Title: Guardian of Fire.

Author: Agni

Warnings: AU, Time travel, a bit of OOC but not too much.

Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto.

AN: Hello, this is a long chapter and something I'm rather uncertain about. I had to rewrite this chapter after my PC died on me and erased all my data. I had stored all my important documents on an external drive but I didn't think keep updating it. All my recent documents were lost, including the recent chapters of not only Guardian of Fire, but also Unspoken Bonds, Hyakumensou and Kazoku.

Now, onto my next dilemma. This story is at a point where it demands a time-skip. The problem is that Naruto canon has so much happening between Naruto's birth and the time when he becomes a genin. The Uchiha massacre and the Hyuuga incident are prime examples of that. While I think Naruaki will prevent the Uchiha massacre from happening, I'd like to see how the presence of Yondaime and Naruaki affects the Hyuuga incident and the political repercussions that follow.

If I do a series of time-skips, I'll ruin the quality of this fic. If I do a single time-skip straight to the Rookie Nine arc, it disregard two very important events. I think everyone wants Naruto to play a more active part in the story. A Naruto raised by Minato and Naruaki would be magnificent, ne?

I'm still thinking over what to do and if any of you have any suggestions, I'm willing to listen to them. Please don't hesitate to voice your opinions!

- Seven -

"Now, what're you brooding about?" Minato asked as he settled in front of Naruaki in the study. "Any new scheme rolling about in that devious mind of yours?"

The young Namikaze leveled a flat stare at his father. "Devious mind? You're the one with a head full of schemes. I must admit, though, the way you dealt with Danzo was masterful."

Naruaki's frown did convey some doubts though. Minato leaned forward, his elbows on his knees and his eyes keen on his eldest. "There's something bothering you." He commented, "Would you care to share?"

The ANBU took a deep breath and leaned back in his chair to gather his thoughts. "The power of hindsight is truly something to marvel that." He stated softly, "At that moment, I was enjoying the Danzo's dressing down at your hands too much to think of it but…" he looked up, meeting his father's gaze, "Are you sure that we need to be that strict? Many could- would take the mandatory evaluations as a sign of distrust, you know. We can't afford to let them think you can't trust your own people, Yondaime-sama."

Yondaime chuckled, "One thing that I learned from being a Hokage is to correct one's mistakes as soon as possible and to do so discretely." He winked at Naruaki. "I'll let my shinobi know that they must go through the evaluations for their own safety and health. Mandatory psychological and physical evaluations will only benefit our people, after all. It would ensure that they aren't pushing themselves beyond their individual limits. Besides, I think that they can forgive me for losing my temper once in a while."

"You are the Hokage." Naruaki commented and tilted his head to the side in thought. "As far as I can tell, such a thing doesn't exist in Konoha."

Minato shook his head, "Oh, it does. Only, people don't like to admit that they need help, least of all ninjas. Those evaluations have never been compulsory. There was a point when Tsunade-san insisted that we set up a system but Sandaime and his advisors were forced to dismiss it. We couldn't really afford to start a new system that consumed our resources during the Third War and after that… well, the topic never came up again. Since Tsunade-san is here until she's convinced that you're of perfect health, I asked Aikawa-san discuss our plans with her. With those two formidable ladies at the helm, I don't think anyone would dare ditch the evaluations."

The younger Namikaze raised a brow, "You're convinced that Tsunade-sama can be made to stay? What of her haemophobia?"

Minato shrugged, "I'm not sure if she'll stay but that doesn't stop me from taking advantage of her presence. Besides, I'll freely admit that I've no business interfering with her personal matters and I don't want to force the issue by pulling rank on her."

Naruaki frowned, "I'm sure that she'll listen if you try to talk to her."

The Hokage smiled in amusement, "You overestimate my powers of persuasion, son." He shook his head and looked at Naruaki fondly, "I'm not nearly as close to her as I think you were in… the future, I guess."

"I see." Naruaki whispered, "I don't think she'll come back unless her haemophobia is cured and the last time it was because my life was at risk." He sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "The more I think of it, the more this time-travel business irks me. So many little details and they all culminate into one big event. It scares me to think that I'll be altering things drastically if I miss even the smallest detail."

The Yondaime chuckled; his expression was an odd mix of amusement and concern. "I can imagine the level of confusion. It doesn't help that you were a vital part of all those events. But Naruaki," he looked at the ANBU intently, "Try not to over think things. Unfortunately, there's only so much you can do. You'll drive yourself mad if you try to keep track of all those details."

Naruaki stood abruptly, his movements agitated. He realized that his father was giving him sound advice but that didn't mean that it was easy to follow. Having seen and experienced what he had, having lived through those numerous disasters that his village was subjected to, he couldn't ignore the sense of responsibility that he felt. Armed with all the needed information, he desperately wanted to do something.

Not for the first time, he wished that he had perfect memory recall. It was impossible to remember everything, every detail and try to somehow repair the damage he had done to the timeline by appearing in it.

So many good things had happened on the backs of epic disasters. It was during the Oto-Suna invasion of Konoha that he had befriended Gaara and set him on the right path. It was on the brink of death that he cured Tsunade of her haemophobia and brought her back to Konoha. It was because of Sandaime's death that he was forced to seek out Tsunade in the first place.

Those early steps… those key events had shaped the future.

He didn't know if doing things differently was the right way to go. On the other hand, by letting things be, he'd be silently directing many people to their deaths.

Naruaki wasn't sold on the whole concept of Greater Good. Far too many good and honest people had turned into monsters after adopting that ideology. To him, every single life that he put at risk due to his actions was his responsibility. The guilt of it would probably ruin him, which unfortunately, made him a very bad Hokage candidate.

Shaking his head, he paced in front of his bemused father.

"Look," Minato interrupted after observing his eldest for a while. "You've to prioritize." He advised, "I realize that it must be difficult. You think that because you've the knowledge of the future, that you've the responsibility to prevent all disasters and save all lives."

Naruaki paused and looked at Minato; his father had hit the nail on its head.

The Hokage met his gaze with a serious expression. "It doesn't sound fair or right but you must pick and choose those events that you feel require your utmost attention. You can't save every soul out there so try and save as many as you can through your actions."

"How am I to choose?" Naruaki asked softly, "How?"

The Hokage was silent for a while. Just because he was a leader didn't really mean he had all the answers.

