I haaateeeee eeeeveeeeryyyythiiiiiing!

Haruno Sakura was a smart girl. A smart girl who formulated more than one hypothesis to possibly explain an event. She also had a good memory. "Sensei," she said, distracting her teacher from where he was supervising Sasuke's training from afar.

Their other teammate was left minding the food, as he was still fairly weak and they feared that stressful exercise would wind up reopening his wounds, both internal and external. Of course, the blond had protested and protested until Sakura had been forced to make him promise to take it easy. The idiot acceded, and then spoke about how he never went back on a promise. That, and SOMEONE had to watch the client, who proved to be an actually decent cook willing and able to help teach Naruto. Though he insisted on pouring Sake on whatever they were cooking, which required Kakashi to point out that drunk shinobi are bad guards.

This was further weight to one of the hypothesis Sakura had formed. That kind of adherence to their word... it was a trait of the fox spirits of legend. Naruto had a surprising number of mannerisms that made him move, and sometimes even act, like a fox, like now. It was strange, to be certain, but it by itself wouldn't mean much.

Throw in the fact that he was the Kyuubi Jinchuuriki, as well, and Sakura was starting to think there might be something beyond even that. After making the connection last night, and trying not to think about it while he was in close proximity (Sakura had a sneaking suspicion that Naruto was way more observant than he let on, and didn't want to clue him in that she knew something about him that he probably didn't), she began to realize that Naruto didn't match up to the information about Jinchuuriki that had been given at the academy.

Weren't Jinchuuriki usually, if not always, raised as weapons to the village?

If Naruto was a jinchuuriki, then why was not only he basically left to his own devices, but why was he allowed to be such a terrible ninja? He was undisciplined, irresponsible, lazy and, no matter how loveable he was when he was being more subdued, he was a colossal idiot. Admittedly, he was funny when he wasn't pestering her and he could even be impressive and determined if he was motivated about something.

He had also been surprisingly...


Jinchuuriki were weapons of mass destruction. They were supposed to be powerful like an army, to be able to change the tide of a battle just by showing up. But Naruto had been... laughably weak if he was supposed to house the Kyuubi.

Sure, he'd gotten them out of the sticky situation, but... Sakura feared that, had Zabuza not been occupied with Kakashi, it was very likely that he could have defeated Naruto, and they would've been screwed. If that power wasn't the power of a jinchuuriki, then maybe it was a bloodline?

Her brain provided her with the information that the Uzumaki clan had strange mutations on their chakra that usually allowed them to do weird things with it...

Could it be that?

After what seemed like an eternity, but in reality had only been a couple seconds, Kakashi finally turned.

"Hm? What is it, Sakura?" asked the silver haired teacher, his eye offering Sakura an almost disarming smile. It was weird.

"What was that power Naruto used against the Hunter Ninja?" Sakura asked, putting all of her doubts to rest. The teacher would know, he was a jounin. He had to have enough clearance to know something like that.

"Well... I don't know!" he said, offering her another disarming smile.

"You do," Sakura countered. "Is it related to the Kyuubi?"

Kakashi hummed. "Did your other self tell you?" he asked, nonchalant.

"She gave me a pretty big hint," Sakura replied, shaking her head. "But I really only needed to look at what was right in front of me to be able to tell. It's just... this morning, I'd been thinking, and Naruto doesn't match the information we've got about jinchuuriki. He didn't go mad and start attacking everyone, it was pretty clear he just wanted to kill the Hunter. And he wasn't causing mass destruction all around, either..."

Kakashi began to rub the bridge of his nose, close to where it met his forehead protector turned eyepatch. "Of course the education on jinchuuriki they give is biased, why wouldn't it be?" he asked, clearly sounding somewhat frustrated. It was the most negative emotion Sakura had ever seen Kakashi express. And it was frustration. "The chunin that were in charge of your education suffered from when the last jinchuuriki of the Kyuubi was assassinated and had the Kyuubi ripped straight out of her. So now, everyone fears the current jinchuuriki might go the same way. Or rather, they think that the last one liberated the Kyuubi in the middle of the village and now fear Naruto might do the same. Have you noticed how nobody talks to or looks at Naruto? People know. And they don't want to be near him if the seal fails. That's why they instructed their children to stay away from him, that's why they don't want him near."

