The Power of a Lie

"What do you mean, Danzo is going to be Hokage?" the words left my mouth with the taste of ash, while my eyes narrowed dangerously towards Itachi, who looked supremely unconcerned with my plummeting mood.

The sky was clear and there was a fain breeze lifting the dust from the ground, leaving the landscape of the reddish mountains of Iwa to be seen through a faintly glimmering curtain of minuscule particles that reflected the sunlight. Looking at Itachi, it appeared that everything was going as he wished for the first time in a long while, and sensing that I was already planning to storm Konohagakure no Sato, he spoke: "You once asked me about Shisui's eyes."

I frowned, my mind recalling the conversation we had inside of his Tsukuyomi immediately after I retrieved Kakashi's Sharingan "You told me he asked you to kill him because he couldn't bring himself to act against the Uchiha, and that you had destroyed those eyes."

Itachi nodded thoughtfully before casting his gaze forward, his black eyes spinning into blood red with no wavering of any kind in his chakra: "I lied."

The delivery was so dry, the words so soft-spoken, that I almost choked on my own spit. I had learned that he could deadpan like the best of them, but every time he did so, it was so unexpected that it left me floundering for a reply: "You... lied."

The silence of my companion was the only answer I received. In those seconds, we kept moving, only for my mind to connect the dots: "Ah... has Danzo, let's say... turned a new leaf? Coincidentally, just in time for your brother to return in Konoha without questions asked about his absence?"

"Coincidentally." Itachi nodded quietly, and I wanted to laugh.

I jumped over a jutting section of rocks while we neared our target: "Does this mean you have another Kotoamatsukami ready to turn an enemy into an ally?"

The silence that followed was the only answer I truly needed, but nevertheless, my mind was awhirl with the implications while I tried to adjust my plans: after all, we had a good amount of assets stacked against the quickly dwindling might of the Akatsuki. Soon it will be over.

"Leader-sama has tasked Hidan and Kakuzu with the hunt for Sasori and Deidara: the missing Kazekage is an issue that he can ill afford at this point in time, while he has personally retrieved the Two-Tails." Itachi's stoic voice underlined how his thoughts were mirroring mine: with our faction able to count on myself, Itachi, Tobirama, and Hashirama as front-line fighters, we were hardly pressed for forces.

Especially now with the complicity of Konoha under a Kotoamatsukami'ed Danzo. "Kakuzu and Hidan will disappear soon enough, then we'll only have to reach the Big Bad in Ame with the delivery of the four and fifth tail, is that correct?"

"Leader-sama instructed Konan to work with Tobi to capture the sixth tail." Itachi spoke idly, as if he wasn't delivering the most important news that could be heard in the Elemental Nations: "The Immortal Duo should have delivered the seven-tails already."

"So we'll be the last ones." I concluded, keeping up with the count of Biju the Akatsuki had captured: "We'll spring everything with the delivery of our two targets, I reckon... Changing topic, how do you feel? We've been running for a while, this should be enough of a warm-up."

Itachi made a scene of breathing deeply as he kept moving, his movements as efficient as ever, and I almost snorted. Since the discovery of his malady, he had to consciously focus on wasting the less possible energy on any given task: with his genius, he had turned economy of movement into a science that it would take me years to replicate as a pale copy.

Necessity shaped one of the most formidable minds of the Elemental Nations into what he was today, and hard choices, and the bone-deep hurt they caused, forged his peaceful character into an adamantine blade.

I found myself smiling as I ran behind him, and for the first time in a long while, relief sang in my soul: was it truly so odd, that I trusted him to stop me if I became worse than what the Elemental Nations currently had?

"Stress test your lungs: anaerobic sprinting, broken breathing, the works... try everything that makes you breath harder than you should." the med-nin in me instructed Itachi: I was pretty sure that his lungs were as good as they were going to get, Hashirama's cells surprisingly eager to work with the heavy, dense chakra that characterized my Eternal Mangekyo-wielder companion.

He glanced at me with a twitch of irritation in the corner of his eyes, and I had to bite back a smile. Buried deep under the unyielding layers that made him who he was, he appeared to be human: like all shinobi and kunoichi, he had skills that had been hard-won with endless training and great amounts of strife. Because of his malady, he had forcefully applied his analytical mind to every step, every breath, every blink of his eyes: now I was asking him to temporarily behave like a badly trained rookie. Here's the smoldering remains of your pride, Itachi.

