Author's Notes: Welcome back once again to a new chapter of ABoaL!

This chapter gave me a ton of trouble for various reasons. I hope you all enjoy it far more than I did while writing it.

Since last posting I have hit 750k views, and just recently eclipsed 1,200 reviews. Thank you all so much! I wouldn't be doing all of this if you weren't on the other end reading it.

Writing progress, as always, is on my profile for you all to look at. Feel free to drop a review or shoot me a PM. I yearn for community engagement.

Let me know if you'd be interested in a discord server to interact with you guys. My friend Yogami Asura (Author of "I Promise" - check it out, it's great) and I were floating the idea around. Is that something any of you would like to happen?

Anyway, enjoy!

Also, really quick: I have finally reached a concrete decision on whether or not I want to have a main pairing in this story. No, I'm not going to tell you what that is (I'm cruel), just know that it is finally set in stone. So please refrain from making suggestions... it's not going to change the outcome. Thank you in advance for your understanding.

Chapter 45: Revolution

Lee blinked as the dust around them from Deidara's attack settled back to the ground. Everything had happened so quickly for him that it was nearly impossible to follow along. Jiraiya's appearance only furthered his confusion.

"W-What happened to Master Jiraiya? He looks different." Lee asked in hopes someone would have the answer. "And why does he have two tiny toads on his shoulders?"

"I have no idea," Neji responded, eyes wide in shock from what he saw with his Byakugan. "All I know is Master Jiraiya's strength has grown exponentially. There's so much chakra that his body can hardly contain; it's swirling around him like an untamed maelstrom; unreal…"

"It must have something to do with those Toads he summoned and his change in appearance." Tenten surmised.

"That's an astute observation, Tenten." Kakashi commended. Team Guy looked to their temporary captain for the answers to their questions. "What you're seeing right now is Master Jiraiya's Sage Mode."

"Sage Mode?" Neji asked, perplexed. "I've never heard of such a thing."

"Watch, and you'll see; I shouldn't have to remind you three to never take your eyes off your opponent." He couldn't blame them, though. The sheer aura and presence around Jiraiya created a sense of security in what had previously felt like a hopeless situation. "You're about to see why Master Jiraiya is lauded as the strongest Shinobi in all the Land of Fire."

Neji, Lee, and Tenten nodded in awe and turned back to the battle. Sannin or not, these were still two Akatsuki with unknown levels of strength; their abilities still might be needed for the Leaf to win this battle.

If looks could kill, Jiraiya's glare would have dropped Madara right then and there; Deidara was hardly worth a second glance as far as he was concerned. He put his hand in front of his mouth before speaking. "Boss, Ma'am, remember that he has the Sharingan; be careful with what you say and do while in his sightline. Please monitor my chakra flow at all times in case of Genjustu."

The two elder toads nodded and also covered their mouth before speaking. "You don't have to tell us, Jiraiya-boy. This ain't the first Uchiha we've come across." Fukasaku said. "Although he is by far the most dangerous."

"Well, it is the first we've had to fight against." Shima corrected. "I never thought such a day would come."

"Well, it's here, and we have a duty to the Leaf Village and a responsibility to Naruto to make sure this is where it ends." Jiraiya spoke in a hushed tone, the safety of his Godson at the forefront of his mind. "Let's g-"

"Hey!" Deidara's impatience appeared to have gotten the better of him. "What the hell are you whispering about over there?!" If there was one thing he hated most in the entire world, it was being ignored and disregarded. The Sannin appeared to look right through him as if he wasn't a threat. It infuriated him to no end.

Jiraiya smirked and kicked off his sandals. "Why don't I show you up close and personal?" The Sage exploded off the ground with such speed that even Kakashi's Sharingan could barely follow.

Deidara's eyes went wide in shock, but a bone-chilling deep voice from right behind him snapped him from his daze.

"Go down."

He did as instructed on pure instinct, and they barely evaded just as Jiraiya soared over their heads at a frightening speed. Deidara breathed a sigh of relief, only for his brain to finally process what had just happened. He spun around to face his partner. "Tobi, what the hell was that!"

"Stay focused." This person was no longer Tobi; like a switch, his partner's demeanor and constitution changed entirely. It was intimidating, to say the least. "If you hesitate even an instant against that man, it will most certainly be the last thing you ever do."

Deidara audibly gulped. Even though that was something he had already surmised, to hear it from someone else confirmed the pit he felt in his stomach.

Tobi looked down at Jiraiya, who looked back up from where he landed. "We also have the Copy Ninja to worry about. Take us up in the air and out of harm's way from his attacks."

Deidara took a second to compose himself but complied with Tobi's instructions again. As they elevated, a low chuckle escaped his lips; that quickly turned into full-blown cackling. It got to the point where tears started to pool in the corner of his eye.

"Something funny?" Tobi asked in mild amusement.

"I see it now." The blond said through his crazed laughter as he wiped a stray tear. "So it was an act all along, Tobi? I almost can't believe it, and yet it makes perfect sense at the same time! It never made sense to me that the Akatsuki would concern themselves with a weak fool. You must be one of the higher-ups from our little organization. Maybe our situation isn't as bleak as I once thought!"