Sakura frowned. "But that's not right! If I'm correct, Naruto's seal was made by the Yondaime, right?"

Kakashi nodded. "The prior Jinchuuriki's was done by Mito-sama, and for all of his prowess, Minato-sensei didn't hold a candle to Mito-sama in the art of sealing. So people have far less trust on it than they should, even though the seal wasn't what failed. Point is, people are just afraid. So they tell these stories to each other. And they become more afraid. It's a vicious cycle, but I have faith that Naruto will prove himself to them and break it to pieces," Kakashi said, ruffling Sakura's hair. "So don't worry your pretty little head over it, okay? He'll be fine, he's strong," he added.

Sakura scowled up at Kakashi, only years of enforced respect towards authority holding in a biting comment.

Observing and eavesdropping from behind a tree, Uchiha Sasuke closed his eyes. "... So he knows pain..." he muttered to himself, solemnly. "And yet... he can smile like that..."

"Anyway, why did they have to leave so suddenly, Sensei? We sure could have used their help!" Sakura admitted, wishing to change to a much less somber topic.

"Well, there's a mass murderer in the loose somewhere in fire country, so they went to try and search for their Naruto, in order to warn him. Don't worry, I doubt they'll come across-"

"What!" Sasuke suddenly yelled, bursting into the scene. "Is it... is it him!?"

"Very unlikely," Kakashi said, seriously. "Not his standard modus operandi or even close to it," Kakashi confirmed. "Also, glad to see you could join us. Eavesdropping is just rude, you know," he added.

Sakura blinked. She hadn't been able to tell Sasuke had been eavesdropping, but she was sure Kakashi had been perfectly aware of it. It wasn't as if she'd discussed anything that she shouldn't, right?

"Anyway, you two should get back to training, I'll go check on Naruto and the client. Don't do anything I wouldn't do!.. Actually, scratch that, don't do anything I would do either. At your ages, I'd already lost my virginity, but that's illegal now... I think..." Kakashi mused, rubbing his mask covered chin. "I'll have to check when we get home. So don't do it until then! That goes double for you, Sakura! I've heard your whispers at night!"

Sakura blushed from head to toe.

Kakashi just laughed as he departed to check on Naruto.

Sasuke looked west, to where he knew Konoha lay. He frowned for a second, before shaking his head.

Sakura began to giggle uncontrollably as she wrapped her arms around her own torso and began to wiggle in place.

It only took a few seconds for the Uchiha to begin backing away, and then dash off to join Kakashi, while Sakura was left there to her own devices for a little while.

Sakura was convinced that there was something beyond being a jinchuuriki to Naruto, now. He wasn't just a mad monster like she'd been taught Jinchuuriki were. Not even close, in fact. It was probable that jinchuuriki in general weren't like that, but this just painted a further picture considering what Sakura knew about Naruto's clan, the gone but not forgotten Uzumaki. Well, to her, at least. Sakura had always thought Naruto was special only due to how stupid he was.

She'd never thought there would be such an amount of reasons why her teammate was special...

"You know, it recently struck me that we're all very likely to die. Horribly," noted one of the ANBU, a man wielding a sword and with a mask with so many cracks that it was unrecognizable, as he leaped back to avoid a black disk that was identified as a sword as it stuck itself in the ground. An orange blur quickly crashed onto it, plucking it off the ground, and then leaving little more than disturbed grass as the wielder leaped at the retreating ANBU, who lifted his sword to deflect the attack. The tanto groaned, as the orange blur's white sword crashed upon it, almost forcing it to crack, and the black sword came from below to stab.

Fortunately, the ANBU still had one arm free, and so he could slap the blade so it grazed his body armor instead of penetrating through it.

"But not today," he quipped.

As a trained elite ninja, it was only a reflex that his leg snapped into motion and went for his target's unprotected torso. However, the target raised his own leg just in time to block the ANBu nin's knee with his own foot, allowing him to push off, avoiding damage.

All of this had taken a mere fraction of a second.

"Brat's good," another ANBU commented. "If he weren't wearing orange, we'd have one hell of a harder time seeing him coming in the dark, and then we'd be in trouble."

"Stop being stupid, the both of you," a third, this time a female, added, as she jumped after the boy who had now turned to flee into the forest instead of facing them directly. "Where the hell is Captain Rat?" she asked, knowing the other two were hot on her heels.

