I do not own, or receive any benefit from the Naruto properties.

A Teacher's Glory: A Union of Rejects: Chapter 16

By Larry Huss

It was three days after the Breaking of Suna, and the cleanup sweeps of Konoha ninja had turned up some unexpected types of dirt.

"I should be the one to present it… it was my nagging that got you involved in the first place," she said.

"It's really too late to grab all the blame on this one. I steered the patrol to the right neighborhood, dumped the kids in a safe spot, and went there and wrecked everything left standing until I found it. I'm in too deep not to finish this. Besides, your bunch will need you, and they'll be in danger if this goes bad.

"Finally, this is a family matter; a blot on our honor, so my responsibility. And I searched for it, found it, and I've read the damn book cover to cover. I even made an index of the interesting bits, and I have access to Dad outside of office hours. If any lightning strikes… at least the village will be a little richer when they auction off my head," he said.

Back and forth it went between them, a passionate argument about who was going to do the right thing, and suffer the usual treatment of those who took principle a step or so too far. For hours the two Jonin stuck to their positions. While straining to hear what the problem was between their sensei the genin teams helped clear out the last of the criminals and invaders who had tried to take advantage of their home. Finally, the Jonin resolved their problem. The woman accepted the only way she would have been able to get the diary from him would have been a full out battle, and she just couldn't risk seriously injuring her best friend's lover, and the father of her unborn child. Mitarashi Anko wondered how Sarutobi Asuma would act, when he found out what the situation was there. Surely the Old Man wouldn't kill his son, anyway. Now all she had to concentrate on was how to break the news to her team, and prepare an exit strategy in case things went catastrophic.

It was six days after the Breaking of Suna when a number of political adjustments started to take place in Konoha.

Utatane Koharu stood respectfully in front of the shell of what had once been her first lover before he had become a legend, before he had first become the Hokage, and before his will and purpose had been sapped by conflict with his tender heart. Now she had to ally herself with forces that she privately despised in order to steer what had once been a magnificent ninja toward the path of true wisdom. If along the way the Utatane family picked up a few (comparatively few) crumbs, it was only right that those who did the hard work of really guiding the Village Hidden in the Leaves towards its potential greatness received a fair compensation for their hidden and subtle efforts to secure its future for the Village. Selfish aristocrats from traitorous families shouldn't hoard the resources that would be needed to repair the damage from the disaster that had come to their home six days before.

She had already almost convinced herself the whole fiasco of the Chunin Exams was Sarutobi's fault, and soon she would manage to suppress the memory how enthusiastic she had been for the opportunity to show off to the other ninja villages the power and beauty of her homeland.

"It makes no sense," she said, "to have a clan with only one member possess all the privileges and immunities that are accorded to real, flourishing, clans. That that clan is the treacherous Uchiha is even more absurd. Keeping so much prime land inside the walls off of the market and unproductive can only slow our efforts to recover from the recent war, if we allow the selfish Uchiha child to continue to deny resources that can be used for the common good."

"Still, by the normal laws of inheritance, even if the Uchiha clan is dissolved, most of that valuable land should still be the property of Uchiha Sasuke. At least he can be proven as a loyal ninja; he's even shown he can ignore the silly feud his family has always had with the Hyuga, when a real emergency is taking place," Sarutobi said, his voice was a bit thin and half dubious.

Koharu seethed at this weak-willed sentimentality. If only Itachi had done his job right and there had been a complete cleansing of the Uchiha it would have eliminated this obstacle. The new housing development scheme could have been taken care of years ago, to the great profit of the Utatane family, if only the Uchiha problem had really been finished off. Her grandson was poised to take the lion's share of the profits when the land was confiscated, sold off to the right people, and then passed on for development. It wasn't fair her family should suffer for the sake of obsolete legal formalities!

"It's probably for his own good, anyway," Koharu said. "It's not wise for a young boy to have so much wealth. It will just spoil him, and lead him into grandiose ideas and political aspirations that are dangerous to public order. Consider; he's notoriously anti-social, but lately he's been actually palling around with the Beast, and making connections with other clans like the Nara and Hyuga. There's starting to be the odor of a conspiracy about all that. When an Uchiha is friendly with a Hyuga, something rotten is going on."

She probably should have worn a little of her Black Orchid perfume, she thought. Sarutobi was being unusually thick and unresponsive today. A little of the will-sapping aromatic potion she had been blending in with the scent that brought him so many good memories from their long-ago liaisons would have put him in the proper, agreeably rubber-stamping mood. Perhaps she should arrange for an afternoon meeting, and come with her full arsenal of 'persuaders'?

"I understand that that lovely house you had built a few years ago was destroyed in the Invasion," the Hokage said.

Koharu was touched by his consideration, proof of his still-fresh affection. "Damaged by one of those damn snakes. And afterwards some looter set it on fire; it's a total loss. But the worse thing is how many souvenirs of our days together, and our missions from the old times were destroyed. Those can never be replaced; I can't even imagine how I'll afford to rebuild. "

The Hokage slid an opened scroll towards her. "The evaluation and payment from the insurance firm has been expedited, by my order. As you see, the complete value you claim on your land-tax has been approved. It is only fair that those who are important are first to get their rice bowls filled."

"It's worth at least four times as much," she broke out. "After all these years of service to the Village am I expected to live in some hovel?"

"Perhaps you could sell off some of the 20,000 square meter plot of land in the Uchiha Compound that your grandson has marked should be given to you for free as a 'consultation fee' after it was to be sold at bargain prices to his real estate firm? Maybe it could be sold to provide the difference between what you pay taxes on, and what your house was really worth? Or perhaps there could be another interest-free loan, never to be repaid, from Utatane-owned construction companies that I have complacently given too many no-bid contracts on official projects to, in order to 'avoid needless paperwork and speed the building of needed improvements?'"

The Hokage continued, his voice roughening as he spoke to his councilor, and long-ago lover: "I admit, you were wise when you advised me years ago not to dilly-dally, and propose to the Daimyo a younger Hokage candidate, even if he wasn't as strong in jutsu as he was in policy. I was arrogant then, thinking I could take up the burden again, and I will have to pay for it now. As will you, unfortunately."

