sastsu Senjutsu Tokushu BUtai Arc
Part IV: Snake in Sheep's Clothing

by Taliath

Vice-Commander's Log, Day 1

Uzumaki Naruto, Jounin

Was scolded by the Third for causing a ruckus. The pay for fixing damages to the training ground will come out of my own pocket. I guess we did cause unnecessary alarm,but Ero-sennin was totally surprised. Ha!

Naruto paused. He tapped the pen lightly on the table as he considered what to write. He very deliberately refused to eye the growing pile of paperwork sitting oh-so-innocently on the corner of his table.

Inoichi gave a preliminary report from his five-hour interrogation with Kabuto. Too exhausted to continue. He'll rest for the night before pushing ahead, not that it matters. Report dashed hopes for early strike.

The pen paused. Naruto sighed. The report that Inoichi gave had been very short and succinct: he had succeeded in viewing random pieces of Kabuto's memories – around a couple months' worth – and from what the man could piece together, Orochimaru had been planning to invade Konoha for at least a couple years.

But more importantly, Inoichi found that according to the knowledge resting in Kabuto's mind, Orochimaru was only going to meet with the Kazekage for a one to two-day period. That window of opportunity had passed a long time ago.

First meeting of the War Division was small. Just Ero-sennin, the Hokage, and myself. We discussed who we wanted to bring into the division to head the committees. It was weird. The Sandaime was present but he rarely spoke. Something seemed to be occupying his attention. Or was it just that he trusted me and Jiraiya to handle everything?

The Third had informed him that it was part of his responsibilities as the Vice-Commander to write a log of all his activities. So here he was, with a growing list of responsibilities, being forced to write a diary. He was supposed to summarize his thoughts, to think through the actions of the day, to leave a record for the next Vice-Commander.

Naruto considered what he had written, before nodding and writing once more:

I hate this.

He had looked over the logs of the previous Vice-Commanders. They had terrible handwriting. He could only just barely make out what they were writing in those chicken scrawls. Apparently they had felt just about as happy as him at being forced to do more paperwork.

The boy couldn't help but yawn as weariness finally got the better of him.

I haven't slept in a bed for over forty-eight hours. I've fought twice since then with A-rank ninjas and used my most powerful technique. That was fun. Fun, fun, fun, fun, fun

Naruto blinked drowsily. He was tired. Really. He shook himself awake. He needed to finish this.

Too tired to write more. It's midnight. Tomorrow it begins. Tomorrow.

Tomorrow: Konoha's great engine of war would begin to turn once more. They would wake the sleeping dragon.

He set down the pen and closed the notebook carefully. He had a long day before him and had better get to sleep. As he left, he spied the light still on in Jiraiya's office, but was too tired to investigate. He rubbed his eyes as he left the division headquarters and headed off towards his apartment.

As he ambled towards his most desired bed, he reviewed the brief first meeting they had held just two hours before. He recalled all he would have to do tomorrow and groaned weakly. He was going to be so busy, and there was a morning meeting planned as well. This time, even Inoichi would attend.

Finally reaching his apartment, Naruto charged his hand with chakra and molded the energy into a specific and precise pattern. The soft ethereal light morphed into seal lines, and after a quick glance to confirm that the pattern on his hand was exactly right, the blond pressed his hand against a smooth portion of the wall next to his apartment door. The chakra bled into the wall, and clusters of ethereal blue lit up, the energy flowing out of the specific pattern into the other seals protecting the apartment. As the light continued to glow, Naruto quickly opened the door and entered. When he closed it shut, the light finally faded away.

He was now safely inside.

With another yawn, his thousandth one since leaving the headquarters, he wasted no time in stripping off his vest, pants, and shirt. He reached for his pajamas, wearily pulled on his night cap, and with a long sigh of content, fell into the bed.

I wonder if the dogs are cake

And with that intelligent thought, Naruto fell deeply into sleep.

First Meeting of the War Division

"...which is what I pieced together from the knowledge I gained from Kabuto's memories and Jiraiya-sama's report to the council. Granted, I'll need a couple more days of intense interrogation to get everything, but I thought it would be a good idea to inform the War Division of my findings so far." Inoichi gave a long sigh and wearily wiped his forehead.

Naruto resisted the urge to frown and simply left his face blank. Glancing at the Hokage, who had been silent the entire time, the blond jounin finally spoke. "Thanks, Inoichi. We really appreciate it. And you look very exhausted – go ahead and continue the interrogation after a good night's rest. We'll be meeting tomorrow morning at eight, so make sure you're here for that."

Inoichi nodded. "It took a while getting used to, and I'm afraid my control wasn't up to par. I wasted too much chakra and energy at the start. I should be better adjusted tomorrow."

"Cool," stated Naruto with a small smile. "Just make sure you don't strain yourself so early on. We'll need you to handle the Information and Interrogation Committee. If you push yourself too hard, you might burn out."

