Author's Note: And with this chapter, not only does the Kirigakure Arc comes to an end, but we also reach the 50th chapter milestone! Let's see how much the story has grown upon this point:

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Thanks a lot to everybody who reads, favorites, follows and reviews this story. It wouldn't be the same without you.

Boy, 50 chapters already. Time surely flies, doesn't it? Wonder how much it will take until we reach chapter number 100. Anyway, enjoy the end of the current arc:


Chapter 50:

End of the Civil War

or

And Here Ends the Detour

"NO! Yagura, come back! YAGURA!" Aiko screamed as she saw her husband being spirited away by the Akatsuki.

Mei looked on as the artificial bird flew away. While some of her Konoha allies could summon flying animals, by the time she managed to contact either of them, the Akatsuki would be far away, probably even beyond the Land of Water's borders.

The rebel leader couldn't help but feel a tinge of sympathy for Aiko. The blonde kunoichi had been her mortal enemy not even a minute ago, yet in that minute, her whole world had crumbled. However, it was no time to feel sorry. Mei walked towards the kneeled Aiko, still crying her eyes out. The Kiri ninja besides her looked at Mei apprehensively, but didn't try to stop her. Mei placed a comforting hand on Aiko's shoulder.

"Aiko-san, what has happened here is tragic, but this isn't over," Mei began. "There are fights going on all around the village. We have to stop them before more lives are senselessly wasted. Being the Mizukage's wife, they'll listen to you."

Aiko fought back the tears, tried to compose herself, and stood back on her feet. She tried to gave Mei a determined stare, but she was unable to hide her sadness.

"Y-Yes," Aiko replied. "It's just...I can't believe you were right..."

"It's okay, Aiko-san. There may still be time. We can still send a squad of Hunter-nin to track down Yagura," Mei told her in a reassuring tone, though deep down, she doubted they could save Yagura. "But not before stopping the fighting first."

"If I cooperate, do I have your word that my men will be spared?" she asked.

Mei nodded in return. "You have my word they will. It would be unbelievably cruel of me to punish them for just defending their village."

Aiko nodded, and turned towards her men. "Everybody, spread and tell our forces to stop fighting, and surrender to the rebels."

Meanwhile, back in the streets of Kirigakure, the fights went on. Among those, one of the most intense was the clash between Kisame and the three rebel Swordsmen. Despite the numerical disadvantage, it was obvious that Kisame had the upper hand. Despite the wound caused by Zabuza earlier, it had already closed and fully healed thanks to the chakra absorbed by the living sword Samehada.

"Water Release: Multiple Water Shark Bullet!"

Several watery shark-shaped missiles came from the mass of water, and flew towards the rebel swordsmen with their jaws wide open. Zabuza's hand flew through hand seals as he prepared a counterattack.

"Water Release: Water Dragon Jutsu!"

Using that same water, Zabuza created a huge, serpentine dragon, But rather than directing it towards Kisame, he made it coil around the three swordsmen, blocking them from Kisame's attack. Ameyuri and Chojuro then took the opportunity to leap at Kisame and attack.

"He may not be able to use ninjutsu directly against me, but he knows how to use it in a defensive manner. Not bad, Zabuza-san. Not bad," Kisame observed, before he directed his attention towards the incoming youths.

"Die already, you walking fish!" Ameyuri angrily shouted as she brought down her two swords.

Kisame raised his own sword, easily parrying both her and Chojuro's attack. He looked at Ameyuri, and laughed. "Walking fish? That's the best you can come up with, girl?"

While he was struggling, Zabuza Body Flickered behind him, and raised his sword for the kill. Unfortunately for him, Kisame had noticed the masked swordsman's tactic, and prepared a countermeasure accordingly. As Zabuza was about to attack, a Water Clone formed between the two senior Swordsmen, parrying the attack.

"Come on Chojuro, it's two versus one! We should be able to overpower him!" Ameyuri said, as she tried to push harder.

"You should also count Samehada as your enemy too, girl. It's not like the rest of the swords," Kisame chuckled as he overpowered Ameyuri and Chojuro, pushing them back. "Now-!"

"Hey, Kisame!" a voice shouted from the sky.

Recognizing his temporary partner, Kisame disengaged the young swordsmen and jumped backwards in order to put some safety distance between him and his foes. Two artificial birds flew towards him, one of them being ridden by his temporary partner and the jinchuriki they came to find.

"The package is safe and ready to deliver! We need to go, now!" Deidara urged him.

"Awwww, so soon? I was having so much fun..." Kisame said in a mock sad tone, before jumping onto the second bird. "Guess work comes before pleasure. Alright then, let's go!"

Of course, it took no time for the rebels to realize that Yagura was with the Akatsuki, and much to their confusion, he wasn't restrained nor unconscious. Then again, that didn't matter, their mission was to either capture or kill Yagura. Letting him escape wasn't an option.

"Is that...Yagura?" Chojuro pointed out as he adjusted his glasses.

"We can't let them escape!" Ameyuri said as she spread her arms forward, with the tip of her swords pointing to the sky. "This attack will drain all my chakra, but it'll be worth it! I doubt that blond guy can absorb ninjutsu too. Thundersword Ninja Art: Thunder Gate!"

