Brat duty is every ANBU’s least favorite job.
No matter what an outsider might think, if outsiders were given access not only to ANBU mission orders but also their complicated bartering system to get out of such missions, it has nothing to do with the brat being the jinchuuriki. The thing’s sealed away, and the brat’s basically a baby; the brat’s no more a demon than a summoning scroll is the animal it summons.
No, they hate brat duty because it’s literally babysitting, except they don’t even get to interact with the baby. Watching a child crawl in circles and cry for hours while sitting on a tree branch is fucking boring, and no matter how good they are at surveillance, ANBU do not take boredom well.
No one wants to outright refuse the mission--it’s Yondaime-sama’s kid, for fuck’s sake--but no one actually wants to do it, either. Hence the complicated system of bartering and trading favors to avoid taking on the mission for as long as possible while still maintaining the recognition of the theoretical honor of the mission.
But, inevitably, someone has to do it, which is how Tenzo finds himself in a tree outside of the brat’s apartment--because Sandaime-sama, despite all his wisdom, decided that leaving the brat alone was the best possible choice, and Tenzo doesn’t like to question orders but he really wants to question this one--watching the kid try to climb out his own window.
Tenzo isn’t actually sure the kid realizes it’s a window, but in the end what matters isn’t what the kid knows but the fact that he manages to climb up to the window ledge, shove the window open, and then slip and tip himself out of the apartment. Tenzo catches him before he can fall, but then he’s holding the fucking child and, without clear orders of what to do with actual physical contact with the kid, goes back to the tree for lack of other options.
The kid is screaming in his ear, and he realizes after a couple seconds that it’s in excitement rather than fear, because the kid is a fucking moron.
“Stop,” Tenzo says, because he would really like the kid not to be screaming in his ear.
The kid’s screaming cuts off, thank fuck, and then he peers up at Tenzo with wide blue eyes. “Again?” the kid asks plaintively.
Tenzo blinks. “I’m not going to let you try to climb out your window again just so I can catch you.”
“Again?” The kid starts bouncing in his arms. “Again, again, again !” He’s shrieking now, which isn’t any better than the screaming, and Tenzo wonders with some desperation if any other ANBU have had to actually deal with the kid before. None of them reported it.
“I’m going to put you back in your house,” Tenzo tells him. “Don’t climb out the window again.”
He goes back to the apartment, sticks the kid on the floor, and heads back out the window, shutting it behind him. He goes back to the tree. The kid stares at him through the window, bottom lip sticking out, then goes determinedly back to trying to escape his apartment via his window.
Tenzo plucks the kid off of the windowsill this time so he can’t even risk the kid actually falling, because he will not be the ANBU who let the jinchuuriki plummet to his death out a fourth story window. Let that be another ANBU’s legacy.
The kid beams at him. “Again!” he shouts.
“If I put you back, will you stay?”
The kid seems to think about it, and then he shrieks, “Again!”
Tenzo is starting to wonder if that’s the only word he knows.
One of the brat’s neighbors shoves open his own window to shout, “Shut the fuck up, you little monster.”
The kid falls silent again, then whispers, “Sorry.”
It is the only thing that keeps Tenzo from murdering the neighbor.
The kid might be a jinchuuriki, but he’s also Yondaime-sama’s child--and fuck rules, the kid is a fucking spitting image of him, as much as a three-year-old can look like an adult--and he’s a child of Konoha, as much an orphan of the Kyuubi attack as any of the other orphans, and they do not talk to the orphaned children of their shinobi that way.
But he has the kid in his arms, and if he puts the kid down to go murder the neighbor, the kid might try to climb out the window again, and Tenzo might miss it, and that will not happen , so instead Tenzo says, “Hey, kid, what do you think about going on a field trip?”
The kid stares at him for a long time, then asks, “Field trip?”
“Yeah. I’ll show you something cool. What do you think of that?”
Even as his eyes fill with what look like tears, the kid’s face lights up, smile open and wide. “Show me something?”
