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Sarutobi stepped forward but the scout moved to stop him. "Hokage-sama, how do we know this is not a trap? There's no reason our own people would keep us out of the Hokage Tower."

"It's not a trap," Sarutobi assured the younger shinobi, "but if anything goes wrong, you'll follow Shikaku's instructions until I return."

"Understood." The scout bowed.

Sarutobi nodded before moving forward to meet his successor in what he was sure would be a difficult encounter.

Chapter 25: Confrontation Part 2

Naruto being accustomed to trouble, causing it and getting blamed for it, knew the difference between normal trouble and bad trouble. Most of the time in the old Konoha, he reveled in the attention resulting from normal trouble as the only way to be noticed and acknowledge. Here, where Minato, Kakashi, Rin, Jiraiya, and all the others he'd met treated him not just like an actual person but as a part of the family, Naruto found little need to cause the amount of trouble he had in his old Konoha. Still, in both worlds he knew to avoid bad trouble at all costs, and the look on his Dad's face just now meant bad trouble.

The group was silent after Minato flashed away. A few ANBU dropped down ready to provide escort to the Hokage Tower and hospital. Kakashi's, slow shambling pace prompted some discussion between Kakashi, Jiraiya, and one of the ANBU about fetching another wheelchair, or simply carrying Kakashi the rest of the way. After an initial moment of argument, Kakashi's shoulders drooped farther and he accepted the offer to bring him a wheelchair.

Naruto tuned out much of the exchange. As far as he was concerned the longer it took to get back to the Tower the better. With bad trouble came equally bad consequences, in this case the possibility of being sent home. After all, they were going back to the Tower specifically to send Kakashi-jiji back, who was to say Minato and the others hadn't changed their minds about sending Naruto back as well? After all, Naruto was well aware how much of a burden he could be in the other Konoha.

The only reason they were out here in the first place was because of Naruto and Kyūbi. If Naruto hadn't had the Kyūbi inside him there would have been no problem. If he had been able to control it, be stronger than the Kyūbi like his dad thought he could be there still wouldn't be a problem. If Naruto hadn't even come to this world there still wouldn't be a problem.

Granted, Naruto wasn't entirely sure how he could have prevented any of those things from happening. It still didn't change the damning fact that they were out in that field because the fox's chakra was attracted to Naruto. They were trying to help Naruto so he could go outside without worrying about hurting anyone and people still got hurt…because of him.

Jiraiya looked worse than he did before, Kakashi too, and Rin…Naruto stole a glance at the medic as another ANBU pushed her chair. Rin was like him now.

Naruto didn't want to think if Rin hated him or not. He supposed if she did it didn't matter because he would probably be sent back to his own world and she would never have to see him again. Minato definitely would choose the old student he'd known for years over Naruto who had only been around for a few weeks. It still hurt to think that Rin, everyone really, would remember him as the reason she became a vessel for a demon.

At least, this time Kakashi-jiji would talk to him, be his friend. So Naruto wouldn't be completely alone again. Still, one friend in an entire village that hated him when here Naruto had at least four and a dad and the villagers didn't hate him on sight…it didn't seem like a fair exchange. Not that Naruto didn't want to be Kakashi-jiji's friend, too.

Naruto looked up at Kakashi-jiji, now ensconced in his own wheelchair pushed by another ANBU. The white haired man looked even older than before, eye clenched shut and brow furrowed.

Then again, maybe Kakashi-jiji needed him more than the others.

Naruto still didn't want to leave, but he steeled himself for the bad news. Bad news was easier to take if you expected it and right now if he hoped for the chance to stay only to be told he had to go, Naruto was sure he wouldn't survive the disappointment.


Minato arrived in his office in the Hokage tower. The room was dark and empty with only the light from the new morning to cast long shadows over the floor, walls, and furniture. He could have arrived directly in the Mirror room, but Minato needed a moment to collect himself.

Glancing down at the bag of chakra crystals, Minato scowled. The notion that Jiraiya and Tsunade had gone behind his back, created yet another Jinchuriki, evoked not just anger at being circumvented in such an important decision but pain at the memories it dredged up. They knew Minato disapproved of the practice, whatever his counterpart may have done to Naruto. Minato had enough memories of how Kushina had suffered, then added to that the evidence that Naruto had undergone similar treatment, perhaps worse.

Minato dropped the bag on the desk and clenched his fists, grinding his teeth as he paced across the room. Thinking of that was not helping him calm, more the opposite. At the least, he could address that topic in a few moments when he spoke to Sarutobi personally.

