Gilded

Saiken

Summary: With loving parents and plenty of friends, unease is the last thing that Naruto should be feeling. But it lingers in the back of his mind, clouding his sight with suspicion and paranoia. Why do his dreams feel so real? Why does he remember things that never were?

Gilded

Chapter 6

Saiken


~o0O0o~


Somewhere far, far away from the Village Hidden in the Leaves, a man lay prone on the ground, his body littered with wounds and burns, and his clothes torn to ribbons. With a superhuman effort he lifted his head off the ground to stare at the back of a figure that was steadily walking away, reaching for him with a desperation that went beyond reason.

He tried to say something, anything to make him stop, make him come back, but his voice failed and he went completely limp as the last of his energy left him, and his head fell to the ground with a dull thud.

As he suffocated on smoke and scorched air, the forest around him crackled and burned in flames of the purest black.


~o0O0o~

Naruto flinched as he felt something cold on the back of his neck. He shivered and rubbed his arms. "Weird," he muttered.

Sakura glanced over from where she'd been walking next to him. "Something wrong?"

He grinned easily, reassuring her. "Nah, I'm fine. Just felt really cold all of a sudden. It's gone now."

Sakura tilted her head with a small frown but didn't press him, simply nodding as they continued walking on their way to the Hokage tower for a mission from Naruto's dad. The sky was a clear blue and a laughing breeze drifted through the streets, carrying with it the buzzing conversations of Konoha proper. The morning sun steadily rose to the top of the sky, warming the earth as it shone down.

Kakashi met them at the door with a one-eyed smile and a lazy salute before leading them upstairs to the Hokage's office.

"Hey, dad!" Naruto greeted, his voice full of the enthusiasm he always had right before a mission.

Minato looked up from a truly monstrous pile of paperwork, two of his clones off to the side reorganizing the filing system in one of the drawers. "Son," he acknowledged. Turning to Kakashi, he continued, "You can pick between a C-rank escort mission to the Land of Rivers, or," he paused as he riffled through a few documents, "a bunch of D-ranks."

Kakashi glanced briefly at his subordinates.

"The C-rank," Sakura voted almost immediately.

"There's no way I'm ever painting a fence again!" Naruto declared, shuddering at the thought of the mind-numbingly boring task.

Kakashi turned back to Minato with a wry smile. "Well, Team Seven has spoken! We'll take that escort mission."

"Very well," Minato said, swiftly signing the necessary documents before sliding Kakashi a few of his own to look through. "There are the details, nothing too difficult as far as I've gathered."

Kakashi peered at the tiny writing, bringing it extra close to his face for inspection. "A noblewomen, huh? What does she need an escort for?"

"She's in line to inherit a large castle and the surrounding area, but her younger brother took it from her by force. She's going to appeal to the Great Lord of the region and needs someone to make sure her brother doesn't try anything dirty while she's on the way."

Someone knocked at the door, and Minato yelled, "Come in!"

A richly-dressed woman who looked to be in about her mid-twenties stepped in and bowed respectfully, her face politely blank. "Hokage-sama, thank you for accepting my request. I am in your debt."

Minato nodded with a small smile. "Of course, Mizuna-dono. It is an honor to be of service." His expression shifted to seriousness as he turned his gaze back to Team Seven, inwardly noting with amusement at how Kakashi had stiffened with obvious recognition at the woman's face. "You three are to protect her with everything you've got and make sure she reaches her destination unharmed. Is that understood?"

Minato wasn't usually one to go around pulling rank, but something about his tone made all of them snap to attention, even Naruto. "Yes, sir!" they said, backs ramrod straight and arms pressed rigidly to their sides.

Minato stared for a moment before offering a single nod—a dismissal.

"Well, Mizuna-sama," Kakashi turned to the noblewoman with a cheerful smile, even as she stared with bemusement at the mask covering half his face. "When would you like to get started?"


~o0O0o~

This Mizuna lady, Naruto decided, was kind of dull.

It wasn't that she wasn't pretty—she was, in that petite noblish kind of way with delicate features and large eyes—but her personality certainly wasn't getting her any points. She never joked or even smiled, and she had the tendency not to speak unless it was with Kakashi to finalize details about their traveling arrangements.

Judging by her expensive-looking clothes and the way she carried herself, she was probably used to people waiting on her hand and foot. Naruto hoped she wouldn't try to do the same to them. In the back of his mind, Naruto wondered why so many people were giving this Mizuna lady so many stares. It wasn't like she was that pretty. In the end he decided not to dwell on it.

He farewelled his mom at the village gates with a tight hug and secured a promise for ramen upon his return, and then he left with his team on his newest adventure. As Naruto walked away, Kushina's eyes grew shadowed, and she turned and walked back to her home with dark thoughts and darker intentions.


