Chapter 1: Beginnings

Naruto was a quiet child at the young age of six. His violet eyes carried the innocence befitting of a child his age. For the first four years of his life, all he has seen was a laboratory and a small room. The pale-faced man with slitted eyes was the only adult he ever saw. He doesn't remember much of the man, considering all the contact he had with him was when the man injected him with painful injections. Those just made him feel weird. He didn't think his life was terrible, though. He was fed daily and had a roof on his head, so he never complained.

However, this changed when one day, an old man wearing a red hat and white robes came barging into the lab, followed by a dozen masked men. The pale-faced man was able to flee. However, only Naruto and one other child, who was slightly older than him, were all that were left alive after the man's sick experiments.

Naruto did not have his name when he was rescued, however. He was always called by the pale man by his tag number. It was two years ago when he found out that people actually had names instead of numbers. He still remembers…

He was taken to a room with white walls and no windows, along with the other child, who he distinctly remembered seeing in the lab once. A blond man with a ponytail, probably in his early 20s, stood in front of them. The man saw their nervousness and thought that maybe some good food would make the children open up slightly. He told them to wait and came back carrying two bowls of something.

"Eat up..." The man dawdled. Neither of the children moved.

"This is ramen… It won't do you any harm. Of course, considering that you don't just eat ramen every day." The man attempted a joke, but no one laughed. Of course, they don't know how to use chopsticks. He palmed his forehead.

"Here, I'll help..." He offered and used the chopsticks to begin feeding them.

After eating the first bite, he admitted to himself, mentally, of course, that ramen was the most incredible thing he had ever had! It didn't matter that all he was used to eating was dry and packaged food. This was the first time he had eaten anything that had anything resembling flavor.

He stared at the man with wide eyes. The man chuckled. "It is good, hm..? It even has my favorite topping, Narutomaki!" The man laughed, seeing the child's astound expression.

He was still looking at the bowl. "...naruto…" He mumbled as he looked at the swirly patterned thing.

When both of them had finished eating, the man faced them again. "Let's see now…My name is Yamanaka Inoichi. What are your names? Do you remember anything before you were at that place?" His tone was gentle.

"He called me number seventeen…" The man arched an eyebrow at that. Numbers..?

"I was number four..." The older of the two said.

"Well, now... that won't do at all. Say say... What is it that you like the most?" The man asked them childishly, grinning. He did not want to scare them at all now that they were finally talking.

The children were quiet for a while. Suddenly, the younger of the two, the blond-haired kid, replied in a meek voice "...ramen.

Inoichi laughed loudly at the response.

"Ramen, hm...? Alright! How about..." he stopped to think, tapping his chin with his index finger. "Naruto? Do you like the name Naruto?" The man ruffled his hair.

Naruto nodded a little. The other child, however, was silent. The man faced him and said, "What about you? Do you like anything?" He did not reply.

Seeing this, the man sighed. "Aa... If that's the case, then, How about"

The child looked at him confusingly and mumbled, "ten...zo?"

However, the man perceived his tone as accepting and nodded. "Then let's get going now, Naruto, Tenzo."

After that Naruto, and a still confused Tenzo was admitted to an orphanage. However, Tenzo mysteriously disappeared one day and would not be seen for a few years...

That was when he found out about his love for all things ramen. He might regret naming himself after a ramen topping when he grows up, but right now, the only thing Naruto loved was ramen.

The orphanage matron was a woman in her late 50s, simply called by the kids as "Granny." She was a kind lady who loved taking care of children. The orphanage had a 'box' where people may give anything they would like. When the box was sufficiently filled, the things were distributed among the kids by the matron. It usually had toys for children so, Naruto never took anything after the first few times.

One such day, the matron came to him…

"Naruto?" She knocked and then entered the room. She found him sitting on the bed, practicing his writing. His room was plain; Brown painted walls, Four beds, one in each corner, and a window.

He was almost always alone, either practicing his calligraphy in a notebook or usually sitting under a tree near the river, listening to the song of insects and chirping of the birds. Naruto always felt oddly at peace near the river and the trees and never liked closed rooms after the first four years spent in isolation. Other kids usually avoided him because he rarely spoke more than a few words and never showed any interest in playing games with them, and thus was dubbed as the 'boring kid.'

