"What's going on, Hokage-sama?"
Iruka was walking home feeling pretty smug - he had just pulled a prank on THE Hatake Kakashi - when ANBU, elite shinobi of his village, shunshinned in front of him, informing him he needed to see the Hokage immediately. So there Iruka was, sitting in a chair across from his village leader, the only thing separating them a big, ornate oak desk that held piles of paperwork.
"Usually, with how much you know about the inner workings of the village, I wouldn't allow you to go on missions," the Sandaime Hokage said, puffing his pipe a few times - and THAT right there was why Iruka's nerves were shot through the roof. The Hokage never smoked in his office unless extremely stressed. Iruka nodded to show he understood, and that foreboding feeling he got when he walked through the door to his office grew and made his stomach drop. Oh, he had an inkling of where this one-sided conversation was going. And he didn't like it one bit. "But," the Hokage continued, and Iruka winced at the word, "I have a client that is in need of your expertise."
"Expertise, Hokage-sama?" Iruka asked after a long pause.
"Ah, my apologies. I meant the way you can handle children and your deductive abilities. You have an amazing mind, Iruka-kun." Iruka blushed at the praise. "And it is for that reason you were chosen for this mission. The client is a pregnant woman, whose husband is on the wrong side of a war. This war is private, and in the outside world, hidden so well that only a shinobi - or witch and wizard, as their brand of shinobi are called - can understand and see it. Because the client's husband is on the wrong end, the Light side has been sending assassins to kill her and her unborn child. You will be sent in as a bodyguard for the child once it is born. You will do all you can to raise that child right.
"And then comes the part where you will need your mind." Iruka breathed in deeply, listening to the information as calmly and emotionlessly as possible.
"This isn't a standard mission, is it, Hokage-sama?" he asked softly. Sandaime smiled sadly at him.
"No, it isn't. This mission is Unclassed."
If that wasn't an exploding tag, Iruka had no idea what was. Anxiety coursed its way through his body like electricity, and fear underlined it like an eel slicing through water. "Un-unclassed, Hokage-sama?"
Sandaime sighed heavily and took another deep drag of his pipe. He looked decades older all of a sudden, and Iruka finally got a glimpse of the old man's feelings. Sadness, anger, a fair amount of fear and a whopping of concern. It warmed Iruka to know how much his mentor cared for him, but that warmth was quickly stuffed down by oh my Gods I'm going to die in an Unclassed mission with no backup in another world so hidden people can only find it when brought to it.
"I have the utmost faith in you, Iruka-kun," and that eased Iruka's thoughts just a little. "Now, your experience with kids is only the minor reason I want you on this mission. The other is your tactical and stratical genius - that same genius that can mislead ANBU for a month while you terrorize the village before you get caught." Iruka blushed again and that warm feeling came back, chasing more of the fear away. "You will be playing a major part in this war. How you handle this part is up to you. But you will be working as a spy of sorts, infiltrating the Dark side and taking it down from the inside out. Again, how you do this is up to you.
"Ending the war and guarding the client's child is of the utmost importance. That is your mission." Sandaime sat back in his throne of a chair, and Iruka breathed deeply and evenly, soaking in the mission details as much as he could.
"So I can't come back until the war is over?" he asked, and Sandaime steepled his fingers together on top of his desk, nodding gravely. "And there can be no reinforcements? No back up?"
"I'm afraid not, Iruka-kun. More than one bodyguard would look suspicious. Plus you are young, of low rank, and single with no other ties to the village other than Naruto and your classes." Sandaime sighed once more, and said, "I'm sorry, but my hands are tied. No one else has your capabilities."
Iruka let out a gusty breath through his nose before nodding, determination pulsing through his veins like the unstopping force of the tide. "I accept this mission, Hokage-sama."
Sandaime closed his eyes in resignation. "I can't deny that a part of me was hoping you would refuse, but of course you wouldn't be you if you did. Very well Iruka-kun, this mission will be carried out starting next month." He reached under his desk and the sliding of a drawer sounded. "These are some facts about the outside world that you'll need to know to survive over there. And I want to give you this - " here he pulled out a hitai-ate, but instead of the standard navy blue cloth, it was white, with grean leaves decorating it.
Iruka's eyes were wide, and he accepted it with reverence and a little resignation. He knew what this hitai-ate stood for. When he was little he learned about them in his Academy class, and always said he would one day earn one as well, because the respect shinobi gained from this simple hitai-ate was on par with the Hokage. When he finally grew up he dropped the dream as reality hit. He hadn't thought about the hitai-ate for years, and now he sat with it in his grasp.
