For the last time ever, I woke in my old bed on the first day of the chuunin exam.
I was still terribly weak from my ordeal, but for me that just meant I'd have to sweat a little to kick your average jounin's ass. I swept out of bed with a song in my heart, and had my body tuned up to something bearable before I'd taken two steps. Oh, this was going to be fun!
I could feel from here that Naruto's adjustment to the wish parameters had worked perfectly. His chakra stood out like a beacon to my senses, telling me that this Konoha was the one he'd looped in for so long. When I met him at the testing center twenty minutes later Hinata was already with them, holding his hand and whispering in his ear.
I greeted them both with hugs and kisses, ignoring Sasuke's quizzical look and the puzzled frowns of Hinata's team.
"Ready to blow away the competition?" I asked cheerfully.
"You bet, Sakura-chan!" Naruto boasted. "After we ace this exam, want to go on a date with me?"
"Of course I will, goof," I replied. "hey, Ino!"
My old friend turned at my call. "Sakura? What is it?"
"I'm tired of beating my head against a wall chasing Sasuke," I informed her. "He's all yours if you can catch him."
Sasuke's pained look was lost on the squealing fangirl, but the various jounin-sensei observing us all in secret got a chuckle out of it.
The written exam was trivial, of course. Hinata and I filled out the answers out of long habit, while Naruto just took a nap. Not for the first time I wondered what Ibiki was thinking, when he made up an exam you don't have to do anything at all to pass.
"What are we going to tell people?" I asked Naruto curiously as we made our way out of the testing center. "You know how hard it is to convince anyone of the truth."
"Who says we have to explain anything?" He replied. "We'll just do what we need to do, and let them draw their own conclusions. As long as we don't get too carried away they'll think of something they can believe."
I chuckled. "Oh, I like that. Sounds like a plan."
Sasuke frowned. "What exactly are you two talking about?"
I casually touched the side of his head with one finger, and gave him the memories I'd copied from him the last time he'd found out about the loops.
He stopped dead in his tracks. "Oh."
"This is our last loop," Naruto said. "So make sure you don't turn into an evil asshat this time around, or I'll let Sakura's demon have you."
"I'll keep that in mind," Sasuke replied wryly.
Hinata met us on the steps outside, and the three of us retired to a more secluded location to coordinate our plans. Of course, the first thing Naruto did was put us both on chakra feeds so we could start refilling our depleted reserves. After that we had a nice, long talk comparing the various patterns we'd found over the years and picking a good combination.
This was going to be our last time through the exam, so we were all determined to make the most of it. For Hinata the events of the next five weeks were the key to winning her independence without having to kill half her clan in the process. For Naruto, it was our last chance to actually get him promoted and put him on the path to becoming Hokage in a few years when Sarutobi finally retired. Oddly enough my own goals were the least ambitions, since I just wanted to pass the damned test and get it over with.
But then, I had bigger concerns on my mind.
My overself's domain was a considerably different place on my second visit. There was a pleasant little meadow surrounded by a blurry suggestion of woods, and a cozy little house next to a burbling brook. As I approached the front door opened.
"Back already?" My overself said with a smile. "Come on in. Nice job with Sasuke, by the way."
"Thanks. I see the chakra feed is doing you some good, too."
"It's a start. Now if I can just convince the celestial powers to stop trying to recruit me I'll be all set. You did a smart thing staying out of that with the Bright Kami. I know they mean well, but just the rules they've let me see so far run to thousands of pages. We'd never get anything done if we had to worry about all that crap."
"That's what I thought," I nodded. "I'm hoping Naruto, Hinata and I can form the core of a new, non-aligned faction on our world. Sort of a ninja clan of the spirit world."
She grinned. "The Village Hidden in the Afterlife? I like that. There's a whole world of supernatural powers outside of the Bright Kami and the Demons, so I think you'd have plenty of business. But I suspect this isn't a social call."
"Well, I do want to start getting to know this new kinda-sorta-aspect person I'm going to be sharing head space with for the rest of eternity," I pointed out. "But yeah, I did have a purpose for visiting now. I was just thinking about all those young Sakuras out there who are going into the Forest of Death tomorrow morning. If their lives go like my first few loops most of them are going to die, and I don't want that. So I was hoping you could give them all a little care package."
I manifested a memory bubble, and offered it to her. She eyed it speculatively.
"What's in it?" She asked.
