Author's Ramblings: Hello everyone, I am proud to announce that 'Determination' is back on track, and once more being updated. You will notice another leap from cannon here with the daimyos, as I really couldn't accept the leader of a nation that had survived a lot of war to be a complete idiot as he was shown in the manga. So I substituted him for my own.

You've likely noticed the departure from a lot of cannon events, that is likely to continue along a few quite a few was, the Juubi details included. As far as I'm concerned, that didn't happen, and the bijuu are ancient demons. Nuff said.

After careful consideration, I have finally reached a decision in which direction to take this story from this point onward, and that includes both Naruto's development as a ninja and as a character, along with those around him.

Well, that's enough for now, enjoy the chapter, and review it. You know we writers live of your reviews :D

Chapter 21 : Family Bonds and International Politics

Naruto kept a calm facade as he inwardly cackled with glee at the sight of a classroom full of students who actually thought they had a chance of tricking, or worse yet, pranking him! Still, there was a certain group that he had no doubt had the potential to do so... in a few years. A sly smirk crossed his face when he noticed the wide grin Konohamaru, Udon and Moegi were sporting at the sight of their 'Boss' being their teacher.

Oh he was going to have so much fun driving them into the ground on this. For their own good of course. He even had Iruka's full support on teaching the little rascals a few lessons.

By now he was getting annoyed by the growing sound of the entire class talking, most of them about him, the rumors and other nonsense, while many others were curious what the new teacher was going to, well, teach. He began quietly tapping his foot on the ground, leaking just a tiny bit of killing intent into the room, and counting to five, giving them the time to quiet down.

Of course by the time he had reached five, not only had they not quieted down, they were in fact louder then before, something that he realized he found very, very irritating. There were a few that were completely silent. Hanabi Hyuuga, younger sister to Hinata was an image of what a Hyuuga (to their mind at least) should be, proud, eerily quiet, and arrogant... or as others would put it, with a ten foot pole stuck up their ass. She stayed quiet because it was 'unbefitting of a Hyuuga' to make noise needlessly. Konohamaru was another, bu that was only a testament to the respect he held for Naruto. There were several others, like a young boy with black hair, who he remembered was named Gekkou Izashi, cousin of the more famous Hayate, a civilian girl by the name of Maedae Kimari, who apparently had a strong drive to become a real kunoichi. Then there were Udon and Moegi, who while every bit the pranksters and kids Konohamaru was were also the children of ninja families, families that both lost over half of their members in the recent years. It was little surprise that their respective grandparents Koharu and Homura were very protective of them.

Out of a room of around thirty of them, those were the ones he knew had great potential. Naruto had remembered the pictures from the files he was given to read over. It was a joke for him to memorize a measly thirty people, and all the information concerning them he was given, already building an image of the overall skills here.... however he knew all too well that those images wee generally faulty. He himself was the runt of his class and look how far he got. If there was one thing he promised to do, it was to get these kids a good chance, and to flush out any potential they had providing them a better chance to survive in the field, or to root out those unfit before they died a needless death

"Quiet!" he shouted, lacing the voice with just enough killing intent to make the command work. The room was instantly filled with silence as every eye was turned to him.

"My name is Naruto, and I'll be your teacher in the arts of sealing as Iruka-sensei already stated. You can call me Naruto-sensei, or shortly sensei." he spoke in a perfectly flat tone. He hid a smirk as he felt half the class take a collective gulp. "As long as you don't make a mess, and try your best to learn what I have to teach you we'll have no problems" this time the entire class swallowed hard.

The stern face he kept vanished instantly, to be replaced by a foxy grin he was so famous for.

"Now that that's out of the way, let's get started. What an you tell me about seals?" he asked. Silence still reigned. With a small sigh, he decided to break the tension, picking a kid seemingly at random "You there,Kimari." he said, pointing at the girl. Said girl slowly got up and started, nervously speaking.

"Uhm... seals are symbols that when chakra is applied to them create various effects" she barely managed to finish the sentence, obviously worried for the trouble she was going to get in. Naruto on the other hand slightly frowned. While the definition was childish at best, it was also surprisingly accurate, if a bit off target.

"Not bad Kimari. You're almost right. But what kind of effects?" he pressed on, curious what the girl would say.

