The door opened silently.
"You wanted something Hokage-sama?"
The Third looked up from his paperwork momentarily and a smile played on his lips. In front of him stood one of his most prized shinobi (an Anbu member to be exact), the youngest Anbu member since Itachi, the prodigy himself.
"Sit down, no need for formalities…"
He remembered with a pang of remorse when the boy had called him old man, those days were far too long ago now, the chubby cheeks had become harsher, more refined whilst the brow had become stony and unyielding. The boy could hardly be called a machine, nor could he be called a child. Laying his pen to the desk, he was silently thankful for the interruption from paperwork - it would be the death of him someday, there always seemed to be a pile or three on his desk nowadays. Sarutobi leant back in his chair and turned his gaze back to the porcelain mask of the Anbu sat in the chair opposite him.
"Take the mask off, you're not on duty."
There was a brief flicker of all-too-human hesitation, before the porcelain mask was removed and laid down carefully on the desk, a sound barely made. Calm, blue eyes stared calculatingly back at him, blonde sun kissed hair framing his face, once upon a time the boy would have grinning and fidgeting; declaring his dream to be the best ninja ever…no longer. The boy sat quietly, like a man three or four times his age. This wasn't to say that this boy was unsocial and cold hearted, he was just professional. Sarutobi had seen him smile.
"Look at you…So young and yet already one the most powerful shinobi in fire country." he thought to himself, torn between regret and pride as he thumbed an edge of paperwork.
"Naruto. You are only ten years old and are already at a point in power that is considered Kage level."
This was acknowledged with a small smile, if anyone else had been in the room, they would have thought that the teenager didn't care, but Hiruzen Sarutobi saw that tell-tale flash of childish abandon behind the cool blue eyes. It had taken the council some time to realize how powerful the 'demon' had become; there had been several moment where the old man had thought they were going to execute Naruto on the spot, that he was too dangerous too live. It had only been after Naruto had saved Homura and Koharu from an assassination attempt did they see how much Naruto could help their village, that it would be a mistake to dispose of such a valuable commodity.
"Time and again you have proven yourself, and I have seen with my own eyes that you are a natural leader…"
He had been taught by the best too, himself and Jiraiya, when his perverted student had managed to tear himself away from his 'research' but he had always wished that Tsunade would be able to teach him too. It was highly doubtful she would ever return, not after what happened to Nawaki and Dan, he wouldn't be surprised if she never thought about returning to Konoha again.
"…The council has decided that you would be the best candidate for the place of the Fifth Hokage."
The boy simply nodded, although Sarutobi noticed the air of desperation that seemed to cloud over his face. He had wanted more of reaction, a smile, a punch to the air…even dancing on the table might have been accepted… A memory stirred from a time before Naruto was born, when he had told Minato about his candidacy for the place of Fourth Hokage…The Third shuddered; he never wanted that to happen
It had been mentally scarring.
"However…" Continued the Third, coming back to his senses "That promotion is hardly immediate, there is important training to be done before then. There is one more mission to complete before your... apprenticeship of sorts can be made official. There's an entourage of shinobi traveling from Hidden Grass to Hidden Waterfall, our spy in Grass thinks that they may be plotting to kill the Daimyo of Fire."
"Any particular reason?" Naruto asked, leaning back in his chair and staring at the ceiling before remarking coolly "It's not every day you plan to kill the Daimyo."
"At this particular moment we're not sure… but they are suspected to be from Iwagakure."
"I see." The blond murmured, glancing down at the floor before asking. "How many?"
"30? Possibly more…"
The Third took out a small stack of papers "This is the intelligence report our spy sent back, it has rough details of almost everyone in the entourage" Naruto took the small stack from the Hokages' grip, flicking through the papers absent-mindedly, before standing.
"Is that everything Hokage-sama?"
"For this mission you will be traveling with Kakashi and his squad."
The third watched as Naruto's face light up, he and Kakashi had always gotten along, since the day they had met.
"I thought Kakashi-senpai was a sensei now?"
