Naruto winced as Konan touched one of his bruises with rubbing alcohol. The blue haired paper user sighed before she put the cotton ball down on a nearby tray, "You have nobody to blame but yourself for that one."

"How are these bruises my fault neechan?"

"You pissed off Deidara," Konan replied, cracking a smirk of amusement. "You're just lucky he didn't have any clay left to use some bombs on you."

"Yeah," Naruto agreed, rubbing the back of his neck while laughing bashfully. "I guess I did luck out." Konan touched a small cut with some rubbing alcohol. "YEOW!"

Konan rolled her eyes, "Yeah, lucky you."

Jiraiya and Sandayu stood around in the throne room of the palace in the capital city while a few chamber maids helped Koyuki get dressed for her coronation. "So, what happens now that the Princess is the ruler," Jiraiya asked.

"We work on fixing the damage Doto did during his reign," Sandayu answered. The old general looked out of the nearby window, smiling as a pair of birds flew by. "As Lady Koyuki's personal advisor, I'll be helping her as much as I can of course." Jiraiya smiled before he took a seat on a nearby couch. Sandayu walked closer to Jiraiya, his head hanging a bit low, "Lord Jiraiya…she and I are very sorry we must kick Akatsuki out. If we could we would lend you all the aid we could!"

"Think nothing of it friend," Jiraiya insisted, raising one of his large hands up in the air to help stop Sandayu's rant. "Just knowing that Danzo won't have the Land of Snow as an advantage is a victory enough for us."

Sandayu smiled, fighting back the tears of regret that welled up in his eyes. The old general quickly got on his hands and knees, bowing his head to the ground. Jiraiya was taken back by the act, gasping softly.

"It's been an honor to fight alongside you and Akatsuki Lord Jiraiya." The old Sannin rose up from the couch, smiling before patting Sandayu on the back.

"Likewise friend, but you shouldn't be kissing the floor like a dog." Sandayu smiled in embarrassment, standing up off the floor. Jiraiya patted the old general on the arm, laughing kindly.

In the capital city, Itachi and Hana walked hand in hand. It was their first real date in nearly a year, and Hana for one couldn't be happier. She could only accept so many scouting missions as 'dates.' It was also nice for her to see Itachi smiling happily for the country's newfound freedom and peace. Hana looked away from her boyfriend and started looking at a few stores and restaurants that they were passing. Due to the country's newfound sunshine, most of the Akatsuki members who explored the city did away with their cloaks for awhile. It was also nice not to get bombarded with the appreciation of every citizen that they came across.

"So," Itachi spoke, causing Hana to turn her head back, "Was I right about the princess?" Hana narrowed her eyes while Itachi simply smiled very smugly at her. The Inuzuka simply stuck her tongue out in a very 'mature' manner before turning her head away from Itachi. "That's mature," Itachi stated matter-of-factly. "You can never admit when I'm right can you?"

"Because you're NEVER right."

"I was about this wasn't I?" Hana narrowed her eyes as her lower lip puckered out as she pouted. Itachi closed his eyes as his smile widened. He looked forward and raised his head to the sky, looking at the clouds. "You're impossible, I swear."

"Oh I can give you impossible Uchiha," Hana said with a challenging smirk. Looking around for a moment, Hana set her eyes on something that caused her to grin mischievously. "This way." She pulled Itachi towards the side, causing him to stumble a bit. Hana pulled Itachi towards a store and pointed to a pair of lightweight shinobi boots that were in the window display. "Buy me those."

Itachi's eyes, full of horror and dread as they feasted on the price tag, slowly made their way towards Hana. "What…does this have to do with me being right?"

"You buy me those boots and I'll admit you were right." Itachi's shoulders slumped down and he gave his girlfriend an exasperated look. Hana simply smiled back, trying to look as sweetly as possible.

Itachi looked at the boots, the price tag, and then back at Hana, "You promise you'll admit I was right?"

"Promise." Itachi sighed heavily before reaching into his pocket. He pulled out his wallet, opened it, and quickly counted how much money he had. After a prolonged moment, Itachi shot a wary look at Hana. She rolled her eyes before pushing Itachi towards the door, "I promise I'll admit you were right! Now buy me the damn boots!"

A few minutes later, Hana walked out, admiring her new boots while Itachi mourned the loss of his money. "Why are those boots so expensive…?" In response, Hana turned around and planted a soft kiss on Itachi's cheek.

"You were right about the princess," Hana said as Itachi gave her a curious stare. "And thank you so much for the boots. I'll repay you for them."

"Really," Itachi replied in an unconvincing tone. "How exactly do you plan to do that?" Hana leaned forward, cupping one hand around the side of her mouth and started whispering something. Slowly, Itachi's eyes started to grow larger before he gave Hana look of complete and utter surprise. "That's…fair enough…" Hana pressed her lips together, trying her hardest not to laugh at Itachi's loss of words.

"Come on genius boy," Hana ordered, grabbing her boyfriend's wrist. "I want to walk around a bit more, then we'll work out payment options."

"Wait," Itachi said, a sly smile growing across his face as he was being dragged by Hana. "I bought you those boots…and you're paying me back with…well that, then does that mean you're kind of like a-,"

"Don't you dare finish that sentence Uchiha," Hana threatened, shooting a menacing glare back over her shoulder. Itachi couldn't help but laugh before Hana playfully punched his arm.

Konan placed a patch over the last bruise on Naruto's face, pressing it down with medical tape. "There you go. You're all patched up now."

"Thanks neechan!" Naruto leapt off of the bed and onto the ground. Konan smirked a bit as she got out of her chair.

"You seem to be in an awfully good mood," Konan pointed out.

"Well yeah! I took out a daimyo and saved a whole nation! Not only that but the princess totally told off that pale guy and his Alliance buddies! I'm on top of the world today big sis!"

"No, it's something else." Naruto stared at Konan, his eyes widening a bit while the latter cupped her chin and smiled. "It's like you're back to your normal self again." The blonde Jinchuriki stuck his tongue out, rubbing the back of his neck nervously.

"I'm sure you're just over thinking things Konan, I've always been like this." The blue haired woman's smirk vanished, replaced by a look of concern and confusion. "Hey, where's the medical wing? I wanna pay Deidara a visit."

"Not so fast," Konan snapped. Naruto's smile fell as he looked cautiously at the woman he saw as his older sister. "What's going on Naruto? What aren't you telling me?"

"Um…nothing? I just wanna pay Deidara a visit." There was a prolonged pause. Konan studied the boy for a moment. Naruto remained still, his expression the same as he looked directly at his big sister. Finally, Konan sighed in defeat.

"Go straight down the hall, and it should be the second hall on your right."

"Thanks sis," Naruto said, his grin returning. The boy turned around and quickly walked out of the room.

Naruto closed the door and sped slightly down the hall. His eyes drifted to the side, feeling guilty about not telling Konan the truth. He was concerned about who to trust at the moment within the ranks of Akatsuki. In his eyes, all of Akatsuki's main leaders were suspect to sending that assassin to take care of Sakura. Even, no matter how unlikely, Konan. He couldn't rule anyone out just yet.

After about a minute of walking, Naruto turned right into the medical wing. It didn't take long to figure out where Deidara was, due to the screams of pain and outrage. Naruto sighed, scratching the side of his head before he reluctantly walked towards the screaming.

