Author's Notes: Welcome back once again to a new chapter of ABoaL!
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Chapter 46: Chaos Theory
Sai's face did not even flinch. "Sorry," He didn't sound all that sorry. "But why would I ever help you?" Was his blunt response. "I don't think you quite comprehend the gravity of what you've done. He is one of the last people on Earth you should want as your enemy."
"I could say the same about him making an enemy of me." Naruto rubbed the back of his head while looking off into the distance. "I'll make sure all the darkness surrounding him is brought to light."
"Lord Danzo cares deeply for the village; he truly wants what is best for it… Naruto, I cannot say the same about you." Sai's scathing remarks were accompanied by his typical even tone. "You seem to bring chaos with you wherever you go and to all those around you. I'm not entirely sure what drives you, but I have my doubts that the Leaf is high on your list of priorities."
Naruto seemed unfazed by the accusations. "Are you saying that Danzo's order for you to allow Kabuto to escape was for the good of the village?" Sai's eyes widened slightly. "That's right, I'm not stupid enough to believe he got away without your help. We could have extracted valuable intel from him about not only Orochimaru but the Akatsuki and its members. All that considered, how can you justify that letting him go was the right thing to do?"
"It's… not my place to question Lord Danzo's decisions." For the first time since Naruto had known him, Sai looked a bit unsure as he spoke. "If he says it, then it must be true."
"If you ask me, the bastard is only in it for himself," Naruto said with venom. "He indeed wants the Leaf to prosper, but it's even more important to him that he is the one to make it happen… damn everything else in his way." Sai looked like he wanted to say something but didn't. "I don't know what kind of affiliation Danzo had with Orochimaru, but if you truly think he's what the village needs right now… then, maybe I was wrong about you."
Naruto sighed deeply and stood up. He gave Sai one last look of disappointment before walking back toward Team Hebi. "I'll have to find someone who isn't a coward and is willing to fight for what they believe in. And don't worry, we'll let you go even though you're probably going to report back to him what happened here."
The blond took a few more steps, and then-
"Wait!" Sai called out with an outstretched arm.
Naruto stopped, suppressed a smirk, and looked over his shoulder. "Yes?" He asked.
"What else do you know?" The blond gave him a questioning look. "For what you're planning, there has to be something else you aren't telling me. Something that he did that is pushing you to go this far… what is it?" It was almost as if Sai was looking for a reason to trust the blond, but his years of Root training and conditioning fought against him every step of the way. If he was honest with himself, a piece of him had been questioning Danzo and Root as a whole ever since his mission to the Tenchi Bridge with the Uzumaki. Team Hebi had one last chance to convince that part of him of their side.
Naruto stayed silent and waved his team over.
"What are you doing?" Sai appeared apprehensive, and the sudden realization that he was heavily outnumbered finally began to set in.
"You asked a question, but I'm not really the one who should answer it. Or, better yet, it isn't really my place to do so." Naruto replied simply. "That honor should go to Sasuke."
Sai fixed his gaze on the approaching form of the Leaf's rogue Shinobi. 'Sasuke Uchiha…'
Not even his years of his ANBU training could have prepared Sai for what he was about to hear.
After much convincing from Naruto, Sasuke told Sai the truth behind the Uchiha Massacre and Danzo's role in his clan's downfall. At first, the expressionless Shinobi was dismissive of the ludicrous claims. The thought of his leader orchestrating the elimination of the Leaf's most powerful and prominent clan made little sense.
However, the more Uchiha revealed, the less sure about the truth. It wasn't a secret without Root that Danzo did many shady things behind the scenes… and while he always claimed it was for the betterment of the Leaf, the results often told a different story. Lastly, the War Hawk's questionable affiliation with Orochimaru, a man who murdered the Hokage and nearly brought the Land of Fire to its knees, wrapped Sai's growing suspicions in a nice little bow.
Once their side was told, they gave Sai a moment to gather his thoughts and form his own opinion on the matter. To say he was conflicted would be a massive understatement; he didn't know what to believe, and it felt like his perception of the world was shattering around him.
"What proof do you have?" He finally asked after a few minutes of tense silence. "Your words alone won't be enough to prove that Lord Danzo is guilty of what you say. He can simply deny your claims and continue to operate from the shadows. You need undeniable evidence, or you will fail."
Sasuke pursed his lips, then looked at Naruto.
