First ten chapters have been edited and reworked in some spots. I encourage anyone with the time to go back for a reread, as it will be vastly more enjoyable. My writing quality has jumped quite a bit.
The crowding around the Administrative building was obscene. Vendors from all of Fire Country had erected stalls with which they peddled their wares to Konoha's general populace. The usually calmer, if still bustling, center of Konoha was crawling with life as patrons, many of whom came from well outside the village walls, fluttered from vendor to vendor blowing away their money on bargain prices and souvenirs. The noise of the hundreds of crowded tourists and villagers easily reached the numerous training grounds, and filled the rest of the village proper with a tangible hum of anticipation.
Red banners hung from all sides, all the walls of buildings bordering the gaping plaza covered with Fire Country's favorite color. The emblem of the nation hung proudly from every tapestry, Konoha's "Will of Fire" motto clearly emblazoned just below.
With his chunin vest donned, his perfectly pressed navy fatigues underneath, Naruto looked the part of Konoha shinobi to a tee. His headband gleamed in the bright sunlight of the beautiful day, a sight many were attributing to the heavens smiling upon Konoha and her new Kage.
"So much fanfare," the blond boy remarked under his breath. It was an unnecessary gesture. No one would have heard him anyway; such was the level of noise. He could barely even hear himself think.
Wisely, Naruto had kept himself clear of the Administrative Building and its surrounding plaza all day. He wanted no part of the festivities that were taking place. He wouldn't have even been in his fatigues had it not been a direct order from the Hokage's office that all active duty shinobi were to be in their finest military garb.
It was days like today that truly showed just how many shinobi Konoha really had. Naruto had never truly thought about the numerical value of his village's ninja, but now that it was in his brain, the estimation was somewhere in the thousands. And the blond had no idea just how many thousand there were.
For, while many civilians flocked to the center of the village, most, if not all of the shinobi and kunoichi who weren't on guard duty stayed away. Naruto had never passed so many green flak vests in his life. How many are jonin? he wondered absently. Just how many Konoha shinobi had obtained the rank that had driven Naruto to excellence in his early years?
"I'll be one of them soon enough," he promised himself. Just gotta survive a war.
As much as his end goal still pushed him to excel, it was constantly being overshadowed by the looming specter of the Kusagakure situation. Naruto had received his orders, and shipped out in one day. He had only gotten his orders the day before, but it felt like an eternity to the young ANBU.
Originally, the thought of putting all of his affairs in order before leaving would take up every waking second of his time. But then, he had come to the rather depressing realization that he had very few affairs that needed tending to.
His bank account was being managed, and would receive regular payments even whilst he was on the front lines. The only change would be the large influx of money he would get from the sale of his apartment – he had no need for it for as long as the war was going on.
Those were the two most pressing concerns, and Naruto was forced to acknowledge that, in his mad charge through the ranks and into ANBU, he hadn't stopped along the way to make many friends. He had dozens of acquaintances, people he ran missions with from time to time, people he trained with from time to time. But few real friends. No one who would miss him enough to warrant a goodbye.
The most he had were Hikari and Daisuke. And both of them were busy with containment on the borders of Fire Country while the situation with Otogakure fizzled.
His old chunin team was all dead, and he had no one his own age with whom he could just hang out with. Mai from the Archive was his closest non-shinobi acquaintance, and Naruto was far from naïve enough to believe she saw him as anything more than a mildly cute little boy who frequented her workplace. She enjoyed teasing him, true, and was never one to say no to a conversation, but the blond was of the firm belief that it was more out of general compassion than any affection. He could consider them friends, but she was far too wrapped up in her civilian life these days to pay much attention to him.
It was a solitary life when you blazed through the ranks without stopping to appreciate everyone and everything around you, Naruto realized depressingly.
Or even anyone or anything…
A sigh slipped past his lips almost silently just as Naruto mechanically pushed the flaps to Ichiraku Ramen back and stepped in. The all-permeating smell of fresh ramen assaulted his nostrils with a vengeance, and even as melancholy as he was, the blond couldn't help but smile. "God, I love this place," he murmured, moving to take a seat at the bar. To his right, a blond girl was arguing with her pink haired friend, but he paid them no heed as he plopped himself down in his customary spot with a cry of "Teuchi-san!"