"The basics of what we are and how our aspects work. Chuunin-grade taijutsu skills. Full mastery of the basic three academy ninjutsu, plus some C-rank genjutsu. Oh, and a full briefing on how the exam goes in my loops, including warnings about Orochimaru and the invasion and a guide on how to fight each of the other ninja in the exam."
"Cheater," she admonished.
"As Anko likes to say, if you aren't cheating you aren't trying."
She chuckled. "Fair enough. But that's all? You don't want to give them our true name, or any of your better techniques?"
I shook my head. "No, I don't want to turn them into a thousand little clones of me. There's plenty of room in our name for them to all find their own unique ways to be Sakura. I just want to see them live long enough to grow up."
She smiled. "So do I. Thank you, eldest self. It will take some doing, but I think I can pass this on to all of our little sisters who need it in time."
"Do you want to be present for his judgment?" Astoria asked me sympathetically.
I glanced at the winged figures that were leading Sasuke away, and sighed.
"No," I decided. "Obsessing over revenge would just give him more power over me. He's going to face the same justice as anyone else would, and that's good enough for me. I'm done with him."
She nodded, and put a hand on my shoulder. "Good. But I'll keep a recording, just in case you change your mind someday. Take care of yourself, alright? And feel free to call me, if you need anything."
I chuckled. "Oh, I'm sure you'll be hearing from me again soon."
Naruto sighed, and leaned back against one of the giant trees. "Do we have to sit around all night waiting for emo boy to get over his evil hickey? I can't move him or he'll die, but I was hoping you'd have a better way."
I giggled, and snuggled a little deeper into his lap. "I sure as hell haven't been healing him with the power of love all these years, Naruto. But after what I did to his seal we'd better give him a few hours or he might die on us anyway."
"Huh. What was that about, anyway? I've been getting used to your seal-singing thing, but the gold glitter-cloud was new."
"I just reversed the polarity of the Heaven Seal, and tinkered with the wording" I explained. "Now it really is a heavenly seal. Instead of summoning demonic power it calls down heavenly blessings."
Naruto snickered. "What, it makes him be all kind and forgiving and stuff?"
"No, but the nicer he acts the more power it will grant him. It can even make him immune to Itachi's Sharingan if he works at it. Of course, if he pushes it that far he'll probably lose his desire for vengeance..."
"Nice," Naruto said appreciatively. "Say, this thing wouldn't happen to be invoking the blessing of some particular goddess, would it?"
I looked up innocently. "Why, Naruto, would I do something that sneaky? Next you're going to accuse me of putting in a self-destruct feature, so I can blow his psychotic little head off if I ever want to."
"As long as you feel safe," he replied seriously. "But you know, this isn't the same Sasuke."
"I know, I know. I'm not going to do anything crazy, Naruto. I can work with him when I have to, and my seal really will help him out. Hell, I can even believe he might turn out different this time around when I force myself to be logical about it. Just don't expect me to ever trust him."
I drew Ino as my opponent in the preliminary match. That actually bothered me a little, since I had every intention of renewing our friendship again now that she would actually be able to grow up. I did my best to drag the fight out a little and let her show off her skills, just so she wouldn't be completely humiliated. I even let her land a hit, before I snared her senses in a basic distraction genjutsu and darted in to lay my kunai against her throat. The referee called the match at that point, so I didn't even have to knock her out.
Naruto drew Kiba. Apparently he had some of the same reservations I did, because what followed was a wild little melee where the Inuzuka boy threw out every technique he had before Naruto finally knocked him out.
Hinata drew Neji, as always. She smiled at Naruto's shouted admonition to kick the boy's ass, and proceeded to do so with flawless efficiency. The taijutsu skills she demonstrated in the process were easily jounin level, though I doubted anyone outside her family would question that. She was the Hyuuga clan heir, after all.
"I'm very proud of all of you for making it to the finals. Congratulations. The last time this happened in Konoha was when the Sannin took the exam."
Kakashi hesitated, and went on. "But even more, I'm proud to see that you've finally learned the true value of teamwork. Sakura, Naruto, you both went out of your way to let your comrades keep their pride as ninja when you could have crushed it. Sasuke, you've already thrown off most of the malevolence of Orochimaru's cursed seal. You've all done well."
Naruto and I exchanged a surprised glance. Kakashi had never said anything like that before.
"Thanks, sensei," Naruto finally said. "So, what kind of training are we going to do for the final?"
