This is a Naruto-as-ANBU fic - but if you're expecting Naruto 'learning how to be human', 'regaining humanity' and other such things, then you can stop now. In this fic, Naruto is a proffesional with blood on his hands, but he's no emotionless killing machine. Nor does he angst over the people he had killed very much. He isn't some kind of invincible juggernaut either. And after three years in ANBU and some traumatising experiences beforehand, he isn't the happy-go-lucky loud midget. Time in ANBU hardened and changed him. And not for the better in some cases. Also this is not a fic for Kakashi fans. Just a warning.
Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto. Sad, I know.
"...Sword when required."
"We are not normal. We don't DO normal, either"
- Konoha ANBU Operations Team 4 (un)official motto
The small touch was enough to bring him back to the land of the living. He was a rather heavy sleeper, but with his mind and body in full combat mode, sleep - if you might call it that - was light. It was more akin to a quick, rejuvenating meditation than anything else.
He turned to the hand that shook him awake, meeting a black ANBU uniform and stylized cat mask.
Fingers moved quickly in ANBU battle-speak, the crisp and clear signing of a veteran, barely recognizable from the small twitches.
He nodded, throwing a quick look behind at the smaller figure in a blank white mask.
Cat mask only made a decisive cut with her hand.
He turned to the blank-masked one, who was making the exaggerated battle gestures taught to most chuunin, instead of quick ANBU-speak.
The girl tensed, reading the message, and shook her head furiously.
He repeated the message, this time ending it with a clear cut form, almost insulting in its exaggerated manner.
The girl settled down, still tense.
He almost sighed.
It was picture perfect rookie behavior, complete with a put-out pose that almost screamed, 'I'm ANBU too, you know!'
Was he ever like that? He couldn't remember.
There was a quick rustle as the cat masked ANBU vanished with a quick Shunshin. There were no leaves, of course. No need to distract anybody, and it might give you away. Standard ANBU pattern.
He made the seal, losing himself in a rapid torrent of movement.
Shunshin was, despite many misconceptions, not a 'teleport' of any kind. It was just a mind-boggling fast burst of speed, allowing you to move at speeds faster than the normal eye could follow for a very short duration.
Shunshin was a deceptively simple technique to learn, and a hard one to master. It also had several glaring limitations. The discharge of chakra made it possible for a halfway-decent opponent to estimate your direction, you could only move in straight line, you needed to see exactly where you were going... And crashing into something at that speed?
It was also increditably hard on the body, which was why even most hardened jounin used it sparingly. Once, during the jounin selection exams, he'd seen an idiot chuunin with more endurance than brains use it several times in a row. By the fifth attempt, he had blood gushing out of his eyes, ears, and nose, and his legs were mangled beyond belief. He later learned that the jounin wannabe also had several cases of internal bleeding as his organs had ruptured from the strain. Poor fucker died shortly afterward. Even the medic-nin were helpless when the injuries were so violently infused with chakra.
Genin didn't know this, but they were taught the first stages of the Shunshin when they learned Kawarimi, one of the most basic techniques. Of course, Kawarimi was slow, the seals were completely different, and the chakra molding differed in the final application, but the basic theory remained the same. And the two skills had some similar limitations. Each genin in Academy got one very serious warning after learning Kawarimi: to never - EVER - use it more than twice in a row. Every year, some idiot genin-wannabe did. Every year that idiot ended up crippled from the strain. The symptoms were glaringly similar (though the ones from Kawarimi were less extreme) to anyone who had seen them both and had half a brain to figure it out.
Once he understood that, well... Kawarimi suddenly became his favorite technique, bar none. Learning a cool jutsu that made running child's play? It was simply too much of an opportunity for the jutsu-starved mind of a prankster like him.
Not to say that coaxing Shunshin out of Kawarimi had been EASY - especially when he didn't know the seals - but he managed. It took a reasonably talented jounin about six months to learn the proper Shunshin. It took years to use it with just one seal, as some elite jounin were so fond of doing.
He had his down in two.
He was probably the only shinobi in history to learn Shunshin via brute force.
The wonders of Kyuubi-given regeneration were not to be overestimated.
