My thanks to Demonkid for his idea juggling.
Summary: One of Kyuubi's many titles was the Incarnation of Fire, but this was far more than just a title, it was also a job description. When Kyuubi goes missing, Naruto is called upon to pick up the mantle, whether he wants to or not.
Disclaimer: Naruto is the property of Kishimoto Masashi.
To put it succinctly, though the boy in question knew not that word, this day had been a long one.
It started shortly after the lucky few who passed the Genin Exam had gone home with their families to celebrate their accomplishment. All too familiar feelings of envy, longing and rank jealousy flickered through him as he sat dejectedly on the Loser/Monster/Demon swing. It was one of the few things in this town that was his, since nobody else had ever used it from the singular time he sat on it seven years ago. What followed was the Special Exam Fiasco, though he didn't know what that latter word meant either.
It was a bittersweet event, whatever that meant, where he learned that Mizuki was a traitor, Iruka-sensei actually liked him and where he actually learned how to make a clone which didn't explode on contact with the air. He also learned that his personal hero put a demon in his belly to save the village while damning an orphan. He wasn't quite sure how he felt about that fact. Mitigating it, a term to be looked up later, was Iruka-sensei's own personal headband and strap, knowing there was now another person in this hateful place who saw Naruto for Naruto. That placed Iruka-sensei just behind Ayame in Super Special People.
His skinny body still hummed with excitement, though slightly bloated from the Ramen Spree which decimated Iruka-sensei's coin purse. The first step of his Dream had come about, with the next being Team Assignments come Monday. Here he was, still bouncing with excess energy though it was well into the night, some thirty hours after he was approached by Mizuki. He was a third of the way through his Hokage acceptance speech (it never hurt to be prepared) when he suddenly paused in mid stroke before slipping from his chair.
"The Hell? Where the...urgh, what is this stuff?" Naruto lifted one bare foot from the...well, he guessed it started off as water at some point. Moving his other foot gave a rather disquieting slurking sound. Of all places to be barefoot!
"Hello? Anyone out there?" His words echoed down the slick and dismal halls. With a dejected sigh, as today had been rather full of awesome up until now, he set off down one of the wider tunnels. He figured it had to lead somewhere.
With that thought, he visibly started when he actually found himself somewhere, that being an immense gallery of sorts. He would have thought he was outside somewhere had he not seen a very distant wall. Of course, the predominant feature was the Cage, fully deserving the capital letter. It was huge, the top lost in the fog which obscured the ceiling. What freaked him out the most was the dead silence.
After having heard of the demon in his belly, he half expected there to be a massive demon fox somewhere around here, like in that box. Though the massive gate was still sealed with a paper tag, for all intents it looked like the Cage was rather empty.
Naruto spun at the sound of the drab, flat voice, losing his balance and ending up on his rear. He scuttled backwards from the robed...whatever which was hovering over the liquid covered floor. He pointed an accusatory finger at the figure.
"Who the hells are you?"
"Such insolence. Let us finish this matter that we might be elsewhere."
Naruto went Squint. "Insoluwhatta?"
"Rudeness." The creature opened its hand, in which an open satchel appeared. With the other hand, the entity pulled forth a very tall sheaf of papers. Taking the topmost sheet, the being held it out to Naruto. "Take this."
He was instantly wary, or rather, even more wary. "Why? And who the...who are you?"
The...whatever looked at Naruto, or rather the deeply hooded head turned in his direction. "Ah yes, how very rude of us. Now then, let us find our credentials. Pardon, young sir, but could you hold this for a moment? We need a free hand."
Naruto, always willing to lend a hand, took the proffered sheet, learning a moment later that he had been tricked. Blood was pulled forcibly from the pores in his fingertips, the liquid slithering over the paper to form his signature. Before he could puzzle out what this meant, the paper was snatched back from him.
"Well, everything seems to be in order. We'll be taking our leave now and congratulations, young sir, on taking up the mantle as the Sixth Incarnation of Fire. May your time be fulfilling, etcetera and so forth." The figure started to fade.
Naruto snapped out of his shock and blurted out, "Wait! Who are you and what do you mean?"
The figure paused for a moment. "We are your Auditors, Namikaze Naruto, fulfilling our duties as outlined in Pub.1506 dash 1395B, Sections 14 and following."
"Oh...um...thank you. You wouldn't know where a giganormous demonic fox would be, would you? It's supposed to be sealed in me or something."
"Kyuubi has been suspended, pending evaluation. If there's nothing else, there is some filing which needs our attention."
Naruto was stunned. This had to be some sort of very very odd dream.
