Behind the Mask
Rated: T for language and violence
Disclaimer: Naruto characters (c) Masashi Kishimoto,
Summary: We all wear masks. But that only makes it harder to tell the difference between truth and lies.

Note: Hey everyone, thanks for choosing to read this story…again. This is the revamped version of Hidden Identities, for those who read the first. For those who haven't this is an AU story, partially inspired by Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. I hope that spurs you to keep on reading although the story is different than the movie.

Please enjoy, reviews are obviously more than welcome.


Prologue: 老师
(teacher)

There was a storm brewing.

A small group of Genin – the ones who were unfortunate enough to be saddled with keeping the roads clear of fall leaves – looked up, suppressing a shiver as the wind blew around them. Dark clouds were congealing in the south and the air smelled cool and damp, as it did just before a downpour. The sky was pitch black and the Genin who had now huddled into a small group, clutching tightly at their rakes thought that perhaps the sky looked a little too menacing as the last vestiges of autumn swirled around them in the wind.

For two shinobi, however, the impending storm seemed to be the least of their worries. Thunder boomed ominously as their sandaled feet skipped down the cool stone steps. There was technically no need for them to rush, but they found themselves running down the stairs at full speed, as if some invisible force were behind them, propelling them forward.

Lightning flashed and for a brief second, everything was illuminated white. One shinobi glanced back, her short pink hair whipping around her face in the wind. There was a white mask covering her face, the blue and orange designs depicting the likeness of a crane. Only her green eyes were visible.

They finally reached the bottom, sliding to a stop on the rough gravel at the base of the stairs. A grey haired shinobi stood before them, a wolf mask obscuring his face. He was tall and though his posture was casual and relaxed, there was a certain air about him that exuded confidence and power. His hands were casually shoved into the pockets of his pants. He was holding the reins to three horses who stood by, whinnying as the thunder echoed again. The two shinobi, their breath a bit ragged from the stairs exchanged glances before turning back to the grey haired man.

Finally, one shinobi reached up and pulled his mask up. It was in the shape of a fox. His blue eyes were glistening with both confusion and anger as he looked to the older shinobi. "What the hell, Kakashi?" Uzumaki Naruto's voice was low, as if he were trying to piece together something in his mind that wasn't quite adding up.

Hatake Kakashi pursed his lips under his mask. "Put your mask back on, before someone sees you." He reprimanded lightly.

Naruto glanced up toward the tall bamboo trees that surrounded them. They swayed slightly in the wind, but Naruto was still able to make out a lone figure sitting high in the trees, barely visible. They were guardian shinobi, tasked with the job of making sure no enemy shinobi should find their way into Hidden Village territory. Although Naruto knew it was unlikely anyone should glimpse his face here, he heeded Kakashi's words.

"Laoshi…" Said the pink haired shinobi, her voice hesitant. "Maybe if you could just explain to us…" She reasoned. "The Tian Tang Jian was given to you for a reason! By the Fourth no less. He wouldn't just want you to…give up." Haruno Sakura whispered the last words before ducking her head. Perhaps that had been too callous to say to her lifelong teacher. But she couldn't help but question his motives.

Kakashi did not reprimand her for her words. Instead, he walked to one of the horses. He put a calming hand on the horse's forehead who nickered at him before unstrapping a black lacquer box from the back. Both Sakura and Naruto held their breath as Kakashi opened the box and pulled out a long, gleaming sword, a white tassel billowing from the hilt. It wasn't often that they got to see it. Despite being Kakashi's only students, Kakashi only used the sword for battle and practiced with it alone.

The Tian Tang Jian was a legendary weapon, rivaled by no other. Meaning Heaven's Sword, legend had that it was over 500 years old and forged in the mountains. It could slay a man with one cut, cut through any weapon with one blow. It had been used by many legendary warriors, passing from hand to hand until it was given to the First Hokage – first leader of Konoha, the Village Hidden in the Leaves – back when the Hidden Villages were first founded. Since then, it had been passed down from Hokage to Hokage until the Fourth Hokage had broken tradition and passed it to his prized student, Kakashi on his death bed.

Rumor had it that although anybody could wield the Tian Tang Jian and become a warrior with its use, only Kakashi had truly mastered how to use it. Without it, Kakashi was already an unstoppable shinobi. But with it, it was like he was one of the gods themselves.

Which was why it made it so hard for Sakura and Naruto to comprehend why he was choosing to give it up.

When Kakashi had announced his decision only that morning to give the sword away for safe keeping, Naruto had openly challenged it. Kakashi had said nothing to scold him for his outburst. Now, he had his head cocked to the said as he held out the blade, as if he were looking at them in amusement. "Maybe this is hard for you to understand." He acknowledged, "You see this as a legendary weapon and nothing else. You have never wielded it, so you cannot know the price you must pay." Kakashi's voice had turned cold at the end.

"And what about your jutsu?" Naruto questioned. "If you give the Tian Tang Jian to Sifu Tsunade, you won't be able to finish it."

