Side Story 5: Hinata's Ascension, Part Two

Snafu's Notes: Yes, I know that Kushina's name is being spelled incorrectly, but I did that on purpose, solely because the name looks better with two n's instead on one in my opinion. Also, this chapter combined with the first half of Hinata's Ascension was a whopping 21 pages long, so I split it.

Oh, and the little secret that Shikaku told Shikamaru? It's in this chapter. And keeping in with my modus operandi, it's a twist that you will not see coming. And this twist will make you hate Konoha even more. Which makes Naruto and Hinata's scheme regarding Konoha even more satisfying.

Entry 12:

Right now, there is a lull in the invasion. I guess I should start from the beginning.

The Akatsuki has resurfaced. Three months into my marriage with Naruto and they had resurfaced. Naruto and I are in Suna, where two of them had tried to kidnap Gaara. We were there on an inspection tour of the Suna Consulate – as well as Naruto checking on Gaara's seal, since Shukaku was starting to act nuts again – when we heard the commotion.

But even the Akatsuki were not expecting the Emperor and the Empress Consort to deprive them of two more members. I identified the blonde as the renegade Iwa ninja/mad bomber Deidara, while Kankuro and Baki identified the puppet master as former Suna ninja Sasori. Naruto had finished repairing Gaara's seal when the alarm went off. Yahiko and Konan proved to be useful when they told us how the pair fought. I decided to go after Deidara, while Naruto and the Elite Guard dealt with Sasori.

Gaara provided with the distraction, keeping Deidara occupied while I made my move. The crazy terrorist forgot one major rule we shinobi must follow: be mindful of your surroundings. I summoned a chakra Yumi and fired one Katon-powered arrow at Deidara, striking his pouch where he keeps his plastic explosives. For a split second, night became day as the pouch exploded, destroying the lower half of Deidara's body.

Gaara and I found his mangled body soon after. He was dead.

I later found out that the explosion caused by me detonating Deidara's pouch had distracted Sasori, allowing Yahiko to unleash the Shinra Tensei, destroying Sasori's body and core...but not before Sasori had managed to kill his grandmother, Chiyo when she tried to stop him.

Before Sasori died, he told us that the Akatsuki was coming for Gaara, as they assumed that he knew where the remaining Jinchuuriki were hiding. And with the deaths of both himself and Deidara, Yahiko knew that Nagato would unleash the Five Paths of Pain upon Suna.

According to Yahiko and Konan, the Five Paths of Pain was a rather deadly technique used by Nagato that serves as his representative in the Akatsuki. The five bodies were all reanimated corpses of fallen ninja, outfitted with chakra rods, allowing Nagato to control them separately, and each wielding the Rinnegan.

There was no way around it. Suna would be invaded by the Akatsuki.

But we did have the advantage of having the Jinchuuriki. Aside from having Pain, the Akatsuki also could use Zetsu to create a clone army, one that can even rival the Imperial forces, as well as having Madara Uchiha and his Eternal Magenkyou Sharingan.

Gaara's reaction was instant. He called all able-bodied Jounin and Chuunin back to Suna to prepare for the inevitable invasion, and ordered the immediate evacuation of the civilians and the genin of the ninja academy to both the shelters and the Wind Capital. Naruto used the Demon's Gate to return to the West and inform the Imperial Council of the matter. I remained behind with Yahiko and Konan.

Two hours later, Naruto returned via the Demon's Gate Jutsu. But he was not alone. The Jinchuuriki were with him...as was Zabuza and the Demon Squad in all its glory. Yugito and her Hellcat Unit were also present, as were the Yamada clan, the Shainto and Okajima clans and three battalions from the Imperial Defense Forces. Even A decided he wanted in on the action, leaving the Imperial Council in charge until Naruto's return. Temari and Team Misfit also join in the fray, Temari wanting to fight for her home, Maru and the other three wanting to make us proud.

While Naruto, Gaara and the high-ranking Jounin from both Suna and the Imperial forces went over battle strategies, one of the lookouts from Suna came with the news. The Five Paths of Pain were at the village gates. Fortunately, Gaara had ordered his ninja to fall back, while Naruto and Yahiko went out to deal with them personally. Konan and I kept to the rooftops, ready to defend and assist at a moment's notice.


[Flashback]

Sunagakure no Sato, Wind Country.

The streets were deserted, the civilians and those unable to fight having been evacuated. The Suna Ninja and the Imperial Forces had orders not to engage the Five Paths, and that the Emperor and Yahiko would deal with them personally.

Hinata and Konan watched from the rooftops as Yahiko stood before the Five Paths of Pain: the Animal Path, the Human Path, Naraka Path, the Asura Path, and the Preta Path.

"Yahiko. This doesn't have to end this way," the Animal Path said. "All Lord Madara wants is peace."

"It's not the kind of peace I want," Yahiko shot back. "Placing the word under an Infinite Tsukoyomi is not peace. It's slavery."

"Still as arrogant as ever," the Naraka Path said. "That has not changed about you. You cannot win against us."

"Step aside and let us retrieve the Shukaku jinchurriki," the Human Path said. "Through him will we find the locations of the other Jinchuuriki."

As this exchange continued, something caught the Animal Path's eye. It was a kunai, sleek and black, made out of carbon steel. She crouched down and picked it up, inspecting it. Meanwhile, Naruto silently appeared from behind, katana drawn.

"I'll save you the trouble," Yahiko replied. "The Jinchuuriki are safe. You or Madara will not use them for your foolish ambition."

"Such impudence," the Animal Path said still holding the kunai. "I will make your death quick and painless. Call it a favor from an old friend."

"I think my boss would have something to say about that," Yahiko replied.

At that moment, Naruto struck.

"Hirashin no Jutsu."

A yellow flash of light and Naruto stood behind Yahiko. The Animal Path sensing the danger, jumped, while the other four were a bit slow in registering the threat. She landed on her feet while Naruto calmly sheathed his sword.

The technique was flawless, and Nagato did not see it coming. While Yahiko had them distracted, the Animal Path had picked up a Hirashin kunai. Not the tri-bladed variant made infamous by Minato Namikaze, but a sleek, black kunai with the Hirashin seals eteched into the blade. Yahiko had a second Hirashin kunai strapped to his back, just in case the sneak attack didn't work. When Naruto executed the Hirashin, he cleaved the Human, Naraka, Preta and Asura Paths in two, while the Animal Path managed to escape...barely.

"Cute trick, but it won't be good enough," the Animal Path said. "You will regret the day that you decide to interfere."

"Not really, since I was the one who retrieved the Jinchuuriki," Naruto replied, longcoat and Kage-style hat fluttering in the breeze. "I'm the Emperor of the Unified West...and you are already dead."

