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AN: Special thanks go out to Hygieia for proofing this, so if you find something wrong, BLAME HIM! Just kidding, seriously, he really helped me out. Special thanks also go to Kenchi618 for giving me some great advice that helped with a fight scene that was giving me all kinds of headaches. If you haven't read any of his works, I'd recommend Sealed Kunai. One of my top favorites that's actually still being updated. Also special thanks to Kagaseo, who's been a fantastic sounding board for me to bounce ideas off of for this fic.

Now, as much as I'd like to say that updates for this story will be regular...they won't. I've got maybe five more chapters worth written up for this, but between working on just Reckoning and Specialist, I'm having a hard time making enough progress to update both every month or so. Trying to do twice a month or more is...probably not going to happen. Not unless I take another year long hiatus to work on them anyway. And that's not even mentioning any other plot ideas I come up with. So for now expect an update once a month or so.

Thanks to everyone who read and reviewed despite nearly two years of inactivity. I should have responded to everyone, but if I missed you, I apologize. As always, all reviews/criticism is welcomed. So, without further ado, I give you chapter 8 of Naruto: the Reckoning.

This will be AU (obviously) and Naruto will be two years older than Canon. Which means that the Kyuubi attack will be two years earlier.

Summary: A single moment's hesitation during the Kyuubi attack changed everything. Now as the world rushes towards war, a new order begins its rise.



Reckoning chapter 8

Tsunade was known for many things. Her prowess with Iryojutsu alone was so great –as well as the fact that she created so many of them- that many considered her to be the mother of modern medicine. Likewise, her atrociously bad luck when it came to gambling was almost as well known, including that ridiculous nickname people insisted on calling her –and then the bastards had the gall to be surprised that she noticed the double entendre that came with being called the "Legendary Sucker".

People also knew her for being a member of Team Sarutobi, which that bastard Hanzo had gone ahead and changed to the Densetsu no Sannin. Her heritage as the "Last of the Senju" and Hashirama's granddaughter was common knowledge. And while it bothered her immensely to think about it, Tsunade knew her larger than average bust size was also fairly well known.

And yet, so many people often forgot that before she was one of the legendary three shinobi who had stood up to Hanzo and lived, before she was the medical prodigy responsible for countering every single one of Suna's many poisons, before she racked up a losing gambling streak miles long…she was singlehandedly killing Iwa, Suna, Kusa, and Ame shinobi by the scores.

"Teppodama no Jutsu!" a hapless Ame rebel half screamed as Tsunade caved in his comrade's skull before snapping an arm out and punching the bullet of water before if traveled more than a few inches from his mouth. The high velocity bullet exploded back into his face, pelting him with droplets of water moving fast enough to pit stone. Needless to say, the Ame rebel was far too distracted to try to dodge Tsunade's kick –his only option since blocking one Tsunade's blows was generally a terrible idea- which connected to his side and shattered his spine from the force. If that hadn't killed him, the collision with the cave was certainly would have done it, the impact leaving him looking quite similar to a squashed bug.

With a control that came only from a complete understanding of one's body –not to mention years of rigorous training- Tsunade reversed the momentum of her leg and brought it crashing down into the knee of a Genjutsu enshrouded rebel, causing his leg to fold in a very unnatural way. Not that the bearded Chuunin had time to even realize what had happened –or even finish collapsing- before Tsunade's other foot snapped up and caught him in the chin, introducing the man's lower jaw to the inside of his skull, and actually tearing his head mostly off.

Tsunade might have felt some stirrings of guilt as she surveyed the corpse ridden passageway –as really, none of these poor bastards had possessed even a sliver of a chance against her- except for one thing which overruled any sympathy she might possess for these brave fools. Hell, she wouldn't bat an eye at burning down a hospital with the patients still inside due to the terrifying fact that she didn't know where her son was.

It was that horrible day when Naruto was scooped off the battlefield by that bastard Danzo all over again, with all the anguish and terror, and heart wrenching pain somehow made worse by the fact that this time Tsunade was able to search for her baby boy, and was failing to find him no matter how many Ame rebels she killed. And Tsunade had never reacted well to fear, and when something did make her afraid, she tended to lash out violently at whatever it was that she held responsible.

"…Holy sh-IT! Friendlies, friendlies!" a teenage Ame kunoichi began to murmur only to end with an echoing shriek as Tsunade whipped around and closed the distance between her and the group of Ame loyalists before the woman had even finished the first syllable.

Leveling a scathing look at the cringing moron –she was perfectly capable of making out their hitae-ate before she approached them, hence why they weren't already dead- Tsunade said, "I'm looking for the foreign child from my team. Have you seen him? He has blue eyes and blond hair that he covers with his hitae-ate, as well as adorable birthmarks on his cheeks. You'd remember if you saw him."

The woman exchanged confused looks with her compatriots –none of whom looked old enough to shave- before hesitantly answering. "You're the only foreigner we've seen since entering the caves. Err, Hime-sama." She hastened to add with a sketchy bow, as if afraid Tsunade might take offense at being addressed so casually.

Tsunade would have rolled her eyes at the kid's foolishness if she were capable of devoting any thought to anything other than finding Naruto and destroying whatever got in her way. As it was, Tsunade had already disregarded the Ame loyalists and had turned to continue down her original path when she caught one of the Ame nin muttering to his companion, "What's someone like her doing looking after a kid?"

