Author: Shadow Rebirth
Beta Reader: Rukia23
Warnings: Death, blood and gore, coarse language, adult themes, spoilers
Word Count: 3,446
First Written: April 24, 2008
Last Edited: September 9, 2008
Posted: October 16, 2008
Summary: A young child hides in the dark, surrounded by bloody seals and a smile on his face. Some might say that such behavior isn't normal. But no one's ever accused Uzumaki Naruto of being normal. AU story. No pairings.
For as long as he could remember he had liked dark places. Ones that were hidden away and hard to get to. Ones that were isolated from civilization. Maybe it was the empty feeling that such places gave off, the feeling of something just waiting to be explored. Or maybe it was the knowledge that he could do whatever he wanted and be whoever he wanted there, and no one would be able to judge him.
Or, perhaps, it was because the places reminded him so much of himself, if even only unconsciously. They were abandoned, alone, ignored, and yet they were still standing defiantly. They were hidden away, just waiting for the right person to come along and take notice of what was really there.
Whatever the reason may be, he loved dark places. He loved finding abandoned buildings and exploring their passageways. He loved finding out all of their secrets and reveled in the knowledge that he was perhaps the first person to step foot in them in years. He loved just knowing that they were his secrets. Some might say that such a love of old, dark places wasn't normal, but he loved them anyway.
After all, no one had ever accused Uzumaki Naruto of being normal.
It was because of his love of dark places that when at the age of five Naruto discovered a network of old, abandoned buildings he was, needless to say, ecstatic. The buildings were in the rough, run down part of Konohagakure no Sato; the red-light district, some called it. It was there that drug dealers, prostitutes, and gang members frequented, though at that time Naruto knew little of such things.
What the young blonde did know however was that the building had once been part of a system of storage buildings and apartments. Some years back the company that had owned them had gone bankrupt, leaving them empty. Though many people used the main, front buildings for various things, the ones in the back were left untouched. Thus there were many interconnecting rooms, passageways, and cellars at Naruto's fingertips, just waiting to be explored. So explore them he did.
Left to his own devices as he was, Naruto had a lot time on his hands--as much as he wanted. He spent numerous days in those empty buildings, searching every nook and cranny. No matter how many times he went into that complex there was always something new for him to find. Whoever had designed the buildings had made the halls incredibly twisty, like a maze, so that they seemed to come out in a different place every time. This was very confusing, especially to such a young child, but that oddity only made him love the buildings even more.
Naruto's favorite part of the complex was the basement--though he used such a term lightly. It was, in fact, a system of underground rooms and vaults that were unbelievably difficult to get into, although there were many entrances to it. It actually took Naruto a week to find out that there even was a basement, but as soon as he'd found it he immediately took it upon himself to find every entrance that he could, even though he got lost more times than he could count in the process.
It wasn't long before Naruto had practically moved into the basement of the buildings. As an orphan he had a small apartment that was paid for by the government, but he found himself liking the places he'd discovered much more. True, the abandoned buildings were filled with mildew, dust, and rats and the floorboards groaned with every step he took, but he loved them even so.
Naruto loved the mystery that they were filled with and he loved the isolation that they brought. He'd never been very good with people, so he was happier away from them. Away from the stares, away from the whispers, and away from society.
If he was going to be alone then he'd be so by choice, in his own little "clubhouse".
Three months after he'd first found the abandoned complex Naruto made a discovery. He had been walking through the upper levels when he found himself in a room that he'd never been in before. This one was tucked away, the doorway mostly hidden by an old, empty cabinet.
At first as Naruto walked around the room he found nothing of interest--just dust, cobwebs, and broken furniture. The young boy wasn't looking where he was going however, and stubbed his toes on a loose floorboard. Uncoordinated as all children are at that age, he immediately stumbled forward and fell into an old, rotting chest, which upon impact, splintered into several pieces with a resounding crash.
For several long moments Naruto stayed perfectly still where he'd fallen, his heart pounding fiercely against his ribcage. Of course there was no one in the nearby area to have heard the crash, but fear gripped him nonetheless.
Only when several minutes had gone by without the sound of feet pounding down the hallway outside did Naruto allow himself to relax. Slowly, he extracted himself from what was left of the chest and shook the dust and splinters from his clothing and unruly hair. He was just about to make a quick escape from the room but it was then that curiosity, his greatest trait as well as his greatest downfall, took a hold of him and held him in place.
