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Thanks to everyone who read and reviewed despite nearly two years of inactivity. 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. 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 9 of Naruto: the Reckoning.



Reckoning chapter 9

Tsunade couldn't resist peeking into Naruto's room in the hotel Hanzo had so "graciously" allocated them. She let out near silent sigh of relief when she found her son sleeping right where she'd seen him when she checked the last time.

It was taking some effort, but Tsunade was slowly pushing away the terrified paranoia that had been gripping her since Naruto had disappeared after that cave in. After all, despite Danzo's wishes to the contrary, Tsunade was very clear in her love for Naruto even if she'd yet to tell him the truth of their relationship, and even Naruto would notice that she'd been especially clingy since they'd reunited in the caves.

Pushing down the urge to curl up with her sleeping child, Tsunade quietly closed the door and made her way back into the common area of their suite. There she found Jiraiya and Sarutobi-sensei sitting quietly, while Kakashi appeared to be passed out on a nearby couch. Grumbling about lazy Jounin, Tsunade sat down in a comfortable chair that allowed her to keep a close eye on the door to Naruto's room, just in case.

She glanced over at Sarutobi, who looked like he was debating between having a smoke and joining Kakashi in taking a nap, while Jiraiya just stared vacantly into space. That caused Tsunade to remember the severed head sealed away in a scroll in her kunai pouch, and the realization she'd come to as she'd stared at it on the floor of the underground chamber. Specifically, that the red-haired man had been one of those three orphans Jiraiya had trained all those years ago.

She hadn't been certain at first, but the kunoichi she had fought had struck her as vaguely familiar –though at the time Tsunade had been too blinded with rage and anguish at Naruto's seeming death to really notice. Hell, she hadn't even really noticed the redhead at all as she crashed into the chamber; too busy focusing on killing whoever had taken her baby away from her to pay him much attention.

Once she had calmed down and actually studied the man however –mostly out of concern that the Rinnegan he possessed didn't fall into Hanzo's hands- Tsunade could easily see the resemblance between the boy she'd once met, and the withered man Naruto had killed. After all, she could count the number of redheads she'd met after Uzushio's destruction on one hand.

Therein lay the dilemma Tsunade was now facing. How did one go about telling an old friend that you had just killed or helped kill two of their former students? Particularly when Jiraiya obviously still cared about them?

Tsunade glanced towards Naruto's room, once more feeling the urge to run over and the throw the door open and scoop him into her arms. Folding her arms, Tsunade forced herself to look away. She'd just checked on him, and even if she looked again, Naruto would still be there fast asleep. He wouldn't be gone, or hurt, or…

"It doesn't make any sense!" Jiraiya suddenly exclaimed in frustration, breaking her from her thoughts. "The more I think about it, the man I fought couldn't have been Nagato. He was familiar, and when I saw those Rinnegan eyes, I just assumed it was Nagato. Hell, the guy talked to me about things that only Nagato could have known. But not only was the hair color wrong, but I recognize him now as a shinobi from the Fuma clan that I fought years ago!"

"Hanzo did claim that the people who called themselves Pein were often those he'd seen die in the past. And you yourself identified one of them as this "Yahiko" you once trained." Sarutobi-sensei murmured around his pipe. "What I'm more concerned with is the method by which this so-called Pein was able to replicate the Rinnegan. Surely we would have heard about it if there were an entire clan or even family of Rinnegan users?"

"One would expect such a clan would have made themselves known years ago if that were the case." Kakashi drawled tiredly from his couch. "Perhaps this Nagato found some means of cloning or replicating the eyes somehow? Maybe even using them to control the corpses?"

"Which means he must still be alive somewhere!" Jiraiya exclaimed excitedly. "Maybe even Konan as well! I should head back out there while I still can and see if I can track them down. If I hurry, I might be able to convince them to-"

"They're already dead, Jiraiya." Tsunade whispered sympathetically, wincing inside at the way Jiraiya suddenly froze up with look of pain at her words. Forcing herself to move, Tsunade reluctantly removed the scroll from her kunai pouch, wishing that she didn't have to be the one to tell her old friend –or at least, that she could have put it off a little longer.

Opening the scroll, Tsunade unsealed the severed head, regretting that she hadn't thought to clean it off before sealing it away.

Jiraiya turned pale, a look of undisguised pain in his eyes as he stared at the blood splattered head of his former student. After a few moments, Tsunade felt the need to apologize. "I'm sorry, Jiraiya, but I didn't think we should risk Hanzo getting his hands on these eyes. The man's enough of a monster as it is."

"Did…did you have to cut Nagato's head off?" Jiraiya asked sickly as he stared into the Rinnegan eyes of his former student.

Tsunade debated telling him that it was Naruto who killed Nagato, but the last thing she wanted was for Naruto to have that hanging over his head with Jiraiya for the rest of his life. Instead she said, "I'm sorry; his body was hooked up to some kind of mobile throne. I didn't want to risk any of Hanzo's men finding us while I tried to figure out how to remove him."

"…I see." Jiraiya muttered after a moment as he looked away. "Could you…could you seal it away again please? I don't want to…"

Nodding in understanding, Tsunade quickly did as he asked. Hopefully, whatever kind of surveillance Hanzo had on them wouldn't have caught any of that.

"And Konan? Did you kill her as well?" Jiraiya asked as he slumped tiredly in his chair. "Is she sealed in that scroll, just waiting to be dissected and picked apart?"

"You're being too harsh, Jiraiya." Sarutobi-sensei said reproachfully. "Tsunade only did what she had to in order to protect Naruto. Surely you don't blame her for that?"

Tsunade hissed in surprised anger at her old teacher, even as Jiraiya whipped around to stare at Sarutobi in disbelief. "What are you talking about?"

Sarutobi puffed on his pipe for a moment before answering. "Come now, I trained you both better than that. The last I checked, Tsunade doesn't carry a sword or any type of blade really, outside of kunai. Surely you noticed that the cut that severed Nagato's head was far too clean, just a single cut. And while I have no doubt Tsunade could have cut through in one swing, a kunai is simply too short to accomplish that. Naruto on the other hand, is quite the handy little swordsman with that kodachi of his."

Tsunade cringed fearfully, not for herself, but out of worry of how Jiraiya would react to Naruto now that he knew the truth. The two rarely got along as it was, though that was more because of their respective immaturity than anything else.

"Bullshit." Jiraiya said with a frown. "I trained Nagato as a child, and even if he was immobilized, with the Rinnegan he still should have been able to easily overcome Naruto."

"I'm actually a little curious about how Naruto managed to stumble across the leader of the Ame rebels like that." Kakashi added as he actually pulled himself into an upright position. "And I had thought I felt the Kyuubi's chakra during the battle, but I was a little distracted at the time."

