For Kuroi-Atropos

xXx

"One," Orochimaru said, his summoned boxes rising from the ground, ominous despite the bright day. His grin somehow widened as he ducked behind the box in anticipation for the multiple shuriken shadow clone technique Hiruzen had just sent his way.

"Two!" the Snake Sanin said, almost gleefully as a second box rose.

Hiruzen grit his teeth. His former pupil was using the summoned boxes – he'd said Edo Tensei of all things! Even Orochimaru should know to stay away from that! The Third Hokage had suspicions as to who those boxes held and… this wasn't looking good. He had to stop that third box from rising no matter what. He began his disruption jutsu as the bulk of his shuriken hit the first two boxes. Then he poured all of his will into it, and would have succeeded if Orochimaru's neck and head hadn't stretched out over the boxes, still grinning from ear-to-ear with his tongue hanging out of his mouth.

"Ku, ku, ku," he laughed as he shot shuriken from his mouth at Hiruzen. The Hokage didn't drop his jutsu, but he couldn't focus on it, and that was all Orochimaru needed to finish his summoning. The Professor swallowed, feeling his gut clench. He might have been able to hold his own against two and Orochimaru… but against three? And his former student wouldn't use just anyone. No. He'd only used the best.

The lids of each of the coffins fell off as one. Orochimaru always had had a rather over-inflated sense of showmanship. However, the people in the box surprised Hiruzen. He'd expected the First Hokage and the Second… but the third impure resurrection…

He must not have been able to bring back Minato, the Third realized. He's in the Shinigami's belly, after all. Orochimaru must have simply wanted to bring back another strong shinobi – and he'd enjoy the idea of having someone like her under his control. This one wasn't just for me. Has he really fallen so far?

In between the first and second Hokage stood a red-haired woman, eyes just as dead and black as the other two.

"It's been a long time, Saru," the First said, his voice no-where near the boisterous, happy tones Sarutobi remembered.

"Oh, it is you," the Second said. Well, that sounded a bit more like him. Still dead and unnatural, but closer than Hashirama. "You've aged, Sarutobi."

"Hokage-sama?" the third person asked. "You'd better tell me what's going on, 'Ttabane." If Hashirama had been bad, Kushina-san was far worse. To be fair she'd been louder than more or less any other ninja he'd ever met, with maybe the exception of Gai and Naruto himself. He grit his teeth.

"I never expected to see any of you like this," he said, calming his heartbeat. "I'm... mortified." This went beyond depraved. It horrified Hiruzen deep within realize that his once loved student had come to… this.

The second turned to the other two. "Edo Tensei, huh?" he said. "So this kid summoned us with a forbidden technique."

Kushina just blinked at him while the first answered. She seemed to have realized their situation. "I've seen that seal…" she said.

"If that is the case," Hashirama said as he looked to Hiruzen with those terrifying eyes, "Sarutobi, we must fight you."

Tobirama nodded, almost sad.

"Usually on the back of the head," Kushina muttered, reaching up to touch it. Then she winced. "Yup."

"We can't tear it off," Tobirama informed her.

She nodded. "I know."

"Let's stop the chit-chat, shall we?" Orochimaru interrupted, licking his lips in anticipatory hunger. "And get started."

"I see that in all periods, there is war," Hashirama muttered. Sarutobi still couldn't quite wrap his head around such low, serious and inflectionless tones coming out of one of his revered senseis.

Orochimaru chuckled. "But you like war, don't you?"

Neither of the Hokages answered. Kushina just seemed to be mumbling to herself.

Hiruzen was seeing red and it took all of his will to keep his temper under control. "Mocking the dead like that…" How dare he? How dare he! "Nothing good comes from meddling with time!"

In reply, the Snake Sanin held up three kunai with red tags dangling from each of them. But before he could say anything, Kushina spoke.

"Got it."

The lifeless tones almost had Hiruzen shuddering. That was not Kushina-san…

and then it was. Her expression lit up. She still looked… off, but Hiruzen only had a moment to see that before she was flipping around, foot coming straight down where Orochimaru had been.

"Rochi-san?" she asked, cocking her head to one side. Hiruzen could feel the frown.

