Chapter 3 – The Night Market

Naruto skirted the clogged streets of the night market. At nearly 1 a.m. it still pulsed with sounds, smells and people. Down one edge of the market ran a seedier set of streets, full with the promise of nocturnal activities. Bars, clubs, karaoke joints blared their names from neon signs, and all manner of illicit dvds and pirated goods were hawked in the roads.

Naruto ignored the lights and beckoning calls, and came to a corner where a man was pushing knock-off designer handbags at passersby. Nailed to the building behind him was a faded, peeling sign for a tea shop. The sign was unremarkable, half-hidden by a poster for band that had played a year before, and it pointed down a dark alley that was as just as unremarkable. Dark, empty and forgettable. But Naruto turned right for it and, crossing quickly into cool alley, the noise of the night market fell away.

Naruto’s eyes adjusted from the glaring lights to the dim lane. At the end of a long expanse of a brick wall was a single street lamp, lighting a dented old metal door and a short set of steps. The silhouettes of two men melted out of the shadows beyond the door. The tip of a cigarette suddenly burned cherry red in the darkness.

He’d been seen.

Naruto stepped off the sidewalk and into the middle of the alley, walking toward the circle of light on the ground and letting them get a clear look at him. Satisfied, a thick-armed guy slunk back to the doorway, followed by the sound of scraping stool legs on the concrete.

But the smoker stepped forward and waited. Cold light reflected off his long ponytail, making his pale hair almost glow white.

Naruto snickered to himself in the darkness. That drama queen. How many times has he stood under that lamp? Basking in the light as if he were some kind of ‘chosen one.’ Like his ego needs that!

The man shoved a hand in his pocket, letting the tailored black suit open just so and tilted his head in a rakish pose. “Took your time, didn’t you?”

Naruto couldn’t stop himself from grinning. Without giving away his movements he slid the jade disk seamlessly from his pocket to the cup of his hand as he walked. In the next step he flipped his wrist, flashing the object he’d worked so hard to get, and closed the distance between them. “Did you ever doubt me, Dei?”

A curl of the lips and the man’s angelic face turned devilishly handsome. His ice blue eyes flickered with amusement. “Never…Little Fox.”

Naruto smirked at the nickname and shook his head once out of habit. Shaggy yellow hair fell forward and tufted out of the edges of the hood, hiding the whisker-like scars at the edge of his face.

Stepping into the light, Naruto extended his hand. In a single handshake the ancient treasure was transferred. It caught the light as it passed, and they paused to look at it with the respect it commanded. The light shining through the disk turned the green areas milky white, and the dragon carvings swirling around the hole in the middle came alive, just like the hook he’d stolen the night before.

“Any trouble this time—“ But before Dei could finish he caught sight of the bandage on Naruto’s forehead. “What the—“

Naruto ducked away from his reach, but he was saved from answering for it by the approach of footsteps. They broke apart. Dei slipped the disk smoothly into his suit pocket, and Naruto angled his head so the shadow of his hood fell over his face.

“Deidara,” a deep voice drawled.

Deidara nodded with cool respect at the figure stalking forward out of the dark. “Kisame…..”

At the name, Naruto relaxed a notch and glanced over. A big, broad shouldered man, Kisame nearly filled up the sidewalk. Two curvy women hung on each arm in practiced carelessness, their touch light enough not to leave a wrinkle on his gunmetal grey suit.

“Kyuubi,” he grunted at Naruto. Naruto nodded back, making sure to keep his eyes respectfully locked on Kisame’s cold grey ones, never straying to the edge of his full-body tattoo that peeked from his cuffs or collar, or to the rings that fit like brass knuckles when they came together in a line.

The girls smiled sweetly, and though Naruto actually knew them from the club, he didn’t dare let his eyes stray. Bigger men than him had lost a finger for ogling Kisame’s arm candy.