Kakashi sighed. "Unfortunately you'll probably end up fighting each other in the second round, so training you all together would be a problem. Also, Gaara is insanely strong and we've seen he likes to kill his opponents. I have some ideas on how to make sure that doesn't happen to you, Sasuke, but it's going to require intensive training. Fortunately, I managed to talk one of Konoha's best instructors into helping us out. Sakura, Naruto, this is Ebisu. He's going to be training both of you…"
We played along until Kakashi finished his explanation and left with Sasuke in tow, and then left a couple of clones with Ebisu while we went off to do other things. Kakashi really had called in some favors to get the jounin to train his students, after all, so it would be rude to just ditch him.
Hinata frowned slightly as we joined her on a rooftop a few blocks away.
"That was a little different," she commented. "Although I note that he still abandoned you both to an inferior instructor so he could concentrate on his precious Uchiha."
"Not exactly," I replied thoughtfully. "You know, I used to get pretty mad about that, but I think I understand him better now. From his perspective we're young, the world is at peace, and whether we make chuunin this time around isn't that important. But Gaara really will kill Sasuke if he gets half a chance, so making sure that doesn't happen has to be his first priority."
"Perhaps," Hinata allowed. "But if he had trained you properly before the exams neither of you would have needed special help as this point."
"But he did. Don't you see, Hinata? Any idiot can teach a genin some flashy technique to blow stuff up with. Kakashi thought he'd have years before we had to face ninja wars and S-rank opponents, so he chose to start with something much harder. He tried to teach us to be good people. We practiced teamwork and tactics and insight, the true essentials of the ninja arts, and in between he tried to show us how to live our lives as ninja without becoming monsters the way so many others have. Do you know, I still find myself quoting him sometimes?"
Hinata cocked her head at me. "Does this mean you've decided you like having him as your jounin sensei after all?"
"Oh, hell no!" I shot back. "I'd take Asuma or Anko over him any day. I'm just saying I don't blame him so much anymore. I feel kind of bad for him, actually."
"Yeah, he's not a happy person," Naruto agreed. "Maybe we should set him up with Anko or something?"
"No way!" I protested. "The last thing Anko needs is some moody guy dragging her down all the time. Besides, after I give her memories back I don't think she's going to be interested."
"Wait, what? What kind of memories are we talking about?"
"I think Sakura wants her as a retainer for our clan," Hinata clarified. Then she paused, and put a finger to her chin. "Well, that or she's collecting a harem."
I chuckled. "If I was collecting a harem I'd have, like, six of you by now. Hmm. Heaping piles of cuddly Hinatas. That does sound kind of appealing…"
My demon aspect stepped through the portal behind me, her Sharingan eyes spinning. I checked my aura, pushing a few stray wisps of blue chakra to her so I could go pure gold as I sat on the throne.
The login prompt popped up, and I tapped the help button. A screen showing Astoria's face appeared.
"You know, Sakura, we were expecting you to let each of your alternate-universe doubles take care of her own world. How many times are you planning to do this?"
"None of them will be able to meet the requirements for months, even if I help them," I pointed out. "I don't feel like making all my younger selves into assassination targets."
My account popped up, and I set up a request to reactivate the Blessing of Heaven on yet another world. The little dashboard display on my home screen said I had responsibility for forty-seven alternate versions of my world so far, but I had a long way to go.
"We're going to make the most of this opportunity, Astoria," my demon self put in. "I figure there's a few hundred worlds I can reach in a single jump from home, and we're going to hit them all. Plus the ones we can reach through our overself, of course. Can't have any of the mini-me's getting dragged into hell before they have a chance to grow up."
"But… but… that's so against the rules!" Astoria protested weakly.
I shrugged. "Now you know why I didn't agree to follow them. Besides, you'll notice your boss isn't doing anything to stop me."
"Good point," Astoria admitted reluctantly.
I finished my demonstration of the basic academy techniques for Ebisu, performing each of them with a single hand seal and my usual flawless precision.
"Very good," he nodded thoughtfully. "Sharp, fast, excellent chakra control. You might even be able to internalize that last seal with practice."
I frowned in carefully faked confusion, and he sighed. "Like this."
He body flickered across the clearing and back in a little swirl of leaves, without resorting to a seal.
"Ooh! That's neat, sensei. They never mentioned that was possible at the academy. Let's see…"
I copied his body flicker, with my signature swirl of sakura petals instead of leaves. He looked fairly astonished.
