Summary: Even these idiots need a heart-to-heart now and then.
A/N: Updates will probably be slowing down after this. I have exams coming up.
“But there has been no sign of Jiraiya?”
Naruto shakes his head, hugging a violently orange pillow with a black snake stitched around the border to his chest. Maru-ji bought it for him in Snow as a birthday present; who knew that country has such good taste?
“Although Hokage-sama did tell me that Jiraiya-sama was my godfather,” Naruto reveals. “He didn't bring it up again when I didn't even ask why or where he is.”
“Interesting,” Maru-ji murmurs thoughtfully, sitting on the edge of Naruto’s bed. Anko-nee is already asleep after borderline gushing over a new dark purple winter kimono with a blizzard pattern down one side that matched her hair nicely. Apparently, she isn’t just an uncivilized tomboy (when Naruto said as much, the woman attempted to suffocate him with his new pillow – rude), and Maru-ji knew that and bought the outfit for her for future festivals.
“Do you want to meet him?” Maru-ji enquires in a detached enough tone of voice that – were he anyone else – Naruto would have made the mistake of thinking the Sannin doesn't care about the answer at all.
“No,” Naruto replies with a shrug.
Maru-ji knows him equally well though, and the man ends up side-eyeing him skeptically. “Truly?”
Naruto winces sheepishly. “Well okay, maybe a little, but only out of curiosity. It’s the same feeling I get about wanting to meet my parents. Just to see what they were like for myself. But it’s not something that I really want to do or anything. I know the Yondaime and Uzumaki Kushina were my parents, and Jiraiya-sama is my godfather, but I... recognize that only in name. It’s not like I have any real attachments to them. I mean, maybe if I hadn't met you and Anko-nee, I’d miss them more, but I did meet you two so... I don’t really feel much of an urge to go and find a family that I can’t get back anyway, you know? I can accept that my parents are dead, that they died heroes but gave me up in the process, and I'm a bit sad that I’ll never get to know them, but at the same time, I'm okay with that because I already have a family of my own. Does- Does that make sense?”
Maru-ji nods once, and Naruto loves that the man just accepts his decision at face value without doubting him because he’s only nine.
“You can meet Jiraiya though,” Maru-ji reminds him. “If you wish. I wouldn’t try to stop you.”
Naruto shrugs again. “I know you wouldn’t, but I’ll meet him when I meet him. I actually want to get to know him even less than I do my parents. He’s supposed to be my guardian if my parents are unavailable, and I know that he’s got his spy network to look after, and Hokage-sama and the Council had that whole no adoption thing going, but would it really have been that hard to stop by and say hi for even just five minutes in the past nine years? Or send a letter if he can’t do that? Through his Toad summons even, if he’s afraid it might be intercepted or something. I mean he has to report his spying to Hokage-sama somehow, right? So he could’ve sent me something the same way if he ever wanted to. Even if Hokage-sama told him that he couldn't reveal himself to me, he could've- I don’t know, pretended that he was just a nice guy and treated me to ramen or something. But he hasn't even stepped foot back into Konoha since I was born! So, really, if he doesn't want anything to do with me, I don’t get why I should put in the effort to get to know him. Honestly,” He grins a bit. “I kinda just want to meet him so I can see if he really is as big a pervert as you say he is. And then I’ll let the women that he peeps on know about it so that they can beat him up. I think I’ll set Anko-nee on him; that’ll be fun to watch.”
Maru-ji makes an amused noise at the back of his throat, and Naruto smirks back. Call him petty but there may just be some latent resentment on his part when it comes to his so-called godfather.
“If that oaf spies on Anko while she’s at the baths,” Maru-ji mutters darkly. “She won’t be the one he’ll have to worry about. Not the only one anyway.”
“Ooh, I’ll help!” Naruto volunteers at once. “Anko-nee and I haven’t told you about the absolute crap summer Hatake-san’s had, have we? We’ve been pranking him upside-down and sideways ever since I first caught him tailing me on my way to school. I warned him but he didn't listen, and he hasn't caught either of us in the act yet. I’ve been escaping from ANBU since I was four, and Anko-nee covers any other tracks I leave. Just last week, she helped me set this paint seal on him so that anywhere he walks, he leaves pink glitter footprints behind him, but he can’t see them because of a minor genjutsu that uses so little chakra that it can’t be sensed unless he’s specifically looking for it. He went around like that for three days before he figured out why other shinobi were laughing at him again. Sucker.”