"What the hell are you doing? Pouring salt on all my wounds or something?" Naruto poked his head in the room, seeing a furious looking doctor and a few nurses glaring at an enraged Deidara. "I mean where the hell did you get your medical degree? From a match box?"

"We're trying to help you, and it doesn't do you or us one bit of good when you fuss around like this," the doctor stated.

"Screw you! I've known Genin who were more competent than you clowns!"

Naruto gently knocked on the open door, causing the artist and medical experts to whirl their heads around, "Hey Deidara."

"Get out," the artist snapped everyone besides Naruto. "I'd like to talk to someone who knows how to do their damn job!" The medical team grumbled in anger before walking out of the door. Naruto entered once everyone had left as Deidara examined a few cuts on his shoulder.

"I'd ask how you're feeling…but I'd wager you'd answer with pissed off." Deidara huffed sarcastically before facing Naruto. "Hey…can I ask you something?"

"What is it? What my next masterpiece is so you can just show me up again?"

"No, it's about one of the guys you, sis, and the reinforcements came over with. The guy with the swords and silver hair."

"Kiriya? What about him?" Naruto looked around the room cautiously before closing the door behind him. Deidara cocked a curious brow as Naruto walked closer to his bed.

"What can you tell me about him? Why did he come over with you guys?"

"I don't know much about him my man. Konan said he specializes in assassinations, and is Yahiko's go-to boy." Naruto's eyes shifted to the side as if thinking about something. Deidara blinked in confusion, trying to analyze the boy's expression.

"Why did Konan bring him with the reinforcements then," Naruto asked. "I mean if he's Yahiko's go-to guy?"

"Konan said Yahiko added him to the list," Deidara replied. Naruto's features suddenly changed into anger. The artist was taken back, shifting away from Naruto slightly as if the boy would strike him. He was in no condition to take any sort of beating. As soon as Deidara realized Naruto wouldn't hurt him he finally spoke, "What's wrong my man?"

"Yahiko sent him to kill Sakura-chan…" Deidara tilted his head to the side, raising his brow in confusion. "Neechan had to have known why Yahiko sent that guy! She was apart of this!"

"No I wasn't." Deidara and Naruto both looked to the door, seeing Konan standing in the doorway. Naruto still looked furious as he faced the older woman. "You know how Yahiko is with being overprotective of me Naruto. I figured he was sending Kiriya to watch over me. I didn't think that he'd want to kill Sakura."

"Why didn't you tell him to screw off when he added more people to your group like you always do! Why'd you let him send someone who almost killed Sakura, on his order?"

"Both Yahiko and Tsunade thought I should bring more reinforcements than the number I had hand picked. They both added a number of shinobi they thought would benefit the mission. I was behind schedule to meet Jiraiya and the others as it was, I didn't have time to read over everyone's profile." Naruto scowled, clenching his fists tightly. Konan's eyes softened a bit as she stepped into the room. "Naruto, I know how much you care for that girl. I would never, nevertry to do anything like that to hurt her, or you. You know that."

Naruto's head fell as his arms began to shake slightly from suppressed emotions. Konan and Deidara both watched and waited for the young Jinchuriki to do or say something. The blue haired kunoichi's eyes widened a little when she saw droplets of water fall on the ground by Naruto's feet. Konan quickly moved forward, and hugged Naruto to her. The blonde wrapped her arms back around Konan, sobbing softly into her midsection.

"It's okay Naruto," Konan whispered soothingly as she placed her hand on the boy's head.

"I'm sorry sis," Naruto murmured. "I'm sorry I blamed you…" Konan closed her eyes, huffing softly. She stepped back and knelt down, eyelevel with Naruto. She raised her hand up and wiped away one of Naruto's tears with her thumb.

"That's nothing to be sorry for Naruto. Love sometimes makes people think crazy things, even about those closest to them." Naruto sniffed, wiping away the trails his tears made from his face. Konan placed her hands on Naruto's shoulder supportively and smiled. "I promise when we get home I'll talk to Yahiko about this. And he'd better have answers." Naruto pulled his arm to the side, showing half of his face to Konan before smiling at her.

"Thanks sis…" Konan smiled and kissed Naruto's forehead before standing up. She turned around and walked out of the room, leaving Naruto and Deidara alone together.

A few hours later, outside of the capital palace a mass of people, citizen and shinobi alike, gathered in the courtyard. Koyuki stood on the other side of the curtain, dressed and made up for her official coronation as daimyo. Sandayu stood next to her, smiling assuredly at the princess. Koyuki turned her head, looking over her shoulder at all of the Akatsuki men and women who fought so hard for her. As soon as she walked out onto the balcony, they would be forced to leave the country for good.

Koyuki turned around, facing the band of rogues, "Words can't express how much I appreciate what you all have done for me. You've sacrificed and given your all so that my father's dream might be realized. The Land of Snow is now the Land of Spring thanks to you all and your combined efforts. This country…and I won't soon forget what Akatsuki has done for us. I owe you all a great personal debt I can never repay." Koyuki bowed before the Akatsuki shinobi before her. "Thank you all…so much." The princess lifted her head up, looking as though she were on the brink of tears.

"We wish you the best Princess Koyuki," Jiraiya spoke with a kind tone. "Rule the Land of Spring as your father would have. If you ever need our help again…don't hesitate to ask."

"Thank you Lord Jiraiya."

"Yeah! Deidara and I will beat down anyone who tries to mess with you princess," Naruto added energetically. Koyuki smiled over at Naruto and nodded.

"I appreciate the thought Naruto. If I ever need the world's strongest shinobi, I'll be sure to call you." The blonde chuckled through a grin as he put both hands behind his head. "Thank you all for everything…but I'm afraid I must now ask you to leave."

"Of course princess," Jiraiya murmured with a small bow. "Akatsuki, head back to the docks and get ready to head home." The rogues all turned around and exited the room one by one.

Koyuki watched closely as Naruto moved with the rest of his comrades towards the door. He stopped for a moment and looked back at the princess. He smiled and waved goodbye to her one last time. Koyuki smiled as well, silent tears sliding down her face as she waved back. Naruto took one last look at the princess before exiting the room.

The princess took a small breath as Naruto left, wiping her tears away before turning around to the balcony. She walked forward with Sandayu by her side. The light from the sun shined down on the princess as she overlooked the people of her country.

'Thank you…Naruto. Grow up to be the strongest ninja you can be.'

The ride back to the Land of Fire was a quiet one. Kimimaro was silent because he failed his mission, and the rest of the Serpent Five were worried about the repercussions of failing such an important mission. Shikamaru didn't care, Choji was nervous and munching down like no tomorrow because of it, while Lee was half nervous and half excited about the training exercise Guy sensei would give them for failing. Sasuke was brooding as usual, Hinata was angrily fooling with her nails, and Shino simply sat on the railing next to his teammates.

Sakura seemed to be the only one at peace, and for good, personal, reasons. Her and her teammates were the only ones who chatted amongst each other in the past few days since they departed from the Land of Snow. Even Kurotsuchi seemed a bit distant from everyone.

"YO!" Sakura shook her head, snapping out of her trance before looking over at Zaku and Dosu.

"W-what," the pink haired kunoichi asked in bewilderment.

"Never mind," Zaku murmured.

"S-sorry Zaku. My mind was elsewhere." Sakura rubbed the back of her head, giving an apologetic smile. Dosu huffed before looking out to sea.