She sat across from him on the bed and looked at him.

"I want you to have this…" She showed something in her hand. "I know you don't like toys… so I wanted to give you this."

It was a thin object, wrapped in a cloth. Curiosity got the better of him, and he took it in his hands. Upon unraveling it, he looked at it, mesmerized. It was a brown-colored flute, somewhat old but well cared for, and had black highlights. He looked into her eyes, surprised.

"I know that you never knew your birthday, but today, the seventeenth of January, is the day when you came here last year… So it could be your birthday in a way after all." She grinned at him. "This belonged to my mother when I was your age. I loved when she played it. I could never learn how to play, so I kept it with me all this time, but I think it would be better if you kept it.

"Happy Birthday, Naruto..."

He felt something in his chest, something painful and pleasant at the same time, and grabbed at it. Happiness. 'Is this what happiness feels like?...' He thought with moist eyes but stayed silent. He looked at granny, and she smiled, knowing what he was feeling. She patted his head lovingly and stood up to leave.

She heard a muffled "Thank you" when she was standing at the door and looked over her shoulder. Naruto was a good kid, and she had really been trying to make him feel happier. It was the first time in his life that young Naruto smiled, and it was breathtakingly beautiful.

That day, somehow, the trees and flowers bloomed all around the village of Konoha unlike ever before...

On October 10th, he experienced fear for perhaps the first time in his admittedly short life.

He was out in the park, sitting alone on a swing and watching other kids playing. Granny has been pushing him to make some friends since he had none. But he wasn't very enthusiastic about it.

The first thing he saw was a great fire in the distance. People started panicking. They scooped their children and started running out of the park. He followed them too. That's when he first saw it…

A giant fox thrashed in the middle of the village as it destroyed everything around it.

He stood motionless in the middle of the street... feeling so small and insignificant… watching with wide eyes as the giant fox was suddenly trapped with golden chains. It roared as debris flew everywhere.

He surely would have died if not for a black-haired girl around his age, who was carrying a baby with her, grabbed him by the hand and pulled him along. He was too shocked to even resist. If he would have looked around instead of being fixed on the fox, he would have noticed the countless dead bodies surrounding him.

"Come with me! Quick!" the girl shouted.

The girl put on a brave face. However, Naruto could see her hands trembling. She was perhaps even more scared than him, but she was still running and holding the baby protectively. Naruto wondered if there would ever be anything so important to him that he'd protect it with his life...

It sounded stupid to him and made his head hurt at the same time, so he stopped thinking about it.

"Why were you not moving? Do you not want to live?" She asked him when they reached the shelter. However, Naruto did not react to her question and kept staring at the baby in her arms, eyes containing curiosity.

Upon noticing where he was staring, she told him, "This is Sasuke… my little brother." Naruto averted his eyes and did not say anything.

Hours passed, and finally, it was all quiet. The raven-haired girl had earlier left to find her parents. When they all went outside, everything was in rubbles around them. People were silent, mourning. Even though he knew he never had anything to lose. Even though he knew he had no one important to him, he still couldn't figure out why he felt like he lost something very important today…Why…

Why was he still crying?

Sarutobi Hiruzen was having an awful day.

Yesterday he was with his wife at his home, smoking his pipe and enjoying the weather. It all changed in a single day. His wife was dead. His successor, Namikaze Minato, and his wife Uzumaki Kushina gave their lives for the village and left their child orphaned. Half the village was in ruins. He just wanted this nightmare to end, wanted to go back to his home, where his wife would surely be waiting for him, and gaze outside the window while smoking his pipe. But this was no dream… and his wife was very dead.

A council meeting was called, all the clan heads were summoned since all of them survived the attack. His old friends and advisors, Utatane Koharu, Mitokado Homura, and Shimura Danzo, were present as well. In the corner was a cradle with a baby sleeping in it.

"Konoha has lost her Hokage. Twelve hours ago, Kyuubi was somehow extracted from its previous Jinchuriki, Uzumaki Kushina. Minato and Kushina did not survive, unfortunately, but they saved us all by sealing the beast inside of this child." Hiruzen had a face that made it obvious he was tired. His eyes had dark bags underneath them, and his face was even more wrinkled somehow.

