I won't give a big opening note for this, instead saving it for the end. I only ask – possibly even plead – that you all give this a chance before you immediately leave in annoyance or frustration. I understand that this pairing has been done to death, but I'm doing it anyway.

I'll explain more in the ending notes.

Disclaimer: The source material used in this FanFiction do not belong to me. This story is a nonprofit creation solely used for entertainment purposes.

Because I Love You

Chapter 1: Acknowledgment

Tired breaths escaped him as he trudged forward, hoping to return to the village and see if everyone had been revived. His fellow Uzumaki had given up his life to atone for what he had done, and the woman who had stood beside him had assured him that she wouldn't be his enemy anymore. It was still rather shocking, seeing Nagato's once red hair bleed away to pale white while his already withered skin shrunk in on itself even more.

He had to stop moving, leaning against a tree as he tried to catch his breath. The fight with Yahiko's body, the other five Paths of Pain, and nearly losing himself to the Kyuubi had exhausted him more than anything had ever done before. Unable to stay standing, he leaned his back against the tree, sliding down slowly so that he sat on the ground.

"Rest, sweetheart," a soothing voice echoed in his mind, making him smile through his exhaustion. "You've more than earned it."

Unaware of the voice, a small white and blue slug crawled onto Naruto's shoulder. "I've confirmed that man's words with my copies back in the village," Katsuyu, Tsunade's personal Slug Summon, spoke to him. "Those who were killed by Pein have been restored, Naruto-san. You don't need to worry anymore."

He chuckled weakly, leaning his head back against the tree and closing his eyes. "Thank goodness…" he sighed out. "Do you think you could have one of your copies have somebody come to get me? I'm too exhausted to move."

"Of course," she assured him. "Just rest and I'll inform someone."

"Will do," he replied softly, letting himself ease into sleep.

When his eyes opened again, he found himself in an open field that was lit by an orange sunset, the solar rays lighting up a cozy home that resided in the center of the field. With a smile, he made his way to the home and reached up to knock.

Before his knuckles could even touch the door, it opened and a beautiful redheaded woman with violet eyes presented herself. Smiling gently at him, she stepped aside and silently invited him in, which he accepted with a grateful nod. Once inside, she closed the door before turning around and pulling him into a loving embrace.

"You've fought so hard, dear," she praised, speaking softly with a voice full of love. "And I'm so proud of the man you've become."

Hugging her back, he gave a short chuckle and replied, "Thanks, mom."

It was such a surprise to Naruto to meet, not only his father, but his mother when he nearly gave into his rage. His fingers had just grabbed a corner of the seal holding the Kyuubi at bay, but Minato had appeared out of nowhere and pulled him away while golden chains sprung out from the floor and tied down the Bijuu; chains that had been created by Kushina. The fox had been furious at their appearance, but they spared the beast no time and transported their son to a quieter part of the seal.

Once alone, they had introduced themselves as his parents, apologizing all the while for the life he had endured as an orphaned Jinchūriki. He had wanted to punch Minato for what he had done, but instead he broke down and let out years of pent up frustrations and sadness. His parents were there to comfort him, and Naruto was able to experience true parental love for the first time since he was born.

Minato, unfortunately, didn't have the chakra capacity to stay for long; only having enough to restore the seal to its original strength before he faded away. Before he left, he assured his son that he was proud of him, that he believed in him, and that he loved him. It was a bittersweet reunion for the two men.

Taking the limited time available with her son, Kushina quickly informed Naruto that she wasn't going anywhere and helped him reign in the Kyuubi's chakra while he gathered the energy needed for his Sage Mode.

The rest was history. He initiated the final round between himself and Pein, beating the final puppet that Nagato had been using before he confronted his fellow Uzumaki. After a clash of beliefs – beliefs that had been forged under their tutelage of Jiraiya the Toad Sage – Naruto had finally convinced Nagato that he had lost sight of Jiraiya's real teachings and dreams for the future; becoming a villain instead of the hero Jiraiya wished for him to be.

Now, Naruto was back inside of the representation of his seal, arriving in a personal area that Kushina had made. Sitting at the table in the envisioned home, he waited for her to sit down before he started asking questions.

"So…why didn't you fade away like dad did?" he asked after a slight pause. "Did you put in more than he did?"

She smiled softly at him, seeing the anxiety in her son's eyes. "Relax, sweetheart. I'm not going anywhere; promise. My chakra has a steady supply to keep drawing from."

"What does that mean?"

"What do you know about the seal placed on you, Naruto; besides how it holds back the fox?" she asked back, making him think.

"Well…there's more to it than I first thought, obviously; considering how you and dad showed up to stop me from freeing the fox."

