Disclaimer time – yeah, yeah, obviously I don't owe the Naruto, Hinata or anything characters or places you might recognize, so please don't sue me, I have nothing but debt anyway. So sorry about the delay everyone flinches I've had this on my computer for awhile, meant to post it, got caught up by a host of other issues & someone forgot that i hadn't. On the brighter side, this chapter may answer a few questions you've had, although it also opens up a few others, naturally :D

Thanks so much and don't forget to review, because after all, it was someone who sent a PM, which reminded me that I hadn't posted this chapter yet,

Chapter 11 – The Grand Scheme

Staring at the stone wall in front of him, Sauske came to the conclusion that he was fucked - reduced to mere taijutsu, which despite his all skill put him on a lower level than even Lee, unless he forcibly triggered his curse seal. Despite Kabuto's repeated attempts to remove whatever was blocking him, he still couldn't actively utilize his charka, nor could the medic-nin explain the presence in his head. Trust Naruto to somehow fuck up an otherwise ingenious plan, he shook his head in frustration.

It was the timing that really killed him . . . well, that and the fact that it was Naruto. More than even Itachi, it seemed that he was caught in a constant battle of playing catch-up with his old teammate. It had been perfect, not only would he be able to finally prove himself as the superior shinobi, but he would be able to use what he'd gain to finally avenge himself on Itachi. Once he killed his brother, everyone would have no choice but to acknowledge his strength – him, not Gaara, Naruto, Kakashi, Orochimaru or Itachi.

Everything he had ever done was to reach that one goal and to be so unbelievable close only to have it torn away from him by Naruto, of all people, Naruto who shouldn't have even graduated . . . was enough to drive him insane.

Remembering his frustration and disbelief when he was a member of team seven and watched in incomprehension as 'dead-last' managed to somehow surpass him in every aspect brought back every resentful moment. And then when he finally learned the secret behind the dobe's almost meteoric success, the demonic source of his seemingly inexplicable power, it reinforced every initial belief he'd ever had of Naruto.

Naruto was and always would remain a nothing, without the Kyubi, he'd be nothing more than a footnote in Konoha. He'd never had made it higher than a mere genin, assuming he even got it that far. Because of his unnatural stamina due to the Nine Tails, everyone thought he was some kind of genius and constantly promoted him through the ranks. When Sasuke had heard that Naruto was being considered as the next Hokage, he laughed his ass off it, but when it was officially announced, the laughter had stopped.

He had been declared a missing-nin, a fucking traitor, while that fraud was announced as the next Kage of Konoha – the ironic humiliation ate at him like acidic bile. He was the one who had killed Orochimaru, who had been hunting Itachi for all these years, Sasuke Uchiha. He was the heir to the greatest bloodline in all of Konoha, hell in the entire shinobi world, yet Naruto was the one they loved, the one who garnered all the praise that rightfully belonged to him.

A nobody, a nothing, a virtual non-entity, he was a parasitic weakling who depended on a fucking demon to survive who subverted all the glory that should be his. So what if he hadn't chosen to be sealed by Nine Tails, Naruto certainly used it to his full advantage when it suited him. Who cared that the dobe was a fucking orphan? Hadn't he survived the slaughter of his entire clan? Hadn't he been possessed by the damned curse seal? Hadn't he suffered as much, while going on to achieve so much more?

It was an injustice.

Lounging in what used to be Orochimaru's 'office,' or what in the privacy of his mind Sasuke had always dubbed the throne room, he sat casually in the huge chair that despite his best efforts he never really filled completely. One leg thrown over the harsh arm, as he leaned at an angle, half resting against the large back of the chair, half sprawled across the other armrest, calculatingly giving off every appearance of apparent calm in an effort to stave off his growing sense of losing all control.

"I did try to warn you, Sasuke-san," Kabuto took a moment to push his glasses higher on his nose, "that attempting to posses the Jinchūriki (a host carrier of a demon spirit) might have unforeseen repercussions."