"I'll take it easy," agreed the clan head. He bowed low to the Hokage and Jiraiya, who had both been rather quiet, and disappeared with a puff of smoke.

A moment after Inoichi left, Naruto sighed and slowly rubbed his temples. "Well, that's not exactly good news at all."

Jiraiya rubbed his chin. "Not good news, true, but it doesn't mean we can't turn it to our advantage."

"We'll have to scrap our plans for an early preemptive strike then," said Naruto with a frown, giving into the urge, "since we let our window of opportunity pass us by. It's far too late to organize a task force that'll be fast enough to intercept either the Kazekage or Orochimaru at their meeting location. They're most likely already heading back to their homes by now."

There was a moment of silence.

Naruto's thoughts spun furiously. Now that they had lost their chance to be proactive, they would now be forced to be reactive.

The Third finally spoke, his voice calm and thoughtful. "In any case, we have lost our opportunity to end this mess from the very start. They've met and we have to assume that an alliance has been formed. This places us at a very weak position."

Naruto let out a long breath, his frown deepening with concern. He shook his head slowly. "We need more information, information that Inoichi needs to get for us. Our eyes are blinded at the moment and it'll be impossible to determine our next course of action. We need more information, and that's going to take days."

"So then…" murmured the Third, his eyes glancing down at the blond jounin. Had Naruto looked up to meet the Hokage's gaze, he would have noted the thoughtful gleam in those aged eyes. He would have been highly suspicious. "What shall we do in the mean time?"

"We might as well begin preparing for the worst," said Naruto firmly. He imagined what his father might do in a situation like this. He could almost hear his father's voice speaking in that same soft, yet compelling tone. He missed the gleam in the Sandaime's eyes sharpen. "There's no use sitting on our hands while waiting. Since we've time now to think through our actions deliberately, we can begin systemic reactivation of Konoha's war engine. We know for certain that the invasion will occur during the Chuunin Exams. That gives us a period of three months to the First and Second Trials, and then another month until the Final Examinations, so we have four months total."

Jiraiya leaned back into his seat, arms folded across the chest, his eyes on Naruto. "What can we do in four months?"

Naruto answered almost automatically, channeling his father. It was so much easier than he would have thought. All those years, during the wars and during his time as ANBU captain, he had stood by his father. He had listened and learned from the legendary Fourth Hokage. And it was so easy to recall and speak as his father would. "Four months is a lifetime, a lifetime that we'll make sure Orochimaru will regret. Our immediate objectives will need to be the galvanization of the War Division into a fully functional command center. Once the War Division is up and running, we should be able to use the resources available to take our next steps."

Jiraiya nodded with a satisfied smile on his face. "Which means our first order of business will be to appoint heads for the four committees in the War Division."

"Right," agreed Naruto. "I know the Vice-Commander is usually also the head of the Ground Forces committee. Will we be following that tradition?"

"Yes," answered the Sandaime. "You'll pick three ANBU Captains to assist you. The Ground Forces will be doing most of the grunt work in the War Division. You will also be responsible for creating that vital link between the War Division command and the regular shinobi forces."

"Inoichi is our head of the Information and Interrogation committee," said Naruto, biting his lip, "which means he'll be in charge of information control, both inbound and outbound. He'll be responsible for the maintenance of the spy network, liaison with other intelligence agencies in Konoha, analysis and processing of all data, screening for possible spies and intelligence leaks, and interrogation of any captured traitors." His brows wrinkled in thought. "Is that all?"

"He'll also be responsible for liaising with the cryptographers," the Third added, his eyes still shining with interest. He continued with a prompt. "That's two of the four committees."

"That leaves the Tactical Strategy and Analysis committee, and the Internal Administrative Affairs committee." Naruto shrugged. "Who'll head those?"

Sandaime steeped his fingers under his chin. "The Nara clan has traditionally taken up the mantel for the position as the head of Strategy. Perhaps Shikaku will be willing to assist you?"

Naruto nodded slowly. "Great, I suppose he would be the best, being part of that genius clan and whatnot."

"I'm glad you agree," said the Third with an amused look. "Then I shall leave it up to you to convince him."

The blond jounin looked up sharply. "Convince him?"

The Third ignored the question. "As for the Internal Affairs, I would suggest Yakono Mayaki. She is currently the Chief of the Accounting Office. She has a very strong talent for numbers, and she will be a very competent addition to the War Committee."

"I've heard that name before," wondered Naruto, muttering.

Jiraiya nodded. "She was quite a promising ninja once. A legend in the making during the Third Great War, but she lost both her legs and an eye during the Kyuubi attack and had to retire early."

Naruto winced. It was her. He remembered her clearly now. She too had been the Chief Accountant in his dimension, and a nasty one at that. She had become poisoned by her bitterness, and turned her anger and hate outwards. In fact, the only person she was remotely respectful to was the Fourth Hokage.

