YAY! New Chapter! I'm back!

Apologies for the long hiatus; had to get my life in order. But, I'm doing better now so I can get back to writing. I want to thank you all for the well wishes and PM's. I feel blessed to have caring fans. That goes double for my lovely patrons! Thank you!

26.5K words! So, no rush😊

Warning: Language, sexual situations, and violence.

Please Enjoy!


AKATSUKI

The dark cavern was enormous. So large, broken stalactites would take a dozen seconds to reach the dry and stony bed. The resulting crash would echo unendingly throughout the large cave. Not a drop of water or whirring of insects as nine members gathered upon the enormous fingertips of two stone hands. The shadowy, wispy figures stood before an immensely large and demonic statue that was at the heart of their plans. The mummified giant with wooden-like spikes protruding from its back looked down with its nine closed eyes at the group discussing their latest inconvenience.

Through the cold stale air, Sasori asks, "any word on Itachi? It's been days now."

"He's either dead or fled," Deidara cheerfully answered, his smile easily registering with everyone.

Kisame couldn't keep himself from promising the group with aggravated finality, "if he's not dead, I'll kill him myself."

With an even temperament, Pain asks their expert locater, "have you located him?"

"He's still in Fire Country," Zetsu began. "I found his ring, but no body."

"So, he's returned home," Pain reasoned.

Zetsu begins to inform the group, "our spies haven't made any mention-" only to be interrupted by the hunched-over shadow.

"Itachi knows our networks, strategies, and most of our plans," Sasori said with an unnaturally mechanical voice. "He must be dealt with."

Kisame was quick to assert, "I'll be there in two days-"

"No," their leader commanded.

Kisame turns to the spiral-eyed shadow with flexed shoulders, making him appear more imposing, as he snarled, "I made him a promise; if he ever betrayed us—betrayed me—I'd kill him." Huffing in restrained anger, he punctuated his oath by exclaiming, "I'm a man of my word."

The nefarious Kakuzu chuckled before asking in mocking, "since when have sharks been men?"

With a threatening edge, Kisame returned to the humored undead, "the dead should stay dead,"

"Enough," Pain voiced with more irritation than typical. "Itachi's absence changes nothing. He will die soon." Turning to Kisame, he attests, "there's a task you're much more suited to. A task we're all much more suited to. Gathering the Jinchūriki."

"It's about fucking time," Hidan exclaimed.

"Isn't it too soon," Konan asked Pain.

"Not soon enough, I say," the sickle-carrying member confessed with a huff. "All these small fry make the worst tribute to Jashin."

Konan couldn't help reminding the gathering, "we don't have everything in place. Securing spies, safe-houses, infrastructure, and equipment throughout the countries requires more funds than we currently possess. At our current pace, we're two to three years before commencing."

Though silent, none seem contemplative. It's as if they only seemed more eager to begin, and Pain echoes this sentiment in the large dark chamber. "A group of this caliber can make do without a safety net, Konan."

"Besides," Deidara chimes in. "Once we have all the weapons, every country'll be all too eager to pay our security fees to keep from being annihilated."

She turned to the young shinobi and hotly contested, "that's not what Akatsuki stands for-" But was smoothly interrupted by her long-time friend.

"Konan, enough," Pain asserted. "We're accelerating our timetable. Anything else we need, we'll acquire on the spot; by force, if need be." A few chuckle at the comment before Pain conveys with hefty authority, "gather your assigned Bijū. Hidan, Kakuzu, begin with the seven-tails. Deidara, Sasori, start with the three-tails. Kisame, you alone will be more than enough for the five-tails. Tobi, capture the three-tails."

Slumping his shadowy shoulder, to spiral-masked man bemoans, "Ahh, why do I have to go alone?"

Ignoring the flamboyant shinobi's comment, Pain added, "I'll travel with you to Kiri. We'll split once we've entered the border, and I capture the six-tails."

Sasori asks their leader with his mechanical voice, "and the Nine-Tails?"

"The Kyūbi must be last, or we risk halting our plans," Konan told him.

"Zetsu, travel to Konoha and gather intel," Pain continued. "If someone like Uzumaki Naruto is capable of escaping Kisame, we can no longer take him lightly. Whatever reports we had on his capabilities are now virtually meaningless."

Removing the three-bladed sickle from his shoulder, Hidan asks, "and Itachi? I mean, what's stopping him from telling everyone our plans? He could seriously get in our way."

"Kami, why do you think we're rushing the plan, you idiot," Kakuzu jowled.

"Itachi is no fool," Pain told the group. As if thinking several steps ahead with his unique eyes, he asserts, "he's aware how quickly word will reach us should he reveal what he knows, and when he does—because he most certainly will—I'll eviscerate every trace of Hidden Leaf and make him watch as I kill his brother in the most painful retribution."

It was all these elite Missing-nin needed to hear before flickering out of existence one shadowy wisp at a time.

THE DINNER PARTY

Under the evening sky, an excited Naruto happily walks with Gaara & Kankurō to his right, and Temari & Baki to his left. The breeze was gentle and cool to the touch, brushing their hair and flowing their clothes. Temari, Gaara, Kankurō, and Baki were dressed in more formal wear of their typical dress—a black kimono with a red slash for Temari, and black slacks and dress shirts for the three men—however, despite the casual affair, Naruto wore his typical orange and black tactical gear along with the black haori with red flames at the hem that Jiraiya gave him.

They were walking up the paved street to Kurenai's home with their ANBU escort remaining hidden, talking about aspects of their villages. Despite the ANBU detail following the Sand-nin from the shadows, everyone seemed to enjoy the moment. Temari, Kankurō, nor Baki asked Naruto for more details about Akatsuki or his sources. They followed Gaara's lead. If the young unsocial, boy who used to hate the world and everyone in it could ignore impending danger to enjoy a night of frivolities, they'll happily accommodate him.

Casually placing his chakra-covered palm on the wood frame, the door unlocks as Naruto finished saying, "you know, a lot of people wouldn't have stolen their underpants, but I always figured, if the Hyūga didn't expect it, how could they see it coming, you know?" Naruto doesn't register their focus on his Fūinjutsu security as he opens the door for them. He calls out, "hello," as he lets them in.

Entering from the cool breezy night into the warm, savory-scented home was a pleasant exchange for the Sand-nin. Temari noted the cozy style of furnishing ahead of the dark oak accents and frames around the golden white walls clearly came from a stylish mind. From the paintings to potted plants, lamps, and family pictures, everything felt inviting and full of familial harmony. Stepping with a pep in her step, Kurenai walks around the corner, smiling as she cleans her hands on her cooking apron.

"Hello," she started, standing next to Naruto dressed in a long-sleeved red blouse and a white skirt under her black apron. "Welcome to my home."

Kankurō shook his head in exasperated disbelief at the sight of such a stunner with Naruto, while Temari thanked her for inviting them. Temari hands Kurenai a specialty dessert from Suna called Bakuraba before Kurenai tells them, "the others are setting up in the backyard if you want to help. Dinner should be ready in twenty."

"I'll help," Temari voiced with a thankful nod from Kurenai.

The beautiful women walk to the kitchen as Naruto asks with a raised eyebrow, "others?" Naruto leads Gaara, Kankurō, and Baki to the spacious backyard where Jiraiya and Kakashi are conversing covertly near the unassembled tables and foldout chairs on the floor. "Ero-sennin, Kakashi-sensei, what are you guys doing?"

"Eh, oh, you made it," Jiraiya greeted. Despite the clear blush on his old cheeks, he answers, "don't worry about us. Be a good boy and set up the tables for us?"

"I bet Nai-chan asked you to do it,"

"Nai-chan," Jiraiya boyishly repeated. "He calls her Nai-chan!"

Naruto, Gaara, and Kankurō observe Baki slowly make his way toward the adult men. It was suspicious how he wouldn't look them in the eye as he huddled up with them to exchange perverse whispers. 'Good man, Baki,' Naruto heard Jiraiya praise. Though simultaneously happy and sad to learn something new about Baki, whether perverted or not, Naruto asks Gaara and Kankurō for help. To his surprise, Kankurō takes a few slow steps toward the adult conversation before speeding to the group, making Naruto face-plant in his palm.

"They're curious," Gaara answered Naruto's look of confusion while picking up the fold-out table. "Baki and Kankurō want to know how you did it."

Naruto helps Gaara extend the legs of the table and set it in place as he asks, "did what?"

"It seems to be a two-pronged obsession with them," Gaara relayed, crinkling the skin between his brows as he summons all of his concentrate on this topic. Female attention is not an area Gaara specializes in, however, he states in his soft, even tone, "their fixation appears to be about the number and quality of women who want to marry you. Three heiresses, a Jōnin-sensei, and all pleasing to the eye."

They each grab foldable chairs and set them up one at a time as Naruto admits, "you know, I don't really know myself."

"Really," Gaara asked and Naruto nods. Tilting his red head, he can't help noting, "such a mystery."

"I mean, I can give you the play-by-play of what happened," Naruto told his friend. "But I can't really explain it in a way where you could do the same thing and get the same result."

"The women seem to be the determining factor," Gaara slowly reasoned as he eyed the space between two chairs.

"Yeah, I'd say so," Naruto answered as he aligned his chair with that of Gaara's. "You know, a psychologist friend of mine once told me women are the gatekeepers of love and affection, while men are the gatekeepers of commitment."

"Meaning?"

"Ma-chan explained it better, but I think it means I can't make a girl fall in love with me," the blond stated with a slant of his head, as if looking up into his memory banks. "That's their territory. As a guy, I just do stuff that makes a commitment with me worth it for them."

Bringing out the linen for the long table, Gaara asks, "such as?"

"In your sister's case, I think it's about duty," he replied as he takes the other end of the tablecloth. "Though, I'm really hoping we get along in everything else. Mmmn, for Kurenai, Ino, and Hinata, well, I'd say they know I belong to them as much as they belong to me; like balancing chakra, we just work well together."

"I see," Gaara evenly stated. Naruto isn't sure how much he understands, however, he paused when the redhead replies, "I thought it might've been your noble lineage, immense power, notorious status, or your likelihood of becoming Hokage one day."

Taken aback, Naruto had to wonder aloud, "I don't know about that… I mean, they loved me before any of that, so…"

"How significant would you say the sex is in your relationship?"

"Oh, yeah, that's like super-" Naruto cuts himself off when he registers the voice, turning abruptly to note Jiraiya, Kakashi, Baki, and Kankurō suddenly behind Gaara, leaning in eagerly for a response. Naruto yells at them, "really!?" He shakes his head as he walks inside for cutlery, telling Gaara as he does, "we can talk about this later."

"And that's how it's done, gentlemen," Jiraiya touted, writing in his little book as he adds, "little by little, wear 'em done until you've got the entire story, HAHAHAHAHA!"

Naruto and Gaara enter the kitchen and greet Hinata, Ino, Karin, Haku, and Tenten. Along with Kurenai and Temari, the nine of them make quick work of setting the table with elegant precision and preparing three dinner options for twelve; Ramen, salad, or oyakodon. Karin forced Naruto to sit at the head of the table with Temari and those from the Sand on his right, the Konoha ladies on his left, and Jiraiya and most of the boys at the opposite end.

The dinner was festive, and Naruto cherished every moment. Every ten minutes when someone did or said something funny, he'd tell himself, 'I wish Iruka-sensei was here to see this.' It's been so long since he's been able to relax and talk with his friends, he wished one of his favorite people was here to complete the picture-perfect moment. However, he'd rather Iruka have the surgery than not. Lamenting the others who couldn't come, one of the first questions he had was answered by Ino.

"Sakura wanted to come," Ino started. "But now that she's the student of the one and only Tsunade-sama, her head's permanently buried in a thick book."

"I hope she doesn't burn herself out," Naruto commented, recalling the hellish schedule she made for herself. "Maybe I should take her a plate-"

"Way ahead of you," Ino easily interjected. "I'm taking one on my way back. So, I'll be leaving early."

With a nod, Naruto then asks, "how are your parents? You know, with the whole marriage thing."

"You'll know when you meet them," Jiraiya remarked with a chuckle from across the table.

Nearly dropping his chopsticks, Naruto up ends, "I have to meet them?!"

"Of course you do," Jiraiya quickly hurled back. "Oh, Kami, I can't wait till you're stuck in a room with that arrogant tight-ass Hiashi. Oh, that's going to be rich!"

Naruto's blond head sharply turns to Hinata, hoping with his eyes that that wasn't the case. However, she blossomed a fresh wave of anxiety when she turned away, avoiding eye contact.

"I hate to bring this up," Temari started, drawing Naruto's panicked attention. "But you'll have to meet my father as well."

"And no clones either," Kankurō touted with a smirk. "Just you, a father who doesn't want to let his precious daughter go, and possibly a knife in his hand," he added to the vivid nightmare, making Naruto swallow with a loud dry gulp.

"Don't listen to him," Temari assured the nervous blond. "It won't be anything like that."

"It'll probably be worse," Jiraiya hummed. "At least you can block a knife. You'll never be able to block is their expectation of you."

Naruto slumped back in his chair, letting his blond head fall back so his eyes can see the stars above. He imagines their disapproving gazes and matching words stab him through the chest. Hearing them, of all people, say the things he fears the most would be like an endorsement of sorts, and that scared him. It's Kurenai's sweet voice that streams into his ears, voicing, "hey, you already know that no matter what anyone says, it can't change what we feel for each other."

"…You're not wrong," Naruto begins, slowly sitting up straight. Minus Kurenai, each of his fiancés merits a stern gaze as he admits, "but it's your tou-chans. I want them to accept me."

Quietly from beside Ino, Hinata voices, "I believe in you, Naruto."

"We all do," Ino assured him. "Seriously, there's no better guy out there."

Under his breath, an astounded Kankurō voices, "it's like they're brainwashed."

"This stuff is gold," Jiraiya hums from the other end of the table.

"For another time," Karin remarked before momentarily ending that topic in favor of a delicious meal. Hinata happily informs Naruto about her progressing relationship with her father and Neji. Though she's upset she no longer lives with Kurenai, she's happy her home life is improving. "Hanabi has been acting out lately, though, I know the situation must be confusing for her."

"You know, I have experience dealing with a troubled sister," Ino began to advise. "So I can teach you everything you shouldn't do." The manner by which she said that annoyed Naruto. He desperately hopes she'll forgive herself someday.

While Ino and Hinata conversed about sisterhood, Naruto, Kurenai, and Karin could talk with Temari and Gaara about the politics of Sunagakure and how the treaty is being accepted and endorsed by the Sand people.

"It's certainly tense among my people," Temari explains. "There are some factions that feel we gave too much, others think we didn't give enough, others that want retribution against Orochimaru, and many many more that simply want everything to return to normal so they can work and provide for their families."

Curious, Karin cut in to ask, "and will the treaty help Suna return to a better place?"

"As it was his student that deceived us, the Sandaime shouldered some of the blame," Temari commented. "As a result, he was more lenient and offered us fair terms. So, except for one thing, we can return to better times."

"The marriage?"

Slowly, with a hint of blush, Temari sweetly nods, appearing more feminine than she typically shows. To the surprise of the others, Gaara admits, "I support the union as well." The Konoha girls eye him with a healthy level of caution without being scared as he softly adds, "Naruto was the only one capable of showing me… a truth I'd been running from for a long time. For that, I'd be happy to call him brother."

"Docile-Gaara's enough of a reason for the rest of the village to want Naruto around," Kankurō joked, earning a murderous eye from his older and more defensive sister. "What," the second-born touted back. "He's changed. He's not bathing in blood anymore. We're good."

"Yes," Gaara genuinely agreed, looking around the table to readily assure them, "killing everyone here would no longer bring meaning to my life." While a few faces showed varying degrees of concern, Haku smiled and Naruto laughed, lightening the mood considerably.

During dessert, Naruto walked Ino to the door carrying a three-level bento for her. Though she wanted to stay and talk more, the beautiful Yamanaka was worried about her pink-haired sister. In addition to assuring him that her father wouldn't be overly protective, she expresses, "they've already met you, so it won't be the first time. And they very much like you, if not, love you. You really have nothing anything to worry about."

"I still want to make a good impression," Naruto returned.

"I know," she claims, moving close enough to shoulder bump him. "How about I take you shopping? We can find something more formal for you to wear. When you dress the part, you feel the part."

"Yeah, that sounds great," he answered, enjoying the alluring scent of her. Naruto always loved how captivating her scent was, making him want to ignore all reason and take her upstairs. Wanting to keep around a little longer, the blond boy asks, "uh, oh, before you go, how's your team?"