"Ehh... any?" she tried, a definite worried look on her face. With a calm chuckle, Naruto's features softened.

"That, is absolutely correct" he calmly stated, bringing about the surprised eyes of his now-captive audience. "Thank you, you can sit down Kimari." he offered, cracking his knuckles as he approached the large blackboard and picked up a piece of chalk

"Now to expand on what she just said. Most of you have seen seals in one form or another. The rather common storage scrolls and exploding tags being among them. However, you must understand that seals are truly capable of anything. I will teach you the basics, give a solid foundation to build on for those that wish to learn more and leave those who don't with solid knowledge that will likely save your life one day." he explained in an passionate voice, easily keeping the attention of the entire class on himself. He didn't really have to turn around, as his field of Radiance gave him a perfect image of the entire room.

"Now let's start, shall we? I am going to write down the basic seals you will need. These are the majority of the seals that are used to form arrays, and apart from a number of special ones, all you will ever need" Naruto explained as he began drawing the shapes of the basic seals.

He started with the simple chakra storage seal, the 'battery' that ran so many arrays, continuing with the five chakra converters, of each respective element of course. The third thing to be written was the storage seal, likely the most complex thing they would be seeing. In reality, that was the simplest of the Life seals as it actually dealt with the time/space continuum, but the sacrifice required to create and activate it was just a few drops of blood, so it was safe.

He stopped for a moment, running out of room on the board, and thinking over what more he should write down when he noticed that the class was simply starring at him.

"Well? What are you waiting for? A written invitation? Start writing these down NOW!" he ordered, a light chuckle escaping his lips as he walked over to the nearby desk and unsealed his calligraphy set and a small, empty scroll, quickly writing down an array on it, one that would help demonstrate just what he was talking about, and serve as a reward for those who try their hardest later on

"Now, that you're finished I'll explain just what these seals do. The first" he pointed to the one on the left "Is a Chakra Storage seal, a rather simple, but very important part of almost any array. It serves to store chakra, and release it on demand. How, we'll come to that soon. The next five are the Chakra Converters. Their purpose is to take normal chakra and turn it into one of the five elemental natures, being Wind, Water, Fire, Lightning and Earth. Now, before we go any further let's demonstrate just what a combination of these can do. Any volunteers?" he asked.

Only Konohamaru and his friends raised their hands while the others were curious... and slightly worried.

"Fine. Konohamaru, get over here." he beckoned with his hand, deciding on a far more... practical approach than the scroll he originally intended. He looked at the board and noticed that he had drawn the Chakra Converter for Wind right next to the Chakra Storage Seal. Pulling a short line between the two to connect them, he motioned for Konohamaru to activate the array with a mischievous smile on his face, well hidden from the rest of the class, silently mouthing 'Give 'em hell'

Konohamaru Sarutobi was having a great day so far. First, his uncle Asuma decided it was about time he taught the kid a few simpler moves with his (not that surprising) wind affinity, and the Flying Swallow that Asuma often used proved to be an... interesting addition to his skill with a staff. Then he got to the academy, to learn they were getting a new course on Seals, and a new teacher to boot... he was positively ecstatic when he found out that said teacher turned out to be his 'Boss' and idol, Naruto.

And to top it all off, he had just been invited to join in what was obviously a good prank if the grin an the glint in Naruto's eyes was any indication. So he did as he was told, he placed his hand on the large seal and sent as much of his chakra as he could. The results were rather entertaining, as a strong burst of wind blew from the blackboard to the rest of the room. While not strong enough to wreak the intended havoc, it was strong enough to display just what Naruto tried to explain... and make sure that a bunch of papers flew around, while messing up everyone's hair. The dumbfounded looks on their faces were priceless.

"This kids, is a simple pair of connected seals activated by a boy who has the chakra capacity of your above-average genin. And that's without any additional controls. Now imagine what a full seal array is capable of." he stopped for effect, letting the ideas form in their heads.

