As dusk began to loom over her village, Tsunade was taking a break from her paperwork, sitting in her office alone watching the sunset. Despite her conflicting feelings about being Hokage, she loved the perk of having a large window behind her office space that looked over the village. The view was always spectacular, no matter what time of year or day it was. It provided as a way to help clear a Hokage's thoughts and anxieties, combating against the stresses that come with leading thousands of people day in and day out.
*Knock* *Knock* *Knock*
Tsunade closed her eyes. Her meditation was always short-lived, interrupted every time by that cursed door.
"Enter." She called, turning around in her seat. A tall man with facial scars and a large black trench coat walked into the room. Tsunade nodded, as she had been expecting to hear back from this man around this time, "Ibiki. Did she find out anything?"
"She found out plenty, actually." Ibiki nodded, "Anko's interrogation skills are almost starting to surpass mine."
"Women are scarier than men." Tsunade replied with a knowing chuckle, "What information do you have for me?"
Ibiki Morino cleared his throat, "The prisoner was actually a prospect from Kumogakure that the Akatsuki had been using for a while to find details on the Two-Tails Jinchuuriki. He was an insider from Kumo that wanted the Two-Tails gone, and was offered quite the hefty penny to find out how to lure out the Jinchuuriki without attracting too much attention."
The Fifth Hokage didn't reply immediately. She spaced off, wondering if there were any insiders in her own village that would be willing to cut deals with the Akatsuki to have Naruto gone.
"I see." Tsunade mumbled.
Ibiki continued, "Not only that, but he aided in the formation of a plan for the Akatsuki to ambush the Two-Tails on her next mission." He handed the Hokage a scroll, "In there is a map marked with the general area of where the ambush is planned to be executed."
Tsunade opened the scroll and looked at the map of the Five Great Shinobi Nations. The area that was marked was within the southwestern potion of Kumogakure, right near the border of the Land of Frost.
"This area is marked with blood." Tsunade noted, making her uneasy. Despite her overcoming her fear of blood during her altercation with Orochimaru and Kabuto a few years prior, the sight of blood still made her uncomfortable.
"Anko had the prisoner mark where it was on that map. And let's just say that she didn't appreciate how he didn't exactly make things too easy for either of them."
Tsunade shook her head. She knew that the people in the Torture and Interrogation division had to use force when necessary, but she could only imagine how persuasive Anko could be if the prisoners weren't immediately cooperative.
"When will this ambush happen?"
"Tomorrow." Ibiki answered, "The Akatsuki plans to simply wait until the Two-Tails reaches her mission's rendezvous point to get the jump on her."
"I see... Is that everything?" She asked, closing the scroll.
"Just about. On an unrelated note, I'm sure that the prisoner developed a case of ophidiophobia and gynophobia thanks to Anko." Tsunade raised an eyebrow, eliciting for the chief of interrogation to elaborate, "A fear of snakes and women."
"Ah." Tsunade hummed. She couldn't blame the prisoner, after all. Anko could terrify demons if they were locked in a room with her, "Well, excellent work, Ibiki. And tell Anko next time you see her that I said good job."
"Hai." Ibiki nodded before he was dismissed. Tsunade thought to herself for a second before turning back around in her chair. She eyed the setting sun as she began to formulate a plan in her head.
"I will do what I can to prevent more Jinchuuriki from falling into the hands of the Akatsuki. After what happened with Gaara, it's time to really crack down on these guys."
She then called Shizune into the room, figuring it would take too much time to inform the Raikage of the intel they've obtained. Not only that, but Konoha and Kumo weren't exactly on the best of terms. She ultimately decided to use her best stalling team to prevent the Akatsuki from seizing the opportunity of capturing the Two-Tailed Demon Cat, knowing that a specific squad known as Team Ten was more than capable.
Anko Mitarashi had placed another strip of raw beef onto the grill in front of her, and Naruto watched as the meat sizzled on contact.
