-In this world, the time span between the beginning of shippuden and the end of Madara's war is two years.
-Canonically, the only person Naruto has killed is Yura. Other than that, Naruto has yet to kill/deliver the finishing blow to anyone else. Kakashi killed Kakuzu. Zombies don't count.
-I began this fic before the color page of Naruto's chakra cloak had been revealed. Therefore, in this fic, Naruto's chakra cloak is red because by the time I realized I needed to change it, the color began to grow symbolically to the story.
Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto.
Every Fire Casts a Shadow, even those Forged by Will.
Raindrops ran through his hair, soaked through his clothes, and flowed around petals and marble.
The memorial stone was larger than it had been before, a smooth obelisk reaching towards the sky with all of the names inscribed in its care. Naruto Uzumaki, the eighteen year-old eyed the inscribed names of all those that had been lost in the war that made him a hero. His eyes hung heavy from lack of sleep but nevertheless preferred the rainy night to another restless in bed.
People didn't understand, especially not the civilians who have never seen a battlefield in their life or the older ninjas who were used to too many. The blame people placed on Naruto's shoulders for letting an S-class criminal escape followed him like an unwanted ghost. Naruto had vowed to kill Sasuke, if it came to that. But when he finally had Sasuke's life in his hands, mercy was a stronger sword.
Naruto occasionally wondered what happened to Sasuke after Madara interrupted the fight. Did Sasuke escape the battlefield of war or did he die, his body unidentifiable, like so many others? Sasuke's name would never be among those immortalized in stone, simply a name among Naruto's fading memories.
Drenched by rain, his clothing began to sag on him like training weights. Naruto stood with his eyes closed, letting the water beat upon his head. He would eventually have to drag his corpse back to bed, wake up, and then put on the smiles and grins carved into a careful mask. It was a mask Naruto had carved for himself such a long time ago, it was dusty and cracked and dirty but well-worned. A mask was nothing new to Naruto Uzumaki.
"What do you want?"
Naruto's voice echoed through the raindrops. With the Kyūbi finally under his control, every scent filled his nostrils in a complex pattern as intense as the Inuzuka's, his ears caught every fleeting sound in the night, his eyes were no Hyūga but objects appeared sharper and clearer than before. He didn't need to use chakra to know he was being watched by shadows.
An ANBU, boar mask, flickered beside him, out of the bushes. The ANBU agent was hardly impressed by Naruto. The title of 'war hero' shouldn't be bestowed upon some kid who couldn't get the job done when it needed to be done. Boar had lived through a real war and knew one thing for certain, that the Four Shinobi War had been a sham, just like its young war hero.
"The Hokage summons you."
"In the middle of the night?" Naruto questioned, the night ached and called him to a bed he did not want to go to.
"The Hokage suggests you leave a shadow clone behind."
Those words set Naruto's mind racing. Was the village under threat of attack? Was there another terrorist organization hunting him down? Or was Granny just drunk again?
In seconds a shadow clone was casually walking back home and Naruto, under a "suggested" henge ran the newly constructed rooftops of Konoha. Drawing on the Kyūbi's chakra, Naruto easily left the ANBU agent behind. The rain evaporated before it touched his skin. He crashed through the Hokage's window, came to a stop by leaving a dent in the walls, and slammed his hands on the desk so hard, it cracked.
"Who's attacking?" Naruto demanded.
Tsunade rubbed her temples with a huge sigh as she observed the destruction Naruto wrought in only seconds of being her office, and he was dripping water on the carpet.
"When I call for a secret meeting, I mean it to be a secret!" Tsunade yelled at her young hopefully soon-to-be successor. "How is it supposed to be a secret with a mysterious hole in my office window?"
"Oh," but Naruto felt relieved. The village wasn't in danger. He visibly relaxed. "I can fix it?" Naruto suggested.
"Please no," Tsunade said so fast she practically ran over Naruto's sentence. "I'll just tell the elders I had to throw someone out of the window."
A sudden gust of wind swept through, blowing rain and cold into the room. Tsunade's mood got even worse and she swore it would be Naruto she throws out of the window to further validate her excuse.