"And Before I go on, I'll demonstrate the others. For instance, this Fire converter here" he placed his finger on the aforementioned seal "Turns chakra into Fire chakra, which if not immediately consumed by something..." he stopped, sending a pulse of chakra into the seal, letting out a stream of flame a meter long "ignites. Same thing happens to the rest of them, with water drawing moisture from the air and lightning creating enough static through chakra, except for the earth one. Earth chakra can only affect earth, it cannot draw it from somewhere else"

"Now, I'm going to write down the rest of the basic seals we'll be using before I start the lecture part." a groan broke in the room, and Naruto could do nothing but laugh... he would (and probably had) done the same. "Don't worry, it will be short, but very important" he tried to quell their fears. Nobody liked meaningless lectures.

Naruto continued to write the second set of seals they would need, the basic Blood seal, a delaying seal, standard trigger seal used for basic traps and exploding tags, the sharpening seal used for weapons, a minor barrier seal. He was surprised but annoyed that the kids didn't ask any questions... he had a vague feeling that they were afraid of him, and that he had messed up. If the kids were afraid of him, then they wouldn't learn as well as they could, and potential talents in the area would be wasted, a luxury he, nor Konoha for that mater, didn't have. Thankfully he had an idea how to handle it. A short look at the clock displayed it was half past ten, and that he still had an hour and a half to work with.

"Alright, now for the lecture" queue collective groan, and a light chuckle.

"First of all, you should know that there are three categories of seals, each further divided by complexity." he explained raising three fingers in the air" The first category are Chakra seals, which are the most basic ones that deal with manipulation, storage and transformation of chakra in one form or another. The second group are Barrier seals, which deal with the creation of various barriers and fields out of chakra, or various materials by applying chakra to them." he stopped, taking down two of his fingers" Before I explain the third group, you should know that all seals come with a price. Most of the time, their effects merely demand chakra... however, the third category, the Life seals, are fueled by our very life. To create, maintain or activate them, one has to make a sacrifice of some amount of life force or blood. The basic seals I will teach here from that group require a sacrifice of but a few drops of your blood to work. The Storage seal and Blood seal are two of the weakest, but most commonly used Life seals, and will be among those you learn during the following month. I will also be teaching you the other main skills of sealing, and that are Identification and Breaking, referring to the ability to identify the purpose of an array, and do completely break it, neutralizing it's effects. Any questions?" he asked, glad that he had seen a growing interest in the students as a number of them raised their hands. A content smile spread on his face and he answered as they took turns to ask him about everything that came to mind concerning both seals, and often enough himself.
"Won't we need our textbooks sensei?" one of the kids asked, Izashi if he remembered correctly. Naruto smiled in response before answering his question
"If you work hard, by the end of this year and your gennin exams, not only will you not need it, but you will be able to write a better version yourselves" he answered, bringing a number of awed looks from the kids.

By the time noon came, Naruto found that for the first time in his life he felt like he fitted in. The feeling was something he hadn't desired in some time, as all related needs were easily fulfilled by his growing circle of family and friends. The students, none of them older than ten accepted him without reservations as the news of his status, both familial and as a jinchuriki was made public a scant few days after his departure to Whirlpool, and had surprisingly little effect on them.. apart from rampart curiosity. To think that they even asked him about the Reaper Death Seal on his navel and that he actually showed them and explained almost all he knew... to the growing interest of boys and the blushing of more than a few girls, much to his entertainment.

But he couldn't say that he wasn't happy, or that he hadn't enjoyed the day. The students proved more than quick on the uptake, as by the end of the three hours he had devoted to them, more than a half could easily repeat and write the basic set of seals he had taught them. More than two-thirds understood how to connect the seals together, and the remaining third had more issues with drawing the seals correctly than connecting them. Several even showed potential to become experts in time, by the same crazy creativity he himself was graced with. A final thought possessed him to leave them a bit of creative homework: they were think up a working array with the seals they were given. He had no doubt he'd find some downright crazy and dangerous things there, but that was the point. To force them to think and adapt. 'Analyze, adapt, apply' were the first words he had read from a basic sealing manual over two years ago, a creed he accepted and lived by, the book having been given to him by Sarutobi in his last year of the academy. Though it took him a long time to figure it out so that he could apply it, once that part was over, any seal that fell into his hands was quickly broken down to it's basic components, studied, upgraded if possible and turned against all those he called enemy. He would show them how to do the same. And the reward he offered, a fully completed Barrier Array that was strong enough to stop a C-rank jutsu, was tempting to them.

