Author: G.A.M.M.

Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto.

The Council of Konoha convened in a large dome-shaped building adjacent to the newly refurbished Hokage Tower. This new structure sat nowhere near the original Hall of the Council, which had in fact been nothing more than a glorified court-room in the lower recesses of the Hokage Tower.

The new meeting place had been designed to seat over three-hundred, instead of the original fifty of the previous design. The idea was to increase the number of people on the council and to allow room for spectators on occasion.

Such was the occasion of this particular meeting that not a single-one of the three-hundred and thirty-six seats was left unoccupied. Standing room accounted for almost another two hundred people, so a total of over five hundred councilman and citizens were crowded nearly shoulder to shoulder in what had been a rather roomy space.

Yet anyone in attendance would later claim in the annotations of the histories of in what would later be referred to as "The Years of the Empty Tower," that not a one of them felt the closeness, not a single citizen stood without rapt attention or bated breath, for today was a day unlike any other. Today a hero would have to die.

This was the day Uzumaki Naruto's fate was to be decided.

The chamber was set in the round, with a central platform for witnesses. A small section of the circle was on a dais, where the lead representatives of the Great Houses of Konoha (and other people who had wormed their way to power) known only as the "Council" sat. In the middle of this display sat Danzo in a high-backed chair, wearing a rare self-satisfied smirk; for it was said his face was made of stone and never showed emotion (though the latter may have been true the former was utterly ridiculous.) The proceedings were about to begin and for once the old war-hawk was looking forward to the spectacle he normally abhorred: for this was a spectacle of his own secret making.

"Order, order! This session of the council will now come to order." An old official shouted over the low murmuring of the room, which abruptly ceased. "The council will be seated. A meeting has been called today do discuss a matter of gravest importance to Konohagakure. Under ordinary circumstances such a hearing would be conducted behind closed doors. However, it has been decided by the Council that an open hearing will be convened with the understanding that what happens in this room today will not leave it. The people are bound to find out eventually, indeed some already know or suspect, but the morale shock to Konoha would be grievous. With that in mind, I ask you all to honor this stipulation. Any of you who feel you cannot hold your tongues kindly leave now." Not a soul stirred. "Right. We are here today to have a hearing for Uzumaki Naruto, who is accused of assassinating Nara Shikamaru, Rokudaime Hokage. In addition there is another matter to be discussed later, but for now we deal with this. Let the proceedings begin."

The crowd, to their credit, did not utter a word at the news, for indeed most of them already knew.

Danzo then took the lead in the proceedings and called up the first witness, the woman who had been Shikamaru's secretary. She had been the first to discover the ransacked office and described what she had seen. It was her opinion that it looked like a hurricane had ripped through the Hokage's chambers. She also commented that the last time she had seen the Rokudaime was no more than an hour earlier, when he had dismissed his personal ANBU guards for what she had assumed was a secret meeting. Obviously something had gone terribly wrong.

"So you believe the Rokudaime had intended to meet someone of importance?" The official questioned.

"Yes, why else would he have ordered the ANBU away?" The young woman answered rhetorically.

"Indeed, I can think of no other reason." The old man admitted. "Is there anything else you'd like to add to your statement?"

The young woman hesitated a moment, as if she was debating whether or not to speak her next words. "Only that the Hokage must have been meeting with someone he trusted implicitly, to send away his guard retinue."

"A friend of his, or a confidante..." Danzo, the equivalent of the prosecution, speculated. "Do you believe the Hokage considered Uzumaki Naruto as such?"

"Yes." The woman replied. "But..."

"No further questions." Danzo cut her off. "Unless this witness has anymore to add?"

"No." She said in a quiet voice.

"Then let us bring forth the next witness." The official said.

"I call forth next Yamanaka Ino, as an expert witness." Danzo said in a voice that reverberated off the chamber walls.

Ino reluctantly came forward and even more reluctantly related the whole of her experience in the dungeons of Konoha, within the mind of Uzumaki Naruto. Many members of Council and the audience paled, and the offical looked as if he were about to sick up. Everyone in the room was an adult and already knew of the secret of the Kyuubi, but speaking of it openly and with such detail was a harrowing experience for those who had survived its attack those many years ago. Her testimony left no room for doubt that Naruto had been the one to kill Shikamaru, even if he had done so completely under the influence of his demon.

Even so many were not willing to believe it. Not until Naruto himself was brought forth in chains and admitted to it. Not even his most adamant supporters could dismiss his guilt then.