"What is this?!" Orhochimaru asked, smile now completely gone.

"Well, when you summoned me, you forgot one thing," she grinned and winked. Hiruzen didn't see it, but he knew she had. He resisted the urge to face palm. Barely. "I'm Uzumaki Kushina, Dattabane!"

He could also sense the shock from the others outside the Sound Four's barrier because they'd have to be as dense as… well, Naruto to miss the implications. No, even Naruto wouldn't miss this.

Before Orochimaru could do anything else, Kushina slapped her hands against the necks of the two men beside her.

"NO!" Orochimaru screamed, racing forward. He disappeared, a shunshin! And he was aiming for right behind Kushina, kunai raised.

Not happening.

Hiruzen had already launched kunai before he'd realized what he was doing. He needen't have, he realized as Kushina, ducked easily, still keeping her hands on the other two. It wasn't the most graceful dodge, but it got the job done. The Third smiled as he rushed in to help her. He'd missed her.

Then he focused back on his pupil. He had to kill Orochimaru. He had to correct his mistake, even if it sent these three of his loved ones back to the pure land. They deserved their rest anyway.

Orochimaru wisely retreated, now on the defensive as he looked at the people in front of him. "Che," he said through his teeth, "I miscalculated." A few moments later, Hashirama brightened up. Tobirama didn't change much.

"Saru!" The First said, throwing his arms wide as he went for a hug. Sarutobi was so shocked, he actually let it happen. Oh, his men would never let him live this down.

"It's… good to see you again too, Sensei," Hiruzen said.

"Now, I think it's time we take care of your student, Hokage-sama," Kushina said, thrusting one fist into the palm of her other hand. He could see the corner of her ear-to-ear grin (and not a nice one) as she watched Orochimaru. Then he deflated in Hashirama's arms.

"Why did it have to come to this?" he asked.

Before Hashirama could say anything, Tobirama spoke. "That mantle has become too heavy for you, hasn't it." It wasn't a question.

Yes, Hiruzen thought. It has been too heavy for over a decade now. But he straightened and shook his head. "It is an honor I will—"

"You don't need to lie to us," Hashirama said softly. "We know the mantle you bear."

Hiruzen blinked, then chuckled a little at that, glancing at his men, who were still staring in open shock. Animal masks or not, he could tell. "You are not the only ones here."

Hashirama glanced behind him and almost immediately dropped his arms and Sarutobi could see the man restraining himself from reaching up to rub the back of his head sheepishly. Even from here, the Third Hokage heard his men asking if this was really the First Hokage and had to stifle a far happier chuckle.

"Retreat!" Orochimaru suddenly yelled, then turned to flee. Immediately the four people he'd brought to place the purple-ish barrier stood and shot off in each direction. The barrier fell.

"Oh, no you don't!" Kushina growled. Chakra chains practically exploded from her back and Tobirama took off after the Sanin. The Anbu made to follow, but Sarutobi stopped them.

"No! Follow his subordinates! They must not escape!" he said.

"Hai, Hokage-sama!" the ANBU acknowledged and shot off after the other sound ninja.

He turned at the sound of Hashirama chuckling. "We made a fine choice when we chose you, Saru. Even old and worn, you still wear the mantle well."

No, he really didn't… but it still felt good to hear.

"Come," the First clapped his grand-successor on the shoulder. "Let us go and bring back your wayward student!"

A large explosion in the direction where the other two had run off, contained somehow by Kushina's chakara chains and one of her many techniques so it didn't hurt the village, but was expelled outward and away from the wall of said village, urged them to hurry.

Hiruzen almost groaned. Here he thought he'd gotten lucky, for once and wouldn't have to fight with these old bones. Ah, well. Such was the life of the Hokage.

xXx

Orochimaru didn't escape. It was a near thing, but Hiruzen knew how slippery his student could be. Between the three kages and one of Konoha's former barrier protectors, he didn't stand a chance. Hiruzen would never forget the image of Kushina rushing by, laughing maniacally and yelling about how she can finally go all out without having to worry about triggering the dumb fox!

Thankfully, no one but the other two Hokage were there at the time.

Of course, right about then a giant Tanuki rose into the distance.