Just because he was a father didn't mean he had all the answers.

There was a wry smile on his lips as he looked at Naruaki's troubled features, seeing that earnest gaze begging for answers. "You know, I became the Hokage the moment Iwa agreed to our call for ceasefire. Sandaime-sama just couldn't bear to look at the reports of casualties, the damage to our land and resources. He was tired and his shoulders could no longer bear the burden of a war-torn village."

Naruaki sat down slowly, sensing that Minato was about give a very long answer to his questions.

"When Konoha fell into my hands, she was almost on the edge of destruction." He confessed, "The war had gutted us financially and our ninja were forever scarred by the reality of it. There were many, like Kakashi, who were too young to be in the midst of it. Our relations with the other villages were tense. They were circling us like wolves, ready to pounce at the slightest show of weakness." The Yondaime shook his head, "Tsunade-sama left the village in disgust, distraught by the deaths of her precious people. Jiraiya-sensei couldn't handle it either; he used the excuse that he needed to rebuild his spy-network and left the village as soon as he could."

Naruaki shook his head, "I know." He confessed, "War is a nightmare but recovery from war is a different kind of pain…"

Minato smiled grimly, "Exactly. I was fortunate that I had that lofty name backing me up." He admitted with a chuckle, "The Konoha no Kiiroi Senko," he shook his head, "Everyone was too much in awe of that legend to actually question me. Well, everyone aside from a few notable exceptions."

The father and son shared an amused glance.

"But let me tell you, it was no easy task to bring Konoha back to some semblance of order. The thing is I faced a similar dilemma, though on a smaller scale. I had to decide who deserved more attention, who deserved financial aid, who needed the already overworked Genin more? Small things in the scheme of things but it had great impact on individuals. Great many people lost their livelihoods because of my strict rules regarding trade. Great many civilians were adversely affected; some even died because I asked the medical staff to give priority to the ninja who were gravely injured." Minato sighed, "Many were forced to live in shaky temporary homes because I couldn't authorize enough funds to start rebuilding low priority buildings."

Naruaki nodded, "Do what's best for Konoha."

Minato tilted his head to the side, "Not exactly. It's to go in the direction where the possibility of loss and the consequences of your actions are at a minimum." He leaned back and gazed at the ceiling absentmindedly, "If I didn't regulate trade strictly, what would have happened?"

The younger Namikaze frowned, "The import of nonessential items would continue. The traders would require protection for themselves and their goods and we wouldn't have been able to spare ninja that easily."

Yondaime nodded, "And why do you think that I ordered the medical staff to give ninja priority?"

This time, Naruaki's answer was swift and decisive, "Ninja are needed to protect Konoha in the unstable post-war environment. The security at that time had to be tight and vigilant. Unfortunately, the civilians weren't really as important at ninja in such times."

"Exactly my point. Now, in the long run, those actions were actually detrimental to Konoha. We lost a few important civilian clans to other villages then. However, at that point in time, that was the best decision I could've made." Yondaime confessed, "Pick what you think is more important, Naruaki. Don't try to solve everything." He met his son's gaze, "You said that it was because of the Suna-Oto invasion that we gained very good allies in Suna and your friend Gaara was set on the right path. You need to think on all the elements involved. Orochimaru, Sandaime's death, Kazekage's death, the invasion of Konoha, the many lives that were lost…"

Naruaki cringed and sighed, "I understand."

Yondaime smiled sadly, "No need to be so disheartened, Naruaki. I understand that you want to help your friend and I highly recommend that you do so. Is there anything stopping you from trying to help Gaara without the whole Suna-Oto invasion mess involved? What's stopping you from befriending Tsunade and try to help her with her heamophobia now? You have known them intimately in the future; use that knowledge to help you reach out to them now." He ruffled Naruaki's hair with a grin, "I'm not saying that it will be easy but I don't think that has ever stopped you before."

Naruaki returned his father's grin, "No… no it hasn't."

Yondaime stood and smiled, "Then there you go. You don't need to repeat what happened in exactly the same manner. Who knows? You might find a better way to solve those problems that you see." He tapped Naruaki's forehead, "Look underneath the underneath."

The ANBU scoffed, "So that's where he got it from. Kakashi's really a first-class copy-cat."

Yondaime laughed.

Naruaki seemed visibly relieved but he had unknowingly burdened Minato with his thoughts. As the ANBU left the room, the Hokage leaned back and heaved a heavy sigh.

Blue eyes flickered to glance at a large photograph on the wall in front of him and a grim smile crossed the Kage's lips. "Was that good enough fatherly advice, Kushina?" he asked softly, "Good enough, I think, for someone as unpracticed as me."

The photograph, of course, didn't reply and Minato closed his eyes.

He didn't know if he should be proud or upset with how he was dealing with Kushina's death. There was a time, when he was forced to send her on missions, that he used to dread the thought of her getting injured.

The mere possibility of her demise was enough to give him nightmares.

When that possibility became a reality though, his reaction hadn't been anything like what he had expected.

He had expected to break. He had expected her death to render him helpless and unable to move on.

That hadn't happened.

Their profession was such that he had thought of the possibility of losing her on field many times. Each scenario has been more grisly than the last. Just imagining her loss was enough to make him nauseous.

That hadn't happened.

It didn't even take a week for his tears to dry. Within a month, he stopped cringing at the thought of her. He thought of her every day but it never hurt. He had expected to drown in his sadness but a mere glance at her photograph was enough to bring a smile to his face even on the most trying days.

Sometimes he dreamed of her, dreams so vivid and detailed that he was fooled. He expected to wake up with her by his side.

When he found his bed empty, there was no disappointment, only a feeling of being blessed to have met her in his dreams. She was never far from his thoughts, it was almost as if she has never died, only became invisible to his senses.

He didn't think of what-ifs and whys. He didn't feel regrets. She died saving their baby, after all. She sacrificed her life for the son that had granted them the privilege of being called parents.

There were no regrets. Every time he held Naruto in his arms and peered into the bright and curious eyes, every time he caught glimpses of Kushina in Naruaki, he felt her presence. She was still there, giving him strength and support even though he couldn't see her or talk to her. She was there in his sons. In their legacy.

He wondered, sometimes, if there was something wrong with him. He had seen so many people just break and drown themselves in sake to overcome their loss. He had seen the hate, the resentment turn the best of men into monsters.