'Sarutobi is acting insane,' she thought, and tried to back out of the Hokage's office before something regrettable and irrevocable was said. She found she was frozen in place however, and couldn't move a muscle.

"Utatane Koharu, do you have any defense against the charges that you have accepted bribes to abuse your offices in charge of public monies? That you have used drugs to influence the Hokage into making certain decisions? That you have conspired to kill innocent citizens and ninja of Konoha?"

"You agreed!" Koharu snarled, "That you were weak-willed and stupid enough to be fooled was your own fault! How can you punish me, and go blithely on as our Hokage? You're hands are just as bloody!"

"Yes," said Sarutobi Hiruzen said mildly, "my hands are as bloody, and only after they have been washed even more crimson will I be able to properly apologize.

"Utatane Koharu, your grandson is being interrogated, again, even as we speak. Anyone he has informed of… certain matters… will be dealt with. His sentence is already written. You are declared a criminal, guilty of two capital charges. Sentence to be executed immediately."

Before she had a chance to be outraged that her dupe and oldest friend had turned on her, she felt the cold thread of a wire garrote placed around her neck and tightened.

'They'd all been taking it rather well,' Sasuke thought as he looked around to the others in the small apartment they were using as a safe-house. Sensei had stopped crying with silent sobs, as Sakura held and comforted her. Naruto was looking at a map of the surrounding countryside, going over the possible escape routes, and was considering what they knew about the security patrols and checkpoints currently out around the village. And him, Uchiha Sasuke? He was waiting to find out if ANBU assassins had been assigned to eliminate him as a pebble in the shoe of the Third Hokage of Konohagakure, Sarutobi Hiruzen.

His calmness, he decided, must be evidence of some terrible mental defect. No one should be this composed when he discovered that every deep fear and paranoid fantasy he'd had were actually optimistic takes on the real situation. When the Shadow Clone that Naruto had left at the Uchiha Compound disguised as Sasuke gave them warning by being 'killed,' they'd know that Asuma had been a fool in trusting that his father wasn't totally rotted and corrupt. A very decent fool; Sasuke would always feel a debt of gratitude for him carrying the live coals in his bare hands, so to speak. Sensei had promised to cover his escape; that would probably lead to her execution… she'd be ruined and imprisoned at the very least. Naruto would be helping her; he also was too loyal to actually turn missing nin, despite all the 'great love' of him in the Village… but he was Naruto, and really there wasn't any other course for him.

Sakura had made it clear she was going with Sasuke; no fan-girl idiocy, just a fact he was going to have to live with. He was very glad of that. Tamaki was still in the Hospital. As she wasn't a ninja, and uninformed of everything, she'd probably have a few rough days, but the Yamanakas would be able to clear her of any knowledge of wrong-doing easily enough. The cats had been briefed to go to cover if everything went to pot, and luckily none of the kittens had been born yet to slow up their hiding.

He looked back at Sensei again. Yesterday, when she had suddenly ordered them to come to this prepared refuge using all the stealth they could, he had wondered what was going on. When they had arrived she had sat them down in a circle and given them a background briefing of the situation. He'd known about her suspicions of financial shenanigans by the Utatane, so that didn't come as much of a surprise to him, though it didn't seem enough reason to go to the current level of concealment. She had struggled then, for a few moments, trying to say something. Finally, she had pulled Naruto with her into the bathroom of the place for a half-hour conversation.

Sakura and he hadn't tried to overhear, figuring it was just another earth-shattering revelation about their teammate. He'd tell them what it was sooner or later; he always did.

Naruto had finally come out, more carrying Sensei than leading her. His fair complexion was now almost sheet-white, and Sensei had tear streaks on her cheeks. Sasuke clamped an iron control over his emotions; someone had hurt her. It did no good to engage in emotional displays until that somebody had been made to pay.

"I'm gonna finish the briefing," Naruto said, "'cause I was too dumb to duck out of it. Anyone who doesn't want to be involved in possible treason kindly head out of here. Except Sasuke, 'cause it's all about him."

"That's good." Sasuke smiled tightly as he spoke. "You know how much I like the topic of conversation to be me. And probably how I can fulfill my modest goals in life."

Naruto sighed, then took up the conversation again. "It's… complicated, but it's about Uchiha business, old Uchiha business. I notice you ain't leaving Sakura-chan... good. It'll be like working without a leg or something if we had to figure things out with you gone."

The girl looked up and smiled; when they were done she'd tell them about the job proposal she'd gotten the other day. With all the good karma they'd been building up with the Hokage and important clans they should be able to twist things to their advantage.

"Right, so this is what Sensei told me. Asuma-sensei was patrolling down near where the Utatane Mansion was with his Team. Anko-sensei had been asking him to get some uncooked records and financials on Utatane Hikaru. Well, Asuma had learned a lot about finding hidden documents when he was one of the Guardian Ninjas workin' for the Daimyo in the Capital, and what with the place being busted up by the snake summons he was able to locate where stuff like that was kept. Then, when he was sure he had what he wanted it, he set the whole place on fire so there'd be no proof that anything was taken. Ashes left; he took the only real evidence of anything with him.

"Anyway… before he turned it over to Sensei he looked through it, and there was a diary along with the financial ledgers. Utatane Koharu's diary. It had stuff on the Uchiha Massacre."

Sasuke didn't know he could naturally emit a growl. Itachi's incoherent writings spiraled through his mind. Sakura and Sensei looked at him with concern, but he shook his head; he wasn't going to go out of control…. yet.

Naruto went on: "Knowing this stuff could be fatal, but legally I'm not sure what it really is, 'cause it's so secret that they couldn't even put it down somewhere to ban people from talking about it. I think it's your basic 'if you find this out, just kill yourself and save ANBU the time and effort' type of secret. Gods and Demons, I can see Sensei's problem now, I'm trying to dance around saying it, too!

"The Uchiha Clan was plotting a coup, the Hokage found out about it, tried to negotiate it away. That wasn't working too well. His counselors, the inner bunch that mean something, ganged up and wore the Old Man down until he ended up using the negotiations as a cover for a pre-emptive strike. Uchiha Itachi was ANBU, and still loyal; he said that he could do the job of breaking the plot up. They gave him the go ahead.

