Sarutobi Hiruzen sighed as he gazed upon the portraits of the Hokages past and present. He looked at the pictures forlornly, wondering if any of them would have expected things to turn out the way they did. Senju Hashirama, the Shodai Hokage, certainly did not, having given away the bijū to other nations as a gift of goodwill, inadvertently creating the monstrous process of making jinchūriki; the ultimate weapons of war, war which the Hokages hated with a passion. Neither did Senju Tobirama, his brother and the Nidaime, expect his crushing victory over the newly formed Kirigakure no Sato would cause the country to turn to mindless violence, formulating the bloody Academy graduation requirements.
The Sandaime himself had witnessed the devilish fruits of his labour. Having dealt a crushing blow to Iwagakure, it was no surprise they started another bloody war, one that took ten times the lives the previous war did. At the very least, it was expected for the revenge war to occur. The Yondaime was the worst of the lot, though, in the Sandaime’s honest opinion. He took out the Kyūbi at the cost of his life, wishing the very best for the container of the mighty beast. But his actions had dire consequences, which had manifested over the years and led to the destruction of one lonely boy’s life.
“Hokage-sama, Leopard is here to see you,” his secretary said, poking her head through the oaken doors of Sarutobi’s office.
Speak of the devil, the Sandaime thought. “Let him in.”
The secretary shut the door with a soft click, and moments later, the door swung open smoothly, before shutting noiselessly. Leopard was your typical ANBU, except for three noticeable differences. He had a very unique sword, as opposed to the simple ninjatō that most ANBU carry. He had an entry in the bingo book, which was frowned upon for the organisation that prided itself upon stealth. Finally, his stature was that of a teen. It reminded Sarutobi of Uchiha Itachi, and the wizened man hoped fervently that Leopard would not end up with a fate like Weasel’s.
“You wished to see me, Hokage-sama?” Leopard asked softly, bowing in deference to his leader.
“Indeed, Leopard. Do take a seat,” Sarutobi gestured at one of the seats placed before the Hokage’s desk. “I called you here, to inform you of the Council’s decision with regards to Uchiha Sasuke.”
Leopard remained silent, allowing the Hokage to continue. “We’ve decided that Uchiha Sasuke, despite his outstanding performances in the Academy, is liable to attacks from other nations wishing to attain the Sharingan for their own purposes. Hatake Kakashi would be his jōnin sensei due to his possession of the Sharingan, as well as his reputation which would hopefully deter any potential threats. But, in case Uchiha Sasuke is targeted, we fear that Kakashi may be preoccupied with defending himself and his other students. Hence, another individual is required to help protect Uchiha Sasuke. We’ve picked you, because we wanted someone who could be an undercover Genin. You have the strength to protect Uchiha Sasuke, as well as being of similar age, allowing the deception to go through.”
“Does that mean I will be demoted to Genin?” Leopard inquired.
“No, we value your services too much to do that. You will be transferred from Cat’s team to Kakashi’s team only on paper, and during this period, you will still conduct missions with Cat’s team. This would put quite a strain on you, but it’s only for a period of time. Once the Chūnin Exams come around, and Intelligence can get a proper idea of what the other countries think of the importance of the Sharingan to them, then we’ll determine your next assignment. You will, of course, receive S-rank mission pay, equivalent to an extended protection mission. After this mission, you will also be promoted to ANBU Captain, and get your own squad. Cat has sent in numerous letters of recommendation already, and currently, I’m seeing one with every mission you are involved in. The only thing preventing your promotion was the lack of experience. But the Commander and I both agree that you’ve garnered enough mission experience, so you will get your promotion once this mission is complete,” the Sandaime stated, pausing for a moment to let the ANBU digest. “Any other queries?”
“When will this assignment start, and are there any conditions I am required to fulfil?” Leopard asked.
The Hokage smiled lightly. “You will report to the Academy tomorrow morning, in time for the team assignments. I trust you know the time?”
Leopard nodded succinctly. Sarutobi continued. “Report to the class that Umino Iruka teaches. As for the conditions, there is only one. I have a faux background prepared for you. It’s in the folder in front of you. Study it, and maintain it. That’s all that’s required, besides the protection of your charge.”
“Before I leave, Hokage-sama, may I ask something?” Leopard murmured.
“Why am I helping to only protect Uchiha Sasuke, when the graduation class for this year is filled with clan heirs that could be potential targets as well? If I am not wrong, Hyuga Hinata is one of them, and her priority is at the same level as the Uchiha,” Leopard questioned. “Is there something else to this issue?”
“Perceptive,” the Sandaime praised. “There is something else. You see, the daimyo has always favoured the Uchiha clan, and before the clan was massacred, he even arranged for his daughter to be married to Uchiha Itachi. Itachi was originally about to marry another, but he was forced to accept the engagement. However, now that Itachi has gone rogue, Sasuke becomes the next automatic, and only choice. The daimyo has his hopes riding on Sasuke, hoping that it would bring the prestige of the Uchiha clan to the daimyo’s court. It would also bolster relationships between Konohagakure and the daimyo. If Uchiha Sasuke becomes an exemplary ninja in the future, which I have little doubt he will, he would be the favoured candidate for Hokage. That would draw Konoha and the daimyo even closer. A lot of hope rides on the safety and well being of Uchiha Sasuke. And finally, the daimyo specified that you are the person to protect his future son-in-law.”
“For reasons other than those you have already stated?” Leopard guessed.
“Correct,” the aged leader nodded. “He knew of your exploits, and when given a choice of various suitable personnel, he immediately picked you out, despite your name being at the bottom of the list. Remarkably, he stated that his reasons for doing so was so that you could hopefully teach Uchiha Sasuke how to play the guqin. Apparently, the daimyo has heard your pieces before, and is highly amazed by your talent with the instrument. If you were perceived by the daimyo to be half as valuable as Sasuke is, you would be his son-in-law already. However, he knows nothing of your heritage, and I believe it is a relief for you.”
“I understand. Should I invest any effort in educating Uchiha Sasuke in music?” Leopard asked, evidently amused by the notion.
“It’s entirely up to your discretion. I doubt Sasuke would actually be interested in anything but getting stronger, but you of course can show him the merits of the guqin, with your numerous techniques,” Hiruzen grinned. “I’m sure it would befuddle him thoroughly.”
Leopard nodded, and stood up, plucking the folder of his faux background. “I shall take my leave then, Hokage-sama, unless there is something else for me?”
“Well…I did say you would be doing missions with your team during this period, but Cat was adamant we don’t push you too hard. You know how protective and possessive she is, hence we had no choice but to put you into the shinobi reserve list. I apologise, Leopard, but you will not be doing any high ranked missions anytime soon. You will also have to turn in your mask, as with all ANBU on the reserve list. It’s merely protocol, so don’t worry. You’ll get your mask back when you’re captain. Think of this period as a vacation,” the Sandaime said soothingly.
The ANBU nodded once more, and placing his right hand over his mask, he channelled chakra through the white porcelain, deactivating the seals that kept the mask secure on his face. Removing the white apparel, he placed it reverently on the Hokage’s desk, bowing once more, before striding out of the office. Sarutobi Hiruzen chuckled. No doubt our dear Cat is going to get a short visit from our Leopard.
Maybe the leopard can finally end its life of solitude, the Sandaime Hokage mused, as he stared at the portrait of his successor cum predecessor. The blond seemed to have a small smile playing at his lips. You must be really proud of him. How I wish you were here to see him grow.