The young man stood nervously in the old man's office, sporadically clenching and unclenching his fists. Taking a deep breath, he glanced at the old man and cleared his throat.
"H-Hokage-sama...are you sure about this? They're just children. They haven't learned anything yet...there are a few exceptions for those who are part of an established clan, but...they still haven't had any formal training. What if something happens?"
The old man sighed as he placed a pinch of tobacco slowly and methodically into a long, thin pipe. "Iruka...you're acting as though I am planning to put them into the midst of a war zone. The Sand are our allies...and even if something were to happen, I'm making certain we'll have adequate protection for them."
The man called Iruka sighed heavily. "I don't know...the Sand's village is run differently than ours. I've been there several times; the people are much less...less...well, I don't really know how to say it, but..."
"I know what you mean, Iruka, but that is part of the reason I wish for your new class to go there. It would do them well to see another shinobi village, the Sand's especially since it is so vastly different from our own. They need to understand such things."
"I...I guess. I suppose I'm just overreacting."
The old man smiled slightly. "You care about your students. That is admirable, and a quality much sought in instructors; it was part of the reason you received the position at such a young age as you did. However, do not allow yourself to be so worried for them that you end up harming yourself. Try to calm down, Iruka. If you are tense, you are likely to make mistakes, ones you will regret later. Have faith in yourself and your fellows; the students will not come to harm."
Iruka forced himself to pull up a chair and sit down. As he began twiddling his thumbs, he snapped his arms down to his sides. "So...Hokage-sama...you said there were two reasons you want my new students to visit the Sand's village. One, I take it, is for the learning experience. What is the other?"
The old man struck fire to the pipe, took a deep draw from it, and stood up, beginning to pace behind his desk. "Well, Iruka...I'd not tell you this, but given your personal connection to young Naruto, I'm certain you will want to know, and I believe you deserve to."
"Naruto?" Iruka asked, suddenly paying much more attention. "What's this have to do with Naruto?"
"This information is confidential, Iruka; I expect you to treat it gravely. Tell no one. The second reason I wish for your students to go with you to the Sand is due to Naruto."
Iruka licked his lips nervously.
"The Kazekage has had a second son in the past few years...he has not disclosed this information to any but me, and only me because I am an ally. He is nine years old, the same age as Naruto, give or take a few months."
"Really?" Iruka asked, sitting straighter. A second son? He'd had no idea. He knew of two of the Kazekage's children: Kankurou and Temari, both promising future shinobi, but a third?
"Yes. His name is Sabaku no Gaara."
Gaara of the Desert.
Iruka raised an eyebrow. "Sabaku no Gaara...?" he repeated.
"Yes. More importantly, however, is that at his birth, the Shukaku was sealed within him. As such, he is an immensely powerful child already."
The Shukaku...the single-tailed raccoon demon...Iruka had heard the stories based around it; nearly every shinobi knew the stories of the Nine Bijuu, and while the Shukaku was thought to be one of the weakest of them, it was also reported to be the most insane.
"Sabaku no Gaara is a jinchuuriki..." Iruka murmured softly, realization dawning on his face. "Just like Naruto..."
"Precisely," the old man said with a nod. "From what I have heard from Kazekage's reports, young Gaara has become extremely unstable. He faces the same disdain as our Naruto does; everyone in the Sand knows he holds the Shukaku within him, but all Gaara knows in regard to why is that he has strange power...I believe that, based on this, it would be good for both Gaara and Naruto to meet each other. Though neither know they are a Jinchuuriki, they nonetheless will understand each other."
Iruka, too, understood now. He nodded, now fully in agreement with the plan. "I get it now," he said. "You're right; it will be good for Naruto to meet another like him...they will likely get along well, and when and if Naruto discovers that he holds the Kyuubi within him, he will have someone who understands."
"Yes," the old man agreed. "So...you agree that this plan should continue?"
"Yes," Iruka said. "I understand completely now."
Iruka stood, bowed deeply. "Thank you for discussing this with me, Hokage-sama."
"Of course. You are dismissed, Iruka. If you would, inform your students of the trip to the Sand's village tomorrow. We cannot force them to go, of course, but if you would...make certain Naruto wishes to. Otherwise, it will be of little value."
"So...Naruto is the main reason for this."
"I understand. Trust me; he's never been outside our village. He'll want to go. I'll tell them tomorrow...and I'll make sure to get them excited about it. Better that they consider it a treat rather than an assignment; they will be easier to deal with."
The old man nodded. "Indeed."
With a final nod, Iruka turned and left the room, leaving the old man alone.
"Hopefully I won't end up regretting this..." he murmured as he sat down at his desk again. "This will either be a successful attempt at strengthening our alliance...or a disaster. It all depends on how Gaara reacts upon meeting Naruto...let them befriend each other..."
A ring of smoke rose from the old man's pipe, floated above him for a second or two before vanishing into the air.
He had calmed Iruka, but he had done nothing to settle his own nerves. If this didn't work the way he hoped...it could ruin everything.
I used to have a little "definitions" section here, but that was only for a good friend of mine who hadn't watched or read the series before. Now that she's stopped reading and writing fanfiction, I don't think that's necessary anymore. You guys know what I'm talking about, don't you? Otherwise, you wouldn't be here.