Ameyuri's swords send bolts of electricity towards the sky. In a few seconds, all the gathered electricity would be redirected towards the blond Akatsuki and Yagura in the form of a devastating and impossible to avoid lightning bolt. Too bad she won't be able to complete the jutsu in time.

"And before we leave, let's give this boring village another taste of my art as a goodbye gift!" Deidara said as he dropped several of his clay figurines from above.

Zabuza's eyes widened as he realized what was going to happen. "Ameyuri, cancel the attack! Everybody, duck and cover!"

Thankfully, the younger swordsmen didn't waste precious time asking him what was going on, and followed their captain's orders. Their curiosity, however, was sated when several explosions rocked the area, explosions that would have engulfed them if they didn't do as Zabuza told them and found a safe place to hide. They spent hidden a few more moments, until they made sure the Akatsuki won't feel like finishing them off.

However, once they came out of their hiding spots, they saw that the Akatsuki were far into the sky, with Yagura in their power. This cast a doubt over what would be of their rebellion now.

"That was a close one. Thanks, Zabuza-taicho," Ameyuri told the senior swordsman. "It seems you were familiar with his jutsu. Did you met that Akatsuki before?"

Zabuza shook his head. "No, but he appears in my bingo book. Deidara, a missing-nin who formerly served Iwa, and one of the best masters of the Explosion Release despite his young age."

"That was very knowledgeable of you, Zabuza-taicho," Chojuro praised.

Zabuza huffed in response. "Of course! Being a ninja isn't just a matter of knowing jutsu or even killing people. Knowledge of your potential enemies is always a must."

"Alright, and now that Yagura has fled, what do we do now? Do we keep fighting?" Ameyuri asked.

"For the time being, yes. Though I presume that, with Yagura gone, the battle should end soon. From now on, let's disperse and support our allies across the village," Zabuza stated.

"Yes, sir!" Ameyuri and Chojuro said at once, before leaping away in different directions.

With Aiko's help, all the Kirigakure defenders were told to surrender to the rebels. She told everybody that the rebels were right, Yagura was a pawn of the Akatsuki brainwashed to weaken the village from the inside, and had been abducted in order to extract his Tailed Beast once his uselessness had come to an end.

Many took the orders with a decent amount of skepticism, but all of them complied in the end, since they did saw the Akatsuki flying on white artificial birds made of clay (the explosives those birds dropped as they flew by were pretty hard to miss).

The first one to stop fighting weren't the ninja, but the Chakra Golems. As most rebels guessed and every loyalist knew, the golems were bound to Yagura, so the moment the Mizukage was too far away from the village, the link was broken and the machines became inert.

Thankfully, despite the invasion, the village ended up much less damaged that both invaders and defenders feared. The area with the most damage was, ironically, the one with the least people fighting. But when said people were two jinchuriki, one of them a Kage, and the Rebel Leader, it was only logical.

The two days following the invasion were the more chaotic. While the loyalist ninja were briefly incarcerated, it didn't last long since they needed all the available hands to help with the reconstruction effort. And when they heard from Aiko's own mouth that yes, the Mizukage had been brainwashed by the Akatsuki, they had no qualms working under the rebels. Some of them even volunteered to be part of Yagura's search and rescue team.

The fact that the rebels managed to save Yagura's son from a certain death definitely helped to ease to tensions a lot.

And after two days, they decided it was time for a new Kage to take the hat. While the palace wasn't completely repaired, it was good enough for the ceremony to be held. A large crowd formed in front of the palace, composed of mostly civilians, Kirigakure ninja –all of them wearing the rebel blue uniform, since the red one has been discarded– and Konoha ninja. The six Swordsmen were proudly standing at the front. Miyako could finally show her Helmet Splitter, while Suigetsu and Kumori were given the Sewing Needle and the Splatter, respectively.

"Whoa, she did have a boyfriend!" Suigetsu exclaimed to himself, as when he got sight of Karin holding hands with Neji. "And a hot one to boot! How did that redheaded nerd got to date such a guy otuside her league?" the white haired teen asked, before being shushed by Ameyuri.

Ao appeared in the palace's central balcony, and addressed the crowd.

"People of Kirigakure, friends of Konoha, without further ado, meet Kirigakure's Fifth Mizukage, Mei Terumi!" Ao announced, as he took a step back.

Wearing her usual clothes, with the Mizukage's hat covering her head, Mei walked into the balcony, and gazed at the crowd below.

"For a long time, Kirigakure had been nothing but a pawn of a terrorist organization, and locked in a civil war. But that time is over! Today, a new era begins! An era in which civilians and foreigners won't fear us nor think of us as bloodthirsty savages, but admire us for our strength and unbreakable resolve!" Mei shouted, and her speech was met with a huge uproar. "There are still many things to do. We need to rebuild our beautiful village. And healing the wounds caused over the past years on both sides will be a long and hard process. But I have faith that together, we will be able to do it!"

Naruto and his friends were among the crowd, clapping and cheering for Mei. They were happy that, after such a brutal battle, the civil war had finally ended, and Kirigakure would enter a new, better age.

"So, how was fighting the Mizukage, Naruto?" Kurenai asked the blond.

Naruto sighed upon remembering the battle, but then grinned. "The most brutal fight ever! There were times I thought I was a goner, but not even a perfect jinchuriki can stand before my awesomeness!" Naruto boasted.