“Yep.” Tenzo adjusts his grip on the kid so he won’t drop him even if the kid tries to wiggle out of his arms but he also won’t squish the life out of the kid, and then he starts through the trees.
He’s halfway there when he has the thought that maybe taking the kid to ANBU headquarters isn’t the brightest idea, but the kid’s only three anyway and lives alone in that fucking apartment, who the hell is he going to tell?
Rat, the guard on duty, gets as far as asking, “Aren’t you on--” before he registers the kid making excited noises in Tenzo’s arms and nearly falls out of his chair. “What the fuck ?”
“I’m not allowed to kill civilians without cause,” Tenzo says by means of explanation.
“Nooo,” Rat says slowly. “That doesn’t explain why you have”--he waves a hand to encompass the kid, who waves back--”with you.”
“Manly self-restraint and the knowledge that, if I killed the civilian, the kid might try to climb out his window a third time, actually succeed, and then die.”
“Sandaime-sama’s going to kill you.”
“Probably,” Tenzo acknowledges. “Now can I stop standing here?”
Rat waves him inside, saying, “It’s your funeral.”
As Tenzo carries the kid into ANBU HQ, he hears the kid ask, “What’s a funeral?”
“It’s an acknowledgment that someone died,” Tenzo says.
“Are you going to die?”
Someone walking past chokes on a laugh, then stops to do a double take. Tenzo walks faster. He doesn’t know where he’s going, but he’s determined to get there sooner.
“No.” Tenzo walks even faster. The brat is squirming. This was a terrible idea. Sandaime-sama is going to murder him.
On the other hand, the brat isn’t currently attempting to defenestrate himself, so that’s a plus.
Tenzo stops when they reach the bullpen, more because it’s a place he’ll be able to safely put the kid down than due to any actual planned course of action. He heads straight to his desk, looking straight forward behind the mask like that’ll make him and the squirming jinchuuriki in his arms less noticeable.
He puts the kid down on some paperwork he’s been avoiding doing just in time for Boar to reach his desk. Before either of them can say anything, though, the kid waves then starts signing in ANBU hand signals. It’s a random mishmash of words-- shift-change-Hokage-angry-run-rain-coming --but it’s ANBU hand signals, and where the fuck did the kid learn those.
“What,” Boar breathes, “the fuck?”
“Hi,” the kid says excitedly.
“What the fuck ?”
“I the fuck,” the kid replies, which startles Boar into silence.
After a half-second of apparently trying to get his bearings, Boar signs mission-failure-interrogative at Tenzo. The kid signs rain-coming back at Boar.
With a sigh, Tenzo signs status-quo-mission-failure-priority-shift-necessary at Boar.
Boar signs interrogative at him.
“He tried to throw himself out a window twice,” Tenzo says aloud, because there are no ANBU signs for that.
“Any reason we’re all crowded around my kohai’s desk?” a voice calls from across the bullpen. “Especially when my kohai is supposed to be on babysitting duty?”
With a low oath, Tenzo tries to stuff the kid under his cloak, which would work better if the kid would stop moving and shrieking. “Um,” he says.
“What did you--” Hound reaches Tenzo and stops, staring at him. And at the kid half-under Tenzo’s cloak, flailing around cheerfully like this is the most fun he’s ever had. Which, fuck, it might be. Hound’s voice drops all cheer. “You brought him here ? Have you lost your mind?”
“He kept trying to climb out the window,” Tenzo says plaintively, wishing someone would believe him.
“That’s why you close the window,” Hound snaps.
“I--” This explanation clearly isn’t going to work any better on Hound than it particularly has on any of the rest of them. “I took him out of his apartment,” he hisses. “It’s not like I told him he’s the fucking jinchuuriki.”
“‘Chuuriki,” the brat exclaims excitedly. “‘ucking ‘chuuriki.”
Someone nearby sounds like they’re choking. Tenzo is going to fucking help them choke, he wants to die, he’s going to die. Sandaime-sama is going to murder him, if Hound doesn’t do it first.
Hound stares at him for a long, long time, then says, “This fuck-up is on you, Tenzo. Don’t break the kid.”