"Now, I don't know what they were thinkin', but instead of just arresting the thirty or so upper ranks that were leading the coup, they somehow decided that they was going to kill all the Uchiha. And Itachi volunteered for it, and he did. And that makes no sense three different ways, but it happened. I can't explain it, or excuse it, and what happened was a crime."

Naruto took a deep breath, and checked out his teammates. Sensei was holding herself rigid, Sakura was so shocked and startled her mouth was hanging open; and Sasuke's face was flushed red, and without realizing it he had called up his Sharingan as if an enemy was in the room. Naruto decided he might as well finish emptying the pail of bad news.

"Sasuke, your Mom and Dad were in on the coup, so they were going to get the axe no matter what, realistically. The Council figured about half the Uchiha ninja were involved, one way or another. The others weren't let in, or were passively against it. But they had to go too for some reason. And all the civilian Uchiha, and all the kids… except Itachi got an exception for you."

At this point Naruto realized he couldn't catch his breath, and bent over for a moment, just pulling air into his lungs.

"Itachi took all the blame and went missing, so everything was put on him. The Council and Hokage pretended they didn't know anything about anything, and thought that solved everything. Except why Old Man Hokage went crazy along with his very elite Inner Council. There might be some ex…extenuating circumstances, but that ain't enough excuse for the Hokage. Sasuke!" Naruto snapped out, "Why were the actions taken sub-optimal?" He sounded, for a minute, just like Sensei, asking them to do a post-mission critique.

"Having ANBU deal with a coup with a surgical strike would have shown that the Hokage was on top of things, and to be feared. Instead having hundreds slaughtered made the Village government look weak and ignorant," Sasuke said.

As was usual with the after-mission analysis, Sakura took the next element: "Eliminating the Uchiha, including the innocent, weakened the Village unnecessarily. Culling and monitoring, with hostages taken, would have been far better for the Village, rather than losing such a powerful blood-line."

Naruto put in his contribution: "Relying on one agent was simply bad planning. There shoulda been other survivors than Sasuke. The Old Masters of ninja craft agreed to something that just shouldn't have worked. The advantage of a limited number of possible information leakers was insufficient to make up for the sheer amount of good luck that they had to rely on to get that shitty plan to actually succeed."

Sensei then did her usual wrapping up, in a croaking voice and with an angry snarling tone: "If the story ever got out, and now it has, the current ruling body would lose all legitimacy. Who could feel safe with people like that, who would wipe out infants and whole innocent families as their preferred way of solving internal problems?"

Naruto nodded. "Right now Asuma is presenting the whole bundle of trouble to the Hokage, along with the usual 'I've got copies that will be released in the event of my death' speech. Oh, Sasuke? Your death too. But there might be another butt-headed decision, so we're hunkering down here and I got a really good Shadow Clone at your place to attract any ANBU who might be sent to pick you up. I'd wondered why Sensei had made me do that on the sly before we got here."

"I-I…" Sasuke stammered. "My family! My land, everything… how dare they… everything!"

Anko pulled herself together, gulped and looked at him, trying to show her concern and sincerity by the steadiness of her gaze. "You're my genin; I'm to teach you not only skills but rightful conduct. Asuma and I knew you'd be under an unbearable strain to do something, anything , when you found out.

"We agreed you had to be informed, it's your right as the Head of the Uchiha. And we take the Founding Compact seriously… but if you went off and demanded justice right then and there; you would be too easy for someone to just make disappear. As your Sensei… I order you: if an assassination squad from Konoha attempts anything against you… I order you to flee the Village, and don't look back. Naruto and I will guard your escape, even against the wishes of our Hokage, even though for ourselves, we will not leave. Our stupid natures I guess."

Sasuke knew what that statement had cost her: when she had been abandoned by her sensei, when everyone in the Village had thought she was just a traitor waiting for her chance, it had been Sarutobi who had shielded her, and given her an opportunity to redeem herself in the eyes of her peers.

In a totally matter-of-fact voice Sakura said, "I'm going with you, of course."

Anko continued: "Asuma, right about now, should be making some very insolent demands about the future governance of Konohagakure, and reparations due you in treasure and blood. Please accept our weakness that we could not ask the Hokage to… to…"

At that point Anko suddenly bolted to her feet, ran and almost made it to the bathroom before her stomach emptied. All three of her student at her side in a moment, cleaning her up and helping her back to the couch.

Sakura thought: 'I'll miss Sensei and Naruto so much.'

Naruto realized that growing up and becoming a responsible person hurt more than a beating.

For Sasuke, it was the final answer to the question about what his team's loyalties were. Sakura would just never let go, and now he didn't mind it at all. In the end Naruto was still willing to die for him, but not betray the ideal he had of what the Village Hidden in the Leaves should be. And Sensei was willing to do the same, and throw away everything she had worked for over the hard years, just because it was right. It was a little disappointing in a way, but not a betrayal at all. He could accept their limitations, and still not lose his connection to them. And they would, if the worst happened, be very high up on the list of those he would eventually ask justice for.

Then he laughed a little, inside. Should he put his own Mother, his own Father, lower on the list? If they had been attempting to violently take over the Village they had at least been criminally stupid, and not just culpably treasonous. Once the coup preparations had been discovered they should have either surrendered gracefully before it was a matter of blood, or instantly fled. He'd have to think about that in the coming hours.

Itachi… Itachi was now a bit more understandable.

He'd still have to go, though.

Shimura Danzo looked out from the wide circular platform on top of the Hokage Residence, the tallest building in the town. Seven days ago the streets had streamed with civilian refugees hurrying to get to the shelters, bands of invaders trying to slaughter anyone they could find, and nightmarish serpents. Now all but the most badly damaged houses were the scene of repair and fresh paint, and the complete loses, such as the Utatane Mansion, were well on their way to becoming cleared empty lots, suitable for fresh construction. Danzo breathed in the cool, fresh air. His village was strong, each setback (and this one could be completely blamed on Sarutobi's failure to settle with Orochimaru all those years ago) only caused its mighty heart to beat more strongly.

"Danzo," Sarutobi (his almost friend and always rival) said, "I wonder if you would give me your opinion on something. Though the Chunin Exams were…terminated unexpectedly, I thought a few promotions might still be in order. Please tell me what you think of my proposals." With that he tossed a small scroll coiled around a wooden dowel, tied with a ribbon.