Nodding, she stood up and swiped her arm, distorting the area around them and changing it to a location familiar to them both; the Academy classroom. On the board behind her was an illustration of Naruto's seal, with some extra notes displayed for him to see.

"The seal used was in fact two seals that linked together to form a singular one," Kushina explained, pointing to how the top and bottom curves that surrounded the spiral marking were the same; just flipped. "These seals are known as Four-Symbol Seals, Naruto. They're usually meant for sealing something or someone into an object; or in your case, a person. However, alone they can only hold so much, which is why two of them were needed, along with something to link them both together."

Naruto studied the seal, trying to keep up with his mother's explanation. "Is it…the spiral?"

She smiled at him. "Yes, the spiral marking is the bridge that is connecting the seals. This causes them to fuse into the Eight Trigrams Seal; one of the highest caliber seals of the Uzumaki Clan."

"Wait, we had a clan?" he asked in shock.

"Focus, dear. One subject at a time, okay?" she urged, earning a nod from him. "Now, Minato-kun wasn't an Uzumaki, but he definitely had the talent of one when it came to fūinjutsu. I helped him get to where he was, but he still had plenty of skill on his own."

"What does that have to do with how you're here?"

"Your father and I deposited a portion of our chakra into the Eight Trigrams Seal, leaving it there along with certain conditions. In Minato's case, it was if you nearly lost yourself to the temptations of the Kyuubi where as I was meant to show up when you tried to fully control its power."

"But…you showed up early," he noted, earning a smile from her. "What changed?"

"My gamble," she answered. "Just before your father sealed the fox and our chakra within you, I made a slight change to the makeup of the seal with the hope that I would be able to be with you longer than I was originally meant to."

"What would've happened if the gamble failed?" he asked. "Would something go wrong with the seal?"

"No, this gamble was actually low in terms of risk. If it failed, my chakra would've behaved normally; appearing when it was meant to. Thanks to the success, my infused chakra keeps getting replenished by the fox's," she informed him, smiling proudly. "I like to think it was one of rare moments of brilliance, ttebane."

He couldn't help but chuckle at the verbal tic, making her blush in embarrassment. "I'm glad that you're here to stay then, ttebayo," he replied, purposely throwing out his own tic and making her smile return. "So, how does the replenishing work?"

"The seal alone is meant to take the fox's chakra and slowly siphon it into your own after purifying it of the differences. I piggybacked off that, sending a small portion of that siphoning to my own chakra so that it stayed alive in a sense. Does that make sense?"

"Sorta… It sounds like you poked a hole in the pipe that was taking some of the Kyuubi's chakra, and are taking from whatever comes out."

She looked amused at the simplified analogy of her explanation. "More or less," she confirmed, changing the scenery back to the inside of the small home. "So, since our chakra has made contact, I'm now able to freely interact with you and offer you some of my chakra; so long as we make sure that I'm left with enough to keep me from fading away."

He nodded in understanding. "Would it be possible to move your chakra into another source; so that you could have your own body?"

"Let's not go there yet, dear. It borders on artificial life, and that's a very touchy subject. For now, take some time to rest. You've been through a rough fight and I know you're still exhausted."

He smiled at her concern, happy to finally experience a mother's care. Tsunade tried to give that to him on occasion; which he greatly appreciated since they had bonded deeply over the years. It just wasn't the same as actual motherly care, though.

Kushina led him to a small couch in the home, letting him lay down on it with his head in her lap. She gently ran her fingers through his spiky hair as he drifted off, a gentle smile on her face as she spent time with her precious child.

I used to always cry and give up…

Blue eyes blinked at the voice as he stood in an endless void, alone in the darkness.

I made many wrong turns…

The voice was familiar to him, but he couldn't place it.

But you… You helped me find the right path…

A distant light was seen, no bigger than a star that was millions of miles away. With a small frown, he started to head for it.

I always chased after you…

He picked up the pace from walking to a jog, trying to recall the owner of the voice.

I wanted to catch up to you…

Jogging turned to running, desperation creeping into his heart.

I wanted to walk beside you all the time…

He was sprinting now, going full speed to reach the growing light.

I just wanted to be with you…

The light's color changed from bright white to pale lavender with dark blue edges.

You changed me! Your smile is what saved me!

"I know that voice," he growled to himself. "Why can't I remember?"

That is why I'm not afraid to die protecting you!

He finally broke through the light, stumbling and falling onto destroyed ground before looking up. His eyes went wide in horror, seeing the owner of the voice standing before him with a gentle smile as a sharpened, black rod was stabbing out from behind her.


As he watched her speak, he saw a small line of blood leaving her lips, but she showed no pain or anguish; only pure, genuine affection that was aimed directly at him.