At the moment when Naruto finished that sentence, blood sprayed out from where Naruto had slashed through bone, flesh and chakra rods. Looks of disbelief were evident on the four male Paths' faces as their bodies split in halves and fell over, their blood staining the Suna streets.

The Animal Path did not get off so easily. Her jump was a fraction of a second off, allowing Naruto to cleave through her legs. She let out a scream as she fell backwards, bleeding profusely.

Naruto calmly strode over to the remaining path, grabbed her by the neck and hoisted her into the air. The Animal Path looked at the face of the Emperor and gasped. "The Yellow Flash..."

"No. I am his son," Naruto replied. "Naruto Uzumaki Namikaze."

The Animal Path's eyes went wide. "The Kyuubi Jinchuuriki...!"

Those were Nagato's last words as Naruto raised his other hand, covered with his own chakra and touched the chakra rods on the Animal Path's face.

[End Flashback]


The chakra feedback that Naruto had unleashed on the Animal Path not only destroyed her Rinnegan, but also the other Rinnegan on the other Paths as well. When we sent a scout to Amekagure, he verified that the feedback had killed Nagato, destroying his eyes and tongue as well.

The Rinnegan allowed the user all elemental attributes...but even the most powerful of the eyes have a blind spot. And the last thing they were not expecting was the son of Minato Namikaze executing the Hirashin.

With Nagato dead, the Akatsuki's numbers had dwindled down to just four: Itachi and Madara Uchiha, Kisame Hoshigaki and Zetsu. We had forced Madara's hand and now he has no choice but to invade.

Entry 13:

The battle is over. The Suna-Imperial Forces have won. The Akatsuki have been annihilated. 100,000 Zetsu Clones, along with Itachi Uchiha, Kisame Hoshigaki and Madara Uchiha against 6,500 Suna ninja, 50,000 Imperial Soldiers, six Jinxhuuriki and one freed Tailed Beast.

Sounds like a suicide battle, right? Well, my husband was once known as the unpredictable, knuckleheaded ninja of Konoha. And as Emperor, he still lives up to his title.

Gaara had declared most of the city expendable. Suna can always rebuild, he surmised. Yahiko had once again been instrumental in telling us how Zetsu fought, his strengths and weaknesses, as well as his jutsu. Kitami vowed to deal with Madara personally, while Naruto decided to deal with Itachi. Maru was assigned to Okajima for the duration of the battle, while Moegi was at the Imperial Consulate with the Yamada Clan. The Consulate had been transformed into a triage center and the Yamada clan were renowned for their healing jutsu. Last, Udon was assigned to Takuma Chiba.

Naruto had ordered me to remain at the Kazekage Tower. I refused. "Where you go, I go," I told him, giving him no room to argue with me.

He sighed and allowed me to come with him. The gathered forces of Suna and the Empire were in the streets, ready for the battle. Sonshi had told me how Naruto can fight with his men, giving them support and pumping them up for the battle that is yet to come. Now, I had a front-row view of my husband's tactics.

"This is where we fight! This is where they die! The Akatsuki will be crushed once and for all! Give them nothing! But take from them everything!"

The Imperial Forces and the Suna ninja broke into cheers, raising their weapons into the air. Naruto sure knows how to work the crowd, to pump them up full of confidence.

It was midnight when the Akatsuki came. They came in through the gates which had been destroyed earlier by Deidara, led by Itachi Uchiha and Kisame Hoshigaki. Naruto and Yahiko had encountered the first half of the Zetsu clones. Naruto created two hundred shadow clones and brought down a quarter of the Zetsu clones using the Hirashin, while Yahiko decimated the other quarter by using the Shinra Tensei.

As the second wave of clones came charging in, led by Madara himself Naruto pulled out a trump card.

I've heard of Orochimaru using the Summoning: Impure World Resurrection to summon the first two Hokages to fight the Sandaime, but I never knew that Naruto knew the jutsu. I later found out that Orochimaru had stolen the technique from Mist. As Madara and Itachi watched, Naruto not only summoned the fallen Akatsuki members consisting of Deidara, Hidan, Kazuku and Sasori, but he also resurrected the most powerful members of the Uchiha Clan and ordered them to destroy the Akatsuki.


[Flashback]

After Naruto had unleashed the resurrected Uchiha clan and the four slain Akatsuki upon the Akatsuki, he faced Itachi Uchiha and Kisame Hoshigaki. Kitami had initiated combat with Madara and the two were fighting tooth and nail. Zabuza had showed up and Kisame was itching to settle the score with the former Mist swordsman.

Once those two were gone, Naruto drew his sword and removed the Kage-style hat, allowing Itachi to view his face for the first time.

"Recognize me now?" Naruto asked.

Itachi was hardly a person who would be shocked over anything, but seeing the Kyuubi Jinchuuriki standing before him was indeed priceless.

"You...Uzumaki...?"

Naruto nodded. "Surprised, Uchiha? The last person you'd expect was the Emperor of the West," he confirmed. "It was also me who intercepted the Jinchuuriki – of which all all are present and are fighting in the battle. Madara wanted the power of the Tailed Beasts, so I'm giving it to him. See how he likes being on the receiving end of its power."

To Hinata, Naruto said, "This is my fight. Go and help the others,"

Hinata slowly nodded. "Okay. Don't die on me."

She ran off, leaving the Emperor and the renegade Uchiha to face off for the final time.

[End Flashback]


The battle between the fallen Uchiha and my husband was indeed brutal. Naruto would tell me about it shortly afterward. A epic battle of swords, fists and jutsu. One city block was incinerated with Itachi's Amaterasu alone. Another was razed to the ground by Naruto's Deadly Tempest.

But Naruto would gain the upper hand in the battle when he feigned weakness and allowed Itachi to transport him inside Tsukoyomi. Then he activated his Fox Eye and released himself from Tsukyomi by using a specialized seal he had created. During the battle, he had gotten close enough to slip it on Itachi's back. It also had the desired effect of destroying Itachi's Sharingan eyes.

Naruto retrieved his sword and disemboweled Itachi. Now Sasuke is truly the last Uchiha.

As for Madara, I ran into Kitami as the battle began to wind down. Her bottom half of her face was bloody and she was dragging the body of Madara Uchiha in one hand. Madara may had been immortal, but not even he could survive an enraged Nine-Tails ripping out his heart and consuming it. She then destroyed the Eternal Magenkyou Sharingan by poking them out and crushing them under her heel. So ended the life of the true mastermind of the Akatsuki.