For better or worse, he was looking forward to the next class he would be holding in three days time.

With a final smile he let everyone leave the room, idly going through the paperwork he was supposed to fill out. It took him only five minutes to understand just why any person in a position of respectable power groaned at the very thought of paperwork and thanked the heavens above that he knew how to perform the Shadow Clone jutsu. Still, he decided that for the first time, he would carefully check what was required of him.

One of the more important papers was the attendance list, consisting of the names of every student in the group, along with daily grading of every student, and a bunch of other statistics, though he had to admit he was vaguely entertained by the paper marked off 'Collateral damage'. For some reason, the idea that teaching in a Shinobi academy actually could bring down the school wasn't that hard to swallow.

Anko smiled sweetly at the sight of her beloved teaching. She had the day of, but decided to take a check on Naruto's antics, and was very much entertained and gladdened to see him teaching, the vibrant smile on his face as he explained the intricacies of his art to the students. He was rarely so happy, she sadly noted.

Her life wasn't much better, she also noted, though there were happy moments, moments that these days more often than not included the blond young man who acted far beyond his years. She chuckled at the thought that he could be so... silly and childish at times, and yet, all serious when it mattered most. She would never say it, nor admit it, even to herself, but she envied him for it.

If anyone had taken the chance to see her then, they would have failed to find the usual, sarcastic, dangerous Anko, and would have seen a loving young woman wistfully spying on the object of her affections. Funnily enough, Ibiki Morino decided today of all days to pay a visit to his old friend in the Academy, instantly noticing Anko on his way. With a small, barely visible smirk, he put the information away for later teasing... he still owed her for the coffee incident. Sadly enough, he didn't have the time to mess with her today... the 'honored guests', alias the daimyos, would be here in a matter of hours, along with their sizable entourages.

Shaking his head from the though, he continued walking. He had better things to do than be annoyed by politics.

(12:05 Hokage Tower, Office of the Hokage)

"Still unsure it was a good idea?" Sarutobi turned to his soon-to-be successor with a satisfied smirk after reading the report.

Tsunade choose not to grace him with an answer as the older man victoriously chuckled, winning yet another bet against Tsunade. Legendary sucker indeed.

"When do the delegations arrive?" she asked, trying her best to shift the focus of the conversation.

"In about two hours at most. Scouts and guards have reported that the Fire daimyo is an hour away to the northeast, and that the Wind daimyo is at about the same distance to the west. I've also sent orders to help prepare the Subaku siblings for the visit. I would suggest you get ready as well. As far as I remember, you never had to deal with such negotiations, and it will do you some good"

"Hai sensei" Tsunade answered in a sarcastic tone, even further annoyed by the job. 'Why did I accept this again?' she wondered. Still at least the worst of the first part of her preparation for taking over the position of the Hokage was over. By now, she had a perfect memory of every law, regulation and treaty that affected Konoha. It was an annoying part of it all, but she persevered. She did agree to the damned job after all, and all thanks to that crazy brat Naruto.

(13:00, Namikaze estate )

And speaking of the devil, he was currently going back home, his mind set on spending time with his family. A strange smile was decorating his face during his entire walk, while he answered the friendly greetings of quite a few people. It still surprised him how the opinions had changed once the full announcement was made. Then again...

He left all such thoughts slide as he reached the forested pathway that led to his home, making one last check on the food he had bought for his family. He still couldn't get used to it. He had a family, Kushina, Keisei and Anko. His family, and he'd go against the Shinigami himself to protect them. With a mild chuckle, he walked on, enjoying the sounds of the forest around him until he reached the gates, where those sounds were replaced by others, those of his sister and lover childishly arguing over the last piece of food..

Holding in his laughter, he opened the gates, walking towards the door. He didn't really need to look to know what was going on as he heard his mother's voice

"Ladies! Naruto-kun is home" she chirped, calming the two younger women down near instantly. He knew he had noticed Anko a while back, as she was 'spying' on him while he was teaching, so he was slightly surprised that she was here already, but then again, he had spent a while shopping.