There was still the matter of punishments for those involved, at least three of them. Kakashi, after all, wasn't from Minato's world and would be returning home shortly, perhaps a punishment in and of itself. Naruto, being a child could hardly be held accountable for the actions of the adults around him. Jiraiya, Tsunade, and Rin, however, were immensely responsible for what happened. The problem was finding a punishment severe and appropriate enough that Minato could get past the council and also enforce. Banishment was a possibility, or restriction to the village. It didn't quite seem enough, though.

Dropping into a chair pushed against the wall, Minato glared at his desk. Kage were always referred to as the strongest in the village. Young shinobi looked up to their kage as invincible, limitless in power and influence. If those junior ranks only knew the administrative and practical limits Minato actually had to deal with, their high opinion of their leader would likely dim.

A huff of frustration escaped Minato, but oddly enough focusing on the administration problem for a moment brought his temper back below boiling point. It still simmered under the surface, but he felt he could confront Sarutobi without the danger of doing something untoward. Scooping up the bag of crystals and with one final bracing huff, Minato flashed to the Mirror room.

The room held the type of devastated quiet that only came with the after effects of battle. Two ANBU crouched in front of the Mirror, molding and channeling chakra through the cracked and damaged device. Through the facets and shatter lines, Minato could make out Kakashi on the other side, leaned against a boulder and reading one of Jiraiya's books. Outside, another two ANBU stood guard, but all others were off attending to wounded and cleaning up the mess. Just faintly, an explosion sounded, but it was disjointed, filtered through the damaged connection from the other Konoha.

At some unknown signal, Kakashi straightened up and put his book away. "Hokage-sama," he said in a loud voice, gaze turned away toward the door in the other world, "The Sandaime is here."

Minato nodded and stepped through the Mirror. The passage from one world to the next was more difficult, the barrier harder to push past, not surprising considering the condition of the Mirror. He was certain the device would collapse if not for the constant flow of chakra from the ANBU kneeling nearby. Minato dismissed the damage from his mind. They only needed the Mirror for a little longer, then he had every intention of destroying it anyway.

"He's out in the hall with Itachi-san," Kakashi said, turning to face Minato.

Minato nodded. "Your counterpart and Naruto will be arriving soon. Have them wait in the hall." Minato glanced at Kakashi, tilting his head back toward the Mirror. Kakashi turned away and pushed through the Mirror, leaving the room empty for Minato and the Sandaime to talk.

"Sandiame-san," Minato greeted with flat tone and a curt nod as the old Hokage appeared not a moment later. The bag of chakra crystals hung at Minato's side, hopefully enough for the other Hokage in exchange for Naruto.

"Yondaime-san," Sarutobi replied with a nod, professional though warmer than Minato's cool attitude.

The man looked older than Minato had ever seen him. The lines on Sarutobi's face seemed to have doubled and his shoulders were stooped from fatigue and stress. The man's black battle uniform was in little better shape, dirty with blood and dust, torn and wrinkled from days of wear and regular battle. It was a testament with the ruined Hokage Tower of the dire situation this world's Konoha and her Hokage had faced. The sight made some of Sarutobi's decisions more understandable but only those after the invasion started.

A long moment of silence passed, each gaze taking in the other. "I take it I have you to thank for Ame's withdraw from the village," Sarutobi said, words loud in the quiet room.

Minato nodded, face set in stone, forcing himself to leave the father behind for a moment and be just one Hokage conferring with another. "They'll probably refrain from attacking again unless you give them a reason, at least in the short term."

Sarutobi's eyes narrowed as he took that in, "They've lost strength, so have the Iwa forces. We'll be able to push out the remaining enemy now that their allies have fled. They cannot hold their lines with their flank so exposed."

"What have your casualties been?" Minato asked, thinking ahead to possible struggles against other villages, Suna especially, now that Konoha had been weakened.

"Significant." Sarutobi breathed a faint sigh and pain flashed across his old eyes. "We still have many of our high level shinobi, a good portion of the older chūnin and most of the jounin. Nearly all the veterans of the Shinobi Wars survived, but our genin and younger chūnin ranks have been gutted and most of our shinobi suffer some form of injury." A shadow passed over the Sandaime's expression and for a brief instant he looked less like the leader of a military village and more like a grandfather who'd seen deep tragedy come to his family. A moment later he stood straighter, face setting impassive again and the impression was gone. "We have enough to weather a small probing attack from any other villages, a larger scale attack is less certain and certainly we couldn't survive another major offensive."

Minato nodded weighing the likelihood that another village would risk a significant attack. Despite everything that had happened, he still didn't wish further destruction on this other Konoha. Konoha, if this version was similar to Minato's, was considered one of the stronger shinobi villages. If anyone besides perhaps Suna intended to take advantage of the situation they would likely want to confirm Konoha had lost enough strength. That would require intel which would take time, and time would only help the Sandaime rebuild his forces to meet additional aggression.