Looking at him with a hint of suspicion, she slowly answers with a question of her own. "Do you want to know how those two knuckleheads are doing, or are you asking me about Asuma-sensei?" Mentioning Asuma sobered him up from the pleasure of her company. However, as it came up, he desired to know. Nodding, she answers, "he's different. Not bad, but obviously holding it all in, as those types often do."

"Oh," Naruto hum, thinking about his part in the pain Asuma must be going through.

"It's not your fault, Naruto," Ino quickly stated, catching Naruto's train of thought.

Naruto nods as he answers, "I know, I know, but still, I don't like that he's hurting. I thought of him as a cool older brother. And now he probably never wants to see me again."

"I think he'll be fine… eventually," Ino offered with care. "If it makes you feel any better, I saw him shopping with that lady around your apartment. The daughter of the foreman. She has a son."

Standing up straighter, elongating his neck, he asks, "Tsunami-chan? Really?"

"Don't get me wrong," she assured him. "They didn't look all lovey-dovey or anything. But seeing him around another girl is progress enough."

With a slant of his head, he nods in agreement before extending the wrapped bento reserved for Sakura. She takes the extravagant meal and blushes at the thought of asking him where he'll be sleeping tonight, when he, spontaneously leans in and tenderly kisses her appealing pink lips. Nose-to-nose, the kiss was delicate, simply lips pressed against each other, yet, there was an underlying hunger between them that extended the sweet contact. Naruto tilts his head to dive deeper into the kiss, taking more of her lips, and she happily meets his vigor until they run out of breath and separate. Pressing their warm foreheads together, catching their breath, neither couldn't help but want more.

"Haven't got to do that in a while," Naruto heavily breathed before telling her, "I missed you."

"…I missed you too," she slowly tells him, pressing her forehead against his. "Soon," she told him. After a strong warm hug, they reluctantly depart for the night.

Returning to the mingling party in the backyard, Naruto talks to Haku about Kiri, Zabuza, and Mei when they're alone. Haku only just finished saying how impressive Mei's battle tactics are when a few ANBU show up. They land as stealthy as possible near the tree-line, however, in a party with Jōnin and Sages, they couldn't approach undetected. The ANBU walk toward him, and with every one of their steps, he foresaw another night without Kurenai in it. He hung his head, ready to chew out Ji-chan when the time they should've reached him came and went. When he looks up, they've already walked past him. Turning in surprise, they stopped in front of Kurenai, who was talking with Temari and Gaara. She nodded her head before looking at Naruto.

The way her eyes locked with his, as if she were apologizing for another delay, had Naruto rush up to them and abruptly asks, "what's up? Everything okay?"

Nodding, the raven-haired beauty smiles as she answers, "everything's fine. Hokage-sama summoned me."

"Oh," Naruto hummed with a hint of disappointment.

The blond was making a mental note to talk with Ji-chan about his timing when Kurenai asks with a saucy tone, "wait up for me?"

The slight smirk and focus of her crimson eyes rouse a smirk on his face as he answers, "of course. We still have to finish what we started this morning." Her smile took on an especially devilish look and her cheeks blushed red before turning and leaving with the ANBU. It wasn't long before their guests left, and though Karin and Haku stayed to help him clean, they left without Kurenai returning.

HIRUZEN'S

The night sky overhead was dark blue with hints of purple and many twinkling stars around a silver moon. Looking up at the night sky from the long balcony on the second floor of his personal home, Hiruzen couldn't help but feel reflective as Tsunade was checking his vitals. The frail old man was sitting comfortably in a reclining chair with enough cushioning, it could double as a bed. Hiruzen was so enchanted by the night sky, he would challenge anyone to look at it and night find a profound truth about themselves. Tapping Tsunade with his remaining hand, Hiruzen points at the sky with his chin.

When Tsunade turns toward the beautiful night, Hiruzen asks, "what do you see?"

Tsunade can't help but sigh at the old man. She turns around and continued administering medicine as she explains, "nothing up there is going to help you now old man."

"Only near the end can one realize the true value of life," the elder slowly reflected.

"You're not dead yet, Professor," his once student reminded him. "I still have a lot of questions. You're not going to leave without making sure I can do the job, are you?"

"I feel at ease knowing Konoha will be in your hands," he spoke with such peace. "But you're correct. I still have some life left in me. After all, I have to attend a marriage I never thought I'd see in my lifetime." Smirking, they talk about Naruto and the marriages of old when two ANBU and Kurenai land on the railing of the long balcony. The ANBU leave as Kurenai kneels before her current and future Hokage. Though Kurenai wasn't sure what their decision would be, she could easily guess why they wanted to see her. Three girls from Konoha want to marry Naruto and there are only two slots available.

"Thank you for coming, Kurenai-kun," Hiruzen slowly began.

"Of course, Hokage-sama," she responded before standing at ease.

"I trust your dinner party went well," the elder man happily remarked. Considering Kurenai's very important guests from Suna, it only makes sense the Hokage would be told about their every move. "Despite the hardships Suna put us through, it's important to me we show them our commitment to a brighter future. Everything must go smoothly."

"Yes, it went as well as can be expected," Kurenai replied, to which Hiruzen slowly nods with acceptance.

"We called you here to discuss a developing situation," Tsunade speaks from beside her sensei & elder, and Kurenai easily notes the strong energy in her voice was a stark difference from Hiruzen's soft lifeless tone. It was so haunting to realize such a great man was soon departing, she nearly missed the 'developing situation.'

Kurenai focuses all of her attention on Hiruzen when he tells, "I've been told Yamanaka-chan, Hyūga-chan, and yourself wish to marry Naruto." Kurenai nods before he continues. "I first want to know, do you understand why that is unacceptable?" Kurenai's stomach twists and sinks at the question as her leader adds, "and this isn't because of Asuma."

Unsure of what to say, Kurenai replies, "I apologize if I've disappointed you."

Fortunately, the man known as the Professor answers her by asking, "how could disappoint me for making your own decisions? It's impossible enough ordering honorable men and women to their possible death. The very last thing I wish to do is preside over the fair affairs of the heart."

"…How is he?"

Without mention his name, Hiruzen knows who she means and answers, "he's smoking more than I would like; not that I'm one to judge." Slumping her head forward sways her long shaggy black hair when the elder conveys with more energy, "he's an adult, Kurenai-kun, and my son, besides. He'll find his way again."

She nods before returning to his original question. "Before I answer your question, may I ask, when you say, 'unacceptable,' do you mean in society?"

He shakes his head slowly before answering, "no. Unacceptable within the union."

"It isn't illegal-"

"Just heavily frowned upon, indecent, and dangerous," Tsunade interrupted. Crossing her from beside Hiruzen's reclining bed-chair, she orates, "I understand that sounds a little harsh considering this is the path you chose to walk. But not that long ago, during much of the warring states period, it was common practice for heads of clans to take many wives. More often than not, a wife or child would die at the hands of another jealous wife, a prospective wife, or a new clan head."

Feeling challenged for her choices, yet remaining respectful, Kurenai first asks, "may I speak freely?" When they allow it, she continues, "with all due respect, Tsunade-sama, that was a very different time. Even when jealousy happens now, the results aren't as extreme as they used to be because everyone knows we live in a society governed by law and order. Unlike the Warring States period, citizens rich and poor are now more likely to restrain their deeper impulses for fear of suffering the consequences."

"You have a point," Hiruzen remarks. Turning his lingering gaze from the night sky above, he returns, "however, the reason I deem this type of marriage unacceptable is because of the physical and emotional welfare of the children you'll be raising." Kurenai blinked at the mention of children. "As you can imagine, the family structure has a tremendous and lifelong impact on the mental health of a child."

Kurenai had no sensible idea when she would have children. She hasn't given herself the time to properly feel and think it through, but the fact that Naruto will be their father is something else she'll have to internalize. It reminded her how fresh and real being with Naruto can feel. Even something as simple as having his children can feel like a grand affair.

Tsunade interrupted her thoughts to add, "I've come across enough studies that conclude many of those children who grow up in a polygamous or non-traditional family structure exhibit more aggressive & antisocial behaviors, conduct disorders, communications difficulties, and adjustment problems. They had a poor self-assessment, higher rates of school attrition, drug use, sexual activity, and alcoholism."

"I know many Daimyō, their harems, and the children born from them," Hiruzen trails in after her. "It would be a shock to the court if the child actually behaved sensibly, let alone with honor. When a small number of men control a large number of women, the remaining men are much more willing to take greater risks and engage in more violence—possibly homicide—to increase their wealth and status in hopes of gaining the same access to women. It would be foolish of me, as the leader of our people, not to consider the effect a marriage like this with a boy like Naruto will have on our village and possibly the country."

"And as the next in line, you should know I agree with him," Tsunade finished with finality, as if there was very little Kurenai could say to change her mind.

The leaders pause to allow Kurenai a rebuttal. She knew what they were saying to be true, as she's also read a lot about this type of marriage, however, she also knew well her stance in all this. After all, it's not as if they're telling her anything she hasn't told herself.

Clenching her fists at her back to deal with the slight nervousness, she tells them with a clear voice, "that is your duty as Hokage—both of you—and I respect your concerns, however, while I agree with many, if not all, of your points, I have to ask you both… what does any of that have to do with Naruto?"

Tsunade and Hiruzen blink in unison as they jolt up straighter. Tsunade quickly wonders if Kurenai heard everything they said or if she's blinding herself to these facts while Hiruzen ponders if the Jōnin-sensei doesn't care about the obvious consequences. After a moment of silence, Kurenai slowly asks, "you understand we're talking about Naruto here, right? Since when does he do anything normally?"

Hiruzen's face morphs to one of amusement, supported by all the memories he shares with the young blond. "Be that as it may," he gruffly retorts. "I would like to know, beyond any measure of doubt, why the three of you have decided to enter in wedded union with Naruto."

Finding the request simple enough to answer, Kurenai returns, "I imagine it's the same for the others… No, I know it is."

"What's that?"

"He's the one," Kurenai reveals. "In my mind, body, and soul, I am his and he is mine."

"But he's not yours," Tsunade points out, clearly regarding sharing him.

"I know it's difficult to understand," Kurenai replies. "But Naruto's belief in family means I'm connected to Naruto just as much as I'm connected to Hinata or Ino."

"And Temari?" Tsunade questions.

"I'll admit she's different," Kurenai states with a nod.

"In what way," Hiruzen seeks to know.

Kurenai prefaces his inquiry by first stating, "I know why Ino and Hinata love him because I know them. I know little about Temari. Our interactions tonight were more cordial than anything. She only ever let her guard down around Naruto, which is a good sign to me. Temari will take some time, but I don't doubt the eventual result."

"Which is…"

"She'll love me as much as I'll love her," Kurenai matter-of-factly stated. "That's the sort of family Naruto wants. He's our lead, and I share that desire."

Hiruzen and Tsunade turn to each other for a moment, and without words, they accept the conviction of the Jōnin-sensei's words. Tsunade then notes, "though I still disagree with this type of union, I can see you're not taking this lightly. I've only just met Naruto, but it's pretty clear he's not the norm."

"No, he isn't," Hiruzen grunts with years of experience dealing with him and his shenanigans. "Two wives would be more than enough… if this were normal circumstances."

At the comment, Kurenai quickly recalls what they said earlier, asking, "you mentioned a developing situation?"

When Hiruzen nods, Tsunade explains, "for the past two days, we've been hosts to shinobi from Kumogakure."

"Kumo?"

At Kurenai's curious gaze, Tsunade asks, "Naruto hadn't told you?"

Kurenai couldn't help snorting in front of her leaders as she explains with a mixture of amusement and frustration, "there's so much going on in that boy's life, it's difficult to keep up. And to be fair, most of it is classified. Staying up to date on your fiancé's personal life when you don't have the clearance is next to impossible."

"I suppose so," Tsunade admitted with a considerate nod. "The short of it goes like this; weeks before the Chūnin finals, Kumo agents infiltrated Konoha. Their mission was to make Naruto defect."

Kurenai snorted again, "not likely." Realizing her break in decorum, she quickly clears her throat before apologizing.

"No, you're right," Tsunade conveys. "Again, I've only just met him and even I know Naruto doesn't have it in him to defect. Rather than report them, however, he told these kunoichi about his Omiai with Suna."

Readily confused and concerned about Naruto casually breaking the rules, Kurenai had to ask, "why?"

"To go to Kumo," Hiruzen softly answered. "He knew he'd likely be invited to Kumo if he did and his goal seems to be to speak with their Jinchūriki."

"To what end?" It suddenly struck her then, and she calls out, "ah! To ally with them, right?"

Recalling how insane Naruto's desire to talk to the other Jinchūriki was, Tsunade had to ask, "he told you?"

"Some time ago, he mentioned wanting to talk with all the Jinchūriki," Kurenai answered. "I'm not sure how seriously I took him back then."

"Talking with their Jinchūriki would be good common ground to start negotiations with," Hiruzen points out with a strategic undertone in his voice. "And as it happens, Kumo is in favor of entering two of their kunoichi into the Omiai-"

Jolting up straighter at the startling news, Kurenai gasps, "two? Why two?" Quickly moving past her emotional response, her logical mind suddenly realizes how odd this is. Kumogakure and their Raikage have never been so amiable with Konoha to enter this type of union. "This… this can't be legitimate," she voices. "Knowing the Raikage… this sounds more like a trap than anything else."

"We believe so," Hiruzen agreed.

Overlaying her future husband on the situation, Kurenai easily realizes out loud, "…But Naruto wants to go anyway." They nod as the rest of what they're not telling Kurenai dawns on her. "So… you're saying you'll accept the three of us marrying Naruto if we do this?"

"Not exactly," Tsunade replied. Kurenai stands straighter as her future Hokage asserts, "for the duration of this mission, we will publicly accept the three of you as wives because there must always be more Konoha women. But the moment Kumo's plans for Naruto fail and they rescind their participation in the Omiai, one of you must then back out."

As a woman, Kurenai knows backing out has serious ramifications. "…If it's either Hinata or Ino," she posits. "They'll have a harder time marrying fitting partners in the future because of this very public rejection. Ninjas already have a hard time marrying, and suitable suitors would then wonder why either of them was dismissed."

"It's a possibility," Tsunade acknowledges with a sigh.

"A marred reputation on a young girl's part makes it more likely," Kurenai clarifies, and the rest of what they're thinking hits her then. "…Which is why you're indirectly asking me to be the one to step down."

Hiruzen turns to the night sky, leaving Tsunade to step forward and gently explain, "you may not want to hear this, but differences are what keep people apart and between yours and Naruto… you simply don't fit."

Turning to Hiruzen as he voices toward the sky, "I know you care about him." He then turns to her before adding, "you love him. And after the tumultuous life he's led, I want that more than anything for him."

Sensing it, Kurenai adds, "but…"

"This is just better for everyone," the elder leader answered. "He's the son of a Kage, head of his clan, on the precipice of great fame and wealth, and… he's nearer to their age."

'I'm too old,' is what Kurenai essentially heard. 'Eight years isn't even that big of a difference,' her mind yelled, adding, 'if I were a man, no one would even blink at the gap!' Though Kurenai generally accepted the differences between men and women, she couldn't deny the sting in this particular case. Regardless, she now possessed something that will always lend her strength when she needed it, no matter the fear, doubt, and uncertainty leveled her way.

"I understand the natural order of the social fabric," she tells them. "In the eyes of our village, we can all agree I'd be more suited to someone like your son, Hokage-sama. There was a time I accepted these unwritten rules for us and society because they made sense, were grounded in reality, and were widely accepted by all."

"But," Tsunade posited.

"But then I fell in love with a boy who fights the rules others place on him with every fiber of his being," she eagerly claimed. It's what it means to be with Naruto; 'to believe,' she thought. "For the things that he wants, the things that are important to him, he puts his life on the line and never quits. He doesn't care if it's unrealistic or unpopular. He doesn't care who he has to go through or what he has to accomplish to get it. He'll only want it that much more. That's the man I fell in love with, so, when you say 'this is better for everyone,' ask yourselves… do you really think Naruto cares about that?" She saw the answer in their eyes. They knew Naruto, and they knew how he'd react. Feeling the power of Naruto's bullish conviction empower her, she couldn't stop herself from asking them, "so why would I?"

But for the rustling tree leaves and howling wind, the long balcony they were standing on was silent. Neither Tsunade nor Hiruzen could dispute just how dogged Naruto can be, and it seemed apparent to them Kurenai has inherited much of the blond's fire.

"Keeping Naruto alive is less of a mission and more of a no-brainer," Kurenai continues. "So I'll accept the mission and relay it to the team."

Quirking her blonde brow, Tsunade asks, "the team?"

"My sister-wives," Kurenai clarified. "They have a vested interest in keeping him alive as well. As for what happens afterward… I've learned by now, when it comes to that boy, don't expect the expected."