Tsunade went stock-still in shock for a moment as the words rang through her mind, sounding far more accusing to her than the Chuunin had likely intended. What the man had meant, had not been that Tsunade was somehow unfit to be Naruto's mother –he didn't even know who she or Naruto were, let alone their relationship- but with her own doubts and self-recriminations at having lost Naruto again, that's what Tsunade heard. And that both terrified and infuriated her. The former because a steadily growing part of her did fear that she wasn't a good mother, having lost Naruto on the day of his birth –even worse that it happened after she consented to have him made into a Jinchuuriki when he was only hours old- having failed to protect him from Danzo and his machinations, failed to prevent whatever had happened to rob Naruto of his earliest memories, and now having lost him in the chaos of a full scale battle. As a result, it didn't take much to make her question herself and her ability to protect her son.

Her fury came because those words filled Tsunade with an irrational certainty that these Ame nin intended to take her son away from her!

Whirling around to glare hatefully at the Ame loyalists –who all flinched back fearfully from her at the fire in her eyes- the lucky kids would never truly know just how close they came to dying because of one errant question. Just as Tsunade took a step forward to end their pathetic lives, they all stiffened at the feeling of a horrifyingly destructive power that even a shinobi with zero talent at chakra sensing could detect. That feeling saved their lives, as while the Ame nin didn't have a clue what it was, Tsunade instantly recognized it, and any thoughts of killing the Ame kids vanished as she bowled them over in her rush towards the source of that dark chakra.

After all, Tsunade's baby must have been in grave danger for him to use so much of that tainted power, and between Tsunade's burning desire to kill anything that made her baby feel so threatened and her equally intense desire to wrap him in a fierce hug and never let him go so she'd never lose sight of him again, there was nothing capable of slowing her down. Not the unfortunate Ame rebels who inadvertently found themselves between her and Naruto, not the equally unfortunate loyalists who found themselves being literally run over in her haste, and certainly not the walls that she smashed through one after another in her panic, uncaring of the several cave-ins she left in her wake.

Tsunade almost felt like smiling as she closed in on the feeling of the Kyuubi's corrosive chakra, feeling the fist that had been gripping her heart since she realized Naruto was missing begin to lighten, and a part of her mind planning to give her son such a scolding for making her worry like this. 'Reckless little brat, trying to give his mother a heart attack agai-' Tsunade stopped dead as an overwhelming feeling of dread and horror washed over her when the Kyuubi's chakra just disappeared. Not dissipated, or died down, but just gone. As if…as if Naruto was…

Tsunade let out a scream of pure anguish and sorrow as she crashed through a final wall on sheer momentum, already feeling her legs beginning to give out as her mind kept showing her images of her son as she realized he was gone, gone, gone, gone. And then that scream became one of sheer hatred and raw fury as her eyes fell on the scene of her son's limp form skidding along the floor of the chamber she had entered, just as the dust from her explosive entrance surged forward and concealed her darling son from view. Tsunade also saw the vaguely familiar woman floating in the air between her and her son.

Said woman spun around and flapped her paper wings, sending a dozen paper shuriken spinning towards her. Still screaming in rage, Tsunade's hands whipped out in a blur of motion, smacking the paper projectiles aside save for one, which she grabbed and hurled back at the stoic woman. Snarling furiously when the Ame rebel managed to dodge just enough so that projectile only cut a bloody gash across her cheekbone, Tsunade hurled herself across the chamber with such force that the stone beneath her feet cratered.

The winged kunoichi beat a hasty retreat away from Naruto which might have been what Tsunade wanted, but it did nothing to sooth the enraged Sannin. Hissing like a furious cat, Tsunade didn't even notice the red haired man as she threw herself after Naruto's killer with abandon, no longer caring about anything but ending the one who took her precious baby away from her.

Her first punch missed by a mile, the Ame kunoichi soaring up and away from her with those damnable wings of hers. Even more enraged, Tsunade launched herself up after her, sending another powerful punch towards the paper ninja's head. Once again, the woman soared away, Tsunade's fist missing by bare inches before first cratering, and then collapsing a significant portion of the ceiling.

Against other opponents, this might have been something of a blessing, as chunks of rock rained down around them, more than enough of a distraction to allow Tsunade to close in for the kill. Unfortunately, those wings seemed to allow the Ame kunoichi to dodge almost as well as Tsunade could.

This did nothing to improve her temper. Dodging another volley of paper shuriken, Tsunade began kicking boulders towards the purple hair woman at high speed, screaming in utterly heartbroken fury when only a single boulder actually clipped the murderer of her child. 'Those damn wings!' Running through hand seals, Tsunade slammed her hand to the ground as she tracked the winged bitch with her eyes. With a moderate plume of smoke, a Slug that was easily twice her size appeared, eye stalks twitching as the Summon took in the scene.

"Kill her!" Tsunade hissed as she shoved a chakra enshrouded hand towards her Summons, forgoing any of the usual pleasantries she would exchange with her Summons. The Slug seemed to understand, as he didn't say a word as she seemingly drove her hand through it. In reality, he broke apart into a swarm of smaller Slugs, each perhaps twice the size of Tsunade's hand. Then, with her hand inside the mass of Slugs, Tsunade released a burst of wind chakra, sending the Slugs flying in all directions. An old tactic of theirs, as the Slugs each spun to land on their "feet" wherever they landed, be it on the floor, walls, or even the ceiling. Then, they faced the startled Ame kunoichi and began shooting random streams of acid at her from all directions.

