I'm back with a new story now that my exams for the year are dead and buried!
The poll came back as a dead on tie between MKTerra's challenge and the Assassin based story. It was a difficult choice, but I felt I could write the latter one better than the challenge.
Just a bit of preamble before I actually get started here about this story, I think it would be good to clarify some things before I lay down the story. This also acts as a declation I don't own most of these characters, but we're in Naruto fanfiction here aren't we, we know this. I won't bother to put this up in any other chapters.
I will be attempting to respond to all reviews via personal messages, and be avoiding any chat in the uploaded chapters, so that the word count better reflects the length. If you do review, be aware I can't respond if you don't have an account! Chapters should be around 3000 words in length and I'm going to update regularly every three days until the story is finished.
Otherwise, this Naruto is...different. He's difficult to write sometimes, as his style and persona are odd. Whilst writing an emotionless character as a person with emotions may not work totally (I've done my best to remove any real human traits), I hope he comes across as the person I'm trying to put him across as.
Enough of this gumph, I hope you enjoy this fic, review, PM, rage, hunt me down and kill me (all feedback is good feedback right?) and hopefully this is alright. Hopefully.
Some years after the Kyuubi attack, the Fire Lord's castle.
He waited. It was something he was good at.
The courtyard before him was abuzz with movement, sound, colour and light.
Guests in great formal Kimono's, elegant silk and polished jewellery spread around the courtyard. Hurried servants in the colours of their Lord also moved about swiftly, trying to stay out of the way and out of sight. They carried platters of sweet meats, and piles of pastries and thin flutes of bubbling drink.
A part of him was offended at their slow, clumsy movements. The clothing was all wrong for the task, the orange cloth ungainly and offensively bright. He mentally shuddered at the colour. What kind of idiot wore that for work?
Mentally, he plotted courses that would work better. He worked out supply routes that would be more out of sight, or methods of improving efficiency. He worked out their rotation systems and baulked silently at the crudity of it, and how bad they were at keeping it.
His single visible eye picked out more details he already knew. The guards were patrolling diligently, their patterns obvious and easy to decipher and avoid. So far he had picked his way past several such patrols.
His progress had been almost comically easy. After all, ninja were meant to be stealthy. They were meant to be good at details.
The window overlooked all of the entrances to the courtyard, and was brightly lit, a great beacon of welcome, a great centrepiece of the great castle that the Daimyo occupied.
At the base, a squad of elite samurai stood guard over the great oak doors to the tower. At the top, half a dozen more made sure nobody could get to the top, without being visible themselves in the glory of the light that shone from it.
It was so brightly lit and so well guarded that nobody had bothered to check the small, dingy window about halfway up, which was darkened to glorify the majesty of the top of the tower.
The candles nearby only existed to let people slightly know what they were doing. Any guard worth his salt could climb those stairs in the dark anyway. The flickers on the wall behind pleased him as he waited. After all, they didn't show his shadow.
He ran black gloved hands over his weapon. The crossbow was an antiquated and little used weapon in the world at large.
When opponents tended to see you before you could fire, and it being as good at close range as a caramel dagger, nobody really bothered to use it. It was also slow to reload, at second or two of downtime where a dozen shuriken and kunai could be thrown, and that was with a skilled practitioner.
But it was compact, powerful, and more than capable of taking out anyone who didn't suspect it. More importantly, with a little bit of extra modification and just a touch of chakra, things could be made a little more different.
His eye flicked to the grand archway that led into the courtyard. It took in the fine marble work and its foundations, working out angles and determining the best places to put explosives should he need to take it down if he wanted to use it for his mission.
He flicked to the flagstones on the courtyard. Foundations, tunnels, gas attacks with smoke to disguise his movements. Surprise doton jutsu maybe.
His mind was less a mind than a thinking engine, programmed to work out the quickest way to complete his job. And every other way possible. And the probability of success for every possibility. Kept the mind sharp.
He eased his finger into the trigger grip of the bow. It was nearly time.
