Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto. I am one can short of a six pack!

Chapter 63: Hidden Civil War


To fight a battle from inside of the enemy's home base of operations was not an impossible task, especially when one had someone on the inside. This was far more possible thing than could first be thought, even against Root. After all, Team 10 had something of a body snatcher on the team.

That was more effective than Naruto's use of Henge no Jutsu that they'd used to take out the other strongholds in the past. A loss of concentration for even a moment wouldn't screw up Ino's jutsu.

Either way, attacking from the inside was usually their operational method of dealing with troublesome armed numbers in a well-guarded area, and an explosion was their 'go' sign.

*CLANG*

The door to their cell was ripped off by a bodily-enhanced Chouji, allowing Naruto and Shikamaru to head on through, "Alright, you've got Ino's body Naruto?" Shikamaru asked, mind racing as he peered down the dark hallway of the small cell block.

"Yeah."

"You and Chouji stay back for just a second," Shikamaru said, dropping to a single knee and forming a rat and bird seal, seemingly waiting on the door at the end of the hallway to open. Eventually it swung open as three Root ninjas rushed in, "Kage Nui no Jutsu (Shadow Sewing Jutsu)!"

Violent as it was, Shikamaru had killed his fair share of people over the years, and his aim with his shadow tendrils on his unsuspecting targets struck true, as he ran them all through and let them drop to the floor. They did not get back up.

The first course of action for anyone stationed near a containment center would always be to check on any prisoners. They rushed in so that they could confirm that they were still captured, not expecting a fight, but only doing so because it was their assignment.

Apparently even emotionless ninjas could be caught with their pants down.

"Alright," Shikamaru said, standing up and ignoring the blood pooling on the floor, "Let's go."

With no time to dwell on the dead foes, all three chunin scrambled out of the cell block and made their way upstairs to come out on a bridge separated from the rest of the underground compound. Smoke rose and billowed up from several different places in the facility, all the while dark blurs flittered all about trying to run damage control and see to the threat.

Unfortunately they didn't know what the threat was.

"You're on Naruto," Shikamaru told Naruto who walked forward and cleared his throat before yelling at the top of his lungs.

"That's right!" Naruto shouted, still holding Ino on his back to transport, "The jinchuuriki of the Kyuubi did this, so line up single-file for an orderly surrender or prepared to get your collective asses handed to you!"

…They knew what the supposed threat was now.

Every single Root ninja in the underground compound stopped where they were and stared at the four interlopers, Naruto especially, as if they were insane. They didn't move to attack, or even seem to put themselves on the defensive.

Naruto sighed and rolled his eyes before a cloak of red surrounded his entire body, "Okay, how about now!?" He yelled once more with gruffer voice, "Is it serious enough for you now!?"

Upon watching the teen then vanish in a Shunshin that took the shape of a fox's head taking a single snap of its jaws, yes. Yes it was. The Root ninjas immediately began to panic and pursue Naruto to defend their secret base.

Apparently panic could still set in whether one was conditioned to be 'emotionless' or not. Survival instinct wasn't really the sort of thing you could train away.

"Wow, that was really easy," Chouji pointed out in regards to how Naruto managed to goad attention as the biggest threat of the team, "Will he be alright alone, having to protect Ino's body too?"

"He'll be fine," Shikamaru said, "All he has to do is get as many of them as far as he can to the surface. He mapped out his route on our way down here. Even if this is technically their turf, Naruto kind of has the advantage."

XxX

(Training Ground #44: Forest of Death)

The man was an annoyance that he simply couldn't rid himself of. Even when presented with the ultimatum to put up or shut up in battle once and for all, for everything that he'd ever dreamed of, Shimura Danzo still found himself coming up just short of outdoing Sarutobi Hiruzen.

"You are without a doubt the most infuriating man I've ever had to deal with," Danzo said calmly as he stared at his chief rival, completely unscathed from his attack inside of a large cage comprised of bars made from his trademark Adamantine Staff.

"You just made it easier to summon Enma," Hiruzen said, smirking despite the blood caking his own face, "Thank you for drawing my blood for me. It really cut down on the jutsu execution time."

That clever bastard.

Danzo had to chuckle. He just had to. It was just like Hiruzen, to come out on top in such a situation despite every precaution and move Danzo had made to prepare for the end.

Given the circumstances, he couldn't have thought of any other ninja that would have turned such an inescapable predicament into what Hiruzen had. He had for all intents and purposes been checkmated, and he had simply rejected his own defeat.

Nothing within a full half-mile stood after Danzo's thousand-plus cloned wind-enhanced giant shuriken. Nothing except the adamantine cage.

"All of my precautions were a good idea after all," Danzo commented as the adamantine cage transformed back into a single staff that landed in Hiruzen's hands, "Even when you're caught unaware, you're quite the dangerous man."

Hiruzen simply allowed Enma to return to his single staff form, choosing not to rush in with a counterattack. With the Sharingan, there was plenty of space for Danzo to see him coming and anticipate a move. Quickly narrowing his eyes, he forced Enma to extend to a length long enough to allow him to smash through the entire tree that Danzo had ejected him from moments before.

He was clearly through playing around.

"The games are over Danzo," Hiruzen said with a weathered sigh, "…I should have seen to this a long time ago. Standing here today, I have no idea why I didn't."

Hiruzen honestly couldn't. How could he have missed all of this happening with Danzo. Whether they were friends or not, shoving Sharingan eyes into your arm and head wasn't something you could overlook. Ever.

With the knife already stuck into Hiruzen's psyche, Danzo wasted no time in twisting it deeper. A psychological advantage was sometimes more important than any physical one.

"Now, now Hiruzen," Danzo expressed, feigning concern for his friend, "How could you have known to be suspicious of the covered eye when the very first thing I did upon implanting it was dictate to you that it was of no concern?"

…What?

Hiruzen glared up at his former comrade, wondering just what he was on about. If he was talking about the genjutsu influence of the Sharingan, there was no way that Danzo could have ever used that on him without his knowing, especially since he would have had to make eye contact with it to execute the jutsu.

As if he could read his mind, a rare expression of mirth pulled at Danzo's lips, "Old friend, I was of the mind that you knew of every jutsu that has ever graced the walls of 'your' village," He taunted cryptically. Having one over on Hiruzen was a sweet feeling. The man with all of the answers literally had too many of them to come up with the right one in this instance.

Slowly, as if he had been running through and eliminating all of the possible Sharingan techniques that would have fit the bill, realization of what had been used on him dawned over Hiruzen's face.

"…Kotoamatsukami (Distinguished Heavenly Gods)…"

"Really, if I hadn't used that jutsu to make you believe it was your own free will that kept you from checking my arm and eye, you would have figured me out before my self-betterment was complete," Danzo admitted in an attempt to rile his rival, "Then again, I can see why you never felt it so much as strange. You always did have a wait-and-see attitude. It's the reason the troubles that have befallen our village have occurred."

"You created the worst spy that this village has ever been affected by!" Hiruzen declared harshly, "Enma!"

Another swing of the suddenly oversized staff brought down the titanic Forest of Death tree that Danzo had been roosting in, although the man was astute enough to time the fall of the tree to his own escape from it, he had moved far too slowly trying to get his timing just right, and had failed to anticipate one very important thing.

That Hiruzen's staff wasn't really a staff, "Danzo! I've been waiting for this day!"

After smashing into the tree, the adamantine staff transformed back into its original form of the great Monkey King Enma who ran up the tree and leapt off just as Danzo had chosen to jump from it onto another. Caught in mid-air, Danzo tried to blow a stream of wind from his mouth to maneuver out of the way, but Enma had been going far too fast for such a thing to make him miss.

The leader of Root was smashed with a kick from the mighty primate, sending him flying through the forest until his body crashed through a rotted log. Recovering with a gust of air from his body, he stood painfully on the surface of a stream, the right side of his robe torn to shreds to reveal his entire arm full of Sharingan eyes.

