AN: Another thing I found in my drive. Inspired by Slythefoxx2's "Sucker Bet", quite vaguely.

Jiraiya looked behind his shoulder at the blond kid dragging his feet after him. The Toad Sage sighed and massaged his white brow. He had yet to see Naruto so down. The blond thirteen years old was normally a bouncing ball of sunshine to the point it was even annoying to most, but right now, he looked like life had been sucked out of him.

Jiraiya could understand and actually sympathize. Experiencing treason was world-shaking but when the traitor was someone you considered a friend, it was worse. When the aforementioned friend tried to murder you, the Toad Sage did not have the words anymore. And he wrote books as a hobby.

He knew he had to discuss the matter with the kid if only to clear the gunk from his system and at best to rid him of the disillusions Jiraiya knew Naruto was nursing. The problem was to be tactful about it. The Toad Sage denied it at every turn but he did write little more than pornography. There was nothing tactful about that.

The two walked in silence down the dusty road. Jiraiya had no clear goal in mind yet and there was no point choosing one until Naruto was back on his feet. Walking had, however, the added benefit of helping the Toad Sage to think. After several hours of rather uncomfortable silence, as far as Jiraiya was concerned at least, the man reached the only logical conclusion available to him.

If he wasn't sage enough to talk with Naruto, he would ask someone wiser to help him.

It was hurting his pride to admit to that but, after hours of agonizing reflexion, Jiraiya found that he refused to do wrong by the kid. He could not, not any more than he already had. He refused to repeat the mistakes of his own teacher, may Kami have his soul. He refused to abandon the boy again. There was no time for cowardice and inadequacy, not when doing so meant the boy's death.

Naruto had been dealt one of the shittiest hand in life Jiraiya had ever seen and had been getting the short end of the stick for too long. The boy deserved anything he could get and as his teacher, it was Jiraiya's duty to ensure that if Naruto needed a sage, a sage would visit him.

Jiraiya felt the satisfaction of reaching an important decision and allowed an easy smile to grace his lips. There was agony in hesitation and peace in choice and the man found he was happy. Allowing his good mood to show, the Toad Sage started singing one of the numerous ballades he knew.

Night eventually came, the sun setting over the immense forest of Fire Country. Made darker than it really was due to the gigantic trees, the obscurity forced the Toad Sage and his apprentice to stop. Naruto had been despondent for the entire day and when the blond boy finally found sleep, Jiraiya was relieved to not see him lifelessly staring at nothing. The blond had cerulean blue eyes that looked entirely wrong when empty of their usual spark.

Looking over at the boy and giving his sleeping form a sad smile, the Toad Sage rose and formed a cross with the extended index and middle fingers of both hands. Jiraiya searched within him for his chakra, the mystical energy that allowed him feats impossible for untrained men. With a poof of smoke, a perfect replica of the Toad Sage came in existence. The original nodded once and departed.

Jiraiya walked for a good while, putting as much distance as he could between his camp and the sleeping boy. The technique he was going to use would use a massive amount of chakra and he did not want to risk waking Naruto up. Reaching a rather large clearing, the man decided it was as good a spot as any other to call for the help he needed.

Once again kneading his chakra to amplify its strength, Jiraiya spun it within his pathways until it welled immensely, slowly escaping from the tenketsu around his body despite the tight control he exerted over it, forming a thin halo of light around his form. Suddenly the sage nicked his thumb on a knife and willed the energy through several hand signs, before slamming the injured hand on the ground.

Smoke exploded upward and engulfed the sage's form as wind blew from the point of impact, shaking the trees around the clearing and making their branches groan in protest. When the smoke cleared, the sage was crouching in front of a toad.

A very bizarre toad, as it was propped up on its two back legs, draped in a grey cloak, and sported a white goatee and two very bushy and spiky eyebrows.

"Fukasaku-sama," greeted Jiraiya. "Thank you for answering my call."