The rebel was very good at dodging, particularly while in the air like that. But even she couldn't dodge every single stream. Slowly, the wings began to slow as one by one, holes were burned through them by the acid that found its mark. And while she tried to discard the dissolving paper from her wings to lessen the damage from the acid, with so many streams of acid shooting at her, the holes slowly built up. Especially since she had to concentrate on discarding the "paper" of her body whenever it got hit as well.

Semi-satisfied now that the woman could not move effectively, Tsunade charged in once again, able to dodge the acid with little effort herself what with having used this tactic numerous times and her Slugs going out of their way to avoid hitting her. Leaping into the air, Tsunade delivered a vicious drop kick not on her opponent, but on one of those wings of hers. The strength of Tsunade's kick was more than enough to tear through the weakened limb, sending the bitch plummeting to the ground with Tsunade in hot pursuit. As they landed within mere feet of each other, Tsunade tensed to throw herself at her baby's killer, only for her eyes to instinctively dart to the side at an odd clacking sound.

Peering through the dust and debris, Tsunade went limp; her eyes wide in shock at what met her stare.

Ignoring the sounds of the large Toads doing battle with a diverse number of Summons around him, Jiraiya stared forlornly up the hill into the Rinnegan eyes of the familiar man he now had no choice but to fight.

"So you've returned, Jiraiya-sensei." The heavily pierced man uttered with unmistakable resentment and anger in his voice.

"Nagato…" Jiraiya whispered in disbelief as he continued to stare up into those unbearably familiar eyes. "Is that really you?" He wanted nothing more than to believe that at least one of his students yet lived, especially one that he had believed would be the Child of Prophecy. At the same time, the thought of finding one of his students alive, only to have to help kill him…

"I see the cycle of the Great Villages continues. Once again, you bring your war and death to Ame no Kuni." Nagato intoned, seemingly ignoring Jiraiya's unspoken plea.

"I had heard that you were dead, that you were all dead." Jiraiya tried again, desperate to know what had become of his students. "What happened to you? Where are Yahiko and Konan? And how did you get mixed up in this civil war?"

"Yahiko?" Nagato asked with a curious tilt of his head, which belied his expressionless face. "…Yes, I believe I once knew a person by that name." He continued, drawing a confused look from Jiraiya which quickly turned to one of pain. "He's been dead for years."

That more than anything let Jiraiya know that Nagato was gone. There was no way the boy who had once weepily confessed to Jiraiya that all that he wanted was to keep Yahiko and Konan safe, would speak of Yahiko's death so calmly, as if discussing the weather. "You've changed, Nagato. You're not the same boy I taught all those years ago." Jiraiya lamented quietly as he stared his former student down. "And what of Konan? What happened to her?"

"You don't need to know that, sensei." Nagato intoned once again as he slammed his hands together. "After all, you're just an outsider!" With that Nagato summoned a giant crab and sent it scuttling towards him.

Wincing in resignation, Jiraiya performed his own seals, summoning Gamahiro beneath him. True to form, Gamahiro immediately identified his enemy and drew his two great swords in a downward swing towards the charging crab. In a surprising show of speed, the crabs pincers snapped up to catch the two blades, halting their movement and filling the air with an earsplitting screech as armor like shell met swords. Then Gamahiro promptly used the crab's strong grip as a counterbalance, leaning backwards to lift himself off the ground and delivering a double kick to the crab's "face" with his powerful legs, sending the two Summons flying apart.

Jiraiya used the cover provided by Gamahiro's body to Shunshin away, reappearing closer to Nagato and charging in with a Rasengan. As he rushed forward, Jiraiya managed to remain stable when the crab crashed into the mountainside, mere moments before Gamahiro landed and spun with a horizontal slash, decapitating the giant centipede that had attempted to strike him from behind.

Silently leaping into the air, Jiraiya tried to slam the Rasengan into the back of Nagato's head, only for his old student to spin around at the last second and catch Jiraiya's wrist in a surprisingly strong grip. Rather than attempt to pull away, Jiraiya let his old student deliver a rib cracking kick, before bringing his other hand out from behind his back and driving the second Rasengan through Nagato's still upraised leg, tearing off most of the limb below the knee.

As his onetime student began to collapse, Jiraiya delivered a punishing kick of his own, sending Nagato tumbling helplessly through the air before chasing after him with grim determination. Whatever had happened to Nagato to turn him into this cold man before him, it was Jiraiya's responsibility as his teacher to put an end to him, lest his actions bring untold suffering to countless others. Jiraiya kept repeating that mantra as he closed in on his now crippled student, tears mingling with the ever-present rain as he felt an all too familiar pain grip his heart as he stared into the suddenly dead looking Rinnegan staring back at him.

Naruto hacked convulsively as a wave of dust and rocks surged through the air around him. 'Wha…what the hell was that?' he wondered desperately as he clenched his hands around his mouth and nose in an attempt to filter out some of the dust so he could actually breathe. 'Don't tell me another one showed up?'