Zabuza also came out on top in his match against Kisame. He was seriously injured after Kisame scratched him with Samehada, but he would survive. Zabuza's Demon Unit left a path of destruction in their wake. A and Bee were pretty much indestructible together, as the pile of Zetsu corpses could attest to the fact. Yugito and her Hellcats showed no mercy, backing up the Okajima clan and Maru Sarutobi. Maru showed impressive courage by planting a Rasengan in a Zetsu clone who was trying to sneak up on Yugito, saving her life. Udon had 19 certified kills to his name before finally passing out from exhaustion. Takuma Chiba had taken him to the Suna Consulate, where the Suna medical corps, Moegi and the Yamada Clan worked on healing and tending to the injured.

The Elite Guards had defended the Kazekage Tower along with Temari and Kankuro. Utakata and Fu also assisted in defending the tower. Han and Roshi were like a force unleashed. Han's steam armor made him invulnerable to Zetsu's attacks. I think those two killed more than the rest of the Jinchuuriki combined. Like Naruto, Gaara was on the front lines, enveloping the Zetsu clones in mass Sand Coffins, and destroying them with the Sand Burials. Shukaku had boosted Gaara's killing abilities a hundredfold.

While Naruto was fighting Itachi, I assisted the Elite Guards. My kill tally was up to 120 Zetsu clones. Not too shabby if I say so myself.

After Naruto had eliminated Itachi, he reunited with Gaara and the others, and pushed the remaining Zetsu clones into the town center. Out of a force of 100,000 clones, only three hundred remained. Naruto gave the order: "Destroy them all."

And that we did.

Once the real Zetsu was identified (both halves), Gaara had ordered the bodies of the fallen Akatsuki to be rounded up and placed under heavy guard. Naruto had sent out an order to a squad of scouts to head for Amegakure to retrieve Nagato's body.

Once Naruto and Gaara had claimed victory, Naruto had retreated to the Kazekage tower. Once behind closed doors, he passed out from chakra exhaustion. Gaara and I carried him to the Kazakage office, and allowed him to rest. The Summoning jutsu that Naruto had unleashed had ran its course, and those that he resurrected had vanished into dust.

The Akatsuki Invasion of Suna is officially over.


Meanwhile, in Konoha...

Inside the council chambers, flanked by two ANBU, Sakura Haruno stood before the Godaime Hokage, her face in a grim line.

Ever since Sakura's defeat at the hands of the former Hyuuga heiress, Sakura had become even more hyper-tempered and in some cases, even more violent. But every time someone had tried to report it to Tsunade, her mother would either bribe or intimidate the victim into silence.

This time, however, Sakura's luck has just ran out.

When it became clear that Ino was the better student (despite Tsunade training them both at the same time), Sakura decided that she would be the only apprentice. The previous night, she came across Ino and attacked her from behind. Had she been paying attention in her rage, she would have realized that not only was the victim was not Ino (but rather a recently-minted bottle blonde Konoha chuunin), but she had assaulted the chuunin in full view of the Fire Damiyo, who was in Konoha along with his wife, the latter getting treated by Tsunade.

The Fire Lord had his Guardian Ninja take Sakura into custody. When Asana found out that Sakura had assaulted a Konoha ninja in full view of the Fire Lord, she knew that Sakura was in trouble. Which is why the entire Konoha Council was present. Or rather, the Shinobi half, as it was a shinobi matter. Asana was allowed to attend since she was Sakura's mother. Inochi Yamanaka was also present, thankful that Ino decided to remain at home when the attack happened.

"Lady Hokage, I beg of you, please be merciful," Asana pleaded. "Sakura was named the Best Kunoichi in her genin class. She should be allowed to resume her training. It was all just a misunderstanding."

"Misunderstanding?" Tsunade repeated. "Sakura had assaulted a chuunin when she thought it was Yamanaka, when it became clear that Sakura was becoming a liability." Asana started to speak when Tsunade cut her off. "That chuunin had a cracked skull, and it is your daughter's fault."

"But..."

"Silence!" Tsunade shouted. "Asana Haruno, you are ordered to pay for the medical care of the unfortunate victim. Failure to comply will result in your assets seized and you placed in jail. Understand?"

"Yes, Lady Hokage," Asana replied through gritted teeth.

Tsunade then turned to Sakura. "Sakura Haruno, for your crimes...you are no longer a Chuunin in the Konohagakure Shinobi Forces. You are hereby stripped of your rank and your ninja registration is revoked. For your disgraceful actions in assaulting an innocent, you are to live the rest of your life as a civilian of the Leaf. So ordered."

Sakura was then taken away, with Asana following her. But before Tsunade could adjourn, an ANBU came rushing in. "Lady Hokage! Suna is being attacked!"

"What? By who?"

"The Akatsuki! The Akatsuki are invading Suna!"

Almost immediately, Tsunade took action. "Shizune, you're in charge! Captain Sarutobi, form a team of Jounin and have them meet me at the gates in five minutes!"

Asuma nodded and rushed off to obey.


Konoha Gates.

Tsunade looked over her team. They were the best that Konoha had to offer. Asuma had chosen the Ino-Shika-Cho trio, Rock Lee, Maito Gai, Tenten, Anko Mitarashi, Kiba Inuzuka, Shino Aburame, Kakashi Hatake...and Sasuke Uchiha.

"What are you doing here?" the Godaime demanded of the remaining member of Cell Seven.

"I volunteered," Sasuke replied calmly. "I wish to help Suna in repelling the Akatsuki Invasion...and to redeem the Uchiha name."

"Given what your father was planning and what your brother had done, that is going to take a lot of work," Anko muttered. "Let him come, Lady Hokage. If he tries to head for Sound, I'll kill him myself."

"Fine," Tsunade muttered. "Let's go."


Sunagakure no Sato, Wind Country, several days later.

It would be three days before Naruto regained consciousness. "Damn it. My head is killing me." His headache was soon gone as he felt the effects of the Mystic Palm jutsu. He recognized that touch in an instant. "Hinata."

"Yes, love. It's me."

Naruto slowly opened his eyes. He found himself stretched out on the couch inside the Kazekage's office. Hinata was by his side. The Empress Consort was in a fresh ninja uniform, but this time, instead of the flak vest, she wore a black-and-gray robe which identified her as a sage. The Emperor rose to a seated position. "How long was I out?"

"Almost three days. It's early evening," Hinata replied. "You should take it easy, Naruto. You're still exhausted."

"I know. My reserves are at least half-full, so I should be okay. What's been happening?"

Hinata sat down next to him. "After the battle, I sent back word to the West that we had won. Ryuji and Haruka had ordered all Pekara Merchants in the area to deliver food and aid to Suna. The Pekara Merchant House has been busy around the clock."

"Remind me to send a 'thank-you' note to the Shinzens," Naruto replied. "Anything else?"