Kisame grinned at Naruto’s wary behavior. Where Deidara was handsome, Kisame was monstrous. His lips parted to reveal teeth sharpened to vicious points. And when he turned to usher the two girls through the metal door, even the back of him was threatening.

The nose of an enormous shark, nearly the same grey color as his suit, surged out of the back of his collar. The tattooed creature rode an inked wave of blue-green water strewn with torn white petals that curled masterfully up over his skull until it faded into his shaved scalp. From the front, only a few licks of water were visible around his neck. From the back, it looked like the open-mawed beast was going to lift off and devour anyone who had the misfortune to try to sneak up on the big man.

Naruto could never decide if the shark had just finished tearing through something lower down in the tattoo or if it was preparing to devour Kisame himself. From what he knew of ‘The Enforcer’ and his affinity for sharks, cold-blooded killers who, like Kisame, would destroy their own kind to survive, Naruto thought it could go either way.

The hefty bouncer stood and pulled open the door. Smoky air and loud music spilled out, and the girls sashayed into the crimson interior to a chorus of catcalls. The were waving prettily back when the door swung closed behind them.

On the steps, Kisame turned back to Deidara. “You coming?”

“Yeah,” Deidara said, then flicked his cigarette into the gutter where it sizzled out.

Kisame’s shark eyes slid to Naruto. “Did you get it?” Somehow he made the question sound like a threat.

Naruto nodded once.

Satisfied, Kisame disappeared into the club, Deidara heading up behind him. But Deidara turned back on the landing, surprised to see Naruto wasn’t following him.

“The meeting’s about to begin. You can wait inside you know—.”

Naruto shook his head. “I’ll just wait out here.”

“Suit yourself,” Deidara said with a shrug. “But don’t go anywhere. He wants to see you too. I hear he’s got a new gig for you.” He narrowed his eyes at Naruto’s bandage. “And I still want to know what happened to you.”

Naruto rolled his eyes and waved him off. The bouncer shut the door behind him then dropped back to the stool. It creaked under the man’s weight, but didn’t give way.

Naruto sunk his hands deep into his hoodie and leaned against the dark wall, taking Deidara’s spot beside the bouncer. In the stillness the moths returned to the cone of light, circling endlessly. Going nowhere fast.

Eight years before Deidara had brought him to this spot, pointed to the very same street light and said, in that dramatic way that had once intimidated him to his core, that Naruto had a choice. Either come with him, or stay out on the sidewalk and go nowhere. Because there wouldn’t be another chance like the one he was offering.

Naruto snorted softly at the memory. Drama queen….

But the thing was, Deidara had been right. It was his only chance. There was no other choice. As an orphan growing up in Konoha, Naruto knew that better than anyone….


“I bet you’re too scared—”

“Shut up! I can do it….”

Naruto squinted at the apple on the edge of the long plastic table, mustering all the courage he had in his twelve-year-old body. It was just sitting there, so perfect. All he had to do was run over and grab it—

I could do it, if I wanted to. But I thought I’d let you have this one—“

Shut up, Sasuke!”

Hiding behind empty produce boxes, the black-haired twelve year old beside him snickered, making the shaggy blond even more determined to get the apple. Every night, for as long as he could remember, they’d been sneaking out of the orphanage and running down to the night market. They used to just run around, see the sights. But they’d taken to daring each other to perform tasks. It was a game. Like the ninjas in the tattered storybooks from the orphanage, they were on a secret mission. Only the risks kept getting higher.

Sasuke was so fast, he could run past a stall and whip a piece of food off the edge without anyone noticing. Sasuke made it look easy. His timing was perfect, and he was so agile and quick that things just worked for him. But not Naruto. He never seemed to catch on as quickly. No matter what he did, Naruto always felt like he was a step behind Sasuke, always a little more…clumsy.