Landing on a ledge overlooking the stream, Hiruzen smirked at the sight of the discolored, grey arm. It had a face in it, which was disturbing, but Hiruzen had seen worse. Danzo wound up using more than one Izanagi to survive his boiling mudslide/firebomb combo after all. The defining traits in the spent eyes were completely gone. The red orbs were featureless and dull.

"You're down three," Hiruzen said, Enma landing near him on a lower ledge, "Surrender. This doesn't have to end with your death, but I will strike you down without hesitation if you persist."

"Feh," Danzo spat, dropping down to one knee, his right hand on the surface of the water.

A dull cracking noise sounded out before four massive tendril-like roots snaked out from the stream at Hiruzen and Enma. Both human and monkey dodged the attack, but Enma found that Danzo had anticipated where he would leap with his Sharingan and had moved into his landing zone first.

The emotional summon sneered and growled, cocking a fist back to strike at the much physically weaker Danzo as he landed, "Danzo you snake-!"

His punch missed easily due to Danzo's Sharingan perception, and a mere touch from the man as he rushed past him sent Enma down to the ground in a heap, paralyzed from moving due to black marks that had spread all over his body.

"No, the snake would be your spineless master's student," Danzo corrected, drawing a kunai and breathing on it to form his deadly wind blade, "Hiruzen says I hurt this village by creating the worst spy that this village has ever had? Who did that spy defect to? Who benefitted from every bit of information that Kabuto managed to pull from the hidden villages?"

Before he could strike Enma down for good, Danzo shifted his attention and cut down an approach from Hiruzen, revealing it to be a mud clone as he severed it in half. The distraction was enough to allow Hiruzen the chance to bail his summon partner out of trouble, though Danzo was fast enough to cut him on the back of the leg as he departed.

Wincing at the sharp pain, Hiruzen heard an audible 'pop' noise and felt himself and Enma being drawn backwards by a sucking force that he couldn't escape.

The culprit was a massive four-legged creature with tiger-striped clawed paws, massive tusks, and a large trunk, as well as bandages around its head. As the nightmarish creature pulled him in, Danzo utilized his right arm to create a swirl of roots from the ground that spun around each other to form a point meant to impale him and Enma.

Enma, paralyzed by Danzo's use of a cursed seal on him, used the last dregs of his body's own free will to throw his partner aside just enough to avoid the point of the wood release attack. Ending his summoning at exactly the same time, Enma escaped death along with his summoner who landed on the ground in a heap.

Face scrunching up in annoyance, Danzo allowed him no reprieve, ordering his summon to reverse its flow of wind to send Hiruzen flying. He had to look at this as a positive. Even if he'd yet again failed to kill Hiruzen, he had managed to relieve him of his most powerful weapon.

The elderly body of the Sandaime Hokage flew through the woods at a high speed until his body landed in a slide through the thick forest underbrush, small animals scattering away for self-preservation. Hiruzen got up after a short while, though not as quickly as he would have liked. Those old bones of his had seen better days.

Instead of charging back to where he'd come from, Hiruzen simply hunkered down and waited, straining all of his senses to try and find where Danzo would be attacking from next. The slightest sound or feeling that would let him know exactly where Danzo would strike from.

He needed an idea. Sure, he could kill Danzo a few more times, he still had tricks up his sleeve after all, but as the battle dragged on he'd be playing more into Danzo's hands. Every time he finished Danzo off he lost a finishing move that wouldn't work twice. Every approach he used to put Danzo six feet deep would be accounted for the next time around. He had seven of them left over.

'And eventually he will find himself in a position where his temporary invincibility will embolden him to attack me,' Hiruzen thought to himself with a weary sigh, 'A shinobi's work is never done.'

"Old age is finally catching up with you my friend," Danzo called out, standing atop the back of his Baku summon as it lurched through the forest. Hiruzen snorted at the hypocrisy of such a remark, "Perhaps you should take a rest. The village is in good hands."

"The only positive that would come with you ever becoming Hokage is that you would more than likely die before any of your policies could adversely affect this village permanently," Hiruzen replied, "Like I said, if you want the position so badly… come and take it."

XxX

(With Naruto – Tunnels Underneath Konoha)

With Ino's body in his arms, Naruto's normal traveling speed was slowed, but not by much. She was far too light to impede him to any significant degree, and he had to go slow enough to ensure that the pursuing Root members could keep up with him.

SHINK!

A kunai thrown his way bounced off of the tunnel wall near his head. Okay, so that was a little close.

To think that there was a second standing force of ninjas hidden within Konoha was a wild concept, but actually being faced down with it and finding that a secret base actually existed within his lifelong home full of these off-the-grid ninjas took the cake.

As he fled, he couldn't help but think.

When he and Killer B dropped those Root agents off in front of the Hokage Mansion, Hiruzen hadn't seemed surprised at their existence at all, 'No way the old man would ever let something like this go on if he knew about it though, right?'

He couldn't imagine him doing so, but then again Naruto couldn't imagine Hiruzen not knowing about Root when they were based inside of his own village.

Naruto turned his head for a moment when he felt the brush of air, indicating that one of his enemies had moved to his right side. With a quick draw of their tip-less tanto, they tried to cut Naruto and Ino down in one even stroke, but Naruto ducked and avoided the attack, lifting his entire body up as he rose to kick his foe away.

His assailant downed, Naruto took to his right to continue down another tunnel path.

'They're trying to corral me somewhere.' It wouldn't have surprised Naruto if these waterway tunnels hooked up to another branch. They were probably trying to send him running face-first into a trap being set by other Root members who had been moving to set the ambush since the start of the chase, 'Man, that's annoying,' He whined internally, 'After I get these guys I've got to go and find those guys to be on the safe side.'

That was his concern; that the fight would be more of a pain in the ass since everyone after him wasn't facing him down at once. Not that it was only him and his unconscious new apparent girlfriend against 16 Root shinobi. That wasn't an issue at all inside of his mind.

Shifting Ino in his arms and switching the motionless kunoichi's positioning onto his back, Naruto turned on the afterburners for a moment, getting himself enough distance to turn around and face his foes in the tunnel.

The Root ninjas slowed and came to a stop instead of trying to barrel into Naruto as one great mass of humanity intent on bringing him down despite the losses that would result. It was noted that the Kyuubi jinchuuriki was something of a treacherous opponent to have, and while they had been the ones who had him on the run, nothing was for certain. A flat-out charge wasn't their best option and they knew it. It was good to err on the side of caution against such a challenger.

Naruto wasn't really surprised that they hadn't charged him, because they tended to be pretty good at tactical fighting (something he'd noticed from Sai and from fighting the hordes that he and Killer B had taken on the previous evening), but he was disappointed. Things would have gone much faster if they had just come right at him.

A frown marring his whisker-marked face, Naruto sighed at the sight of the Root ANBU creeping subtly away from their uniformed formation, their attempt to space out and cut off his paths of movement transparent. It wasn't like they needed to hide anything about what they were doing. He would either fight or run.

He didn't seem to be doing either though, instead holding onto Ino without even backing away from them.

Red flag. If Naruto was surrounded and wasn't vocally complaining about his misfortune or what have you, something was wrong. Very wrong. For you.

Underneath the shallow water on the ground, things got soft, the same steadiness as Nerf. As this occurred, the walls turned to the same fleshy color and consistency.

"Toad technique!" One of the Root members shouted in warning, "Stand still and you're done for!"

The more astute Root members began moving just as soon as they realized what was happening. For an unfortunate number of less read-up recruits, they found their legs stuck fast around the ankles, as Naruto clones appeared from seemingly nowhere and knocked the trapped enemies unconscious as if it were child's play.

Most of the clones were torn apart from a distant projectile barrage by the Root survivors, but they then had to deal with the original Naruto who had set Ino safely down for a moment once his trap had been sprung.

"I trapped your trap with my trap!" Naruto said, blocking a tanto attack with his machete before looping the chain on its handle around his enemy's neck and slamming his face into the watery floor.

"Kanashibari no Jutsu (Temporary Paralysis no Jutsu)!"

Naruto's body froze in place from the timely use of a temporary stun technique from an opportunistic Root member, prompting another to leap at him with irons and a seal tag. Those didn't body well for him at all.