But she was a mathematical genius. And they needed one to keep track of all the economics and logistics that went into battle. After all, poor logistical support would make for a terribly short and disastrous war.

"That's right," said Naruto, his voice didn't hint at his inner turmoil. "She does great work. I know that it was a lot of her work that allowed Konoha to recover so quickly after the Kyuubi attack."

Sarutobi nodded in satisfaction. "Yes, Mayaki is quite an important asset to Konoha. I shall extend our invitation myself. I know she will not refuse."

"All right, then." Naruto glanced around. "After our meeting tomorrow, I'll get in touch with Shikaku. In the mean time, I think it's getting late, and I don't know about you old men, but I'm a growing boy who needs his sleep." He grinned cheekily.

The Third sighed. "I'm afraid you won't be getting to sleep anytime soon." He passed on a sheet of paper to Naruto. "That's the list of ANBU with my personal recommendations. Choose three of them for your Ground Forces."

Naruto quickly glanced down at the list. He knew the majority – or at least, he knew about their counterparts in his old world. Some of their names had been on the Memorial Stone. "Thank you, Hokage-sama. I'll get to reading their files tonight. I'll have my choices presented to you in the morning."

Jiraiya clapped his hands with satisfaction. "Excellent, then this meeting is over. I'll see you all tomorrow. I need to go research." He nodded to both of them in goodbye, then disappeared.

The blond jounin rolled his eyes. "I swear, I'll be forced to do all paperwork for this war."

The Third smiled gently. "You will have to get used to it, my boy. After all, the only person who will have to deal with more paperwork than the Vice-Commander of the War Division is the Hokage."

Naruto actually shuddered and turned green. "Right... W-well, I'd better go."

The Third watched as Naruto left. The aged eyes stared thoughtfully into the distance. Within them was a glimmer of hope.

Naruto's eyes narrowed. His concentration would not be broken. A dozen different scenarios sprang to mind as he considered each and every single one. A bead of sweat wound its way down the side of his head. He would try his best to defeat his opponent. He bit the corner of his lips – this would decide the fate of Konoha – then looked up triumphantly—

Click. He placed the shogi piece neatly onto the wooden board.

"Interesting," murmured his opponent. The man carefully stroked his short beard. "But not enough, I'm afraid." Click.

Naruto froze. Ugh. He was being led into a trap, one that would take much maneuvering to get out of, and one that he had not seen until that very point. This opponent was good. Far better than even his father. Another bead of sweat rolled down.

The man sitting opposite the blond jounin calmly took a sip of tea, perfectly relaxed. He was the picture of calm.

The blond jounin focused once more, attempting furiously to find a way out of this mess.

"Ah, this is good tea," muttered his opponent. "I'm surprised, you play surprisingly well for your age. And I had believed that you wouldn't have the patience to play a game such as this. It has already been over an hour since we started playing."

Naruto knew this, he knew this all too well. It had been an agonizing hour of trying to defeat this man in shogi. The jounin answered, distractedly, "I've been playing shogi with Jiraiya-sensei for a long time. He said it would help me build patience, as well as exercise my strategic thinking." He glanced up.

Nara Shikaku smiled gently. "Did he now?" He took another sip of his tea, only to find it empty. He turned to the also-empty pot with a small disappointed frown. "It seems we've run out. Please, excuse me for a moment."

Naruto barely noticed. He was still glaring at the board.

This is impossible.

That thought had crossed his mind more than once this past hour. How could he win? There was absolutely no way. Long-term strategic thinking, while not his weakness, wasn't necessarily his strength either. And that was the whole reason in coming here today.

I can't win. He knows this. Why is he doing this, knowing that he'll defeat me?

Naruto puzzled on this for a moment, having finally the chance to review his morning since the meeting with the Third.

The meeting had been short, lasting no more than a half-hour to make sure that everything was in order. The summary of the war effort and current intelligence that Naruto had drawn up the night before (he would need to get a Chuunin assistant today) had been copied and given to the Hokage. Furthermore, he had given the Third his pick for the three ANBU captains working under him:

Tenzo. Uzuki Yuugao.

And Mitarashi Anko.

His choices had raised more than one eyebrow. Especially for Anko.

She is more than qualified, Naruto had defended. It is only due to the stupid council that she wasn't able to make it up to that station. And besides, we're fighting a war against Orochimaru. Apart from the Third and the Sannin, she is the next best source for information on how he thinks and reacts.

His list approved and with the meeting drawing to a close, Naruto had immediately sought out the first two captains on his list. Both had been rather easy to convince, especially seeing as rumors concerning Naruto's capture of Kabuto had already spread through the Konoha ANBU force—

Tenzo: Naruto! You probably don't even remember me, but the last time I saw you, you were still a little boy making a mess of the ANBU headquarters. I couldn't believe it when I heard.... The War Division? Ah, I see. I accept. I'll inform my team immediately.... No. Don't worry. We've already heard that you're the apprentice to Jiraiya-sama, and your recent capture of some high-level traitordon't look so shocked, we haven't heard too much, and if even a fraction of the rumors I hear are true, then you more than deserve your promotion. Well, anyways, the rumors have alleviated a lot of people's concerns. We're shinobi and we're professionals. I'm sure my team won't have a problem with you being in command.