"The right eye of Shisui Uchiha." The Jinchuriki stated with conviction. "Itachi told you that Danzo stole Shisui's eye, right?" Sasuke nodded, then his eyes widened in realization. "I will bet my life that that's what Danzo has behind those bandages.
Sai's eyes narrowed. "Interesting theory, but how could you possibly get close enough to Lord Danzo to prove it?"
"Ah, that's the easy part," Naruto said with a dismissive wave. "I just need to ask one of my Hyuga friends for a favor." Naruto smiled hopefully. "Once they confirm that there's something suspicious behind those bandages, all we'll need is you, Sai. We can take everything to Granny Tsunade so she can launch a full investigation."
"And what exactly do you need from me?" He was unsure of the role he was yet to play in this little scheme. "It sounds like you will have all you need, no?"
"We have to bury Danzo so far into the ground that there's absolutely no chance he can slither his way out of it." Naruto was impassioned. "Sai… I want you to testify before the Jonin Council and the Hokage and tell them everything you know about what Danzo has done behind the scenes. That's the only way to guarantee we win this fight."
"Even if I wanted to, it is impossible for me to do something like that."
The grin on Naruto's face fell slightly. Karin and Suigetsu exchanged an unsure look, and Sasukes' expression unsurprisingly did not change.
"What do you mean?" The blond asked. That didn't sound like a no, but the wording confused him. "Why can't you." The way Sai was talking, he was sure he'd be able to convince him over to their side.
"Because of this." Sai opened his mouth and stuck out his tongue. Everyone unconsciously leaned in to better understand what he was showing them.
"W-What is that?" Suigetsu asked, clearly confused. "You know… it kinda looks like a pair of pants, in a weird way. Does anyone else see it?"
Karin wanted to call him stupid for saying such a thing, but she couldn't help but agree with that simplistic assessment. Whatever it was, it took the shape of three solid black lines and two broken black lines from the back of the tongue to the tip.
Naruto got in even closer to examine the unusual markings. "That… would be a Curse Mark." He answered the question everyone had asked themselves. He caught Sasuke out of the corner of his eye-grabbing his own Curse Mark at the base of his neck, given to him by none other than Orochimaru.
The Snake and the War Hawk appeared to be cut from the same cloth. Just another reason why he couldn't walk around and do as he pleases.
"And… what does it do?" Karin asked while pushing her glasses further up the bridge of her nose
Sai closed his mouth and looked down at the ground, a flash of a frown tugging at his lips. "Lord Danzo places this Seal on all members of the Foundation to ensure that no information falls into the wrong hands. If I were to try and say anything about him or the organization, the mark would activate and paralyze my entire body. I would be unable to move or speak until the effects are lifted, and he is the only one that can do so."
"Sounds effective," Sasuke remarked, albeit reluctantly. "That explains why he's still running around controlling things behind the scenes with such little resistance. Nothing incriminating will ever get back to him if no one can talk."
"That's for sure," Karin added. "This Danzo guy covers all of his bases, doesn't he?"
"I'm sorry, but you will have to look for other means for your mission." The ANBU teen continued. "You now see I will be of little use to you."
"What if I remove it for you?" Sai blinked from Naruto's words. "I can free you from that mark and all of its effects. If I do that, will you help us?" His sincere words almost seemed too good to be true. The Root agent looked skeptical, to say the least. "I learned Fuinjutsu directly under Jiraiya-Sensei; I'm pretty confident I could figure out that matrix in a couple hours at most if you would let me try.
'Heh, an eye for an eye.' Suigetsu thought. It reminded him of the deals blondie made with both him and Sasuke. 'This is why sticking by Naruto and Sasuke will be my best bet to collect all swords. They just… make things happen all the time. It almost feels like they can do anything when working together.'
"I… don't know." Root and Danzo are practically his entire life. That didn't mean it was right, but to turn your back on everything you have known and lived for is not so simple. "Can you answer one thing for me, Naruto?"
"What is it?"
"Why are you doing this?" Was his loaded question. "What is pushing you to go so far? You've put yourself and others in danger, deceived the Hokage… all for what?"
Now all eyes were on him. It wasn't just Sai that was fascinated by the answer; all of Team Hebi wanted to know his thoughts. Up to this point, they have only been given snapshots inside the Jinchuriki's mind.
Naruto sighed deeply. "I want to live in a world where the grooming of child soldiers isn't necessary to sustain "peace," a place where innocent and defenseless families feel safe and protected by the system above them… and I think people like Danzo do the exact opposite of that." He looked Sai up and down. "I mean, just look at you; do you think it's fair what he's done to you? What if he did that to someone you cared about?"