Tsunade couldn't resist shrinking back as all three men turned to her questioningly at that. Although she knew intellectually that what happened was simply the chaos of the battlefield, emotionally, Tsunade was terrified that they would condemn her for losing Naruto, and then that they would tell Danzo that she shouldn't be allowed near him, and then they'd take her son from her, and that would be worse than dying. Once more her eyes darted to Naruto's bedroom, now contemplating grabbing her son and just running to the ends of the earth, before she forced herself to relax.

"There was a cave in." Tsunade began, explaining how she and Naruto had been separated and then what came after. Oh, she left out a good deal, like how frantically she had searched for him, the terror that had slowly consumed her the longer he was out of her sight. She told them how she felt the Kyuubi's chakra and used that to find Naruto, though she left out the part about those Ame kids she had almost killed in a fit of sheer paranoia, and that she had recklessly crashed through wall after wall in her desire to reach her son.

She told them about how the Kyuubi's chakra suddenly just disappeared, and how when she entered the chamber, it was to see Naruto lying unmoving on the floor before Nagato and Konan. Tsunade didn't feel the need to explain what she was feeling in that moment as she stared at the apparent killers of her son, though she did let Jiraiya know that she hadn't recognized the two at that time. Tsunade didn't know if that would help sooth her old teammate or not, but she felt the need to at least try.

Jiraiya listened to the story of Tsunade's battle with Konan with a sort of resigned interest, as equally curious about Nagato's odd throne like chair as he was in the redhead's inaction during the brief battle. Yet there was no hiding his flinch when Tsunade got to the part where Naruto announced his survival by cutting off Nagato's head. From there, her story became a little more unclear, as Tsunade had honestly been all but consumed by her raging emotions at the sight of her little boy alive and well. It took that bitch Konan attacking him to get her to move again, crossing the chamber in an instant to deliver a backhand that literally knocked the Ame kunoichi into the cave wall. Tsunade once again left out how she had experienced a slight breakdown in her sheer euphoria, descending on Naruto with a liberal smothering of hugs, kisses, scolding, and praises.

Finally, she told them how Naruto had spoken of the man's Dojutsu, and what he had overheard regarding Nagato's "Paths" and their mentioning of Jiraiya as their teacher, and everything had finally come together in Tsunade's mind.

When she finished, the group sat in silence for a moment as they each contemplated what they now knew of Nagato.

"Fascinating…" Sarutobi muttered thoughtfully around his pipe. "I imagine Nagato's death likely coincided with the longhaired Pein's sudden collapse."

"Collapse?" Kakashi blinked in surprise. "I thought you crushed his skull?"

"I did." Sarutobi nodded agreeably. "After he collapsed. The question is, what do those strange piercings have to do with the process? Even the real Nagato had them, though from your description of them, they were far larger than any simple facial piercing."

"I found a strange rod in the chamber." Tsunade offered. "Naruto-chan said the rod just barely scratched him, yet it forced his chakra and muscles to freeze up. That's actually what made me think he'd-" Tsunade broke off with a slight shudder and pointedly did not look towards Naruto's room, before continuing. "I also managed to get a couple of piercings from the one Jiraiya fought. They seem to be made out of the same material as the rod, but I'll need to actually run some tests on them to know more."

Silence fell once again as Sarutobi returned to his pipe, and Kakashi flopped back down and dropped off to sleep once again. Tsunade was more concerned with how withdrawn Jiraiya had become, a pained look on his face as he stared off into space.

"Jiraiya I-"

"It's alright, Tsunade." Jiraiya interrupted quietly. "It's not Naruto's fault. Nagato made his choices, and I can't blame Naruto for defending himself. Nor you for protecting your son."

Tsunade sat upright in shock as her eyes darted to Kakashi's sleeping form and back with an outraged glare.

"He knows, Tsunade." Jiraiya continued before she could tear into him. "He confronted me the night Hanzo called you out. He's angry that no one ever told him about the pregnancy. Or the birth for that matter. But he's with us nonetheless."

Tsunade sat back with a tired sigh, covering her eyes with a hand in exasperation. Kakashi "joining them" was the first real progress they'd made in getting Naruto out from under Danzo's thumb in years. A part of Tsunade was truly beginning to fear that they'd never succeed.

Naruto watched curiously from the shadows of his hotel room as the assembled Ame shinobi murmured below. Obviously it wasn't the entirety of Amegakure down there yet there still had to be at least two thousand ninja down there. The square his room overlooked was to be the setting for Hanzo's "Reunification" speech. Several days had passed since Pein's defeat, and Hanzo had been hard at work doing...something important. Naruto didn't know what it was for sure, but felt that it must be something grand to be Hanzo's work.

The crowd below was a mixture of loyal and... well, some not so loyal Ame ninja. Not all were rebels to be sure, but when Pein began his uprising, many shinobi had fled the Village in the hope that they could simply sit out the latest of Amegakure's many wars. A dangerous thought to be sure, as there was no guarantee the victors of the civil war would be forgiving, yet it seemed to have paid off as Hanzo had essentially granted amnesty to all those who returned and swore allegiance to him...again.

Naruto silently applauded Hanzo for his mercy, regardless of the legend's motivations for such a generous act. He knew he could never be so forgiving of those who abandoned him and his Village. Then again, maybe that was why Hanzo was a great leader and he was just...Naruto. He was drawn from his thoughts by a low buzz moving through the crowd below. Staring down, he noticed that all of the Ame nin were gazing at the balcony on the ornate building directly across from his room. Slowly making his way out onto the balcony was Sanshouo no Hanzo.

The legendary Salamander summoner made his way to a podium set just short of the balcony's edge, the crowd falling eerily silent at his appearance. Naruto watched interestedly as the man placed his hands on the podium, leaning against it as if bearing a great weight on his shoulders, before breaking his silence.

"My people," Hanzo began in a tired, solemn rasp, even as he stood upright. "Proud Shinobi of Amegakure. For many years, we have been a broken nation." He gestured to the Village, battle damage old and new evident across the great city.

Without warning, his voice suddenly gained strength, anger, and other emotions that Naruto couldn't even begin to identify. "Shunned! Oppressed! And conquered by the very tyrants we sought to escape!" It didn't escape Naruto's notice when the legend pounded on his podium once before pointing north as he spoke of the "Tyrants". North towards Tsuchi no Kuni.

"Ten years ago, I asked for time. And that time was granted by you." He continued with pride as he gestured to the assembled ninja. "You, the strength in my arm." Hanzo proclaimed as he raised one of his fists into the air before reaching up with his other as if supporting something. "The holders of my dreams."

"Our forefathers embarked on one of the greatest endeavors in the history of mankind. An endeavor for freedom. Amegakure no Sato became that freedom! After the Second Great Shinobi War, our enemies thought they had weakened us, driven us to despair, and poverty. But in fact, we were growing… stronger." Hanzo spoke with a quiet pride now, as he looked over his followers. After a short pause to allow them to reminisce on their once glorious past, he continued with growing power and emotion.

