Naruto had never had to kill anyone just for knowing too much before.
(Originally published 2/14/2005. This is thoroughly AU now, but oh well.)
...yeah, I have no idea where this one came from. Enjoy. I hope. Minor spoilers for Naruto Part 2 (manga chapters 245 and onward), primarily the fact that a certain member of a certain team isn't present. A couple definitions you should know: Sensei means teacher, if you weren't aware already. Sempai can refer to an upperclassman, or someone ahead of you in an organization. I don't know if the term is actually used in the manga the way I used it here, but I think it fits.
Also, wanted to thank everyone who's reviewed my last couple Naruto fics. Your feedback is a big inspiration. I love to hear what I did wrong and what I did right in getting the point across.
"He's headed south. You're closest, Naruto, go after him!"
Uzumaki Naruto, age sixteen, gave a short noise of assent to Kakashi's order before descending swiftly through the trees.
It was his first mission since returning to the Village Hidden in the Leaves. Seeing as it had only been a few days since Naruto's return, the newly-reformed Team 7 had not really been expecting to be given any tasks when they reported to Konoha's administrative building that morning, but Godaime-sama had taken one look at Naruto's eager face and sighed a little as she admitted that yes, maybe she /did /have something. Her tone stated clearly that she'd been hoping to save it for a different group, but Naruto continued to insist and she relented at last, giving Kakashi an unreadable glance before she handed over the name of a man they were supposed to kill. It was only a C-ranked mission, something that would have been below Kakashi's status if Konoha's forces hadn't still been so depleted. The man was a civilian, from one of the small Fire Country cities that were ringed around their Hidden Village.
Naruto had never had to kill anyone just for knowing too much before.
It was truly a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The ninja, for all their training, were used to dealing with similarly-trained foes who could be reasonably expected to act a certain way, and thus there were two kinds of people who were capable once in a blue moon of slipping underneath their radar - rank amateurs, and civilians, neither of whom were trained enough in the ways of the ninja to be entirely predictable. Being hidden by chance rather than skill left no telltale traces for a shinobi to pick up on, and escaping by sheer luck was a rare thing, but it did happen occasionally. When such events occurred, of course, a second team had to be sent out to clean up the mess.
They never happened twice in a row.
The man they were pursuing now was one such unlucky person who managed to find himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. From what their ANBU analysts had been able to piece together, he had taken a drunken stroll out of his hometown and ended up passed out among the underbrush of a nearby forest for hours, long enough for even the telltale alcohol scent that should've clung to his body to dissipate. He had woken just in time to open his eyes and see a Konoha ANBU squad resting in the slightly less thick undergrowth nearby. Terrified, he hadn't dared to move an inch, realizing what an incriminating position he was in.
He had seen the ANBU take off their masks. He had heard them address each other by name. And so he knew.
He had finally not been able to hold back his terrified breathing, which rustled the leaves and sent them all scrambling for their weapons; and then he'd begun to run. But their pursuit of him had been cut off by an explosion in the city proper as their real target made himself known. Faced with a choice between their own lives, in the form of their security, and the lives of the civilians below, the squad had had no choice but to leave the man behind for the moment.
Normally ANBU would have gone back later to take care of its own mess, Tsunade had explained, but they continued to be short-staffed, and the elite shinobi of ANBU just couldn't be spared for dealing with someone who wasn't even ninja. And so it was handed down to Team 7. She had added wryly that the three of them were probably worth about seven ANBU members anyway. Three of those for Kakashi, she'd continued, smirking at Naruto. He had protested indignantly that three ought to be for /him/, while the rest of the room looked on with indulgent smiles.
It wasn't quite as fun now that he was actually doing it.
He glided easily and silently through the trees, more at ease with his body and with acting quietly than he had been a few years ago. He could hear the civilian crashing through the undergrowth just ahead of him, desperately trying to speed up and put some space between himself and the ninja, since there was no way stealth could ever avail him.
They'd done a little research on the target before setting off, just trying to determine that the man was really no more than he seemed, not a shinobi spy in disguise. They'd found he was the son of a locksmith, and had lived in his small city since birth. He had a fiancee, and a new house, and a long prosperous life ahead of him.
Well, not anymore.
The longer he dwelled on this, the harder it was going to be to actually do it, so Naruto stopped thinking about the man even as he swung around to drop onto the ground in front of him, brandishing a kunai. He imagined Kakashi would reprimand him later for not simply killing the man from the cover of the trees, but some old habits were hard to break, and Naruto had always preferred a good clean fair fight. Of course this could never really be a /fair /fight, but he'd bring it as close as he could get.
The man just stared at him for a moment, shaking in fear, but finally he somehow managed to draw the battered katana tied at his waist. The point wobbled a little as he pointed it toward Naruto. The latter smiled a little, bitterly.
"That's the spirit. People should always go down fighting... Sorry about this," he said, rushing forward.
They traded blows. Naruto just wanted to test him a little before he killed him. Just further making sure of the fact that he wasn't secretly a shinobi. Yeah, that was it.