The last time he rose to one of Sasuke’s dares, Naruto swiped a bean cake off a tray…only to run directly into the stout baker that ran the stall. The man easily lifted Naruto up by his shirt collar, shaking him and spitting curses into his face. Naruto couldn’t hear them — he was so scared he couldn’t hear anything. The man raised his hand and Naruto screwed his eyes shut, cringing against the inevitable crack of a hand across his face—

But instead of a smack, something soft and warm bounced off him. Dots of hot, sticky sweetness splashed across his face. It smelled like…grape jam?!?

Naruto looked up to see a streak of purple across the livid red face of the baker. Another jelly donut whizzed between them, missing them both, and the man dropped Naruto on his butt. Nauto’s ears suddenly unclogged. He heard laughter, the thud of another missed donut, then roared threats of the stall owner as he stalked toward the source of the flying donuts.

Sasuke’s voice rang out above it all— “Get up! Run!” Naruto saw Sasuke across the stall hurling great handfuls of cookies, cakes, anything he could grab to distract the man. “RUN!!

Naruto shot up but a crowd of onlookers blocked his exit, so he lunged for the dumpling stall next door, dodging the old cook’s weak grab but knocking over the baker’s table in the process. Trays of bean cakes went tumbling to the ground. The baker turned back, cursing anew at the crashing sound, and Sasuke took off in the opposite direction, just as the Konoha Police were rounding the corner looking for the reported disturbance.

When Sasuke finally found Naruto, hiding two streets over behind a trash bin, Naruto was still visibly shaken. Sasuke just stood in the middle of the alley, hands on hips, and laughed at him until he’d nearly doubled himself over. A pang of anger rippled through Naruto — this was all Sasuke’s fault to begin with — but he was still too worked up to do anything about it. He raked trembling hands through his hair, wiped cold sweat from his brow and glanced nervously up and down the lane. He was sure the baker, the cook, the police, even the rest of the shoppers from the night market were going to pour through that alley at any moment, looking for them.

Ever since that night, Naruto held back. He watched Sasuke zip through the stalls, snatching food or cheap trinkets in a whirlwind of speed and pounding feet. But Naruto was cautious.

Even taking that apple, so perfectly placed on the corner of the table, glistening red atop the cheap blue tarp that doubled as a tablecloth, could go horribly wrong. From their hiding spot behind a stack of empty fruit crates, Sasuke pointed out that the owner was the perfect target — a stooped old man completely absorbed in sweeping out his stall. But Naruto knew all the old man had to do was turn his head and he’d could be caught—

“Go for it,” Sasuke whispered, nudging him hard. “He’s got his back turned! Now’s your chance—“

A woman with a empty shopping bag on her shoulder passed in front of them, blocking their view. Naruto chewed his lip, slowly building up his courage. Maybe Sasuke was right. This might be his best chance, especially if the owner was occupied—

The woman lingered, looking, then stepped forward into the stall. The owner put aside his broom and she launched into an animated story. Naruto didn’t think she was particularly attractive, but it must have been a funny story, because she smiled big and had the shop owner’s full attention. Suddenly she opened her arms wide and pointed away to a distant stall where they both looked together. The floppy bag swung out from her hip as she pointed, bumping the edge of the table a few times. But whoever they were looking for was gone. She shrugged, the shopkeeper laughed anyway, and when she turned to leave he bid her a hearty farewell.

The man went back to sweeping, moving deeper into the stall with his back fully turned to them, and Naruto had to admit it was an even better opportunity than before to run by and swipe the—

But the apple was gone. The corner of the blue tarp sat empty.

Naruto sunk back on his heels, blinking in confusion. The opportunity was lost, and he didn’t even know when he’d lost it.

Sasuke whacked his shoulder. “See! You should have gone earlier when I told you to!”

Naruto stood and brushed the dirt off his knees. “Doesn’t matter. Don’t like apples,” he said with a harrumph. “I like oranges.” Sasuke shook his head and followed him out into the open.

But around the corner in the next row of stalls they came upon the woman again. She spoke to another shop owner, smiling and pointing away, obviously telling the same story. However this time when the big bag swung around, Naruto noticed it wasn’t so floppy.