"In the time you have given me, I have rebuilt our nation. I have rebuilt our strength. And I have rebuilt our pride! Our enemies at home have been reeducated. We have given them new insights into our cause." Hanzo again paused to allow his people to reflect on the fate of those who had challenged his rule before continuing. "On this day, we stand united once more. On this day, those driven to divide us, will hear our voice!" Again, he pointed north as he continued. "From this day forward, we shall act as one! And we will be ignored no more!"

Naruto could barely breath he was so entranced by Hanzo's speech. Even the man's own followers were gazing on the legendary man in pride, reverence, and awe. Some of these men and women had fought against Hanzo in the past, yet they still gazed almost lovingly at him. The whole assembly seemed to lean forward unperceptively, yet obviously, if such a thing were possible, waiting expectantly for their leader's next words.

"Defenders of Ame no Kuni," Hanzo began ominously before gesturing once again with a loud proclamation. "Now is, OUR TIME!"

The crowd burst into thunderous roars of approval as hundreds of hitae-ate were proudly thrust into the air and waved back and forth. Naruto looked on in amazement and slight apprehension as the last he saw of Hanzo, as the man backed away was his eerie, black eyes shining impossibly before the shadows covered him once more.

Naruto would stay at that window for the rest of the night, watching the village of Amegakure celebrate late into the night, barely noticing or registering Kakashi when he came to inform him of the plans to leave early the next morning. All he could think about were those eyes and the fear they instilled in him. He didn't know how or why...but something about those eyes told him that they, that even Danzo-sama, had made a terrible mistake.

A little over a week after Hiruzen and his team returned with news of the end of the Amegakure Civil War, Danzo was sitting at a table in one of the Hokage Tower's few meeting rooms, silently studying those around him. To his right, were the Yondaime Kazekage and one of his bodyguards, a Jounin in his late twenties by the name of Baki. The Kage was dressed in his formal robes, including the hat and that ridiculous veil of his. Baki was dressed in the standard Suna Jounin uniform, with the only difference being the veil that hid the left side of his face from view. The Jounin held himself with calm professionalism, barely a hint of his discontent showing through to the surface.

Danzo knew that neither Suna nin were happy to be there, in the heart of one of their "formerly" bitter enemy's territory. Yet they really didn't have a choice but to answer his summons, such was the recent depletion of their power. As Danzo understood it, their Daimyo was far from happy at the fiasco Suna had helped cause during the Third Great War, and as such had severely cut back on their funding as punishment.

Ordinarily, any of the Great Villages could function for several years without their Daimyo's funding, just by using their own treasury and the funds brought in from clients. Unfortunately for Suna, between the reparations they were forced to pay after the end of the war, attempting to rebuild their forces, and the loss of respect and clients that came from their own Daimyo refusing their services, they quickly exhausted their funding, and as such, the number of shinobi they could produce and their ability to project strength was severely depleted. In all likelihood, Suna would have already collapsed from lack of money were it not for their Kazekage's, and the man had almost singlehandedly funded Suna with his abilities these past few years.

In short, it was only their alliance with Konoha that was deterring one of the other Villages from attacking. While the Suna shinobi were still powerful, the current situation was making them look weak. And that was often all it would take for a rival Village to attack. As such, they couldn't afford to do anything that would jeopardize their "alliance".

Danzo knew this, and he had every intention of exploiting it. All he had to do was offer them what they wanted most.

Glancing over to his left, he observed his more trusted allies. The Taisho Jounin of Takigakure, Shibuku and his body guard -a Jounin by the name of Suien- were positioned to his immediate left. The only reason why Konoha's oldest ally wasn't seated to Danzo's right was because of the Kazekage's presence.

Shibuku was a dark haired man with a goatee, dressed in simple, dark shinobi clothing, forgoing even a vest in favor of his simple attire. He had a friendly smile on his face as he sipped on some tea and patiently awaited the start of the meeting.

His bodyguard on the other hand was a near complete opposite. The Jounin had long, grey hair that was held back by his hitae-ate that he wore as a bandanna. His face was set in a perpetual scowl, and he wore a Taki Jounin vest with extended shoulder pads rather than the more common version. Whereas Shibuku sipped his tea patiently, Suien was constantly scanning the room impatiently.

Turning his eye to the other side of the table, directly in front of him was Hanzo himself. The man had arrived earlier that day with over a score of his personal bodyguard, demanding entrance so that he could "get this over with". Danzo had of course, personally greeted the man and escorted him and his men to a hotel that was booked out just for them.

When they parted, Danzo had expected the man to clean up before following his escort to the Hokage Tower. Instead, Hanzo had shown up in his battle uniform, looking like he'd just stepped off the battlefield prior to arriving. Which, given Ame no Kuni's recent troubles, was probably fairly accurate. Likely an attempt at cowing or at the very least reminding the gathered leaders of Hanzo's skill and power. Behind Hanzo was another one of his unnamed Jounin bodyguards, who stood stoically without focusing his eyes on anything around him.

The final man at the table was a Kusa Jounin by the name of Jinkomaru. Jinkomaru was there representing the Jounin Council of Kusa, the ruling body of Kusagakure. Unlike other Hidden Villages, Kusa possessed no one leader, instead allowing every Jounin ranked shinobi to partake in a "democracy" of sorts. This Council operated by popular vote, deciding on all things from which clients to accept, to which shinobi was most suited to a particular task. The day to day operations of the Village were usually assigned to Special Jounin by the Council, or in the more sensitive positions, to members of the Council itself.

In this case, Jinkomaru was "selected" to represent Kusagakure at this meeting, with another Jounin named Hideki as his "bodyguard". The nondescript Kusa nin did little to hide his distaste of Konoha, but everyone knew that they had no choice but to go along with this meeting. It was currently Konoha's will that kept Kusa no Kuni in existence, and they could just as easily will it out of existence.

Granted, they were only in that position because of Konoha in the first place. The history books written since the end of the Third Great Shinobi War often labeled Konoha and Kusa as allies throughout the war, even crediting Konoha with coming to Kusa's defense against the Iwa onslaught. The truth of course, was far different.

Konoha and Kusa may have been fighting the same enemy, but that no more made them allies then Suna and Konoha both fighting Iwa did, or Iwa and Konoha both fighting Suna, or Suna and Iwa both fighting Konoha. Although, officially Kusa and Konoha had never fought each other in that war, so perhaps the claim that they were allies held a little more water.

Kusa no Kuni was once a powerful nation itself in the early years of the Hidden Villages, and even up until the outbreak of the Third Great War, they had remained a stable and self-sufficient nation- if not a particularly wealthy one.