"I'd wish I was there to help you, Naruto-kun," Hinata told him, as she held his hand. "The thought of you having to fight such an opponent with no help other than Mei-san was distressing."

"Aw, you don't have to worry for me, Hinata-hime. Besides, I don't think I would have been able to focus properly if you were there. Yagura was a tough opponent, and you could have been seriously hurt," Naruto told her.

"I know," Hinata said, not without resignation. "This made me realize that I have to be stronger if I ever want to fight alongside you."

"Don't feel bad for not being able to measure to a Kage, Hinata-san," Haku reassured her. "Zabuza-sama is a strong and skilled ninja, and he was no match for Yagura either."

"Speaking of the devil," Kurenai mentioned, as she nodded forward.

The group then noticed that Zabuza was heading towards them. It was obvious what he wanted. Wordlessly, Haku walked towards the swordsman, while the rest of his team stayed behind, but carefully watched the scene.

"Zabuza-sama," Haku greeted him.

"Haku, there's something I need to talk you about," Zabuza began. "Since the day I took you in, you've been my greatest asset. Skilled, obedient, and incredibly loyal. Not only you helped me during countless dangerous situations, but your mere presence even spared me from being executed when the Uchiha Insurrection failed. And when the time came to bring the fight back to Yagura, you were by my side. I could have never asked for a better tool to fulfill my ambitions."

"I'm happy to hear that, Zabuza-sama," Haku said with a slight head bow. "I live to fight for you, and always will."

"That's the problem, Haku," Zabuza said, much to the Ice Ninja's shock.

"What? Zabuza-sama, is there something wrong?" Haku titled his head in confusion.

"Even if I'm not Mizukage yet, I'm the closest I've ever been to fulfill my ambitions. Being the captain of the Seven Swordsmen of the Mist grants me the best chance to become Mizukage, and I know that Mei won't hold onto the hat forever. However, what remains of the path, I can walk it alone. I have no more use for you, Haku. Your usefulness has come to an end," Zabuza coldly stated.

Despite the harshness those words were coated in, Haku's heart was filled with rejoice, as he gasped in pleasant surprise.

"Zabuza-sama, does that mean...?" Haku dared to ask.

Zabuza nodded. "Yes. Since I do not require your help anymore, you can stay in Konoha if you wish to do so."

Haku didn't say anything, just remained there, silent, and motionless. Despite being a native of the Land of Water and loving Zabuza like a father, he didn't want to leave Konoha. He had grown there, and grew to see it as his home. In fact, he had already prepared to leave his life behind in order to continue working under Zabuza. Yet now, he was told that he wouldn't have to give that up.

Overwhelmed with joy, Haku jumped forward and wrapped his arms around Zabuza. While startled at first, Zabuza hugged his protégé back, this time without anybody having to tell him to.

"Thank you, Zabuza-sama. Thank you for everything..." Haku softly said as tears started to come from his eyes.

"It's okay, kid. You did a good job. Consider this is your reward," Zabuza said as he himself was fighting back the tears.

They broke the embrace, and looked at each other in the eye.

"If you ever need me, Zabuza-sama, you can always call me. I'll never turn down a request from you," Haku said.

Zabuza smirked under his mask. "For the time being, that won't be necessary, but I'll keep that in mind."

"HAKU!" Naruto shouted as he glomped his teammate. "You're staying! That's so great!"

"Indeed it is. When a team loses a member, it never goes back to the way it used to be, even with a replacement," Kurenai said.

"Thank you for letting Haku stay with us, Zabuza-san. I know you must have grown to love Haku like a son, and it must be really hard for you to let him go," Hinata thanked Zabuza as he made a bow.

"Like a son...? What nonsense are you talking about, girl!?" Zabuza asked, visibly nervous. "Haku is nothing but a tool to me, no more!"

Both Kurenai and Hinata couldn't help but giggle in amusement, while Haku smiled knowingly. They decided it would probably be for the best not to tease the swordsman too much.

"Well, I think everything that had to be said has been said already. Before you leave, Haku, Mei wants to have one last talk with you, so follow me," Zabuza said as he turned around and walked towards the palace.

"Hey, Zabuza, wait a second!" Naruto called.

Zabuza turned around and glared at the blond. "What do you want, brat?"

"I just remembered something. I need to talk with Mei, I mean, with the Mizukage, too, about an important issue," Naruto began.

"Say no more, brat. Follow me," Zabuza said as he continued walking towards the palace, with Naruto and Haku behind.

Mizukage's Palace

While Naruto had been in the Mizukage's Palace not even a week ago when he stormed it alongside Mei, he didn't have the time to admire it. Unlike the Hokage's Tower, which has a rather plain and utilitarian design on the inside, the Mizukage's Palace had much more emphasis on decoration. The floors were covered in beautiful rugs, plenty of pictures of the Land of Water's landscape, alongside portraits of some of Kirigakure's most prominent past ninja. Multiple weapons also decorated the walls.

The trio eventually reached a double door, which Naruto guessed it would be the palace's council room. His guess was proven right when Zabuza opened the door, and they saw Mei talking with some of her ninja, and some civilians. When Mei looked at the newcomers, she smiled.