“You’re welcome to take him,” Tenzo says, and offers the kid out to Hound. He’s holding him a bit like a package that’s about to explode, because, well, he could.
“Not on your life,” Hound says. “You’re on babysitting duty. Babysit.” And then Hound disappears.
Tenzo puts the kid back down on his desk. The kid stares at him. He’s too small, too thin for a three-year-old. Tenzo doesn’t know if he eats enough. He kind of wants to give the kid a cookie, and then drink a bottle of sake.
“What’s your name?” Tenzo asks, even though he knows the kid’s name, because that’s what people ask kids they’re not supposed to know the name of. He thinks.
The kid blinks at him, half his fist jammed in his mouth. He looks confused, and Tenzo is considering asking it again when the kid says, tentatively, “Monster?”
The bullpen gets...quieter. Not silent, but paper shifting slows, pens pause, and Boar takes in a quiet breath next to him.
“No,” Tenzo says, “that’s not your name.”
“Oh.” The kid looks disappointed, of all things, gnawing forlornly on his knuckles. “Sorry.”
“No,” Tenzo says again. “Your name is Uzumaki Naruto.”
The second time the kid ends up at ANBU headquarters, it’s Tenzo’s fault again, but the third time it’s Weasel, who shows up five minutes into babysitting duty with the brat riding on his head and says without prompting, “He can tell us apart and thinks I’m a cat.”
It’s then that Tenzo realizes the kid, who’s poking Weasel’s mask from his spot on Weasel’s head, is chanting, “Kitty, kitty, kitty.”
“Why did you bring him here?” Boar asks, as though he’s not already grabbing some mochi from his hidden stash to give to the kid.
“He was trying to climb up the tree when I arrived,” Weasel says, plucking the kid off of his head and settling him in his arms in a casual, familiar way that indicates he probably has a kid or younger sibling. Given how young Tenzo’s pretty sure he is, and who he’s pretty sure he is, Tenzo thinks it’s a sibling. “I thought he might make it from sheer chakra usage alone.”
“Did he?” Tenzo asks despite having been determined not to be curious about these things. He’s not getting involved. He’s already gone through a week of disciplinary duty, and he really doesn’t want any more time spent filing paperwork and shadowing the fucking Daimyo.
Weasel shakes his head. “No. But he almost broke his head, so I figured this was safer.”
“Kitty, kitty, kitty,” the kid says insistently, “friend.”
“Am I your friend?” Weasel asks.
The kid shakes his head, straining a little towards Tenzo. “ Friend .”
Sandaime-sama is going to fucking disembowel him.
“Oh?” Weasel walks over to deposit the kid in Tenzo’s lap; Tenzo grabs ahold of him out of self-defense. He doesn’t want to be the person who broke Yondaime-sama’s kid, and also the kid is trying to stand on his dick.
The kid grabs at Tenzo’s mask, and Tenzo leans his face out of the way. They’re not supposed to take their masks off even in the bullpen.
“Not to question the Hokage,” Weasel says quietly, and Tenzo thinks, don’t , “but why is a child living alone? There are resources for war orphans, there are families who would take him in.”
“Nobody could be trusted with him,” Tenzo says, and then, because he broke into the file room and read the files, “his previous guardian tried to kill him, and the orphanage rejected him.” The kid pulls at his mask again, so Tenzo hands him a pen. The kid immediately sticks the pen in his mouth, which isn’t really better, but at least he’s quiet.
“The orphanage has no right to reject him. He’s a child.”
So is Weasel, if he is who Tenzo thinks he is. “They might not have a right, but they do have the ability.”
“Mistrust and fear breaks people.” Weasel brushes hair out of the kid’s face, and the kid beams at him around the pen he’s chewing on. His voices goes near-silent. “It’s breaking the Uchihas.”
“Do we want our jinchuuriki to resent us, or reject us?” Weasel asks louder, over him. “Do we want him to decide we are not worth the pain we have put him through, and give loyalty to the first foreign shinobi who gives him some food and a little bit of affection? Do you want to wake up one day and find the kyuubi on the other side of a battle, because we couldn’t manage to raise one of our own with a little bit of kindness?”