Naruto really liked Tenzo; the shinobi was identical to the one back at home. He just knew that they would work well together. And then there had been—

Yuugao: Yes, Naruto-san, I accept. I will update my team and report to the War Division headquarters as ordered.... I am confused. Why would anyone be concerned with your age or ability? You are the commanding officer appointed by the Third Hokage.

She had then left. It was clear to Naruto that, even in this world, Yuugao followed her orders to the letter and believed that the authority of the Hokage was absolute. She would make a great asset.

With the recruitment of two ANBU captains, Naruto had decided to detour from going to Anko by visiting someone else first. He had expected the visit to be short, and perhaps he would be enjoying a simple sharing of tea.

He had been wrong.

"Uzumaki Naruto," Nara Shikaku had stated, "I have been expecting you. Come in, take a seat."

Naruto did as asked, then began. "It is the desire of the ANBU War Division that you—"

"I'm very much aware of what it is that you want from me," interrupted Shikaku with amusement.

The blond jounin nodded slowly. Of course, this was the head of the Nara clan. It was to be expected. "Right, then. The War Council will be convening tomorrow morning. If you could familiarize yourself with this report I've prepared—"

Shikaku lifted up a hand and Naruto paused in confusion. The man shook his head. "I never agreed to any position. You know very well that I have retired from active shinobi duty. Why should I return to the role?"

Naruto could barely prevent himself from frowning. "You are the most capable—"

"Perhaps," acknowledged Shikaku. "But there are others who would be almost as able. They would do a fine job. I know you've spoken to Inoichi and somehow made him agree to return to active duty, and I can understand why he allowed himself to be convinced. After all, the information you were after could only be determined by someone with Inoichi's unique talents, ones that are not found anywhere else." He paused for a moment, before turning to look straight into Naruto's eyes. "But I, I am not unique. There are many in this village that can do as good a job. So tell me, why?"

For a long moment, Naruto puzzled over his response – what was he to say to that? Why did they need Shikaku? The man was the best, no question. But he was also correct in that there were others who could fill the role. What was the jounin to say?

Click. The blond jounin looked up, his brow raised in question at the small table and shogi set that was placed between them.

Shikaku answered with an amused look. "Let's see. We will settle this with a game of shogi. If you win, I will accept the role offered to me and return to active duty. And if I win—" the man's eyes grew cold, "—then you will leave and never bother me again."

Just looking into that steely gaze, Naruto knew instantly that the clan head would not budge an inch. And the man was being absolutely serious.

This is impossible. But what could he do?

He leaned forward, and moved a piece.


"It appears you've lost."

Naruto let out a long breath in defeat. He had been soundly crushed. It hadn't even been a match of any sort. In the next thirty minutes since Shikaku's return, the blond jounin had been led around his nose until the man had finally taken pity and ended the game.

It had been an impossible match.

Even still, there was a hint of disappointment coiling in his gut. Naruto nodded slowly, trying not to let it show. He had lost. Deal with it. He bowed then stood up. "Thank you for your time, Shikaku-san. I wish you and your clan well."

Shikaku was surprised. It showed. "You're leaving? So soon? Where is this stubbornness of Uzumaki Naruto that I've heard so much about?"

Naruto met his gaze. "It was because of my stubbornness that I saw this match through to the end, Shikaku-san, and it is that same stubbornness that allows me to keep my promises, no matter what."

I respect you enough to accept defeat and honor our deal.

The man nodded in understanding. "Excellent. Then before you leave, may I ask one final question of a more personal nature?"

The blond resisted a frown and waited.

Shikaku smiled gently, set down his tea, then spoke in a rough, ruthless voice, "What makes you think, with that arrogance you have, that you have any right to your position when you can't even play a decent game of shogi, Uzumaki Naruto?"

Naruto froze.

Shikaku waited calmly.

Time slowed to a crawl.

It felt as if Shikaku had stabbed him with a needle exactly at his weakest point, with just enough force to shatter him. And just as a diamond would fracture if applied pressure correctly, he felt as if he too had been surgically and with great precision hit at exactly the right spot.

Really, what gave him the right to be the Vice-Commander? There were dozens more qualified – how arrogant had he been to assume that he could really do Konoha justice?

For a moment that lasted an eternity, Naruto doubted himself—


He had not failed. He had made mistakes, true, but he had most importantly learned from his mistakes.

That was not failure. He had learned—

Naruto's eyes widened. It clicked.

Blue eyes met brown.

This is impossible! he had once thought. Of course it was. Shikaku had made it purposefully that way. The man had known for an absolute fact that he would win against the blond.