The owner of his favorite place stepped out from the back obediently, and the middle aged merchant's face split into a grin at the sight of an old customer. "Naruto! It's been a while, hasn't it? What can I do for ya?"
"You still remember my usual?" the ANBU asked cheekily.
"Tch! As if I could ever forget it, what with how many times you've ordered it," Teuchi laughed. He wrote a few words on a small slip of paper, clipped it to a pin hanging from a thin wire, and sent it flying away to the kitchen with a flick of his wrist. "Two miso ramen coming right up."
"Thanks, old man. How ya been?"
Ichiraku shrugged. "Not bad, not bad. Expansion plans pluggin' along. Business's been pretty good too."
Naruto's smile couldn't fade. "Good to hear. Wouldn't want this ol' place closing down on me."
"Ha! Back in the old days you could've kept me and Ayame afloat on your own, Naruto," Teuchi bellowed. The man's good humor had always been a source of smiles for Naruto as a child.
"And how is Ayame-chan?" the blond asked quickly, looking to avoid any uncomfortable mentions of how he hadn't been around for a while.
Old man Ichiraku chuckled. "Down at the Administrative Plaza, spending all my hard earned money no doubt. She's alright, I suppose. Not been around so much either." A disgusted look crossed the man's normally cheerful face. "Got herself a boyfriend."
Guess pops doesn't approve. Naruto couldn't help the laugh that burst past his lips. "He stealing her away?" he asked jokingly.
Teuchi nodded seriously. "Hardly ever see her when she's not working anymore. Always gone on weekends." The merchant's eyes lit up. "Say, Naruto, you're a pretty good shinobi right?"
The blond rolled his eyes as he caught on to the man's thinking, holding up a hand. "Sorry, old man, any and all assassination missions gotta be taken to the Hokage."
"Think he'd go for it?"
"Don't think so."
Teuchi shrugged helplessly, and Naruto gave the man a pat on the shoulder. "Don't worry, old man. Sure it'll all work out for you."
Ichiraku rolled his eyes at Naruto's fake concern. "Oh, be quiet, kiddo. I'll go check on your ramen."
Naruto just smiled innocently as he watched the old man disappear into the kitchen. He reappeared a moment later with two steaming bowls of the best food on earth. A muffled "Thank you" was all Teuchi got as Naruto tucked in with fervor.
As the blond happily slurped his noodles, he couldn't help but glance over at the two girls he had passed on his way to his spot. One eyebrow rose as he took in their arguing forms. You've gotta be kidding me.
The blonde was none other than one of the three genin Naruto had escorted from the Grand Fire Arena during the Battle of the Chunin Exams, as it was being called. Yamanaka Ino, he recalled after a moment of thought. She and her counterparts had been a handful, but far from incompetent during the battle. Save for a few missteps, they had done admirably – for genin.
His ears twitched as he overheard the blond call the girl Haruno. Tch, who would'a thought. Daisuke's little cousin sitting next to me eating lunch.
The debate as to whether to go make conversation with two girls was neatly solved as the pink haired girl – who had been facing away from Naruto – whirled and pinned him with a searching stare.
His chopsticks froze halfway to his mouth and the second eyebrow joined the first near Naruto's hairline. "Can I help you?" he deadpanned when the girl didn't turn away. The blond couldn't help his self-satisfied grin when she flushed scarlet.
She sputtered for a moment, obviously off guard at being addressed. She's staring at me. What can she expect? Naruto wondered.
"Um…well, I was wondering if you were a chunin…" the pink haired girl finished lamely. Her blond friend shook her head in exasperation as Naruto snorted indelicately.
He looked down at himself, eyes drinking in the form of his standard shinobi pants, shirt, and flak vest. A vest that was only handed out to those who obtained chunin rank. "Yes. Yes I am," he said flatly. And that's not what you were thinking about.
"But you're so young!" the girl burst out.
Naruto considered patiently explaining his situation to the girl, but a glance at the giggling Yamanaka – who clearly didn't feel like taking pity on the girl – changed his mind. "Yes I am. Thirteen, in fact," he said pompously.