It was one of the few elements that could bring ninja on the same level: each individual had earned their skills with a lot of effort, perfecting them in a game that had your life on the line more often than not. And rightfully, shinobi developed a carefully kept in check pride for their skills. At least if they wanted to keep living: complacency was a signed suicide note, after all.

Itachi was a black blur as he streaked through the reddish, rocky plateau that would eventually reach the volcanic range where the host of the four tail was located: with his new lungs working cleanly and with no apparent side effects, I found that I was hard-pressed to follow as he started to put more effort in his running.

His striding steps weren't as long as he could make them on the flat terrain, chakra ran through his coils and exploded from the tenketsu under his feet in an inefficient manner that minute cracks on the rocks.

Still, he was starting to leave me behind, and without Sage Mode, I wouldn't be able to keep up for long without starting to actually get tired. In the lull of our run, my mind returned to counting our resources, in particular those that would reveal themselves extremely useful when revealed as a trump card.

I still had Kakashi's Sharingan: and Obito tended to use his phasing skill every time he could when he faced a new enemy. Should I implant it in a small snake, one capable of concealing himself, and train with him to be ready to throw my massive repertoire of ninjutsu into the Kamui dimension?

The Kotoamatsukami that was left in Itachi's hands... who among our enemies would be our best bet? Nagato with his bullshit Rinnegan? Maybe he could avoid the effects somehow, especially if the technique was executed through one of his puppets. Konan could be extremely dangerous in the right circumstances, but she was hardly someone whose sudden presence on our side would change the tides of our war. Obito himself? With the Uchiha bullshit going on, and the half-Hashirama body he had? I didn't even consider Hidan or Kakuzu, neither would survive long enough to be useful in any case. Maybe we should simply keep it as insurance?

I shook my head as I kept running behind the increasingly smaller shape of Itachi.


Shikamaru was, at almost sixteen years of age, feeling like he was an old geezer that just didn't know how to let go.

Over Konoha, it was raining, and while that would have once meant that he couldn't enjoy could-gazing, it now felt especially appropriate: under the heavy rain and with very little wind to accompany the downpour, the black obelisk holding all the names of the shinobi and kunoichi died in action stood like a defiant, pointing finger accusing the sky.

"So... I've been made Tokubetsu Jonin, for 'great accomplishments in time of need', or some such tripe: I merely pointed out that the tactic that was being used was tantamount ot suicide..." Shikamaru spoke tonelessly to the memorial stone, his dark eyes never leaving the white characters that spelled out a certain name, "I know we didn't have all that time to train or hang out together since the war began and that our assignments kept us separated more than we'd have wanted."

A part of the Nara's mind realized that it had been deliberate: after all, when Daiki revealed himself alive and kicking, issues had been raised about the trustworthiness of his students, which had been split in order to be easier to observe by the new teammates they were assigned. It was perfectly logic, but that didn't mean that it wasn't infuriating as well.

The purposeful scrap of a sandal over the ground made the recently christened Jonin turn on himself, his shadow twirling around his feet as if ready to strike out, only for it to pool over the wet grass naturally when he recognized the newcomers.

"Hey Shika." Ino stood uncaring for the rain, her blonde hair braided on one side of her head to leave easily visible a scar that ran from behind her ear to her temple. She wore dark pants and a mesh shirt under a purple, long-sleeved jacket that accentuated her curves purposefully without being crass: but the fierce burning of her teal blue eyes revealed just how much she was merely wearing her 'guise of civilty', as Shikamaru had dubbed it.

Her hands were always ready to launch projectiles, her mind always poised to strike with the fury of a tiger: the demure tone she adopted now made Shikamaru distractedly wonder what she was hoping to... Oh.

Not far behind the girl stood the noble-looking Sasuke Uchiha: but where he had been a competent soldier the last time the two met, he was now a mighty warrior, even if not trained to perfection. His chakra hung heavily over his shoulders, like a mantle of barely hidden power: there was a tension in the corner of his eyes, in the set of his shoulders, that...