Peering up at the majestic night sky, Hiruzen couldn't help but wonder if this was a profound truth about life. Tsunade just smirks as Hiruzen tells Kurenai, "we'll announce the marriage tomorrow. Prepare yourself."

"Hai, Hokage-sama," Kurenai called, before catching the slightest tilt from the revered blonde medic-nin, clearly asking to speak in private.

NARUTO

Looking up at the night sky from the roof of Kurenai's home, Naruto lies on his back happily sky-gazing and counting his many blessings. He's never had dinner with so many friends, family, and soon-to-be family, and that was replaying in his mind. Chatting with Neji when he came to collect Hinata, shooting targets with everyone, hearing hilarious stories from Jiraiya, even being teased by Haku and Karin as they were leaving. They stayed to help him clean up, all the while knowing he was sleeping there, and Karin couldn't stop herself from teasing him. More than anything, he wanted to remember every second of it to share with Iruka. The blond wondered if the caring sensei was watching the same sky he was when someone landed next to him.

He was surprised it was Kurenai, but happy she didn't take long. Leaping to his feet, he smiled brightly before asking, "how'd it go? Everything okay?"

"Never mind that," she said with a bright smile of her own. She felt off to Naruto and he couldn't help wondering if she was keeping something from him. When she says, "I have something for you," Naruto shook the weird feeling off to ask what it was. Showing empty palms, she wiggles her fingers with a showman's flair before magically making a doll with a Fūinjutsu tag on the forehead appear. The moment he reads the tag, the entire aerial view of the sparkling night sky from Naruto's perspective rotated a hundred and eighty degrees with the worst whiplash. He's dazed for a second before suddenly looking at his body from outside his body.

He wondered if this was a prank until Kurenai said, "got you. Shinten Kugutsu Juin no Jutsu."

From within the doll, Naruto quickly gathered this was worse than a prank and yells, "what's going on! Who the hell are you!" The entire time, he finds it bizarre that he can't feel anything; no wind, no cold, no sounds, or even the warmth and strength of his body.

With no control of the doll he was in, someone forcibly turned Naruto to look upward and the Kurenai that enters his view pops into a puff of white smoke. In her place emerged a lean man with fair skin and short black hair. Other than his nose and mouth, the rest of his face is covered in a mask with built-in glasses, not unlike the members of the Aburame clan.

"Let's go before she returns," the man said to mind-swapped Naruto.

It's odd not feeling any stimuli, so it was surprising to hear another voice in his head that wasn't Kurama's. "Your consciousness is now sealed within that puppet, Uzumaki-kun," the dour male voice said. "There's nothing you can do to escape, so just relax and we'll take you to your new home shortly."

Through the button black eyes of the doll, he sees them leap into the air before landing on a tree branch in the cluster of trees behind Kurenai's house. They leap from tree branch to tree branch, Naruto yelling the entire time in vain until they land next to a body leaning slumped against the base of a tree. Oddly, he observes his own body picking up the comatose shinobi before he immediately drops it. Both Naruto in doll form and the one holding him watch the mind-swapped Naruto scream and double over, gripping his stomach in tremendous pain. Through the mental link, he can hear a third, familiar, and sinister voice demand, 'who are you?'

"Sparrow, what's wrong?" The one holding the doll asked.

"It's… the Kyūbi," he gasped. "Its chakra feels like acid! We have to hurrrrrryyyy!"

Naruto's puppet eyes are quickly covered up as he yells within the mental link, 'yeah, get em, Nine!' The kidnapper then gathers Naruto's body and that of his teammate's before leaping to the treetops. Though Naruto can't see, he can still hear the mind-invader grunting to hold back Kurama's acidic power, yelling, 'you! …will not break me… devil!'

'Devil, am I?' Kurama hums back in humor. 'Hehehe, I like the sound of-'

'I wouldn't say so, no,' Naruto casually interjected as he attempts to sense where they're being taken, however, without the ability to feel speed or direction, the only thing he can do is count how long they travel. The only thing he knows for certain is he hates feeling so powerless.

'You shut it!' Kurama's angered voice hurls back at Naruto. 'You don't get a say! The hell are you doing getting captured so easily!'

Realizing he has no clones or allies to help him, the frustration of being at their mercy has Naruto snap back, 'this can totally be avoided if my partner wasn't so damn stubborn!' Naruto ignores the constant groaning of the mind-swapper as Naruto tells the demon fox, 'hurry up and get him out of my body! I can't do anything here.'

'Shut up!'

'I won't let you… foul beast,' the mind-swapper declared with dogged stubbornness. 'Danzō… will have his prize…. Ugh! Even if I must sacrifice my life… to do it!'

'Humans,' Kurama croaks with distaste. 'You're all the same-'

Drawing up blanks on how to overcome this, Naruto yells, 'Kami help you, the second I get out of this I'm going to beat the will to live out of you! You better let me go now! This won't hold me forever!'

Naruto can't feel anything; not the shift of direction, the descent into the earth, the many twists and turns until they reach a room, however, once there, he can hear a door open and close, and then a rough clamoring of several items. Something is then tossed on what sounds like a wood table before a person sits roughly on a chair. From the doll's nonexistent ears, he hears his own voice grunt out, "quick, quick!"

A door opens once again and Naruto hears the tapping of a stick against stone and quiet footfall before a gruff, impatient voice asks, "status."

"The Kyūbi seems to be fighting Sparrow," the other man said. "He doesn't have long."

"Hurry," the gruff voice commanded with stern authority. Only then does Naruto recall that voice.

'That's Danzō,' Naruto yells. 'Hurry, Nine!'

'Shut up,' Kurama yelled back as he pushed as much of his chakra on Naruto as possible. 'I'm trying!'

The black hood is suddenly taken off of the puppet, allowing Naruto to see the one-eyed despot looking back at him with his sour half-covered face. Within his view, Naruto's able to see the room they were in was dark, made of stone, and relatively small. He didn't think more than ten people could comfortably fit in the brick cell. There was one door and no windows, meaning only one way in and out.

More importantly, his stolen body being securely tied to a chair with thick rope. To his increasing dismay, the glasses-wearing shinobi was tying his wrists, elbows, ankles, knees, and neck to the metal chair that was also in the middle of a very complicated and circular Fūinjutsu array. They took his red and black cloak off and his body was also disarmed, his pouch and kunai holster set on the table next to him.

Naruto demanded to know of the one-eyed war-hawk, 'what are you doing to me?' However, he knew only the mind-swapper could hear him.

Once all the binding were wrapped tightly, the shinobi with the mask calls, "ready."

"The puppet," the one in his body yells.

Danzō takes the puppet, making Naruto watch as he's positioned in front of his own writhing body. Beads of sweat were pouring down Naruto's face as he struggles to withstand the poison of Kurama's chakra. 'Come on, Nine,' Naruto calls, looking at himself and realizing the only chance to escape was fast approaching.

'It's your father's seal!' Kurama frustratingly yells back, pouring as much of his chakra through the seal as he can. 'Don't you usually have great timing? You do something!'

"This must be timed… perfectly," the mind-swapper in Naruto's body coughs out. "They're aiming… for the moment I transfer!"

"On three," Danzō calmly commands. "Be ready, Monkey."

"Hai," Monkey replied.

Their one-eyed leader counts, "one," and Naruto can see Monkey kneel in front of the circular Fūinjutsu array with chakra covering his hands.

Focusing between his struggling body and the Root member named Monkey kneeling in front of the array, Naruto repeatedly tells himself, 'be fast, be fast, be fast.'

"Two-"

Suddenly, his view completely rotated, and Naruto was inside his own body again. Even more, the overwhelming switch of feeling nothing to feeling everything—sounds, heat, aches, pain, his heartbeat, his chakra—was momentarily disorienting, and in that micro-second of confusion, the shinobi named Monkey clapped his hands before moving to slam them on the array. Naruto began his Flying Thunder God technique, however, with the imbalance of Kurama's chakra pressuring his control, Monkey managed to touch the stone floor just as time was slowing down. The Fūinjutsu array activated, and Naruto quickly felt no chakra within him. It was as if all his power was erased away.

The sandy-blond-haired man, Sparrow, seated on the floor with his back against the wall, twitched momentarily before slowly getting to his feet in tandem with Monkey.

"Good job, both of you," Danzō looked to the glowing character of 'hei' now on the floor where the array used to be and casually voices, "Fūinjutsu: Shishi Heikō… quite impressive. We must thank our Sand allies for the restitution of forbidden techniques they were forced to share with us."

"Danzō you lousy piece of shit," Naruto began to yell as he pulled on every binding. Feeling no give from any of the thick ropes, and even choking himself pushing against the rope at his neck, he continues yelling, "when I get out of here, you better fucking run-"

Standing in front of the struggling blond with both hands on his cane, Danzō calmly tells Naruto, "allow me to save you the trouble. You cannot escape. Nearly all of your tenketsu have been forcibly blocked, not that there's any danger of dying. In case you're unaware, it means you cannot expel chakra quite so easily; yours or, the beast inside of you. For all intents and purposes, you're as weak as any boy your age. All your great strength has now been neutered and under my express control."

"Why are you doing this," Naruto chokes out, straining his muscles against the bindings until his sweating head turned as red as a tomato. "You have to know you'll never keep me here. I'll get out, and when I do, I'm ripping you a new one-"

"You are unruly, Uzumaki-kun; childish," Danzō easily assessed, eying him with his beady eye. "That character flaw has no place in my Konoha, however, I am content with your mastery over the Nine-tail's chakra."

"They seem to have a close relationship," Sparrow divulges from behind the fierce leader. "He calls it, Nine."

"That thing was destined to be the greatest weapon in all the nations," he orated. Danzō leaned forward to catch Naruto's fierce eyes as he proclaims, "it's long time you learn your place so that dream can finally be realized."

Growing more frustrated and angry, Naruto can only yell back, "he's not your weapon! And the only one here who needs to learn their place is the sad cock-gobbler muffin standing in front of me! D'you take a crusty load in the eye?! Is that why you can't see?!"

Danzō leaned back and took a deep breath to calm down. After a moment, he patiently tells the fighting blond, "struggle all you like, Naruto. I'll give you the night to spend all that energy. Then we can begin in the morning."

Danzō turns to leave when Naruto yells after him, "Wait! Tell me what you're planning! I demand to know!"

The old war veteran stopped and turned with a slow sway of disbelief, citing, "I thought that would've been obvious. For the good of Konoha and the world, I have every intention of using you in whatever manner I deem necessary."

More humored than concerned, Naruto smirks as he hollers, "HA! How could you possibly know what's good for the world? You're like a root telling the tree 'hey, I got a great idea about which direction the branches should go,' when you have no clue! All you know is pain, misery, and darkness, and somehow you think you can make things better? How delusional is that? You couldn't help this world even if you tried!"

Turning and approaching the blond once again, Danzō strikes the foot of his cane hard against the stone floor. "It would appear it's fallen to me to do what no one else seems capable of accomplishing; utterly destroying your childish sentiment." Though his face seemed as neutral as a blank mask, his annoyed tone suggested otherwise as he threatens, "no doubt taking away your privilege of speech will assist in re-educating you."

"Pfffftt," Naruto harked back, glaring right back at the old War Hawk. "Good luck with that! You're nowhere near strong enough!"

Straighten up and shaking his head, Danzō grimly remarks, "you've done so well subduing the beast sealed within you, I had thought to keep you, if only to continue that purpose. However, if someone with your sub-par intellect can do it, surely any of my Root can to a far better degree." A Root member enters the room and Danzō tells the ebony-haired boy, "torture him all night—remove an eye—but make certain he doesn't die. That should help him become a little more cooperative."

"Hai, Danzō-sama," the boy spoke.

It was painfully obvious to the blond that Danzō couldn't be argued or pleaded with into telling him anything about his plans. With less than three seconds before the one in charge left the stone room, Naruto couldn't think of a single argument that might change his mind. As Danzō, Monkey, and Sparrow were leaving and the boy was setting up a toolkit on the nearby table, a funny & cruel thought entered his mind. Danzō himself wasn't so hard to figure out as the old man already told Naruto what he wanted.

Quickly, Naruto asked Kurama, 'would you be able to take over my body or make my eyes red?'

'I might be able to push enough chakra to make your eyes red… Why?' Kurama wondered when he realized what Naruto could be planning. 'Hehe,' he chuckled, adding, 'you really are a pain in the ass.'

Danzō was nearly out the door when Naruto yells, "wait! No!" only, not in his voice. Thrashing around so hard the pressure was cutting into his skin and pulling against the restraints drew in their collective attention. As Naruto appeared to be struggling to remain in control, they simply observed as the blond Jinchūriki pretended to fight with himself as he yells with finality, "Don't! Nine! You… c-can't trust him!"

Wailing the loose sections of his body upward, as if breaking out of water with a great force, Naruto's entire demeanor suddenly changed. He was bleeding from the rope tied around his neck, his whiskers were more pronounced, his once-blue eyes were now red with a slit for a pupil. His voice was much gruffer as it touted, "fuck, this hurts."

'Suck it up,' Kurama said from behind his gold cage. 'Your eyes should be red, but I can't hold this for long. Your chakra network feels incredibly congested, making it difficult to push through.'

'Got it,' the Naruto within told him as the Naruto from without pretends to sound like Kurama as he states, "wait. Forget the idiot brat. Make a deal with me and I'll help you." The four men observe the altered more feral Naruto with heavy suspicion. "That's right, you're talking to the Kyūbi right now."

"It sounds like him," Sparrow informs his leader.

"I was under the impression you were partners," Danzō cautiously remarked.

"That's what I wanted him to believe," Naruto replied with a touch of amusement in his gruff voice. "You mention the word friendship and he jumps like a good little puppy."

"They did seem contentious," Sparrow noted. "If I had to hazard a guess, I'd say reluctant cohabitants."

"Attempting to make two minds, one body bearable," Monkey summarized, to which Sparrow nodded.

Taking a moment to seemingly decide on how to play this turn of events, Danzō eventually takes a step forward and inquires, "what did you have in mind?"

"I want out of this brat's body," Naruto quickly answered, fighting back the tremendous pain pushing up and down his entire body. "You tell me what you want, get me out of here, and I'll make sure it gets done."

"Any arrangements we may make would, by necessity, begin with you getting me what I need first," Danzō effortlessly stipulated. "Only then will I return the favor."

"I'm willing to accept that," Naruto growled back with a little more force than he wanted. His face was sweating as he made a stipulation of his own. "But if you double-cross me, I'll kill you."

"Naturally," Danzō respected. "What assurances do I have that you can manage anything I may need from within Uzumaki's body?"

"Just get a seal like this one, that blocks his chakra," Naruto proposed. "Put it permanently on his body. I'll handle the rest."

"That may be something we can arrange," Danzō spoke.

Desperate to end this fast, Naruto asks, "then you'll get me out of here?"

However, as the agony within Naruto doubles-making the veins in his body pop out, Danzō takes his time to think before asking, "…how confident are you against other Tailed Beasts?"

'HAHAHhahahah,' Kurama laughed from within the seal. 'He's thinking about Kumogakure!'

Only the wet floor and breathing heavily, an exhausted Naruto weakly voices, 'r-really?'

Looking down at his heavily diminished container, Kurama deduces, 'doing this out of the blue? Not to mention Kumo is the only place we're going to soon that has any Bijū. Yeah, this old coot's got a plan.'

In the stone-cold room, Naruto moved all his pain into mimicking Kurama's laughter. "Hahahaha, this is about Kumo then."

"You're certainly sharper than Uzumaki," Danzō dully complimented.

"That why you did this so unexpectedly," Naruto asked with a half-smile, the pain making his facial muscles twitch as more sweat filled the etches of his expression. "Rushing like this ain't good tactics."

"We had little other options," Danzō admitted. "To have access to Kumo approved by their Kage offers us a very rare opportunity. I would've preferred one of my men join the delegation, however, my council and request were unwisely rejected. Once again proving the leaders of this village are far too shortsighted to know what's best for them."

Hating that the one-eyed veteran suddenly became chatty, Naruto hastened to ask, "which do you want?"

"The Two-Tail," Danzō answered.

"Easy," Naruto quickly assured him; anything to end this unmitigated agony eating his entire body. "The other eight combined could never defeat the greatest Tailed-Beast! Bringing back the Two-Tails won't even be a challenge!"

'Damn right,' Kurama huffed from within Naruto. ''Bout time you realized my power.'

'Shut… up,' Naruto weakly huffed back. He was ready to pass out when Danzō suddenly made less sense.

"Not quite," Danzō reveals before answering, "if the Two-Tail were extracted from its host and ultimately discovered to reside in Konoha, that'll leave no doubt as to who stole the beast. Even if we claimed otherwise, no one would believe it, which is why I don't want you to bring it back to Konoha."