Well… that couldn't be good.

"Naruto," Sarutobi said worriedly. He knew, somehow. He knew the boy was right in the thick of that… whatever it was.

"What?!" Kushina practically shrieked and then she was in front of him.

"K-kushina-san, wait!"

"NO!" she yelled. "Where. Is. My. SON?!"

Sarutobi knew when he was beat.

"Today was his first chuunin exam," he said slowly.

Kushina's face morphed into happiness! "It was?! How did he do?! Wait… why are there enemy nin, then?"

"We knew something would happen. Sound and Sand joined forces and invaded the exams."

The red-head blinked. "Sound?"

"A new village Orochimaru founded," Sarutobi explained quickly. "Sound convinced Sand to bring their Jinchuuriki and I know that Naruto's teammate was fighting him when Orochimaru revealed himself. If Naruto isn't over there right now…" well, that would be a bet only Tsunade would take.

"I'll be right back, then," Kushina said with a firm nod.

"Kushina!" Sarutobi said, reaching out and grabbing her hand. "What about the rest of the village."

She looked back over to Konoha and smiled. "It looks like you've got it under control."

Sarutobi blinked and followed her gaze, then smiled himself. He could see no more skirmishes, only ninja treating the wounded. He almost collapsed in relief.

"Well, then, I suppose we should help before we go," Hashirama said happily as he put his hands together. Nearby trees started growing into tables for the wounded.

"Hmm," Tobirama said and went off to help with the relief efforts.

Sarutobi grabbed the nearest Jounin with any sort of rank. "Make sure you send back-up to our fighters over there," he said, pointing towards the giant Tanuki.

That had been joined by a giant frog.

That then turned into a giant fox.

Well, if he'd had any doubt Naruto wasn't involved before, he certainly didn't now.

"H-hai, Hokage-sama!" the Jounin said before scurrying off.

"I should get back and coordinate," he told Hashirama. "I'll see you at the Hokage Tower when you can."

The man just smiled and nodded. "You can do it, Saru!"

The old man shook his head, unable to keep a fond smile off his face. Even if today had not been the best of days, at least he'd been able to see his old mentors and one of his favorite subordinates again.

Besides, he had full plans to throw the Council under the bus named "Uzumaki Kushina" while he sat back and watched. He wouldn't get away unscathed, of course, but oh, this would be years in the making. And he couldn't wait.

xXx

Naruto woke in the hospital to see Sakura sitting beside him, looking into the distance.

"S-sakura-chan?" he asked. Then he remembered when he'd passed out and how Sakura had been hurt and Sasuke had been there but most of all…

"Gaara! Sasuke! Shino! Are they okay?!"

The girl beside him jumped a little, then sighed in exasperation. "Naruto, be quiet! This is a hospital!"

He immediately deflated, rubbing the back of his head sheepishly. "Heh, heh," was all he could seem to say.

The pinkette rolled her eyes. "Sasuke-kun, of course, is fine. The kid you fought… he's fine too, although he's being held in a secure place. That's all I was told."

"Oh, right," Naruto said a little sadly. That made sense. If the Kyuubi ever got lose like that, he'd be lucky to be in a cell. Well, at least Gaara was safe… or Naruto hoped he was safe. He'd heard stories about T&I…

"Kushina-san said she had to go get you some get-well Ramen, but she'll be back soo—"

"Ramen?!" he said happily. Then the rest of her words caught up with him and he cocked his head. "Who's 'Kushina-san'?"

Sakura's expression turned troubled. "I'm not entirely sure. But the Hokage said she's—"

"NNNNAAAAARRRRRRUUUUUUTTTOOOOOO!" The voice started small and then grew louder and louder, despite people shushing said voice. Then, much to his shock, a woman with the longest, reddest hair he'd ever seen slammed the door open.

Naruto's pink-haired teammate shot to her feet, eyes wide. "K-kushina-san!" she said. Before she could say anything else, though, the woman had already carefully set her stack of paper bowls down (without spilling a drop) and had rushed past her to the blond on the bed.

"I could tell you were awake! It's amazing how easy it is to sense things now! Not so much interference!" She had grabbed him in an enormous hug and was squeezing the boy to her chest. Sakura could only stare in shock as Naruto's arms flailed and the older Kunoichi grinned in pure joy.

