When Danzou became the Fifth Hokage he'd had a single overriding priority, to kill Uzumaki Naruto. Danzou considered Naruto not only the worst traitor but the greatest threat the village had ever known. The fifth sent the best of the Black Ops to try and assassinate Naruto. Even the legendary Hatake Kakashi had been given the mission.
They all failed.
Though it was a stain on his personal, and the village's, reputation Danzou turned to elite assassins of other villages. He even hired killers from the criminal organization Akatsuki. Danzou drained Konoha's treasury on assassination attempt after assassination attempt. But no matter what effort the Hokage made Naruto refused to die.
Eventually, Danzou accepted that no assassin or group of assassins would be able to eliminate Naruto. So he decided a different strategy was called for. The Hokage turned to the greatest living seal master and asked him to create a weapon of such destructive power that no one could hope to survive it. A weapon of mass destruction that could succeed where all his previous efforts had failed.
Jiraiya was not happy with the Hokage's idea. But was forced to admit that Naruto was much too dangerous to be allowed to live. The Toad Sage could not come up with a better solution, and so ultimately agreed. And so the great Jiraiya had created the Poison Cloud, an ultimate jutsu that required the caster to sacrifice his life to use it. Jiraiya snuck into Oto and activated it. The village was smothered by a thick green fog, anyone who breathed it in felt their lungs begin to burn. They were soon sprawled out gasping and choking as their airways became inflamed and closed. Some of the Oto-nin managed to escape, but the civilians never had a chance. The attack killed more than forty thousand people, the vast majority being ordinary villagers. It was a criminal act worse than anything Orochimaru or Naruto had ever committed.
Naruto had been caught in the attack and breathed in the poison like so many others. But the Kyuubi wouldn't let him die. Even as his throat burned the red chakra healed him and allowed him to survive. He hadn't been able to save anyone else. Hinata had died gasping for breath like so many others.
I hope Jiraiya and Danzou are both burning in the deepest pit in Hell right now, Naruto thought. When he'd first realized Hinata was interested in him Naruto had planned to use her. She was supposed to be just another tool. With time though he genuinely fell in love with her. She was the only purely good thing in his life. He couldn't bear to lose her and so had brought her back. At the beginning he pretended it was enough. She understood what had happened to her and accepted it. Hinata still loved him and could still use chakra. She was still always there at his side. Naruto tried to convince himself it was enough.
But when he held her hand or kissed her, her flesh was always cold. Every breath was a reminder this wasn't really Hinata anymore. She didn't sleep, she didn't eat, and as time passed she tended to forget what she was. If he reminded her she would remember, but forget again in a day or so. Naruto had stopped reminding her, it only made her sad and didn't change anything.
"Are you hungry, Naruto-kun? I could make you something."
"No, it's all right."
"Are you sure?"
She paused and stood there. Most nights Hinata would spend her hours wandering the halls or staring out a window at the stars. Naruto usually avoided her during the nighttime. When he was alone with her during those hours his instinct was to kiss her or hold her hand. The feel of her cold, lifeless skin made him ache. Sometimes he thought of ending the jutsu and letting her go. In many ways that would be the kindest thing. But if he did he wouldn't be able to summon her back again. She really would be gone forever.
Hinata began pressing her index fingers together and avoiding his gaze. "Naruto-kun? There's something I want to ask you."
"What is it?"
"Will we be staying in the village now? I love Oto, but this is home. You're Hokage and everyone acknowledges you. You've fulfilled your dream. Can we settle down now?"
"I'm still at war with Suna. A lot of the Leaf-nin have gone there as refugees. I have to deal with them."
"All right. Then after Suna?"
Naruto rubbed his hands together and shifted his weight from one foot to another. "After I destroy Suna I doubt the other Kages will feel very secure. I expect I'll have to go to war with them eventually."
"Then after you beat all the other ninja villages?"
"There are still samurai and the daimyos."
"Then after them?"
"Even if I conquer the Elemental Lands I'm sure there will still be revolts and people trying to kill me. There is always someone to fight."
Hinata lifted her gaze to look at him. "But we'll be able to settle down and start our family someday, won't we? I want to be a mother, and I know you would be a wonderful father. No matter what people say, I know you have a kind heart."
