Ablaze

Chapter One: The Peripeteia


The boy stood erect outside the oak door. It was early in the summer, but he was unable to ward off the chills that shook his thin body. Although in the distant future, he was hailed as a genius that appeared only once in a generation, and caused his enemies to drop onto their knees in fear inspired by his name; Minato Kamikaze was currently trying to stop his knobby knees from knocking together.

He had been taken in the middle of the night by an Anbu member. His escort provided no information about where and why he was being taken and they were both currently standing in a long corridor. Beside him was another Anbu guard who seemed to have a sleeping form thrown over his shoulder. Even after Minato's eyes adjusted to the darkness, he could not be certain. Trying to calm himself and access the situation at hand, he strained to hear the conversation taking place inside.

"Are you bringing that up again?"

Koharu Utatane sighed, extremely annoyed at the fact that a council meeting was taking place during the night. During these times, there were hardly any nights where she was not woken up due to some unforeseen crises. She had hoped that she would be able to get a good-night's sleep, but the meeting, she knew would eat up most her bed-time.

"I really don't understand." the third Hokage repeated. He leant forward, pressing his elbows on the long wooden table.

"Even though you are the Hokage, there's no way you would be able to comprehend everything." The old woman readjusted her dark green shawl and turned to her left, hoping the other council member, Homura Mitokado would back her up.

"Why…" Sarutobi Hiruzen whispered, his eyes closed and his hands clasped as though in prayer. "is that the only way?"

Danzou cleared his throat, drawing attention to himself. "There is an alternative option…"

Immensely worried at Danzou's sudden interest in the conversation, Hiruzen opened his eyes and stared long and hard at his childhood friend. He was fully aware that Danzou coveted his position as the Hokage and would do almost anything to claim it. With the skirmishes intensifying across the nation's border, he knew it wouldn't be long until they would at last develop into the Third Shinobi War. Now wasn't the time for internal conflict.

"The reason why we had decided this was because we wanted a power that would make all other nations fear Konoha." Danzou began smoothly. "If we had the kyuubi at our disposal, we wouldn't need that boy. Mito's health has been deteriorating, her replacement is already here. Instead of the boy, we make the girl our greatest weapon."

Hiruzen narrowed his eyes, calculating. Truth be told, he did not want such a life imposed on either of the youths. Both of them were young, too young to have such a fate thrust at them.

"We were getting nowhere, so I took some initiative. Bring them both in." Danzou ordered loudly so that the Anbu guards could hear them from the outside.

The door Minato had been leaning against opened and Minato stumbled into the light. He squinted at the sudden brightness. Inside he could see four figures seated on a grand and long meeting table. His escort bowed in front of the council members. Behind him, the other Anbu member bowed too, the girl on his shoulder did not stir.

The Hokage frowned, and looked at the Anbu, demanding an explanation.

"She put up too much resistance. I was instructed to bring her with the utmost secrecy… if I didn't drug her, she would have woken up the whole of the orphanage and at least half the village with her screams." the Anbu member knelt on one knee, one of his arms were red from scratches that must have been inflicted by the girl.

Hiruzen nodded and looked over at Minato expectedly. Nervous but less scared than before, Minato stepped forward and bowed slightly to the elders of Konoha.

"Good evening." he greeted them politely.

Hiruzen smiled at the young boy. Although he was only six, the boy was as cool as a cucumber. He had an eye on Minato, he had only been admitted to the academy just over a year ago, but he was attracting a lot of attention through his perfect grades and popularity. So much that Hiruzen was beginning to think that he might be the one to succeed him. To keep track of the boy's progress, he had asked all his teachers to send him monthly reports on Minato.

That was when Danzou had caught on, he was determined to become the fourth Hokage, so he had devised one of the most cruel and cunning plan…

"I'm sure you're wondering why we called you here today," Danzou began in a drawl. "we are here to discuss your future. Tell me Namikaze, are you willing to serve Konoha to your death?"

Minato looked up to Danzou, though he was visibly intimidated, he gave a clear answer. "Yes. I am willing to die for my village."

Hiruzen gave a sad smile, it was that quiet and intense determination that made him stand out from the rest of the boys in his generation.

Danzou gave a sly smile. "Namikaze, I am hereby formally inviting you to become an Anbu Root member."