Still in the grips of the sheer terror of impending death, it took Naruto a moment to realize that he was actually still alive. It was only after the shaky realization that Naruto finally took notice of the way the ground kept shaking, or the very familiar voice, causing his heart to soar for a moment as he recognized what that meant. That is, until he picked up on the sheer pain that was at the heart of Tsunade's furious screaming.

With every anguished scream that reached his ears, Naruto felt as if someone was wrapping barbed wire around his heart and squeezing it with each of Tsunade's cries. Cries that Naruto felt should never come from the woman that had been nothing but kind and generous to him for as long as he could remember. Hearing Tsunade in such pain…it hurt Naruto, in a way that he had never experienced before. And then it made him angry.

As the dust began to settle, Naruto felt a righteous rage building within him. How dare they? How dare they hurt Tsunade? What gave these bastards the right to rebel against their nation? What gave them the right to drag him, and Tsunade into their pointless war? "Dragging us halfway across the continent…and for what!?" Naruto murmured to himself as he gathered his feet beneath him.

These…these people had hurt Tsunade…hurt her in a way Naruto had never believed possible. And Naruto didn't like that. So he resolved to do something about it. As he rose up into a crouch, Naruto heard a familiar clacking sound from right behind him. Acting without hesitation, Naruto threw himself onto his back just as another on those dark rods shot overhead, reminding him of the emaciated redhead who had somehow brought him down earlier.

Snarling up at the man in his throne like chair and feeling a familiar weight slide into him, Naruto kept his momentum going, and in an impressive display of acrobatics, he rolled up onto his shoulders and threw himself into the air while simultaneously scooping up his kodachi. As he soared up into the air, Naruto twisted his body to land in a crouch on the top of one of the "legs", his kodachi held horizontally in both hands over his shoulder, ready to strike.

Nagato whipped his head around to glare up at Naruto with those strange eyes of his, though whether they were wide because of fear or hatred, Naruto couldn't be bothered to decipher as he brought his blade across from left to right, a savage snarl escaping his lips as Nagato's head separated from his shoulders. To Naruto, there was nothing odd about the man's death.

The man was a cripple, in a group of rebellious shinobi, so he couldn't have been that important in the grand scheme of things. A spymaster or a tactician maybe judging by the conversation he'd overheard, or at best a spiritual leader of some kind to the Ame rebels. Certainly not the rebel's greatest strength and only hope.

Naruto would never know that Nagato had once been believed to be the "Child of Prophecy" that so drove Jiraiya's actions, or that in another life, that near helpless, emaciated man he had so casually killed would have succeeded in his rebellion. That Nagato would have gained full control of his powers and singlehandedly killed not only Hanzo himself, but even his old teacher Jiraiya. Naruto had no inkling of the powerful organization of missing-nin the redhead would have helped build and lead in a vicious blitzkrieg campaign across the Elemental Nations, and even succeeding in bringing the oldest Hidden Village to its knees in devastating defeat.

To Naruto, the guy was just a loose end, a nuisance when all he wanted to do was make the pain in Tsunade's screams go away. He certainly never considered that by killing Nagato, Naruto had all but ended the Ame Civil War.

Sarutobi quirked an eyebrow as he spotted another orange haired form striking away at a dome of earth. This Pein appeared to be relentless in his assault, and was gradually making progress if the numerous fist sized craters in the earthen barrier were any indication, and yet, considering the unique abilities each Pein was supposed to possess, this one's attempts to bring down the barrier seemed rather…mundane.

Shrugging, Sarutobi shouldered Enma and leapt into the air, hoping this Pein was no faster than the one he'd already defeated. It really would be nice to bring a second of the Peins down without too much effort. He wasn't as young as he used to be, and Sarutobi really wanted to end this fight so he could get out of the rain and sit down for a good long smoke. A nap would be nice too.

Twirling Enma's staff form over his head as he descended on the long-haired man, he prepared to do his best to drive the Pein's head into his chest cavity. So he was rather surprised when the Pein simply collapsed like a puppet whose strings had been cut. Landing next to the crumpled form, Sarutobi blinked for a moment, and then brought his staff down to experimentally nudge the still Pein. When the obscenely pierced man didn't react at all, Sarutobi dipped the tip of his staff under the limp body and flipped him over onto his back, and studied the unseeing Rinnegan eyes.

"Well…that was rather anticlimactic…" Sarutobi muttered in surprise as he examined the, for all appearances, dead body. There were no signs of any injuries or any signs of poison use either. How odd. Shrugging to himself, Sarutobi raised Enma's adamantine staff and brought it down on the unmoving Pein's skull with all his might. The orange haired corpse jerked as its skull was shattered by the blow. 'Can't be too careful with these Pein characters after all…' Sarutobi thought to himself as he vividly recalled how the chubby Pein repeatedly got back up from blows that would have rendered most other shinobi insensate from pain, or completely numbed by the shock of the trauma.

Examining the mashed pulp that used to be the long-haired Pein's skull, Sarutobi shrugged to himself, before striking a second time, just to be sure. Satisfied, the aged kage dismissed Enma and studied the earth dome critically. The dome was thicker than he was used to seeing by at least six inches, and yet despite that, he could see several holes where the Pein had successfully penetrated the barrier.

