Disclaimer: Naruto does not belong to me.

Summary: Raised in the depths of the ROOT organization, a boy called Nine is charged with the mission to become the next Hokage of the Leaf. AU. No pairings.


Chapter 01: Enter: Uzumaki Naruto

11 years ago, aftermath of the Nine-Tails attack. . .

Uchiha Fugaku listened as patiently and quietly as possible out of his waning respect for the aged Hokage sitting before him. Flanking the old man on his left and right were his teammates, two out of the three elders of Konohagakure. The fact that the last of the elders, Danzo, was absent from their current assembly was but a small comfort in the face of the accusation laid before the Uchiha Clan.

"So," Fugaku said slowly, "You've come to my home in the wake of a disaster and the death of the Fourth to instigate my clan's involvement in the Nine-Tails attack?"

Beside him, he felt Mikoto tense.

The Hokage neither flinched nor responded, taking his time in exhaling the smoke he had breathed in from his pipe. "We've only come to confirm the facts, Fugaku."

"Uchiha Madara." Fugaku drew the name out on his tongue in a strange blend of distaste, disgust, and fear. "You finger him as the culprit in the recent Nine-Tails attack?"

"It's the last bit of information that the Fourth has left for the village," the Hokage confirmed.

"And you believe this?" Fugaku demanded, "By his age alone, that man should not be capable of causing such disasters."

"Yet, the Fourth's toad convoy swears the information on its honour," Utatane Koharu murmured lowly.

"Our question is simple, Uchiha," Mitokado Homura said with an appraising stare, "Do you, or any member of your clan, support Uchiha Madara's antagonistic views on the village?"

Fugaku bit back a snarl, his anger suddenly spiking. The question was entirely rhetorical; those elders would not believe him even if he spoke the truth and denied his clan's involvement in the recent tragedy. But if he said nothing, his silence would be regarded as one borne of guilt, and the Uchiha would be judged on the spot.

Before he could formulate the proper words to voice, however, Mikoto stepped in.

"Hokage-sama," she said. Her voice was loud, strong and rang with sincerity; if anyone's voice could get through the thick skulls of the elders of Konoha, it was hers. "We, the Uchiha, have lost many men, women, and children in the attack as well. We stood by the Fourth's side against the Nine-Tails."

The Hokage blew out another puff of smoke. "And if you are accused of putting on a performance to trick the village even further?"

"No madman is worth the lives of our clansmen. We drove out Uchiha Madara from the clan and the village for that very reason ourselves," Mikoto said viciously, keeping her eyes trained only on the Hokage. "Please, Hokage-sama. Though we are an arrogant clan, our love for this village runs as deeply as any others'. I'm sure the Fourth was aware of this as well. Why else should he deem it imperative to send an envoy even in the wake of his death?"

Fugaku bit down on the smile that threatened to break his neutral expression. This woman was a truly amazing woman. No man could not feel honoured to be the chosen husband of Uchiha Mikoto.

After a long and heavy silence, relief twisted the Hokage's face.

"Sarutobi!" Koharu cried, realizing the smile's implications.

"Shush, Koharu," the Hokage admonished, "I believe in the Uchiha's innocence." He fixed her a stern look that soon shifted to settle on Homura as well. "So did the fourth. Doubting their word means to doubt the word of Namikaze Minato."

"Then…?" Mikoto prompted hopefully.

"We've only come to confirm the facts, Mikoto," the Hokage smiled, repeating his previous words. "And facts seem to imply that the Nine-Tails attack was an independent action of Uchiha Madara. Your clan is guiltless."

"I've always known you to be soft, Hiruzen," came a cold voice from the doorway, "But not to be so gullible."

Fugaku tensed at the sound of that voice, feeling their hard-earn victory teeter dangerously.

"Danzo," the Third said quietly, turning around to gaze at the crippled form, "I was under the impression that you would not be joining us."

"I could not trust you to correctly judge the situation," Danzo said curtly. He fixed his narrow-eyed gaze on Fugaku; it was returned with double the venom. Danzo snorted softly, and turned his attention back to the Third. "The Uchiha lies."

