So yes, once again my chapter is late. I'm sorry about that. I keep having to deal with crap around the house and in real life, and it's been getting to me a bit, making it harder to get into a writing mood. Hopefully I can start focusing more on this and getting chapters out faster…well, provided I don't sacrifice quality in the process. So let's get going, shall we?

Diehard NaruHina Leaf Ranger: So, what kind of craziness shall we get up to today?

Leaf Ranger: Sadly I might have to keep the craziness down. Got some reviews to reply to, of the anonymous sort. Thankfully no flamers, though I'll admit…one of them could use some tact.

Diehard LeafTayu Leaf Ranger: Really? C'mon, why do you bother with the anonymous reviews?

LR: Because they're either people who were nice enough to review but can't sign in and so I think deserve a response, or they're asshole flamers who I absolutely enjoy exposing their stupidity to other people so we can all laugh at them. Or they offer up constructive criticism and I want to thank them...when they're not lacing their criticism with swearing.

Anyways, to the first anonymous guest…who I'm assuming is the same person that reviewed chapters 7 and 8. Raphael 's purpose was not simply to be a guard, but to give him a chance to see outside of Konoha and further explore this world that he is not only stuck in, but will also need to operate in. This was a reconnaissance mission for him, under the guise of being a guard and advisor to Sarutobi. It would be very hard for him to operate, whether on his own or under orders from Sarutobi, if he doesn't understand the lay of the land with first hand personal knowledge. Please do not simply assume something and then blast me for it without perhaps first asking me. As for your comments for chapter 8…well it's rather late for me, at least in this fanfic, to take that under advisement, but I'll see what I can do in the future.

To the next anonymous guest who reviewed chapter 6. Sadly I did not put that particular team together, though I did do that team up in my Wizard of Kitsune fanfic. So you can give it a look there if you like, perhaps.

Next, the anonymous guest who reviewed chapter 50? Thank you. Glad you enjoyed the chapter.

And to the guest who reviewed chapter 5…pretty crazy world we live in, right? Not sure why you need an adult though.

Now, the guest who reviewed chapter 1 and spammed asking me (and possibly others) to read your story…I found no story to read at the link you sent.

And to the other anonymous reviewer who reviewed chapter 50, thank you. Life has been…alright, other than the craziness affecting our world. With regards to Tayuya, we shall see.

To the anonymous guest who reviewed chapter 2…how was my fanfic ruined? Hmmm? Please enlighten me 'oh wise one'?

Elroth: Well, that was an eclectic group of anonymous reviews.

LR: Indeed. But like I said, there were no flamers thankfully. Though the last one there was bordering on the edge I think. *shrugs* So with that out of the way, we can get to the chapter. And hey, nothing chaotic happened. So that's good.

Arashen: Well with RagingStar19 gone, it's kind of become quieter around here, so- *loud crash is heard from the border between the Mass Effect and Beast Wars sections of the Ranger Lair*

LR: You forgot about the crocodile Predacon and the krogan, didn't you?

Arashen: …maybe…

LR: Let's just get going…

Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto or Assassin's Creed. They are the respective properties of Masashi Kishimoto and Ubisoft. This is a non-profit work of fan-made fiction. Please support the official releases.

Chapter 51

New Developments

It was another sunny, beautiful day in Konoha. While the village was still conducting repairs and some people were still in mourning over those who had fallen in battle against the shinobi of Suna and Oto, a measure of normalcy had returned to the village. There was still a tense undercurrent as many still had the invasion in the back of their minds, but they were finally beginning to be able to return to their everyday routines.

For Raphael, however, the day was proving to be an interesting one. He had read through everything left for him by Anko, and was now on his way to the location she had asked him to visit. As he walked through the streets of Konoha, heading towards one of the outer areas of the urban portion of the village, he couldn't help but grimace as he felt somewhat restricted in his current attire. Rather than his assassin robes or the more comfortable clothing he had found for 'off-duty' hours, he was dressed in a more formal kimono and hakama. Something that had been included in a storage seal within the scroll Anko had given him.

As he paused to try and subtly adjust his clothes, he couldn't help but wonder exactly what his girlfriend was up to. After what he had read, he was curious why exactly she seemed…hesitant and embarrassed when she had visited him the previous day. He didn't see any reason she should be but ultimately decided he would do his best not to cause a fuss or ruin things, since this seemed rather important to her.

Finished with his adjustments, he continued onwards, soon reaching the general area of his destination. He was outside the urban area and past the suburban-esque portion of the village, where some of the clan compounds and artisans who required more open spaces were located. Out here there were a number of training grounds used by the shinobi, as well as some park-like areas built for recreational use. Raphael entered one of the latter, passing by a group of trees into a carefully tended garden area.

