StarsOfYaoi: hello there ^^ This is my new fanfic, and will eventually be ItaNaru. I warn you though, the main focus is not on the romance, but rather on Naruto's growth and with a plot to fit everything in.
Takes place after the Valley of End. In this fic, Sasuke was rescued, so remember that, ok?
Rating: M (for future chapters)
Summary: (ItaNaru, GenmaRaidou, IruKakaIru) Naruto had every intention to go train with Jiraiya after the Valley of End, but instead, he's given another option –become a member of the newest ANBU team…
Warnings: yaoi, male x male relationship, later dark themes, torture and angst. Flames will be used to roast my food.
Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto. It belongs to that sucker, Kishimoto. No offence, Kishi–san.
–Flashbacks, memories, dreams–
Chapter 01: Approaching
There was an unusual silence draped over the three figures standing in the Hokage's office, thick and tense; it tasted of uneasiness and hesitation, as they had been discussing something of vital importance… something none of them had wanted to talk about.
Despite all reports being positive, there were many things left to sort out, a lot to ponder about, and most of it was definitely not pleasant.
Things had taken a strange, unexpected turn. They would never admit that, loudly or even to themselves, but they didn't know what to think anymore.
Tsunade was sitting stiffly in the Hokage's seat, slumped down on the desk in defeat, and let out a soft sigh, her elbows slipping to hit a pile of paperwork –fortunately not making it fall down.
Brown eyes fluttered close as she slowly massaged her temples, a last attempt to make her migraine recede.
She had been good at ignoring the two shinobi standing in front of her, and she had managed to do so for over fifteen minutes, but Tsunade knew that she wouldn't be able to continue like that forever… and yet…
The last few days had been vexing, and even though she would deny it if asked, she was tired, anxious, weary and most of all, pissed off.
And most of all, she felt old.
It was at times like these that she felt as if the jutsu holding up her appearance of a twenty–five years old woman didn't exist, and the weight of her real age settled upon her. She was no longer young, nor was she still twenty.
Tsunade, as a ninja, had seen her fair share of despair, pain and blood –enough to have her regret many things during her life– and she intimately knew what it meant to lose hope day after day, running away from the truth in a desperate attempt to ignore her past…
And then, she had also been allowed to learn what 'home' was. Not all her life had been painful.
Still, that didn't change the fact that she wasn't young anymore; having to deal with Hokage business was most assuredly not how she'd wanted to spend the last few years of her life.
At the same time, though, Tsunade had never felt better ever before; she'd accepted her past and her responsibilities, even if it had not been easy on her, and deciding not to run had been even harder… but it was the best decision she'd made so far, and she would never regret it.
Before, Konoha had never felt familiar and welcome, but now Tsunade had realised that 'home' didn't just mean a place to live in… 'home' was where her precious people were, 'home' was being appreciated and loved… and Konoha was that place, and 'home' was also that person who had saved her over and over, offering her a future again.
The same person who had given her the strength to face her past once for all.
It had hurt to realise it, but the dead would want her to finally move on, accept her past and be happy.
They would want her to embrace her memories without having them hold her back. Tsunade needed to let them go and focus on her present, to feel alive again.
She had done that, and had accepted her duties as a shinobi of Konoha, regaining that peace she'd only felt once before –when her brother and Dan had been still alive. And the village… Konoha was her village. she belonged to it, she loved it. That was the legacy her dear ones had left to her, and she would protect it to the best of her abilities.
This was tomorrow's hope, after all.
And yet, despite this fierce determination born on blood and sweat, the Godaime was tired; it had been hard to face the chain of events that had caused one of the strongest hidden villages to crumble down so easily, there was no way to deny it.
There were many problems, and the most important one regarded the political issues she was facing –the ones she feared the most, too.
Uchiha Sasuke, the last member of the much glorified Uchiha clan, had escaped his sensei's surveillance, running from the village in order to join a high–ranked missing–nin who had once been a fellow Konoha shinobi, and in doing so, he had hurt his teammate (his best friend) and attempted to betray the village.
He would have managed to escape successfully if Naruto hadn't been there to stop him; unfortunately, his attempt, although fruitless, still placed Tsunade in a bad position.
On the surface, the Uchiha was back in the village, but underneath the surface, the problem was still bubbling up dangerously, and it needed to be settled, somehow.
Considering the instable position Konoha was occupying after Sandaime Sarutobi–sama had died (by the hands of the same missing–nin Sasuke had tried to join), if the news of the attempted defection of Uchiha Sasuke were to reach the ears of the neighbouring countries, Konoha would face more trouble than it was worth, and its pride would take a harsh blow… one that would make it hard to stand back up unscathed.