"But then you're only a year older than us," she exclaimed, referencing her friend as well. "And I know you weren't in this last exam. How…"
Seriously…"Reserve grad." Do I really have to tell Daisuke you're stupid? C'mon now.
Understanding flitted across the girl's face before being replaced by dismissal. "Ah." She turned back to the Yamanaka without a word, and Naruto couldn't help the swelling of anger in his gut.
Being a graduate of the Reserve Corps carried a weight with it, a weight of lowered expectations of failed Academy Graduates. It was stigma that Naruto wasn't particularly used to, given his age, recognized talent, and position in ANBU, and the blond found that being dismissed out of hand wasn't a fun experience.
He turned back to his ramen, mood soured, only to overhear the pink haired girl muttering to her friend. "I don't know what you're thinking, Piggy. There's no way that guy can be all that tough. You heard him, he's a Reserve Graduate. That means he couldn't pass his jonin's test. Konohamaru's probably tougher than him, not to mention Neji or Sasuke-kun."
Oh she did not just – Being overlooked was something Naruto could deal with. Being dismissed as a Reserve Graduate was something he could deal with. Not happily, but he could deal with it.
Being unfavorably compared to a bunch of genin who didn't even graduate from the Academy early was not something he could deal with.
"Four," he said loudly enough for the two girls to hear. His voice was cold as ice, and the two girls' attention was grabbed.
"Excuse me?" the pink haired Haruno – Sakura, he remembered – asked.
"Four. The number of jonin I've killed in the past three years. The first was when I was eleven," Naruto bit out. "How many have you killed, Sakura-san?"
The pink haired girl blinked in abject disbelief at the number, before confusion settled over her. "What? But that's –"
"Ridiculous?" Naruto cut her off. "Asinine? Absurd? Completely unbelievable that a Reserve Graduate could manage to kill four jonin? You have a cousin name Daisuke, am I right?" He didn't wait for her to answer. "He's a reserve graduate. Do you think he's not as tough as all you're little friends?"
Sakura blinked. "But that's not – I'm not…How do you know Daisuke?" she finally settled on.
"We run missions together," he said simply. Wait for it…
"But Daisuke's an…" the girl trailed off as her eyes widened in realization.
Naruto just sneered. Suck on that one for a little while. He was tempted to pull back his sleeve, wipe off the makeup and reveal his tattoo just to deliver the coup de grace, but the idea of breaking protocol that blatantly held him back. ANBU identities weren't classified S-rank, but they were encouraged not to reveal themselves to any who weren't close family. He was already walking on thin ice by indirectly compromising himself.
"Money's on the counter, Teuchi-san," the blond called, his gaze shifting to the flaps that hid the kitchen from view. A pang of disappointment shot through him, knowing that he wouldn't be back at the homey little stand for months, if not years.
"Have a good one, Naruto!" he heard, and dropped from his stool and made his way to the exit.
He held the flaps open with one arm and turned back to the two genin kunoichi with a cold gaze. "Think before you insult someone you don't know next time," he quipped icily, taking no small amount of satisfaction in Sakura's mortified flush as she realized just what caliber of shinobi she had insulted. Her friend, the Yamanaka, looked to be caught in the middle between a similar humiliation, exasperation at her friend, and humor at the situation in general. The blond ANBU paid it no mind as he strode out of the stall with purpose.
He made it ten steps in the direction of the Administrative Plaza and its fanfare before a hand on his shoulder and a called "Wait up!" halted him in his tracks.
Naruto tensed, refraining from gripping the offending appendage and tossing its owner over his shoulder. He turned quickly, eyes widening slightly in surprise as he took in the irritated looking Yamanaka Ino before narrowing in suspicion.
"You got ears, buddy?" she asked snidely. "Been telling you to stop since you left the stand."
Naruto snorted. "Guess not. What do you want? Come to apologize for your friend?"
"Tch, hardly," Ino scoffed indelicately. "You might'a been way harsh back there, but stupid Sakura was the one who insulted you to begin with."