Glaring at the older man, Sasuke's eyes narrowed at the implied criticism buried beneath seemingly subservient layers and he had to physically stop himself from grinding his teeth. It was a galling reminder that as much as he'd enjoy mercilessly slaughtering the medic-nin, he didn't dare . . . not yet, anyway. The bastard was still too useful. He'd already made that mistake with Orochimaru and just look where that had gotten him.

"Your warnings," and he sneered the word out, "were vague and obviously insufficient. What I need now is to know how to fix it . . . but as usual, when it's actually important, you're useless to me as you were to Orochimaru." A bitter smirk of perverse satisfaction teased at the corner of his mouth as he watched Kabuto stiffen.

In response to the reproof, the grey-haired man dropped his head slightly, just low enough to skirt the edge of insubordination. "As always, Sasuke-san, I do my best," but for all the softness of his words, Sasuke could still make out the underlying hint of rebelliousness and felt torn between vindication and wariness. He stared at the top of the man's head intently, wanting nothing more than to see his blood flowing across the stone floor, idly contemplating which method would produce the greatest splatter.

Kabuto's next words, therefore, took him by surprise.

"If you really wanted to know, of course, I could always perform the Edo Tensei (Summoning: Impure World Resurrection) and bring back Orochimaru-sama, himself so you could personally question him. No one, nor even I, knows more about the Fushi Tensei (Living Corpse Reincarnation) jutsu than the man who created it, Sasuke-san."

The sly smile Sasuke saw on Kabuto's face belied the otherwise respectful offer and he broke out into a burst of harshly sardonic laughter. Dammit, even after he had killed the bastard, that damned snake continued to thwart him from beyond the grave. "Oh, you'd like that wouldn't you? Your precious Orochimaru-sama back in the flesh and under your control? You really think I'm that stupid?" He demanded scornfully.

"The second you got that chance, you'd try to avenge the old bastard by siccing him on me! You know it, I know it, hell, everyone in this damned village knows it! And Kami only knows what you'd do afterwards," he snickered at the thought, "even your Orochimaru-sama would draw the line at necrophilia, but somehow I don't think you'd be able to."

Sasuke shook his head in genuine amusement. "The answer to that question, if you didn't figure it out, is no. Give me a reason to continue to spare your worthless life and find another way!"

"As you wish, Sasuke-san," Kabuto bit off his words carefully, quietly swallowing back his instinctive violent reaction. When Sasuke waved him out, to all appearances, he was his normal subdued self, but to those who cared to see, his lowered eyes were bloodshot with rage.

Exiting the room, he immediately made his way outside, breathing deeply in an effort to calm himself.

"Please tell me again, why we don't just kill the little upstart sonofabitch and be done with it?"

Kabuto spun around, sinking into a defensive stance before he recognized Yoroi, his old 'teammate' from the ill-fated Chunin exam and relaxed slightly. Glancing around, although he couldn't see an overt threat in sight, it never paid not to be overly cautious in the village of the sound. "Come on," he sighed tilted his head slightly towards the outskirts of the buildings.

Yoroi shrugged in resignation before followed the de facto second in command, although in his mind, Kabuto was the only really in command since Sasuke's assassination of Orochimaru.

Once they were far enough away and he was collected enough to speak, Kabuto turned to the other man, slipping off his glasses to polish them.

Yoroi leaned back slightly at the sight of his still gleaming red eyes. "Whoa, man. I'm not the enemy here . . . " he raised his hands, palms upward.

"Yes, I'm well aware of that, Yoroi," Kabuto responded wryly, with a faintly bemused chuckle that died soon afterwards.