It wasn't a secret that the Uchiha clan had been exterminated and the responsible had fled the village, and finding out that the remaining heir of the family had attempted defection… no, it would be a downfall.
It was said that the higher position one had, the harder it would fall… then Konoha was doomed to fall hard.
Of course, ninja defecting from their villages wasn't uncommon; there were thousands missing–nin around the five elemental countries who found themselves unable to follow the rules, or simply broke down under the pressure, or wanted more power at their disposal.
Names weren't usually publicly announced, though, and only ANBU's Bingo–books ever had the most recent information and data on said nuke–nin, and the books were not openly given.
Fewer were the names leaking out from village to village, as politics were what mattered the most, in the end.
If a nuke–nin made a name out of themselves, then it would bring shame to its village of origin.
Politically speaking, Sasuke had been a valuable asset; belonging to a loved, coveted clan, he had been worshipped and admired for all his childhood, protected and fuelled on the path of a ninja in order to serve the village as a symbol of power –the last Uchiha was still loyal.
If the news of his attempted defection were to reach potential opponents, they would use it against Konoha, and destroy its political standing with the other villages and the Daimyo.
Other ninja villages would feed on it, competing and teaming up against Konoha, weak after the death of its last Kage and after its almost destruction.
With her thoughts still lingering on all that, Tsunade finally stopped rubbing her temples, only to look up at the two now silent shinobi. She was the Hokage. This was her responsibility. The past was the past, and the present was now.
Cold brown eyes regained control over her emotions, straightening back up from the desk as she mentally took a deep breath.
"Is he ok?"
Her tone was soft and concerned, but her face did not betray her worry. His safety would always come first.
Kakashi, who had until then remained with his back pressed against the wall, almost carefree, nodded warily, his only visible eye narrowed; the part of his face that was not covered by his mask and hitai–ate was stony, but one could easily feel the relief oozing from him.
He had never been this easy to read in a long while, but that also made him look older… his constant worrying over his students had overwhelmed his past defences and guilt and regrets were now piling up inside him.
He supposed he'd have to face them at one point.
"Yes," he finally replied, his shoulders tensing a bit without showing. "When the rescue team and I reached the Valley of End, both of them were still conscious, but Sasuke did not appear to object his return here. Naruto passed out on the way home, but due to fatigue… his wounds were healing already on their own".
The silver haired shinobi hesitated a bit, but one look from the Godaime forced him to continue.
"I tried to question Sasuke about what happened at the Valley, but he would not answer. He kept repeating he would not break another promise and stated coolly more than once that he won't try something like this ever again".
The Hokage sighed, but nodded at him. Naruto was fine, and in an instant most of her worries ceased to exist, cooling down her steely resolve. Sasuke was also back –that helped with the political issues.
Questioning the Uchiha would be the best alternative for now, but she would wait him to heal completely before ordering someone to proceed with the inquisition.
"Thanks, Kakashi," she said, her tone unwavering. "You can leave now".
The silver haired Jounin nodded.
"I will be with Sasuke and Naruto at the hospital if you need me," he muttered before vanishing on the spot, a small cloud of smoke in his place.
Tsunade shifted her gaze to the remaining shinobi; for a while, silence reigned on them again, but the two could understand each other without speaking.
"What do you think?" Jiraiya finally asked, his rough voice showing his concern –he had been deeply worried, just like Tsunade had, because the blond brat had wormed into his heart just as much as he had done in hers.
The white–haired Sannin moved towards the wall next to the window, unable to stand being in small constricting spaces such as that office; Jiraiya sought solace by leaning against the window's frame instead, looking outside.
"I am glad they are both back…" Tsunade sighed, shaking her head once again. "Many problems will be avoided thanks to Naruto, but…" '… but I am more concerned about Naruto than any of Konoha's political schemes…'
Jiraiya grunted, understanding her unsaid words and not–so–privately agreeing with her. As the white haired Sannin watched, Tsunade pulled out a bottle of sake from underneath the desk, sliding out two small cups from a drawer –she was used to hide alcohol from Shizune and in a moment like this, she really needed it.
Pouring out the clear liquid for the both of them, the woman let her gaze meet Jiraiya's before the two gulped their cups down. The sake burned down Tsunade's throat, and she sighed silently, enjoying the strong feeling.
"I want to take the brat with me".
Jiraiya knew that his words would not be accepted easily by Tsunade, but he had to talk with her about it anyway. Watching her face, twisted in shock, wasn't exactly a sight he appreciated, though.
"What?" Tsunade gaped at her once teammate, the second cup of sake forgotten in her hand.
She couldn't believe it.
Unable to look at the woman, Jiraiya turned around, moving his eyes down to the trees and the rooftops of the houses visible from the window of Tsunade's office. Then, his attention shifted to the five stony faces right above him –the Hokage mountain, easily visible from every spot of Konoha.