~o0O0o~

The mission passed without incident (surprisingly).

They made it to the Great Lord's castle and passed through the gates after a brief verification of their identities, although the guards were quite hesitant to let shinobi into the castle at all. Their paranoia was annoying, but still understandable. Regular guards like them didn't stand a chance against a trained ninja, much less an entire team of trained ninja.

They briefly met with the Great Lord himself, a man of average stature but with a piercing gaze, and Mizuna told Kakashi that an escort would no longer be necessary, as any protection from that point on would be provided by the Great Lord.

Their mission complete, Team Seven turned around and headed home, but not before Kakashi asked Mizuna for her autograph.

Why would he want her autograph?


~o0O0o~

Minato was in the middle of looking through the newest batch of Academy applicants. A total of sixty this year, with more than half of them being civilian-born. It wasn't that he didn't encourage civilians from aspiring to become shinobi. He'd done it, after all, despite his parents telling him over and over how much harder it would be because they weren't shinobi.

Squinting, he took a closer look at the papers in his hand. Three from the Hyūga clan, one from the Uchiha clan, one from the Yamanaka clan, three from the—

His thoughts were put on a momentary pause as someone rapped their knuckles on his door. "Come inside!" he ordered, absently straightening the piles of papers on his desk. The door opened, and the familiar faces of his son's team filed in one after the other.

"Hey, dad!" Naruto said, beaming at him. He was a bit dirty and his clothes could stand to go through a spin cycle or two in the washer, but other than that he looked alright.

"Naruto," Minato said, his own smile already crinkling the skin around his eyes. "How was the mission?"

"Boring!" was the immediate answer. Kakashi and Sakura slapped their palms to their foreheads, but Naruto continued before they could interrupt. "We didn't get to do anything but walk there and back again! The castle wasn't that cool, either. And the guards didn't really like us 'cause we're shinobi and we could totally kick their asses, but you know. Whatever. And—"

"Our mission succeeded without incident, sensei," Kakashi said, exploiting the fact that even Naruto needed to stop talking to breathe. "At the end we were dismissed and told Konoha's services were no longer required."

Minato snorted. "Disappointed you didn't get to stay and observe, Kakashi?"

Even as Naruto and Sakura frowned in confusion, the silver-haired jōnin shook his head. "Not at all, sensei," Kakashi gleefully informed him. "I got her autograph."

"Wait, wait," Sakura said, pausing to make sure she had everyone's attention. "Why would Kakashi-sensei want Mizuna-sama's autograph? What's so special about the autograph of a minor noblewoman?"

Kakashi and Minato looked at each other for a moment before Minato coughed awkwardly into his fist.

"You see, Sakura," Minato explained, "Mizuna-sama is actually a rather famous adult film actress. Why she was posing as a noblewoman was none of our business, and so long as her secret identity didn't harm the mission in any way we had no reason to call her out on it."

"Eh? Adult film star?" Sakura blinked once, twice before the realization set in and she turned beet red. "We escorted a porn star?!"

"One of the best, too," Kakashi confirmed, as though he wasn't admitting to being a massive pervert. "Her movies are always the most convincing. She might not be the most well-endowed, but she's definitely the dirtiest."

For his part, Naruto rounded on his sensei with a distinctly betrayed look in his eyes. "You said you didn't read porn!"

Kakashi tilted his head at the boy, a quizzical look in his eye. "I don't read porn. I watch it."

Finally processing what she was hearing and totally scandalized, Sakura screamed, "Kakashi-sensei!"

As Kakashi undertook the mountainous task of making sure Sakura didn't explode and start punching everything in sight, Naruto shot a suspicious gaze at his father. "Dad, how come you knew that Mizuna lady was a porn star?"

Minato simply stared back with a beautiful deadpan that did a good job in making Naruto feel rather dull. "Naruto, in case you've forgotten, my sensei proudly calls himself a super pervert. Even if I don't go looking for this kind of stuff—which I don't—I hear all about it from him."

"O-Oh," Naruto mumbled, shuffling his feet in his embarrassment. "I guess I kind of forgot."

Naruto jumped a bit when a muffled boom sounded off and something shattered behind him, and when he turned around he saw his murderous teammate standing in front of the now-broken window with their sensei nowhere in sight, although a startled-looking flock of birds provided a rather good clue as to his flight trajectory.

Minato sighed and signaled his ANBU guard, who immediately appeared out of nowhere with their heads respectfully lowered. "Cat, go find wherever Kakashi landed and bring him back."

One of the ANBU nodded and vanished with a swirl of leaves.


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