Yet, he had so calmly accepted Kushina's death.

Was that natural? Did he love her less? Why couldn't he grieve like a normal husband? She had been the center of his life ever since he recognized what he felt for her, even before that.

Why didn't her loss leave behind a gaping hole that just couldn't be filled?

Sometimes, he felt guilty, thinking that he didn't love her enough because her death hadn't rendered him broken with grief.

Yet, there were days when the thought of her still brought forth that all-encompassing feeling of love and affection.

Kushina was incapable of giving him sorrow, in life and in death. He only felt blessed. Blessed for having known her, loved her; blessed for being given the opportunity to be her husband and lover.

Did that make his love for her less potent?

He didn't know and that bothered him more than he'd like to admit.

With a sigh, he stood from his seat, deciding to retire for the day. However, before he could even take a step towards his room, a loud, demanding cry echoed throughout the house. He started, looking up at the ceiling and rushed up the stairs when he heard a loud thump and some curses.

He burst into the nursery that held his infant son and stopped short, his eyes wide and breathing erratic.

After a few moments of awkwardness, Minato broke. His loud, ebullient laughter filled the room and stopped Naruto's cries.

Naruaki, his prim and proper son, had never seemed so disheveled. His long hair was a riotous mess, his pajama bottoms were barely hanging onto his lean frame and his expression was that of complete bafflement.

"Father!" the ANBU snapped sharply, a blush warming his cheeks. "It isn't funny! I thought he was being attacked!"

Minato chuckled and gently took Naruto from his elder brother's arms. "He does possess a powerful set of lungs, doesn't he?" He mused as he swayed lightly, rubbing Naruto's back to calm the child. "You were the one who insisted that you needed to stay as close to Naruto as possible."

Naruaki sighed and rubbed his tired eyes, his posture slack and lacking energy. "I didn't anticipate this." He grumbled, leaning against the wall with a sigh.

The Yondaime observed the ANBU keenly, "Two back to back A-class missions can't have been easy for you, regardless of your skills. Should I assign the B-class tomorrow to someone else? It's a simple enough thing but the long travel won't do you any favors."

The younger Namikaze closed his eyes, "Just because I'm the Hokage's son shouldn't mean that I get concessions when it comes to missions."

Minato arched a brow, "I allow such concessions to almost everyone who deserves it, Naruaki. After two back to back, successful missions, I can easily give you a week off."

Naruaki shook his head, "You don't need to convince me, I'll take you up on your offer. I have to work on the seals to upgrade the current system in Konoha."

A dry look settled on the Hokage's face, "I meant for you to rest, not work on something else."

The younger shinobi only shrugged, his curious gaze landing on Naruto. He reached forward and gently caressed the baby's head, his callused fingers marveling the incredibly soft skin. "What woke him suddenly?"

"He has been experiencing stomachache on and off." The Yondaime informed, "We just started him on solid food remember? He's still getting used to it."

"Oh." Naruaki murmured, clueless when it came to babies. "Is that why he has been crying so much lately?"

"Well yes. Fortunately, he isn't colicky."

"Coli… what?" the ANBU asked in confusion. "Sounds serious… are you sure?"

Yondaime chuckled, "It isn't serious and no, he doesn't have that problem. Just stomachache which will go away after he gets used to solids." He patted Naruaki's shoulder at the boy's concerned look in Naruto's direction. "How cute. You're all brotherly and concerned over him."

Naruaki winced slightly, knowing that Minato would take advantage of that and tease him relentlessly. With a sigh, the ANBU walked forward and pressed a light kiss on Naruto's brow before walking out of the room.

The Hokage looked down at the baby in his arms and smiled. It amazed him that Naruaki had adapted so quickly to the strangeness of time-travel. He loved baby Naru despite the fact that he had been Naruto in the past. Minato was certain that the situation had the potential to unnerve the best of men but Naruaki dealt with it beautifully.

It was a big adjustment, Minato realized. All of Naruaki's past friends and comrades… even girlfriends (if he had any) must be just kids now. Even his Jounin sensei was a brat of fifteen. For the boy to be so unfazed by the change was astounding.

The Hokage frowned…

It was also a bit worrisome.

"One day, I'm going to force him to confide in me." He said to himself, "One day, he's going to tell me everything."

There was nothing more frightening than an enemy procreating.

There was always a chance that legendry fathers would sire children that were equally strong. There was potential in every child and if the parent knew how to utilize it, the child would grow to surpass its sire.

Konoha was infamous for its prodigies. Being the first of the ninja villages, it got the cream of the crop, so to speak, when it came to ninja clans. The Hyuga, the Uchiha, the Inuzuka, the Nara, the Yamanaka, the Kurama and so on…

Those clans possessed dangerous abilities and the tendency to produce rather skilled ninja.

Even the ninja from civilian clans in Konoha sometimes turned out to be formidable. Jiraiya and Orochimaru came to mind. Both of them were born of civilian families and without any special bloodline techniques.

Yet, their strength and skill was extraordinary. They, along with their teammate, possessed the three most dangerous and useful summon contracts in the world.

But, none of that bothered him, the Tsuchikage, as much as Namikaze Minato.

The fact that Namikaze Minato had reproduced was alarming. He knew that it was unlikely that the Yondaime's son would turn out to be just as prodigious as he was, but the boy would definitely inherit his father's jutsu library.

Those jutsu were dangerous. Even in the hands of a novice.

Just as he was struggling to cope with that fact, another bit of information was handed to him.

The Yondaime Hokage not only had a child, but he also had a brother. According to his sources, the new Namikaze brat surpassed his older brother in FuuinJutsu. He was also credited with the sealing of Kyuubi.

Onoki was powerful, skilled and fearless in his own right. He had survived wars. He had maintained his position as the Tsuchikage even after Iwa had suffered a humiliating defeat against Konoha. Being as old as he was, few things could unnerve him. However, the fact that Konoha got a ready-made FuuinJutsu master that surpassed that Namikaze bastard was enough to give him nightmares.

The old man rubbed his wrinkled forehead and glanced up at his spymaster, "This information is confirmed fact? If he had a brother, where has he been hiding?"