Naruto smiled. "You're right, Shikaku-san. I'm not the perfect shinobi for the job. I'm not as experienced as some, as strong, nor as well connected, or even well known. But I will do my best—"

Shikaku interrupted, "Your best is not—"

"Nor do I expect my best to be enough," continued Naruto firmly. "I know that I will make mistakes. But I am only human—"

Brown eyes narrowed. "The Vice-Commander of the War Division cannot afford to be human—"

"But a shinobi of any position of leadership must be fully aware of his weaknesses and faults…and his limitations." Naruto didn't back down. "I know my limitations. I know my weaknesses."

"And these weaknesses are—"

"But more importantly," stated Naruto determinedly, "I know that I will need to accept help. One of the founding tenants of Konoha is the reliance on teamwork to achieve more than the sum of each member's individual efforts. That's exactly why I'm here today."

Shikaku's face was expressionless, void of any emotion.

Naruto nodded. "You're right, I sucked at shogi. You crushed my offensive and toyed with my efforts until the very end. And that's why I need you."

I'm willing to listen. I'm willing to learn. I will value your opinion. I'm not an arrogant, overconfident child who will ignore the advice of others.

The message, unspoken though it was, was clear.

There was a long moment of silence – and then Shikaku's lips twitched. He nodded gracefully and with pride in his eyes, as though Naruto had passed some sort of test – which the blond had. "You may leave the folder. I'm sure you've wasted enough time humoring a retired shinobi like myself. I will be there at the meeting tomorrow."

Naruto's face lit up brightly. With another bow, he left the folder on the small table and turned to leave. He heard behind him, as Shikaku called out in goodbye—

"And good luck to us all, Vice-Commander."

Naruto's grin would have split his face it if grew any bigger.

She took a small sip of sake and sighed with content, leaning back into her seat at the corner of the crowded bar. It was a rather peaceful night—

"Bitch, you take that back! It didn't happen that way and you know it!"

So quiet, too…

Another voice shouted, "Oh, shove it, Heiro! It happened exactly like that!" Roaring laughter was heard all around as various groups of shinobi enjoyed their time off-duty.

Yes, too quiet. It seemed, to her at least, that there was an unnatural lull in the organized chaos that usually surrounded the village. What exactly had caused this? Something had changed. It was as though the very atmosphere of the village became…happier?

"Reisha, I'm gonna fucking kill you if you don't shut the hell up!" The man shook his fist.

Well, she corrected herself, if not happier then at least…less aggressive.

"Bah, you haven't beaten me once yet in any of our spars, lunkhead." A hand waved away the threat as negligent.

She wondered briefly what they were discussing. She hadn't been paying much attention. But it seemed many around the bar were somewhat aware, if their knowing looks said anything. What could it be about? she wondered. She had been away on a mission and had only just returned.

In fact, now that she thought about it, everything seemed so different when she had returned. Something had changed…but what?

Narrowing her eyes, she snapped her fingers, drawing the attention of the bartender.

The bartender, a retired shinobi, raised his brow. "What d'ya want, Anko? Another drink?"

Anko rolled her eyes. "Nah, I'm fine for now. What are they talking about?" She jerked her head to indicate the crowd behind her.

"You mean you don't know?" the man sounded surprised. "The rumors are pretty much everywhere."

"I've been out on a mission for a while." She frowned. "Haven't had much time to listen to rumors."

"Ah," nodded the bartender in understanding. "Well, it seems our resident troublemaker, that Uzumaki kid, has been promoted to jounin."

"What?!" Anko coughed, having swallowed the alcohol wrong. "That orange loudmouthed brat? Why the hell would the Third do that?"

The bartender nodded. "I know, it took everyone by surprise. But apparently he's been seen in close contact with Jiraiya-sama, and rumor has it that Jiraiya-sama has been teaching the kid for years. Don't know how they managed to hide the training from everyone, but that's Jiraiya-sama for you, I guess."

Anko blinked a couple times. She finally muttered to herself, "Huh, just goes to show how unpredictable the world can be."

"No kidding," the bartender replied, having heard her. "There's also rumors of the kid capturing some A-ranked spy in our ranks, as well as causing that enormous commotion the other night."

"Commotion? What, you mean that enormous chakra explosion?"

"Yup, were you here when that happened?"

Anko shook her head slowly. "I was five miles out from the main gate." When she had felt the chakra storm, she had been so sure that something terrible had happened to her home (perhaps an S-rank shinobi had struck Konoha) only to race back and find that the village was perfectly safe. And apparently some idiot had been training a bit too hard.

The bartender whistled. "You felt it from that far out, eh? You don't say…" He shook his head slowly. "It was the kid, all right. Apparently he had been training with Jiraiya-sama. I've heard from witness accounts that three empty training grounds were absolutely destroyed."

She couldn't imagine such wide-spread damage from a single technique. "So what's got that Heiro all worked up?"