Neji left the room quietly and quickly. Hinata needed to know about this. He headed back to the Hyuuga compound and ran into Konohamaru. The youngster agreed to tell Hinata to meet Neji at the estate if he ran into her. Neji told Konohamaru nothing of what had transpired in the Hall, but the young shinobi couldn't help but feel something was very wrong.

Back in the hall the evidence was overwhelming and when the members of the Council called for a recess to discuss the verdict, the hall reconvened less than an hour later.

Hyuuga Hiashi, as the member of highest standing had the honor of declaring the Uzumaki's fate.

"It is this census of the Council, that Uzumaki Naruto, while not directly responsible for the death of the Rokudaime, has failed in his duty of the jailor of the Kyuubi. His is a danger to himself and the village. We see no other choice but to sentence him to death."

This time there were many gasps of outrage among the audience.

Before complete pandemonium broke out, Danzo cut through in a loud voice. "There is another choice. My seal experts tell me there is a way to remove the Kyuubi without killing it's host. The shards of the Shodai's Necklace have been found and remade into a vessel we believe can contain the power of the Kyuubi permanently. The procedure is very risky, that cannot be denied. However, I believe we owe it to Uzumaki Naruto to make every effort to save him. If it were not for his actions many of us would not be standing here today. At least this way there would be a chance. My experts will take every precaution to ensure his safety..."

Danzo knew he had won the moment he had offered the guilt-ridden consciences of the council a way out. People would believe any lie: either because they desperately wanted it to be true, or desperately feared it was. Given the choice between the death of a heroic figure and his possible salvation, what choice was there really?

Again the Council called a recess, but to Danzo's surprise it was over two hours before they reconvened and Hiashi stood to give the new verdict.

"The Council finds this to be a reasonable alternative. Let the extraction process begin immediately."

With that he left to return to his estate. No doubt when his daughter awoke she would not take the news well. He intended to be there to stop whatever foolishness she might contrive.

Danzo departed as well. He needed to act quickly now that he was committed. He did not see any way he could be stopped, but he had taken every precaution. To his knowledge there was no one in the village capable of taking down the twenty squads of ANBU he had guarding every possible entrance to the dungeons.

Meanwhile, Tenten, who had been listening in on the Council secretly with a new device she had contrived, took off at a dead run towards the Hyuuga compound.

The official then brought up the next topic, a matter of even greater importance: the selection of a new Hokage.

From his seat in the back, Kakashi stood up and slowly made his way towards the center of the hall.

On his way back from his weekly trip to the Monument of Fallen Heroes, Konohamaru walked in silent thought, contemplating the sacrifices of the shinobi of Konoha. His grandfather... his uncle... his teacher Ebisu... how many more if his friends would die for the sake of the village?

Neji had run into him earlier and asked him to tell Hinata to meet him at the Hyuuga compound if he saw her. He had run into her, and couldn't shake the feeling that something really bad was happening. He had decided to make his visit to the Monument early today, to think on things. After a couple hours he still didn't know what it was that was troubling him, other than an unexplainable feeling of foreboding. So he decided to head home, still lost in thought.

For some reason, he found himself thinking back on a conversation he had once had with his grandfather, the Third.

It had started out with Konohamaru whining about his grandfather never doing anything cool, that he wished the Fourth Hokage was still around because he certainly would be doing all sorts of cool stuff. Like winning another war or something.

"There is nothing 'cool' about war." The old man had said tiredly. "The cost of any war or conflict to the state and its people are always high."

"But the Fourth was SO AWESOME!" The rambunctious troublemaker had insisted. "And what about when he killed the Kyuubi? You can't tell me that wasn't cool!"

"The Fourth sacrificed his life to save the village and the people he loved. He may be remembered forever, but the village lost a hero and a great leader."

"But I thought you said the cost of any conflict is high jiji?"

The Third was silent for a very long time, gazing out across the village that he loved. Unbeknownst to either of them, he would die to protect it in just a few short days. Konohamaru normally would have said something by now... but for some reason he held back. His old grandfather always had an immediate answer for most things. Yet, he seemed greatly troubled. There had been no other way to stop the Kyuubi. So why was Sarutobi so filled with regret?

Finally, after what seemed hours, but was in fact only a few minutes, Sarutobi spoke.

"Sometimes... it's too high..."

"Too... high?" Konohmaru asked uncertainly.

"The day will come when one day your old like me and you'll think back on the decisions you've made. A man lives with the consequences of his actions and accepts them... every day of his life he must live with that burden. That is a great part of what it means to be a man. One day you will understand."

He was running across the rooftops now, headed back to his home. He would hook up with his teammates for lunch later, but for now he needed some time alone.

Which was exactly what he quite suddenly was not.