He put his hand on Sasuke’s arm and they stopped. But while Sasuke was distracted by a dvd with buxom smiling girls on the cover, Naruto watched her. She pointed again, squinting into the distance, and in that moment the bag draped open. With her other hand she slid a t-shirt off the edge of the table and into the bag. Naruto’s mouth dropped open. If he’d blinked, he would have missed it.

Never losing her focus on the shopkeeper, she shrugged, laughed with him about the story, then bid him farewell. But as she walked out she dipped her hand in her bag. Naruto thought she might’ve had a change of heart and decided to return the shirt to the table— But instead she pulled out a bright red apple, bit into it, and sailed off into the night, smiled broadly.

Naruto couldn’t believe it. That was his apple! And she’d stolen it right out from underneath all of them!

The rest of that night he wandered the market in a trance. His eyes had been opened. That woman hadn’t used force or speed…. Like the ninjas from his storybooks, she’d used stealth. Her flattering smiles and funny stories had distracted her victims from her real purpose.

After that night, Naruto had a new game to try.


The night market had always pulled them, even when they were young. Two boys growing up in one of Konoha’s orphanages, their world was stale and colorless. Though there was little money, they were still treated kindly, given food and clothes and an education. They followed the rules, did their homework and chores, and were happy to do so. But at night, the lights and sounds and smells of the night market drifted up through their window, teasing them.

Even the name it had an allure — the night market. This wasn’t the tedium of daytime shopping, where tired people lugged home bags of groceries and necessities under the hot sun. Only the most desirable, coveted items came from the night market. Toys and candies, music cds and colorful t-shirts. Any trinket worth having came from there, even though the orphanage kids rarely received such luxuries.

For young Naruto and Sasuke, whispering under their bedcovers at night, the night market was the stuff of dreams.  A place that only came alive at night, while the rest of the orphanage, the rest of Konoha slept. A place where none of the rules applied. They longed to go there, just once, and told each other stories about what they would see, what they would do, and, being growing boys, what they would eat.

It wasn’t until their ninth summer that they got their first taste of life at the night market. A rusty window screen in the bedroom proved to be the key.

Doing their chores one stifling July afternoon, Naruto wiped down the windowsill in the room they shared with the younger boys, only to discover a piece of an old towel shoved under the lock. It was so deep it just looked like another part of the dingy wall. He picked out the wad of fabric and motioned Sasuke over.

There, directly under the lock, was a hole in the wall. It looked like it had been scraped out years before. Sasuke just shrugged.

“Not our fault. Must’ve been done by some kids before us, cause we’re the oldest now. Just push it back in. No one will ever know—” He fisted the broom handle and was about to step away when Naruto slid his fingers into the gap and pushed the screen out. Both boys’ eyes went wide.

Peeking out, they saw where previous generations had already flattened a trail down the outside wall. A hand on the ledge, a foot on the gutter, and in three easy steps they could be down to the first floor. Water ran down the center of the dark alley below like a silver trail leading away from the old orphanage.

Sasuke and Naruto grinned at each other. Naruto gently let the screen fall closed. This was their secret.

Late that night, once everyone was asleep, they crept down the side of the building and out into the wide, dark world. They followed the silvery water, aglow with reflected light, away from the orphanage and toward the pulsing sounds and smells of the market.

Every night that first summer they explored the market as if they were adventurers in a mythical land. They traced and retraced their routes, learning their way and the ways of the people who shopped there. They were worried at first they’d be caught. But they quickly discovered no one cared about two kids darting through the homemade stalls.

All the old prejudices still observed during Konoha’s daylight hours simply melted away under the hazy night sky. Even the market itself refused to obey the network of streets it was confined to, instead seeping down alleys and around corners so that it overlapped into the other districts.