"Um...what exactly am I supposed to do?"
He squirmed as he was pretty darn sure the Auditor was giving him an Iruka Look. "Your job description has been posted in the Hall of Records for a period of almost thirteen annual filings! That you have not availed yourself to your duties, educational resources or supplemental materials in this time is not our problem."
Naruto was suddenly alone in a very large room with a very empty cage. He just knew he was going to get blamed for this somehow. 'What a minute...Namikaze? As in Hokage Namikaze Minato?' Naruto promptly fainted in his mindscape at the possible implications.
He cracked a crusty eye open, feeling some odd roughness on his right cheek. This turned out to be part of his care-worn carpet pressing into his face. Directly in his line of sight, easily seen due to the morning light, was his ink bottle. The stopper was missing though the bottle was upright, so that was a good thing. He gave it no more thought as he picked it up and set it back on the rickety table once he sat up.
Something important, or at least something different, had happened last night, but try as he might he just couldn't grasp the fleeting images of what must have been one very crazy dream. 'Maybe...maybe I should ask Iruka-sensei for some tips or something so I can remember dreams better.'
That singular name popped in his head, causing him to stumble as he went through his morning routine. Iruka-sensei was probably busy putting the teams together or something, so that left the Old Man. With a determined nod, Naruto wasted no further time, opting to get this over straightaway to free up the rest of his weekend from senseless worry.
Naruto was always one to notice odd things, and one thing he immediately noticed was the different way some of the shopkeepers and pedestrians were looking at him. It was an unfamiliar look, though the closest he could place it would be puzzlement. Shrugging it off, as he tried to do with their more typical looks, he opted for the higher highway. With a few bounded ricochets, he was quickly zipping along the roofline towards the Tower.
"Hokage-sama, there is an Uzumaki Naruto requesting an audience. What should I tell him?"
'So early? Well, might as well do this now than later. Hopefully, this will free up some of my day from senseless worry.' "Send him in, if you would."
"Hai, Hokage-sama." His receptionist backed out of the doorway, allowing Naruto entrance.
Sarutobi caught himself staring, and quickly recomposed himself. "Good morning, Naruto. To what do I owe the pleasure? Oh, and before I forget, take this form for your Shinobi Register photo."
Naruto started to reach for it, but then snatched his hand back as if stung. A memory of something tickled his brain.
Trying to ignore the smear of blue-ish/black ink which covered a third of Naruto's face and a good portion of his hair, Sarutobi asked, "Is there something the matter, Naruto?"
"Huh? Oh...nu..nothing, Jijii. Just got reminded of something, that's all. Oh...are there any Namikaze's left?"
There was a distinct snapping sound, which turned out to be Sarutobi's pipe, which he had been filling. Most talks with the boy necessitated a significant amount of nicotine. He carefully emptied the bowl onto a sheet of paper, dropped the ruined pipe in the trash, and opened up the topmost righthand drawer. Taking the opportunity to stall and formulate a plausibly ambiguous response, Sarutobi took his time rooting around the pipe-filled drawer. He then took his time repacking his pipe, and tried to light it with a minor Katon technique. Nothing happened.
He raised an eyebrow at that, since for such a mundane E-rank hardly any thought was needed to make it work. Regardless, his pipe-bowl of cherry scented tobacco was smolder-free. He noticed the boy straighten in his periphery.
"Sa...something the matter, Old Man? I don't mind if you smoke, if that's why you stopped or anything."
With that simple declaration, the tobacco in the bowl caught on fire. A lot of fire. The singular gout brushed the ceiling twenty feet above them. Before the Hokage could blink, the bowl was aflame with deep blue flickers coming from the mouthpiece. He quickly dropped it in his waste bin, followed by a hasty Suiton jutsu to fill it with water. He only really began to panic a bit when the water started to boil. This in turn became a slightly stronger emotive when the floor beneath the boiling basket started to char.
Sparing a glance towards his guest, one eyebrow raised of its own accord at how the boy seemed to be pushing himself into the back of his chair, the blood draining from his face causing the ink blotches to stand out much more starkly. Having the feeling that Naruto was somehow responsible, which was nearly always the case when it came to oddities or random chaos, the Hokage cleared his throat.
"..s right...he or it was right. Huh? Um...sorry about that, Old Man, guess I zoned out for a sec."
"Naruto, might you know anything about why my waste bin is currently boiling and burning my office floor?"
"...mise you won't get mad?"
"I'm sorry, what was that? I couldn't hear you over the crackles."
"Um...promise you won't get mad? I think you're gonna get mad."