Ironically, Kusagakure no Sato wasn't actually founded in the manner of other Hidden Villages until the outbreak of the First Shinobi World War. Before then, the many shinobi clans of Kusa no Kuni had roamed across the nation, each clan responsible for maintaining peace and order in their respective territories, alongside the Legion of the Wall, Kusa no Kuni's small but elite Samurai core.

Back then, Kusagakure no Sato was little more than a supply depot, as well as a meeting place for the various leaders of the clans to gather when necessary to share any intelligence they acquired, while allowing the Kusa Daimyo and other clients a way to get in contact with them. This practice ended with the First Great War, as the individual clans were unable to effectively repel the more unified and regimented forces of the Hidden Villages that attacked them. By the end of the war, the remnants of Kusa's battered Shinobi clans finally came together to reside solely in Kusagakure.

In the decades since then, the shinobi of Kusa came to be renowned for two things. One was their unrivaled use of poisons, the other their diplomatic ability to read the political landscape and act accordingly. This was seen most prominently just before the start of the Third Great War.

The shinobi of Kusa accurately predicted not only the war's outbreak, but also that Iwa would attack them. They responded by abandoning Kusagakure in secret and forming a defensive line with the Legion of the Wall in the north, so when Iwa launched their "surprise attack" Kusa was ready. Though the Iwa/Tsuchi forces were eventually able to break through the Kusa defensive line, they wasted a great deal of time, resources, and effort reaching Kusagakure only to find the Village empty, save for numerous poison gas traps that claimed the lives of hundreds of Iwa Shinobi before they could evacuate.

The Kusa nin then broke apart into countless raiding parties and guerrilla cells, numbering anywhere from dozens to one or two hundred ninja, who utilized the hidden fortresses still maintained by the clans throughout Kusa no Kuni and the pre-seeded supply caches that were set up just before the invasion –although as the years went by and those caches were depleted, Kusa foragers were seen as little better than the Tsuchi/Iwa occupiers by the people of Kusa no Kuni- in order to cause havoc to the invaders. The Kusa ninja's attacks and raids caused severe damage to Tsuchi's armies throughout the years of the war, preventing the Iwa led offensive from penetrating any further into Hi no Kuni than it already had.

Indeed, the reason why the Kannabi Bridge was so important to Iwa, and why its destruction helped end the war, was because most of the other numerous bridges crisscrossing Kusa no Kuni had already been sabotaged, dismantled, or rigged with explosives by the Kusa shinobi earlier in the war, often before the Iwa forces even reached them. Even when all of Kusa no Kuni was under occupation for years, Tsuchi's Samurai and Shinobi armies were still suffering heavy casualties from Kusagakure guerilla attacks and sabotage. Even with Minato's Hiraishin, it was likely the actions of the Kusa Shinobi that allowed Konoha to turn the tide as they had.

Of course, when the war finally ended Hi no Kuni couldn't resist making an attempt at seizing the weakened Kusa no Kuni. Though the western half of Kusa no Kuni and a good deal of the north was able to prevent this due to the heavy presence of its Shinobi forces –who took far fewer casualties compared to the two Great Villages who had warred across their lands- much of eastern and southern Kusa no Kuni was quickly occupied.

During the negotiations following the end of the war, Kusa's young Daimyo was forced to consent to the loss of territory, as well as to disband the remnants of the Legion of the Wall. Without the nation's elite Samurai core, the policing and guard duties -along with every other aspect of Kusa no Kuni's defensive forces- were relegated to the Kusa Shinobi, who while relatively intact following the war, frankly lacked the numbers to take on all of the responsibilities of both a Hidden Village, and the Samurai clans, while still being able to rival another nation. This kept Kusa from ever attempting to retake their lost territory, or attacking any of their other neighbors, leaving them dependent on Konoha to help deter invasion. Particularly since so much of Kusagakure's attention had to be focused on their western provinces which they had opportunistically claimed from Ame no Kuni during the Second Great Shinobi War. As one of Hanzo's weaker neighbors, Kusa lived in constant fear that the legendary shinobi might decide to "unify" their two nations.

So yes, Kusagakure was very resentful of Konoha. In point of fact, they hated Konoha almost as much as Iwa and Suna did. That Jinkomaru was able to mask all of that hatred and resentment as mere distaste was a credit to Kusagakure's almost unreadable face. However, unknown to most in the room -but not Danzo- the "bodyguard" Hideki was actually the sole Kage-level ninja Kusagakure had to offer, and as such possessed great sway over the Village. It was no doubt he, who was the actual representative of Kusagakure no Sato.

'A more diverse gathering of shinobi outside of battle has never been seen. And considering almost all of us hate all of the others, the fact that we aren't killing each other is a diplomatic miracle.' Danzo mused wryly as Hanzo finally lost patience.

"Enough waiting, Danzo-dono. Why have you called us here?" the Ame leader growled through his helmet like rebreather.

"Of course, Hanzo-dono." he agreed amicably. "That is, if everyone else is ready to begin?" He received a round of nods and agreements, prompting him to proceed. He'd have to be extremely careful, as today would alter the course of history, one way or another. "Friends of old, allies of Konoha." he began formally. "You have been called here by treaty and by agreement, to fulfill your vows, and to answer a great threat to all of our lands." He paused there to subtly take in their reactions.

Hanzo looked bored, Jinkomaru wary, Shibuku attentive, and the Kazekage, while still tense, looked oddly interested. No doubt he was hoping for a way he could benefit from this. Luckily for Danzo, he intended to give him one.

"As you know, Hi no Kuni is at war with Kaminari, specifically due to Kumo's treacherous actions. What you don't know, is that my shinobi will be invading Kaminari in less than a month. The Samurai of Hi no Kuni will be close behind." Danzo informed them quietly. It was quite the risk to inform them of his plans, but he was certain that what he would offer them today would be enough to sway them to his cause. If not then things would quickly grow…complicated.

"Pardon me, Hokage-dono." Shibuku interrupted politely. "But while we will of course aid you in your war, there is only so much we can do. Kumo is far from our lands, and we cannot weaken ourselves so much as to fully commit ourselves to this fight, while Oath Breakers and aggressors remain so much closer to our borders."

"I understand completely, Shibuku-dono, and I'm grateful for your support." Danzo nodded graciously. "However, I have no intention of asking any of you to fight so far from your homes. Instead, I ask that all of you work together to deter another threat."

"How long do you plan to drag this out, Hokage-dono?" The Kazekage asked irritably. "I know you have something planned, so why don't you just come out and say it?"

He had to work not to scowl as he was interrupted once again before reminding himself that this wasn't a crowd he could play with a moving speech. With the exception of Jinkomaru, these men were all veteran leaders and Shinobi, and as such would not easily be moved by speeches. So perhaps it was foolish of him to try to sway them with simple words.

"Very well then, Kazekage-dono." He agreed with a nod. "Then I'll speak plainly. I want your four nations to invade Tsuchi no Kuni." That got their attention.