"Brat got to him first. Turns out not even the Ratman's capable of seeing the future to know when a clearly homicidal kid drops in. He'll live, barely," commented the first.

"Then I'm in charge. Crow, Weasel, get the goddamned brat!"

"Aye aye, cap'n!" the one with a crow's mask replied, mock saluting as they moved. It wasn't as if they weren't going to do exactly that, and it was easy to follow the trail of broken branches, thes smell of somewhat fresh blood or the trail of red left by the boy who no doubt carried one or two wounds the ANBU captain Rat had left on him before being taken down.

It was so easy, in fact, that it led them to another clearing, where the boy stood in a combat ready stance, directly staring at where they were coming from. They split into three and came at him from three different sides, intending to end the fight right then and there. He'd block two, but the third, coming from his back, would hit.

He didn't block, and all three of the ANBU ninja's regulation Tanto swords cut straight through his skin. Instead of a shower of blood, however, there was an explosion of smoke. "Oh, crap, he knows Kage Bunshin," commented Weasel.

"Stop being such a pansy," Crow replied, making handsigns as he spoke, both of his partners tensing and turning around, on guard already. "Doton: Doryuuheki! (Earth Release: Flowing Earth Barrier)" he cried, slamming his hands to the ground just about fast enough to raise a wall that blocked all three of the orange blurs wielding swords that would have struck the three ANBU in their unprotected backs. "Doton: Heki Bakuha! (Earth Release: Barrier Explosion)"

The walls of earth around them seemingly flickered for a second before exploding outwards, destroying the three clones that had just attacked them.

"Good work, Crow," said the sole female ANBU.

"I've been trying to get that one right since forever!" Crow said, triumphantly.

Weasel yelped as he saw another orange blur, faster than the others this time, crouching in front of him, ready to slice his legs off at the knee. He jumped to avoid that, only to see a second orange blur heading towards him from the front, at which point he utilized the mastery of acrobatics lent to him by ANBU training to turn his body just enough that the target went flying above him, as it'd been attempting to kick his head.

Of course, however, there had to be a third coming from directly above, too fast to have been a natural drop. Even in the penumbra, he saw the distant clone the boy had used to push off and be faster than gravity would allow. Thinking to himself that this would hurt, a lot, Weasel readied his tanto to block and the boy swung the swords down, clashing into the single weapon of his opponent.

Weasel's breath was removed from his lungs as his back made contact with the ground and his body armor failed at stopping the blunt damage, his tanto shattering to pieces by the impact. "Ow my spine!" he yelled, just before the boy crashed into him, arms away from Weasel's impromptu riposte. The knee was not a nice touch, and it drove what little breath was left and left Weasel gasping for a few seconds. "Oh, ribs! Definitely ribs!" he muttered to himself, or tried to, at any rate, while attempting to catch his breath.

The boy readied the sword in his right hand to decapitate Weasel, but then the female ANBU dropped by with a boot to the head that dispelled the clone.

"Birdbrain I could make you a statue," Weasel said, breathing out a loud sigh of relief. "Kid's better than I thought."

"Rat got caught the same way," Bird said, nodding to him.

"Doton-" was as far as they heard Crow go before a wet stabbing sound interrupted him. "Shit! My hand!" Crow yelled.

"Dammit he's relentless!" Bird yelled as she jumped up and came down on the boy who was about to slice Crow's hand off after stabbing through his palm to stop his jutsu. The boy immediately reacted and blocked the attack with his free sword, parrying it to the side. Bird was not to be stopped, though, and her leg snapped into action, catching the boy in the chin, although Bird had been forced to contort weirdly due to the kid being too short for her attack to work as it should.

It still sent him flyin back, blood trailing from his mouth. Probably bit his tongue or lips so hard it cut into them after that blow.

"It's the original!" Bird yelled. "Weasel, get'im!"

The other ANBU member didn't need more prodding and, ignoring the pain signals his abused ribcage sent his brain, he threw every ninja tool he could at the kid, being twelve kunai and twelve shuriken, all hidden in his clothes' secret pockets. ANBU gear rocked, sometimes. Unfortunately, it wasn't all easy to grab and it was, therefore, slower than if he'd grabbed them from a pouch.

