Deep Cover

He had been pretending for so long that he didn't notice when his act became his reality. Naruto/Tayuya NaruTayu

Naruto arrived precisely on time. Even if he didn't feel the terror everyone else held for this man, he knew that there were limits of what Naruto could get away with.

Orochimaru smiled. A friendly smile that he reserved for his favorites. A smile that Naruto had grown to associate with safety. Because safety was hard to come by and precious to have when in deep cover.

And there was no deeper cover than were Naruto was now.

When old man Hokage had given Naruto this mission several years ago, the blonde genin had just about died on the spot. How could he become Hokage if he was busy pretending to work for the enemy? And the way the old man had explained it, Naruto might have to fight and even kill fellow leaf-ninja to keep up the act, until the Hokage gave the word to act.

After a long and heated argument, Naruto had agreed to the mission. The old man was right, Naruto was more talented than the average genin. Naruto had no problem believing that. But it was the old man's second observation that had shocked Naruto into silence. As the Hokage put it, Naruto was 'so good at putting on a mask of emotions that he could fool even his closest comrades.' Naruto had stared in amazed wonder as Sarutobi had gone on. The old man had known about the mask only because he had known Naruto before he had started his act. Imagine the Hokage's surprise when one day the silent and melancholy child announced his loud intention to become the greatest Kage ever.

Naruto's facade had slowly faded as the Hokage explained how this skill, one that Naruto had practiced for almost a decade now, could be best put to use. Orochimaru was still at large, and almost certainly plotting revenge against Konoha. Naruto, an unknown genin that Orochimaru would never have heard about, let alone paid attention to, could be the best spy ever.

Because Naruto knew how to be subtle. So subtle that now one would ever even begin to suspect that something might be amiss. Now because Naruto was so sneaky. Far from it. Naruto was so blatantly and loudly and garishly obvious that anyone who noticed him immediately overlooked him. No one would ever think that something that talkative and brash and obnoxious could hide what he had for breakfast, let alone anything of more importance. The Hokage was counting on this to allow Naruto to survive in a mission of a type that had historically terrible survival rates.

And so, after about a month of secretive training and briefing, and receiving a special seal that would become warm when the Hokage wanted him to return for debriefing and further instruction, when Naruto could do so without detection, of course, Naruto was sent into an area Orochimaru had been known to recruit from.

Naruto come into the market of a quiet farming community like a bombshell, announcing that it was the best place ever and he wanted to meet everyone and become the best farmer ever. After several minutes of his ranting the people gathered around started to ignore him. But Naruto's persistence got him a job as a hand at a local farm, a position that had opened recently due to, as Naruto learned about a week into the job, a forcible recruitment into Orochimaru's forces.

When people around the community noticed Naruto's un-farmer-like agility and speed, they thought he might be a ninja. And so Naruto hid this fact in the best way he know how.

He immediately announced his intention to be the first and best ninja farmer in all history. Pretending to be a klutz with a kunai and practicing fake chakra meditation in his free time had alleviated all suspicion from him within a few days.

It was about two months after he got his job there that Orochimaru came back.

As Naruto learned later, Orochimaru did all his recruiting himself. Partly because he didn't trust his subordinates to do so. But mostly because he prided himself on being able to find the obscure signs of a possible talent. And after a few days pretending to be a traveler passing through the farming community, Orochimaru thought he recognized those signs in Naruto.

To be sure, the kid was brash and loud obnoxious and wore bright, obvious colors. But Orochimaru couldn't keep from admiring the persistence of this kid who wanted to be a ninja farmer. Pretending to know a 'bit' about ninja himself, Orochimaru had shown Naruto how to correctly throw a kunai.

After an hour of watching Naruto's amazing progress, Orochimaru watched every kunai land exactly on target. Impressed, he decided to teach this strange kid how to really use chakra.

Within a few days, Naruto had been able to summon his chakra to the surface. Much quicker than anyone Orochimaru had ever heard of. Even the snake-nin had taken the better part of two weeks to get it when he had first learned how, long ago in Konoha...

And so when Orochimaru finally taught him a single technique, the bunshin, he was more than a little surprised that the kid couldn't get it. At all. He formed the seals and added the chakra, but the clones never lasted more than a second or two. After a few days of this disappointing progress, Orochimaru felt a little peeved. Had he wasted all this time for nothing. He decided to look closer to see what could be impeding the kid's progress.

As Orochimaru quickly discovered upon closer inspection, Naruto had massive amounts of chakra. Unnaturally humongous amounts of chakra. And so when the kid went to do a clone, and pushed several dozen times the correct amount of chakra into the technique, the clones couldn't last. They overloaded and fizzled out.

Rather pleased with this turn of events, Orochimaru waited until one night after Naruto had finished harvesting out in the fields, and offered to teach the boy how to become a ninja. After an enthusiastic agreement, Orochimaru took the promising youth back to Otogakure.