He breathed deep. "Of course, Hinata-chan. We'll find peace and have a family. But not right now. When the time is right we will absolutely have kids. You… you'll make a great mom."
Naruto nodded. "Absolutely, but it won't be anytime soon."
Hinata smiled at him. "That's fine, Naruto-kun. I'll wait." She paused, but Naruto didn't say anything. "Do you want to come up to the roof with me and look at the stars?"
"I'd love to, but I have a lot of work I need to take care of."
"All right then." Hinata gave him a pleasant wave and left.
Naruto headed to his office. He was determined to read every single report and fill out every last form. And if that wasn't enough he would review personnel files until morning.
When Sasuke finally returned to the Uchiha district the main gate was shut. The hinges had started to rust. There were faded signs posted all along the perimeter that read, 'This area off limits, by order of the Hokage.' Sasuke supposed he shouldn't have been too surprised. Danzou always loved to play up the history and traditions of the village. It made sense he would choose to keep the Uchiha district intact, rather than allow people to buy up the property and actually live there. Danzou had never trusted his clan while it existed. Once the Uchiha were gone he'd apparently loved them.
Sasuke carried a stack of folders with him. Before coming here he'd stopped by ANBU headquarters and visited the records office. He headed back to the small apartment where he'd lived. There was no electricity, but he'd kept a supply of candles. He was soon seated at his kitchen table going through the files. What he found was depressing, though not really shocking. Even before Naruto's arrival the village had really gone to hell.
"So the report was true, Naruto brought you back. Welcome home Sasuke."
Sasuke looked up, startled. Shikamaru was standing in the doorway, leaning against the frame. "Being dead has screwed up my senses. You never would have been able to surprise me like that before."
Shikamaru slid out a cigarette and lit it. "Don't be so sure, I can materialize any place with a big enough shadow. It's a terrific technique for spying missions or assassinations."
Sasuke leaned back in his chair. "That what you're here for? Come to assassinate me?"
"That would be sort of a waste, since you're already dead. Any way, you can't be killed, only sealed. We've had a lot of experience with edo tensei."
"I know," Sasuke waved at the folders in front of him.
"Those files are all marked top secret."
"It's okay, I have the Hokage's permission."
"Naruto's not Hokage."
"You want to tell him that?"
Shikamaru blew out a cloud of smoke. "And just what sort of reading material do you have?"
"Personnel files and mission reports. I wanted to see how many of my friends were still alive. But it looks like everyone except you and Sakura are dead."
"Sakura's probably dead too. She went to try and kill Naruto, right before your return."
Sasuke narrowed his eyes. He'd hoped to talk to her. It was sad to think Naruto was the last living member of team seven. "Your idea?"
"No, hers. I told her not to bother, it would have been a better use of resources to try and gain his trust and spy on him."
"Naruto doesn't strike me as the trusting sort."
"He's not, but it still would have made a lot more sense than trying to kill him."
"If you didn't come to kill me why are you here, Shikamaru? You know Naruto is looking for you."
"Yeah, now that the Hokage is dead I'm his number one priority. I try and see it as an honor, a really, really troublesome honor."
Sasuke folded his hands in front of his face. "What is it you want?"
"To give you this." Shikamaru took a scroll from one of his jacket pouches and placed it on the table. "Don't worry, it's not booby trapped or anything."
Sasuke snapped the wax seal under his thumb and unrolled it. He took a minute to read the kanji, then gave Shikamaru a sharp glare. "How did you get this?"
"The Fifth acquired it, I never asked him where from. It was a tool to use against Naruto, for obvious reasons we couldn't deploy it. Until now."
Sasuke let the scroll roll itself back up. "You expect me to betray him."
"You can't betray someone who you don't owe any loyalty to. I am asking you to save this village, Sasuke. Fuck, I'm asking you to save the whole damn world. You're the only one who can now. You're the last chance we have."
"I'm not even sure this village is worth saving. I've read some of the mission logs. What Konoha did in Rice country…"
"Was just as bad as what Naruto did in Fire," Shika blew out another puff of smoke. "So what? We were at war. We did whatever we had to, to slow him down. We're ninja Sasuke, we are not nice people. If you read the mission reports from the Third Great Ninja War I doubt they'll be much different."