The boy flipped so as to catch himself in the air and with the two blades he still hadn't let go of, he began swatting the approaching kunai from the air as he started to come down. When he knocked the last out of the air, he actually tossed one of his swords at Weasel and began going through handseals, a grunt and a sudden change in the wind the only signals that he'd finished the wind jutsu he was using. Weasel recognized the handsigns as a gale palm, and he threw himself to the side. He'd been certain he could catch the sword as it came for him, but he felt vindicated in dodging like this when the gale palm struck the weapon and its velocity suddenly increased to the point it was nearly invisible as it cut through the air.

It went straight through the first tree trunk it impaced and embedded itself on the ground to the hilt, behind it.

"Hot damn," Weasel commented.

The boy seemed ready to fight with one single sword when Bird utilized the body flicker technique to appear behind him, and they were back to back for an instant. Bird crouched down slightly and spun around, the back of her fist impacting the back of the boy's head, sending him flying forward, face first to the ground, and causing him to let go of his other sword.

The boy's face was now sporting a variety of cuts from his close contact with the ground, and Weasel surmised that he was probably feeling the after effects of a hard blow to the back of the head. But he had still stood right back up and got into a fighting stance. A valiant effort, but merely from the fact that any trained fighter could spot a dozen ways to get past his guard with a glancing look, the ANBU could tell that the boy was practically done for.

Strong as he might be, he was facing three ANBU on his lonesome. Holding out as long as he had was an amazing feat already, but it was over.

Bird went forward to challenge him in melee and end the fight. However, as she went to attack the big gap in his guard that was his entirely unprotected left side with a harsh left hook, the boy seemed to flow around the blow, letting her arm come just short of actually hitting him. This left her over extended and not expecting the elbow that landed in the middle of her mask, right over her nose. Normally, few things are able to crack an ANBU's mask, let alone break it, but the boy's elbow did exactly that, and it broke her nose under it, too.

Reeling back from the blow, Bird growled and tried to set her nose back in place. The boy returned to his stance and remained motionless.

His stare at the three ANBU was actually creepy. It reminded them all too well of another young prodigy.

Bird nodded to her teammates and rushed in again, this time putting much more speed and force behind herself, feinting with a right punch only to, once again, fall to her left instead and attempt a straight punch when he seemed to fall for the feint.

It should have hit his unprotected right cheek, but instead, the slightest movement of his shoulders allowed Bird's attack to go through unimpeded, just over the boy's right shoulder. He grabbed her extended arm and, with a mighty heave, used her momentum against her. It was a basic move, so basic that all Bird had to do to evade it was simply jump with his attack...

... But she took it a step further. As the boy was swinging her, she grabbed onto his hands and the momentum from her jump carried them both, even as the boy tried frantically to knock her away. With a growl, she used her grip on his arms to swing him like a ragdoll against the closest tree, hitting it with a satisfying thwack and a pained groan from the boy. Still not letting go, Bird let gravity carry them both to the ground, and she used him as a pillow, feeling only a twinge of guilt as his eyes widened in pain from the attack, the first time his expression had changed so far.

"Bird, watch out!" yelled Crow, and then Bird felt something impact the side of her head. Only Crow's warning allowed Bird to move fast enough to only get a small cut on the right side of her neck instead of getting her head sliced clean off.

The sword wielding Kage Bunshin of the boy dispelled, but the sword stayed, and the boy grabbed the same sword he'd thrown at Weasel before, the black blade.

He got right back up.

"What IS this kid!?" yelled Crow, pulling the bandages on his stabbed right hand so as to make sure they were tight. They were already tinted red.

"Shit," Weasel commented. "He's clearly a Root. No emotions, suicidal fighting style... Did Danzo find a way to replace the Jinchuuriki somehow and put the real one through his training? 'Cause if he's like this now, I can only imagine what he'll be like in a few years..."

The boy was still staying immobile, and the ANBU were given a moment of respite. Despite his clear endurance and pain tolerance, the boy had just received some very powerful blows and was clearly not up to continuing the fight. Not against a somewhat fresh, if a little wounded, ANBU team.

After a few seconds, the boy's hands met in a handseal and he created several kage bunshin, all standing ready.

"Raiton: Jibashiri. (Lightning Release: Electromagnetic Murder)"

The clones were all dispelled by the sudden discharge, and the boy himself writhed in pain as the lightning jutsu ran its course on his body, ending after a few seconds. He collapsed to the ground. The boy's shadow had a thin trail leading to just behind him, which led the other three ANBU's eyes.