"What nonsense are you spouting!?" Jinkomaru gave a startled yelp. "What possible reason would we have to do that?"

"To prevent Iwa from attacking Konoha, of course." Was the nonchalant answer given by Hanzo of all people. "It's part of the reason why Konoha hasn't attacked Kumo yet. They don't want to leave their flank exposed to a surprise attack from Iwa, and Onoki is just the kind of bastard who'd take any advantage to expand and weaken his enemies that he could."

"But tell me, Hokage-dono." The Kazekage added. "How would drawing Iwa into a war benefit you? You'd still have to fight on two fronts."

"True enough," Danzo admitted. "If I planned to draw them into the war." He watched the subtle looks of confusion pass over the faces he could see before continuing. "Two days prior to the invasion of Kaminari, the shinobi of Suna, Ame, Kusa, and Taki will move into southern Tsuchi no Kuni and claim it as their own -peacefully of course- as part of the agreement with the Tsuchikage to lessen tensions with the nations who suffered due to the Third Great Shinobi War."

"And when, pray tell, did these talks take place?" The Kazekage asked with amusement in his voice and dancing in his eyes.

"Well, let's say two months ago." Danzo replied with a light smirk. "The Daimyo of Tsuchi will be furious of course, but with the word of the leaders of four nations against his –even more impressive that these nations have never worked together before- Onoki will be hard pressed to defend himself. If he claims that he knows nothing of his "agreement" then it will appear as if he was trying to shift the blame off himself. If he attempts to push any one of you out of Tsuchi, the others will attack his flanks, as punishment for his "blatant betrayal of the treaty". If he attempts to push all of you out at once, he will spread his forces too thin, and invite international condemnation and punishment for his "war mongering" actions. Something that his neighbors in Ishigakure and Hoshigakure will be eager to take part in if it meant breaking Iwa."

"And what happens when Onoki decides to cut through Kusa no Kuni, the weakest of our nations? Even if they leave behind a large portion of their forces to defend against the rest of us, it would still take them only a few days for a Samurai and Shinobi army to sweep through and into Hi no Kuni." Hanzo rasped with those gleaming eyes of his.

"I'll keep a reserve force here in Konoha, in case that happens. We'll reinforce the Kusa nin, and then strike back with the aid of your nations." Danzo explained easily. "Though I doubt that will be necessary. After all, such an attack would leave them up against Sanshouo no Hanzo and his summons." Here he nodded to Hanzo respectfully. "The Kazekage and his Ichibi Jinchuuriki." He sent the startled Kage a subtle smirk.

"A nation that has never been successfully invaded, the Shichibi Jinchuuriki, and the legendary Hero's Water." Shibuku mused with a rueful smile. "My apologies, Hokage-dono. I didn't mean to steal your thunder."

"That's quite all right, Shibuku-dono." Danzo chuckled good-naturedly. "But the only real weak point is -as Hanzo-dono pointed out- Kusa no Kuni. That's why cooperation between us all will be essential. Onoki must realize that we are working together, without being able to prove it. The true goal of this is not to provoke Onoki into war. It is to force him to do nothing, which will further convince the Daimyo of Tsuchi no Kuni that his Hidden Village is running their own foreign policy behind his back. The distrust will weaken Iwa further, which will only aid us."

"What of Iwa's own Jinchuuriki?" The Kazekage enquired cautiously. "As I recall, they possess two of them." Danzo didn't fail to notice how carefully the man avoided mentioning how young his own Jinchuuriki was. Even Naruto was older than the Ichibi Jinchuuriki.

"Roushi, the Yonbi Jinchuuriki left Iwa some time ago. Why the Tsuchikage allowed this, I don't know. The Gobi, a young man by the name of Han, remains in the village, but beyond him and Onoki? Iwa has yet to replace the many powerful Jounin they lost during the last Great War and as such have few that they could afford to send against your own. Besides, once Kumo has been dealt with, Konoha can send our own Jinchuuriki to aid you if necessary." Danzo explained, only to blink in surprise as Hanzo snorted in disdain.

"Jinchuuriki!" his raspy sneer filled the room. "Your obsession with those abominations is pathetic!"

Shibuku's tea cup cracked and shattered as he quietly stated. "Jinchuuriki are not their Bijuu. They are no different from the rest of us."

"What kind of fool do you take me for?" Hanzo asked mockingly. "I know they aren't the demons within them, but that doesn't change the fact that their creation is an atrocious act. An affront to nature itself! The Bijuu are forces of nature, yet you fools constantly attempt to do as you please with them. And then you always choose some child to serve as the host. If you fools were really so righteous, you'd sacrifice yourselves to become Jinchuuriki. Better were the days when a Village's strength and prestige were earned by its shinobi rather than their weapons."

Feeling the tension in the room skyrocketing, Danzo quickly intervened. "We are not here to debate philosophy or the internal workings of our Villages." Turning to the Ame leader, Danzo continued. "Hanzo-dono, will you consent to this plan, despite the usage of Jinchuuriki?"

"Of course." Hanzo snorted once again. "I refuse to owe a debt to anyone, let alone you."

Danzo almost sighed in relief at that. Losing Hanzo after all of his efforts would have been disastrous to his plans. In point of fact, just having Hanzo's support would make the others that much willing to go along with his scheme. Turning his eye over the others, he asked. "What say the rest of you?"

"Need you ask, Hokage-dono?" Shibuku asked with a wry smile.

"I need to hear some more details first." the Kazekage proclaimed. "Yet you have my interest, and my tentative support."

"I can't agree to this. What possible reason would Kusa have to get involved in something like this?" Jinkomaru growled. "You even admit that my nation will become the battleground if anything goes wrong, so why should I agree?"

"If it is war you fear, Jinkomaru-san." Shibuku spoke calmly –and subtly reminding the Kusa Jounin of his relative status compared to the others present. "Then refusing will surely bring it upon you."

"Is that a threat?" The Kusa nin growled as he and his comrade tensed.

"No, it is simply the truth of things." Shibuku answered as if he was chiding an unruly child. "If Kusa does not stand with us, then Iwa will only have more incentive to go through Kusa no Kuni in order to reach Konoha. The only way to avoid this is to work with us."

"Well said, Shibuku-dono." Danzo agreed before continuing. "And as for what you'll gain…a one hundred mile chunk of territory along your northern border might not be the greatest reward, but then again, all you have to do in return is hold that land, and present a united front with Taki, Ame, and Suna. The rest will take care of itself."

Jinkomaru scowled for a moment, and looked like he was going to object once again, only to freeze as Hideki place a hand on his shoulder. "Remember Jinkomaru, we are here only to represent Kusagakure. The decision ultimately lies with the Jounin Council."

Jinkomaru visibly grit his teeth as he bit out, "You're right of course, Hideki-san. We must return to Kusagakure and inform the others of the Hokage's…generous offer."