"I had this specially made for you as a parting gift. You were my student, my genin, and you were the backbone of this village, always making sure the paperwork was finished, the kids were taught, and the shinobi were feeling human and loved. I don't know what will come of us when you leave, but just know you will be missed dearly until you return."
"H-hokage-sama, I don't know what to say."
"You don't have to say anything. Just know that because you are away doesn't mean that you aren't loved or missed." Iruka stood and bowed deeply to his Hokage, holding back a couple tears. He wasn't a wussy.
"I will make Kanoha proud, Hokage-sama."
Sandaime smiled sadly. "I know you will, Iruka-kun, I know you will. Now, you've got a month to get your affairs in order, and to say your goodbyes."
Iruka nodded and made his way to the door, mission facts tucked under his arm and hitai-ate clutched tightly to his chest. "Ah, Iruka-kun, I'll still be expecting you for our afternoon tea and Go."
"I wouldn't miss it for the world, Hokage-sama." Iruka smiled softly.
The month passed by quickly. During the first week his friends never left his side. They saw the headband and the reluctant, longing look on his face, and dragged him to the nearest bar where they got shit faced. The morning after, with the pain of the hangover and the inevitable looming over them like stormy clouds on top of a volcano, they cried and fished out Iruka's old bucket list.
Only a couple things were crossed off, such as "build sculpture of Hokage Monument with popsicle sticks" and "learn Naruto's Sexy-no-Jutsu." They spent the rest of the week doing as many as they could until only two were left: "pull major village-wide prank" and "get married." He could do the prank before he left, as some sort of going away present for himself; but the getting married part was going to have to wait.
Naruto, during the second week, had questioned about the despair and "really awesome hitai-ate." Iruka wasn't the first shinobi to wear this headband; it stood for a mission that was going to keep the shinobi wearing it out on a mission for more than three years. Naruto had hugged the life out of his "aniki" and made him promise to write letters or send clones to keep him updated on Iruka's health. Iruka did something even better: he handed Naruto a scroll for human summoning, but it was tweaked to summon a clone of the summoned instead of the sommuned itself. That way it wouldn't take nearly as much chakra to send a clone all the way across the world and through an energy barrier.
Iruka had no qualms about giving almost all the work to Naruto. The kid had more chakra than all the shinobi of Kanoha combined. He did inform his surrogate brother that he would feel drained for a few minutes afterward, and to not let anyone else do it or it could land them in the hospital for a few weeks. Naruto had solemnly nodded, clutching the scroll tight to his chest, silent tears streaming down his face.
During the end of the month Iruka sold off his house and gave his unimportant belongings to a couple orphanages across Kanoha. He packed all of his weapons and bought a few duffle bag-sized more. It didn't hurt to be prepared.
For his Village Wide Prank, Iruka had colored every single person's - including himself - hair and skin different colors. After the coloring went away, shinobi and citizens alike had asked how he did it, but he wasn't comfortable with disclosing that information, thank you. Some were accepting, and others - not so much.
During the weeks a lot of people were curious as to why his mission was so open and not confidential. Apparently since he was passing the energy barrier, there was no need for secrecy. The outside world had no concern for the Hidden Continents. But Iruka expressed his worry that it soon would if Iruka was going to be playing a major part in this war.
Sandaime had reassured him that he had talked to all of the other Kages via shadow clone, and they agreed on a few things. One of which was "we'll cross that bridge when we come to it" and others along the line of "it's not any of your business."
Finally came the time for final goodbyes. As Iruka made his way up to the Hokage Tower, civilians he passed handed him flowers and little trinkets. Little old women he helped carry grocieries for kissed his cheek and handed him little cookies and meals "for the road." Younger men he taught how to read or how to build treehouses stopped him with a clap on the back and beaded bracelets that symbled good luck and prosperity.
Shinobi he stood by silently - keeping them standing and wiping their blood and tears when they thought they could go on no longer - gave him well wishes, and tags with special meanings and protections sealed onto them. His students old and new gave him cards they made, describing their favorite moment with him.
It really hit Iruka just then, as he was standing in front of the doors to the Hokage's office, just how important he was to his village and how important it was to him. He almost turned right around, but duty called, and he couldn't take back his promise of fulfilling his mission. He nodded to the ANBU standing guard before opening the door.