Before Sakura could say something about how Naruto couldn't breathe – he was still her teammate after all, she had to be thinking of rescuing him, right?! – Kushina-san released him and crawled up onto the bed, sitting on her knees as he gasped in breaths. Then he felt two hands on either side of his face. They were cold and clammy and didn't feel right… and yet, no one had ever touched him like that before.

Immediately, he froze, and then turned his eyes to look up at her.

"Oh," she said, her voice soft now, "look at you. You've grown so big… and you look so much like your father! Well, not exactly like him, that's my face-shape. Sorry you ended up with the tomato-end of the gene pool."

Naruto felt his eyes go wider and wider the more she spoke.

Wait… did she mean… no….

Sakura gasped, but Naruto didn't have any awareness to give to her, his eyes focused on the woman's blue-gray ones.

"Even the stupid furball left his mark," the woman said, rubbing her thumb over his cheeks. Then she leaned forward, pressing her forehead to his. He still couldn't comprehend it. She was touching him… like… like she loved him… like when Iruka sensei ruffled his hair or patted his shoulder, but… but more…

"Oh, Naruto," she whispered and he noticed tears in her eyes. The eyes that didn't look quite right-somehow, and yet… "You've been alone all this time, haven't you. My precious, precious little boy and I had to leave you. I am so sorry. I am so, so sorry. Can you ever forgive me?"

Right about then, one word drifted forward from the back of his mind and out of his mouth.

"Mom?" he asked, voice raspy, as if he didn't have control of it.

The woman sobbed, her voice so full of both happiness and sorrow Naruto wondered how it all could be contained in that one sound.

"Yes, yes. It's me." She leaned back from him ever so slightly. "Uzumaki Kushina, your mother, dattabane."

And then he was grabbing onto her and crying too. Crying out of relief and shock and painpainpain… so much pain. All of those years listening to everyone but Jiji tell him he'd never been wanted – never been loved; of coming home to an orphanage that despised him, and then an empty, broken-down apartment; of watching the other boys and girls get picked up from the academy by their parents every day and the hugs and kisses and warmth and he'd always been so jealous… but now he had one of his own too.

Part of him didn't want to believe it – didn't believe he deserved it, even if it was true. But part of him didn't care. Her eyes were weird, and her skin felt wrong, and she'd been gone for so, so long… but the way she touched him and held him and cried for him…

He didn't hear Sakura leave them alone, not wanting to intrude on the moment. He didn't notice when his mother shifted so she was leaning in the bed with her arms around him protectively. He didn't notice when the nurse came in a couple of minutes later and sat staring, unsure of what to make of the picture before her.

All he cared was that he had someone here now who loved him.

And it was just as wonderful as he'd always dreamed.

xXx

Hiruzen would be lying if he said he wasn't nervous. Or perhaps antsy? Was this just anticipation? No, there was definite wariness in there too. But at the same time, this would be so much fun.

"You're telling me," Hyuuga Hiashi said slowly, "that the First and Second Hokage are now wandering around – undead – in the village, helping the village rebuild, without supervision?"

Hiruzen smiled pleasantly at him as he sipped his tea. "Yes."

The rest of the Council wasn't even in an uproar. They just stared at him in utter shock.

"Oh, and Orochimaru also brought back Uzumaki Kushina."

And there came the burst of noise he'd been expecting. Oh, this really was too fun. He glanced at his watch again. He'd been informed that Naruto had awoken about three hours ago. He gave it maybe five more minutes before this went from amusing to downright entertaining.

"Are you telling me, he brought back the Demon Brat's mother?" Homura practically hissed.

The killing intent swept over the room so fast everyone stopped mid-word and the room fell utterly silent. Hiruzen turned to his old teammate.

"What did you just call Uzumaki Naruto, a ninja of this village and the jailer for the Nine-Tailed demon fox, Himura-san?" he asked pleasantly. "You know, the boy keeping the entire village safe." His tone seemed so at odds with the utter weight of the air in the room that everyone knew they'd collectively stepped too far.