"Hmm...So he still calls him senpai... how amusing…" Kakashi had been the one that taught Naruto the ropes of Anbu, and the boy still hadn't forgotten.
"He's on leave for the moment…" Sarutobi sighed wearily, glancing in distaste at a particular mission report - C-Rank and still a fail; Kakashi's team were close to being disbanded "his team just came back from a rough mission."
Naruto shrugged nonchalantly "All of them are tough." Then the boy picked up his mask.
And he was gone.
Three masked figures were stood in the shadows of the giant gates of Konoha. Code name Kitsune leant against the wall, checking through the mission's provisions for the upcoming journey. The second was obviously a woman. Her light blonde hair swept up out of the way behind her head, loose strands a more common occurrence that she had hoped. Code name Tora. The third was by far the tallest, with dark black hair that shone blue in the moonlight and framed the Anbu mask. He sstood perfectly still. Code name Yama.
Kitsune was tapping his foot agitatedly.
"He'll be here soon Kitsune-sama" she began, more than a hint of playful sarcasm in her lilting, silky voice.
"Please, don't call me that Tora-chan."
Tora smiled underneath her tiger mask, she consider Naruto to be like the little brother she never had after she had lost her friend Denu in an incident with a missing nin on a mission they had taken together. Her team knew that she still blamed herself for his death, it was just in her nature, no matter what ranks he had attained.
Yama still didn't move, but Kitsune didn't really care, Yama was usually the silent type, not going out of his way to make conversation. Tora cared, and jabbed him in the ribs.
"Come on Yama-kun, lighten up will ya?" she teased, ruffling his hair with a gloved hand as Yama flinched. Before the man had a chance to reach boiling point, a brief rush of air signalled the entrance of a fourth masked figure into the group.
"Yo…" a gloved hand was raised in a sluggish greeting.
"You're late!" Tora yelled, ready to pounce on the last member of the squad in her fury, but held back by the stoic Yama, his hair still ruffled and drooping over the porcelain horns of his mask.
"Well, you see there was the little old woman and…" The fourth member started, rubbing his silver haired head with one of his hands. The fist that swung by his face narrowly missed, although his hair swayed slightly in the breeze as it sailed past. Tora's grin couldn't be seen, but it was painfully obvious when she sang out.
"Don't lie Inu-chan, don't you know what they do to bad dogs?".
Kitsune raised a slim eyebrow as he sensed a familiar chakra signal making its way towards the gate. The Hokage was really making a personal visit? The man was still wearing the robes of office, but kept to the shadow of the alleyway, it was hardly the place for the Hokage to be seen so late at night.
"I wouldn't have expected you to come see us off on such a mission." Naruto remarked, standing at attention.
"Well it is your last mission as Anbu Black Ops…I should at least wave you off."
Naruto couldn't help but wince at those words... his last mission? Would that really just be it? His dreams ruined for the sake of protecting the Hidden Village...? After a rush of air, only the Hokage was left, but the feeling of uneasiness still stayed. Nothing would go wrong… this was Konoha's Piercing Wind he was thinking about here, the most accomplished Anbu Konoha had ever seen.
The cool dawn finally arrived and the squad stopped for a moment, perched high above the floor on ancient branches, the permeating smell of rotting undergrowth strong in their nostrils. Kitsune had gone ahead to scout the surrounding area.
"Are we there yet?" Tora whined, looping lazily around a branch in her insatiable boredom.
"No." Yama all but growled, having been asked that question every ten minutes for the past two hours. Tora swung round, landing nimbly on her feet next to the annoyed man, who was seconds away from throttling her.
"It's still a day away." Inu pointed out, relaxing against the worn tree trunk, seemingly asleep, but still keeping an eye out for Kitsune.
"Lies." Tora spat, although her tone was kept childish rather than acidic, nudging Yama playfully before lating out on a branch in the sun. Yama shook his head. Anbu were supposed to be the elite of their village. Then why was almost everyone insane? There was no warning for the hand that suddenly found its way to his shoulder and he started forward, barely avoiding a fall from the branch on which he was perched. Kitsune stood, mask peeled back from his face in an expression of bemused confusion, resting casually as if he had been sat there the whole time. The team knew each other personally, the masks were simply for the enemy now. Kitsune liked to think it was better this way.