The Spymaster shrugged his shoulders, "We've no information on that, Tsuchikage-sama. We can only confirm that the boy is truly Yondaime Hokage's brother. He's sixteen years old and goes by the name of Namikaze Naruaki. His history is completely unknown. My subordinates speculate that the brother might have been part of Konoha's Covert ANBU Corps. Therefore, his existence was completely erased from their files."

Beside the Spymaster was a well-known figure leaning against the wall with casual elegance. Tsuchiura Akihiko was probably Iwa's best Jounin. Young, brilliant and powerful, many considered him to be a worthy successor to the Tsuchikage seat.

"If the boy is as brilliant as Minato, then we're in for some trouble." Akihiko said with practiced nonchalance.

The Spymaster groaned and the Tsuchikage glared.

Did he mention that Tsuchiura Akihiko happened to be the Yondaime Hokage's cousin? No matter what happened between the two villages, the boys' relationship endured, showing remarkable resilience.

It wasn't that Akihiko was any less loyal to Iwa, but it still irked Onoki because he couldn't completely bring himself to trust one of his strongest Jounin.

Sometimes, the Tsuchikage marveled at their ability to put politics aside and concentrate only on the blood relationship between them. Onoki was certain that Akihiko and Yondaime never discussed politics when they met. In fact, he wouldn't be surprised if Akihiko asked for a leave to go welcome Yondaime's little brat to the family as well as greet his newly revealed cousin.

He scowled at Tsuchiura, disapproval lining his aged features. "Do you have anything important to contribute or you're going to stand there looking completely useless?"

The young blond man sighed, "Tsuchikage-sama," he began, "If I knew anything, you'd have been the first to know. Minato never trusts me with sensitive information because he knows that I'm loyal to my village. Likewise, I never let our secrets reach his ears if I can help it."

The Kage snorted, "That doesn't help me here, does it? How can we gather any sort of useful information on this new Namikaze?"

Tsuchiura shrugged, "Minato never mentioned a younger brother before, not even when he was a kid. But then again, his mother did leave Konoha during the war. It is entirely possible that this Namikaze was born after she left."

The Spymaster narrowed his eyes and nodded in confirmation, "Yondaime's mother did return to Iwa before but wasn't granted entry."

Onoki's eyes narrowed, a shrewd gleam entering his aged eyes. "And how old is this new Namikaze said to be?"

"16." The spymaster replied promptly.

"And are there any records that he was trained in Konoha?" The Tsuchikage asked.

Tsuchiura groaned in dismay as his Kage and his spymaster shared speculative glances, "You think you can lay claim to the brat? The Hokage's own brother?"

The Tsuchikage narrowed his eyes, "Your grandfather is still alive. He can still claim his grandson, especially if this brat was born outside Konoha after Namikaze Hiroto and Tsuchiura Akaho parted ways. If there's no record that he was ever a Konoha genin and passed through the academy, he's, in accordance to the laws, a civilian. Being sixteen, he is under-aged."

"As a civilian." Akihiko pointed out. "That loophole isn't that easy to exploit, Tsuchikage-sama. Minato may have already tested and inducted him into the ranks. If he's an ANBU, he'd be untouchable. Besides, even if we could prove on paper that this boy is a civilian, Minato's has closer blood ties. Trying to contest that would be foolishness."

Tsuchikage growled in frustration, "Then what do you suggest we do boy? Let them be? A seal-master of such caliber that even your cousin admits being inferior to?"

"What can we do but that?" Tsuchiura asked softly, "If we do anything, we risk provoking Minato and I wouldn't recommend that." He narrowed his eyes, "It's too risky to attempt this without the confirmation that this new Namikaze will willingly join our village. If he's new to Konoha, surely he can't have formed ties so soon?"

The Spymaster raised a brow, "You wish to see if you can convince Namikaze Naruaki to join Iwa on his own will."

Tsuchiura frowned, "You think that you can force someone who defeated the Kyuubi no Kitsune to do anything against his will?"

The Kage and the Spymaster winced in harmony.

"I'll be going to see Naruto-chan soon. I'll speak to this new Namikaze and feel him out. If there's potential there, I'll let you know." Tsuchiura said decisively.

The Kage nodded in agreement. He could see that wisdom in Akihiko's plans. There was no need to provoke Namikaze Minato thoughtlessly.

However, as soon as Akihiko walked out of the room, the Spymaster secured the office and summoned another one of his subordinates.

The Tsuchikage raised a brow, baffled by his subordinate's sudden actions.

The newcomer bowed to his superiors, his general quietness told the Kage that he was one of the Spymaster's best spies.

"We have received some news that requires your immediate attention." The Spymaster informed, "I had to wait until Tsuchiura-san was away to inform you."

The Kage nodded, gesturing him to continue speaking.

"This is the handler for our spy in Konoha." He introduced. "They are beefing up their security there and we need to extract our spy from their ranks immediately." He placed a scroll in front of the Kage. "He also gave us some alarming information." The Spymaster took a deep breath and nodded towards his subordinate.

"The identity of the Yondaime Hokage's wife was finally revealed to us. Her name was Uzumaki Kushina and she hailed from Whirlpool."

The Tsuchikage drew a sharp breath, "I see. So the child has the Uzumaki clan's special chakra?"

The spy shook his head, "There isn't any confirmation of it yet but it may be safe to assume that he does." He confessed, "The Hokage hasn't let the child be examined by normal healers nor is the boy's medical file stored amongst the general medical data files. Tsunade personally examined and administered all the necessary vaccinations to the boy."

Onoki sighed in frustration, "That tells us nothing! That Namikaze bastard is just being a prudent parent considering that the brat is the son of a Kage as well as an S-class shinobi and kunoichi." He looked at the spy with narrowed eyes, "What else do you have?"

"Orochimaru of Konoha was just officially declared a Missing-nin. They haven't been able to capture him. Something has prompted the Hokage to completely revamp the security of the village." The spy met the Tsuchikage's gaze, "The security revamp is focused inward, sir." He confessed, "He clearly suspects someone within Konoha of treachery. The entire security overhaul means that whoever this traitor is, he has done some significant damage. The Yondaime Hokage was very angry."

The Kage leaned forward in interest, "Can we exploit this to our benefit?"

The Spymaster nodded tentatively, "According to our reports, the Hokage and his brother are going to dedicate a few days to completely upgrade Konoha's security seals. That, along with a few other changes that the Hokage has implemented would make Konoha much more secure and impenetrable."