Danzo caught it with his un-bandaged arm and pulled the ribbon loose with a quick jerk of his teeth. As he read the scroll there were a few things he didn't understand; some were about the names on the list, but the greatest one was why Sarutobi was involving him in the selection at all. Still… it was pleasant to be involved in rewarding deserving Konoha genin, and he appreciated the sign of trust he had just been given.

"Hyuga Hinata. Yes, her of course. Have you heard what they've started calling her? Uchiha Sasuke… did he really manage to stand off one of those damn zombies? And he won his match too, a fine selection. Aburame Shino? Well… he wasn't in the final fights, but there are very good reports about how he handled a squad of genin in clearing infiltrators from the Stadium and the streets. Haruno Sakura; won her bout, single-handedly defended a group of notables on their way to shelters, and destroyed one of those snakes. Very good choice there; I've heard rumors that the Daimyo's court is interested in her. I'm surprised you don't have the Nara boy there; he did go into the Arena with the Suna Demon. That should be worth something."

Sarutobi shook his head. "He was just serving as a distraction, all the time. I can't think of anything really notable he did during the crisis. Not that he disgraced himself, just… he acted like a typical Nara."

Danzo smirked at a sudden thought. "I don't see the Container's name here either. Having over a hundred enemies surrender to him personally can't be ignored. And he managed it all without even having a hint of his prisoner reveal itself to the crowd. It's almost odd, that scapegrace seems to be actually turning into a decent ninja. Wounding a Sannin twice! Not bad for the worst of his class at the Academy, is it?"

"Yes, Naruto," Sarutobi smiled, his open gaze resting on Danzo. "To me he's like the loveable scamp of a nephew that no one in the family wants to mention in polite company. All those stories about him being a sorcerer… just a prank of his that went over far too well. Though I admit it did make him more valuable during the roundup of the infiltrators. Still, even the best of pranks is hardly grounds for a promotion to Chunin. Though I'm sure it will happen soon; he'll want to be in position to succeed the one who will take my place as Hokage.

"I've finally made up my mind, Shimura Danzo. Before the end of next month I'll no longer be Hokage. My bones ache too much nowadays, and I must confess that all too often I feel myself unfocused and with my mind wandering back to happier and more youthful days. Now don't pretend this isn't news you haven't been waiting for for quite a while."

Despite his usual iron self-control Danzo sucked in a quick breath of air; he even seemed to be feeling a bit giddy on hearing the news. Something he had been waiting years for, and had almost given up hoping for, was shortly to come true. To whom could Sarutobi turn to for a worthy candidate? Hatake Kakashi would have been the most likely candidate if he hadn't been both psychological disturbed and dead; the two Sannin not tainted by treason were, regrettably, useless degenerates. This was to be Shimura Danzo's turn!

"Old friend," the Hokage continued, "on this day you will be a participant in an essential part of the cleansing of Konohagakure from a long period of decay and corruption." He slowly approached his old rival and companion. The serene smile on the Hokage's face suddenly started sending off alarms in Danzo's deeper and more paranoid levels of thought. No one should that happy to turn over their supreme office to someone they'd had so many arguments with over the years. Danzo took a step back, and felt the parapet at the roof edge touch his back. Suddenly, he could sense all the pent up killing rage Sarutobi had been concealing, as the old man lunged forward, a kunai appearing in his hand. Before Danzo could find something to do a Kawarimi substitution with on the bare rooftop, the Hokage was grappling with him, the kunai first stabbing deep into him, then becoming tangled in his robes. Only the complete unexpectedness of the assault prevented Danzo from feeling the pain of the piercing of his bowels. As he grabbed the Hokage's hand to prevent the knife from being used again, the two men toppled over the edge of the solid railing, out into the air.

Despite his best efforts to twist himself around, the sling that he used as support for his bandaged (and as camouflage for his supposedly crippled) arm inhibited his efforts: when they hit the broad, sloping tile roof that covered the main living areas of the building it was the Hokage who ended up on top, the weight of his body driving the breath out of Danzo. Together they rolled to the edge of that roof section, still twenty-five meters above the slate walkway that surrounded the mansion. Any ninja of skill who was prepared, and had some chakra in reserve, could easily survive (if with some degree of damage) such a fall, as long as he could get his body orientated to land properly. While that ninja was in a life and grapple with someone equally skilled, and the both of them were twisting and tumbling on both the horizontal and vertical axis at once, landing properly was unlikely to happen. Add in the seventy year old bones both men were cursed with and whoever took the direct impact on the stone pathway below was in for some severe damage. Danzo head-butted the Hokage directly onto his forehead protector, welcoming the pain as he felt the metal edge of it tear free the bandage over half his face that the covered one of his secret weapons, the stolen Sharingan eye of Uchiha Shisui implanted where his own right eye should be. Then they plunged together over the lip of the slanted roof.

Now, Danzo knew, it was all a matter of timing. The greatest power of the fully developed Sharingan would have to be used, the Inzanagi. It should allow him to turn all his wounds to just illusion, according to the secret research notes from Orochimaru that his Root agents in ANBU had managed to get to before they were put away under lock and key under the Hokage's hypocritical definition of 'forbidden knowledge.' As he struggled with Sarutobi, Danzo kept a running mental log of how long they had been falling, and therefore, how far. As a great ninja veteran he knew that the moment to act was…NOW!

In an instant he was… gone to another realm of being. Nothing was hot, nothing cold. Things were neither bright nor dark, but a grayish void without perspective. There was no sound but the rasp of his too old lungs pulling in whatever passed for air in this place that was only as real as his mind made it. He concentrated on the pain in his side, where he saw the oozing wound of Sarutobi's first attack as it continued to send jabs of pain. The rawness of his throat was another reminder that Inzanagi was only supposed to make any injury taken while you were using it an illusion. He'd have to get treatment for those injuries he had brought with him into this place. As he pressed a hand against his side he tried to remember something else, some price that had to be paid for using the powerful forbidden technique. Ah yes, a Sharingan eye would have to be sacrificed for the use of Inzanagi. Well, he had prepared for that years ago, learning how to prepare seals that would deflect the ruining effect of trying to channel too much power through his limited connection to the bloodlines of the Sage of the Six Paths.