The man rolled his eyes. "Apparently Heiro was assigned to bring a message or something to Uzumaki. He tried to enter the kid's home and was caught by the security measures. Did some nasty, embarrassing, and humiliating things to him, I've heard."

There was a moment of silence, as both were lost in their thoughts.

"Oh," mentioned the bartender. He leaned forward and lowered his voice, "there's another rumor going around, very quietly mind you, that Uzumaki Naruto seems to resemble a certain legendary ninja. I mean, he's gotten rid of his orange clothes and his goggles, and with the jounin vest and headband around his neck...well...he looks awfully similar to—"

"I've found that there are certain speculations that are best left unsaid, wouldn't you say, Satoshi-san?" interrupted a young voice lightly.

Anko's head snapped to her left and her eyes narrowed. She hadn't even noticed his approach, she realized.

Uzumaki Naruto grinned up at her, his eyes dancing with amusement.

It was then that she noticed the rest of the pub had gone silent. Everyone was staring at the so-called prodigy before them.

And Naruto didn't seem to even notice the attention. He held himself with confidence – not the arrogant stance of genin, so full of themselves, but rather that of a trained shinobi with years of experience. He scratched the back of his head, an innocent yet infectious smile on his face. "Anko-san, mind if we went somewhere more—" he glanced around, "—private?"

Anko raised a brow. She had to admit, she was curious. Taking a swig of the shot glass to empty it of its last drops, she abruptly stood and snaked an arm around the kid's shoulders. "Sure kid, where to?" She grinned, a glint in her eyes, and addressed the rather quiet bartender before her. "Kids these days with their tactless pick-up lines. So direct with what they want." She heard several people snort behind her.

Naruto, rather than being embarrassed, just rolled his eyes. "My first time in a brothel was at the tender age of nine. I've probably seen more naked women than any man in this pub." There were quite a few murmurs at that statement, and even a few distasteful hisses from several women. Naruto quickly noted this and adopted a helpless look. "Jiraiya was my sensei, you know? It wasn't like I could stop him from forcing me into those places, ripping away my youthful innocence!"

When several kunoichi actually cooed, Anko decided that her little prank had backfired and that it was time to get going. Thus, within moments, both Anko and Naruto had retreated to an empty playground several ways away from the pub.

Anko looked up at the stars, sitting rather relaxed on a set of swings. "So, what's it you want?"

The blond, also sitting on a swing next to her, looked briefly her way. "I'm sure you've heard by now some of the rumors."

She nodded wordlessly.

He continued, "Well, I've been promoted to Jounin, and also to the position as Vice-Commander for the ANBU War Division."

She glanced sharply in his direction. He nodded. She exhaled slowly. "No kidding. The War Division. And you as the Vice-Commander?"

Naruto met her probing stare steadily. There was a long moment that stretched in silence as they simply took measure of each other. Satisfied with what she found, Anko smirked and motioned for him to continue.

"You're most likely already aware, but I need three ANBU captains to help form the Ground Forces. I've already talked to Tenzo and Yuugao, which means—"

"—you need one more. Me." Anko's eyes narrowed in realization. Her voice was void of any emotion. "Which could only mean one thing: it's Orochimaru we're dealing with."

Naruto answered slowly after a moment. "Yeah, it's him, the snake bastard."

Anko was silent.

The blond jounin struggled to think of something to say. After several minutes, he finally spoke. "Look, I've had to get through a lot of red tape to get your nomination approved, but I know that you're the right choice. We'll need your insight into how he thinks, his methodology, and you can give us—"

"I'll do it," she interrupted him. Her voice was firm.

Naruto blinked. "You will?"

She looked up.

He nearly flinched at the murderous glint in her eyes, but managed to simply nod slowly. He understood perfectly.

She rose silently to her feet. "When's the first meeting?"

"Tomorrow morning at nine. Meet me in the common area of the division command nerve. The other two captains will be there as well."

"And my team?"

"Since you're not currently assigned to any single one, you can pick and choose your squad. Total freedom without any red tape."

She nodded sharply. "I'll see you tomorrow then, Vice-Commander Uzumaki."

Naruto smiled. He nodded back just as firmly. "Welcome to the War Division, ANBU Captain Mitarashi."

Her usual smirk appeared for the briefest instant before it disappeared. She turned and slowly left the playground. Just as she reached the edge, she turned and called out, "And Naruto? Thanks."

Naruto understood her silent message, and a wide grin stretched across his face. "Don't make me regret it, Anko."

Both ninjas' images blurred before disappearing, leaving the playground silent save for the creaking of the swing as it swung lazily back and forth.

Vice-Commander's Log, Day 3

...Confirmed the list of administrative duties for each committee within the War Division. Intel follow-up reports state that Orochimaru and the Kazekage plan to meet once more during the one-month interval between the first portion of the Chuunin Exams and the actual public tournament...

...That is our window of opportunity...