It took a greater effort than Naruto would have liked to bring his hands together, but faster than his enemies could reach him, he formed the horse seal while inhaling deeply, "Moegara Nagare no Jutsu (Cinder Stream Jutsu)!"

Burning hot ashes flew from Naruto's mouth and with a turn of his head he was able to freely spray it at all of his enemies who felt that they'd had him where they wanted him. Those that hadn't been killed in the attack more than likely wished they had been. With their severe burns and only the dirty water on the ground as a source of cool relief they probably would have been better off that way.

A quick scan of the area brought a sigh of relief from Naruto who walked back over to Ino. All of that had taken just over a minute or so. With a hand-seal meant to dispel a summon creature, the waterway walls, ceiling, and floor returned to their normal appearances.

"I'd have said you had a chance, but I'm not really good at lying."

Explosives, misdirection, traps, and general all-around skullduggery. That was how Team 10 fought when they had time to plan something out. And obsessively training from the time Iruka had died to the scare of a lifetime from Orochimaru had clearly paid off. That toad technique had run like clockwork.

Not far away down the tunnels, Naruto could hear the sound of more fighting taking place, which was odd. The plan really hadn't accounted for anyone else out of his 4-person crew fighting in the tunnels except for him.

Because he was almost literally a one-man army, it was his job to go ahead and clear most of the predetermined route out for Shikamaru and Chouji once Ino finished her job in the base with the body that she'd hijacked.

Whatever. It wasn't happening near him, and Shikamaru's contingency plan had nothing to do with the lazy S.O.B. and Chouji making some kind of heroic break through the enemy ranks. If there was a classification for Shikamaru it would have been 'Battle Pragmatist', and nothing about that kind of action defined such a turn of phrase.

So in Naruto's world, things were fine.

"And let that be a lesson to you!" Naruto shouted at the defeated Root ninjas, whether they were cognizant enough to hear him or not, "Next time check your list, of the future five best ninjas of all time!" He said, ticking off names on his fingers, "Naruto… Naruto… Naruto, Naruto, and Naruto, because I spit hot ash!"

"Oh Kami, really?"

"Who else is trying to get some of this hot ash!?" Naruto asked, hopping in front of Ino to defend her body just in case. He turned around swiftly, only to find someone else he knew down there, "Wha-? Tsunade-baachan?"

Indeed it was the large-chested sannin in the flesh, walking up to him and seemingly taking in how thorough he had been in the group beatdown he'd delivered. Jeez. That kid didn't mess around. And she'd been worried about him when they'd been pursued on her escort mission? Never again.

He'd beaten the hell out of four full squads of ANBU two days straight and came out of both fights without a scratch on him. Maybe if she'd followed him on any of his missions instead of doing the admittedly necessary job of mothering Naruto and patching up his injuries while he'd been a Guardian, she'd have been better prepared for realizing such a thing. Seeing him come back from high-level missions in one piece wasn't the same as going with him on them and watching him actually do it.

"Brat…" Tsunade said, looking over at Naruto who was grinning at how swimmingly his toad had worked out, "Does it bother you that you're… oh I don't know… roughly as strong as-," Herself at his age? Jiraiya at his age? And that in of itself wasn't natural, jinchuuriki or not. If she remembered correctly, Kushina hadn't been that strong at that age, "-A… really strong ninja… back when they were your age?"

If Naruto had noticed her hesitation in how she'd almost had a faux pas of the tongue in regarding him and comparing him to perhaps Jiraiya at the same age, he hadn't shown it.

"My only two options are 'be awesome and live' or 'suck and die'-," Naruto said with a hapless wave of the hand, picking Ino up and shifting her weight on his back, "-Which works for me. Is it working for you?" The sounds of fighting still continued though, "Damn it, what is that sound?"

"ANBU is down here trying to get things under control," Tsunade smoothly answered, as if it weren't a big deal.

It was for Naruto, "ANBU is down here?" He'd never even seen ANBU in a real mission setting before. It was a bit trippy to realize he was smack-dab in the middle of one.

Tsunade didn't know why he seemed to be surprised. He had just been attacked the day before, and he was a priority to the village. Was it really so much out of the realm of possibility that he had a friendly tail on him somehow? What, did he think Hiruzen would just send him home with nothing?

"Well yeah," Tsunade drawled smartly, "This sort of thing is kind of part of their job description. You know, neutralize and/or exterminate all threats to, within, or around Konoha with extreme prejudice as seen fit by the Hokage. Also, thanks for marking the outside of the way you got in with those other guys you tied up. It made it really easy to find this entrance."

"Yeah," Naruto said with a big grin, mentally high-fiving his sense of timing, "Now check it out! More guys as proof for Sarutobi-jiji that there's something shifty going on! He's totally green-lit to do what he wants!"

Oh.

Oh… he thought that was a thing. That was so adorable. If she wasn't supposed to be such a hard-ass she could have just reached out and pinched his cheeks whether he wanted it or not. It probably would have pissed him off more than her actual response did.

"Pssht, he's the Hokage," Tsunade said dryly, "Honestly, he doesn't have to justify anything that he wants to do. None of the other hidden village leaders would have in this circumstance," At that, her gaze softened on the blond teen, "I'm sure sensei would appreciate the effort though."

Naruto beamed at the thought of getting to help his favorite old man in some way.

"…Right after he kicked your ass all over for getting yourself into this much danger."

Thoroughly deflated, Naruto then thought of something, "Wait, this is supposed to be an ANBU op, so why are you down here?"

Tsunade's expression turned strained for a moment before her features hardened, "Let's just say, I have a hard time just sitting around and waiting."

"Waiting for what?"

That was something she did not answer.

XxX

(With Ino – Within the Root Base)

Danzo had annoyingly set up his underground stronghold similarly to a feudal castle; lots of floors where he and his subordinate's rooms were situated, doors that let off no indication of what lay behind them, long hallways with no discernable traits to them that at times led to nowhere.

Within her fellow clan member Fuu's body, Ino kept an even expression on her face despite her need to be quick. Hopefully the distraction explosion that she'd set off had raised enough of a stink that there wouldn't be anyone inside of the private quarters. It would be hard to explain Fuu's presence there when there was panic going on all over the place.

'All of these goddamn rooms in this goddamn base look the exact same,' Ino groused mentally, coming across another room that was merely furnished with a futon, a dresser, and low table with scrolls on it, 'I actually feel sorry for these guys. They don't have anything that's actually theirs.'

Ino would be the first to admit that she was more or less spoiled. Her family had lots of money and she had been a complete and total 'daddy's girl' growing up. What she wanted, she got, and she wanted a lot. If she couldn't get it at first through easy channels (Inoichi) she'd just find another way to obtain it on her own somehow. Just imagining living a life where she couldn't get something that she desired, it didn't compute.

Her own kin had been living like this since she'd been a little girl, and the thing she disliked the most was that she couldn't even remember having met Fuu before coming across him in Root. Defending the village was all well and good, but how could you take away someone's choice? Someone's human desires?

Root was based heart and soul on the archaic Shinobi Rules to the letter, to an extreme degree. It didn't just apply in the field, it applied in the lives of the operatives in what should have been a safe place.

She heard the sound of a blade be drawn and froze before turning around slowly. There she was faced with a Root member who wore the standard attire, but with clothes on underneath covering the entirety of his arms. He had short black hair and a strange black mask that covered all of his face except his nose and mouth.

"You're not Fuu," The man said, "If anyone had made any sort of sound like that behind him, he would have reacted with the intent to defend himself."

Having been caught at other times in the bodies of others, Ino knew that the game wasn't over until the bad guy attacked, "Torune, you're acting like I don't know my own partner is approaching,"

Nice bluff, but no dice.

"I should have been told Fuu was back with the Kyuubi jinchuuriki sooner," Torune said, his eyes looking blank due to the way his mask was situated, "Danzo gave Fuu specific commands to undertake if he was ever in the situation where he captured Uzumaki Naruto. The second I was told you ordered him simply thrown into a cell I knew something was wrong, even before they escaped."

Other than that, how else would explosives have been set in areas that would have crippled the base? It had to be something of an inside job for any chance at working.