A rat masked ANBU's head and hand were visible just sprouting from the ground. Then, the ANBU came out entirely, and fell to the ground in a heap. "Argh, that hurts like a bitch!" he moaned as he hit the ground. "Yeesh, you guys suck at giving someone medical attention. Come on, bind the brat, we're taking him back to Konoha."

"Understood," the three non-captain ANBU replied.

"Tch. Such a troublesome brat, even though he's this small..."

Sasuke shook himself to awareness, water splashing his head. It was eerie, to see the Uchiha Compound so empty, but for the time being, he had to put up with it. He, along with Sakura, had been confined to this home, his counterpart's home, and it felt not unlike prisoners waiting for the chopping block. Morbidly, Sasuke wondered if he should wash his neck alongisde his face, but decided against it, since it would only make for a poor joke.

He wondered if Naruto was okay. Sakura was recovering from chakra exhaustion, a condition she wasn't new to, while he had only scratches on himself.

He also wondered, briefly, how the other team 7 was faring.

And then, he thought of his family. Were they missing him? He hadn't been here too long, but it was enough to worry just about anyone. It was doubtful that they'd be going frantic, but they could always assume that someone had kidnapped him. While it was a stroke to his own ego, Sasuke would gladly tell you just what valuable commodity his clan's members were, and they'd no doubt assumed someone had tried to kidnap him to create their own Uchiha clan.

It wouldn't be the first time someone tried to kidnap an Uchiha and start their own, even though it'd never worked, for the simple reason that you couldn't create a clan with a recessive bloodline limit with just one member. A degree of inbreeding became necessary for the Uchiha to hold as many Sharingan as they did, and if the blood got too dilluted, then there simply wouldn't be enough of it to manifest a Sharingan. Even then, the Sharingan was a defence mechanism, and it only activated in the specific situation of a threat to the user's life, so those who never faced death would never activate their Sharingan.

He missed his family.

Seeing this compound empty made it hit home how much he actually loved his family. As much as he had detested being Itachi's spare, as much as he'd hated being always compared to him and found lacking, being here, where everyone was long dead and buried, told Sasuke that no matter what, family was family. And to think... his brother... he'd been driven mad, apparently, and done this most heinous of acts himself.

What could make Itachi go this insane?

What had it been that made the difference? What had been the event that prompted Itachi to break down and cry in front of his brother, overcome with frustration? Had the Itachi of Sasuke's world been weaker, and this one made of sterner stuff?

Had it been his inability to bend that made Itachi break and go nuts?

"Sasuke," Sakura said, leaning against the doorframe as she smiled at him, her face reflected on the mirror. "I know you're probably doing an introspective, but I really have to use the toilet, and I'm not doing it in front of you, so..."

Sasuke frowned. "I think I liked you better when you were a fangirl who didn't question me and did everything I asked," Sasuke said.

"If you'd been the kind of guy who paid attention to such a girl, I don't think I would've been interested in the first place," she shot back, cheekily. "Besides, you told me that I sucked and needed to get better."

"And now people are acting as if I have magic, defangirlizing powers," Sasuke said, scoffing. "What have you been telling Ino, Sakura?"

"Ino's more thick headed than I am, so I may or may not have altered the truth a little," Sakura said, raising her hands in a gesture of surrender with a smile. "Don't worry, I didn't say you did anything you wouldn't do anyway."

Sasuke rolled his eyes. "Have fun," he said, as he turned around and walked past her. Sakura stuck out her tongue at his retreating back and then walked into the bathroom, closing the door behind herself.

She frowned as she began removing the lower half of her clothes to sit on the toilet. She hadn't been lying. "Okay, so I managed to distract Sasuke... but who's gonna distract me?" she asked herself.

Then her tummy sent a warning at her.

"Thank you," she said, with a smile on her face at her own body reminding him there were more important things to do than angst.

Sarutobi Hiruzen frowned for a moment, letting his pipe's smoke work its magic. Then he linked his arms behind his back and walked into the room. "Report. Now," he ordered.

"Sir," an ANBU snapped to attention. "We caught him. Led us on a merry chase, 'e did. Whoever he is, he's definitely not the same as our Jinchuuriki. So far, he appears to be trained by Danzo, as he behaves like Root tends to behave."

