Important: I can't reply to reviews for now, this site isn't allowing me to, but once the feature works again, I shall reply to the reviews for last chapter. I'm sorry for the inconvenience, every review is still very much appreciated and loved!
StarsOfYaoi: as promised in my profile, you have a new update of CV. Thank you for sticking with me! Sorry if this chapter seems bland, but stuff will be happening soon enough, as you will see.
Summary: (ItaNaru, GenmaRaidou, IruKakaIru) Naruto is tired of his life. But he would never run. He's given an option instead, and decides to take it, becoming a member of the newest ANBU team…
Warnings: yaoi, boy x boy relationship, angst, torture, and such. Mental as well. Flames will be used to warm up food.
Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto. If I did, it would be yaoi, and thus, would not have so many fans. Nor fanfiction. So, are you glad I don't own it?
–Flashbacks, memories, dreams–
Chapter 17: Admitting
Standing outside of the rooms occupied by the ANBU teams from Konoha, Gaara stared at the door as if by glaring, he would be able to see through it.
Ever since the arrival of the Hokage with her guards, Gaara had felt a prickling in the back of his neck alerting him that there was something he should know about the visitors. That was why he had been present during the long, boring speech between the Elders of Sunagakure and the embassy from Konoha.
Gaara was a patient person –he had to be one, as he could not sleep and he had to occupy his time at night doing something– but even his patience had its limits, and listening to the prattling of old, grouchy men who had opposed him for a good part of his life wasn't really the way he liked to spend a portion of his day.
He could have been excused from the meeting, since the elders still were not completely certain of his loyalty, but he had wanted to be present anyway.
It had paid off.
He had noticed the shorter ANBU with a blank mask almost as soon as the visiting shinobi had arrived, but he hadn't paid any attention to him, more focused on searching the cause for his weird feeling… until he had felt his sand shifting inside the gourd he was wearing.
While the demon Shukaku had stopped murmuring to him ever since his defeat at the hands of the Konoha Genin, he still had heightened senses thanks to his connection with the Tanuki, and that aided him during reconnaissance missions, because he could detect chakra flares by the vibrations on the sand and effectively pinpoint their position.
Which was why, the moment the sand in his gourd reacted to a strong chakra that Gaara himself could not feel, he had started analyzing all the ANBU following the Godaime Hokage in order to understand which one of them was unsettling his sand.
It didn't take long to pinpoint the source, and then, it took even less to understand who that person was.
Gaara supposed that it somehow made sense –his sand recognised the chakra of the demon Kyuubi and reacted to it, both aggressively and instinctively.
It called to him, almost as if asking for another fight, but at the same time retreating from it, afraid and uneasy.
On his own, Gaara was amused and intrigued by seeing Uzumaki Naruto as part of Konoha's ANBU, but not entirely surprised; the other teen had enough strength to take on Gaara's demon and defeat him, and not just the demon, but also Gaara himself… it was somehow fitting that he would join the guards of the Hokage.
Uzumaki Naruto had been the only one to look at Gaara in the face, and despite seeing the truth behind his eyes, had still wanted to get close.
He hadn't rejected him, hadn't pushed him away…
There were very few that Gaara respected, and grudgingly, Uzumaki Naruto had been added to that group.
That was why he had stared at him during the whole meeting, carefully analyzing the layers of chakra protections the other teen had surrounding him, checking his chakra signature for confirmation.
That was also why he had followed the ANBU to their appointed rooms in order to meet with the only other Jinchuuriki he knew about… not to fight, like the demon demanded, making his blood boil inside him –but simply to talk.
The door clicked open after only a few minutes, and Naruto slipped outside, still dressed in the same ANBU attire and with his mask on, but the moment he noticed Gaara standing there, motionless and silent, he stopped and hesitated.
Naruto didn't really know what to tell Gaara now that they were standing face to face –he was aware that the other Jinchuuriki knew who he was, of course, and he'd wanted to see him ever since hearing about the Chuunin exams in Suna… but now…
Standing there embarrassedly, Naruto didn't know what to say.
"Uh…" scratching the back of his head, Naruto stared into Gaara's eyes. "Hel–"
"Is there a name I can use?" Gaara asked, and Naruto was positively thrilled to hear a faint amusement in his voice.
The question though confused him for a moment, until Naruto reminded himself that he wasn't supposed to have people call him Naruto since he had to keep his identity hidden.
"Uh… no, not yet…" even more embarrassed, Naruto looked away from the other teen. "I haven't had time to figure that one out…"
His embarrassment vanished when he noticed an almost invisible upturn of Gaara's lips at his words, so he beamed at him, suddenly relieved. He had been afraid that Gaara wouldn't even want to talk to him after everything the two had been through, but now the Sand shinobi had actually sought him out first.