The bell atop the tower began to toll.
The chatter from the crowd became quieter as the first blow reverberated and the event began in earnest.
A silence fell as they turned towards the archway, the figure in the tower pulled his long hood up over his head, hanging it at an angle so that his visible eye was left uncovered and the other kept further into the dark.
The first figures emerged in the archway. The figure in the tower placed his hands together as if in prayer.
The figure whispered a few syllables before taking hold of his weapon once more. The entrance party made its way around the corner,
The figure brought the butt of the crossbow to his shoulder. It fit like a glove, the stock shaped to fit his figure. He slowed his breathing down as far as he could to decrease any movement.
The figure shut his visible eye, and prepared himself.
The target became visible to the naked eye as he passed the great masonry archway. Clad in a rich robe trimmed with animal pelts, he was every inch the vision of a prince. He waved to all around him, blowing a kiss into a group of tittering ladies.
The figure stopped to absorb the crowd's adulation. There was barely a whisper as the finger twitched the fire mechanism.
The Daimyo's son fell to the ground as the bell sounded. People looked over to see what had happened. The crossbow was swung back to hang on his back as the figure began flying through hand seals.
The first guard reached the Daimyo's son and saw the crossbow bolt sticking out of his chest, having pierced the armour under the robe, straight into his heart. He looked to the tower where the bolt had been fired from; the fact obvious from the angle the bolt had it.
The guards in the tower moved to sweep it clear from top and bottom. The figure leapt upwards as he heard the clatter of iron boots on the stairs.
Midnight struck, and the guards met in the middle of the tower.
"There has to be someone here!"
"There can't be, they'd have to be invisible. Even shinobi can't do that."
"They must have somehow got past, lock down the castle!"
All the guards moved off efficiently down the stairs.
As the door at the bottom slammed shut and was locked, the figure dropped silently from the ceiling, deactivating his jutsu.
He walked slowly up to the tower to once again wait. Knowing the guards, they would leave the next day to search the nearby countryside for anyone suspicious. By then, he could be long gone.
He pulled the hood off his head, stroking a dark gloved hand through his blond hair.
Another job done, another target taken out for his Lord and nation.
His footfalls were like a child's, light and making barely any noise. Mainly because they were the footsteps of a child. The hooded cloak rippled softly behind him as he moved up the tower. It was difficult to describe the colour of the cloak. Black wasn't right. It was close. It was more of a dark grey, then a deep, deep green and a midnight blue. It was like a shadow, like raw darkness.
He reached the top of the tower and shut off the great light at the top. Nobody would really notice with the guards running everywhere.
Finding the darkest corner in the room, he pulled the cloak around him in a practised movement. His hands cast the genjutsu that would smooth the darkness around him just in case anyone tried to find him again. He allowed himself the luxury of a smile.
Uzumaki Naruto did what he was best. And waited.
A day or so later
Hiruzen Sarutobi sat in his office, watching out of the window as the sun set beyond the monument.
The sight was beautiful, and the day's sunset was a beautiful pinkish red that tinged the clouds in the sky. He sighed. It was a great sign of peace to see such a sight.
And such a shame that he was about to deal with his own proverbial devil that haunted the nights beyond his reach.
The figure didn't bother knocking. It was on schedule and he knew that Sarutobi kept nights like this free for such occasions.
Near silent footfalls moved him across the floor to stand alongside him.
They stood in silence together. It wasn't really what you'd call comfortable silence. It wasn't all that tense either. It was a silence filled with grudging respect.
"Do you think sensei chose right Danzo?"
"You always ask this Hiruzen. We both know what I'll say. One of us had to be the poster boy. One of us had to do the unthinkable."
"I could never do what you do. I couldn't order deaths so clinically, so easily. I may not like it, but I do need you."
"And I couldn't really do what you do Hiruzen. I lack the gentle touch. I think I could be Hokage someday though."
Hiruzen smiled. The conversation repeated itself every time they talked like this. Still, better get down to business.