"We didn't want to intrude, but I wanted to say hello too." Ino spoke again, and while Shikamaru registered her words and shrugged in dismissal of her implied apology, his eyes noticed the fractional relaxing of Sasuke's shoulders.

His mind, like always, ran ahead of him, connecting elements that could appear coincidental in a logical frame of inescapable prcision: "Chouji would have been happy for you two."

Rolling her eyes at his display of intuitive prowess, Ino smiled softly: "He would have tried to bully me into offering dinner to celebrate, in that passive-aggressive way of his."

Despite himself, Shikamaru offered a grin as he passed her by: "I had to go anyway, see you around, Ino, Sasuke. Glad to see you back from your mission."

Sasuke didn't rise to the bait, but his eyes darted around, as if to check for other people listening in, and the Nara had the answer he had been looking for. An answer that was only another piece in a puzzle that he wasn't even close to putting together. The first classified reports of the raid on Kumo had marked Sasuke as Missing In Action. And now he had been shuffled back into Konoha with no declarations to underline how the Uchiha clan still lived. His reaction had offered an answer that Shikamaru hadn't truly been looking for, but that nevertheless rang true in his mind. He was not on a mission issued by Konoha under the guise of being MIA.

Shaking his head, Shikamaru walked at a civilian's pace from the memorial stone and the name of Chouji Akimichi that was sculpted into it. He moved from under the rain to under the thick boughs of the small forest surrounding the black obelisk. The reports had been as clear as they were underwhelming: died in an ambush.

An ambush. The words didn't leave him, and they kept rattling in his skull as he moved under the relative protection of the trees. He died in an ambush, while I was in HQ trying to prevent 'Failure'.

The memory of the genjutsu that Daiki-sensei had used to test him and his team rose as always with a clarity that was just the tiniest bit unnatural: and Shikamaru remembered the smells, the sounds, the pain, and the crippling sense of defeat that accompanied them.

Busied with his musings, he moved up to the Hokage's tower without bothering with the changes that were already taking shapes in the village: he knew already of the other face that was slowly being sculpted besides the stern visage of Tsunade Senju: traditionally, the name of the next-Hokage to be was an open secret before the ceremony during which the face on the mountain would be unveiled.

But this left Shikamaru with a problem he didn't fully know how to address: after Daiki's first disappearance from Konoha, back when he used the battle with Orochimaru to vanish from the world, he had left to the Nara genius a small, leather-covered black book.

Such book contained a multitude of state secrets, not last among them the one behind the Uchiha Massacre, along with the main players, as Daiki-sensei had defined them, in the theatre of the Elemental Nations: Danzo Shimura was one such player.

The Nara had developed a familiarity with mind techniques thanks to being teammates with a Yamanaka, and given the quality and quantity of things he wanted nobody to ever discover, he had long since tried to tweak his bloodline into an unholy mixture of self-genjutsu and code-words aimed to trigger his memory in case he ever forgot that he had such safety measures set in place.

His mind relinquished the attention it had over Sasuke's quiet return, and his apparent relationship with Ino, just as he crossed the office of the man who was going to be Rokudaime. A man that Daiki had deemed trustworthy only when it came to dealing with external threats: a man that in his zealotism, had deliberately orchestrated the extermination of the Uchiha, collaborating with Orochimaru before he ran away in order to promote Konoha's scientific might at the expense of all those that didn't present an immediate bigger gain on the frontline. Danzo Shimura was all that was dark in the shinobi world: he was a man that exemplified why the Warring Clans Era had been gladly left behind when Hashirama conceived another option.

Shikamaru came to a stop in a relaxed position in front of the Hokage's desk, and observed the highest authority that Konoha had study him in turn.

The old shinobi, and a shiver of caution slithered its way along the Nara's spine at seeing a man that surpassed the sixty years of age in a world where ninja rarely hit 40, had an x-shaped scar on his chin, deep grooves that had once been something as innocuous as crinkles covered his forehead turning it into a perpetual frown, while bandages hid his left eye. His face, as impassible as it was, revealed less of Shimura's thoughts than the one that was being sculpted into the rock that oversaw Konoha.