That made Naruto feel more positive about the friendship he wanted to start with him.
He didn't have time to ponder over this too much, because Gaara swiftly turned around and started walking away.
"I won't be talking in a corridor," Gaara murmured as a reply, expecting Naruto to follow him.
With a soft chuckle, Naruto nodded and followed the Sand–nin down the corridor, directed to the room that he had claimed inside the building.
From the few windows Naruto passed as the two walked through the Kazekage construction, he had a good view of the village and its weird–looking houses that disappeared in the distance. The sight was, in a way, rather entrancing, but nothing like Konoha, of course.
Smiling slightly, Naruto continued following Gaara until the other teen stopped in front of a rather normal door, pushing it open for Naruto to enter first; once again, Gaara was surprised at the level of trust (or was it imprudence?) the blond teen was displaying, but at the same time, it served to remind him that Naruto was simply different.
Once the door was shut behind their backs, Naruto started checking his surroundings, a smile stretching his lips as he looked around. "So, so, Gaara, is this your room?" apparently, maintaining a stiff attitude was only something he could keep up for a short period of time…
The thought made Gaara's lips twitch again, much to his own surprise.
"Yes, it is, Uzumaki Naruto," he replied, setting down the gourd in a corner and following Naruto as he bounced around with no care in the world.
"I like it, though you need more posters or something," he commented, frowning at the sight of the double–sized bed. "Eh, you're so lucky, it's a double bed…"
"It is there purely for appearances," Gaara replied, sitting down on a chair and waiting for Naruto to follow his lead.
It didn't happen, as Naruto's attention was still focused on exploring the room –not that there was much in there.
Apparently, the thing that Naruto found the most entertaining was the balcony, and the small plant in a corner of it; Naruto hadn't thought Gaara to be a plant–lover, and that was just another thing they had in common.
Finally noticing Gaara was sitting and waiting for him inside, Naruto flushed and scuttled over to the bed, sitting down on it without a care in the world. "What do you mean, appearances?" he asked, steering the conversation back on the subject.
"I do not sleep, Uzumaki Naruto," Gaara replied with a shrug. "I host the Ichibi no Shukaku, after all".
Naruto blinked. That particular piece of information hadn't been taken for its face value before, but now he understood its actual meaning and froze. "You don't sleep? Why?"
"The seal is imperfect," was his reply. This wasn't quite what he wanted to discuss with the Konoha–nin, but Gaara had long since decided he would answer truthfully to any question the blond teen would ask him. "It cannot be fixed without allowing the Tanuki out".
Naruto bit his lower lip and filed that information away. Maybe he'd have to ask Itachi about it, and if there was something he could do to help his friend. Itachi would surely know what to do, Naruto mused –the man was not only a genius, but he had been part of Akatsuki for a long time, and he had probably studied the demons for a long time…
If asking Itachi didn't solve things, he'd have to resolve by asking Jiraiya about it –wasn't the stupid pervert a master in sealing or something?
So, Naruto asked the next pressing question. "Why do you call me Uzumaki Naruto?" he wrinkled his nose.
"Isn't it your name?"
"… yes, but… we're friends, so you should call me just Naruto!" he grimaced, "calling me by my full name is so weird…"
Gaara's reaction was a slight widening of his eyes and a sudden rustling from the gourd on the other side of the room, both of which made Naruto realise that Gaara wasn't quite expecting that comment.
"… Naruto," he murmured, hesitant.
The blond let out a pleased hum, and smiled encouragingly at the other teen. Gaara felt his lips twitch upwards again, and suddenly found himself wondering just how much things had changed since meeting this weird teen.
The thought somehow satisfied him.
"Naruto," Gaara stated again, then he repeated his name again, with a tone progressively growing more reassured.
With a chuckle, Naruto wondered why he had been so worried about talking with Gaara again; things were going definitely well, no matter how tense Gaara still looked. It was great, actually.
"So, Gaara!" attracting his attention again, Naruto grinned, even though the other shinobi couldn't see it. "How did you know it was me? After everything I've done to keep my identity hidden, even from Sakura–chan…"
The Sand shinobi was slightly amused by the whine he could hear in Naruto's happy tone.
"My sand," he replied. When Naruto tilted his head, clearly not understanding, Gaara sighed –it looked like he'd have to explain with a few more words than he was used to. "The sand in my gourd is coated with my chakra, so I can control it".
Naruto nodded –this much he remembered from the Chuunin exams.
The silence stretched on.
"… so…?" he prodded, leaning forwards on the bed to stare at Gaara expectantly.
Gaara almost rolled his eyes –almost. "The chakra used to coat that particular sand is a mix of Shukaku and my own. I can use it to feel shinobi hiding within the desert, and it started reacting to your signature, even if it was suppressed".