"Good evening Jiraiya." The toad said in return. "It's rare for you to give me the "sama" treatment. What gives?"

The man chuckled sheepishly and scratched a wart on the side of his nose. "I need your help, Pa, and I figured being polite was a good way to go at it."

The toad's eyebrows rose in surprise. "I suppose so," Fukasaku said. "It's not often you admit to a shortcoming. Maybe you're starting to be deserving of your self-given title."

Jiraiya grimaced and sighed. "Well, about that, we will talk but I need to start at the beginning. Will you hear me out?" The man asked, almost pleading at the end.

The toad smiled. "Of course, Jiraiya. I would be remiss to not offer help to our senior summoner. Speak."

Jiraiya breathed out in relief before he let himself fall on his bottom, crossing his legs in front of him before he inhaled deeply. "It's about Naruto."

And for the better part of the night, the Toad Sage talked with his strange interlocutor who stood silent and attentive. His speech slowed by hesitation and shame at first, the man lay down his doubts. He wasn't sure he deserved to be Naruto's master when he had chosen to honour one duty as an excuse to shy away from another, discharging himself from it on his own sensei, breaking a promise.

It was then the dam broke, regrets and sorrow flowing along with the words. This choice resulted in the boy being feared and ostracized by the village he had grown up in. The blond had been alone for the entirety of his thirteen years of life, without any real support despite the crushing burden he was afflicted with. When he finally found a brother, it was only to be betrayed by him.

Jiraiya explained how he was afraid Naruto would chase after the traitor like the Toad Sage himself had done when his own brother had fallen to treachery. He explained that he did not know what to do, did not know how to explain, did not know how to stir Naruto away from a path that could be nothing but self-destructive.

Through everything, the aged toad listened, never interrupting his summoner save for a few questions. When Jiraiya eventually finished, Fukasaku looked at the man and smiled gently.

"You had a lot on your mind but even more on your heart, Jiraiya-boy. How do you feel now?"

Jiraiya was a giant of a man, one who had seen two war, known love and loss, hope and despair. Yet now, he felt like a child under the eyes of the small toad.

"I don't know," mumbled the man as he sagged from exhaustion.

"Really, now?"

Jiraiya answered nothing, refusing to meet the toad's gaze, his eyes looking at emptiness. Fukasaku waited patiently until, eventually, the man looked up. "I feel terrible."

"One oft feels like that when admitting to their perceived faults."

A sigh escaped Jiraiya's lips, heavy with remorse. "So you do think I failed."

"No," countered the toad. "But you definitely do. And admitting that is the first step to making things better. I do believe you had a moral obligation toward your previous pupil when you accepted to take care of his son were anything to happen to him. The fact you did not do so speaks poorly of you."

Another sigh forced its way out of Jiraiya's chest.

"I also find it admirable that you decided to recognize it and do something about it. Just know that I'm not the one who can absolve you of the fault you committed. Only Naruto can."

"I know," whispered Jiraiya.

"Now regarding Naruto himself, I would trust the lad to be intelligent enough to understand things if you explain it to him."

The man snorted. "He is terribly bull-headed."

"That does not mean he cannot think. If you order him to not go against this Sasuke Uchiha, he definitely will, if only to spite authority. Authority never really helped him after all. You need to mentor him, not point a direction and order him to run."

"But how do I do that?"

The toad raised one brow. "You speak to him, of course. You cannot go in while blind. If you want to craft the better argument, you need to know how the kid works and what to strike down. So do what you do best: gather information."

"Isn't that... Manipulative?"

"Is trying to convince someone to your view manipulative? Manipulation is defined by its deceptive, underhanded aspect. Do you plan on being so?"

"N-No! Of course not!"

"Then don't be. Be honest, tell the boy what he needs to know. What Naruto needs to know, not what you think he needs to know, let me be clear on that. At some point, a hidden truth becomes a lie and lie are always poisonous. Actually, if what you told me about young Naruto is true, the poison is already in effect."