"They are innocent," the Third said firmly, "You are the only one amongst us that still doubt what the Fourth has vouched."

"The Fourth is, indirectly, your student. He shares your weak mentality." Danzo shook his head, and seemed to take a moment to glance between Koharu and Homura. A second later, Fugaku caught the briefest flicker of annoyance on the man's expression, likely due to finding no remaining suspicion in the other two elders that was strong enough to help back his accusations.

Fugaku sent a silent thanks t the late Fourth. The name and word of Namikaze Minato was a frighteningly terrible force; full of charisma and natural talent, he had had a presence that made one stand to attention and obey. For that man, even the proud Uchiha had been willing to lay down their lives. Swaying the opinions of Konoha elders, in comparison, was likely easy work for the Fourth. Even from beyond the grave.

"Fine," Danzo said. The look his eyes was not defeat, and the Third seemed to catch it as well, as Fugaku saw the man's back going taut in alarm. And Danzo did not disappoint: "Then I want the Nine-Tails child."

Utatane Koharu's voice was like a whiplash. "Danzo!"

"I will train the monster to resist the Sharingan's influence," Danzo continued, undeterred. "Under the current standard at the Academy, he will grow to be weak. He will be unable to control the Nine-Tails on his own, nevertheless be capable of defending himself against any stray Uchiha's efforts to take control of the beast's chakra for themselves." A deliberate pause. "Like Uchiha Madara."

Mikoto's hand covered one of Fugaku's shaking fists while giving him a minute shake of her head, encouraging him to remain silent. It was wiser to allow the Hokage to defend the clan for now. Danzo would not let any outbursts slide without repercussions. With no small amount of effort, Fugaku drew in a quiet breath through his nose and prayed for patience.

"You've gone too far, Danzo," the Third warned him lowly.

"I speak the truth," Danzo said fiercely, "Meet my humble request, and I will put my suspicions of the Uchiha to rest."

Fugaku allowed him a brief moment to close his eyes, opening his fist to twist his palm up to meet his wife's. Her fingers entwined with his and gave him a reassuring squeeze when, after a long and pained argument back and forth, the Third gave into Danzo's demand for the sake of upholding Konoha's internal peace.

Danzo left the Uchiha compound with a cold, pleased smile, and the son of Namikaze Minato was quietly forgotten by the rest of Konohagakure.

9 years ago. . .

His first word was 'shinobi'. His second, 'mission'. Third was likely 'Leaf', closely followed by 'Danzo-sama'.

A flimsy blanket was all that separated his body from the wooden bottom of his crib. If he cried, he was ignored. If he was quiet, someone spoke to him. He never saw the same person standing over his crib twice.

He made it a habit to escape his crib and room as quietly as his pudgy arms and legs would allow, because every time he did, he would be met with an old man with scars on his chin who would give him a nod of approval, and that made him feel like he existed. His mastery over walking was delayed due to the fact that crawling made less noise, and he had learned quickly that the ability to be (as) silent (as possible) was a good thing. Somewhere along the line, he realized that there was a right and wrong way to go about interacting with his toys so that his toys wouldn't make him bleed and cause him pain.

No one referred to him by a name. It never occurred to him to ask for one.

7 years ago. . .

The woman that lay bleeding to death at his feet had tried to kill him. He'd taken a kunai to the back of his head, the blow strong enough to splinter past his skull. He felt that if he closed his eyes, he could still feel the tip of the blade buried against the mesh of bone and brain matter. He felt that he could feel himself die a second time.

But the death obviously hadn't been a permanent thing, as it was not he who lay dying on the cold concrete floor.

After having been jerked away from death by poisonous red chakra, he'd taken to slitting the woman's stomach open while she'd been caught in a mixture of surprise and horror.

"The Nine-Tails." The woman laughed around the blood that was pooling in her mouth. If the boy were to be honest, it'd sounded much closer to a gurgle than laughter. "You. The jinchuuriki. Should have known."

He didn't respond, simply bending down so that he can squat comfortably by her head.