Relaxing slightly, Yoroi lowered one hand, the other running anxiously through his hair. "Ok then, man. Seriously, what the fuck are we doing here? I know you said to wait, but it's been like six years now and nothing's changed, if anything shit is getting worse. He's fucking lost it years ago and now? Going after the Kyubi? How many of us died because of his little pet project? That last mission was bullshit and you know it! We need to finish this and now, while there are enough of us left to take him. I don't care how much he learned from Orochimaru, he's still only one shinobi and he bleeds as red as any of us."

"No, we can't take him, Yoroi. Believe me, if we could, this would have been over long ago."

Kabuto sighed again, sick of rehashing the old argument, he replaced his glasses, eyes slowly faded back to their normal shade of inky black. "Even if we could convince those who aren't loyal to us and managed to unite all of the sound nin, it still wouldn't be enough."

"So what then?" The dark-haired man exploded in frustration. "We stay and slowly commit suicide by going on misguided missions that turn into full-blown slaughters? What the fuck kind of a plan is that? And don't give me that whole 'a nin's duty is to do or die and not to question why' bullshit, either, Kabuto. If I wanted to be kunai fodder and die with honor as an obedient shinobi, then I would have stayed in the damn hidden waterfall village," he sneered.

"No, we stick to the plan and wait, between the Akatsuki and Konoha, someone is going to take him out and then we'll be free."

He laughed, "But when, Kabuto? You've been saying that forever and nothing has happened yet!"

"Soon. Going after the Kyubi was monumentally stupid. The Akatsuki have marked the Nine Tails as theirs and the Leaf are hardily going to allow such an attack to go unanswered. All we have to do is wait and stay out of the crossfire."

"And how the hell do you propose we do that with everyone gunning for his head? I know you've got 'connections', but come on, man. . . . You know he'll gladly sacrifice us if it comes down to it."

"Sasuke'll count on it, but since his orders go through me . . . " Kabuto let his voice trail off meaningfully. "And as far as my 'connections' go," his eyes narrowed, "I'll have an additional source of information, in case he does try to screw us."

Kabuto gave the other man a minute to digest what he had just told him, whatever conclusions Yoroi came to were of no concern to him, so long as the man could keep his mouth shut. The moment he suspected the man was ready to flee or worse betray him, the medic-nin knew he'd have to die.

It wouldn't be the first time he'd have to kill a former ally to silence him, of course, but Yoroi had been a teammate for over a decade . . . It was one his longest standing, albeit loose friendships Kabuto could remember and he felt what he assumed would have been a tinge of remorse in most other people. All he could think of was home and much he wanted to go back, not that there was much to go back too, of course. His lips twisted into a wry mockery of a smile.

Anyone else would have given up years ago, much like Yoroi was ready to revolt or run, but what was a mere nine years in the grand scheme of things? He was on the same self-imposed mission he'd been on for nearly twenty years and still couldn't see a way out. Time was measured not in months or years, but rather in events – in retrospect if he had been half as smart as he'd believed, he would have left after Orochimaru's death, technically he would have fulfilled his goal, but stupidly he had wanted to see it played out to the end.

Who for one moment would have thought that Sasuke would have survived? And when he'd finally reestablished contact again, asking for permission to please come back home, somehow he'd allowed himself to getting talked into staying on by Gama-sennin. After Jiraiya's death, he could do no less than the old man, so he continued on, but he was growing so tired. The constant deceit that was now as instinctive breathing was wearing on him.

So when Sasuke came to him with his brilliant plan to posses Naruto and stealing both his knowledge and strength of the Kyubi, Kabuto stayed silent. He didn't point out the terrible flaw, not that it would have dissuaded the desperate-for-power Uchiha in the least, but nor did he inform his superiors in Konoha. For that decision, he knew that he would pay the price, but considering all the years he'd spent in exile, how bad could it really be?

However much the Fifth might want his blood for she would see as yet another betrayal, the fact remained that he was the only one who knew exactly what Sasuke had wrought with his madness and the only one left who knew how to undo it. For that, if no other reason, he'd be guaranteed sanctuary in Konoha, assuming he could get there in one piece. Something that became less likely by the day.