He unwrapped his right arm; the one that everyone thought was crippled, and unveiled a staring eye implanted in it, its Sharingan marks twirling. With a triumphant grunt Danzo slapped onto the eye a written seal he had pulled from a pocket in his robe. Now it would, on the instant he returned to the physical world, take the damage from the technique, and spare for him Shisui's more powerful eye. One down of the ten he had kept hidden there. He wondered if an actual Uchiha, and not just someone who had stolen their eyes and had them carefully attached to his chakra system, would be under the same limitation. In any case, he would have nine more of these souvenirs from the night his planning had broken the over-dangerous clan. He chuckled; it was if he was playing some child's game, and had managed to earn enough points to earn nine extra 'lives' to help carry him through to the end of his adventure.

He could (should) use the powers of Inzanagi to just materialize himself at the Hospital, or if he wanted to be cautious, to one of his secret strike forces' well stocked hidden barracks. But he had one thing he was determined to do first, before he went or did anything else. He had by then, through sheer self-control, mastered the pain from his injuries and his fight. Now he would, after all those years of waiting and planning, finally see Sarutobi Hiruzen lying broken at his feet. He willed himself to appear into the phenomenal world standing proudly on his feet, a few paces from the last Sarutobi Hokage; the rest of Sarutobi's family would have to be eliminated as soon as possible as basic political hygiene.

He came back to the world of Earth and Air, and saw the bleeding form of Sarutobi Hiruzen lying broken on the pavement. And then he fell to his knees. The croaking last words of the Hokage of Konohagakure were the last thing Shimura Danzo heard for the next ten hours.

"Nice trick… Shimura. Never figured you for it… but I studied you… years. Knew you were faking… and the ribbon on the Promotion Scroll was… drugged."

Those were the last words of the Professor, the God of Ninja, the Fire Shadow of Konoha; spoken as Shimura Danzo pitched forward, unconscious.

The ANBU team that Sarutobi had hand-selected and assigned to patrol the grounds and secure any "evidence" that appeared immediately rallied to the body of the Hokage. They were startled by the sudden appearance of someone in a ANBU style mask that seemed to appear from nowhere step out of the noontime shadow of the building, and was swooping down towards Danzo's body. If the Invasion hadn't been so recent, perhaps a more hesitant response would have occurred. But Wolf-mask had just seen her leader fall, evidently attacked for the second time in a week. No filthy infiltrator or traitor was going to make her fail her duties. Before the Moth-masked stranger (and Wolf knew that Moth wasn't in current service) could scoop up Elder Shimura, the fallen councilor was enclosed in a jutsu-created dome of earth. Instantly a battle broke out at the base of the Residence

The Moth actually had to leap over the suddenly appearing barrier, and then pivoted and started to run back to the dark shadow of the building. Wolf was leader of the Hokage-selected team for reasons beyond her ferocity. With some instinctive knowledge she couldn't account for, she knew that the Moth had come from the Shadow, and wanted to return to that place of advantage. A flurry of shuriken flew out of Wolf's left hand, as a kunai was drawn with her right one. After the briefest of hesitations her companion, Owl, understood what his leader was trying to do, and drew his 60cm Ninjato blade, and then charged directly at the interloper.

Moth-mask spun in place, a glittering golden colored dust coming off his extended right hand. Wolf's thrown kunai struck right into the middle of the glowing band, and stopped in mid-air. Owl, moving too fast to avoid what looked like a chakra barrier of some sort, channeled power into his legs and leaped over the head of Moth, stabbing downward as he did a flip. The stranger blocked the stab with a forearm that scattered sparks from where the sword point hit it.

Meanwhile, the third member of the ANBU team, Leopard, had scooped up the Hokage's body and was rushing off the field of battle to bring him to the Hospital. He was using Body Flicker Techniques one after another to get the Hokage to what looked like his only chance of survival. The price by the time the journey ended, a kilometer and a half away, would be terrible.

As Owl went high, Wolf went low, preceding herself with a blast of flame out of the palm of her right hand, trying to bounce it off of the ground and into the enemy. Diving under the descending golden barrier she drew a 15cm long bladed hunting knife with her left hand. She almost made it through to her opponent, but her right foot was caught in the descending chakra-charged particles, and stopped her body with a jerk. She still slashed out in front of her with the knife is as wide an arc as possible, and felt the tip nick into something.

Moth had naturally enough recoiled at the line of fire that had rebounded from the ground and was due to hit him waist-high. The sudden appearance of a knife blade made him dodge back even faster and right into his own Golden Amber Wall. If he had had a second more he could have kept it the right distance away from his body, but now he was as caught as the miserable ANBU lackey at his feet. Desperately he canceled the barrier, and staggered a bit as he fell down about 20 centimeters or so. His left leg also suddenly notified him that he had been wounded in his shin. If only he could get to a reliable piece of shade he could use the Shadow Road to rescue Danzo-sama from the earthen prison he was in; it would be sunless enough inside that dome.

Before the Moth could draw a kunai and rid himself of the prone Wolf, he had to dodge a sudden burst of senbons that Owl threw out in a fan shaped pattern. Moth stared for a second at his standing enemy. Owl was now between Moth and the shadow of the Residence, and the Wolf had rolled off to the side and was getting on to its feet. Moth risked a quick look behind himself; he must have jumped closer to the earth-dome than he had thought. Now all he had to do was to dive over and behind it and he would be in its shadow! Then it would be a simple thing to walk in Shadow into the dome and retreat through the world of darkness to a safe base. The thought was an instant mother to the deed, and the ninja dove up and forward, reaching out with his arms to use the top of the dome as a pivoting point for a safe, rolling landing. The surprise Moth felt when he seemed to go right through the waist-high structure, and when an instant later his head and shoulders made contact with the hard-baked ground, was profound. Before the contact could be shaken off there was a painful smash on the top of his head, and then another one, knocking him out for hours.

"Don't you wish you were decent with genjutsu?" Owl asked his team leader.

A growl came out from the Wolf mask. This would be another meal she'd have to buy him, payment on their long standing bet on how useful his specialty was in a tactical situation.