Naruto's eyes lit up –it was quite useful. He wished he could do that too!
Too bad Konoha didn't have sand and he didn't know how to use it either. Oh, well.
"You are an ANBU of Konoha," Gaara surprised himself by asking.
Naruto's attention focused on him again, and with another quirk of his lips, Gaara shook his head.
"You won't participate to this year's exams, right?"
"Ah, no," by the tone alone, Gaara assumed Naruto was pouting. "I am supposed to be training with pervert… I mean, with Jiraiya the Sannin, so… you won't tell anyone right?"
The sand nin nodded, surprised by the assured tone of the other teen.
"We will fight another time, I promise," Naruto commented.
He really wanted to test himself against Gaara once again. He'd have to wait until his official return to Konoha for that, though…
Gaara nodded, feeling the sand quieten down at the promise, and cracked his knuckles. He didn't seem to find anything else to say, though, no matter the many thoughts swirling through his mind, so he settled with falling silent.
The silence, though, was not something Naruto enjoyed. He knew he didn't have much time to fool around before he had to return to the rest of the ANBU, but he didn't want to waste that time without talking…
Besides, there was something terribly important he needed to ask Gaara anyway– "say, say, is there a ramen shop in Suna? Can you show me where it is?"
Gaara this time could not stop his lips from curving upwards. Naruto really was different.
The man was staring down at the desolate land below without care, face covered with a strange, swirly mask that only left uncovered a single eye.
The last person who had seen the face behind that mask had long since died away, but that only visible eye was as sharp as ever, and was lazily following a stray dust cloud float somewhere in the distance before disappearing as the wind dropped.
For a moment, he did not speak nor turn around, then he shook himself out of his reverie and finally flickered his eyes to the second figure at his side.
"Where is he?" he asked, tone low and controlled.
"We haven't been able to find any trace of him yet," the other person replied, voice equally low, a tinge of worry staining it. "The other members are still looking for him, but… it looks like he's gone for good".
The man's fists tightened even more in a show of anger that wasn't reflected on his face.
Itachi had escaped his radar and was now somewhere far from the group. The meddlesome Uchiha was gone, and that was the worst insult ever.
"Konoha?" he asked abruptly, turning around to stare at the other figure.
The other shinobi didn't seem troubled by the display of anger, but his muscles tensed up as he carefully advanced towards the enraged man, feeling his killer intent roll off his frame like waves.
"Kisame said there is no sign that Itachi has been spotted there," he replied evenly. "I have no reason to doubt his words… besides, why would he want to return there? They all consider him a traitor".
The first man shifted the mask he was wearing on his face for a second, fingers tightening around its edges almost as if annoyed by the feeling. The only visible eye, dark and haunting, glinted strangely from the hole in the mask.
Konoha. That damned village –Itachi still cared enough for that place to want to return there, but there would be no one, nowadays, who would accept him back. Still, for the same reason, Itachi would want to keep away, so that Akatsuki's attention would not focus on that place…
"Report to me if anything is found," he grunted to the other man, who nodded slightly. "I will join the search party myself".
Then, without warning, the masked man disappeared from sight, leaving the other shinobi alone on top of the mountain.
Slowly, relaxing his shoulders, the man moved out from the shadows and reached the edge of the mountain, looking down while the sun lit up his orange hair.
There was no trace of the man that had been standing there anywhere.
A light frown marrying his otherwise blank face, he barely acknowledged a flare of chakra coming from behind him.
"Is everything ok?"
There was a soft sound of rustling paper in the air. The man who was the Leader of Akatsuki did not turn to look as fluttering fragments of paper swirled around, mixing together to reveal the shape of a beautiful woman with mid–length lavender hair.
She stepped forwards, coming to stand at the orange haired man's side, and waited for an answer to come.
"He's getting angry," he murmured, refusing to look at her. "But he is not the only one".
She sighed, briefly closing her eyes at that.
"One of our members abandoned the organization, Konan," the orange haired man stated, eyes unfocused. "With no explanation, no warning. And now he's gone and there is no trace of him anywhere".
Konan shifted slightly, grey eyes flickering to look at the taller man before politely settling on watching the scenery, even though her attention was elsewhere.
She hadn't expected one of the members of the organization to disappear like that –she hadn't anticipated it, and the thought made her feel useless.
"We will find him again," she stated clearly, a flash of determination in her eyes. "There is still time before the next extraction… when we find him…"
"He left," the Leader continued, interrupting Konan. "There will be consequences for this".
"Itachi–kun was needed, but he is not irreplaceable, Nagato," there was a different sort of strength in her voice, almost an underline of worry. "We can do it without him".