"I didn't realize you knew the Body Flicker technique," he began.
"Is that what it's called?" I asked innocently. "I didn't, sensei. I just copied what you did."
"You're a chakra sensor?" He asked. "But why wasn't that in your file?"
I shrugged. "I always got a perfect score on my awareness tests, sensei. Does that mean something?"
"Perhaps," he replied. "Can you copy this?"
He stepped out onto the little pond in the training area. I watched his feet for a moment, and followed him out.
He did a couple of hand seals, and spat a little fireball into the water. I smiled, and did the same thing without the seals.
He frowned, and cast a dispel. I cocked my head, and chewed my bottom lip cutely.
"That didn't do anything, sensei. Well, it made a chakra pulse, so… oh, I get it! That's for dispelling fragile chakra constructs like illusions, right?"
Three hours later the poor man was convinced I was the bearer of some unknown Sharingan-like bloodline, and wondering how Kakashi had missed it.
"Anko, what would it take to convince you to teach me some of your 'H' techniques?"
The busty assassin lowered her dango and eyed me suspiciously. "Aren't you a little young for that, kid? Where'd you hear about that anyway?"
"I'm an infiltration specialist. Who do you think I practice on? As for the age thing: Sexy Technique!" I posed, and nearly fell out of my top as it stretched to contain my new assets. "Oops. See why I need training? I've got some neat genjutsu I can trade if it makes a difference."
She snickered. "Cute. There's more to infiltration that having boobs, kid, and enemy ninja aren't like the boys at the academy. But I'll give you a shot. Give me your best come-on. If you can get me in the mood in five minutes I'll take you home and give you a few pointers." She leaned back in her chair and reached for a dango stick, obviously expecting me to be too chicken to make a pass at another woman in the middle of a crowded restaurant.
I slipped into her lap with a chuckle, and gave her an affectionate kiss. That was as good a time as any to restore her memories.
She stared at me in slack-jawed amazement as I pulled away. "What… the hell?"
"Time jutsu," I told her with a grin. "It's all real. I've got a better fix for your little problem now, if you're still interested in our deal?"
"Minx," she teased. "Of course I am. Wait, does this mean the invasion…"
I put my finger to her lips. "Yep. We're taking care of it. But first, I've got a fiancé to introduce you to."
Jiraiya sighed as his note-taking was interrupted by a tap on the shoulder.
"Go away." He whispered. "I'm busy with my research."
"I bet we've got better 'research material' than they do, Jiraiya-sama." Replied a sultry female voice.
He just about dropped his notebook when he turned around. Naruto was in Sexy mode and looking hotter than ever, while I was wearing my best teenage sex kitten look. We'd changed into tight tank-tops and very short skirts, but kept our forehead protectors and shuriken pouches.
"I'm Sakura." I said in my best 'sweet little schoolgirl' voice. "And this is Naruto. We're genin teammates, and very close friends. But our sensei left us all alone to go train our teammate, and we're just desperate for an instructor to help us pass the chuunin exam. Do you know anyone who can help us?"
He stared. He drooled. Then he processed what I'd said, and broke down laughing. "Oh, that's funny. You girls have me pegged, that's for sure. But I can't believe your sensei would leave students with this kind of talent high and dry."
Naruto rolled her eyes. "Kakashi's too busy making sure that Sand guy doesn't kill Sasuke to bother with us. He pawned us off on some looser who wants us to spend the whole month reviewing academy stuff."
"Yeah." I interjected. "Never mind that Naruto's got enough chakra to lift the Hokage monument, and I'm beating Tsunade-sama's record for instant jutsu mastery. Come on, give us a break. We can leave clones with our so-called instructor, so no one will even have to know. We'll even keep the fan-service outfits!"
He chuckled. "Isn't Naruto supposed to be a boy?"
"It's a transformation technique," she replied.
"Yeah, it turns the subject into a sexy girl. I still can't believe he came up with that. Although since I'm already a girl, sometimes it makes me feel a little too sexy…" I snuggled against Naruto-chan's side and nuzzled her neck affectionately. "Mmmm, yum."
Naruto chuckled, and squeezed my butt. "Not now, Sakura-chan. We can do that kind of training later."
"Alright girls. I can see it's my duty as Konoha's most amazing ninja to rectify this terrible oversight. But if you want my training you'll have to promise to do your best, dress properly and stay in those forms the whole time. Oh, and you're definitely going to teach me that technique."