One would think that whoever raised this barrier would have used the time it gave them to launch a counterattack, run away, or come up with some kind of plan. Particularly after this Pein began punching holes in it. Unless of course, they were already injured or dying when they created it. Knocking on the side of the dome, Sarutobi called out. "Is there anyone still in there?"

"Sandaime-sama?" An exhausted cry came as the earth dome crumbled away, revealing a kneeling Kakashi. "Thank God you found me." Young Kakashi panted as he spied Pein's corpse and tiredly pulled his hitae-ate down over his Sharingan. "I thought for sure I was finished."

Sarutobi ran a quick eye over Kakashi's slumped form looking for any injuries, before turning back to the crumbled Pein with a slight shrug. "If this one was as skilled as the Pein I faced, then you've done very well for yourself, Kakashi." Sarutobi scanned the area as he continued. "Did you notice if this one possessed some kind of unique skill as well?"

"He could kill with a single touch, Sandaime-sama." Kakashi groaned as he slowly pulled himself to his feet. "Not like the Hyuuga or what the Medic-nin can do, but something different."

Sarutobi raised an eyebrow in curiosity. The ability to kill with the slightest touch was a highly coveted skill. After all, that was the reason the Hyuuga clan were such a powerful force during the Hidden Clans era, and why they were granted the title of a Noble clan in Konoha. It was also why those like Kumo were so determined to steal the Hyuuga bloodline. Not so much for the Byakugan's penetrating sight and telescopic vision –though this was still an impressive feat- it was the Byakugan's ability to see chakra and the chakra circulatory system, and with it their ability to use the Jyuuken that was so coveted.

That there was yet another unknown ability of the Rinnegan that was similar to the oh so coveted "kill with a touch", was both fascinating and disturbing. Fascinating because of just how varied and powerful the gifts of the Rinnegan seemed to be. Disturbing because such a powerful and legendary bloodline had cropped up in a nation like Ame no Kuni. Particularly since that meant the bloodline could fall into the hands of one like Hanzo.

'How does such a bloodline even work?' Sarutobi wondered to himself. 'The ability to control bodies of the dead is certainly strange, but they all seem to have the same eyes. Does that mean one could take the eyes from any of these Peins and implant them in a living person?' If that were the case, then whoever the real Pein is could create an army of Rinnegan users. So perhaps whatever ability that allowed for the replication of the eyes only worked in dead tissue? The only other option seemed even more unlikely…and even more terrifying. Surely this Pein character didn't have access to other Rinnegan users? Such a clan would be terrifying, as would any man capable of bringing them down.

No, no matter what the secrets of the Rinnegan and the mystery behind its sudden appearance, Sarutobi knew one thing above all else. Hanzo could not be allowed to take possession of the Rinnegan.

Naruto hopped down from Nagato's "throne" without a second glance, drawing deeply on the Kyuubi's chakra as he flicked his kodachi to knock some of the blood off as he strode towards the two battling kunoichi. Naruto had to clamp down on the urge to cackle at how alive he felt as the Kyuubi's power flowed through him, even as he finally noticed how quiet everything suddenly was. In fact, all he could hear were the two kunoichi breathing raggedly, as if caught between the strain of their battle, some kind of shocked gasp, and an increasingly frantic panic.

Looking up, Naruto met Konan's wide, disbelieving eyes and after seeing Tsunade's equally wide, yet rapidly watering eyes, angrily snarled, "Hey bitch! I'm not done with you yet!"

At least, that's what he tried to do. But between his attempt at anger and his desperate attempts to keep from cackling like a maniac, Naruto's voice came out with several oddly high pitches that rose and fell at random intervals. Something he'd become embarrassingly familiar with in seven years or so.

For a moment, the three just stared at each other, Naruto glaring angrily at Konan for apparently not only hurting Tsunade, but actually driving the woman to tears somehow, while the two kunoichi stared at him with varying looks of shock or disbelief. Then the agonized screaming of pain and rage returned, though Naruto remained unsympathetic now that those screams were coming from Konan instead of Tsunade.

The Ame rebel didn't even bother to utilize her flight ability as she simply charged across the chamber towards, him, pure hatred radiating from her as she drew an actual kunai.

For his part, Naruto met her hatred head on, his kodachi held down and to the side as he rushed forward, not even noticing the half grin half snarl on his face as he rushed forward, his blood and hatred singing in unison. Naruto ducked under the woman's reckless thrust and came up swinging his kodachi, unsure if he could actually cut Konan in half but more than willing to give it a try.

He growled angrily as the kunoichi retained enough sense to twist to the side to avoid his strike, and quickly brought his sword back to block the crazed woman's second kunai thrust. Naruto met Konan's hate filled eyes without a flinch, and tried to push her kunai aside so he could resume his own attack. Surprisingly, the woman managed to hold her own despite the amount of Kyuubi's chakra adding to his own chakra enhanced strength, and Naruto found himself actually being pushed back slightly as sparks flew from the grinding metal.

Then Naruto was stumbling forward as the pressure against his kodachi suddenly vanished, and before he could even try to reset his stance, Naruto once again found his ribs shouting in protest as they were squeezed unmercifully.