"Your last lesson, brat," she rasped, "I'm going to tell you how to make a body unidentifiable after you kill a man."

The boy nodded, listened, and waited for her to finish dying so that he could practice what he'd been taught on her body.

She had gone by the name of Kaede. She had been his teacher for two years, the closest thing he may have had to a mother. She had taught him how to read and write, and had coached him in the proper ways to throw a kunai. And now, she had taught him how to turn a body into something little more than a sack of flesh and bone and blood as well as reinforce a principle that ROOT had been hinting at all along.

Attachment to another human being was a pointless endeavour. They were a fleeting thing. Transient. Easily severed. The only attachments a shinobi needed was their loyalty to their village and an unwavering commitment their missions.

"Do you understand?" Danzo asked him a week later.

"Yes sir," the boy said.

6 years ago. . .

Rolling a cloth over the blade of the bloodied kunai, a boy replaced the weapon into his back pouch. Then, without missing a beat, he seated himself next to the body to systematically eliminate the targets identity.

It was an easy enough procedure to remember. He could feel himself slip into the dangerous state of meditative trance as he worked (use the hilt of the kunai to turn the facial features into mush, extract the teeth with a blunted blade while taking extra care to erase the presence of any semblance of an identifying bite from the gums, smash the hands and feet into bloody pulps to prevent fingerprinting). It took a degree of conscious effort to remember to be careful, to keep his instincts sharp so that he can remain wary of the possibility of any spying eyes hiding in the shadows. He knew this was a test of some sort, to let him graduate into the state of a useful asset from tool in-training. He wasn't entirely sure as to why the task of killing a man was the test though; killing was by far easier than isolation training.

Contrary to outsiders' beliefs, Danzo rarely endorsed physical abuse as a means of inducing emotional deadening in his tools. Pain was tolerable. One grew considerable immunity to the aches and cuts and breaks on their physical body with enough exposure. In contrast, every time that the boy (he was nameless because he was a weapon; he had to be ready to adopt any identity that may be required of him) experienced ROOT's special brand of psychological conditioning, he could always feel something disappear from inside him. He felt the numbness eat away at the traits that made him human and weak until he could feel nothing more than a hollow ache deep within his chest.

Despite this, even his young mind could appreciate the fact that he had a certain advantage over the others. As he'd been trained and raised in the ways of ROOT ever since he could walk and talk and remember, he didn't possess the full-range of emotions that the conditioning was designed to suppress. He hadn't been needed to be retrained into adopting Danzo's philosophy because Danzo was all he had ever known. Compared to some of his colleagues, who had been trained as older children, young adults, or adults, he'd never writhed under the dark and the silence (the room where the conditioning took place robbed one of all five senses) to the point of near insanity. No, the most he'd ever felt was discomfort.

Finished with his work, he double-checked the area for any prints or any other leads that may lead the trail to him. Or worse, to ROOT. Upon finding nothing, he left the apartment complex by the front door. No one gave him a second glance; after all, he was only five.

"Good work," Danzo said when the boy finished his report. He gave the boy an assessing look. "And your status?"

"Unchanged," the boy reported faithfully, honestly.

Killing a man was entirely overrated, the boy mused later while sharpening his kunai. The target had been an up and coming serial killer, but that hadn't changed the fact that he'd been nothing more than a civilian. There had been no challenge. More importantly, the act of killing had left him plagued with neither guilt nor fear. All that mattered was that the target's death had been for the good of Konoha. The target had had to die.

Two days later, the boy tailed his next target to a ramen shop called Ichiraku. He listened to the target talk amiably about his family and how the boy resembled the target's grandson over the course of their meals. He left with the target side-by-side, using the mark's large, sweaty palm on his shoulder as a way in which he could lead the man into a secluded alley and slit his throat open.

And even then, even when he was staring down at the shocked, empty eyes of a once-living man, nothing changed inside him.

4 years ago. . .

The infirmary was his third home of sort, the first and second being the open training grounds and his room, respectively. He blinked sluggishly while testing his reflexes and joints. There were no broken bones, just a few bruises, but even those were already being healed.