...Need to find out the timing for that meeting and location. All active resources must be used to find out that piece of intelligence...

...Skeleton shinobi crew for the nine border forts while having a full presence of samurai forces from the Fire Daimyo. Need to quietly activate the forts nearest the common border with Sand and Sound. Ninja reinforcement needed to augment the skeleton crew...

...Organize review of the village defense security. Alter all access codes. Nothing must be the same from when Orochimaru was an active shinobi of the Konoha forces...

...Lots of coordination. Shadow Clones will provide most of the grunt work...

...I need to train...

...Activation of all hidden assets...

...All jounin, especially jouninsenseis, must be warned. Will do so later today with the Hokage's authority. Chance to acquaint myself with all the senior-ranking jounin. Need to organize a meet with all the current ANBU Commanders and their Vice-Commanders...

...Above all, we need intelligence. WHEN and WHERE will OROCHIMARU meet with the KAZEKAGE? That is the bottom line. That is the single most important piece of intel that we need to get our hands on. Various agencies are cooperating to obtain that vital piece of information, but will it be enough? There is another way, a road that I am unwilling to walk, but may have to, in light of recent events. We NEED that information. It is imperative.

There is only one other intelligence agency that has a network as vast and wide as Jiraiya's, but it is also the only second agency functioning outside of the Hokage's direct controlthe first being, of course, Jiraiya's. And we need to enlist the aid of that agency.

Jiraiya disagrees. But I cannot allow our sentimentality to get in the way of what needs to be done.

I know my father will agree.

After all—

He kept ANBU Root functioning even when he had the chance to crush Danzou and his minions during the aftermath of the Kyuubi attack.

The corridor was dark. Naruto gently pushed chakra to his eyes to heighten their senses. Though there was water flowing, as it often did in the underground sewage system that ran throughout much of Konoha, he did not make a single sound. Ahead he saw several security seals, complex arrays that were nearly impossible to detect and subvert, but he breezed by with almost no pause.

He had been here several times in the past.

Above ground, it was a bright afternoon, and unbeknownst to most of the Konoha population, even to most of the shinobi forces except in the highest echelons, work was being done to secure the defense of Konoha in the upcoming war.

Anko and her ANBU team, with support from a Naruto clone, were combing through the village to check and restore all security seals; Tenzo and his team, along with another Shadow Clone, were reviewing all emergency plans to check their validity and update them accordingly; Yuugao, her team, and yet another Naruto clone were liaising and coordinating the efforts of all the different ANBU divisions and the office for mission control, keeping track of all inbound and outbound ninja, as well as their locations.

Finally, another Naruto clone was sitting in the Vice-Commander's office, orchestrating all the work of the various committees in the War Division, with the aid of two Chuunin.

The joys of being a master of the Shadow Clone technique.

If there ever was an emergency that required Naruto's real presence...well, there were several seals graved in various locations that would allow Naruto to use Hiraishin no Jutsu to zip over within several seconds.

Naruto grimaced as he had to disable a particularly tricky and rather nasty security trap. If he hadn't been so familiar with the security layout, nor been rather competent with seals, he wouldn't have gotten nearly as far as he had, especially undetected. It was a virtual fortress down here.

Danzou was always a paranoid bastard, the blond jounin acknowledged, but this was ridiculous.

At last he stood before the large cavern that held the base for Danzou's ANBU Root division. He grinned. The time for being secretive was finally over.

A split second of concentration formed a Rasengan in his right hand, which he slammed forward onto the metal sheet blocking his path.

A sharp grinding noise echoed loudly throughout the sewers; the tremors as raw chakra twisted and ripped apart reinforced steel could be felt for quite a ways, shaking and reverberating the very earth surrounding the tunnels.

And it brought the greatest alarm to many of the ANBU Root currently experiencing – not enjoying – downtime. But more importantly, it brought a rather knowing gleam to Danzou's eyes.

The entrance to the hidden headquarters was blown apart in an impressive show of force. Naruto walked in with a lazy gait, showing not a single concern for the dozen ANBU Root shinobi surrounding him from various positions, all along the walls and even the roof of the large underground cavern.

The blond jounin appeared decidedly unimpressed with the crippled, old shinobi standing behind a large wooden desk, papers in a mess due to the tremors. The boy had a small smile playing across his face. "Danzou-san, sorry for the mess. I would have rung the bell, but there wasn't one in sight."

Danzou's eyes narrowed. He replied calmly, without any hint of emotion, "Vice-Commander Namikaze, I'm honored you sought me out even in this remote place. I apologize for the oversight. I'll be sure to install a bell next time."

Ouch. To reveal his true lineage before so many witnesses. Naruto didn't allow anything to show in his reaction. Instead, he continued to smile. "Ah, no, no, the honor is all mine. To meet such an iconic and legendary figure of the Second Secret Shinobi War is a very great honor, sir. In fact, I believe you were even present during the First War, were you not?"