The mood around the table was somber, and no one spoke for a while. It was one thing to hear about the rumors of the Hokage's death and another thing to have it confirmed.

"This child… is it Yondaime's?" Homura asked. It was not well known, but the only Uzumaki in the village was in a relationship with Minato, so it was not far-fetched. Hiruzen was silent, and everyone drew their conclusions.

"Konoha has lost a lot of her shinobi… We don't need other nations sniffing around at our moment of weakness. Give me the guardianship of the Jinchuuriki, and I will train this child to be the most powerful shinobi of Konoha; its perfect weapon." It was Danzo who said this, and no one was surprised. However, almost everyone present knew what he meant by it.

However flawless it might seem to his advisors, the idea had its own demerits, and Hiruzen was all too quick to point them out.

"I can not let you do that, Danzo," he spoke with a grave but authoritative voice. "Even If what you say is right, a Jinchuriki's true strength comes from their emotions. Your methods... may look promising on the surface, but it will be counter-productive in the long run." Perhaps, he might have been a bit biased because of the child's ancestry, but the three had known Sarutobi long enough to know that he would not be budging. Danzo stared at him with his lone eye but did not speak again.

"The civilians and all the shinobi below rank jounin will be prohibited from this knowledge. We all know how the Jinchuriki are treated… "

People fear what they do not understand. That fear turns to anger, and anger turns to hatred. If this child was hated by the village and grew to hate the village back, it would be most disastrous.

Shikaku, the Nara clan head, nodded his head in agreement. However, it didn't seem like everyone present agreed with it. No one could tell what the Uchiha and Hyuuga clan heads, or Danzo for that matter, were thinking due to their stoic faces.

No one voiced any objections if they had any, and other matters were discussed. It would be a long while before anything resembling an order is established.

When the council was adjourned, Hiruzen covered his face with his palms and took a deep breath, dismissing his ANBU. He spoke to apparently no one.

"Jiraiya..." A tall man with spiky, waist-length white hair and red lines under his eyes suddenly materialized out of thin air, his hands crossed. His expressions were set grim in stone.

"I'll find out the bastard," Jiraiya said with gritted teeth. "I'll find out who did this."

He was too late. He was ashamed to admit that while his student was fighting for his life, he was out there peeping on women in a bathhouse. He came as soon as he could, but Minato was already gone.

Hiruzen didn't reply for a long time.

"The Yondaime is gone… Konoha needs a new Hokage. One that-"

"No." Jiraiya refused even before he was finished. "A Master does not succeed his own student…and I'm not even half as worthy of being Hokage as Minato was… Seems you will have to retake the seat, sensei" He spoke with a sad smile.

"Seems like it…" Hiruzen sighed. "Well, do you wish to see your goddaughter?" he asked him, and Jiraiya moved to see the cradle in the corner.

A bitter-sweet smile adorned the Toad-sage's face. She looks just like her parents. He thought… so much that it almost hurt him to just look.

"I know, Jiraiya… I know…" His sensei only looked at his face to realize what he was thinking about.

"Will you take her with you? Kakashi is too young, and they named you her godfather for precisely this reason after all."

"No, Sensei…" He shook his head. "I'm constantly on the move. I can't always take her with me. If she is with me, then her life would be in even more trouble than it already will be. And Orochimaru is still out there. She would be safer in the village... I will look out for her anyway." It was sound logic, and his sensei didn't argue.

"Well then! I suppose it is time I returned to my research! I'm sure Minato would want me to continue writing his favorite books…" His voice cracked with emotion as he attempted to laugh in his usual persona to find some sense of normality. He moved to the window and turned his face away from his teacher. Hiruzen didn't need to look at his student's face to know he was crying.

"Farewell, Sensei…" he let out before jumping out of the window.

Hiruzen felt oddly alone in his office now. His student, Jiraiya, considered Minato a son. Hiruzen could not claim that he knew how it felt. Losing a son was not something he wanted to experience.

He looked at the sleeping child, and his eyes softened.

'Minato, Kushina... watch over her...'

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