"Gaara's placed all of Suna under martial law," Kitami said as she entered the office, followed by Gaara, Konan and Yahiko. "Glad to see you're awake, kit. Hinata has been by your side for the past couple of days."

"I noticed," Naruto replied. "The others? The Guards, Team Misfits? The Jinchuuriki?"

"All are alive and accounted for," Yahiko replied. "Congratulations, Namikaze. You have won a great victory."

Naruto shook his head. "No. We all did. I can't take the credit. We all fought long and hard, and against a powerful enemy." He stood up. "As of this moment, once I return back West, I am declaring the Jinchuuriki national treasures of the Unified West. For their actions here in the battle for the Village Hidden in the Sand, they are now Heroes of the Unified West."

Gaara stepped up and extended his hand. "Lord Namikaze. Congratulations."

Naruto shook it. "Same to you, Lord Kazekage." He looked at his clothing. "Is there a place where I can freshen up?"


The city gates had been blown off, the city walls had cracks, crevasses and holes. Bodies of Zetsu clones littered the area surrounding the city gates as Tsunade and the Konoha envoy approached the gates. The Konoha ninja identified the Suna ninja by their style of flak vests. Squads of Suna Jounin and Imperial troops were hard at work rounding up the bodies and burning them in several giant pyres. The Konoha envoy passed several of them as they approached the gates. Pekara Merchants led their caravans into and out of the city, dropping off food and aid.

As they approached the city walls, they noticed the number of tents located on one side of the city gates, the Imperial Forces having made camp, since Suna was too small for the Imperial Forces to contain. They could hear the laughter and the music coming from the camp, as the Imperial soldiers recounted their heroic feats of not only themselves, but of their Emperor, the Empress Consort the Jinchuuriki, the Kazekage, and of the Suna ninja, of which the Imperial Forces have grown to respect.

Asuma approached the gates with a bit of apprehension. Maru was a Suna ninja, and following Naruto's banishment, Maru had severed all ties to his uncle for supporting the banishment order. Kakashi had said that Maru had made Chuunin and that he was the Emperor's student, but even he had his doubts as he looked upon the village.

But as he approached the ruined gates along with Tsunade and the rest of the Konoha ninja, he saw his nephew, battered, bruised and bandaged, standing guard with Moegi, Udon and two of the Emperor's Elite Guards, of which Tenten and Rock Lee identified as Takuma Chiba and the second Asuma identified as Sana Sonshi.

Maru stood up. "Hold it! State your business..." He trailed off when he saw Asuma. "Oh. It's you, Captain Sarutobi."

Asuma winced. His nephew had never forgave him. Still hasn't from the look of things.

"What are you doing here?" Maru demanded. "Last time I checked, Suna and Konoha are on bad terms, regarding that incident," he said, glaring daggers at Sasuke. "You're not welcome here in Suna. Go home."

"We came out of good faith," Tsunade interjected. "We came to see Gaara and see if he needs help in repelling the Akatsuki."

"There's no need for that, Lady Hokage," Temari replied as she appeared, looking just as haggard as Maru. "The battle is over. Has been for the past two days."

Tsunade blinked. "So...Suna?"

"Suna still stands," the wind mistress replied. "If it wasn't for the Emperor and his Imperial Forces, we would have been overrun. Sorry you came this way, Senju, but Konoha is still not welcome here, Take your ninja and go."

As Temari turned to walk away, Sasuke stepped forward. "Wait."

Temari turned around. "Now what?"

"Was Itachi here?" Sasuke asked.

Temari nodded. "He was here. He faced the Emperor in combat. The Emperor killed him. The Akatsuki have been routed and destroyed under the combined leadership of my brother and the Emperor."

Sasuke stiffened slightly, but accepted the news. "Take me to his body."

Temari blinked. "What?"

"Take me to Itachi's body," Sasuke repeated firmly. "I want to see it with my own eyes. Please..."

Temari studied the last of the Uchiha long and hard. She had heard that he was working on his own redemption and redeeming the good name of his clan. Maybe giving him the pleasure of seeing Itachi's body would at least give him some kind of closure.

Temari turned to Maru. "Sarutobi, you're with me." To Tsunade and the Konoha ninja, she said, "Follow me."

Maru balked, but followed Temari's orders. He still despised Asuma, and that animosity showed as he and Temari escorted the Konoha envoy through the village. Imperial troops and Suna ninja patrolled the streets, while medic ninjas tended to the wounded. As they passed the Imperial Consulate, they saw that it had been transformed into a triage center.

Unknown to the Konoha envoy, the Consulate also served as the main spot where the jinchuuriki were resting up from the battle.

Asuma looked around at the carnage. Suna ninja and Imperial ninja and samurai were hard at work policing up the bodies of the Zetsu clones, carrying them outside of the village to feed to the burning pyres. Even Sasuke himself was appalled at the level of carnage.

"So what exactly happened here?" Chouji asked.

"It was 50,000 ninja and samurai from the Imperial Forces, combined with all of Suna's ninja force with the six Jinchuuriki against the remaining members of the Akatsuki...and 100,000 Zetsu clones," Temari replied.

"One hundred thousand? That's nuts!" Kiba exclaimed. "You guys were outnumbered 2-to-1!"

Temari smiled. "True, but the Emperor has fought against twice that number when he was uniting the West. I heard that he could bring about victory from defeat. Those rumors turned out to be very true. Those 100,000 clones turned out to be a major disadvantage when in close quarters."

'It also helped that Naruto used the Hirashin and Yahiko used the Shinra Tensei to slay half of those clones, not to mention resurrecting the fallen Uchiha Clan and those four slain Akatsuki,' Temari thought.

"It's not entirely impossible for a smaller force to defeat a much larger force," Shino noted. "Minato Namikaze decimated Iwa's ninja force by himself in the last Shinobi War."

'And his son just blew his kill record out of the water,' Temari thought. She had heard rumors of the Hirashin in action from Iwa ninja. Seeing it in action, on the other hand, was a completely different story. It was beautiful, but at the same time, very deadly.

"How did you end out, Maru?" Asuma asked, hoping to break the ice with his estranged nephew.

"I'm still alive, aren't I?" Maru shot back curtly. He made it perfectly clear that he did not want to talk to the elder Sarutobi. Asuma quickly caught on and remained silent.

'I screwed up big time,' the elder Sarutobi lamented.

Reaching the town square, the area was clear of the Zetsu clones. A smaller camp of Imperial Troops, mainly the Hellcats and the Demon Squad, made their temporary home. Yugito and Zabuza were nowhere to be seen, as they both were inside their tents, catching up on some much-needed sleep.