The Sandaime's gaze shifted to just over Minato's shoulder, hope flaring at what he saw. Minato turned his head and saw the disjointed image of Minato's Kakashi, still wearing an ANBU mask, but nevertheless recognizable with his unruly white hair. Looking back to the Sandaime, the hope in the older man's expression had gone as he undoubtedly realized that the Kakashi he saw was not his Kakashi.

"Your Kakashi is alive, if severely injured," Minato said, restoring a portion of the same hope. "He'll be returning to you shortly."

"Thank you," Sarutobi said, mouth parting a moment before closing, then turning into a grimacing line. Strained silence filled the space between them as the Sandaime struggle to find precisely what he wanted to say.

Minato's hardening expression probably contributed to the man's hesitance. "Naruto," Minato finally said, breaking the silence and coming to the one topic each truly wanted to discuss.

Sarutobi's eyes, pressed closed a moment but, when they opened there was no hesitance in the firm gaze boring into Minato's own. "Yes," Sarutobi said, not a question, more an offer to continue.

"Why did you hide his existence from me?" Minato demanded. The careful calm he'd attained focusing on the needs of the village as a Hokage was quickly evaporating in favor of the hot anger he'd felt earlier.

Sarutobi straightened a fraction more, almost a man on trial. "I refrained from informing you about him because I saw no need to at the time and doing so would have only caused you pain, something I would never desire."

"But you endured the pain Naruto experienced in his life," Minato bit back, Sarutobi's calm only stoking the anger. "I know what abuse looks like, I know what type a life jinchuriki live, especially those without a family."

Another flash of sorrow and regret passed though the Saindaime, but accepting calm replaced it again a moment later. "Naruto has not had an easy life. Certainly the village did not…react to him the way I had hoped they would. But he has been relatively safe in the village, if not completely accepted."

"Safe," Minato scoffed, blue eyes thunderous, "You use the term loosely. Beside, physical safety is not the only concern when raising a child. How long has Naruto been alone? When was the last time, before he came to us that someone told him he was loved, wanted, or even just tolerated? When was the last time anyone even tried showing him those things? He's constantly afraid we'll leave him. He doesn't know how to draw attention without thinking he needs to cause trouble to do it. He's frightened of crowds and looks to strangers as if they're going to berate him first or ignore him second." His voice grew steadily louder, distantly reminding Minato of Kushina when she became righteously enraged. Maybe it was a small part of her, living on through Minato responding to the mistreatment of her son, too.

The Sandaime stood mute and grave, not denying anything, not defending anything.

"He's my son, Sarutobi, you should have taken better care of him," Minato finally said, disappointment welling up like a wound.

"I know," Sarutobi admitted, "If I could change the past..." His frown deepened a moment, his eyes flicked to the destroyed room around him and he shook his head. "There are several things I would change, but that is the past and it is untouchable."

Minato paused, giving his old friend and predecessor a chance to say anything else in his defense. When nothing more came, Minato set his shoulders, ready for a fight if necessary. "Naruto is staying with me."

The Sandaime sighed, a heavy sound with the weight of years behind it. "I did not intent for you to keep the boy," he said, though his tone spoke more of resignation than surprise.

"Sometimes things happen that you don't intend," Minato said, a harder edge to his voice than he intended. Recognizing it, he grimaced reminding himself of the difficult decisions being Hokage could bring. Without knowing exactly how things played out in this world, could Minato fully condemn the man before him? Keeping this in mind Minato attempted to soften his tone, though with little success, "What sort of life would he have if he went back? The same as he's had till now, loneliness and resentment? Naruto living like that for too long will back fire on the same village you're trying to protect. He'll grow up only knowing hate and he'll certainly have no loyalty to the village or any of his comrades, people who should be his family."

"Naruto does deserve better than this village has given him," Sarutobi conceded with a nod, "But the council will not accept losing the Kyūbi so easily, not in our weakened state." The old man's gaze was turned inward, considering his options, rather than outright challenging Minato's intentions.

"You have no say in the matter and no way to stop it," Minato said, voice hard. "Tell them Naruto was killed in the battle, it will at least buy you time until they find out otherwise and perhaps they'll never discover the truth." He glanced down at the sack in his hand, nearly forgotten in the conversation so far. "Here," Minato said, holding out the peace offering. "Chakra crystals filled with some of the Kyūbi's chakra."

Sarutobi took the bag with a nod. "Thank you. They may help soothe some of the hardliners wishing to take action," he said, then drew in a breath and visibly considered his next words. "It's true, I have no recourse concerning Naruto. We don't have the strength right now to stop you and fight Iwa at the same time. Nor do I desire to do so. I can understand your anger at his treatment, but I cannot change human nature and can only state that I believe I made the best possible decision at the time amidst poor circumstances."