The ANBU gave her a flat stare, not quite believing her but letting the point slide. Some friend. "So…what do you want?" The boy had the pleasure of seeing the blond Yamanaka look uncomfortable for a second before she composed herself.
"I…I wanted to say thanks," she began. "Y'know, for saving me and my friends back during the battle. We were done for before you showed up and…well…" Ino trailed off, a blush marring her pretty face.
Naruto decided to take pity on her. "I was just doing what anyone else would'a done – Ow! The hell was that for?" he asked incredulously, grabbing his upper arm where the girl had slapped him.
"Don't gimme that platitude shit!" the blonde burst out, glaring at him as if he had offended her. "I get that crap from the Academy instructors and my jonin sensei. All that 'help your comrades' talk doesn't mean shit when there's a war going on. Three squads passed us down in that arena and didn't do anything. You got us outta there."
Naruto blinked twice, digesting the sincerity in the girl's words. It wasn't every day that he got thanked for doing his job. "Well…you're welcome I guess." Recognizing the risk of descending into an awkward silence, he continued, "Just doing my job, really."
He was rewarded by Ino's eyes snapping to his in a glare. The harsh expression melted when she saw his smirk. "I should hit you again," she threatened.
"Ha! Can't believe you actually did the first time," Naruto chuckled, shaking his head at his fellow blond.
She puffed herself up. "Yeah, well, you deserved it!"
"Did I really?"
"Oh yeah!" Ino nodded. "You mean you go around tossing out bullshit lines like that and don't expect people to call you on it?"
Since when are the ideals we hold above us bullshit lines? Naruto wondered. "I don't expect to get hit for it, I'll tell you that."
"Well you should."
"Why? You gonna be stalking me, waiting for an opportunity to slap me?" the ANBU quipped. Somewhere in the midst of their conversation, Naruto had resumed his walk towards the center of the village and Ino had fallen into step beside him.
"Maybe I will."
Naruto laughed outright. "I can be tough to find if I wanna be."
"Please, it's not that tough." Ino rolled her eyes.
"I found you at the ramen stand, didn't I?" The girl's face was completely serious, prompting Naruto to roll his own eyes at her intransigence.
They fell into silence for a few moments, before Ino spoke up once more. "Seriously though, thank you. From all three of us."
Naruto shrugged in discomfort. "You're welcome, again. But like I said, it wasn't a problem."
Ino scoffed. "Yeah. Sure looked like a problem when you were tangling with those two Suna guys…"
The teenage ANBU grimaced in remembrance of the fight. "Yeah, I guess. I was a bit over my head with that one. Nearly had both of 'em though, and I got one in the end." A scowl passed over his features as he remembered his failure to kill the masked jonin who had killed both Hayate and Genma. I wonder if Kakashi dealt with him?
He noticed his companion shudder slightly out of the corner of his eye. "It was crazy," she whispered. "You were fighting that first guy, and he was a jonin, and then the second one came in…"
She's never seen that kind of high level combat, Naruto realized. "When did you graduate?"
"The Academy," he clarified. "How long ago?"
The Yamanaka shrugged. "Six, seven months or so. Why?"
Naruto couldn't help his eyebrows shooting towards his hairline. Genin for six months and her instructor nominated her? That didn't happen much. "Well, you've only been a kunoichi for that long, right? You'll get used to that kind'a fighting after a while. And you've got some time before you'll have to fight jonin on your own."
"But you're barely older than me!" she exclaimed, echoing her friend from earlier. Naruto just shrugged helplessly.
"I graduated early and failed my jonin's test. I've been running missions for three years now, and that's a lot of experience."
"Tch, not that much," Ino muttered. "I know guys three years older than you who can't do what you did."
"Eh, I'm special," Naruto quipped, drawing an exasperated glare and a snort.
"Not the word I'd use."
"And what word is that?"
"Douche-bag," Ino deadpanned. Naruto couldn't help his snort.
"Please, tell me how you really feel. And you barely know me!" A look of deep offense was plastered on the boy's face.
"I know enough."
"And does that mean I know enough to call you a bitch?" the ANBU asked. He raised an eyebrow when the girl only shrugged.