The mountain's faces looked down at him as if ready to judge him for his following words, and not for the first time, Jiraiya wondered if that sort of protection the other shinobi and the civilians felt when looking up at them was also meant for people like Naruto, who needed it the most.
The village had been founded by Tsunade's grandfather, one of the first two Kage of Konoha, and Jiraiya, in a way or another, had met all the previous for Hokage. All of them had wanted to protect the place they had loved so much, and the people who lived within it.
Shodaime, Nidaime, Sandaime and Yondaime had always thought about Konoha first, and their own lives last, loving the place in their own, personal way…
He wondered, with a flicker of worry, if they would be supportive of his decision or not.
Tsunade, just like them, had responsibilities. Even if her own love for the village came second only to Naruto's wellbeing, as a Hokage she had to think of the whole Konoha first and foremost; if things came down to that, though, and she had to quickly decide which one to offer her first thought, there was no doubt for Jiraiya as to who would get her protection first.
That was why Jiraiya would never allow her to make this decision.
He had no real ties to Konoha, except the few people he cared for that lived within the village, and that was the real reason why he would have never accepted the proposal to be Godaime Hokage after Sarutobi–sama
Like Tsunade, he would place someone else before Konoha, but unlike Tsunade, he could do it without repercussions. He had no obligations to think about Konoha first, and that was why he could grab Naruto and get him away from here.
That boy needed to leave and get stronger outside of Konoha.
How could his thirst of knowledge and attention be sated if he were to remain in there? Bringing Sasuke back hadn't changed much, really. Jiraiya knew that; Naruto wanted to protect his precious people, but if given a chance, the man was sure the young kid would accept to leave, if only for a short while.
That was because Naruto had yet to learn to love Konoha fully –the true requirement to become Hokage.
Yes, Naruto loved Konoha… but what he loved was the idea of it… the ideal Sandaime had offered him. Enraptured by the man's words, Naruto had vowed to protect his friends and the people he cared for, but he did not love unconditionally the village.
He would slowly break down under the weight, and Jiraiya could not allow it.
If the kid couldn't stray from the path he had decided for himself, then Jiraiya would do what he could to aid him on that path.
Naruto was, after all, a child. He had many things to learn and see before he could understand, and even dreams such as his could be easily corrupted, or change with time. Naruto had to calm down and see there was no need to hurry, learn to control his powers, and most of all he needed to open his eyes to the truth… and finally decide if he would be a good Hokage.
A Hokage's power and position could be easily overestimated, and maybe Naruto had just shaped his desire to be accepted into the role of the leader, and Jiraiya knew that feeling too well…
But Jiraiya was not the Hokage.
That was why Jiraiya wanted to show Naruto the world outside of Konoha. Before he could collapse under the obligations and pain, he would offer him a taste of what a shinobi really was, and help him make a conscious decision.
"I want to take Naruto with me in a three–year training period" he finally explained, turning around towards the busty woman again. "I am aware that Akatsuki won't attack Naruto for the next few years, and Sasuke is safe in the village because as my spies said, Orochimaru already possessed another body. There will be no other exchange for the next three years as well, and that leaves enough time for both to train by themselves".
Tsunade's eyes were narrowed brown slits, coldness seeping through them.
"This is the best for him, Tsunade–hime, and you know it. You have seen his eyes, the way civilians and most shinobi react to him. He needs to leave and grow on his own…" 'and if the Council tries something, I will protect him fully without fearing any double–crossing from them,' he silently added.
The blond Hokage felt a burning prickling in the back of her eyes and realising she was about to cry, she sharply looked away, fighting against tears; she had caught easily on Jiraiya's hidden words, and she knew he was right.
And yet… Naruto was the reason she'd decided to come back.
A part of her was not ready to let him go away, but she had to think about his wellbeing firsrt and foremost, and that was…
"I will take care of him, Tsunade, this is a promise. I care for him just as much as you do, and I will make him strong," Jiraiya tried to reassure her former teammate. He wasn't one to make shallow promises, after all.
Tsunade had the sudden urge to stand up and hit him, all be damned, but she knew she'd have to eventually relent to the white haired man's wishes. For Naruto. That was all for him.
"You'll have to ask him about it, though," she murmured, finally downing down the cup of sake she had been clutching in her hand up until then, pouring herself a third one straight away. 'I don't want to… but Naruto will need to grow up'.
Jiraiya nodded at the acceptance he saw in her eyes, his shoulders relaxing.
"I will go right now, then," he smiled at her, receiving a tired smile back –for once, they had not bickered. It felt good.