The chest, Naruto saw, was not quite as empty as he had first believed. Rather it was filled with a number of scrolls that were so old that they'd turned yellow and were falling apart. In fact only one of them was still wholly intact and the red ribbon tied around it crumbled into pieces as the child picked it up.
Naruto sat down on the dusty floor and opened the scroll with uncharacteristic gentleness. Once it was spread out before him, he found that the entirety of the paper was filled with old-style Kanji that he had to squint at to read.
But he could in fact read. Naruto had been reading since he'd taught himself when he was just three years old. Amusingly enough, Naruto had done so by looking at comic books. He'd seen the pictures and had then said aloud to himself what the picture was explaining. Then as the characters were speaking, he’d say to himself what he thought it was they were saying.
Using that system, and the world around him, Naruto taught himself to read. It wasn't a fast process by any means, but it worked nonetheless. Before long Naruto found himself reading anything that he could get his hands on--from posters, to street signs, to entire books. Some people might call such a feat from such a young child incredible, but no one knew of it. Naruto had no reason to tell anyone, or anyone to tell for that matter.
Regardless, as Naruto sat with the scroll before him he felt what could only be described as extreme excitement. He loved to read but rarely had anything good that he could read. Now he had this old scroll and it was for him and him alone.
"J-juin," Naruto read aloud somewhat brokenly, "The Art of Sealing."
Naruto paused to frown down at the scroll, not at all understanding what he was reading. He pushed on anyway, even though it would actually be several more years before he could truly comprehend the concepts contained within. For if there was one thing that Naruto loved more than dark places and reading, it was a challenge.
Before very long Naruto took to exploring more of the area outside of the complex, and eventually the other residents of the district got used to seeing him. Unlike the "regular" citizens, they were too wrapped up in just trying to survive to pay much attention to the small blonde, blue-eyed child that wandered around. As long as he didn't bother them they wouldn't bother him, and that suited Naruto just fine.
On one calm evening Naruto found himself peeking into a rather seedy tavern, where thick smoke permeated the air, dimming the lights, while drunken laughter shook the wooden floor. Normally he would have left rather quickly in order to avoid being noticed, but this time he caught sight of a half eaten loaf of bread sitting on an abandoned table in a corner of the tavern, doubtlessly left there as an unfinished, forgotten meal.
Of course, it was at that moment that Naruto's stomach rumbled, announcing its hunger to the world.
Naruto, like all other orphans, received a stipend each month for food. This stipend was rather meager though, so Naruto was unable to eat as often as one might think. In fact, he had yet to eat at all that day.
Had the loaf of bread been close to the bar that ran along one wall of the tavern, Naruto wouldn't have even bothered with it. As luck would have it however, it was closer to the wall opposite the bar. There was only one table filled with men close to it and they were most likely drunk so he just might be able to reach the bread without being noticed...It was another rumble from his stomach that decided it for Naruto.
Carefully, Naruto edged his way along the wall of the bar, making his way toward the corner table with the bread atop it. None of the many people in the hazy bar seemed to take any notice of him and his confidence grew with every step he took.
Before very long however, Naruto grew closer to the rowdy table of men. To get to the bread he'd have to pass within just a few feet of them. Naruto almost turned back right then and there, but just managed to hold himself in place. He couldn't leave now. Not when he'd gotten so far. Not when he was so close.
Slowing his steps, Naruto continued on his way. He hung his head down as he walked, hoping against all hope that he wouldn't be spotted. As he passed though, he couldn't help but watch the table from the corner of his eye. There were six men there, most smoking cigarettes or cigars and all drinking alcohol. On the table before them were cards and they seemed to be gambling.
"Oh don't be such a wuss, Nadao," one man was saying to another, "You're already fucking pathetic as it is."
"Hey!" the other man protested angrily, but the first just bulldozed on.
"You can't even play poker properly. Hell," he threw in with a nod towards Naruto, "That kid could probably beat ya!"
Instantly Naruto froze while staring at the table with wide eyes, fear coursing through his veins.
While the other men began laughing raucously, a third man, the one closest to Naruto, let out a snort. "Don't be such a damn drama queen," he said with a chuckle.
While the first man made some sort of a rebuttal, this man turned in his seat to face Naruto. The blonde noticed that the man, who appeared to be in his mid twenties, had shaggy black hair and dark eyes. A ragged scar ran down the left side of his face, from his forehead to his chin, and a cigarette hung lazily from his lips.