I love you…

His heart clenched as he saw a shadowed figure with menacing ringed eyes behind her, carrying the rod that was piercing her. The shadows slowly receded, showing the emotionless gaze of Pein as the name of the young woman finally came back to him.

"HINATA!" he cried, jolting awake with cold sweat rolling down his neck. His eyes were wide and trembling, looking around frantically in search of the woman in question but seeing no one.

"Naruto," a voice spoke up, making him jump in shock and quickly turn around to see that it was Kakashi, who was standing on a branch of the tree he had been resting against. "Easy now," he appeased, dropping to the ground with his hands up. "It's me, Kakashi. You recognize me?"

Slowly getting his breathing back under control, Naruto swallowed the lump in his throat and nodded. "Y-Yeah, I do, sensei. I was just…having a nightmare."

"Can't really call it that given that it's still light out," the Jonin tried joking, hoping to lighten the mood. To his dismay, it didn't work. "I'm here to help you back to the village. You good to go?"

Naruto took a few more breaths before he replied, "Give me another minute…"

"Sure thing." Kakashi looked over his student, seeing how worn out he looked both physically and emotionally. 'He's been through a lot, for sure. That dream of his almost set him over the edge. What could he have seen?'

Back with Naruto, he heard his mother call out, "Are you alright, Naruto?"

'I can't believe I almost forgot what she said,' he answered, but he seemed lost in his own thoughts. 'I couldn't even remember her name until I saw her die again, dammit!'

"Calm down, sweetheart. Just breathe, calm your nerves." She waited for him to heed her advice, standing by for when he was ready. "Now, remember what happened between you and Nagato; how he revived those he killed?"

It didn't hit him right away, but when it did he gasped silently as hope started to rise. 'She could still be alive!'

"Not COULD, Naruto-kun; IS alive. She was the last person Pein killed before he revived everyone, right? That means she should've been revived first."

He didn't bother fighting the relieved smile that spread across his lips. "Thank goodness," he whispered to himself.

"Hmm? You ready?" Kakashi asked, not hearing what Naruto had said.

"Oh, yeah," Naruto replied, giving his sensei a nod. "I'm ready."

"Glad to hear it. Now, I'll help you get back since I'm sure you're still pretty exhausted. So, just lean on me and I'll get us home."

The blonde Uzumaki rested his arm across Kakashi's shoulders as the man helped his student stay standing. "Thanks for this, sensei…"

"Nonsense, Naruto. This is the very least I could do after what you've done." He gave the Uzumaki his signature eye-smile and finished, "You did good."

He chuckled bashfully at that, not used to praise.

It was a slow walk back, but Kakashi felt that it was just the right pace. During the walk, he took time to reflect on his student's growth and was both proud and saddened about how far Naruto had come.

He was proud of the man Naruto had become; strong, determined, loyal, unflinching against danger, and willing to give everything for those he loved.

However, he was saddened that he had such little to offer towards that outcome. From what he could remember, Kakashi had only taught Naruto a handful of things: teamwork, how to use chakra to climb trees, and how to better understand Wind Style. There was so much he could've taught him, but he didn't and Jiraiya had taken over that responsibility.

The man knew he was no longer Naruto's teacher officially once he had signed the Toad Contract from Jiraiya. That right there had basically declared to the world that the blonde was then apprenticed to the Toad Sage; a title now given to Naruto with Jiraiya's death and his successful understanding of senjutsu.

'In the end, I didn't teach you much,' he mused before he and his passenger heard distant cheering getting louder, spotting almost the entire populace of the Hidden Leaf waiting for their hero's return at the main gates. He smiled behind his mask as he helped Naruto stand on his own and some villagers approached. 'But…at least I was able to be a part of your story, Naruto…'

Naruto was stunned at the sight before him, unable to comprehend how the villagers were so happy to see him after everything that had happened.

"Glad you made it back okay!" one villager called out.

"We knew you could do it!" another cried happily.

Any further comments bled into one another, getting mixed up and unclear; however, the message was clear as glass. He had returned a hero, and they were both happy and grateful for it.

He had finally been acknowledged by his home.

Kakashi wisely moved aside as the villagers crowded around their hero, bombarding him with excited questions and well wishes as he awkwardly tried to keep them out of his personal space. His smile remained as he witnessed it, happy for Naruto and how his dream of being recognized had finally come true. 'You did well…'

Naruto tried to keep up with the questions, not used to the attention and awkwardly smiling at the admiration small children had in their eyes. He would've kept trying, but he caught a familiar glimpse of pale lavender and he locked eyes with the source.

It was Hinata, perfectly fine and giving her own tearful smile at his return. Flashes of what she had done and his nightmare crossed his mind in short bursts, urging him to push through the crowd and make his way over to her. When the distance was clear enough, he closed it quickly and engulfed the suddenly stunned woman in a fierce hug as tears fell from his eyes.