"You're taking this better than I anticipated." Tobi sounded somewhat surprised. "Never mind that; we need to kill them and secure the Three-Tails for the sake of the Akatsuki. We can talk more after."

"You're damn right!" Deidara began to mold more of his chakra into his detonating clay. "Let's do this!" Given the circumstances, they would likely need something more substantial than his typical explosive creations. 'I think my C2 Dragon ought to get the job done.' He thought to himself with sinister intent. 'They won't be so dismissive of my artistic abilities once they get a taste of what it's truly capable of!' Before he could unleash one of his favorite pieces, he felt a firm hand on his shoulder.

"I don't think that's wise, Deidara." The undercover Uchiha asserted. "The Jutsu the Sannin used early would only be more effective against a larger target. We need to use the skies to our advantage and prioritize speed and agility over brute force and power."

"Hn." The blond Akatsuki grunted. "Fine, we'll do it your way." They continued to zip through the air quickly in seemingly random directions.

Jiraiya and the toads observed from the ground and tried to find a tendency or opening in their opponent's movements that could be exploited. Unfortunately, there wasn't much to go on.

'Madara is keeping the hothead in check so he doesn't make a mistake.' Jiraiya thought to himself. 'I guess we'll have to force them into a wrong step.' He looked to both of his mentors, and they nodded back wordlessly.

Lady Shima clapped her hands together and sucked in a deep breath that puffed her chest out to a nearly absurd degree.

'Sage Art: Wind Style: Sand Dust!' The female toad spewed out a massive cloud of dust from her mouth and completely concealed the trio underneath it.

Deidara and Tobi maintained their distance and continued to make themselves difficult to hit with constant movement.

"Now." Tobi uttered in Deidara's ear.

"Hm!" Deidara tossed out several small clay birds. They had long bodies, narrow heads, and 2 sets of wings to maximize their aerodynamics and speed. Once his art pieces broke through the thick veneer of smoke, he smiled devilishly and formed the Ram Seal. "Ha!"

The explosive projectiles erupted violently and quickly dispersed any dust that could be used as concealment…

Only the Toad Sage was nowhere to be found, not even indicating that he got caught up in the blast.

Deidara's instinct screamed at him that something was wrong. He spun around just in time to catch sight of the giant fireball barreling toward them. His clay creation dropped them just low enough that the Jutsu soared over his head. It was so close to them that they could feel the immense heat on the tops of their head. When he finally got a glimpse of his assailant, his stomach dropped.

'The Copy Ninja?!' Deidara thought frantically. 'Then where is-'

No time to think.

"Eight Trigrams Air Palm!"

Deidara turned again. They were now low enough to be in range; a fact the Hyuga and weapon-user were quick to exploit with an Air Palm wind-enhanced weapons barrage. He grabbed the scruff of his bird's neck and pulled back with all his might to steer it upward. The clay creation's underside and wings took massive damage, but its body shielded the Akatsuki duo from harm.

The quick maneuver allowed Deidara to glimpse what was above him. He paled at the terrifying sight.

"Sage Art: Massive Rasengan!" Jiraiya roared on his accelerated descent downward with a Rasengan easily several times larger than himself in hand and pointed at his enemies.

'I-I won't get able to-'

The Mad Bomber wasn't fast enough to react to the Sage's speed, but he didn't have to be. Tobi extended his hand and pushed Deidara off the bird and out of the way of the Senjutsu-enhanced attack.

"W-Wait, Tobi!"

He could do nothing as he fell but watch his art and masked partner be utterly consumed and ripped apart in the Sannin's onslaught.

Deidara was by no means a weakling. His reputation in the Hidden Stone was that of legend. Molded under the tutelage of the Legendary Fence Sitter and Third Tsuchikage, Onoki, his prodigious talents, and work as a part of the Stone's Demolition Corp garnered him quite a reputation amongst his enemies. They called him the Mad Bomber of the Stone, and he used his destructive form of self-expression to rightfully earn that title.

And yet, at that moment against one of the Sannin, he felt utterly outmatched. Jiraiya was far too fast and possessed Jutsu in his arsenal, capable of countering some of Deidara's most potent attacks. Without the likes of Tobi alongside him… he would almost surely be killed.

The memory of being thoroughly embarrassed in his brief fight with Itachi flashed before Deidara's eyes. The way the Uchiha's body eclipsed the light of the setting sun behind him through the hole in the wall was… divine to the point that Deidara felt inferior and insignificant. The rage he felt that day was unlike anything he had ever experienced before or since.

The Mad Bomber would not allow such a feeling to overtake him again! He snapped out of his stupor and looked around for a way to stop his fall. He caught a glimpse of something and stuck his hand out to grab at it. He grasped hold of a tree branch and used the momentum of his descent to swing himself into a perched position on top of it.

"Go big or go home." He muttered to himself and stuffed a hand into one of his hip pouches. "Even if I can't win, even if I die, it'll be with a bang!" Deidara took out a heap of clay with a crazed look in his eye and began to frantically eat it. He wiped his sinisterly smiling mouth clean with his forearm.