"You know, I received a letter from the Daimyo today."
Danzo raised an eyebrow, his face a picture of innocent surprise.
"What news from our Lord?"
"Apparently his son was murdered during his coming of age party. In his very fortress. All the security measures were in place. It has come as quite a shock."
"Indeed, shot in the heart with a crossbow bolt that penetrated the under-armour he was wearing. The shot fired from a tower window where nobody could possibly have been."
"Sounds like poor guard work to me."
"Apparently so. He has written to me requesting a squad of ninja to protect him like the Twelve Guardian Ninja did. Just in case the attacker tries to strike again."
"He should be careful after the problems with the previous group though. No doubt you will warn him of such issues?"
"Of course, couldn't have harm come to him for the sake of our reputation."
Hiruzen puffed on his pipe. The smoke rose lazily through the warm evening air.
"It also appears that when the maid staff went to clean his son's chambers, various bits of incriminating evidence to a number of crimes was found."
"Shocking. The son of a Daimyo corrupted into breaking the law."
"The list makes for some reading of course. Corruption, embezzlement, connection to various guilds, rape, working with missing nin to assassinate people who got in his way. Associations with people of ill repute as well."
"Kidnap as well. Seems he wanted to raise a private army."
"A silly ambition, no private army could go undetected by you Hiruzen."
The both smiled at the in-joke between the two.
"Could you imagine what would happen if he had become Daimyo when his father passes on, long may he live."
"I guess he would try and become Hokage himself, through a puppet of course."
"Of course. Silly boy, I almost suspect that his father is secretly pleased he has been...removed, shall we say, from the world."
"Is that why there has been no substantial search for the perpetrator?"
"I'm sure they'll be found soon enough."
They stood in silence once more.
"Danzo, you've been good if sometimes worrying counsel since I had to retake this position. You know I am thankful I have you behind me, even if I do suspect you may one day stick a knife into my back, and have several plans ready to do so."
"It's what friends do. I think. I was never good at friendships."
"How is the Root program?"
"Much as before. Numbers are still necessarily low, but missions are at an all time high success rate. I think I've only had to take drastic action once in the last month. Fortunately it went without a hitch.
My...latest operative returned a couple of nights ago after a successful mission. It was fairly simple for him."
"Any more detail you'd care to share?"
"Oh nothing too important, just dealing with a silly man whose death makes the world a better place."
Silence again as Hiruzen added a fresh plug of rich tobacco to the pipe.
"How is he?"
The Hokage thumped the table suddenly before relaxing his arm.
"No, one of your other unnamed operatives. Of course Naruto."
The words sounded exasperated and rehearsed, but Danzo suspected he could hear the slightest touch of anxiety and care behind them, it was hard to tell.
"He is doing well. I've never met anyone with a more natural aptitude for stealth in my life. It serves him well."
"Analyse him for me, give me a breakdown of strengths and weaknesses."
"He's quick thinking, excellent at long-mid range and as I said, stealthy. Damn quiet and has fairly good genjutsu skills. It's interesting actually, I didn't teach him any per se, but he made one that helps him blend into the darkness. Very interesting."
"Interesting indeed. Weaknesses?"
"Straight up fighting. He doesn't have all that much up close and personal, and he's not hugely strong. He is in taijutsu maybe genin level at best. He doesn't like ninjutsu either but can use the basic three. Although give him a kunai and a place to hide and unless the person he's going to kill has very sharp senses, they will probably die."
"Hmm, he's not a shinobi like the ones we know then."
"He's a specialist. If anything he's cold blooded assassin material. But you knew all of this Hiruzen. Not a meeting has passed since you entrusted him to me that you haven't asked after him. I understand why of course."
"How do you think he'd do in a genin team?"
Danzo stroked his chin.
"Not sure. He's not what you'd call...social."
The word was more questioning than accusative.
"Root is not really a good place for a child to grow up. You knew that as well as I did when you gave him to me that night you revealed you knew it hadn't shut down."