He rammed into someone in mid-stride, and fell back on his ass with bone-jarring impact.

"Hey watch where the hell your going you idiot!" He yelled angrily.

The 'idiot' picked herself up off the ground and gave him a marrow-freezing glare.

"I don't have time to deal with morons who suddenly jump right in front of me." The woman growled lowly in a cold voice.

Konohamaru was suddenly embarrassed. He had hit a woman and a beautifal one at that, and had spoken before he realized what he was saying. That he had the great misfortune to run into a kunoichi in such an obviously bad mood was only what he deserved. He rubbed the back of his head and apologized, looking her in the eye.

"I'm sorry... wait a minute... you're that Hyuuga person right?"

"I am Hyuuga Hinata. And now I must go." She said, preparing for another leap.

Hyuuga Hinata... of course he had talked to her only a few hours ago. Wasn't she crazy girl Naruto had been hanging out a lot with lately... suddenly it clicked.

"Now I have it, you're the Boss- er I mean Naruto's friend right? Where are you going in such a hurry?" He asked, stopping her in mid-stride.

"To save him. Now I've already wasted enough time." She took off across the rooftops at great speed, heading towards the Hokage Tower.

Konohamaru was barely able to catch up to her, and that was only because he was pushing as hard as he could while she wasn't even breaking a sweat.

"If the Boss- er Naruto is in trouble, I'll help you out." Maybe this was why he had been feeling so weird. The Boss was in some sort of trouble.

"You don't know what you're getting yourself into." Hinata said without slowing or even looking at him. "I am about to commit treason... and I probably won't survive."

"Treason?!" Konohamaru's mind boggled. "What the hell is going on?"

She couldn't exactly tell Konohamaru everything. The Kyuubi's jailor was still and S-class secret. So she did her best.

"Naruto is about to undergo a procedure in the dungeons below the Hokage Tower... a process which he will not survive... because they think what he contains... I mean... that Naruto killed the Rokudaime. He was with me that night... but he was really... well the details aren't important. All that matters is that what happened wasn't his fault. At least not directly. I'm going to put a stop to all this madness."

"What... he... NANI?" Konohamaru didn't understand the first thing about what was happening, but he did know that this woman was about to do something very, very stupid. "Even if all that's true, what the hell are you going to do about it? You'll never make it to the dungeons, it's gotta be crawling with ANBU."

"I have to try."

"And what happens when they try to stop you?"

"I'll do what I must."

"You'd kill your fellow shinobi?"

Hinata decided the conversation had gone far enough. She had already said too much, and even though Konohamaru was virtually no threat, she couldn't afford any distractions.

"I'll try to avoid it if I can, but I must... no I will save him. I don't care if they think it's for the good of the village. I will save him no matter the cost."

In a rush Konohamaru remembered what he had been thinking of only moments before he ran into Hinata... the words of his grandfather.

"Sometimes..." Konohamaru whispered to himself, "It's too high..."

"What was that?" Hinata asked with sudden killing intent, misunderstanding.

"I'll help you." Konohamaru said, realizing after all those years what Sarutobi had meant. "There's another way into the tower. I used to play in the network of tunnels under the tower when I was a kid. No one knows them like I do. I think I can sneak us into the dungeons if we're stealthy."

Hinata felt a sudden rush of relief. She had felt certain she was running to her death. Now maybe she had a chance.

"Well we are shinobi after all." She said with the slightest hint of a smile. "Show me."

Homura and Koharu had immediately put Danzo forward as a candidate for Hokage. He wasn't very well liked, but he was respected, and the gesture he had made by offering up an alternative to executing Naruto had instantly won him considerable good will from the Council and the senior shinobi of Konoha.

To offer up a candidate only required two votes from any member of the Council, which consisted of most of the Clan Leaders and many of the senior shinobi of Konoha. In order to elect a Hokage the vote from the Council had to be a two-thirds majority. As it stood, Danzo would likely become the next Hokage. The vote was about to be called.

Hatake Kakashi couldn't let that happen.

He was up at the front of the room. He saw Kurenai off to the left and she nodded to him. They were both technically a part of the Council, even though they never sat in on any of the meetings. Together they were about to do something that had never happened before in the history of Konohagakure, or any hidden village as far as they knew. Still it had to be done. On this they had agreed. They had to buy as much time as they could while Kurenai's mysterious ally executed his hidden agenda. It was the only hope they had.

Kakashi stood and awkwardly cleared his throat. He wasn't very good at this sort of thing.