Naruto was exhausted from the constant fear of being found out, that he collapsed onto his bed when they first arrived in Oto. He was so glad the old man had been right. No one looked underneath the obvious. They looked for genjutsu, they looked for the sneaky folks, and the people who tried to blend in. They looked underneath the underneath, and underneath the underneath under that underneath. But no one looked past the obvious.

Orochimaru took his exhaustion as being from over excitement (Naruto HAD been bouncing up and down, literally, the whole way here) and from excessive training (Orochimaru had limited himself to teaching one jutsu a day, and once taught, Naruto practiced it obsessively for the rest of the day, while bouncing up and down on the way to Otogakure).

It was in the next few months that Naruto successfully infiltrated Sound. Not with stealth and cunning, but with annoying and obnoxious persistence that drove everyone around him to the brink and beyond.

Despite these aggravating attributes, Naruto was included in the current team of ninja being trained. Sakon, Ukon, Jiribou, Tayuya, Kimmimaro and Kidomaru. Although the instructors hated him for his constant, loud demands for newer and 'cooler' jutsu, they kept their anger in check. Although Naruto was annoying, he learned every jutsu within a few days, if not a few hours. And then there was the fact that Orochimaru seemed particularly interested in this blonde brat.

Within the first year, Naruto had learned the general structure and feel of Otogakure. And with his continual, grating, mind-shatteringly loud request to be included in the 'super-duper secret cool spy missions' he had learned quite a bit of sensitive info, shoved at him just so he would shut up and leave.

Also within the first year, he had become quite good friends with all the other sound ninja. They respected him for his strength, admired him for his persistence, and liked him for his constant smile and his never-ending happiness.

Jiribou spent every meal he could sitting with Naruto. At first it was because Naruto could wheedle more food out of the stingy Oto cooks than anyone Jiribou had ever seen, but as he got to know the blonde better, he enjoyed Naruto's constant joking and irreverence. Rank made no difference to Naruto. If a jounin told him off for taking to much food, Naruto immediately too hot offense and, after a brief scuffle, usually ended up with the jounin's food, too.

Kimmimaro liked Naruto because he wasn't grossed out by the Kaguya bloodline. Whereas every other person winced at the sight of bones suddenly jutting out of his body, the first time Naruto had seen it, his eyes had gone wide as saucers. "COOOOOOOL! Can I learn to do that?!" Only slightly put out that it was a bloodline technique, Naruto vowed that he would learned some way to do it without a bloodline, and 'totally kick ass like Kimmimaro.'

Kidomaru liked him for a similar reason. After taking one look at Kidomaru the first day, Naruto had decided that Kidomaru was 'totally the coolest with all those arms!' The spider-nin also liked Naruto because the blonde kid liked to joke as much as he did.

Sakon and Ukon liked Naruto because he treated them like separate people. Most other lumped them into the single unit called SakonandUkon, but Naruto made sure to get to know each of them individually. They found themselves talking with the blonde kid a lot, because he was the only one who seemed to understand that they really were different people.

And Tayuya liked him because... well... okay she didn't liked him. Or that was what she said anyway. In rather colorful and creative terms, usually involving questions about Naruto ancestry, Naruto's sexual preferences and behaviors, and his general appearance and actions. The that infuriated her more than Naruto's mere existence was the fact that he rolled with her insults and struck right back. After several instances of being left at a loss for words due to Naruto rather witty comeback, she had escalated the verbal fight into physical warfare.

It was about then that she really learned just how skilled Naruto was. Bragging or not, he was a mean taijutsu fighter. Hiding the fact that he used the Kyuubi was second nature to him, and so his deceptive outer appearance of weakness always made his opponents underestimate him.

Tayuya grew to a grudging respect for the blonde after he thoroughly beat her down, in the process proving to her that he would give her no advantages just because she was female. When she had asked about it later, when she had caught him alone, he had put it rather simply and eloquently for being a loudmouthed troublemaker. "Just because your a girl doesn't mean your not a ninja."

It was this comment that first caught her attention, and it was Naruto's infectious joy and smiling that drew her closer.

By the second year of his undercover mission, Naruto and Tayuya were the talk of Otogakure. By the third year, they were no longer an item. They were obvious. It was common sense to any sound ninja that wherever Naruto was Tayuya wasn't far, and vice versa.

By the end of the third year, Naruto and his friends were made into an elite squad that completed advanced missions for sound. Orochimaru had never been more pleased with any group of handpicked ninja. Because all of them were specifically recruited by Orochimaru, not just random missing-nin joining up for a place to stay.

And so it was that near the end of his third year there, that Naruto, a shining example of what sound-nin should be, was taken aside by Orochimaru and given a special mission.