'I'll turn them into dust with my C4 Karura!' Tiger, Snake, Bird, Sn-. His eyes widened in horror before he could finish the sequence.

Jiraiya had recovered from his previous attack quickly and located his target. He was in front of his enemy in a flash, eyes cold and remorseless as a steel kunai.

Deidara could only helplessly watch in complete disbelief as the Sannin's fist carved through his chest like butter and exploded out his back. The crunch of his chest plate and sternum as it shattered to bits curdled his stomach. Blood quickly began to fill his windpipe, and a wave of nausea and dizziness nearly overwhelmed his senses as he tried to gasp for air. It felt like he was drowning without being in the water.

Deidara stared into the eyes of his soon-to-be murderer, and at that moment, fear consumed him. Jiraiya's eyes were filled with such hatred that the intensity behind them could have burned the entire forest they were in to ash in a matter of minutes.

"You Akatsuki sealed your fate the second you thought targeting my student was a good idea," Jiraiya spoke with barely contained fury. "I'm going to come after every single one of you just like this… be glad that you're the first. That way, you won't have to experience the feeling of being hunted down like an animal… the same feeling that Naruto has had to endure every day of his life." A Rasengan began forming in his free hand, signaling the end.

Deidara's eyes widened in terror; he couldn't breathe or muster any verbal defense. To make matters worse, his consciousness slowly slipped away from him. He knew this was the end, that there was nothing he could do against such a powerful foe, but…

That didn't mean he wouldn't try. If not for the sake of the Akatsuki, then for his legacy. If one of the Sannin died at the hands of his art… no one would ever forget him!

'C2… Dragon!'

With the last of his remaining strength, the Mad Bomber opened his mouth as wide as it could. Jiraiya watched in disgust as the head of what appeared to be a clay dragon emerged from Deidara's mouth. He hadn't molded enough chakra to create his C4 Karura, but it was plenty for his C2 Dragon.

"What the-?! What is this?!" Jiraiya blurted out. He went to rip his hand from his chest but found that it wouldn't budge. Deidara was holding on tight and had no intention of letting go. 'No way! He's going to-!'

'Art is an explosion… my life is the canvas…!'



Deidara detonated his pièce de résistance while it was still in his mouth. His entire life's work culminated into a brilliant and fitting crescendo.

To him, that was the pinnacle of what true art was.

The Hokage Tower was a hot zone of tumultuous tensions and activity that Team Hebi quickly realized needed to be avoided at all costs. They made their way into one of the forests separating the village's residential portion from one of the many training grounds.

Once they found a somewhat secluded spot that concealed their position, Suigetsu turned to Leaf Chunin and grimaced. "So… blondie," He said slowly and deliberately. "Would you mind explaining to us why the hell you decided to release anti-government propaganda the same day we made it back to the village? Are you trying to get us all thrown in jail?!"

Naruto nervously scratched the back of his head. "Well, you see, I don't actually decide when the release da-"

"Cut the crap; you know what I meant." Suigetsu interrupted heatedly. "Why even release something like that at all; isn't it going to make whatever you two have planned that much more difficult?" He was all for stirring up chaos, but even the swordsman thought this was a dumb thing to do.

Karin fixed the position of her glasses and let out a tired sigh. "Suigetsu is right," Funny, she felt herself agreeing more and more with her annoying teammate as time passed. "All this will do is put an even bigger target on our backs. This was supposed to be one of the few places we could safely operate without worry, but you've turned it into a hostile environment. Sorry… but I don't think I understand the logic in that."

"Did you not see the reaction by the villagers?" Naruto asked rhetorically with a bit of excitement. "They agree with what I said and will back us if we need them, and the village leaders know if they try to silence me, it will simply come off as them trying to cover their tracks. If that happens, the top will blow off this whole thing, and they'll be in an even worse spot than they are right now." The blond boy explained. "And don't forget that Granny Tsunade is still Hokage. She's going to be furious with me, but I can still count on her and Jiraiya-sensei to be in my corner."

"Yes, but for how much longer? You're playing a dangerous game, Naruto…" Karin said cautiously. "Don't burn bridges as you move forward in case you need to turn back one day."

"I had no choice. This is the only way it can be done; we need to use the chaos and unrest to our advantage." Naruto sounded resolute in his decision. "Don't you see? The only enemies we have in the Leaf are those who were already our enemies before!"

"Danzo and the other Elders…" Sasuke finished the thought for the rest of the team. Something indecipherable across Naruto's face, and he smirked at the Uchiha. "I think I understand, Naruto. You want to-"

"Hold on!" Karin blurted out, distressed enough to put all of Team Hebi on edge.

"What is it?" Naruto asked though it looked like he already knew the answer.

"Someone is closing in on us." She explained. "Strong chakra, but nothing too impressive…." The more she concentrated, the more her face scrunched up in confusion. "Wait, I don't-?"

"What's the matter, Karin?" Suigetsu rarely saw that look on her. "Do they know we're here?"