"Anything?" Inu asked, beginning to stand, although he already knew the answer if Naruto had removed his mask, but the blond still shook his head.
"There was nothing I could find." Kitsune shrugged, rolling an shoulder as it were stiff before allowing his arms to drop to his sides. "There aren't any patrols and they haven't set any traps."
"So they haven't even noticed we're here yet." Yama chuckled quietly "That gives us the advantage."
"Indeed, that it does... Everybody ready to go?" Kitsune asked, checking their surroundings one last time before replacing the mask.
"We just need to get in and out as quickly as possible." Inu instructed his squad with a grave tone "We want no survivors who could possibly continue in their attempts to kill or overthrow the Daimyo of Fire country. We want no trace that it was Konoha either. Tora, it's your job to clean up the crime scene and plant the evidence."
There was a tense silence that even kunai couldn't cut.
"So we go all out?" Tora whispered seriously, her voice laced with regret. Inu nodded.
"The mission details say we spare nobody."
Kitsune stared at the floor.
Konoha had received word of mission success a couple of days ago, the Hokage, Homura and Koharu were gathered in the main office, waiting for the returning shinobi. It was dark, although the Hokage had lit a candle and placed it upon the table, the still flame catching everyone's attention. The flame flickered once then went out and they started back as they were plunged into near darkness. A figure stood between them all, the moonlight glistening against the blood and the stench of decay strong in their nostrils. The Anbu mask was stained burgundy, the dried flakes peeling away to reveal bone white. The Hogake knew something was wrong just by the way Naruto was stood. Where was there rest of the team? Had the mission really been a success?
"Is everything al-" The Hokage started, concerned by the blonds' behaviour. Sarutobi only just managed to catch the mask before it cracked against his temple, the remnants of rust blood staining the edges of his ceremonial robes and palms. Naruto's eyes blazed wildly and his hair stood on end like he'd been struck by lightning. The boy's shoulders shuddered with barely contained rage... the room suddenly seemed too heavy to breath.
"I quit" Naruto growled, ruby red flecks dotting his eyes momentarily before he continued between gritted teeth."I can't take the role of Hokage."
Then the boy was gone, leaving nothing but the tang of rotting flesh, blood stains on the floorboards and the chipped Anbu mask in the hands of Sarutobi.
"He walked away...from..." muttered the Hokage, barely managing to hold himself in check. The old man sat still for a long moment, his thumb rubbing the roughed edges of the mask before his head dropped to his chest. He suddenly felt very old, and very afraid. It took less than five minutes for the remaining team members to arrive at the office.
"What happened Kakashi? I heard the mission was a success!" Sarutobi growled, his clawed hands still clutching at the mask as if somehow it would erase the past events.
"It was Hokage-sama, but…something happened…" The man began, clearly as perturbed as his leader "There was a confrontation, we're not sure on the details..."
Tora spoke. "He wouldn't tell us anything! He didn't even speak to us the whole way back!"
Sarutobi mentally cursed, how did nobody know what was wrong? They saw the boy almost daily!
"Did he say something to you Hokage-sama? Anything?" Yama asked, also removing his mask. Hiruzen sighed wearily, allowing himself to feel human for a moment as he held his weary head in weathered hands.
"Unless I didn't hear him correctly, he just resigned from being a shinobi"
Tora gasped, her deep brown eyes widening in surprise and fear. "No! Permission to leave Hokage-sama!"
"Granted" She left in a burst of speed with Yama soon after her, without even bothering to ask the Hokage for permission to leave. Kakashi stood still, watching them run off and disappear around a corner. With his mask resting on the side of his head he stared forlornly at the Hokage monument.
"I'm sorry Minato- sensei, I couldn't even keep that promise for you."
It was then that Sarutobi Hiruzen decided to leave for the night, for it would be a long day and Hokages were not supposed to be human.