The old Hokage paused, fixed the bag of crystals to his weapons pouch and drew himself up straight. "There are elements in Konoha that I do not have complete control over, hardliners that may try to recover the Kyūbi even with these crystals to make up for the loss."

Minato nodded, he was familiar with similar organizations in his own Konoha, shadowy groups that had their own agendas. There was only so much a Hokage could do with them if they did not openly threaten the village.

The Sandaime continued, "However, we will have other matters distracting us from Naruto's disappearance for a short time and I believe I can handle anyone who tries to make it an issue. If nothing else, the connection between our worlds will be long gone by the time serious objections are raised."

Minato nodded, looking forward to shattering the Mirror once and for all. "One Last thing," Minato said, expression a touch softer now he knew his predecessor would not stop him, but voice still firm, "You placed a genjutsu on Naruto, hid a seal in his memory. I want both removed."

The Sandaime bowed his head recognizing the hard tone. This was non-negotiable for Minato, anything concerning his son would be at the moment. "Bring him through, I'll remove it."

Minato shook his head. "No, he'll stay where he is. Tell Itachi what technique you used and provide us with a copy of the seal and we will remove it ourselves."

Sarutobi acquiesced with a sigh, "Very well."

Minato gestured for Itachi to enter the room. The he stepped away to contact the rest of his team over their ear pieces. "I'm going back to bring this world's Kakashi through. Everyone, wait five minutes then return to the Mirror room for extraction." A chorus of acknowledgement met him over the radio and he turned back to the Mirror, hopefully to leave this world for the last time.


The trip back took much less time with the help of the uninjured ANBU and a third wheelchair, Rin noted, feeling increasingly aware of her surroundings. Now, their sorry group stood in the corridor outside the Mirror room. Tsunade and Jiraiya were meant to go to the hospital, but had over ridden the directions of the ANBU escorting them. Technically, neither Tsunade nor Jiraiya had the authority to do so, but their escorts were some of the younger ANBU, the more experienced ones helping closer to the Mirror, and it was difficult to say no to one Sannin much less two once they made up their mind.

"You should have gone to the hospital," Rin said to a drooping Jiraiya. Her eyes flicked to Tsunade standing next to Jiraiya's wheelchair, still a little surprised the senior medic had agreed to coming to the Tower first.

Jiraiya waved a flopping hand. "Eh, I'll survive. I have you and Tsunade to keep me going."

"He's going straight to the hospital after this." Tsunade said leaning against a wall, "We started this, so we need to see this through first."

"Minato-sensei's not going to be happy," Rin muttered, more to herself. Still hesitant as a genin about disappointing her first mentor.

"We're in trouble already, why not make the most of it," Tsunade dismissed, but the tense set of her shoulders belied her flippancy.

Naruto flinched at the mention of trouble, just a small jerk of his shoulders drawing Rin's gaze. The boy looked nearly as miserable as the other Kakashi, shoulders hunched, gaze glued to the floor. Thankfully, Naruto hadn't been physically injured, but he was clearly distraught and far too comfortable with letting his distress go unnoticed.

Rin pushed herself out of her wheelchair with only a little difficulty. Her strength, initially sapped from having the Kyūbi sealed inside her was slowly returning. The action drew Tsunade's critical eye but the medic did nothing to stop her. Rin crouched down next to Naruto and spoke in a soft voice, drawing his attention. "Alright, Naruto-kun?"

Naruto's eyes came up, peering through his lashes nearly close to tears. "I'm sorry," Naruto whispered, "I didn't mean for you to get hurt, or Kakashi."

"None of this is your fault," Rin said, resting her hands on either of his shoulders. "You were very brave out there, exactly the way a shinobi should be."

Naruto shook his head, eyes clenched closed. "All I did was stand there while Kakashi fought and you…" he faded out breath coming in deep, harsh inhalations.

"Shh," Rin said, pulling him close into a hug. "You carried out your part of the plan and sometimes that's all we can do, even if the rest doesn't work out like we hoped."

"Am I going to be sent back?" Naruto asked his voice barely audible.

"No," this time it was Kakashi who had spoken, looking down from his seat next to Naruto. "You're staying here with your family, Naruto-kun. The only one going back to that world is me."

Rin's eyes shifted to Kakashi, the Other Kakashi from the Other world. He looked shattered, body broken, face white, and visible eye haunted. The only time she'd seen Kakashi brought so low was when they had lost Obito in the cave and at least then they'd had the immediate problem of finishing the mission to take their mind off of it. Now they had nothing to do but wait for Minato to send further instructions. Then he would return to his own world, apparently as shattered as he was, to try and rebuilt something from the pieces.