Understanding the duplicitous devil in Danzō, Naruto realizes out loud, "you want me to plant the Two-Tails in an enemy country. Can't imagine what kind of war a thing like that would start. Sounds like fun. Where? Iwa? Kiri?"

"You don't need to know just yet," Danzō replied. "Let us first test your control over the boy."

"Get the seal ready and he won't be a problem," Naruto struggles to finish.

With a stiff nod from the old War Hawk, Kurama stops pushing his chakra through the seal and his blocked pathways. Beside himself for the end of the agony, Naruto pretends to regain control then continues the charade by weakly bemoaning to the beast within for all to hear, "wha- Hah, haah… Why… why would you do that! I thought… we- we were friends! How could-"

Danzō orders the only boy with a mask, "bleed him. Allow no more than a liter of blood loss. Then watch him."

The inexorable head of Root walks out of the room with his bodyguards in tow as the boy answers with a bow, "hai, Danzō-sama."

Despite feeling the vibrating remnants of pain and absolutely no strength, Naruto yelled after the three men for good measure, "I'm going to wipe out every square inch of this place… if you don't leave my family alone! …It's a promise of a lifetime!"

Relieved the men are gone, Naruto is now alone with a Root member with silky black hair and pale, nearly translucent skin. Other than his mask, he wore a short black-and-gray jacket with red straps over a midriff gray shirt that displayed his pale abdomen. His tactical slacks were the customary black but his black gloves exposed his index and thumb.

The boy takes out his kunai and walks into the Fūinjutsu's range. Immediately, he can sense his tenketsu close, however, he can still move. Naruto glares into the emotionless mask as the boy expertly moves his kunai over Naruto's forearm.

"The cephalic vein should be good enough," the boy said before quickly stabbing Naruto in the arm, ripping a sharp grunt out of the blond and renewing a fresh batch of stabbing pain. Without Kurama's chakra or that of his own, the pain felt much more acute. Naruto was soon hemorrhaging through his clothes, down the chair's arm, and to the floor. "Don't worry, if your life's in jeopardy, I've been permitted to give you a blood pill."

Despite bleeding out, Naruto struggles to loosen the thick rope until the growing fatigue was too much to ignore. The boy stares at him the entire time and in between deep breaths, Naruto asks, "how long… are you going to keep staring at me? …It's creepy."

"Until I am told not to," he softly answered.

"Your name," an exhausted Naruto huffed.

"I have no name," the boy responded.

"I'll call you… Sai then. You look like a Sai," Naruto heaves with unfocused eyes, suddenly grateful for the rope around his throat, as it was doing a better job of keeping his head upright. Half joking, he asks, "I don't suppose you want to let me go?" Sai gave a very curt shake of his head, to which Naruto reasons, "figures. Well, then… you should know… that… you don't have to be like them… if you don't want to. I can tell you're different."

From behind the mask, without malice, Sai asks, "how can you make such a claim when you know nothing about me? You sound idiotic."

"I can… because I know," a drained Naruto voiced barely above a whisper. "Anyone else they leave guarding me… wouldn't have said one word to me… You did… idiot."

Lowering his head as much as possible to glimpse the bare floor, Naruto attempts to recall the Fūinjutsu originally there before they activated it. In his mind, he attempts to reconstruct it with Kurama looking on in the background.

Out of boredom, Kurama lays down with his head on his front paws as he comments, 'looks like that miserable old coot wants to start a war.'

'Yeah,' Naruto hums, tilting his exhausted head left and right. 'But I won't let that happen.'

'Pretty confident for a guy trapped and bleeding out on a chair,' Kurama jokes.

Lazily turning his head around, the blond Jinchūriki notes, 'I'm surprised you're not tempted to take Danzō's deal.'

Kurama snorts before asserting, 'as if I could trust a lying piece of shit like that. He'd sooner destroy me than free me if there were no other choice… calling me an It.'

The large, dark, and dank room grew completely quiet for a moment. Naruto was silent so long, Kurama raised his enormous head in concern when his blond jailer softly asks, 'but you like me?'

'Shuuuut uupp,' the quickly annoyed chakra beast growled. A slight huff was the only laugh in Naruto, urging a slightly anxious Kurama to ask, 'figure anything out?'

'Still… thinking,' Naruto voiced, though he was feeling tremendously frail. He lists the challenges aloud, hoping to spark a solution. 'The chair's metal… bolted to the stone floor. The rope's… too thick to break… and it's too tight… to slip through.'

'Are there any weaknesses in the seal?'

Naruto answers the deep voice behind him, 'it already… collapsed… into the character… hei.'

Feeling more anxious as Naruto falls into further frailty, Kurama stands on all fours as he asks with more concern than he knows he had, 'what about before it collapsed? Can you remember what it looked like?'

'I don't know… I'm trying,' Naruto heaves, wobbling in place. 'I'm really… tired here, man. I can barely… think.'

Growing even more annoyed, the large chakra beast prowls back and forth as it glares at the weakened Naruto and challenges him. 'Fine! Go back to sleep then! They'll be back before you know it and do something worse to control you. Trust me, humans are annoyingly clever at trapping anything that's far superior to them. They can't stand not being the most dominant. And the very worst human will be back soon to do the same to you.'

'Not… all of us… are like… that,' the ailing Naruto feebly argued.

'Even you want to be the strongest in Konoha-'

'To prove that I'm not… a worthless monster!' Naruto calls out with more energy than he feels in him to use. 'To protect… my friends and family! Which… includes you… by the way!'

Kurama isn't surprised to witness the flare of energy when it comes to what Naruto is passionate about. Realizing he truly has a good grasp of who this boy is and how much he cares, Kurama smiles as he prods a little more. 'Well, I'd say you've done a piss-poor job of that, haven't you?'

Naruto hated that even now, Kurama still won't trust him. But more than anything, he hated how his arrogant friend was right. To be captured so easily and put in a box made him feel like the powerless little boy he used to be. He had no other recourse but to run from dangerous situations then; a feeling it surprised him to have forgotten about, which only angered him more.

'Yeah… fine… you're right,' Naruto was ashamed to admit. 'I may not be the best… or the strongest… right now! But fuck! I'm no quitter! You'll see!' Naruto crouched and couldn't see Kurama smirk with pride.

The determined blond tries to recall the Fūinjutsu array before it collapsed. He focused every ounce of his brainpower on recalling one of the few things in this world that come naturally to him. Sadly, it was hazy and he wasn't certain if the image he recalls was what he saw or if his mind was filling it in. Another wave of fatigue washed over him and his entire being wanted nothing more than to be home in bed with Kurenai, Sakura, Ino, Temari, and Hinata.

Naruto couldn't stop wondering if they were waiting for him; if they even knew he was missing yet. He wondered what Danzō would do to her, Karin, Haku, Ino, Hinata, Temari, Sakura, and anyone else he loves. More anger, regret, aggravation, and longing brought out enough energy to keep trying. Keep thinking. Kurenai always told him, 'little by little, one piece at a time.' He hadn't needed that advice since he recalled everything about Fūinjutsu so clearly, however, it was servicing him now.

Little by little, stroke by stroke, Naruto spent pain-staking minutes recalling every square inch of the array and its subroutines. Filling in what he couldn't, he eventually saw the chakra suppression via tenketsu, the chakra types, spirit energy, Kyūbi energy, natural energy, and even the petajoules limit. He saw nothing that could stop Fūinjutsu contracts like the Hiraishin or Kuchiyose, however, with his tenketsu blocked, that wouldn't be possible.

'If my tenketsu… are closed… what else… can I do?'

'That's like asking how to throw a rock without an arm,' Kurama quipped.

Sai interrupted his sluggish train of thought when he forcibly fed him a blood pill before lightly bandaging his wound. Feeling a small sense of relief, Naruto waited a moment to allow more blood volume into his depleted veins.

Sluggishly, Naruto points out to Sai, "see. You… are… different."

"You lost more than a liter," Sai explained. "I'm not allowed to let you die so easily. That's all."

Using the knowledge Naru-nii thankfully bestowed upon him, Naruto confidently asks, "who'd you lose? …Huh, Sai?"

"My name is not Sai," the masked boy returned with a little more edge in his tone.

"But you said… you didn't have a name… and I've gotta… call you something," Naruto drunkenly reasoned. "Sai's as good… as any." Focusing his half-lidded gaze on the raven-haired boy, Naruto continues prodding. "Are you good… at anything… you're not supposed to be? Can you sing? …Write? …Draw?" Sai tilts his head a moment before quickly returning his gaze to the prisoner who continued to say, "I'm good at training… at Fūinjutsu… eating ramen… and sex, if I'm being… honest."

"It would appear you need more training," Sai threw back. "As for sex, I'm surprised you even have a dick."

"Ouch," Naruto weakly chuckled. Shaking his head, he claps back, "at least I don't smell… like a virgin."

'I don't like this kid,' Kurama growled in Naruto's mind. 'Does he think we can attract so many mates without a superior pleasure horn? How dare this paper-thin personality challenge-'

'He doesn't know any better, Kurama, jeez,' Naruto mentally shot back. 'And will you stop with the mates and talking about my junk! You have to know by now it's SUPER weird!'

'Just as you should know by now that your delicate sensibilities has never been my primary concern,' Kurama fervently retorted.

With a mental roll of his eyes, Naruto returns his attention to the pondering boy as he continues explaining, "whatever. My Fūinjutsu is tight… and I'm always training. I can even train… without moving a muscle."

The boy didn't respond or shake his head in disapproval. He was stone-faced and simply stands and watches as his blond prisoner continues to hemorrhage from his open wound. Naruto wanted to chuckle as the statuesque boy watches over him, not unlike the many stone toads had during his training on Mount Myōboku and at this recollection, he wondered if Sai would turn to stone himself. The thought makes the brain-addled blond humored and sad he couldn't show him the statues.

'I could,' he lamely thought to himself. 'With this sage arts suppression, I'd probably still turn into one.' "Wouldn't that be funny?" he thought and carelessly said aloud as he feels fresh blood supplied by the pill fill him with a small wave of vigor.

"What?" Sai asked.

The room wasn't spinning half as much as Naruto half-laughs, half-answers, "I said… wouldn't it be funny… if I turned into…"

A cluster of unaffected neurons suddenly fire in Naruto's largely suffocating brain. He thought the seal suppress sage arts, however, even if it suppresses sage techniques, it shouldn't stop him from absorbing natural energy, nor the consequences of taking in too much.

Feeling slightly better, more in line with his defiant self, Naruto closes his eyes and doesn't move a muscle. Slowly, much more slowly than usual, he can begin to feel the earth's energy around him. It told him the seal dealt less with the chakra coming in and more with chakra coming out.

'…What are you doing?' Kurama asked when he began to feel natural energy slowly seep into Naruto's restrained body. 'Without the nodes on your chakra pathway, you'll blow up into a frog!'

Naruto chuckles as he mentally answers, 'if I'm lucky… just parts of me.'

From within, Naruto allowed his body, his cells, to feel and accept the potency of natural energy around him like a cool breeze passing through him. Only rather than balance the strength as he painstakingly learned to do, the blond sage purposely allowed an imbalance to form. His body quickly vibrated in warning of how wrong it was feeling, but even so, he persisted. His stomach turned upside down as he drew in more and more natural energy until the irresponsibility forced his hands and forearms into very large frog hands.

With the natural energy coursing through his body, the ripping of the thick taut rope from the increased pressure didn't hurt Naruto much. Sai was taken aback by Naruto's sudden large, webbed, greenish frog hands. The pressure created by the larger hands stretched the rope in the tough sections and snapped threads in the weaker sections. Even the steel creaked and bent just enough for Naruto to quickly push the natural energy out of his system and slide his now normal hands out of the slight give.

It was evident Sai was taken aback by the sight of Naruto's frog hands as no report anyone has ever written about Naruto ever mentioned an ability to produce frog hands. The rough rope scraped off layers of his skin as he removed himself from the wrist restraints just quick enough to catch the series of shuriken Sai threw at him. Naruto caught the first two and used them to deflect the remaining five before wiggling his arms out of the elbow bindings. Without chakra to assist his movements, Naruto had to rely on the pain and adrenaline coursing through his pumping veins.

The thick ropes at his elbows were never tight and as they relied on the wrists remaining secure, Naruto could easily slide his arms out of them before cutting the rope at his neck with his left hand and deflecting non-lethal shots from the dark-haired ANBU with his right hand. Though Naruto could block most of Sai's repeated close-ranged attacks, his left shoulder, right forearm, and left calf were pierced by sharpened steel, embedding shuriken in his flesh. He grits his teeth and ignores the sharp pain signals bombarding his brain to focus on keeping his sluggish hands moving.

Rather than leap in and risk losing the assistance of his chakra, Sai determines the best course of action was to use his jutsu from outside the seal's range and hope his creations remain unimpaired. With a short pause for the raven-haired boy to quickly draw on an unrolled scroll, the blond quickly cuts the remaining bindings and throws the shuriken in his left hand at his captor, forcing him to deflect it with his brush as Naruto uses the bolted steel chair to push himself out of the seal's range.

There's a flash of light as Naruto's in the air, and quickly, two large drawings of lions erupt out of Sai's scroll. Leading with black-ink-on-paper claws and large fangs, the intent was clearly to bite into Naruto's entire torso and detain him until reinforcements arrive. Fortunately, Naruto had spare shuriken, ripping the ones out of his shoulder and forearm to hit the lions squarely in the forehead.

Sai had another lion leaping out of his scroll, however, he'd already landed and rolled past the seal's threshold. Even as the third lion was in the air making its way to Naruto's flesh, the blond's body came alive with raw undiluted power. With bountiful strength flowing through him once again, he stared directly into the well-drawn lion's face as he happily slowed time down to a crawl.

With his freedom all but certain, Naruto and Kurama were of one course of action: retribution. They both understood, then and there, there would be no peace with Danzō freely operating from the shadows. Naruto was wounded, hurting, nearly at that man's psychotic mercy, and hates that that feeling of powerlessness can be inflicted on anyone of his family and friends. There was only one destination that fell in line with what needed to be rectified, and with a mischievous smirk on his lips, he decided on the tunnel to travel, then disappeared from the torture room.

SASUKE'S ROOM

Under the blinking lights of the night sky, in one of the few abandoned sectors of Konoha, two brothers lived in an enormous home. Though old and worn on the exterior, the inside was well-maintained. Not out of a need to be clean, but out of respect for the life that used to inhabit the home. The Uchiha compound was harder and more cynical than other parts of Konoha, however, there were children who still laughed, loves that still blossomed, and triumphs that were shared.

In the simple and clean bedroom of one of the last remaining Uchiha, Sasuke is seated upright on his bed while Itachi sits on the edge, redressing his bandages. Sasuke remained silent as his older brother calmly revealed everything that was kept from him. Though hurt weak, Sasuke's mind was absorbing every detail coming out of Itachi's mouth; all the players, the places, and the times. Sasuke was silent. His anger kept him from speaking so as to not interrupt the meal of information he'll be thinking about and stewing over for some time.

Itachi still wasn't certain if such a direct approach was the proper way to deal with everything that was coming. As he didn't believe Naruto to be a liar, he was forced to accept that his original plan was no longer viable. He never considered comfort when coming up with a plan, but taking on problems head-on in the open was decidedly not his preferred method of action. Though he respects Naruto for his bullish beliefs, Itachi didn't think solving his problems in the light of day suited his predilection, including dealing with Sasuke's anger.

You couldn't tell from his face, but Itachi felt a daily measure of peace being in his little brother's life again. He didn't think he deserved forgiveness or acceptance. He'd killed far too many for anything so miraculous. Itachi can only assume there would be a moment he can truly atone for his part in the horrors of the past. If everything Naruto told him is true, which he believes it is, he knows he'll have an opportunity to do one right thing in the world he was born in.

As Itachi was fixing the end of the gauze around his forehead with a small metal clip, he's orating, "he formed a new organization called Akatsuki and hid in its shadows-" when suddenly, the space beside him was immediately filled mass, heat, and blood. Uzumaki Naruto appears out of nothing and falls to one knee, blood seeping a dripping from several wounds.

Both Uchiha were up and alert, extending their senses for any possible nearby threats as Itachi asks, "Naruto… what happened-"

"Danzō," Naruto quickly interjected as he stands upright once again. Focusing their attention on the bloodied blond, the brothers are especially curious at the mention of that man's name as he growls, "fucking Danzō is what happened!" Itachi kept his arm on Sasuke's shoulder as Naruto moves to the most spacious area of the room, crosses his fingers, then winces at the throbbing pain of his forearm. Momentarily ignoring it, he crosses his fingers and voices, "Kage Bunshin no Jutsu."