I grinned. I wasn't sure why Naruto cared about the toad summoning contract, but getting him a chance to sign it wasn't exactly torture.
"The medics don't have any idea?" Yugao said anxiously.
Hayate shook his head. "Not really. They're calling it a spontaneous remission, which just means they don't know. But whatever reason, my lungs are completely normal now."
"They're sure?" She pressed. "It's not just a temporary improvement?"
"No, they were definite about that. I haven't been able to breathe like this in years, Yugao. I think, for once, I've actually gotten lucky."
"I'm glad," she replied. Then, hesitantly, "You aren't on duty for a few hours, right?"
"Well, no, but I was thinking I mmph…"
Her kiss interrupted him mid-word. A moment later he was kissing her back, and their hands were fumbling with each other's clothes. I slipped silently away from the window with a smile. A little nudge here and there, a little extra dose of hormones for them both, and Hayate wouldn't be in the wrong place at the wrong time tonight. One less casualty for the war that was coming.
"So long, legendary sucker. Come back when you've got more money!"
"So, we're broke again. I suppose that means we're back to sleeping in a field?" Shizune commented.
"No need for that," I commented as I faded out of the shadows. I was in my adult form with my chakra pure gold, and the dress I wore had a marked resemblance to those elegant impossibilities Astoria favored. Shizune gave me a once-over and dismissed me as a civilian, but the surprise that showed momentarily on Tsunade's face confirmed that she saw deeper than that.
"Who are you?" She asked carefully.
"My name must remain unspoken for now," I replied. "But I am exactly what you suspect, and I owe you a tremendous favor for an incident you don't even remember. I'd like to repay you, if I may. There are a couple of fellows who would like a few words with you, if you're willing to leave the mortal plane temporarily to see them."
Shizune frowned at me uncertainly. Tsunade gasped.
"You can't be serious," she protested.
"I can, and I am," I told her. "Such things aren't impossible to arrange. It just cost me a few favors. I promise to have you back here by sunrise, if you'll come with me."
"I… yes," she said uncertainly. "Please. But if this is some kind of trick…"
"You'll flatten me? I should hope so," I said easily. "Come on, then. Your apprentice can come as well, if you like."
I took both their hands, and pulled them bodily into the fringes of my mindscape. I'd created a pleasant little clearing there, where Dan and Nawaki were waiting for us.
Astoria had made me promise not to resurrect them before she'd agree to arrange that for me. She was getting to know me a little too well by now. But I was pretty sure they'd both tell Tsunade to quite moping around and do something with her life, and it would give me an evening to chat with Shizune about her own situation. After that, arranging for Tsunade to be in Konoha during the invasion would be a snap.
Which would save a lot of lives, and give my old sensei her own life back again.
My opponent in the final round was Shikamaru. I beat him the same way I always did when I wanted to get an extended loop, with grace and style and perfect mastery of a few basic techniques.
Naruto and Hinata drew each other, which made for an interesting match. Naruto showed off his clones and henge transformation and inhuman endurance, mobbing her as an army of monsters no two of which were the same. She kicked her taijutsu up a notch, abandoning normal jyuuken in favor of jounin-level staples like Heavenly Spin and Twin Dragons Fist. By the time they were done anyone with a brain must have been wondering why they hadn't been promoted years ago, though Naruto carefully kept himself within the limits of what could be explained by a month of aggressive clone training.
Of course, in the end she let him win. He managed to get her wrapped up in the coils of a snake-like monster form, and she pretended to be pinned instead of breaking out one of her S-rank escape techniques. Naruto gently closed his jaws around her head, and the referee called the match. They bounced back up to the contestant's box hand in hand, and we settled down to watch Sasuke's match.
It was kind of eerie how little variation there was in that fight from one loop to the next. A few minutes of fighting, a chidori drawing blood, and suddenly it was show time.
Kabuto's massive sleep genjutsu fell over the crowd, and we did nothing for five precious seconds as the infiltrators scattered all around the stadium dropped their disguises and moved to begin their slaughter. Then Naruto slammed down a dispel with the power of a bijuu behind it, and blew the whole thing away.
I nodded to Hinata, and she vanished in a swirl of mist as Naruto grabbed my hand. We arrived at the Hokage's box just as the Sound Four's barrier jutsu sprang into being, and some idiot in an ANBU uniform got himself incinerated trying to jump through it.