Rin didn't know this man as well as the Kakashi she'd grown up with, didn't know what his life had been like, but she did know her Kakashi and the two men shared some similarities. Several times now she'd caught guilty or sorrowful glances from the Other Kakashi, enough to tell her something had happened to her counterpart in the Other world and that Kakashi blamed himself for it. It broke her heart, remembering all too well her own Kakashi when she'd first joined Team Minato. He'd been cold and aloof, determined not to make friends. This version of Kakashi was almost worse, outwardly outgoing, easy tempered, friendly, but desperately lonely despite all that.

In that moment, Rin had the horrible feeling she was looking at a reflection of what Whitefang, Kakashi's father, must have looked like in the days before he took his own life, when the guilt and weight of failed duty and honor had crushed any desire to continue out of him. The Other Kakashi from that Other world had that look in his eye, one similar to those she'd seen before they committed or attempted a permanent end to their suffering. Her own Kakashi would never consider it, but this man…Rin couldn't be so sure. The thought of Kakashi ending his own life, alone in a ruined Konoha already grieving from too many dead moved something in her core, hardened a will similar to that which gave her the strength to volunteer as a Jinchuriki.

Kakashi, Rin's Kakashi, stepped out of the Mirror room at that moment generic ANBU mask instead of his usual Dog alias covering his face but recognizable to someone who knew him. He'd been involved in a serious and difficult fight, Rin could tell purely based on how well she knew her old teammate despite his relaxed posture. He glanced over their group, pausing at the serious atmosphere filling the hall like a physical force.

Seeing the two Kakashis together, even with one wearing a mask, only brought the difference between them into sharper focus. Up until then, both men had been avoiding one another, probably not liking the possible turn their lives could have taken, one envious of what he had missed the other dreading what might have been. Even now, Rin's Kakashi seemed to carefully avoid examining his counterpart too closely while the Other Kakashi could only look at his counterpart's feet.

"You're here, good," Rin's Kakashi said, neatly glossing over the fact that all members of their group looked wrung-out from a recent battle. "The Hokages are talking. We'll probably get this thing straightened out in a few moments. You'll be going back," he said to injured counterpart.

Other Kakashi remained silent, only nodding in response, face devoid of emotion in a way reminiscent of the younger Kakashi before he'd learned from Obito. The entire thing seemed too much like a prisoner exchange or punish by banishment for Rin's liking and the idea that had been forming in the back of head finally took shape.

Rin's Kakashi turned back into the Mirror room when no one spoke after his announcement. Rin braced her hands against her knees and pushed herself to her feet. The action was more difficult than she anticipated, reminding her that she still needed time to recover. She followed her Kakashi back into the Mirror room. First and foremost thinking that he didn't know what had happened and if anyone was going to tell him it would be her.

The room was strewn with debris and evidence of another battle since the initial invasion including one of Pein's bodies lying on the ground nearby. Two ANBU guards crouched before the fractured Mirror channeling chakra into it. From the other side, Rin could make out Minato's signature white coat and the Sandaime's black battle dress, but the image was distorted from the heavy number of cracks running though the pane. Other ANBU guards stood around the room, ready to step forward and intercept any additional threat aimed to and from the Mirror.

"Kakashi-san," Rin murmured almost too low to hear, catching hold of Kakashi's arm.

Kakashi turned to face her, then nodded toward a far corner of the room where they would at least have the illusion of privacy. When she had his undivided attention, Rin floundered, unsure of how to begin. First, she needed to explain what had happened then approach what would happen. Really she needed to talk to Minato and Tsunade about what would happen, but Kakashi was her oldest friend, more family than friend. They'd been through the worst together and if there was a possibility Minato accepted her idea she needed a chance to talk to her dear friend, try and explain.

"Yes?" Kakashi prompted, glancing back to the Mirror for a moment and checking on the progress of the Hokages' discussion.

They wouldn't have much time, Rin needed to be direct. "There's something I need to tell you, while you were gone tonight, Jiraiya, Tsunade, your counterpart, and myself attempt to capture the latent Kyūbi chakra."

"What?" Kakashi said, frown audible under his mask. "How did you plan to do that? Especially without Minato-sensei there or Itachi to suppress the Kyūbi's chakra if something went wrong?"

Treat it like reporting a mission, Rin told herself. Just give the facts as they happened. She could deal with her own shock at the events later. "We used Naruto as bait then trapped the chakra into modified chakra crystals. We planned on using them as collateral for the other Konoha since they wouldn't be getting the Kyūbi back."

With each word, Kakashi stiffened then finally shook his head. "That was foolish to attempt, the Kyūbi's chakra is too unstable, too powerful for chakra crystals."

Rin nodded, tilting her head to the side in reluctant agreement. "Nevertheless, it was the best we could come up with in the short time we had. And some of the crystals did survive."