Inside the office stood the Hokage and a very, very beautiful woman that was obviously pregnant. Even bloated like a cow she was still beautiful and he really needed to stop hanging around Naruto if his thoughts were going to be this unpleasant. He took note of the baby blue silk she was draped in, the same shade as her eyes. Her blond hair fell in waves down her back, shining like the sun in the lighting of the room.
Iruka felt something inside of him jolt at the sight of her, and whoa, that was intense. She smiled and it felt like the wind was knocked out of him. "Hello," she said. There was a certain inflection in her voice - a lilt to her words that just screamed foreign. So that's what an accent sounded like. He'd never heard one before.
"Hello," he repeated politely, hoping his smile wasn't too big or dopey.
"You must be Iruka. My name is Narcissa Malfoy, how do you do?" She extended her hand (a very delicate, pale hand that was adorned with a diamond and gold ring shaped like a dragon) and Iruka stood there for a moment, confused. He searched his mind for the details on foreign greetings he read, and he knew she saw the moment the shiruken dropped, because her smile turned more into an amused smirk than polite disinterest. He grinned sheepishly as he dropped one of his bags - all filled with weapons - and took her hand, bowing over it before distributing a chaste kiss on the dragon ring. His lips tingled afterward.
"Umino Iruka, at your service, Ma'am," he said, and she gave that disinterested smile again that ignited his insides.
"Pleasure," she drawled. Her eyes raked across his body, taking note of his white dress shirt, tucked into black, standard shinobi pants. His pockets were stuffed with tags and seals and colorful cards full of chicken scratch writing, and flowers and little trinkets adorned his belt. Beads decorated his wrists, multiple colors and shapes of all sizes. He was wearing black boots, but only the closed toes could be seen. His forehead was adorned with the white hitai-ate, and a katana strapped to his back completed the ensemble. Her eyes lingered on that the longest. "Yes, you'll do."
Iruka desperately tried to hold back his blush, but it was a moot point as it resisted all efforts and blazed across his face in a cherry red. Narcissa took this in with that same amused smirk, but was there an edge of fondness he glimpsed?
"Is everything accounted for, Iruka-kun?" the Hokage asked. Iruka snapped out of his entranced gaze, bowing to Sandaime.
"Yes, Hokage-sama. Everything is accounted for."
The old man sighed and nodded. "Very well. Before you leave, I ask you one more thing. Do not forget who you are and where your loyalties truly lie." Iruka realized he could blow up in anger at this statement, that yes, he knew exactly where his loyalties lie. But he dismissed that anger, instead taking the words for what they were - a subtle warning.
"Shall we go?" Narcissa asked, and Iruka nodded, hefting the duffle bag he dropped back onto his shoulder.
"Goodbye, Iruka-kun. May this be an enlightening mission." Iruka puzzled over his leader's words for a moment before dismissing them.
He held out his elbow for Narcissa to take, and as her delicate arm slinked through his, he gazed one last time out the window to Kanoha, etching every detail into his mind, before they vanished with the crack! of a whip.
Then all that was left was Sarutobi, an old man that had just lost his most prescious person other than his genin team and son. He knew Iruka would fair well - he had the utmost faith in him after all - but he couldn't shake the feeling that they would not be seeing each other again.
"You don't look so surprised," Narcissa said when they landed in a tall grass field that stretched out for miles, stopped by forest and only bisected by a giant house. It had big, white marble pillars on either side of gigantic double doors. The doors had some design on them, but he was too far away to see what it was. The weather was gloomy, clouds covering the sun and humid, reminiscent of Mist or Wave.
"I read all about apparating, and it helps that my people have a similar sort of transportation." He paused and grimaced at the nausea rolling about his stomach. "Only slighty less . . . jarring."
Narcissa gave a tinkling laugh that sent chills over his skin and his blood aflame. He glanced at her through the corner of his eye, and he marvaled at how perfect she seemed. How can someone so pure be born on the wrong side of the war? How could she marry the Dark side's Right Hand Man?
"You are funny. Come, let me show you my home." She tugged him forward by his elbow.
He still couldn't believe that this house was her home. Because whoa.
Seeing the front door up close was something spectacular; the designs carved into it created a dragon, its wings encircling a giant M filled with diamonds and emeralds and lined with silver. The door swinging open as they stepped up to it seemed a bit ominous, but nothing could have prepared Iruka for what stood on the other side.
"Mistress brings a guest?"
