If the Nidaime had just said one more thing to Danzo, Konoha's history would have been very different. For a start, Danzo and the Sandaime would have seen eye to eye a lot more often...
"Danzo... it's much better to honour Konoha by living than by dying."
But what did that mean, Danzo thought.
His relatives had died in battle - sacrificed themselves for the greater good of Konoha! It was a ninja's duty, to be willing to offer up their lives to save their village! There was no greater honour for a shinobi... that was why he was still weak. Weak and pathetic, because he couldn't take that step. He was too frightened, and failed in his duty where Hiruzen had not.
Which was why Hiruzen was Hokage now, and it was Danzo's sworn duty to fight and, if necessary, die for him.
Hiruzen was soft. He was too full of heart for a shinobi, could not kill his feelings even for a mission. He was vulnerable, and a shinobi should never be vulnerable.
He was also a better man than Danzo, and the better shinobi.
What does that make me?
Better to honour Konoha by living.
What does that mean?
"Danzo-san, the Hokage would like to see you."
He clenched his fists and did not turn. "What for?"
"He did not say, Danzo-san."
Schooling his expression into one of calm disdain, he finally deigned to look at the messenger. "Very well then. I will go see what he has called me for."
Better to honour Konoha by living.
The thought would not leave him alone.
What did it mean?
* * *
"Ah, Danzo!" Hiruzen still looked uncomfortable in the Hokage's formal robes. The hat was too big for him, as well, Danzo noticed, but he bit back a smirk.
Instead, he bowed. "You wanted to see me, Hokage-sama?"
Hiruzen's nervous smile was not something he saw often, but the somewhat sheepish expression on his face was one he was familiar with. "Come on, please don't call me that! I feel so old."
It had been a month since the Nidaime's death. A month since Danzo had lost his teacher... and since his rival had been recognised as Hokage, the greatest shinobi in the village, and the very symbol of Konoha--
He blinked, and scowled, though mostly from displeasure at himself. He was letting his emotions show, again. A shinobi should always keep a tight hold of their emotions, and be in control at all times.
"What?" he asked.
Hiruzen hesitated at the slight snarl to his tone. "Listen - about... all this..." He gestured vaguely, but Danzo knew what he was talking about. "I didn't ask for it, you know."
Danzo said nothing.
"I just feel like..." He stopped, and tried again. "You've been really... distant since we came back. We're still friends, Danzo, even if I am Hokage. I wanted to remind you of that. " Hiruzen stopped again. "I wanted to apologise, as well."
He blinked, surprised and failing to hide it (yet again). "Apologise for what?"
"For my behaviour, back - then." He continued firmly, despite the brief moment of hesitation, "I didn't think, at the time - I... didn't consider your feelings. About your family. I wasn't being light-hearted to undermine their sacrifice, I was just..."
"...Scared?" Danzo suggested.
Hiruzen smiled sheepishly again. "Yeah." The Hokage's hat slumped in front of his eyes, and he burst into nervous laughter as he removed it and placed it carefully on the desk. Even Danzo couldn't resist smiling. "I hate that stupid thing," Hiruzen muttered, glaring at it.
They lapsed into silence.
"I was scared too," Danzo admitted quietly.
He was shocked when Hiruzen let out a gasp. "Really?!"
He winced. Like he needed more reminders of how he had failed his family. "I... I shouldn't have been!" he found himself blurting out, at the same time as he chided himself for his lapse in control. "I - My relatives gave their lives for the village! I'm a disgrace to their memory... being too frightened to volunteer myself... to honour what they did by being willing to do the same..."
His hands were shaking violently, the same as they had been on that day.
"I'm a coward," he spat out, bitter with self-disgust. "How can I-- how can I call myself a shinobi of this village when I cannot even bring myself to--"
"Danzo, that's enough."
He looked up, surprised to find that Hiruzen had moved from his seat behind the desk and was now standing in front of him. The knowledge did not make him feel better. A shinobi must always be aware of their surroundings. It was Hiruzen, who he trusted, but that was no reason to--
A hand on his shoulder interrupted his thoughts. Danzo flinched as he realised Hiruzen was giving him a pitying look. He didn't want pity! He didn't deserve pity for his cowardice...
