A.N-). Holy fucking shit, this took me way too long to get up. I'm sorry about the relative shortness of the chapter, but I wanted to get something up to tell people it wasn't dead. I'm not entirely happy with the chapter and I'm struggling to get from point A to point B, but I'm working.
Seriously, sorry about the delay, college started back up and I got shoe-horned into vice-president of a club on campus since the person that was in the position had to leave. That and finals… and organizing a pair of events… so, I've been a bit busy. Now though, I'm getting back into mah writing and while I want to might go back and tweak up some of the parts before now that I've seen how much they suck, the basic premise is going to stay the same and there won't be any changes to the plot points.
Oh yeah, and sorry about the serious delay on this chapter people, as much love as I've been getting for this story, I should've worked harder on this, I just had some serious issues with writing from point A to point B in here, I know where I'm going, just not entirely how I'm going to get there…
Alright people, this is where we start to branch from canon. The changes in Naruto are going to start to have an effect. They didn't really have one before because the 'Save Gaara' thing was dropped right in his lap. Yeah I could've gone a bit more different at the end there, but I decided against it for various reasons.
Anyways, on with the fic!
Chapter 5 – What is Leaf to You
"The Hokage needs to be informed about the potential spy in Oto."
Kakashi nodded, "Agreed, but we can't risk the message being intercepted," the other leaders in the room, Gaara, Gai, and Naruto, nodded, "I'm uneasy with using a hawk even with an encrypted message to tell the Hokage that."
"Definitely," Naruto crossed his arms over his chest, "But we have to tell her something in the mission report…"
"Mmn, yes, we must save the details of our youthful mission for when we are in the Gondaime's mighty presence, yet we must warn her of what has transpired here these past days," Everyone in the room who didn't know Gai very well was thrown a little off by the unusual language combined with a serious tone.
Kakashi though, was used to his Eternal Rival's peculiarities, "Mm, we should probably just tell her we have important information and need to meet personally as soon as possible."
Naruto smiled a bit at that, "Vague as hell, and even if it's intercepted they won't know what we know, I like it."
Gai nodded, the spandex-clad Jounin's voice subdued, "It certainly seems like a reasonable solution to our most unyouthful dilemma," then he grinned and struck a bit of a pose, his teeth gleaming as he smiled at Kakashi, "As expected of my most hip and cool Eternal Rival!"
Said Eternal Rival had to suppress his now reflexive reaction to being called that, instead sweeping his eye over the collected ninja, "Mm, who'll write the message to be sent then?"
It was Naruto that answered after a moment, "Actually, I think Gai should do it…" the blonde ignored the surprise on the faces of Team Gai as well as Sakura and Temari; instead, he explained his reasoning to the curious looks he was getting from Kakashi, Gaara, and Gai himself, "Super-Fuzzy-Brows likes to make big speeches that don't really say a whole lot right? Well, a bunch of fluff can only help an encrypted message, and Super-Fuzzy-Brows still knows the least about the mission, he seems like the best choice to me."
Gai grinned at the blonde, "YOSH!" the collected shinobi (with the exception of Rock Lee) winced at the sudden volume, but thankfully the Jounin toned it back down, "Such youthful confidence in a sensei is a wonderful thing Naruto-kun! And such beautiful logic to accompany such confidence! I shall not disappoint you! If the message is decoded, I shall write ten thousand letters of apology! And if I can not do that, I shall cart all the letters back and forth between Suna and Konoha for a week! On my hands!!"
"Kinda has to get to work, neh Gai-san?" Naruto interrupted the 'touching' scene with a sheepish smile, completely agreeing with Gnarl's gagging for once but unwilling to show it. Affection was nice and all, but two guys in spandex hugging each other with tears streaming down their faces with a sunset in the background (how the hell'd they manage that?!) was kinda freaky.
Instantly, the Jounin was on his feet, eyes completely dry (somehow), "Yosh! You are right Naruto-kun! I shall have the mission report done immediately!" The man struck a pose, teeth gleaming. And once the gleam finished its journey across his stretch of teeth, Gai just disappeared, the door closing gently behind him.
The door that opened inwards. The same door that Temari had been leaning on.
It was shit like that that reminded Naruto that despite his crazy antics, horrible fashion sense, and massive eyebrows, Gai had earned his Jounin rank.
That didn't mean he could shake his head at the guy's weirder moments, "Anyways, once Super-Fuzzy-Brows finishes that up and gets it sent, what's the plan?"
Kakashi's eye closed in contemplation and he slumped more into his chair. He wasn't incapable of moving or anything, but he was brushing up against the edges of chakra-exhaustion. He'd overused his sharingan much like he had with Zabuza two years ago, only this time he'd also slapped on a generous helping of intensive combat ninjutsu. Yes, his stamina had increased several times over, but he'd still drained himself considerably.
Sakura spoke up from her bed, "We have to get back to Konoha soon, including today, we've only got ten days until we have to be at the bridge."