Iruka's instincts for threats of the unknown came over him, and he stiffened, shoving Narcissa away from the door - and thing - and pulling his katana out of its scabbard, levelling it smoothly at it. It was small and green and looked like something Naruto would pull out of his nose. It was dressed in an old, tattered towel, held onto its bony body by a single knot on one of its shoulders. Big, glassy green eyes stared up at him in fright, and its pointy ears and big nose looked like they were fighting gravity to stay in the positions they were in.
They all stood there for a long, awkward moment, not moving a single millimeter. Until Iruka registered its words and what he read about it and its kind. He relaxed with a small, embarrassed, "Oh." Narcissa threw back her head and laughed, long and loud, blond waves bouncing on her back.
Ituka could feel his face flame and desperately hoped Narcissa was the type of person to forget other people's mistakes, but judging by the size of her house and her disinterested smiles, his hopes were set to be crushed brutally.
He cleared his throat awkwardly, sheathing his katana in a smooth, practiced motion. "Aha, yes, I apologize for the misunderstanding." The thing - a House Elf he now knew it was called - scurried backwards as Narcissa stepped to the door, her hand lingering on Iruka's bicep a little too long, and her smile turning more fond than amused. Blushing once more, Iruka followed her, taking note of the white marble floor and green walls.
A few Ss were intermingled with serpents and dragons and Ms, and Iruka was starting to think this was a reoccuring theme. When they passed the foyer and entered a large living room, he was SURE this was a reoccurring theme. "Misty," Narcissa called quietly, and another THING popped into existence in front of her. Iruka stuffed his instincts to the back of his mind and forced himself to calm down. It wouldn't do to make the same mistake twice.
"Take dear Iruka's bags to the room across from my suit and get some snacks ready. We'll be in my study." Iruka dropped his bags to the floor unceremoniously, and Misty struggled for a moment to lift one before giving up with a huff and snapping her fingers, disappearing along with the bags.
Narcissa held out her hand to Iruka, and he gently took it, feeling like a little child escorted by his mom. Her hand slid up his forearm, goosebumps following in its wake, and Iruka caught himself staring at the contrast between their skin colors. He folded his arm, tucking her hand in his elbow, and she started forward, leading him to her study.
"I'm sure you must be bursting with questions by now, and I admire your ability at holding them in," she said, sending him another disinterested smile over her shoulder. The smile never reached her eyes unless genuinely amused, and Iruka wondeed why it set his blood aflame like it did.
He smiled tightly at her, saying, "Yes, I particularly want to know why you wanted a bodyguard."
She paused in her footing, the hesitence so subtle only a shinobi looking for it would have been able to pick up on it. "Didn't your leader inform you? I would think you wouldn't have accepted this job so blindly."
"You and I both know that I gathered all the information possible before accepting this mission, Madam," he murmured, well aware of the moving, talking portraits.
Something smelled fishy, and it wasn't his name. "Now why don't we get right to business."
She stopped before one of the many doors in the long hallway they stood in, dragging a fingertip along the doorframe. Iruka soaked in this detail for further exploration. She had to key in her "chakra" signature for the door to open. Because her husband was head of the house, could he override her signature? After stepping inside and closing the door, Narcissa made her way to a large, stuffed chair, sinking into it with a heavy sigh, rubbing her stomach softly.
After a minute or two of her doing this and Iruka standing by the door, arms crossed, she looked up at him and smirked. "You're very smart, aren't you?"
"I'd like to think so, yes. Smart enough to realize what you told my leader wasn't the whole picture, definitely." Iruka shifted his stance, relaxing onto the wall in an unconcious imitation of Hatake Kakashi.
"Well, I guess I better confess," she drawled, mock pouting and eyes glinting mischeviously. "You work for me now, so there's really no need for secrets between us."
Iruka raised a dark eyebrow, waiting.
"Oh, you're no fun." She relaxed further, snapping her fingers on one hand. Misty appeared with a platter of finger sandwiches, and little tomato and cheese and basil leaf kabobs on long toothpicks. Misty set the platter down on a table next to Narcissa for easy reach and disappeared with a light POP! "To be honest," Narcissa said, picking up a kabob and taking the top grape tomato off with her lips. She made such a casual, innocent thing look sensual and alomst too obsene for the situation. "I'm having a rough time right now, 'Ruka. May I call you 'Ruka?"