Danzo, of course, was the one to speak up. "And yet, you won't let us train him to be the weapon he needs to be."

Hiruzen immediately turned to his advisor. "You're changing the subject. Now, Himura-san. Would you care to repeat that?"

His old teammate gulped and shook his head. "N-no, Hokage-sama."

"Good. You may want to tenure your resignation by the end of today. Such slip-ups are unbecoming of a council member. Am I clear?"

More shock. This was Hiruzen's genin teammate, one of the few people he trusted more than anyone else, being forced to resign.

"That is going too—" Danzo started, but Hiruzen cut him off without even looking at him.

"You. Will. Be. Silent."

Danzo knew when to pick his battles. He shut up.

"Of course, Hokage-sama," Homura said softly.

Almost immediately the atmosphere in the room lifted. The older man who he had trusted for so long looked down, half out of humiliation, half out of rage, no doubt. But it really was his own fault. He really should have known better – and he did – but the fact that he'd spoken that despised title aloud probably said more about the shock of the day than of the actual council members. At least, Hiruzen liked to think so.

"In any case," he went on pleasantly, "they're still here because either Orochimaru or Kushina – or both – did something to the Edo Tensei seals that allow them to take in chakra independent of a summoner. We don't know if this will last indefinitely or not, but both the First and Second Hokage have requested they be put back to their rest at the earliest convenience.

More objections. Yes, this had lost its amusement now.

"We cannot let such assets that could befit Konoha go!" Danzo was, surprisingly, the one he heard. He did not raise his voice, but his steady tones seemed to cut through the chatter.

"They have earned their rest," Sarutobi said, "and I will honor their wishes." He glared at the old war-hawk. "Am I understood?"

Danzo looked like he was about ready to strangle the Hokage right then and there. Hiruzen almost wished he'd try. Almost.

"Understood," he finally said, sitting back and relaxing into his normal posture, eyes closed and head tilted down ever so slightly.

"What about Kushina-san?" Nara Shikaku asked slowly.

Hiruzen smiled again and sipped his tea. After discreetly triple checking it for poison. Danzo could be vindictive when he'd been overruled.

"I'll let her tell you herself."

Confused faces. "Excuse me, Hoka—"

The doors burst open and a very irate red-head stood there, fuming.

"HIIIIIRRRRUUUUUZZZZEEEENNNNNNNNN!"

Huh. She'd been a little later than he'd thought, but well within the time he'd figured. Still an effective demonstration. Now to see if he could stop her from completely destroying the Council. He glanced outside to see his ANBU getting up and waved them off. They went back to their posts gratefully.

"Ah, Kushina-san. Come in," he said, voice still as pleasant and welcoming as ever.

"Don't you 'Kushina'san' me!"

"WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU'RE—" Utatane-san shrieked. Hiruzen kind of felt bad for her. His old teammates seemed to have really lost their edge if they were acting this stupidly.

Kushina marched right past the old woman, who just kind of stared in shock at being ignored. Hiruzen managed to stop from laughing, but only barely.

"So, Hokage-sama," the red-head said sweetly. His smile vanished. "Would you care to tell me why I just heard about how my son – you know, the boy I gave my life to protect, the sacrifice to this village that I only gave because I felt I had no other choice, told me he grew up alone and hated by more or less the entire village?"

Her hair began to float and with her very dead-looking eyes, she looked like an avenging angel of death or a relation to the Shinigami. She may be 20 years too young to even begin to test him, but that didn't mean she didn't make a very fine showing.

"Ah, about that. I made a law to keep your son's identity safe, but the information leaked. We never figured out where said leak was."

That didn't appease her. He didn't think it would, but one can hope.

"It… leaked?!"

He nodded. "Indeed it did, and before I could stop it – and believe me, I tried – the belief that your son was the actual demon fox had spread beyond our ability to contain it."

She didn't look impressed. "So instead of correcting it, you simply let him go on living a life that could have very well turned him against the very village he was supposed to protect?!" She clapped her hands, slow and mocking. "Bravo! You did the worst by him AND by the village! Except for some pure, dumb luck and my husband's infinite ability to forgive that my son somehow – blessedly – inherited despite all of you doing your absolute best to snuff it out of him!"