They wandered the market, watching shoppers buying hot meals or popsicles, movies or purses or fancy jackets. Lovers sniffed at bottles of love potions. Old men played games of chance. Teenagers giggled over magazines, and grannies got their feet massaged.

Everyone mixed in together. A couple of shabby orphan boys drew no attention at all. In fact, they actually found that they were treated with a measure of respect they’d never known before. In the daylight, walking in long rows on the occasional field trip, shopkeepers and Old Konoha citizens cast a wary eye at the kids. As if their status as the lowest of the low in Konoha society was something they might catch.

But here, stall keepers smiled and asked if they would like to purchase something. Cooks waved plates of food at them. Florists encouraged them to smell the flowers. Naruto and Sasuke were giddy at the prospect, even if they didn’t have a single coin between them.

Late one night, Naruto even saw some really important people in the market. A well-dressed man with sleeked back hair, a spotless black suit and an impossibly beautiful girl on his arm strode by. While most people nodded respectfully, Naruto stumbled to a stop just to watch the couple pass. He’d never seen more beautiful people in all his life. They looked like they had stepped out of a movie poster.

Sasuke didn’t seem very impressed — he’d turned strangely surly at the sight of the man — but Naruto continued to stare. Surely they must be from the biggest, oldest family in all of Old Konoha—

Seeing that Naruto had drawn the important man’s notice with his staring, Sasuke nudged him hard in the ribs. Naruto snapped his mouth shut, bowed his head meekly, and waited for the scowl he’d been used to receiving from the anyone of importance in Konoha.

But to Naruto’s amazement, instead of being ignored or reviled, the man nodded once in return. A ghost of a smile even played at his lips, which grew wider as Naruto’s mouth fell open again. The man continued down the lane, surveying the scene as if he owned it, then turned at the corner.

And for one brief moment before the man disappeared, Naruto thought he saw a slip of color at his collar. Just a line, but he couldn’t be sure.

He watched the empty space, thinking. He’d heard about tattoos from their Okaasan, but he’d never actually seen one. As their house mother, she was always warning them to stay away from certain people in life. And the tattooed ones were at the top of the list.

Naruto decided it was probably just a shadow…because someone that dressed like that had to be important. Smiling, Naruto shook his head and put the warning out of his mind.

The two young best friends explored everything they would outside the orphanage walls. They traversed the city, learning early on that Konoha had many districts. Some for shopping, some for eating. A thriving wharf and a gleaming High Street lined with fancy shops.  The poorest district on one side of the market, where the building were as thick as weeds and people carved out sad lives in the tine apartment. And on the opposite side, buffered by the market like it was a moat around a fairytale castle, was the ancient walled city of Old Konoha where the old clan homes and temples hid behind elaborate gates. They even ventured inside the walls one night, prowling down the clean streets and feeling distinctly out of place.

But once they’d been to the other districts, they didn’t need to go back. The night market was their playground. The unbridled freedom kept them coming back night after night. They yawned their way through their daytime lessons and took turns napping instead of doing chores, but once the sun went down, they began to wake up. Going hours each night without eating, however, drove them to think of the necessities along side the fun.

At first it was just a half-rotten food dumped behind a fruit stand, or a stick of skewered meat, the top chunk pulled off before it was discarded outside a food hut. But eventually, they wanted more. Sasuke longed for a fried pie, oozing hot fruit out onto the paper plate, while Naruto practically drooled for the roast duck turning over the grill.

It was hard to say no to their growling stomachs when there was so much all around them. And the hungrier they became, the more daring they grew. They hung around the back of the stalls instead of the front, plucking up fresh fruit that had rolled to the ground, bags of chips out of the top of opened boxes, and even whole skewers of meat, snatched right off the back of the grill, so hot they had to bounce them from hand to hand as they ran.

One time Naruto reached in a bucket expecting mandarins, but a instead pulled out his hand with a small lobster-looking creature attached to his thumb. The man chased them down, but Naruto and Sasuke were quicker. They hit a chain link fence and threw themselves over, throbbing thumb and all. Sasuke laughed about that for months afterwards. Those nights were like the dream they’d always imagined it would be. They were young and free and inseparable.

