AN: IMPORTANT! If you are a new reader, go read How to Win Friends, Influence People And Start Your Very Own Secret Ninja Organization first if you want this story and the actions of several characters to make any kind of sense.
Wherein Back Rooms Prove Useful and Naruto Is the Target of Several Plans
Kurama was born as the result of an act of violence. No, not that way; when the Sage of Six Paths killed the Juubi by tearing it in nine pieces, every single piece then became a creature in his or her own right. Because Rikudō Sennin wasn't the type to kill people for fun and these juubilettes had in fact been innocent little children with no bleed-over memories from their "mother" – and he had made certain to check – he had taken them in as his children and cared for them since the day he died. It was too bad that the children of his blood managed to tear the happy family apart with rapid efficiency. This divide resulted first in two families and later in three. The Uchiha who believed power was the way to bring peace and the Senju who believed that love was the ultimate key to true, lasting peace.
And then there were the Uzumaki. The least branch they were called, the one that stayed out of the Best Way to Have Peace fight. They might have had something going there.
Karin was a child of the Uzumaki, but when she was born the name didn't carry much power, the clan having been ground into dust by those who feared its might. Karin was the daughter of a dead "mother" as well as the daughter of a dead mother named Komaki and she had resigned herself into being nothing more than that, for when a woman married she took her husband's name. There would be no more Uzumaki and so she had chosen to become an Uchiha instead; she could almost feel like she was reviving her own clan by helping Sasuke-kun to revive his, and that he had saved her life and was frankly the anthropomorphic personification of fan service didn't hurt any. Then over the course of a few intense months she had learned she had a cousin still in the world of the living, one orange-wearing, strangely loud Jinchuuriki named Naruto, and she had even gotten to take the third option in the conflict of loyalties when Sasuke-kun was the one to defect first.
Uzumaki Karin didn't have to betray either her love or her blood and if she had been the religious type she would have fallen on her knees and praised her gods. As things were she put a henge upon herself, went into a bar and got absolutely shitfaced – never mind that these Konoha lily-livers were apparently sticks in the mud when it came to underage drinking – and then started to conspire setting Naruto up with some nice girl with ample chakra reserves and good child-bearing hips. She was going to resurrect both clan Uzumaki and Uchiha if it was the last thing she ever did.
Uzumaki Naruto should have been known as Namikaze Naruto, but this could never be. After the Nine Tails' attack Konoha's power had been at the lowest point ever since the village had been but a group of garrisons, a hospital and a tower surrounded by a hastily-erected palisade. In the world of the ninja where being an army killer wasn't as much an exception as it was a career path Namikaze Minato had still stood out and had Naruto been acknowledged as his, a cautious enemy would certainly have chosen to play it safe and cleansed him from the Konoha gene pool. Naruto was the son of a dead mother and father and the son of hate. Really, the way he was treated without as much as a word of explanation should have turned him into yet another dysfunctional child soldier and that he managed to avoid this fate said a lot of the tenacity of his sanity.
Naruto was the child of hate who was housing the Biju of Hate and all he wanted was for people to get along – and they would get along even if he had to beat the peace and love into their skulls one by one. By the time he turned fifteen his track record was second to none.
Naruto didn't know about Pein. Even Jiraiya had been unaware of the roots of his erstwhile student and Nagato hadn't felt the need to inform him. Maybe knowing would have changed something, maybe not, but in the end it was Salamander Hanzo's conspiracy with Shimura Danzo that revealed how strong the old blood in his veins was.
A terrorist for peace, two reasonably sane ninja and the mystical fox-shaped personification of hate; this was clan Uzumaki fifteen years after Kyuubi left Konoha in ruins. The fox might have protested the inclusion, but considerably less that it would have rued the Uchiha or the Senju.
The Godaime Hokage Senju Tsunade of the Sannin wanted to bang her head against something hard – or even better, make it both Haruno Sakura and Uzumaki Karin's heads for being two teenage idiots thinking with their ovaries since their brains had clearly been taken over by bad bodice ripper novels and Uchiha Sasuke's for being such a social retard he couldn't even make a pick and put everyone out of the misery.
Not that she knew what bad bodice ripper novels were like and she was ready to hurt anyone who implied anything to the contrary. Ahem.