"Oh, good, you're here," Mei then turned towards the people she was talking to. "Can we continue this discussion later? I need to discuss something with these Konoha ninja before they leave."

"Of course, Mizukage-sama," one of the ninja replied, before he and the rest of them left Mei alone with Zabuza, Haku, and Naruto.

"Here is Haku," Zabuza announced. "Naruto wanted to tag along. Said he had something important to discuss with you. I guessed you could spend some time hearing him before he leaves."

"Of course. Thanks for being so swift, Zabuza-kun. You can leave now," Mei politely dismissed him.

"Mizukage-sama," Zabuza replied with a slight bow, before leaving quietly.

"Wow. I never thought I'd see Zabuza acting so...submissive towards anybody," Haku noticed, rather surprised. "You certainly made an impression when you fought against him, Mizukage-sama."

Mei smile grew. "Zabuza-kun needs a strong woman that can set him straight and put him in his place. He also needs a woman so he can blow some steam, if you know what I mean," Mei replied, as she winked at both Haku and Naruto. Both boys started to blush like crazy and smile awkwardly. Mei's smile vanished, and let out a weary sigh. "And I need to blow some steam too, and I'm not talking about my Bloodline Limit. Kami knows when was the last time I had some action..."

"With all due respect, Mizukage-sama, but I presume you didn't call me to talk about your more intimate aspects of your personal life, right?" Haku asked, hoping the answer would be 'no'.

"Oh, right, sorry. Guess I got a bit carried away, hehe," Mei chuckled as well. "You see, thanks to Konoha's help, we managed to oust Yagura and unite Kirigakure. Given how valuable allies they turned out to be, I'm planning a series of measures to strengthen our bonds. Among them, is the establishment of an embassy in Konoha. Naturally, Konoha can also establish an embassy here if the Hokage wishes to," Mei said, looking at Naruto.

The blond got the hint. "Right! I'll tell dad when we arrive home."

"That's an excellent idea, but may I ask what it has to do with me?" Haku asked.

Mei chuckled again. "It isn't obvious, Haku-kun? I want you to become Kiri's ambassador in Konoha. You will be the link that keeps the two villages together."

"While I'm honored to see you want me to take such a position, I don't think I may be the most appropriate candidate. I'm not even a Kiri ninja," Haku countered.

"I know. But you're a Land of Water native. And don't forget that, besides the training you got from Konoha, you were also instructed by my current captain of the Seven Swordsmen. So in a way, that makes you both a Konoha and a Kiri ninja. And that makes you the ideal candidate to become our ambassador," Mei explained.

"I guess I can't argue against such arguments. Therefore, I accept being Kirigakure's ambassador in Konoha," Haku said, as he bowed politely.

"Good, I knew we'd reach an understanding. This yours, by the way," Mei said, as he handled Haku a Kirigakure forehead protector. "You can wear it alongside your Konoha one, if you choose to."

"I will wear it with pride, Mizukage-sama," Haku replied.

"Good. You can leave if you wish. And now that's settled..." Mei then turned towards Naruto, who was waiting for her to be done with Haku. "I believe Zabuza-kun said there was something you need to discuss with me?"

"Indeed it is," Naruto replied. "Remember those golems we had to fight during the war?"

"Hard to forget them. Something that can absorb ninjutsu like that is my natural enemy," Mei chuckled. "What about those?"

"The seals they used to power up the golems, their ninjutsu-absorption abilities...they were all Uzumaki seals," Naruto pointed out.

"Oh..." Mei replied in realization.

"I know those seals were the spoils of a war that happened before the two of us were even born, but since you want to improve the relationship between our villages even further, it would be nice if you returned the stolen sealing knowledge to their original owners. The Uzumaki clan still exists in Konoha, even if we're just three people," Naruto explained.

Once again, Mei smiled tenderly at Naruto. "Of course, Naruto-kun. Having not one, but two Bloodline Limits myself, I know better than anybody the importance of a clan treasure. I'll order the original scrolls and books that were plundered from Kirigakure to be handed to you before you leave."

Naruto earnestly smiled in joy. "You mean it?"

"You have my word. It's the least I can do, given how much you helped me against Yagura," Mei told him.

"Really? Thanks a lot! I'd thought you'd be more resistant to give them back, but I'm glad you weren't! Anyway, that's all what you wanted to tell you! Good luck with the whole Mizukage thing! One day, I'll be your equal as the Hokage!" Naruto cheerfully said.

Mei laughed softly. "I'm sure you will, Naruto-kun. Have a nice trip back."

Naruto nodded and left the council room. Once she was alone, Mei allowed herself to smile. Oh, children were so naive and easily to trick. Sure, she was going to return the original scrolls and books to the Uzumaki Clan. After all what Konoha did for her, that would have been extremely rude, not to mention foolish.

Too bad Naruto didn't say anything about all the copies the previous Mizukage had made of such sealing knowledge...

With everything said and done, there was nothing left for the Konoha ninja to do in Kiri, so they decided it was time for them to return home. Most Konoha ninja had already boarded the ship that would take them back to the Land of Fire. Only a few of them remained. Among them, Haku Yuki.

The Ice Ninja was about to say goodbye to the most important person in his life, Zabuza. Mei was also there to bid the Konoha ninja goodbye.