"Some?" Kakashi's tone had grown wary and he grabbed Rin's arm in concern.

Rin grimaced forcing the crux of the matter out before she faltered. "We were interrupted, the balanced fell apart. We had to improvise and find another vessel."

"Rin don't tell me," Kakashi murmured, the wariness was full blown dread and the grip on her arm tightened in alarm. "You?"

Rin nodded. "There wasn't any other option and we had already committed to the plan so we couldn't turn back."

Kakashi stared at her in shocked silence. Rin wished she could see his face, gage what he was feeling so she could know how to respond. The mask was more for his anonymity in the Other world rather than protecting his identity here, but protocol demanded the mask remain until the mission was complete. Kakashi's head jerked toward the rest of the group waiting in the hall and spat out a vicious curse.

"Don't blame them," Rin hurried to get out. Kakashi had always been sensitive about protecting her, a remnant of losing Obito. It had gotten better over time but never left, not completely. "I volunteered. It was as much my idea as anyone's."

Kakashi's head twitched to one side, almost to look back out in the hall again, but he didn't took his gaze away from Rin. His shoulders tensed even more as if in preparation to speak, but at that moment Minato cleared his throat from near the Mirror, having just arrived from his confrontation with the Sandaime. Rin and Kakashi both jerked around facing their sensei and Minato hitched his head toward the door.

Not looking back to Kakashi, Rin stepped after Minato, steeling herself for the next few minutes. She'd run out of time.


Minato pushed through the Mirror and stepped immediately for the door leading to the hall. Behind him Minato could hear the Sandaime speaking in low tones with Itachi, hopefully giving the Uchiha all the information needed to remove any remnant of the Genjutsu or seal from Naruto. The genjutsu masters in the village could probably work it out if necessary but it would be much easier and less harmful to Naruto to simply have the specifics handed over to them.

Glancing to the side, Minato noticed Rin and his Kakashi in the far corner, engrossed in conversation. Kakashi's back was rigid, shoulders tight, and the expression on Rin's face meant she was probably telling him what happened. They needed more time to come to terms with Rin's new situation than they really had at the moment. They would have a long talk concerning the events of the night after the final exchange with Sarutobi.

Minato cleared his throat, pulling their startled attention to him, and indicated the hall with a jerk of his head. Rin and Kakashi both followed him out to where the entire group from the covert mission to trap the Kyūbi waited. Minato sent a disapproving glare to Tsunade and Jiraiya but delayed on commenting about their ignoring his orders.

"The Sandaime has agreed to allow Naruto to stay here," Minato said, proud of how neutral he managed to keep his tone.

Jiraiya snorted, ruining the effect, and muttered, "As if he had a choice."

Another withering glare silenced the older man. Minato silently wished Jiraiya would simply pass out from blood loss. It would make next few minutes infinitely easier. "The Sandaime is giving Itachi instructions on how to remove his genjutsu safely. Once that's finished, you," he point to the other world's Kakashi, "will be returning home. Naruto will remain in the hall during the exchange with Jiraiya and Tsunade."

"Hai, Hokage-sama," the other Kakashi said, voice barely audible.

"Sensei?" Rin said, voice half a pitch higher than normal, like genin about to ask something they knew they shouldn't.

Minato looked at her, barest nod encouraging her to continue.

Rin took a deep breath, face pale, and fixed her gaze on Minato. "I think we should consider the possibility of my going to the other Konoha."

Silence met the statement, a deep frown settling over Minato's face. From the corner of his vision he could see the other Kakashi, eyes wide in shock, mouth hanging open, almost as pale as his hair.

Next to Rin, Minato's Kakashi went rigid jerking around to face his longtime friend. The mask still hid his expression, but it probably reflect his counterpart's. "No!" he breathed, quiet in deference to the fact the question was directed to the Hokage, but still audible.

Minato could understand the knee-jerk reaction. Rin was as dear to him as anyone in the village, but he forced down his initial emotional denial. This was a matter to deal with as a Hokage first. "Why would I give up one of my own highly trained shinobi to that other world when they've already agreed to my conditions?"

Eyes still fixed on Minato, Rin continued in a stronger voice with a determined jut of her chin. "Because they don't stand a chance right now. Even pushing the invaders out, there's nothing to stop another village, Suna or Kumo, from taking advantage of Konoha's weakness. Having a Jin-" Rin stumbled over the word, eyes squeezing close briefly before continuing. "Having a Jinchuriki there will at least give the illusion of more strength than they perhaps possess."

Minato held her gaze, surprised she had suggested leaving and wondering if she would falter. "They have the chakra crystals you were able to create."