The Hokage nodded. "If anyone will make him talk, then it will be Danzo. I want him here. Where is inoichi?"

"He's getting ready," stated gruffly a black trenchcoat wearing man who was adjusting a bandanna on his head. "So far, nobody's managed to pierce through his head. Inoichi has his doubts it's possible."

"Send someone to tell him not to bother. He will never be able to pierce the mind of a jinchuuriki," said Sarutobi, shaking his head. "And this is in fact a jinchuuriki."

"Really? But... then that means-" the trenchcoat wearing man began.

"No, ours is untouched. This is another one. It's complicated and out of your paygrade," he stated.

"I see," the man replied. "Then..."

"Ibiki, how's the boy himself?" Sarutobi asked.

"Physically? He has three broken ribs and a couple of minor scratches that have been mostly cleaned. Otoha believes he'll be up and about in roughly three days at the most. One if we accelerate his healing. I recommend against this, he seems unstable and willing to attack at the slightest provocation," Ibiki said. "Apparently, he attacked the ANBU that questioned him as soon as he saw them. Knowing it was Crow and Weasel, they might have made overly threatening gestures. The report is inconclusive."

The Hokage nodded and hummed. "Any ideas on whether he's the culprit on the massacre or not?"

"Personally? I believe it's unlikely. After that bloodbath, he should've been covered head to toe, but the only blood on him is his. His clothes are old and he's had them on for a while, so he didn't change them either. His hair is dirty, as well. He doesn't smell of blood any more than a normal shinobi does," Ibiki said. "However, according to Bird and Rat, the boy displayed skill enough that, were he to boost his physical abilities with the Kyuubi's chakra, it wouldn't be out of his ability to cause the massacre. If he managed to manifest a cloak, it would also prevent blood from getting on him."

Sarutobi hummed again. "Rat?"

"I doubt it as well, sir. His fighting style doesn't match. He seems to be focused mostly on the usage of the two blades we've given to R&D for analysis. Don't know what they're made from, but it isn't steel. His fighting style is not overly brutal or unnecessarily violent, and he seems to prefer decapitation," said Rat, his voice monotonic as he exposited on his theory.

Sarutobi frowned.

"He is also wind natured, or at the very least, proficient in the use of wind jutsu, although the only jutsu he managed to use was the gale palm, or at least, a variation on it. He was good enough to do it silently," Rat continued.

"This picture is clearer with every word spoken. We will await for Danzo's arrival. It is most likely that this is one of the Roots," Sarutobi said.

Ibiki nodded, not even questioning the fact that Sarutobi didn't seem surprised that Root was still running.

'Publicly disbanded' didn't mean much for Shinobi, after all.

"Permission to speak freely, sir?" asked Rat, sounding a little apprehensive.

"Granted," Sarutobi replied.

"This is one big damned mess. I don't even know where to start. I don't think it was this kid, but... he's the only suspect so far. He is the only other source of the Kyuubi's chakra not accounted for at the time of the massacre. That doesn't answer why he would linger around the area and allow himself to be found..."

"Maybe he didn't. Maybe he wasn't lingering," Ibiki theorized.

Rat seemed contemplative.

Sarutobi let the smoke fill his lungs once more. "Danzo should have answers, either way."

Danzo was a busy man.

And this was one of his duties.

"I see," he said, as an acknowledgement to the ANBU member that had appeared on the living room of his home. The boy had decades of training ahead before he could hide from the old warhawk appropriately. "Hiruzen calls for me, I pressume."

The ANBU abandoned all pretenses of hiding in the shadows and almost seemed to melt into vision. He nodded. "You are to report to Torture and Interrogation post haste."

Danzo's lips pressed into a grim line.

"I had expected the worst, Hiruzen," Danzo admitted, as he used his good arm to hold a cane that kept him from walking on his bad leg. "What is it you need from me?"

"I require your person," Hiruzen replied, as Danzo walked up to Hiruzen and stood next to him.

They were in a sealed off room, with a glass window covered by a pair of curtains, the curtains themselves thick, black and opaque. Clearly meant to block even doujutsu, if the seals woven into the fabric were anything to go by. Danzo mused that this was most likely very important.