There were general nods from all of the Konoha nin, though Naruto scowled slightly, "Problem, Kakashi's going to have trouble traveling, let alone fighting for like, a week-?" a quick glance at the Jounin got a confirming nod and Naruto continued, "And you're not much better, your chakra is pretty much gone and your hip's got a serious hairline fracture. Traveling would be hard on Kakashi, but it could cause damage to your hip."
"Mm, well… if time really is an issue," Kakashi pushed himself back up in his chair to avoid slipping out, "Gai-kun could help me along, we've done it before when I overused my sharingan."
"True…" Naruto acknowledged the point, before something dawned on him and a grin began to spread across his face, "And if Super-Fuzzy-Brows is practically carrying you, I can actually carry Sakura-chan!"
Sakura scowled at Naruto, "I don't need to be carried."
"If you want to get to Konoha in a week you do," the girl's scowl darkened and Naruto hurried to explain, "I mean, you won't be travel ready for a couple days and all! Yeah, your chakra will come back quicker than Kakashi's, but you won't be able to heal that thing for a couple days at least. If I don't carry you, you either hurt yourself trying to travel or stay here long enough to heal yourself and then come after us… and probably not get to Konoha in time…"
She didn't like it, but she couldn't find a problem with his logic, still, Sakura scowled at her bed, muttering softly to herself, "I just don't want to be pampered and useless…"
Several people in the room caught that, but Naruto decided to address the safer half, "You're not being pampered, Kakashi's in a similar position and he's being carried by Gai-"
"I'm not being carried, I'm being helped along."
"-and if anyone was going to carry a wounded member of the group, it'd be me since my combat style's the least bothered by hanging back with my hands tied. You're wounded and tired, but we should still be getting to Konoha as soon as possible, to do that without leaving you behind, someone's got to carry you," Naruto's grin came back, though more apologetic this time, "Might as well be me."
The pink-haired girl shifted uncomfortably at that, opened her mouth to try and say something, then closed it again and looked away.
An uneasy silence settled over the group for a moment, Lee, Tenten, and Naruto shuffling their feet, while the others were visibly unaffected. Lee was about to use Gai-sensei's patented 'Yell-stupid-things-about-YOUTH-real-loud' method to break the tension when Naruto spoke up again, "Alright… considering we have to get to Konoha soon and that we have a viable way of getting Kakashi and Sakura-chan there safely, I'm voting that we leave today."
"Mm," Kakashi's eye closed for a moment before nodding, "Agreed, time is an issue. Sakura?"
She scowled a bit before nodding, "I don't really want to be carried, but yeah-"
"Yosh! I agree with Sakura-chan and Naruto-kun! The Hokage must be informed of this immediately and only our raging fires of youth are capable of delivering it!" Lee's interruption wasn't exactly welcome, nor was the dramatic posing that accompanied it. Though his teammates were used to it by now and Gaara didn't have any visible reaction.
Tenten smacked Lee upside the head, quite gently considering the damage the taijutsu specialist was accustomed to, "Lee, tone down the volume, we're in a hospital!"
Ignoring his teammates, Neji spoke to Kakashi, "I concur, time is of the essence in this situation, leaving today would be prudent if neither Haruno-san nor yourself are bothered by being effectively carried to Konoha."
Lee opened his mouth to speak-
"Lee…!" and Tenten's growl turned his encouraging and joyous shout into a slightly loud voice, and the threatening flex of his teammate's fingers turned his dramatic pose into a simple thumbs up.
"Neji-kun-! It is joyous that you too share Naruto-kun's and Sakura-chan's youthful vigor!" Said members of team seven simultaneously face-palmed, 'There is such a thing as taking hero-worship too far Lee…'
Sakura coughed delicately, "Well, if we are leaving today… I… I would like to visit Chiyo-oba-sama's grave before we go…"
For the first time in a while, Gaara spoke, "That… won't be hard to arrange…"
Naruto stood beside his pink-haired friend as she stared at Chiyo's grave, his face a mask of suppressed grief.
Only… Naruto didn't really want to be here. Chiyo had been a good ally… but not a friend. Oh, he was saddened by her passing and all, and he certainly appreciated that she'd given her life for his friends… but he hadn't really known the lady, nor had she tried to know him.
She'd been a great ninja, and Naruto was happy to have had her on his side even if for a short time.
But ninja died, it was that simple.
While seeing Minions throw themselves gleefully into a vat of boiling metal just to imbue your equipment with power tended to desensitize you to sacrifice… it didn't make standing in front of the person's grave any easier or comfortable.
Minions didn't have graves… their bodies normally faded back into the Netherworld if they died elsewhere and their bodies were normally used as feed for the beetles. The closest Naruto came to standing over a grave was his sword and armor, imbuned with the life and souls of Minions, even then the equipment was more an extension of Naruto than anything else.
But now he was standing in front of the stone that represented Chiyo, and just in front of the plot of dirt that had her ashes buried in it. It actually kinda creeped Naruto out to be honest… and if Sakura hadn't needed help moving around, Naruto probably would've stayed back with the rest of the retrieval team and the Sand siblings.
But she did need help moving around, at least to avoid hurting herself more as she did. And there was no way Naruto could deny a friend in need, not after failing once… and almost failing twice again.