Sai's eyes widened, and memories of the past he'd tried so hard to forget tried to force their way to the surface. He couldn't help but think of his brother. Not by blood, but by bond; they were practically inseparable during their time together. Looking back on it, even now, those were easily the best memories of his life. That is, until they started to get deeper into the Root program. That was when it all began to change.
If it weren't for Shin's illness… then Danzo would have forced us to-.
"Look, I get it." Naruto's voice snapped him from his memories. He looked up and was met with the sight of the blond's earnest blue eyes. "I don't expect you to make this decision right now; It's all too much right now. Tell you what, how about you sleep on it before you decide?"
Sai blinked. "I-"
"I assume you know where I live, considering one of your missions was to keep an eye on me," Naruto said rhetorically. "If you decide to take me up on your offer, you know where to find me. And if I don't hear from you, I'll know your answer."
Before Sai could even muster a response, Naruto reached out and placed a soft hand on his shoulder. He gave the pale teen a sincere smile. "Do what you think is right. This is your choice to make." With that, Naruto turned around to walk away, ushering his team to follow behind him.
Karin and Suigetsu were quick to fall in step with him, albeit their faces looked about as unsure as one could imagine when leaving a potential enemy capable of foiling their plans behind. The Hozuki muttered something under his breath about an "overconfident blondie" while Karin simply internalized her feelings of unease and trepidation.
For what it was worth, Sasuke kept his eye on Sai for a moment longer than the others. He was quite familiar with what Sai was going through. Just a couple days prior, his entire view of reality had been completely flipped on its axis. He could see all of the pain, confusion, and uncertainty flicker across the teens' usually stoic face, and he couldn't help but empathize. And yet, he also couldn't bring himself to agree with Naruto's methods.
After what felt like too long, Sasuke ripped his eyes from their potential enemy to join the group to their next destination. It wasn't long before he arrived at Naruto's side, their steps matching stride for stride.
"Are you sure this is a good idea?" Sasuke was quick to question. Naruto had already proven his good judgment a few times, but this seemed like a mistake. "If we let him go, he could just as easily turn around and report our plans back to Danzo; are you aware of what that would mean for us?"
"Then why would you want us to take that risk?" Sasuke pushed further. "We should go back there and capture him. You can remove the Curse Mark by force, and then I can use my Genjutsu to force him to tell us what he knows."
"No, I won't do that; I can't." Naruto's earnest frown showed that he could not be convinced otherwise.
"And why's that?"
"Sai is a good person at heart; I can see that in him. Danzo tried to rob him of his humanity." He paused and bit the bottom of his lip. "I just think that he's been through enough already, and he deserves to be able to finally make his own choices with his own free will…. something that he's never really been able to do."
"Why the sudden change?" Karin inquired. "It didn't seem like you had any problems with manipulating people to do what you wanted before." She leaned in slightly. "This wouldn't have anything to do with what Itachi did to you, would it?"
Naruto exchanged a look with the Kunoichi and sighed. "Ahh, who knows? What I do know is that a line needs to be drawn in the sand somewhere. If we go too far, we wouldn't be much different than Danzo and Root."
"Deep down, I think you understand what I mean. You and I are not so different, you know."
Naruto clenched his teeth and quickened his pace. 'We'll see about that, ya damned bastard.'
Karin's head suddenly shot up. "Dammit, we've got more company coming from the north! Five of them, and they're moving fast!"
Suigetsu reached for the hilt of his blade as the rest of the team readied themselves for a potential fight. "Hah! I gotta say, there is never a dull moment while in the Leaf Village."
"Relax, Suigetsu," Karin's posture loosened slightly. She recognized these chakra signatures. "It's the ANBU squad that watched us before we left to go after Itachi."
Naruto felt his stomach drop, but he didn't let Team Hebi know. The Hokage's personal guard squad dropped from the trees above and immediately surrounded them.
Their faces were covered, but Karin could tell by their chakra that they were not happy.
"Are you sure I should be relaxing, Karin?" There was tension in the air that even the unobservant Hozuki could pick up on. "These guys don't seem like they want to be my friend."
"Shh, shut up!" She hushed.
Sasuke stepped forward. "Is there a problem?" His voice was as cold as ice.
Tiger lifted his arm and pointed at the group. Or, more specifically, someone within the group. "Naruto Uzumaki," The man's deep voice boomed behind the animal mask. "By order of the Fifth Hokage, you are to be detained and brought with us to the Hokage Tower. Please do not resist."
