Preemptive A/N: I know some of you were probably looking forward to reading about Itachi's training of Naruto, but honestly, I just want to get this story going, and I have a lot planned for later in the timeline, so I didn't want to take the time to show a lot of that. There will still be some of it (mostly later on, once Naruto's officially a Genin), but I just really wanted to get the story going. I hope you can forgive me for not spending 10 chapters focusing on Naruto's training.
Naruto jumped away from Itachi and did his best to maintain his defensive stance. He was panting heavily and sweating profusely. The two had been training especially hard today for some reason. Naruto had been Itachi's unofficial apprentice for a year now, and his skills in taijutsu and ninjutsu had grown in leaps and bounds, a fact which brought no end of pride to Itachi.
"Are you all right, Sensei?" Naruto asked. He'd been calling Itachi that for about six months now. The two were still friends first, anything else second, but, when they were training, it just made sense for Naruto to call Itachi "sensei".
"Not really," Itachi answered. "Don't worry, Naruto, I'll live, I'm just stressed out about something."
Naruto nodded, still panting. "I can understand that. If you ever need someone to talk to, you know I'll listen," he said after a moment, wiping his forehead as he spoke.
Itachi nodded. "I know. For now, come on, let's continue training." Naruto nodded, and the two leapt back toward each other.
The two friends trained hard for another hour, then Itachi called an end to it. "That's enough for today, Naruto. I have to admit I'm impressed with you lately. Your skills have been growing incredibly fast."
Naruto grinned. "Thanks, Sensei," he said. "You know, all I needed was someone who would actually train me."
Itachi chuckled. "You know, Naruto, I think that's exactly true. Still, I'm glad it was me."
Naruto nodded. "Well...anyway, I'll see you tomorrow, yeah?" he asked.
Itachi sighed. "I'm not sure, Naruto. We'll see what happens tonight and just go from there, okay?"
Naruto raised an eyebrow at that, but Itachi wasn't forthcoming with any more details, so Naruto shrugged. "All right. Keep in touch, regardless, okay?"
Itachi chuckled. "I'll do what I can, kiddo," he said back. Itachi didn't often call Naruto that, but it always made Naruto smile when he did.
The two departed from the training ground after that. Itachi walked Naruto home first, not saying much during their trip as his mind was too focused on what he had to do that night. After saying their goodbyes, Itachi left Naruto to his own devices and made his way to his clan's compound for the last time.
The next morning, Naruto made his way to the training ground where he and Itachi usually met up every morning, but Itachi never showed up. After waiting close to an hour, Naruto left and headed to the Academy so he wouldn't be late. When he arrived at the Academy, he found the classroom mostly empty. Only Sasuke – Itachi's younger brother – and Hinata were there. Naruto had never met Sasuke officially, but he was aware of who the boy was.
Approaching Sasuke, Naruto said pleasantly, "Hey, Sasuke! I was supposed to meet your brother this morning, but he never showed. Do you know where he is?"
Sasuke turned to the blond who had randomly greeted him with a glare. The glare intensified at the mention of his brother. "Don't ever mention that traitor to me!" he replied and turned his gaze away from Naruto.
"What?!" Naruto answered. "Itachi isn't a traitor. What do you mean?!"
"He isn't, huh?" Sasuke answered bitterly. "Itachi slaughtered every single member of my family last night, except for me. Thanks to that traitor, I'm all by myself!"
Naruto gasped at this revelation, then immediately thought about the Itachi he had known for years. "There's no way he'd do that! Well...unless..." Naruto thought, acknowledging to himself Itachi would do that if there were some reason for it, but he'd have to have a damn good reason to do it. Turning back to Sasuke, he said, "If he did that, he must have had a damn good reason–"
"I don't give a shit what you think!" Sasuke answered. "He was my brother, I knew him, you didn't, how could you? And he betrayed me! I will find him and kill him for what he's done!"
Naruto snorted. "If you can't see that there's more to this than meets the eye, you're the biggest idiot I've ever had the misfortune of meeting," he said, then turned and walked away from Sasuke. Making his way to where Hinata was sitting, he sat down beside her to await the arrival of their teacher.
"Good morning, Naruto," Hinata said quietly. Ever since Iruka had pointed out Hinata to him, Naruto had made an effort to become her friend, which hadn't been all that hard as it turned out. They had become good friends over the last year.
Naruto chuckled ruefully. "I don't know about all that," he said. "I just got told my sensei killed his whole family."
Hinata shook her head. "I heard. That's so sad," she said sympathetically. "I'm sure there's more to it than that, though. I doubt Itachi would do that without good reason...I don't think anyone who would could have gained your trust."
Naruto chuckled again, a bit more sincerely this time. "That must be true," he said back. "And I'm glad I'm not the only one who sees it that way."