"I was… I was so worried," he choked out, unable to cope with his emotional overflow. "I thought that…that you were…"

She knew he couldn't finish; so she hugged him back and clutched the back of his jacket as her own tears fell. "I know… I was worried about you too, Naruto-kun…" She let go of him and gently pressed against his chest, placing them arm's length apart so that she can reach up and cup his cheek. She smiled through her tears and finished, "I'm so glad you made it back…"

He choked out a laugh before pulling her back into another hug; one that she readily accepted. This was only the second time he had seen someone close to him nearly die; the first being Sasuke when the two of them faced Haku many years ago. This time, though, was harder for him to deal with because of those four final words she had said before she risked her life.

Those words… They were words he longed to hear, and they had come from someone he least expected to say them. Hundreds of thoughts went through his mind, but the biggest was a wonderment of how long she had felt that way for him.

"When you have more time," he heard his mother comment, "take a moment to speak with her privately. Ask her all the questions you have on your mind and search your own feelings. I was just as lost as you were when I was falling in love with Minato-kun."

Mentally nodding at her advice, he pulled away from the Hyuuga heiress and gave her a small grin before he turned to find a medic. He had someone he needed to see.

The sight of Tsunade just…laying there was hard on Naruto. He almost expected her to wake up, complain about a headache, and then demand a dish of sake. He knelt by her bedside, gently grabbing her hand.

"I'm so sorry," he whispered. "I wish I had come sooner…"

Behind him, Shizune watched on sadly as her master was unresponsive to Naruto's apologies. Stepping over to him, she placed a gentle hand on his shoulder and pulled him away. "She'll be fine, Naruto. I'll put all of my attention on her recovery."

He turned to her and saw her determination, and the two shared a smile. "Thanks, Shizune-nee…"

"No need for that. She's one of my precious people, and like you, I don't plan to let those people down." She patted his cheek, smiling softer before hugging him. "We can never thank you enough for saving us, Naruto… I never thought I'd come back when Pein killed me, but I wound up waking up a few hours ago. I know that you had something to do with that."

"Yeah… I was able to talk some sense into him and he revived everyone at the cost of his life. I feel a little bad for being happy someone else died, but I can't help it when people I could've lost came back in the end."

"I understand what you're trying to say. It's not easy to be happy for someone else's sacrifice; even if that person had wronged you. It further shows how good you are, Naruto-kun."

He turned slightly bashful at the compliment before he left Shizune to her duties, running into a man who looked like an older Shikamaru. "You're…Shikaku, right? The Nara Leader?"

He chuckled. "Got it in one, Naruto." His expression then turned serious as he continued, "I need you to tell me everything that happened between you and Pein. We need to report it for records."

Frowning, Naruto nodded and followed the Jonin Commander to relay what he'd seen, done, and felt during his epic clash of Sage vs "God".

"And that's it," Naruto finished, sitting in the records room of the Hokage Tower. "Nagato revived the villagers, died doing it, and then had his and Yahiko's bodies taken by Konan back to the Hidden Rain."

"And you let her do so…?"

"He may have been responsible for all of this, but in the end, he was a sibling student who lost his way. I wanted to respect his atonement, y'know."

"And what of Konan? Will she seek vengeance?" Shikaku pressed.

"No," Naruto replied in a heartbeat, shaking his head. "She said she wasn't going back to the Akatsuki and that they would no longer be welcome in the Hidden Rain."

"How can you be sure?"

The blonde answered by unsealing the paper bouquet that Konan had given to him, handing it to his superior officer. "I double-checked it for any seals and such; but there was nothing there. She asked me to place it as a memorial to Jiraiya-sensei."

The Jonin Commander nodded with a small hum, handing the flowers back to Naruto. "I still have some doubts, but my son has always trusted your judgment and I can see why. I won't have anyone go looking for her if you really believe she's no longer a threat."

"She might be an ally if we send her a message," Naruto suggested. "I could write to her and have a toad deliver it."

"Not a bad proposal; but save that for when we've got some sort of management again."

"Management?" Naruto repeated.

"He's talking about how Tsunade is in a coma," Kushina clarified.

"We can't be without a leader for extended periods of time, Naruto," Shikaku informed. "No doubt there will be some sort of vote for a temporary leader until Tsunade-sama either wakes up…or passes."

"She's not going to die," Naruto growled out.

"I'm not saying I want her to," the man placated. "However, we still need to prepare for the worst. It's like that saying."

"Yeah, I've heard it," the Uzumaki cut off testily. "Hope for the best, prepare for the worst." He took a moment to reign in his anger before he asked, "Who do you think will become the temporary Hokage?"