A second later, both Sannin were alerted by a strong chakra flaring once in warning, a deliberate, clear pulse to warn the Hokage that someone was coming. The pulse was deep yet subtle, so that only someone at the level Tsunade and Jiraiya were could feel it –the signal that was required to be able to appear in the Hokage office without alerting the guards outside the door.
Moreover, it was a way to reassure the Hokage that the person coming through was not a danger to her.
Both Jiraiya and Tsunade tensed as a figure appeared in front of the Hokage's desk without the use of a smoke curtain, kneeling in front of the blonde with his head looking down.
Tsunade lifted her eyebrow.
As his entrance and the warning he'd let out clearly indicated, this was the Captain of the main ANBU squad, the commander of the ANBU corps as a whole, a man whose name–code was famous through the whole Konohagakure as one of the strongest ninja after the Hokage and the Sannin… a man whose loyalty was unwavering.
ANBU, as opposed to normal ranking shinobi, took orders directly from the Hokage in charge, and were trained to answer to the Kage's will alone; they did not respond to the authority of the Elder Council, nor to the Clan Head's Council either, and were a secluded category, separated from the usual ranking methods.
They were the elite of the village, respected and feared for their skills and courage.
As for the basics, there weren't many differences –they moved in four–man teams, a squad leader and three members, and sometimes two or three teams would work together; to prevent their identities from being uncovered, each of them wore a different, unique mask with an animal pattern painted on them.
Since ANBU had the most difficult, dangerous missions, their identities were guarded with regards, and outside of the ANBU headquarters only the Hokage knew who they were (unless members from important clans, like the Hyuuga or the Uchiha or other appraised shinobi were involved).
In peace times, the number of ANBU teams was of five, but during war times it could increase exponentially, and all of them only responded to the main squad's leader, that was also the commander of the whole ANBU troop division.
The identity of the Leader wasn't known even between the lower ANBU ranking, and even the Hokage preferred to forget who the leader was.
Between the ranks of the ANBU, identities were often shared amongst teams, some deciding not to share it even then, some allowing the whole division to know; as it was, ANBU protected their own identity as well as their partners'. Loyal and secretive, one of their assignments was to protect the village and hunt down missing–nin (the hunter–nin's division was especially trained for that purpose), even though they also got missions that ranked from A–special to S, that normal Jounin could not take –usually assassinations.
To be accepted within the ANBU division, a shinobi didn't need to go through any standard exam or reach a certain level; outsiders thought that to qualify to the ANBU, one had to be at least of Jounin level, but in truth the troops held separate exams individually, offering a position to someone they deemed worthy or by accepting the Hokage's few selections once every year.
The chosen ones would be placed under supervision for a month, and they would then be trained intensively. After that period, they would get tested to see whether they were skilled enough to be accepted into the divisions.
Since ANBU life could interfere with normal ranking missions, and that protecting their own identity would bring out questions that could not be answered, most of the ninja in active duty that belonged to the ANBU troops were uninterested in formalities, and never took the Jounin exam.
Some men would appear to live a normal, quiet life, avoiding overlapping missions between their normal rank and the ANBU's and manage to keep themselves under the radar.
Other ninja, instead, would fake retirement from active duty to dedicate themselves solely to higher ranked missions, using a cover–up work in the village.
The fewer ninja that actually decided to take and pass the Jounin exam were only the ones that strictly had to, either because their clan expected them to, knowing about their position (and thus leaking out the news to take pride for the clan) or because it would have seemed strange not to.
ANBU never cared for age, ranks or families and bloodlines, as acceptation within the troops was merely for personal skills, individual tests and training, and to actually be accepted was both a great honour and a great responsibility.
Since flooding the Hokage with the daily missions was unthinkable, Tsunade (as her predecessors) received a visit of one of the squad leaders for a weekly report; eventually she could ask for a specific ANBU to be present to inquire more about certain missions, but to actually see the Commander kneeling in front of her was not an usual occurrence –thus she knew instantly that something was up.
The ANBU kneeling at her feet, the Commander, was apparently young, not older than thirty, with dark, brownish hair cut short on his head; his frame was well built, but still lean and perfectly shaped under the dark outfit, while his face was as usual covered by a white mask with black lines, whose shapes formed the features of a panther.
Hyoodoku was his code–name, used to refer to him and to his position within the ranks, and was a name whispered with reverie and respect even between the villagers, the same name that perfectly fit his real self as well.
After all, masks only reflected what was behind them, and Hyoo was just as dangerous and threatening as the animal drawn on his mask was.
"Hokage–sama," the man said, with respect clear in his deep voice.
Tsunade blinked at him for a moment, admiring his strength –it was a relief to have him as one of her most trusted allies, after all– and then nodded sharply to Jiraiya, signalling him to stay only to return her attention to the ANBU right away.
"Panther, what is the meaning of your appearance here? The weekly report has been given yesterday already… has something happened that I am not aware of?"