The very next day, the Hokage had ordered him to perform the rudimentary Shunshin in front of Iruka.
He graduated from the Academy that day.
The memory of the look in the eyes of the uneasy chuunin instructors as he took his hitai-ate and walked out without a second glance still warmed his heart to this day.
He had been nine years old.
Barely a year later, he was on a C class mission that had suddenly gone straight to hell. Enemy ANBU were fleeing, Konoha ANBU chased them, ninja on both sides were dying in gory ways, and a set of hapless genin were stuck in the middle. He used a full-scale Shunshin three times in a row out of sheer desperation.
The very moment he returned from the mission, he was recruited to ANBU Ops Team 4.
Sometimes, life was full of irony.
He had been ten years old - the fifth youngest ANBU in history of the corps, and the third to become one as a genin.
The first was the unquestioned master of the Shunshin, and later, the Hiraishin: Konoha's Yellow Flash, Kazama Arashi, who became the Yondaime Hokage. Reputedly the strongest ninja to ever live. Man who sealed the Kyuubi no Youko in the belly of Uzumaki Naruto.
He shook his head.
Wool-gathering in the middle of a dangerous speed technique? He really should have known better.
He made another seal, and let himself be carried by the Shunshin.
oooIt took barely three seconds and one word to turn a meticulously planned op into a fucking mess.
Ironically, it wasn't even the rookie - their rookie, that is.
He knew, just KNEW, that working with Hunter-nin on this was a mistake.
For all their skill and dedication, despite the fact they were still ANBU, the Hunter-nin saw themselves as a breed apart - the elite of the elite. That was bullshit in Naruto's mind, since - given the nature of their missions - ANBU Operations and Assassination Teams were the strongest in terms of ability and raw power. He personally thought it was due to the whole 'we hunt the big, bad missing-nin, hear us roar' attitude.
As much as the Operations Division got the self important, sun-blinded morons who thought they were the second Hatake Kakashi just because they made it to Ops, the Hunter rookies were much, much worse.
It really should have been no surprise when the Hunter-nin-in-training went for glory and big bucks.
He got a kunai through his heart instead.
And boy, was he lucky. With what happened in the next few minutes, Naruto would have torn him apart with his bare hands. Slowly. While kicking jagged glass up his rectum with Konoha Senpuu.
And he was sure that he would have had to wait until after his team was through with the dumb fuck.
There was a small village between Cloud and Snow country called Hidden Rainbow.
It was, obviously, a ninja village, but aside from some good genjutsu users who called it home, there was nothing really remarkable about it. It was a Kage-less village like many others, until Kumogakure decided that they didn't like it all that much.
However, on that day, Hidden Rainbow gained one single reason for fame.
Or, rather, infamy.
Hajime Kouran - former jounin, former ANBU captain known as the Lion, missing-nin, mercenary, and psycho who slaughtered Assassination Teams single-handedly for kicks - came to defend his village.
It took seven elite jounin to slow him down, another six to stop him. And until the Raikage came to break the stalemate, Kouran was swatting down top-ranked Kumo ninja like flies. Multiple top-ranked Kumo ninja. At the same time. And was laughing while doing it.
Kouran escaped after the Raikage overpowered him, wandering where his fortune took him, routinely slaughtering the Hunter-nin Kumo sent after him with a smile on his face and a song in his heart.
That day, he did the same to some poor bastards of the Konoha Hunter-nin corps.
It was a mistake caused by failed intelligence. There weren't supposed to any ninja of Kouran's ability in the vicinity, save for a few chuunin-level nuke-nin who preyed on the merchants using this route. Hunter-nin were to eliminate the Konoha-nin, Team 4 was to eliminate the rest and pin down a slime of a genjutsu user who had gotten his grubby hands on some data that Konoha Intelligence got a hard-on just thinking about. And since dealing with genjutsu had become a sort of specialty of theirs, Team 4 was a natural choice.
Apparently, Kouran was as enamored with the data as Konoha Intelligence. Which was lucky, because he didn't waste time on small fries; he just smacked them around.
That was still enough to leave them all battered and broken, and the acting captain opted to retreat IMMEDIATELY.