"Sure, I guess."
"And that doesn't, I dunno…offend you at all?"
"I am a bitch," Ino said simply, tossing Naruto a look that told him quite clearly that he'd have to do better if he wanted to offend her.
He blinked. "Well alright then."
"Glad we cleared that up."
"Same." Naruto nodded, shaking his head a little at the turn the conversation had taken. She's weird…
A sudden increase in noise told the boy that they had reached the Administrative Plaza. The dozens of red banners flapped gently in the breeze, and Naruto shook his head for what had to be the tenth time that day.
"I've never seen all these people," Ino breathed, looking in awe at the hundreds of bodies crammed into the plaza waiting for the inauguration to begin.
"Same. No idea where the hell they all came from," Naruto said.
Ino turned to him and opened her mouth before closing it again. "Um…I gotta run. My dad's around here somewhere and I told him I'd find him."
Naruto nodded, mildly disappointed. "Gotcha."
"Will I be seeing you around?"
The blond ANBU barely contained his wince. "Yeah, probably not. I leave tomorrow on a long term mission. Outpost duty near the border of Lightning Country." That was the official cover story Root was running with in regards to the covert, S-class mission. Nobody questioned outpost duty. They just winced in sympathy and wished you luck and a speedy return.
Ino's face creased in what looked like disappointment for a moment, before it was gone behind smile. "Well whenever you get back, look me up. I'll be around."
"I'll do that."
"See you soon, douche-bag," was Ino's parting shot. She waved cheekily at him as she turned and pushed her way into the crowd and out of Naruto's sight.
"You too, bitch," he muttered.
Naruto pushed his own way into the crowd, wandering aimlessly for a few minutes and taking in the sights and sounds. Not being a tourist, there wasn't much to do other than bounce from stall to stall, and unlike all the other shinobi standing around in the plaza, he had no desire to mingle.
His desire to do much of anything was being sapped the closer he got to the inevitable. He would be at war in twenty four hours.
A sudden hush coming over the crowd derailed his train of thought, and Naruto turned his eyes upwards to the ledge that extended from the Administrative Building. His sharp eyes found the form of Sarutobi, clad in black undergarments covered by a white robe that fell to his ankles. The Hokage's hat was clasped tightly in his hands and on display for all to see.
"Citizens of Konohagakure and Hi no Kuni," the Sandaime boomed, his voice amplified to be heard all throughout the village. "It was on a day, not so very different than this one, that my master Senju Tobirama gave me the honor of being this great village's Hokage. Since then, the times and the world we live in have changed. It has been the greatest honor of my long life, to have served as the leader of Konohagakure and its people for as long as I have, but as the world changes around us, so too do we."
"It is because of this that I am here before you today, to introduce my successor."
A beautiful blond woman stepped forth from the shadows of the building and out onto the ledge. A severe expression rested on her young face as she surveyed the assembled masses before a small, almost sardonic smile spread across full lips.
Sarutobi extended his hand, the Hokage's hat outstretched. Tsunade spared it a glance as she passed her sensei by, and snatched it up with a grin before placing it on her head with a flourish.
"I introduce to you the granddaughter of the Shodai, the grandniece of the Nidaime, and my own student: Senju Tsunade, the Godaime Hokage of Konohagakure no Sato!"
And in the center of the Village Hidden in the Leaves, following the single most devastating direct attack the village had ever endured, amidst the start of a covert undertaking that would change the face of the Elemental Nations, the crowd roared its approval.
Naruto could only shake his head in silence. After a moment he turned his back on the crowd, on the great building, and on his new Hokage, and walked the other way.
He had a war to fight.
Low-lying mist covered the wet ground as sunlight peeked over the treetops; bright orange and yellow contrasting with the deep green of the high leaves, looking for all the world like a great fire in the distance. The play of light off the mist served to give the morning an eerie look to it, but the citizens of Northern Fire Country, Southern Waterfall Country, and Easter Grass Country were all used to it by now. Such things were the norm, and each and every one of them was looking forward to the warmth of the sun to chase away the coolness of night.
In a mist blanketed – the water vapor unusually thick – clearing miles from true civilization, Uzumaki Naruto didn't care about any of it.