"I'm pretty sure no one ever slaughtered forty thousand people in one go during the last war."
"Only because they couldn't manage it. Us, Earth, and Wind all wiped out enemy towns and farming communities. It wasn't because of intent, it was just a matter of scale. Do you want to know what I'm most sorry about when it comes to what happened in Oto?"
"That we didn't kill forty thousand and one."
"You're not much of a salesman."
"Hey, do you think I'm proud of what we did to the civilians in Oto and other places? I'm not. I'm not here to tell you we're the good guys in all this. I've been hip deep in blood since it started. There are no good guys here, Sasuke. But Konoha's still your home. Do you really want to see it destroyed?"
"Naruto's already won, he's not going to destroy the village."
"He will unless we accept him as tyrant, and we won't. Most of the shinobi would sooner see the village burn than let Naruto turn us all into slaves."
"Maybe that's what the village deserves." Sasuke pulled one folder out of the stack. "I know the truth about what happened during the Uchiha massacre. Itachi was ordered to betray the clan."
"Don't pretend you don't know!"
"I didn't. Why would I? I was a kid when that happened, remember? The same age as you. There was no reason why the Hokage would have told me about it later, I had no need to know."
"Why should I save this village when they destroyed my clan? Especially when there's not a single person I care about still living here?"
Shikamaru thought about it for a moment. "Hmmm, I guess from your point of view maybe there isn't. I mean if you're going to blame the village as a whole for the Uchiha massacre. But what about everyone else? How about the village of Suna? They ever do anything to you? Naruto's not making any secret he intends to wipe them out. He'd not interested in letting them surrender. And do you think it'll stop even then? Naruto has made the whole world his enemy. How many more thousands, hell, millions will he kill?"
"You want me to kill my best friend."
"He betrayed and killed you, not much of a friend."
"Technically, Orochimaru killed me, and you and Danzou betrayed me too."
"If you want to kill me for that go right ahead. But the fact is even if you don't give a damn about Konoha any more do you at least still care about the whole world? You're the only one who can save it."
Sasuke glanced at the scroll. "By turning traitor."
"You'd only be betraying one man. To the rest of the world you'd be a hero. Isn't that how you want the last Uchiha to be remembered?"
Sasuke gave him a stony glare.
Shikamaru finished his cigarette and dropped it on the kitchen floor. He stamped it out beneath his heel. "Well, in any case, think about it. But not for too long. Naruto plans to set out for Suna soon." Shikamaru stepped back into the darkened living room and melted into the darkness.
It was almost noon when Sasuke returned. He had a paper bag with him as he entered the Tower. The Oto-nin permitted him to go straight into the Hokage's office. Naruto was seated behind his desk going through personnel files.
Naruto looked up. "I was starting to wonder if you were coming back."
"I had a lot to think about. Here." Sasuke placed the bag on the desk. "Hope you haven't eaten yet."
"Ichiraku's? Wow, it's been awhile."
"Teuchi and Ayame are both still working there."
"I know, I checked on them as soon as the village was secure. I figured it was better if I not actually talk to them though." Naruto took the food out and stared at it.
"What are you waiting for? I can hear you drooling."
"I'd have to take my mask off."
"So? I don't have an appetite for you to spoil."
Naruto hesitated a bit longer, but finally took off his mask and dug in. Sasuke sat across from him and watched.
"Hey," Sasuke said. "You remember training for the finals of the Chunin Exams? Kakashi brought us out so we could do some hard core training as a team."
Naruto chuckled between slurping ramen. "Sure I do. Those were probably the hardest training sessions I've ever had in my life. Kakashi-sensei could actually be a real task master when he wanted."
"I remember lying on the grass, looking up at the stars, being dog tired. Just you, me, and Sakura. She said she was happy. That just being there as part of our team made her happy."
Naruto gave a slow nod and swallowed what was in his mouth. "I remember. Those were good times, all of us in team seven working together to reach our dreams."
"Tell me something, Naruto. At that time, before everything that happened at the finals, were you honestly happy?"
"Yeah, I was. But even then I knew it couldn't last. I didn't have any plans to abandon the village, but I wanted to become Hokage and to make the people suffer."