With the rain, cold, and the deep night, Tsunade decided to abandon protocols and poured herself a shot of sake. She opened a drawer and filled the small shot glass she always had handy on her desk.
She drank deeply, trying to regain her sanity as she faced Naruto. "You haven't requested any missions since the war ended."
Naruto's eyebrows bunched together in confusion. "You sent for me in the middle of the night just to ask why I've stopped taking missions? So… this is about a mission then?"
"No. I'm asking why you haven't requested a mission?" Tsunade asked as she looked over at the blonde who avoided her eyes. She knew better than anyone that Naruto earned a few months rest but she had never anticipated it would take this long for him to bounce back. Tsunade was afraid she already knew the answer, had been suspecting it when Sakura complained how some days Naruto won't even come out of his apartment.
Naruto shrugged his shoulders with a nonchalant expression, as if it meant nothing, "I feel lost."
"Madara is gone. Sasuke is gone. There's nothing for me to do." When you've saved the world, the old mission routine wasn't enough to excite him out of bed anymore. His feet seemed to wander around Konoha without a purpose - searching or seeking something he did not yet know.
An ANBU mask was placed upon the desk.
Tsunade would have rather given Naruto an office job and a load of paperwork but as a war hero, that was nigh near impossible now. Sometimes what kept enemy villages in line was the ninja you had to keep them there.
"The war has ended but our battles have not," Tsunade said in an exhausted voice, "Every hidden village is weaker than we were before. We've all lost good ninja and have used valuable resources. In the wake of our weakness, crime has escalated, new hidden villages have been established in the power vacuum, and the world is on the brink of another war than we have ever been before. I'm sorry Naruto, but Konoha has need of you."
"So… a mission?" Naruto questioned, looking at the mask quizzically.
"I wish it was only that." Tsunade picked up the ANBU mask and held it aloft, "This is yours, if you accept it."
Naruto eyes lit with a spark. "Do I get a cool sword and tattoo too?"
"This isn't a game Naruto. This is the next best step for you and the village," The Hokage reprimanded. The truth of the matter, Naruto needed more experience before he could become Hokage, as proven when he allowed Sasuke to escape. "ANBU are ninja who protect the village from the shadows. They are given the toughest jobs so that our village can thrive in peace. This is a huge responsibility and one that has to be taken seriously."
"I will," Naruto jumped up and down. He had always wondered what it would be like to be a part of the enigmatic ANBU unit. He never thought he'd actually be one, after all, he was technically still a genin and ANBU was by invitation only.
Even some of the best and most talented Jounin were not cut out to be ANBU. The Hokage knew that. It took a special kind of person.
"If you decide to put this on, you can no longer be the loud hard-headed ninja everyone knows you to be. You will be shadow, you will be silence, you will be death. But most importantly, you will no longer be Naruto Uzumaki."
Naruto nodded eagerly, barely listening. It was a new challenge to strive for, something exciting, just the thing to get him out of bed in the morning.
"The ANBU are protected by secrecy and because of this, the decision must be made here, tonight. What is your answer?"
Naruto picked up the mask and weighed it in his hands. "Why a dog? Wouldn't a fox have been better?"
The Kyūbi inside him grimaced just looking at it.
"Too obvious and already taken."
"That's your summoning contract, too obvious." Tsunade was rubbing her temples again, "It's Kakashi's old mask when he was in ANBU."
"I don't think it's a good idea." Naruto asked, even though taking on Kakashi's mask would have been cool, Naruto decided to save himself the heartburn and indigestion the Kyūbi could cause.
"And why not?" Tsunade snapped, eyeing him for an explanation.
Naruto scratched the back of his head and admitted, "The Fox isn't a fan of dogs. Sometimes it's easier to give him the little concessions so he won't bother me as much."
Tsunade raised an eyebrow but did not reply. If anyone knew the nine-tailed demon, it was his host. "Well, do you have a better idea?"
Naruto was surprised that he did. "What was…" Naruto paused. "Uchiha Itachi's mask?"