"Well, kid, this is it. From now onwards, our paths will diverge," Zabuza said, his voice having a tinge of melancholy.

"I know I said this already, but if you ever need me, don't hesitate to send me a message," Haku insisted. "Thanks for everything, Zabuza-sama. It was thanks to you that I got a second chance at life, and I'll never forget what you did for me."

"I'll never forget what you did for me, either," Zabuza replied. "But don't be so down. I'm sure we will meet again, sooner than you expect."

Haku nodded. He then turned at Mei, and in front of her, he pulled out the Kirigakure forehead protector, and wore it on his neck like Hinata did, since he was already wearing the Konoha forehead protector there, like Naruto and most Konoha ninja did.

"Thank you to you as well, Mizukage-sama. I'll keep working on making Konoha and Kiri's bond even stronger," Haku promised her.

"I have no doubt you will," Mei smiled tenderly at him. "Now you better get into the ship. All your friends are already on board, and I'm sure all of you want to get back home."

"Indeed. Goodbye then," Haku said, before making a polite bow, and got into the ship.

As the last Konoha ninja boarded, the access stairs were removed, and the ship started to move. Wordlessly, Zabuza turned around and started to walk. Mei walked besides him.

"You did the right thing, Zabuza-kun," Mei reassured, as he patted the swordsman in the shoulder. "The kid will be better in Konoha."

Zabuza sighed. "In moments like this, I miss the times in which I wasn't ruled by any kind of moral compass."

For a split second, Mei could have sworn she saw tears forming on Zabuza's eyes.

Haku was leaning against the ship's railing, watching Kirigakure become smaller and smaller as the ship departed. Zabuza has been there to bid him a goodbye. It was short and to the point, like most of the time he opened his mouth.

"Everything all right, Haku?"

Haku noticed that Naruto and Hinata were besides him. Haku smiled a little, and nodded.

"Yeah, I'm fine, don't worry," Haku reassured them.

"Come on Haku, we can see something troubles you," Hinata insisted.

"It's not much. It's that...well, I never imagined the day Zabuza-sama and I would part ways," Haku confessed. "I thought I would always be at his side, and if there was a time in which we wouldn't be together it would be because one of us wouldn't be among the living."

"It has to be hard, leaving somebody like him behind. Despite his rough exterior, he really cared about you," Hinata replied.

"Indeed it is. But I know Zabuza-sama will be fine without me. And one day in the future, we'll hear the news about how he has become the Sixth Mizukage," Haku hopefully guessed.

"Let's hope this time around he tries a less violent method, hehe," Naruto joked. "Anyway, did you tell Tenten about the news?"

"It was the first thing I did after I left the Mizukage's Palace. She couldn't be happier. Despite her promise to move to Kiri if I stayed here, I can tell she really didn't want to go with it. Konoha is her home. And truth be told, it's also mine," Haku admitted.

"We're also really glad that you're staying with us. If you left and they forced some new chump into our team...gah! That would be so lame! Thank goodness it's never going to happen!" Naruto said.

The three of them laughed merrily at the idea. No, their team would remain solid and stable until the three of them retired as ninja. Or at least, that's what they hoped.

"There you are, Naruto," a new voice said. The Assault Squad turned around, and saw Sasuke looking at them. "May I talk with you?"

Before Naruto could reply, Haku and Hinata decided to leave the deck, leaving the two of them alone.

"We'll go to the dining room to eat something. We'll wait you there, Naruto-kun," Hinata told him as he left.

Naruto nodded, and then turned at Sasuke. "So, what do you want to talk about?"

"You fought against Yagura alongside Mei." Sasuke stated. "Was he really mind controlled like they said?"

Sadness began to crept Naruto's face, as he regretfully nodded. "Yes."

"Judging by your mood, I presume you weren't successful in breaking the mind control," the Uchiha inquired, though it was pretty much a statement.

"No. Akatsuki got in the way before we could. At this point, the poor guy has to be dead," Naruto replied, as he let out a weary sigh. "Why do you ask? Does it remind you of the time I was mind controlled."

"Indeed," Sasuke laconically answered. "There's not a single day in which I don't ask myself what would have happened if I failed to break the mind control. That was the most intense fight I ever had, and even if in the future I-"

"Sorry for being rude but...what is your point?" Naruto interrupted. "This is not something I like to wallow in, given my failure."

"Sorry, guess I digressed" Sasuke replied, his tone unchanged. "I was going to say that, if you want to talk with someone about it, you can tell me."

Naruto was taken aback by Sasuke's sudden...openness. Usually, the Uchiha wasn't the most social or welcoming person.

"What?" Sasuke asked, noticing Naruto's reaction. "You think I won't understand?"

"No, it's not that. It's that..." Naruto began, trying to find the best way to word it. "It's just that...well, you're not the kind of person to offer emotional support to others, you know?"

Sasuke scowled a bit. "Hn," he grumbled, as he fixed a stare at Naruto, who chuckled awkwardly. "I know I never valued personal relationships much before. But then again, you were one of the few who offered me his support after my clan rebelled, and I'd like to return you the favor."

"Oh. Well, thanks. It means a lot to me," Naruto sincerely replied.

"Yagura...since he was also a jinchuriki, did you feel any kind of kinship towards him?" Sasuke asked.