"Yeah, they do; whoever it is, they're trying their best to conceal their presence." It was a valiant effort, but such a thing was child's play for her. It would take someone with abilities rivaling her own to slip past her senses. Their stalker put forth great effort to stay off their radar, but it just didn't work. "That's not what I'm confused about… It's their chakra; I don't sense anything coming from it."

"What do you mean?" Sasuke asked for clarification in a low whisper, unsure of how close the mystery person was to them.

"This person's chakra feels… muted. It isn't warm or cold, dark or light, angry or sad… It just feels gray?" She explained as best she could. "I've never sensed chakra quite like this before."

"This is perfect." Once again, it seemed like Naruto was the only one in the loop. Suigetsu and Karin gave him a confused look, while Sasuke merely raised a questioning eyebrow in his direction.

"How is that perfect?" Karin asked what they all were thinking. "What could the feel of their chakra possibly tell you?"

"Everything. I have a plan," The Chunin began. He waved them all in closer so their words wouldn't be intercepted by their guest, and the three of them obliged somewhat begrudgingly. Once they were all in close, Naruto smiled. "We're going to pay our new friend a visit…."

"I'm assigning you to a vital mission for our cause." The Old War Hawk said with his typical frown. "You must follow and keep tabs on the Nine-Tails now that he is back in the village; I expect frequent updates on his movements and the people he surrounds himself with. We have to act since Hiruzen's equally weak-willed students wouldn't dare harm a hair on the head of the Fourth Hokage's legacy."

His subordinate nodded in understanding, though he didn't dare say a word when his superior was in such a foul mood. That would earn him a trip to solitary confinement for the foreseeable future.

"However, you must keep your distance from him. He is highly skilled and dangerous; not only that, but he has swayed the villagers in his favor and effectively made himself untouchable. We would have a revolt on our hands if the people felt that he was being silenced." Danzo incessantly tapped his cane on the ground as he paced back and forth; the legendary stoicism he was known for was replaced with evident frustrations about the mess the Jinchuriki created for them. "I will have to think of a way around this, and I will need the intel that you are about to gather for me. Is that understood?" It was more of a statement than a question.

"Yes… of course; I understand completely, Lord Danzo."

That was what had been said to him.

The nameless Shinobi frowned behind his mask, though he quickly suppressed any further expressions of emotion from escaping him. Usually, it was second nature to detach himself from his feelings; this was a notable exception.

Lord Danzo had tasked him with tracking the man who exposed their existence to the entire village and most of the world. To say the leader of Root was furious when he heard the news would have been a massive understatement, and everyone in the underground organization mirrored that sentiment. To them, Naruto Uzumaki was currently enemy number one above even the Akatsuki. Like an untamed fire, he would likely burn the entire world to the ground if left unchecked.

And yet, things may have been even worse than they had initially anticipated. At least, that was what his eyes were currently telling him.

'I never expected that Sasuke Uchiha would be back in the village… and with the Nine-Tails no less.' Last, he heard the rogue ninja had allied with the Nine-Tails to eliminate a mutual enemy in Orochimaru, but they had supposedly parted ways after that encounter. That did not appear to be the case. 'I must report this to Lord Danzo at once….'

What seemed like the very instant that thought crossed the Anbu's mind, the four members of Team Hebi suddenly scattered in every direction into the surrounding forest. 'What?!' He mentally shouted. Startled, he looked around frantically for the source of the disturbance but found no indication of what triggered such an unforeseen reaction.

'This doesn't make sense. If someone else were here, I would have been able to sense them before any of those four could possibly have.' The sensor thought to himself.

Wait a second.

The four of them.

'I can only sense three of them now… The Nine-Tails, the Uchiha, and the one with white hair. Where is the gi-"

"So, whatcha doing around these parts, mister?" A sickly-sweet voice whispered into his ear.

Fear flooded his heart while he spun on his heel and instinctively backed away. To his shock, he came face to face with the red-haired girl whose chakra he'd lost track of in all of the commotion. Even close to the strange woman, he detected no chakra signature coming from her.

"H-How did you do that?" The typically reserved man stuttered out. A sensory type's worst nightmare was someone who could not be sensed… and people like that weren't even supposed to exist. 'Can she completely erase her presence?!'

Karin shrugged coyly. "Oh, you know…." She trailed off as she reached behind her back and into her pouch. "Come closer, and I'll tell you."

Her opponent didn't dare find out what she had in store for him and instead opted to run and live to spy another day. However, in the heat of the moment, he again lost track of the remainder of Team Hebi.

That would be a grave mistake.

Suigetsu appeared above him and delivered a blow to the top of his head. While it wasn't strong enough to inflict severe damage, it was easily capable of disrupting his balance in midair and sending him spiraling to the ground below.

"Agh!" The impact knocked all the air from his chest and rocked his senses to where it was difficult to get back to his feet. Once the sensation of vertigo subsided, he sprang up and got ready to continue his escape.

It was evident that such a thing was impossible.