Maybe Naruto asked because Itachi had left an impression on him after helping Naruto defeat Madara in the war, or maybe it was to let the legacy of the Uchiha clan live on in some small form, maybe it was for Sasuke. In either case, it seemed like a good idea at the time.
Tsunade bit her lip in thought. Itachi's mask have been passed between the Uchiha's all throughout ANBU history, but the Uchiha's were no more and no one dared to pick it up. Tsunade herself never dared to give it to anyone, just in case that unlikely person happened to come across Sasuke in a mission.
Naruto was another matter.
"I believe that will work." Tsunade turned to the Boar ANBU standing rigid in the corner of the room. "Bring me the Crow."
He returned in seconds with the mask and an ANBU uniform.
Tsunade handed over the mask. "Naruto Uzumaki, do you accept this mask and in turn accept the responsibilities of the ANBU to know shadows when the rest of the world knows light?"
Naruto's heart was pounding and hadn't felt like this since his academy graduation. Without hesitation, "I accept."
He took a hold of the mask.
"So… am I ANBU now?"
"Oh," Naruto scratched his head confused.
"You have accepted ANBU, but ANBU hasn't accepted you. You must prove yourself and complete a mission before you are fully initiated. If you succeed, you will receive your sword and tattoo and become a full-fledged member. If you fail, Yamanaka will erase your memory and this night will have never happened."
"A mission? That's all?" Naruto grinned. He defeated Madara and Pein, this should be easy. "I'll be back before you can eat a cup of ramen."
Tsunade pulled out the folder and placed the mission briefing on her desk. Somehow, the folder hit the desk louder than the rain thundering just outside.
Naruto's eyes widened and his face paled. Beads of sweat began to run from his forehead. He looked close to fainting. All his arrogance evaporated into air. The Kyūbi began a low chuckle, and then outright laughed.
It was an assassination contract.
"What did he do?" Naruto asked thickly. He wiped the sweat from his palms onto his pants.
"I can't tell you that."
"I mean, it must have been something really bad right?" Naruto asked, his eyes begging. Naruto has never attacked someone unless he was being attacked first, and Naruto always tried his utmost hardest to take his enemies alive - although not always, sometimes there's Yura.
"Is this because I let Sasuke live?"
"It has nothing to do with Sasuke," Tsunade replied sternly, although it had everything to do with the incident surrounding it. A ninja can't be a ninja if they can't kill. ANBU can't be ANBU if they can't kill on order.
Naruto didn't believe her. "It was mercy."
"There is no room for mercy in ANBU. You have a week starting now. Either you carry out the mission or not. Either you succeed or you don't." Tsunade hoped Naruto failed, the Hokage hoped he would succeed. "Now, put on your mask, take the folder, and do your mission Crow."
Naruto snatched the folder and clothes from her desk angrily. He made another hole as he jumped out of the window and disappeared into the rain.
Tsunade could only rub her temples. "What do you think Boar?" She asked the man observing from the shadows.
He shook his head. "Uzumaki's too emotional. I cannot imagine him ever wearing a mask."
Naruto was so angry he passed his house and went straight for the forest that lay beyond the walls of Konoha. He didn't stop until his foot slipped on a branch and he went tumbling down. He could have caught himself but didn't. Rain poured on him as he looked up at the cloudy sky. His fingers scratched through the mud as he lay there. His mask had fallen to the side.
Naruto wasn't stupid. Beyond being the Hokage's minions, ANBU were assassins, but it hadn't been something Naruto wanted to think about at the time. He didn't want to voice his doubts, even though he had plenty. He was the hero, the one everyone came to with their problems. He was supposed to accept the task without hesitation.
His doubts, his fears, his insecurities did not matter.
He picked up the ANBU mask, dark blue lines leading from the middle of the eyes as if it was crying. It was dusty and cracked and dirty but well-worned. He fitted the mask onto his face and it melted into the contours of his skin.
A mask was nothing new to Naruto Uzumaki.
Boar had lived through a real war and knew one thing for certain, that the Four Shinobi War had been a sham, just like its young war hero.
AN: Updated 06/21/14