"I dunno. It's not that I don't trust you," Naruto quickly added, "it's just that I just know you're gonna get mad."
"How about you let me be the judge of that, hrm?"
The boy hung his head in resignation. "The Cage was empty, Kyuubi's gone and something called an Adjuster or something tricked me into being a wuzzit of Fire or something, right before whatever it was snapped at me for not reading the manual or whatever and doing the research on this job which I should've done since I was born or something."
Despite all conventions stating otherwise, the outside of the Hokage Tower did not suddenly become a feather-filled flurry from roosting pigeons taking wing following a disbelieving and highly panicked shout of "What?". As it was, no such sound was heard and the pigeons continued in their slumber.
It was indeed a good thing that Sarutobi could multitask. Part of his brain was currently very furiously pondering the deeper implications of Naruto's statement, while the rest of his will was bent on levitating the extremely hot and flash-steaming waste bin using pure chakra manipulation. It was currently four feet off the smoldering floor, where a nice symmetrical ring was burned into the chakra treated wood. He really didn't mean for his voice to come out as harsh as it did, though in his defense Sarutobi was a bit preoccupied.
The boy's head snapped up, chagrin clearly evidenced on his rather emotive face. "See? I told you you'd get mad!"
"I just knew it, yanno. I knew I should've gone to Iruka-sensei though he's probably busy. At least he'd be a little understanding about all this instead of shouting at me."
"I mean, sheesh. First the exam, then Mizuki-teme, then the whole demon-inna-belly thing and now this."
The boy was jerked from his grousing. "Wha? Oh, sorry Old Man...just thinking out loud and all." A sheepish hand rubbed at the back of his head.
"Yes, yes, that's all well and good, Naruto. Now then, first help me deal with this," he indicated the suspended bin, "and then we'll move on to other matters."
"Oh, you mean make the fire stop?"
"That would be..."
The rest of that statement was drowned out by the sharp crack of thunder as the walls of Sarutobi's chakra containment rushed inwards to fill a sudden vacuum. It shook the office windows, the shockwave disturbing the pile of ash which was the boiling bin right up until the heat was removed. It would seem that the odd fire was the only thing keeping the shape whole.
Sarutobi recovered first, coming around the desk and crouching before Naruto.
"Shirt off now and show me the seal."
Naruto knew an order when he heard one, shucking his jacket and shirt quickly before focusing his intent. Where once there was unblemished toned belly now sported a dark simplistic seal.
"Hard to believe that kept a demon trapped, eh?"
"Though the design may look very simple, do not be fooled Naruto. Each and every line or squiggle is comprised of designs and seals. Think of it like a line design when seen far off, but closer inspection reveals the lines are made up of very small words."
Despite the stressful morning, Sarutobi chuckled. "Whoa indeed, Naruto-kun. Minato was a genius when it came to seals."
Naruto's head snapped up from his navel inspection. "Namikaze. They called me Namikaze Naruto."
"Oh? Who's 'they'?"
"Them, the folks from last night."
Sarutobi frowned. "You were visited last night by mysterious people? Why the hell wasn't I informed!"
Naruto slunk back a bit at the outburst. "Um...sorry about that Old Man, but I did tell you. Yanno, inside by the Cage."
"By the empty Cage?"
"This had better not be a prank, Naruto. I've spent too much time already this morning trying to find the punchline."
Naruto looked scandalized. "I'd never prank about something like that, Jijii. I catch enough crap thanks to that damn fox without adding to it."
"And you're positive the Cage was empty?"
"Pretty sure. I mean, I couldn't even see the top of it, yanno? So how big was the Kyuubi supposed to be anyhows?"
"Several hundred feet at the shoulder."
Naruto gaped, gawked and spluttered. In a small voice, lost in wonder, he said, "Well Old Man, I'm pretty sure I would've noticed that. The man, or whoever, said Kyuubi was gone."
"About that, what else can you tell me?"
"Sorry...it's like a dream, yanno? The details are just out of reach."
"So you merely need a hand to pull those memories up, correct?"
Sarutobi nodded, more to himself than anything. A quick glance to his guest's face made his decision. Time for some payback.
"You can pull your shirt back on, Naruto. I'll call someone in who can help you pull that dream up." Standing, he moved to the door, opened it briefly, then returned to his desk.
He rooted around in his once-again-opened pipe drawer before finding a non-flammable one, or at least he hoped it was. With practiced ease, he packed the bowl, and with a careful glance at a still stunned Naruto, performed the E-rank fire technique as it should have been from the start. Finally, after so much stress, he could finally get some nicotine.