The kneeling ninja finally stood up, keeping his back slightly slouched in order to appear shorter than the Hokage herself, and cleared his throat.
The reason he was there needed to be threaded carefully, and he did not want to receive a negative answer right away.
"Tsunade Hokage–sama, I am here for a pledge –ANBU troops ask for the permission to start a test for a new member".
Tsunade lifted one eyebrow in confusion; as far as she knew, all the five teams were already complete, no one had died yet, and the time for the normal member–election wasn't due in what, three to four months? Then what Hyoo was requesting was… a special test.
Why were the ANBU asking for special treatment? And why now?
"A new member, Hyoo–san?" she asked, intertwining her fingers in front of her face and leaning her elbows on the desk, ignoring the bottle of sake and the documents still resting there. "Are you planning on creating a sixth four–man team?"
Tsunade suspected that the ANBU were feeling less secure of themselves after the Chuunin exams and the way Orochimaru had fooled them, and the result had been Sandaime's death.
That had been a huge blow for everyone, but to people who had been loyal to the Hokage first and foremost, it had probably hurt even more –they had failed the only person they took their orders from.
Hyoo hesitated for a second, uncertain on how to approach the subject with lady Hokage, but there was no way he could back down.
"Some formerly retired members have asked to be reinstated to active duty, and they were accepted back," he said, his tone even and determined. "We have the sixth team out of one member, and I am here to ask for the right person to be given a chance".
Tsunade blinked in surprise, and casting a quick glance at Jiraiya, she saw the same curiosity in his eyes, as well.
To have old members reinstalled in the ranks was almost unheard of, since very few ANBU members were allowed to retire (unless crippled or seriously ill) and they were monitored to prevent any leakage.
Even so, fewer ever asked to come back. Tsunade only knew of two, ever.
The busty woman forced her shoulders to relax –she would have to meet the members beforehand, and since she had no way to know who they were, this would prove to be a pleasurable distraction from her current set of problems.
More so, if the ANBU were asking for a new member, even though it was just so they could fill up their new team, that would be something to regard with attention; only the best were allowed a chance to join, or shinobi with great potential.
After all, of the many ninja that ANBU tested every year, only a few managed to pass the test and were thus confirmed trainees; most were disappointed by their own failure and would go back to their lives with the resolve to improve, their memories of the ANBU headquarters' location erased from their mind.
Many tried the following years, until they managed to get in, or accepted to give up completely.
ANBU that dropped out from active duty, depending on their status, mental stability and eventual injuries also had their memories of the location erased, unless the ANBU decided to still keep in contact with them to use them as information–gatherers from outside the troops.
"I accept the meeting with the members," Tsunade finally said, nodding to the man. "As for the request for a new member being allowed to try his luck, I need to know his or her name, current status, and a motivation of why you selected that shinobi".
Jiraiya smirked, shaking his head inwardly at Tsunade's business–like behaviour. Despite all her mourning and bitching about it, she was perfect as Hokage.
Hyoo hesitated again, as if pondering how to exactly tell the Hokage about his chosen one, then sighed, knowing there wouldn't be a way to sweeten it up.
"It is a young male we have been observing for quite some time, assessing his current performances and his progresses as a shinobi of Konohagakure," he started. "He has talent but needs a serious training, one that can unlock his skills and capabilities without interruptions –a rigid training to shape what now is raw and rough".
Tsunade narrowed her eyes, listening to the man's words.
"So you are saying that, even though if he is talented and has the potential to be an ANBU, he is still not ready yet?"
Hyoo nodded. "The training for the month before the test will make him ready, though," he assured, completely convinced in his own words. "His skills and strength are above normal. We admire his fierce determination and I am sure he will become one of the best, if properly trained".
Tsunade grimaced. Something in the man's tone was making her stomach squirm uneasily. "And who would this promising ninja be?"
Hyoo exhaled slowly, preparing himself for the outburst that would surely come.
As he stepped into the hospital room, Kakashi was suddenly aware of three things.
The first was how the beds were placed within the room, far from each other, which differed from the usual room formation that had the beds close up; Kakashi was sure that neither Naruto nor Sasuke had been the ones to move the beds like that, because the first was still unconscious, and the second was weakened and currently sealed on the bed.
The second was the crowd of nurses around Sasuke's bed, and by the Uchiha's displeased expression, it was clear he was not enjoying it. Naruto's side of the room was also unusually bare, making the Jounin inwardly frown.
He had seen Naruto's friends come with get–well cards. None of them was in sight. But to make up for that, Iruka was sitting next to the sleeping teen, eyes lowered on his still form, composure relaxed, and completely ignoring the nurses.