Almost as soon as he entered, a non-descript woman in a kimono came towards him, bowing to him. He bowed in return, and she silently gestured for him to follow her. The two moved slowly through the garden park, surrounded only by the whisper of a light breeze through the plants and trees, and the soft babble of a small brook that flowed to a carefully maintained pond. The only other sounds were the occasional melody of a bird or the soft splash of a fish momentarily breaking the surface of the pond.

In a few moments, the woman had led him to an expanse of grass, upon which was laid out a blanket. Next to said blanket was a brazier with a kettle resting on it. On the blanket was a small table upon which rested the implements required for the tea ceremony Anko had invited him to. The guide, however, directed him to wait before moving off to the side. After a few moments, Anko stepped into view from behind a tree. And Raphael felt his breath catch when he saw her.

Anko was clad in a feminine kimono, one of tan and orange colors. Her face was adorned with light makeup, not a substantial amount, but considering how often he saw her without makeup, it was quite noticeable. Her hair was also not in its usual short spiky ponytail, but had instead been tamed into a small bun at the back of her head.

Her expression also caught him off guard as well. Instead of her usual cocky grin or a flirtatious smile, there was a soft, serene expression. It was like looking at an entirely different person.

Anko slowly approached and bowed to him, and he returned said bow, doing his best to remember the procedures he had read in the scroll she had given him. It wasn't easy considering that part of his mind was still fixated on the difference in her appearance and her mannerisms. No words were spoken as she gently indicated a stone basin nearby, with Raphael moving to it to wash his hands and rinse out his mouth. From there, he joined her on the blanket, removing his sandals and kneeling on it opposite of her with the table between them. (1)

"Thank you for coming," she said, bowing once again to him, with him returning the bow.

"I am honored to be here," he replied, slowly righting himself as Anko did the same.

There was silence between them after that as Anko began the tea ceremony. Raphael watched quietly, the only noises being the faint breeze through trees, the quiet crackle from the brazier as the fire within burned, and the faintest rustle of Anko's kimono as she moved, quietly retrieving and plating a daifuku, a soft rice cake ball wrapped around a filling. She quietly bowed as she served him the plate, which he accepted, setting it before him and retrieving the kaishi, the unique paper napkin meant to hold the sweet, from the pocket inside his kimono. He quietly ate it as he watched Anko move with those same practiced movements, now preparing him a small drinking saucer of sake as he finished the daifuku. With yet another bow, she presented it to him, with him bowing and accepting it, slowly drinking it.

As he finished, Anko began the slow, ritualistic process of cleansing the utensils. Raphael was entranced by the slow, careful movements, seeing how naturally they seemd to come to Anko. There was no look of focused concentration on her face, no tension in her hands or arms as she worked. There was simply that same serene look from the start as she finished cleansing each item and setting them down again. And then the tea preparation began.

Anko carefully ladled the green tea powder into the tea bowl, gently grinding it down a bit to ensure it was not clumped up, before retrieving the kettle from the brazier and slowly pouring in the water. She then picked up the chasen, the small bamboo whisk that she started to stir the tea with, ensuring the green tea powder completely dissolved into the simmering water. Once the tea was mixed, she set aside the whisk and gave bowl's rim one final, careful wipe with the cloth from earlier. She then held it out to him with a bow.

Carefully taking it while returning her bow, he raised it to her before slowly rotating it and taking his first sip. As the tea ran over his tongue, he was surprised at how much…richer it seemed to taste compared to other green teas he had drunk before. Was it because this one had been prepared specifically for him, with such care and devotion put into it? Was it the atmosphere, the sense of peace and tranquility, which caused him to appreciate the flavor more? All he knew was that there was something…more about this cup of tea.

When he eventually finished it, he slowly lowered the bowl. He carefully rotated it, presenting it back to her as she carefully took it. He watched as she cleaned each utensil again, before speaking up when she finished. "Will you honor me by letting me inspect them?" He asked, continuing to follow the formal procedures of the tea ceremony.

"Of course," she said with a bow, allowing him to pick up each utensil carefully. This was all part of the tea ceremony, as he had read in the scroll, a way to show honor and respect to the host. But he also wanted to do so, as he carefully held each piece of equipment, seeing the care put into cleaning and maintaining them. He could see how much this meant to her, not just from the effort Anko put into making and serving the tea but also from the care of her utensils.

As he finished, he returned the last utensil to her, and the pair bowed, ending the ceremony. They both stood and donned their sandals before Anko escorted him a short distance away, where the non-descript woman stood. "Thank you," Anko said with a final bow as the woman began to lead him away.

Near the park entrance, the woman stopped him. "Please wait here. She'll be along shortly," the woman said before disappearing in a cloud of smoke, revealing that it had been a shadow clone this whole time. Raphael did as requested, waiting several minutes until he saw Anko approaching, quietly tucking a scroll into the sleeves of her kimono. She paused as she saw him, showing for the first time a sense of hesitancy and emotion before approaching him.

