I don't own the characters. Wish I did, but that never really got me anywhere.
This is going to be a short chapter that serves as a prologue. Before Naruto came into the picture I needed to explain a couple things about Iruka. This story is going to be about rediscovering the past; since I'm inventing a new back story the least I could do is share it. Hope you enjoy.
Song of the Snake
"Ninja are tools of war; we exist to destroy," he finished in an ominous whisper, concluding inspirational speech #3 for the fifth time this week.
Anko hung on every word; staring at sensei as if he held the answer to the universe. He's a genius of geniuses, so smart and strong and handsome. I can't believe he's our teacher; the legendary sannin himself.
Shinto was not far from behind his teammate, omitting the handsome bit from his thought process. He was an orphaned ninja from the west end projects who was two months behind on rent; he did not need to add sexual identity crisis to his list of problems thank-you-very-much. Whoever said that teenagers would make good ninja should be used for target practice. Eight year olds, maybe. They were already vicious little bastards. But as a teenager he had to work twice as hard as the little brats to be taken seriously. Sure, he could brood with the best of them, but how embarrassing was it when he was trying to interrogate that Iwa nin and his voice jumped like eight octaves higher than it should ever be. Almost worse than the time Anko got her first period (aka. THE CONVERSATION THAT SHALL NEVER BE SPOKEN OF AGAIN) Although watching Orochimaru-sensei trying to purchase 'feminine products' in the nearby village was possibly the funniest thing he had ever seen in his entire life. It was in that moment that he realized sensei was the strongest, bravest (and towards the end of the conversation, scariest) shinobi to ever walk the earth. And he was going to grow up to be just like him.
Iruka just rolled his eyes as he flipped his notebook closed. Final tally had him at 17 cliché remarks, 8 sentences that could technically be construed as treasonous, and oddly enough, a reference to that new porn book that was taking Konoha by storm: Icha-Icha something-or-other. And that was just today.
Umino Iruka was an unusual boy in a number of ways. He was a seven year old genin assigned to a 'heavy assault type' three man cell with two chuunin as teammates and, as he was beginning to suspect, a complete psychopath for a jounin instructor. People who knew him found him strange because they expected him a complete head case like all the other 'young prodigy' ninja. But despite lack of parents, clan, good role-models, a stable environment, and any sort of normalcy, Iruka was a perfectly well adjusted child. It freaked people out. While Anko was licking blood off kunai suggestively and Shinto was indulging his inner pyromaniac on a nearby tree, Iruka was sitting quietly on a park bench making up his grocery list for next week and trying to figure out how to properly divide up his paycheck (he wasn't so great at math). No one really took the time to figure it out though; Team Orochimaru was probably best just left alone to do whatever the hell they did.
In hindsight, this would prove to be a mistake.
As it turned out, Iruka was also very different in another way but most people missed it because they were too busy staring at the more colorful members of the team. Iruka did not hero-worship, admire, have a crush on, or even really trust his teacher. He thought differently than most people so when he watched his sensei fight he didn't stare at the mind bending taijutsu or awesome ninjutsu attacks, he only watched Orochimaru's eyes.
What he saw in them freaked him out. He knew that there was going to be a day his teacher stopped pretending to respect moral codes and people were going to die because of it. So he took notes and watched carefully and tried to convince Anko and Shinto that he was on to something.
His words fell on deaf ears.
"Today we're going to skip training. I've got something important to show you."
"What is that sensei?"
"It's the base for a seal I've developed. It will augment your chakra and enhance the physical output. With these you'll easily surpass the last generation of shinobi. The strength of this team will be unmatched." He smiled in a way that was not entirely natural. "People will respect and fear the name Orochimaru."
Iruka absently noticed that he left off the 'team' part of their group name.
"Cool. Gimme one sensei! I'll be unstoppable when I master it! I'll kick so much ass –"
"Shut it Shinto; I've got better chakra control, I should get the first one!"
"It's not like you do any serious ninjustu – just snake summons and that crazy taijustu. You can wait. I need it! Can you imagine the fireballs I could conjure with this thing!?!"
"Stop fighting you two, there's enough for all three. But there's a catch; It's going to drain your system for a couple hours so you'll be sitting here until you recover from the stress. I have other matters to take care of but I'll be back for you at nightfall."
"Sensei, do we have to -"
"Yes Iruka. Strength is the way of the shinobi. There are those who do are willing to do anything it takes and there are the others, who die like so much cannon fodder." He turned to look Iruka in the eye. "Which kind are you?"