"You sure this will work?" Naruto asked me.
"Piece of cake," I reassured him. I triggered my heaven seal, eyed the structure of their barrier for a moment, and raised my voice in song.
The flow of chakra through the barrier technique abruptly reversed itself. The Sound ninja maintaining it screamed in unison as purple flames suddenly crackled around them, and the barrier collapsed as they passed out.
Naruto sent a wave of monster clones charging at Orochimaru, who'd barely had a chance to get warmed up. The Snake Sanin threw out one of his usual area techniques to clear them away, but a lot of Naruto's clones were durable enough to survive a momentary burst of flame. For a moment the Sanin was trapped in melee, and found himself much harder-pressed than expected. Naturally he body flickered to safety…
…and I tracked his teleport and landed next to him with my presence already suppressed. I had a kunai in his kidney and another cutting his throat before he even knew I was there. Then I kicked him into the air as he started his creepy crawl-out-of-my-own-mouth resurrection technique.
Sarutobi's combined air-flame dragon roasted him quite thoroughly, forcing him to burn a second rez. Then a squad of senior ANBU arrived to assist, and things went rapidly downhill for the Snake Sannin. It wasn't long before he was running for his life, with Anko and a squad of jounin in hot pursuit. With the changes I'd made to her seal Orochimaru was in for a hell of a surprise when she caught him, and I already had a shadow clone waiting in the woods to make sure he didn't somehow slip away. My new clan's first retainer was going to get her fondest wish today.
Meanwhile, the rest of the invasion was meeting a similarly ignominious end.
Outside the walls, my demon aspect intercepted a certain giant snake summon in the forest just beyond the kill zone. With a teenage body that looked more like an Uchiha that my real self, she didn't have to hold back for fear of being connected to me. So she used her Sharingan to control the giant snake our enemies had summoned, sending it back to attack their own ranks while she crept about assassinating their leaders. With no quick way to breach Konoha's walls the assault quickly ground to a halt, and that was before Jiraiya arrived on the scene to take charge.
Inside the walls, dozens of sleeper agents and infiltrators were springing into action, only to find themselves badly outnumbered by Naruto's clones. He'd left hundreds of them wandering around town, with a few of Hinata's deployed with them for reconnaissance. So all over Konoha, civilians and academy students were finding themselves being rescued in the nick of time by the village pariah. A dozen sabotage teams were intercepted and taken down before they could perform their missions, and as a result Konoha's defense never dissolved into chaos the way Orochimaru had intended. There would still be casualties, but not many of them.
Another of Hinata's clones followed the retreat of the Sand siblings, subduing all three of them with a brief display of her full skills that no reliable witness would be around to report. Gaara never even had a chance to transform. Shikamaru and a scratch team of genin arrived on the scene a few minutes later, and she spent the rest of the afternoon pretending to be the real Hinata.
Because it was important for everyone to have a good alibi.
The guards outside the heavy steel door fell to Hinata's surprise attack almost instantly. I disarmed the alarm seals as she picked the lock, and then we were inside.
The cavernous space of Root's secret base stretched out before us.
We were near the top of the main chamber, on a small balcony that served as a landing for a long, winding stairway build into one wall of the room. Far below us a small cluster of ninja were gathered, surrounding a scowling old man. Our target.
"We will wait here until the fighting dies away," he was saying. "Then we will emerge to see what has come of Sarutobi's foolishness."
I dropped off the railing, and fell through two hundred feet of empty space to land lightly just outside the group.
"I knew you were a traitor, Danzo," I said casually. "But I didn't realize you were a coward as well."
I was in my adult form, wearing the same armor I'd used for my battle with Nagato, which made me a complete unknown to them. They were instantly on guard, scanning the dimness around them for more intruders.
"Who are you?" The old man demanded. "How did you find this place?"
"I'm just a gardener, Danzo. You see, Konoha doesn't need a bunch of self-righteous psychos like you lurking in the shadows making problems for the Hokage, so I've decided to put a stop to you. One way or another, Root will cease to exist today."
"You're a fool if you think the two of you can defeat us all, girl."
He was as skilled as I thought, to have spotted Hinata before she revealed herself.
He pulled aside the bandages over his right eye to reveal the implanted Sharingan beneath, and tried to snare me with a Tsukuyomi. But I'd left all my darkness in my other two aspects, and my chakra was pure gold. In this state you could more easily drown water than bind me with misery.