Hell, he'd almost lost Gaara, (the freakin' Kazekage!) probably the only person that could really understand him, and it was only through the sacrifice of an ally that the red-head hadn't been lost before Naruto's eyes. He wasn't sure how he would've handled that… he liked to think he would've gotten over it, merely placing revenge against the Akatsuki higher on his list of priorities…
But he didn't know that he wouldn't have become almost as obsessed with revenge as Sasuke was.
That terrified Naruto. That he might become so focused on revenge that everything else he held dear would fall to the wayside.
His friends safety came first, above all else. The armored blonde glanced over at his teammate, the other friend he'd almost lost.
Getting impaled with a poisoned sword to the lung just might be as bad as getting a Chidori to the chest… and she didn't have the Kyuubi. A shudder ran through Naruto at the thought of losing the girl currently beside him. He'd already lost one teammate, he didn't plan on losing another.
'Speaking of lost teammates…' Naruto scowled. If Sasori had been telling the truth, that meant that they now had an in into Orochimaru's organization (Naruto refused to call it a village), something neither Jiraiya-san nor Naruto himself had been able to get… as long as Sasori was telling the truth. Bastard could've been lying just to get back at them for killing him after his death. Naruto didn't think so, but it was a definite risk.
One Naruto was willing to take himself.
Getting Sasuke back was a priority, not an absurdly high one, but definitely up there. The teen was one of Naruto's first friends, a genius, the holder of a powerful bloodline, and Naruto had made a promise to bring him back. There were reasons all over the place to try and get the guy on his side!
And somehow Naruto doubted that anyone outside of his team would really try to bring him back, or that anyone else had a chance of bringing him back.
As such, Naruto was officially calling dibs on any mission that stood a chance of infiltrating Orochimaru's organization.
Naruto tilted his head back and closed his eyes, basking in the sun as he stood beside Sakura.
'Mm… the sun's really warm here… at least it seems that way… maybe it's just the desert…'
Suna… had surprised him. Despite the harsh climate, lack of obvious resources, and early treatment of Gaara, the place was pretty nice.
Honestly, he'd been surprised how much the Suna Shinobi had accepted him and how… grateful they'd been that he'd saved Gaara. Apparently his red-headed friend was quite loved amongst the younger generation, Naruto actually had to dodge the occasional fangirl!
He had a feeling it was because of a particular response he'd had to the question 'You really saved Gaara-sama?' Naruto had said something like 'Well duh I saved him, he's like, one of my best friends. I'd go to the ends of the earth to protect him if I had to.'
Apparently this had made them (the adolescent female ones at least) think that Naruto was some sort of Samurai hero in shining armor like from the movies and stuff.
The fact that he did wear armor and carried a sword didn't help, though the girls seemed to ignore the fact that both the padded clothing beneath the armor itself and Maelstrom were black as pitch.
Meh, as nice as the affection was, it was shallow and based on an illusion. Naruto had encountered similar situations after saving villages and such, though the girls there usually weren't as fit or exotic as Suna kunoichi…
Naruto pushed the thought away, appreciating the sights around Suna could come after he'd dealt with this spy and solidified his power base in Konoha.
Blue eyes snapped open again, the pressure wasn't on yet, but the sooner he got started, the better.
The golden spiral at the center of the plate on the back of his left hand glinted in the light of the sun as his hand came up to gently rest on Sakura's shoulder. Neither shinobi moved for a moment, Sakura leaning ever so slightly into the comforting touch, it was only after a moment's silence that Naruto spoke, "… we should go… Sakura-chan…"
"… yeah…" Naruto gave her shoulder what he hoped was a reassuring squeeze before letting go and walking back over to the group of gathered Konoha nin and Kazekage family.
After a moment, his teammate followed.
As it should be.
The Konoha shinobi and Kazekage family stood at the main entrance to Suna, and for a brief moment, Naruto had to marvel at how effectively the city was actually defended.
In the middle of a dessert, surrounded by high walls that were resistant to the standard chakra climbing techniques, its own sizable reservoir of water, and only one good entrance, much of which was actually C or B-class secrets that Naruto had learned from Gaara or his attempts at infiltration.
This place was built for a siege even more so than Konoha, more than anywhere except maybe the Netherworld, which was essentially all home-turf advantage for the Minions since the loose laws of physics only favored the Minions and Naruto himself. Naruto would have to see if he could get the Netherworld Spire connected to the bottom of the Hokage-tower, that would be a nice trick and would greatly reinforce Konoha's defenses to have a nigh infinite supply of Minions at their beck and call…
But that was for later, right now, he had to say goodbye to his friend.
Naruto grinned at Gaara and wished he'd gotten to see the red-head in his Kazekage robes, just to say he had, but the blonde still extended his left hand to the former Jinchuuriki, a smile he knew was both sad but real on his face.
Gaara didn't even blink, 'Stoic bastard…' Naruto thought affectionately as the Kazekage took his hand. Somehow, despite having just stopped being the embodiment of the sand, despite the black clothes, despite the dessert, Gaara's hands were cool.