"I'd heard reports about it, but I want to know from the source." Anko replied, "So you mean to tell me that you managed to learn that technique in not only one day, but used it to defeat Mizuki? All before you even became a shinobi?"
"Yeah!" Naruto said with a smile, "Iruka-sensei was in trouble, and I had to be sure Mizuki got the ass-kicking he deserved."
Anko nodded, "Impressive. I've also heard reports of Chuunin and Jounin chasing you around the village due to your pranks, only to struggle to catch you every time. I even thought that some of your pranks were golden."
Naruto rubbed the back of his head coyly, "Hah, thanks! It's like I said, I'm faster than I look."
Anko grinned, flipping over her barbecue to cook the other side, "I guess you are. We can only hope that you know what to do with this agility you possess when you go up against me."
"You betcha!" Declared Naruto, who grabbed his barbecue from off the grill and placed it on his plate. As he took his first bite, a thought occurred to him, a thought that had been troubling him since he had left Anko's home, "Hey, Anko?"
A bit of hesitation stopped Naruto from replying immediately. He leaned forward to whisper to her so nobody around them would hear, "I know you said that you don't want to talk about it more until we got our fight, but... if the Yondaime really is my dad, would I be wrong for being mad at him?"
Anko's immediate impulse was to reiterate Naruto's point of not further discussing the topic until they met the terms of their agreement like he said, but she saw the look on his face. It made her regret mentioning it to him in the first place, especially since she decided to give him an answer regardless.
"Well," Anko sighed, reclining back into her seat, "That's a bit of a complicated question, Blondie. You can never be wrong or right when it comes to how you feel about a situation, because they're your feelings. Feelings aren't really something that can be categorized as wrong or right."
Naruto appreciated the words of wisdom, but didn't enjoy how it wasn't something that really answered his question, "I see... it's just that the more I think about it, the more anger I feel towards the Fourth. Even before you told me about the possibility of him being my dad, I was pretty upset to find out that I was placed with this burden when I was just a baby."
Anko nodded, empathizing with him, "I hear ya. All I can really say is that it's likely all for a reason, Naruto. I doubt the Fourth did it to make your life difficult. Maybe he was just pressed for time. Maybe he simply had faith that you'd end up alright in the end. Maybe—"
"My childhood was far from 'alright'." Naruto interjected, crossing his arms.
"Be that as it may, you're still here breathing. And while things may have sucked, and probably still does suck for you, you have to keep in mind that your hardships build character. My childhood sucked too, and look at me now. My accomplishments easily made up for my scars and bruises I endured in the past. It's all a process, and the most beneficial processes for your character are usually the most difficult."
Naruto didn't reply right away. He found her point solid, and deemed it enough of an answer to his question, "...I see."
Anko watched the boy as he swam through his thoughts. She sympathized with him more than she was willing to tell him, and knew what he was going through, to an extent. She had to admit that she envied him a bit, wishing that she had someone who told her the things she was telling him when she was his age.
"It may not all make sense right now, but as long as you keep your eye on the prize, you'll soon understand where I'm coming from." Anko finalized. She then looked down at the grill between them, "Now are you going to eat, or are you going to wait until your food burns to a crisp?"
"Crap!" Naruto yelped, realizing that his meat strips was beginning to burn. Anko shook her head. He was surely not the brightest of people, but he was definitely interesting to be around.
"I have another question."
"Is it about your parents?"
Anko crossed her arms, "No more questions. I thought we reached an agreement about leaving that topic alone."
"I know, I know! But this one is just about my mom, since I know you said that you knew her, too." He pleaded, "Can you describe her? Was she pretty? Was she nice? Did she—?"
A whiz of air was heard followed by the dull sound of metal hitting the back of the wooden booth Naruto sat in.
Naruto looked to his right to see a kunai embedded in the wood, no more than an inch away from his face.