Leader was still not looking at her as he replied. "He left," he repeated. His eyes hardened. "He betrayed me, abandoning his position knowing what the repercussions would be. When we find him, he will be subjected to justice's judgement".
Konan licked her lips and turned to look at him, about to speak up… then shook her head and stopped. There was no point in talking about that anymore. She knew Nagato, she was the only one who could claim to know him better than anybody else, and once he decided something, only a miracle would make him change idea.
Unfortunately for the young Uchiha, the fact that Nagato was bent on finding him to impart his judgement upon him was not the worst that could happen to the Konoha–nin; that person was hunting him down as well, and Konan knew that the merciless death Nagato would give Itachi was nothing compared to the pain that man would inflict him.
Although the Akatsuki kunoichi didn't really care about Itachi, she also knew that whatever punishment Itachi would undergo through by the hands of that person would be enough to send any sane person into their personal hell.
Nobody deserved that.
"In the meanwhile, let's continue with our missions," the leader of Akatsuki cracked his neck and moved from his position, heading back to the entrance of their hideout. "We can't allow this setback to hold us back… the problem will be dealt with in time. Konan".
She straightened her back and nodded at his words, hurrying up to follow him back inside without looking back.
"So… this is boring".
Raidou glanced up at his younger teammate with a smile, but didn't reply, returning his eyes to the desolate, never ending land of sand in front of him.
A part of him –a small, mostly unnoticed part of him– agreed with Naruto's words, but of course he couldn't just say that out loud now, could he.
"Incredibly so, yes".
Or maybe he could.
Two Sand ANBU twitched at their side, and Naruto let out a soft snort, not really believing that Raidou, usually calm and silent and taking on every mission without speaking up, had actually dared to agree on something like that.
"It's just… I guess the sand gets to you after three hours of looking on," Naruto continued conversationally, cracking his knuckles and shifting around. "Why did It… Death Wings," he rectified quickly, noticing his slip up, "assign us to guard–shift at the wall?"
Raidou chuckled good naturedly and waved his hand a bit.
"Taichou said it's a good training for you," he replied, getting a small disbelieving snort from the teenager. "Don't you believe me?"
Naruto opened his mouth to speak, then closed it again, not knowing what to say.
First day after coming to Suna, and Itachi had sent him and Raidou to the outer walls with a few of the local ANBU in order to do a shift as guards, and Naruto was quite unhappy about the whole situation –he hadn't been able to see Gaara in the morning, but there again, it was better not to be seen by other shinobi in company of a ninja from another village, not this close to the Chuunin exams.
Iruka had been helpful about that, advising him to keep contact with Gaara to the minimum, unless he wanted to give the false impression that an ANBU of Konoha was trying to corrupt a shinobi of Suna, or the other way around.
Naruto had been rather put off at that, but had relented and nodded.
Still, after the first hour of watching into nothingness, feeling the hot sun above his head –even though the ANBU division of Suna had given them a rough cloak to aid with the heat and the sun– Naruto was ready to run back to the Kazekage building and demand an explanation.
Of course, Raidou was right, there was probably some sort of reason for that, but…
"Trainee–san," one of the Sand ANBU spoke up, making Naruto turn his head to look at him. "You're standing in the sun".
With a small curse, Naruto shifted back into his position, carefully keeping his body within the limits of the small alcove in the rock of the wall. "Um… thank you," he replied.
The other man nodded, and Naruto observed his mask for a moment, not recognising what was drawn on it. "How can you stand this heat?" he asked, attracting the man's attention again.
He wasn't one to stay silent too long, after all, and he disliked being still as well. He was more of an action kind of person, everybody knew it.
"We have lived in Suna all our lives, Trainee–san," Naruto winced again at the appellative, promising himself he would try to find a name for himself soon enough. "We know how to work with this climate better than a Fire shinobi can".
Raidou clicked his tongue, though mostly to get Naruto's attention on him again rather than to refute the other ANBU's words. "Trainee," he spoke up, smirking at the way Naruto cringed, "Patience," he stressed.
Naruto blinked, not sure what Raidou was telling him, then it clicked –instantly, he pouted and crossed his arms on his chest, muttering under his breath as he forced himself to look onwards to the sea of sand.
Patience was actually something he'd never had, but this wasn't the way he would have liked to learn about it.
Watching the walls was boring. And mostly useless –how could people approach Suna without being seen from a while ahead? At least the woods surrounding Konoha could keep people hidden from sight…
Cursing the heat and his mask, Naruto fidgeted again, grunting when a droplet of sweat rolled down his chin and he could not wipe it away. It tickled.
"Trainee…" Raidou inched closer, motioning for Naruto to look at him. "While you have to be alert, you don't have to just stay still. You can still find other ways to entertain yourself as long as your attention keeps focusing on your surroundings".