No, Tenzo doesn’t. He looks at the boy on his lap, whose fingers are stuffed in his mouth with the pen. There is black ink at the corner of his mouth.
“I’ll speak to Sandaime-sama.”
Sandaime-sama says no.
It is not a surprise, precisely; he rarely changes his mind, and certainly not on such a decision like this, one made so sweeping and overarching. But though not a surprise, it is a shock, that he would insist on the mandated neglect of a child of Konoha.
So the ANBU...disobey.
ANBU disobedience is rare, and their check is each other, which makes en masse disobedience shockingly easy. They’re subtle when they start, though, sticking with their scheduled babysitting duties to look after the kid. Sometimes they take him to the bullpen so the ANBU who are there can laud him with praises, food, and the occasional lecture on chakra control, but a lot of the time is spent in his apartment, teaching him how to read and write.
Tenzo takes him to one of the high trees, sometimes, and tells him stories about shinobi history, the hokages. Yondaime-sama.
None of them have broken the mandate on revealing his parentage, no matter what other rules they’re breaking. They likely will, but not yet. Not until he’s old enough to understand, at least. But that doesn’t mean they can’t tell him about his father. Tenzo would tell him stories of his mother, if he knew them, but he had little interaction with Kushina, knew her more by reputation than anything else.
Weasel teaches him how to climb trees, and then Boar decides that means the kid must be able to stand on water and drops him in a river, which then results in seven ANBU having to rescue an ecstatic but drowning jinchuuriki from a river. Boar is thus no longer allowed to teach the kid anything physical until the kid is at least in the Academy.
Tenzo thinks that Boar is going to lose interest in training the kid altogether, but three days later Tenzo finds him staring in horror when the kid cheerful admits to not having any concept of reading, and thus begins the mass ANBU effort to teach him how to read.
By age four he is quite spectacular at writing the kanji for assassination, though person and enter are still indistinguishable. By six he is fluent in ANBU hand-signs, at which point they realize he needs to actually know regular shinobi hand-signs at least as well or he’ll never be able to communicate with anyone outside of the ANBU.
Boar suggests he should just skip the Academy and be trained straight in to the ANBU, but they all know that there’s a risk of the kyuubi’s chakra breaking out, and ANBU need to be able to be anonymous. It’s a question they put serious consideration into, because they know what the village thinks of him, and it will only grow worse when he begins his training, when the fact that he is a threat will become wholly apparent.
And he is a threat, or will be, because he has the most powerful of the bijuu sealed inside of him and because he is being trained by the ANBU and they are harsh taskmasters. They are not kind, do not remember how to be kind, but the kid doesn’t seem to mind the harshness.
That is the most horrifying thing, Tenzo thinks, during those times when he can’t stop himself from thinking about it. That the kid is so starved for affection of any kind, even now, even after years, that he prefers harshness and impatience to nothing.
It is Weasel who is kindest to the kid and Weasel who is approached by Danzo and told that he must kill his clan, that his brother will be killed or his brother may be spared on his decision.
And Weasel nearly does it, nearly takes his sword to his family with tears on his eyes, but then he thinks of words he said years earlier, and that his brother is no jinchuuriki but he would be alone and reviled and easily manipulated by somebody who offered him kindness or power.
And perhaps Weasel is selfish enough to not want a child who looks up to him with such adoration to hate him. Either child.
So he disobeys, as the ANBU have been disobeying for years. He goes to the ANBU headquarters instead of his clan compound, tells him of the coup and of his orders, and perhaps in another universe the response would be different, perhaps in another universe he would be censured for such an act, but in this universe they are dozens of illegal co-parents of the scariest child in the world, and so he is not.
The Uchiha are arrested and interrogated, rapidly enough that Danzo can’t openly retaliate for the disobedience or prove that it’s disobedience at all. There is bloodshed, because bloodshed is what happens when you invade the compound of a clan planning a coup, but there are no deaths. Innocent Konoha blood is spilled, but more innocent Konoha blood is saved.