Three bloodied and pissed-off clones appear around him. Without needing to tell them anything, one disappears exactly as the original Naruto had appeared while the other two sit on the wood floor, cross-legged, and begin gathering natural energy. From within the seal, Naruto turns back to look at a towering Kurama, challenging the smirking fox by asking, 'so, how was that?'

The indication was clear to the demon fox. Tied and trapped, the blond escaped without help, as he promised he would, making Kurama snort, then shake his large smirking head before gladly answering, 'that insolent pest ruined my night.' Leaning down, eying Naruto with large feral eyes, he demands, 'rip his fucking guts out!'

Setting the imagery aside, Naruto smirks at his partner. Despite being tired, bleeding, and in throbbing pain, Naruto enters another section of his mind, outstretches his desire, his reach, and easily accesses Kurama's chakra. Sasuke and Itachi bear witness to the young man before them flicker brightly before flaring into Kurama Chakra Mode.

Sasuke's eyes flinch and squint at the light and power rolling off of his teammate and he can't help the shock, inferiority, and anger swelling his chest. He hadn't directly seen his idiot teammate summon so much power before. He could only go by what his brother had shared with him, however, hearing it, and seeing it was more disheartening than he could've expected. Sasuke could identify the fury within him as the very thing Itachi wants him to let go, but looking at the golden Naruto's tremendous strength, he can't imagine how he could let that go. Sasuke knew it was the only thing keeping him going.

"Naruto," Itachi called, stepping forward. Sasuke steps forward while his brother asks, "what happened, exactly?"

Unable to set aside his righteous fury, Naruto focuses on the Uchihas as he angrily answers, "I was just kidnapped by Danzō!" Naruto took a deep breath to keep the overwhelming feeling from destabilizing his focus. "I got away, but I'm heading back right now to burn his fucking house down. I thought you'd want to tag along."

Itachi's answer is to walk over to Sasuke's leg holster atop his dresser as he asks, "I can get us in, but even if they haven't set up additional traps, and it's unlikely we can get there before Danzō leaves-"

"My kunai are still there," Naruto answered, tapping his weaponless thigh as Itachi fastens a tanto on his lower back. When Sasuke moves to arm himself as well, the elder Uchiha voices, "not you, Sasuke."

Dreading his brother would say that, a frustrated Sasuke immediately bites back, "you can't go by yourself! And after what they did to us, you can't expect me to just stay here either!"

"You're still recovering," Itachi calmly points out.

Still feeling aches, burning, and weakness throughout his body, Sasuke knew he couldn't deny it with any credibility. He blames Naruto for his taxing injuries, however, he blames himself for not expecting it. Sasuke didn't know how much stronger Naruto had gotten in such a short period. Worse yet, he doubts he would've believed it even if Itachi had told him beforehand. Like the vibrating misery aching up and down his spine, accepting reality no matter how much he disagrees with it was a hard lesson for the young Uchiha to learn.

"You're not ready to face Root, besides," Itachi callously finishes, adding insult to injury.

Realizing the golden boy in his room is watching them, Sasuke felt his spin flare with ache & shame and couldn't help pointing to Naruto as he yells, "and Naruto is!?"

In an instant, Itachi is on him with his hand on his bandaged head, leaning so close, their foreheads nearly touch. Look deeply into his young brother's onyx eyes, he states with a soft voice, "Sasuke, the painful truth is you'd only get in the way. There's no shame in acknowledging the current state of your abilities."

"You think I care about that?" a frustrated Sasuke whispered back. "I NEED to make them pay!"

Itachi smiles a bit with an understanding nod, not humoring or indulging him, but truly understanding the depth of his hurting desires. The older Uchiha wisely imparts, "when you find you can't control the situation, you must challenge yourself to control how you respond to it, because very often, I find that is generally the best anyone can do." Itachi bumps their forehead before backing away and saying, "at the moment, you can't, but soon, I promise you, you will. Everything I have in me to teach, I will pass on to you. So, stay, okay?"

Sasuke's tight fist crack and pop as he tightens them, however, though quite angered, he sternly nods. Naruto was happy to see such control. Typically, Sasuke led with intelligence and only lost himself when it came to his brother. To see him favor the smart play, no matter how much he hates it, gave Naruto hope they could one day be close friends. Despite his mirth, however, he feels his clones enter sage mode and recalls the vengeful business at hand.

Without a clear subject, Naruto tells Itachi, "I told you who killed him, but I never told you it took a lot out of him. And he fought with the Mangekyo too, so if it gave him trouble, we need to be careful."

Looking between the two curiously, Sasuke repeats, "Mangekyo? You mean the Mangekyo Sharingan? How do you know about that and who are you talking-"

Interrupting him, Itachi reasons, "if Danzō held his own against a Sharingan of that caliber, he'd have to possess power on your level or higher, which I don't believe he does… or have a Sharingan himself."

"He can't," Sasuke ardently protested. "He's not Uchiha-"

"If Kakashi-senpai can have one…" is all Itachi replies with.

"You ready?"

After Itachi's nod, one of Naruto's clones disperses into a white puff of smoke, breathing new robust sage chakra into Naruto's chakra network on top of Kurama's chakra. With large tenketsu, Naruto's body revels in feeling so much potent energy flowing freely through him. Staring in disbelief, Sasuke backs a step away at the incredible golden sight of Naruto. Itachi taps Sasuke's forehead then smiles at his distracted brother before disappearing in a fraction of a blink of an eye. Sasuke is then left alone with a quiet clone of Naruto sitting cross-legged on the floor.

An emphatically enhanced Naruto teleports them directly to the kunai holster that's still on the table it was placed on when he was first brought there. The stone room is empty now, with the steel chair still in the middle and pieces of thick rope on the bloodied floor around it. Pointing with his finger, Naruto quickly explained staying away from the hei seal on the floor as it suppresses tenketsu as he senses everyone in the base.

The underground multi-leveled base easily felt over two hundred feet deep to the high-powered blond. He can sense chakra rushing through ten stories of numerous tunnels, meeting rooms, wells, and passages. Judging by the chakra signatures on the surface, Naruto figures this underground base is directly under Hokage tower and he can't imagine how easily that helps them spy on the Hokage's meetings. Putting aside the impressive structure of the base just under the village, Naruto focuses on the movements of every chakra signature below ground.

It was effortless to pinpoint Danzō's chakra signature three levels up and fifty feet to the east. A dozen men surrounded him and Naruto counted another two dozen rushing through the base. Everyone appears to be on high alert, however, their chakras are relatively calm. Naruto spots one signature he's familiar with. The one he thinks is the Sai character Naru-nii told him about. He's the one Root member who feels less negative than the others.

The possible-Sai was near Danzō, likely taking orders like everyone else on this base. Orders that take Konoha less into account. Orders that only serve him and his twisted ends. Orders that sow chaos and conflict in the world. The type of orders that would kidnap, murder, extol continuous suffering. It disgusted Naruto more than what he knows about Madara, and rather than sneaking through corridors, ventilation, or hidden passageways, Naruto's ever-increasing agitation erupts a gold-colored chakra arm out of his right forearm. In less than three seconds, he creates a Rasenshuriken. Itachi steps several paces away, nearly to the corner of the room as the golden-blond cranks back his arm and immediately hurls the devastating technique directly toward Danzō.

The compacted hurricane slices & demolishes wall-after-wall up three floors toward its target and Naruto could sense every soul desperately leap out of the way of the oncoming technique. He expected everyone was skilled enough to avoid the far-off attack, however, he was certain none of them expected it to detonate into a massive sphere of annihilation. The worst of it shakes the underground base for several seconds and the blond imagined them watching a fifty-yard chunk of their territory being pulverized by an uncountable number of minuscule wind-blades. He imagined that scared them. He imagined that helped their sense of survival come to the cold conclusion that they fucked up in the worst way.

Naruto's fairly sure the best sensors in Konoha detected that, and while unable to see through the dust and debris obscuring the series of holes, the pair at least have a much clearer path to their target now. As the dust slowly settles, Itachi steps beside Naruto and extends his weapon holster.

Realizing he forgot to put it on as well as explain why he attacked, he relays, "oh, uh, Danzō's that way."

With an easy nod, Itachi informs him, "they have many sensors in every hall. We were never going to reach Danzō undetected."

As he straps on his weapon holster to his thigh, Naruto senses numerous shinobi heading straight for them and tells Itachi, "they'll be on us in six seconds."

"Considering your strength and style are comparable to Kisame, I believe we'll work well together," Itachi noted. "Just do as you like, and I'll alert you if anything comes up I think you should know."

"Roger that," Naruto hollered before bending down like he's about to sprint in a race.

A hair-line split of a second later, Naruto leaps through the first hole, and though the first three to impede his progress to Danzō are intensely trained adults, they're not nearly as fast or as strong as Naruto is. Compared to Naruto's current speed, they may as well be standing still. Two quick steps on the floor and his fist is embedded in the closest Root's chest. A half-step spin, and Naruto's elbow blows through the next man's chin. Feeling a familiar chakra behind him, Naruto ignores the third man, dropping from a stiff strike to the back of the head from Itachi, to leap through the next hole.

Flying through the hole into the next room, Naruto's face is inches away from a series of shuriken and kunai slicing through the air at him. Naruto engulfs his entire arm in Kurama's golden chakra, enlarging his limb to easily catch the dozen weapons thrown before hurling them back. Landing, he enlarges his arm further and rockets the dense chakra like a golden snake bulldozing two bodies through the wall, grabbing another's legs and using him as a club to smash against his comrades. Even as the remaining four regroup to attack Naruto, he is already leaping through the next hole in the ceiling, leaving the remaining four with the Sharingan user.

All four men attack Itachi with swords draw from each side. Four sharp blades pierce through the unmoving man at such speed, their clothes whirl and Itachi's long hair rises in a circular fashion. Itachi's blood-red eyes flash before the Uchiha disappears from the center of the kill-box, and like an invisible curtain draw, the four men find that they've stabbed each other.

Landing in a larger room in a yellow flash, two dozen Root Anbu await Naruto with weapons draw and clear killing intent. A second later, Itachi lands softly next to him with his Sharingan activated. Naruto creates two grapefruit-sized Rasengan in each hand when, quite unexpectedly, all twenty-four men shunshin away. Oddly enough, Naruto and Itachi sense their escape through the base at incredible speed. Confused, Naruto even senses them reach the surface as he asks, "uh, did they seriously run away?" For a beat, Itachi is in silent contemplation as the blond adds, "probably don't want to end up like their friends."

"They don't do friends, Naruto," Itachi returns. "Their lives are nothing more than a series of missions, maneuvers, protocols, and tactics. They do nothing unless it serves their agenda. Danzō's agenda."

"Good riddance… is what I'd normally say," Naruto casually remarks as he eyes the ceiling as if he's looking through it. Wondering where the two dozen Root are going, he says, "but that'd be too dumb, even for me. I'll keep track of them."

"Good," Itachi confirms. "How far can your senses cover?"

Naruto creates a clone that automatically pops before candidly answering, "now that you mention it, I just realized I can check in on Mabui-chan in Kumo from here."

Itachi raised his brows at the revelation before nodding and noting, "Danzō is just up ahead."

"Yeah," Naruto growled, feeling another couple minutes of sage chakra left in him. "He's got his bodyguards too."

Naruto and Itachi leap through the hole in the wall before witnessing the unbridled destruction of Naruto's Rasenshuriken. Walls, floors, columns, and brace beams were filed off in a curve, leaving a lot of dust and rubble in its wake. The cavity to the final room was too large for any sort of trap to work, leaving Naruto and Itachi to land with Danzō and his men waiting fifty feet away.

The room itself was very large, able to hold a hundred men easily. It had a very high and rounded ceiling with walkways fixed three levels up, as if it were a viewing area for the space below. The room reminded Naruto of a stadium; a cold, dark, suffocating stadium where winning absent killing your opponent is looked at as a weakness.

Smirking at the old War Hawk, resting his palms on his cane in front of him, Naruto yells out into the cold air, "I told you I'd wipe this place out."

Ignoring Naruto, Danzō speaks to Itachi. "This is unexpected. For Uchiha Itachi to return to my village without my knowledge, your talents haven't waned one bit."

"Danzō," Itachi firmly spoke. "At long last, the time you meet your end has finally come."

"I beg to differ," the old veteran returned. Turning to Naruto, he admits, "I'll concede you're more capable than I initially predicted. No matter. Even with all the strength you possess, neither of you are capable of eliminating Root from the fabric of this village. What we do is forever bound to Konoha's way of living, thus, Root is incapable of ending any more than Konoha can; and as you'll learn, any more than I can be."

"I'm sure we can do without all the assassinations, massacres, and kidnappings, you weirdo," Naruto shoots back. He can feel his sage chakra leaving, but it was more than fine. His clones may need the boost more than he imagines he will.

"We do what no one else is willing to," Danzō edifies. "We remove what does not want to move for the collective success of all." The man takes two steps forward before clacking the heel of his cane against the hard stone floor. "As such, I will offer you both a onetime offer of truce."

"Truce?" Naruto questions with a shocked whirling back of his head. "You're out of your fucking mind?"

"This goes against my better nature, Naruto," Danzō admits with his strong, yet aged voice. "But, I cannot deny you're more necessary to my plans than a few nameless orphans. Agree to my terms and those you love will not be harmed within the next five minutes."

Naruto and Itachi stiffen coldly to hear that and listen intently as the old War Hawk affirms, "Itachi knows my methods well. You may have sensed dozens of my men evacuating the base. If you thought they were attempting to save their lives, I can assure you, you couldn't be more wrong." Naruto targets Danzō's men with the remaining minute of senjutsu as he continues.

"At this very moment, my men have instructions to track, target, and eliminate every person you hold dear: Umino Iruka, Yūhi Kurenai, Yamanaka Ino, Haruno Sakura, Hyūga Hinata, Uchiha Sasuke, Haku, and on, and on. They'll work their way up from the weakest to the strongest just to ensure some do, in fact, die tonight… unless, my dear boys, you stand down this very moment."

Naruto quickly wonders how Itachi wants to handle this. He was clearly much sharper when it came to tactics, however, Itachi stayed ponderously still.

"I give you my word I will not attack," Danzō stated, irritating Naruto to no end. "Not unless you provoke me."

ABOVE GROUND

Under the twinkling blanket of stars, the village of Konoha is mostly at peace. Certain streets of bars and clubs cater to the thrill seekers, a few training grounds were occupied, sentries & other peacekeepers were on duty, but overall, the villagers were either asleep or preparing to sleep. With no sun out and fewer eyes to view them, no one could see the groups of masked men dressed like the darkness above speeding through the village.

Firm, fast footfalls were silent for the minutes it takes to get into position. Not more than five blocks from Hokage tower, a trinity of masked men eye Kurenai from afar. They spy on her speak with the next Hokage, Tsunade of the Senju, and her dark-haired aid. The men knew not to engage without authorization, however, it goes without saying, if they have to sacrifice their lives to kill Yūhi Kurenai, they've hardened their resolve for the task ahead.

Another team of masked Root runs farther out to the hospital, where they spy on Karin sleeping in an armchair beside Iruka's bed. These men know Iruka has an operation in the morning, and they're also aware of how much the Uzumaki clan cares about the Chūnin sensei. It's the sort of predictable sentiment assassins can rely on. They watch their targets and wait for orders, because these two are the first on the hit-list.

Another team of masked men land two buildings away from the Yamanaka compound to observe Yamanaka Ino sleeping in a bed while Haruno Sakura studies at the desk. The team of men observe the perimeter and guard routes for when they get authorization. Similarly, two teams station farther away from the Hyūga compound, ready with the diversion and infiltration to reach and execute Hyūga Hinata. Another pair of teams land on the nearest rooftop to the weapons shop, Ten Out of Ten. They're aware of Haku's capabilities and cannot underestimate him should they be given the order.

These specialists of specialists were trained to do what was necessary for the survival of Konoha, no matter how repulsive or counterintuitive. These men are capable of impressive feats because they are hyper-focused and they believe in their leader. Root's commander needed to epitomize the darkness underground so the village and their families above ground may thrive for centuries to come.

All the assassins hear the crisp double-click through their radio ear-pieces, and all teams unsheathe their short-swords.

UNDERGROUND

In the open and cold stadium, not unlike the fighting stage after the second task of the Chūnin exam, Naruto didn't dare move. After everything he's heard about Danzō, he doesn't have a doubt in his mind the old bastard would plan something so vile and follow through if he so chose to. Naruto instead listens to Itachi as he repeats Danzō's last statement.

"Unless we provoke you," Itachi repeats before noting, "that's quite vague. It could mean anything from mentioning your name to breathing out loud."