Naruto scratched the back of his head, fidgeting, then nodded even though he didn't quite understand what his teammate meant.
He couldn't form Kage Bunshin to let them take his place, he couldn't practice anything without moving, that was the whole point of being a sentinel, so what?
Raidou rolled his eyes, feeling the distress roll off his younger teammate's body in waves. Naruto was, in the end, still young.
The two Sand shinobi glanced at each other with a shrug; they had been rather hesitant when their leader had ordered them to take two Konoha ANBU with them for the wall scouting, but they had obeyed, and now they found themselves amused at the little one's lack of patience.
He surely was a strong one if he was in the ANBU despite being so loud… but he was rather funny to stare at, and for a guard–shift, that was more than enough.
With a smile, Raidou flared a bit of his chakra and stretched his arm towards Naruto, touching him on the shoulder; Naruto jumped slightly and turned again to the taller man, shocked when he felt a cooling sensation spread from where Raidou was touching him.
"As I said, Naruto, you can still practice while you stand on guard".
That said, Raidou pointedly ignored the younger teen and concentrated his thoughts elsewhere.
Not surprisingly, he found himself thinking about Genma; even during a mission Raidou still worried about his best friend, and how he was fairing.
At least it was better when it was Raidou the one on a mission –thinking about Genma getting hurt wasn't really something Raidou liked to do.
He wondered if the senbon user was having fun at home, forced through the last few days as a free man before his shift with the younger Uchiha started, and a smirk twitched Raidou's lips upwards.
Anko was probably harassing him already, he knew it. He could picture it in his mind, and he couldn't wait to get back home after the Chuunin exams in order to listen to Genma's ranting.
Even though he often complained about Genma being so attached to him, Raidou had to admit that he didn't mind the other man's clinginess.
It was refreshing, in a way –Raidou was used to not being noticed. He prided himself in being good at his job, and that meant keeping a low profile… but Genma always sought his company, always acted like his full attention was on Raidou, and that was, in a way, pleasant.
Genma would never realise it, but he was a very important person for Raidou. When he was not around, Raidou worried for him, and he even got as far as to admit that he missed the other man.
The thought made the silent ANBU snicker with himself.
Much to his own amusement, Raidou focused on the level of his chakra, afraid he'd allowed himself to get a sunstroke or something, but of course it was nothing of that sort.
The levels of his chakra were normal, and the chakra layer he had placed on a few strategic parts of his body was still keeping the heat at bay.
'So, I really miss having Genma around,' he thought, amused.
As much as he would have liked to say the development had been unexpected, Raidou knew better. Genma was… something else. Really.
He had a way to grant to his nerves that nobody could hope to rival, but at the same time, his dry humour was actually amusing…
Shaking his head, Raidou wondered if Genma even knew how much he meant to him.
He couldn't think about it any more, as a huge chakra flare coming from Naruto alerted him that the teen was still trying to find how to copy Raidou's cooling layer of chakra.
Shaking his head, Raidou patted his teammate's head with a hidden smile and looked on, thoughts forgotten.
"Trainee," he called out.
Naruto looked up sharply, and Raidou was sure that underneath that white mask, the teen was pouting. "How do you do it?"
Raidou almost chuckled. "You have to spread your chakra on determinate spots, not your whole body," he reprimanded, looking at Naruto's chakra, so thick around his body that it was even visible to his normal eyes.
The two Suna ANBU looked rather startled by the amount of chakra he'd used, too.
"Wrists, ears, base of neck and your lower back," Raidou explained, concentrating on the chakra he'd placed on the same exact spots so Naruto could pick it up. "Then you have to concentrate on them and perform a simple three–seals jutsu to cool it down".
"Wha… I didn't see you performing the seals, though!" Naruto whined, stepping again into the sun and hissing at the shift in heat on his clothed body.
"That is something that our commander will teach you when he sees fit," Raidou commented, feeling somewhat satisfied by Naruto's affronted yelp. "Now, you have to use the Rat, Hare and Horse".
Naruto took a moment to think about the seals. Hare and Rat, he could understand, but why Horse?
Basic handseals knowledge was taught at the academy since the first year, of course, but Naruto had started to learn it on his own when his teachers had stopped explaining the basics to him.
He'd always liked the idea that with a bit of practice, he could create his own jutsu –his goal was to create a kick–ass technique that would show everybody how great he was– but theory was always harder than practice.
Seals were complex –each of them belonged to a fixed element, and making a wrong seal could compromise not just the jutsu itself, but it could potentially blow up something.
At the academy, students were only explained how to make the seals perfectly, and how to combine them quickly to make a jutsu –the average speed was two to three seals per second– but not the mechanics of jutsu–making and what difference a certain handseal would make if swapped with another.