With that, the Kusa Jounin turned and left the room, but not before Hideki gave the others a slight nod.

Fighting the urge to grin at the subtle agreement of Kusagakure's strongest Jounin, he wasn't surprised when the Kazekage spoke up. "So what will we gain from this, Hokage-dono?" He asked with a calculative look in his eyes. "After all, you can't expect us to risk defying our Daimyo, not to mention our own military power, based solely on your wishes and some ink on a piece of paper?"

Shibuku gained an insulted look at that, yet Danzo intervened before anything could come of it. "Of course, Kazekage-dono. After all, I did promise it would be worth your while." Danzo agreed amicably. "Suna will be able to show the world that they are still a great power, and while Kaze won't gain a great deal of land in Tsuchi, what land you will gain is quite rich in mineral resources. Of course, during negotiations with the Tsuchikage, you were able to get him to consent to your...annexation...of Tori no Kuni. The nation might be small, yet they are quite wealthy. Wealthy enough to refill quite a few of your coffers. And if your Daimyo demands that you hand over control of Tori to one of his other vassals? Well, you will of course follow orders and withdraw your shinobi from Tori to assist in "administering" Kaze's new territory. If someone from Tori happens to steal a great deal of their treasury before the Kaze Samurai arrive? Well, you can hardly be blamed for following orders."

Though he couldn't see it, Danzo was sure the Kazekage smirked beneath his veil. "I think we understand each other, Hokage-dono. Although, I am curious." He said as he glanced over at Hanzo. "What does Ame gain from this?"

"You mean besides reclaiming a mineral rich portion of land from Tsuchi thieves?" Hanzo rasped with a shrug. "I could always use more slave labor."

After a few more minutes, the Kazekage and Hanzo also left with promises to be prepared by the set date. This left Danzo and Shibuku alone with their respective bodyguards.

"Suien, could you leave us alone for a while?" Shibuku ordered politely. "I wish to speak to the Hokage in private."

"Of course, Shibuku-sama." Suien acquiesced.

"Leave us, Torune." Danzo ordered his own guard, who promptly departed with Suien.

Once they were alone, they both sat silently, calmly sipping their tea. It was Shibuku who finally broke the silence. "You know there is no need for this, Hokage-dono. Taki keeps its Oaths, and as such, there is no need for bribes." Shibuku pointed out quietly yet with unmistakable strength in his voice. "Many of my people would find a conversation such as this insulting."

"I assure you, it is not my intention to bribe or insult you." Danzo said reassuringly. "I merely wish to see Konoha's oldest ally prosper and flourish. Especially after all your people have done for mine."

"Such sentiments are appreciated, yet unnecessary." Shibuku replied with a slight smile.

"Yet I would give them nonetheless." Was Danzo's rebuttal. "Unlike the land the others stand to gain, the part of Tsuchi that borders Taki is a desolate wasteland. It seems only fitting that Konoha aids you in another way."

"And what way is that?" Shibuku asked curiously.

Leaning towards him, Danzo put some carefully crafted emotion in his tone as he proclaimed. "In the reclaiming of Ishi no Kuni!"

That got the Taki nin's attention as he scowled angrily at the mere mention of that nation.

Shortly after the First Great Shinobi War, Iwagakure had sponsored and supported an uprising in what was then eastern Taki. An uprising that pitted those daimyo loyal to the Royal Family and the Shinobi of Takigakure in the west, against the rebels and traitors in the east. With the ninja of Takigakure weakened by the First Great War, the rebellion succeeded in splitting Taki in two, the densely forested Taki, and the mountainous Ishi.

Of course, while the mountainous Ishi did possess significant mineral resources, they were in no way rich enough to do more than hold onto their current territory, let alone attempt to complete their takeover of Taki, even with Iwa's support.

The much more resource abundant Taki on the other hand, once it had replenished it Shinobi and Samurai forces, was more than capable of retaking Ishi. Unfortunately for Taki, by the time they deemed themselves ready, the Second Great Shinobi War had broken out. And with the Third War breaking out less than a decade after the Second ended...well, reclaiming Ishi just kept getting pushed back, much to the anger of Taki no Kuni.

"When?" Was all Shibuku asked.

"As soon as Kumo is defeated." He answered. "Once my forces return to Hi no Kuni, Iwa won't dare attempt to aid their "stone cousins" when you reclaim the land."

Shibuku remained silent for a while, before quietly asking, "What of the Oath Breakers?"

Danzo didn't need to ask to know who he was talking about. "The internal policies of Taki no Kuni are not mine to make."

Shibuku smiled again, though this smile was neither polite nor friendly. It was a vicious, predatory smile, one that Danzo mirrored as his plans came together.

"You seem distracted, Naruto-kun." Ebisu-sensei's voice shook Naruto from his thoughts with a start. "Is there something bothering you?"

For a moment, Naruto fidgeted, looking anywhere but at Ebisu-sensei so he wouldn't see the look of disappointment that his teacher was surely sending at him. He'd never been particularly good at hiding things from his teacher, and despite searching for any way he could avoid answering the man, when he finally spoke the words just poured out. "I didn't do very well in Ame." That was not what he had intended to say, yet the floodgates might as well have been thrown open because the words just kept coming. "I kept screwing up, and Tsunade had to save me twice, and then I got lost of all things, and how come I've never been taught how to navigate underground, and I almost died a bunch of times, and Hanzo kept looking at me and-" Naruto snapped his mouth shut, feeling his cheeks burning at babbling at his sensei like that. Surely his sensei was embarrassed to have taught him if he was still chattering away like an overexcited child.

So he was surprised when his sensei moved around the low table to sit next to him with a comforting hand on his shoulder. "So you feel you did not perform adequately in Ame no Kuni?" Ebisu asked with a rueful snort. "I sometimes forget how young you truly are, Naruto-kun."

Naruto's head snapped up to protest that he was not young, only to be interrupted as his teacher continued. "That's not an insult, Naruto-kun. Merely an acknowledgment of a fact that even the Godaime forgets at times." Ebisu fixed him with a look that demanded attention, and so Naruto reluctantly refrained from defending the Godaime. "Tell me Naruto-kun, how many missions have you received since you became a shinobi?"

Naruto blinked at the sudden change of topic. "Just the one in Ame no Kuni, sensei." Naruto answered; slightly confused as to why Ebisu would ask a question he already knew the answer to.

"Yes, just one." Ebisu agreed with a nod. "Your very first mission, something every young ninja looks forward to with excitement. And most are rather disappointed with the D-rank missions that they start off with. You on the other hand, were sent out of the Village, to a foreign country, to help end a Shinobi civil war. An S-rank mission, when most your age haven't even left the Academy yet. That was your first mission. In all honesty, you shouldn't have been called on for such a task so early in your career."