Kakashi looked down wistfully at the sword for a moment. Then he turned and put the sword back into the box and handed it to Sakura. She took it after a moment's hesitation. She could feel a new weight on her shoulders just from holding it. "It is a price I am willing to pay." He said simply.

Hatake Kakashi was not an emotional man. He had a rough childhood that had done well in shaping him into one of the most skilled and ruthless shinobi to come out of Konoha, but Naruto and Sakura could both sense that Kakashi was not telling them something. And they had a feeling that something was on a much deeper, more emotional level. For once, Naruto decided to keep his mouth shut, respecting Kakahsi's role as his superior.

"Will you meet us in Peking?" Naruto asked instead. Tsunade, although once a Konoha shinobi, had since retired from the life of secrecy and now resided in the capital city, only a couple hours journey south from where Konoha was hidden.

"Perhaps." Kakashi said, jumping onto his horse in one fluid motion. It reared up as thunder shook the ground and the wind swept by powerfully. Sakura looked up to the sky, noting how this weather would make for a particularly bad trek south. "I want to visit laoshi and Obito's graves first."

Naruto subconsciously put a hand to his stomach at these words and pain reflected in his eyes. Sakura noticed this action and instantly felt sorry for him. He was probably feeling guilty that the thing responsible for those deaths was inside of him. Being a Jinchuuriki had put a terrible burden on Naruto through the years.

As Sakura got on her horse, Naruto stood and watched Kakashi ride away through the forest. Naruto always respected Kakashi and treated him not only as his teacher, but as his father. Naruto was an orphaned kid who knew nothing of his parents before Kakashi came and gave him a home, took him off the streets. To finally be loved by someone, it had a tremendous impact on Naruto. And while the childhood games that he had played with Kakashi and home caring attitude were gone, the feelings of father and son were still there.

"Naruto?" Sakura asked, looking at Naruto as she reined her horse around.

"Yeah." Said Naruto turning to face Sakura as Kakashi faded into the distance. Sakura pulled up her mask to give Naruto a quick smile as Naruto jumped on his horse.

'You feel it too, Sakura.' Thought Naruto. 'Something is not right with Kakashi.'

Glossary:
Laoshi – Teacher
Sifu - Master


"Kakashi! Kakashi!"

Naruto ran as fast as his tiny feet could carry him towards the tall silver haired man in front of him. Kakashi turned around and quickly scooped Naruto into his arms as Naruto approached him.

Naruto made a face at Kakashi and crossed his arms. "You know I don't like to be carried!" The small boy complained as he crossed his arms in front of his chest.

Kakashi nodded his head. "Hao, hao, you're getting way too big for me to carry anyway." Said Kakashi, smiling from underneath his mask. "But just one last time."

"Ooookayyyy." Naruto said, looking away as he dragged the word out.

"Now what is it that you came running to me in such a hurry? I'm going to be late you know." Said Kakashi looking at the small boy in his arms.

"But you're always late." Said Naruto looking at Kakashi with wide eyes.

Kakashi chuckled. "Ok, you got me. So what is it?"

Naruto showed Kakashi the plain white mask which he had been holding. "You left this at home." Said Naruto waving it around.

Kakashi set Naruto down on the ground as he knelt before him. "Don't you remember? I don't need the mask any more. I left ANBU so now we can have lots of time together." Said Kakashi giving Naruto a happy look.

Naruto frowned. "But I thought Kakashi liked ANBU." He pouted.

Kakashi quickly rumpled Naruto's disheveled blond locks. "I did like ANBU, but I like playing with you more. Besides, I thought you didn't like it when I went away. Well, I guess if you do I can always go back..."

"No no!" Naruto quickly shouted as he grabbed Kakashi's hand. "I was kidding."

"Ok." Said Kakashi standing up. "You can play with the mask now, until I need it for a mission."

Naruto happily hugged the mask to his chest. "Can I come with you today?" He asked.

Kakashi shook his head sadly. "Sorry Naruto. I've got a new job remember? I'm going to be a teacher and I'm going to be late to meet my new student."

Naruto's eyes grew wide as he gasped. "You're gonna teach someone how to be a shinobi?" He asked. "Why can't I be a shinobi? Is it because I'm too small? Because all the other boys make fun of me. I think its because I'm small." Naruto looked down forlornly.

Kakashi laughed again. "No Naruto, it's not because you're too small. In fact, I think you're a perfect size to be a shinobi. But I'm sorry; you can't be a shinobi yet." Said Kakashi sadly.

Naruto huffed and put his hands on his hips. "I bet I can be a better shinobi than whoever your student is!"

Kakashi nodded his head. "Yes Naruto, I'm sure you can be. I think you'll probably the greatest shinobi there ever was. Maybe one day you can even be Hokage, but right now, I think you'll just have to wait."

"Oooookayyy." Said Naruto sadly as he turned around to go back home. "But when Kakashi comes back, can we play shinobi again?" Naruto asked, hope gleaming in his eyes.

Kakashi smiled and nodded his head. "Of course we can."

Glossary:
Hao-Good