His team, and even Sasuke, were stunned by the declaration. Before any of them could muster anything in protest of the demand, Naruto walked forward with his hands above his head in the most non-threatening gesture he could muster.
"I guess Granny Tsunade isn't the biggest fan of the new book?" He asked with an unreadable grin. No response from the stoic Shinobi. "Ah, fine, fine, ya guys got me. I'll play nice and come along with you guys; no need to cause any trouble." He glanced back at the unpredictable Mist Ninja. "Right, Suigetsu?"
Suigetsu sheepishly rubbed the back of his head and took a sip from his water bottle. "Yeah, alright, ya got no complaints coming from me. I'm game."
Karin frowned. 'These aren't the only ones… we're completely surrounded.' It was too big of a risk to alert the team, even though she desperately wanted to. She tried her best to seem oblivious of that fact and resisted the urge to search their surroundings. 'There are ten, no, fifteen more lurking in the shadows… watching us.'
"What about my team, though?" Naruto asked, now face to face with Tiger. "Before I go with you, I want confirmation that they will all be safe. This is just about me, right?"
Tiger seemed reluctant to answer, though anything to make this interaction go as seamless as possible was well worth it. "They will be escorted to the same inn arranged for them before. They are ordered to wait there under ANBU surveillance while Lady Hokage decides how to proceed."
Naruto seemed to accept that answer and nodded. "Fine, I'll go."
Both parties understood their role to play. The ANBU were acutely aware that if Team Hebi wanted to leave, they wouldn't be able to do a damned thing about it. Conversely, if Naruto and Sasuke were to resist, it would effectively ruin the chances for the plan to succeed. Not only that, it would further and irreparably deteriorate their relationship with Tsunade and the Leaf Village. Cooperation was the only valid option.
Team Hebi watched in silence as Naruto was escorted in the direction of the Hokage Tower with four of the five visible ANBU and six of the fifteen hidden ones. He didn't appear worried about the situation, which helped keep Karin's morale up. Sasuke and Suigetsu seemed far less concerned, though they were rarely worried about anything.
"You three will come with me," Tiger, who chose to stay behind, stated with authority. "And don't try anything funny."
"Fine, fine," Suigetsu said with a toothy grin. "We'll play nice for now."
"Shut up, Suigetsu." Sasuke scolded. "Let's just go."
Suigetsu had a few more wisecracks left in him, but he would save those for another time. The three of them and the rest of the ANBU escort began the trek back to the inn.
Suigetsu sighed loudly and fell backward onto his back. His water bottle was empty, which made him even more irritable than usual. "Why is this taking so long?" He complained loudly. "It feels like we've been in here for hours! We should have been called to see the Hokage with the blondie by now!"
Karin was sitting up on the bedroll in the corner of the room; her knees were tucked tightly into her chest. She had left her sandals by the door when they came in. The entire time they were there, her senses never drifted away from Naruto's chakra signature. She had relayed every pulse of his energy to the team. There were times when it was erratic, which they surmised was from the heated back and forth with the Hokage; other times, it was eerily still and calm.
However, it was still as brilliantly bright and warm as ever.
"Nothing major has happened for a few minutes. A couple tiny spikes, but nothing out of the ordinary for him." Karin said. "My guess is that their conversation is, at the very least, almost over."
"You sure know Naruto's chakra pretty well, Karin." The redhead gave him a confused look. "It's just weird that you'd say 'nothing out of the ordinary for him,' almost like you've studied it very closely…." Suigetsu teased as he stared up at the bland ceiling. He needed to push some buttons to pass the time. "And here I thought the only chakra you had any real interest in was Sasuke's?"
Karin placed her chin on her knees and wrapped her arms around her face to cover her blushing cheeks. "Shut up, Suigetsu!" Her voice was slightly muffled from the obstruction. "It's my job to familiarize myself with everyone's chakra, even one as repulsive and disgusting as yours!"
Suigetsu blinked but continued to admire the ceiling like it was a work of art. "Damn, that was a bit harsh… I mean, I deserve it, but still, ouch. Can you believe the disrespect I go through around here, Sasuke? Sometimes I feel like my contributions to the team aren't appreciated."
Sasuke hadn't said anything. He leaned against the wall, staring out the window right next to him with a blank expression. He peered down at the street from their room on the third floor of the inn and wordlessly watched the villagers go about their days. His eyes lingered especially long on parents that peacefully strolled through town with their children in tow.