Naruto scowled at that, yet Ebisu once again overrode him before he could try to object. "So, while on your first mission -as a Genin no less- you were sent to take part in a civil war in one of the most war-torn nations on the continent, and you're upset that you didn't perform flawlessly? Having high standards isn't a bad thing Naruto-kun, but unfounded arrogance most certainly is."

"But I'm Konoha's Jinchuuriki!" Naruto protested with a hint of frustrated despair. "I'm supposed to be better than this! Everyone is counting on me to protect Konoha, and to keep everyone safe! The mission in Ame was of critical importance, and I was such a burden that Tsunade had to go out of her way to protect me!"

For his part, Ebisu just sat quietly throughout his explosion, before suddenly asking, "Naruto-kun, do you remember Konoha's mission ranking system? Specifically, the difference between D and S-rank missions?"

Naruto blinked yet again, before automatically reciting, "Konoha's mission ranking system is divided into difficulty ranks of S, A, B, C and D and then given to ninja based on their ability. The easiest and least deadly jobs are given to Genin, and are labeled D-Rank. The D-Rank missions also help to build teamwork skills among the new Ninja Academy graduates. D-Ranks are therefore non-combat with low pay. S-ranks on the other hand are the highest ranked and most dangerous missions, given only to Jounin. These missions include assassination of important persons, transporting classified documents and materials. With the extreme danger comes a very high rate of pay."

Ebisu nodded approvingly. "Good, so you haven't forgotten. For a moment there, I'd feared you had received some sort of head trauma on your mission. So, just to clarify, S-rank missions are only given to Jounin or teams of Jounin, yes? And as a Genin, you should have been given mostly D-rank missions?"

Naruto sighed as he ran a hand through his hair. Ebisu-sensei was usually pretty smart, so it was irritating that he seemed to keep missing the crux of the issue. "But I'm not just a Genin. I'm the Kyuubi Jinchuuriki and-"

"Stop using that as a crutch." Ebisu interrupted sternly. "Being a Jinchuuriki does not make you a Jounin, nor does it make you as capable as one. It doesn't even make you a shinobi. It is simply a part of you, just as your blond hair is, or your blue eyes. One part of the whole that makes you who you are."

Naruto looked up at his teacher uncertainly. Ever since he'd first learned what he was, Naruto's status as a Jinchuuriki had been the focal point of his life. It was what made him unique, and gave him a purpose. What else was he if not Konoha's greatest weapon?

As if he could read him mind, Ebisu smiled reassuringly. "I've never met anyone who already knew their place in the world, and their responsibility to it by the time they were seven-years-old, Naruto-kun. I'll be twenty-two soon, and even I am still searching for my place. Teaching is something I love doing, but it doesn't make me who I am. I'm also a fairly decent sketch artist, yet that doesn't define me."

Naruto nodded hesitantly, understanding some of what his teacher was saying, but still experiencing some doubts. "…but I screwed up the mission…"

"And that will be a learning experience, if you let it. Or it will destroy you, if you choose to let it. No one can force you to do one or the other." Ebisu replied as he stood up once more. "My own teacher once told me, 'If you can do something perfect once, you should be able to do it every time'. In this respect, my sensei was a fool. Nothing ever happens exactly the same way after all, and what was perfect in one situation, may be disastrous in another. Someday perhaps, you'll be expected to perform flawlessly. Until then, accept your mistakes for what they are and strive to prevent them from happening again. As your teacher, I can quite confidently say that I'm pleased with your performance on the mission. You survived an S-rank, and helped ensure that it was a success. I'm given to understand that you even killed the rebel leader, something that even Hanzo himself had been unable to do by that point. I don't know any other Genin who could make such a claim."

"Yes sensei." Naruto nodded with a small smile, feeling at least a little reassured that his sensei at least seemed pleased with his progress.

"I agree." Naruto jumped slightly and whirled around to see the Godaime Hokage approaching them. "According to the others, you performed quite well Naruto-kun, especially when this was only supposed to be a means of giving you some combat experience. I most certainly did not expect you to take on and defeat the rebel leader himself." Danzo continued as Naruto quickly stood to bow alongside his sensei. "You've exceeded my expectations completely, Naruto-kun, and it gives me great pleasure to present you with this."

Naruto's eyes widened in surprise as an Anbu appeared next to the Hokage, handing a Chuunin flak jacket to Danzo, who in turn presented it to Naruto.

"Naruto Uzumaki, know that reposing special trust and confidence in your fidelity and abilities, I hereby promote to the rank of Chuunin. As such, do you vow to carefully and diligently discharge the duties of the rank to which you have been appointed by doing and performing all manner of things thereunto pertaining?"

Wide-eyed, Naruto swallowed as he accepted the flak jacket and answered, "I do."

The Hokage nodded, before continuing on with the ceremony. "And I do strictly charge and require all personnel of lesser rank to render obedience to appropriate orders. You are to observe and follow such orders and directions as may be given from time to time by Superiors acting according to the rules and articles governing the discipline of the Shinobi of Konohagakure no Sato." That said, the Godaime smiled lightly and reached out a hand to clasp him on the shoulder. "You've done well, Naruto-kun. Konoha is proud of you. Go ahead and try it on."

Naruto gave a start at that, before hurriedly slipping the vest on and zipping it up. It was heavier than he'd expected, even fitted for his size as it was. Of course, while he knew there was supposed to be a layer of chainmail in between the layers of tightly woven fiber, but this seemed not only heavier, but also more…flexible then he'd been led to believe.

"It's a new design that the Anbu have been working on." Tsunade explained, startling Naruto yet again. He hadn't even noticed she'd been there. "Instead of the usual chainmail, this vest has two-inch-wide circular titanium discs overlapping like scale armor between the standard stab resistant fibers." Tsunade continued with oddly shiny eyes, a strange mixture of emotions dancing in them that Naruto couldn't begin to identify. Although, if it didn't make any sense, Naruto could swear that he saw both worry and pride in her eyes.

Grinning at her, Naruto twisted his body through several katas, pleased to note that there didn't seem to be any problems with the addition of the flak jacket. And it made him look like such a badass too.

"Work hard, Naruto-kun." The Hokage said as he nodded approvingly. "Konoha will have need of you again soon enough. I trust you'll be ready when the time comes."

Naruto bowed again, unable to wipe away his grin as he noticed that that wasn't a question. And because of that bow, he didn't see the anger in Tsunade's eyes, or the way her fists clenched.

"You can count on me, Hokage-sama!" He already had several ideas he wanted to try out, though only the one came about from the mission in Ame. If he was going to rely on poisons, then he was going to need more than one way to administer it. And there was that Ninjutsu project he'd been working on for the last year…

"Don't get too cocky." Tsunade said gruffly as she stepped between him and the Hokage. "Just because you're a Chuunin now doesn't mean you should be reckless, or that you should push yourself any harder than you already are. In fact, you should take a least the next week off from training and just relax. Doctor's orders."