He glanced back at the boy. 'Surely he knows about the ink...hrmph, knowing Naruto, this is another prank. I just bet he's waiting for me to ask about it, just so he can make me the fool. Just like last week. I'm onto you, Naruto.' He grinned around the stem in victory.
It wasn't often that the Hokage called for her personally. Usually, it was she reporting to him on what she had discovered. She idly drummed her slender fingers on the recently branded buttock in thought. 'Hn...haven't done anything too bad lately, so it can't be that. Or that. Or that either. Maybe that one if they found the body. Naw, I highly doubt that. So...maybe a promotion?' She visibly brightened at that notion and turned to her guest.
"Alright, kitten," she smacked the exposed buttock and smiled at the muffled scream, "Mommy has to go see her boss for a second. Do you think you can behave yourself? Or perhaps I should leave something to occupy your time. What are your thoughts on this?"
The trussed up Cloud nin rolled his clamped open eye in abject terror, though to his credit he only squealed a little bit.
"I think so too." She smiled cheerfully up at his rictus of basal fright, then reached around him and clamped one of Maito Gai's beginner weights to a dangly bit. "Now you behave well and maybe Mommy will have a nice treat for you when I get back. Now doesn't that sound swell?" She gave him another megawatt grin, turned, and stepped out of the cell.
"Okay you maggots, if I find that any of you have played with my toys, I will personally ensure that Dingo's Dango Hut has a few special skewers in the friers! Do I make myself clear?"
"Ma'am, yes ma'am!"
She grinned at them. "Well, okay then." With a jaunty wave, she Flickered to the Tower's roof before heading down to Sarutobi's receptionist to verify her appointment. She was waved in and opened the office door.
"Your will, Ho...you!"
The reason behind her outburst spun on his feet and pointed an accusatory finger back. "You!"
"What the hell happened to your face?"
"There's nothing wrong with my face you hag!"
"What was that you little stain?"
"So you're deaf and crazy? That's just perfect!"
"Oh, you asked for it this time, you little shit!" A cleared throat managed to reach her right when she hauled the boy up by his neck.
The combatants turned, Anko with her left full of Naruto and her right cocked back for a punch, and Naruto with a chambered kick aimed at her exposed chest.
"As entertaining as this seems, you were called here for another reason, Anko-chan."
She immediately released Naruto, who landed on his back with a grunt of expressed breath, straightened her coat and bowed towards the Hokage. "Your will, Hokage-sama?"
"I need you to help Naruto recover a memory from last night. It should be easy to find and I want a full report, which means I need you to keep focused."
"I understand, Hokage-sama. Okay you, get comfy. This won't hurt a bit, though I'll need you to trust me, just for a little. Think you can manage that?"
Naruto scowled at her as he scrambled up and got back in his chair. He glanced over at Sarutobi and sighed with a nod. "I'm trusting you too, Anko-san. If you hurt me in there, I'm gonna mess you up. My mind, my rules."
Her eyes widened at the threat before she broke out in a grin. "I like you, kid. You got guts. Let's do this then. Kick back, relax, and let Auntie Anko do her thing."
She went through a short chain of seals, touched her index fingers to his temples, and she was sucked into his mindscape. The boy was waiting for her by the Cage.
"The hell? That thing is huge! Wait...shouldn't there be, oh, I don't know...the embodiment of pure malice in fox form or something?"
"I know, right? But it was empty last night. Fellow said Kyuubi was gone."
"Gone? How can a huge thing like that just be gone?"
Naruto gave a half-shrug. "No clue...so what do you need me to do?"
She looked down at him, looked around and said, "Think about what this person said or looked like, or any particular events and the memory should pop right up, since it was from last night."
With her assistance, this was a rather simple task as the memory was projected in front of them. Anko watched intently, then made a motion with her hand. "Rewind just a bit."
"How do I do that?"
"Your mind, remember? Just think it and see what happens. Too far. Advance it just a hair...perfect."
She watched, her grin growing wider. "You so got had! That's classic! The self-proclaimed Prankster King got tricked so easily! I can't believe it!" She broke down in braying peals of laughter.
All Naruto could do was scowl in embarrassment. Her laughing at his expense was not the same as her doing something bad to him. It still sucked, regardless.
She finally came up for air and shot him a victory sign. "Oh, I can't wait to let select people know about this. Thank you, Naruto-chan for the early present."
"If you say a single word, I will tell everyone, with the aid of several thousand Shadow Clones, all about your stuffed animal collection, especially the glass-cased ponies."
Anko's face went deathly pale, then slowly went through the hues until she ended up purple with apoplectic rage. One hand snaked out, literally, binding him with several sleeve serpents, which picked him up bodily and brought them nose to nose.