"What do you mean, Pa?"

"He used the Rasengan in his fight against the Uchiha, correct?"


"Naruto was found in the Valley of the End with a wound characteristic of a Chidori on the right side of his chest, correct?"


"From what he told you of their fight, what does that truly tell you?"

Jiraiya stayed silent for a few seconds before he whispered in horror. "He… Naruto was ready to die, wasn't he?"

"It would seem the boy does not value himself indeed. His mission was to bring back the Uchiha and when the time came to strike, he prefered to allow his target to nearly kill him and escape." Fukasaku said with a sad nod of his head. "That is why he needs a mentor Jiraiya. Naruto-kun needs to understand that he matters, despite what your village, your Hokage, and yourself did to him."

The Toad Sage winced but nodded all the same. "Can you… Would you help me, Pa?" The man asked after a few seconds of pained silence.

"Of course. Naruto is one of our own after all. Summon me again tomorrow and I shall help however I can. Just understand this Jiraiya: Naruto needs to come to the right conclusions by himself and for that, he'll need to discover who he is first. I cannot guarantee this Naruto will please everyone. Not even you."

The two fell silent for a minute as the Toad Sage processed what had just been told to him before he nodded resolutely. "Not a problem."

"Good. I'm not helping to train a fool. Have a good night."

Jiraiya shifted to sit in seiza before he kowtowed. "Thank you Fukasaku-sama."

"You're welcome, Jiraiya-boy," answered the toad one final time before he disappeared in a puff of smoke.

In the now silent clearing, the Toad Sage stayed in his kowtow for a full minute before he shifted and let himself fall on his back. Above him, countless stars were shining. The man chuckled. "I might do good by that promise yet, Minato. I simply hope Kushina doesn't murder me a second time once I join you all up there."

With a groan, Jiraiya stood and walked back to his camp, his replica dispelling in smoke once he reached the firepit. He had work to do and much to think about if he wanted to do it right.

When the sun finally rose high enough to pierce the canopy, Jiraiya was still thinking. An all-nighter wasn't a problem for him, he had lived through more than his share during his life, and he busied himself to make breakfast, allowing Naruto some respite. The Toad Sage fished in a small leather backpack a pair of rolled parchments covered with mystic scribbles. One hand sign later and the man had a pan, a kettle, and a pot ready for use.

With a flex of his chakra, Jiraiya materialized water in the kettle and pot, put both over the fire to boil, and returned to his pack where he found rice and some meat. Satisfied with his preparations, the man turned, looked up at the sun, thoughts for a moment and nodded.

"Should be okay by now."

The man's chakra swelled again much like last night in the clearing and Jirayia repeated the summoning ritual. In a puff of smoke, the old toad, Fukasaku, appeared.

"Hello, Jiraiya."

"Pa. I hope it's not too early."

"I told Ma I'd be out today, no worry."


The toad turned around, his gaze coming to rest on the form of Naruto. "So this is the tadpole, huh? You know he is awake right?"

"Of course. I am a good shinobi, Pa."

The toad chuckled. "Of course, of course. Say, Naruto-boy, why don't you join your master and me for breakfast?"

The boy stilled unnaturally for a second before he stirred, stretching and yawning in an exaggerated way. "Hello Pervy-sage, Toad-gramps."

"Toad-gramps, huh? And Pervy-sage. It suits both of us, Jiraiya."

The man smiled. "It does. Come Naruto, breakfast will soon be ready."

The man and the boy ate in silence, the toad content with observing them. Once all was said, done, washed, and packed again, a heavy silence settled around the camp.

"Naruto," began Jiraiya, "we need to talk."

"About what?" The blond asked, no trace of enthusiasm to be found in his voice.

"About you in general, my boy," interceded the elder toad. "I'm Fukasaku, one of the elders of the toads of Mount Myoboku. Jiraiya asked me for my help in training you."