He supposed it couldn't hurt, not with the way she said his butchered name. It rolled off her tongue like silken chocolate, and he wanted to taste his name off of her lips. His eyes closed halfway, and he took a couple steps forward, nostrils flaring at the smell of her perfume. When she smiled wickedly he caught himself, glaring at her through a heated gaze. "So fiery," she murmured, dragging her pink tongue across her bottom lip.
"Stop it!" he barked, backing up a few steps, all politeness gone in the face of self salvation. "How are you doing this?"
"It's genetic, really." She finished off the kabob, this time with efficient bites and no seduction involved. "I'm part Veela, you see, so seducing men and some women come naturally. What I was doing was part of a test, and I'm surprised and glad to see you resisted my efforts." She picked up a finger sandwich, finiahing it in two bites. "I have a feeling you're going to surprise me a lot when we get to know each other." She winked and a bit of his earlier desire came back; but he stuffed it down, knowing it for what it was.
"Test? And what's a Veela?" he asked, relaxing against the walk again.
She finished another sandwich. His stomach growled pitifully at him, but he didn't reach for the food because it wasn't offered to him. The Daimyo and a few higher officials in the village liked to do this sometimes - flaunting something they knew the lower class wanted but couldn't have at them. It was power play, simple as that. Right now Narcissa held all the cards, and she wanted him to know that.
"I'll answer the Veela question later. But yes, a test. If you don't pass then I'm sending you straight back to your city." He twitched. Probably the long way, too. "On the Dark side - which, if you pass my test, you'll be infiltrating - there are many Veela. They will attempt to seduce you. Occasionally I'll try and seduce you by surprise, when your guard is down. You'll learn to recognize the signs of false desire and banish them away easily. But to do this you already need to know yourself and how you handle certain situations very well."
"Because if I didn't I would have never been able to snap myself out of it. You're testing my abilities to see if I am strong enough, mentally and physically, to go through with your plans." Iruka allowed himself to feel an inkling of respect for this woman.
"Exactly," she smirked. "I must say, you're doing very well. I have high hopes for you yet. You don't want to let me down now, do you?"
"To be honest I'm not doing this for you. I'm doing this for my city." Iruka quoted 'city' with his fingers before folding his arms across his chest again.
Narcissa smiled fondly at him, and he couldn't shake off the feeling that that was another test. Probably seeing where his loyalties truly stood. Which she already knew no doubt, but was probably seeing the extent of his feelings. "Good. And I want you to remind yourself every day that you're doing this for Kanoha, not me. Because you are about to enter a game of lies and deceit that is my life, and you need a lifeline. If you don't have one, you'll lose yourself."
Suddenly Sandaime's words made a lot more sense.
"What's your lifeline?" he asked, testing his boundaries.
"My love for my husband and child." He blinked, not expecting her to answer that fast or thst honestly. "I remind myself every night how much I love my family, that I'm doing all of this for them. Oh, don't look so surprised!" she continued,laughing at his flabergasted expression. "I told you that we should have no secrets. In fact, if you pass my test, you'll become part of my family as well. And family does not keep secrets."
"So your husband knows that I'm not just a bodyguard?" he challenged. She smiled brightly, and he cursed himself for falling for the trap.
"You're a little too easy to read, but that will change when you're undercover, I bet. We'll work on it," she said almost to herself. "Yes, my husband knows your true objective and is no doubt informing his Lord of my betrayal right now."
Iruka jerked in shock. Okay, plot twist, he thought. She smiled again.
"Yes, he is fully devoted to the Dark side, which is why I want you by my child at all times. Lucius' Lord will tell him to wait and let things play their coarse. He'll scheme and scheme, and this is another objective of yours: find out what he wants and is thinking and report to me by any means necessary." She picked up another kabob and eyed him over it. A tendril of desire wormed its way into his gut when he glanced toward her lips, but he closed his eyes and shook his head. She nodded. "Sandwich?" she asked, waving a delicate hand toward the platter.
He accepted the offer triumphantly, settling in the chair across from her, reaching for a sandwich and popping it in his mouth. Beef and black pepper assaulted his taste buds, with a more leafy cucumber underlining the explosion of flavor. He nodded thoughtfully. Very good.
"However you find out what Lucius' Lord wants and thinks is up to you. I just want to know your means and the ends." He hummed in agreement, reaching for a kabob. The cheese was Monterey Jack and the basil set it off perfectly.
"How do you know that the Dark side will let things play out?" he asked.
"Because I am a strategical genuis." There was no haughty or arrogant air that followed those words, only fact. Iruka was impressed. "Now, onto what Veela are and what we can do - "