"What're you suggesting then?" the Kage asked impatiently, gesturing roughly with his hand, "Stop the dramatics and get to the point!"

The spy stepped forward reluctantly and took over for his superior. "While the seals are being upgraded, Konoha will be a little more vulnerable. With the Hokage and his brother distracted, we should be able to extract a very valuable asset from Konoha and cause enough chaos to destabilize it. If we play our cards right, that is."

The Tsuchikage narrowed his eyes, "What asset?"

The spy swallowed.

"Namikaze Naruto."

Danzo was a hardworking, hard-hitting politician. Ever since Sarutobi took up the mantle of being a Kage and appointed him as one of his advisors, Danzo had been working to entrench himself into the Konoha politics.

Slowly and steadily, with judicious use of cunning and pretty words, Danzo had warmed his way into many important circles. He paid attention and learned the tricks of the trade while Sarutobi set his sight outward, subtly manipulating other villages.

Sarutobi was a sly and cunning bastard but he possessed a moral streak a mile wide. He would never use those tactics against his own ninja. The Sandaime followed the footsteps of his ancestors, allowing Konoha's valuable tools, her shinobi, to become more humane, more emotional…

More weak.

There was a time when the mere mention of Konoha was enough to give their enemies a jolt of fear.

Now, they actually believed themselves to be Konoha's equal in strength and might.

Danzo couldn't bear it. Instead of gaining strength, Konoha was slowly beginning to lose it. The standards had fallen so much that the other villages were slowly gaining the confidence to attack Konoha.

They didn't want to live under the shadow of the Leaf anymore.

After silently observing the weakening of Konoha from the shadows for years, Danzo couldn't sit still any longer. He acted as Sarutobi continued to remain ignorant. He covertly built his forces, hiding them amongst the ANBU. He trained his ninja to be what they were meant to be.


He built an entire section of ANBU that was under his direct command. They had no other ties aside from an absolute loyalty and devotion to the safety of Konoha. They didn't have family. They didn't have wives, husbands, children, lovers, brothers, friends; they didn't even have parents.

He slowly built up their strength, making them the elite ninja of Konoha.

Danzo planned this for years, for decades, even. He used Sarutobi's blindness to the hilt, ensuring that the old Sandaime wasn't aware of his actions until it was too late. Until his seed had turned into a tree that had its roots too deep to be uprooted.

However, where Sarutobi had been blind, Namikaze was perceptive. He had seen the advantage in his organization and planned to use it. The Hokage wanted to reap the rewards of Danzo's hard work and all the while put restrictions on him.

This child wanted to play an adult's game?

Let him.

Danzo didn't reach where he was by being merciful on his opponents. One show of bravado wasn't enough to convince him that Namikaze was actually ready to do what was needed. In fact, by reacting in such a swift, reckless and emotional manner to his wife's death was all that was needed to convince Danzo of his unsuitability.

His wife died in battle. She showed true grit by refusing to stay put while her fellow villagers sacrificed their lives. The irony was, she wasn't really a true born kunoichi of Konoha. The Hokage should've learned from that sacrifice and honored it. Instead, he lashed out childishly.

Namikaze needed to be put in his place and he knew just where to hit.

It was a small thing to plant the idea in the mind of a spy. It hadn't been easy to uncover the details of the security upgrade but he had managed it. He had dangled such bait that that old, frail bastard of a Tsuchikage wouldn't be able to ignore it.

Iwa held a grudge against Namikaze and he was all too willing to exploit it.

His plan was simple. He'd assist the Iwa shinobi to snatch the Namikaze brat from underneath the Hokage and his brother's nose. Once the Iwa shinobi were a safe distance away from Konoha's borders, he'd simply take the child away from them.

He'd raise Namikaze Minato's pride and joy to be the ultimate emotionless tool while the fool bumbled about trying to find his son in the political mess that would follow.

If he was careful, he'd hit two birds with one stone. It would take some cunning, but he could shift the blame onto the Hokage's brother. Convincing the others that Namikaze Naruaki was a spy for Iwa wouldn't be too difficult. The brothers couldn't have possibly developed a close relationship already. It would be so easy to create distrust between them.

Maybe after being subjected to his brother's rejection and suspicion, the younger Namikaze would agree to join his organization.

Danzo didn't believe in wasting talent after all. And that would be the final nail of Yondaime's coffin.

There was a great difference between a Master and a gifted but distracted student. Minato's great success with the Uzumaki clan FuuinJutsu had certainly given him the illusion that he was something of an expert in the art. Even Jiraiya had admitted that his knowledge was second only to the Sage Sennin himself.

However, Naruaki made them both feel like they were rank amateurs. He was a true Uzumaki when it came down to FuuinJutsu.

As they gazed at the complex blueprint describing the security seals on Konoha's borders, they thanked every god that they could think of for Naruaki's presence.

"My God." Minato whispered, awed and overwhelmed, "Sensei, can you even understand a portion of this?" He questioned softly.

Naruaki chuckled while the older two shinobi exchanged baffled glances, "I thought that as a Hokage, you'd be intimately acquainted with these seals."

"Yes." Minato replied, leaning over his son's shoulder to look at the intricate designs. "I know what they do but I had no idea that something like this was behind those tiny seals I see on the walls of Konoha."

"Ah." Naruaki said, nodding his head, "The greatest advantage of FuuinJutsu is you can't look at the final product and tell what exactly led to that conclusion." He directed a little grin in his father's direction. "The most advanced forms of FuuinJutsu call for the biggest sealing systems to be condensed down to a small seal almost the size of a thumb-print."

"So Uzumaki Mito-sama really knew what she was doing. And Kushina was so fond of her too. She must have learned everything she could from Mito-sama." Yondaime said with a small, sad smile. "You're turning out more and more like your mother, Naruaki."

Naruaki snorted, "You should've seen me when I was kid. I was a carbon copy of you in looks but I had mom's personality. I used to terrorize the village with pranks. Tsunade once commented that I got my personality as well as jutsu-style from her." He tilted his head to the side in thought, "But, Kakashi always said that my skills with strategy and war-fare came from you." The ANBU turned his attention back towards the blueprints, "This is masterful work."

"Does it require any upgrade?" Jiraiya said, settling down beside Naruaki to observe the designs. "Can you do something better?"