"That won't be enough. It's not the same as the real thing," Rin denied before continuing on another track. "They'll need medics, too, and skilled shinobi more than we currently need them considering their losses. It's still Konoha and none of us want to see any version of our home completely destroyed."

Rin paused and drew another breath, her eyes flickering to the other Kakashi, injured in his wheelchair. She shook her head and her gaze drifted to the floor. "They need help and we need to consider giving it even after everything that's happened. It could mean the difference between survival and complete destruction."

Minato followed her glance to the other Kakashi, sitting dejected and injured, looking much the same when he first arrived through the Mirror. Minato could understand if the sight of that alternate Kakashi was spurring Rin to make her offer. Rin had always been willing to give her life for the village and her friends, Obito's example had cemented that loyalty and determination in both of his teammates and this wouldn't be that different. It would be giving up her life here with the people she knew and loved to save another Konoha and her friend there so desperately in need.

The silence must have stretched too long for her old teammate. Their Kakashi, sucked in a breath through his mask. "Sensei, you can't be considering it," there was a touch of desperation in Kakashi's voice, quiet though it was.

Minato held up a hand, stopping any further comment. "Rin," Minato said, waiting for her focus to come up off the floor, expression made of steel and eyes fixed on hers. "If you go over to that world, there will be no way back. I'm not going to allow the portal to remain open after this. Understand, you will be trapped there for the rest of your life."

"I understand," Rin said. She was pale and her eyes wide, but her hands were steady. "I'm willing to go if it gives them a chance."

"You don't have to do this." The other Kakashi spoke for the first time, visible eye shadowed and turned down. "We'll find a way to survive."

"He's right, you don't have to do this," Minato's Kakashi echo, hands twitching, to take off his mask or grab his old friend, Minato couldn't tell.

"I know," Rin said then looked to Tsunade, watching the discussion unfold with a clinical eyes. "Tsuande-sensei, do you have an opinion?" The heavy calm in her voice now that she had made her case was almost comical, but Rin was a medical-nin trained to remain calm in the worst of scenarios.

Tsunade took a moment before answering, face stern and serious. "No doubt, your presence would help that other world greatly, but it is your choice. No one can order you to do this." Her fierce gaze flashed to Minato, daring him to contradict her.

Minato only shook his head, the dropping sesation in his gut telling him how this was going to end. He had no desire to lose one of his longest friends and dearest students, but did not wise to forbid her from going if her mind had been made up. "I will not order you one way or another. This is a matter for your own conscience to decide. I can only impress on you the permanence of your decision. There will be no coming back."

Rin nodded her understanding. A long silence descended as their masked Kakashi clenched and unclenched his fists next to her, a true sign of his deep agitation.

Naruto, hesitant, broke the silence with a voice almost as small as he was. "Rin-oneechan, what are you saying?"

Rin looked down to Naruto and knelt before him, placing her hands on his arms. "What I'm saying is I think I need to go with Kakashi-jiji to your old Konoha."

Naruto stole a wide-eyed look of near fear to Minato and Minato had to hold himself back from interfering. "But you're not being punished, are you?" the question was even softer than the last. Minato had missed something while he was gone, something that had passed between Rin and Naruto.

Rin shook her head. "It's not a matter of being in trouble. It's a matter of doing the right thing and looking after the ones we care about."

The confusion and dread in Naruto's expression cleared a little. Trust the youngest in their group to understand what Rin was trying to do the most.

"Hokage-sama," one of the ANBU guards from inside the room stuck his head out into the hall, hesitant at interrupting, but enough time had passed to warrant it. "They're ready for the exchange."

Minato nodded as Rin pulled Naruto into a tight hug.

"Give them all sorts of trouble, but don't forget to be kind to others as well," Rin said then released him. She pushed herself to her feet, bouncing slightly with the effort. She stepped over to Tsunade and Jiraiya and bowed, receiving an approving nod from Tsunade in return. Without another word, Rin took the other Kakashi's wheelchair in hand and pushed it toward the door into the Mirror room pausing only when Naruto shot forward and grabbed the arm rest.

"You're leaving now, right?" Naruto said to his own Kakashi, who nodded. "Thank you, for looking after me in the other world. I wish…"

"Me, too, Naruto-kun," the other Kakashi said. "But you're going to be fine here, better than fine."

Naruto glanced around to the people surrounding them and gave a hesitant smile, only a quarter of his normal wattage, but earnest and hopeful.

"Goodbye, Naruto-kun," Kakashi said and Rin pushed him through the door.

Minato trailed behind them with their own masked Kakashi, following with tense, agitated steps. The Sandaime, Itachi, and other members of the invading force were barely distinguishable from one another, the view to the other side had degraded so much. The Mirror was failing and time was running out.