On the opposite end of the square, Tsunade saw him. A tall man wearing all black – Jounin vest, pants and boots, the face concealed by the Kage-style hat. He wasn't alone. Beside him was a female in a ninja jumpsuit, and the robe which to Tsunade, identified her as a sage, her face concealed by a conical straw hat. Tsunade saw that they had an air of authority around the pair. That and the Imperial soldiers that were guarding the town center bowed towards the pair, while the couple acknowledged them with a nod of their heads.

The Godaime Hokage nudged Maru. "Is that him?"

Maru nodded. "That's him, all right. The Emperor of the Unified West. The woman beside him is his wife, the Empress Consort. The Unified West are allied to Suna, which is why we managed to survive."

As Temari and Maru led the Konoha ninja to where the bodies of the Akatsuki were stored, Tsunade remained behind. Shikamaru noticed this and stopped. Maru not Temari did not notice, as did the Konoha ninja.

"I know that look, Lady Hokage," Shikamaru said as they watched the Emperor and his wife walk off in the direction of the Kazekage Tower. "You get that look, bad things happen."

"You worry too much, Shikamaru," Tsunade replied. "If the Emperor had the Jinchuuriki here, then Naruto could be here as well. I got to know if he is okay."

Shikamaru watched as Tsunade followed the Emperor and the Empress Consort. Sighing to himself while muttering his trademark phrase, he went after Tsunade.


While Temari and Maru led the Konoha envoy to the location where the bodies of the Akatsuki were under heavy guard, Tsunade, along with Shikamaru had made their way to the Kazekage Tower. On the way, they passed many injured members of the Imperial Forces, as well as those from Suna. The Suna medic-nins, as well as the medics from the Imperial Empire and the medic-nins from the Yamada Clan were working overtime to tend to the wounded. As they passed the Imperial Consulate, it was made into a triage for the more critically wounded.

As the Tower was not guarded, the Slug Sage and the lazy Nara clan heir had no problem in gaining access. Tsunade had been inside the Kazekage Tower once before relations with the Sand had soured because of Uzumaki's banishment. She had hoped to arrive with her envoy to assist in the battle, only to find that the battle was over, that the joint Suna-Imperial forces had won. Now, she wished to have a word with the Emperor, since it was he who had retrieved the Jinchuuriki.

Tsunade and Shikamaru had approached the Kazekage's office, where they could hear voices inside. Seeing as how there was no one in the halls that could stop them, they decided to listen in. Maybe even ask the Emperor about Naruto's whereabouts.

"Despite the number of injuries, we came out fairly intact. Only nine hundred Suna ninja injured zero fatalities, thankfully. Half of the village is in ruins."

'Gaara,' Tsunade thought.

"What's the tally on the Imperial forces?" a male voice asked.

'The Emperor,' Shikamaru thought.

"Double the amount wounded, also zero fatalities," a female voice replied, one that Shikamaru and Tsunade recognized instantly.

'Hinata!' Shikamaru and Tsunade thought.


Inside the office of the Kazekage...

The joint Imperial-Suna war council were going over the final numbers. Gaara was behind his desk, while Naruto and Hinata were seated together on the couch. Konan was busy redressing Yahiko's injuries. Kitami was looking out of the window at the village below.

Naruto turned to the two former Akatsuki. "Konan. Yahiko."

"Sir?" Yahiko looked up, as did Konan.

"Your information in regards to the Akatsuki proved to be invaluable," the Emperor said. "Because of your actions, we have not only destroyed the Akatsuki, but no one from the Imperial Forces or Suna was killed in the invasion. I know it must have been hard, destroying the organization that you helped create."

"It had to be done," Yahiko replied. "There was no hope for Nagato. Madara had corrupted him past the point of no return. I hope he finds peace in death which he could not get in life."


Outside...

'Two of his bodyguards were former members of the Akatsuki?' Shikamaru wondered.

'Madara Uchiha was still alive?' Tsunade also thought.


Inside...

"In any case, you and Konan have shown your worth to me, to my wife, and to the Empire," Naruto continued. "The clan needs to rebuild and Kimon City is a good start. The Uzumaki are scattered, but not destroyed. They will come to the West. I am making you clan head of the Uzumaki. Of course, I will still outrank you."

"Thank you, Lord Namikaze," Yahiko replied.

In the meantime, Hinata had risen from her seat and was making her way to the office door.


Outside...

Tsunade and Shikamaru were thinking the same thing. 'Namikaze?'

Then the door opened, causing the both of them to fall into the office.


Both Gaara and Naruto rose from their seats upon seeing Hinata open the office door, causing both Tsunade Senju and Shikamaru Nara to fall into the office in an undignified heap.

Kitami was upon the both of them. Grabbing Shikamaru by the hair and Tsunade by the back of her neck, she hoisted them up and tossed them both to the couch where Naruto and Hinata were seated at earlier. Hinata looked outside, and seeing that there was nobody else, closed the door behind her, taking the extra measure to place a soundproof seal and locking it.

Shikamaru and Tsunade were not in shock of being caught. No, their shock was not only the fact that Hinata was married to the Emperor of the West, but the identity of the Emperor himself. To Tsunade and Shikamaru, it was as if they were looking at Minato Namikaze himself, save that his hair was a reddish tint, the whiskers were gone, and he did not look very happy.

In an instant, Shikamaru knew. His thoughts about the Emperor being connected to Konoha were correct. He had no idea that in his wildest dreams, that the knucklehead, hyperactive, boisterous ninja who once proclaimed that he was going to be Hokage was now the Emperor of the Unified West. That and the fact that Naruto had beaten down most of the Konoha 11 and several clan heads, himself included.

Gaara's sand crept from his nearby gourd, Yahiko had his sword drawn, while Konan retrieved a paper shuriken. But Naruto ordered them to stay their weapons.

"I knew it. It had to be someone connected to Konoha...I never thought it would be you," Shikamaru whispered.

Naruto turned to Hinata, his expression smug. "I told you, Hime. Brilliant, but lazy. Leave it to a Nara to figure out who I am. It was only a matter of time."

"The Emperor...you...?" Tsunade croaked, still in disbelief.

Turning to Konan, he said, "Tell the Godaime who we are."

"His Imperial Majesty, Emperor of the Unified West, the Crimson Fury of the Empire, Naruto Uzumaki Namikaze," Konan deadpanned. "And his wife, the Second Fox Sage, Empress Consort Hinata Namikaze."

"Namikaze..." Now Tsunade looked like she was going to be sick. "Oh, God...Minato...Kushinna...your son...they banished your son."

"Catches on quick, doesn't she?" Hinata quipped as she slid Naruto's arm around her waist.

Shikamaru looked on uncomfortably, as he already knew. After all, his father did tell him following Sasuke's visit.