Hearing Torune's words, Ino hadn't checked for any standing orders on how to handle Naruto as a prisoner when she'd been reading minds, but she wished that she had. She knew what the higher level techniques of her clan could do, and nothing that would have been ordered to handle someone like Naruto would have been gentle or good for him in the least.

It pissed her off that techniques that more than likely would have belonged to her clan were to be used on Naruto to harm him. If Fuu had finished spying on her, or had God forbid captured her to trade Naruto directly for her (which she knew he would have done), Root would have had something up their sleeve to make sure he was a good boy and played nice.

"There's no good way out of this if you fight me," Ino said from within Fuu's body, her face stony and serious. The part of her that regretted this, as Root members were still ninjas of Konoha, it was put on the backburner when she remembered that these people had tried to get to Naruto multiple times, either to harm him or use him, "If you attack me, you'll only be hurting your partner."

"You're in my partner's body, making him a threat to Root," Torune said, sheathing his sword and pulling off his gloves, "Fuu would do the same to me if the tables were turned."

Ino didn't want to find out just why he'd done that instead of keeping hold of his weapon, and she didn't plan on it either.

The thing was… Ino had set more than one batch of explosive tags before first detonating them. She'd put down another set in case she wound up being cornered inside of the quarters. Apparently Danzo didn't keep anything incriminating inside of the base itself, so there wasn't any need to

"Yeah…" Ino said, holding her hands up in a half-ram seal, "You're not the only ones who don't fight fair."

Her release time from possessing bodies was much faster than it used to be. Faster than say… the detonation of a whole mess of explosive tags.

XxX

(Training Ground #44: Forest of Death)

Danzo had taken Hiruzen's weapon of choice and his closest ally away.

Danzo had endured Hiruzen's taijutsu assault and one of his most powerful finishing combinations. He had even turned one of them right back around on him.

Nothing less could have been expected of Hiruzen's oldest rival.

The fact that Hiruzen had already killed him three times over notwithstanding.

Damn Izanagi. And he had seven other chances to use it remaining.

From his position in the forest, trying to hide and gain an edge for a surprise attack, Hiruzen scoffed and sprinted forward in time to avoid a crushing suction force that pulled up all sorts of local foliage and fauna

That Baku creature of Danzo's. It was rather dangerous, and it worked perfectly for what he needed it for. All he needed was something to assist the strength of his own wind attacks and something to make his targets easier to attack.

'If I want to end this, I need to rid myself of that summon,' Hiruzen thought to himself, and he had a plan to do it. Forming a cross seal with his fingers, he put the first portion of his plan into action, "Kage Bunshin no Jutsu (Shadow Clone Jutsu)."

Whispering as he split his remaining chakra into two halves, Hiruzen's clone tried to make its move as best as it figured the original would have, only with its timing flawed, so either Danzo or the Baku would take the bait.

When Hiruzen saw his clone bombarded with the inescapable wind suction of his enemy, he knew that the first phase had been completed. Silently moving while he had the chance, he stabbed an object into the ground and moved along as stealthily as he could. He had to be quick, because this wouldn't work for long, if it worked at all.

"Katon: Karyuudan (Fire Release: Fire Dragon Bomb)!"

The Baku sucked in not only wind, trees, debris, and all that the forest had to offer, it sucked in a straight stream of fire that scorched it badly. Its powerful breathing ability was compromised from the vicious injury that Hiruzen's clone had dealt it.

Dropping down from the shadows of the trees, Danzo had his fingers fixed in the dog seal, "Fuuton: Shinkuu Taigyoku (Wind Release: Vacuum Great Sphere)!"

The air that Danzo had ingested in preparation had been condensed into one great crushing orb, aimed from above right at Hiruzen. Even if it hadn't hit him directly, the second it touched the ground it expanded with full force and shattered the earth into a finely ground pulp for dozens of yards.

Landing on the ground after the destruction he'd wrought, Danzo scoffed. His eagerness to kill Hiruzen blinded him. He himself wouldn't have done such a thing to give away his position so dangerously, even if it was a bid to take out the Baku.

Throwing back the right half of his robe top, Danzo turned his palm to the right and slammed his hand down onto the ground, gritting his teeth as he channeled his chakra and forced up large roots from the ground to turn the area into a death trap.

Even if it didn't hurt Hiruzen, and he didn't expect it to, he would have to move from wherever he was hiding to keep safe, and that was all Danzo needed.

With all of the noise his roots were making, waving around, tearing through the ground, smacking into trees with titanic thuds, and everything in between, he could still make out the more subtle noises of movement and heard a figure disrupt a space to his back right a few dozen yards away.

There was no hesitation. His eyes turned that way with no time to waste. Any move that Hiruzen made would be easily tracked for Danzo with the Sharingan eye, and from there Hiruzen would be lost. The old man would get close and use his taijutsu, because he wouldn't want Danzo to copy another of his techniques, and that would be it.

The next time Hiruzen got that close to him, all would be lost. He didn't want to have to waste that much chakra to get the job done, but he'd already been tapping into Izanagi, so trying to use Kotoamatsukami wasn't that much of a stretch, even if it was the only time he'd be able to do it for quite a while.

He wouldn't have to wait for ten years, but it wasn't the kind of jutsu he was able to bring out every day.

The genjutsu with no counter and no release.

A sharp pain smoothly ran through the lower back of his side, almost lifting him off of the ground. Danzo gasped for a split second, out of surprise and at the sudden pain.

Hiruzen had run him through with nothing more than a black kunai. What a throwback.

Danzo grinned, even as he felt the blade of his friend tear through his flesh from behind. Blood involuntarily spilled from behind his lips and teeth as he spoke, "I admit Hiruzen, I hadn't expected such a textbook distraction to come from you of all people. But then again, you are supposedly 'The Professor'. You've clearly not forgotten the basics with all of the power available to you."

A spring-loaded wire mechanism set up to create the noise of false movement, and a log set to fake the use of a substitution jutsu. An Academy Student could have come up with the same thing.

"Sometimes the basics kill," Hiruzen said, twisting the kunai deeper. He was not taking chances with this kill, "I'm disappointed that you've overlooked such a thing because of your 'invulnerability'."

Speaking of which, "I'll be sure to remember that… the next time around," Danzo said, although something was wrong. He didn't feel right. If everything had been going right, he would have gone intangible by now. If everything was going right, he would have lost the ability to feel pain by now.

…If everything was going right, he would have stopped bleeding by now.

"What did you do to me?" Danzo said with great effort in his voice. The stab was deep. The wound was jagged and gaping. Hiruzen hadn't been kind in his attack. The man still knew how to kill, and he had no qualms with doing so whatsoever, even if Danzo figured him to be weak at heart.

"It's an idea I thought of," Hiruzen revealed as Danzo's lifeblood ran down past his hands onto the ground, "…Remembering a somewhat particular circumstance that a splendid young ninja I know found himself in when he fought an opponent that outclassed him due to chakra, but for a different reason,"

After all, fighting someone that could die a bunch of times and respawn injury-free wasn't exactly something you expected to face in the chunin exams, even if a jinchuuriki was. Oh, the day that Hiruzen would have ever figured he'd have taken a page out of Naruto's book. But he knew the jutsu, and had known it long before Naruto had ever used it all those years ago.

"Izanagi is quite the jutsu. Almost all-powerful judging by how it has been able to protect your life thus far. So I wondered if it could work if you couldn't even access your chakra to trigger it. Apparently not."

"You lie!" Danzo snapped, "I would have noticed if you'd disabled my chakra off! The Sharingan in my eye is still active!"

"Because that's still the chakra moving through your body, and your Sharingan will always be active, even if you ran out of chakra altogether," Hiruzen explained, "The Chakura Mukou Fuuin (Chakra Disabling Seal) can't stop chakra flow through your body, you just have no access to it, consciously or instinctually. Either way, you're now simply a man that has to rely on the body you've trained."

The body he just let Hiruzen injure, just because Danzo thought he'd get him close enough to finish off after he activated Izanagi and became temporarily invincible.