Grunting in surprise, Naruto felt the Kyuubi's chakra receding once again, although unlike the previous time, the chakra didn't just suddenly stop. Instead, when he tilted his head back slightly, Naruto found himself wrapped in Tsunade's arms, the kneeling woman raining tears and wet kisses all over his head and face as she kept up the oddest litany he'd ever heard. "Naruto you horrible, beautiful, reckless, wonderful child! Don't you ever, ever do that to me again, you ungrateful, adorable, heart attack inducing, perfect, brat! Do you hear me? If you even think of trying to scare me like that again, I'll tan your hide from here to Mizu! Oh Naruto-chan, I promise, I'm never going to let you out of my sight again… "

For his part Naruto just blinked in confusion as Tsunade's strange rant trailed off into undecipherable murmurs as she slowly rocked him back and forth as if he were the one who had just had a terrible reaction to something or other. And how could he be both horrible and wonderful at the same time? Naruto opened his mouth to point out that Tsunade wasn't making any sense at all –not to mention that they were in the middle of a battle- when he finally caught sight of Konan over Tsunade's shoulder.

Or more specifically, he caught sight of the woman's legs and stomach, which appeared to be the only part of her sticking out of the crater in the wall she'd been knocked into. Swallowing nervously, Naruto decided to just let Tsunade fuss over him in silence, or at least until the Sannin finally calmed down. And now that he wasn't fighting for his life, Naruto let out a shaky breath as the fact that he'd almost died truly sank in. Suddenly extremely grateful for Tsunade's timely arrival, Naruto almost didn't care at how the woman was babying him, allowing the woman to hug him all she wanted. Especially since her slight trembling from whatever emotions were wracking her helped cover up Naruto's own shaking at the sobering knowledge of his own mortality.

It took longer than Naruto would ever admit for his trembling to subside, and he'd definitely never admit that he'd never really grew irritated at Tsunade for how long she held him tightly before taking a deep breath and finally standing up. And no one would ever know how much he enjoyed that hug either. Eventually however, Tsunade did release him, and Naruto was able to pick up his kodachi from where he'd dropped it and sheath it.

When he looked up, Tsunade was staring at Nagato's strange throne-chair thing, and Naruto suddenly remembered something kind of important. "Tsunade, this guy had some kind of Dojutsu." Naruto said as he stepped up next to her. "And he kept talking about Jiraiya as if he was fighting him wherever it is the pervert got off to. …And when he was talking to Konan, he kept calling the old pervert "Jiraiya-sensei"."

For some reason, Tsunade stiffened at that, and she quickly turned to study Nagato's head where it lay, several feet from his body. Without a word, Tsunade strode over to kneel by the head and turned it over to stare at Nagato's unseeing eyes with an unreadable expression. Naruto almost followed her, before the thought of Konan compelled him to check to make sure the woman was dead.

Turning away from the Sannin, Naruto quickly made his way over to the wall and took hold of Konan's legs, tugging hard in order to pry the kunoichi from the crater she had made. He needn't have bothered, as when she finally came free, it was obvious from the odd angle of the woman's neck and the unseeing eyes that Konan hadn't survived the impact. The part where one of her arms did not leave the crater with the rest of her body only drove the point home. Glancing over his shoulder at Tsunade's still kneeling form, Naruto couldn't help but wonder how physically strong the Medic-nin really was, if she could hit someone so hard that they'd not only be buried from head to stomach in solid stone, but that the impact could actually rip their limbs off.

Naruto was pretty sure he didn't come even close to being that strong, even with all the Kyuubi chakra he could handle going into the punch. He turned back to the dead woman and briefly thought about searching her for any documents or weapons he could use, but stiffened when he caught sight of something odd. Crouching down, Naruto pulled the woman's remaining hand up to more closely examine it. More specifically, he was interested in the strange ring she wore on her middle finger, the symbol for "white" prominently displayed on it. Though unusual, it wasn't unheard of for ninja to wear jewelry of some kind or another. What was strange was that this ring had chakra running through it. Enough so to catch even his attention and he was about as much a Sensor ninja as Jiraiya was a saint.

Naruto tilted his head in thought for a moment, debating what he should do, before finally shrugging and tugging the ring off. He might not have any idea what the thing did, but Naruto was sure that whatever it was, Konoha could probably reverse engineer it if it was useful. Pocketing the ring, Naruto turned around just in time to see Tsunade walking over to pick up one of those strange rods Nagato had shot at him; the man's head nowhere to be seen.

She examined the rod for a moment, running one hand over its length in thought, before tucking it through her belt and beckoning him to her. Once Naruto had obliged, she knelt down in front of him once again. "Listen to me very carefully, Naruto. We're going to leave the caves now and rendezvous with Sarutobi-sensei and the others." Tsunade began before growing very serious as she stared at him intently. "I want you to promise me that you won't mention anything about these two to Jiraiya. Understand?"

Naruto blinked at her request before frowning. "…but Jiraiya knows these two somehow. One of them even called him sensei! Shouldn't we confront him about what he's been doing teaching foreign ninja?"

Tsunade sighed and gripped his shoulders reassuringly before continuing. "It's a very long story Naruto, and I plan to speak with Jiraiya about it. Later. Right now, I don't want to burden him with this. Understand?"

Naruto most certainly did not understand, and he opened his mouth to say so only to be interrupted.