"I'd like to put forward another candidate..." He said slowly, steadily. Every eye in the room was on him and he suddenly felt very self-conscious. If he wasn't famous before what he was about to do would definitely secure his fame... or infamy in the history books. "I nominate Hyuuga Hiashi... for the position of Shichidaime Hokage."

Before anyone could react or voice protest to the irregularity of Kakashi's nomination, Kurenai voiced her support.

"I second the nomination."

"Hiashi-sama will still have to accept the nomination." The old official pointed out in his gravelly voice. "Homura and Koharu already told us that Danzo-san had said he would accept a nomination. Now... if there are no further..."

Kakashi cut him off. Each member of the Council had the right to nominate and second two motions in the Hall per session... so he did, but not without cringing first.

"I nominate Maito Gai for the position of Shichidaime Hokage."

"Maito... Maito Gai?! Might Guy?! I must say this is highly irregular Hatake-san Maito Gai is hardly-"

Kurenai cut the official off this time. "I second the nomination."

"I..." The official was very flustered now, but he could not technically deny the nomination. "Very well... as he is also not present we will convene later to-"

"I nominate Hatake Kakashi for the position of Shichidaime Hokage." Kurenai interrupted loudly. She had used both her second votes, and Kakashi couldn't vote for himself, but the Hatake was popular enough that somebody in the Council might be willing to go for it.

Surprisingly it was Nara Shikaku who spoke next. Nobody had expected him to attend the meeting in light of the death of his son, yet there he was in the shadows at the back of the room.

"I second the nomination."

The official was powerless to stop it and could only nod. "Very well... Hatake-san to you accept the nomination?"

"I do."

"Alright then I will bring this meeting to a close-"

"I nominate Nara Shikaku for the position of Shichidaime Hokage." Kurenai interupted yet again.

She and Kakashi had only planned on nominating those they had already named. Hiashi because he would never pass up an opportunity for more power, especially with Hinata about to take over the clan. Guy because, assuming Kakashi was nominated, Guy would never bow out of a contest with his 'eternal rival.' This had been a pretty big gamble, but they were sure someone would second Kakashi's nomination and so ensure Guy's acceptance. Yet they hadn't planned on it being Nara Shikaku, whose mind was on par with his son's. Suddenly the possibilities had opened up, and if Shikaku was as smart was everyone said he was, then he already knew what Kakashi and Kurenai were about. If Kurenai was right then they would be more successful than they had dared hope.

"I second the nomination." Kakashi said, not sure what Kurenai was about, but trusting her instincts. She had no votes left now, and he had no more firsts, but he did have one more second to keep the ball rolling if this one failed. Though who would put forward yet another candidate after this, was beyond him... unless...

"I accept the nomination." Shikaku said loud enough to be heard from the back of the room. "And I'd like to nominate Yuhi Kurenai for the position of Shichidaime Hokage."

"What?!" The official sputtered. "Nominating someone else right after you yourself accepted?! I will not have this meeting turned into a mockery!"

"I have to agree." Koharu chimed in. "This is ridiculous. I would like to put forth a motion that no more candidates be selected.

"I'm afraid that's against the law." Shikaku spoke up again. "So with that being said... who will second me?"

"I will." Kakashi jumped in again, understanding Kurenai's game. Now that Shikaku was on board... "I second the nomination."

"I accept!" Kurenai nearly shouted.

"Then-" The official was overriden before he could even begin.

"I nominate Yamanaka Inoichi for the position of Shichidaime Hoakge." Shikaku said, sharing a look with his two oldest friends. Inoichi nodded slowly, not knowing what to think except that he trusted Shikaku. Chouza was just as lost, but also nodded, trusting his old friend.

"I second the nomination." Said Chouza.

"I accept." Replied Inoichi and smiled in sudden comprehension. "And I nominate Akimichi Chouza for the position of Shichidaime Hokage."

"I second the nomination." Said Shikaku, using up his last vote.

"I accept the nomination." Chouza was grinning now too. "And I nominate..."

Nearly an hour later over two dozen more shinobi had been nominated as Shichidaime Hokage, and all who were present had accepted. What Kakashi and Kurenai had started, Shikaku, Inoichi and Chouza had accelerated, until everyone present was offering up anyone who had the qualifications to be the next Hokage. Only some of them truly understood what was going on, but enough were caught up in the moment to put forward their own nominations and since five people had already accepted their own nominations, no one wanted to be the first to say no. All in all thirty-one candidates had been nominated and only six were not present to accept their nomination, which they surely would once word got out that everyone else had accepted.

The official had no choice but to resign himself to accepting all the candidates. He gave up protesting after number eleven.

Kakashi and Kurenai looked at each other, grinning from ear to ear in triumph. They had succeeded beyond anything they had ever imagined.