"Shut up and listen, Naruto." Anko commanded, lacking any sense of a playful aura, "I told you that information is supposed to be confidential. I can be killed if someone overhears this conversation. We've already said enough in here as it is, and I'm making it a new rule to make it a strictly forbidden topic to bring up in public." Anko's piercing eyes bore into him, much like the kunai next to his head that bore into his seat, "I mean it. I will hurt you the next time you bring it up."
Naruto only stared at her for a few seconds before looking back down at his food, saying nothing. Anko could tell the boy was hurt, but she deemed it as a necessary evil. She couldn't blame Naruto for wanting to know more about his parents, but asking about them, especially in public settings, puts her life in jeopardy. Besides, she felt she gave him enough information already as it is. He should be grateful at the end of the day, in her mind.
She watched as he played with his food, a very notable frown plastered on his face. She sighed. She could only imagine how unfair it was for Naruto to just want to know about his deceased parents, and not be able to find out through other people because of a law that forbid the mention of them. The rule was technically about the Kyuubi, but Anko was no fool. If Naruto were to mention his parents to the wrong person, evidence would trail back to her, and that would get her roped up into trouble easily.
"Just wait until I kick your butt first. Then I'll let you know everything you wanna know." She said with a slight grin. Her plan in cheering Naruto back up managed to work a bit, as Naruto looked at her with a grin of her own.
"Once I get my seal checked out, I'll make sure you eat those words." Was Naruto's response. He frowned afterwards, however, "Speaking of which... I've been thinking about coming clean to Baa-chan. About Sakura. And I want to, but... what if it turns into something ugly?"
Anko shrugged, "Then you deal with it. Regardless of how it turns out, telling her is the best thing you can do right now. If there's repercussions for it, I assure you they'd still find their way to you if you try to keep it under wraps."
Naruto nodded before resuming his feast.
*The next morning*
As Tsunade took a sip from her coffee mug as an aid to help energize her for the day ahead, a knock was heard from her door.
"Come in." She called. Shikamaru entered the room a second later, "Shikamaru. How did the mission go?"
Shikamaru's expression seemed a lot more lifeless than usual, Tsunade noticed. The young Jounin turned his head away and took a deep breath.
"The mission... was a success." He stated, "We successfully prevented the Akatsuki from capturing the Two-Tails Jinchuuriki. However, the Two-Tails host was already banged up pretty bad by the time we got to her, so she's currently detained at the hospital, receiving medical care."
"Oh, wonderful." Tsunade stated with a bit of surprise in her tone. With the way he walked in, she thought that he was going to inform her that the mission was unsuccessful, "Where's Asuma?"
Shikamaru didn't reply right away, "In the hospital." He said with a shake of his head, "But he won't make it. Ino concluded that his wounds were beyond repair due to the Akatsuki. He passed before we left the battle zone."
The Fifth Hokage sighed and rubbed her forehead, "Damn it... Asuma was one of our finest. I'm sorry, Shikamaru."
Shikamaru said nothing. The whole time since he entered the office, Shikamaru stared blankly into space as he talked, with his inflection as flat as a plateau.
The village leader noted his condition and sighed again, "In any case, good job on your mission, Shikamaru. Asuma shaped you into a very talented Jounin."
Once a tear dripped down his chin, Tsunade decided to let him have some time to grieve. She knew how much his sensei meant to him.
"I'll give Squad Ten a week off to recover. If you and your squad need more time, feel free to let me know. But in any case, I'll handle the rest." A thought then occurred to her, "How's Ino holding up?"
"She's taking it pretty hard." Said Shikamaru, "In combination with what happened to Sakura a few days ago, I think she may need more time than Choji and I."
Tsunade frowned and nodded slowly, "That's why I asked..." She rubbed her head again, cursing the responsibilities that came with her role as Hokage, "You can go, Shikamaru. Thank you."
Once she was alone, the Slug Queen had to fight her urge in taking a swig from her sake bottle hidden in her desk. She figured it was way too early to do so, but promised herself that she'd take a sip or five after she left the office that night.