When Naruto had first discovered this, he'd gotten Sakura to check the boy over again, but it'd taken assurances from both Kankurou and Temari that this was normal for Gaara to calm Naruto down.
It seemed Gaara was just awesome enough to defy the very dessert he drew his greatest strength from.
"Hope to see you again soon… Gaara."
The red-head nodded, his lips quirking upwards just a hint, but his eyelids dropped a fraction. It was an unspoken question from the Kazekage to the future Hokage.
Naruto inclined his head in response, then let his grin widen enough to close his eyes as he gave the Kazekage his answer.
While the youki flowing into and through his chakra coils certainly made Naruto far more resistant to differences in temperature it was still freakin' hot. Having Sakura on his back didn't help.
Well, it was kinda nice… but she was warm on top of everything else. Dark clothing and heavy metal armor weren't good ways to stay cool and carrying a warm young woman on your back definitely wasn't the best idea. So, once he'd realized this, he'd decided to fix it. Now, in a very tight, sleeveless, black shirt with the legs of his black pants rolled up, he was a lot more comfortable.
He'd stuffed his armor and Maelstrom into the storage seal strapped to his lower back. And even though his pants were the same just rolled up, he'd swapped out his closed off shoes for black open-toed sandals like most shinobi wore, and his shirt breathed just like the Suna Cotton it was.
He would've had Maelstrom out just in case, even if they were in friendly territory on a peaceful trip at this point but it would've made it hard to carry Sakura. As it was, a quick adjustment to the knot and rope of his sealing scroll turned it into an improvised chair for the girl to sit on.
Said girl was currently fast asleep and leaning against Naruto's back.
This affirmed Naruto's previous suspicions about his teammate's state.
The medic had poured a considerable portion of her chakra into trying to stabilize Gaara, and from what the girl had said, even though she could do some pretty crazy things with medical ninjutsu, forcing someone's heart, lungs, and nervous system to work while also keeping the rest of their body's functions from spiraling out of control wasn't easy in the first place. And Sakura had been forced to use what she called the 'Brute Force' method, which she'd described as expending pulses of chakra into the patients body.
Naruto didn't completely understand how it worked, but it apparently took a lot of chakra to do it the 'normal' way, and the brute force method took even more. And the blonde was aware that not everyone had his absurd amounts of chakra.
Now, the pinkette was little better than Kakashi with chakra exhaustion, though since she was younger her reserves would fill more rapidly.
Thankfully, she was also a whole lot cuter than the Jounin, at least to Naruto.
Said Jounin was being carried by an even less… cuter… Jounin… 'Less cuter? What kind of description is that? Especially for Gai?! By the Netherworld, what's wrong with me?!'
Kakashi was being helped along by the ever energetic Mighto Gai, the masked man's arm slung over the spandex-clad man's shoulders and being effectively dragged along. The look of frustration on Gai's face was outright comical, made even more so by Kakashi's next statement.
"Ehh… sorry Gai-kun. Because I used that Sharingan so much, my body won't really move…"
The taijutsu master contemplated this for about half a second before bellowing, "RIGHT!!!"
In a flurry of movement, Might Gai swung his pack around to his front, and pulled Kakashi onto his back, piggy-backing the masked Jounin.
Naruto couldn't keep his mouth shut, "That's… kinda creepy…"
Then Gai, somehow, one upped himself, "This way will be faster!!" his teeth gleamed as he swung around and grinned at the younger ninja. The older man suddenly laughed and pretty much exploded down the dessert, Kakashi in tow, "Ahahahaha!! Think any of you can keep up with me?!"
"… Gnarl… is there any way to unsee what I just saw…?"
"I-I'm afraid not Sire…"
"Neji…?" Naruto looked over to find Lee trying to imitate his beloved sensei once again.
Thankfully, Neji wasn't going with it, "Absolutely not!"
Naruto shook his head, a small smile on his face until the girl on his back groaned. While Naruto busied about making sure the girl stayed pleasantly asleep, a combined effort from both Neji and Tenten kept Lee quiet as the group did their best to catch up with their senseis.
Sakura yawned again as she leaned against her tree, barely awake at the moment after the meal. She was feeling much better than she had in Suna, and as much as she hated feeling useless, being able to just sleep and be carried from one place to another was… nice.
The scroll thing was a nice idea and was surprisingly comfortable for her, even with her hip sore as all get out.
That was really bothering her though, she couldn't heal herself just yet, maybe miday tomorrow at the earliest. She had chakra, but if she used some now, she'd only seriously prolong her recovery time. It'd help build her storage capacity, but she was more worried about getting back into combat shape as soon as possible at this point, something that required her to wait for a bit… or get carried to the bridge the same way she was getting carried home.
Not something she wanted to do.
Ergo, Sakura was waiting as patiently as she could for her chakra reserves to fill to the point she could heal herself without putting herself into a pseudo-coma.
She still felt tired and sore though, and the rest Naruto was able to give her was appreciated.