They didn't explain that each seal belonged to a certain element, nor how they worked better with one another in a chain.
Of the three seals Raidou had asked him to make, one belonged to the fixed element of Water –he had expected it– and the second belonged to Wind –he could understand that– but the third, Horse, was Fire.
"Why Horse?" he asked, surprising Raidou. "Isn't Horse a Fire seal? Why use it in combination for a technique that is supposed to cool you up? Why using it last?"
Filing up the information that Naruto knew more about the mechanics of seals than he should –with a sparkle of satisfaction– Raidou smirked. "Horse tames the other two seals and reigns control of the jutsu, allowing a greater control and stability".
Naruto hummed under his breath; yes, it made sense, even if Horse was a Fire seal, it could steer the viciousness out of the other two seals and concentrate the chakra where it was needed… nodding to himself as he performed the three seals, focusing on his chakra.
"What now?" he asked, feeling his chakra concentrate on his fingers.
"Aren't you going to ask me more about Horse?"
Naruto wondered if he'd done it right. "Uh, no. I get it". After all, didn't everybody study that stuff?
Without saying anything more, Raidou decided to let the matter drop for the present moment, and continued his explanation. "Bring forth the chakra in the spots I mentioned before, and make sure the chakra coats the zone".
As Naruto's chakra control had gotten way better after all the tortu… training Anko had forced upon him, he didn't find it difficult to obey.
The chakra coated his body thick like goo, and Naruto concentrated on the feeling, a bit uneasy.
"Now, activate the jutsu," Raidou ordered.
Naruto lifted one hand in his usual half–ram, and instantly felt a cool sensation, not unlike mildly fresh water, lower his temperature on the zones he'd touched. The relief was instantaneous.
Raidou nodded; having monitored Naruto through each process to see how good he was now, he had to admit he was impressed –he had gotten the jutsu right on the first attempt. "Well done, Trainee".
Although he was wearing a mask, Raidou could just see the beaming smile on his face. "Now, back to looking at nothing," he added, feeling the crestfallen expression taking the smile's place even if he couldn't see it.
"… yes, sir…"
"Wait, so I'm assigned to the first stage of the exams? Cool!"
Itachi shook his head, faintly amused at Naruto's carefree attitude.
He'd just explained his team where they would be during the Chuunin exams, and the only one actually satisfied about it was, predictably, Naruto.
Iruka had been added to the patrolling ANBU, which meant he would be guarding the battling grounds during the practical part of the exam; Raidou had been asked to keep guarding the Hokage together with Hyoo and his team, and Itachi had been assigned to follow the various shinobi during the second part of the exams –the one that in Konoha had been survival experience.
So, Naruto had been assigned to the writing part. Strangely enough, he had seemed rather content about it.
"Well, when I took my exam, I didn't know anything about it. Kakashi–sensei hadn't prepared us or anything… besides, I've never been a studious person, hehe," scratching the back of his head, Naruto looked at his paper mission to hide his embarrassment.
"But Raidou told me that you've been studying handseals," Iruka grunted, poking him in the ribs.
Naruto squealed and shifted away, glancing apologetically at his former academy teacher.
"Ne, Iruka–sensei, that was interesting, not like all your less–" he had to stop, because Iruka had unleashed a wave of killer intent strong enough to send shivers even down Itachi's back. "Uwaa, I'm kidding, I'm kidding!" he lifted his arms, showing Iruka that he meant no harm.
Iruka simply glared at him, not liking how his skills as a teacher were being put on the line.
"Still, I figured that families would teach their kids about stuff and I had to do it on my own, and handseals were much more interesting than history lessons and boring theories about chakra coils," Naruto admitted easily, not noticing how the three older shinobi froze at the word 'families'. "I always had a hard time concentrating… it worked better when I had to do things instead of reading them up. Unless it's a jutsu scroll," he amended after a moment.
"Naruto, the theory of handseals isn't a subject widely spread unless you're studying as a Seal Master or as a specialization," Iruka replied, concerned. "And it's a boring subject for most people…"
"I found it interesting, though," the blond teen replied, shrugging. "I pictured the handseals as animals. It's easier to associate them to what the seals have to do in a jutsu when you remember where they come from".
Raidou and Itachi exchanged a perplexed gaze –this was the same kid that had been labelled as 'slow' and 'stupid'? it surely didn't look like it.
"Naruto, you invented a technique, did you not?" Itachi's eyes narrowed a bit at Naruto's flush. "Did anybody ever ask you anything about it?"
His frown deepened when Naruto smiled widely, almost a cheeky smirk, and Iruka looked away instantly, a similar flush gracing his cheeks.