"Hey everyone. I brought some food" he offered in a happy tone, placing down the still-slightly-smoking paper bag in his left hand on the table

"Naruto-kun, you didn't?" Anko asked in a loving voice with a wide smile on her face, and a small trail of drool on the corner of her lips. Naruto chuckled before kissing her and removing the steaming hot platter of dango from the bag. He knew how much she liked the stuff, as much as he generally liked ramen, though he had cut down on it greatly... he made a mental note to visit the Ichiraku's one of these days, he hadn't seen Ayame and Teuchi in a while. For the time being, he pleased himself with the sight of his beloved and his sister stuffing their faces full of dango, while he and his mother chuckled from the side.

"I brought you something as well mom" he quietly added, pulling out another steaming plate. Kushina's eyes widened as she recognized the dish

"How did you...?" she muttered as he sat her to the table with a dish of roast duck in honey in front of her, her favorite food of many years

"Dad was trying to figure out how to make the food, and I found the recipe in the study" he explained, letting out a smile.

"Minato never was good at cooking..." she longingly stated "but blowing up the kitchen? That he was an expert on" she jokingly added before cutting off a piece of meat, and eating it. "Naruto, don't tell me that after fifteen years the Black Scale still has the same chef?" she asked, licking her lips in the progress.

"Mhm" Naruto confirmed "The old scoundrel sends his greetings"

"Then I'll have to pay a visit one of these days" Kushina responded, returning to her food, while Naruto did the same, pulling out a third plate for himself.

The meal continued in general silence... if the four of them eating could be called that. Anko and Naruto actually tried to behave civilly, but when they realized that both Keisei and Kushina had even less manners, both grinned and dived in wildly.

"Just so you know Naruto, Sarutobi, Jiraya and Tsunade will be coming for dinner tonight" Kushina stated, making a short break in her eating

"Oh?" he commented, slowing down his own meal for a very short time "That's nice.. who's gonna be cooking? You or me?" he asked, finally putting an end to his meal

"I'll do it. I have... something of a need to do it" she argued, while Naruto merely nodded. He felt no need or reason to deny her. If it made her happy, all the better.

Still, something worried Naruto.... a feeling of dangerous times ahead, a feeling brought forth not only by his own experiences recently, but from some of the events, rumors and other things he overheard. He had little doubt of the course ahead... but he was also aware that the choice he had made would leave him with little free time for his family.

Kushina wasn't the only one who noticed the shift in his mood. Keisei had visibly slowed down her eating, and so did Anko, though he new little sister kept her eyes on her older brother, trying to figure out what he was thinking.

"It's no use" she heard Anko whisper conspiratorially "When he gets like that, not even Ibiki would be able to figure out what he was thinking about."

"Is he really that hard to read?" Keisei continued

"Uhm..." she confirmed with a nod.

"He seems to have taken that after his grandfather, from my side of the family... Father never was easy to figure out." Kushina noted, remembering Isaro Uzumaki, her father and former king of Whirlpool

After lunch, all four of them moved to the living room, sitting themselves down on the couches, and talked, Naruto and Anko of their lives in Konoha, Kushina of her past, and Minato, while Keisei talked much of her experiences with Orochimaru. At some point Naruto summoned Gamakichi and introduced him to Keisei, who hadn't yet seen the small toad, though Kushina had already met him once before.

(14:00, Konoha)

Officially, ninja villages were rarely used as places of negotiation for a very simple reason... one does not walk into the lion's den without expecting to get eaten. However, Konoha had a very strong reputation as a peacekeeper, and the visit of a foreign daimyo along with their own ensured that there would be no interference from any loyal forces, and with the dissolution of all ROOT forces, the only other potential internal threat was neutralized.

The guards were on high alert regardless, especially because this presented a rather alluring opportunity for outsiders to attack and lay the blame on Konoha... the political and economical damage from such an event would be staggering... not to mention that it would start a war.

There were two large groups entering the Village Hidden in the Leaves right now, the daimyos of Wind and Fire, each escorted by a hundred of their bodyguards, along with emissaries from the temples of Wind and Fire overseeing the procession.