And everyone had the decency to look ashamed at that. Well, everyone except Danzo.

"We couldn't correct the misinformation without confirming that he was, indeed, the current Jinchuuriki of the Kyuubi no Kitsune," Danzo said in the calm, even voice that infuriated Hiruzen. "I advised for it, even if we would have had to take him into protective custody."

Hiruzen's mouth almost dropped. He hadn't… He had. Well, then may the best shinobi win, Danzo.

"You wanted to take him in and make him into a weapon," Hiruzen pointed out, then took another sip of his tea. Check.

Kushina immediately loomed over the older man. "You. Wanted. To. What?!" Her voice had gone deadly silent.

"He is being misused as he is!" Danzo said, shooting Hiruzen a dirty look.

"Oh, so you want to take him and make him into one of your root agents that you love so much? Agents that couldn't run a village if their lives depended on it! Agents you make so dependent on you that everyone involved seems to forget that you aren't the village?!"

"Root was disbanded," Nara Shikaku, brave soul that he was, spoke.

Sarutobi wasn't stupid enough to correct him. Not right now. He probably already knew but was just defusing the situation. He needed a raise.

"Indeed," Danzo agreed. To his credit, he didn't back down from the undead mother's glare of wrath.

Kushina scoffed and stood straight, arms folded as she looked down at Danzo in disdain. "Okay, Hiruzen." He winced, noticing she hadn't called him Hokage-sama… for the entire time she'd been in the room. He didn't think he'd ever seen her this ticked. "You made one good call by keeping him away from this guy." She paused, frowning. "And since when are you an Uchiha?"

Danzo stiffened. "I beg your pardon."

"You have Uchiha chakra in you. I'd know Mikoto's signature anywhere."

And that's when everything hit the fan.

xXx

Naruto sat in his hospital room, on his bed, staring at the covers blankly.

His mom.

He had a mom.

And she'd been dead.

Well, he'd known that, but… now she wasn't? But she wasn't alive? Which was why her hands felt so cold and why her eyes looked so strange… but she was also here. She didn't know how long that would last, but she was still here now. And she loved him. She said that she and Naruto's father always loved him. She apologized for leaving him… no one had ever apologized to him before. Not like that.

There were little apologies, like someone saying, "Sorry," when they passed him in the street (although nine out of ten of those would see who they bumped into and stop before they finished, as if he didn't deserve it… losers). Or like when Iruka apologized when he didn't have enough time or money to go get Ramen. It disappointed, but ultimately, Naruto liked Iruka just acknowledging him. Ramen was a bonus. An awesome bonus, because Ramen, but still a bonus.

No one had really apologized to him for something that meant something…

And now he wasn't even making sense to himself! He didn't know what to think! His whole world had just changed and nothing felt real and—

A large boom drew his attention and he looked over to the window. Then his eyes nearly bugged out of his head. The Hokage Tower was smoking! And were those ninja fighting?!

"Mom," he whispered, scrambling out of bed. His feet caught in the covers and he fell, flat on his face. Normally that would have been something he'd sheepishly nurse his pride over, even if no one had seen, but at the moment, all it did was frustrate him. Angrily, he kicked the covers away, only barely registering the door opening and someone calling his name.

He didn't care. He managed to reach his feet then dived for the window, grabbing the sill to lift it up. Arms came around him, restraining him.

"Naruto! No! You can't!"

"Let me go!" he yelled, squirming and shifting his weight to kick. The person holding him grunted as they adjusted.

"Naruto! Listen to me!"

"My mom!" was all he could say.

"You'll just get in the way!"

That made him pause as his eyes greedily drank in the sight of the tower, desperately searching for a flash of red.

"Those are elite ninja, Naruto. We're just genin… we… we can't do anything but stay out of the way."

He felt tears come to his eyes and he turned to look over his shoulder at the person holding him… Sakura. Her face had gone pale and she was looking at the scene on the other side of the window with wide, green eyes. She wanted to go too, he realized. Not because her mom was there, but because she's a ninja of the Leaf.

She was also right, and he knew it… but he couldn't stay!

"But what if she needs me?!" he asked, starting to struggle again. Sakura held tight. Had she been lifting weights or something? Why couldn't he break free?!