"GACK!" Naruto croaked as he was caught in a bear hug, his face buried in between Tsunade's chest, his arms flapping wildly in a comical fashion, which got a good laugh from Hinata, Gaara, Konan and Yahiko.

"Naruto! I am so...so sorry. The council wanted to execute you, but I manged to override it to banishment! Please forgive me! Please..." Tsunade choked out, thankful that her godson was still alive.

"Um...I don't think he can breathe," Kitami pointed out.

Tsunade saw that Naruto was starting to turn blue, and released him. "Oh! Sorry," she apologized.

Hinata then noticed that Shikamaru was looking very uncomfortable. "Something you wish to share with us, Shikamaru?" she asked.

Naruto, now that he was freed, also noticed how Shikamaru was looking. "You know something, don't you?" he asked. He then took a guess as to why Shikamaru looked like he was about to bolt from the room. "The vote for my banishment was unanimous. The civilian council should have no influence with the shinobi. How did the civilian side pull it off?"

Tsunade turned to Shikamaru. "Well?"

Gaara had one eyebrow raised Spock-style, while Kitami had her arms folded under her chest. Even Konan and Yahiko were just as curious as to what Shikamaru had to say.

'Dad's gonna kill me for this,' Shikamaru thought. Sighing, he told them the truth. "My father told me...after you had fought Sasuke following the Suna Chuunin Exams. You called it right, Hinata. The Shinobi side had no intention of banishing Naruto. They were going to banish Sasuke instead, but certain people saw otherwise. The plot to banish you was spearheaded by five people; Danzou Shimura, Koharu Utatane, Honmura Mitokado, Asana Haruno, and Hiashi Hyuuga."

Hinata's eyes narrowed before changing from their usual lavender to a dark violet. Tsunade's right eye twitched. A vein was pulsing in Naruto's forehead.

"The civilian side was easy to convince," Shikamaru continued. "Asana is the head of the Konoha Mercantile Guild, so it was no hard task in getting them on her side, since most of them supported the Uchiha. I also heard that she paid a hefty bonus to the civilian side of the council once the banishment order came down. Danzou, on the other hand...he approached the shinobi clan heads one by one save for Hyuuga and gave them an ultimatum: vote in the favor of the banishment, or he would have their children kidnapped and forcibly enlisted into his ROOT ANBU...if they resisted, then they would be killed, along with their parents. As to your clan, Dad told me that as well, that you were his son. Minato and my old man were longtime friends, as were Inochi and Chouza. When Danzou came with his ultimatum, they betrayed Minato's memory by protecting us."

Naruto looked at Shikamaru long and hard for a moment. Then he turned to Kitami. The Nine-Tails was known for easily spotting lie from truth, which was useful to Naruto in the days of the Unification War. The redhead nodded in the positive. "He's telling the truth. Not even a Nara could lie convincingly to save his life."

Konan shook her head in disbelief. Naruto had told her about him being banished. But now, this places everything in a new light. "It was love that drove them to betray one of their own," the bluenette said. "For the lives of their children, they banished a hero."

Even Gaara was furious. Not even his relationship with his father was this bad, and he was the one who had Shikaku sealed inside his gut. "Disgraceful."

Tsunade, on the other hand, was seeing red. "Danzou's dead," she seethed. "Danzou...those two fleshbags...Haruno...Hiashi...all of them."

"Get in line," Naruto snapped, his eyes changing from blue to gold. "I'll kill them myself...Danzou and his ROOT...Hiashi and any Hyuuga - Main or Cadet Branch - that gets in my way...Neji...Hanabi...I'll snap the necks of those two old fools and see whether or not Asana Haruno can shit gold."

Yahiko raised one hand. "Can we help?" he asked, itching to get in on the battle. No one screwed with his family.

"Gladly," Naruto replied. "Why stop there? Maybe I'll let Kitami finish off what she started. See if anyone is willing to seal her inside their gut."

Kitami gave the Emperor a fanged grin. Sure the battle for Suna was fun, since she got to rip out Madara's heart and got involved in some good old-fashioned wholesale destruction, but even she could enjoy destroying Konoha once and for all. Willingly, this time.

"Wait."

Naruto's rant was cut off by Hinata. The Emperor turned to his consort. "What is it, Hinata?"

Hinata's eyes turned back to normal. "There is another way to destroy Konoha. Unleashing the Imperial Army... that's too easy. There are many ways to destroy a town. But to break its will and destroy it from the inside...that is how you truly destroy your enemies."

"Go on," Naruto said as he deactivated the Fox Eye.

"After you were banished, any and all alliances and trade agreements Konoha had through you were terminated almost immediately," Hinata said. "The Fire Lord had cut Konoha's military aid by half. By the time I left, the shinobi were one step away from declaring civil war on the civilians."

"That much is true," Shikamaru confirmed. "Once you were banished, Haruno and the civilian council pretty much thought that it can interfere in Shinobi matters. Hiashi and Danzou had both reprimanded her twice."

"You want me to provoke a civil war?" Naruto asked.

Hinata shook her head. "I was thinking of something a bit more...subtle. Konoha's might is backed by its shinobi. Take away that equation, and Konoha will be crippled even more."

Naruto thought about it for a moment. "Okay, Hinata, you have my attention. Continue."

"The best way to break Konoha's power is to grant the clan heads and their families asylum within the Empire. Nara...Akamichi...Yamanaka...Sarutobi...Inuzuka...as well as any high-ranking Jounin and Chuunin who support the Godaime. This way, you can irreversibly cripple Konoha's military power without drawing your sword."

Naruto thought about it for a moment. "The only way a hidden shinobi village can stay just as that if they have a certain quota of ninja as their main military. If Konoha's military is reduced to the point where they cannot replace their numbers..."

Shikamaru finished the thought. "...then Konoha would no longer be a ninja village, nor it would be recognized as one of the five great Shinobi villages. Konoha will pretty much self-destruct from the ensuing chaos. Or better yet, the ensuing factions will weaken the village even further with the inevitable civil war, since they are a lot like Kumo and Iwa – united in their hatred of you. Danzou, Asana, the two advisers and Hiashi are all jockeying for the leadership role of Konoha, and will not be subservient to the other."

"What about the Hyuuga?" Naruto asked.

Hinata frowned. "All of the Main Branch support Hiashi and Hanabi. I will never forgive the Main Branch for what they had done to me. As for the Cadet Branch...I'm willing to show them mercy."

Shikamaru was surprised to see the anger in Hinata. Even he knew that she had gotten a raw deal with the whole Caged Bird Seal fiasco. 'Yikes. Very troublesome. Reminds me of Mom.'