It had been a full three months since his last visit here. It wasn't a bad personal record. Not that these records amounted to anything; he'd taken a kunai to the lung only days after he had been discharged from the infirmary the last time around. But a wound to that degree was but a paper cut to him by now — as long as he avoided wounding anything that would cause instant death (such as decapitation), he would heal. He would be forever useful to Danzo. Being not entirely human had its perks.

With a rub to his forehead, he sat up to inspect the room. He was the only inhabitant of a room meant for four, meaning he hadn't been brought here to be treated for his injuries alone. He wasn't surprised. Settling himself back into the bed, he allowed himself to float into a semi-tranquil state of meditation while he waited.

He would turn seven in a couple of weeks. The way his body size and capabilities kept changing by the months was a source of stress to him. While he appreciated gaining muscle, weight, and height, it made training all the more strenuous. The manoeuvres that he had developed through trials of sweat and literal blood depended all too entirely on a small frame. Speed was a given when one was steering a small body, but what was even more crucial was the actual size itself — being small allowed him to slip through the crevices of his opponents' defences all that easier.

The way that non-ROOT shinobi were hardwired to underestimate children also helped. In fact, his size had been what had lent him his first successful assassination of another shinobi, back when he had been six. He remembered the statistics of his target — hair colour, eye colour, stature, any abilities worth mentioning — but he couldn't remember the man's face, voice, or anything that would set the target apart as anything but a target. But he supposed that it was for the best that he did not remember such trivialities.

What roused him out of his idle thoughts was the soft sound of an opening door. Behind it stood Danzo, and the boy sat back up and straightened his spine to allow the only person that would ever matter in his world assess his wounds. Or the lack thereof, in his case.

A curt nod was all that he received when Danzo finished his silent scrutiny. With a jerk of his head, Danzo spoke only one word: "Come."

The place to which he'd been lead was the largest room within ROOT headquarters. Though he supposed that calling it a 'room' was a misnomer in itself; it was nothing more than a gaping space made of concrete. It often doubled as the most favourable place train in-doors, simply due to its size. This had been the place where the boy had digested the basics of taijutsu, ninjutsu, and genjutsu. It had been the place that he had shed his first drop of blood. This had been the place where Kaede had died by his hand. And right now, it was the place where Danzo had chosen to house some fifteen to twenty children.

They were most likely orphans, the boy mused. In the aftermath of the Nine-Tails attack, there had been a surplus of orphans; no one would miss these children.

The boy glanced up at Danzo with, not curiosity, but a request for clarification and orders. For the words that would inform him of his purpose here.

"You will weed out the useless from the useable," Danzo said at last. He swept his gaze over the children briefly before refocusing on the boy. "Eliminate the useless."

Eliminate. A pretty word for the simple act of killing off the useless.

"Yes sir," said the boy. It wasn't a difficult assignment; killing was easy.

Danzo inclined his head in a way of a nod before turning away from the children entirely. "Finish the task by tonight. Their training starts tomorrow at dawn."

"Yes sir," the boy repeated.

At the end, only seven of the children survived the screening process. They, plus the boy, became the first members of ROOT's child program. And later, after the children had undergone rudimentary conditioning and were numbered off (for convenience), the boy, too, received a number (a name) — Nine.

1 year ago. . .

It was a rule in ROOT: the useless must be eliminated. There was no room for weakness here. They were the foundation that supported the great tree that was Konoha; a point of imperfection among their ranks would poison the rest of the village.

'Death is preferable to being useless.'

It was one of the first things that Nine had learned.

"Nine," said Eight, his voice hoarse. Under Danzo's watchful eyes, Nine knew that the dying boy before him could not say all that he wanted to say. Not without bringing risk to Nine. The clear knowledge that Eight would not do anything to endanger Nine's position, even while he lay broken, useless and pleading for death with his eyes, twisted at something inside him.

He wasn't sure what that 'something' could be. It could be the first stirrings of emotion, or it could be something entirely somatic in origin. There was really no way to tell.

Kill me, Eight begged silently. Kill me. I am useless to you now.

Eliminate the useless, his training told him fiercely.