That jutsu was the great equalizer. As Danzo lost his ability to access his chakra, Hiruzen did as well. Even those as powerful as the kage themselves weren't immune when they were caught inside of the affected field of the seal.

The most important thing though, was that Izanagi was a non-factor.

And with nothing to give him another chance, the fatal wound was just that; fatal.

'He did it again,' Danzo thought to himself, his body beginning to go numb and his eyesight beginning to blacken, '…That monkey did it to me again. Blast it.'

He'd even kept him from pulling off his last ditch moves. No death-triggered seal, and no last-ditch attempt to Kotoamatsukami some sort of subliminal command into Hiruzen's head. His defeat was absolute and final.

So this was what dying was really like. It was… dark. How appropriate. Darkness seemed to be the only constant Danzo had ever been able to rely on as something that would always be there.

"Everything I have ever done-," Danzo muttered quietly, "I've done for the village."

"I know," Hiruzen replied in understanding. However he neglected to say the second portion of his thought out loud, 'The road to hell is paved with good intentions.' "Goodbye Shimura Danzo. For everything you've done for our home, you will not be forgotten."

A smile played on Danzo's lips. He wouldn't be patronized or lied to. He didn't need any empty comfort in his defeat, "Yes I will."

Either out of spite, or wishing to take the last vestige of real control out of Hiruzen's hands, Danzo used the last of his strength to drop his body forward, sliding himself off of the kunai that had been buried in his liver.

Falling face down on the ground, blood pooling around his dead, cooling body, Danzo's corpse didn't vanish as a preamble to an Izanagi respawn. He didn't rise to do battle anew. He lay motionless on the floor of the Forest of Death, as Hiruzen dropped to his knees right by him, eyes closed and hands in a short prayer.

"There was enough hatred directed Konoha's way from the world Danzo," Hiruzen said, "Our people didn't need your brand of leadership to bring us more."

Even so, at one point in time Danzo had been his very best friend, and deep down he would miss him. The Sandaime Hokage disposed of the body with a small fireball and began to make his way out of the forest.

He had an office to get back to and work that needed to be done. He could call for a medic to heal him while he was there. Koharu and Homura would need to know the results of his decision to duel, and from there he had his ordered sweep of Root's main village stronghold to hear about from his ANBU captains.

A Hokage didn't have the time to recover after all, or to mourn.

XxX

(A Few Hours Later – With Naruto)

It was hard to comprehend, even after it all seemed to be over.

Sitting at the hidden entrance to the underground waterways that Root had been using to conceal their hidden base's location, Naruto rested with his friends as they watched ANBU walk out the captured members of Root that they'd been able to bring in alive.

They had fought furiously, but there was no passion to their struggle. There was no feeling behind their orders to fight. As by the book ninjas they were on-par with any fighting force, but their lack of emotion hurt them when it came to crunch time. They didn't have that little extra inside to push them forward in desperate times.

Sure, they were willing to fight to the death, and more than a fair share did. Their hearts weren't in the battle however. The Will of Fire was actually a thing, even if those outside of Konoha didn't believe it to be, and most members of Root really didn't have it.

"What a day," Chouji commented with a sigh of relief. That hadn't cut it as close as he'd thought it originally would have when he allowed himself to be thrown into a Root holding cell. Then again, it had been a Shikamaru idea, so he shouldn't have felt any apprehension in taking it on, "I could eat a house right now."

The things he'd been privy to as a result of his inclusion… it felt a little big for him. He was just a chunin, and sure, so were Naruto and Shikamaru, but they had been in the Guardian Ninja organization and had gotten somewhat accustomed to their share of big state secrets and conspiracies.

Idly he wondered how much of this he could actually talk about.

"Ino," Chouji said after thinking of this point, "…Err, your dad or someone isn't going to come and try to wipe our minds because we saw and know about all of this are they?"

Ino shook her head in the negative and Shikamaru took the reins in speaking about it, "No. It's not like we stumbled onto this out of the blue. This has been barking around us for a little while already. If anything, they'll just tell us to shut the hell up about who we tell this to and leave it at that."

"I don't even really like that though," Naruto said in deep thought as he watched the prisoners be removed, "I mean, this was under the village this whole time. Right around us, and we might not have ever known about it. Tons of people still won't know about it."

"Well yeah, it's kind of for the best isn't it?"

As the attention of the four chunin fell off of the procession leaving the tunnels and Naruto heard the familiar voice, he felt a strong hand rest on his head and looked up to see his white-haired godfather and teacher, "Ero-sensei."

"Well you stumbled upon one of Konoha's dirty little secrets kid," Jiraiya said, "How are you holding up?"

One of Konoha's dirty little secrets? That implied that there were more. Naruto let that bit slide for the time being though. He doubted Jiraiya would get into too much more of it anyway, "Fine I guess. I'm still having a little trouble believing that all of this could have existed in Konoha without me knowing, but hey."

"There are things about Konoha that you still don't know and probably won't ever know," Jiraiya said with a roll of his eyes, "Just because you want to be Hokage, it doesn't mean you know more than some others do, or that you'll ever know everything that you think you should. There are people out there that have secrets that can't EVER see the light of day, and there are people that are better at keeping their secrets to themselves than you'll ever believe."

He had things he'd never told Hiruzen. Tsunade had things he'd never told Hiruzen. Whether he still somehow knew about them was anyone's guess,

"I don't want to say that sometimes you have to filter what you wind up telling the people…" Jiraiya said, trying to find a way to sugarcoat things but drawing a blank for the most part. He wasn't a fan of the practice, but some of what had happened today could cause a serious situation if it became widely known, "…But I can't think of a different way to put it, so it is what it is."

Danzo had many, many supporters in the village for his hard-nosed way of thinking, even if Hiruzen was as widely beloved as any Hokage ever was. The gentle grandfather, the elder statesman as he was. Times were scary, and his image had taken a few hits recently with the spy situation, and Otogakure garnering influence with seemingly no discernable way to cut them off at the pass in sight.

"So I'm guessing that just locking down everything isn't an option," Ino remarked dryly, cheek in hand as she leaned over on Naruto, "The Hokage can do whatever they want can't they? They're the strongest."

"Well if you think that way you turn into Danzo," Tsunade said with a distasteful wrinkle to her nose, "Besides blondie, that comes with its own set of problems for everyone. I could list them if you'd like so that you can take notes."

Shikamaru groaned his displeasure and stood up, hands in his pockets, "Please don't bother. She's not really the brightest," Ino openly scowled at him and kicked him in the calf, but was far too comfortable where she was to do much more than that.

"There's a reason why I used to feel a certain way about the Hokage's seat," About how it was a sucker's bet due to almost certain death and no possible way of coming out ahead due to taking it, "Sometimes it seems like you just can't win."

She was damned glad that Hiruzen had managed to win on this given day however. What she knew now only affirmed for her that her and Jiraiya's opinion was right. He had a genjutsu like Kotoamatsukami up his sleeve for all that time?

Presumably the only reason he'd never used it on Naruto to cover all of his bases was because during Naruto's younger years Danzo could never get anywhere near Naruto without it being too suspicious to ignore under any circumstances. Then after Naruto had become a genin he'd only been around Konoha for roughly a year, and the times when he didn't have either his friends, Asuma, or Jiraiya around him somewhere.

Ick. That Sharingan eye that had possessed the ability had been too dangerous to leave in one piece. As far as Tsunade was concerned, Hiruzen had done the right thing by disposing of Danzo's entire body on the spot. There might have been those out there that would have mourned Danzo's 'passing' but she would not be one of them.

"This whole thing was stupid," Tsunade muttered to Jiraiya, referencing Hiruzen's duel with Danzo, "Anything could have happened. What if he'd lost?"

"Then he'd have had his ANBU take out Root beforehand before Danzo could take the seat and recall them," Jiraiya said, gesturing to the cleanup scene taking place before them as they spoke, "Even if Danzo had won, it would have taken him years to set his underground troops back up the way he would have wanted them. He would have had to do things Hiruzen's way with the conventional forces, and he probably would have died or been forced to retire before he got things the way he would have preferred them."