"I had to bring you slightly to heel. I figured he'd be safer with you than on his own once the orphanages stopped wanting him."
"Although I haven't done any emotional conditioning on him of the type I'd usually do, I suspect he'll find being around others more difficult. He would have hated the academy."
Hiruzen motioned for him to continue.
"More or less every operation I've sent him on has been on his own. Pretty much necessity. He relies purely on stealth, and anyone else would have compromised that. When he gets back to the base he spends his time training or alone. He doesn't talk to many people, even the recruits his own age. When he does talk, it's to the point. He's very good at waiting."
The Hokage took a folder off his desk and handed it to Danzo.
"The profiles of the probable graduates from this year's academy students. Arrange them into the teams you think would work best."
Danzo drew a small table over from the side of the room and quickly scanned each document. Hiruzen smiled as he watched his oldest friend's mind apply itself to the problem. It was something Danzo had always been better at than he had.
When Hiruzen saw a problem, his brain saw one route then had difficulty finding others when it was obvious. Danzo's mind was capable of working out all the routes, then finding the one which worked best. Even if that meant a few deaths that a different route could have avoided.
The papers ruffled as Danzo placed the various profile sheets in groups of three. He stood up as Hiruzen inspected them.
"Interesting. Mostly similar to the way the instructors and I felt. Now then..."
He passed Danzo a sheet which simply had the word 'Naruto' written on it.
"What if Naruto were added to the class?"
Danzo set to work again. Sheets moved rapidly from pile to pile. Groups were made and split rapidly. Hiruzen watched the dance of the paper carefully.
"It's more difficult than it should be I'll give you that. I assume you don't mind me shoving four of the no-hopers into a jumbo team?"
"If you think it best."
"Right...then these are the teams."
Hiruzen studied the bits of paper.
"Interesting, care to offer any sort of explanation? I fell that," he shifted a few bits of paper around, "would be far more optimal for his development."
"Depends what risk level you want really.
Putting him with the Yamanaka girl risks her going into his head and discovering things that neither of us would like to see made public. After all, forcing Inochi to mind-suppress his own daughter would be bad for morale.
As for the Hyuuga girl...I don't think she would react well to one or two of the truths around him. Plus she's too shy."
"Please, your configuration has him with a pair of extraverts. It's clear you're trying to drag him out of his shell a little in your scheme."
"You read me like a book."
"Look, as it stands there is no proper place for Naruto to go that doesn't disrupt some team dynamic somewhere. He wouldn't fit properly with most of these kids. The Hyuuga is too shy; the Inuzuka too brash, the Yamanaka too risky, the Nara would work him out too quickly, which is to say eventually. The Akimichi child doesn't fit his strategy. The Aburame kid might work, but that leaves the other teams heavily out of balance. At some stage, there will be an issue with all of these teams. To be honest, one of them is going to get slightly screwed over, and it is likely to be the one with him in it. He's not a team worker."
They stood in silence.
"There is another way we can do this Hiruzen."
"And that is?"
"Make him a one man cell. After all, that's what he has been for so long now, and I don't think teamwork is going to be something he'll take to fast enough. I'll continue to train him, and we given more specialised missions."
"Tailing teams that are on higher ranked missions. If he needs to intervene, he will. If he is discovered by an enemy he'll fall back, and they'll assume he's just an ANBU, if the Konoha team discovers him, then he'll use a coded phrase like the ones ANBU use to identify himself."
Hiruzen stroked his chin.
"He will have to be part of the regular forces. He won't be Root anymore. Although I suspect I might have to change things for him if he is in a single-man cell."
"I'll miss him. I might not look like it, but I do care for him. He is the closest thing to a son I have. Grant me one favour."
"Give him a choice about whether he wants to continue in secret or become a public ninja."
"Alright, where can I find him?"
Danzo stared out of the great glazed windows onto the spreading buildings of Konoha.
"Right now, he'll probably be running through the rooftops."