"She's just excited to get home. We should be hitting land in a couple of hours, and then we're heading back to Konoha."

"Yeah, then we get reamed for failing," Zaku muttered.

"Good lord! We can almost cut through this negativity with a knife," Dosu shouted, snapping a glare in his teammate's direction. "Maybe you'd like to just jump overboard and drown? Get it all over with."

"That's merciful right," Zaku questioned, turning to Sakura. "It's probably less painful than what Danzo'll do to us."

"He won't kill us. Punish us sure, but not kill us."

Zaku sighed heavily before turning around, looking at everyone else on the deck of the ship, "The way these guys are acting you'd think they know something we don't."

"They're higher up on the food chain," Dosu pointed out. "They're more likely to get punished than a few inexperienced grunts who just recently got promoted."

"But Danzo did pick us specifically to undertake this mission," Zaku fired back. "We're just as responsible as they are."

Sakura sighed softly, smiling as she watched her two teammates bickering back and forth about how Danzo would or wouldn't punish them. It almost felt like old times for her, back before she met Naruto.

A pang of some strange feeling rose up in her throat.

Startled, Sakura rose her hand up and felt her neck frightened. She looked over to Dosu and Zaku to make sure that they were still arguing and not paying attention to her. Thankfully, the two dim wits were still bickering. Sakura sighed softly before leaning on the railing, looking out to sea.

Naruto hurled his lunch over the side of the boat noisily. Itachi made a face, averting his eyes in the other direction while leaning his butt against the railing next to Naruto. After a few seconds of silence, Itachi looked over to Naruto who was leaning back a bit, "Feel better?" Naruto opened his mouth to reply, but immediately shut it, his eyes wide in shock before he puked back over the side of the boat again. After the boy groaned, Itachi looked at his fingernails for a moment, "So…yes?"

The blonde groaned, turning around and falling onto his rear, leaning back against the railing, "I don't remember eating that much…"

"I've heard stories of sailors literally puking their guts out on seas if they upchuck too much." Naruto's eyes nearly popped out of his head as he trembled in fear. Itachi smirked before sitting next to the blonde. "I was joking. Look over this way." Naruto turned his head around with a confused look. Itachi activated his Sharingan, placing a genjutsu under Naruto.

"HEY!" The Jinchuriki shot back several feet, holding his arms up in defense, "What's the big idea? You know I'm super susceptive to genjutsu you…you…" Naruto's face slowly brightened in realization. Itachi smiled and stood up to his feet, putting his hands on his hips. "You…used a genjutsu to make me not sea sick?"

"Since it's not an actual physical ailment, I figured it was worth a shot," Itachi said. "Mind over matter they say. And you are susceptive to genjutsu as you said."

"Uh…thanks Itachi…I think."

"I'll release it once we hit land. Who knows what type of affect it'll have on you once we get on a steady footing." Naruto nodded as Itachi started to walk away. The blonde looked at his hands and wondered if the genjutsu had inadvertently messed with anything else in his body.

"Heads up!" Naruto looked up to the sound of the voice before Deidara landed before him. The artist winced before he fell onto one knee and clutched his side.

"You ever thought of actually landing instead of jumping down from forty feet in the air," Naruto asked with a scolding tone. Deidara chuckled and shakily stood up to his feet.

"I can take it," Deidara insisted, "Just a few scratches."

"Those are the biggest scratches I've seen," Naruto said as he mockingly cupped his chin in his hand and poked one of Deidara's wound. The artist's face flinched in pain before he threw his head back and howled in agony. Naruto laughed as his blonde companion fell onto his back and clutched his now burning wound. "So if those are scratches, does that make you a big baby?"

In an instant, Deidara wrapped his legs around Naruto's neck while still clutching the wound the younger blonde poked just seconds earlier. Naruto gagged as he tried to catch a breath of fresh air, but his throat was being constricted by Deidara's legs.

"You'd better learn to watch your big mouth big-shot," Deidara seethed bitterly.

"Hey, break it up!" Deidara and Naruto both looked up, the latter with his tongue hanging out of his mouth. Konan stood over the two blondes with her hands on her hips as she glared sternly at the idiots on the floor. "Deidara, unwrap your legs from Naruto this instant!" The blue haired woman thought about what she just said and grimaced, "And I pray I'll never have to say that again." The artist begrudgingly unwrapped his legs from Naruto's neck. The Jinchuriki gasped deeply for air as he rubbed his neck. "Naruto, stop aggravating Deidara to the point where he wants to blow you up. We're on a wooden ship. Wood, plus explosion, means we're swimming home."

"Sorry nee-chan," Naruto apologized and rubbed the back of his neck nervously.

"Don't let it happen again," Konan ordered, jabbing her finger at the blonde's to emphasize her point. Deidara nodded before he huffed bitterly in acknowledgement. Naruto gave Konan a salute and winked kindly at her. The Akatsuki senior sighed softly before she turned and walked away.

Halfway down the stairs, she stopped and turned her head around. Just as quickly as the two had been poking fun at each other, the two blondes were then starting to converse to each other, mostly about new 'arts' Deidara could create. Naruto clearly suggested something ludicrous, as Deidara promptly smacked him over the head with an angered expression. Konan sighed before she just shook her head and walked away.

"Hey, Deidara," Naruto murmured quietly. The artist looked up at Naruto, who curiously looked around the ship. "Where's that one puppet girl? Did she come back with us?"

"I think so," Deidara replied. "But heaven forbid someone as noble as her deal with a pack of low-lives like us." Naruto stood up suddenly with his eyes set somewhere else. Deidara looked up curiously at the Jinchuriki before he walked off. Deidara shrugged before he went back to molding a new form of art.

After asking around the ship, Naruto found out that Izumi was hiding out in the lower deck of the ship. The Jinchuriki headed bellow deck, which stunk of mold and dampened wood. Naruto looked around carefully as the ship swayed gently from side to side. Finally, the blonde saw a figure sitting in the corner between a pair of barrels, bundled in a blanket. The young rogue walked towards the puppeteer and sat on top of the barrel next to her.

Izumi didn't even give him a glance as her eyes gazed dully at the floor. Naruto leaned forward a bit to try to catch the puppeteer's eyes. "You're Izumi right?" The Suna rogue sighed softly to herself, and remembering the manners Chiyo drilled into her, nodded once. "I'm Naruto. I want to thank you for your help back in the Land of Snow."

"I only helped your side to keep the Land of Snow to stay out of the coming war," Izumi murmured.

"Well still," Naruto said, the grin obvious from his tone, "I appreciate the help." The blonde waited for a response from Izumi. After a few moments, Naruto hopped off of the barrel and went to leave Izumi alone.

"Don't they feel any regret?" Naruto stopped in his tracks with confusion. Izumi, a bit startled by her own outburst, lifted her head up and looked at Naruto. "Akatsuki I mean. If it wasn't for them sneaking into the Chunin Exams and showing that the Alliance wasn't all powerful, then Lady Chiyo and Lord Ebizo may have never started leaking information about the Alliance!" Naruto's head dropped a bit as his eyes closed. Izumi rose to her feet, and allowed the blanket wrapped around her to fall to the ground. "And they're using children, children, like you to fight this war for them! How do they justify being the instigators of a war, and throwing children out on the frontlines!"