"So...we have a deal?"
Anko paused in the blistering retort she had prepared, and instead asked, "You're a Genin, right? Technically an adult?"
At his confused nod, their noses brushing, she planted one Anko-sized deeply passionate kiss on his unsuspecting lips, the shock of which made his eyes grow comically wide as well as ejecting both of them from his mindscape.
"Aw, you're no fun at all, Naruto-chan. And to think that I was both sealing our deal and paying you a very high compliment. Don't expect another opportunity like that anytime soon, you ingrate."
Naruto could only stare blankly, some two feet to the right of Sarutobi's chair. Anko smirked in victory and turned to her Hokage.
"Would you prefer a written or oral report, Hokage-sama?"
"Oral will suffice. I have a feeling this is something I would not want recorded. Speaking of which..." His elderly yet agile fingers sped through signs, the hidden seals on the walls, ceiling, floor and windows glowing briefly as they were activated. "Please, continue."
"The Cage is empty though the Seal on the door is still intact and undamaged. The being was nondescript, hovered over the floor, and wore a shapeless robe with a deep hood. The creature, which called itself an Auditor, also spoke in first person plural, using 'we,' 'us,' and 'our.' Naruto did sign a contract in blood and the Auditor recognized him as the Sixth Incarnation of Fire. I'm thinking that would mean the Kyuubi was the Fifth Incarnation of Fire, but that is merely conjecture."
"Hmmm...I see. You have provided some very important information, Anko-chan. I will ensure you are properly compensated for your time, and your record will indicate this as a successful B-rank. If there's nothing further..."
"Actually, there is something that's bugging me, Hokage-sama." She glanced at the slightly catatonic teen, then looked to the Hokage touching her cheek and hair. "Does he even know?"
"I am thinking that he does, and that this is some sort of prank which has yet to reach its conclusion. I have no intention of falling for this one."
She grinned and bowed. "I think I'll take the same stance. By your leave, Hokage-sama, I have a Cloud nin that needs my personal touch."
Naruto would stay in Sarutobi's company until shortly after lunch, the time spent between Anko's departure and Ayame's delivery of ramen testing for Naruto's elemental affinity as well as some of the basics of his newfound powers. The boy seemed to understand that he lacked the control necessary to safely do much more than the pure basics, such as hovering and snuffing out live flames on his fingertips. Fire wasn't his primary though. That was Wind, a very strong affinity in all actuality. The Fire component seemed to have come along with the job description, and coupled with Naruto's Wind affinity made for both elements to be extremely unstable.
His affinities were unstable enough to leave another scorch mark on the ceiling after his Chakra card split violently just prior to combusting. There was enough Wind element present to feed the flames, which resulted in something very much like a golfball size fireball hitting the ceiling at high velocity.
The boy's immediate future, regardless of team placement, would be filled with chakra control and meditative exercises. For his part, Sarutobi taught some basic control methods and made a note to have a research team dive deeper into Incarnations and Auditors. The entity had mentioned books, regulations and the like, so there had to be a way for Naruto to gain access to them. Sarutobi had a feeling in his gut that such would prove to be very important, not just to Konoha, but to all the Elemental Nations.
It was Ayame who brought Naruto's attention to his appearance. His disbelief, since surely the Old Man would've said something, was completely shattered once Ayame searched through her apron pockets until she found her compact, and let Naruto look at his reflection in the small mirror. He turned a horrified look to Sarutobi, who merely grinned around his pipe stem and shot Naruto the victory sign. It was also Ayame who, with a few brief directions, took Naruto into a nearby washroom and did her level best to clean him up.
She had always been sweet like that.
Naruto was too preoccupied to act out much during his photo, despite the design he had created during one of Iruka's more boring lectures: the Red Kabuki Toad. As it was, his photo showed a freshly scrubbed Naruto, thanks to Ayame, who merely gazed at the photographer blankly. He only had to take it once, and his total lack of argument over it meant that he completely missed Konohamaru's assassination attempt by a good half-hour.
The photo was one that Sarutobi was very quick to hide, after he had sent Naruto off with some free ramen vouchers from Ichiraku. The face, except for some roundness around the cheeks, the line of the brow and the whisker marks, was a dead ringer for a teenage Minato. Since the child had been rather sedate when it was taken, the parallels were eerily similar. Sarutobi sighed. He would spend the evening going through other Naruto pictures for one he could use in the Shinobi Register. Him looking like a younger Fourth just wouldn't do.
AN: Auditors inspiration from Terry Pratchett's Discworld novel, Hogfather.