"Do ya even know 'ow ta play poker?" the scarred man asked with a light grin.
"N-no," Naruto stuttered out. It felt as though his heart was attempting to leap from his chest, so intense was his fear, but for some reason his feet seemed to be glued to the ground.
"Bah, dat's a crime, dat is," the man continued while waving a hand through the air in an apparently random gesture. "Everyone, even..no, /'specially…/children should know 'ow ta play /poker./" He paused for a moment to glance over the blonde with a critical eye. "What's ya name anyway, kid?"
Ever so slowly, Naruto was relaxing in response to the man's open and friendly attitude.
"I'm Naruto," he replied in a small voice.
"Hn," the man said thoughtfully, "Strange name."
Naruto's young face screwed up in anger but before he could even open his mouth another man at the table let out a bark of a laugh. "Like you one to talk, Tasuki," he sneered.
"Ah, fuck off," the scarred man, Tasuki, snapped. He rolled his eye before turning his attention back to Naruto, a mischievous grin on his face once more. "Well, anyway, Naruto-chan, ya gotta learn 'bout poker somehow. Come 'ere and I'll teach ya da basics."
At first Naruto was very hesitant about going anywhere near Tasuki, but curiosity eventually got the better of him and he began to inch towards the man. Tasuki either didn't notice his attitude or just chose to ignore it.
Either way, as soon as the blonde got close enough Tasuki continued on, explaining the rules of the game. Naruto listened closely, paying keen attention to what the older man was saying. The game quickly caught Naruto's attention and before long he was deeply involved in a conversation with Tasuki, shooting out question after question.
"But how do you know if you've got a better hand than everyone else?" Naruto asked. All of his earlier apprehension was completely gone, replaced by childish curiosity. "How do you know that you're making the right choice in betting?"
"Well, ya never know fer sure 'til da end, when da 'ands are revealed," Tasuki told him with a grin. "But ya can guess whether the others have good or bad 'ands by watching 'em." He lowered his voice to conspiratorial tones. "Fer example, ya see dat guy across da table? He's most likely gotten a bad 'and. Ya can tell 'cause he's grippin' his cards a little 'arder den he normally does and his mouth muscles keep on twitching every now and den."
Naruto squinted hard at the man across the table, but for the life of him he couldn't see the signs that Tasuki was talking about. When he complained about this to him though, Tasuki only laughed.
"Keep watching," he said. "Ya'll see 'em eventually, wit' enough practice. What poker is really about is not so much what 'ands you get, but about figurin' out what everyone else 'as and keeping dem from knowin' what you 'ave. It's a game 'bout trickin' your opponents."
"Oi, Tasuki," the first man to have spoken called across the table, "If you're done playin' babysitting then get back to the game. Are ya in or out?"
While Tasuki returned to playing with only an amused grin thrown in Naruto's direction, the young boy did as he'd been instructed and began to watch the game. As the hours passed he really began to see what Tasuki had been talking about. He noticed the minute glances thrown around, the muscle contractions, and the way voices either raised or lowered. He saw all of this and without really knowing, he began to learn how to read people.
In the corner of the bar the half eaten loaf of bread sat, forgotten.
After his first introduction to poker Naruto began to visit the tavern--the Black Wolf Tavern, he'd later learn--almost every night. He never played, but contented himself to just watch. Tasuki was always there and he always talked to Naruto. Not just about poker either, but about anything and everything that came to the man's mind.
Naruto had also been working on deciphering the old scroll he'd found. It was difficult and though he still didn't get most of it, his reading had improved enough that he now knew that it was about the kinds of seals that monks and shinobi made. These seals could do just about everything from storing objects in a scroll, to molding chakra, to creating wards, to summoning objects! Frankly, it fascinated Naruto and even at his young age he caught onto just how useful it could be.
Because of his first discovery Naruto also spent some time re-exploring the complex, searching for any other scrolls that may have been left behind. Though he only managed to find a few and none of them contained anything particularly interesting, Naruto was happy nevertheless.
On one fine day near the beginning of summer, Naruto trotted down one of the larger roads in the shopping district of Konohagakure. He kept his head lowered and his shoulders hunched as he walked, if only because that was how he was used to walking in the red-light district. In that place, meeting someone's eyes was just like asking to get beaten up.
As the blonde child walked however, he noticed a familiar face up ahead. "Tasuki!" he called out happily, even as he dashed forward towards the man.