The Root operative's turned, and the moment his gaze refocused, he knew it was over. The three-tomoe Sharingan of Sasuke Uchiha captivated him while it spun in a hypnotic dance. His body locked up, and refused to listen to his desperate pleas to resist. It felt as if the world around them began to shrink like he had developed tunnel vision… and it was absolutely terrifying.

Sasuke didn't say a word and maintained his blank, unimpressed expression. "He's all yours, Naruto."

The Chunin took that as his queue and slowly stepped out of the shadows. He got in front of the masked Shinobi and looked straight into his horrified eyes. "So you're one of Danzo's lap dogs, huh?" He asked rhetorically. "I wonder what you know… the stories that you could probably tell. Am I able to ask him anything?" He directed the question at Sasuke.

"Yeah, he'll talk." Sasuke confirmed.

The nameless man's voice would not come out; he could feel the free will drain from his body as the Sharingan Genjutsu tightened its grip around his consciousness. And yet, he was still acutely aware of how bleak the situation was. Those blue eyes pierced his soul with such intensity that he almost passed out.

Naruto Uzumaki was the man who defeated Sasori of the Red Sand, spearheaded the killing of Orochimaru of the Sannin, and orchestrated the attempted dismantling of Danzo Shimura's infamous Root organization.

He was revolution incarnate.

Naruto decided he had tortured the man long enough with his silence. Finally, he spoke once more.

"Tell me where Sai is."

Team Guy and Kakashi watched in horror as Jiraiya was consumed in the blast at point-blank range. They were far enough away to be safe, but they could still feel the concussive shockwaves that shook the earth and rippled throughout the forest.

This was the danger in fighting an unknown enemy… you have no idea what they could be capable of once you've backed them into a corner. In this case, Deidara chose to try and take his opponent with him on the way out.

"Neji!" Kakashi called out once he realized that his Sharingan couldn't break through the thick haze of smoke caused by the explosion.


Before the Hyuga could finish the thought, the smoke was quickly dispersed by a strong gust of wind. There Jiraiya stood in all his glory with Fukasaku and Shima still perched upon his shoulders. Though Jiraiya's clothing looked worse for wear, and both toad's capes were gone entirely, none of them had so much as a scratch on them.

"I think that was really him." Shima was the first one to speak. "I don't sense his chakra anymore."

"I read him wrong," Jiraiya said to his two masters. "I didn't think the kid had the guts to blow himself up like that."

"None of us saw it coming. You can never truly know what someone will do until they are forced to make that choice." Fukasaku added sagely. "We're fortunate that you could cover us with your Needle Jizo. That and our Senjutsu enhanced durability kept us from serious injury." He flashed a knowing smirk. "It's a pretty useful ability to have against enemies like the Akatsuki… wouldn't you say so, Jiraiya-boy?"

His student sent an annoyed look in his direction. "Yeah, boss, I know." Clearly irritated by the toad's not-so-subtle comment. "I'll have you know that I actually planned on bringing Naruto to Mount Myoboku very soon."

"Oh?" Shima and her husband shared a surprised look.

Jiraiya's body still hadn't relaxed. "Yeah… I think he's more than overdue for the next phase of his training."

"I see… that is good to hear."

With their enemies seemingly defeated and Jiraiya relatively unharmed, a wave of relief seemed to have washed over the Leaf Squad. Lee, Tenten, and Kakashi had even started to make their way over to their victorious Sage.

None of them noticed that Neji decided to stay back with his Byakugan still active. After what happened with Kotetsu… he never wanted to be caught off guard again. The first clue that something was amiss was Master Jiraiya's body language. His guard was still up and on high alert, almost like he knew something the rest of them didn't.

That was when he saw it.

The terrible sight of that orange mask as it slowly rose from the earth behind their savior would haunt his dreams for the foreseeable future.

"Master Jiraiya, behind you!" Neji called out.

Jiraiya seemed to be on the same page as the teen and instantly spun around with a heavy backfist aimed at Tobi's head. The man didn't even try to move as the strike passed harmlessly through his head. Tobi lifted his arm up to catch the Sannin's arm after it phased through him, but Fukasaku and Shima were not going to allow that to happen.

They shot their tongues out at terrifying speeds; one aimed to pierce through the man's skull and the other his heart. This forced Tobi to remain intangible, so Jiraiya's arm passed through his grasp.

Jiraiya backed up, and the Uchiha quickly found themselves surrounded by Jiraiya, Kakashi, Neji, Lee, and Tenten.

"The Sixth Gate! Gate of Joy, Open!" Lee's skin turned red, and the veins in his face bulged from pure exertion. Eager to finally join in on the action, he lowered into his signature fighting stance. "I'm ready!"

"Stand down, Lee." Kakashi put his arm out to block the green-clad Chunin from doing anything reckless. "This guy is different from the other one… make one wrong move, and you're dead."

Lee gritted his teeth but obliged, though he maintained his state in the Sixth Gate in case his abilities were needed.

Tobi's eyebrow rose behind his mask at the display but appeared unimpressed for the most part. His attention turned to who Kakuzu would refer to as the "big fish" of the group. "You anticipated my movements and even managed a counterattack. That's exactly what I would expect from one of the Sannin. I was hoping to eliminate you here and save myself a lot of trouble down the line, though it seems I'll need more than just the element of surprise for that to happen."