Minato gasped, his blue eyes widening. "But," he began, trying to comprehend the situation. "I only just started my ninja training, there's no way I'm ready…" Minato trailed off, uncertain and unaware of what was taking place. Despite being so young, all the academy students knew of the Anbu Root division; at least in the horror stories told during their camping trips. Though Minato was certain that the masks on the members' faces were not permanently glued on after being recruited, he was sure the group's creed was accurate.

It meant that he would have to abandon his name, his past, his future and his emotions.

Hiruzen shook his head in denial while the other members of the council nodded in approval. It had been an uphill battle, trying to give the boy another life. If Minato joined Root, the possibilities of him becoming Hokage would become almost non-existent. A leader needed to be a social and recognized figure in the village, with Minato under Danzou's wings, Hiruzen knew that the chances of that ever happening was next to impossible.

Knowing Danzou, who of course was thinking in the best interests of Konoha, he would be an unknown assassin who haunted his enemies' dreams. Minato would most likely be brain-washed into cutting all his bonds and rejecting all his feelings.

The only consolation he got was that, Jiraiya, his own student would be training him until he became strong enough to stand on his own. Hiruzen had no doubt that this preparation time would pass in the blink of an eye. Be it, genjutsu, taijutsu or general knowledge, Minato absorbed everything like a sponge. He hoped that Jiraiya would be able to teach and instill important values in him, so that after he came back from this service… if he came back at all, he would recover from his experiences.

Danzou gestured to a chair. "Take a seat, I won't be tricking you. Every detail of what I plan for you will be revealed, and if you want more elaboration on anything I will be happy to give it to you."

Minato cautiously took a seat closest to him., he trained his eyes on Danzou.

"Now remember, Namikaze, whatever decision you make, it will be your choice. So you can't go back on it." Utatane commented.

That didn't sound particularly reassuring to Minato, if he was about to decide on his future, why was he called upon in the dead of the night… and if it was something so important, why didn't they bring his parents along?

Of course, Minato was using 'parents' as an extremely loose term. His biological mother had conceived him during a seduction mission and died shortly from childbirth. Very early on in his life, he realized that who he called 'dad' was not his father. Born with golden hair and blue eyes, his father; with dark brown hair and eyes had introduced him to the theory behind the recessive gene one day, over a bottle of vodka.

When his 'father' remarried to a blonde with twinkling blue eyes, his stepmother never let him forget that he was not part of their new family behind her husband's back. He knew that she never forgave him for looking like his deceased mother, she said it was like the ghost of the ex following her around. If he grew his hair any longer and wore a pink frilly frock he would probably be able to pass off as a girl.

His stepmother was as annoyed as him as she was to the newcomers in Konoha. He recalled the clearing sound in her throat she made whenever she talked about them. Apparently, they were the people to blame for the failing economy, rising crime rates and overall 'lazy blood leeching suckers who stole all the jobs and raised the housing prices.' Minato had always, but never dared to ask how they could be lazy and take all the available jobs at the same time.

Perhaps they did nothing and just got paid for sitting there?

To Minato, the refugees were to be pitied; one of the larger skirmishes had the misfortune of being followed by a tsunami that swept across the Whirlpool country, completely destroying their home. With their leaders dead, the inhabitants had no idea what to do, some fled to their nearby neighbor, the village of the Mist, while others applied to be refugees in their allied village, Konoha. Only a few families stayed in their original homes, the others left in fear of another attack from foe or Mother Nature.

Minato snuck a peek at the girl who apparently was loud enough to wake the whole village, if he remembered correctly, she was from an orphanage. Why was she there? Was she cordially invited to become part of the Root division too?

"Where should I begin?" Danzou asked rhetorically, rubbing his chin with his good arm. "Let's start with what Anbu Root is, it is a private division founded by yours truly. We work as the ones unseen, in the shadows to support Konoha. Once you are admitted into our ranks, you will have a seal imprinted onto you, whether by your own volition or not, if you disclose anything to outsiders, you will instantly die. Your experience there will be grueling and tough. But fear not, you will be under the tutelage of Jiraiya, one of the legendary Sannin. He will teach you all that is necessary for you to become a functional part of Root."