Naruto laughed a bit with a wide grin as he turned around and put his hands in his pockets, "Well to be honest, I practically had to claw my way through a lot more capable men and women to be apart of this mission."

"And the two Hyuga Clansmen," Izumi questioned. "The youngest one can't be any older than ten. The other young ice user from the Land of Water, and the purple haired boy too. How many other children is Akatsuki using to fight for them?"

Naruto opened his eyes and his smile dropped a bit as he looked directly at Izumi, "Well I'd rather fight for Akatsuki than for the Alliance. Everyone here, children included, believe that. Neji ran away from home because the Alliance killed his father for a cover up, and Hanabi was treated like dirt by her sister and father. She blackmailed us to get her into the organization actually."

"That's still no justification for them to fight the Alliance! I don't care if they're from the Hyuga bloodline, the Uchiha, or direct descendants from the Sage of Six Paths! Your infiltration of Konoha, boasting your existence and insulting the Alliance leaders directly, and taking Suna's only Jinchuriki is the reason that Chiyo and Ebizo are gone! If they didn't get themselves involved with trading information, then they wouldn't have needed to sacrifice themselves to save me from Sasori! I wouldn't be a rogue from my own country, and-," Izumi stopped herself in order to draw in a sharp breath before turning away. She bit her lower lip and scowled furiously at the memories in her mind of Chiyo and Ebizo.

Naruto walked forward and stood in front of Izumi, who refused to look back at him. "The way I see it," Naruto murmured as he started digging in his pockets. "Lady Chiyo and Lord Ebizo died, not just for you though. They fought to make sure that the Alliance was taken down no matter what. That's what we do in Akatsuki too. We do anything for each other, and we all work towards taking down the Alliance." Naruto finally pulled out a hairpin from his pocket and held it out to Izumi, whose hair was still hanging over her right eye.

"Then they were hypocrites," Izumi murmured bitterly. A glare was shot at Naruto, but he still offered a warming smile. "They tried to stay neutral, and they even retired from their lives as shinobi when Sasori came into power. They taught me, from day one, to stay neutral! They had been through the horrors of war, and they knew I lost my parents during the war!" Izumi faced Naruto and swung her arm to the side in fury, "They should have known better than anyone that war solves nothing! And only brings more violence and hatred!"

"That's true…but as long as the Alliance remains one of the main powers of the world, they'll only continue to spread more pain and hatred throughout the war. I think Chiyo and Ebizo saw that the Alliance had to be taken down in order for this world to have a shot at peace. And maybe they didn't want you to get involved in their plotting because…maybe they didn't want you to end up like them?" Izumi's features softened as her eyes fell to the ground. Naruto closed his hand around the hairpin and moved closer to Izumi. "I'm not going to pretend to tell you what's best Izumi. But if Chiyo and Ebizo wanted you to stay out of the war, then you coming to the Land of Snow…even if it was to try to keep this country out of the war, is getting involved in it. You have two choices: get involved, or don't. But don't try to persuade an entire nation to stay out of the war and pretend you're not getting involved yourself."

Izumi looked over at Naruto. The two locked eyes for the longest time before the puppeteer sighed softly and looked to the ground. A few moments of silence passed before Izumi lifted her head and offered a small smile before laughing softly. "You know…if I didn't know better I'd say Lady Chiyo's spirit just took control of your tongue for a moment." Izumi leaned back, her bangs falling to reveal her right eye and to better show her warm smile. Her anger started to melt away as she remembered all of the good times with Chiyo and Ebizo, her adopted grandparents, and she considered how grateful she was for everything they taught her. The young puppeteer laughed a bit and lowered her head suddenly to hide her tears as she imagined Chiyo reciting everything Naruto just told her perfectly. "She'd tell me the exact same thing you just said. And I guess in a weird way I did exactly what Chiyo and Ebizo did. I got involved in this war while claiming to be neutral."

Izumi lifted her head, turning to Naruto and holding out her hand. The blonde smiled then placed the hairpin in the puppet master's hand.

"Masters Chiyo and Ebizo stood against the Alliance, against all the twisted beliefs they stood for and all the wars, the pain and suffering they caused." Izumi brushed her bangs back away from her face, pinning them back with the hairpin Naruto gave her. She turned to the younger boy and smiled, her whole, beautiful face showing. "I may not like it, but I can't stay neutral in the coming conflict. I guess in the end I don't have a choice…" Izumi wrapped her arm around Naruto's shoulders and pulled the boy closer, "I'll help you Naruto, and join Akatsuki."

"Really," Naruto asked eagerly, a huge grin on his face. "But wait, weren't you just really mad at Akatsuki a minute ago?" Izumi tilted her head to the side and shrugged, despite being a bit surprised by her very sudden change of heart herself.

"I was just angry at everything involving the war," Izumi admitted in a whisper. The puppeteer gave an embarrassed smile and rubbed the back of her neck with one hand, "I guess I just needed to vent more than anything. But in memory of my family, who gave everything for me, I'll carry on their wishes to help take down the Alliance." Naruto beamed brightly at Izumi before he sprung into the air.

"AWESOME! I'll go tell Konan nee-chan and Pervy Sage the news!" Naruto turned around for a split second before spinning back around and taking Izumi's hand to shake it. "And welcome to Akatsuki!" The Jinchuriki turned around and bolted towards the stairs to get to the upper deck. Izumi smiled after the boy before brushing a loose strand of hair back into place.

'That boy…' Izumi place a hand over her heart, which was wrapped in anger, hate, and grief only moments ago, now replaced by happiness and hope. 'He really is something else…'

Danzo, accompanied by two ROOT agents, walked through the underground buildings beneath the village towards Orochimaru's laboratory. The Hokage entered the room and saw Orochimaru slowly turn towards him. "Ah, Lord Danzo, you came just in time."

"I assume you have good news Orochimaru?"

The Sannin chuckled and nodded as one of the ROOT agents closed the door. "I believe I've finally perfected this jutsu."

"Show me," Danzo ordered.

Orochimaru nodded before turning his head and motioning towards the darkness, "Kin, be a dear and bring me the test subjects." A young woman with long black hair bowed her head before leaving. After a few moments, Kin brought back two unconscious boys on a pair of stretchers. Danzo recognized them as the pair of shinobi from Kirigakure who arrived during the Chunin Exams.

Orochimaru sneered as he dipped his hands in two separate containers of blood and smeared them over two special looking scrolls. Kin placed the scrolls on the ground, and a large, complicated seal shot out from the ground and surrounded the two boys. Nearby dust and ash from the laboratory rose up and started to encase the two Kiri boys. The dust and ash began to take a shape familiar to Danzo. Orochimaru simply chuckled lowly to himself before the two sacrifices took their final forms. The two ROOT agents gasped as they finally realized what the two figures were.


"The First and Second Hokages," Danzo finished softly. Though the two Kages seemed to be little more than lifeless husks, it was more than enough to have Danzo a bit anxious.

"Behold…" Orochimaru walked forward with a pair of kunai, each with a special tag on the end of them. The Sannin reached through the First and Second's faces and implanted the seal in their bodies. The First and Second's eyes shot open suddenly before they looked around the area carefully. "Say hello to the founding fathers boys."

"Orochimaru," Danzo murmured with a cautious tone. The first two Hokages got out of their stretchers and placed their feet on the ground.

