents, laughing, smiling, and he would hate . They didn’t know what it was to suffer, to starve, to be completely and utterly alone and not know why. Why did he live like this? Why was he hated so much? Ever since he could remember, he had been shunned, looked at with fear and disgust, called a demon and a monster, and he didn’t know why.
At the orphanage, he had always been last. The matrons would let him sit in his soiled diapers until his crying grew too annoying, then they would reluctantly change him, leaving him in just the diaper until he was freezing, then they would put him in a rough blanket. He would always get cold milk that tasted just a bit sour, and the moment he was old enough to feed and clothe himself, he was kicked out, sent to live in the cheapest apartment they could find, and he was left alone.
The only clothes the thrift shop would sell him were bright, glaringly ugly orange jumpsuits. But he couldn’t complain, the thick coating was warm and made him look fatter than he was. It hid his visible ribs, and the way his skin clung desperately to his bones. It hid the bruises, and bumps in his skin where his bone was healed incorrectly. He normally healed quickly, but after a big beating from the big men, the evidence remained for weeks. The only people kind enough to feed him, were the people at the ramen stand.
He actually didn’t like ramen that much, it was salty, and noodles were a bit too slimy for him, but it was the only thing he could afford, and it was relatively kind to his malnourished body, so he said it was his favorite food, because he couldn’t eat anything else.
He always wanted to be a shinobi, ever since he looked out the orphanage window and saw the genins laughing and pushing each other as they hopped over rooftops, ever since he snuck onto the training grounds and watched the jounins sparring, using such beautiful and destructive jutsus and gracefully dancing around each other with taijutsu, and he thought, “I want to be like them.”
He had taught himself to read, listening to the matrons in the orphanage as they taught the other kids, and spying, eavesdropping from the hallway, his own, much bigger and more advanced book splayed open on his lap as he tried to understand what they said. It took forever, his mind working much slower than the other kids, things harder to understand and making no sense to him. The other children called him stupid, dumb, slow, and an idiot. They threw in his face that he couldn’t learn anything because he was too slow, and he would be stupid and dumb his whole life, that he would never be able to read. So he tried harder, staying up at night and trying to read by moonlight, silently sounding out the words, ignoring the incessant pounding in his head, until he could finally read, slowly, but surely.
Next, he went to the library, intent on finding books about how to be a shinobi, but he was kicked out. So he went to the Hokage, pleading with the man to teach him how to be a shinobi. At this point he was four, and the Hokage had smiled in a grandfatherly way, chuckling deeply, but with the hoarse sound of age.
“You want to be a shinobi, Naruto?” The boy had nodded eagerly, his dirty and greasy hair flopping around his face, “Then we can enroll you into the academy,” Naruto’s heart lifted in hope and excitement, “when you’re six.” And just like that, his hopes were dashed, his head pounding again. Two years was too far away when he wanted to start learning right now. “You’ll be old enough then, and all the other kids your age will be going in with you.”
Naruto sighed despondently. “I just wanted to learn now...”
The Hokage gave him a considering look. “Well, there’s no rules against getting a head start.” The boy’s hopes lifted again as he watched the old man rise from his chair and move over to a bookcase on the side of the room. “Now, I need you to promise me something, Naruto.”
Naruto nodded fervently, eyes glued to the dark red book in the Hokage’s hands.
“You can read this, and come to me if you don’t understand something, but I need you to promise me that you won’t try using any chakra without adult supervision. It can be very dangerous without someone there who knows what they’re doing. You could get severe chakra exhaustion and die, or you could get seriously injured. Do you understand?”
Naruto looked the man in the eyes and nodded solemnly, “I won’t practice without supervision. I promise.”
The Hokage smiled, his eyes crinkling merrily. “I’m happy to hear that.” He gently placed the large book into Naruto’s eager grabby hands. The boy nearly buckled under the weight, his small body not prepared for the weight. He took a small step back, and then secured his hold on the hard covered book, giving a large smile to the Hokage, thanking him profusely, before hurrying out of the Hokage Tower.