"You laid low and sacrificed a comrade's life to use it as an opportunity to strike." Jiraiya's tone betrayed the disgust he felt by such actions. "To think that the legendary Madara Uchiha would have to stoop so low. How pitiful."

The man's visible eye widened noticeably through the hole in his mask. "You…!"

He wasn't the only one; Rock Lee and Tenten looked horrified by the revelation that the Akatsuki member before them was actually the Ghost of the Uchiha Clan. The Leaf Village did little to acknowledge his existence; they instead preferred to treat his memory as if he were a mythical urban legend. The old guard knew his capabilities and exploits very well, but the younger generations were left to wonder if such a man truly existed.

Even worse… not only were the legends true, they now come to find that the First Hokage's rival was still somehow alive. It would be impossible to believe if they weren't experiencing it firsthand.

"M-Madara…U-Uchiha…" Tenten barely managed to whisper out. "N-No way…"

"Heh," The shock in Madara's voice was quickly replaced by amusement. "To think my identity would be discovered before I could share it with the world. This hasn't happened to me since my battle with Fourth Hokage, Minato Namizake, almost sixteen years ago. I supposed I shouldn't be too surprised; he was your student, after all."

"Bastard…" Jiraiya growled out. "Keep his name out of your filthy mouth!" His body tensed involuntarily, but he didn't dare make a reckless move. That would be just what his opponent wanted him to do.

"Minato may have been able to stop me from getting the Nine-Tails back then," Madara spoke with such disdain in his voice. "But with him gone, there is no one left who can hope to stand against me. Naruto Uzumaki and the Fox inside of him will be mine very soon… you can bet your life on that."

"If you're so confident, why don't you stick around and eliminate us right here?" Jiraiya challenged confidently. "After all, you're the fabled Madara Uchiha. If what I've heard is true, you should be able to kill us all with ease."

"And spoil all the fun of what is to come?" Madara said unflinchingly with a sinister chuckle. "No, that won't do; I want all of you to be there to experience what I have in store. I will succeed in this world where you all have failed."

"What exactly do you want, then?" Kakashi prodded. "Why does the Akatsuki want to gather all of the Tailed-Beasts?"

Madara looked at Kakashi and paused. He just stood there in silence for what felt like an uncomfortable amount of time. "In due time, Copy Ninja," His tone was slightly different from before. "All will be explained when the time is right."

Jiraiya, Fukasaku, Shima, and Kakashi all shot the Uchiha a nasty look. He returned their hateful stares with amused indifference.

"Well… it was nice chatting with you all, but I really must be going." The Uchiha said as he slowly started to sink into the ground. "You may have secured the Three-Tails for now, but the struggle for the Tailed-Beasts is far from over. I hope to see some of you again very soon…."


The team from the Leaf could do nothing but watch him disappear underneath the earth. Silence washed over them; one they refused to break until they were somewhat sure the threat was gone.

"I don't sense his chakra anymore." Jiraiya looked to Ma and Pa, who nodded in agreement with the Sannin's statement. "Neji," He turned to the Hyuga. "Is there any trace of him that you can see?"

"Not from what I can see." Though there wasn't much confidence in his voice. One could never be too sure when Madara Uchiha was involved. "However, with his ability, he could easily reappear at a moment's notice. I suggest you take what I say with a grain of salt."

"Right, of course." Jiraiya pursed his lips in deep thought, then frowned.

Upon hearing the tentative confirmations, Lee and Tenten both let out deep sighs of relief from the breaths they had held in; Lee even decided to stop the Eight Gates Technique and returned to his normal state.

"I thought I was gonna die," Tenten admitted as she looked at her green-clad friend. "I still almost can't believe what just happened. Are you doing okay, Lee?"

"Yes, I think so." He seemed to take things a bit better than her. "I, too, felt my life flash before my eyes. Not even against Gaara in the Chunin Exams have I felt something like that."

After a moment, as if suddenly remembering they existed, the Sannin turned to Rock Lee and Tenten. They flinched noticeably under his gaze. "I would have preferred if the two of you hadn't been around to hear that, but there's nothing I can do about it now. Everything that happened here must stay between all of Tsunade and us. Under no circumstances should this information go beyond any of us. Do I make myself clear?"

"Y-Yes, sir!" The two squeaked out in unison. "We understand completely."

Jiraiya nodded his thanks, then turned to the Hyuga, who looked like he wanted to say something. He raised an eyebrow and gestured for the fledgling Jonin to say his piece.

"Why did he leave?" Neji asked the question that Jiraiya and the Toads had been asking themselves since the Uchiha left. "If he truly is Madara Uchiha and is as powerful as the legends say, what reason could he possibly have to retreat." The Hyuga seemed to mull something over before continuing. "I mean no disrespect Master Jiraiya, but you…-"

"No, it's fine," Jiraiya said. "I'm well aware that I should stand no chance against him. He fought deathmatches against the First and Fourth Hokage, both of whose abilities far exceed my own."