And as they grew, so did their adventures. They moved from food to objects. Nothing of much value, just sneaking and pinching what they could: weird toys, too-small T-shirts, the odd earring (never a pair).

Sasuke was especially good at it. He used his natural speed to snag all manner of items, even moving up to expensive things like cds and wristwatches. Though they saw people hawking their obviously stolen goods, Naruto and Sasuke never did. Instead they gave them to other kids in the orphanage or left them in the market before they went home, a treasure for someone else to find.

Naruto had kept pace with Sasuke for a while, but after finding that he wasn’t as quick as Sasuke, self-doubt held him back. However once he saw the woman with the floppy bag swipe the apple out from under his nose, Naruto found a new goal. He worked on becoming more like her instead of fast like Sasuke. And over time he grew confident in his ninja game of stealth.

Every night Naruto practiced smiling and flattering and stealing. The first time he made a lift it was just a piece of fruit, just like the woman had. He smiled big and waved hello, inadvertently knocking an apple off the table. But when he moved in time with the shop owner to pick it up, he slid the orange that sat beside it on the table into his pocket. They rose together, he apologized, smiling again, saying he forgot he was out of money. The owner just nodded in understanding and waved him off. Two rows over, Naruto thought he’d never tasted a sweeter orange.

Naruto honed his skill, but instead of moving on to more expensive items he tasked himself with pulling hard and harder lifts. He went from food and trinkets to slipping billfolds out of purses, then pockets. He kept the money but always pitched the personal effects somewhere they were likely to be found. After all, he wasn’t a criminal, he was just after a little bit of spending money.

The first few dips didn’t net anything, but on his fourth time he got lucky. Someone had a 20. He went a little light-headed at actually having money in his hand. He’d never had money. Ever. Growing up in the threadbare orphanage, they weren’t given any. There wasn’t any to give.

To Naruto, the crisp bill felt like a holiday in his hand. He could actually buy something. Anything! He saw the night market with fresh eyes. All of the junk, the knock-off clothing, the food stalls, all of it could be theirs—

Later, when they passed a pastry stand and the sweet smell of fried pies hit them and Sasuke’s stomach growled audibly, Naruto leapt forward with a giant smile. He bought two steaming hot pies while Sasuke stared. But his eyes dropped to the bill flashing in Naruto’s hand.

Naruto handed him the pie, but Sasuke shook his head, pointing instead at the wad of cash. “Where’d you get that?”

Naruto straightened with pride. “I got it off some old rich guy who wasn’t paying attention.” But Sasuke still didn’t take the pie.

“Don’t worry,” Naruto said quietly, leading him away from the stand, “I didn’t take anything else. And he’ll find his wallet if he retraces his steps. It’s all good!” Naruto grinned and shoved the pie into Sasuke’s hand. The scent and heat persuaded him better than Naruto could, and Sasuke finally gave in. They plopped down on the curb and ate, licking the hot fruit syrup off their fingers. The troubling fact of the source of the money was forgotten behind a haze of deliciousness like they’d never had before.

From then on, Naruto and Sasuke avoided the one difference they’d ever had. Naruto made sure to split off from Sasuke when he went to follow a possible mark. And Sasuke never asked when Naruto later produced “gifts” that he’d purchased from the market stalls. Sweets that were once unimaginable, meals they never thought they’d taste — all of it was within their grasp now.

And in that harmony, Naruto and Sasuke thrived, tasting a side of life they had never imagined in their all their days at the drab orphanage. Those years were brilliant fun. They were together, and nothing could touch them.

But at 14, two things happened. Not together…in fact, they occurred months apart. But in Naruto’s memory, the two events were inextricably entwined, as if they happened the very same day.

Sasuke was chosen for the Academy.

And Naruto was marked for the Akatsuki.