He almost started making his way back to the orphanage, but then he remembered that last week he had been thrown out like used tissue. With his mood dampened slightly, he walked in the opposite direction, taking the backways to the edge of the village, as far away from normal civilization as possible without being too obvious.
When he got into his small, one room apartment, he quickly surveyed the dirty sink, small, broken table, thin, sagging bed with a half eaten, scratchy blanket piled on top, the single, three legged, wobbly stool that he used to reach the sink, and the tiny, warm fridge. There was mildew on the corners of the walls, and the cabinets had either no door, or one that didn’t fit correctly and squeaked horribly when opened. They were all empty, as he had no food, and no personal items.
“Home sweet home,” he whispered. Casting one last sad look around the place, he shook himself and carried his new treasure to the pathetic bed. Sitting down, his stomach swooping dangerously as the bed creaked and sunk further downwards, morbidly curious if it would finally break, and remaining deathly still as it settled. He moved slowly and cracked open the book to the title page, trying to figure out what he was reading, as the cover had no words.
Haltingly, he sounded out the title, A Beginner’s Guide to Becoming a Shinobi. Naruto smiled brightly; finally, something was going right in his life. His head gave a dull throb, but he shook it off and settled in to read.
It took two months to read the book, and he spent every moment that he wasn’t sleeping or eating or exercising (as the book told him to do) reading the book. In those two months, he took more trips to the Hokage Tower than he had in his whole life, asking the old man to help him understand something, or helping him to read. Whenever the Hokage wasn’t in a meeting, Naruto would often read the book on the floor while the old man went over paperwork, so it was easier for Naruto to ask for clarifications.
By the end of the second month, Naruto’s reading comprehension had gone up considerably, but he was still slower than a lot of other people. Things just didn’t make sense, and he couldn’t understand what things meant, or what it was trying to say. Even the Hokage had to explain some things five different ways before Naruto even began to understand.
The reading gave him headaches, his head pounding whenever he tried to understand something, or sound out a large word. But he kept on going, determined to have a purpose.
Then one day, while he was out exercising in the forest, two large men found him. He was struggling with pushups, listening to his heart pounding in his ears and focusing on forcing himself up, and down, and up and down, when suddenly pain bloomed in his ribs, the air was knocked out of him, and he was sent sprawling three feet from where he originally was. He wheezed, air coming to him in a tiny trickle, and through the sweat pouring into his eyes, he looked to his attackers, seeing to large brutes with bulging muscles and bushy beards. He recognized one as the blacksmith, but the other was unknown to him.
“Look what we have here. A little demon attempting to get stronger. Pathetic.” The unknown one spat, disgust screwing up his face.
“Let’s teach him a lesson. Monsters like you will never be better than us,” The blacksmith sneered, bending over Naruto’s prone body. Naruto saw a large fist flying towards him, and he closed his eyes, wishing to get away.
The pain felt like an echo, an impression, but it didn’t affect him like it normally would. Gulping in confusion and trepidation, he slowly opened his eyes that had been squeezed shut. What he saw made his brows furrow. He could still feel the impressions of pain, his body being hit and kicked, but before his eyes was not the forest and brutish men, it was instead a dank and musty smelling stone hallway. There were rusted pipes running along the ceiling, occasionally dripping into puddles on the floor, the sound echoing ominously in the corridor.
Naruto swallowed, confused, and a bit afraid, but he remembered the book from the Hokage, and Shinobi were above emotions like fear. He had two options, go the way he was facing, or turn and go the other way, but he figured that since he had been facing this way originally, then there must be something in that direction that would tell him why he was there. So he started walking, wincing when he got the impression of his arm breaking; that would hurt when he got out of wherever he was.