Naruto arrived precisely on time. Even if he didn't feel the terror everyone else held for this man, he knew that there were limits of what Naruto could get away with.

Orochimaru smiled. A friendly smile that he reserved for his favorites. A smile that Naruto had grown to associate with safety. Because safety was hard to come by and precious to have when in deep cover.

Orochimaru explained this next mission in exact detail

He was to go into deep cover in Konoha, killing and replacing a ninja Orochimaru had recently uncovered as a spy in Otogakure. Naruto didn't recognize the description Orochimaru gave him, but memorized the picture carefully. He had to have a perfect henge. Orochimaru explained further. While he was in Konoha, Naruto was to gather information on the security Konoha would have in place during the upcoming Chuunin exams. And, posing as the the informant, who now resided deep in a dungeon below the ground, Naruto was to give a report full of false information to the Hokage, to aid in the Sound's attack.

Orochimaru smiled as Naruto took in all the information. "I know you aren't great at deception, Naruto, but I know that you can do this. All it takes is a henge and some review of the informant's information."

Naruto nodded humbly and left the throne room, secretly exulting in this turn of events. He could return to Konoha without arousing suspicion! His seal had been warm for a few weeks now, and now he could go back with no one even suspecting him, because Orochimaru had sent him there.

Naruto was allowed only a few hours to gather what he needed and depart. Which was fine with him. The sooner he left, the sooner he could report all he had learned to the Hokage. Knowing the truth and the false information that was meant to be given to him, the Hokage would easily be able to prepare for the attack. Naruto smiled to himself on the inside, while on the outside While he was gathering his equipment, Tayuya entered the room.

"Going on a mission, Naruto-kun?"

Naruto smiled happily, hearing her voice. She was a gift from heaven to him. Who would have guessed that the foul mouthed flute ninja could be so gentle in private? He only barely resisted flinching when he realized that any information he gave to Konoha would be used against her. But she was just a sound ninja, so he had to do it, didn't he?

Didn't he?

"Yeah. I'm really glad to found me. I don't have but a few hours to get ready to go, Tayuya-chan, and I really wanted to say goodbye before I left."

She walked up behind and wrapped her arms around his waist, leaning her head on his shoulder. "What kind of mission it it? Can I come?" Tayuya had managed to worm her way into several of his missions before. Orochimaru, who always seemed vaguely amused with their mutual affection, usually let her join missions with Naruto when she asked.

Naruto grimaced. "I wish you could, love, but this is a solo mission. Deep cover." He knew she wouldn't like it, and he was not surprised when she suddenly tightened her hold on him. He wished that it were not so hard to try and stay detached from his vague feelings for her. He couldn't afford to fall for the enemy.

"Deep cover?!" Her voice cracked. "No, no, no..."

Naruto turned in her arms to face her, and tenderly caressed her cheeks. His heart pounded in his chest. This was so damn difficult! "It should only take a few weeks."

Silent tears ran down Tayuya's cheeks. "But it's deep cover. It has the worst survival rate of any type of mission. Naruto-kun..." She buried her face in the crook of his neck.

Naruto put his arms around her and gently rubbed circles on her back, muttering quiet assurances in her ear. Naruto told himself that he didn't really mean what he said, but it was frighteningly easy to comfort this red-haired oto-nin.

After a minute, Tayuya regained her self-control. "You fucking idiot," she said in a tone that managed to express her deep affection even through her coarse language. "You better live, so I can beat the shit out of you for making me cry."

Naruto smiled sadly. "Of course, Tayuya-chan."

She sighed and leaned back into his embrace, trying to make these last few moments count. While he held her, Naruto agonized over his responsibilities. He had to return and report to Konoha. But if he told the truth, he would hurt his friends. He would hurt Tayuya-chan.

He felt so stupid now. He had grown attached to the enemy. But they were his friends, even if they shouldn't be. And Tayuya... how could he do this to her? Even while she worried about him, and uncharacteristically shed tears for him, she never once doubted that he would do his mission exactly as Orochimaru had outlined.

And despite himself, Naruto had grown fond of the snake-nin, as well. He wasn't so bad, once you got to know him. The prisoners that he kept had all committed terrible crimes, or had killed sound ninja. Orochimaru did not forgive people who killed sound ninja. The snake was a very vengeful man. It was his sense of vengeance that had made him the enemy of Konoha in the first place. Vengeance against a village that had chosen that cocky idiot for Yondaime, even though Orochimaru was vastly more qualified.

Bidding a final, sad farewell to Tayuya, who held on so long that Naruto was afraid Orochimaru would come down to investigate, Naruto left on his mission.

Getting in was easy. The guards recognized his stolen identity, which was actually the cover identity for the man he was pretending to be. Naruto's mind spun with the weirdness of it all. He was a leaf-nin, pretending to be a sound-nin, pretending to be a spy, pretending to be a tourist.