"Then… why?"

Jiraiya sighed deeply and crossed his arms at his chest. "My best guess? He's most likely not as strong as he once was." The Toad Sage explained. "I'm not sure if it's lasting injuries sustained in his battles against the Hokage, old age, or a combination of both, but that's the only explanation that makes sense to me. Maybe he wasn't confident he could defeat all of us in his current state."

"That theory aligns with his actions," Kakashi added. "He retreated once he realized he couldn't catch you off guard."

"And I heard from the mouth of Hashirama-boy himself that he definitely killed Madara Uchiha that day." They all turned to Fukasaku as he recalled memories from several decades ago. "If he did somehow survive, and it's starting to look like that is the case, I doubt he walked away from that battle without permanent damage."

"His face…" Neji said more to himself than the others.

Fukasaku gave the young man a perplexed look. "What was that? Speak up, my boy; my hearing ain't what it used to be."

A flash of realization crossed the stoic Hyuga's features. "The right side of his body looked like it had sustained significant damage. Also, the chakra on that side looked distinctly different from the rest of his body… almost like it belonged to someone else."

"Sounds like Madara's been dabbling in some Orochimaru-Esque experimentations to extend life beyond what is normal." Jiraiya surmised, having seen a similar story play out before his very eyes. His eyes darkened slightly from the painful past memories, but he forced himself to move past them. "That would explain a lot if that was the case…." He looked at the toads attached to his shoulders and smiled. "Thank you for the help, boss, ma'am, but I think we'll be good from here on out. There's a lot of information we need to get sorted out."

Shima and Fukasaku looked unsure but nonetheless nodded their understanding. "Just remember that we're always a call away, Jiraiya-boy," Fukasaku said warmly. "Feel free to give us a shout if you need it."

Jiraiya lowered his head in respect. "Of course, always."

"The old geezer and I will sit on what happened here and let ya know if we think of any other possibilities." Shima tried her best to inject some humor into the tense atmosphere. "Y'all get back to the Leaf safe, ya hear?"

Fukasaku's annoyed glare made the Sannin smile. He nodded to the female toad. "We will, but first, we have the second half of our mission to complete," Jiraiya said. "A barrier needs to be erected around the lake in which the Three-Tails is holed up. Once that's complete, the Barrier Corp and their security detail will be dispatched to relieve us."

Fukasaku's eyes gleamed. "Oh, I see. Is that right?"

"Yeah." The Sage nodded. "Don't worry; once this is all taken care of, Naruto and I will pay you guys a visit." That response elicited a smile from the elderly toad.

"And we'll hold ya to that!" Shima croaked. She and Fukasaku clapped their hands together. "Bye, dearies, it was so nice meeting you all!"

Both toads disappeared in plumes of smoke which obscured their students' face. Once dissipated, it revealed Jiraiya no longer with his amphibian-like features.

"What nice little toads." Lee said with his typical chirpy attitude.

Kakashi placed his hand on the shoulder of Guy's favorite student. "Lee, those 'little toads' are the two Great Sages of the legendary Mount Myoboku. If you didn't notice, they're actually the master of Master Jiraiya himself."

Jiraiya waved dismissively at Lee's stunned face. "It's okay; they don't take themselves too seriously. If anything, they would appreciate someone with your honesty." He paused. "Anyway, let's go and get this barrier up so we can go home."

"I second that!" Tenten pumped her fist in the air but slowly let it fall back to her side when she realized they had already started heading towards the lake. "Yay… go, team." She finished dryly.

"Yes! Go, team!"

"Heh, thanks, Lee. I can always count on you."

Kakashi deliberately fell in step with Jiraiya as they walked through the forest to the lake. The two elite Shinobi were far enough ahead of the pack that the others wouldn't be able to hear them. The Sannin glanced in his direction, seemingly expecting to find the man there. Jiraiya allowed himself a slight smirk when Kakashi pulled out one of his favorite novels from the legendary Icha-Icha series.

"You know," Kakashi began, idly flipping to the page he'd previously left off. "It really is a travesty that I'll never get to see the end of this masterpiece of a series." In his typical aloof tone, it was difficult for even Jiraiya to determine how serious the Copy Ninja was being. "The build-up into what was supposed to be the next book still leaves me on the edge of my seat every time I reread it."

In truth, the smut fan was being very, very serious.

"Ah, who knows." Jiraiya crossed his arms at his chest while maintaining his stride. "Maybe once all this is over and done with, and Naruto has nothing left to learn from me, I'll pick up writing again and give my adoring fans the ending they deserve. It's just… it's about damn time I grow up and start prioritizing the important things in my life, ya know?"

"I never expected to hear you talk like this," Kakashi admitted. While a bit disheartened that his favorite series was put on the backburner, he understood and ultimately supported the author's decision to do so. "I've always said that Naruto has one hell of an ability to change people for the better." He finished with an eye smile.

"Just don't let the kid know that."