"Honestly? I'd choose Kakashi since he's got the skill and the experience. However, there's someone else who could take it; someone with lots of political backing."

"Danzo," Naruto heard Kushina spit out.

"You can't mean-!" Naruto tried to say, but a grim nod cut him short.

"Yeah… He may swipe the title away and do whatever he can to keep it; even if Tsunade-sama wakes up."

"Like hell, he will! There's no way I'm letting him take that title; temporary or not!"

"And how do you propose to stop him from doing so?" Shikaku challenged with a frown only to get a mischievous grin from the orange-loving blonde.

"I've got something ready to kill his chances. Just give me time to gather a few things."

The man rumored to outmaneuver any general found himself not wanting to know what Naruto's plan was. He was just going to sit back and wait for the fireworks.

It was rather tense in the Council Chambers as the Daimyo of Fire Country sat before the Hidden Leaf officials, questioning them about recent events based on messages he had received mere days ago.

"We plan on continuing with other countries to counter the threat posed by Akatsuki," Homura assured the man, making his intentions on the matter at hand clear. "We're one of the the remaining village with a Jinchūriki; so, it isn't difficult to assume that they will target us again."

One of the Daimyo's aide's replied, "After what's happened to the village, the Capital will do anything it can into getting the village rebuilt; but first, we need to set up a considerable amount of budget and then consider the strain on the other settlements in the country as well."

Danzo, who had silently listened to the report and talk of rebuilding, raised his head and showed his uncovered eye, which gave a small gleam of planning. "There are other important issues to be discussed, such as who the next Hokage will be, Daimyo-sama."

The others in the room remained silent for a moment while Shikaku frowned to himself. 'I didn't think he'd be this eager to get this talk started.'

The Daimyo sighed at the inquiry, showing his reluctance on the topic. "Couldn't we just wait for Tsunade to awaken? I am sure the matter will fix itself eventually."

Koharu shook her head in response and voiced her opinion, "My lord, Tsunade is still in a coma. We can't decide on a plan for the village, and we are still unsure if she will wake up. Besides, the village's destruction was partially her fault."

The Nara's frown deepened at the shift in blame. "That isn't a fair judgment, Koharu-sama. It's not as if Tsunade-sama knew that Pein was coming to the Leaf when he did."

The elderly woman said nothing in response, merely giving off a dismissive huff.

The Fire Lord sighed again as he leaned back into his seat, fanning himself. "I'd like to choose Jiraiya since I rather like the man. It's still difficult to accept that he's gone now…"

Seeing Danzo was about to speak, Shikaku intervened, "Daimyo-sama, I nominate Kakashi Hatake."

The man seemed interested at the nomination. "Oho? The son of the White Fang, was it? Why not?" Turning to his aides and advisors, he asked, "What do all of you think?"

Murmurs and whispers passed between them as they debated about the situation.

"He's well known, strong, and respected that's true; but he's very young," one commented.

"Minato-sama was even younger when he became the Fourth Hokage," another argued.

A councilman then asked Shikaku, "Who was it that taught Kakashi-san?"

Shikaku replied in a calm demeanor, "The Fourth Hokage." Mentally, he was sighing in relief since it looked like things were swinging in his favor. 'Hopefully, we won't need you to intervene, Naruto.'

The Fire Daimyo seemed impressed with the Copy Ninja's resume. "Ah, Kakashi who was taught by the Fourth Hokage, who was taught by Jiraiya, who was taught by Hiruzen Sarutobi… Yes, I think that is a fine selection!"

"The Third Hokage's teachings have as good as destroyed the village!" Danzo cut in, showing visible disapproval as he frowned. "The leader of Akatsuki, Pein, was once Jiraiya's pupil!"

The outburst crashed into the Daimyo and his council, making Shikaku bite back a curse since it looked like the old warhawk would gain some headway.

To his relief, the doors to the chamber burst open and a familiar blonde stormed into the room. "The Third Hokage was never wrong in his teachings, Danzo."

The entrance had succeeded in gathering the attention of everyone in the Council Chambers, with the Daimyo looking rather interested at the sight of the rumored Hero of the Leaf. 'My word, he looks like the late Fourth…'

"You were responsible for this Danzo," Naruto continued, gripping a scroll tightly in his hand, "and I would be damned if you were to become Hokage. You were the one that let Pein roam free in Konoha!" His tone turned accusing as he pointed directly at the old man, "You and Hanzo the Salamander were the ones who turned Nagato of the Hidden Rain into Pein of the Rinnegan!"

Everyone seemed quiet at that, shocked at the dramatic accusation declared by the whiskered blonde. At this moment, Homura and Koharu stood up to try and get the situation back under control.

"Naruto Uzumaki, you are not permitted to enter the council room," Koharu stated with a noticeable frown. "This will be considered an act of insubordination if you do not leave immediately."