"Naruto she's," Sakura paused, grunting, "she's an elite ninja! She'll be—"

He cut her off. "She died already!"

He heard Sakura's mouth clop closed.

"She needed someone and no one was there… and she died and… and left me alone…" he said, his voice choked. Then he renewed his efforts. "I protect my precious people! I don't run away! I don't go back on my word! That's. My. Nindo!"

He finally managed to break free of her and rushed towards the window again, but then he felt something hit the back of his neck and the world started to go dark. He had just enough time to hear Sakura say, "Sasuke-kun," before he blacked out.

xXx

If they'd tried to bring Danzo in, he would have escaped. Hiruzen had known that. He'd also had enough of his mistakes. He went at his former friend with deadly force… and they won. Barely. Hyuuga Hisashi, Yamanaka Inoichi and Inuzuka Tsume (who had been protecting her injured ninken) had all been taken to the hospital by the medics. No one else had gotten out of that fight without some sort of battle wound to show for it.

Uzumaki Kushina's had been the worst with a hand plunged straight through her heart. Seeing it had almost undone Sarutobi. He could only imagine the look on Naruto's face when he told him his mother wouldn't be returning… when he'd just gotten her again…

And then she'd just smirked, grabbed Danzo's arm and proceeded to dislocate his elbow, his shoulder and break his arm in three places.

"Undead," was all she chirped happily as she did so. It had been a turning point in the battle. Now, Danzo's body lay burned in the center of what used to be the council chamber, the remains of his stolen Sharingan eyes dotting the grim husk of a man.

Hiruzen didn't understand. His former friend had loved Konoha so much… why would he betray it? Betray him?

A sort of bone-deep exhaustion – the kind he'd been fighting off for years – swam over him and he had to sit down. The last time he'd felt this, Orochimaru had left Konoha. First Minato's death, then the Snake Sanin and now this? Would the betrayals ever end?

He couldn't do this anymore, he realized. He'd known for years he was just holding a seat – a place for the fifth Hokage. But now, he couldn't. He couldn't protect the village from the outside or the inside… if he stayed as Hokage, it could destroy Konoha.

"Hey," a weight on his shoulder had him looking into the dead eyes of Uzumaki Kushina. "Are you okay? He didn't get you, did he, Hokage-sama?"

He felt a little smile come to his lips. "I thought I was Hiruzen now."

She snorted and her expression flattened a little. "Oh, I'm still ticked at you. Believe me, you are not forgiven. Not yet. I don't know when you will be. I don't know if you will be, but… I'm going to try. And besides, I know you did the best you could. Even if it wasn't good enough, that's still worth something."

Hiruzen winced at that. Kushina never had been one to mince words. Oh, she could talk her way around any ninja trick out there, could be just as diplomatic as she needed to be, as she'd almost always been part of the escort for envoys from other villages. They'd lost a great asset indeed (and a good friend) when they'd lost her.

He'd have to ask her exactly what had happened that night later.

"I'm old, Kushina-san," he said tiredly. "I have to retire. Konoha was almost destroyed because of my foolishness. I… I can't do this anymore. I have to find…" he paused, then blinked then looked up at her.

"Kushina-san," he said slowly, "how long will you be with us?"

She frowned. "Well, the seal has been modified so that it allows natural chakra in through it as a filter to act as a substitute for an actual chakra system… so as long as it isn't disrupted, indefinitely. Why? Do you need me to go somewhere? Do you need to find someone?"

Sarutobi just beamed. "You, Kushina-san! You!"

She blinked at him as if he'd gone mad. Sarutobi just grinned, plucked the hat off of his head and plunked it straight down on hers. Then he cackled.

"An undead Hokage! What do you say to that, Oonoki? A?" And then he cackled. The Third Hokage, also known as the Professor and the God of Shinobi cackled.

Kushina could only stare at him.

xXx

EDIT: I have tried MULTIPLE times to post chapter 2 for this story. It is not working here on ffnet. However, you can go over to Archive of our Own (aka AO3) and find the same story under the same name there and read chapter 2 if you would like. My user name over there is DAsObiQuiet.