"Hokage-sama, please," Sakura pleaded, crushing a scroll against her chest like she wanted to strangle it. "I train with you and I train with Kabuto-sensei…" Tsunade suppressed a twitch at this. She couldn't understand why Sakura felt the need to study with the man. While Kabuto was undeniably skilled and strong and had actually rather good teaching skills as well, unlike some Konoha jounin who made spectacular shinobi, but rather subpar teachers, even the most generous assessing of him included phrases like "stable like a whirligig" and "I swear he has been trained to fool us, but I can't prove it" and "holyshitthatwasdisturbing." Her administration had assured her that the last mentioned was in fact a real word now and completely appropriate to use in a psych evaluation. She had decided to let them have this little victory; if black humour was needed to not go over the edge when dragging others back from it, so be it, she could deal with reports she wouldn't have wanted her fellow kages to get their hands in for more than one reason.
"I do my hospital shifts, I do my paperwork duty that should actually be your duty by the way and my family has informed me that I'm to have social life whether or not I want one and that telling them I'm a legal adult now won't work until I'm eighteen. And that female canine Karin has nothing but free time!" Sakura continued her complaints. That Karin used this free time to follow Sasuke around like lost, fluffy immature female canine went unsaid, but not unheard.
It was an exaggeration, but not one without some basis in reality. Karin wasn't trusted yet with anything more important than C-rank missions and hospital volunteer duty and when she was in the village this did in fact leave her with more free hours per day than Sakura had in whole week.
"Surely it isn't that bad," Tsunade reasoned with her student. "You might not have as much time with your team as you used to, but just last week you – or was that the week before? Anyway, you met with your teammate. Although it was to clean up that mess…" She was actually wincing now. Really, she should have learned already to shut up and dismiss people when she was still ahead.
"Was that when Sai decided to practice his people skills by converting Ino and Inoichi-san took umbrage with the cult initiation involving kissing with tongue or when Kakashi-sensei somehow manipulated Gai-sensei into challenging him into an infiltration mission in the hot springs?" Sakura asked.
"I meant the occasion when you had tea with Sasuke after Lee managed to challenge him into a fight for your hand," Tsunade explained, more than a little perplexed. She would have thought that such a duel would have been the high point of Sakura's young life, never mind that Sasuke had for all appearances fought more to shut Lee up than to whisk Sakura away into the clan compound.
"Sasuke fought for my hand and I missed it?" Sakura shrieked, her eyes bloodshot and her pupils tiny pinpricks that made her appear like a madwoman or a drug addict.
"Uh, Sakura, you were there for it. You even went to have tea with Sasuke afterwards," Tsudane reminded her gently. Calling it a hostage crisis in a tea house might have been more accurate than calling it a romantic encounter, but Sasuke hadn't escaped through the window so he might have been softening to Sakura. A little. Maybe.
"I have had tea?" Sakura asked as though the beverage was an obscure word in the dictionary she might have heard once upon a time many years ago…
So maybe Sasuke had thought co-operating to be the better part of valour for once in his life. So maybe Tsunade was working the girl a little hard; she really had thought that Sakura would have dropped Kabuto's lessons a long time before things got to this point, but clearly her, theirs, student was determined to do what both of them demanded even if it was beginning to look like she might be the one fail the next psych evaluation. And since even Kabuto had so far passed that low bar it would indicate a sad state of mind indeed.
"All right, fine, I will send Karin to bond with Naruto and I could make Shisune take over the filing," she conceded with a sigh. It wasn't as if they could tear the girl off her Sasuke-kun with a crowbar so as long as the Uchiha remained loyal she should be trustworthy as well. That Naruto would be tickled pink to bond with a real blood relative would be a bonus. She picked a cup of tea from her desk and lifted it to her lips. Ah, a little jasmine and ginger and a generous helping of sake hit just the spot.
"Tsunade-shishou, thank you!" Sakura climbed on the desk and kicking a stack of files off it in the process, her eyes shining with the feverish delight of the well and truly sleep deprived. "Let me have your baby! Modern medicine could make it happen, Kabuto-sensei says so!"
Tsunade spat mouthful of tea all over her papers.
Uzumaki Karin didn't love many people in the world. She loved Sasuke-kun who had once been the symbol of her doomed wish to revive her clan, who had become her saviour and later her friend in his own strange way. Sasuke was never judgmental, never demanded anything she didn't feel she could give and certainly never demanded she should remain in the kitchen barefoot and pregnant though there were undoubtedly important in the village who saw wet dreams of a whole litter of Sharingan users. She loved her distant cousin in a distant sort of way as she had never even had a real conversation with Naruto. What she could gleam from the comments of the people who knew him, Naruto was an easy-going person with insanely good luck when it came to defying all logic and laws of nature and tendency to get into odd situations, like creating a new religion. She was certain she could truly come to love Naruto once she met him.