Thankfully, they'd been able to camp at the edge of the desert and the tree's were able to keep the warm air closer to the ground or something, Sakura couldn't pull up the exact data off the top of her head while tired, full, and happily sitting in front of a warm fire.
They were getting closer to Konoha, they'd be there probably by either tomorrow or early morning the day after and Sakura knew that she'd have enough spare energy packed away in her cells to safely heal her hip by the sunset tomorrow.
If they still needed to travel after that then she'd let Naruto carry her, she needed the rest and it wasn't like he was uncomfortable or anything. Sakura cracked open her green eyes and glanced over at the blonde, finding him to still be meditating by the fire. She'd never really taken Naruto for the meditating type, then again, she hadn't thought he'd wear armor and carry a sword either… Jiraiya-san probably taught him to meditate and it'd help everything else fall into place.
Maybe… maybe that's what that weird chakra was-! He meditated till he could draw on hidden reserves of power or something-!
No… wait… that wasn't likely… Even in her fuzzy-minded state Sakura knew that wasn't it. The real answer was on the tip of her tongue, figuratively speaking, but she just couldn't grasp it.
Now wasn't the time to ask him though. Not with everyone still jumping around and doing stuff, she had a feeling that it was a personal thing, or at the very least, an operational secret she might not have the clearance for. She didn't want to embarrass him by dragging it out of him in front of Team Gai, the teams weren't that close.
"Gnarl, how is the equipment coming?"
Naruto sat beside the fire in a meditative position as he waited for the rest of the camp to go to sleep. With any luck, Sakura would fall asleep before everyone else did. He had a sneaking suspicion that she was waiting for a chance to talk to him about the mission. Something he'd care to avoid at the moment.
As much as he'd like to interpret her (not-so) subtle glances as romantic interest or at least lustful curiosity, Naruto wasn't going to fool himself. He'd asked her out every single day for quite a while and she'd continued to say no. The odds of her liking him by this point were slim. Oh, he might tease her and everything, but that was more… how'd Jiraiya-san put it? Art appreciation than anything else.
"Well Sire, Giblet did his best to guess their sizes, so much of the things are not exact…"
"It's alright, as long as I can get them stuff better than what they've got…" the Ninjalord had decided to go with orange and black outfits with Minion-imbued chainmail inside the padding, it would be protective and stylish!
"Sire… are you sure they're going to accept these…?"
He scowled at the sky, "Of course they will Gnarl! They're ninja! If I show them how awesome these things are they'll be all over them!"
The aged Minion paused, "But Sire… these are black and orange… none of your friends wear those colors…"
This time, Naruto snorted, "They'll get over it! It's perfectly stealthy in almost any environment."
The Minion Master didn't respond to that and let the Ninjalord settle into his own delusions. If he was having the defensive clothing made with the colors his friends had already chosen in mind, they'd be considerably more likely to accept it, but with it all black and orange, they'd probably turn him down on the principle.
The boy was charismatic, but not that charismatic.
The instant the retrieval team passed through the Konoha gates, Gai and Sakura had taken Kakashi to the hospital, Team Gai had dispersed to clean up before the debriefing, knowing that Gai would inform them (loudly) of the time. Naruto had split himself in two.
The clone headed to the Hokage tower to inform Tsunade of their arrival personally and to meet them at the hospital, they had things to discuss. The original was going to swing by his apartment and drop off his sealing scroll of items before heading to the hospital himself.
He'd barely made it to his dingy little apartment before his clone dispelled, informing him that Tsunade was already at the hospital.
'Kay, that makes this easier.'
Shizune really needed to work on her detection skills, because Naruto had been sitting on the roof right behind her for almost ten minutes now.
He'd arrived in time to catch Tsunade and her two apprentice's walking out onto the balcony, and Naruto had taken up a spot on the roof of the hospital to listen in. Now, Naruto hadn't expected Sakura to notice him, but he'd thought Shizune was a Jounin… yet the woman hadn't picked up on his presence yet during the entire ad-hoc debriefing Sakura was giving them.
Shizune was starting to argue against Naruto going on the mission to intercept this spy of Sasori's…
It was kinda funny that she thought she could stop him from going.
He was the best person for this mission, regardless of the possibility of it being an Akatsuki trap.
Tsunade had obviously noticed him, he hadn't tried that hard to conceal his presence, and even if he had there was still a good chance the Slug Sannin would've noticed him, "Well, now that you've heard all of that, what do you have to say Naruto?"
Really, Naruto hadn't been paying that much attention to the argument, but he could fake it, "Mm. I think Team Kakashi should do this mission, we'd need some pretty specific backup to ensure mission success… but we're the best team for this all considered."
Naruto startled the two younger kunoichi when he dropped off the rooftop to stand between them, "Personally, I'd want a Hyuuga in addition to one of our elite Jounin to replace Kakashi. Preferably a ranged specialist, a Hyuuga, Sakura, and myself would all be close combat specialists, we'd need ranged support."
The respectful yet amused smile Tsunade gave Naruto made the teen's heart soar, but the touching moment was interrupted by the voice of an older woman, "Tsunade."