Kabuto wondered again, where the hell where they? He had sent for an extraction days ago. If his message had been intercepted, then he would already be dead so it must have gotten through, but the lack of response had him more on edge than he'd been in years.

His thoughts were interrupted when he realized that Yoroi was talking to him and he focused back on the other man, when he realized that it was more of the more of the same . . . Yoroi was worried about his own ass, as usual. Sighing deeply, he reassured him, repeating the same old platitude as before. "Relax . . . just wait . . . blah, blah, blah . . ." and swallowing back his real fears and concerns until the other man was satisfied and wandered away.

Kabuto shook his head in exhaustion, Konoha had better move soon. He couldn't keep this up forever and if he was going to die before this was all over, he wanted to see the green forests of home, one last time. He stared off into the distance until the fall of night, when he reluctantly retreated back to his quarters.

Gaara sat in a side chair, his eyes more focused on his friends than whatever DVD was actually playing on the television. The sun had long since set and Hinata could barely keep her eyes open. It was a curious situation, he mused to himself. Ever so often her eyes would slowly fall shut and her head would drift to rest against Naruto's shoulder, who would then flinch and wake her back up again, both of them mumbling a faint apology.

It was such a far cry from their usual behavior, and although he hadn't spent nearly as much time with Hinata as he had with Naruto, he saw enough that made him idly wish that he had slaughtered the Uchiha all those years ago during the Chunnin examination. Envisioning it gave him a small measure of satisfaction, the reality of course may have been very different, but he could dream. Shaking his head, the stoic sand-nin let the bloody image go as something to play with later. He had already made the determination that had been requested of him, not that the answer was going to satisfy anyone.

Whatever the Uchiha had done, and Gaara fully suspected that he knew, which if he was correct opened up a new hellish set of problems unto itself, was something that he had no knowledge of how to correct. He had almost confessed as much to Hinata earlier during dinner, but Naruto's reappearance had held his tongue. He would need to tell the both of them, along with Kakashi who he was sure shared his belief and Tsuande-sama, of course, but he selfishly choose to withhold revealing his suspicions.

At least they still have tonight to indulge in ignorance, although if this was how they usually spent their nights since the incident, Gaara didn't know whether to laugh or just shake his head in disbelief, wondering how the two of them ever hooked up in the first place. Where was Temari when he could actually use her? She was so much better at this matchmaking shit . . . About as much as he could manage was to get the two of them on the couch together and even that had been a bit of a fight.

He even contemplated calling her, but the thought of her reaction was enough to decide to pass on it. There was only so much humiliation he was willing to go through, even for Naruto's sake, which only reminded of him of that time he's let the blonde drag him out to karoke . . . talk about nightmares.

"Gaara?" Naruto's low and oddly hesitant voice caught his attention and he looked at the blonde directly.


"So have you figured it out yet?"

Green eyes narrowed slightly and taken a bit aback, he mentally debated a second too long. Playing ignorant was no longer a viable option, he realized and sighed heavily.

"How long have you known?"

Naruto smiled ruefully. "Not too long, really, although I figured out something was up back in the forest, even before Hinata showed up. Your timing was . . . suspect to say the least. I might be dumb, man, but not that dumb. Who put you up to it, Tsunade-baba or Kakashi?"

"The Fifth requested my assistance, although I believe it was Kakashi who suggested it."

Naruto nodded slightly as if in resignation, taking care not to jar Hinata. "Any brilliant ideas?"

"Unfortunately, no." Gaara paused, getting his thoughts straight. "From what I can surmise, the Uchiha must have attempted the Fushi Tensei – "

"But fucked it up," Naruto abruptly interrupted him, scoffing sarcastically. "Yeah, you think?" Tell me something that I don't know . . . like how to reverse it."

It was now Gaara's turn to hesitate. "When did you first suspect it?"

The blonde sighed. "For a couple of days now." He shrugged.