"A week!" Naruto squeaked in disbelief. "But I've got all these new ideas, and I want to get used to my vest!"

"That can wait." Tsunade replied firmly with her arms crossed. "You spend too much time training as it is, and you've got a lot of work ahead of you. No sense adding to it, and especially not without proper rest and decompression time."

"But-!" Naruto tried to object as he sent a horrified look at the Hokage for assistance. A whole week without training? He'd go crazy with boredom!

"No buts." Tsunade barked sternly. "Iryoujutsu is one of the most demanding of the Shinobi Arts. Even Genjutsu isn't as difficult as what you'll be learning."

"…Iryoujutsu?" Naruto asked cautiously, feeling an oddly fierce surge of excitement though he didn't understand why.

"That's right." Tsunade nodded. "You and I have a lot of work ahead of us to get you caught up to where you should be, and I won't have you burning yourself out before we even get started."

Her son chewed at his lip for a second, before thrusting his hand towards him with three fingers held up. "Three days!"

Tsunade blinked, before scowling as she realized what Naruto was trying to do. "This isn't a negotiation brat. One week."

"Three days!" Naruto repeated as he glared at her stubbornly. "I'll take three days off and then we'll get started.

Tsunade matched his glare and leaned down over him. "One. Week. Period."

Undeterred, Naruto tilted his head up to keep up his glare. "But I'll be so bored!" Naruto whined. "Hokage-sama, make her see reason!"

Tsunade glared over her shoulder at the old bastard, daring him to countermand her on this. Bad enough that her own son was asking the very man who'd stolen his childhood and heritage to help him sway her. They had less than a month before Danzo's planned invasion of Kaminari, and she'd be damned if her son wasn't fully prepared to take care of himself. She was going to cram that thick skull of his full of Iryoujutsu and anatomy lessons, even if she had to devote every waking second to it!

"I'm afraid I have to agree with Tsunade-hime, Naruto-kun." Danzo said, much to her relief. "Even the Shodai knew when to rest. And Tsunade is not only your personal doctor; she's one of the greatest Medic-nin in the world. If she wishes for you to rest, you should do so."

Tsunade felt a guilty sense of satisfaction at Naruto's sheer disappointment at Danzo's words. Anything that drove a wedge between her son and that bastard was a good thing in her mind.

"Not to mention the fact that one of the Sannin is offering to train you personally. Something that many have outright begged her to do. I believe you will be only the second to be granted such an honor." Danzo added with a hint of amusement.

Naruto perked up at that with a look of shock, as if he'd truly forgotten those facts. Of course, it's understandable that after spending his entire life around her –even if he couldn't consciously remember the first five years- that he might forget that most considered her a legendary kunoichi. He spun back to face her with a desperate look. "Four days?" he asked hopefully.

Tsunade rolled her eyes at her son's actions, before finally conceding with a huff. "Six days. No less."

"Fine." Naruto drawled with a pout as he crossed his arms moodily. "But only because you asked. I totally could start training right now, no problem!"

Struggling not to coo at how adorable he looked when he pouted, Tsunade reached down to make yet another futile attempt to smooth his hair out. As always, Naruto tolerated her attempts for about four seconds before wrestling her hand away. "It's already pretty late, Naruto-chan, so why don't you go on and get ready for bed? I'll come see you before you go to sleep and we can plan out what you're going to be doing for the next few days. Something fun and relaxing I think."

Naruto stared at her for several more seconds; as if by looking just a little more piteous she would give in and let him train to his heart's desire, before finally giving up. "Fine…" he drawled as if conceding to a ridiculous demand before suddenly brightening. "I know what we can do! Let's go climbing!"

And just like that, Tsunade felt a pit open up in her stomach. "I don't think so. I said something fun and relaxing, not death-defying!" That habit of his was the one thing Tsunade wouldn't mind if he forgot. Sadly, her luck seemed as terrible as ever as Naruto drew up indignantly.

"What are you talking about?" he squawked huffily. "Climbing is relaxing! And fun too! What more could you possibly want?"

"Something that doesn't give me a heart attack for one!" Tsunade growled back. "Do you think I've forgotten how reckless you are when it comes to that damn hobby of yours?"

Naruto threw his hands up in the air in exasperation. "Well, if you won't let me train, and now you won't let me climb, what the hell do you expect me to do?"

"Something safe!"

"Climbing is perfectly safe!"

Tsunade matched her son glare for glare, wanting nothing more than to forbid him from so much as climbing a tree, much less whatever he had in mind. And yet…a month from now Naruto would be going to war, a full blown war nonetheless. And as much as he tended to scare her to the point of heart attacks, Naruto loved climbing, always had. As much as she didn't want to, Tsunade knew she couldn't deny him this.

Giving out a great sigh –and reminding herself that she was the adult in this situation- Tsunade fixed her son with a stern look. "Fine, we'll go climbing tomorrow. But we're going to be safe, understand?"

She smiled lovingly at Naruto as he beamed at her happily, and just like that their argument was swept under the rug, her son happily chatting away about the cliff face he'd seen during his last training exercise that he'd been dying to conquer.

That smile became a little fixed as he described the cliff, which to her sounded less and less like fun and more and more like one of those deathtraps she'd seen utilized by Iwa as a defensive position during the wars.


Sakin=Gold Dust

Iryoujutsu=Medical Ninjutsu

Did I miss any?

AN: There you go, chapter 9. It's finally time for the long awaited war with Kumo.

What did you think of Danzo's scheme? With the exception of Taki, I'm trying to keep the Hidden Villages as backstabbing and untrusting as they're supposed to be. That's why I tried to give each of the other Hidden Villages a reason to get involved that directly benefited them, rather than because of some treaty that means less than nothing to them. Taking advantage of Onoki's manipulative/backstabbing habits in order to both make him look bad and keep him from getting directly involved in the coming war. Something that rather important in order to keep if from becoming the Fourth Great Shinobi War. Of course, no plan survives first contact with the enemy.

Hanzo's speech is heavily inspired by the opening speech from the first Killzone game. In point of fact, I'm basing a lot of what I have planned for Hanzo/Amegakure on the Helghast from Killzone.

Ebisu's speech was...weird to me. Not quite sure how much I got across in that scene. The general idea I wanted him to impart to Naruto -and the reader- was that just because Naruto was a Jinchuuriki and being utilized as such, does not make him an unstoppable killing machine at age seven. He's certainly more powerful, more dangerous than just about any other seven year old -and many other, older ninja- but he's still relatively inexperienced. Before the battle in Ame, he'd never been in a real life or death battle. Militaries all over the world try to train as realistically as possible -train as we fight is the saying in my nation- but it's still not quite the same as the real deal.

As always, all reviews, suggestions, criticisms, etc are welcome.

Peace, Vaan.