Danzō nods in agreement, but doesn't clarify the spirit of his meaning. Instead, his cold, hard voice echoes through the air. "If our opposing views step away from this little skirmish," he said. "I promise you here and now to cease pursuing you and those you hold dear. In exchange, the pair of you will also not impede my plans in the future."

Disgusted by his audacity, Naruto yells back, "I thought I was part of your plans!"

"I know how to measure risk-to-reward ratio," the one-eyed veteran explains to the golden boy. "Other arrangements can be made."

Eager to irritate, Naruto retorts, "oh, you mean like kidnapping the Two-tails and planting her in another country to start a war? Other arrangements like that?" Naruto snorted as he shook his head, ultimately leveling, "that's the problem with sneaky assholes like you. Can't trust a word you say."

Finally showing signs of irritation—possibly for being tricked into sharing that piece of his plan, or simply because Naruto seems to be impressive in irritating people—Danzō snarls as he tries to calm himself whilst hotly cracking back, "regardless! The only other alternative is we fight to the death, and I'd rather not lose such a fine weapon by killing you-"

"Anyone here dying, it's you," Naruto clapped back.

"Such a foolish child," Danzō grimaced. He shook his head as he remarks, "it would seem you leave me no choice but to shed their blood and bring you the body to make my point." Ready to give the order to his bodyguards, Danzō held his hand at the smirk on Naruto's face.

Having lost the rest of his sage chakra twenty seconds ago and then regained it ten seconds later, sage Naruto smirks smugly as he asks with a dopey expression, "you really don't know much about sage mode, do you?"

ABOVE GROUND

After Naruto's escape to Sasuke's room, he created three clones; two to gather natural energy and one to teleport to one of the strongest people he knows he can always rely on for help. The artificial mass warps space and time before he travels directly to his Godfather. Landing on a tree branch next to the sage elder, Naruto was ready to explain everything and team up to stop Danzō from targeting his loved ones when he notes the tall tree is near Kurenai's house.

Jiraiya slowly turns to Naruto as the young blond notes that the tree branch they're standing on offers a respectable view of Kurenai's bedroom window. Turning to the large man with binoculars in his hands, holding his breath, the old pervert's intention is painfully obvious, but what hits Naruto like a punch to the gut, is the area they dragged Naruto's body to isn't more than a hundred yards away.

"Really!" Naruto yells, knowing with supreme certainty Jiraiya should've noticed. A shocked Naruto immediately interrupted Jiraiya's, "now, now-" to yell, "this is where you've been while I was getting kidnapped by Danzō!"

"What? Say again," Jiraiya called out. "That's appalling! You okay? We should go right now and take care of that!"

Realizing the old man was attempting to redirect the conversation, the flabbergasted Naruto loudly asks, "you were going to peek at your own Godson!?"

"What? Why-" he stutters before declaring with authority, "c-can't a man sit on a tree nowadays without being labeled and judged?"

"Your own Godson!" Naruto bellows, to which Jiraiya stumbles for a valid response. The blond then had to know, "what would tou-chan say?"

"W-Well, obviously, he'd be happy his favorite sensei was keeping such a diligent eye on his son," Jiraiya reasons with loud nods of his head. "So what's this about Danzō-"

"On the one tree outside my girlfriend's window at midnight," Naruto gasps with building disbelief.

"You don't have to make it sound weird," Jiraiya said, fighting to preserve the purity of his devotion. With a brawny hand, he grips the air as he passionately proclaims, "if you truly wish to continue your mother's noble clan, it obviously falls on me to ensure you know how to completely satisfy the missus is an absolute necessity! There was just no other way!"

"Then how could you let your only godson get kidnapped?"

"I only just got here," the elder touts back. "And you seem to be doing just fine."

Naruto groans, "Ugh!" Throwing hands up as if giving up on making sense of him. "You're impossible!"

"Fine, fine, fine," the Ero adult repeats, pumping open palms in peace. "How about I make it up to you, starting with whatever Danzō's been doing, ne?"

Naruto eyed his broad-smiling godfather suspiciously for many moments before relenting. He explained what happened to him not thirty yards from where they are, where he was taken to, all the threats Danzō made, and his eventual escape. He then explained waiting for the next bout of natural energy so he can track all his friends at once instead of wasting time looking for them.

Jiraiya flatly refused to use his sage mode and if it weren't for the tremendous burst of sage chakra suddenly swelling within him, he would've continued arguing with the man. Realizing the original want everyone to keep watch on the group of Root that left the underground base, Naruto's eyes bulged.

"Shit," the sage blond cursed before turning to his godfather.

The teams of Root were counting down to the kill order. If no word came from command in the next minute, they were permitted to make a field call. However, the group outside the hospital, outside the Sandaime's residence, outside of the Hyūga and Yamanaka compounds, outside of Ten Out of Ten weapons shop all felt before seeing a single glowing shinobi land near their target.

A Kurama chakra-covered Naruto landed on the railing next to Kurenai, Tsunade, and Shizune, before staring directly at the position the Root team is hidden under. Another golden Naruto landed on the roof above the room Ino and Sakura were in, as well as the roof above Hinata's room. A golden clone stood atop of Tenten's weapon shop, arms crossed, his orange-yellow overcoat flowing with the wind, and glaring directly at the teams laying wait. Having sensed him, Haku appears right beside him with Tenten to learn about the situation.

Despite confounding Yamanaka and Hyūga sentries, confusing Karin, and perplexing the future Hokage, Naruto told them everything that was going on. Due to this development, the Root members now faced a decision they each had no choice but to make. Either continue the current mission, despite the obvious risk of failure, or, switch to the contingency plan their leader had already prepared for.

Staring down the tremendous waves of power rolling off of all the Narutos, each Root member slowly sheathed their short swords and prepared to run.

UNDERGROUND

"I can sense everyone in this base, everyone that left, even everyone in the village," Naruto readily informs the old War Hawk. "I know where your men are going as much as my clones do; as much as my godfather does. You know, of the legendary Sannin. A sage too, if you remember." Though Danzō typically refrained from expressing any level of emotion on his face, he didn't stop himself from glaring at a smirking Naruto as he added, "do you really think I'd come back here to throw down with a snake like you without making sure my people were covered? I may not be the smartest, but even I'm not that dumb."

Danzō's man with the glass asks, "Danzō-sama," however, the elder knew the moment to make a decisive decision had not yet arrived. There was still time to salvage some gains from the face of this setback. Through his many decades of tactical retreats, he knows that even in loss, there was always a way to win.

"Sage arts is truly a fearsome thing," the one-eyed elder admitted with no measure of praise. "But so can proper planning. What you need to know before we battle to the death is, should I happen to meet an untimely death, my men have instruction to scatter, far and wide, all across the village, the country, the world, if need be, but only for a time. They'll live unassuming lives for weeks, months, or years before they return to avenge me. They may wait until you're married or the day you become a father. They can be your tenant, your assistant, your child's sensei, your next client, your gardener, any stranger you sit next to when you eat ramen or pass on a daily basis. I couldn't say who or when, but I'm certain my men will accomplish their vengeance, and strike a deadly blow the moment you least expect it. Of that, you both have my solemn vow."

Before Naruto can even wonder if he should believe him, Itachi whispers to Naruto, "he's not lying. You can't command a covert black-ops group like Root and not be that methodical. His contingencies have several levels of contingencies, and he makes sure his men know them."

Before Naru-nii, Naruto never considered a future other than becoming Hokage. Nothing else seemed to matter because he simply assumed the rest would fall into place the moment the entire village acknowledged him. However, like many things in his life, that logic was not correct. To his delight, he was getting married now, while ferociously trying not to think about any resulting pregnancies. His clan was growing by the day, and he was preparing for the real battle to come.

The last thing Naruto needs is a disgruntled whack-job trying to murder him while he's on the toilet or waiting for his beloved extra-large miso ramen with extra pork or when he's on his way to buy a wedding ring… several wedding rings. He absolutely didn't need the stress of not being everywhere at once to ensure his loved ones remain safe.

"If you're not confident you can protect your children, wives, friends, or even acquaintances every moment of the day for years to come," Danzō continued. "I suggest we suspend hostilities and strive towards mutually beneficial diplomacy."

Itachi doesn't turn to his partner to ask in a low voice, "what do you want to do?"

"I don't doubt he's that crazy," Naruto replied loud enough for Danzō to hear. In his heart of hearts, he believes Danzō capable of such underhanded evil, however, looking at the face of immoral villainy, he knew something else to be true. This was the man who betrayed his Ji-chan, who instigated and exploited all the atrocities that befell Sasuke's life. Naruto simply couldn't trust a word he said.

"Yeah, I bet he would be that cowardly," Naruto yells at the elder. "But I also don't doubt he's two-faced! There's no guarantee he won't change his mind later and come after us if we back down now. After everything he said, I trust someone like Zabuza-jiji more than him. And honestly… it's all the more reason to shut his ass down right now."

Itachi remarks for all in the large stadium to hear, "he has a point." Boldly taking a kunai out of his leg holster, he points out, "perhaps we should just kill you now, and deal with the rest of Root one by one. After all, it's not as if I'm overly busy. In fact, I'd say I'm especially skilled at hunting men from the shadows."

Setting a firm stance to get a good leap off, Naruto happily voices, "I'd be down with that."

"Would you truly risk their lives like that, Naruto? Would Ino's or Sakura's parents forgive you for the death of their daughter, I wonder?" It turned Naruto's stomach to keep hearing him speak of the people he loves like that. That level of callousness is too inconceivable. "My men can hide for years and the more loved ones you gather around you, the more targets you create for me. All I need to succeed is one blade to pierce one heart, and you'll regret this moment for the rest of your life. Why risk all that innocent blood when, in some way, some form, this organization will always be a part of this village. For no country can stand the test of time without occasionally doing what's necessary."

Constantly reaching new levels of disbelief, Naruto scoffs as he points out, "you mean like the Uchiha massacre? Necessary like that?"

"To achieve the greater good, a little evil is necessary more times than we care to admit," Danzō candidly educated. "But what we do in the shadows must be done so those above can live in peace. Itachi knows this. It's why he did as he did."

"Kami, how whacked out of your skull are you?" Naruto had to ask in continual disbelief. He simply couldn't understand this man's logic. 'Evil for the greater good,' he thought, however, when he did, he felt that description sounded more like Itachi than Danzō. Though he can't confirm it, Naruto believes Itachi hates having been put in the position he was in and had to carry out deplorable acts, all to minimize the final tally of deaths in the end. He could believe that because Itachi did everything he could to save Sasuke. And even now, he left Akatsuki for his brother and Konoha. "I don't think you even know how off the mark you are," Naruto finished.

"At best, I agree Root is a necessary evil," Itachi asserted, slightly perking Naruto's ears. "But at worst, it's an intolerable one. Even if you believe it is necessary, when that necessity goes away, what are you left with?"

"The answer's evil, you delusional piece of shit," Naruto happily yelled back with tight fists.

"You're a half-measure, Danzō," Itachi told the old leader. "Without the scope or sense needed to make the right choice. It's long time you retire, whether you want to or not."

"The disease of naivety," the man said, shaking his head. At a side glance to his bodyguard, they know to send the authorization as he tells the intruders. "Remember this moment, you foolish foolish boys, for many deaths in the future will be due directly to the ignorant choices made here today."

Like a powerful flash of golden lighting cutting through the moist night sky, Naruto demolishes the sound barrier as he rockets through thirty yards in less than a second, landing an unanticipated fist in the stomach of the Root who trapped him in the doll. Like a boneless sack of liquid, Sparrow is bent in half as he zooms through the air, rear first, for thirty yards before bouncing off the stone floor then hitting the stadium's wall with a thunderous crack.

Before the puff of rock dust can even settle, Naruto senses a modicum of movement at his feet, triggering his legs to leap back as paper claws with the symbol for seal on their paws pop out of the floor he was standing on. Danzō and Monkey take that opportunity to leap back to the motionless Sparrow as Sai lands beside them with a large scroll under his arm. Though he isn't completely surprised, Naruto looks at the boy with a measure of disappointment. He'd hoped Sai might read the situation differently. With a sad sigh, he prepared to attack when a firm hand was placed on his shoulder.

Turning, the blond wondered why Itachi was stopping him. The Uchiha walks past Naruto and addresses the alert Danzō. "I have a counter-proposal." Danzō and his men stand down for a moment. Even Naruto isn't sure what Itachi will say. "Recall all your men to the barracks," Itachi began. "Every single one."

Eying the golden Naruto for a split second, the old War Hawk asks Itachi, "why?"

"So they can witness a contest to the death," Itachi answered. "You and I will battle for leadership of Root, and if you're the last one standing, Naruto will agree to a ceasefire-"

Whirling his blond head up and then to the extreme side, Naruto blurts with wide eyes, "wait- What?"

Sidestepping Naruto's surprise, Itachi continues to address Danzō. "Should you be the one to die, I will replace you as leader of Root. Your men will not die and continue serving Konoha under my command. How does that sound? Self-sacrifice is the epitome of a shinobi's duty, is it not?"

"You recall my creed," the older man rebuked, while deep in his mind considering the offer. "It goes without question everything I do is for the glory of Konoha, even if that requires my life. 'The unseen ones who support the great tree of Konoha from the depths of the earth,' must live on. To that end, I'll agree only on the condition that Sparrow and Monkey, my best duo, shall inherit should we both perish."

"That's not really saying much," Naruto remarked, cracking his knuckles as Monkey is helping Sparrow to his unsteady feet. He smirks when the old war vet didn't reply.

"I accept," Itachi spoke almost eagerly.

"Hell no, I don't," Naruto touted before arguing, "if you both kick it and those two turn out to be just like him, do you really think this isn't going to happen again?"

Finally turning to him, looking at the blond with his Sharingan eyes, Itachi expresses, "it's fine, Naruto. You've already proven they're not on your level, much less his."

"It's not about levels," Naruto declares. "They got me today, right? It could happen again! Only they won't underestimate me the next time."

"Have a plan that no one knows about," Itachi suggested, though Naruto only sags his shoulders as if that isn't comforting. Huffing in amusement, the Sharingan user confesses with a small smile, "if it makes you feel better, every fiber of my being has an unyielding drive to utterly destroy that man here and now." Knowing everything Danzō is responsible for, Naruto cannot dispute Itachi's desire for retribution. "Besides, this isn't how I die."

"I know how you die," Naruto weakly groaned back. "And I'm not letting that happen either." Itachi's smile widens farther than Naruto has ever seen it. He then nods before stepping forward and asking Monkey and Sparrow, "if Itachi wins, do you have any intention of following his orders? Aren't you just going to avenge your master, anyway?"

"Their true master is, and has always been, Konoha-"

"Yeah, your Konoha," Naruto interrupted Danzō. "Not Itachi's or mine or even the Hokage's Konoha. Yours! Ask them if they can follow someone else's orders. Go ahead, ask em!"

Looking at the golden blond with a deep measure of disgust, Danzō asserts with a sneer, "this is why you could never be a leader of real men, Naruto. You're much too soft and painfully short-sighted. Too… innocent for the inconsequential lives that must be sacrificed. You assume because you're so fickle about who you follow that other, true, shinobi are just as easily dissuaded. You cannot possibly understand the depth of their devotion to our great village because you cling so desperately to fairytales and feelings like an infant suckling at his mother's teat."

"As he should," Itachi hotly voices. "You understand the dark roles we play, as do I. It is why I did what I did, regardless of my own wants. What you fail to see is that Naruto's role is that of our hope and just as vital. So that the group of us who work in the shadows see the goodness they're fighting for. If a leaf is to survive, it must follow the light, no matter how dark the path." Before Danzō could speak further, Itachi tells his blond comrade, "it's okay, Naruto. I believe these men will follow my orders."

"You have to survive first," Danzō sneers. "Fu, Torune, recall the men. Authorization: King Root." Removing his right arm from within his black kimono, displaying the large metal braces affixed to his entire bandaged forearm, he declares, "we have an accord."

"Hai," Monkey responds before speaking into the radio at his neck. Naruto creates a clone that bursts and relays the information to his clone network, and by extension, the ninjas near them.

TSUNADE

"Itachi is here!" Tsunade yelled in disbelief. Along with the blond Senju, Kurenai, Shizune, Jiraiya, and a clone of Naruto are now following the team of Root Anbu. Before Naruto's clone mentally received an updated situation, the group had been tracking the Root team that ran away. The team seemed to specialize in hiding their presence, as neither Jiraiya nor Tsunade could sense them unless they moved with even a hint of chakra assistance. Now, the fast sprinting group is leaping from building to building, following the hit-squad back to their base.

"In Konoha?" Tsunade snapped, feeling the frustration growing, and she hasn't even worn the hat a single day yet. It left her wondering how often event-heavy situations arose. 'It's a wonder Sensei wasn't knocking on death's door sooner,' she thought with exasperated disbelief.