The political system of the five great countries was simple, divided between three actual powers. First came the Daimyo, and his samurai legions, which formed the bulk of the countries regular military and peacekeeping forces. The second faction was the Temple. A semi-religious institution that comprised of a large number of monks and priests, the first group taking care of protecting the various temples and burial grounds along with religious monuments and pilgrims, while the second took care of various religious needs. The third faction were the shinobi. Most of the time, the three worked independently of each other, however, in times of war, all three groups worked together without fail, under the supreme command of the daimyo. During negotiations between nations, or in this case, for reparations for the invasion of the sovereign territory the other two groups would be present to ensure the optimal conditions for their side.

The procession from the west belonged to the nation of Wind, dressed in the traditional sky-blue robes and armor, along with a palanquin that carried the daimyo and a suitable army to protect him. The hundred warriors represented the finest that could be found within their land, all dressed in excellent scale armor, and well armed with a combination of spears and swords.

The one from the east came from the Fire country's capitol, the traditional fiery crimson uniforms of the samurai easily visible in the snow, while the monks, dressed in lighter robes walked alongside the army, while the Daimyo himself rode a horse to Konoha. Unlike his Wind counterpart, he was more of a warrior, and instead of silken robes, wore a heavy set suit of armor, with a large, double-bladed axe strapped to his back, one he had frequently used during the many battle he had fought.

Mizako Nobunaze, tall as your average bear, and just about as tough (rumor had it that he'd wrestled quite a few in his youth). Broad shoulders covered by armor plates, large arms and hands that moved at an unnatural speed in combat. Piercing hazel eyes surrounded by already grayed shoulder length hair and a short beard. He was a man in his early eighties, a contemporary of the Third Hokage, but still just as strong as he was in his youth. This too was the subject of many stories and rumors, but regardless of them all, he remained the ruler of fire country for over fifty years, and stood unopposed for the throne as those who did oppose soon found themselves challenged to an honorable duel. His numerous children and grandchildren loved him, along with the rest of the Fire Nation as the man stood as a pillar of stability through the numerous wars that tore through the region. The fact that the man did what was best for the country only helped his popularity.

The only thing that dwarfed the man in the entire procession was perhaps his horse, a large black charger that had seen as many battles as his master. His name was Wrath, simple, but very intimidating to his opponents no less than his bulging muscles or hooves, nor the bloodthirsty stare in his eyes. It was a beast of war, meant to bring fear to the hearts of his enemies as he charged over them.

The group was composed of his finest soldiers, as he didn't believe in having bodyguards. His would-be assassins didn't either, mostly since all but the stupidest outright refused assassination jobs on him. The men were handpicked for the division he himself lead in combat, the greatly feared Honored Legion of Fire. The armor they wore was the same as his, except slightly heavier.

Mizako himself was very interested in the negotiations. Konoha had soundly beaten an enemy with little to no losses along with capturing several political prisoners along the way. And while that spoke well of Fire country as a whole, and him as a leader, it also spoke of Konoha and it's by now former leader, Sarutobi, along with their ninja. He wasn't an uninformed fool, as not only the ninja had access to wide amounts of information. Jiraya of the Sannin often shared his bits of sensitive information for some he had gathered from his own. Such as the detail that the jinchuriki of the Nine-Tailed Fox was in fact the son of that annoying brat Minato Namikaze. Even after twenty years he still couldn't figure out how the man won that game of poker, swiping the land where he had intended to build a summer home for his own estate. Gambling arguments aside, he respected Minato for two reasons. One was because he as loyal to a fault, and had the balls to send anyone who gave him trouble over it (Mizako Nobunaze himself included) to hell, and because he was a perfect shinobi leader, a genius born once in several generations., and according to his reports, the son wasn't far behind, already labeled a wunderkind when it came to seals and already earning a rather intimidating name in the Bingo books, along with going to great lengths for a genin to help out in the counterattack to the invasion of Konoha, not to mention his later battle in Whirlpool. He just might have to pay the brat a visit and meet him for himself.

"Nobunaze-sama" his adjutant, a relatively (compared to him) young man of forty-three by the name of Togal called him, stirring him from his thoughts

"Yes?" he shortly responded, voice in it's usual calm state.

"We are approaching Konoha sir" Togal pointed at the gates

"Good" the old daimyo responded, his hands clutching the reigns of his horse, the beast of war letting out a seemingly amused nigh. He learned over the years that his horse understood him far better than his wife, likely because they shared more battles and drinks together.