"She didn't do this alone." Naruaki said with a frown, "She had many seal-masters at her disposal. See this?" He pointed at a large cluster of seals, "This is one of the most complex security seals that you'll ever encounter. It's supposed to stay dormant until absolutely necessary. They tried to awaken this in the future when Konoha was in a bucket-load of trouble from Akatsuki."

"But they failed?" Jiraiya asked, "Are you saying that this seal is useless?"

"No." the ANBU shook his head, "Quite the opposite, in fact. The problem is that it needs someone possessing Uzumaki clan DNA to activate it. Tsunade could activate it, had they known of it and I wasn't in the village at the time. I came too late."

"Wait… Tsunade?" Jiraiya asked.

"She is Uzumaki Mito's granddaughter. I think it would've have been a close enough familial match to activate the seal."

"But Tsunade has no skill with seals!" The Sennin protested.

Minato raised a brow, "Aside from the one on her forehead, you mean? Are you really that ignorant, sensei?"

Naruaki smirked, "Most of Tsunade's advanced medical jutsu involve some rather complex and intricate seals." He rolled his eyes when Jiraiya sputtered, "Regardless, I think we should change that particular aspect of the seal. Unfortunately, the DNA element can't be changed but we can add a few options." He glanced at Jiraiya before turning his gaze towards his father, "I think we also need to start thinking of rebuilding the Uzumaki clan."

Both Jiraiya and Minato started at that. "Uzumaki clan?" the Hokage asked, "It never really occurred to me."

Naruaki shook his head, "We should start thinking about it. It's not only about the Uzumaki vitality and chakra but also about Rinnegan." He looked pointedly at Jiraiya, "Nagato is of the Uzumaki clan, you realize."

The Sage looked astonished, "I wasn't aware of that… There was a similarity in looks between Kushina and Nagato but it never occurred to me."

The ANBU nodded, "At the moment, Naruto and I are the only ones possessing strong Uzumaki clan DNA. Nagato hates Konoha so he wouldn't even consider joining us. Tsunade wouldn't consent to participate in the reconstruction of the clan."

"No." Minato shook his head, "But you do have a point." He looked at his son with narrowed eyes, "Are there any seals that can be only performed by those of Uzumaki blood?"

"There are some." Naruaki admitted reluctantly. "Nothing particularly useful and most of that involves Uzumaki chakra. I just don't think that we should let such a legacy slip away. You realize that we're losing both Senju and Uzumaki clans? The descendents of the second son of Rikudo Sennin are almost all dead while the descendents of the first son are still thriving. I don't want to appear biased but that doesn't sit well with me."

Both Minato and Jiraiya seemed surprised by the information. "You know, this never occurred to me." The Kage confessed. "Wow. You're right. We should do something."

Naruaki unfurled a fresh scroll as his father and the Gama Sennin pondered over the piece of information that he had just delivered. Soon the teacher-student pair was involved in a deep discussion while he vigilantly worked on the seals.

Ideas swirled around in his head as he glanced at the designs of the existing seals. There were things he could alter but most of the work would involve renewing the seals. There were a few seals that he wanted to add to the system but he wanted to take care that he didn't overdo it.

It was best to have a lean and clean sealing system instead to too many powerful seals to protect their borders.

However, as he was reaching out for a new scroll, something caught his eye.

Carefully, his eyes traced a rather insignificant seal. Its sole purpose was to preserve the wood of Konoha's fences and large gates.

However, there was something special about that seal. It was extremely sensitive and malleable. Any seal that was connected to it would connect to the hypersensitive living woods that bordered Konoha village.

Naruaki smirked. 'Maybe Mito-sama knew of this seal's unique nature. Maybe that's why she called it Kami no Te. It's just as inconspicuous and delicately powerful as the Hand of God.'

Whatever be the case, Naruaki was determined to make full use of the seal's characteristics. With several ideas flowing through his mind, he grabbed onto a blank scroll and starting creating an outline of his ideas.

The beautifully formed script drew the attention of both his companions. They sat down beside him; Yondaime observing Naruaki's gracefully formed seals with paternal pride while Jiraiya studied them with increasing awe.

"Seriously kid, you underestimate yourself when you say that you were the second best." The Gama-Sennin admitted with a slight whistle, "You really have Mito-sama's blood in you. I remember her, you know. She taught me a little about sealing when I was a mere genin. I can almost picture her in your place; you have the same presence about you as she did."

Yondaime raised a brow, "Really?" Turning his head, he observed his son more closely. Having not been in Mito-sama's presence at her prime, he really didn't know what Jiraiya meant.

Naruaki, with his long hair, confident stature and sharply intelligent blue eyes was indeed a striking figure. Mito-sama had been similarly striking but Minato finally realized what Jiraiya meant.

It wasn't the looks because they couldn't be more different. Naruaki's face was sharply masculine while Mito-sama had been a delicately featured woman. The shape of their eyes weren't similar either nor their coloring.

Their carriage was strikingly similar, though. They both had an aura of stern resolve about them. The way they held their chin just a touch higher, lent them an air of remoteness. It was as though they had learned to keep people at a distance.

"Mito-sama and I are connected." Naruaki whispered, "We were the Jinchuriki of Kyuubi no Kitsune and that connected is unlike any other." He declared solemnly, "Kyuubi is like this dark inheritance that we passed down from one generation to another. I just hope that Naruto is able to do what I was incapable of."

"And what is that?" Jiraiya asked. Minato turned his head away; the hidden pain in Naruaki's voice caused a now familiar stab of guilt in him.

"To end the cycle." Naruaki whispered.

Minato looked at his son, "To kill the Kyuubi?"

The ANBU sighed, "To cure its hatred." He confessed before shaking his head. "But that's something that we don't need to think about now."

Jiraiya suddenly groaned causing the other two to look at him questioningly. The Gama-Sennin pointed accusingly at Naruaki, "You're one of those people, aren't you?" he asked petulantly, "Those who are so goody-goody that they'll try to save and change every scum and send them on the path of redemption."

Naruaki chuckled when his father directed a frown of disapproval at Jiraiya, "There's nothing wrong with that!"

The Sennin shook his head, "Another thing you seem to have inherited from your father kid. I really wish I could see some of Kushina's rationality in there."

Before either Yondaime or Naruaki could say anything, there was a frantic knock on the door.