"That's enough," Hiruzen repeated, gently but firmly.
For the first time since their return, he looked every inch the Hokage - but at the same time, no less his friend. He felt suddenly awed, and very small, in a way he hadn't felt since Nidaime-sama had been alive.
"You aren't a coward. You're one of the bravest men I know--"
"You don't understand," Danzo interrupted. "When you spoke up - I felt so relieved, I..."
"That doesn't mean anything," Hiruzen said softly. "Being relieved because you don't have to die - that isn't cowardice... that just shows that you have something to live for." His eyes were distant, thoughtful, and for a moment he reminded him so much of the Nidaime that Danzo thought he was possessed. "I want Konoha to be a place like that," he whispered.
"Sacrifice is honourable for a shinobi, but I don't want Konoha to be a place shinobi want to escape from, or a place they can only find honour in dying for - an honourable death is meaningless if the place you die for does not deserve that honour. I want Konoha to be a place that people can be proud of dying for, but at the same time... I want it to be a place that people would want to live for, too. I want people to hesitate to die for this place... because I want it to always be a place they wish to return to."
Better to honour Konoha by living than by dying.
And suddenly, he thought he understood.
"Sorry," Hiruzen said, smiling sheepishly again. The heavy atmosphere was gone, as was the hand from Danzo's shoulder. "That didn't make much sense, did it? I've just been thinking about what Nidaime-sama said to you."
Danzo... it's much better to honour Konoha by living than by dying.
"No," he said. "It made perfect sense..."
He didn't want to die for Konoha. He wanted to live for Konoha. It wasn't spitting on his family's sacrifices, it was living in the ideals and the place they had died for.
Danzo smiled suddenly, almost started laughing. He felt lighter than he had in a long time, like a terrible weight had been lifted from his shoulders. He didn't have to die for Konoha - for the people here, dying for their village was not a duty but a choice.
They did it anyway.
"...I think Konoha is already a place like that, though."
What his family did was brave and honourable, and he was right to hold their sacrifice so highly. But he didn't have to follow in their footsteps. He could show the same love for Konoha, the same amount of courage, and he could do it even if he died in his bed of old age. He could honour their sacrifice without mimicking it.
It didn't mean he wouldn't if he had to. It just meant that... he would rather live.
Hiruzen grinned back. "I suppose it is."
He looked slightly bewildered by his friend's sudden change in demeanour, but he didn't question it. He was glad, because Danzo didn't think he could explain this feeling of... of... freedom if he tried.
"You'll be a good Hokage," Danzo said instead. "I'll be proud to serve somebody like you."
Hiruzen looked surprised for a few seconds.
But then he offered his hand.
"Thank you," he replied. "I'll be proud to have someone like you following me."
Danzo shook on it.
...ROOT would come into being as a much different organisation...
"I think some of the children at the academy would benefit from fast-track training like this," Danzo explained. "ROOT would be designed to give them more depth and breadth in their knowledge and skills, and provide more preparation for assassination or other difficult types of missions that they simply don't prepare for in the academy."
"There is a reason they don't prepare for them in the academy," Hiruzen pointed out. "That is a very hard thing to train a child for."
"I understand that," he said seriously, "But... these are the best of the best. Let face it, Hiruzen, they're the mostly likely types to be sent on those missions in the future - and I'd rather send them prepared to deal with the consequences than not."
Sighing, the Hokage rubbed his nose. "I suppose you are right. Still, I cannot condone allowing these children to graduate so early, especially in peace time. Besides, I don't think it's good for such high achievers not to interact with their peers. It encourages isolation."
"Hmm... that's a point..." Danzo thought for a few moments. "Alright then. How about if the ROOT program ran alongside the academy curricular? The children would still be way beyond their peers, but they'd get to interact with them - they will probably still graduate early, though, but I can slow down the teaching so it's only by one or two years."
"That would be acceptable," his friend answered after a moment's thought. "In that case, you have permission to trial the program with this year's new academy students."