"…It was still stupid though."

"Of course it was stupid," Jiraiya snorted in agreement, "It takes an idiot to do cool things. That's why it's cool."

That earned him a good-natured smack to the arm. Of course, it being Tsunade who delivered it, the blow accidentally almost dislocated his shoulder.

…Really, she meant it all in good nature.

XxX

(That Afternoon – Hokage's Mansion)

"Of all the dumb fucking ideas dad," Asuma said, having chain-smoked out of worry for half of the day. Of course he'd made sure to do it far away from Kurenai when he'd gone home to wait, but when he'd gotten word that Hiruzen had returned, he'd wasted no time going down there, and the to-be mother of his child had made it a point to accompany and support him, "Doing that alone? Are you trying to get yourself killed, or do you think you're fifty again or something?"

As well as keep him from flying too much off of the handle.

"There are some things we can't afford to allow to be passed down Asuma," Hiruzen said in bed from where he was under strict orders from his medic of a student to rest for at least the remainder of the day. A smile planted itself on his face as he gestured to the calmly seated Kurenai, "You should know that by now."

Asuma simply grumbled and continued pacing a hole into the floor.

Kurenai sighed and tried to play peacekeeper as best as she could. It was fairly difficult to do, but when Asuma was all wound up it took a lot to bring him back down, "Asuma means well Hokage-sama, even if he needs work on expressing it better,"

"I have no plans on checking out so to speak before I can see my newest grandchild be born, or finally see my son married to a woman able to keep him on the straight and narrow," The wrinkled old man said with a gentle smile, "Have your students noticed the ring on your finger yet dear?"

"I… uh, haven't shown them yet. It's fairly new," Why was she embarrassed? Maybe it was just the thought of actually being allowed to a degree to call the Hokage 'dad'? Who would have ever thought that as a future for themselves?

"Don't change the subject dad," Asuma cut in glibly, "You aren't the only person who feels responsible for this place and what happens to it. Nobody would have ever said that you had to handle Danzo and his bullshit by yourself."

"We all have a responsibility to this village, true enough," Hiruzen acknowledged with a shrug, "But my responsibility is greater than yours. You're going to be a father, and I wouldn't be able to look Kurenai in the eyes again if you were killed dealing with an issue that has been ongoing since you were young. I and others that were able to do so should have resolved the problem then instead of letting Root become a part of Konoha's infrastructure."

There was barely anyone left alive from that period of time, even less who were still capable of fighting anywhere near the sort of level that it would have required to take on Danzo. Homura and Koharu wouldn't have done so with their hearts in it, even if they were still of that much strength of body.

It was up to a particular generation to handle their own mistakes, lest they leave deep-seated problems for the future to endure. He wasn't going to apologize for feeling that way.

"There can only one real 'king'. The piece you protect above all else," Asuma muttered, sorely missing that he had a smoke as he turned away from Hiruzen and to Kurenai, "But then again the Hokage was never the 'king' of the game. I learned that much from you dad."

Unfortunately, Danzo never really did.

"Then you'll make a better father than I was," Hiruzen said with a level, understanding tone.

"Oh shut up dad," Asuma said, turning his head over his shoulder just enough to grin at him, "After all, you did good enough to make me. I'd think Kurenai and my team of brats would say that you didn't do that bad of a job."

"I could live without the smoking though," Kurenai said, crossing her legs and her arms over her chest in a pout, "That's one thing I really wish you would have kept from being passed down."

XxX

(A Few Days Later – Elsewhere in Konoha – Uzumaki Clan Mask Storage Temple)

To restore some sort of normalcy to one's life, there wasn't much of anything better to do so than manual labor. Luckily there was one prime piece of land that belonged to Naruto, and he was dead-set on restoring it and shaping it up for living.

Team 10 and Team 7 were present, because it was a fine place to hang out, their preferred training fields aside, and the training fields had a tendency to be occupied by other ninjas of the village quite often.

"So over here's where I'm gonna put a sweet house!" Naruto said with an excited grin, gesturing to a flat, slight clearing that was clearly visible from the main temple, "…I've gotta learn how to build a house first… but how hard could it be? People do it all the time."

Shikamaru rolled his eyes with his arms crossed as he, Sasuke, and Chouji followed Naruto around on a short tour of where he planned to put things and what he planned to do with his clan lands, "Yeah, those people are called contractors."

"Don't listen to your grumpy buddy Mister Nine," Killer B said, leaning against a tree, jotting things down in his notepad, "Killer B thinks this place is fine!"

Still a bit unwary of how to act around Killer B, Naruto stared at him cautiously before leaning over to Sasuke, "Yeah, I still can't tell if he wants to fight me or not. He followed you here didn't he?"

"He won't leave me alone. I've tried everything," Sasuke droned in a broken tone of voice, "I yelled at him, I threatened him, I tried to get him arrested, I tried to get him lost in the woods outside of the village. He kept showing up at my house."

Naruto and Shikamaru both shared a look before fixing Sasuke with a questioning glance, as if to ask why he stopped trying to send him away.

"…Apparently it's a B-rank mission," Sasuke grumbled, "I'm his host until he leaves."

"…At least you made a new friend?"

"Fuck off."

"How do these kinds of things keep happening?" Sakura asked, sitting on the front stairs of the temple, moving to the side enough for a few of Naruto's clones to haul lumber up past her, "Honestly, things weren't this loud after Naruto and Shikamaru left the village."

"Mmm. How did you live without us around for so long?" Naruto jibed in return, one of his special cigarettes lit and hanging from his lips as he oversaw his clones working, "I can't imagine how boring it was."

Sakura simply rebutted with a dry stare, "Boring? Maybe. But the amount of fiery explosions per week since you guys have come back has gone up five-fold. Property values have dropped."

"That's a complete load."

"I'm not even kidding."

From the look in the pink-haired girl's emerald eyes she wasn't saying any of those things just to say them. Unfortunately, she was speaking to the last student of Jiraiya. The Jiraiya. If she was hoping for some sort of reaction based on indignity she was going to have to keep on waiting.

"You hear that Shika?" Naruto asked, a smile slowly spreading across his face.

Shikamaru grunted in affirmation, "Yeah, if we keep it up I guess you won't have to build a troublesome house out here. You could just buy a decent place in the main part of the village for cheap."

"Nah, that's too lazy."

"No, what's lazy is making all of your clones clear your land and fix your temple for you. I couldn't have done it better myself."

'Oh Kami, they don't even care,' Sakura thought, palming her forehead in exasperation, "I don't know what I was expecting…" She said with a sigh, "Maybe some sort of show of embarrassment, that might have been nice. Ino, help me here."

Ino hadn't been listening at all, instead walking over to a place in the clearing where Naruto had stated he would build a house, "It should be a one-story classic-type home, spread out. And I want a room of my own right here that opens up in the direction of the sunset, with a big walk-in closet."

"Hell no. Nobody's telling me how to build my house Ino-buta-chan." Naruto said in return, "It's gonna be two stories, modern with doors that actually shut instead of slide, and what the hell would you need your own room in my house for?"

"For when I stay here overnight? Hello? Duh dumbass!"

Killer B simply giggled to himself and wrote in his rhyme book while the actual friends of the blond pair stared with varying degrees of surprise on their faces. It wasn't a secret that Ino could be very blunt, and that if she wanted something she wouldn't be shy about it in the least, but wow.

Naruto went silent for a second, cheeks going red for just as long before he found his voice, "If your dad ever caught you at my house they wouldn't be able to find my body! I still don't know how you explained away staying over the night before the Root thing."

"Oh," Ino said, blinking her soulful blue eyes blankly before shrugging, "I told daddy I'd stayed over Sakura's."

"What!?" Sakura shrieked, "Leave me out of this!"

It was weird enough that Ino was apparently earnestly dating Naruto now. Sakura didn't need to find herself dragged into anything having to do with their brand new 'really-should-have-seen-it-coming-a-mile-away' relationship.

"Oh relax Forehead. He's probably forgotten all about it by now since he's never brought it to you," Ino said, waving the whole thing off, "If it hasn't come up by now it probably never will."