"Jonin Shikamaru Nara." he spoke, and his voice was firm without carrying any hint to what the man was feeling, if he felt anything at all. Then his lone eyes darted to the ceiling, and his only visible hand darted through a sequence of hand-signals: as an answer, the ANBU strategically hidden in the office immediately left, and just as the last one closed the window behind him, the Rokudaime-to be pushed his chakra into a part of the desk to activate a complex bit of Fuinjutsu.

Ink that had been invisible up to that moment flared of a light blue as it ran across the office, sealing it from any attempt at eavesdropping, no matter what technique was going to be used for it: "In the first years of this village, Tobirama-sama started to develop a hidden force of shinobi whose loyalty could not be doubted: just as the Hokage was meant to be the sun shining upon the village, and our shinobi and kunoichi the trunk that lifted the next generation, those shinobi were to be the roots that kept Konoha standing."

The aged shinobi rose from his seat, his lone eye still impassibly staring at Shikamaru despite the heaviness of the topic: "Just as Hashirama-sama shone for all to see, Tobirama worked from the shadows, defending Konoha in its frailest moments. In the dark, with nobody knowing."

Shikamaru straightened minutely as his chakra started to ping madly inside of his own mind, information that he needed hidden being partially concealed in a way that could not be unveiled by any who wasn't a Nara with his expertise in matters of the mind.

"When the Nidaime was appointed as Hokage, he took two students: Sarutobi Hiruzen, and I." the chakra of Danzo was muted in a way that none could replicate as he spoke, his lone eye briefly running over the portraits of the previous Kage lined up on one wall: "And just as he had a brother to look after and who'd look after him, Hiruzen and I were shaped to assume the roles that Konoha needed of us."

The eyes of the Nara were briefly attracted to the portrait of the Nidaime: with his red eyes and white hair, there was little resemblance to his elder brother, but even in the dead copy of a painting, there was a fierce pride that the artist had been able to capture. A pride that could almost be heard, beneath all the layers of steely self-control, into Shimura's voice.

"Even the gods cast shadows: while Hiruzen shone for the world to see, for Konoha's ninja to emulate, I was entrusted with Root." there was no inflection whatsoever in the man's voice. He was simply stating the facts: "I the course of the years, I lost sight of the Will of Fire, which in me had been nurtured to burn everything that could be a threat, no matter the potential gain, to our home."

What? Shikamaru's eyes narrowed marginally: as a rule, superiors didn't admit mistakes in front of their subordinates. And what Daiki had revealed about Danzo in his black book of bullshit didn't point towards those words ever being able to fall from Shimura's lips.

As always when confronted with an impossibility, Shikamaru's mind blurred forward, leaving conscious application of logic far behind while dots that had nothing to do with one another barreled one into another until they formed a cohesive picture.

A scroll appeared into the hands of the old shinobi without any sign to give away the movement of Shimura's hands: and while his hold was steady, the way in which he looked at the scroll made it appear like it weighted like the entirety of Hokage Mountain: "Here there are all the pertinent information to how I built the current Root forces: methods, names, opportunities."

Shikamaru raised a single eyebrow in what was a conscious effort to portray inquisitiveness, but the twitch of the elder's lips made the Nara's chakra stir uneasily.

"You already know most of this, of course." Shimura's eye drilled into the newly christened jonin's head, but his voice remained calm, and while there was tension in the air, there was no feeling of violence ready to erupt, "I long since suspected that Daiki wasn't only what he portrayed himself as: his recent pairing up with Itachi Uchiha was what brought me to this."

Shikamaru accepted the scroll without being able to divine where the elder was hinting at: "You've given proof of remarkable strategic skills despite your youth, you learn extremely quickly, and your loyalty to your home is unquestionable: all characteristics that were needed for this task."

"Which would be?"

"The current Root forces are a mockery of the Will of Fire, those ninja aren't more alive than any random kunai, and for my part in that, I will never be able to make amends." the self-deprecating, sorrowful tone of Shimura Danzo contrasted so heavily with everything the Nara had been told about him that even then, his brain couldn't compensate for the cognitive dissonance that the situation was presenting him with.