Danzou simply sat back down on his seat, not ruffled in the least. "I suppose for someone who has yet to lived through any war, it must be rather an experience to meet a veteran such as myself. But enough. What is it you want, Vice-Commander?"

Naruto ignored the predatory Root surrounding him and walked forward, completely relaxed. "You have always had the best interest in mind for Konoha. You have always been prepared to do all that was necessary to keep Konoha from destruction."

Danzou considered those words, before nodding. "Where are you going with this, Vice-Commander?"

Naruto took in a deep breath. "And I know, contrary to popular belief amongst the highest levels of our shinobi forces, that you are willing to acknowledge and bend knee when you truly believe someone is capable to leading Konoha to a brighter future. My father, the Fourth Hokage, was one such person. You actively supported him because you knew that he had the strength to do what was necessary."

"Jiraiya seems to have taught you well." The old veteran raised an eyebrow. "Very well. Yes, I respected your father. He had an...attitude that I admired." His eyes narrowed. "Are you perhaps saying you have that same drive?"

"No, you wouldn't believe me no matter what I say. But I want you to consider this: you are one who prefers a proactive approach, whereas the Third prefers a reactive one. I personally tend to like being proactive as well. The best defense is offense, right?"

Danzou nodded slowly.

"When we first realized that there was a meeting between the Kazekage and Orochimaru, I pushed forward a plan to immediately launch a first strike, not at the village of Sand or Sound, but to stop the entire war effort by cutting the head off the veritable snake. It is as my father would have done, you know this. But the Third did all he could to oppose me."

Only true to a certain extent, allowed the blond in his mind. "Because of his hesitance, we lost that window of opportunity." Another lie, knew the blond. But what Danzou didn't know couldn't hurt him. And Danzou already hated the Third enough; it wasn't like this little misdirection would lead the old cripple to hate the Third even more.

"Why are you telling me this?" Danzou asked, his voice tinged with curiosity.

Naruto answered, meeting Danzou's gaze steadily, "Because there is another chance. We know that Orochimaru and the Kazekage plan to meet for one final time in the month before the tournament stage of the Chuunin Exams."

"And you would like me to obtain that information for you."

Naruto waited.

Danzou seemed to consider him carefully. The blond jounin gave no reaction. His eyes flicked over to the ruined metal slab ripped away from the entrance before returning to the boy. A long minute stretched by before he finally nodded. "Very well, Vice-Commander. Let's see what you're capable of. I will bring you that information, but you must act on your words today. I will watch and see if you are truly your father's son."

Naruto flashed him a grin, before disappearing with a poof of smoke.

Danzou silently motioned for his ANBU to repair the damage and carefully studied the empty space where the boy had been just moments before.

A very interesting lad, no doubt. His father's son, through and through. It was clearly evident.

Danzou glared at the papers on his desk. The Fourth Hokage, the only man he felt truly deserved the title of Hokage. Not the peace-loving fool, Sarutobi Hiruzen.

Namikaze Minato, a shinobi who had single-handedly devastated Stone's forces and contained the Nine-Tailed Beast. He had been ruthless. And during his brief time as Hokage, had actually tacitly supported the functioning of ANBU Root Division.

Yes, the Fourth Hokage had been a practical man. He had understood the most basic and fundamental of shinobi truths: there was no honor.

Perhaps, thought Danzou, there was hope for yet another worthy Hokage: Namikaze Naruto.

Danzou would watch for the boy.

He quickly wrote a message, which was passed onto one of his Root. He would support the boy for now. If he truly was his father's son...

Perhaps for the first time in over a decade, the old cripple would be able to feel hope for the future.

And if not...

Danzo's hidden Sharingan eye spun with a gleam of madness. Well, the Kyuubi jinchuuriki was always meant to be a controlled weapon, right?

To be continued...

ANBU ARC Part Five: At the Heart of Fire will be updated very soon, but reviews really help encourage me to write! So take the hint, spend a minute, and review! As I've said before, I honestly appreciate each and every review you make, even the one-worded ones. Reviews really show me that you've taken precious time out of your schedule to comment on my ficand there's nothing more an author can ask for.

End Notes:

First, I know it's been a while. But here I am at last, with an update.

The recruitment thing has been going on for a while, eh? In the overall scheme of things, the recruiting is only two chapters long. But I know that the long intervals between updates and makes things seem a lot more dragged out.

Let me assure you, though, that this is the end of it. The War Division is fully functioning and as such we're back to Naruto in the action. The next chapter will feature Naruto on an A-rank mission to the Fire Capital with one of the rookie teams as an escort (C-rank). Of course, nothing ever stays so innocent with Naruto involved. ^^

And then right after that we launch into the major action with war starting right off the bat.

So. We're finally, finally done with the setup (Thank god!). We can now move the plot forward at a much, much faster rate.

Thanks for reading. Please, once again, review! Tell me what you think. I really appreciate any and all feedback.

Comments always welcome.

-- liath