"Ino-," Naruto tried to say, but stopped when Ino grabbed him by the hand and led him up the top of the stairs to the front of the temple. By 'privacy', it just meant that they weren't surrounded by their friends as they talked about this.

"Naruto," Ino said, cutting him off quietly. The PDAs were still too much for him, as was talking about relationship matters in front of others. She understood, "I'm going apologize in advance for the things I might do, because I'm selfish. I can be a real bitch about the things I want, and I wanted you. Even after getting just a little bit of you, I want you so bad it hurts me inside to think about not having you. I hope you feel the same way, but if not…"

How was she saying all of these things? Didn't she feel embarrassed or nervous talking about those kinds of things? If she did, her poker face was on par with Neji's or maybe even Gaara's. Hell, if that were the case he might as well not be able to see her face the way he couldn't see the Guardian Kenta's, because Naruto couldn't tell.

Even when she told him about her faults she spoke with such candor, and so much poise.

"I… don't know," Naruto admitted, his voice dropping next to a whisper at Ino's candid admission, "I'm not used to getting stuff that I want Ino. I wish I could tell you-," That he loved her? Maybe, but he had no idea what that was even like, "…Ugh."

He had no idea how much his interest in Ino went past being his trusted, gorgeous female teammate and into being a significant other. Jiraiya was utterly useless in preparing him for any of that past knowing how to identify a good looking woman. Asuma was really the only person he could go to about anything deeper than that who he trusted enough to do so, but he'd be damned if he would.

"Well that's just more reason for me to hang around isn't it?" Ino asked rhetorically, slapping him on the arm, "I know how much you care, and I'm not trying to get you to say that you love me or anything right now. I mean, how are we supposed to know what that feels like? To love someone, to be loved by someone."

So she didn't know either? What the hell!? What exactly did he have to go on then if even the girl he was courting didn't know quite what they were doing?

"…But I want to know what it feels like," She finished with a small smile, "So maybe we can find out together?"

"Aww…"

"Shut up!" Ino snapped back huffily at their amassed friends with an indignant stomp, "I was being dead serious! I almost got him to stop being so scared about being serious, and you all have to go and-."

She was swiftly swept off of her feet and bent over backwards, the only thing holding her up being the arms of her boyfriend, who didn't turn out to be as shy as she'd figured when it came to giving her a peck on the lips. Color her surprised, "Y-You're not scared?"

"Pssht, I'm not scared of anything," A blatant lie and Ino knew it, because Naruto was awful at lying. Ever since she'd spent the night at his apartment he'd been jumpy about even holding her hand out around too many people, "But if I screw this up and I hurt you… I'd probably kick my own ass."

"There's always the chance it might not work out," Ino said with a frown. If anything, she was more likely to hurt him than he was to hurt her. "Besides… if it's really bad I can just learn an ANBU seal ritual that'll wipe your mind and make you forget it."

"…That's a thing?" Naruto asked, blinking owlishly as he still held her up. He knew his fair share of fuuinjutsu and he hadn't been aware of that.

"That's totally a thing," Ino said with a cattish grin, "I think daddy knows it. Either him or Ibiki. It doesn't matter. I can get one of them to show me."

"Would you teach me?"

"Sure. We can test it on daddy by telling him we're together, then we can see if you can use it before he strangles you."

Naruto couldn't tell if she was joking or not, and for some reason that brought his mood up back to its usual high. As Naruto pulled Ino up into another kiss more passionate than the first, their attention as well as everyone else's was attracted to the sound of a cawing hawk circling above in the sky.

Chouji shaded his eyes with his hand to look up and try to make out what he could of the animal, "Sasuke, did you leave one of your summons around your clan grounds without sending it home again?"

Sasuke didn't even need to dignify that with a biting retort about how his hawks could send themselves home, because his teammate was way off-base, "That's not even mine. It's a messenger hawk."

"You use your hawks as messenger hawks all the time."

"I'm telling you it's not my hawk."

Because of his sunglasses, Killer B was better equipped to look up in the general direction of the sun than anyone else present, thus he was able to discern exactly what he was looking at, 'That's big bro A's messenger bird,' He thought to himself before lifting an arm up as a perch and whistling with his other hand for the bird to descend, "Eh-eh-eh, got some mail today!"

"Wait, that's your bird?" Shikamaru asked as Killer B removed a small message from its talon to read.

The dark-skinned shinobi's mouth fell open at the message that the characters on the page conveyed to him. He couldn't rap, he couldn't grin. There was nothing fun to take away from what he'd read.

"Yugito…"

XxX

(Meanwhile - Eastern Kaze no Kuni)

Cornering Nii Yugito wasn't such a tough task. As a jinchuuriki she was a powerful enough jounin to handle any class of mission on her own. It was part of why she was so heavily valued. Her presence alone was enough for the toughest missions, allowing the Raikage to free up more of his forces for other tasks.

Her presence alone wasn't enough to handle two enemies the likes of Hoshigaki Kisame and Uchiha Itachi however, and she found herself defeated and spirited away from the country that was her home. The Raikage would stop at nothing to get her back, so getting as far away from his realm of influence was the safest bet possible.

"I didn't think you would get so… upset-," Itachi ventured to say, "-At the sight of so much fire."

Kisame only grumbled, not saying a truly legible word as he shifted the unconscious blonde woman's weight underneath his right arm, "…Stupid bitch. Of course the very next biju Leader-sama sent us after would be the giant fucking flaming cat."

It was supposed to be Kakuzu's mark anyway. His and Hidan's. Kakuzu was off replacing hearts after getting his ass kicked by that Tsunade woman, and the entire bounty affair had gotten him paranoid on locking down the rest of his riches.

All of that came before capturing an assigned biju since there were other free teams anyway. Akatsuki's treasurer indeed.

"It does seem as if Pein-sama has quite the underplayed sense of humor," Itachi said as the two of them proceeded over the cracked, dry land of the budding desert climate, "Then again, I couldn't imagine how else he entertains himself with all the organization affairs there are to keep him busy."

Uchiha Itachi talking about entertaining oneself? There was a sort of novelty to such an impossible thought.

"Where are we going to extract the biju?" Kisame snapped at his partner, still testy at having to fight a giant flaming cat after recently recovering from heavy-duty burns on eighty percent of his body.

"Somewhere secure where no one will interrupt the process."

Kisame stopped walking across the cracked wastes right then and there, prompting Itachi to do the same and turn to face the deadpan stare on the blue-skinned man's face underneath his hat. Dry wind blew around them both, an empty whistle rolling through the air for emphasis.

"Itachi-san, would it kill you to answer a question straight for once?" Kisame asked with twitchy grin. Seriously, Itachi never lied to him, but he could be so roundabout with his answers that it sometimes made Kisame want to cut his legs off.

Itachi didn't even blink, "I thought I was."

"…"

"…"

"Where are we going Itachi-san?" Kisame asked again, entirely willing to forget that the last thirty seconds had occurred.

Seamlessly, Itachi began walking again with hardly a flutter of his cloak, "A safe place like I said, called Sora-ku."

Kisame grunted and continued following along, "Never heard of it."

"Well I would hope so. That would sort of be the point."


Omake: Out of Body Experience (Aftermath)

It had been a week since the strangest day on record in Konoha for quite some time. Things had calmed down, even though the strange temporary possession of an entire block of citizens had never been solved, and a corpse of the horrible tentacle monster that had taken over the now burned down Kikyo Castle had never turned up.

Either way, things for the most part were peaceful, and life had returned to normal… for the most part. Nara Shikamaru apparently had a new morning routine with two new training partners who were more than willing to try and stanch out his slothful ways with the power of youth.

Naruto just let him sleep face down in the grass and trained for a few more hours before waking him up to leave. Apparently Shikamaru resented such a thing.

"Are you still mad?" Naruto asked, having caught up with Shikamaru after he'd been dropped off at Team 10's normal meeting area of their genin training ground by Gai and Lee. The training had to be working though. At least he was able to walk under his own power today.