"I forgot how prudish those two were," Kushina commented dryly. "They even gave Minato-kun grief when he was Hokage…"

Thankfully for the Uzumaki, the Daimyo waved down the two elders. "I will allow him to say his piece. If I'm not mistaken, this young man was the one who put a stop to Pein and the destruction of this very village. As such, he may have better insight on the man's motives."

Shikaku had to fight a smirk as he replied, "Yes, sir. I had received Naruto-san's report on his battle with Pein just the other day, and what he relayed to me was more helpful than what other reports had to offer."

The man nodded with a pleased smile. "Then it's best that he does stay and speak." Turning to the blonde Uzumaki, the Daimyo continued, "The floor is yours, Uzumaki-san."

Naruto made sure to bow in thanks when Kushina mentally bopped him on the head. No need to disrespect the man who gave him such an opportunity; not to mention the fact that he was the leader of their country.

Turning back to Danzo, Naruto picked up where he left off. "Where did you get information about Pein being my sensei's pupil? As far as I can tell, only the Sannin and the Third Hokage knew of Jiraiya teaching a trio of orphans from the Hidden Rain."

Murmurs were heard from the others while Danzo sat silently, giving away nothing.

"You've admitted your own guilt, Danzo. You've just hinted about your involvement with the affairs of the Hidden Rain; more specifically, with Hanzo of the Salamander." Blue eyes narrowed angrily. "It was because of you that Nagato became the leader of the current Akatsuki by killing his friend, Yahiko. You thought that their movement in Rain was a threat on its own without even considering that we should not interfere in political affairs that don't even concern us."

Shikaku smirked at the allegations directed against Danzo. "He makes a solid point. After all, what happened in the Hidden Mist is another good example. We don't intervene in actions that concern internal affairs of other countries; something you continuously suggest at meetings in the Leaf Council." He regarded the elderly man, analytical eyes boring into his bandaged face. "What say you on these accusations, Danzo?"

"I ask this child: Where's your proof?" Danzo fired back, outwardly calm but inwardly fuming.

Naruto's response was ready in a heartbeat. "The citizens of Konoha that were revived is proof enough."

The others looked curious at his response while Shikaku kept his smirk and closed his eyes.

"After I defeated Pein, I confronted the one who was controlling his body; a fellow Uzumaki named Nagato. He confessed to me that originally, the Akatsuki only wanted to have peace talks with Hanzo in hopes of restoring order to the Hidden Rain. But you, Danzo, coaxed Hanzo of the Salamander to suppress the movement. Because of this, Nagato was vulnerable to manipulation; turning the original Akatsuki from a Resistance Group into a terrorist organization that went and gathered all the Jinchūriki and Bijuu that roamed."

"How are the citizens concerned with this?" Homura questioned.

"Those who are skilled enough with the Rinnegan have an ability to revive the people that have died within a certain period of time," Naruto explained, getting the Daimyo's interest. "Nagato and I were both students of Jiraiya, and he passed on his ideals for peace to us. But, Nagato's views of peace were warped by the one who manipulated him into changing Akatsuki. If I hadn't convinced him that Jiraiya's teachings weren't wrong, those who were killed during his attack would've stayed dead." He turned to the Daimyo and emphasized his points. "Friends, family, loved ones… All of them would've stayed dead if I hadn't gotten through to Nagato. I was able to sympathize with him, and he decided to use his last moments to make it up to me, to Jiraiya-sensei, and to the Hidden Leaf. It was then that he gave me the reason why he was so set on destroying the village; because Danzo aided Hanzo in putting down the peace group that was once known as Akatsuki."

The Daimyo took a few moments to consider Naruto's words, thinking over how these allegations would affect those of other nations. "Those are some rather solid points, Uzumaki-san. And the proof is, as you say, in those that have been revived. Based on that, I cannot allow Danzo to become the next Hokage. Just from a political standpoint, it might cause outrage from within the Leaf and from other nations if word of his past actions became public knowledge."

"Naruto," Kushina spoke up. "Don't forget that you need to tell the Daimyo how you should've arrived earlier."

Perking up, Naruto turned to the Daimyo and continued, "Sir, there's something else that you need to hear."

"Is it tied to this meeting?" the man asked back. "I accepted your interruption because you made such a vocal accusation and because you had better insight on Pein than we did. If what you have to say isn't related to this…" He let the statement hang.

"I promise you that it is. Before Pein showed up, I was in the realm of the Toad Summons learning from them. I made sure that people in charge knew to call me if anything was wrong; leaving behind a toad to summon me back if something happened." He frowned and continued, "The thing is, I was delayed from returning until after Pein made a crater in the center of the village, and the toad meant to summon me was killed in the time between Pein's arrival and my calling."