"I have no doubt they already know we're here" Mizako commented. "It should be an entertaining welcome."

"If you say so sir" Togal responded in a monotone.

And indeed, the welcome had proven to be... interesting. Unlike most of the Shinobi villages, Konoha had a sizable civilian population, to the point it ranked as a minor city, rather than a concealed village. The populace had gone outside to greet their daimyo reverently, the path cordoned off by the shinobi equivalent of a town militia. Ever since that unpleasant incident with the Uchiha, the job wasn't exactly popular, but still, they did a good job apparently.

Mizako gave a wave here and there, offering a grizzled smile to the people and to the occasional masked veteran ninja he recognized, and being saluted in turn. They never did figure out how he knew exactly who it was behind their masks, and he wasn't telling... after all, they said it themselves, you don't give away your secrets lightly.

He could hear a similar procession coming from the opposite side of the village, knowing that the Wind Daimyo, that fool Toumei Kira was coming. The man was a capable but vindictive and power-hungry, and he had triggered the invasion in the first place. Having inherited his position form his father, rather than having to earn it like he himself did, meant he had considerably less experience than he did... a situation he didn't mind in the least. He was already informed of the contents of the treaty Konoha was going to offer, and considering the trouble that was brewing, he himself approved. Old wars were long since passed, and the hostilities from the Third Shinobi War had to come to an end if both nations were to survive. It was an annoying thing, but it had to be done.

(15:00, Hokage Tower, The Council Chambers)

Tsunade was slightly worried. The events now were a baptism by fire if she ever saw one, but she was relatively at peace. She had Sarutobi as her adviser, and Nobunaze as her ally, along with a rather fair offer. Even with her relative inexperience it would be an easy matter.

"Greetings Lady Hokage, Lord Daimyo" Toumei offered, a calm, emotionless smile on his face. Tsunade did a mental rerun on the information she had on the man. He was a coward and a fool in many things, but when it came to politics and money, he was dangerous. He wasn't greedy that much for money as he was for power. The late Kazekage had opposed him in a number of matters, so he returned the favor, by sending a number of high paying missions over to their neighbor, Konoha. As allies, it wasn't really an issue for him to do, but it dealt a severe blow to Sunagakure's economy, and it opened a door for reptiles such as Orochimaru to extend their influence.

"Toumei-dono. A pleasure to see you" Mizako courtly retorted as the three people who were to speak took a seat at three different tables, each so placed that there was an open podium in between, dedicated to the few visitors that would be arriving

"Shall we begin? I am sure all of us have duties, and it would do no good to tarry" Mizako kindly offered.

"Indeed." Toumei sighed "Formally, I am honor-bound to defend the interests of Wind country, and by extension Suna. However, I only learned of the invasion after the act. Honestly, it's one big mess and I want to clean it up as soon as possible."

Both Mizako and Tsunade were surprised at the openness with which the man spoke. Toumei wasn't known as a altruistic person, though the situation was hardly to his benefit anyway.

"I agree with that" Mizako retorted

"I believe you received a copy of the restitution offer?" Tsunade asked

"Yes, and I agree with it. However" he paused " it wasn't the main reason I came here. Our alliance has so far stood solely on paper, and I have number of reports of a group called 'Akatsuki' operating both within Wind country and abroad. I am more than willing to share the information I have in return for your own. I believe that the organization is a threat big enough to warrant a higher degree of cooperation." Toumei explained, intertwining his fingers and laying them beneath his chin.

"What do you think Hokage-dono?" Mizako asked, though he already had a good idea of the answer

Tsunade made a show of talking to Sarutobi, though both had already agreed. It was merely an added benefit that Toumei offered it, but even though they agreed, merely agreeing instantly would infer that they needed it more than he did.