The third and most important thing was how the nurses were pointedly ignoring Naruto. He didn't look unattended –Tsunade would never allow that– but Kakashi was sure that the only one taking care of the sleeping teen was Iruka.
The silver haired Jounin ignored Sasuke for the moment, as he was not the one he wanted to see at the moment.
Iruka heard the approaching Jounin and moved his tired eyes to look at the masked man.
"How is he?" Kakashi asked conversationally, uncovered eye filled with regret as he looked down at his sleeping student.
"Relatively fine, and after I scolded the nurses, they've taken on ignoring me," Iruka snorted, eyes taking on a dangerous glint. "I was the one to force them to bandage him up, and thankfully he's recovering pretty fast… this is one of the few times I am actually glad he is… who he is," the Chuunin chuckled bitterly. "He should be close to waking up, too".
"I see," Kakashi nodded, relieved. The Naruto on the bed really looked young. Too young. And yet, he was stronger than many older shinobi that Kakashi knew. Why had he ignored the blond only to favour Sasuke?
Supporting one student at the expenses of another… what had he been thinking? hiding his eagerness to train Sasuke as his pupil under the false pretence of helping him master the Sharingan…
Kakashi was ashamed of himself. He'd been one to despite favouritism, and yet he had been such a hypocrite…
He had refused to see the promise Naruto offered, and had only seen a mirror of his old sensei and Obito in him, backing away because it was too hurtful to think about them.
If both had been alive, they would have surely despised the way he had reacted. Blinded by what he could see in Sasuke, what he'd deluded himself to see, he had failed to take notice of the darkness hiding inside the teen's heart –what Sasuke had learned from him had been used for revenge, while what Naruto would learn…
… would serve him to protect.
"Naruto will be ok, you don't have to worry," Kakashi told Iruka in a low voice, both sharing a look when they noticed that Sasuke had managed to chase away all the nurses, and was now staring at Naruto with unreadable eyes.
Kakashi could say he'd grown to understand Sasuke, even though he hadn't been able to see for a long time, and he was sure that no matter how long they would question him, Sasuke would never reveal to anyone what had happened at the Valley of End.
But one thing was obvious –Sasuke was changing, and once again it was thanks to Naruto.
The silver haired jounin left, not bothering to speak anymore.
Tsunade's eyes were wide with shock, and Jiraiya was staring at the ANBU commander with the same stunned stare, both unable to speak; this was the last thing they were expecting from him, and were unable to react to that.
Hyoo bit his lip under the mask, knowing that this was just as bad as he had imagined, but he couldn't go back on his words –he wouldn't.
"Tsunade–sama… Jiraiya–sama," he started, staring at the two Sannin, deciding to include the white haired sennin in his speech due to his well–known fatherly love for the young teen. "I formally request the permission to test one Uzumaki Naruto as the new trainee for the ANBU troops".
"No!" Tsunade replied, without even thinking. "I won't allow him to take that path!"
To be realistic, Naruto couldn't have the skills to be ANBU. He didn't have the hardened soul needed to kill and not crumble under the knowledge. Whilst as a normal ninja he would be able to avoid killing (albeit barely), as an ANBU he would have to face it.
He was too young, inexperienced, had yet to understand what the true life of a shinobi was.
No, Naruto couldn't give his pledge to the ANBU. Not him.
Hyoo sighed, his shoulders dropping a bit at the prospect of facing the Hokage. He knew she was stubborn and he didn't like the fact that he was trying to fight against her.
"With all due respect, Hokage–sama, he has the qualities and the skills to become someone, if allowed to train with us," he countered, trying to reason with her. The boy had raw talent, talent that was being wasted.
But Hyoo's reason for insisting with the Hokage had actually not much to do with the opportunity to add a potentially strong shinobi into his ranks, and certainly had nothing to do with the Kyuubi residing inside Naruto's seal.
More than to any other Hokage, the ANBU had especially been loyal to the Yondaime, as he had been the only man able to make the troops trust him completely, and he had trusted them back just as strongly; the ANBU squads had been faithful weapons to the Fourth, serving him with love and devotion…
But they hadn't been just his weapons. They had been trusted and loved as his people, not as just tools.
They had been there during the Kyuubi's attack, they had seen Yondaime's crestfallen expression when realising he wouldn't be able to see his baby grow up, the pain and grief on his face when he was completing the hand seals, turning the little blond's life upside–down with a single jutsu technique.
They were there to watch the demon's attempt to strike down the baby, only to be stopped by Yondaime and his wife. They were there to see the demon being sucked within the little boy's seal.
They had seen Yondaime hug the crying blond baby to his chest, crying just as much (not for himself, but for his little orphaned baby, for his destiny, his duty, his future) as he exhaled his last breath, a bitter smile on his lips and blue eyes focused on the small creature he had sacrificed to a life of hatred without really wanting to.