Behind him, the remaining four children (Nine's tools) stood motionless and neutral as Nine drove a chakra-enhanced fist through Eight's skull, killing him swiftly without pain.

Something — something small, too small to be noticeable at present — changed.

Present day. . .

"Eleven years," Sarutobi Hiruzen said tiredly. Placing the head of his pipe on its ash trash, he stapled his fingers together. "You kept him hidden for eleven years, and you wish to return him to Konoha now?"

Shimura Danzo leaned back into the chair and curled his hands tighter around the cane that he kept as a barrier between him and the Third Hokage.

"He has always been with Konoha," Danzo returned levelly. "He's been serving it as he's always meant to serve it."

"At what cost?" Sarutobi said with a shake of his head. "Just his entire childhood sacrificed."

"The childhood of a shinobi are short," Danzo snorted. He raised and dropped his cane against the floor of the Hokage's office, letting the deafening clank ring between him and the Third. It was only when his old rival returned his stare that he added, "I did not come here to argue over our differences, Hiruzen."

"No," Sarutobi agreed. With a sigh, he leaned back into his chair. "What is it that you want, then? To make him Genin? Chuunin?"

Danzo shook his head. "No. I wish for him to enrol at the Academy with his cohort class. Age eleven, set for possible graduation next year."

The old Hokage hid his surprise well. If it weren't for the telltale twitch around the eyes, and the pregnant silence that had swooped down to fill the space between them, Danzo may have doubted the fact that his words had been the last thing that Sarutobi had expected to hear.

"Why?" Sarutobi asked. His gaze was sharp, bearing down on Danzo like a physical presence. "You've likely trained the boy into a highly efficient shinobi by now. Why have him bother with the Academy?"

"He will not be attending the Academy for its lacking curriculum," Danzo said disdainfully, "This will be the final stage of his training."

"Which is?"

"Human interaction."

Sarutobi lifted the pipe back to his mouth and took a long drag. Danzo was familiar with the man enough to recognize the movement to be a stalling tactic: it allowed Sarutobi more time to think while simultaneously putting pressure on his conversation partner. Danzo kept his eyes trained on the other man and kept his body absolutely relaxed, refusing to be affected by such elementary psychological tricks.

"I am not so optimistic to expect a complete, or straight, answer," Sarutobi spoke at last. "But it is still my duty as Hokage to ask, and to know. Likewise, it is your duty to me, your Hokage, to answer."

His Hokage. Danzo fought not to scoff. It wasn't entirely successful, as his next words carried the undertone of mockery, "That it is. Then ask, my Hokage."

Letting the sarcasm slide, Sarutobi kept their eyes locked and blew out a lungful of smoke. "His nonexistence in the eyes of the world is a weapon in itself. As I'm sure you already know, all students who enrol into the Academy have a public file that most of the shinobi population can access." When Sarutobi paused, Danzo nodded to signal that he was listening. The Hokage continued, "You, yourself, have implied that he has nothing to gain in terms of shinobi training from the Academy. Finally, lessons on human interaction can be garnered elsewhere in a less conspicuous manner."

"Get to the point."

Another drag of the pipe, another exhale. Sarutobi tapped the pipe against the edge of the ash tray with deceptive mildness. "Tell me, Danzo, how much did the fact that his cohort class contain an unusual number of children from the major clans of Konoha factor into this move?"

Danzo shook his head in feigned amusement. "Not as much as you may wish to believe. However, I do admit that a proficiency in interacting with members of the clans is one criteria of his training."

"Do you wish to use him as a conduit in recruiting more children to your organization?"

A sharp bark of laughter escaped Danzo's lungs. "You've grown more paranoid over the years, Hiruzen."

"Only out of necessity, Danzo," Sarutobi returned pleasantly. The words, 'only because I am dealing with you', were left unsaid.

"No, you fool," Danzo scoffed softly, purposely lacing his voice with faint mirth, "I've no shortage of supporters from the clans even without using such crude ploys."

To the Third's credit, the man didn't even seem ruffled by Danzo's admission. The extent of his reaction was simply an amused tilt at the lips. "Crude, you say?"