"Please, Naruto." Tsunade murmured, and Naruto felt conflicted for a moment. On the one hand, everything he had been taught about Konoha law demanded that he either confront Jiraiya, or report the situation to the Godaime. On the other hand, he trusted Tsunade wouldn't ask him to keep something like this secret without a good reason. And as the pervert's old teammate, surely she knew better than anyone how to deal with the white-haired Sannin. Struggling over the decision for a moment, Naruto finally nodded his consent.

"Alright, I won't tell Jiraiya about them." Naruto said grudgingly before glancing around and leaning forward to continue in a whisper. "But…what if Jiraiya did have something to do with this? That would be treason, right?"

"Don't worry, Naruto." Tsunade replied as she straightened once again. "Jiraiya is many things, but a traitor isn't one of them. In this case, suffice it to say that he had a bad habit of taking in strays when he was younger, and let's leave it at that."

'What the hell was that supposed to mean?' Naruto couldn't help but wonder as Tsunade firmly took him by the hand and led him through the collapsed wall and back into the tunnels that had caused him so much frustration. Frustration that returned with a vengeance as Tsunade seemed to effortlessly navigate their way through the tunnels as if she'd lived there all her life. Naruto grumbled about the unfairness of it all, and then grumbled about annoying blonde Medic-nin when Tsunade heard his complaints and started laughing.

After a few minutes of walking, they began to run across bands of Ame shinobi, loyalists searching for any more rebels, or gathering the wounded and the dead, or escorting groups of beaten, restrained rebels out of the caves. Joining in with one such group, Naruto sneered at the defeated rebels, many of whom were openly weeping at their defeat, or muttering "He can't be dead…Pein-sama can't be dead" over and over.

When they finally left the caves and split off from the Ame shinobi and their prisoners, Naruto couldn't resist taking a deep breath of fresh air, not even minding the light rain that fell on his upturned face. 'God, it's good to be alive…' Naruto thought to himself with a steadily growing grin of excitement. He'd done it. He'd completed his first mission, won his first real battle, and now all Naruto wanted to do was laugh his ass off in sheer joy.

"Ah, Tsunade-sama, Naruto-kun, there you are." Came a drawl from the side. Spinning around to face the source of the voice –and surreptitiously twisting his hand free of Tsunade's grip before anyone could notice- Naruto was surprised to find Kakashi sitting on a nearby rock outcropping, his face buried in an orange book of some kind. "Sandaime-sama wanted me to bring you to where he and Jiraiya-sama are. Please, follow me." The lanky Jounin said as he hopped down from his perch and began strolling away without looking up from his book.

'What a weirdo.' Naruto thought to himself as he glanced at Tsunade. For some reason, her eye was twitching, and Naruto could almost swear he could see a vein in her forehead bulging as they followed the young shinobi.

"Oh Kakashi-kun?" Tsunade called in a sickly sweet voice. "What are you reading there? It must be quite the interesting book if you can't even bring yourself to look away from it even when you're talking to me."

It might have been his imagination, but Naruto could swear he saw Kakashi jump and fumble with the book for a second before he answered. "Oh…er, well, it's just something Jiraiya-sama gave me to pass the time. Nothing you'd be interested in." the masked Jounin said quickly as he picked up his pace slightly.

Not that it did him much good, as Tsunade –and Naruto by virtue of the firm grip she kept on his hand yet again- walked faster to match him. "Oh come now, I'm sure if Jiraiya gave it to you, it must be something terribly interesting." Tsunade said in a cool tone that belied the smile she kept on her face. "So interesting in fact, that I'm sure you'd much rather read it in the privacy of your own home, safe from shall we say…improper eyes."

Naruto watched in utter confusion as Kakashi's eye darted from his book to Tsunade, to him, and back to Tsunade again. It was even weirder because Naruto could swear there was something off about the conversation. After all, why the hell would Kakashi be acting so twitchy when Tsunade was talking so nicely? Didn't he realize that she hardly ever talked to someone like that?

"…You're right of course, Tsunade-sama." Kakashi quickly uttered as he stashed the odd book in his kunai pouch. "I'll do just that."

"Good." Tsunade practically purred as Kakashi turned away, before her arm darted forward and then away as if she were tossing something away.

Blinking Naruto glanced over his shoulder and could have sworn he saw something orange sailing off into the distance. Turning back to stare up at a pleased looking Tsunade, Naruto could only come to one conclusion. 'Anbu are weird when they don't have their masks on.'

Naruto rolled his shoulders irritably as he felt a tugging sensation yet again. 'What is that?' Naruto wondered from his seat on a fallen log. Staring around suspiciously, Naruto once again noted nothing obvious that could cause the feeling. Kakashi was sulking nearby, apparently upset that he had misplaced that weird book of his. Jiraiya and the Sandaime were standing nearby in quiet conversation, Jiraiya looking unusually somber about something and the Sandaime apparently trying to cheer him up.

Tsunade was sitting next to him on the log, and while he didn't really mind that, Naruto wished she'd stop wrapping an arm around him protectively whenever an Ame nin walked by. He wasn't a baby, and he didn't need to be babied damn it! You'd think she thought the Ame nin might try to steal him or something…then again… Naruto narrowed his eyes suspiciously at the nearest group of Hanzo's followers. It had been what, two or three decades since Ame lost possession of the Rokubi? Maybe they were looking for a replacement? Then again, Hanzo had shown little but contempt for him so far, so that was unlikely.