Hinata smiled. "No one you trust as much as you do Itachi could be a traitor. It just doesn't make sense," she said back simply.
That said, the two fell into a companionable silence and waited for the arrival of their teacher. Throughout the wait and then throughout the day's lectures and such, Naruto contemplated what had happened with Itachi. By the time his day at the Academy had ended, Naruto had made a decision. He would find out the truth of why Itachi would do this!
After returning home from the Academy, Naruto dug around in his closet for a while until he found what he needed. It was a long black cloak Itachi had given him upon the older boy's promotion to ANBU Captain. It was exactly like an ANBU cloak, except it was tailored to fit Naruto's small frame exactly.
Wrapping it around himself, Naruto also donned what he thought of as his "Apprentice Persona". The normally rambunctious, happy-go-lucky kid instantly became the serious, silent, deadly assassin his sensei had been training him to become for the past year. No one noticed the small black blur that jumped from Naruto's balcony a few moments later. The moment he hit the ground, Naruto was running toward the ANBU Headquarters even as he carefully affixed the mask Itachi had gifted to him along with his cloak to his face. Naruto allowed himself one brief smile as he remembered that day.
Naruto was grinning as he came into the clearing. He was excited today. Itachi had told him yesterday that he would have a surprise for him today, and he couldn't wait to find out what it was. Upon seeing his friend and teacher standing in the middle of the clearing where they usually trained, Naruto couldn't help but break into a run.
Coming to a stop in front of Itachi, Naruto grinned up at his friend as he caught his breath. "Sempai, I'm here!" he said happily.
Itachi chuckled and smiled fondly at the blond boy he already considered his successor. "I see that, Naruto," he said levelly. "And just what is it you are so excited about this morning?"
Naruto raised an eyebrow at Itachi. He knew the older boy was messing with him. Itachi would often act as if he had no idea what was going on, just to see how Naruto would react. Naruto was in a good mood, so he decided to play along today. "Oh, I'm just happy to see you, that's all. Nothing else," the blond said.
Itachi chuckled again. "Careful who hears you say that, they might think you're hitting on me," Itachi said. Naruto was taken aback at this for a moment, then what Itachi actually said sunk in, and Naruto instantly began gagging.
"No offense, Sempai," Naruto said after taking a moment to get his gag reflex back under control, "but that's just seriously creepy."
It was then that a true rarity happened. Itachi didn't chuckle, he didn't laugh softly, he actually threw back his head and let out a full-on belly laugh at this. In all the time Naruto had known Itachi – over five years at this point – he had only seen Itachi laugh like that twice before. Naruto grinned and rubbed a finger across his nose. He liked making his friend laugh, even if he did so unintentionally...and even if it was a bit embarrassing.
After he calmed down, Itachi smiled at his young friend and said, "You know, Naruto, I couldn't agree with you more. That is rather creepy, isn't it? And yet...you know there are people out there who would think that way."
Naruto rolled his eyes. "I know you're right about that, Sempai," he said after a moment. "And to be honest, I'm not sure if I'm more disgusted or depressed by that little fact."
Itachi smiled again, his eyes twinkling. "I have to agree, Naruto. Anyhow, I have a surprise for you," he said. As he said this, Itachi pulled out a scroll and unrolled it between himself and Naruto. Flashing through a short set of hand signs, Itachi unsealed a black cloak and a blank white mask with two small eye slits in it from the scroll.
Naruto looked them over, then asked, "But...Sempai, aren't these ANBU things?"
Itachi smiled proudly at the boy. "Yes, Naruto, they are," he said.
"Then...why are you giving them to me?" Naruto asked. He was trying not to get too excited about this, but if Itachi was saying what Naruto thought he was...
Itachi smiled again at the boy, then said, "Yesterday, I was promoted to the rank of Captain in the ANBU. As my apprentice, you are, henceforth and forever, an unofficial member of the ANBU. The only way you will no longer retain this unofficial rank is if you are officially inducted into the ANBU."
Naruto considered this, then glomped Itachi. "Thank you so much, Sempai!" he exclaimed happily. Itachi hugged the small bundle of energy, smiling happily as he did so. He really was proud of this kid. Pulling back, Naruto asked, "What will I be called?"
Itachi smiled briefly as he remembered telling Naruto about the code names ANBU members used. "For right now, you won't have a code name," he said, then held up a hand for silence when Naruto looked like he was going to object. "I said for right now. If you are ever inducted to the ANBU, you will be allowed to choose your own name, or if you do something special that earns you a reputation, you'll be given a name from that. For now, you won't have a name. Trust me, not having a name is more benefit than curse."
Naruto stopped and considered this, then said, "So...I can do whatever I want and don't have to worry too much about people knowing it was me...at least until I have a name." Itachi chuckled, then nodded. "I see what you mean. That could be quite the weapon," the blond said.