Maru-ji actually looks mildly pained now. “Hatake got himself pranked by an Academy student and a Jounin with less than a year under her belt? Minato must be rolling in his grave.”
“Well, to be fair,” Naruto amends. “I was in charge of doubling back through the sewers and setting two dozen chickens, half a dozen pigs, and five dozen mice on him just as he was turning onto a narrower street with fences on both sides, and the seal was already planted on a patch of ground that he had to step on, and then Anko-nee snuck the genjutsu on him, so he probably thought the stampede of animals was the prank. Plus, we’ve been bombarding him with pranks all summer so he’s gotta be getting tired. He’s actually starting to look like the walking dead.”
“That’s no excuse,” Maru-ji scoffs in disgust. “If anything, he should have been on even higher alert by that point and dodged everything. He only left the ANBU a little over six months ago and he’s already getting rusty.”
Naruto lounges back against the headboard with a broad grin. “Aren't you supposed to scold me for this?”
Maru-ji only arches an eyebrow. “Why would I? It facilitates your infiltration, tracking, and trapping skills, along with speed and stealth. It’s hardly your fault if an S-rank Jounin can’t keep up.”
Naruto loves his life.
“Just don’t get caught,” Maru-ji adds. “First rule of being a shinobi.”
“I thought the first rule was to look underneath the underneath.”
“That isn’t a rule,” Maru-ji says loftily. “That should be habit.”
Naruto laughs. “I don’t think that’s what they teach at the Academy.”
“Kages preach that first rule,” Maru-ji retorts. “Because you’ll have to help yourself if you're ever caught by a foreign hidden village. Nine times out of ten, especially during wartime, you would be labelled a missing-nin so that our enemies wouldn't be able to extort anything from the village you come from, and you would end up having to get yourself out if you wanted to live. Of course,” He adds with a weightier look at Naruto. “You being a Jinchuuriki would ensure some kind of rescue team coming for you if you're ever captured, but still, I would choose the simpler solution – don’t get caught to begin with.”
Naruto nods vigorously. He has no plans on getting himself captured by enemy-nin, thank you very much.
“And about that, about... me being a Jinchuurki and everything,” Naruto brings up, only to falter again when nothing really comes to mind. He wants to talk about it but he doesn't know which part of it he wants to talk about. After the inital I already know about it and I don’t care why would you think I would Anko didn't you do your job at dinner, none of them brought up the issue again.
“I have told you that I don’t see you as the Kyuubi,” Maru-ji carries on for him. “And Anko has said the same. I can assure you that the Hokage and Jiraiya and even Tsunade are of the same mind, and your parents certainly would be if they were still alive. None of us care in the least that you are a Jinchuuriki. So I suppose,” Golden eyes sharpen. “All that’s left now is to ask whether or not you care.”
Yeah, that is all that’s left, isn’t it? And as always, Maru-ji has a knack for cutting straight to the heart of the matter.
Naruto is fairly certain that Maru-ji can wait out the apocalypse if need be so – inevitably – he cracks first.
“I don’t care about being a Jinchuuriki,” Naruto blurts out abruptly. “I don’t. It’s just... at the same time, I wish I hadn't been chosen to be one.”
“No,” Maru-ji corrects shrewdly. “You wish your parents hadn't chosen the village over you.”
Naruto opens his mouth, and then closes it again when nothing comes out.
“Let’s put it this way,” The Sannin says with a sardonic twist of his lips. “If you could, would you let someone else take your place? If given the choice, would you let your parents pick a different child as the Jinchuuriki of the Kyuubi?”
“No,” Naruto doesn't even think about it because he doesn't have to. He’s lived it; he’s still living it. The anger, the slurs, the revulsion. He wouldn't wish that on any other kid, no matter how much they've put him down or looked down on him like they think they're so much better than him.
“Exactly. You're strong enough to bear the burden that your father entrusted you with,” Maru-ji tells him. “And selfless enough to not wish it on anyone else. But they were your parents. It’s natural to want them to choose you over the rest of the world no matter the cost.”