The Hozuki picked his head off the hard wooden floor to look at his teammate. "Sasuke?" He reiterated louder.
The Uchiha blinked, then shook his head to clear the mental fog. His eyes looked glassy and unfocused, a feature the other two quickly noticed.
"You okay, man?" ThSuigetsu asked with genuine worry. "You've been even more quiet than usual lately. Normally I wouldn't mind the peace and quiet, but… considering what happened, well, you know…." He finished lamely. These types of conversations were most certainly not his strong suit.
"We just want to make sure you're doing okay." Karin finished the thought for him with sincerity. "Remember that we're always here if you need anything; that's what teams are for."
"I'll be alright," Sasuke said in an even tone that didn't tell them anything. "And I'll be even better once we get Danzo. That's all I really care about right now." Similar to Suigetsu, he wasn't one for heartfelt conversation either.
'No wonder blondie and he used to be such close friends.' Suigetsu thought dryly. 'I thought I was obsessive, but those two take it to a completely different level that I've only ever seen from Orochimaru.'
A knock came at the door. They all looked towards it but didn't make a move to answer. Seconds later, it revealed the same ANBU team that had escorted them earlier.
"Finally!" Suigetsu exclaimed to no one in particular. "We've been cooped up here for a couple of hours now with nothing to do; I was starting to get antsy."
"What now?" Sasuke asked irritably. "Are we finally going to get somewhere?" He agreed with the Hozuki to some extent; they needed to start getting things in motion.
"The Hokage requests the presence of you all. Please come with us."
The trio exchanged a glance. Karin didn't seem to have anything to report concerning Naruto's chakra, and while that didn't tell them much, at least that meant Tsunade hadn't strangled him to death yet. That was about all they could hope for at this stage. What other choice did they really have?
They nodded in unison.
Time to begin the next phase.
Rounding a hallway inside of the tower and they could already hear it.
Yelling, and a lot of it. And to everyone's surprise, even the Black Ops, it wasn't just the Hokage that loudly let her thoughts be known.
"Can you just listen to me for one second?!" They could hear Naruto's muffled voice through the wall; the door to the office was already in sight. "I can barely get a word in when you're like this!"
"With the stunts you've pulled, you're lucky I'm letting you speak at all, you idiot! Any other Kage would have locked you behind bars a long time ago!" Saying she sounded pissed was putting it lightly. "Do you have any idea of the damage control that we've had to do because of your book?!"
"If you'll just listen to me, I can explain why I-"
A loud crash inside the room interrupted the blond's protests; the ANBU reacted to the sound and were in front of the door in seconds, with Team Hebi waiting behind them.
Tiger stepped forward, hesitated, then finally knocked on the door but didn't open it. "L-Lady Hokage, is everything all right?" He asked nervously.
"Everything is fine." She answered through the door in an eerily calm tone. "What is it?"
"We've brought Sasuke Uchiha and the rest of his team, per your request."
"Bring them in, please."
Tiger and his unit stepped aside and ushered the trio into the room. By the looks of it, they had no plans on joining them inside.
And who would blame them?
"Please enter." Tiger instructed.
Sasuke, not one to waste time, quickly stepped forward. He opened the door and walked through without a second thought. Suigetsu and Karin followed directly behind him, albeit much more reluctantly due to the fear Tsunade's legendary temper instilled in them. The door clicked softly behind them.
Immediately upon entering, they could discern the source of the loud noise from just a moment ago. The Hokage's desk was split entirely down the middle with her standing in front of it; documents and other papers were strewn about the office. Instead of beating Naruto half to death, it appeared she took her pent-up anger out on the furniture.
Naruto, seemingly unharmed, stood on the opposite side of the room with his arms angrily crossed at his chest.
Tsunade, forehead vein pulsing in anger, looked all four of them up and down. "So… the rest of the anarchists are here. You four are unbelievable, aren't you? I should have the four of you thrown in Hozuki Castle for what you've done!"
"I already told you they had nothing to do with what I wrote; the timeline doesn't add up!" The blond exclaimed. "I finished writing that book right after I came back from the mission to rescue Gaara!"
"It's pretty damn convenient that they happened to be here when that manifesto of yours was released. Are you really trying to tell me you didn't plan for this to happen?" She was done giving Minato's son the benefit of the doubt; it has made her look the fool far too many times for her liking. "From my view, you planned to use the chaos it caused to your advantage and do what you wanted without me or anyone else knowing."