Ten of the Uchiha are found guilty of actively planning a coup and jailed; the rest are returned to the compound with public apologies and even more public exoneration, and that night Itachi lets Sasuke curl up against him on his futon and answers whispered questions. And in the morning Weasel sees the kid, who looks at his mask and says that he’s sorry Weasel’s family is full of shitheads.
The kid isn’t supposed to know who Weasel is, but he just says that Weasel feels like one of the kids from the Academy and that Weasel’s mask still looks like a kitty and it’s stupid he’s not called Kitty.
Naruto goes to the Academy a competent shuriken user, able to climb trees and walk on water and write an effective report (Boar has been pawning his reports off on him for almost six months, much to an oblivious Ibiki’s delight). He also goes to the Academy with no true sense of social etiquette, because a combination of being reviled by the general public and being trained by a bunch of people who wear semi-anonymous masks leads to a severe lack of social skills.
Those aren’t the only things Naruto goes to the Academy with. He also goes to the Academy with more weapons than he is technically allowed, a wooden bento box Tenzo hands him in the morning before shoving him out the door, and the knowledge of the demon inside of him.
Tenzo tells him a month before he starts at the Academy, sitting him down at the table in Tenzo’s apartment--where Naruto lives now, except when Sandaime-jii is visiting, and then he lives in his own apartment and doesn’t know any ANBU and has no parents and everyone hates him--and telling him about the kyuubi attack and his parents and why everyone hates him. He’s pretty sure the only reason the ANBU don’t hate him is because they’re strong enough to stop him if he goes all bijuu-y on the village, but he’s okay with that. He doesn’t want to hurt the village, so he’s glad that there are people who are watching him who are strong enough to keep him from doing that.
It helps a little, knowing why people stare at him with such fear and hatred in their eyes. Why Sasuke is called a genius for the same skills that lead his instructors to looking at him in terror.
It helps a little, but it doesn’t make it not hurt.
He loves the village, though, and he loves the ANBU, and so he can’t bring himself to hate them. He’ll just become Hokage, he thinks, and he’ll prove to everyone that all of that strength that he has will be dedicated to defending the village. Like the ANBU. Like Weasel, who Naruto heard was supposed to murder all of his family but who decided not to, because he loves the village so much that he didn’t want to kill any of them even though he was ordered to.
Though sometimes Naruto thinks he kind of wouldn’t mind if Weasel had killed Sasuke, because Sasuke is awful and angry that his dad is in jail, but Sasuke has a dad and he still has a mom and he has Weasel and he has cousins and he still complains about his family.
Naruto’s favorite is Neji, he thinks, because he also has no parents and he’s also good at stuff but people look at him weird and make comments under their breath when he’s too good. It’s different, Naruto thinks, but still. It’s some weird clan thing, and Naruto doesn’t understand weird clan things.
Sandaime-jii stops checking up on him once he’s a year or so into the Academy, and so he starts living totally with Tenzo except for when Tenzo is on missions and then he’s rotated between the ANBU who aren’t on missions, except for Hound because Hound hates him and Weasel because he lives in his clan compound and can’t have the town jinchuuriki stay with him because then everyone would know, and right now nobody other than the ANBU know.
Boar is his favorite to stay with after Tenzo, not just because Boar always gives him mochi and usually lets him eat ramen for dinner but because Boar knows stories about his mom and about Uzushiogakure and gives him his father’s notes on his jutsus, which is as close as Naruto can get to clan things. And Boar teaches him jutsus that make Tenzo frown and say that he needs to wait until he’s at least twelve, but Boar says that at that point he’ll be on a team and his jounin instructor might get suspicious.
There’s a whole set of debates about who’s going to be Naruto’s jounin instructor, debates that Naruto knows he’s not supposed to be hearing, but he was trained in reconnaissance by the head of ANBU recon and they’re not quite as careful around him as they should be. It’s a good thing nobody knows the ANBU are raising him because if they did they would probably torture him for information, and Naruto isn’t sure he can hold up to torture yet. He’s going to ask Ibiki-rikushō to teach him.