"Assisting your own blood should be a mission you would gladly overtake," Kabuto said, leaning back on his chair. You would better, his gaze said.
It was one of those popular bars where single people went when they wanted to leave with another who was lonely. The back room was actually the workers' break room, but as this was a week night with only one worker and a lot of regular patrons, no-one was going to happen in on their conversation. It was a hovel with a threadbare space in the rug, a vacant plot where a plant might once have been set and half-a-dozen hairpins, those discreet, indistinguishable friends of all women with a lot of hair and a need to keep it out of their face, forgotten on the counter probably a long time ago. Because it was the backroom of a civillian bar getting there unnoticed hadn't been any chore at all.
Only total rank amateurs had those highly conspicuous secret meetings the Icha Icha Infiltration series featured. Anyone who knew what they were doing picked a place like this, especially since the tunnels below Konoha had seen more ANBU patrols than the rest of the village put together ever since the second disbanding of the Root.
"What makes you think I will see him anytime soon? So far the authorities have kept me far away just in case I might abscond with him and run to Orochimaru." These words made her mouth twist into a churlish sneer. Orochimaru was certainly very good at inflicting curious psychological damage upon people – for that it had to be – that turned them slavishly loyal even when they had the reason to be anything but. After the first six months free from his influence Karin didn't know what she had been thinking anymore. She could remember the lines of her rationalizations, but what emotional forces had driven her were a mystery she thought best left untouched.
"My sources don't matter here. What matters is that you are technically speaking still a genin, aren't you?" Kabuto asked.
There was no love lost between Karin and Yakushi Kabuto. The young genius had never done anything to her per say, but he was brilliant in the same way a broken crystal was; full of rainbows, yet made of sharp edges and deep cracks and a tender touch would leave you bleeding. Still, he was one of the few people in Konoha she could trust to always be in Naruto's corner. He might very well be the one person in the village who would always keep Naruto as their top priority over such people-trampling concerns as "national security" and that S-class stamp that haunted Naruto's steps like the ghost of a fire brand. She could respect that.
"Yes, for all that I could kick some of their jounins' asses," Karin drawled. Not many of the jounins, granted, but if it happened to be a good match up, well, Orochimaru never abided by slouches who couldn't take advantage.
"My sources indicate that Jiraiya of the Sannin will soon be forced to leave Naruto-sama behind for a little while. The next Chuunin Exams will be held in Suna in three weeks' time." Kabuto's bead-eyes riveted Karin where she stood. "That Naruto-sama remains a genin at his strength and skill level is ridiculous and speaks of the laziness of imagination and disdain of his character as much as it is a matter of security. Jiraiya thinks to divert interest away from him by keeping him at low rank when the truth is that obscurity has long since ceased to be an option, Naruto-sama has never not been in danger and has never fallen short of the challenge and keeping him a genin is an insult at this point, plain and simple. You can only leave in the company of a jounin. If I arrange for there to be one another genin, will you support Naruto in the exams?"
"And how precisely can you arrange these things?" she asked with curiosity and a little envy. If there was one person in the village even less trusted than she, it was Kabuto, and since she couldn't even squeeze a nice B-class mission from the mission office…
"Ah ha, it's a little embarrassing, but I have a key to several closets with skeletons in them," Kabuto said in a sheepish manner and rubbed his head. Karin had to suppress a tremor going up and down her back. No-one that messed up should be allowed to appear so innocent like a switch had gotten flipped in their head.
"How come you are even alive anymore?" she asked with reluctant admiration. Kabuto tilted his head a little and gave her a soulful, gently confused look, and damn if the creepy factor didn't just go up.
But slowly, very slowly Karin's frozen, polite smile turned toothy. So she would get to ditch that annoying career genin stigma and negate the advantage Princess Pretty in Pink had gained over her, and Naruto would get the promotion he deserved as well? And wasn't the new Kazekage supposed to really, really like Naruto and have a strong, attractive sister of the non-fangirl variety? She held no love for Kabuto, but the person who loved the person you loved was…
"This I believe is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."
A deceptively small little shop-front belied what awaited on the inside. The interior looked like a normal little tea house, though the walls and doors were sturdy wood rather than delicate paper. There was a narrow doorway with a plaque that read Employees' Lavatory and indeed there was a lavatory behind the door, but there was also another door that read Broom Closet. There were no brooms behind it.