Naruto winced at the accusations. He could hear the hurt in her voice, and he hated that. "I'm not going to deny anything. That's exactly what I planned to do, but the original plan was to do it alone."
"Naruto… why?" Tsunade now seemed more disappointed than angry. "Jiraiya taught you better than this… you should know better than anyone that what you've done is unacceptable."
"I already told you I will always do what I think is right. What I'm doing is for the Leaf Village." Naruto refused to waver. "That's why we need your help with Danzo."
"And him!" Tsunade pointed at the Last Uchiha. "I'm supposed to go ahead and detain Danzo based on the word of a rogue Shinobi?! Do you not understand how ridiculous that sounds?!"
"What's more ridiculous is that Danzo is not already locked away in a cage." Naruto retorted heatedly. "I would have thought you would want him gone more than anyone!"
The Hokage sighed. "I have wanted to oust Danzo far longer than you, but I need concrete evidence against him. Though my authority as Hokage may seem absolute, that isn't the case. I cannot do whatever I want and expect to stay in good standing with the Feudal Lord, Jonin Council, and the villagers. A great leader needs equally great backing from the people to effectively fulfill their role. The Leaf will not suffer the same fate as the Blood Mist Village."
"We will get you all the proof that you need." Sasuke cut in as all eyes went to him. "For now, you should know that everything that Naruto told you about Danzo and the elder's connection to the Uchiha massacre is true. They orchestrated the whole thing and used my brother as a pawn to carry out his plan against our clan. I heard this all from the dying breath of Itachi Uchiha himself right before he took his own life. There was no reason for him to lie to me."
Tsunade's arms that were just tightly crossed at her chest fell limply to her sides. Hearing it from the mouth of Naruto was one thing, but to see the pain and fury in Sasuke's eyes as he spoke was an entirely different beast.
'I wonder if Naruto's influence is why Sasuke is willing to take this route to get his revenge…' Tsunade thought. She looked at Sasuke, then to Naruto, and finally settled her eyes back on Sasuke. The feeling of a massive migraine started to form in the back of her head. 'Sarutobi-Sensei… why did you have to go off and die, leaving me with this mess?' She couldn't help the morbid thoughts from crossing her mind.
"I told you, Granny, he needs to be taken down." Naruto continued. "Detain Danzo; put him and the other two elders on trial for treason against the village, and we will bury them. This will take all the heat from the villagers off you and direct it completely at them!"
Tsunade paused, her eyes lighting up in realization. "That was your plan all along, wasn't it?" She almost couldn't believe it. "You used your book to air the Leaf's dirty laundry and gain the trust of the village at your back. Then, under the ensuing chaos, you want to use that trust and redirect all of their anger and paranoia at Danzo, Koharu, and Homura."
"I call it Chaos Theory, and the best part is that I'm not being dishonest." Naruto quipped. "They made their bed, and we're going to make damn sure they're the ones to lie in it."
"And if I refuse?" Tsunade, The Fifth Hokage, stood her ground. "What exactly is stopping me from shutting this whole operation down and throwing you four in Hozuki Castle?"
"G-Granny, what are you-" Naruto blinked, eyes wide in shock. "I don't understand…."
"Naruto, if I continue to acquiesce to your insane requests, then you will continue to do them no matter what I say." She rested her head in her hand and sighed. "I have to draw a line in the sand somewhere, don't I?"
"Yeah, but this is the wrong time to do it! We can't let Danzo get away with everything he's done, and you know it!" Naruto pleaded. "Give me one last chance, and I promise you won't regret it! Please!"
"Answer this first." Naruto swiftly cut her off. "If Jiraiya-Sensei came to you and presented this same exact plan, what would you do?"
"I-I… that's not the same-" Tsunade trailed off.
"One more chance, that's all I ask," Naruto repeated. "Give me that, and then you and Sensei can decide what to do with me when he comes back from his mission. I swear I will accept any and all punishments you decide on."
The Hokage balled her fists so tight that her knuckles turned white. She wanted to launch the Uzumaki into the atmosphere with the strongest uppercut she could muster but restrained herself as best she could. Much to her annoyance, Naruto posed a question she had been asking herself during their entire conversation.
What would Jiraiya do?
Knowing Jiraiya as well as she did, Tsunade was keenly aware of the integrity he possessed, along with his unyielding love and loyalty to the Leaf Village. Ultimately, his decision would hinge on whichever route would benefit the Leaf more.
"Heh." She chuckled for the first time today. In a roundabout way, her decision was made.