The Great Shichidaime Hokage Filibuster had begun.

Hinata and Konohamaru crept stealthily through the dark tunnels below the Hokage Tower. They had gone undetected so far, but now that they were nearing the start of the passages that were directly adjacent to the ones in constant use, they couldn't expect to remain undiscovered for long.

"Another turn and we'll be entering the bottom levels of the storage floors. Lots of dusty scrolls and stuff. No one's ever down there, but they are checked from time to time for cataloging."

Hinata nodded, though in the darkness Konohamaru didn't see it. Her eyes had gotten them this far, with Konohamaru guiding them. He really did know the tunnels. They hadn't gotten lost even once.

"Somehow, I think our luck is about to run out. Danzo wouldn't leave any path to the dungeons unguarded... no matter how dusty."

Konohamaru still wasn't convinced that things were as serious as Hinata was making them out to be, but he had agreed to help and kept on guard, just in case.

"Hmmm... it appears your right." A voice echoed in the narrow confines of the passageway.

Hinata silently cursed herself for not probing deeper with her Byakugan. She had been counting on the element of surpise and now that was gone.

Five traditional three-man ANBU squads were waiting less than a hundred feet in front of them. They had to have been using complex genjutsu to avoid her kekkei genkai.

"Let us pass." Hinata said, mustering all her courage. She could hardly expect Konohamaru to be useful in a fight against his fellow Konoha shinobi, let alone ANBU ROOT members.

"And disobey a direct order from Danzo-sama?" The voice, discernible now as male, laughed dryly. "I don't think so. Come quietly and you wont be harmed."

Without the benefit of a kekkei genkai like the Byakugan, the ANBU wouldn't know she was a shinobi of Konoha. If it came to a fight they wouldn't hold back. The only advantage she had left was that they might hesitate to attack a fellow shinobi of the Leaf. With that in mind, she decided to trade her advantage of superior dark-vision for that of moral reservation. They might hold back. She would not.

"Konohomaru-kun." She whispered softly. "Can you light this place up with a katon jutsu?"

"Yeah, but why? They can't see us. We might be able to get away." He suggested.

"I doubt it. Please just do it."

Konohamaru frowned. There would be no turning back now.

"Alright... Katon Jutsu: To-chi! (Fire Style Technique: Torch)"

The passage was illuminated in the warm glow of an orange light. A little globe of fire made both sides suddenly visible.

"Hyuuga Hinata?!" One of the ROOT members gawked. His white eyes betrayed him as a Hyuuga. Apparently he hadn't seen the need to activate his blood limit.

"You will allow me to pass." Hinata said again, more forcefully.

"I don't care if you're the Rokudaime come back from the dead." Said the leader. "No one gets through here on Danzo's orders. Now come with us Hyuuga-san."

"You will not yield the way?" Hinata asked, suddenly quiet.

"I'm afraid not."

The Hyuuga Heiress steeled herself. They were her fellow shinobi. She didn't want to kill anyone, but Naruto's life was ebbing away even as they spoke. Attacking her clan was one thing. That would be handled by the clan as an internal affair, but this was a different matter entirely. If she attacked her fellow shinobi she would be committing treason. If she killed her fellow shinobi she would be executed as a traitor. There was no chance of redemption. If she did this it was win or die, whether by falling to her fellow shinobi, or the executioner's axe. She stood on the brink.

Why... why was she doing this? Naruto was her friend... her best friend, and her partner. He had sworn to make her strong, to help her become the strongest kunoichi in the world. Sworn to help her stand by his side at the top of the shinobi world. Then she would never leave him and she would be his... and he hers. That was what they had sworn that day in the hospital. She felt that oath down to the marrow in her bones. Was that why she was doing all this? For power? How did that make her any different than Sasuke when he had betrayed the village for the power to kill his brother? What exactly did she want the power for?

She certainly wasn't looking to kill anyone with it except for Konoha's enemies. Yet here before her were shinobi of the Leaf.

Was she doing it just so she could stand beside Naruto? To belong to him... and for him to belong to her? They had never said what belonging to each other meant. To be each other's only peers, surely, but what else? There was something between them now, lust of a certainty, but what else? She had asked him if they were going to fall in love, and he had said he couldn't answer that question, to try not to think about it. Was that why she was doing this? To answer that question? Could they really fall in love?

Did she want them to?