"Don't worry, they're under our control," Orochimaru explained. "Even if they knew everything you've done up to this point, they couldn't act on it Lord Danzo." The Second Hokage, Tobirama Senju, turned his head towards the Third, with a look of shock on his face.

"Danzo…?" The First Hokage, Hashirama, looked over as well with intrigue. "You've grown old…I take it then that this is the handiwork of my horrid jutsu: the Impure World Resurrection."

"You're correct," Orochimaru replied. "And it's not horrid. It's quite the lovely little jutsu." The Second Hokage looked over at the Sannin who chuckled in a low tone to himself. "I must say, I'm quite impressed with this jutsu. It's such a shame you never finished it yourself."

"And I take it you have finished the Impure World Resurrection," Tobirama asked with a hint of malice in his tone. Orochimaru nodded with a sneer on his face. The Second Hokage's eyes narrowed a bit before his darkened gaze fell to the floor.

"So…they're loyal and obedient to us," Danzo questioned.

"They follow our will Lord Hokage," Orochimaru answered. "There are still some more factors I'll have to play with. Such as the ability to erase their personalities and have them turned into mindless killing machines, and how much control that can be exercised with each specimen. There are a hundred variables I'll have to play with before I can perfect this jutsu for war." Danzo nodded before he looked over at the founding fathers. The first two Hokages stared at their legacy with dark, disapproving stares.

"Continue to run the experiments Orochimaru," Danzo said before he pried his eye off of his predecessors. He looked at his former student, "Don't run your tests on these two. If they're more valuable with their personalities in tack, I don't want them to be ruined."

"Of course." Danzo turned around and exited Orochimaru's laboratory. The Sannin formed a hand sign and a pair of coffins emerged from the ground and encased the first two Hokages. "Who else do we have on our roster dear Kin?"

The first meeting between the newly created Union's leaders had taken place. Despite the fact that he was confident in his abilities, and the fact that the meeting was taking place in the Land of Lightning, A was less than at ease in a room full of Kiri shinobi and members of the Land of Sky. The makeshift leader of the Land of Sky was a scientist by the name of Shinno. A didn't entirely trust the man, nor did he trust the Mizukage, but he knew that if there was any chance of defeating the Alliance it would have to be through allying the Land of Lightning with other countries outside the Alliance.

"So, shall we begin this meeting," Yagura, the Fourth Mizukage asked.

"Yes, lets," Shinno replied. "First order of business should be our initial strike against the Alliance." The older man nodded to one of his shinobi, who rolled out a map of the Five Countries out on the table before the leaders. "Now, the closest target for us to strike against is Konoha. However, they're also the strongest target for us to hit."

"You're going about this the wrong way Shinno-san," Yagura murmured softly. The older man turned towards the Mizukage. The young Kage placed his finger on the map, on the ocean between the Land of Water and Fire. "We have the advantage. Konoha has to come to us to attack, and the Land of Water has an effective naval force." Yagura shifted his purple eyes to A, "And from what our shared intelligence, the Land of Lightning has a fair navy as well don't you?"

"That's right," A confirmed with a nod. The larger man couldn't suppress the thought of whether or not Yagura knew about the Land of Lightning's navy before they joined forces or not. "But you're forgetting that my country is almost on the Land of Fire's doorstep."

"But the border is small," Yagura pointed out as he slid his finger up to the Land of Lightning. "If you fortify the border, and if we can get the Lands of Hot Water and Frost to help us then the Alliance will have difficulties trying to break through."

"The Lands of Hot Water and Frost have been enemies for the longest time though," Shinno pointed out. "Unless you know something we don't Lord Mizukage."

Yagura looked over and motioned calmly towards the Raikage, "The Land of Frost are allies with the Land of Lightning, due to the fact they're neighbors. The Land of Frost, being a smaller country, rely often on Kumogakure and its people to survive. They'll join our Union without question." Yagura turned away from A and looked at Shinno. "The exact opposite can be said about the Land of Hot Water's relationship with the Land of Fire. The Alliance, as we all know, treats smaller countries about as well as the dirt they're founded on. The Land of Hot Water is no exception. They're forced to trade with the Alliance, and many of the bandit and criminal gangs take residence in the Land of Hot Water in order to act as cheap, expendable spies for Danzo. The Land of Water's Daimyo has already spoken to the Daimyos of both countries, and they've agreed to help our cause."

"Quite impressive," Shinno commended.

"Indeed," A murmured. He knew as well as anyone about the tense relationship between the Land of Frost and Hot Water over the years. While not as bad as the rivalry between the Land of Fire and the other countries outside of the Alliance, it was still enough to cause several skirmishes over the years. "But if we set ourselves up on the defensive, then how to we effectively take on the Alliance?"

"That's my job I do believe," Shinno said as he grinned over at Yagura. "With my people's air superiority, we can travel over the Land of Fire and do all manner of damage to them and then come back to the Land of Water without losing a single man or women in battle."

"That's correct," Yagura nodded. "And if I'm not mistaken, several of your people are excellent medical ninjas. You being no exception Shinno-san." The older man chuckled softly and nodded. A's eyes traveled from the leader of the Land of Sky to Yagura. "We've also heard rumors that our declaration of war has spurred the ninja villages of Takigakure and Kusagakure to strike against the Alliance."

"They'd surely be crushed, being in the heart of Alliance territory and all," A pointed out with a low growl.

"Indeed they would be. But if they can pull the Alliance's attention towards two separate fronts, then it'll make our jobs considerably easier. All we have to do is keep spreading the rumors that we'll help their villages."

"A ruthless tactic Mizukage," Shinno stated with a sly smirk.

A also let out an amused huff, "I agree. So far I'd been thinking you were a coward compared to your predecessor, the Third Mizukage. I see you're just more cautious than he was."

"Lord Saizo Hideyoshi," Yagura spoke softly, his tone sounding almost remorseful. "The greatest Mizukage the Land of Water has ever had so far, and instigator of the last Shinobi World War."

"Yes, as I remember he almost took down the Alliance didn't he," Shinno questioned.

"That's right," A replied. "Together, he and my father, the Third Raikage, signed a treaty, where the two countries wouldn't interfere with each other. We were having our own issues with the Land of Earth, and the Land of Water had already declared war on Konoha." A leaned forward, overlapping his fingers over the backs of his hands. The Raikage closed his eyes and heaved a heavy sigh. "Nobody expected the Land of Water to take Konoha head-on like that. Even the Land of Lightning, the second strongest single country after the Land of Fire, would have had more trouble." A opened his eyes and looked over at Yagura. The Mizukage still seemed to lament the loss of his predecessor. The Raikage shifted his eyes to Shinno, "But Saizo…nobody in the world saw him coming. He was brutal and persistent. Even Danzo, with the mind of Orochimaru, and some members of the Nara Clan, had trouble keeping up with Saizo. Just when the war started to seem to turn in the Land of Water's favor, Saizo himself finally set foot on the shores of the Land of Fire.

"When he joined the battle, along with the Seven Swordsmen of the Mist, who he turned into his personal bodyguards, things seemed to become worse and worse for Konoha. At one point, my father even sent a regiment of Kumo shinobi, led by me, to aid Saizo." The Raikage sighed again and lowered his hands on the table as his eyes glazed over. He traveled back to the time when he first met Saizo in person. "Being around that man…was overwhelming. I could sense that he had a terrifying, powerful chakra. He also seemed to command the presence of his followers around him, just by being there. It was almost surreal being around him."