"Nope! It makes most shinobi faint right away or yell at me, or both…" Naruto looked pointedly at Iruka, who refused to take the bait.
"Can I ask you what you did to make the technique up, then?"
"Um… well…" feeling flustered that someone was finally taking notice of his prized Oiroke no Jutsu, even though it was Itachi, his commander, and the idea made Naruto sweat in embarrassment for some reason, the blond teen tapped his lips with a finger. "I modified the Henge, really, and it was easy, since I only use the Ram instead of Dog, Boar, Ram…" he trailed off, thinking about it.
"Wait, you only use one handseal for the Oiroke no Jutsu?" Iruka hadn't really paid attention to what Naruto did since it was hard to keep his bearings when he had his small, cute student suddenly turn into a beautiful, naked female teenager. He shivered. "How do you compress the chakra needed for the change with just one handseal?"
"Well, the henge turns you into someone else, right? So you need the Dog that channels the chakra, the Boar that steadies it around the body, and the Ram that steels it for the change…"
Unthinkingly, he offered a practical example and henged into Kakashi, smiling under the mask and lifting up a copy of the 'Icha Icha' book, flipping it open in a perfect imitation of his Jounin sensei.
Iruka's eye twitched at the sight, and Naruto eeped, quickly turning back to his normal appearance.
"But I turn into a female version of myself, so it's still me. I don't need Dog and Boar for the illusion, I just need the Ram to steel my chakra and make me change. And since it's not an illusion, the body I turn into is real and requires less chakra, so I can keep it up longer than a normal henge" he concluded, smiling happily at his explanation.
"Wait, wait," Raidou leaned forwards. "Not an illusion?"
Naruto smirked, and Iruka realised what was going to happen a split second before it actually did –the blond flashed his fingers into the Ram seal and with a loud explosion of smoke, he pulled his Oiroke no Jutsu in front of his ANBU team.
Much to Iruka's surprise, though, once the smoke cleared a bit, the female version of Naruto now staring a bit provocatively at them was not naked –Naruto had been decent for once and kept his ANBU outfit on, although they were slightly smaller on the female body, since he still looked a good six years older. And bustier, of course.
"See?" Naruto leaned forwards a bit, showing Raidou a glimpse of his… her… cleavage showing from the outlines of his clothes. "It took me a while for them to look this natural!"
Even his voice had shifted to a sultry, feminine tone. Iruka gulped. Raidou blinked, positively impressed.
Itachi, apparently completely unconcerned by the show, activated his Sharingan.
"Uh… Itachi…" Naruto found himself under an unnerving inspection, and Itachi's gaze was levelling him… her… up, intent and unblinking –for the first time since using his Oiroke, Naruto found himself embarrassed at having someone look at him like that.
"The chakra pathways have adapted," the captain commented, voice showing a slight hint of surprise. "Interesting…"
He had not expected that a henge with two missing handseals could be more realistic than a normal one.
A normal henge was simply a technique that changed the appearance of a person into that of another, or an animal, or an object. But the user did not change anything but that –it didn't turn them completely into another person.
A henge could be discovered with the use of Doujutsu such as Byakugan or Sharingan, though it couldn't be dispelled with a Kai, like a basic Genjutsu; the chakra pathways were still the same.
Using the Sharingan on a person henged as a kunai would show chakra flowing through the object, and the user would get caught.
But this was different –Naruto's chakra pathways were slightly different, what one could expect from a female ninja, not from a male (certain basic differences between males and females regarding chakra were taught to Chuunin level shinobi and above).
By all means and intents, Naruto was currently a girl.
The thought was rather unnerving, especially considering the fact that Naruto had only used one seal, and the chakra expended was minimal…
"Naruto, do you think you could use your Oiroke to change small details of yourself instead of simply changing into a female?" he asked, still with the Sharingan active.
Naruto flushed a bit and shrugged, reverting to his usual self with a relieved sigh. He had felt rather naked under Itachi's gaze, even though he had clothes on.
He pondered over what he'd been asked for a moment, then nodded and instead of using the Ram, he put his hands on the Boar seal.
With a burst of smoke, he changed his hair into a different colour.
"Like that?" he asked, ruffling his now deep red hair.
Raidou stiffened momentarily at the sight, suddenly reminded of someone else who had the same red hair, and promptly looked away.
Itachi moved closer, tugging at Naruto's hair and causing the teen to protest loudly, then retreated.
"Why did you use Boar instead of Ram?" he asked, Sharingan narrowed.
"Well, because the Boar traps the chakra in one place and is easy to manipulate," Naruto shrugged. "I didn't need to fix it on myself or change anything, really, just the colour, so…"
"Naruto, you enjoy creating new techniques, right?"