Danzo bowed with a small smile. Hiruzen was always eager for the children to stay children for as long as possible, but he personally thought that the Hokage forgot what trouble this could cause when they became genin - or for those who had already grown out of their childhood.
That said, this was still quite a concession, even if the program was not to be as rigorous as Danzo had hoped. "Thank you, Hokage-sama."
"You just be careful what you do with those children," Hiruzen said gruffly. Inwardly, Danzo smiled. Even after several years, he still wasn't used to that title?
...Hatake Sakumo would not have committed suicide...
"I failed them," he sobbed. "The village... my friends..."
"They are still alive, aren't they?" Danzo asked.
"But the mission-- the war--"
Danzo had been worried this would happen. Sakumo was one of the ROOT program's greatest success stories; someone Danzo had taught personally, and was very fond of, even if he tried to hide it (it did not do to have favourites, after all). If there was one problem with Konoha's White Fang, it was this:
He had never failed.
"I couldn't think..." Sakumo said. He was still in hospital, only days out of a failed mission that would cost Konoha much ground in the early stages of this war. The medics had seemed almost reluctant to treat him. "I couldn't think of the mission... just my friends, my teammates, I-- I didn't want them to die, I..."
"Stop it, Hatake," Danzo said firmly. The man looked lost, as young as his son Kakashi, but soft words would not do him any good now. Pity, in comparison to the scorn and hate he was receiving from his comrades, would only make him feel worse. "You failed the mission, and because of that, Konoha is going to have a much harder time than we first thought... but you and your team are still alive."
"It doesn't matter," Sakumo muttered hollowly. "They despise me now. And they're right - I should've carried on with the mission..."
Danzo was truly sympathetic to his former students' suffering, but he only had so much patience.
Sakumo's next words were interrupted by Danzo smacking him round the head with enough force to almost knock him on to the floor.
He gaped at him and stared.
"Knowing what you know now," Danzo asked, taking advantage of the stunned silence. "If you were able to go back and do the mission over, would you still be able to leave them to die?"
Blinking was the only response he got for a moment. Then Sakumo looked down. "No - I don't think I could."
"If that's the only decision you could have made, there is no point in having any regrets about it," he said sternly. "Instead, you should think about the future, and how you are going to earn back your reputation."
Sakumo was staring at him again.
"Think about it, Hatake," Danzo said. He allowed himself a rare display of affection, and ruffled the younger man's silver hair as he stood. "You can't change anything when you're dead, and would you rather have your friends angry or guilty?"
He didn't receive an answer, but neither did he expect one. Danzo's words would only do so much - Sakumo had to think through this himself.
His suspicions, of course, might have been completely unfounded... but Danzo had worked with many geniuses, and they all had one thing in common: they were very highly-strung and full of tension, ready to snap at the slightest strain.
He hoped, though, that this one would bounce back.
...the Uchiha's planned coup d'état would not have ended in massacre...
"We haven't got enough time!" Homura protested. "The Uchiha clan is almost ready to mobilise, and they know they're in a position of strength. If we had longer to try and bargain with them, perhaps we could take the peaceful route, but..."
"But killing the whole clan, Homura?" Hiruzen asked through gritted teeth. "I can't agree to something like that. That is monstrous."
"There is no other way," Homura insisted. "The whole clan will be behind the coup, whether they fully agree or not - that's what they have been brought up to believe! The clan comes first!"
"The children," the Hokage said, "The genin..."
"...Will still be able to kill," Koharu finished. "And they are better than the average genin, as well, due to the powers of the Sharingan. That extra edge will cause deaths that we cannot afford. I agree that it is a distasteful option, Hiruzen, but wehave no more time."
"Then have Itachi kill the ringleaders," Danzo said abruptly.
The three of them turned to stare at him.
"That won't solve the problem, Danzo," Koharu pointed out.
"It won't," he admitted. "But it will buy us time to try peaceful measures again. Besides that, the Uchiha will hold a much weaker position, and they will know we are aware of their plans. Even the Uchiha know that, without the advantage of surprise, their coup will fail."