Using his stolen knowledge, he was able to set up an appointment to see the Hokage the next day.

When he arrived for the meeting, the old man immediately detected something wrong with his appearance. His eyes narrowed. "Reveal yourself."

Naruto dropped his henge, and Sarutobi couldn't suppress a grin, despite finding out with this revelation that the person Naruto impersonated was almost certainly dead or worse.

Meanwhile, Naruto's mind raced. He had to tell the truth. To accomplish his mission to protect his village, and his friends, and...

But how was it his village? No one had really liked him here. That was the whole reason he had donned the 'mask,' as the old man had put it years ago. And he had only really fought for the village because of the coincidence of being brought up here. What loyalty did he really owe to Konoha.

The Hokage's eyes gleamed in excitement. "So, what can you tell me about Orochimaru and the Hidden Sound, Naruto?"

Naruto remembered the utter trust his friends held for him. His real friends, in Sound. He remembered how Orochimaru had brought him up like a surrogate son. He remembered how Tayuya, the toughest kunoichi he had ever encountered, and the kindest and most affectionate one at the same time, had cried out of worry for him when he left.

Then Naruto remembered his youth, and how he had learned so much in Konoha, and his special training for this long-term mission. How much trust these people, and the Hokage in particular, placed in him.

"Well, Naruto?" The old man was impatient to hear all that Naruto had learned.

Naruto took a deep breath and began to speak.

Naruto watched the flames burning themselves out throughout the whole village. They had never stood a chance. Their lack of preparation, and then Naruto's misinformation on top of that, had completely done them in. The combined Sand-Sound forces had annihilated Konoha, leaving not a single building standing.

Orochimaru placed a hand on Naruto's shoulder, causing the blonde to flinch in surprise. "Naruto-kun, you have done very well. I would like to personally thank you for the work you did to help bring this about. I am prepared to give you some special compensation for your extra work here."

Naruto brought up his practiced grin, the one that he had fooled Orochimaru with for years, and realized that it wasn't fake anymore. He really was grinning, and realizing this, his grin widened.


Orochimaru smiled at the blonde's typical exuberance, not noticing the flicker cross Naruto's face as the young ninja realized that this enthusiasm, too, had somehow become genuine over the years in deep cover. Orochimaru spoke softly, in the affectionate voice he reserved for his favorites. "Of course, Naruto-kun. I'll teach you whatever you would like to learn. You've helped me accomplish my dream, now I will help you accomplish yours."

Orochimaru walked away to give order to some nearby ninja, and Naruto suddenly found himself relaxing back into a familiar embrace. He wasn't surprised when Tayuya began to cry.

He turned and held her tightly as she sobbed silently into his chest. She berated quietly, her voice muffled by his shirt. "You fucking idiot... Do you know how much I worried about you? I didn't see you for weeks, and then I hear that we're invading the village you're in, and I didn't see you for the whole battle, and..."

Naruto squeezed her a little tighter. "Don't worry, my red haired angel." He found that this, too, was completely real. He was in love with this beautiful ninja from sound.

As he watched Konoha burn over her mess of red hair, he realized that he didn't feel sad about it. It was just an enemy village. As he continued to watch and comfort Tayuya, he realized that, at some point he hadn't recognized until just now, he had changed. One day, he was a leaf-nin in deep cover. Then next day, he was a sound-nin at home. But Naruto couldn't tell when this had started.

And Naruto decided that it didn't matter. Kissing her hair, he spoke softly to his beloved. "You told me to live so you could beat me up for making you cry, so here I am, Tayuya-chan."

Tayuya balled her fist, but her she held on fiercely with one hand while she weakly struck him with the other. "Baka, baka, baka, baka... making me cry, making me worry..."

Naruto tilted her chin up with a hand, and gave her a chaste kiss. "But now it's over Tayuya. Let's go home." Even as he said it, he realized that he really meant it. He was leaving Konoha, and going home.

Much later, Tayuya asked him what had been the hardest part of his deep cover mission to Konoha.

Naruto thoughts whirled quickly, recalling his divided loyalty, his confusion, and his ultimate choice to choose the village of his friends and his new family over that of his birth.

As he thought about it, he knew that his difficult decision hadn't been the hardest part. Even before he left for that mission, he had subconsciously, planned to choose Sound. Looking back, Naruto realized that he had already planned what he would say to Tayuya when he saw her again, even though siding with Konoha would have meant that he would never have seen her again.

And he had never really thought about what he would do after he returned from deep cover in Sound. Naruto realized that he had never really planned on returning, at all.

At some point before then, he had already decided. His performance had stopped being fake.

And so it wasn't an act when he kissed her forehead and said, "The hardest part was missing you, Tayuya-chan."

And it wasn't just a mask when he kissed her lips to silence her embarrassed stuttering.

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