Minato was silent as he absorbed all the information given to him, the concept of death was foreign to his young mind, though growing up in a ninja village he heard a lot about it. His only experience with dealing with death was losing his mother when he was an infant. Was it so wrong that he felt nothing to this unknown woman? Maybe he was suitable to be in Root after all.

"You forgot other critical information," Hiruzen interjected. "The survival rate in Root is only about 5%. You will be removed from your family, and lose your name. They will be told that you have died during duty. That means, even if you manage to survive being in Root, you will probably never speak or interact with them again."

Hiruzen looked straight at Minato, urging him to reject the role. "Are you prepared for that? Remember, you can always say no. I know that during class, you voiced your aspirations of being the Hokage. If you become a member of Root, that dream might not be in your grasp anymore."

Surprised by the fact that the Hokage knew what he said on the first day of the academy, the reality of the situation finally started to hit him. All his life, probably due to the lack of attention from his family, he wanted to be acknowledged. Not just by his peers, but by the adults, too. Mainly his dad… he wanted him to be proud of his son. He wanted to be recognized and boasted about like the other children in the academy, if he joined Root, that would never happen.

Minato opened his mouth, his decision was made. As Hiruzen said, his dream was to become the Hokage. However, before he could speak, Danzou interrupted.

"If you don't take this position," said Danzou as he pointed to the unconscious girl who was seated on one of the chairs beside him. "This whirlpool refugee will take your place."

Minato looked at Hiruzen for guidance, but the old man refused to show any expression. He got the message; he was to decide on his own.

"This girl lost her family and home and appears to be a loner at school. Since she has no attachments, this makes her perfect to be part of our group." Danzou remarked, his tone was light, as though he was talking about what he ate last night. "Of course, she is by no means, as skilled as you are. I mean, looking at her records, she is at the bottom of the class in almost every subject. Can you believe that?"

Minato stared at the whirlpool refugee, she had shaggy and long red hair. She looked and smelt as though she hadn't taken a shower for many days and changed clothes for at least a week.

"Why then, would you choose her?" Minato asked half out of pure curiosity.

Danzou gave Minato a creepy smile, showing his missing teeth. "That's because of her blood-line. She comes from a special clan which allows her to have certain… affinities. Regardless of what you choose, because of her abilities and background as a refugee she will be shunned and segregated from our village. You might as well say no and let her take up the role as the new recruit in Anbu."

Frowning, the young boy wondered why Danzou was encouraging him to reject his offer that he had made before. It was as if he wanted her instead. He sat in silence, staring at the girl, whose long hair reminded him of blood. Her face was in her thin arms, Minato couldn't see her face or deduce anything else about her.

The council members of Konoha studied the boy, who appeared to be in an internal battle. They had weighed their options carefully and had decided to side with Danzou. Hiruzen was too caring, too soft to make the hard decisions.

Regardless of what Minato Namikaze chose, tomorrow they would start to train a new weapon for Konoha. Tsunade had ran off, scarred from the trauma she received in losing her brother and lover in the second war, they had sneaking suspicions that Orochimaru was more than the genius scientist he appeared to be in the bad way, and Jiraiya always had a bit of wanderlust, one day he might just not come back to Konoha.

That meant they only had Konoha's White Fang left. Sure, he inspired fear across the nations, but having just one person was not enough. Should anything should happen to him, be it an unlucky kunai or surprise attack, Konoha would be left with no one.

That was when Danzou thought up a plan. They would bring either Minato Namikaze, the genius of his generation into Root, or the jinchuriki, the container for the nine-tailed-beast. As an anonymous figure in the Root division, Minato would cause all the nations to fear Root, and thus Konoha as a whole.

If the host became part of the division, with her emotions severed, she would be in stable and in complete control of the demon's powers and the damage they could inflict would scare the other powers into submission. Ideally, the village elders would have made both of the children members of Root, but Hiruzen had put his foot down and insisted that only one could be put through such a horrible life. Else, he would reveal secrets that would threaten the politics inside the Fire Country.

Though they were unsure of exactly why Hiruzen would threaten them so seriously to such an extent, the council members had complied with his wishes. They didn't mind that too much either, whether the demon vessel was a member of Root or not, she would be an asset to their village's military power and the two elders were aware of Hiruzen's interest on the boy's development, seeing him as a potential successor.

