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

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 toward the forest. 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. One hand was casually shoved into the pockets of his pants while the other 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.

The other shinobi reached up and pulled his fox shaped mask up so it no longer obscured his face. His blue eyes were glistening with both confusion and anger as he looked to the older shinobi and the scar marks on his cheeks looked sharp and angry. "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. "Give us the truth."

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. It was a Guardian Shinobi, tasked with the job of making sure no enemy shinobi should find their way into Hidden Village territory. They were stationed all along the border. 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…The Tian Tang Jian was given to you for a reason! By the Fourth Hokage no less. He wouldn't just want you to just…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 horses side. 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 side 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."

"And what about your jutsu?" Naruto demanded. "If you give the Tian Tang Jian up, 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. The capital city was a few hours 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 first."

Naruto subconsciously put a hand to his stomach. Sakura noticed the minute action and instantly felt sorry for him. Being a Jinchuuriki had put a terrible burden on Naruto through the years.

Kakashi tipped his head in farewell to Sakura and Naruto as he reined his horse around. "Say hi to Tsunade for me." He said before galloping off.

Naruto watched as Kakashi rode away through the forest, his form getting tinier before it was swallowed by the trees. 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. To finally be loved by had a tremendous impact on Naruto. And while Naruto was older now and didn't rely on Kakashi as much as he used to, the feelings of father and son were still there.

"Naruto?" Sakura asked, looking at Naruto as jumped on to her horse.

"Yeah." Said Naruto, turning to face Sakura. 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.'

Laoshi – Teacher