Itachi smiled proudly. "Yes, it can. I remember what it was like before I had my name. I was just a shadow. I remember a couple times people saw me and the mere sight of me and my blank mask was enough to send them into fits of terror since they had no idea what to expect from me."
Naruto considered this, then wrapped the cloak around himself and fixed the mask into place on his face. He was surprised to find that he could see as clearly with the mask on as he could without it. Somehow those eye slits allowed him full range of sight. Filing that little bit of information away, Naruto asked, "Is there some kind of oath I have to take or something like that?"
Itachi shook his head. "Not right now. You're just an unofficial ANBU, after all. All you have to do is swear you'll never tell anyone that you're in ANBU or tell anyone the name of any other ANBU member. If you break that vow, the punishment is death."
Naruto gulped, then answered, "I, Naruto Uzumaki, do hereby solemnly swear I will never reveal the identity of any member of the ANBU, including myself, to anyone outside of the ANBU."
Itachi chuckled. "Well said, Naruto," he said. "I'm glad you noticed that loophole. And you're right, by the way. You can reveal your identity to any member of the ANBU you should so choose. You do not have to, but you can. And incidentally, as the leader of all the forces of the village, the Hokage is an honorary ANBU member, so you can reveal yourself to him if you so choose. And before you ask, no, he doesn't know who is inducted to the ANBU, so he doesn't know about this."
Naruto thought about that a moment, then asked, "If he doesn't know who is in the ANBU, how does he know who is getting his orders when he tells a member of ANBU what to do?"
Itachi's pride rose ever higher. "The Hokage is familiar with members of ANBU by their code names. He knows the abilities of each ANBU member just as he knows the abilities of the regular shinobi forces. Sometimes he doesn't actually know who is being given his orders, but he knows what the shinobi he is commanding can do, which, if you really think about it, is far more important than knowing the shinobi's name."
Naruto considered this. "I guess that's true," he said after a moment, then continued, "and if the Hokage were ever taken hostage, he can't reveal the identity of someone if he doesn't know who it is, either."
Itachi couldn't stop smiling at his apprentice. The boy just made him so damn proud! "You're exactly right about that, Naruto," he said simply. Then he added, "And by the way, congratulations on being the newest member of the ANBU."
Naruto grinned at the older boy, then hugged him again. Itachi smiled and hugged the blond back.
As Naruto was remembering that day, he had arrived at the ANBU HQ, where he and Itachi had spent much of their time over the past few months. He knew the layout of this place like the back of his hand, and he knew when and where the various guards would be patrolling. Itachi had insisted he learn these things in case he ever had to sneak into the HQ, although Itachi had repeatedly said he had no idea why Naruto would ever need to do this. "Thanks, Sensei," Naruto thought to himself as he thought about Itachi's seemingly random training methods.
Naruto proceeded through the various hallways of the HQ building, always being just behind the various guards or just out of their line of sight or hidden in the shadows of the corners as they went by. No one saw him.
It took the small boy close to an hour to make his way into the depths of the building and to a certain door. He had never been allowed to pass this door before, and he knew, in the back of his mind, he shouldn't be passing it now...but, for the sake of his sensei, he would do whatever it took. He was sure Itachi wouldn't have done the things he was being told he had done without some very good reason behind it.
This thought in mind, Naruto pushed open the door and entered the secret records room of the ANBU. Looking around at all the filing cabinets in the room, Naruto was momentarily overwhelmed with a sense of helplessness. "I'll never find it in this mess!" Naruto thought in that brief moment. Then, gathering his thoughts, Naruto thought to himself, "There must be something more to this."
Pondering for a moment, Naruto formed a hand sign in front of himself and did everything he could to screw with his chakra flow. "Release!" he yelled. Sure enough, it worked. The monumental number of filing cabinets in the room vanished, leaving only a couple dozen, each drawer of each cabinet having a name written on a card in the front of it. Naruto chuckled. "Thought so," he said to himself, then turned his attention back to the task at hand.
It took Naruto a couple of minutes to find the right cabinet and the right drawer in that cabinet, but sure enough he found one that was marked "Itachi" without too much trouble. Opening the drawer, Naruto pulled out a folder and began going through it.
Naruto sighed deeply as he pulled out the last folder in the drawer. He was feeling more than a little bit overwhelmed at the moment. Each folder he had looked through had contained the details of either an ongoing mission or a completed mission from Itachi's past. Some of those missions had involved assassinations of high-ranking political figures from other lands or smuggling refugees into the Leaf Village or even the utter destruction of small towns.
Itachi had completed each and every one with no thought of himself. If his Hokage ordered it, Itachi did it. It was that simple. "I never realized just how much Itachi must love this village," Naruto thought to himself as he opened the last folder. As he read, his eyes widened slowly until they were taking up more than half of the small boy's face. "Well...I guess now I do," he thought to himself as he slowly digested what he had just read.