"So, if this man was so great, how did he lose to Konoha, even with a complimentary regiment from the Land of Lightning," Shinno questioned curiously.

A closed his eyes and a furious scowl washed over his face. Shinno tensed up a bit, worrying he had angered the Raikage. "We had gotten word that my father had died in combat against Iwagakure shinobi…we demanded blood, anyone's blood. Saizo had given a speech to his followers, and their spirits were high. The battle was one of the bloodiest battles in shinobi history. It lasted for five nights and six days. We showed no mercy to our foes, and even attacked during the nights when everyone was supposed to sleep. But Konoha shinobi…they proved to be as elite as expected.

"They had two of the Sannin at that point, Jiraiya and Orochimaru, Konoha's White Fang, Sakumo Hatake, and many other upcoming prodigies, namely the Yellow Flash of Konoha. On the fifth night, Konoha got reinforcements from Amegakure and Iwagakure. We were all still ready for battle, but we were tired, and our supplies were running low. My people demanded that I return to the village and take up the title of Raikage." A closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead with his massive hand. "I did so reluctantly…leaving Saizo and his men to fend for themselves."

"We were eventually pushed back to the shores of the Land of Fire," Yagura continued. A and Shinno looked over at the Mizukage as his eyes stared blankly at the Land of Water on the map before him. "Saizo was the last one to get on the boats before he declared that Konoha had won the war and departed."

"Despite losing the war, Saizo seemed to gain a reputation high enough for the Alliance, and Danzo himself to fear the man," A spoke, "Saizo Hideyoshi has been given many titles. While his tactics were brutal and sometimes savage, they were unpredictable and next to impossible to keep up with. Saizo the God of War, or the War Demon of the Hidden Mist were the most favored. He was even believed to be the greatest war tactician in all of history."

"Most impressive," Shinno said as he looked over at Yagura. "How much did you learn from him exactly Yagura-sama?"

"Nothing," Yagura replied firmly. Shinno's eyes lit up with shock, gasping softly. A looked on in silence. "Saizo had no students, no apprentice. He unofficially became leader of the Seven Swordsmen of the Mist, wielding the Kubikiribocho. When he became Mizukage, he quickly reorganized our military. Or organized, depending on how you saw the careless reign of that fool, the Second Mizukage. During his reign though…he found one urchin from the streets and took him in as a son. He didn't train the boy personally, but his abilities were prominent as he quickly excelled in most shinobi categories. When Saizo-sama died…the sword was given to his 'adoptive' son. That rogue, traitorous scum…"

"ZABUZA!" The masked swordsmen scowled before he slowly turned around. Obito Uchiha caught up to the killer and threw his arm around the shinobi carelessly. "How's it going buddy? Have any missions lately?"

Zabuza's eyes focused intently on Obito's arm, debating whether or not to tear it off before making eye contact with the Uchiha. "No, I haven't."

"I don't think anyone has had any big missions since the Land of Snow group," Obito rambled on, looking back over his shoulder. Zabuza simply glared at the obnoxious Uchiha, who had practically clung to him since their last mission together. "I wonder if everyone will come back in one piece. I mean I know Konan and Jiraiya-sama went with them, but they're still fighting an entire country ya know?"


"Yeah buddy," Obito asked as he turned to Zabuza with a friendly grin. His grin quickly vanished as Zabuza loomed darkly over him with a murderous intent in his eyes.

"Get your arm off me…" Obito sprung a good foot backwards and started laughing nervously, holding his hands up definitively. Zabuza sighed in annoyance before he started to continue down the halls of Akatsuki's hideout. Despite the very recent threat, Obito followed Zabuza anyway, much to the swordsmen's annoyance. "What?"

"Nothin, just deciding to follow you around is all," Obito answered matter-of-factly. "We're friend after all right?" Zabuza sighed again, his agitation growing. Several members of Akatsuki rushed past Obito and Zabuza. Both men looked on curiously at the backs of their comrades before exchanging puzzled glances and shrugging. Zabuza walked forward to follow, with Obito right behind him.

At the entrance of the hideout, a large crowd of cheering Akatsuki shinobi gathered. Obito stared with wide eyes and a puzzled look on his face. Zabuza narrowed his eyes skeptically before heading towards the crowd. Obito followed behind the swordsmen.

At the head of the crowd, the group from the Land of Snow had returned, and was celebrating with their fellow shinobi on a mission accomplished. Several of the older shinobi were greeted with their friends, armed with alcohol and were getting drunk to celebrate.

Obito was a bit unsettled as a drunken shinobi stumbled past him, laughing in an inebriated stupor. Zabuza ignored his urges to cut the drunk down and moved closer to the crowd.

"GRAH! Move it you smelly drunks," a loud voice shouted. Zabuza and Obito both stopped in their tracks, curious as to who the voice belonged to. A group of adults were pushed to the side as Naruto came stumbling out from them, followed by Haku, Neji, Ranmaru, Hanabi, and a new light haired shinobi. The blonde looked up and immediately grinned, "HEY! Obito!"

"Naruto! You're back! And in one piece no less!"

"A little ragged though," Zabuza added as he pointed to the bandages around Naruto's forehead and a few on his face.

"Heh, yeah, that kinda happens when you take on the big bad yourself!" Obito's eyes nearly popped out of his head while Zabuza gasped softly.

"You took on Doto Kazahana," Obito questioned.

"YEP! I took his ass out! Oh, but I had a lot of help from Princess Koyuki and our newest recruit!" Naruto stepped to the side and motioned towards the unfamiliar kunoichi, "This is Izumi. She's from Sunagakure, and we met her in the Land of Snow. She's the apprentice of some legendary Sibling Duo or something…"

"The Honored Siblings of Sunagakure," Zabuza questioned.

"Yes, that's right," Izumi replied.

"That's…impressive. I didn't entirely believe that they actually had an apprentice," Obito admitted. "I'm sorry to hear about what happened to them though Izumi-san."

"Thank you sir."

"I'm Obito, Obito Uchiha. And this ball of sunshine," the spiky haired Uchiha threw his arm around Zabuza, immediately rewarding him with an irate gaze, "Is Zabuza Momochi!"

"Arm. Off. NOW!" Obito sprung away from the swordsmen, giggling to himself as he watched Zabuza carefully.

"The Copycat Ninja of the Uchiha Clan and the Demon of the Hidden Mist," Izumi spoke. "I've heard of both of you, and your abilities. You both are very strong shinobi." Obito grinned and chuckled with his hands behind his head while Zabuza gave a gruff scoff of acknowledgement. "Akatsuki certainly does go after the best now doesn't it?"

"Sure does," Naruto boasted. "That's why they have all of us! We'll take down the Alliance ourselves if we have to!"

Zabuza turned to Haku and the others who hadn't spoken, "Haku, I hope you helped contribute to the mission?"

"Y-yes sir. Hanabi and I took out one of Doto's commanders together." The swordsmen looked at the young Hyuga girl for a moment. He looked back at Haku and nodded firmly, a smile underneath his mask.

"Good work boy."

"Yeah! And Neji and Ranmaru took down another commander together," Naruto added loudly. "And Konan nee-chan took out Doto's right hand goon! And of course yours truly, Naruto Uzumaki took out Doto himself, with help from the princess and our very own Izumi!"