Naruto’s eyes sting, which is stupid because he hasn't cried – hasn't had cause to cry – since Maru-ji took him in. “I shouldn't. I have a family-”
“-but they were still your parents,” Maru-ji finishes with finality. “And that isn’t something you can forget.” He pauses. “...I lost my parents when I was four. It took a while, but after I met them, Jiraiya and Tsunade and even Sarutobi-sensei slowly became family. But they could never replace my parents despite the fact that I only had my mother and father for four years, and I can barely remember their faces now.”
“...Do you still consider them family?” Naruto can’t help asking. “Your old team I mean?”
Maru-ji’s expression goes blank and still and cold, as it always does when he wants to distance himself. But then his mouth curls into something far more cynical, and his face creases briefly with faint, careworn lines.
Maru-ji has always looked younger than his age, so it is chillingly, disquietingly jarring for Naruto to suddenly be so acutely reminded of how the Snake Sannin will be hitting forty-seven in just a week. That’s old for a shinobi, especially one who’s still being regularly sent out on S-rank missions. People a decade younger than Maru-ji – like Naruto’s classmates’ parents – they’re all already more or less retired. Most are clan heads, or they help man the shops that their families run in Konoha, or – at most – they do courier runs for the Hokage. One could argue that ninja in general don’t really retire until they’re dead, but short of a village-wide emergency, shinobi who are lucky enough to hit thirty – maybe thirty-five, maybe forty if they’re really gung-ho – usually get relegated to a desk job or a civilian job by that point. Aside from Maru-ji, the only other exception to this rule is Sarutobi, and even he sits behind a desk all day, so he’s really not an exception at all. Heck, there are basically next to no ninja who manage to even live as long as Naruto’s uncle has. Both Jiraiya and Tsunade are off wandering around and most definitely not taking on any missions for Konoha. So as far as Naruto knows, literally no other shinobi even approaching Maru-ji’s age is still on the active duty roster like Maru-ji is.
Fear knots in his gut but Naruto does his best to put it out of his mind. Maru-ji is excellent at what he does, still in his prime unlike some shinobi as young as twenty years his junior. It would take a whole hell of a lot to put the Snake Sannin down for good.
“Some things can’t be helped,” is all Maru-ji says in the end in response to Naruto’s question, and Naruto knows that the subject is no longer open for discussion.
You can’t choose family. Naruto read that somewhere before. He thought it just meant being related by blood though, not... not this as well.
“It’s getting late,” The Sannin wraps up, already shifting to stand.
“Wait, there is one more thing,” Naruto hurriedly stalls. “If the Yon- If my dad sealed the Kyuubi into me, shouldn't there be a seal somewhere on me?”
Maru-ji turns back to him. “Ah. Lift up your shirt.”
Naruto blinks in bafflement but obeys, putting aside his pillow and lifting up his pajama shirt. He stares, fascinated, when a single ball of purple fire appears at the tip of Maru-ji’s right index finger, which the Sannin then uses to tap him once on the stomach.
A tingle rushes through his torso, and then a black spiral with a complicated array of symbols surrounding it flares to life on his belly.
“Whoa,” Naruto breathes, not taking his eyes off the seal until it fades away again. He’s already begun his fuuinjutsu studies but he can’t make heads or tails of this seal.
“The Shiki Fuujin,” Maru-ji murmurs. “A powerful seal with lethal consequences. Don’t go messing around with it, understand? We don’t need a repeat of nine years ago. We wouldn't survive a repeat of nine years ago.”
Naruto blanches at the mere thought. “Yeah, that’d be… kinda bad.”
“Understatement,” Maru-ji sighs in exasperation before reaching out to card a hand through Naruto’s hair. “Go to sleep, Naruto. You have school tomorrow.”
Naruto falls asleep that night clutching his new pillow, and he doesn't dream even though he nods off thinking he might. But he’s secure in the knowledge that his two most favourite people in the world are both home and safe again, and when he wakes up to the smell of Maru-ji’s chocolate chip pancakes and the sound of Anko-nee singing off-key in the shower, he thinks – even without parents and popularity and a Kyuubi-free life – he’s still a pretty lucky guy.