"Crude," Danzo confirmed. He lifted his chin toward the Third in a blatant issue of a challenge. "Ask it, Sarutobi. What you really want to know."

"Alright," Sarutobi said. He leaned back in his chair. "What do you gain from this?"

Danzo let his lips twist into a parody of a smile, a borderline smirk. He let the silence settle between them for a second time, during which he thought. He thought about twisting his answer into one that would come out so barbed and cryptic that even the Hokage would find hard-pressed to decipher. It would certainly be characteristic of him to do so in Sarutobi's eyes; it was the expected type of answer. And then there was reality: no matter his answer, Sarutobi Hirzuen would meet his request.

Only a fool drunk on petty pride would refuse to allow the son of Namikaze Minato to return to the sun-kissed side of Konoha.

But then this was a special case, he supposed. There was absolutely no detriment in sharing a portion of the truth with his old rival. The truth was always more potent than the most thought-out lies, and often had the interesting effect of catalyzing future events to one's advantage.

With that in mind, what he said was this: "I gain little. I am doing this to avoid a larger loss."

Sarutobi raised an eyebrow, and gestured Danzo to continue.

"He is his father's son," Danzo said as a way of explanation, "Charismatic. A genius. I can keep him perhaps three years longer before he starts becoming a disease that will begin killing the village's roots. He needs a wider world in which he can thrive."

Then there was the topic of the boy's burden: the Nine-Tails. A beast of that destructive power could not be chained to anyone for very long. As a creature borne of human emotions and negativity, keeping it docile and controlled was no easy feat. While Danzo had no doubt in his mind that he could have the boy eliminated should he wake up as dangerous as his demon tenant one day, Danzo had to grudgingly admit that he didn't necessarily wantto. What he had moulded out of Namikaze's spawn was a work of art. A genius piece of weaponry in human flesh. It would be a shame to just kill the boy before he had accomplished anything worth mentioning.

And to keep the boy human, Danzo was going to take advantage of a powerful human weakness: the tendency to desire, seek out, and forge bonds. Even if the roots of Konoha were too small and stifling for the boy to remain chained to, the entirety of Konoha was not. And while ROOT shinobi were, as a general rule, trained to put little value in bonds, Namikaze's son was a special case. A weakness had to be created to drive a dividing wedge between the boy's human mind and demonic inheritance.

There was an added bonus to this long-term plan as well. If the boy truly proved himself capable of carrying out his mission to completion, Sarutobi's empire would be peeled apart and put to waste by the seams. The Leaf that Sarutobi had built on his weak-minded philosophies would burn, and a new Leaf would rise from its ashes. And this new village would be stronger, sturdier, and perfect. His old rival wouldn't see the effects until he was too weak and too old to stop it; Danzo wouldn't have to even lift a finger.

"I have terms," Sarutobi said at length.

"Name them."

The sound of his cane hitting the floor rang deafeningly loud as Danzo moved through the hallways of the headquarters of ROOT. The echoes of the rhythmic clank, clank, clank was almost palpable. But that was to be expected; these walls were always silent. True shinobi did not make unnecessary noise, even when they remained sheathed and unused, and the operatives of ROOT were the best of them all.

After making his way to a specific room at a leisurely pace, he pushed the door to the children's room open with little ceremony.

"Seven," Danzo called quietly. "Where is Nine?"

"Outside. He should be with Two," the sole member of the room responded. "Should I retrieve him?"

"No," Danzo said shortly, turning to leave the children's room as swiftly as his crippled body would allow.

As of date, there were only five children employed as useable assets in ROOT. Propelled by the success that he had seen in Nine's development, the training regime that the boy had undergone had become the foundation of ROOT's child program. Disappointingly, no other had been found to be capable of matching, nevertheless surpass, Nine. The program was currently in its fifth year, but the prototype continued to outshine its successors.

But Danzo had been neither surprised nor disappointed by such results. The boy was the child of that Namikaze Minato and Uzumaki Kushina, after all. He had come equipped with the genes of two superb ninja on top of receiving the training that Danzo had applied. The result, therefore, could not be anything but spectacular.