For a second she thought over things, and then she reached her decision. "T&I, right now. Inform Shikaku that something important is up. Oh, and send a messenger to Sarutobi Asuma, that his father is ill. No one else to be informed until Ibiki or a higher level clears it."

With that she collapsed the true earthen dome, picked up Danzo as Owl did the same for the Moth-mask, and they left at full speed.

The Hundred-skin Shadow Clone playing the part of Uchiha Sasuke looked up when it heard a diffident knock at the door to the study of the Uchiha Clan Head's mansion. With just Sasuke (and the cats) rattling around in it, it was a parody of what it should have been. But it was a symbol of Sasuke's determination to make everything broken, whole again.

With Tamaki not yet recovered enough to leave her hospital bed, Sasuke-clone wondered who would be both willing to enter the supposedly haunted Uchiha Compound, and also polite enough to knock and wait for permission to enter.

"Enter."

An ANBU with a spider motif on his mask entered, and sketched a bow. "Uchiha-sama (after all, here the mere genin was, technically, a clan head) I'm sorry to bother you, but there is an urgent need for Uzumaki at the Headquarters. Nara Shikaku, Jonin Commander, requires him to use one of his peculiar techniques to help interrogate a special prisoner. We haven't found him at any of his usual spots. Please help us locate the devious little git."

"Where you one of those who used to locate him after his schoolboy pranks?" Sasuke-clone's voice drawled out in full aristocratic hauteur.

"I was one of those who tried, anyway. I never actually won the betting pool by being the one to find him."

After a moment of consideration Sasuke-clone delivered what it thought was a suitable reply. "The Dobe is currently in meditation at a secure location, trying to find inner peace and calm. I will probably be safe disturbing him, being a familiar face. It is unfortunate that you are unknown to him. It might lead to… complications best avoided. I shall have to go alone to give him the message."

Spider gave a silent nod at Uchiha-sama's statement. If the Beast-Container felt he was in need of some quiet time to find inner peace, no-one who knew the facts about him was likely to give an objection. That the Uchiha was willing to beard the Fox in whatever hidden den he was holed up in was a confirmation to the rumors floating around that the boy was so mentally disturbed that he had absolutely no fear. As it was also reliably reported that Uchiha-sama had faced off against, and survived, a revenant Hokage during the Invasion, there was already a betting pool on how long it would take him to be inducted into ANBU. Frankly, boy geniuses gave Spider the creeps, but they were so damn useful in pinch. He was going to try to put his money down on two years, six months.

After the ANBU respectfully bowed himself out, the clone considered something. There seemed to be no theoretical reason the technique wouldn't work. It would only dissipate one Clone-skin to inform its creator what had gone on, and would continue to cover this location on its original mission. Carefully it prepared for the delicate operation, and acted!

With a puff it disappeared completely.

Though he wasn't especially chakra sensitive, Spider felt a sudden change in the chakra level of the area, and followed up his suspicion by rushing back to the study. Knocking, then boldly entering a moment later, he looked around the empty room. No other doors? Check. Windows closed and locked from the inside? Check. No secret exits? A few moments spent searching. Check. Spider resolved to advance his bet for an invitation for the Uchiha to join to within six months.

At the safe-house Naruto spasmed for a second. Receiving the memories of a one Hundred-skinned Clone was somehow easier to handle than a hundred One-skinned ones, but it still had a sharp kick. The news he had now was certainly interesting, he just wasn't too sure how useful it was. Did the Hokage really need him for an interrogation? Whose, his own? Was Sasuke safe, or was this just an attempt to locate him for convenient 'disposal'? There was only one way to find out.

"Well, guys. The Old Man has finally decided to turn the funny hat over to me or something. Anyway, the ANBU that showed up at Sasuke's place didn't want to clean up any loose ends, he just wanted to find me for some sort of help at interrogation. Chakra Flood I guess, but I thought they had all sorts of chemicals that could do the same chakra burnout thing at T&I."

Anko perked up at the last bit, she had worked for a while at T&I, Torture and Interrogation, and had a suspicion about why the Hokage might want Naruto.

"Yes, there is that sort of stuff. It's not usually suitable for field work, though. The important thing is, Team, that the most important officials, or those with lots of secrets, can be either immunized against some of drugs used for interrogation, or made allergic. Then, if someone drugs them they'll die before anything can be spilled to a Yamanaka or someone with similar talents. If some big-shot is being given the full treatment they might not want to risk him dying before they empty his skull, so getting Naruto involved would make sense. It's just… we still don't know what our status is. Frankly, this is starting to get on my nerves."

As she looked like death warmed over having a bad hangover day after a week-long bender; and for the first time in her team's memory had had an emotional crisis, none of the genin tried to argue with her about that. They were getting a little nervous themselves.

"Well," Naruto said, "I gotta go. As things stand now it has to be treated like a legitimate order. What I'm gonna do is leave a bunch of Shadows here, and send a strong one back to Sasuke's place to replace the idiot who tried to make up a new dispelling technique on the fly. I'll dispel one of the ones here when I get into the arms of ANBU, and one when I leave 'em. If all go at once, it means I'm in trouble. That don't mean this was all a set-up, but it won't be a good sign.

"If this is all straight I'll go to Sasuke's myself, and get one of the slicker cats to bring you a message. Anyway, if the clones disperse one at a time and spaced out, it won't mean much. Ya gonna be on your own for real positive confirmation, but since Sensei was going to volunteer us for Aggressor Force Infiltration work to improve town security before this Chunin thing came up, I got a feeling you'll be able to figure out a way ta handle that.

"Anything else we should arrange?"

At that Sasuke spread out the copy of the Village map, and plotted out a route for Naruto to take if he was under coercion and a different one if he was running free, as well as when to pass certain landmarks. They all agreed that if the new Sasuke-clone was attacked by Konoha forces a pre-briefed cat should scratch up the door of a certain clothing store that had used to deny Naruto service.

Just before Naruto left… all the clones made… he had a final comment to make: "Things will be a hell of a lot easier when you guys got the reserves and can make Shadows yourself. Sensei… you probably do, and as soon as we get ourselves some down-time you are going to have to learn how. And no back talk on this. Think about it, goin' out on a hot date with yourself; someone who really knows what'll please ya!" He barely managed to dodge the twirling kunai that hurtled at him. He left while Sakura blushed, Anko fumed, and Sasuke laughed.