He was annoyed. Very annoyed, really.
In retrospect, he shouldn't be all that surprised that Danzo would spontaneously change his plans. But then, it wasn't really a change in plans at all. It was just a change in how much Naruto knewabout the plans.
He wasn't exactly sure why he had even bothered to believe the scarred man's words about rendezvousing with the rest of the operators. As the leader of Konoha's leading covert organization, not to mention a politician, bullshit was Danzo's area of expertise. That and having some two hundred covert operatives meeting in one spot didn't make all that much sense.
It didn't stop the irritation, however.
His four man "escort team" had received coded instructions when they had checked in at the border of Waterfall country, directing them to split up and giving a set of coordinates for them to reach individually. From there, Naruto received another set of coordinates to reach, those of a dead drop point in far eastern Grass Country, and had picked up yet anotherset of coordinates.
That had been two days ago, and so far he had been directed to this clearing.
And so he waited.
Not in the clearing, of course – such a thing would be idiotic – but in one of the nearby trees, his body, already clad in forest colors, concealed by the thick branches and leaves.
Any half decent ninja looking for him would be able to find him, but then he wasn't really hiding. He had scanned the clearing five times, the last four with chakra, and had found no evidence of any drop point for further instructions. He figured, then, that whoever he was supposed to eventually meet would find him, rather than the other way around.
It could, of course, be a trap, but he didn't think so. Danzo, bullshitter extraordinaire that he was, was excessively paranoid. He had to be, and "better safe than sorry" was pretty much the motto of covert ops.
And so he waited.
He wasn't totally idle, however. The environment surrounding him gave him the perfect cover for his own brand of mist, and soon enough, chakra laden water vapor extended from him to over one hundred meters in each and every direction.
Naruto might not be explicitly hiding, but he'd be damned if he was caught off guard.
He wasn't disappointed.
Naruto felt their approach the moment they crossed into his mist. There were two of them, and he noticed with some small approval that they slowed down once they crossed the threshold of his awareness. Despite his layering and structuring of the mist to make it as natural as possible, his guests were still able to detect his chakra.
They're good. But I'm good too.
The duo broke off and moved in a standard looping pattern around the clearing they no doubt assumed he was in, so as to arrive at the same time.
Typical pincer maneuver. Simple, but effective in most situations and against most opponents, he thought clinically.
All of a sudden, he sighed, remembering his first day with Team Raido from so many years ago. Just as it was then, there was to be a test of his mettle now, just to make sure that he did, in fact, belong with highly trained covert operatives. Such a situation demanded it.
Best get it over with, Naruto thought with a combination of amusement and annoyance.
He formed a single hand seal, and appeared in the clearing below without a sound.
The sound of metal on metal – sudden though it was – was muffled through the mist, but it was heard nonetheless. Naruto, left hand firmly grasping his kunai, stood deadlocked with his attacker, a short blade that had appeared from the man's right sleeve grinding against Naruto's knife.
The man wasn't very tall, about average height, with hazel eyes and a forgettable face. Sandy blond hair topped his head, though Naruto could barely make it out through the mist and the black bandana the man wore. He was right handed, though the faint calluses on his left hand indicated trained ambidexterity. The man was well built for a shinobi, his form more muscled than many, indicating a close range combat specialist. A baggy green shirt, long sleeved and shinobi grade, likely concealing more weapons of the sharp and pointy variety lent itself to Naruto's theory.
Naruto processed the man's appearance in six tenths of a second, as long as it took to blink.
It wasn't a moment too soon, as a second concealed blade leapt from its hiding place up the man's same sleeve towards Naruto's left eye. The teen simply adjusted the grip of his kunai, redirecting his hand to intercept the weapon with the plated back of his fingered glove. The steel glanced off satisfyingly, and Naruto decided that being less than a foot from a close combat specialist wasn't in his best interests.
Lightning fast footwork had him five meters from the attacker in the blink of an eye, but the man was far from deterred. The second blade retracting from the man's right sleeve, a hand finally appeared to grasp the first, a short sword, and the nondescript shinobi charged.