"But those soulless husks that I have created are not to be thrown away aimlessly." the Rokudaime spoke, and while the sorrow in his voice wasn't gone, there was now the kind of steel capable of holding back the tides themselves: "Jonin Nara, you are to take command of those forces, and expend the lives of all those operatives in a manner that best benefits Konohagakure no Sato: you'll report exclusively to me, and once a month, you'll help me look in the current or next generation for that spark that can be nurtured into a sun."

Shikamaru was left holding the scroll that contained all the details he needed, while his eyes followed, flabbergasted, the retreating shape of Shimura Danzo, who sat back at his desk with his trusty impassible mask over his features: "Am I to be the shadow of the next Hokage?"

"Fitting, isn't it?" Shimura Danzo allowed dry amusement to seep in his words for a split second before he was once more the unreadable leader of before: "Dismissed."

With a pulse of chakra, the seals that had kept their conversation hidden started to unravel, and Shikamaru spoke without thinking, the situation too far from any predictable scenario to allow him his usual cool-headedness: "Do we always have to use people?"

He understood just what he had been asked, just hat he had been given: broken men and women, hammered into a mockery of human to serve for all those missions that made black ops look like a parade singing proudly Konoha's name. Worst of all, it felt like Danzo knew him so well that he felt he could entrust such information to him without negative consequences for his incoming nomination.

Because, from the look of things, Shikamaru's mind agreed that for all the unquestionably evil and wrong choices the man had made, he was now acting in a completely different manner. Exposing him wouldn't bring peace to the ones he had wronged, right now, on the cusp that had recently brought into sight the end of the war, the most efficient way to guarantee some measure of peace to the living was to cut away the rotten Root: but even erasing those he had just been entrusted with, Shikamaru knew that he could do much for his home, and maybe for the wider world. How can it be, that a man that Daiki described as the worst kind of monster, reminds me so much of my own sensei, in his methods, if not in his ambitions?

"Sharing a purpose," the Rokudaime replied with a hint of what could have been kindness in his voice, "it isn't using people as much as knowing how much each is willing to give, and not wasting that much time in dancing around the fact that everyone is expendable, and every one of us would be willing to give the life for our people's welfare. You will do as I asked, because you know that there is none better suited than you to deal with this kind of information, and you're rational enough to hold the future closer to your heart than a past you can't even remember."

What about the welfare of the rest of the world? Shikamaru couldn't help but feel that question ringing in his head as he turned and left the office.


AN

As usual by now, I used the chat at the beginning of the chapter to address the general situation as well as to try and forcefully inject some soul into the characters that I've dragged through 200k words of mindless execution of my chosen plot.

I hope everyone is enjoying the dual nature of my most recent chapters (actual events plus people reacting to events in the background), and that nobody saw coming Shikamaru's position in the Konoha's hierarchy. I never invested any effort in Chouji, and war isn't kind, so while this won't truly hurt Daiki, I simply decided to tie up that loose end with an off-screen death, which was then used as a starting point for Sasuke's return, confirmation of Ino's status, and Shikamaru's mental prowess.

As far as Danzo goes... I actually had fun writing him: he is still the heartless asshole he was before, but while he rationally can understand his past actions, he now feels just how warped he was. At this point in time, he is merely being pragmatic: he knows that his Root ninja cannot be 'rehabilitated': after a lifetime of careful mind-breaking, soul-bending training and work, the best he can do for Konoha is to put those lives into another's hands (that Daiki is paired with Itachi influenced that decision, as I've hinted at).

Shikamaru on the other hand, besides subtly helping this budding 'revolution' when he could (as I've shown in a previous chapter), is now given the kind of tools that he can freely use to pilot a lot of events unfolding in the Elemental Nations.

A without a leg, Kumo raided, Tsunade in a coma, Suna with no Kazekage... I'll refer soon to the situation in Iwa (weak Kage, but they still have their Biju for now), and Kiri, which is more or less canon-like by now, with Mei Terumi at the head, Chojuro set up to follow her at the top.

I've bypassed the reunion between Karin and Daiki for now: it would take a few hundred words and break the rhythm of the chapter, so I'll simply postpone it at the pre-assault on Ame that Daiki is thinking about in the first part of this chapter.

With the next chapter, we get started with the fights that will lead to the epilogue: opinions? Hopes? Let me know!