"Your offer is agreeable Toumei-dono. In that case we have covered two major points of our meeting here, which leads us to the third one, the fate of the prisoners-of-war interred here, especially the children of the late Kazekage." Tsunade retorted after a few minutes of deliberation. "And then we will return to the subject of the Akatsuki"

"Acceptable. I assume you set the chamber so that the three of them would have a place to stand?" the youngest of the three, Toumei asked

"Correct." Tsunade stated, giving a short look to one of the two adjutants that stood next to her table, and the man immediately walked outside. The room remained silent for a precious few minutes as the three present groups suspiciously started each other down, waiting either for one side to make some sort of mistake or for the 'guests of honor' to arrive. Thankfully, the second came true much faster, as three figures were escorted inside under guard. Gaara, Temari and Kankuro, were unbound and escorted more like guests than prisoners, and Toumei noticed the gesture, along with the fact that they were in surprisingly good condition for prisoners.

"Now then, you three understand why you are here?" Mizako asked politely, a thoroughly shark-like grin on his face

"H-hai, Daimyo-sama" Temari answered

(19:00, Water Country, cabin aboard the 'Blue Swallow')

Kakashi tiredly took a look at the paper in his hands for the final part of the instructions, and they were hardly pleasant. His entire team was already in position, scattered along the port city he was supposed to use as an insertion point. A high profile intelligence gathering and object extraction mission. Not something he was looking forward too, but then again, since it was a S-rank operation, there really wasn't much choice as to who was going to do it, but then again, it wasn't like he minded much, while he wasn't as much of an adrenaline junky as some others, he still liked the thrill of a hard job.

He took one last check over his equipment, making sure the tools were in place, before opening the door of his cabin and walking out to the corridor that lead to the main deck. He would need to leave just a few minutes before docking, to avoid drawing any attention. Thankfully, night had long since fallen, and the limited moonlight that shined through the cloudy sky made his job that much easier.

He idly wondered what his pupils were doing, how Sakura and Sasuke's training was going and how Naruto's mission to retrieve the next Hokage had gone. He'd have to pay a visit to Naruto's new home once he got back, as he heard he had moved to the Namikaze estate.

"No time like the present" he mumbled under his breath as he moved to the ship's right edge and prepared to jump off, as soon as he was in the clear.

(21:00, Namikaze estate)

Ever since Naruto moved in, the estate had regained some of it's old life. Now that Kushina and Keisei joined in, the place was truly lively once more. The flower garden that surrounded a good part of the family home had been raised from stasis, and was once more under Kushina's tender care, while her daughter joined in, happy to learn. All the dust that had gathered was cleaned up long ago, an the place once more felt like a home, rather than merely a building where someone resided.

And tonight, it would be livelier still, as four guests approached the house.

Kushina was keeping herself busy with cooking. While she wasn't the housewife type, she was an excellent cook, a fact that a number of people, starting with her late husband deeply appreciated. And beyond that, she very much wanted to cook for her family. She was slowly but surely getting used to the changes that occurred, and while her beloved was no more among the living, she would move on.

Anko was the one who opened the door, and noticed the additional visitor

"Hello Anko-san." Tsunade greeted her

"Tsunade-sama, Sarutobi-sama, Jiraya-sama" she greeted by reflex, nearly ignoring the last guests "Come right in, dinner will be served soon" she shortly offered, showing them in before guiding them to the dining room.

"Keisei, set up for another guest" she called the girl, as she finally realized who the other guest was, and froze up for a moment. She hadn't greeted him. At that point she could only hope that it didn't reflect badly on Naruto.

Naruto came down some ten minutes later, joining everyone in the dining room. Unlike Anko, his perfect memory didn't give him the luxury of forgetting faces he had seen somewhere... and he had seen the face of Mizako Nobunaze more than just once in the books.

'Oh shit...' were his only thoughts as he forced a smile on his face and walked into the room, offering a court greeting to all guests present.

Author's Notes: And cut! Thus endeth the 21st chapter of Determination, and the first one in 2010. I kinda like the way this turned out after a long dry spill, and the following chapters will be a bit more lively as you'll get a chance to see soon enough. I've also taken a while to think about the direction in which Naruto will be progressing from this point onward, and also taken the time to decide the direction in which to take the story.

Just so you know, a new arc will begin next chapter, and it will likely be a long one, if I can write it right :P

Ah, one more thing, the story will likely have a lemon sooner or later, and very likely in the next ten chapters or so, probably soon. I intend to try writing one (try being the keyword here), but it is likely that I'll need some help on that. If there are any volunteers please contact me.

Read and review folks!