A flash of something sparkled in the blue eyes of the boy before it went away, as fast as it had appeared. Naruto's head rose and he gazed at the man and the toad. "What are you going to teach me?"

"Why do you think you're on the road, Naruto?" Fukasaku asked in response.


"Why is Jiraiya taking you on a trip?"

Naruto cocked his head sideway before he shrugged. "Training? I don't know?"

"Don't you?" The toad questioned, a smile on his lips. "Well, this journey is all about you and your training indeed but what kind of training do you suppose you'll receive?"

"Well, enough training to save Sasuke," answered the blond a bit more animatedly. "And to become Hokage!" He added with a shout as an afterthought.

"I see. Well, every journey needs to begin somewhere and to really start, we need to talk, as we said. Get yourself comfortable because we will address as many subjects as we need, some you won't want to touch."

Naruto sat upright and sent a glare the toad's way. "Bring it."

Fukasaku chuckled. "Good, good, not afraid as I can see. Facing yourself can be hurtful and it is good to see you so robust."

"Facing myself?"

"Indeed. Do you know the saying that goes: if you know yourself if you know nature and if you know your enemy, you'll be victorious?"

The blond shrugged. It might have been something Iruka-sensei had said once in class during the academy. Naruto could not be bothered to listen to that kind of thing. He needed jutsu, not pretty words.

"I can feel you scoff from here. I know you lack discipline, Naruto, and I won't fault you for it but it does not mean I will tolerate it." Fukasaku said good-naturedly. "Are you maybe more receptive to things when you walk?"

"No, no, I'm listening," answered Naruto dismissively.

Only for something fast, heavy, and strong to impact him on his chest, sending him flying and crashing against a tree.

"I've been imparting knowledge for hundreds of years," came the deceptively calm voice of Fukasaku. "All the toads I taught were different and each required a different approach. That is fine by me. However, when I teach, I expect to be listened to. Now, Naruto, would you be more comfortable walking or do I slap you again?"

The blond looked around him, searching for the S-ranked taijutsu master that had just delivered the hit when the words of the toad registered.

"Whoah, you're super strong, Toad-gramps!" The blond exclaimed. Only for Fukasaku to appear by his side and hit him lightly on the shoulder with a stick.

"Politeness is one aspect of a man's discipline. I understand why it wasn't taught to you, my boy. I will not, however, tolerate it and so you'll need to learn it. I'm not "Toad-gramps", I'm Fukasaku. Do I call you Fox-boy?"

Naruto grimaced at that before he pouted. "It's true though, you're a toad and a gramps."

"I may call you Fox-boy then."

The blond grimaced again. "I'm sorry, Fukasaku."

"Better. Now, about my question: walking or seated?"

"I-I don't know?"

"Let's take a walk, shall we?" The toad decided suddenly, jumping on the blond boy's shoulder. "Let's go, Jiraiya."

The man nodded and smothered the campfire before following after the incongruous duo. For a few minutes, the three walked in silence.

"So, Naruto, have you heard the saying from earlier?"

"No, Fukasaku."

"How do you think it relates to you?"

The blond shrugged. "I don't know."

"You did not even try to think Naruto. Do not be afraid to answer wrong, you will not be mocked here, not by me, not by Jiraiya, not be the trees, not by the road. So think, Naruto, and try to come up with an answer." The toad chided, the tone of his voice even.

Cowed, the blond fell silent and thought about the little toad's question, repeating the saying in his mind countless times.

"Is it your way of teaching?" Asked Naruto after a while. When the toad did not answer, the boy continued heatedly. "But I need jutsu, not some crap-"

He was interrupted by a tap on his shoulder. "Do not scream, I'm right here and I hear you. You are seeing a tree for the forest. Jutsu are only a part of knowing yourself. A very little part."

"So you're going to teach me a jutsu?" the blond asked, confused.