There were wall-hangings in the room made of darkly-dyed cloth with intricate golden and silver patterns woven throughout, shaped like flowers and birds. There was a low table with a Buddha statue and a lucky three-legged toad, surrounded by decadent pillows, and there was a bird cage full of canaries and tall plotted plants. This was one of Konan's little hide-outs and it always reminded Pein of a distant childhood period they had spent travelling with a circus until it was destroyed in an ambush because it was thought to smuggle foreign spies into the country, just a few months prior to their first meeting with Jiraiya of the Sannin. He never asked, but he thought that Konan surrounded herself with the resplendent regalia because it made her feel at home.
For him there was only the memory of a loss to be had. Pein hated suffering, he hated war, he hated the cruel shape of the cultures of the Elementary Continent had taken, the shape of an explosion and a knife to the back. It was the most important tenet of any and every religion there was if Jashinism didn't count: Do Not Kill. It shouldn't be that tall an order, right?
Of course it was. The shinobi killed and killed more, devoured until they were in turn devoured by the bloody tide and the chains of hate were passed down another generation.
"The Water and Lightning Country daimyo have both declared Narutoism forbidden as an act of treachery," Konan explained her findings. "Because of the pressure their Hidden Villages are exerting, no doubt. Mostly this has had the effect of making people curious about what is so terrible about a religion which' most notable aspect is to revere people who shield the world from demons. There have been strikes against worshippers, but because the villages can't really spare the manpower and the civillian authorities have more important things to worry about, they have been rare and sporadic enough that they ignite more anger and recalcitrance than fear."
"I see," Pein said. Konan looked expecting and he wondered what she expected him to say.
Uzumaki Naruto had proved to be a good person despite his unfortunate career choice - and he was Pein's distant cousin as well, though nepotism should never become an angle in a conversation like this at all - and he had apparently convinced the Godaime Kazekage of his pacifist point of view and there were even whispers of Killer B having some connection to the cult. Naruto was combating hate and war in his own way. It was as imperfect as the humankind as a whole.
The way Pein intended to combat hate and war would see Naruto, Gaara and Killer B all dead in a slow and agonizing way.
"I believe we might have to change our schedule a little. We intended to take Uzumaki the last, but he is the one whose power is growing at the most alarming rate. If we wait, he might be too strong to take alive." His sources in Konoha back when Danzo had still been alive - and at least one of the man's underlings had taken a leaf from his book when it came to surreptitious dealings with foreign powers - had informed him that if jinchuuriki Uzumaki was to die, his Shinigami-powered seal would take Kyuubi with him. With the other jinchuuriki the death of the host would have been naught but a slight setback, but Uzumaki had to be taken alive. There would be no second chance if the first attempt exploded on their faces.
"I am certain that Uchiha will prove capable of the task," Konan said with the slightest curve to her mouth that spoke of distaste to those who knew her well. These days this meant only Pein. "But wouldn't you indulge me just a little? Go with Uchiha and Hoshigaki and meet Uzumaki yourself. If you owe your family nothing else, you at least owe him that."
Pein wondered about it, the look in Konan's eyes. The last time he had seen that shine, the smile that went deeper than just the facial muscles, had been when they had been young and foolish to believe that a foreign jounin who took pity on a group of pity and taught them a little self-defense could shelter them from the big, bad world. They had learned better, of course. No-one could be relied upon to haunt your footsteps forever and come to your rescue when the hour was the darkest, no matter how strong you thought yourself, there was always a bigger fish in another pond - if the two of them didn't take this chance things would continue as they always had.
"Konan. Remember Yahiko, we must be strong for him." Yahiko was dead and he wasn't quite deluded enough to believe that Madara could bring his friend back, but he could see to it that the future Yahikos didn't have to suffer like theirs had, that no orphans would be left crying in the rain.
"I think I remember him better than you do, Nagato. I don't ask for much, but at least meet with Uzumaki Naruto once." There were red splotches burning on Konan's cheeks and Pein felt confused. He would know if she had ever met with the boy and so he couldn't understand what her investment with the boy was, for it was obvious that she had one. This world was one of hate and suffering and must be abandoned so that they might found a better one. Or, like the ninja would put it: die and be happy, for you shall be reborn.
Except no-one would be reborn, but if those who would be fortunate enough to be born only after the great change would be happy, it all would be worth it. Weren't all societies built on the bones of their precursors?
"I will see him," Pein promised easily. It wasn't as though that would change anything.
Naruto was sitting on the porch of the house he was staying with Jiraiya-sensei in the little village of Aoyama and happily munched on the bowl of rice he had been given by one of his worshippers. He still thought that the whole Saviour of Us All deal (complete with capital letters for the gravity of the situation) was dead embarrassing and it made him feel like a total poser, but at least people felt like they could come to him with their problems and he was happy to help them. If they would just start giving him ramen afterwards rather than rice then he would be happy, but it wasn't like he could complain about the free food being wrong kind of free food. That would be crass.