"HEY!" A figure leaped from the crowd, startling the members of Akatsuki. In an instant, Deidara started choking Naruto in a headlock. "I HELPED WITH THAT FIGHT TOO YA KNOW YOU ASSHOLE! You can't just leave me out and not give me any credit!"

"Deidara," a stern voice snapped. The blonde artist turned his head, seeing Konan marching towards him with a grinning Jiraiya right behind her. "Let go of him. NOW!" Deidara huffed angrily before releasing Naruto. The Jinchuriki fell to the floor, gasping desperately for air. Konan sighed and rested her hand against her forehead. "I swear, you two and your bickering is going to be the death of me…" Naruto chuckled softly, getting several quizzical stares from the surrounding shinobi. "And what're you grinning about?"

"Nothing. I'm just…happy I guess!" The confused look on his seniors' faces only worsened as Naruto kept laughing. "I mean us together! It's nice I guess…" Everyone around Naruto then smiled fondly at the blonde. Those who knew him at a younger age had watched the Jinchuriki grow up so fast in such a short amount of time. Konan, Jiraiya, and Obito were all proud of Naruto.

"Eh, we're getting too emotional for my tastes," Zabuza exclaimed, turning his back as he waved his hand about. "I think I'm about to gag."

"Ditto," Deidara murmured. "Naruto my man, you're a hell of a guy, but you're getting too romantic for my tastes." The blonde pointed his finger at his fellow 'artist,' poking the young boy's nose. "Don't let it affect your art!" Deidara then turned and walked away in the same general location as Zabuza. The artist looked at the swordsmen, who returned the stare. The two remembered each other from a skirmish Kiri and Iwa had several years ago. They both grunted in acknowledgement before walking together in comfortable silence.

Naruto watched the two older men leave before he turned back around. Konan patted the boy's head before walking off with Jiraiya, both of whom had to write reports about the mission. "So who wants to do some training," Naruto asked eagerly.

"Ooh, me, me, me, me," Obito exclaimed as he waved his arms around frantically. "All of you kids against me!"

"Getting cocky with age are we Obito-san," Neji questioned with a challenging smirk.

"Nah, just a statement from the world's only Copycat Ninja!"

"Izumi nee-chan," Naruto whirled around to the startled puppeteer, "Wanna help us take down Obito?"

Izumi laughed softly and raised her hands up, "Maybe another time. I don't think it's quite fair for Obito."

"And why not?" All heads turned around to the new voice. A woman with a sizable bust, and blonde hair, wearing the highest ranking robes in Akatsuki walked forward with a curious look in her eyes, followed by a younger woman with short black hair, wearing robes one rank lower.

"Granny Tsunade and Shizune nee-chan!"

The Sannin ignored Naruto's outburst and looked at Izumi, "I heard there was some new blood coming back from the Land of Snow campaign. I'm Lady Tsunade, one of the leaders of Akatsuki."

"I'm Izumi," the young puppeteer said with a bit of a cautious tone. "And I know a lot about you from my teacher, Lady Chiyo, Slug Queen." Shizune's lit up in shock and worry before looking to her mistress. Tsunade threw her head back and started laughing. After a few moments of chuckling Tsunade looked at Izumi with a smirk on her face.

"Well I'd like to see what you can do in a fight. As a leader of Akatsuki, you can't refuse without a valid reason. I think a fight against our very own goofy Uchiha should be a fair test for you."

"If you insist," Izumi replied. The puppeteer turned to Obito and bowed her head. "Would you accept a formal challenge Obito-san?" The spiky haired Uchiha chuckled softly and gently scratched his cheek.

"Well, who am I to say no to a pretty lady?" Izumi smiled and nodded to Obito before they both turned to Tsunade. "Where are we fighting Lady Tsunade?"

"Outside, by the lake. Come on." Tsunade looked at the younger shinobi, "You all can come along of course. You may learn a thing or two by watching them fight." Tsunade turned around and headed for an exit that wasn't cluttered with dozens of shinobi. Shizune, Obito, Izumi, and the younger shinobi led by Naruto followed the female Sannin. "So Puppet Princess, have you ever been in an actual life-or-death fight?"

"I was in the Land of Snow against Doto Kazahana," Izumi replied bluntly. "Isn't this just a simple exercise so you can understand my abilities?"

"Yes, but I want you to treat this like a life-or-death scenario. I want you to hold nothing back." Tsunade looked back over her shoulder and narrowed her eyes, "That goes for you too Obito!"

"Of course Lady Tsunade," Obito said in a tone like a child would reply to her scolding mother. Tsunade scowled before turning her head back forward. Obito gently nudged Izumi's arm, grabbing the young puppeteer's attention. The Uchiha leaned forward, "Hey, don't let her get to you. Just exercise like you normally would in a normal sparring match. No need to go all out right?"

Izumi smiled politely and nodded, "I suppose not." Obito smiled back and straightened up as they approached the exit.

Danzo looked outside of the window as the rain poured down on Konoha. His single eye looked out into the distance as he stood in his office in silence. The Hokage had seen enough war in his time to know that it was fast approaching. The organization of the Alliance's military was nearly complete, an edge he'd apparently have over the so called Union, who was still working to get themselves organized. There was only one small factor that had to be dealt with on the Hokage's end, and he could sense it approaching.

The door flew open, slamming hard behind the man who entered the room. "I've been waiting," Danzo replied. He turned around and faced Higure, who was dripping wet from the rain. The man's expression was furious. Danzo calmly moved his arm out to the desk were two cups of steaming tea sat. "I hope you like tea." Higure held up a headband to the Hokage and threw it on the desk. The headband splattered and clattered on the wood in front of the Hokage. Danzo looked down for a moment before moving his single eye up to Higure. "I take it you're upset…"

"You send me a headband with a note, calling me a general and you just expect me to calmly walk in and sip tea with you? I know you're not that stupid Danzo."

"Indeed," the old man murmured as he pulled out his chair and sat down. "But I didn't know who else to turn to. Hanzo is set to be the regimental commander of all the forces, Kakashi has been signed up, as has Hiruko from Sunagakure, and Kitsuchi from Iwagakure. And Orochimaru is in charge of our…specialized forces. That leaves a sizable chunk of shinobi to be cared for by another commander. You're a veteran of the last Shinobi World War. You were the student of Kenji Akiko, personal friend of the Yellow Flash, and a member of his specialized squad. Though you're not the leader your sister was-,"

"Shut up," Higure snapped angrily. The veteran clenched his fists and glared daggers at the Hokage. Danzo simply stared back, his single eye calm and unconcerned. "I retired for a reason! I told you I couldn't serve your warped regime any more!"

"Because of the promise you made to Minato and Kushina, correct?" Higure lunged across the room towards Danzo. The Hokage moved in the blink of an eye. The two men stopped with Danzo holding a knife to Higure's bare forehead. The retired shinobi kept his eyes focused on the Hokage. "I'm not defenseless, you should know that. Just as you should know better than to let that famous temper of yours get the better of you."

"Don't talk to me like you knew what we went through," Higure whispered venomously. "You can't imagine what the lot of us went through! Just because you assigned us to the missions doesn't mean you know a damn thing about what happened!"