The ANBU had been there to guard Naruto from afar as he grew up, protecting him as much as they could, that last legacy of one of the strongest ninja that had walked upon the Five Lands.
They had saved his life when others had tried to kill him, watching him become what he was now. They had been with him when he was younger and everyone else was showering him with brutal words he couldn't understand.
ANBU had seen all of this, and they had seen who Naruto was, underneath the underneath, and had accepted it all without judging. Without accusing. Without hatred.
He wasn't Kyuubi. He wasn't a demon.
The ANBU had been denied the possibility to be Naruto's guardians by Sandaime himself, because he'd wanted Naruto to grow away from the shinobi world at least for the first few years of his life.
He had wanted to protect the kid and keep him free from the knowledge of what he hosted within him, but unfortunately, that same decision had caused Naruto so much pain, suffering the wrath of the civilians instead.
To Hyoo's eyes, that was even worse.
If the Sandaime had allowed one of them to gain custody of Naruto since the very start, nothing of this would ever have happened, but they had been unable to do anything but watch from afar, protecting him.
Now, things were different. Naruto was the right age. He could enter the ANBU by his own choice, and be treated as he deserved. He could be taught and helped by them.
Hyoo wanted Tsunade to understand –he knew she cared for the young blond. She had to realise it… she had to.
"Tsunade–sama…" he looked at her in the eyes, "we will take care of Yondaime's legacy".
His words made both the older ninja stiffen. Words that had never been spoken aloud ever since the Fourth's death were now lingering in the air, raw and heavy.
It was a low blow, but one Hyoo had not hesitated in using.
The Hokage's hands were trembling as she poured herself a cup of sake, gulping it down with her eyes covered by blond bangs, without speaking. She wouldn't give the man the chance to see how deeply his words had hit her.
"Naruto has to leave the village," Jiraiya interrupted harshly. His decision was being challenged, and he didn't want to allow someone else to take care of Naruto. It was his duty and even though he acted like the blond teen bothered him most of the time, it was actually the opposite. "I will be taking him with me for three years".
Hyoo turned towards him, his mask hiding his face but not the tenseness of his shoulders from the two Sannin.
"If he stays, he will break down. He needs to be taken away," Jiraiya continued, his voice serious and low. "ANBU is not his path –he will stay under my tutelage".
Hyoo shook his head.
This would be a waste; Jiraiya–sama was going to take Naruto away from his problems, but that would just slow him down, and once he came back, everything would go back to how it was before.
"We will allow him to erase his identity, making him train securely in our hideout, within the village's grounds. The boy will need to face his pain and confront it, not run away –this would only postpone his descent," Hyoo's voice was firm and cold. He knew that his words could be taken as insult but he wasn't going to step back. "We will offer him a purpose. He will grow under the ANBU's training".
Tsunade shook her head as well; she didn't want to have such decision on her shoulder, and after all, it was Naruto the one who had to decide.
These words echoed through both hers and Jiraiya's mind, bitter and familiar, and in a way, accusing as well, though Hyoo had not meant them to be so. They had not allowed themselves to admit it, not even deep down…
Would it be so much like running away if Naruto were to leave the village to train? Did Hyoodoku have a point with his accusation?
Jiraiya dispelled such thoughts. Naruto as an ANBU… he couldn't see it. Despite his determination, he would never pass the exam, and what if he did?
Would he even accept to try out?
"Naruto has the rights to decide," Tsunade muttered, not looking up from her hands. "But he has to know there is another option, as well".
The white haired Sannin stared worriedly at her; he knew they both agreed in keeping Naruto away from the ANBU, because Naruto was too young, too inexperienced and clueless about the life of a ninja to try this out.
He was not ready, and probably would never be. It was just nonsense.
'He will be a great shinobi, that is for sure –he will be Hokage one day, but… ANBU? No, never'.
Naruto could not follow their rules…
And even knowing that, Jiraiya knew he had to consider Naruto as an adult, in ninja standards. No matter his current age, he was a shinobi of Konoha. He would need to know all the options offered to him, and whatever decision he took, it would be his own.
Jiraiya would have to agree and go along with it, because he cared for Naruto. Not because he was his old student's legacy, but simply because Naruto was Naruto.
Hyoo noticed Jiraiya's shoulders drop ever so slightly and nodded to himself, knowing he had won; now he only needed to take care of the rest, to make sure everything would go the right way.
With a quick bow to the two older shinobi, the Panther disappeared without a trace from the Hokage's office, once again without cloud to hide his departure.
When Iruka finally left the hospital, it was already dawn.
Naruto had yet to wake up, but the Chuunin had all intentions to stay with him until he regained consciousness, to prevent the nurses from ignoring him.