Naruto thought about it for a moment. With the exception of the Hyuuga and a sizable number of Chuunin and Jounin, the majority of Konoha's shinobi forces were loyal to the Hokage, Ibiki included. And Hinata was right. Konoha would be crippled if more than half of the Shinobi force abandoned the village.

And if Konoha attacked Wave, Mist or even the Pekara branches, he could just simply unleash the Nine-Tails upon the village, or destroy it himself. Or wipe out the remaining Shinobi force loyal to Danzou and the Hyuuga, then let Kitami raze the village to the ground.

"Your proposal has merit, Hinata," the Emperor conceded. "If the main shinobi clans are innocent in this mess, then I will not harm them. But...if they seek redemption, they must prove worthy of it. We'll talk about this later."

Hinata nodded, while Shikamaru breathed out a sigh of relief.

The former Konoha genin then turned to Tsunade. "I know it will be hard, but do not make a move against the conspirators. Danzou is especially dangerous, not because of his ROOT ANBU, but because he is not as crippled as most people think."

"What do you mean?" Tsunade asked.

"The bandages on his face are concealing a Sharingan," Naruto explained. "He also has a mechanical arm retrofitted with at least a dozen more, probably taken from the Uchiha clan after Itachi killed most of them. I know because I've seen them during our confrontation at the Fire Temple. Danzou's also plan on making a play for the Hokage's seat, this he also verified to me at the temple."

Tsunade nodded. She then asked the question that was on her mind. "So it was you all along? You retrieved the Jinchuuriki and beaten most of Konoha's clan heads and jounin?"

"It was me," Naruto replied.

"Why?"

Naruto tossed a glance to Shikamaru. "The slacker and his teammates thought that I had nearly killed Asuma. My targets were Hidan and Kazuku, for what they did to Chiriku."

"The warrior monk? Asuma-sensei told us about him," Shikamaru said. "They both served together as part of the Fire Lord's Guard."

Naruto nodded. "After I was banished, he offered me a place to stay for the night while I gathered my strength," the Emperor explained. "He was one of few that had showed me kindness. When I came back during the inspection tour of the Pekara Houses, I decided to visit him, only to find that Hidan and Kazuku had killed him for the bounty on his head. Asuma was just lucky that I decided to stop Hidan from killing him. Then you three show up and the rest is history. I kinda looked at beating down Konoha's elite as a twisted form of closure. Can you imagine the reactions of those who lost to me, the Demon of Konoha, the dead last of the Konoha 11?"

"No argument there," Shikamaru muttered, but was still loud enough for the others to hear.


Meanwhile...

The bodies of the Five Paths of Pein, Deidara, Sasori, Kisame Hoshigaki, Nagato (which had been recovered by the Imperial Forces), Itachi Uchiha and Madara Uchiha were located in a deserted home, laid out in a row, under heavy guard from both Suna and the Imperial Forces.

Only Sasuke Uchiha and one other person was allowed inside. Sasuke chose Kakashi. The sole remaining member of Cell Seven was silent as he looked at the body of his brother. For such a long time, he was obsessed with the idea of killing his brother.

Now, Itachi was dead, slain by the Emperor himself.

'I really don't know if I should send him a 'thank-you' card or try and kick his ass,' Sasuke thought.

Sasuke thought of nothing but revenge for the longest time. Now, he felt...empty, as if he didn't know what to do. His road of revenge had led to the destruction of Cell Seven – Naruto was banished for bringing him back and no one knew where he was at, and now, Sakura was a certified sociopath who tried to eliminate Ino.

He felt a hand on his shoulder. Kakashi was behind him. "Are you okay?"

Sasuke sighed. "Honestly, I don't know. Killing Itachi was the onlu thing on my mind for so long. Now...I don't know what to think anymore."

Kakashi remained silent as he looked at the body of Itachi Uchiha.


Back at the Kazekage Tower...

Tsunade and Shikamaru had just found out that Kitami was in fact the Nine-Tailed Fox in human form.

"Impossible! You broke the seal?" the slug princess gasped while the redhead looked rather smug.

"I did," Naruto replied. To prove it, he showed her his stomach. No seal. That and Kitami showing off her tails cinched it for the both of them.

Hinata gave Tsunade a quick recap of the events, from the origin of the Tailed Beasts to her training under Kitami as the Third Fox Sage.

"Fox Sage, huh? And Mito and Kushinna were the first two?" Tsunade asked, sounding impressed. "Not bad, Hinata. Not bad at all." She looked at the rings on their fingers. "How long you two have been married?"

"Three months," Naruto replied, while Hinata beamed proudly. "The people love her."

"I'll bet," Tsunade said. "So what about the other Jinchuuriki?"

"I intercepted them; Yugito, Roshi, Han, Utakata, Bee and Fu."

"Killer Bee? A's brother? How did you manage to pull that off?"

"A and Bee were overthrown by a new Oto-backed Raikage a year earlier. I rescued them from the Kumo ANBU and offered them sanctuary. When I rescued Yahiko and Konan from the Akatsuki, they told me about Madara's plans for world domination – Operation Tsuki no Me."

Shikamaru blinked. "Eye of the Moon? What's that?"

This time, it was Konan and Yahiko who laid out Madara's scheme, and how Naruto had put a stop to it by retrieving the Jinchuuriki. Madara was present during the final battle, and it was Kitami that had slain the supposedly immortal Uchiha. Naruto was credited for killing the Five Paths of Pain, as well as slaying Sasuke's older brother. The news was already spreading throughout the East of the Akatsuki's destruction, and the Emperor was given a new nickname: The Akatsuki Killer.

But then, something that Naruto had said had caught Tsunade's attention. "Wait. What you said about Oto backing the new Raikage...that means..."

Naruto nodded. "Yup. It means that Orochimaru is planning to raze Konoha to the ground yet again. This time around, I'm not going to risk my neck for a village who worships my father, yet banish the son for doing his job. Orochimaru has installed a puppet Kage in Kumo." Off Tsunade and Shikamaru's surprised expressions, he explained, "My Intelligence Division keeps me informed of all the goings on in the East. Who would suspect humble merchants from the Pekara Merchant House as intelligence officers?"

"The Pekara House is just a front?" Shikamaru asked.

"No, it's a genuine mercantile guild," Hinata explained. "The Pekara Houses in the Fire Capital, Kumo, and Iwa house the intelligence networks. After all, no one would suspect that a couple of merchants are spies for the West."

"And Captain Asahina?" Tsunade asked, remembering the encounter with the former Jounin/Pekara Merchant.

"She's also part of the network of spies I have here," Naruto replied. "But Asahina cannot be in Konoha all of the time. I need eyes in Konoha." He turned to Shikamaru. "And you're it, Nara."