Shikamaru didn't answer. Talking would have wasted valuable energy. He just kept his eyes on the dusty road ahead, every step they took causing his muscles to scream in protest. He'd have dropped in the street then and there if he hadn't been so sure that no one would have picked him up to carry him after he fell.

"Hey, just remember that you started it," Naruto defended needlessly. Shikamaru was too tired to get into a troublesome argument, "All I wanted to do was take a joyride in your body for an hour. I wasn't going to do anything. You're the one who turned it into some whole big thing."

"Well I guess I don't have to regret visiting the post office as the first thing I did when this whole mess started anymore," Shikamaru muttered, intentionally doing it loud enough for Naruto to hear him. It of course worked, and his more spirited friend took the bait full-bore.

"Mail fraud in my body? That's the best time bomb you've got set?" Naruto snickered. In hindsight he'd probably done things more illegal than that in Shikamaru's body if he actually took the time to sit down and read a book of Konoha's laws, "You picked a fight with a warlock, just admit it! The worst you pulled I could fix in a few days tops. I've got you screwed over for weeks. Scorched earth, bitch!"

For the first time in a few days, a confident smile pulled at Shikamaru, prompting him to pick up the pace of his limping. Every step Naruto lagged behind ate at Shikamaru with a pain that felt so good, because it meant Naruto was actually stopping to think about just what Shikamaru could have accomplished with access to Naruto's mailing info; contacts, mailing lists, etc.

Stark realization dawned on Naruto's face, and that was it. That had been what Shikamaru had been waiting on.

That moment where Naruto realized that his lazy genius of a best friend stood to be quite a nasty person when the mood took him and it didn't require an exerted effort of him to be as such.

"What did you do?"

"I sent a letter to an interested friend of yours."

The way Shikamaru said 'friend' implied that Naruto would not enjoy seeing this person, or that it would somehow inconvenience or vex him in a notable manner. So the question remained-, "…To who?"

Shikamaru didn't say a word and simply limped away, a smirk playing on his lips, "I'm going home and taking a nap. Tell me how that Pyrrhic victory of yours tastes later. I'm thinking it'll be pretty bitter with all of the salt I sewed into your soil."

"Oi! Shika!" Naruto snapped at him, wondering just what Shikamaru had done that left him so evenly tempered even after dealing with the fallout from Naruto's actions from the week before, "What letter? And what did that last thing even mean?"

Shikamaru didn't say anything else. All Naruto heard from him was the pineapple-haired former Guardian humming the wedding march of all things as he walked away.

XxX

KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK!

A bleary-eyed Ino sat up out of the bed in Naruto's apartment, still dressed in her grey work clothes from Konoha T&I. She'd gone in at 5 that morning, and while it had only been a seven-hour day she had been busy. Going to Naruto's place for a little rest was closer than heading straight back to her own, when there weren't people knocking on the door that is.

"I swear to Kami…" Ino muttered to herself, righting stray strands of her blonde locks back into her ponytail as she walked out to answer the door, "…If this is daddy raising crap over me sleeping at Goldie's after work I'm gonna-."

Leaving the rhetorical threat unsaid, Ino opened the door only to stop and try to deduce why the person standing outside of Naruto's door had business there.

She was a taller young woman, with determined green eyes and long dark hair in a ponytail. She wore a form-fitting outfit with short sleeves and a shoulder-guard on her right arm. Thought it was hidden by the fringe of her hair, she wore a headband with a star-centered five-segmented flower as its insignia

She certainly didn't seem to be the type who would drop by Naruto's apartment, but then again in all fairness neither did Hinata… or Ino herself for that matter, "Can I help you?"

"Excuse me," Oh hell, she was talking, and she didn't sound very thrilled about finding Ino behind this door at all. "I was led to believe that this apartment was the residence of Uzumaki Naruto."

This was clearly going to be one of those days, which was odd because it was already half over. Normally these sorts of things started before noon, not in the early afternoon. It was quite the time for the b.s. to start.

'Mmm, you're not from around here are you?' Smacking her lips once in thought as she stalled for something eloquent to say, the Yamanaka Clan interrogator quickly gave up and went for the direct approach, "Alright, this is probably going to end badly, but I'm going to go ahead and wonder out loud who's asking."

"Shizuka," The girl stated firmly, a frown on her face as she crossed her arms in front of her very prominent bust, "I've come quite a long way after being told that my fiancé has returned to his home village. I refuse to return to Nadeshiko Village without him this time."

Ino raised a delicate blonde eyebrow in query. This was so absurd it wasn't even worth flying off the handle at, "Right…" She said skeptically, "You're talking about Naruto? Goldie? I'm pretty sure if you held a kunai to his throat and told him to propose or you'd kill him he'd wind up slitting his own throat from shaking so much before he actually said it, even if he wanted to."

In so many words, there was no way Naruto had the guts at this juncture of his life to ask anyone to marry him. Especially not some girl who never came up in any of his letters to her from the Capital. She didn't even have a ring. Naruto was a noted horse's ass when it came to adhering to most stuffy traditions, but he would have definitely gotten the girl he'd proposed to a ring.

'He'd better buy me-, err, her a damn ring,'

Shizuka's normally expressionless face slipped into a small smile, "There's no need for a proposal. Showing me his true strength was all that he required. He'll be very well respected for it in my village after proving that he was stronger than me, and I know that he will be happy there after he adjusts. He's a good man. I learned that much back at the Capital."

Damn it. Ino was hoping at first that this was some sort of thing about how strong Naruto was. That was an easy enough fix if she could convince Naruto to somehow lose, but apparently he'd already defeated her at some point.

And then there was the fact that she seemed to fond of him. As in she legitimately liked him for who he was, not what he represented in regards to strength and what it would have meant to bring back someone powerful to her village. That just seemed to be a bonus.

Somewhere in Ino's head, the voice of a loud, boisterous announcer sounded off at the top of his lungs dramatically, "A new challenger emerges!"

Setting aside the fact that there was no way in the nine levels of hell that anyone was going to ever take Naruto away from Konoha against his will without slaying a murderer's row of the very best ninjas the village had to offer. There was serious doubt that any of this info would deter the girl in the slightest however. She was convinced she could finagle Naruto out of there somehow.

Ino stared at the girl with a silently miffed expression before her eyes fell down to Shizuka's chest and then moved over to her own, 'Stupid uniform.' Her eyes panned back and forth before bemoaning how bland the T&I outfits were, '…Should've answered the door in my underwear or something.'

Apparently Shizuka could see past the plain uniform and imagine what Ino looked like without it after looking at the girl's pretty features. It was then that her hackles began to raise when she recalled that this was supposed to be Naruto's apartment, she knew Naruto, Naruto wasn't there, and she was close enough to be allowed to stay there when Naruto wasn't around, "What is your name?"

Not willing to drop her surname, Ino decided that Shizuka would have to make do with her given name, "Ino."

This only caused the Nadeshiko kunoichi to narrow her eyes on Ino, "So that would make you the one."

"Which one?"

"The one who is my obstacle."

With that, the mysterious young woman turned and quickly left Ino standing there to take in everything that she'd just learned.

Wow, the tables had turned rather quickly. She'd gone from being suspicious of this strange woman on Naruto's doorstep to being set in Shizuka's way. Ino set her head against the doorframe and banged it one time, "…Goddamn it Goldie."

Somehow that explained everything.


Alright. For the most part Danzo's Root had been hoisted by the man's own petard in training Kabuto as a deep cover agent in the first place, thus a pesky undercurrent in Konoha has been for the most part dealt with.

Now back to the wide outside world! More Akatsuki stuff. It's gonna get rolling. Plus I hope what I've got Orochimaru doing next when I put him on screen is brazen enough to make you nod your head.

Now I have to go to work at 1 in the morning every day. Apparently getting a real job you can be proud of doesn't mean that you don't still get shite hours. Now I'm nocturnal. Hoot-hoot.

made me have to repost this twice... at work. I guess that means I know what day it is.

Hey-hey, Mike-Mike-Mike-Mike. Guess what day it is?

...

Woo-hoo-hoo, hump day-eeee! Yeah!

I hope you enjoyed. Kenchi out.