"I can't take you anywhere these days," Jiraiya said and lifted his hand to his brow dramatically. Naruto recognized the shape of the jest at least id not necessary what it was about. Just the other day Jiraiya-sensei had cracked a just about bowmen being quick to reload and while Naruto had understood that it was dirty and, yes, it referred to that, he honestly didn't know why Ero-sensei had expected him to laugh. It hadn't been funny at all and some times Naruto felt like all that was required to call something humour was reference to genitals or sex. What was he, a kindergartner? And okay, he had glued Ero-sensei's underwear to the ceiling in that last inn they had stayed at, but that had been totally deserved. A saint would have been driven to the same.
And he should know. He was a saint these days, a fact he was sure was still giving Tsunade-baachan conniption fits when there was nothing else to get angry over.
"You can leave me behind. If this new informant is a geisha, please leave me behind," he pleaded. Naruto didn't have anything against the geisha or other lower-class prostitutes, quite the opposite. Many of them were great people who had just gotten into a sucky situation in his opinion. It was the way Jiraiya-sensei behaved that made him want to sink through the floor and pretend he didn't know the old perv.
Seriously, if there was a jutsu that would let a guy sink through the earth, there should also be one that would let him sink through wooden floor boards. He intended to learn it one day and then he wouldn't have to ever be embarrassed ever again!
"This place should be safe enough to leave you for a while, but then, I thought that the last time too and look where that got me?" Jiraiya spread his arms and gave that sarcastic smile that told Naruto it was a rhetoric question and he wasn't supposed to answer.
"Tsunade-baachan used you as a punching bag for letting me out myself as a jinchuuriki and found a religion," he was happy to not indulge. "But that was two years ago. It isn't like I'm going to get another!" he protested.
"It isn't as though you have elementally changed during these two years and I wouldn't put a second religion past you," Jiraiya-sensei said and glared at him, setting his hands on his hips like a woman would. Naruto had learned this to be the tell-tale indication that Jiraiya had in fact pretended to be a woman earlier that day, but sadly Ero-sennin had gotten a lot better at avoiding Naruto's attempts to collect blackmail material.
"Can you go for four weeks without saving a kitten from a tree?" sensei asked him. "Or starting another secret organization?"
"It's not particularly secret anymore," Naruto noted happily. Jiraiya grinded his teeth together in frustration.
"That doesn't make it any better! No. More. Organizations." He looked as serious as Naruto had rarely seen him; the last time had been when Jiraiya returned to Makimura and the time before that had been when Itachi had tried to abduct him. He considered the pros and cons of mentioning that the Satou Corporation was mostly a civilian organization, even though most of its employees knew at least a few jutsu and a little martial arts, and just decided not to.
"I can go for four weeks without founding a religion if left to my own devices," he promised. He didn't really have the track record to back this claim up, but it couldn't be that difficult, right?
"I guess I must live with that," Jiraiya-sensei muttered and opened a jar of sake. Naruto instantly brightened, which earned him a glare, but really, lowered expectations were a thing of beauty. If Jiraiyan-sensei had to go earn his pay as the spy master for once and leave his highly noticeable accidental, and that accidental couldn't be stressed enough, religion founder behind, all the better for Naruto to save the next fish monger's beautiful daughter from marrying the local petty crime lord without complaints about flashy jutsu and a mayor's wife's clotheshorse being turned into improvised manacles.
Aoyama was an idyllic little place. It was a satoyama, a village where hills separating the Grass from the Waterfall Country gave way to plains. It had gently sloping rice paddy fields, a lot of clear streams and carp ponds, grasslands and even bamboo forests. The houses were like from a children's picture book, beautiful and old-fashioned. The small clinic where they were staying was the only building with electricity there and Naruto had a feeling that Jiraiya was going to leave him in Aoyama because he didn't trust Naruto with a big place like Makimura anymore, but he didn't really mind. Makimura had been a fun place, but also kind of tiring. Here he would have time to practice the cool water dragon jutsu Taiki had taught him the last time he had acted as Jiraiya's courier - in secret in the bamboo forest, of course. There was a ramen stand too and hot springs and there would be no Jiraiya being a pervert. He was going to enjoy his peaceful holiday.
This was after Naruto and Jiraiya in the Grass Country after they had to leave after the Waterfall Country in a hurry, yet in triumph over another yakuza family who had decided to be vile in the front of the wrongest person. This was Naruto who thought that for once in his life everything went his way.