"What the hell else could it really be? With all the research Tsunade-baba and Hinata have done, not to mention the endless fucking tests, we know it's not medical. And Sasuke is too impatient to create his own jutsus, and even if he wasn't, what would be the point of one that would erase my memory? I would still have my actual ability, since I didn't physically regress and could just relearn everything. Besides, stealing my skill memory through a jutsu is stupid, he could do all that with his damned Sharington. And he knows all that."

"Nope," Naruto shook his head, "Sasuke wanted the one thing from me that he couldn't memorize, learn or compete against."

"The Kyubi, "Gaara answered softly.

"It has to be," Naruto finished the thought, running one hand distractedly through his hair. "Which pretty much means, I'm fucked."

Gaara shot him a questioning glance.

Naruto shrugged again, his eyes firmly focused on the muted television screen.

"It's been nine years now, three years longer than Sasuke should be alive. Considering how much of a hard-on Orochimaru had for the bloody Sharington there is no way he would have missed his chance at it, if he was still alive, which means that Sasuke must have killed him, so unless someone can figure out a way to circumvent the seal . . . " His words trailed out, the low tone in his voice was Gaara's only clue of how hard Naruto was really taking this.

The sand-nin watched with an unfamiliar sense of helplessness as Naruto tilted his head to stare blindly at the ceiling. "No one really understands what it's like trying to take a crash course in the past nine years of your life. Yeah, people will tell you stories and intellectually you try to learn them, but there is no recognition, just something you read off a scroll or something. And I can explain all of this, but it's like when you told me about the Akatsuki coming after you, you can imagine it as much as you want, but it's just words. Without the actual experience, it's just not real."

He laughed mirthlessly. "And that doesn't even take into consideration the three years I spent with Jiraiya which are pretty much a fucking blank. So much is gone and I don't know how the hell to get any of it back!"

Hinata flinched slightly and Gaara realized that either she had just woken up or was awake all along, as Naruto still unaware continued to rant.

Unconsciously, Naruto's voice, already tight and angry, rose until he was nearly yelling. "It's like I'm trying to fight the strongest enemy I've ever had to face, alone, without any weapons or techniques and I can't even see what it is that I'm fighting. All I know is that I'm getting my ass kicked and I can't find a fucking way out. And there's no pressure except . . . oh yeah! Let's not forget the fucking fact that if I don't figure out a way to fix this, I and everyone I care about might die! But, hey, no fucking pressure, right?"

He laughed again, as Gaara and Hinata's eyes met in consternation, because they both realized the truth in everything he admitted.

After a moment, Hinata's hand slid out to cover Naruto's clenched fist. "You are never alone, not then and not now." Her voice was soft, but as firm as Gaara had ever heard it.

Startled, Naruto pulled his hand back from her gentle touch and turned to her with a fearful expression in his eyes. "You heard - "

"Everything?" Sitting up, she finished his question with the simple response of, "yes."

He stared at her in confusion, because while he had heard her, he couldn't bring himself to believe her. Without even thinking about it, Naruto subtly angled his body away from hers, too afraid to ask the question he desperately wanted to ask, because when she said everything, she couldn't have really meant everything. She couldn't have, because everything would be that she knew about the . . . And even in his own his head he couldn't finish the thought, because if she really knew, then there was no way she would still be looking at him with those caring eyes.

"I'm only going to say this once more – the Kyubi is the Kyubi and Naruto-kun is Naruto-kun. Just like Gaara isn't to blame for the Shukaku, like I am not to blame for my family's failings, you are not to blame for the actions of the nine-tails that happened even before you were even born."

"But . . but . . ." Naruto couldn't thing of a thing to say to that.

"And I swear to the gods that I will personally kick the ass of the next person who says one word to the fucking contrary, even if it is you!"

"Find what you're looking for, Neji-nichan?" A sly voice drawled from behind him, as he drew himself up stiffly.