"Because of how I was treated all those years. Sarutobi was the only one I really cared about. I wanted to make him proud, but I wanted to make everyone else pay."
"I see." Sasuke sat there quietly until Naruto finished his food.
Naruto downed the last noodles with vigor. "That was good. I forgot just how much I love Ichiraku's."
"I know, I remember you told me once that is you were going to have a last meal you'd want it to be Ichiraku's ramen."
Naruto's red eyes met Sasuke's, which were also red. The two old friends looked at one another in silence.
"You're Hokage now," Sasuke said. "Isn't that enough for you?"
"I always thought it would be, but it's not that simple. The stronger you are the more desperate people are to bring you down. There's always one more enemy to fight, one more battle."
"You could stop."
Naruto shook his head. "I know there's no end to it, but it's not in me to quit." Naruto sagged in his chair. "I'm tired Sasuke, I'm sick of it. But I can't stand to let anyone beat me."
Sasuke gave a single, solemn nod. "I understand."
With his sharingan active Sasuke used the clan technique Shikamaru had provided him. He reached out and suppressed all of the Kyuubi's chakra. The moment that happened Naruto pitched face forward into his desk, knocking over the files. His body had come to depend on the red chakra. When it was suddenly caught off all the strength left him. Naruto couldn't even lift his head.
Sasuke stood over Naruto and took out a simple kunai. He stabbed down into his friend's neck.
Naruto felt the sharp pain and tasted hot blood in his mouth, he struggled to breathe as his own blood drowned him. He wasn't afraid. He'd beaten them, he'd made them kneel. He'd won.
He wondered if the old man would…
In her quarters Hinata felt a sudden weakness. She looked down and saw her hands and arms begin to crack and crumble. She remembered. Hinata closed her eyes and smiled. She remembered a young boy with a huge smile, and hoped where ever she went she would be with him. And that they would finally know peace.
Sasuke reached down and closed his friend's eyes. As his body began to crumble he waited to go back to the place he had been before. "Goodbye."
Three Months Later
Shikamaru was in the Hokage's office half buried in paperwork and smoking like a chimney. He was Hokage now in everything but title. Shikamaru absolutely did not want to become the Sixth Hokage, but he was forced to wield authority in order to avoid total chaos within Konoha.
Leaf had won the war. With Naruto's death the Oto-nin had fled the village, knowing there was no chance they could hold it without the Oto-kage's power. Sasuke was a great hero and seen as the embodiment of the Will of Fire. There was a ten foot tall bronze statue of him next to the memorial. The traitors, like Tsunade, who had remained behind had been dealt with. The refugees from Suna had been welcomed home and the leaf village had started to rebuild. It should have been the beginning of a new and prosperous era.
But no sooner had Naruto's corpse gone cold than the trouble started. The Cadet Branch Hyuuga had declared themselves a separate clan and had occupied the Uchiha District. The Main Branch had tried to bring them back to the compound by force, resulting in bloodshed and casualties on both sides. Hanabi had come to a Council meeting screaming that the village force the cadet members back. There was no support among the rest of the village for that and Shika personally found the idea repulsive. Hanabi had then declared that if he and the rest of Konoha didn't help her restore her clan's rights she would lead the Main Branch members to Iwa. There was no way Shikamaru could allow that. He found himself seriously considering the same sort of solution for the Main Branch that had been used on the Uchihas.
Meanwhile, the reconstruction of the city was going slowly. The treasury was empty and no one was lending. The village was forced to decline a great many missions in order to keep a large reserve of ninja available for immediate deployment. Half the Leaf-nin had died fighting Naruto. Iwa had immediately made an alliance with Oto and begun some incursions along the border. They weren't in a state of war yet. But it was coming. Mist was going through a new round of purges. Lightning had declared war on Waterfall. Suna had terminated their alliance and begun snapping up many of the jobs Leaf had been forced to turn down.
Many of the Leaf-nin who'd died had been their very best. Konoha's fighting power was a lot less than it had been. If a full scale war with Iwa and Oto started there was no guarantee they could win. The future was dark and there was no guarantee they would see the dawn.
"But we won," Shikamaru said out loud to the empty office. He lit another cigarette and got back to work.