It took most of an hour before Naruto was finally at the place he was to do his hush-hush and most urgent services. After showing up at the Hokage's offices he had been passed from one person to another a little higher in the hierarchy of Konoha's ninja forces, with an occasional halt while he had to prove that he was in fact Uzumaki Naruto to one or another suspicious officer. The unspoken, but obvious, tension in the air was contagious, and if Naruto hadn't already been paranoid he would have become so in short order anyway.

But none of the psychic concern was particularly pointed at him. Something else was going on, and Naruto got the distinct impression that for some of the normally placid office workers he passed (usually Chunin who had settled into the high part of their career) hysteria was only one notch higher in their emotional spectrum.

As he finally walked down the long underground corridor to the interrogation cells, accompanied by a woman with no distinguishing uniform, and a security clearance that was evidently high enough to obstruct low-flying clouds, he went over the number of ways he had messed up this little jaunt. What he couldn't do was figure out what he should have done instead.

Finally, he was led into a large windowless room. Air came in through a small screened vent, and the light was in general, low. Pushed to the side were a table and several chairs, and strapped to a wheeled medical style gurney under a set of brilliant spotlights, was a crippled, naked old man. He had a bandage low down on his side, and fluids dripping into him.

Naruto felt he should be able to place the man, but the face just wasn't clicking for him. And there were distractions: one of the man's eyes had recently been scooped out of his head, and next to the gurney was a table with a number of drip bottles and wires leading out from oddly shaped boxes, connected to what was evidently the recently detached arm of the man. An arm with a row of eyes on it, staring out onto the world. Sharingan eyes. And one that Naruto was certain was once another, but now was just a burnt out pit in the flesh. With the weird body modifications, Naruto guessed that this person must be a high-level Sound ninja that had recently been caught; they did things like this to themselves, after all.

Ibiki was there (Naruto remembered the name from the start of the Exams, and Sensei had from time to time mentioned the man) and it was him who now gave the commands, even though Yamanaka Inoichi was there also, and he was supposed to be a big shot Jonin. Now that his eyes had adjusted to the light Naruto even noticed, besides two medical techs who were checking on the arm and preparing to do something or other to the old man if needed, Ino was in a corner of the room. She was looking subdued, even intimidated. Ino, quiet and timid. What the hell was going on?

"Uzumaki," Ibiki said, "erase Danzo-sama's chakra. Leave him just enough to stay alive. Can you do that and have enough spare strength to do another one? We have an odd customer in the next room that needs the same treatment."

'Danzo-sama…' Shimura Danzo the Village councilor? Naruto put it together a bit then. The old guy always went around with half his face bandaged, and his right arm too. The old man on the table had his right eye recently removed, and his arm with (count them…) nine Sharingan-capable eyes also. Naruto didn't know what you could do with eyes implanted in odd parts of your body, but evidently the experts of T&I were being very cautious on that front.

"Chakra Flood doesn't really work like that, but don't worry. I haven't killed anyone yet, Ibiki-san. And, yeah, I can handle two in a row. Though I'm glad ya got medics around. An old guy like him… he might be hanging on by a thread in the first place and decide to have a heart attack on ya just for spite."

With that he gathered and released his Chakra Flood, expecting some weird and dangerous reaction or other just because Danzo was some sort of big shot, and people like that seemed to know a lot of things that they'd forbidden anyone else to learn. But… evidently knowing all the old stuff didn't necessarily give you a leg up on the new stuff, and except for the body twitching and Danzo's bladder releasing, there didn't seem to be any side-effects.

Inoichi came forward then, his hand on Ino's shoulder. "I'll walk in his mind, daughter. It won't be as clean and simple as the Suna girl's. You'll need some help on dealing with the sort of thing you'll find there, or else give up sleeping for a while, so I'll go first to clean out the worst parts. You read me, and let your mouth work with what you find. Only what I'm doing… no mischief, child!

"Uzumaki, take down what Ino says; we'll want a written record. No use getting the wrong people in trouble because of a mistake in remembering things, is there?"

Naruto wondered when he had been given this sudden jump in security clearance. The last he remembered he was a genin who was barely allowed to know where the bathrooms where in the Hokage Offices. Now he was dealing with 'cut your throat before reading' stuff on a regular basis. He wasn't sure that this was the kind of promotion that he was looking for. Evidently just being allowed (ordered, rather) to burn out a political figure's chakra had put him in a category where he was trusted for the duration, and in up past his shoulders in the political swamps. Lucky him, lucky him.

Both the Yamanakas sat down on the floor, their backs braced against a wall, while Naruto pulled out a pencil and a notebook, then quickly snapped up a clipboard with various forms, and flipped them around so he could write on their blank backs. By the time he was finished the Yamanakas were both inside someone else's head and Ino was taking in a low, monotone voice.

Root: numbers and names and codenames and addresses and entrances and passwords and infiltrators in ANBU and codes and bank accounts and… Naruto's hand, despite his healing abilities, started to cramp up from the endless writing at top speed. He hoped he could get a short rest soon; he was only ambidextrous with missile weapons. He saw Ibiki was taking notes also; their copies would probably be checked against each other.

Agents: knowing and unknowing, blackmailed and patriotic, the hooks in the mouths and the briefest summaries of the controlling secrets, deals and betrayals and deaths. On and on, until Naruto wondered if Ibiki was looking around for where to stash the bodies of the others in the room when they were no longer needed for the interrogation.

Deals: with Koharu and Orochimaru and Akatsuki and Yakuza and Kiri and Iwa and Jashin and…

Plans: to break the Clans, the Guilds, the families, the businesses. To control everyone, for every second, and train all for the War. The perfect War against everyone on the outside. The War to kill or absorb every ninja, samurai, constable, or street thug into being a soldier of Konoha. The War to make Shimura Danzo the undisputed master; greater than the Sage of the Six Paths, greater than demons, greater than Gods.

Ino's voice was now a harsh whisper, and tears flowed from her blankly staring eyes. Finally, a convulsion wracked her body and she fell over to her side. To Naruto it looked as if she had fainted; probably she had exhausted her chakra. It was several minutes more before Inoichi seemed to come back into his own skull, and even that experienced Jonin looked exhausted.