It was by far the hardest question she had ever asked herself. She had resisted him every step of the way. From the time she first found out she was partnered up with him, to when they had been hauled off to the dungeons with their fate unknown. She had been glad at first to have him for a partner. Then he had shown her how little he wanted one and she could only hate him for it. Then things had gotten complicated, with that stolen kiss in Lord Omata's castle. She had crushed on him hard when she was a girl, and suddenly those familiar feeling had started to come back... but they were different. Her crush... what she thought was 'love' had been chaste before, and she had only had a vague notion of just wanting to be around him. Now she wanted him the way a woman wanted a man, that she accepted... but love? She had some amount of affection for him, true... but love? That word... that one little four letter word frightened her more than the fifteen ANBU standing before her now. Standing between her and Naruto.

She was all that stood between Naruto and death.

Yes, now he was facing death, and without a doubt he would die without her help. He had admitted his own guilt, and that alone was enough to keep him from resisting his fate. How could he lose his will to fight so easily? Hadn't that been what he had been teaching her when she had faced down Kumo's 'Killer Bee' and not backed down, when she had won against almost literally suicidal odds... was that not what he meant? She had put victory before her own life... that was something she knew Naruto understood, though she had never confronted him on it. It was true she would have rather died than marry Kirābī, but she had not sought death. She hadn't been exactly clear with him on that. Of course given the circumstances that was really rather forgivable in her opinion. If she somehow made it through this she would have to have it out with him on that.

She would never abandon him...

And yet he was abandoning her. That's what this was about. That was where her rage was coming from. She was furious with Danzo and the village for what was happening to Naruto, but she was angry beyond reckoning with Naruto himself. That realization stunned her. After all his talk, he was breaking his oath. If he died he would never be able to make her invincible. She would never be able to stand beside him at the top.

Dead men kept no promises.

Her anger became a white-hot fury. Channeled. Purposeful.

If that bastard didn't die before she got there she might just have to kill him herself... but then she'd be breaking her own promise wouldn't she?

If he did die, if anyone had the right to kill him it was her. How dare Danzo presume to take what was rightfully hers? How DARE he!?

The passion of her anger replaced her reason and she almost attacked right then and there, but a tiny voice in the back of her mind stopped her.

If she did this, she would be running headlong into the darkness. If she was doing this just because she wanted to kill Naruto for breaking his oath... killing innocent bystanders (well perhaps not innocent, but bystanders nonetheless) then that was madness. Pure and simple. Was she mad? Had she gone crazy?

Maybe she had and maybe she hadn't. What she did have was a sense that if she attacked now, she would lose. Not because she was not strong enough... well maybe because of that, but also because she was doing it for the wrong reason. That was why she was hesitating, her thoughts racing at a mile a second. If she didn't do this for the right reason, then even if she did save Naruto... or kill him... then she would ultimately fail.

She took a breath. No she wouldn't kill him. That was ridiculous and what's more, it would certainly destroy her. Whatever reason she was doing this for, it definitely constituted both Naruto and her getting out alive. So she wanted him alive. That was something. But what for? To fuck his brains out? Quite possibly...

But again that wasn't enough. Why was she willing to do this? Why was anyone willing to put their life before another? For she was certainly destroying her life as she had known it by doing this. Why would anyone try and fight their way through their own comrades, to save another? As a shinobi you put your life on the line for your comrades, and yet she was willing to kill them to save another.

She was willing to sacrifice anything, everything just to save him. Even if she died in the attempt, even if they both died, she realized she would be willing to do it even if it only meant seeing him one last time. To gaze into those eyes of his... to feel the way she did when she was around him.

She would trade it all for that.

So why did that stupid word matter anyway? Why did love matter at all? It didn't come into the equation at all! She was willing to sacrifice everything just to be with him, so what did any of it matter? She would never dream of doing what she was doing now when she had been her old self, the one who had thought she 'loved' Naruto. She had almost died for him fighting Pain, but now she was about to kill her comrades for him, and the word 'love' didn't even register. The old her wouldn't have dreamed of killing her comrades for her supposed 'love.' The old her would have told her she was insane, to get help. The old her would have died before she willingly killed a comrade, even if it meant Naruto would die.

And now he would if she didn't act. That was the truth. The absolute truth.

Yes, the truth was, no one would do what she was about to do. No one, but her! The truth was, no one was would act as she did because what she was doing was insane, beyond insane, it was mad, MAD!

The truth was, nobody would do what she was about to do unless they had lost all sense of self, unless they were beyond the brink, unless they were...


Unless... they were...

'In love.' Hinata thought and a feeling of utter calm washed over her. 'In love. Nobody would do this unless they were in love. I love him... I love Naruto.'

She had thought that when it did happen, if it did happen, she would get all emotional. And yet now all she could feel was a sense of peace. Profound peace.