Kakashi chuckled lightly. "Speaking of Naruto, I couldn't help but overhear some of your conversation with Lord Fukasaku." Jiraiya looked over at him again but didn't say anything. "Mount Myoboku, you think he's ready for that?" He asked in a measured tone without taking his eye off his book.

"I certainly think he's strong enough." Jiraiya answered after a slight pause.

"That's not what I asked."

The Sannin sighed deeply. Kakashi was unsurprisingly as perceptive as he always was. "If I'm being honest, I worry about where the kid is at mentally." He admitted begrudgingly. "The issue is, Naruto, without question, needsthis power to keep himself and, by extension, the world safe… I'm just afraid of what he might do once he has it." A growing sense of worry festering in the back of his mind for some time, but this was the first time he ever told someone about it.

"I've heard here and there about some of the stuff he's done," Kakashi said with a nod of acknowledgment. "I get what you're saying. I think the promotion to Chunin and the success he's had in his… escapades haven't helped the situation. He most likely feels vindicated by these things to make him feel that what he's done has been right."

Jiraiya winced slightly, allowing the other man's words to sink in.

Allowing him to deal with Jaaku by himself, the promotion to Chunin, Kazekage Retrieval, Orochimaru's elimination, and now the search for Itachi Uchiha. Naruto continuously acted and made decisions far outside of the scope of his authority and only received praise and good results in return from the two Sannin. These factors may have compelled him to continue down this questionable path paved by good intentions.

Was this their fault?

Jiraiya would be lying if he said that thought never crossed his mind. Hearing someone else draw a similar conclusion made him sick to his stomach.

"Maybe you're right." The Sannin felt nauseous as those words left his lips. "I don't know what to do. Tsunade and I just can't control him." There was genuine concern in his voice.

Kakashi suddenly snapped his book closed as the lake came into view through the tree line. He turned and placed a reassuring hand on Jiraiya's shoulder. "How about we all sit down and have a talk?" The Jonin offered. "I think it's just as important for us to hear his side as it is for him to hear ours. Don't you think so?"

Jiraiya didn't look convinced. Kakashi patted him on the back and chuckled. "Anyway, we should settle things here and get back. Who knows what kind of trouble that kid is getting into with us not around." He joked.

Sai's face fell ever so slightly. He slowly put his brush down next to him and looked straight ahead. He sat crossed, a half-finished canvas of an exotic four-legged animal in front of him. The lines of the beast were sharp and smooth, a sign of his precise skill as an artist.

"I knew you'd come for me," Sai said in his typical even tone. "Just as you said, though, I will admit I never expected the lengths you would go."

Naruto sat in the same position, not even twelve feet away from the Root operative. His face didn't betray a hint of what he was feeling.

Sasuke, Karin, and Suigetsu kept their distance but were still nearby. Their postures were relaxed, having been assured by Naruto that Sai was not a threat to them.

"You should know better than most the things I'm willing to risk to do what I think is right." The Jinchuriki countered. "And if you know why I'm here, then I shouldn't even have to ask what I need from you."

Sai stayed silent.

Naruto stayed silent.

Sai's eyebrow rose, though his mouth remained shut.

Suigetsu impatiently grabbed the hilt of his blade and walked towards them, only to be stopped by a livid-looking Karin.

"You're going to make me say it anyway, aren't you?" A trace of exasperation escaped Naruto's lips. Sai was always difficult for the sake of being difficult.

"I have no idea what you're talking about." Sai responded dumbly.

"I need you to tell me everything you know about Danzo."

Author's Note: And that's another one in the books.

Let me know what you thought of it! I like how it turned out.

The fight between the Leaf and Akatsuki has concluded, and Tobi/Madara leaves them with a foreboding message. Team Hebi continues to lurk in the shadows. Will Sai lend a hand to the cause?

Find out next time in Chapter 46: Chaos Theory!

Unbenannt - I would, but it would also take me a while to do that. I would recommend going back and doing a quick skin of the previous chapter.

Lilthug - I did acknowledge it, but him being an Uzumaki really isn't a big deal in my story. It will come up again, just don't expect it to play a major role in the plot going forward.

Ky111 - It was always my intention to venture into the more political side. The Kage Summit has been a long time coming, and I think most people will enjoy what I have in store.

Nithi velu - I personally like Sakura. I think she'll be alright.

Iron Spider Fan - Tobirama pretty much confirmed that when an Uchiha knows love and then loses that love, it's replaced by a stronger hate. That hate unlocks their powers and makes them stronger. When Karin said that I think she was referring to how dark Sasuke's chakra felt. I don't know if that was in regard to his strength or the cold and evil nature that was taking over him. My Sasuke is even stronger since he still has his Curse Mark + MS.

SaiyanEnthusiast - Thank you!

TrenchcoatMan - Having a counter doesn't make you weak. Sasuke was only able to figure out that he was weak to lightning because of his high battle IQ and Sharingan to read Deidara's handsigns. Most people wouldn't pick up on that like he did. Deidara has some broken abilities, but yes, his personality is his biggest weakness.

Phazer12 - We'll definitely have to see. Naruto wasn't out to make friends with that book. Hopefully he didn't lose any!