Ignoring the less than diminutive girl, Neji silently ground his teeth as he quickly rolled up the scroll, he'd been reading, and began sliding it back into place.

"Not so fast," she chided him, reaching past his larger figure to snatch out of his hands. Carefully blocking the exit, Hanabi laid it back out onto to the table, her eyes quickly skimming its contents. "Tell me, cousin, what it is so interesting that you had to sneak into the main house's library at this late hour?"

Stoically ignoring her, he stared past her shoulder, her unchecked impudence grating his nerves.

"I asked you a question, branch member, so you'd best answer it . . . or face the inevitable consequences of disobedience. " She hissed, glaring at him over her shoulder.

And there it was - the only threat that this . . . child could and would, he knew from past experience, wield against him to force his compliance. The indignity of having to cater to this child's whims never failed to add insult to his old injury. "And which question it that you would like answered, Hanabi-san?" As her eyes flashed angrily, he added with a faint note of condescension, "After all, you did ask two."

Hanabi's eyes glowered brightly for a split-second, before she regained her control.

"Oh poor Neji, all that genius, yet you still attempt to rebel against your betters. My father may tolerate it out of respect for his late brother, but you and I know that will come to pass soon enough, and then where will you be, hmmm? That stiff pride of yours will be your undoing, I fear, unless you learn to heel properly." She turned to face him properly, reaching out with one hand to idly trail it through his long, loose flowing hair, a vindictive smile crossing her face as she felt the muscles of his back tense under her light touch.

"You really do hate it so much, don't you?" The slight girl mused aloud, more to see if she could tease out any more of a reaction from him and she didn't get one, Hanabi viciously twisted her fist and jerked him backward, until his face was nearly level to her mouth. "Well, best that you get used to it!" She snarled behind angry sneer, nearly pouting when she could only force a slight dilation of his pupils.

Releasing him, she made a show of examining her hand, with an expression of distaste, before whipping it unnecessarily along the leg of her pants. Refusing to feed into her ploy, Neji continued to blandly stare at a point, just beyond her shoulder.

"Do you require anything else, Hanabi-san?"

Pale eyes narrowed at him, before she waved one manicured hand dismissively. "No, not tonight, anyway. You may go, but," and she sneered again at him, "do not forget your place in this family."

Allowing her that last parting shot, he ironically inclined his head the merest fraction on an inch, before quickly moving past her into the hallway and door leading to outside. He breathed in deeply, even gratefully, before disappearing into the night.

Once the door closed behind him, Hanabi smiled again before focusing her attention on the open scroll. After all, it must have been something important, if he had willing to brave an encounter with her over it, but reading it only confused her . . . why was Neji suddenly so interested in ancient history? The Kyubi had been disposed of long before she was even born, right?

She frowned slightly as a new thought occurred to her. Disposed of, yes, but not necessarily forgotten. . . She knew that she had heard her father and other elders speak of the Kyubi, but always in the most hushed of voices and suddenly regretted her impulse to let her cousin go so easily. Neji was nothing if not methodical and if he was investigating the Nine Tails demon, there must be a very good reason and whatever it was, she decided, she was going to know it too.

The announcement making her the heir hadn't come through yet, and while that annoyed her a bit . . . ok, perhaps more than a bit, she was confident that her father was merely waiting she passed the Joni exam and then she would make certain her cousin was properly collared, like any good dog. In the meantime, she was sure she could wheedle a little bit of information out of him. After all, she was his only heir now anyway.

Making her decision, she quickly rolled up the scroll and rolled it, slipped it inside of her jacket and wandered back into bedroom.


Ok, so that was the eleventh chapter, hopefully you liked it and are intrigued enough to want some more, if so please review. If you hated it, well let me know that too and why.

Once again, I never quit a story, I'm just writing three of them at the moment and sometimes I get more into one or another, but I will always come back to finish a story out.

So please don't forget to review, it's good for your karma. :D