At the sight of the Mirror, Rin stopped and took a deep breath. She turned to Minato, standing closest behind her. She bowed deeply, "Thank you, Minato-sensei, for everything."

Minato put his hand on her head when she straightened and looked up at him, something he used to do to his students when they were younger. Both Rin and Kakashi had long outgrown the gesture, but it didn't matter in that moment. "Thank you, I know you'll do well," Minato said, sounding like a father even to his own ears. "Be careful over there, look after yourself," the 'and him' was unspoken but Minato could see she had heard it all the same.

Rin smiled, the gesture only slightly tinged with sorrow. Then she turned to her own Kakashi, battling to keep himself in check. She didn't say anything, simply stepped up to him and threw her arms around him in a fierce hug. Their masked Kakashi responded in kind, each trying to convey everything they had meant to the other over the years.

When they parted, Rin managed one final watery smile and a croaked. "I'll be fine."

"I know you will," Kakashi said, voice just over a whisper.

Rin turned and shoved the wheelchair into motion. She had to lean into the push to make it through the Mirror. The others waiting on the reverse side pulled the chair through to help. She had to swivel it one way then another to move around the fallen debris, but eventually turned to face both herself and the seated Kakashi toward the gateway.

There was a moment where Minato could see and partially hear her explaining to the other members of his invasion team inciting a brief discussion between the Sandaime and Minato's team. The faint words came through the Mirror choppy and broken. Aburame finally stepped forward, handing his mask over to Rin. She bowed to him and the others and one by one, Minato's team returned to their own world. Itachi was the last through, giving a formal nod to indicate the all clear.

The ANBU channeling chakra into the Mirror broke off and stepped back away from the devise. Surprisingly, the Mirror still held together, the image only flickering slightly with the interruption of chakra flow.

"Look after her!" Minato's Kakashi called to his counterpart, his voice loud and earnest.

The response was a faint but distinguishable, "I will!" as all three of the blurry figures on the other side raised their hands in farewell.

Minato stepped up and call forward a Rasengan. Careful not to touch the surface himself, he rammed the jutsu into the very center of the Mirror, right at the point where several of the largest cracks met. The image on the other side flickered and vanished a fraction of a second before the entire Mirror shattered and fell to the floor.

The crash of broken crystal only amplified the silence that followed as Minato and those around stared down at the glittering shards. So much trouble had come from the damn thing. Turning around, though, and seeing Naruto peeking around the corner now unaffected by the sight of the broken Mirror as Tsunade's hand reached into view and pulled him away, Minato could not make himself regret it.

"Have this cleaned up, place the remains in S-class artefact storage," Minato said and swept out of the room, Itachi following behind. Even with Naruto's being able to look into the Mirror room without apparent difficulty, Minato had every intention for Itachi to remove any lingering influence the Sandaime's genjutsu could possibly have.

Outside in the hall, Tsunade and Naruto were facing off, a spark of Naruto's initial exuberance showing through despite the strain and exhaustion evident in his tense posture and tight frown. Jiraiya had finally succumbed to his own exhaustion and wounds, head tilted at an awkward angle in his chair and eyes closed.

"Tsunade-san," Minato said, pulling the medical-nin from her chastisement of Naruto's cheek. "I think it's time you took Jiraiya to the hospital."

"Hai…Hokage-sama," Tsunade said adding the title in an apparent bid to make up for ignoring Minato's earlier instructions.

Minato watched her wheel her old teammate down the hall, then glanced behind him into the Mirror room. Kakashi still stood, looking down at the remnants of the Mirror, the broken connection to his oldest friend. Kakashi had needed to say goodbye to too many of his loved ones in the past. He would survive, Minato knew, but also Minato knew just as well how difficult the next few days and weeks would be for Kakashi. Glancing back to Naruto, Minato's serious expression cracked with a twitch of a smile. They'd lost one connection, but they now had time to build another one.

"Naruto-kun," Minato said, pulling Naruto to his side and gesturing to Kakashi's masked form, "Why don't you go get that ANBU there, he's going to be your guard for the next few weeks. We're heading home."

The smile on Naruto's face wasn't as bright as it could be, but it was getting closer, and the tense stiffness of his body loosened at the mention of Home.

"Yeah!" Naruto cried, shooting forward to grab Kakashi's hand. "C'mon, ANBU-san!" Naruto said, "We're going home!"


A/N: Thank you everyone who's read, reviewed, and favorited this story, especially those who've followed it over the years. All the works I post on this site are intended to help me practice and improve my writing, as well as to hopefully tell a good story. I started writing this fic with the intention to try a more complicated story line than pervious works. At the very least, I succeed in making it complicated. I don't think I would have finished it if not for everyone who sent reviews and encouragement. So again, a very warm thank to you all. You guys are the best.