It felt like he was walking for hours, and yet only minutes, when he came to a large cavern, bisected by an iron gate that went so high, it was shrouded in shadow. The room was dark, illuminated by only two dim and flickering lanterns near the entrance of the cavern. He couldn’t see what was on the other side of the bars. It took the second look, but he saw a white paper in the center of the gate, where it would open. He carefully walked closer, noticing That it was covered in strange symbols in purple ink. He reached up to touch the bars, but a purple lightning shocked him, throwing him bodily back a few feet.
As he picked himself up, he heard a rumbling growl that vibrated his bones. Scrambling quickly to his feet, he gave a cursory glance around, wide eyes coming to rest on the gate, where from the darkness very large red eyes opened, glowing in the dim light. They raised steadily from where they were near the ground, until they were past the ceiling shadows. Naruto felt himself quivering in fear and wondering if the flimsy looking bars and purple lightning were enough to keep whatever it was away from him.
The lights suddenly flared, growing larger and brighter until a very large, malicious looking fox was revealed, it’s fur the color of fire, and nine tails swishing behind it almost agitatedly.
“So. You finally come, my captor.” The voice sounded angry, echoing deafeningly throughout the cavern, rattling Naruto’s brain in his head.
Naruto was confused, but too scared to ask what the fox meant.
It seemed to understand anyway. “I’ve been trying to get your attention for months. You made me wait, watching you struggle so fiercely, when if you talked to me, you wouldn’t have to.”
Naruto’s eyebrows furrowed further. “Where am I?”
“You are in your mindscape, your head. Or, if you want to be more specific, you are in a seal, where I was placed at your birth, and where I am now trapped. Did you ever wonder why everyone hates you?” Naruto’s eyes widened, but before he could demand answers, the fox continued, “Four years ago, your mother was the container for me, but when she was giving birth to you, the seal that traps me was weakened, and someone took advantage of that, and controlled me, forcing me to attack Konoha. Your father, the Fourth Hokage gave his life to seal me inside of you after your mother died giving birth to you.”
Naruto gasped interrupting the tale, “My dad was the Fourth Hokage? Why did no one tell me? Why does everyone hate me if my parents were heroes?” He was almost shouting in disbelief.
“Don’t interrupt me, kit. Your questions will be answered soon.” He waited for Naruto to nod in understanding. “Before your father stopped me, I was being forced to attack the town, as I said earlier. While being controlled, I destroyed homes, and many people died. It was chaos and war. Although it lasted for only a few days, families that lost people, and shinobi that lost their Hokage, all hate me. And I was sealed inside of you, so they take their pain and frustrations out on you.”
Naruto fell to the ground, trying to digest the information he was given. “So they are mean to me because of something neither of us could have controlled?”
The fox sighed, “It’s more than that, kit. It doesn’t matter that I wasn’t in control, people still lost loved ones, and they need someone to blame. Right now they’re blaming the wrong person, but that doesn’t matter right now. What matters is, after the attack, everyone was forbidden to speak of me, the nine tails, the Kyuubi, the strongest of the bijuu, being sealed inside of you. They didn’t want you to be pressured by being known as the son of the Yondaime, so they didn’t tell you. You were given the name Uzumaki after your mother’s clan.”
“I have a clan? I have a family?” Naruto interrupted again.
“No, your mother was one of the last Uzumaki, as the clan was destroyed years ago. But for the past two generations, I have been sealed inside an Uzumaki, so I could teach you their clan jutsus. I need you to do something first.” There was a pause, and Naruto wasn’t sure if he was supposed to say something or not, but then the fox continued, “I am sure you’ve noticed how difficult it is to learn? How things don’t come easily, and nothing makes sense? That is not how you are supposed to be. Someone, I have yet to figure out who, sealed your potential behind a powerful seal. It limits your brain speed, memory, chakra moldability, comprehension, and overall intelligence.”
Naruto gasped, and probably would have fallen over again if he wasn’t already sitting. “Can you get rid of it?”
“I can... but not alone. In this cage I have limited power. Neither of us are ready for me to come out of here, but I need to teach you what to do, and when the time is right, you will do your part, and I will lend you all the power I am able. Can you do it?”
He nodded determinedly, “I can.”