Naruaki was quick to conceal all their work, silently sealing them into a scroll while Jiraiya opened the door.

A frantic chunin swept into the office in panic, garnering identical scowls from Minato and Naruaki. Really, as an experienced ninja, he should've conducted himself better; even if there was something wrong.

"Sir, the Uchiha matriarch was attacked."

Naruaki shot off his seat the moment those words left the man's mouth. Minato leaned forward, looking at the chunin urgently. "Uchiha Mikoto? Is she all right? What happened?"

"She's in the hospital-"

Naruaki didn't wait for the man to complete his sentence, swiftly heading towards the door.

"Naruaki, wha-" Minato rose from his chair, watching his son leave and quickly following the boy out of his office.

"Naruto was with Mikoto-san." Naruaki replied curtly and Yondaime's eyes widened.

The Hokage reacted swiftly and grabbed Naruaki's arm, vanishing in a flash of bright yellow light.

They landed in front of the receptionist, Naruaki stumbling only slightly at the unexpected movement. The woman at the desk didn't even ask what they wanted.

"Room no: 107."

Naruaki didn't bother to acknowledge her as he swept past but Minato nodded and thanked her before following. Her calm and reassuring smile told him that whatever happened, no one had gone missing or died.

As Naruaki reached the room, the cries of two, very uncomfortable infants reached his ears and he sighed. He slid open the door and took the entire scene in a sharp, assessing glance.

Fugaku was by the window, conversing tersely with some of his clan members. The Uchiha clan head was visibly stressed, casting a worried glance at the patients from time to time.

Mikoto was unconscious in the bed and frankly, she didn't look well. She was pale, the harsh cuts and burns standing out against her skin. The healers had just finished bandaging her thigh and her stomach.

Naruaki was very concerned for her considering that both the wounds seemed dangerous. However, his eyes soon landed on the kids.

Itachi, the poor boy, was fruitlessly trying to calm his brother as well as Naruto. Sasuke had a few scratches on his shoulders and arms. He could see the beginnings of bruises on the little baby's chest and legs.

It was almost as if someone had played a harsh game of tug-of-war using the poor child.

Itachi seemed unsettled. He had a busted lip and he seemed to be holding his arm gingerly. His right cheek showed some sign of swelling as well. Naruaki's jaw clenched at the sight. Itachi was his apprentice after all, and partly his responsibility.

However, his mind went completely blank when he laid his eyes on Naruto.

It was hardly a second before he was by the crib, lifting the little blond bundle up in his arms.

Naruaki had gone white with fury by then. Naruto's neck was wrapped in a thick bandage; there was a small cut on the child's brow and a few on his delicate little hands. The sight of blood on the baby was enough for Naruaki to lose his calm completely.

"Naruaki?" Minato questioned softly, a frown of distress marring the Hokage's face as he looked at his youngest.

Naruto had calmed down significantly after being in his older brother's familiar arms. Still, his scratchy, pained cries caused the older Namikaze men to cringe in helplessness.

"What exactly happened here!" the livid Hokage demanded.

The little Namikaze heir flinched at the loud noise, his lips trembling in pain. Naruaki embraced the baby, gently shushing him and making comforting noises in the child's ear.

However, the Hokage's anger was unsettling all the kids, including Itachi. After gaining permission from the healer, he quietly asked one of the Uchiha clansmen to carry Sasuke and escorted the kids out of the tense room.

The ANBU paced at corridor, taking care not to jostle the baby in his arms while Itachi sat on one of the chairs. The young Uchiha's anxious glances kept dancing between Sasuke and Naruto guiltily but Naruaki didn't question it.

Sighing, he kissed Naruto's forehead when the child finally stopped crying and settled for small, painful sounding hiccups. It helped that Sasuke was finally asleep because more than anything, the little Uchiha's cries spurred Naruto on to be equally loud.

The storm cloud that was his father's aura seemed to have abated a bit. Naruaki sat down heavily, his heart still in his throat.

Naruto was entertaining himself by playing with the ANBU's long hair. The wounds were already old-news for the infant now that he was in the security of Naruaki's arms. Moreover, the mix of Kyuubi's chakra and the Uzumaki clan's natural vitality would've healed the child somewhat.

Still, Naruaki couldn't tear his eyes away from the Naruto. Seeing Naruto hurt had stilled his heart, making his blood grow cold with fear. He was such a tiny, delicate little being that even the smallest of wounds could do some serious harm.

He wondered absently if it was some bizarre sort of vanity to love this child so much. It had been so easy to separate the infant from himself and give the child his own identity. He had truly come to view Naruto as his little brother. He had embraced every protective instinct, every feeling of love and affection that had come with that role.

Minato finally left the room and sank down on the chair beside him. "How is he?"

Naruaki turned to his father and nodded, "Kushina-san's blood is potent in him." He whispered, keenly aware of the presence of Itachi by his side. "The smaller wounds are almost healed. I don't know about the one of his neck."

Minato's expression tightened. The neck wound was a clear indicator that there had been an attempt on Naruto's life. None of the others had suffered wounds that showed a conscious attempt to kill. A ninja would naturally go for the most vulnerable parts when he wished to kill and the throat was always the first target of assassins.

He paused when he felt his eldest start in surprise. He turned and stifled a smile. Itachi, the poor lad, had finally succumbed to his exhaustion. The kid was now leaning against his mentor, soundly asleep.

"He looks done in." Minato commented, taking Naruto from his brother.

Naruaki murmured in agreement and shifted a little, letting Itachi sleep on his lap. He could still hear the loud argument amongst the Uchiha clansmen going on in the room. "He's still leagues away from being the great man he's destined to be." He admitted, brushing a strand of jet-black hair away from Itachi's face to look at the bruised, swollen cheek. "But he'll get there."

Minato smiled, "With you as his mentor, I doubt he'll be anything but great."

Naruaki chuckled, "You're biased." And it felt inordinately good to say that. Parental bias was a wonderful thing. Naruaki had never experienced it before but now he got a nearly daily dose of it. Minato's absolute faith his abilities as a ninja and his qualities as a man, was astounding. No one had ever given him such unwavering support, not even Iruka, Tsunade and Jiraiya.

People, even his closest friends and loved ones, were all too quick question his competence and sometimes, too slow to believe in his skills.