Team Hebi exchanged an unsure glance amongst themselves. Was laughter a good or bad thing in this situation? They didn't know, but their questions were about to be answered.
Tsunade held up a single finger. "Fine, ya damned brat. I will give you one last chance, and I mean that. This is it, so you'd better make it count." Her unapologetic and harsh tone made it difficult for Team Hebi to celebrate this small victory. "Just know this, once Jiraiya gets back… you had better pray to every God you can think of."
Naruto gulped but nodded. "I-I understand."
"Oh, I don't think you do." The Senju gave him an unsettling smile, which made the hair on the back of Karin's neck stand on end; even Suigetsu looked slightly uncomfortable. "Now, before I officially sign off on this, I will need to know every shred of evidence you could possibly have against him. Danzo hasn't lasted this long by accident; we must have him dead to rights."
"Fine, not a problem." Naruto wasn't ready to take a breath of relief quite yet. That would come once this was all over. "This is what we have so far…."
"I can't believe that worked." Suigetsu breathed out a sigh of relief. "I really thought we were screwed for a second there with that angry broad…."
"Granny Tsunade is terrifying, but she's also one of the most reasonable people you'll meet," Naruto explained. "Once we told her all of the evidence we had, there was no way she would turn us away."
Naruto suppresses a frown. 'This is probably the last time I'll ever get away with something like this.' He thought to himself. 'Which is why we have to make it count!'
Team Hebi had left the Hokage Tower after a lengthy conversation with Tsaunde; now, they found themselves walking through town with the ANBU unit watching them closely from the shadows.
"I don't know…." Karin couldn't help but giggle at the blond's confidence. "It didn't seem like such a sure thing when we were standing in that office. I think she had you on the ropes."
"I do my best work with my back against the wall." Naruto quipped back. "And with the ANBU on their way to arrest him, Danzo will be the one that'll find himself backed into a corner."
"I can't imagine he will just sit around and do nothing." Sasuke countered. "You should know better than most that when you have a wild animal backed into a corner, they will do anything to survive."
"There isn't much we can do until trial," Naruto said reluctantly. He agreed with Sasuke, but they gave their word to Tsunade that they would lay low for the time being. "We just gotta stay vigilant and trust the ANBU to keep Danzo's goons away from us."
"What about this Sai person?" Karin asked. "He's a major piece in all of this, isn't he? When do you think you'll hear from him about his decision?"
"Who knows? If his answer is no, I doubt I'll hear from him. If yes, probably in the next couple of days… that really depends on him."
"That's if he hasn't already reported back to Danzo and screwed us." The bitterness in Sasuke's voice was impossible to miss. "If you had just listened to me, Naruto, there would be nothing to wait for."
Naruto, Suigetsu, and Karin stayed silent and shared a look. There was no point in dredging that mess back up. The decision was already made, and further discussion on the matter would result in unnecessary arguing. They were at a critical juncture that needed total cohesion within the team.
"So this is your place, blondie?" Suigetsu cut through the tension as he looked up at the large building they were approaching.
"My apartment is on the top floor, but yeah, this is it," Naruto answered with a shrug of the shoulders. "Nothing special, but it gets the job done."
Suigetsu scratched his head. "Ya know, being a popular author and all, I woulda thought you'd have something a little… nicer?" He tried to tone down his rudeness a bit, but he couldn't think of a more polite way to verbalize his thoughts. "No offense, of course."
"None was taken, heh." Naruto smiled and rubbed the back of his head sheepishly. "I have the money to get a new place if I wanted, but it's just me that lives here. I don't need much; anything bigger would just be empty space. I splurged a bit and bought a nice bed, though."
"Yeah, guess so." Suigetsu conceded.
Naruto nodded to them. "I'm gonna head inside; I think the ANBU are going to escort you guys the rest of the way. I'll swing by the inn tomorrow and update on anything I find out."
Suigetsu and Karin silently nodded, though Sasuke had something he needed to say.
"Be careful. I've got a bad feeling that he will try something desperate."
"Yeah, I know; I will, Sasuke. See ya tomorrow."
Naruto put his key in the slot and twisted it. Once he heard the soft click of the lock mechanism, he turned the knob and pushed his front door open. One step into his bedroom, he could already feel something was off. The teen stood halfway in the doorway and peered down the hall of his unlit apartment with squinted eyes that scanned the room for any hint of movement. He involuntarily gulped and flipped the light switch next to his door.
The light revealed what he thought it would.