Danzo closed his eyes briefly as he neared the door that would lead him into an outdoor training area.

It had been eleven years since the Nine-Tails attack. Eleven years since the alleged assault on Konoha by the independent actions of Uchiha Madara, as reported by a toad envoy of the Fourth. Danzo held his reservations about the accuracy of such information, but not even he, one of the three elders of Konoha, could casually dismiss the last words of Namikaze Minato. Unsurprisingly, neither the other elders nor the Fire Daimyo's council had raised their hands against the Uchiha after the Hokage had declared Namikaze's words as truth: that the Uchiha clan was innocent. Without allies to help him argue against that claim, as well as having given his word to let the matter rest, Danzo had been forced to let the subject go. On his bad days, he wished he hadn't.

United by the existence of a common enemy, the Uchiha had aspired to bridge any past slights done by their clansmen over the years. Their clan was gradually reaccepted into Konoha, and though their notorious arrogance remained unchanged, they were often viewed as the most loyal clan of Konohagakure.

Danzo snorted quietly at the thought; he did not believe the Uchiha to remain faithful to Konoha for long. They may have dodged the bullet on account of the Nine-Tails attack, but sooner or later, one of them would reveal the clan as threats to the village. All that was required, then, was for Danzo to be patient. He'd wait until the Uchiha slipped up, and then would step in to sever them from the village. Of course, this meant that he would not obtain the Sharingan until much later, but that was no more than a personal ambition of his. As it did not affect his village as a whole, he did not entirely mind putting that particular desire on hiatus.

After all, he'd gained something of equal — or greater — value, eleven years ago: Namikaze Minato's son. The Nine-Tails child.

Danzo had made it a point to keep the boy out of public view as much as his influence had allowed. Unsurprisingly, it hadn't been entirely difficult. As the people of Konoha did not enjoy the memory of the Nine-Tails' assault on their village, they had been all too willing to overlook the discrepancy of lacking a jinchuuriki amongst their populace. Perhaps they preferred it that way.

Instead, Sarutobi, Danzo, and the other two elders had agreed to stage a small show for the other shinobi villages. In the place of a jinchuuriki, they had worked to start rumours within both the civilian and shinobi populations which claimed that the Nine-Tails had been sealed away in a specially designed seal-scroll.

Normally, it would have been utterly ridiculous to claim that the demon could be subdued through the strength of paper and pen. But Namikaze Minato had been nothing short of a genius, and it was altogether too easy to believe that if anyone was capable of sealing the Nine-Tails away without a human sacrifice, it would have been he.

That had been about the length that Sarutobi had wished to go with the rumour. Danzo had taken it a step further, carefully spreading an additional layer of information to a select number of ears. It was to reveal the location of the Nine-Tails seal-scroll: under the protection of the Hokage and two teams of elite ANBU in the deepest room of the Hokage Tower. As the number of leaks within Konoha's information system was at an atrocious number, having such information floating around would all but guarantee the other nations' belief in their little show.

He'd still been diligent, of course. Any break in their system of lies would most likely reveal the existence of a Nine-Tails jinchuuriki, and the element of surprise would be lost should Konoha ever need to employ the boy during a time of war. Danzo had only relaxed when a shinobi of Kumogakure had been caught and tried for trying to break into the famed Room of the Nine-Tails in Hokage Tower. From the intelligence that he had received from within the ANBU Torture and Interrogation Force, Kumo had actually shifted their focus from kidnapping a Hyuuga child in favour of trying to steal the Nine-Tails. It wasn't surprising; the Nine-Tails was an unlimited source of despicably powerful chakra. The demon was one-of-a-kind, but the Hyuuga would continue to reproduce within Konoha. Kumo had probably thought that a member of the Hyuuga could be stolen at a later time.

The ensuing execution of the almost-thief had brought some political repercussions, but Konoha's uncharacteristically strong response in dispatching the intruder had sealed the lie as the truth in every other mind but Konoha's elders' and Uchiha Fugaku.