Besides, none of them looked like they were doing anything that could cause that tugging sensation.

Scowling as Tsunade once again wrapped an arm around him; Naruto stood up and shoved his hands in his pockets. Stomping off grumpily, Naruto froze after just a few steps. The tugging sensation was coming from his pocket. Pulling the ring he'd taken off of Konan out, Naruto could actually feel ring try to tug out of his hand. Frowning, Naruto turned to face the direction the ring was trying to go and walked several steps to see if the tugging would change. When it didn't, Naruto looked up curiously.

All he could see in that direction were…the body bags. Naruto gulped nervously. Those four bags contained the bodies of the fallen "Peins". Tsunade said the Ame shinobi intended to study them to try to figure out how the supposedly dead men had been able to walk around and fight the way they had. That the ring Konan had been wearing was tugging lightly in that direction was…well…kind of creepy.

Glancing around and seeing no one watching, Naruto cautiously approached the four bags. When no one appeared to notice –or if they did, they didn't care- Naruto slowly moved between the still forms, finding that the tugging sensation seemed to pull towards one body bag in particular. Swallowing, Naruto drew a kunai and crouched down, unzipping the bag quickly, intending to jump back or stab at the first sign of…whatever. When nothing happened, Naruto leaned over the spiky haired corpse, wincing at all the piercings that literally crisscrossed the man's face. Glancing around once more, Naruto held the fist clenching the ring over the body. The ring tugged insistently down away from the man's face and Naruto experimentally moved his hand down his body. After a moment, Naruto pocketed the ring and pulled the corpse's right hand out with a grimace. A quick check of the fingers revealed an almost identical ring on the thumb. Feeling like a complete ghoul, Naruto tugged the ring off and began zipping the body bag back up.

"A little young to be looting corpses, aren't you boy?" came a familiar chilling rasp.

Naruto jerked around in shock, instinctively clenching his fist and pocketing the ring as he stumbled back from the bodies and the imposing form of Sanshouo no Hanzo towering over him. In the next second, Tsunade was standing in front of him protectively, Jiraiya and Sandaime following at a more sedate pace.

"Relax boy, I'm not going to take your prize from you." Hanzo snorted mockingly. "Consider it a gift for surviving your first war. Unless of course, you'd prefer something a little more prestigious. Perhaps a title that you can go around bragging about?"

Naruto grit his teeth angrily, yet managed to keep from doing anything stupid like calling Hanzo an asshole. Instead, he kept a firm grip of the rings in his pocket, desperately hoping the man wouldn't suddenly demand to see what he had taken. He might not know what the rings did, but he seriously doubted Konan and one of those "Peins" had been wearing them as a fashion statement.

"Is there something you wanted, Hanzo-dono?" The Sandaime asked calmly as he nonchalantly packed his pipe with tobacco. "Other than taunting a seven-year-old that is?"

Naruto would have grinned at that if not for the fact that the Sandaime was talking about him like he was some kind of child. Well, that, and because for an instant, he could swear he saw Hanzo sincerely considering trying to kill them all. Then Naruto blinked, and whatever he thought he saw was gone from Hanzo's gleaming eyes.

"You may return to Amegakure for the time being. Once you've rested, get out of my country. Tell Danzo that I'll pay him a visit soon enough to fulfill my end of the bargain." That said, Hanzo turned on his heel and strolled off towards a nearby clearing where Hanzo's loyalists were forcing a handful of rebels to their knees while others were forced to watch on.

Naruto seethed in anger as he glared at the retreating legend, only to be yanked back by Tsunade, who once again wrapped her arms around him protectively. Twisting in her arms, Naruto opened his mouth to protest; only to shut it again as he caught sight of the mixed look of hatred and fright the ordinarily fearless woman was sending the retreating legend. Gulping, Naruto didn't resist when Tsunade Shunshined them away.


Suiton: Teppodama no Jutsu=Water Style: Bullet Technique

Hime-sama=I thought this only meant princess, but I've been told it can mean Lady as well. For the purposes of this chapter, I meant it as Lady.

Did I miss any?

AN: I'm so glad to be done with Pein. The more I try to write his character and fighting style, the more I felt like bashing my head against a wall. Particularly since there's no way I can justify him standing much of a chance against Hanzo and company while split up. Tsunade and Konan's fight wasn't much easier, because one is the epitome of close quarters combat, while the other is one of the best long range fighters in the series. Kudos to Kenchi618 for reminding me that the Slugs were pretty underrated by most. Seriously, they can spit acid and multiply to avoid taking damage. Yet we hardly see them take a combat role outside of Katsuya fighting Manda.

How many people either saw Naruto killing Nagato coming, or are pissed off by how it happened? Because honestly, it's hard to justify a crippled guy fighting efficiently, particularly when he's sending his chakra/focusing his efforts on controlling two or three other bodies locked in combat with guys like Jiraiya. Anyway, I'm sure you'll all be curious as to how the death of two of Akatsuki's members -one of whom was the pseudo leader- will have on things to come. All I'll say right now is be patient.

As always, any suggestions would be greatly appreciated, as are any reviews, suggestions, criticisms, etc.

Peace, Vaan.