"Yeah. He...he didn't deserve this," Naruto said. "He got a target on his back the moment he was made a jinchuriki, whenever it was, just like it happened with me. Hell, did you know that the whole Uchiha Insurrection was orchestrated by Obito just to create a smokescreen in order to get into the village and kidnap me? And I'm sure Orochimaru's invasion served a similar purpose. That's not even getting to my biological parents," Naruto bitterly recounted. "Despite we technically won, it really didn't feel like a victory. The only ones who won were the Akatsuki. Kirigakure may be at peace now, but they lost plenty of their ninja in a senseless conflict, their Kage among them."

Sasuke didn't say anything, just kept listening to the blond. He always found him so upbeat and optimist to the point of obnoxiousness, so seeing Naruto showing such an unknown side of him was a sight to behold. Not that it made anything he said any less true.

"There will always be scumbags like Obito and his Akatsuki pals who won't rest until they can get their hands on us, or better said, our Tailed Beasts, for whatever purposes they may have," Naruto continued. "And do you know what's the worst part? All the collateral damage. All the people who die and suffer that have nothing to do with this."

Sasuke looked pensive. He then opened his mouth. "That makes me think that there may be other turmoil in foreign villages regarding their jinchuriki that we may not even be aware of," the Uchiha pointed out.

Naruto opened his eyes in realization. "Whoa, you're right!" he said.

"Too bad there's nothing we can do about them," Sasuke replied.

Naruto scowled at the Uchiha. "Says you!"

"No, say international borders. Naruto, I know that protecting the remaining jinchuriki is important, but we can't meddle into other village's affairs because we feel like it," Sasuke explained.

"Then I won't rest until dad talks with other Kage and form some sort of plan or coalition," Naruto suggested.

"Not to sound like a contrarian, but that might be way harder than you think," Sasuke warned Naruto. "Such action might be seen as Konoha trying to meddle with other villages' affairs. And from what Itachi and Shisui told me, they can be rather touchy when it comes to jinchuriki."

"I know, but I can't just sit down and do nothing. I can't let what happened with Yagura to happen again," a determined Naruto said. "So far, I know Gaara from Suna, and Fu from Taki. Kumo also had that weird rapping guy. Besides Yagura, there are other four jinchuriki we know nothing about their whereabouts."

"Whatever you plan to do, you can count me in," Sasuke told him.

Naruto smiled sincerely at the Uchiha. "Thanks a lot Sasuke. That means a lot."

In a rare display, Sasuke smiled back.

Konoha, a few days later

"Hokage-sama, the group sent to Kirigakure has returned to the village a few minutes ago," an owl masked ANBU told Jiraiya.

The Sannin was busy as usual with the never ending paperwork when an ANBU appeared to deliver the news. Jiraiya often wondered how they were doing in Kirigakure. That is, until he got a letter in which he was told that Yagura was no longer Mizukage, and that Mei Terumi had been recently inaugurated. That told him almost everything he needed to know, and knew that his ninja would come home any time now.

"Good. Did all of them make it back?" Jiraiya asked.

The ANBU shook his head. "Negative, sir. We had reported eleven casualties. Eight Chunin and three Jonin," the ANBU informed.

Jiraiya weighed those words. While the Konoha casualties were less than ten percent of the group that left with Mei, it was still disheartening to hear about them.

"Understood. Tell me their names so I can write a proper condolence letter to their families," Jiraiya instructed. "Also, I want to have a meeting with all the Jonin to hear from them how the campaign went."

"As you command, Hokage-sama," the ANBU said, but he didn't leave just yet. "One more thing, your son is here. He wishes to speak with you."

Jiraiya smiled upon seeing this. "Ah, good! So nice of Naruto to drop to see his old man, hehe! Tell him to come in!"

The ANBU nodded, and left the office. A couple seconds later, the Hokage's adoptive son walked in.

"Hey, dad," Naruto softly greeted.

"Naruto, it's so great to have you back!" Jiraiya happily greeted his son back. "Take a seat. Come on, tell me everything! How was the mission?"

"It was good," Naruto said as he sat down in front of the Sannin. "Yagura's reign of terror came to an end, and Mei is now Mizukage. Kirigakure is no longer embroiled in a civil war."

Despite the good news, Jiraiya frowned. He knew Naruto far too well to know that there was something more to those news. Naruto looked far way too subdued, to the point of sounding melancholic. There was something wrong going on that was eating him from the inside.

"But not everything went as good as you make it look, right?" Jiraiya guessed. "Did something bad happen? Was any of the deceased close to you?"

"Yes. Well, no. I mean, yes, but not in that way," Naruto was starting to get confused. "You see, the fight against Yagura didn't go as planned."

"But Yagura was ousted. Did you kill him?" Jiraiya asked. "Listen, I know that it had to be hard to kill a fellow jinchuriki, but sometimes-"

"No, it's not that. Yagura is probably dead right now, but I didn't kill him. Akatsuki did," Naruto said.

Those words took Jiraiya aback. The Sannin raised an eyebrow, as he fixed a questioning stare on his godson. "Come again?"