Confident in the jinchuuriki's forgotten status, Danzo had gotten to work on the child, to mould him into a shinobi that would be of great use to Konoha. And if the boy managed to complete this next mission (likely the boy's greatest mission), it would all but prove that he had succeed.

Thunk. Thunk. Thunk.

Sounds of elementary training.

"Nine. Two," he called.

Thunk. Thunk.

Silence. There was a soft rustle of movement, though Danzo was fairly certain that the origin of such noise originated from Two, rather than Nine.

When he came into the center clearing of the training grounds, the kneeled forms of Nine and Two greeted him. Long distances away, a tree with a bulls-eye target hanging from one of its branches stood. Other than the singular stain of black in the middle of the target, nothing else was disturbed.

Nine was the miniature clone of his father, with blond hair and blue eyes. He had a slight build, designed for speed. Danzo had approved of this choice when the boy had first poised it as an option; possessing the Nine-Tails, Nine could draw on the beast's strength for offensive power while utilizing his inherent speed for both defensive and strategic purposes. Two, on the other hand, was deathly pale with black hair and black eyes. He was taller than Nine, also possessing a light build. He was the long-range type, trained to support Nine's frontal assault with projectiles and his superb ink techniques.

Not one for pleasantries, Danzo began to speak as soon as he was standing before them, going straight to the purpose of his visit. Narrowing his focus entirely on the mass of blond hair, he said, "I have a mission for you, Nine. Long-term infiltration, S-class."

"Where?" Nine asked without missing a beat.

"Konoha." Danzo's lips twisted into a faint parody of a smile. "You will become Hokage."

Only the barest of twitches at the elbow gave away Nine's surprise.

"And to do so, you must induct yourself into the village and become noticed as a rising talent so that you may be considered a potential Hokage-candidate in the future."

Nine dipped his head into a deeper bow in lieu of a verbal reply.

"To that end, I have arranged for you to enrol at the Academy into your cohort class for the next year," Danzo said, "You will officially obtain your shinobi status through the village's standard procedures." He allowed a short moment of silence, allowing his two agents to absorb the information before continuing, "In return for leaving your movements unrestricted by ANBU or any similar type of posted surveillance, you will live with an Academy instructor of Sarutobi's choice. It's almost guaranteed that his shinobi will make regular reports of your progress, so keep that in mind when revealing your abilities."

"Yes sir," Nine intoned on cue.

"Two will act as your support, and will be enrolled into your class in a month's time," Danzo said. "I also permit you top priority over the use of Four, Six and Seven."

That latter proclamation, of course, was just a formality. Danzo was no fool; he'd known of the slight shift in loyalty in the children assets of ROOT years ago. They were now Nine's before they were Danzo's, and it was an assured fact that they would have aided Nine in this mission even without Danzo's explicit approval. While Danzo would have normally had them immediately eliminated for such treasonous behaviour, the fact of the matter was this: those assets were completely useless without Nine at their core. Civilian-born and lacking any sort of talent in the shinobi arts, they were at their most useful when acting as the living tools of Nine. The only exception to this logic was, perhaps, Two, but even he was lacking in comparison to Nine.

In any case, as long as Nine remained loyal to Danzo, so would the rest. And Nine would never betray ROOT (not in the true sense of the world), as well as eliminate any of these children on Danzo's orders.

"This is an important mission, Nine."

"Yes sir," Nine repeated dutifully. There was no inflection to his voice, just simple acceptance. It filled Danzo with a grim sort of satisfaction.

Giving them a nod, he gestured for them to rise. Once on their feet, Two immediately stepped back in subordination to Nine, allowing the blond to stand in full attention before Danzo.

"From today until the completion of the mission, Two will be called Sai. And Nine—" He paused for a moment in thought. It was a full minute of silence that that Danzo spoke again, having made up his mind. "Your name will be Uzumaki Naruto."

Note: In case people missed it in the summary, this story will have NO PAIRINGS. The names "Nine" and "Naruto" will be used interchangeably in this story. Reviews are greatly appreciated! Let me know what you guys think so far.

Thanks for reading!