To prove his point, Naruto handed the man the scroll he had brought with him into the Council Chambers. The Daimyo curiously took it and rolled it open, allowing Naruto to point to a name that had been blacked out and smeared away.

"That was where a toad called Kōsuke had his name placed. According to the Elder Toads, a name only looks like that if they were killed; but, Pein couldn't have killed him since the name hasn't been restored."

"Which means," Shikaku deduced, "someone else had to have killed Kōsuke; someone who knew what his purpose was. It wouldn't make sense for Pein to kill him since he was targeting Naruto in the first place; it'd be counterproductive."

The Daimyo frowned at that. "I'll have someone investigate this matter," he declared, handing the rolled up scroll back to Naruto. "In the meantime, we still need to nominate a temporary Hokage. Shikaku-san, do you still nominate Kakashi Hatake?"

Giving a discreet glance at Naruto, who had decided to excuse himself, he had a faint smile and replied, "Actually…"

"So, Pein was defeated," Tobi, playing his Madara Uchiha persona, noted. Zetsu responded with a short nod. "And what of the Hokage nominations?"

White Zetsu answered, "We couldn't sneak in for long since the village is still on high alert."

"But," Black Zetsu continued, "based on the speculation I was able to gather, I think it might be Danzo."

Tobi's visible eye gleamed at that. "That'll be just perfect…"

"Konan is not coming back," White Zetsu added. "She's most likely returning to the Hidden Rain with Nagato and Yahiko's bodies."

Tobi remained silent for a moment contemplating his next move. "Kisame, you go after the Hachibi. I've got my own matters to attend to. Zetsu, confirm that Danzo is indeed the Hokage, and then come with me when you're done."

Thoughts of a possible meeting between the Five Kage passed through Tobi's mind. If it were to happen, it would be the perfect opportunity to either declare his war or get them to cooperate with his demand for the remaining Jinchūriki. After Sasuke had been duped by Killer Bee, he needed to make sure to take his vengeful clansmen with him to the Kage Summit. If Danzo was going to become Hokage, then it'd be another way to get Sasuke to remain loyal to Tobi.

Kisame was heard exiting the cavern they had occupied, leaving Tobi and Zetsu alone.

"What's the plan now, Tobi?" questioned Black Zetsu.

"As I said; keep tabs on the decision of the next Hokage and then get back to me. I need to find my wayward clansmen before he does something reckless again," Tobi replied before he vanished in a distortion of space-time.

Naruto stood inside of the empty Hokage Office, staring out its windows and observing the villagers hard at work. Despite what had happened, the Hidden Leaf was staying strong and banding together to rebuild the homes they had lost.

Crops could be replanted and regrown, homes could be rebuilt; but human life? That was something far more precious, and Naruto was grateful to Nagato that he had restored so many lives. Looking to the sky, he allowed a smile to form as he whispered, "I hope you've finally found the peace you dreamed of, Nagato…"

The door opened behind him, and he turned to see Kakashi walking in with his infamous eye-smile. "So…how does it feel to finally call this your office?"

Naruto looked down at that, still not believing that the Daimyo had decided to appoint him as the temporary Hokage. "I'm…not sure, sensei. Part of me is excited about it…"

"And you should be, ttebane! You've earned it in my eyes!" Kushina spoke up, beyond happy for her son.

"But…?" Kakashi pressed.

"…I'm not sure if I'm ready for it. I mean, I don't really know how to lead people. I've never even led a team. How can the Daimyo expect me to lead a village?"

Kakashi smiled behind his mask, stepping up to Naruto to put a hand on his shoulder. "Most leaders aren't ready for the position given to them, Naruto. But, good leaders know their faults and when to ask others for help. If you need anything, you can always ask your friends or other ninja to give you a hand or some advice." His eye-smile returned as he added, "You can also ask me too…Hokage-sama."

Blue eyes widened slightly at the title before a smile formed on Naruto's face. "Yeah… Thanks, sensei."

"Anytime, Naruto. Now, there are some ninja from the Hidden Cloud here to speak with whoever is in charge. You want me to let them in now?"

Taking a breath, Naruto moved around the desk and slowly sat down in the seat behind it. Nodding once, he replied, "Go ahead."

Nodding back, the Copy Ninja opened the door and escorted the three Cloud Ninja into the office, the three of them looking slightly surprised at someone so young in the Kage chair. The blonde composed herself fastest and gave Naruto a short bow. "Hokage-sama, we bring you a message from our Raikage."