"I disagree," Homura said. "Fugaku, in particular, is arrogant enough to try anyway." He paused. "I do acknowledge that this will buy us the necessary time, but I'm not comfortable with leaving that sort of wound to fester in the clan."
"You're forgetting, Itachi-kun will become the clan head when his father dies," Danzo replied. "And he has reported that some still wish to pursue peaceful negotiations. There may be less resistance than you think. In any case, considering the power of the Sharingan and the status of the Uchiha in the village, I think we must try something before we try genocide." His lip curled. "A massacre would look only slightly better than a coup."
"It's a workable solution," Koharu said. "Like Homura, I'm not sure what implications this will have for the future, but it is a more appealing option than... genocide." She bowed her head. "Although we should keep in mind that a mass-killing may be our only option anyway, should negotiations fail again."
Homura nodded reluctantly. "Very well, then... Hiruzen?"
The Hokage had his eyes closed, deep in thought, but Danzo knew he had been listening to every word. His old friend wouldn't like this solution, either - it didn't solve the problem, only put it off. Still, it might give them what they needed to bring this to a... less violent conclusion.
"Fine," Hiruzen answered eventually, sounding tired. "I do not approve of this option, either, and I don't like asking Itachi-kun to do such a thing... but we seem to have little choice. I pray that this works, and we don't have to resort to more drastic measures."
He could not disagree with that.
...he would have helped to counter Pein's attack...
Danzo grabbed the girl's arm as she ran by, pulling her to a sudden halt. She turned to face him, white eyes blazing, and he recognised her as the Hyuuga heiress, Hinata.
"What are you doing? I believe Naruto-kun asked us not to interfere with his battle."
"He's in trouble!" Hinata spat back. Where was the meek and mild-mannered girl he had heard about? "Pein has him pinned to the ground with chakra rods... I have to--"
"Do nothing," Danzo interrupted. "Think, girl! You are the Hyuuga heiress and hopelessly outclassed. Do you really want to throw your life away like that?"
"Naruto-kun needs help," she said, her tone icy. "And if I must sacrifice my life for that, then so be it. I am not afraid."
He sighed. "Perhaps not, but you are being very stubborn about it. Fuu! Torune!"
The two ANBU were at his side instantly.
"...We will go in your place," Danzo told her.
"You don't even know where he--"
He interrupted again. "Then tell us. We will be able to do more than you."
She glowered, but said, "I will lead you."
Danzo nodded. If he could not get the girl to abandon the enterprise altogether - too stubborn for her own good! If he survived this, he was going to have some words with Hyuuga Hiashi - he could at least see that she had protection. "Very well, then. Go!"
...and Danzo would have died a hero.
"Really, Danzo, I'm disappointed in you," Madara said conversationally. "You were always so promising. And now look... I expected better."
He was willing to admit that the fight had been very one-sided. Ridiculously so, in fact - it hurt his pride to think how easily Madara could have beaten him. The fight had only taken as long as it had because the Uchiha had spent a lot of time berating him.
More fool him.
Regardless of the outcome, Danzo had done his job. He had brought time. Now, if he was lucky, he might be able to do something more...
"I'm disappointed in you, Madara," he managed to choke out, at the same time as activating the large seal on his body. "I thought you'd be able to see through a diversion like this easily."
Madara did not quite escape the area of the seal in time. It cost him his right arm, and would prove to be a deciding factor in his fight with Uzumaki Naruto when he showed up minutes later, channelling both nature and the Kyuubi's chakra, to finish what the village founder had started and finally end Uchiha Madara.
Danzo didn't get to see this, as he was already dead - the seal on his body consumed the rest of his life force and destroyed most of his internal organs.
He still died smiling.
He died knowing his village was in good hands, and he died knowing his family would have been proud of how he had died for Konoha.
But he also knew they would have been proud of the way he had lived for Konoha, too.
A/N: I always felt sorry for Danzo, I don't know. He always wanted what was best for Konoha, in my opinion, even if he didn't actually know what was best for Konoha. He's probably my favourite villain in the series, after Kisame. I did actually consider making a lengthier fic about this, but I knew I'd never finish it if I did, so he just gets this oneshot. Comments always appreciated!