"You see, Mei and I were fighting against Yagura, right? And things were going fine. Turn out those seals you made to keep the Nine Tails in check worked with the Three Tails too, so we were able to nullify his power. Anyway, the thing is, an Akatsuki appeared and got involved. We were pretty exhausted, so we weren't able to put much of a fight against him. He took Yagura away, and left," Naruto said, summarizing the turns of events as good as he could. "Turns out he was mind controlled. That Akatsuki said something weird, and Yagura became his puppet. That's how he was able to spirit him away so easily."

"That is...troubling news indeed," Jiraiya gravely said, as he weighed down Naruto's words. "Did he try to capture you as well?"

Naruto shook his head once again. "No. He didn't pay me any attention. Guess he didn't know who I was, or else he would have tried to kill two birds with one stone. Then again, I wish he did try to capture me. I was still in Sage Mode, and I think I could have freed Yagura before he could fly away."

"The Akatsuki...flew away?" Jiraiya asked.

Naruto nodded. "The guy had some weird-ass bloodline limit that could create figures of clay that exploded. He used a giant clay bird to fly."

"Clay? Explosions?" Jiraiya asked, as he opened a drawer on his desk and pulled out a Bingo Book. He quickly flipped through the pages, until he found the one he was looking for. "Was this the man?"

Naruto took a look at the profile, and upon seeing the picture, he nodded. "Yeah, that's him! So, his name's Deidara? You know about him?"

"I heard about him, but never met him in person. A young prodigy of Iwa that liked explosions too much for his own good. He defected from Iwa after stealing some forbidden knowledge regarding explosion jutsu. He then became a freelance mercenary, and worked for several terrorist groups," Jiraiya explained. "Though I never imagine that he'd join Akatsuki. While troubling, at least we have some more intelligence on the enemy."

"He wasn't alone. He brought another Akatsuki. I think his name is...Kasumi? No, that's a girl name. Kisame? Yeah, Kisame! He also has one of Kiri's Seven Swords."

This time, the news didn't shock him as much, since he knew from Mei what Kisame was doing now.

"Anyway, the thing is, Yagura was captured by the Akatsuki, and now they probably have the Three Tails," Naruto then fixed an intense stare on his father. "Dad, we need to make sure this doesn't happen again. Akatsuki can't have more jinchuriki."

"Don't worry son. I have extensive data on all current jinchuriki. Though sadly, I guess that information on Yagura won't be of much importance in the future," Jiraiya said. "Our allies of Suna and Taki are already aware of the Akatsuki threat. From what I know, two of the jinchuriki are from Iwa, and the other two from Kumo. I'll try to contact them and see if we can work together on this issue."

"What about the remaining one?" Naruto asked.

"You must be talking about Utakata. That's going to be a little trickier, since he doesn't work under any village, despite hailing from Kirigakure. He's a vagrant and a wanderer, and given his condition, he'll try to keep a low profile," Jiraiya explained. "Then again, while that might work against us, it will also make Akatsuki's job all the harder. But don't worry, once Itachi comes back from his mission, I'll tell him to work on this."

Naruto smiled in relief. "Thank you, dad. That's what I wanted to hear. While I know it's mostly a matter of security, protecting the other jinchuriki means a lot to me."

"Don't sweat it, son," Jiraiya replied.

"By the way, is anybody at home? Mom, the twins?" Naruto asked.

"Tsunade-hime is in the hospital, working, and I guess your siblings are still in the Academy. So I think the house is going to be a bit empty until it's lunchtime," Jiraiya told him.

"Alright then. I'll hang out with Hinata-hime a bit more then. See you later!" Naruto replied, as he walked out of the office.

"Same. Good to see you made it back in one piece, kid."

Root Lair, somewhere under Konoha

Inside a dark instance illuminated by a few oil lamps, Danzo and some of his most loyal agents were gathered. While the elderly leader of Root was standing in front of a kneeling boy, the rest of his men inspected several large scrolls.

"Uzumaki knowledge that was thought to be lost forever, including the schematics for Chakra Golems," Danzo said. "Sending you to take part in the Civil War was a good decision, Sai. You made a good job."

"Thanks, Danzo-sama. I live only to serve Konoha," Sai stated.

During the journey back home, Sai had infiltrated the ship's cargo, and made copies of all the fuinjutsu scrolls and books he could. Sai was somebody that rarely stood out, so almost nobody noticed his prolonged absence. His lack of friends or meaningful connections also worked in his favor, since nobody really missed him. Even Sasuke and Sakura, the ones who openly showed distrust of him, seemed to pay him no mind.

"Were you able to obtain one of the Chakra Golems so we could reverse engineer them?" Danzo asked, sounding a bit disappointed.

"Unfortunately, we were only able to take with us a limited number of them. If one of them disappeared, somebody would have noticed it rather soon," Sai explained. "So I decide to follow my judgment and not steal one of those."

"I can't find anything wrong with that line of thinking, so you're excused this time. Guess the blueprints will have to do for now," Danzo decided.

"However, I also brought something else that it might be very helpful, Danzo-sama," Sai said, as he pulled out a small sealing scroll from his pocket, and handed it to his superior.

Danzo took the scroll, and unsealing its contents. A lone, severed finger appeared before him.

"Explain," the one eyed man demanded.

"That finger belongs to Rin Nohara, the one who came back from the dead, and has now the power of the Wood Release. I thought it was something you'd want to have," Sai replied.