"Yeah, but like I said," Naruto called back. "He's on our side."

Shaking her head as if that changes anything, Tsunade emphatically points out, "he's still a wanted criminal, Naruto!"

As their chakra-enhanced legs sprint and leap, almost of their own accord, Naruto nods weakly, hesitantly affirming, "yeah… but… it's not like he has to be, exactly." Tsunade's shocked and focused eyes snapped on him, to which Naruto hastens to clarify, "okay, okay, okay. I'm not excusing what he did. He murdered—murdered—innocent people; women, children, elderly. No matter how you slice it, that's all sorts of wrong and should be punished…" The others observe in silence as Tsunade slowly returns her attention to the team a quarter-mile away, however, she wasn't surprised when Naruto adds, "but… I just mean… it's not like he wanted to kill his own family. He's not some blood-thirsty nut-case like Orochimaru. Itachi was put in that position. A lot of people failed the Uchiha clan way before Itachi was forced to clean it up."

Realizing what the blond boy wanted wasn't difficult. Despite their brief association, she found it comically easy to read him. 'He wears his heart on his sleeve,' she told herself often, whenever the topic of Naruto would come up. As she leaps through the cold air, listening to him argue in Itachi's defense, she sighs internally, hating that she has to remind him, "I can't let him walk, Naruto."

Unnecessarily turning his attention far away, he stammers, "I wasn't really asking that-"

"Yes, you were," she quickly affirmed. "I've known you long enough to figure you're good to a fault."

Jiraiya's voice echoes around them as he asks, "why not just kill Danzō?" drawing a concerned gaze from Tsunade. Her sternly knitted eyebrows seem to ask, 'what the fuck,' to which the sage responds, "what? He already kidnapped Naruto, attempted to kidnap Karin, and he threatened our lives! Doesn't that deserve punishment? The man's incapable of trusting anything he can't control, which means if we're a threat to him now, we'll always be."

Landing on the empty street from the building tops, they quickly come to an open manhole cover. Without moonlight, they were looking at nothing more than a pitch-black circle. Tsunade turns to Jiraiya and assures him, "you know sensei won't see it that way. He won't agree to this deal between Danzō and Itachi. The council won't either."

"Why sensei has allowed that man to continue Root is beyond me," Jiraiya casually replied before leaping into the dark hole first. He's quickly followed by Naruto, Shizune, Tsunade, and Kurenai. Naruto's chakra shroud allows them to see several feet in front of them, however, Jiraiya taps him on the shoulder, and motions to cut the light so as to not give away their position from a great distance away. In pitch darkness, the stench felt even worse, like a rat decomposing under their noses. Despite zero visibility, sound and chakra are more than enough to continue pursuing their target at full speed.

"But you're practically Hokage right now," Naruto brought up. "Shouldn't it be your decision?"

"Naruto," Kurenai voiced echoed from behind him, warning him he could cross a line.

However, Tsunade could recognize Naruto's steadfast will to fight for what he believed in, and practically expected it when he cites, "look, I know Itachi can't be forgiven. That's not what I'm asking. I just think, if he wins, wouldn't he be helping Konoha out? I mean, I can't let Danzō walk after what he did, so either we kill him and Root—who are our countrymen—or Root escapes and tries to murder me and mine when we least expect it, or… Itachi becomes the leader of Root and we avoid the worst."

There's silence for several long moments. As five pairs of feet softly touch the wet metal under them at fast speeds, the only thing Tsunade agrees with is that she doesn't like any of it. It was as if there was no right answer. She couldn't deny Itachi's culpability as much as his complicity. However, did that mean executing Danzō and placing Itachi in command? She would be the one to deal with him when she becomes Hokage. Tsunade sighed internally yet again.

Breaking the metallic silence, Jiraiya's low voice points out, "Root was technically disbanded after the Uchiha Massacre." She'd glare at him if he could see her. "We'd only be enforcing that edict in the most peaceful way possible… that is, if we do it Naruto's way."

Tsunade sighed out loud before voicing, "Kami, I'm really starting to hate this job."

"Better you than me," Jiraiya guffaws before earning a smack across his head.

UNDERGROUND

No more than three minutes pass before teams of Root Anbu arrive one by one. In sets of three, they appear anywhere behind Danzō, Monkey, the wounded Sparrow, and Sai, with weapons drawn. Itachi observes men in dark clothes and plain animal masks in dark clothes, no better or worse than any other specially trained Jōnin. He can't help but note the root of their problem was standing ahead of them.

Soon after, other men, not of Root, arrive. Landing on the elevated railing to the right, a clone of Naruto, Kakashi, and Guy-sensei peer the scene below them. The clone dispels, sending the memories of explaining everything to them, before the senseis body-flicker beside Naruto and Itachi. "So it's really true," Guy states before Morino Ibiki and Anko enter the room from a south entrance and land beside Kakashi. Morino Ibiki takes three steps toward the missing-nin before Naruto steps between them. Before the tortured Jōnin can assert his authority, the last of Danzō's men arrive, completing over three dozen men. Kakashi puts his palm on Ibiki's shoulder before Danzō addresses his men.

"Hear me, my loyal men-"

"No," Itachi swiftly interrupts. "Loyal is a code phrase to specific members ordering them to disregard the following command."

Thrusting a strong accusatory finger at the jaded War Hawk, Naruto yells, "you're already trying to trick us!?" Turning to Itachi, he promptly asks, "why even bother with this? We can't even trust him to not be an ass!"

"He called them here," Itachi replied, observing there was not a single shinobi missing. "It's better than them being around our loved ones."

"Agreed," Kakashi quietly spoke from behind them.

Slowly, absent any remorse, Danzō replies, "my mistake." He again turns to his men and commands with his hard tone of voice, "re-execute: Pick up." Naruto turns to Itachi, who simply nods as Danzō continues. "My Root Anbu, I consider you to be the very core of this village. When other shinobi, who believe they are above us, buckle and wane under the weight of duty, Root remains. We hold strong because we must. Or the Leaf falls."

Turning to Itachi just as Jiraiya, another Naruto-clone, Tsunade, Shizune, and Kurenai enter the stadium-like chamber from an access point directly to their right. Naruto's clone dispels—also sending Naruto the memories of alerting and guiding them—before the unit land at the center of the arena below them. Tsunade leads the pack, walking up to Naruto, Kakashi, and Itachi, specifically eying the latter. She peers into the calm eyes of a genocidal madman and sees nothing but calm Sharingans staring back at her.

Though she couldn't be sure, Tsunade got the distinct impression he had nothing he felt the need to hide. In her long life as a ninja, woman, and gambler, she's come across every type of person imaginable. Rarely is she surprised or incorrect in her estimation of a person. Gauging the silent and open Uchiha, she simply couldn't be sure. Her mind was telling her, 'don't trust him,' however, her gut was advising the opposite. Deciding to hold off, she turns to the one-eyed reason they were all there that night.

"Tsunade, Jiraiya, welcome to my home," Danzō impassively greets.

Looking around the cold, stone arena, the balconies on either side, and the high ceiling above, Tsunade asks, "do you typically welcome others by kidnapping them?" Danzō remains silent a moment before the next Hokage follows with, "is everything I heard true?"

From his very mouth, the old War Hawk proclaims, as if offended, "everything I've done tonight is no different from anything else I've done for village and country!" Tsunade stares dispassionately as he asks her, "are you here to stop this and arrest Uchiha Itachi, as is your duty?"

Experienced though the veteran may be, she has several decades of experience as well, and points out, "you didn't answer my question, Danzō. But I suppose you don't have to. Nothing about you is a good bet." Taking a few steps toward the cunning man, she adds, "if it's between you and Itachi-"

The incredibly instant act of Itachi, the wanted criminal, appearing in front of Tsunade, the future leader of Konoha, had Jiraiya body flicker just as fast, placing a hand on the Uchiha's shoulder, preventing him from any potential attack. On Itachi's other side, Kakashi casually has his kunai in hand ready to strike Itachi's jugular if not for the sun-like Naruto's powerful grip holding his sensei's equally strong forearm. The evidence they couldn't completely trust Itachi was in their intent to kill, however, they couldn't deny much more was at stake when Itachi accuses of Danzō, "you don't think I know everything about Shisui's eye?"

Itachi's Sharingan glare at Danzō in perfect recognition. Tsunade's only motion throughout Itachi's movement was her looking at Itachi. Jiraiya and Kakashi also focus up as the golden Naruto informs his senseis, "in this mode, I can sense even more than usual." The future Hokage listens to her fellow blond add, "I don't quite get it but something hostile is coming from his right eye."

"It's a subtle yet powerful mind-controlling dōjutsu," Itachi confesses, and Jiraiya eventually removes his hand. "He meant to manipulate you without you even realizing it using a powerful genjutsu." Danzō remains stone-faced despite the hostile stares from the other side of the arena.

As Kakashi re-holsters his kunai, he cheerfully notes toward gold-chakra enhanced Naruto, "you've certainly gotten faster," who happily smirks at the compliment.

Having had enough of second-guessing herself, Tsunade asserts with clear finality, "I'm not making my life any more complicated than it needs to be." Crossing her arms was Jiraiya's sign for him to call the other Jōnins. Guy, Shizune, Kurenai, Morino Ibiki, and Anko all land around Tsunade as Danzō's three dozen men surround their leader in a protective formation. She orders the one-eyed War Hawk, "give up peacefully."

Despite Tsunade's camp being outnumbered three to one, neither leader can discount Naruto's effect in battle, Jiraiya's legendary prowess, or Itachi and Kakashi's genius-level combat ability. Add to that the strongest Taijutsu master, four incredibly proficient Jōnins, and the best medical ninja in the country, The Legendary Sucker, was confident in their chances. However, before Danzō responds to her ultimatum, Itachi voices, "Danzō can't, Tsunade-sama. In his eyes—in all of their eyes—Root must always exist. They'll die for that."

Understanding his argument, she asks, "so you believe you ought to be the one to take over?"

"I'm the only one who can," he calmly replied.

After a moment of reflection, she asks the one thing that's been causing her the most stress. "Can I trust you?"

Naruto wanted to interject, taking in a breath to speak when Kurenai was right there to take his hand in hers and gently shake her head. Despite the words of defense on the very tip of his tongue, Naruto held them in, squeezing her hand in appreciation.

"That burden is not on me," Itachi easily responded. "Do or don't, my mission remains the same."

"Which is?"

Turning to the source of so much misery, Itachi answers, "kill Danzō. Protect Sasuke and Konoha."

Tsunade isn't the only one staring at him and absorbing the sincerity in his response. The others could believe him just as much as the next Hokage can. Naruto smirks with glee as Tsunade voices, "very well," and her command eases their killing intent. From across the arena, Danzō can see the answer in her honey-brown eyes, and he's not amused.

His one uncovered eye glares at her as he addresses the loyal men around him. "I've recalled you here to bear witness to this sanctioned contest of leadership between myself… and Uchiha Itachi. You all know him, studied him. He wore the mask of Anbu and led black-ops teams. Like us, he's scorned the sun to live in the shadows." Turning to his men, he places his left arm behind his back and paces. "Should I be the victor, our vision may continue unimpeded," he waited a brief moment for Tsunade to disagree. When she remained silent, he smirks before finishing, "should I fall, Uchiha Itachi will attempt a different direction. No one will interfere."

Except for Monkey, all of Danzō's men immediately shunshin to the high viewing balcony to the left of the stadium. He then removes the three large screws from the three golden braces binding his arm and gives them to Monkey. Danzō's bodyguard flickers to the balcony on the left with the rest of the members of his unit. At the other end of the wide stone arena, a stiff nod from their beautiful leader sends Guy, Shizune, Ibiki, and Anko to the elevated pathway on the right of the arena.

Tsunade tells Itachi, "if you live, we talk afterward."

At Itachi's accepting nod, Tsunade, Jiraiya, and Kakashi join the others on the right walkway. Itachi then turns to Naruto and Kurenai, asking the blond, "can you bring Sasuke here? I want him to see this?"

"Uh… yeah. I left one with him just in case," Naruto states before letting go of Kurenai's hand and summoning a clone that disperses just as fast. Naruto retakes Kurenai's hand and the three wait in silence a moment.

Noting their joined hands, Itachi quietly conveys, "congratulations."

The golden Naruto grins broadly as Kurenai blushes some. Before another word is uttered, Sasuke appears in the blink of an eye along with a clone of Naruto. The clone disperses as the real one calls out, "there he is." Sasuke quickly surveys the area he was teleported to before being abruptly shoulder-checked by his blond teammate. Sasuke glares at him as Naruto cheerfully informs him with a point of his thumb, "we're up there when you're done."

Naruto and Kurenai leap to join the others, the blond eagerly ignoring his grinning Godfather. Anko stands beside her best and only girl-friend as they watch the last Uchiha brothers talk below. Squeezing her hand, Naruto whispers to his fiance, "you wanted to wait until tonight and look what happened." Stunned by his train of thought in such a serious situation, a flushed Kurenai just shakes her head and tries not to let what they would've been doing make her smile.

"That's Danzō," Itachi informed his little brother, instantly making him glare at the man. "Activate your Sharingan and pay careful attention to everything he does."

Feeling his unyielding anger tighten his shoulders and clench his fists, Sasuke asks, "are you going to kill him?"

Flicking his forehead and causing him to flinch in surprise, the elder reminds his brother, "focus." Though annoyed to be treated like a child, Sasuke does nothing and listens as it's explained to him, "this is not a man you'll often come across in your life. Study his every move, for none of us are stronger than in the face of death."

Itachi returns his stern eyes to the mastermind of so much pain and death in his life and with nothing else, Sasuke runs to the wall before struggling to walk up the stone barrier. Near the railing, a good space away from the group, he's met with an extended hand by Kakashi, who reluctantly takes it. It leads Naruto to wonder if the ebony-haired avenger would take his hand if he offered it.

Not that long ago, he certainly would've been there offering his hand. He hated to admit it, but he wanted that validation. He wanted, more than anything, to be recognized by Sasuke. Naruto has learned a lot since then and it pleases him to note he didn't need that validation anymore. He squeezes the feminine hand intertwined with his in gratitude to all that he's accomplished since then. He has love & family now, and smiles when he feels her squeeze back.

'Still,' Naruto thought. 'We are teammates,' he admits and leans over Ibiki to whispers to Tsunade, "can you heal him up? He's hurt. Thanks." Tsunade whispers to Shizune who then walks over to Sasuke. Naruto felt content he was helping Sasuke for no other reason than because he was hurt, and not to seek validation. Unexpectedly, Tsunade gracefully takes his arm and assists his accelerated healing ability with her Iryō-ninjutsu.

In the moderate square arena below, two shinobi stood facing each other in a contest only one will walk away from. As Danzō unfurls the white bindings of his right arm, he remarks, "while I don't appreciate the audience, I find this to be ideal, Itachi. I can take your Sharingans and add them to my collection."

He rolled up the sleeve of his kimono and tied the hem around his shoulder, revealing to everyone's surprise that ten Sharingan eyes were implanted in Danzō's right arm. Itachi only thought his arm's chakra color was strange. Now that he knows why, he wonders why his right shoulder appears odd as well.

"Enough talk," Itachi coldly declared.

With nothing but a kunai in his right hand and piercing Sharingan eyes, he looked as fierce as if an army was standing behind him. With a kunai in his hand, Danzō makes the seals for Rabbit, Boar, and Ram, before sprinting to attack. Observing his third step on the stone floor, Itachi is more than confident his speed far exceeds anything Danzō's aged body can produce. Itachi appears right behind the veteran shinobi to attack his blind spot.

Danzō's experience makes up for his physical shortcomings as he narrowly slips Itachi's kunai to the bandaged side of his face and ducks under it, rotating his body so he could stab the missing-nin in the stomach. Palming the man's hand, Itachi raises his knees before kicking Danzō in the chest. Recognizing his openings, Danzō barely manages to put his forearm between the younger's foot and his chest, however, the force still sent him back six feet. Landing on his feet, the elder quickly pressed the attack.

Danzō's taijutsu is an impressive mixture of technique, adaptation, and experience, however, Itachi always seems in control. No matter the feint, the direction, the angle, Itachi never felt in danger, until somehow, he felt stabbed in the stomach. Everything stops for a long second so the wounded Itachi can investigate the hand that should be holding the kunai and the hand that shouldn't be. There is a kunai in each hand, and Itachi didn't understand how that could be until the genjutsu wore off and the real kunai was stabbed through his stomach.

Danzō sneers happily in the passive face of Itachi, until the Uchiha calmly raises his palm, and with two fingers, very deliberately, points to the left. Rotating his bandaged head in that direction, he sees the real Itachi stand by calmly watching. The fake Itachi in front of Danzō turns to a flock of black crows that flap their wings loudly as they fly away.