He was surprisingly swift, but Naruto had been trained to expect handle surprises.
As the man entered his space, Naruto planted his right foot and used chakra to halt his backward momentum. He gritted his teeth as he pulled to an immediate stop, the tendons in his right leg screaming at him. It had the desired effect, however, as the charging man was in no position to stop his own movement, and was too close for it to have even had an effect had he been able to.
Naruto casually batted aside the desperate stab, moving inside the man's guard in a split second to press his advantage. His right hand brutally grasped the man's neck while chakra reversed the impressive speed, subjecting the attacker to a devastatingly disorienting momentum change as Naruto torqued his body to plant the man head first into the ground.
He didn't stop to admire the sight.
The distinctive whistle of a blade through the air was caught by Naruto's ears as the second attacker made his presence known with a stab to Naruto's back. Steel pierced flesh and the attacker stopped dead as the boy did nothing to stop his katana. Shock registered for a moment on the masked face – they weren't supposed to killthe boy – before it was replaced by trepidation as the body slowly crumbled to mud.
A nearly silent whistle grabbed his attention, and the emotion didn't have time to hold for long as the man hastily clapped his right hand to his left shoulder. He removed a fukimi-bari lodged in a nerve cluster. The sound of teeth grinding filled the silence as the arm drooped, the nerves deadened.
Naruto – the real one, who had never left his tree – burst from the foliage in a blur of green and brown as he moved to make quick work of the second attacker.
The man – just as nondescript as the last – pivoted quickly to bring his right arm, his good one, to bear in a decapitating cross slash. Naruto didn't let him finish.
Weighed down by the dead weight that was his left arm, the man was slower to bring the blade across, and Naruto took advantage without remorse. Naruto moved inside his guard swiftly, and the young ANBU halted the slash by stopping the man's wrist, before grabbing and twisting the offending appendage, divesting the man of his blade with a quick grab.
A simple shove had the man off balance, and Naruto palmed the stolen katana at the blade, his mesh gloved protecting his hand, and brought it across the man's temple with blinding speed. The shinobi dropped like a corpse, unconscious.
Naruto stepped back to survey the damage done to the clearing, noting with some satisfaction that there was little. The fight had been short but brutal, with the only real casualty the Tsuchi Bushin he had placed in the clearing to deal with whatever test his new allies would throw at him.
He had, no doubt, passed with flying colors.
It was a little disappointing, really. Hope these two jokers are just grunts. Don't wanna be working with guys who can get beat so easily. Naruto knew he was pretty good – brilliant for his age, even – but two trained covert operators shouldn't be taken down so easily, especially when they held a numerical advantage.
Their tactics had been simple, their attacks predictable, and Naruto had picked them apart without even breaking a sweat.
The teenage ANBU moved to sit down against a nearby tree, undoubtedly to wait for his two guests to wake up, but halted. Or rather, he found that he couldn't move. His arms and legs were all locked in position, a rather annoying one given that he was halfway sitting in midair, and he couldn't move his neck.
A quick flick of his eyes, about all he was capable of, told him that his shadow was positioned directly in front of him, the sun at his back, and that a thin strand of black led backwards from it to some unknown person.
Nara, he thought with certainty, annoyed with his capture but inwardly impressed with whoever had managed to snare him. Not only had they managed to sneak up on him, using the battle to cover their entrance ad hide from his awareness, but they had immobilized him in a weak position, where even if he somehow managed to break the hold, he would be hard pressed to make any strong attack.
This guy's good.
"A shinobi waits until the cover of darkness to strike at the enemy's weakness," a feminine voice spoke from behind Naruto. A smile broke across his face at both the code and the voice. No matter how many times he encountered it, he never expected to meet female operatives.
"Such things are easily forgotten," he replied in kind, nearly smirking at his return phrase. Whoever came up with this one got it right, he thought with satisfaction. Simple passwords were always the best, but having a convoluted start – like this one – could easily throw off an imposter, planting a seed of doubt in their mind as to whether their information was correct. In one of his many sets of instructions, his return phrase had been hidden. The notes had not explicitly told him what the start of the password was, only that it would be the first words out of his contact's mouth.