Putting the folders back into Itachi's drawer, Naruto left the ANBU HQ the same way he had entered. He had to speak to the Hokage about what he had just read.
Naruto entered the Hokage's office mere minutes after leaving the ANBU file room. Getting out of the HQ building had been much simpler than getting in for whatever reason. Naruto was still in his ANBU cloak and mask as he stood at attention in front of Hiruzen Sarutobi.
Hiruzen raised an eyebrow at the unexpected intrusion. He had been about to call it a day when a very small, blank-masked ANBU had appeared in his office. Watching the small figure, the Hokage had no choice but to wait for the masked figure to address him. He had no idea who this was, after all.
After a minute of standing in silence, Naruto did exactly this. "Lord Hokage, I'm sorry for the intrusion, but I needed to speak with you about a matter of utmost importance to me," he said.
"Oh? And what is that?" the Hokage asked.
Naruto took a deep breath, then said seriously, "I refuse to say how I am aware of this information, but I know the true reason why the Uchiha clan was murdered last night."
Hiruzen gasped. Regaining his composure, he said, "I see." The ANBU waited. "What is it you wish for me to do or tell you, ANBU?" the Hokage asked after a moment.
"I wish to know why their deaths were ordered. The information I possess is incomplete, and I wish to know the reasons for this," the cloaked figure responded.
Hiruzen sighed. After thinking a moment, he said, "It'll be a relief, actually, to have someone other than me know the whole story." The figure responded to this by taking a seat and watching the Hokage expectantly. Lighting his pipe and puffing on it, the Hokage thought for a moment about where to begin. After a minute, he spoke. "About a year ago, Itachi approached me with suspicions that the Uchiha clan were planning a coup. He believed they intended to overthrow me and take over the village and run it as a military state. Six months ago, Itachi infiltrated a secret meeting of the clan, where his suspicions were entirely confirmed."
Naruto considered this, then interjected, "But did they have to die? Couldn't you have talked to them, dissuaded them somehow?"
Hiruzen smiled ruefully, then said, "We tried. Both Itachi and I went to Fugaku Uchiha, the clan head, and did the best we could to talk him down from his crazy plans. We tried repeatedly for months to talk him down, but the man was adamant that his clan should be leading the village. He even made it apparent to the two of us that he planned to place Itachi's younger brother as Hokage. It was only after we both realized the sheer futility of dissuasion that the...unfortunate event last night became necessary. It was with a heavy heart that I ordered Itachi to do that."
Naruto was seething, but he didn't let it show. Taking a deep breath, he asked with a deceptive calm, "Why did it have to be Itachi?"
"Actually...Itachi wouldn't let me give the mission to anyone else," Hiruzen said. Naruto was shocked into silence by this answer. He had expected just about any answer but that one. Hiruzen continued after a moment, "He said it was his family, so it was his responsibility to deal with it. I think he took his status as the son of the clan head very seriously."
Naruto considered this, then said simply, "Thank you for taking time to speak with me, Lord Hokage. I have much to consider after this." That said, the boy departed the office through the same window he had used to enter is mere minutes before.
Returning to his apartment, Naruto shed the ANBU mask and cloak, then changed from his Academy clothes into his bedclothes and the silly frog nightcap he had been given as a birthday gift by Itachi two years ago. When he asked why a frog, Itachi had simply said, "Your father would want you to have it," and refused to say any more on the subject. Naruto had no idea what his friend and sensei had meant by that, but he was bizarrely proud of the silly thing because of it.
Climbing into bed, Naruto was considering the situation his sensei had been stuck in very carefully. The whole thing was deeply disturbing to the eight-year-old boy. He was very aware that they, as shinobi, were, in a very real way, nothing more than living weapons to be used as their Kage saw fit, but this was one of the first times he had really seen just how true that was.
Naruto had two thoughts almost simultaneously just before falling asleep that night. The first one was, "I hope the Hokage never misuses me." The second, and far more troubling, was, "Will I ever see Itachi again?"
Postemptive A/N: Is postemptive a thing? I dunno, but I think you all get what I mean. Anyway, I hope you guys enjoyed this chapter, despite the utter lack of Itachi-training-Naruto time. Like I said before, there will be some of that later on as Itachi brings Naruto up to the level of a true ANBU, but for now I just want to get this story going, so there's going to be a few time-skips here. After this, I'll probably jump ahead to the Genin exams either next chapter or the one after that, just fair warning. I may spend one more chapter in the Academy era just so I can show how much Naruto has grown in the last two years, but I don't plan to spend much more time here. Anyway, hope you all enjoyed this one and hope you come back for more next time!