I shook my head gently, and filled the area with knockout gas without so much as a twitch of my fingers.
"So predictable, Danzo. I'm not a fool at all. I'm just that good."
Two thirds of his men collapsed, while most of the rest looked around wildly and did replacements to take to the shadows. Hinata would take care of those, assuming the gas they'd breathed didn't get them. Danzo must have been immune, since he didn't bother to evade. Instead he ripped the bandages from his arm, revealing more than a dozen Sharingan eyes implanted all over it.
His attempt to use Amaterasu on me worked no better than the genjutsu, of course.
Danzo was a tough old coot, but age had slowed his reflexes and he'd never been on my level to begin with. I opened six gates for a moment as I flashed in to strike at his arm with a sword pulled from my mindscape, and severed it at the shoulder before he could begin to dodge. I plucked out his Sharingan eye for good measure, and tossed it to the floor as I stepped back to put my blade to his throat. The stump of his arm didn't bleed nearly as much as it should have. But then, I knew he'd had all sorts of experimental medical techniques used on himself.
Hinata appeared at my side.
"Everyone is accounted for," she said softly. She was adult and armored just like me, and I caught Danzo's momentary shock as he realized she was a Hyuuga.
I nodded. "Thank you. You know, Danzo, my friend here wanted to see if we could inflict as much pain on you as you've caused to others. She's pretty creative, and I can heal anything she does, so we might actually be able to do it if we put our minds to it. But I've been feeling more merciful than usual lately, and I know having that many Sharingan eyes stuck in you would drive anyone crazy."
"So I'm going to give you one chance to wise up. I'm going to replace that arm with a normal one, and the eye too, and if you meet my conditions I'll let you go. If not, you die and all your agents get delivered unconscious to the Torture & Interrogation section."
He considered this for a moment. "What conditions?"
"First, you disband Root and stick with political moves that are actually legal. If you can't convince the Hokage that your ideas are the way to go, that means you don't get to use them. Second, you arrange a meeting with Itachi Uchiha for me. And third, you stop using your influence to block Uzumaki Naruto's career. After the show he put on today the only way he could fail to be promoted is if you call in favors to oppose it, so if he isn't wearing a chuunin vest tomorrow I'll be back."
"Do we have a deal?"
"It seems I have no choice," he said sourly.
"Good." I dismissed the sword, and reached out to touch his shoulder. Growing his arm back took only a moment, and his missing eye was no harder. Then I took Hinata's hand, and pulled us both directly into my mindscape.
The invasion was crushed so soundly that there was no trace anything had happened when we gathered in the square before the Hokage's office the next day. Sarutobi gave a nice little speech about the Will of Fire and the true king of Konoha, and handed out four promotions.
As the crowd broke up Naruto shrugged on his new chuunin vest with the biggest grin I'd ever seen.
"Finally!" He exclaimed. "I don't know what you girls did that I never thought of, but thank you! The city is saved, the snake freak is gone, and we all got promoted. Did we miss anything?"
"Father has acknowledged me as his heir," Hinata added in that expressionless tone the Hyuuga always affect. Then her face broke into a rueful grin. "I can't believe how many years the looping me spent on clan politics. I can be running things there in six months, or we can all elope tomorrow. As long as we can be together I'm happy either way, but I'll need to know which one you want in the next few days."
"I'm not sure," Naruto said thoughtfully. "I hate that political bullshit, but we'll probably need your family's influence if we're going to make this town a better place. Let's go with not pissing them off for now, and see how it works."
"Wait, you aren't saying we might go through all this again?" I asked, concerned.
"Oh, hell no," Naruto reassured me. "We are officially done with the chuunin exam. From now on our reset point is now, in this world, just after we get our vests."
I froze, and stared at him for a moment. "Holy crap," I breathed. "That worked. We aren't tied to the exam anymore. Naruto, do you realize what that means?"
"It means we really are going to fix everything," he said easily.
"You goof! I was getting all worked up because I thought you were going to say the wish was over and done with, and even though I never want to do this again I was afraid we might regret not being able to reset some day. But you made the whole problem go away!"
"I'm just that awesome," he grinned. "Come on, I'll treat you both to ramen. For old times' sake."
We walked away together in the morning sun, chatting about inconsequential things.
It's finally over, I thought triumphantly. I had to become a goddess and save the world to do it, but I finally passed that stupid test!
I wonder what my jounin trial will be like?