A flourish of his wrist was Hiruzen's cue for the opening of the curtains, and the window, in actuality a one-way mirror, revealed a young boy strapped to a chair on the other side.

"One of yours?" Hiruzen asked.

"No," Danzo replied. "I would have dyed his hair and made him wear contact lenses, had he been one of mine. You didn't allow me to train our jinchuuriki the way he should be trained. And this, as well, does not look like that boy who stands as a mockery to all things Shinobi."

Hiruzen rolled his eyes before they flickered to a corner of the room, to their right. There was a table with a folder there, and in it, sat a very particular set of files. He walked over, grabbed the folder and handed it to Danzo, making a show of using all four of his limbs in an effort to irritate Danzo. From his expression, it'd clearly worked. "Read this," he said.

Danzo did as ordered and he quickly let his face morph into a very expressive frown.

"This is ridiculous," Danzo finally said, a few minutes after he'd begun reading.

"And unfortunately, true," Hiruzen said. "It seems there are many things left in this world that we do not understand yet."

"I see. You say that perhaps you might have engaged your brain and made a different choice concerning this boy?" Danzo asked.

"it is a possibility I might have been high or drunk at the time," Hiruzen said, flippantly, "and it is a wonder that the boy can contain the beast at all. Given his teammates' accounts of him, he is not void of feelings. He seems incapable or unwilling to express them, however."

"If his training is incomplete, then his heart would not have been killed, and he would be left incapable of expressing emotions, but still affected by them. He would not be the first, and the other..."

Hiruzen grimaced at the reminder.

"Nevertheless, he should still answer to you. Obtain answers, Danzo."

"Most of mine are trained to answer to you, as well," Danzo flippantly replied, mimicking the tone Hiruzen had used earlier.

"I very much doubt you'd leave one as valuable as this one to chance," Hiruzen countered. "He also called our bluff when we threatened to harm his teammates."

"Very well. Let's see what one of the roots of the great tree has to say," Danzo said, his cane tapping a distractingly cheerful rhythm as he walked.

Blue eyes snapped open.

"Status report," Danzo ordered immediately.

The boy seemed to be confused for a second. "Operative functional," he finally said, eyes focused on Danzo's single eye.

"Identify yourself, operative," Danzo commanded.

"Operative Uzumaki Naruto. Codename PARIAH," Naruto replied immediately.

"So that's how it is, hm..." Danzo seemed to fall in deep thought for a few seconds. "Then... Explain your actions, PARIAH."

"This is a... most troubling development," said the Hokage, frowning deeply. "Rat. On your way out, call Dog and tell her to assemble a team for an urgent mission. I will explain the parameters to them. Go."

"Sir!" Rat called, saluting as he disappeared in a rush of smoke and leaves.

Sarutobi grimaced.

Danzo walked into the room, eye closed as he seemed to be deep in thought.

"How is he?" Hiruzen asked. "In your analysis. You have more experience with these types."

Danzo broke out of his reverie, and merely glanced once at Hiruzen.

Neither man spoke.

Neither needed to.

With a nod, Danzo departed.

"Naruto-kun... so this is... what could have been... had I made this mistake?" Hiruzen asked, looking past the one way mirror, to where Naruto was still strapped to a chair, though clearly unperturbed by the setup.

"Sir! You called!" a female voice cut in, and then there was a female ANBU with two others in tow.

The light buzzing sound told Sarutobi that one of them was an Aburame, while the other two, from their smell alone, he could identify as Inuzuka who had recently been training their ninken.

"This mission is an A rank secret. Understood?" Hiruzen asked. While all ANBU assignments were B rank secrets by default, sometimes, you didn't want something to be on paper, which was where A Rank secrets came in.

"Sir yes sir!" the trio of ANBU replied.

"Very good. There was an artifact that the Monks in the fire temple were supposed to guard before their unfortunate demise. Someone has taken it. Find it. Do not engage in combat unless you are absolutely certain of victory. If even the slightest possibility of defeat exists, fall back and bring reinforcements. This is vitally important. If the situation is as dire as I believe it is, then you are NOT capable of taking on the thieves. You depart five seconds ago," the Hokage finished.

A chorus of salutations met him.

And then the three were gone.

Sarutobi groaned. "After the chunin exams, I'm making Jiraiya Hokage. I don't want to deal with shit like this ever again," he said, rubbing his forehead as he felt the headache settle in.