There was a weird tone in Itachi's voice that Naruto noticed, and it made him feel somehow wary. "Yes. It's entertaining. But I never truly had to invent something useful, it's just the Oiroke no Jutsu…"
"Once we are back in Konoha, you will need to read up on a few books. You have an unsuspected talent with that, but doing it without a deeper understanding of the handseals might prove dangerous," Itachi nodded to himself, deactivating his bloodline limit. "And this might prove to be a technique valuable for our infiltration teams… I will need to discuss the matter with Hyoo–sama".
Naruto blinked. In a roundabout way, Itachi had complemented him not just once, but twice in the same sentence.
For his perverted jutsu that had sent even the Hokage sprawled on the ground, bleeding freely from his nose…
Itachi was cool. Weird, but definitely so cool.
Shaking his head, Itachi decided to focus back on the subject at hand and keep his observations about Naruto for his next talk with the Commander. "I am sure you will do your best for this mission. Speak with the Suna–nin in charge of the first test of the Chuunin exam, and he will tell you what is expected of you. Is everything clear so far?"
"Yes, Taichou!" as one, Iruka, Naruto and Raidou straightened their backs.
"Well then, the exams will start in five days, and tomorrow the embassies from the other villages will start to arrive. Keep a low profile and report here if anything is amiss".
The three nodded, and quickly left their room, pushing the masks down on their faces as they did so.
Outside, Naruto was rather surprised to find Tsunade waiting with Sakura, Temari and Hyoo's team; Itachi bowed in front of their commander, and Raidou, Iruka and Naruto hurried to do the same while both kunoichi following the Hokage turned to look at them.
Naruto felt sweat roll down his back when he felt Sakura's eyes on him, but he knew she couldn't recognise him; still, her look made him feel uneasy.
"Hokage–sama, Hyoo–sama," Itachi stated, voice low, waiting for an order. "We are ready to take our places".
Hyoo nodded at the Hokage, quickly taking the ANBU team on a side in order to speak with them for a moment.
Sakura's eyes followed Naruto before she turned her attention to Temari again. "That one with the white mask is so small… I'd say he's my age if I wasn't certain it's not possible".
Sakura was almost certain the white masked ANBU had winced, but surely it was something his commander had said, not because of her words.
"Well, maybe it's just a deceptive appearance," Temari shrugged. She was not stupid, she'd noticed Gaara's attention focusing on that particular shinobi, but she didn't care. Her brother was a lot more stable now, she wouldn't start questioning his actions now that their relationship was finally mending itself. "We have a brat as a Jounin, after all… so, Sakura–san, ready to partake in the Chuunin exams?"
Sakura fidgeted slightly. "Well, I'm not participating this year, Tsunade–shishou prefers me to watch over and wait until next year".
Though Sakura was reassured at the fact that she wouldn't participate, she was also rather disappointed at the same time; she was starting to realise that being a ninja was something she wanted to do, and it helped greatly with her confidence.
She liked being a kunoichi, and for the first time, the idea of partaking in such a difficult exam didn't scare her away.
Unfortunately, with the fact that Naruto was out of Konoha with Jiraiya and Sasuke was still kept under strict control and had been forbidden from leaving the village and advancing in ranks, it was best she kept herself outside of the exams until they were both back.
Team7 would advance together when Naruto returned, and things would change.
On the side, under the amused gaze of Hyoo, Naruto was recounting his experiences at the wall.
"And it was boring, but at least I learned how to keep the heat at bay…" the blond teen had to keep his voice low, afraid that Sakura would realise it was him. "And I've been assigned to the written part of the exam, Hyoo nii… I mean, Hyoo–sama, and…"
Hyoo stopped him with a chuckle, and Naruto flushed under the mask, realising he'd allowed his excitement to show a bit too much. Clearing his throat, he fidgeted and shifted away from his commander, embarrassed.
"Trainee," Hyoo snorted at the soft flinch of the younger shinobi, "it's ok. This is your first trip outside of Konoha as an ANBU of the village. Relax. You will do well, I have faith in you".
Although the mask didn't show it, Naruto's eyes were shining with gratitude. He liked having someone as strong as Hyoo trust him in regards to his abilities, and he knew the older man would not lie about that, either.
It was good. His team trusted him, and Hyoo did too, and Naruto was determined in doing everything he could to show them they were right in doing so.
"Yes, Hyoo–sama," he stated, straightening his back proudly.
Hyoo and Tsunade exchanged an amused stare, then Itachi's team was off.
StarsOfYaoi: … did you know that the Oiroke no Jutsu uses only one seal, as opposite to the henge that uses three? Yes, that's where I got this whole explanation.
If you liked, review?
Glossary: (have patience if you know most of those, some might still do not)
Taichou – captain.