Danzō glares at the Uchiha until Itachi is suddenly stabbed in the back. His slender build hops on his toes and his chest pushes forward unnaturally as cold serrated steel is shoved into his spine. The content War Hawk leans his head forward, over Itachi's shoulder as he glibly voices, "don't take me so lightly because I don't share your Uchiha blood." Danzō ignores the Itachi he just stabbed to turn around to once again view the real Itachi. "My eyes are even more powerful than yours," he confidently professes.

"What good is all that power when you're so blind, Danzō," Itachi casually tells him.

From the walkways above, everyone is waiting for the battle to begin. After two minutes of nothing, Naruto couldn't help remarking, "they aren't moving at all."

"They're fighting with genjutsu," Kurenai answered.

Confident in the outcome, Danzō spews his venom by claiming with a sinister grin, "you're keeping your distance, Itachi; illusions and weapons. Are you so afraid of me?"

Watching the lone figure in the same spot he's been, the colors of Itachi's simple kimono and slacks suddenly inverts. Blacks are white, whites are black, and even stranger, the surrounding walls are nightmarish red. The ceiling matches the same glaring crimson tone, and their audience disappears altogether. His gaze returns to attention with a snap when he realizes Itachi is now standing in front of him. Only they're no longer face to face. Danzō is crucified with his feet and hands clamped to the wood cross.

Without a word or expression, Itachi walks up to his nemesis, creating tiny ripples on the now flooded floor, and using a sword he didn't have before, Itachi stabs him. Itachi uses his specialty, Infinite Tsukuyomi on Danzō, stabbing him again and again, regardless of how much he holds it in, grunts, or screams. Itachi adds a clone of himself with every stab, to increase the pain, agony, and fear.

"Let me hear you scream, Danzō," Itachi coldly voiced. "Scream just like my clan did that night."

The elder shinobi shut his left eye to use his stolen Sharingan to break the ultimate illusion. Itachi could feel Danzō's chakra struggle against it, however, he was confident that wouldn't work. Instead, the Uchiha happily commits to memory the fourth time he murdered Danzō and added another crucified Danzō to amplify the torture, when, to his great surprise, the pair of them were no longer within his infinite illusion.

The room was no longer flooded with still water; the walls were no longer blood red, and neither Danzō nor Itachi's color palette were inverted. Everything was at it was, only, Danzō drops to his knee a moment, gathering his breathing once again. As Itachi observes his opponent heaving slightly, he only notes only slight differences. His chakra decreased, he's slightly more exhausted, and it appears one eye on his arm closed. Standing once again, Danzō removes the bandages of his head to reveal Shisui's Sharingan.

"Another Sharingan," Tsunade exasperated from the walkway. Speaking more to herself than anyone, she asks aloud, "how's his body able to withstand the stress of so many Sharingans?"

Observing from beside Sasuke, Kakashi remarks, "without the body of an Uchiha, even one is difficult enough to manage. Puts me out for days if I use it too much."

Despite not being completely ready, Danzō presses the attack and practically disappears from his stationary position, however, Itachi's eyes have no difficulty tracking him. With his expert footing, he effortlessly dodges Danzō's rapid-fire attacks, feints, and counters, all the while taking the time to inspect Danzō's right arm.

Aside from the nine open eyes, the chakra looked slightly different from the rest of Danzō's chakra. With only a slight curiosity, he aims to take Danzō's entire right arm off, and as predicted, he managed to rip off the right sleeve tied to his shoulder. Leaping a safe distance away, he couldn't say he was surprised to see another deformity that was likely assisting him with the Sharingans on his arm.

Disgusted by Danzō's lack of decency, honor, and morality, Jiraiya didn't even want to voice who the face on his shoulder appeared as, only managing, "that's…"

"Grandfather," Tsunade coldly finished. Glaring at the man who'd desecrate the cells of her grandfather, Tsunade gripped the railing with both hands to keep from entering the fight and killing him herself. "Danzō must be using his cells to sustain all of those Sharingan," she informed the others as her intense grip squeezes the steel until they moan and cry into a smaller circumference.

Mentally speaking, "Katon: Goukakyuu no jutsu," as his hands flicker through six hand seals in less than a second, Itachi breathes in deeply before breathing out a boulder-sized ball of intense fire. Immediately he follows that with, "Amaterasu!" Danzō manages to evade the gigantic fireball, however, is engulfed in black flames by Itachi's pinpoint accurate dōjutsu.

Or so everyone believed.

Danzō suddenly appears behind Itachi, completely free of flames and bringing down his razor-sharp kunai with killer intent. Itachi's quick reflexes spare him from being stabbed in the neck, however, he's cut three inches long as he dives into a roll then spins away. Danzō continues to press the attack as hard as he can, clearly motivated to end this fight as fast as possible, and keeping Itachi is on his heels without a chance to recover.

"How'd he survive," Shizune asked her mentor as they watch Danzō smother Itachi with experienced fists and kunai strikes.

Answering in her stead, Jiraiya states for everyone's education, "from what I've learned, the black flame only stops once it's burned everything in its path."

"But it stopped," Kakashi noted.

"And Danzō's still alive," Anko added as they all observe Itachi twist out of another kunai strike into a roll away, and in the middle, launch his kunai at an unsuspecting Danzō, forcing him to leap out of the way. Having attached a thin string to the kunai, Itachi calls it back after finally creating a bit of distance between them. Danzō casually appraises his obscene arm before pressing the attack again.

Taking advantage of the space, Danzō flips through two seals, mentally voicing, "Futon: Shinku Gyoku," before firing wind bullets at Itachi.

As he swiftly dodges the shredding wind attacks, Danzō follows it with, "Futon: Shinkuha!" He exhales a whip of stone slicing wind that nearly decapitates Itachi's head. Danzō uses the stone cutting technique again on the floor, generating an immense dust-up, obscuring direct eye contact.

Leaping back for a third attack as the dust settles, his hand seals are interrupted when Itachi sends a large ball of fire at the veteran shinobi. Danzō leaps to the side, avoiding the scorching ball of flames, countering with his Fūton technique. When he breathes in, he's suddenly stabbed in the back by Itachi. Though observing from above saw the ball of fire for the henge'ed feint that it was, allowing the Uchiha to kill from his blind spot. Only, yet again, the murdered Danzō is no more, and another appears behind Itachi, intent on killing him as he makes everyone watching above wonder why he's not dead.

"Futon: Shinku Daigyoku!" From Danzō's lips, a giant ball of dense compressed air shoots out at Itachi at the destructive speed of a cannonball. To completely avoid such a large ball of heavy condensed air wouldn't be successful. Itachi closed his eyes to the death-dealing technique, only to open his greatest weapon. At such close proximity, Danzō had to leap back when his explosive ball of air struck a red chakra-ribcage that suddenly appears around Itachi, perfectly protecting him from the explosive meteor of air.

With blood streaming down his Mangekyo Sharingans, Itachi's skeletal form of the imperfect Susanoo surrounds his entire body and looms large over the backed away Danzō. Those on the balcony are stunned at an Uchiha technique none of them have ever seen before. The skeletal being was made of red chakra and had eerie golden-glowing eyes.

"Coooooool," Naruto groans with wide eyes in adulation.

Itachi's corporal manifestation of his chakra suddenly grips Danzō in its large and fast hands. It raises the Root leader high so its golden eyes can glare at the human before unceremoniously crushing the meat sack into gushing chunks of meat, guts, and bone. However, for the fourth time, the War Hawk appears elsewhere in the arena completely unharmed.

"He's using an unknown technique," Anko remarks with growing irritation. "He's gotta be."

"Unknown to anyone not Uchiha," Sasuke voiced to them all. "Itachi knows."

With his Sharingan activated—despite Shizune's request he deactivate them—Sasuke's been observing everything Danzō does. He's cataloging his techniques, his movements, and the multiple chakra colors of his body, right down to the insulting words he vomits. Sasuke is doing as his brother requested to the best of his ability, because he will not allow himself to ever be left out of battle again. He'll do everything in his power to avenge his clan in every way that matters.

'With Itachi,' he thinks with some measure of levity.

Though Itachi is visibly tired, slacking his posture and taking deeper and deeper breaths, he forces all of his power into leveling up his Susanoo. Worm-like muscle fibers slither over the skull and bones, rapidly forming muscle. Skin quickly follows and its dignified face even grows locks and a Pharaoh's chin. The entire form is then armored with a helmet that appears like a long-nosed tengu. More importantly, a flaming shield is in its left hand and a sword is in its right.

A power they never even considered Itachi or any Uchiha capable of stuns those in attendance. They watched and cataloged Itachi kill Danzō five times; An impressively fast thrust from the Susanoo's Totsuka blade; When Danzō summoned Baku, a gigantic elephantine chimera large enough to dwarf Itachi's Susanoo, and used its powerful suction to kill Itachi. But from within Susanoo, Itachi chokes the summon with a large fireball before slashing it and Danzō with its flaming blade. Even Danzō's explosive Fūton attack was effortlessly repelled by the Yata Mirror, killing its initial wielder. Even with distance, Itachi's Susanoo creates shuriken that appear like Matagama from its secondary hands and snipes Danzō from afar, killing him twice more.

It perfectly combined attack and defense, however, with only one eye remaining, Itachi runs out of enough chakra to sustain Susanoo. Everyone above had already uncovered how Danzō was avoiding death so impossibly, and they all wonder if Itachi can last another couple of minutes as he coughs a dangerous amount of blood from his mouth. Danzō doesn't hesitate to charge the Uchiha, intent on killing him with a kunai to the heart.

The worst danger to his little brother's life was a flash away from killing him and likely doing the same to Sasuke. As ever, his is the one life he couldn't bear to neglect by departing in death then and there. Thus, by sheer necessity, Itachi ignores the exhaustion and tremendous agony at his chest and grips the oncoming blade with his bare hand before redirecting it to his right pectoral whilst he stabs Danzō's chest with his own kunai.

Certain he out-lasted the notorious Uchiha Itachi, Danzō grins madly as he voices, "you were too soon. One eye is still open." Itachi was twitching, slowly gulping deep wheezing breaths. Only when Danzō smugly mocks, "go join… your parents…" does he feel icy dread sink into his bones like the cold steel still punctured through his chest.

"What's… happening," he gasps before couching. The muscle spasms of his coughing tighten his chest muscle around the sharp blade of Itachi's kunai, cutting him deeper and intensifying the agony. Dropping his sight, he didn't need a Sharingan to see deeply red blood hemorrhaging from his wound down his clothes. "Why… isn't… Izanagi working?" Itachi allows the genjutsu to wear off, showing the old War Hawk the last Sharingan in his arm had been closed throughout the final exchange. He was ready to deny what his eyes were showing him when he instead coughs blood from his open mouth.

Standing straighter, a weary Itachi strongly proclaims, "in a battle of eyes." He tightens his grip and twists as he finishes, "there are none… who can surpass the Uchiha."

Holding the older man up by the kunai like it was a handle extending from Danzō's chest, Itachi extends four fingers to the monster's right eye. To Danzō, they looked like claws eager to pluck out his only remaining source of meaning and he hears Itachi hum, "I'll take that back now."

Feeling the unjust end of all his efforts and plans come so palpably near, like he's never felt before, Danzō pulls his head away as he rips open the rest of his bloodied kimono, revealing for Itachi and those observing above, the reverse four symbol seal. "For the sake of Konoha… and the safety of the world!" Itachi leaps away as the madman yells, "I'll take you with me!"

Activating the Fūinjutsu, four black characters flash brightly before extending incredibly fast from his body. Faster even than Itachi, however, as the seals merge into a large pitch-black sphere, he leaps in that last second to escape its range. Immediately after, everything the black sphere touches is instantly sucked into the condensed bloody meat-marble that is the corpse of Shimura Danzō.

Falling to the floor on his back, with a kunai two inches into his left pectoral muscle, Sasuke is the first to land beside the wounded Itachi, followed by Naruto and the others. Itachi can't distinguish their voices as more than unfocused noise, however, he could read their blurry lips and the surprising concern in their eyes. The elder Uchiha couldn't help but want Naruto in Sasuke's life, and if possible, for them to be the best of friends.

"Are you okay?" Sasuke and Naruto ask, however, he doesn't answer. He's fairly certain using his Susanoo for so long with his illness is keeping him from speaking.

Tsunade walks over him and the medic-nin extends her green chakra-covered hand before asking, "may I?" At Itachi's nod, Tsunade places both of her palms on his chest. Except for Itachi, no one notices Tsunade's subtle surprise. Itachi's black eyes stare at her and she can understand without him nodding that he was confirming her diagnosis. Regardless, Tsunade addresses the stab wound and the internal bleeding from a severed the axillary vein. It doesn't take the renowned Iryō-nin more than three minutes to mend the worst of his wounds and provide him with a little energy.

After Tsunade steps back, she helps him to his feet. The pair decide with their eyes what must come next and Itachi slowly turns to the Root members still observing from the walkway above. Some of the three dozen men are eying the crater that was their leader while the rest observe Itachi surrounded by shinobi who step in the light. His gaze scans each masked man and gathers slight, imperceptible details tells about their state of mind. That they were all still present bodes well for him and he was only slightly disappointed when he calls, "to me."

Three painfully silent seconds with the masked men staring down with uncertainty. Their leader, whom they thought would never die so abruptly, has died. Adding to the sudden loss of their north star, had Danzō died a natural death, each of them could be certain he'd have selected his successor from among Root members. Upon Danzō's death, they now have to accept an outsider because that was what was bargained for. Two seconds was all they needed to accept what was not in their power to control.

Naruto smiled when Sai was the first to land in the trashed arena below and kneel before Itachi with head bowed. Not long after, the rest joined Sai in the arena of battle and kneeled to their new leader. Monkey and Sparrow take the lead in their respect of the change and look up when Itachi addresses them.

"There are many tasks suitable for Root that have nothing to do with toppling villages, kidnapping children, performing unsanctioned & forbidden experiments, and unilaterally assassinating key targets. I know, as my predecessor did, that the hardest decisions require the strongest wills, but unlike Danzō, this era of Root will have a more harmonious relation with our countrymen in the light. The tree may survive because of its roots, but, a root without a tree has no purpose. To that end, we will provide the most accurate assessment of any given situation, and should our Hokage deem our talents necessary, we will facilitate their needs to the best of our ability. Is that understood?"

"Hai, Itachi-sama," they all call out in perfect unison.

"Prepare to notify all our field agents of the change in leadership," Itachi ordered, adding, "and have a full damage report ready for me when I return."

"Hai," they call through their masks before leaping away to do their leader's bidding.

Turning to Sasuke's puzzled expression, Itachi can understand his hesitation. His younger brother has a deep-seated hatred for the very village Itachi has professed to protect. He wants to make sense of it but isn't able to at the moment. Itachi knows he'll hear about his reservations later. Turning to Tsunade, Itachi awaits her final decision.

Eying the young Uchiha knowing his diagnosis, Tsunade nods sternly before asserting, "I guess we need to talk."

BLACK ZETSU

As the masked Root member leaves his new leader to complete his duty, the parasitic presence implanted in the unsuspecting ANBU is making a mental report of everything he witnessed.


There are 361 tenketsu on the chakra network. That seal technique doesn't close all 361 tenketsu. It just obstructs/hinders most of them. I personally believe if all 361 were blocked, that person would die. 99% of chakra users primarily release chakra from their hands and feet anyway. But I assume that absorbing natural energy can be done throughout the body and expelled throughout the body even if it's not a technique. It's not as if they specifically said a ninja takes in natural energy through the hands and feet. I don't know. Let me what you think.

I wasn't sure I was going to go this route with Danzō and Itachi, but I always liked that in canon, an Uchiha killed him. Obviously my-Sasuke couldn't do it, so in comes Itachi. I had a draft that really airs out their laundry; a lot of bad blood between them, but with all the talking already in it, I had to trim out a lot when I realized Itachi doesn't really say more than he needs to. I'd be curious to know if you think I'm too lenient on Itachi or if he should be thrown in jail? Could a jail even hold him? Oh, could a jail protect him from Kisame coming to keep his promise? That would be interesting.

I hope you enjoyed the update. The next update will have lemons in it. I've already written the outline so, we're putting a pin on story and character development. Time for some juicy lemons. Sorry if that's not your thing.

Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment. As always let me know your thoughts. You guys always help me be better. Thank you to my patrons for your amazing contribution. If you don't know, I have a patreeon that I consider my tip jar. It's actually helped me during hard times so I'll always be grateful to you for that. I also have a novel on Amazon called Old Hand Steel by Santana Bazil if you'd like to support a growing author. It's the price of a cup of coffee 😁

As always, be safe and have a great one,

-Grae