Naruto didn't recognize the fancily dressed woman with her hair in a bun, but she looked kinda familiar, "I would like to speak with you…" the woman's squinty eyes glanced over at Naruto for a fraction of a second before returning to Tsunade, "Come."
Naruto scowled slightly at the woman and voiced his thoughts, "Hey, who are you to order the Hokage around?" He kept his tone vaguely respectful just in case, but didn't bother keeping the accusation out of his voice.
To his annoyance, the older woman just ignored him and it was Shizune that answered in a harsh whisper as if the old woman couldn't hear, "Naruto-kun! This is Utatane Koharu-sama! She's a member of the council!"
Naruto gave an eloquent grunt, telling them just how much he cared about that, "Neh, it's about me isn't it? This stupid meeting?"
Koharu gave him a glare that Naruto interpreted as a yes, "Then I should be in on it, the only person that knows what I'm really capable of is Jiraiya-san, and he's not here. If you seriously want to make an informed decision about me then you can't just leave me out of it."
The old bat looked ready to disagree, but Tsunade stepped in, "He has a point Honored Council-member, if the meeting is about him then in order to make the best decisions we must have all of the information." The Slug Sannin sounded very smug, probably happy to get one in over the distasteful woman in front of them.
Koharu's face, already looking like she was sucking on a lemon, got even sourer, "He is quite capable of giving a report on his capabilities to read over during the meeting, the presence of a Gennin is not necessary."
'Oh great, one of those pompous ones that thinks the world revolves around them and their wants,' Naruto knew how to deal with one of these, "Ah, but no good shinobi puts everything they can do down on paper, without Jiraiya-san here, I'm the only person available that can evaluate my usefulness in various tactical situations," Naruto bowed just enough to be respectful, "My presence is required if the Hokage is to make any real decisions on my tactical usefulness, Honored Council Member."
"I do believe you've made her angry Sire," Gnarl sounded horribly amused.
Despite his overly posh surroundings, Naruto was unaffected, his attention almost entirely on the two old council-members sitting on the couch across from him and Tsunade. Neither of them looked particularly pleased with Naruto's presence, apparently neither of them wanted Naruto privy to their plans for him and were doing their best to ignore him.
Well too damn bad.
Koharu and Homura could kiss his ass, it didn't matter if they were the teammates of Sandaime-ojii-san or not, he was going to be Hokage and they'd better get used to it now.
Naruto relaxed into the couch beside Tsunade-oba-chan with Maelstrom laid across his lap while Shizune stood behind them.
Koharu spoke, "You see, we have been previously consulted by Shizune."
Both blondes glanced at the brunette behind them before returning their attention to the council-members.
The old man continued, treating Naruto as if he wasn't even there, "Do not send Naruto on missions that have the possibility of contact with the Akatsuki. Furthermore, a four man team of high ranking shinobi to guard over and supervise him to ensure his safety."
"Sire… isn't this Hokage position supposed to be one of absolute authority?"
Naruto's face darkened, "Yes… it is Gnarl."
"Also," Koharu was picking up from there, "You should decrease his amount of missions as much as possible and restrict the range of his movements… for his safety," Ah, so they weren't completely ignoring his presence.
A moment passed and they seemed to be done giving orders for now, so Naruto decided to speak up, "That's retarded."
Both of the old farts glared at him, even Tsunade-oba-chan did a bit, though hers was more amused, but Naruto continued with as serious a look as he could muster, "You're essentially telling the only person in the village that is capable of fighting the Akatsuki to sit on his ass and twiddle his thumbs."
"You presume yourself to be stronger than you are Gennin," Naruto's blue eyes slid to Koharu before he turned to face her.
Said Gennin gave the councilwoman a hard look, "No, I do not. I am putting what I know myself to be capable of compared to both Kakashi and Jiraiya-san."
Koharu's eyes narrowed, but Naruto's hand shot up for silence, "No. Hear me out. Kakashi is the elite of the elite, but I am perfectly capable of holding my own against him even without the Kyuubi's chakra. During my trip with Jiraiya-san, I gained the ability to safely call on three tails of the Kyuubi's power indefinitely, with that power, I would tear through Kakashi like a kunai through tissue paper."
Naruto let his hand settle back on Maelstrom's black blade as he continued, "Kakashi, for all his skill and the sharingan, would be hard pressed to beat any Akatsuki we know of. Now, I'm going to point out every person loyal to Konoha that could seriously beat Kakashi that I am aware of."
He pointed at the blonde Hokage beside him, "One," his finger turned till it pointed at himself, "Two," his eyes bored into the council members across from him, "And Jiraiya-san makes three."
Naruto leaned back into the couch, letting the two elders absorb that before he continued, "I'm not saying I shouldn't be defended. I agree that as a Jinchuuriki, I should be kept out of the Akatsuki's hands. Having a ranking Hyuuga nearby at all times would be a welcome bodyguard, as well as a Jounin that specializes in ranged attacks to compensate for my deficiencies in that area."
The elders were glaring at him, but he was talking sense and they knew it, so he continued, "Restricting my movements and missions is like putting your best kunai on the shelf and locking it up. I doubt there are many Konoha shinobi that can match me in power or even overall ability when the Kyuubi's power is taken into account."