Hurrying down the streets, the brown haired teacher wondered if he had enough food left at home for a soup before dropping to bed.
He needed to rest because the following morning he would have his class move to the Academy Training Grounds for a shuriken–throwing practice lesson, and he had yet to stop having nightmares of his previous weaponry lessons.
He wanted to be in perfect condition, and be prepared for the worst.
Young boys thinking they were the best shinobi ever could be really scary, especially if they were allowed to handle shiny and pointy things, and most of them had of course a bad aim, no practice and the huge egos only children could have. It took him all his experience to prevent them from hurting themselves (and him).
If he didn't love teaching, he'd wonder why he had opted for such job in the first place, though at first his decision had nothing to do with–
"Iruka–sensei!" he turned around, blinking in surprise when he saw who was approaching him –his former student Haruno Sakura, Naruto's teammate, was running towards him, waving her hand.
To a close inspection she looked tired and worried, with red lines on her cheeks, as if she had been crying until moments before. It wasn't easily noticeable, but Iruka had a good sight and even better observation skills.
"Sakura, what are you doing here at this time? Shouldn't you be back home by now?" Iruka chided her, in his usual custom mother–hen attitude that only popped up with his students.
"Sorry, I went to see Ino and lost track of the time," she apologized, smiling sheepishly at him. Sakura then cleared her throat, looking down at the ground and then back up at her former teacher. "Say, Iruka–sensei… did you visit Naruto and Sasuke–kun?"
The brown haired Chuunin nodded, smiling warmly at her. "They can receive visits, so you can go tomorrow, alright?"
Sakura nodded eagerly.
"I want to thank Naruto, because he kept his promise and took Sasuke–kun back home," her face went red for a second, before she turned to stare at the ground, looking sad and uncertain. There was a flash of regret in her eyes and the man saw it. "I was always so mean to him but he just… went along with my demands without even protesting! He did everything he could!"
"Naruto really cares for you, Sakura," he said, placing one hand on her shoulder for support. "I am sure you will find the right words for both of them tomorrow, especially if you think carefully about what you really want… but for now… go home miss, I can still scold you for being late to dinner!"
A smile appeared on Sakura's face as she nodded eagerly. "All right Iruka–sensei! Goodnight!"
Sakura waved at him and disappeared behind a corner, as Iruka watched her go with a small smile on his face.
The teacher stood in the middle of the street for a moment, breathing the cool air and watching the shadows formed by the light of the lamp curl around his feet, until a longer, darker silhouette appeared next to his.
Only then did he look up, facing a dark figure that was standing next to him in silence, almost waiting for him to speak. Iruka's face turned unnaturally blank.
"What brings you here? Is everything ok?" he asked, turning away from the other man and apparently not at all bothered by the sudden appearance of the figure at his side.
"Yes, I think everything is going rather well," the other replied, shrugging.
"Are you sure it's a good idea in the first place?" Iruka's voice was filled with worry and uncertainty, but the other man leaned towards him to pat reassuringly the Chuunin's back.
"I know you care for him, so you can see that it is the perfect solution –after all, you never complained about yourself, and you're coming back, too".
Iruka let out a quiet amused laugh, smiling as he stared up at the star filled sky. His shoulders relaxed and he found himself nodding in consent without even realising it.
"That's true, I guess. I don't mind coming back, after all, apart some gruesome parts, it was almost fun".
"Almost?" the figure chuckled under his breath.
"Hm" Iruka grimaced. "No need to remember that". Waving one hand in front of his face to chase away a very embarrassing memory, Iruka pouted.
The figure chuckled some more and waved at him. "Remember, we need to fix everything that is left over by tomorrow night, so be sure to report".
Iruka waved his hand dismissively and nodded, but the figure was already gone. Still with a ghostly smile on his face, Iruka turned around and walked back home.
StarsOfYaoi: I thank all of you for reading the first chapter. I ask you to drop me a review if you liked it, so I will know whether to continue with this plot or not.
Comments are appreciated!
Glossary: (have patience if you know most of those, some might still do not)
Hyoodoku – Poison Panther. (Hyoo – Panther; Doku – Poison) written completely in katakana despite doku being a kanji.
–sama, –san – suffixes of respect. For further explanation on how those work, please research google or wikipedia.
Hokage – Shadow of Fire (Hi – fire; Kage – shadow). Leader of Konoha, the strongest ninja of the village.
Konohagakure (no sato) or Konoha – village hidden in the leaves. There is more than one village, each one situated in one of the countries of Narutoverse.
ANBU ('Ansatsu Senjutsu Tokushu Butai' – 'Special Assassination and Tactical Squad') – elite ninja that every village has. They are commanded solely by the Kage of a hidden village and have various different assignments, such as hunting down missing–nin or protection of political figures.