"Nothing personal, really."
He backflipped behind the man to kick his legs out from under him, but then waited until the man stumbled back up, immediately swinging his katana with a scream of rage and frustration. Naruto's dodge was a little clumsy and the sword just barely scraped the back of his hand.
Naruto turned to smile awkwardly at him, raising his kunai again. He couldn't keep putting it off. Someone was going to have to do it sometime, and he was the one who was here.
"You... were just in the wrong place at the wrong--"
"SHUT UP!" the man shouted, chest heaving. His grip on the katana was so hard his knuckles were bleach-white, and Naruto gave a sympathetic little wince. "What are you talking about!? You're trying to /kill /me! I didn't do anything and you're going to /kill me.../! My wife..." He began to quiet, the tension running out of his frame, and his posture sagged suddenly like a marionette with snapped strings. "My wife, and my mom and my dad... I'm never going to see them again... Leaving them all alone..." he mumbled, eyes suddenly looking too-bright underneath the moon. Naruto could only stand there, stunned.
"I'm... I'm sorry... we -- have to protect our village," he murmured after a second, but it sounded like a hollow excuse to his ears.
"Please..." The man was looking at him now with pleading eyes. "I can't beat you... But, I don't want to die! Please, just let me go home! I swear, I'd never betray your secre--"
He was cut short by the kunai suddenly sticking out of the front of his chest. He only had a bare second to look down at it, wide-eyed and seeming almost bemused, before toppling over.
Blood dribbled onto the leaves.
Naruto turned to glare at Kakashi as the latter dropped gracefully to the forest floor, walking over to meet him. Sakura followed after a moment. She silently went to tend to the body, obviously blinking back her tears.
"What... what did you do that for!?" he snarled, making a violent gesture toward their target. Kakashi just gazed at him impassively.
"Because that was the mission objective," the Jounin said, slowly and deliberately, as though he were talking to a small child. Naruto growled.
"You, you didn't have to-- He was going to--"
"He was a security risk." Kakashi's voice hardened for a moment, his visible eye briefly closing. "No matter how small, we can't afford to let anyone live who knows our secrets. What if ninja from another village had heard he knew the identities of some of our ANBU members? How long do you think he'd've lasted once they got to him? Killing him like this is a mercy in comparison."
"But he-- he--" Naruto fumbled for words for a moment before pitching his kunai at the ground with an angry shout. It made an audible thunk as it was buried up to the hilt. "He didn't deserve /it! He was just some /GUY! He never did anything to anybody--"
"Nobody ever said he had to deserve it," Kakashi cut him off quietly. Sakura was watching the pair of them now with a pensive expression. Naruto glared up at their old sensei, scowling as the Jounin continued to speak.
"Whether or not it's right isn't what this job is about." Kakashi's level gaze was cool, and suddenly very, very old, and Naruto found himself remembering that this was the man who had been the youngest Jounin in Konoha's history. "If you can't understand that, then maybe this /isn't /the right line of work for you, after all. You don't get to save the world all the time, Naruto."
Sakura frowned, rising as she finished. "Kakashi-sensei..."
"Sempai." Kakashi's eye closed again for a moment. "I'm not your sensei anymore, remember? Either of you."
"All right then, Kakashi-/sempai/," Naruto growled, making the suffix into a curse word as he turned abruptly away. "We're done here. Let's get going."
He leaped into the trees without further preamble. The newly-christened sempai followed silently, and Sakura went last, taking one final look at the body before turning away to catch up with her team.
When they got back, Kakashi headed off by himself, informing them he'd go alone to make the mission report. He smiled his usual smile at the two of them, as though they hadn't just been trading harsh words in the forest, and leaped up onto the nearest rooftop and was gone.
"He needs to make up his mind whether he's gonna be our teammate or our leader," Naruto grumbled at his retreating back. Sakura just shrugged, her expression still quite sober.
"I guess it'll take us all a while to get used to acting like equals around each other. We're still not, honestly..." She looked off down the main road toward Konoha proper, watching the bustle of people. "No matter what he says."
"If he wants to be equals, then he shouldn't order me around and mess with stuff I'm doing." Naruto gritted the words out with hands balled into fists at his sides. "There had to be a better way. That guy didn't /have /to die."
Sakura's voice was low and mournful, and he looked over at her in surprise. She shook her head at him with a pained smile.
"I... kind of think he did."
He stared at her for a moment, eyes wide, his expression rather betrayed. "Sakura-chan..."
"We aren't superheroes, you know." She gave him a wide smile, the tears welling up again in her eyes belying her expression. "We're... we're the bad guys, really. There's a reason why the people outside the Hidden Villages are afraid of ninjas, Naruto..."
He kept staring for a few seconds longer and finally turned away, gazing off into the distance with a pensive expression, hands still clenched at his sides. His eyes searched out the great stone monument, its five faces visible even from this side of the village.
"It'll be different, when I'm Hokage," he vowed quietly. His lips were pressed briefly into a thin line. "I'll make it different."
But he knew in his heart that this was one promise he would not be able to keep.