There were no signs of an intrusion. Nothing was damaged, not a single item out of place; everything was exactly how he left it, and yet that didn't dissuade the uncomfortable feeling he had deep within his gut.
Regardless, he felt he needed to make sure that was the case. "Hello?" He called out into the empty space. "Anyone there?" His voice echoed back to him, and he instinctively reached for a kunai in his hip pouch.
'Maybe it's just nerves?' That was his first thought. This whole mess with Danzo had him on edge; maybe it was starting to get to him? Yeah, that was it. He was tired and needed to relax in his bed for the first time in what felt like an eternity. 'If someone was here, Karin would have sensed their chakra, right?'
Naruto nodded to himself, somewhat reassured, kicked off his sandals, and fully stepped into his bedroom. He then quickly closed the door behind him and relocked it. He breathed a sigh of relief and walked past his bed and into the kitchen.
"A quick snack, and then a well-deserved nap." The blond mumbled to himself, absent-mindedly setting his kunai down on the table. "Haven't had instant ramen in a while… yeah, that'd really hit the spot right now." A quick rummage through the cabinets later, and he had his favorite flavor of instant ramen open on the kitchen table.
He filled his kettle with water for the delectable noodles but paused in front of his stovetop. A grin formed on his face. "Nah!" A single-handed Ram Seal was all it took for him to conjure up a basic Fire Jutsu. It wasn't an element he had an affinity for, but he didn't need much. "This is much faster." His superheated palm heated the bottom of the kettle faster than any stovetop burner possibly could. The water was heated to a boiling point in seconds and poured into the styrofoam cup. "Only three minutes, and then it's done." That short wait for his ramen was still one of his most hated things.
Naruto reached for his kunai to slip it back into his pouch; however, it fell out of his fingers and clattered against the floor with a loud 'thud.' He rolled his eyes in annoyance at the minor inconvenience and begrudgingly bent over to retrieve it from underneath one of the chairs.
His body suddenly stopped moving when something at the top of his peripheral vision caught his attention. He lost his grip on the steel blade as it once again rattled against the kitchen floor. His eyes went wide with shock as fear ripped through his body.
There were at least a dozen paper bombs strapped to the underside of his kitchen table.
His fear compounded exponentially while he watched with his own eyes as the fuses for the bombs were triggered.
That sound wasn't just coming from underneath the table. Naruto could hear the hisses of his impending doom from all directions, which could only mean one thing…
'The whole damn apartment is rigged!'
Author's Note: I said there would be chaos, and chaos there is.
Pieces are moving into their proper places, but the final sequence of moves has yet to take place. Naruto's actions have effectively put a giant target on his back. Was this a random act of violence, or is there something far more sinister at play?
Find out next time in Chapter 47: An Eye for an Eye...
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Nithi velu - Naruto is still unaware that his mother was the Nine-Tails Jinchuriki before him, so it's safe to say we're not done exploring Minato and Kushina in this fic.
Ky111 - Naruto is definitely toeing the grey line with his recent actions. Though you can see that he wants nothing to do with Danzo and rejects any comparisons between them. However, what he thinks of himself and what others see in him may be entirely different. He could be just like Danzo and still rationalize to himself that they are totally different. Only time will really tell.
Lilthug - Raising the age of Shinobi is a good thought. Hashirama wanted to get rid of the need for children to fight and die in conflicts, after all. Unfortunately, that alonme doesn't solve the issues Naruto sees in world.
Phazer12 - I gotta say, that was a pretty damn good prediction from the last chapter. What did you think of this one? Let me know!
Demonslayerlover - Saying my writing made you feel enough to do that is one of the best compliments I've ever received. Thank you!
TrenchcoatMan - Jiraiya was too fast and didn't let Deidara get off his C4. Sage Mode was too much for the bomber to keep up with.
Jiraiya suspects that not all is what it appears with Madara Uchiha. Right now, he thinks Madara is either injured or not at full power because of what Neji said about what he saw. Neji can't see exact details of Madara with his Byakugan, he is just able to see the injuries.
Arya the Killer - Thank you so much! I hope I can make you stay hooked with future chapters!
Iron Spider Fan - Naruto's issue is with the Shinobi System, so removing the Hidden Villages would fall in line with that belief. However, the world's economy and way of life relies too heavily on Shinobi as of right now. Getting rid of them would shock the system in a major way.
Kanishkpincha - Very interesting insight. You'll have to keep reading just to see how right/wrong you are. Thanks for the review!