Danzo sealed the finger back again into the scroll, and put it under the folds of his robe.

"Indeed I do, Sai. You did good work. Now, leave. You're dismissed," Danzo said.

Sai nodded. "As you wish, Danzo-sama."

And the pale boy left, leaving the elder alone.

Danzo couldn't believe his luck. He had been trying to gather some DNA sample from Rin since the moment his agents revealed the way she had been revived and the abilities she possessed now. So far, all his men could gather were hair strands, but that wasn't enough. Now, Sai had brought him a sample of flesh, blood and bone in perfect state. Yes, this would make great strides in his research regarding Hashirama's power.

Soon, Danzo would have enough strength to become the leader he was always meant to be, and nobody would get in his way.

Forests of the Land of Fire

A new day arrived for the inhabitants of the green ocean of leaves and branches known as the Land of Fire. As nocturnal animals returned to their lairs, diurnal ones exited theirs and took their place. Herbivores started to eat from the green grass and green leaves from the many lush trees, while predators stalked what would be their daily meals.

However, today it wasn't going to be a normal day in the forest. Today, the forests would receive a new inhabitant, if briefly.

Wind started to blow. Softly at first, but stronger over time. It didn't came from the clash of cold and hot air currents, as normal wind does, but from a certain point in the forest. A clear among the trees, that became much bigger thanks to a clash between several human ninja. Yes, in that clear, more than a year ago, Jiraiya and Anko fought against the resurrected Minato Namikaze and Kushina Uzumaki. Fortunately, Minato and Kushina's love for their son gave them a sense of closure, and were able to return to the afterlife. Back then, it looked like it was the end of their battle.

What neither Jiraiya, nor Minato, nor even Orochimaru knew, is that such action brought back somebody else from the guts of the Reaper.

The wind continued to blow out, this time with more intensity. The animals that were wandering the area stopped what they were doing, and ran away, no matter the direction. Their instincts told them that something was about to happen, and they shouldn't be there.

After a few seconds, red threads of chakra started to gather in the clear. More and more red chakra gathered, forming a red sphere. The sphere started to grew as it became whole. Then, once the process was complete, the sphere changed shape, and took the form of an animal.

A fox.

A gigantic fox.

A gigantic fox with nine tails.

The beast opened his eyes, and looked around, confused. He tried to remember, but he couldn't. He didn't know anything. Who he was, where he was, what he was supposed to do.

Oh well, he could always find out for himself.

As the fox left, a white Zetsu emerged from the grass.

"This is a...most interesting turns of events," he said to no one in particular. "I should warn the boss about this."

And the Zetsu sank back into the grass.


Author's Note: So there you have. Kirigakure is now at peace, and the Konoha ninjas return home. Given the number of reviews, it seems that this arc wasn't as interesting as the ones that came before, which sadly, seems to be a thing with all my original arcs, for some reason, they get a more lukewarm reception than those adapted from the manga/anime. Even then, I don't regret writing this arc (even if it ended up way longer than I expected), since it allowed me to write and focus on both an event I found mostly interesting, characters I like a lot, really cool battles, and flesh out a village beyond what little we saw in canon.

Yes, Zabuza is staying in Kiri. It was always the plan from the very beginning. Many stories that feature a redeemed Zabuza had him stay in Konoha permanently, but even if I don't have anything against those, to me it didn't feel natural. It's as if Naruto decided he wants to be Raikage rather than Hokage. Zabuza being closer than ever to realize his ambition of being Mizukage is a nice way to end his character arc. And to all Zabuza fans there, don't worry! I assure you this is not even close to the last time you'll see the Demon of the Hidden Mist again, as well as Mei, Suigetsu, Ameyuri and the rest of the Kirigakure gang ;)

On the other hand, Haku is staying. Unlike Zabuza, most of his life is in Konoha, so it makes sense that he'd choose to stay, even if it'd mean not being alongside Zabuza anymore. Some people were worried that given that both his potential leave coincided with Sai's introduction, I planned to replace him with Sai, kinda like how Sai replaced Sasuke in canon. HA! Haku is one of my favorite characters of the manga (he isn't Naruto and Hinata's third teammate for no reason) while I'm not very fond of Sai. Hell, the only reason I introduced Sai is for him to be Ino's love interest, and because I need him for a future arc focused on Danzo and ROOT. Otherwise, I wouldn't even have bothered with him to begin with (and on top of that, he's proving to be super hard to write for). Though that doesn't mean that I'm going to bash him or anything. I don't have a very high opinion on authors that indulge in bashing, and there's no room for such thing in this story.

And regarding the end of the chapter...how many of you saw that coming? Yeah, I didn't forget about the Kyubi's half sealed inside Minato, which died the moment Minato's edo tensei body was destroyed. However, Tailed Beasts are immortal, and after some time, they reform in the place they died. And unfortunately for the newborn half Kyubi and the good guys, Akatsuki now know about this. How this development will affect the story? Not in a good way for the heroes, that's for sure.

Thanks to gio08 for betareading this chapter

Well, next chapter, we will finally enter Shippuden with the Gaara Rescue Arc! Yay, since I was dying to bring the Sand Siblings back into the story at last! In the meantime, don't forget to review! Reviews make me really, really, really happy!