"We are making concessions here," Homura glared at Naruto through his glasses, "Normally, as a Jinchuuriki you would not even be allowed to leave the village."
This made Naruto scowl slightly at the man, "Normally there isn't an organization of S-ranked criminals attempting to capture Jinchuuriki that are willing to attack a village to do so."
Both council members glared at him, but Tsunade backed him up, "Naruto is right, even if we kept Naruto here, it would just draw the Akatsuki to Konoha the same way Gaara did for Suna."
Homura shook his head, "All the more reason to guard him then to prevent just that."
Everyone turned to the armored teen, "You don't seem to understand. I'm not saying don't guard me, I'm saying don't restrict my movements. Regardless of what we do, the Akatsuki are going to come after me. So prepare me for them!" Passion burned in his blue eyes even as he sat, "For all my raw power, I don't always know what I'm up against or have any warning before an attack, so give me a Hyuuga guard! Those white eyes can see an Akatsuki pair coming miles away no matter where we are! I have few ranged attacks, so assign me a ranged attack specialist to compensate!"
The smile on Naruto's face was dark and serious, "Where I am weak, assign someone strong. With a team like that, I could guarantee that the team could defeat or escape any pair in the Akatsuki. We could accomplish any mission. Even this one."
Naruto tilted his head down, letting his eyes fall into shadow, "Orochimaru is one of the greatest threats to Konoha out there; he attacked us once just to prove he could. Now, the time is approaching where he could have the sharingan. That man is terrifying enough as it is, can we truly risk him getting such a dangerous bloodline? We must take any chance to infiltrate his village and retrieve Sasuke."
"I don't pretend to be strong enough to take on Orochimaru as I am, but I am strong enough to keep him from getting his hands on Sasuke," Naruto's voice darkened, "One way, or another."
Dragging himself out of more morbid thoughts, Naruto continued, "Sakura and I have the best chances of peacefully returning Sasuke to Konoha… and I am one of the most powerful shinobi here aside from the Sannin. If I must, I can kill Sasuke to keep Orochimaru from getting his hands on him."
Naruto met the eyes of the council members, "As a Jinchuuriki, I was made to be a weapon. As the container of the Kyuubi, I am a shield. But as a shinobi of Konoha, I was born to protect this village, please, let me do that."
There was a moment, just a moment, where the elders actually believed in the young Jinchuuriki. They believed he would stop Orochimaru, that he would never let the Akatsuki touch him That he would win.
But that moment was gone in an instant, washed away by cold hard logic, Koharu turning towards the Hokage, "Tsunade, do you support this… risky, decision?"
Naruto turned, half afraid that his oba-chan wouldn't let him go, placing his safety higher than his usefulness.
He needn't have worried, the woman smirked at the council members, "Completely. Naruto is a much greater asset to Konoha out in the field than sitting around here."
Homura sighed, obviously resigned to the course of action even as Koharu 'harumphed' just a bit, "Understood… do what you want if you are truly convinced. However…" the elder man's eyes hardened, "We will choose a member to add to the four-man team."
Once again, everyone looked at the armored teen, who explained, "I'm agreed if it's a five-man team, at least for this mission. A Hyuuga, an offensive ninjutsu specialist, Sakura, your pick, and myself. I want to know that all of my bases combat-wise are covered regardless of who you pick."
The group of elder ninja all shared a glance before Tsunade nodded, "Alright… agreed."
The Koharu nodded, "Danzo. Enter!"
A brief scowl crossed Naruto's face as he turned towards the door behind him, "Danzo…?"
"Ah…! The Minions are looking right now Sire!"
"… you," Tsunade was not happy to see this guy, whoever he was. "Gnarl, make note, dangerous."
The ugly-ass older man that had stepped into the room had his forehead and right eye bandaged up and a tarp… thing covering his right arm. He ignored Naruto completely in favor of Tsunade, which, while annoying, was kinda justified seeing as she was the Hokage.
"It's been a while, Tsunade-hime."
"If you're here… that means that the new member is from the ROOT division of ANBU…"
"ROOT? Damn, I've never heard of that. I'm going to have to ask Tsunade-oba-chan about that later, Gnarl?"
"Cataloguing it now Sire."
"Yes, he is."
"Mm," that was not Tsunade's happy sound, Naruto knew. It was the same kind of sound she made when she was completely out of sake or some-such. But the armored teen held off commenting as this Danzo walked into the room and Tsunade settled back into her seat.
Silence reigned for several long minutes, no one spoke as Danzo went to stand in front of the window, cane in hand, the two council members kept sitting ruler straight, Tsunade had slouched over in her seat propping her elbows on her knees, Naruto had slouched back into the couch, letting Maelstrom balance on his lap. Shizune was the only person obviously uncomfortable with the situation, shifting uneasily from one foot to the other.
Of course, it was Shizune that spoke up, "W-We still need to decide on the other two team members… and the team will have to leave by tomorrow…"
Naruto noted the slight surprise in the jerk of Danzo's head, hadn't the man been listening in? "… well then, a leader should be selected from the elite ANBU under the control of the Hokage."