"Me? A spy?" the shadow ninja blinked. "Forget troublesome. It's a pain in the ass. Forget it."

"He's perfect," Hinata seconded. "He's a slacker and he's lazy. No one would suspect Shikamaru passing on information to Captain Asahina. Tsunade and Shizune can't since Danzou's probably has the both of them watched. But Shikamaru's perfect."

"Do I have a choice in the matter?" Shikamaru whined.

"No," Tsunade replied. "Shikamaru, I am ordering you to work with Captain Asahina whenever she arrives in Konoha. In any case, the others will think that you have a crush on her. I know you are very much risking your life by telling us the truth about why Naruto was banished, but the clans need some sort of an insurance policy." She turned to Naruto. "You will keep your word? You will grant the clans asylum when the time comes?"

Naruto nodded. "Furthermore, you will not tell no one that you have seen me here. In any case tell them that you did gain an audience with the Emperor, and that I am safe back West, and that I have severed all ties with Konoha. As long as the others are in the dark, Danzou and the others are none the wiser."

Tsunade and Shikamaru nodded.

"I'll have a sit-down with the Fire Lord and explain what is happening," Naruto said. "He already dislikes Konoha for what they had done to me. He won't refuse my request. And now, it's time for the both of you to leave." He undid the soundproof seal. "Gaara, can you have two of your Jounin escort Tsunade and Shikamaru out of the tower?"

The leader of Suna nodded. Minutes later, two Suna Jounin arrived. Gaara gave them their orders. "Escort Lady Hokage and her entourage out of the city."

The two ninja nodded and performed their duty.


Suna Gates, minutes later.

Temari noticed that something was wrong when she and Maru had escorted the Konoha Ninja from the site where the slain Akatsuki members were located back to the city gates. Shikamaru and Tsunade were not with them. Before she could order a squad of Suna ninja to round up the two missing ninja, two Suna ninja appeared via shunshin. With them, were Shikamaru and Tsunade.

"Orders from your brother," the male Jounin said. "The Konoha ninja are to be ejected from the village, effective immediately."

The Konoha ninja winced. Gaara still mistrusted the Leaf after all this time. Meanwhile, several Imperial troops carried out the bodies of the dead Akatsuki members, and fed them to the flames of the pyre.

"Let's go," Tsunade said. "There's nothing we can do here."

As the Konoha ninja departed from Suna, Sasuke approached Tsunade. "Did you get a chance to meet with the Emperor?" he asked.

"I did."

"What did he say? Was Naruto here?"

"He was," Tsunade replied, "but he went back West with a Pekara caravan. From the look of things, he has long since wants nothing to do with the Leaf," she added, twisting the knife, reminding him that it was his fault that because of his actions, that Konoha was in its present state.

"No big loss, Lady Hokage," Kakashi interjected, both him and Anko having overheard the conversation between the buxom Hokage and the last Uchiha. "He was a dead last, anyway. He would not have made it in this world. Let the Emperor take him."

That earned him a bone-chilling stare from Sasuke that would have made Itachi proud. "You're such an asshole, Hatake," Sasuke snarled before storming forward.

"What? What did I do?" Kakashi said.

"As much as I hate to admit, I gotta agree with the Uchiha," Anko said. "You are an asshole, Hatake. That dead-last had more guts than you and the banshee put together. And we kicked him out of Konoha because he done his job. And where were you when the banishment order came? You were among the people who condemned him. Some sensei you were."

Surprising enough, Anko was one of the few who had a grudging respect for the banished ninja. Only thing was when the banishment order came down, she was in the hospital following a training accident in the infamous Forest of Death. When she heard the news, she was furious. The black eye and broken jaw she gave Kakashi bared witness to that, earning her a nod of approval from Tsunade.

"Now listen..."

"Don't say anything else," Tsunade added, cutting off Kakashi's reply. "Just...don't."

Kakashi was silent for the rest of the way back to Konoha.


Naruto sneezed, and had the urge to grab his katana and hack apart his former sensei.


[Hinata's Diary]

Entry 14:

Naruto and I stayed in Suna for the following week, helping Gaara oversee the reconstruction efforts of the Sand. During our stay, the Tsuchikage himself came to call on the Emperor. Onoki and Naruto had a sit-down, the old man had watched the Akatsuki Invasion and had seen the Imperial Army in action. Naturally, he was concerned that Iwa would be next. Naruto was truthful to the old man, telling him that the only reason he intervened was because of his military alliance with Suna, and that Gaara was a friend of his. That and the Akatsuki were a credible threat. He said that he did not plan on invading the East, that he was more than content with ruling the Western Empire.

Onoki was satisfied with Naruto's answer. He left afterward. So much for Iwa.

The day before our departure back west, Naruto received another visitor – an emissary from Kumo. Apparently, they had thought that just because I was in the Bingo Book and was without the support of my former clan, that I was fair game. Kumo had also been watching my every move ever since I resurfaced and requested, no demanded that Naruto turn me over. Naruto told them politely to fuck off. He also added that not only was I was his wife, but any aggressive actions towards me is a one-way ticket to the morgue. The Kumo envoy backed off.

Once everything was in place for the reconstruction efforts, Naruto, the Jinchuuriki, the Imperial Troops and myself returned to the West via Demon's Gate Jutsu. First thing we did after dismissing the troops and Jinchuuriki was that Naruto and I slept for the rest of the day and all night. The following morning, we got to work.

Naruto made good on his word. The Jinchuuriki were declared national treasures of the Empire for their actions. The soldiers that fought in the Akatsuki Invasion of Suna were given hazard pay from the Imperial Treasury (as Naruto understood that underpaid soldiers can be potentially mutinous). Also, for their actions in the Suna-Akatsuki War, Gaara had promoted Moegi, Udon and Maru Sarutobi to Jounin.

The people rejoiced as they took in the news that their Emperor had removed a threat from the East, one that threatened the Jinchuuriki, and potentially the Empire if they had the chance to stake a foothold in the country.

The destruction of the Akatsuki also served to put the East on notice. You mess with the Empire or their allies, see where it leads you. The celebration of the Emperor and Kazekage's victory lasted for most of the week. The Jinchuuriki were treated like rock stars. Afterward, things began to calm down and Naruto and I returned to ruling the Empire...as well as spending time with each other.

I honestly think that the Suna-Akatsuki War has all but increased my standing with the people of the West. They see that I am not just a pretty face that hides behind the Emperor when trouble appears. They see that I can fight just as well as my husband. The council gave me a new nickname: 'The Lady of War.'

Not really my style, but beggars can't be choosers. Oh well.

Snafu's Notes: And so, the side stories are (finally!) complete. Back to the main storyline!