Ibiki came over and took Naruto's notes, looked them over, and gave him directions to run them up to Nara Shikaku along with the man's current location. Evidently, Naruto decided, he was totally trusted, his little escapade in going to ground unknown. Unless at the end of this little voyage they killed the messenger. But that was supposed to be wrong, right?

As he walked to his destination he started to think of some of the things he had been taking down without thinking. One thing was bothering him, until a connecting memory popped up. Shimura, mind-raped by Inoichi, quoted in first person by Ino reading her father's mind, had said; "At least I've killed Hiruzen." Wasn't that the Old Man's name?

Naruto was still refusing to believe that when he knocked and was admitted into the presence of the Jonin Commander.

On the ninth day after the Breaking of Suna, the non-family bequests listed in the Will of Sarutobi Hiruzen were distributed. It made more real the sudden and immense changes that had taken place in Konohagakure: the death of Hokage, his most trusted Councilors deciding to join him out of respect, Shimura-sama's last act of turning over his special training school and its students to assist ANBU in dealing with its increased responsibilities… all of these showed a new era was dawning in the Village Hidden in the Leaves. With no nominations for the office of Hokage on file, a temporary Emergency Executive Committee had been formed to handle current business and administration.

But politics weren't on the mind of the small group gathered at the Memorial Stone. The list of names of those who had died was still being inscribed on the stone, the masons carefully chipping away at the chakra-resistant rock. Sarutobi Asuma handed a black velvet bag embroidered with gold thread to Sasuke Uchiha. The boy received it reluctantly; no material gift would be enough to buy his forgiveness for what had been done to his family, and accepting any sum as a pay-off would be a lie.

"The Executive Committee accepted the Third Hokage's recommendations for promotion; you have been promoted to Chunin, Uchiha-san. The scroll I have just given you is another thing entirely."

Then Asuma turned to Haruno Sakura. "The Executive Committee accepted the Third Hokage's recommendations for promotion; you have been promoted to Chunin, Haruno-san. As a side note, when I talked to him the last time he said that he regretted, now, the fact that he never really appreciated how you had progressed, until the Exams. You will report, alone, to the Executive Committee tomorrow morning for a special assignment.

"Mitarashi Anko, the Executive Committee had decided to confirm your promotion from Special Jonin to full Jonin. You have successfully guided Team Seven through their difficult genin period with great distinction. In acknowledgement you are relieved of your assignment as Jonin-sensei and have been assigned the task of developing an advanced tactical course that will become a standard part of the curriculum of the Academy, and which must be passed before Team assignments are given. This will be your job for the next year. This is to occur after the completion of the special assignment you were given yesterday.

"Uzumaki Naruto, you can accept the offer of an apprenticeship made by Jiraiya the Toad Sage, or be folded into a broken genin team for the chance for a future promotion at the next Chunin Examination, whenever that happens."

"Are those my only options, Asuma-sensei?" Naruto asked.

"Well, they didn't actually limit you to those, but really, what else can you do? There are too many reasons for your team to be split up for a while. We'll have to conduct a war while… just let them know in a day or so.

"Anyway, dad wanted you to have this," and he handed over two scrolls. "One I have no idea about; it's got something stored in it, I guess. The other is authority to release any Namikaze techniques or properties to your control, as the sole heir. Yes, the Namikaze Minato techniques and properties. Which surprises the hell out of me. Congratulations on no longer being screwed out of what evidently should have always been yours. Anyway, bring that to the office of the Temporary Head of the Emergency Executive Committee and he'll get things rolling. It's Nara Shikaku, in case you've already forgotten, and bailing his son out in the Arena isn't the worst introduction to power I've heard about."

'So,' Sasuke thought to himself. 'Naruto was always a diamond in the rough, just waiting for the right hand to polish him up. He'll probably forgive being neglected and abused. It would probably be better for everyone if I could do that… but the central ruling body of Konoha declared war with the Uchiha; I'll have to take up the battle. It's a shame that good people like Asuma will have to suffer in the long run. Could I really hurt Sensei, though?'

He noticed his hands were fiddling with the scroll he had been given. As much to distract himself from actually deciding he would have to be willing to kill good people; he slipped the parchment out of its container. He unrolled it; the writing was a rusty red-brown. It was the color of dried blood on the slightly yellow sheepskin, he realized. The message was short, slightly ambiguous if the context was unknown, but very clear to Sasuke.

"Please accept my apology for my folly and grievous mistakes. I have no excuse, and can offer only my profound and humble request for your forgiveness. Sarutobi Hiruzen."

Shimura was dead, Utatane was dead, and on hearing of his companions ends Mitokado Homura had hanged himself (or someone had done the job for and to him). And Sarutobi Hiruzen, the guilty Sarutobi, had been killed in the same accident that had killed Shimura Danzo. Falling off the roof together. Right… less likely to happen than a chicken crawling back into its egg.

He thought of his people, the ones here with him now. Naruto finally acknowledged for who he was (even if not promoted). Sakura, no longer the tag-along fangirl, now the famous heroine, and savior of an essential part of the nobility of the Land of Fire.

Sensei, being given her opportunity to make more genin strong enough to be merciful when they could…

Merciful… how strong was Uchiha Sasuke? Perhaps Sensei had made him as strong as he wanted to be, needed to be. Sasuke bowed to the Memorial Stone, even though the name he was addressing wasn't on it yet. He was strong enough to accept a sincere apology. He was strong enough to forgive Sarutobi Hiruzen. He was strong enough to forgive Konohagakure.

Author's Note:

Having valuable property confiscated by the government, paid for at bargain rates, and practically given to private developers with connections to that government, with all but the original owners then making huge profits is far from unknown in the First through Third Worlds today.

You may notice that, in general, I follow the wisdom of the old Greek proverb: "Even Heracles can't fight two." Unless a fighter is immensely superior; when outnumbered a fighting retreat is the preferred tactic. Unless the fighter is cunning enough to make the enemy attack one at a time…

Shimura Danzo was attempting, using only speculative notes of an experimenter, to utilize an advanced family-linked (and not his family) technique for the first time. It is hardly to be wondered at if he was only partially successful.