"We've a problem, Naruaki." Minato confessed quietly after a while, pulling the boy out of his pleasant thoughts. "This situation has the potential to destabilize our new plans."

Naruaki sighed, "An attack on the Uchiha matriarch, the heirs and the Hokage's son..." he shook his head, "And they almost succeeded with Naru-chan too."

Minato flinched, burying his nose into his little son's soft hair. "I'll kill them." He said, simple and blunt.

"Oh, that is after I use my interrogation skills on them." Naruaki said with a rather charming smile. He looked at his father, "Did you find out what exactly happened?"

Minato nodded, glancing at the sleeping Uchiha heir. "Itachi-kun told Fugaku. Surprisingly, the original target wasn't Naruto."

Naruaki arched a brow before a faint suspicion caused him to turn his eyes towards the sleeping Sasuke.

"Yes." The Hokage answered his son's silent question. "They were looking to kidnap Sasuke. They mistook the baby in Mikoto's arms to be him instead of Naruto. One of the assailants realized that they had done a mistake and held a sword to Naru's throat and demanded that Mikoto handover Sasuke."

Naruaki closed his eyes.

"Naruto may have been the Hokage's son but she would've never made that choice." Yondaime whispered. "I really don't want to blame her."

"We can't- we won't blame her if she chose Sasuke. She's a mother first and foremost." Naruaki said firmly.

Yondaime nodded, "The assailant further taunted her. He said that no matter what, Sasuke would survive the ordeal. He just wouldn't belong to Konoha. But if she didn't handover Sasuke, at least Naruto's death was guaranteed."

Naruaki's expression tightened. "He was ready to behead a child - a baby, in front of a young mother?"

The Hokage scowled, "Itachi said that his mother begged and pleaded. When that bastard actually started to draw Naruto's blood, she looked like she was torn between throwing Sasuke into their arms and looking away, letting them ki" he shook his head, "hurt Naruto."

Minato rubbed his eyes in tiredness. It wasn't even noon and he already wished for the day to end. "Itachi saw some sort of opening. He stabbed the man in the groin with his academy kunai, knowing that it was the only away the man would be too distracted to hold onto Naruto." He looked at the young Uchiha heir with a small, impressed smile. "He's a brave little brat."

Naruaki smirked faintly, "Maybe I'll start teaching him something other than calligraphy as a reward."

The Yondaime nodded in agreement before continuing, "The problem is, the academy kunai are blunt and while that man suffered a great deal of pain, he wasn't entirely incapacitated. He punched Itachi and tried to recapture Naruto but the boy gave him a slip. Mikoto-san realized that the best chance to keep the boys safe was to separate them. She asked Itachi to run with Naruto."

Naruaki frowned, "Did they choose not to follow Itachi?"

The Hokage sighed, "One of them did, thinking that having Itachi and Naruto as an hostage would be an added advantage. Thankfully, they really didn't know who Naruto was." He stood when Naruto started to yawn, knowing his son's habits well enough to realize that the child needed just a little care and he'd be asleep. Smiling a little, he paced the corridor, rocking the baby in his arms gently. "Itachi and Naruto were very lucky. Kakashi and Gai were close by. Those two managed to apprehend one of the culprits but the other escaped. Mikoto managed to injure that man enough for him to abandon the mission."

The ANBU closed his eyes, "Kakashi and Gai are personally keeping watch on that scum, aren't they?"

"Yes." Minato chuckled, "Kakashi took your suspicions very seriously. He took the assailant directly to our estate. Since he's keyed into the warding seals on our property, he simply used the safe room to lock that bastard in. He can't escape and no one from outside, excluding us, can get in."

"That man could kill himself, you know." Naruaki pointed out.

Minato shook his head, "The safe room neutralizes chakra. No seal, no jutsu, nothing would work. As an added measure, Kakashi's going to keep the man unconscious until we have time to look into it. If this is Danzo's plan…" He trailed off, frowning in thought.

"I'm leaning more towards Orochimaru in this case." He murmured, "He has always coveted the Sharingan."

"Then why not go after Itachi?" Minato asked, "Why Sasuke?"

Naruaki shrugged, "I don't know what goes on in his mind." He confessed, "But, it would be easier for him to raise Sasuke to be his vessel, molding him to be a perfect servant. Itachi's older and far more resilient than most children are at his age." Shaking his head, "But it's useless to speculate now. We don't know for sure who's behind this." He frowned suddenly. "The timing's a little odd, don't you think? A kidnapping attempt in broad daylight?"

Minato raised a brow, "The timing is perfect actually." He said with a slight scowl, "Our nighttime patrols are very vigilant. During morning, most ninja are either training or collecting their missions. The village is busy and active and ANBU usually use this time to do their reports. No one thinks that there'd be a security breach in the morning, Naruaki."

"It's possible that it could be an inside job." Minato commented after a pause, "Fugaku's sudden rise to power did rattle some people."

The ANBU shrugged before carefully shifting Itachi into his arms and rising to his feet. "Whatever it is, I'll drag it out of that man's mouth if it's the last thing I do." He whispered as he stepped into the tense hospital room.

Fugaku and the rest turned towards him, their expressions angry as well as distressed. Despite the fact that their own were hurt, Naruto's wellbeing had been their responsibility. All of them were worried about the consequences of the breach in security.

Naruaki kept his silence as he laid his apprentice down on a spare bed, carefully tucking the boy into the sheets.

"As of now, we can do nothing but be vigilant." Minato said softly as he followed Naruaki into the room. "Naruaki will handle the interrogation. I'll have Sousuke look into the security issue." He met Fugaku's eyes, "We'll post a few ANBU guards here to protect Mikoto-san but I feel it's best to take Sasuke and Itachi and keep them in the Uchiha compound for now. Naruaki and I will come by later and set up a few seals on the compound to increase security."

Naruaki straightened and looked at the Uchiha clan head, "With your permission, I'd like to place a tracker seal on Itachi and Sasuke, Uchiha-san." He said, "I'll be doing the same with Naruto as soon as possible. It's a temporary measure for now but until we're certain that the kids are safe, its best to be cautious."

Fugaku nodded, "Of course, Naruaki-san. Whatever you feel is best for the children."

Naruaki met Minato's worried gaze and nodded, disappearing from sight soundlessly.

He had a prisoner to interrogate after all.