"Why would I when you wouldn't know what to do with it?"

The boy blushed in anger. "I know how to use jutsu!"

He was silenced by another tap on his shoulder, harder this time.

"The next time you scream, I'll send you back to Konoha with a punch. And no, you do not know how to use jutsu. Tell me all the jutsu you know."

"Henge, Kawarimi, Kage Bunshin, and Rasengan," answered Naruto with a pout.

"Did you know that Kage Bunshins share their experiences with the original once they are dispelled?"


"Precisely. Jiraiya informed me of your use of Kage Bunshin. The only reason you can is because of the large reserve of chakra given to you by the Kyuubi within you. You do not remotely use the jutsu to its fullest potential. You do not know how to use it."

"I didn't even know about it! No one told me!"

"And your teachers up until now are mainly at fault for that but did you try asking questions? Did you try experimenting on your own? No, because you lack discipline."

"Well it's not like anyone would have answered my questions anyway," grumbled the blond.

"So you gave up before even trying? I thought it was precisely not your style."

Naruto sputtered and reddened.

"Understand this, my boy: you're not at fault for the neglect of your teachers and your caretakers. It does not change the fact that you have shortcomings as a result. You can blame it on them or face forward and work with Jiraiya and me to correct them."

The blond's face morphed into a pout and he put both his hands in his pockets, forming and relaxing his fists for a full minute. Eventually, the boy looked shyly at the toad on his shoulder.

"Can you please teach me, Fukasaku-sensei?"

The toad smiled. "I can. You see, your journey with Jiraiya is a metaphor. Life is a journey through which every one of us goes through and we change in the process. If you listen to us, we can guide you through those changes."

Naruto eyed the toad for a moment. "But I don't wanna change," the boy protested, strangely weirded out at the prospect.

"Really? Can you refuse to grow up, Naruto?"

"What? No! I don't want to stay short!"

"But can you stay a kid forever?"

Naruto hummed in contemplation. "No, if I do I won't be Hokage." He answered eventually.

"Change itself isn't a bad or a good thing, it just is and it is inevitable. It's up to you to make the best of it."

The boy nodded thoughtfully. "I'm not sure I get it but you'll teach me right?"

Fukasaku smiled. "Indeed."

"Cool! So what do we begin with? This knowing myself thing?"

"Precisely but before we go further, Naruto, I need you to know that knowing oneself is dangerous because it causes people to lie to themselves when the truth is too ugly for them. And that often causes more pain in turn."

Naruto scrunched his face in thought. "Is that what facing myself mean? You said something like that."

"Yes. Hence, I will not allow you to lie to yourself as long as you are under my watch. Is that understood?"

The boy fell silent, contemplating the toad's words as hard as he could. He absentmindedly noted that walking did seem to help. "Yes." He answered, having reached his decision.

"Let's begin then. Or rather, let's continue. As I've shown you, you knew little about Kage Bunshin. Now tell me, what do you know about the Rasengan?"

Naruto racked his brain, looking for an answer that could satisfy the toad before he realized he did not even know what the toad was after. The boy settled for describing the jutsu as Jiraiya had taught him.

The toad simply nodded. "Tell me Naruto, is a Rasengan less powerful than a Chidori?"

The blond winced and his left hand subconsciously clutched his right clavicle. "Yes," Naruto answered.

Only to receive a light tap on his shoulder.

"What?" He asked dejectedly. "It's true-"

Another tap interrupted him. Feeling the heat of anger rise and well with his chest, Naruto huffed through his tightened jaw. "It's not my fault Sasuke's attack beat-"

Another tap stopped him in his tracks and the boy exploded. "What do you want me to say!? I couldn't-"

A strike to the stomach silenced the boy by folding him in two.

"I said I would not tolerate you screaming in my ears. I also said I would keep you from lying to yourself. Is a Rasengan less powerful than a Chidori?" Fukasaku asked, his tone firm and unwavering, his voice barely above a whisper yet clear and powerful.