A pause as his two teammates stared at him from behind Orochimaru's back.
Secluded deep in the remote training ground twelve, Orochimaru applied the first three curse marks he ever made to his students. Iruka was the first and blacked out before Orochimaru moved on to Shinto beside him, screaming in pain.
He was also the first to wake up. Slowly he moved over to rouse Anko, who had been tied with to a tree near his side some time after he passed out. Shinto took longer to get to; he had been thrown across the field and lay in a small dip in the ground, surrounded by burnt grass. Neither had taken the seal willingly, or quietly. Iruka entertained the brief spiteful thought that Shinto might have managed to burn away some of his sensei's precious hair before he was caught and held down, if the faint sour smell in the air was any indication.
Anko looked like she had a hangover but was otherwise alright. Shinto was not. Iruka managed to rouse him only to have him mutter incoherently and barf all over his shoes. After a bit of confusion and misplaced elbows he lifted Shinto onto his back and motioned for Anko to follow. The new tattoo on his back, right where his neck met shoulders, twinged painfully.
Somewhere in the back of his head, behind the pounding headache, he realized that the day Orochimaru stopped pretending had come.
Two days later Shinto was dead. He had an adverse reaction and, beyond the half awakened state he had managed back at the training ground, he never regained consciousness. A day after that, Anko and Iruka were called into the Hokage's office.
"This is a serious matter. I read your debriefing reports and realize that there is nothing you could have done to stop him. But you both failed to warn any of us of what Orochimaru had become. Three days ago he escaped with forbidden scrolls of greater demon summoning and soul transference. He is possibly the worst person to possess such secret arts. Shinobi of the Leaf, you have failed your Hokage."
Here, he stopped for a moment, bowing his head before facing the two ninja again.
"And here, I must apologize. In my heart I knew what he was and I gave him a team in the hope that it might save him. I have done this at the cost of another, and undoubtedly countless more in the future. I am sending a team to retrieve the scrolls; they cannot be copied so once they are destroyed the knowledge will be lost to him. But with the scrolls destroyed or not, I will still have failed the village of Konohagakure; the damage he caused to your team still cannot be undone."
He looked out of the window, eyes fixed on a passing cloud.
"Mirashi Anko, I have approved your request to accompany the retrieval mission on the assumption that you have a unique insight into his character and knowledge of his safe houses; that should assist in tracking him and completing mission quickly. If the team finds your performance acceptable, you will be reassigned to them and placed back on the front lines. Umino Iruka, you are field promoted to the rank of chuunin and ordered to report to the academy, where you will get a crash-course in preparing the new generation of genin for the war with Iwa. You are dismissed."
They both stood, bowed politely to the Sandaime and left quietly. No one mentioned the tears in Anko's cold, hardened eyes.
Anko surpassed all expectations. Unfortunately Orochimaru jumped bodies before she could shove a kunai in his neck, confirming that he had time to learn one of the forbidden techniques. After destroying the two scrolls, she followed her new team into battle and made a name for herself; acting just as crazy as she always did. There was nothing a kunai, a summon, and some dango couldn't cure. Sometimes a little alcohol helped.
And when they called her "Snake Bitch" she didn't give a damn because who cares if they remember that her sensei was that bastard, that her teammate was – no, don't go there.
The nickname was a badge of honor that she earned through countless battles and kills and she learned to wear it proudly. Like Hatake "Sharingan" Kakashi and Kazama "Yellow Flash" Arashi; they were scared of her because she was smart and strong and beautiful and in the end, she survived.
Iruka's students weren't really anything special when they were finally pushed into the field. But they had good heads on their shoulders, tended to a bit stronger and a little faster than the rest, and, more importantly, they had a good heart. Perhaps this is why they had a 250 percent higher survival rate than the other freshly graduated genin.
At seventeen the war was over, the fox was sealed, the fourth was dead, and everyone had forgotten that he was Orochimaru's student save for a Hokage, a sociopath sannin, and a newly promoted tokubetsu jounin. And by the ripe old age of eighteen Iruka had perfected his legendary 'teacher temper' and had come into his 'mother hen' personality. The problem (again) was that Iruka was normal, therefore had no hidden depths. Therefore no one wondered exactly what kind of formidable ninja would have been able to keep up with the heavy hitters of the (now defunct) Team Orochimaru at the tender age of seven; or how good he had to be, exactly, to teach dozens of classes of screaming ten, eleven, and twelve year old ninja brats from the age of eight (and teach them well, which is no small feat). People generally dismissed him.
In hindsight, this would prove to be a mistake.