Tasuki glanced around in surprise as his name was called, but as soon as his eyes fell on Naruto his face split into a wide grin that caused the scar on his face to twist strangely. "Ah, kid, what'cha ya doin' round 'ere?"
Naruto shrugged in reply. He'd actually been visiting his apartment, but he had no reason to tell Tasuki about that, friend or not.
"What're you doing?" Naruto asked curiously.
Tasuki let out a low chucked. "Eh, just pickin' up some cash for da game tonight."
Naruto's brow furrowed in confusion. "But...how?"
"Easy," Tasuki replied while grinning down at the blonde. "Jus' watch."
For almost a minute Tasuki stayed silent as he walked next to Naruto while the boy watched curiously on. Then, just moments after brushing past a man, he raised his hand to show a small money pouch grasped there in his fist.
Naruto let out a gasp and twisted around to look back behind him as he walked. The man Tasuki had just stolen from walked on, completely unaware of what had just occurred.
"How'd you do that?" Naruto asked while looking up at his companion in awe.
"Practice," Tasuki answered with a wink. "If there's one thing dat ya should always remember kid, it's dat ya should always make da first strike--da world ain't gonna wait for ya. Survival, Naruto-chan, survival is ta one thing dat matters most in da world."
Tasuki threw his head back then and let out a rough laugh. Naruto responded with a small grin of his own, but didn't reply as his mind began to mull over the older man's words.
"Say..." Tasuki said after a minute while eyeing the money, "How'd ya like ta go and get somethin' ta eat?"
"Yeah!" Naruto exclaimed happily while jumping up and down.
"How 'bout ramen? Ya ever 'ad ramen, Naruto-chan?"
"Ah, yet another crime!" Tasuki said while staggering back and clutching at his chest as if he'd been stabbed by a sword. Naruto giggled at the scarred civilian's antics. "I'll 'ave ta show ya den. I know dis great place; they've got da best ramen in da world there. "
Tasuki led Naruto through the streets until the boy was sure that his legs would fall off. Just when he thought that he couldn't go any farther, Tasuki came to a stop in front of a small ramen stand. Ichiraku Ramen was spelled across the top of it.
Tasuki led the way inside and sat down at one of the stools there. "Hey, old man!" he called out. "You there?"
As he called, a somewhat heavy man who looked to be in his early forties came out from the back of the shop. "Yeah, yeah, quit your yappin'," he said good naturedly. It was obvious even to Naruto that the two men knew each other. "What--" he began, only to halt as he caught sight of Naruto peering over the counter. "Why, who's this?"
"Dis is Naruto-chan," Tasuki replied with a grin. "He's never had ramen before, so I thought I'd bring 'im ta da best ramen joint in town."
"A new customer? Well in that case you get one bowl of miso ramen each. On the house."
Tasuki let out a howl. "Hell ya!" he exclaimed. "Now dat's what I'm talkin' about!"
The older man--Teuchi, as Naruto would later learn--chuckled as he busied himself with making the ramen. Just a few short minutes later two steaming bowls of ramen were placed on the counter.
It was Naruto's first gift, and it was on that day that he fell in love with ramen.
A/N: There are a couple of things I want to make clear about this story: 1) Though he's intelligent, this will not be super!Naruto story. He'll be skilled, certainly, but not unrealistically so. 2) Naruto will not have a bloodline. The point of Naruto's strength in the manga/anime is that he gets his power solely from himself, without having anything to rely on--expect for the Kyuubi of course. Naruto's strength in this story will mostly come from his will and his creativity, among other things. And 3) Naruto is not now, nor ever will be, abused by the villagers. Those plots are fucking unrealistic. The Third creates a law, punishable by death, to stop people from saying that Naruto's a jinchuuriki, but lets people form mobs and beat him? Yeah, right.
You'll also notice that I won't be showing too much hatred from the villagers toward Naruto in this story. The reason is because Naruto spends most of his time in the red-light district, where people don't give a damn who he is, so most of the villagers don't recognize him on sight. If they heard his name or were close enough to see his whisker marks then they'd know who he is and would probably be cold to him, but other than that he's just another blonde haired kid to them.
Oh, and to some of you the whole "teaching himself to read at the age of three" thing might seem unrealistic, but I actually took the idea from a Native American author who did just that--at the same age and in the same way described. So it is in fact possible. And since Naruto wouldn't have much else to do, I personally could easily see him becoming an avid reader.