The idiot Hunter-nin that stayed to capture Kouran didn't have so much luck.
Kouran really didn't like Hunter-nin. Making them die was sort of a pastime of his, and he liked to indulge.
Then Kagehoushi had arrived, and the mission REALLY went to hell.
He groaned. The migraine was fierce enough to make the light shining cheerfully through the window make him nearly puke his guts out on the immaculately clean floor of the ANBU infirmary.
He was still sore all over, weak, and everything in his body felt... brittle, for lack of a better expression.
Which meant something had beat him to the brink of death, because only full-body regeneration via the ol' fox-youki made him feel THIS shitty.
'Oh god... What hit me?' He moaned, closing his eyes again - which didn't help when pipe smoke, heavy with a touch of cinnamon, hit his nose. He knew that pipe smoke almost too well.
Migraine, vertigo, pain, numbness, and to top it all off, Sarutobi the Sandaime Hokage with his lectures about 'will of fire', 'friendship', 'giving them a chance', 'vacancies on genin teams', and other assorted 'normal life' crap. His life was officially hell.
He brought his arm up to shield his eyes, and stiffened.
His mask was gone.
Not the hard mask of the ANBU commissioned officer, but the cloth mask he had used ever since becoming an ANBU. It used to be an undermesh for the hard mask, since the standard ANBU mask was a little too big for a ten year old, but even in ANBU, some people reacted better to "Mugen" than they did to Uzumaki Naruto. And it was good not having to deal with disdainful shopkeepers, who turned almost disgustingly helpful upon seeing the ANBU gear and the mask.
And now he was without it.
Disregarding the vertigo, he slid out of bed, wincing as the raw migraine, agitated from the movement, hit him with increased ferocity. He swallowed the bile that rose in his throat, using the bed to steady himself. He rubbed his eyes quickly, trying to get rid of his blurred vision. He knew from experience that shaking his head would only make the migraine that much more potent.
It wasn't exactly the first time he had landed with such injuries during his three year old tour of duty with the Operations Division.
He took several deep breaths, trying to settle his stomach.
Rapid regeneration was a lifesaver, but he always felt like crap afterward; it left his body weak and exhausted for days on end.
'Speaking of exhaustion,' he grimaced, feeling his unsteady legs shaking.
Usually, healing left him only exhausted and voraciously hungry, but Kyuubi-style rapid regeneration ravaged his reserves and messed up his chakra coils something fierce. The jolts of pain and occasional muscle spasms were a bitch, but the migraine and weakness were the worst.
No matter how you looked at it, demon chakra wasn't very compatible with the human body. Even if it granted some interesting abilities, the price was usually very high. And painful. Still, if it meant surviving, he would pay it gladly.
Then, the Hokage turned from the window he had been gazing out of for a while, and all unnecessary thoughts got a rapid eviction notice.
For it was not the face of Old Man Hokage, the grandfatherly, cranky, and slightly perverted old man.
In his place stood Sarutobi, the hard eyed, calculating shinobi. Each crease and wrinkle on his face was an outward symbol of the knowledge and the power of a ninja who had managed to survive to his autumn years by trouncing each and every obstacle in his way. He had not lost the edge that made him famous as 'The Professor', the ninja who had mastered an unimaginable number of jutsu.
Faced with this grim, intimidating visage, Naruto could understand why, despite his age, younger ninja - including most Kage - were so wary of the old man.
He was like an old tiger; his fangs were just as sharp and his claws just as deadly as they were in his youth; indeed, he was all the more dangerous for the experience age brought him.
Sandaime Hokage of Konohagakure, in all his dangerous glory, was a sight to be feared. There was none of the leaking killer intent or subliminal intimidation that younger ninja favored. Sarutobi didn't need such parlor tricks to look damned scary. The hardening of his face, the coldness of his eyes... That was all it took.
"ANBU." His voice was calm as always, but, if such a thing was even possible, it was even more glacial than the eyes. The tone alone made Naruto snap to attention. "Report."
Edited by Skelethin, to my unending gratitude.
EDIT: Cut of entire section. It was needed, because of bashing. So it got the axe.