But the jounin instructor debate seems complicated, because they either need someone who already knows that he’s being trained by all of the ANBU or they need someone who won’t figure it out, but they also don’t want him to get an idiot, and it would definitely take an idiot to realize that Naruto sometimes forgets to use shinobi hand-signs and instead uses ANBU hand-signs because he knows them better and they’re easier.
Naruto isn’t really sure who they’ve decided on, but he also doesn’t really care, because whoever it is will surely be good for him. He trusts them.
Naruto is eleven when a Konoha shinobi tries to kill him with painted animals, and Naruto says no and the kyuubi says no and the ANBU following Naruto says no, and then Naruto hides the shinobi in his room while ANBU systematically dismantle Root and then maybe murder Danzo.
There are eyes in Danzo’s arm, apparently, which is gross, and Naruto is glad he didn’t see that but also wants to have seen that because eyes. In his arm.
Sandaime-jii is mad at the ANBU for killing Danzo, but he can’t make Danzo not-dead, and also apparently Danzo was stealing clan children which is apparently a big deal because the village cares about who your parents are unless you’re Naruto.
The Konoha shinobi tries to murder Naruto again while Naruto is hiding him, but Weasel is there with him and stabs the shinobi through the shoulder and pins him to the wall with his katana. It makes a hole in the wall, and there’s blood on it, but Tenzo taught Naruto how to scrub blood off of things, so it should be fine. And there are already holes in the wall from Naruto practicing with shuriken, so it’s not really worse than that.
Naruto also ends up with a concussion and a fractured wrist, but he heals quickly, so he’s not too mad.
Tenzo takes three days to come home and take the shinobi away, and Rat comes with him and heals Naruto’s wrist and his head and the shinobi’s shoulder, and then Weasel takes the shinobi away to Interrogation and Naruto has to go back to going to classes at the Academy.
He’d kind of rather watch the guy be pinned to the wall with a sword.
But he’ll be done with the Academy soon, and it sounds like they might be trying to get one of the ANBU to be his jounin instructor, and he thinks that, as long as it’s not Hound, he should be fine.
Hound is three hours late to their first lesson, and Naruto’s fairly certain it’s a test so he sets up a barrier he learned from his father’s notes that usually takes six people to hold, but he has the chakra of an Uzumaki plus a bijuu, and so he makes six clones, puts up the barrier, and then settles inside of it to start training on his own. He’s trying to learn Hiraishin, though he thinks he’s probably at least a year away from the chakra control necessary to manage it.
Sasuke starts practicing taijutsu an hour or so in, right around the third time Naruto crashes into a tree in some bastardized combination of a shunshin and a hiraishin that isn’t a particularly effective version of either. Sakura doesn’t do anything except sit there and complain about Hound not being there yet. Naruto wondering if running into her instead of a tree would incentivize her to do anything.
It takes Hound almost twenty minutes to get through the barrier, mostly because Naruto’s clones make new clones when they’re destroyed, and so Hound has to kill enough of them fast enough that they can’t retake their places where they need to be on the barrier to keep it up.
Naruto dispels the remaining ones when the barrier falls, and he could prepare himself to actively fight Hound, but he thinks he’s either passed the test or failed it at this point, and either way it’s not going to make Hound like him more.
Hound appears in a tree on the outskirts of the clearing, one of the ones Naruto had run into earlier, and he doesn’t think that’s on purpose but it pisses him off anyway, even more so when Hound raises a hand and calls, “Yo.”
Only the knowledge that Tenzo would be disappointed in him keeps Naruto from signing murder-imminent at Hound, because Naruto lives in fear of Tenzo looking sad at him. Instead, he makes a shadow clone to continue working on the hiraishin and then heads over to see what Hound wants with them.
It turns out they’re going to be doing a team-building exercise under the guise of not-a-team-building-exercise, and Naruto looks at Weasel’s little brother and the girl still whining about the first test and thinks, it’s not too late to join ANBU.