Taking the scroll offered to him, Naruto opened it on his desk and started to look through it. Kakashi, who was acting as his guard, saw his blue eyes narrow the more he read. "Sasuke went after your Jinchūriki, huh? I was…hoping he'd get some sense and come back home. I guess that was just wishful thinking…"

"I still can't believe that Itachi-kun killed his entire clan and Mikoto-chan," Kushina spoke up with a frown. "There has to be something more to this. Grill those elders about it later, Naruto-kun."

Mentally nodding, he closed up the scroll and regarded his fellow blonde. "I'll be sure to attend this Kage Summit that the Raikage has convened. As for information on Sasuke, there isn't much I can give you since the last contact we had with him was months ago. All I can tell you is that he's good with Fire Style, Lightning Style, kenjutsu, and even genjutsu. I can only assume that he gained the Mangekyō Sharingan since it was confirmed that he killed Itachi Uchiha."

Samui nodded at his information. "Yes, he was seen producing black fire during his fight with Killer Bee-sama."

"Amaterasu," Kakashi informed the others. "It's an ability that the Mangekyō has. It proves that Sasuke is only growing stronger."

"Stronger or not," Naruto spoke up, sounding reluctant, "it doesn't excuse what he's done. We…" He took a breath, looking visibly upset, "We need to declare him an international criminal to be brought back to the Hidden Leaf to stand trial. He was from our village, so we will be responsible for enforcing his punishment. Please let the Raikage know of my decision."

Samui nodded once. "I will. Also, you should know that the Kage are each allowed up to two ninja to accompany them to the Summit. It is set for the end of the week in Iron Country."

"I understand. Tell him that I'll meet him there, and thank you for delivering his message."

Samui, Karui, and Omoi all bowed to him before they were escorted out of the office. Kakashi turned to Naruto, who was leaning his forehead into his hand in frustration. "It's not easy to make these kinds of decisions."

"I know that now, sensei. But…if it means I can keep my home and people I love safe, then I'll do whatever I can. In the meantime, I need to find someone to look after things while I'm away at this Kage Summit."

"Anyone in mind?"

"Yeah. I was thinking either Shikaku or Shikamaru. They're both smart enough to handle things and keep up the rebuilding efforts." He then perked up and said, "Hey sensei, can you send a message to Tazuna explaining our situation? We could really use his help, y'know?"

Kakashi smiled at Naruto's request. "Good idea. I'll have a messenger team sent right away."

"Send messages to Spring Country and the Crescent Moon Kingdom too. I'm sure they'd be willing to help us out," Naruto added, earning a nod from the Jonin.

'More like be willing to help you out, Naruto. After all, you're the one who instilled such change in Wave, Spring, and Crescent Moon,' the man thought proudly as he left to send the messages.

Now alone, Naruto gave off a tired sigh and turned his chair around to look out the windows once again. "…I'm temporary Hokage," he muttered to himself, still in disbelief.

"You'll grow into it, Naruto-kun. Your father was the same way when he was nominated for Hokage. Just do what you think is best and ask for help if you ever need it."

'Yeah… Thanks, mom.'

"Anytime, sweetheart. Now, take this time to have someone bring that Hinata girl here. I think it's time you both had that talk."

He swallowed a lump in his throat before he nodded to himself. "Cat?" he hesitantly asked aloud, prompting a violet-haired ANBU wearing said mask to appear in a blur.

"Yes, Hokage-sama?"

"Could you have someone bring Hinata here, please? I…need to talk with her privately."

"Is everything alright?" she asked, showing concern. She and a small team of hers had been responsible for looking after him when he was a boy, so she felt some protectiveness for the blonde before her; whether that boy was now the Hokage or not.

"Yeah. I just really need to talk to her and clear up some things. Can you bring her here?"

She gave a bow and replied, "Right away, sir," before she blurred out of sight.

Turning back to the window, he watched as the light slowly changed to dusk, covering the village in a beautiful glow. "Let's hope things will get better soon…"

Before anyone asks; yes, this is a Naruto/Hinata story. Before you all get upset, please hear me out.

I started writing on this sight way back in 2012, and I was a member since 2011. You want to know what got me to start writing? It was a NaruHina story that I fell in love with and thought, "Hey, I can try that too!"

And so, I did; and the result was my very first story called "Bonds of the Uzumaki". Compared my current works, it was amateur; but it was something I was proud of because I was able to display my own creativity and make a story with a pairing I absolutely loved.

Now, I'll admit that NaruHina stories are done to death nowadays. However, I wanted to pay respect to the pairing that I fell in love with; the pairing that got me started here on FanFiction. And this story is my way of paying respect.

As you can see, I'm doing things that are (inevitably) cliché, but I'm also trying to make this story stand out from others. Again, I only ask that you give this story and its future chapters a chance.

One last thing: please note that I borrowed a little bit from "Hokage's Will" by Airheaded dude. Thanks for the inspiration and story.

Until (hopefully) next time,