Hence the current situation.

"The decision must be made swiftly, by the end of this meeting." Danzou told Minato.

"Doesn't she get a say in this?" Minato pointed to the unconscious red-head.

Danzou sneered at the girl. "That fool of a girl lost that privilege when she refused to come quietly. Now choose, Namikaze. Who will suffer the pain of isolation and who will get more than five percent of the chance in reaching twenty-five, which by the way, is the retirement age for Root."

The girl shouted a couple of incomprehensible but loud words, as though berating Danzou for calling her a fool before snoring again. Minato studied the girl. This was basically him choosing whether he would sacrifice himself or the girl.

She's a loner anyway, it's not like she would be missing out on anything. And what about your dreams on becoming the Hokage? The third hinted that it would be impossible to become the Hokage after joining Root.

A little voice inside Minato's head whispered those thoughts to him. Although he was unaware of the politics behind the decision in recruiting him, he did understand that if he chose to join, his goal of becoming leader of the village would turn into a pipeline dream.

But what about her? Minato was unsure of her name, though he knew that she was in his year. He had always seen her from afar, alone in the corner of the playground, playing some imaginary game with stones by herself.

Didn't she deserve a shot in happiness?

Minato was also certain that he would be the one who had a greater chance in surviving. He wasn't sure of what kind of blood-line that girl had, but he was quite certain it did not assist her in the school curriculum. She was even slower than, Akimichi, a plump boy twice if not three times the width of an average child. She was unable to even draw out chakra, a basic exercise even those in the academy entrance ceremony could do. Minato knew that if she did join Root, her chances of survival would be zero.

That was when Minato realized, he was trapped. Danzou and the elders of Konoha had said it would be his own choice on the path he chose. But they were playing on his conscience, would he ruin the life of a poor, unfortunate girl any further for his own dreams?

The answer was no, he stood up, pushing his chair behind him. It appeared that, Danzou, knowing Minato's personality had pretty much made the decision for him when he told Minato that the price of his own freedom was the entrapment of the whirlpool refugee.

What sort of Hokage would I be if I can't even protect one girl from suffering any further? Plus, the retirement age for Root is twenty-five, I'm pretty sure there would be plenty of time to establish myself as a worthy candidate for Hokage before I get too old.

"I will commence training and be part of Root Anbu when I'm ready." said Minato as he held out his hand for Danzou to shake. Danzou gave a smug smile, knowing he had won today.

Hiruzen shook his head, sad. Even if Minato survived until retirement age, and by some miracle was elected as Hokage, he would have already indoctrinated Danzou's values. Minato would no longer be the sort of person Hiruzen was looking for. By the time Minato came out of Root, he would be emotionless, and value efficiency over his team members and his people.

But there might be hope, thought Hiruzen. The man was moved that Minato would sacrifice himself and his theoretical position as the Hokage to save a girl he barely knew. It was that sort of selflessness that brought a tiny spark of hope in the abyss of darkness, he hoped that light would stay with Minato through his time in Danzou's wing.

"Meeting adjourned." Koharu Utatane said, getting out of her chair. She looked at Minato before placing a hand on his head. "Thank you, your efforts towards the village will be unnoticed by the masses, but I will remember your dedication."

Hiruzen signaled to one of the Anbu standing guard. "Send the girl back to her bed and erase her memory of her encounter with you. She has no need to know about what had taken place here tonight."

Minato took one last long look at the girl he had indirectly saved.

Please live a happy and fulfilling life for me, too. He made a silent prayer as the Anbu followed his orders and carried the girl over his shoulders before they disappeared with a cloud of white smoke.

"You will stay behind for a little while longer so I discuss the details with you." Hiruzen spoke in a solemn tone. "The training will commence from today onwards."


To be continued.

Had inspiration in the middle of the night and started writing. It's almost three right now, so forgive me for any mistakes. So far, my plans for this story (there's not much to it) will coincide with whatever happens in the manga. But, we'll see about that. Hur.

I seem to have a habit of writing OOC characters.

Oh, and a disclaimer: Don't own, never will, but really want to.

Please review! I love reviews so much, they make me literally jump for joy. :D

Edit 9/2/13: Will be re-working on this chapter/series with a beta-reader. Look forward to my updates soon-ish!