Naruto clenched his hands into fists and scrunched his eyes close. After a minute, the boy forced a "no" through his clammed jaw.

"Why did you fail to bring the Uchiha back?" Fukasaku asked again.

"I couldn't kill him!" Naruto cried, his eyes widening in despair. A tap on his shoulder interrupted him.

"I couldn't." The boy pleaded, first to the elder toad, then to his master, who had been silent until now. Jiraiya shook his head.

"Couldn't or wouldn't?" The man asked the boy without heat nor reproach. "Your mission was to bring him back, Naruto, dead or alive. You could have stopped him but you chose not to if it meant killing him. Your Hokage gave you an order, not a choice. By disobeying it, you walked the first step toward becoming a missing-nin. After all, they are nothing more than ninjas who betrayed their orders."

Naruto was too flabbergasted to answer anything to that.

"You could have and should have killed him, Naruto, those were your orders. You chose not to, giving Orochimaru a dangerous body to possess, potentially giving to a madman the ability to become even more dangerous. Not to Konohagakure but to the entire world."

"But I-I… I couldn't kill my teammate!" Naruto cried desperately, tears streaming down his face.

Jiraiya sighed and Fukasaku neared the blond boy, resting one palmed hand on his knee.

"I know how much it hurts Naruto, to have a teammate turning rogue. But that's exactly the point: by turning rogue, he ceased to be your teammate. He endangered the lives of many ninjas of Konoha, yours included. His life is not more important than the five who nearly died going after him. His life is not more important than yours, Naruto."

"But he is my friend!" The blond protested heatedly, swallowing his tears. "He is my friend, I have to save him!"

Jiraiya looked at the boy then at the toad with a plea in his eyes. That was what he did not know how to solve. That was what he did not know how to talk about.

"Tell me, Naruto," said Fukasaku. "Why was Sasuke your friend?"

The blond fell silent, apparently collecting himself. "Because he knows the pain. He is alone and he knows what it means." The boy answered in a whisper and with a sniffle.

"But has he ever acted as a friend? Has he ever been supportive? Has he ever helped you? Sharing one's pain makes it easier to sympathise with them but it does not make them a friend. So, Naruto, was the Uchiha your friend?"

"He acknowledged me."

"Did he? Or was he simply jealous? Did he respect you or was he trying to put you down? Did he even hesitate like you did when he hurt you? Tell me, was he your friend, Naruto?"

"I was… I am his."

"But was he yours?"

"Yes," answered Naruto lifelessly. Nothing answered him but silence. He waited for the tap on his shoulder but it did not come. He waited and waited and the lie became uglier and uglier under the light of truth. "No," he corrected eventually in a whisper. "No," he repeated, sadly and bitterly this time. "He wasn't a friend. I don't have friends anyway." He continued, his throat so tight it was hurting. "Who'd be friend with the dead-last?"

Jiraiya squeezed the boy's shoulder. "Do not sell yourself short, Naruto. Shikamaru Nara, Akimichi Choji, Konohamaru Sarutobi are all people who respect you. Even this Neji kid, and Rock Lee, the taijutsu nutcase, respect you. That's a proper foundation for friendship." The man offered reassuringly.

Naruto just buried his face in the larger man's red haori and cried his heart out. Jiraiya felt guilt well inside him, as well as anger. If Naruto had been properly raised if he had known what friendship was like, if he, Jiraiya, had been there if his sensei had done his job as the Hokage. It felt petty to assign blame but the man could not help it. He could not admit all of it was his own fault.

He was not even sure it was in the first place.

"I think we have worked on the self enough for today," said Fukasaku gently, hoping on Jiraiya's shoulder and looking at the man knowingly.

AN: It is a one-shot, for now. I do not know if I'll come back to it. I might if I face a writer block on SIFA. Leave a review if you feel inclined.