She had given up the struggle. The truth was as clear as the opposition before her.

She was in love.

And nothing was going to stop her.

The ANBU were still expecting her reply.

She gave them one in kind.

Without warning she charged, instantly entering the Shining Stance and coming up to full power. The leader and the two men next to him died before they even realized she had attacked. They dropped to the floor, two of them dead from palm strikes to their chests, and the third died from the katana she had drawn from her waist using the follow through from her strikes. His head toppled to the floor with a plop.

The other four squads instantly responded in deadly earnest. She had taken them by surprise, but now the real fight would begin.

"Surround her, don't let her in close. If she does, use your blades, she can't fight us all off with her bare hands."

They ringed her in and brandished their weapons. Suddenly Hinata was very glad she had taken the time to fully gear-up. She didn't normally carry a katana, only the standard wakazashi that most ANBU carried on their back, but now it would probably mean the difference between life and death. She greatly preferred using her hands, or if she had to, the short sword, but a long sword had the advantage when keeping multiple enemies at bay, and the space in the corridor wasn't so restricting that she couldn't use it.

She needed to break through their defense and quickly. If they came at her all at once she could use the Kaiten, but she'd likely bring the tunnel crashing down on top of them. Even if she was twice as fast as them she couldn't fight them all at once and hope to survive. These were experienced teams, she couldn't single them out without their buddies backing them up.

So she sheathed the sword.

"She's going to try and use the Jyuken." The Hyuuga ANBU said urgently. "Don't let her touch you!"

She decided her clanmate would have to die first. He knew how to counter her better than anyone else in the group. She needed to take him out fast and break their defenses. Konohamaru was still standing a hundred feet away, stunned. She couldn't rely on him for any help. She needed to hit them with something unexpected.

Her right hand was still resting on the sword hilt. There was a move that might work, one Naruto liked to use, but it was easily countered and would leave her open.

Which was exactly why they didn't see it coming. Only an idiot would use iaijutsu once a battle had already started... or a genius.

In a blur she cut down the Hyuuga and the man behind him, breaking out and rebounding off the wall for another attack. The ANBU wisely backed off to exploit her weakness to ranged attacks. Every shinobi of Konoha knew Hyuuga relied on close quarters combat. Without the Kaiten she would be defenseless against the ten remaining ANBU if they all attacked at once from range. The only advantage she had was that they couldn't use anything too destructive down in the tunnels, and she could handle most genjutsu with her eyes alone. That left a good old fashion ranged battery of projectiles or very precise ninjutsu.

She noticed one of them back way off and start the signs for what she recognized was a lightning element attack. It was probably something that hit fast and hard, but with a very narrow breadth. The other ANBU moved off to the side a little to make room for the attack.

No one thought she would be crazy enough to rush through the space and take the attack head on.

She took off his head before he could get off even one more handsign. She had beaten the jutsu before it had a chance to be activated.

Two out of the five squads were down now. One of the ANBU started to back off, obviously a little unnerved. A lone shinobi had taken out six ANBU in less than ten seconds.

"It's not that I didn't see her sword move." The man said nervously. "I didn't even see her move!"

She took him down next. He had separated himself from his team and had frozen up in terror. It was rare for ANBU to break in combat, but it did happen occasionally.

The remaining eight ANBU to their credit, did not flinch. One of them, another man, who apparently had kept his wits about him, broke away from the fight and grabbed Konohamaru, who was still paralyzed. It had been a mistake to bring him along. Now he would die... but worse she wouldn't know how to get to the dungeons.

The man held a kunai to Konohamaru's throat and advanced slowly away from the other ANBU. "Not another move or the honored grandson dies."

Konohamaru's eyes widened in surprise, as if he had finally come awake again. He was so dazed instead of looking terrified he looked... confused.

The man was now twenty feet away from any kind of support, an ideal target, but Konohamaru was too useful to let him die so easily. If she tried to take out the man holding him, Konohamaru would have his throat slit first. It wasn't possible even with her speed. Not unless there was some kind of opening.

"Now... come quietly and there will be no more trouble." He said.

In that moment his tension on the kunai slackened and Hinata charged. Instead of jumping back, or attacking, the man threw Konohamaru behind her.

With speed so fast Hinata could barely follow he formed the signs for an earth technique and the tunnel directly behind him suddenly collapsed.

"What?!" Hinata had no idea what his game was, but she wasn't playing. She lunged forward only to be stopped by Konohamaru who had apparently only regained his senses to lose them completely.

"Stop Hinata-san! That's sensei! It's sensei!"

"Sen...sei?" Now Hinata was sure the kid had lost his mind.