Tsunade scowled slightly even as Koharu nodded, "Indeed! That would be fine."
"As if your opinion mattered you old hag! Bah!"
"Agreed Gnarl," "That seems perfectly reasonable," Naruto sent a tight smile Tsunade's way, "I'm positive oba-chan will pick the perfect person for the job." He really meant 'I know you'll keep these people from screwing me over too much.'
Tsunade nodded slightly at Naruto and gave him a small smile of her own, "Thanks for the vote of confidence Naruto… but what about the other team member?" Her chocolate eyes flicked to Danzo as she asked and Naruto had a pretty good idea what she meant.
"Oh, I have an idea who I want, I just need to know, to what rank am I allowed to requisition someone?" 'Let's see this Danzo guy puzzle that one out!'
Tsunade and the council elders seriously considered the question to the point that Homura asked the Hokage, "Can we spare a Jounin?"
The Hokage seriously considered this a moment before looking back at Shizune, "Can we?"
Shizune was already pondering that very subject, but after a couple seconds shook her head slowly, "No… I'm pretty sure our only H-" Tsunade's eyebrow twitched, "Jounins that fill the position Naruto's requested are either going to be needed for a solo mission or are already on missions…"
Tsunade scowled for a moment before turning back to Naruto, "Do you know of anyone of the appropriate rank?"
'Hyuuga below Jounin? Yeah, I've got an idea.' Naruto kept his face straight as he nodded, "Yeah, though I might need a requisition order…"
She nodded and pulled a pen and piece of paper out of her jacket, quickly scribbling out a (surprisingly) legible personnel requisition form that she handed to Naruto, "There, you can pull one person of Special Jounin or lower if they're in the village, I'll have your new squad leader meet you at the West Gate at six A.M. sharp. I expect to be updated on who you're taking as well as soon as possible."
Naruto nodded, taking the paper and folding it, a thought passed through his head and he had to keep the grin off his face, "Neh, Danzo, where will I be able to find your agent?"
The man turned the right side of his head towards them, and Naruto had a feeling it wasn't as blind a side as the bandages implied, "…Sai will find you."
"I do believe he doesn't want you to find out where his base of operations is Sire."
"Why, you just might be right Gnarl," "Ah, well could you tell me who to look for?" Naruto kept his voice intentionally cheery, if Danzo hadn't been listening in enough to hear about needing the Hyuuga, then he wasn't likely to have heard Naruto get serious, as such, the man was almost certainly expecting a blonde idiot, let him keep thinking that, "I don't want to accidentally brush off my new teammate!"
"Mng," Danzo turned back to the window, and Naruto pondered the sound he'd made as he waited several seconds for his answer.
It wasn't the Uchiha 'Hn', the non-sound grunt thing that could be surprisingly emotional and eloquent in the right hands. Nor was it the 'Mm' Naruto himself favored when playing his role as 'Powerful and Uncaring Overlord' to the Minions. It was this grunt sound that had been cut off in the back of the man's throat and silenced by a tightening of his lips, thus, Naruto quantified it as 'Mng'. It conveyed a considerable displeasure with the world in general and Naruto specifically quite well, but did not seem to have the versatility of 'Hn' or 'Mm'.
Danzo started speaking again after a four second pause, just long enough to be insulting, but not long enough to give obvious room for interruption in polite company, "He has black hair, black eyes and very pale skin."
There was a definite tone of dismissal at the end of his sentence, but Naruto, playing the oblivious idiot and doing so just to rub the fact that the man had no real authority over him (at least he was pretty sure he didn't), Naruto stayed in his seat for almost twenty seconds, staring eagerly at the butt-ugly man.
Eventually, Danzo turned his head again and growled out, "You will know him when you see him."
The grin that spread across Naruto's face was genuine, mostly because he was happy to have irritated the man, if Tsunade was automatically wary about him, then so was Naruto, "Alright! See ya later!" He shot up out of his seat, intentionally keeping an annoying look on his face as he swung Maelstrom up onto his shoulder.
It was actually harder to pretend to be only kinda good at something when you were actually really good at it. Naruto had to work at appearing unskilled with Maelstrom as he swung it up onto his shoulder, barely missing the small coffee table between the couches and Danzo himself only a few feet away.
But the obvious disdain on Danzo's face and very brief curious one on Tsunade's before she carefully schooled her features was worth it.
This guy was assuming that Naruto was an idiot, apparently he hadn't read the new reports on him yet. With any luck, his little display here would make this Danzo dismiss any reports of calculated and intelligent moves on Naruto's part as luck or hearsay until it was far too late.
Ah, the benefits of a carefully crafted mask.
A.N.-) Right! Again, sorry about the delays on this and the relative lack of length. People have been starting to ask me about whether this has been dropped or not.
I'm struggling to write it, I never really planned the next part of this out very well and was straining my brain to try and write it… so there might be another delay (not one of that size again thankfully) in getting the next part up. But I'll do my best.