It likely would have been confusing to an imposter, and that was the whole idea.
Naruto suddenly found himself straightening from his nearly sitting position, the motion awkward, before he turned of someone else's volition. He found himself facing a tree, but a glance out of the corner of his right eye revealed a profile his captor, hands loosely held at her sides.
The woman must've been around twenty. She was attractive, he supposed, if a bit harsh in her features – certainly no fault of her own and only accentuated by her profession. Or, at least, what he knew of her profession. Weapons pouches and calloused hands indicated a weapons' specialist, a theory given credence by her relatively low levels of chakra and twin scars around her thumb and index finger. Wire trained, he mused.
Inky black hair was pulled back into an efficient knot and held together by twin senbon needles. Piercing green eyes peered out of a pale face given character through a chin that was just a tad too prominent. She was pretty in a striking way, Naruto decided, if not someone who would immediately be called beautiful.
The thirteen year old bit back a laugh as he assessed the path of his thoughts. Goddamn hormones, he mentally groused. He was barely a few days into a mission that would likely change the very fabric of the Elemental Countries' political climate, and he was checking out some kunoichi he didn't even know.
Be mindful of your thoughts, Naruto, they drive you to distraction. Concentration is central to a shinobi's success, the voice of Fuu spoke through his thoughts.
Yes, sensei, he mentally responded.
He felt his left arm rising to his right shoulder, pulling back the fabric of his green tee-shirt to reveal his purple ANBU tattoo. Abruptly, the trademark jutsu of the Nara clan receded, leaving Naruto to face his contact fully for the first time.
Emerald locked with sky blue for a moment, and Naruto fully assessed the woman.
Five foot five, one hundred pounds even, aged eighteen to twenty four; calluses firmer on left hand, trained ambidexterity; minimal scarring, long range specialist; three weapons pouches, thin scars on left and right index and thumb, weapons specialist trained with wire; concealed wakizashi in left boot, tanto hidden in hip pouch…assassin.
He blinked as he processed the information he gained by sight alone, idly wondering at the potency of an assassin who could immobilize her targets. Naruto smiled, this was someone he could work with.
"Fuka?" she asked, though it was more confirmation than question.
Naruto blinked at the name, recognizing it easily. "I take it you're my contact." Same is for Naruto and Fuka is for Same, he reminded himself. Danzo had apparently decided that having a codename close to his ANBU identity would make life easier for him.
She nodded curtly, offering nothing in return, and moved brusquely into the clearing where Naruto's two attackers still lay unconscious. The boy's eyes widened as she withdrew her wakizashi from her boot and calmly inserted it between the cervical vertebrae of Naruto's second attacker, separating the spine and killing him soundlessly.
"Wha-" Naruto started, utterly shocked by the casual brutality the woman showed towards her two comrades.
The unnamed Nara lifted her head to glance at him, registering his state as she moved to do the same to the first man. "These men were paid criminals who were contracted by Konoha at the onset of this operation. They knew the layout of Kusa no Kuni better than any intelligence that we could have come by, and were thus useful."
She offered no more as she killed the first attacker with as much emotion as she had the second, leaving Naruto to piece together the unsaid words and macabre undertones. Apparently, these two had outlived whatever usefulness they had originally possessed, and Konoha had no wish to pay them what they were owed.
A simple, brutal mindset. No longer useful, the two had fulfilled one final purpose, testing him, and were granted a quick death.
The unnamed woman finished a quick seal sequence and stuck her palms to the ground. The two corpses were swallowed by living earth in an instant, never to be seen again.
Naruto wondered with trepidation how many others had gone that way already, and how many more were still to come.
The Nara strode past him, seemingly uncaring for his state of mind. "Come." She moved into the tree line and upward into the branches, expecting him to follow.
The blond spared one final look at the new graveyard, shook his head, and did just that.
I miss standard ops, he thought morosely, wondering what exactly he had gotten himself into.
AN: Lolwut? An update? Been a while, been stuck on what to write, and finally settled on this. Don't have a time frame for updates unfortunately, but hopefully I've gotten some of my writing muse back for this baby.
I'm so pro...