"I can't help but notice that you stay here, in Konoha though." Higure's eyes twitched slightly with pain. "You stay here to take care of your little niece don't you? Now I wonder to myself, why would you stay here? To take care of Saiki's daughter, yes of course. But you know Akatsuki exists. You could just run off." Danzo's eye sharpened dangerously. "You knew about Akatsuki before it was formed didn't you? That's how Naruto ended up in their hands isn't it?" Higure's eyes narrowed before he took a step away from the Hokage. Danzo lowered his arm, still holding his knife, as he closed his eye. "Though I can't prove that you for sure gave away the child of Minato or Kushina Uzumaki. Until the Chunin Exams, I couldn't even prove that their child survived, and that the Kyuubi didn't just die inside of Kushina or Minato. I had to take your word for everything that happened that night." Higure's eyes softened, and darkened with pain from the past. Danzo's eye opened up slightly as he studied the veteran before him closely. "Now I know that they did have a child, and that he is the new Jinchuriki of the Nine Tails. But I still can't prove that you gave him away less than a week later…but we both know I don't need much more than a suspicious to act."

Higure's eyes lit up as they snapped to Danzo, "You know I won't go down easily." The Hokage's eye closed as a smile slid over his face.

"But what about your precious niece? She's young, and while she has an impressive name growing for herself, I wonder how hard she'll be to take down." Higure growled furiously and jolted forward. Danzo lifted up his arm but stopped when he realized Higure did. They both knew that the same standstill would happen, and that it would be pointless. "There's a large enough group of shinobi without a commander to lead them. I can put your niece into that category, so I can just throw them all out into the front lines and pull the normal Shadow Tactics."

Higure sneered wickedly, "That worked wonders against Saizo didn't it? How far did he get into the Land of Fire again?" Danzo's eye lit up in fury as he lifted his knife up menacingly to the retired shinobi in front of him. Higure's sneer widened, knowing that the former Mizukage was more than a sore nerve to pluck for Danzo. The Hokage sighed through his nose as his expression returned to its calmed state.

"That's another reason I wish for you to lead the Alliance forces. That final battle, you were one of six heroes who managed to turn the tables, and push the great Saizo Hideyoshi back to the Land of Water. Your reputation alone should be enough to command the forces, so you can't make any excuses about nobody wanting to follow you." Danzo's face darkened as he bored through Higure. "And with your niece as leverage, you can't back out without risking her safety."

The retired shinobi scowled furiously as his body tensed. Danzo stared Higure down, clenching his knife tightly. Higure's entire body hardened, frozen in place to prevent himself from attacking the Hokage.

Higure lowered his head in silence. After a moment his arm shot forward, causing Danzo to step back and ready his knife. However, it proved to be unnecessary as Higure's hand clenched tightly around the headband he threw onto the Hokage's desk. Danzo smirked before his eye traveled up to Higure. The man lifted his head up, a look of defeat and shame on his face.

"You win you old bastard…" Higure turned around and walked towards the door.

The newly instated shinobi walked slowly through the rain as it started to die down, and went towards Konoha's graveyard. He found Saiki and Satoru's tombstones and simply stood over them. The rain came down around him as he stared at his sister's grave in silence. He reached up and looked at the headband in his hand before letting out a sigh.

"I promised you that I'd protect Saiki and your child," he spoke as he turned to Satoru's gravestone. "And I promised you I'd protect Sakura no matter what." Higure turned to his sister's grave. He ran his hand through his soaking wet hair and gave a sad, pitiful laugh as he rested his hand over his face. "But I swore to Minato…and Kushina both that I wouldn't help spread the Wrath of Fire anymore. And…I didn't want Sakura to grow up her life as a rogue ninja." Higure removed his hand from his face. "Was that the right thing to do…? She's your daughter Saiki. What would you have done…? Would we have been better off with Akatsuki?" The only response he got was the rain falling down around him. The shinobi laughed again to himself before shaking his head softly. "You're my younger sister…yet I've always felt lost. As long as I can remember you've always known your path and where you're going. Maybe it was that old bat of a teacher you had." Higure sighed before he sat down on the wet ground, holding himself up on one arm. After a moment he looked up to the sky, the water droplets hitting his face. "I guess I've always known…deep down that I couldn't keep both promises to you two and Naruto's parents as long as we lived in the village. But…I didn't feel like I had the right to remove her from the home that her parents lived in."

Higure lowered his head to the gravestones in front of him, "Was that right of me? Or did I make a mistake? Would you two have wanted to fight for the Will of Fire, like how we said we would? Even if Sakura had to live her life on the run, as a rogue for the rest of her life…would it have been the right choice…to fight for the Will of Fire that Hashirama Senju believed in and laid out for his people to follow and be a criminal to the world…or stay and live in peace while spreading Danzo's darkness across the world. And what if Akatsuki turned out to be nothing more than a pack of criminals anyway?" Higure leaned back, using his other arm for support as he looked back up into the sky. He waited a few seconds in silence before sighing softly. "There were so many questions that went through my head…I didn't know what the right choice was, if there was even a right one to make."

Higure's eyes hardened up into the sky as his tone deepened a bit, "But we all knew that war was never the right choice. The six of us agreed fully on that." Higure closed his eyes and breathed a heavy sigh. "And now because of my choices I've gotten myself and Sakura both involved in this coming war…" Higure rolled his head forward and smiled sadly at Satoru and Saiki. "I promise I'll do my best to keep her safe in the war. And I'm sorry for getting her involved. I'm not sure if you two can hear me in the afterlife…but if you can, tell the others that I'm sorry too…for leading a part in this war…and spreading the Wrath of Fire…"

The newly instated shinobi stood up and continued to smile sadly at his sister and brother-in-law's graves, "I hope you all can forgive me…when I join you one day in the afterlife. That's all I can truly hope for."

Higure pulled the headband up to his forehead and reached behind his head. He tried the headband to his head. As he fastened the knot, he felt his heart weigh heavily in his chest, as if he were a slave again. He gave one last saddened, pleading look to the two gravestones in front of him. After a few moments, he turned around and walked away, heading back towards home.

Yeah, holy shit, I'm not dead right? Sorry for being MIA guys, but I've just been going through a lot recently. Not bad at first, then school started getting hectic, but had a very blissful, radiant bright spot. And my break has been…kind of relaxing I guess. Honestly hanging out with my friends at college was more relaxing than staying at home. Weird right? I'm more relaxed at school than at home. But my holiday season has been…less than jolly. I'm hoping to hear from a lot of you reviewers, and all the positive feedback and junk.

Just as a heads up, I'm going to post one more chapter for Wrath of Fire, then it's done. I'm doing a sequel, yes, no worries there. Oh, also I know the whole order of the wars thing may get confusing…but I had a late breakthrough that was too good for me to pass up. So the upcoming war is the Fourth Shinobi War, and the one led by Saizo Hideyoshi is the Third War. I know, inconsistent and it makes me a terrible author. I promise in the intro to the sequel I'll go into great detail about the Third Shinobi World War. I just couldn't pass up Saizo's character. Plus, has anyone else noticed the Third Kage of every village seems to be a ridiculous badass? Third Hokage=God of Shinobi, Third Raikage=Greatest Raikage and able to fight a Bijuu by himself, Third Kazekage=strongest Kazekage ever, and Third Tsuchikage=Onoki, who is pretty powerful for a man his age. Probably stronger in his prime I'd wager. But yeah, that concept kinda stuck with me and eventually gave birth to Saizo Hideyoshi.

Sorry, done ranting about my brainstorming. Hope everyone out there had happy holidays and I hope you enjoyed the update! =)