"Honored grandson." The man said, taking off his mask. "Now you've gone and ruined all of my good work, but I guess I should expect that of you by now... brat."

"Ebisu-sensei!" Konohamaru jumped forward and embraced the nondescript man, who had somehow been wearing sunglasses under his mask. "But how?"

"One of Danzo's little secrets..." Ebisu answered solemnly. "Some of us who opposed him were given a choice...we could die... or we could disappear."

"How did you get past the seal all ROOT wear?" Hinata asked flatly, suspecting a trap.

"I wasn't assigned to tutor honored grandson for nothing. I happen to be fluent in just about every type of technique... at least enough to know how to use a counterseal."

"I see." She said. "I don't know your motives, and should kill you, but I need Konohamaru here. He's promised to help me rescue Naruto. I doubt he'll help if I kill you."

"Ah," Ebisu said, "I figured it was something like that. How about this: I can get you into the dungeons... and Konohamaru can get himself out of here."

"But Ebisu-sensei!" Konohamaru protested.

"Listen to your sensei for a minute." Ebisu said calmly. "If you leave now you can reasonably deny being here. Not even Danzo would dare accuse the honored grandson of the Third of treason. I on the other hand, am already compromised. I'll help Hyuuga-san here, so you won't be breaking your promise to help- you got her this far, I can get her the rest of the way without fighting... I think. Once I do get you there, " Ebisu turned to address Hinata, "you're on your own. I don't have a death wish."

"Fair enough." Hinata agreed. "You don't have any objections do you Konohamaru-kun?"

"I erm..." After seeing what Hinata had done to the ANBU Konohamaru decided disagreeing with her was a bad idea. "No."

"Alright let's go."

"Just like that?" Ebisu questioned. "You're going to trust me?"

"I don't trust you. But I really don't have a choice now do I?"

"I guess not. Follow me. Mics don't work down here and the rest of the team will be a while getting around that collapse. I should be able to get us to the central chamber just outside the dungeon where their keeping Naruto... I'd take you there directly but I'm sure they have it shielded and booby-trapped."

"Get to it then."

Ebisu again formed the seals for an earth technique. He gestured for her to stand close and when she did they both sank slowly into the ground.

Uchiha Sasuke lived with many regrets, but his latest and greatest was what he had done to Uzumaki Naruto. He had been very tempted to tell his friend, but then everything he had planned for... that they had planned for, would be ruined. The risk they were taking was extreme, but what was coming was also extreme.

So extreme measures had to been taken and done... to the extreme.

His Sharingan swirled lazily as he leaned back against the stone wall of a large chamber. Danzo had given him the honor of being the one to guard the last choke point before the room in which Naruto was being held. Unbeknownst to Danzo his obedience seal had been countersealed and Sasuke had other orders. To let a particular person through when the time came. Everything hinged on this... and that person was late.

Suddenly the floor at the center of the room began to ripple like liquid.

'Ah, finally.' Sasuke thought. 'About time. For a minute there, I thought the dobe had actually bought it.'

A single figure emerged.

"What the hell are you doing here?" Sasuke lost his cool... this was not part of the plan.

"Out my way, Sasuke-kun."

Before him stood Hyuuga Hinata... the last person in the world that needed to be here right now.

Sasuke sighed. He was sure he was about to add to that list of regrets he had. He'd have to be careful not kill her. He wasn't going to enjoy this.

It would be a completely one-sided fight.

"I'll have you know that we have everything under control... you should leave now. If you don't well... " He shrugged nonchalantly. "Then this is as far as you go."

"Naruto is right down that hall, in a room on the right-hand side. There are seven people in the room with him. Six are channeling some sort of power... the other is Danzo... they're killing him... how the hell is everything under control?!" The veins around Hinata's eyes bulged with the power of the Byakugan.

"Trust me. The dobe will be fine."

"He can't survive that!"

"I know, you're missing the point-" Sasuke wished the woman would see reason. If she barged in now everything would be for naught.

"Out of my way, Sasuke-kun. NOW!"

Without warning Hinata came at him with full force. It was only his Sharingan that saved him from a potentially deadly strike.

"So you're not gonna listen... damnit. Fine, we'll do this the hard way, but your going to have to do a lot better than that if you think you can even lay a single finger on me." The Last Uchiha smirked in his typical way. It was not arrogance, merely confidence. "I'll have you know that the only shinobi in Konoha who can give me a challenge is currently in that room you spoke of... so what do you think you can do?"

The chakra around Hinata turned a dazzling white. "I'll take you down."

Sasuke smiled and activated his Mangekyo Sharingan. "We'll see about that."