He smiled at her as she approached. "That was…quite something," he said to her as she stood before him. "I was honestly quite surprised…but I greatly enjoyed it."

Anko glanced down a bit, looking almost embarrassed. "I…don't usually do that for most people," she finally admitted after a few moments, her voice quiet. "Most everyone is so used to…well, the other me. The cocky loud mouth flirt. I'm usually…scared to show this side of me."

"Is that why you were so nervous when you asked me to meet you here?" The assassin asked her, gently touching her chin and causing her to look up at him. "Did you think I wouldn't like this?"

"It's stupid, I know," Anko blurted out, her fears getting the better of her. "It's not like I suddenly am admitting I'm into really kinky sex, or that I like both guys and girls, or I'm actually a bloodthirsty sadist or anything. But still…I felt…nervous sharing something so personal and so…opposite of who I usually am. I was scared of what you might think," she admitted.

Raphael's response was to pull her into a gentle and comforting hug, causing her to slump against him, feeling warmth and comfort from his arms around her as her head rested against his chest. He just held her like that for a few moments before finally speaking. "I'm sorry that you ended up feeling that way. And I'm grateful that you wanted to share this part of yourself with me. This was…quite an experience," he told her, making her look up at him again. "I'm happy to learn about another part of you. And that you care about me enough to want to share something so special with me."

She just blushed and buried her head against his chest again. "…I feel like such an idiot now," she murmured, even as she hugged him back. "Like I got worked up for nothing."

He chuckled and held her close, giving her a few moments to compose herself. When she finally pulled away, he just gave her another smile. "If I may ask, what made you interested in these…tea ceremonies?" He asked her as he offered her his arm, and she accepted it, the two now walking away from the park.

"It was not that long after…well after HE betrayed me," Anko said, looking down slightly while Raphael frowned, knowing she was referring to her treacherous former sensei. "I had to take part in one during an undercover mission. I found myself…enjoying the peace and serenity that was part of the ceremony. That one was even more formal and took a lot longer than this one did. But I felt relaxed for the first time in a long while. So, I began looking into them, learning how to host them. And the more I did, the more I enjoyed it. The calm focus and attention to every detail, all in an atmosphere that seems to be meant to invoke an aura of tranquility and spiritual cleansing…in a way, I think it's partly responsible for helping me at least somewhat get over what happened to me. But I was also so nervous and scared about sharing this side of me with anyone because...I…."

Raphael paused as he heard the hitch in her voice, the tone of uncertainty as she slowed down. She glanced down at the road before finally speaking again. "I was scared of being vulnerable again. Of leaving myself open to being hurt, like I was after his betrayal."

"What made you willing to let me know about this?" Raphael asked her, facing her as she looked up at him.

"…because I realized that I was willing to be vulnerable around you," she quietly said. "You nearly died to protect me…you saved my life. And I realized while we were in the hospital that I trust you. Not just as a comrade or a leader or even a friend…I trust you completely; in a way I only felt when I was Orochimaru's student and I believed I could utterly trust him. After his betrayal I didn't think I could feel that way again, but…I feel that way even more with you than I ever did with him."

Her brown eyes had watered a bit as she said this, her voice hitching at the end. Raphael took it all in, seeing her standing there, hearing the emotion in her voice, and seeing the vulnerability in her posture. He slowly leaned in and kissed her on the lips, pulling her against him as she returned the kiss, leaning into him as she gripped his kimono.

This kiss was different from the others they had shared. The others had been more driven by attraction or even lust, often meant to stoke the fires of their desire for each other. This kiss was completely different. As Anko felt his lips meet hers, as she felt herself pressing against him, she felt something different. A want, a need, to be claimed and to claim him in return. A desire to be with him for the rest of time and a fearful hope that he wanted the same with her. She felt so vulnerable, yet as she pressed against him, continuing the kiss and feeling his arms wrap around her, she also had never felt safer.

She looked up at him through teary eyes as they broke for air. He smiled back at her, a soft, tender smile that filled her with happiness.

Raphael, unknowingly, had felt the same thing Anko had as well. As he had watched this woman bare this hidden part of her soul to him, this part of her filled with fear and pain, but also heard her words about the trust she had in him, he had begun to realize how much he felt the same way with her. About how much he trusted her…how much he wanted to be with her. How much he wanted her to be happy. And in that kiss, he was beginning to understand his feelings for her. He didn't just lust after her. He had been willing to die for her. He had put himself in the way of an attack meant for her. But what's more, was how she had also fought to protect and nearly died for him.

He looked down at her, seeing her lips parted as she breathed heavily, her cheeks flushed. He imagined he was much the same as he gently wiped a few tears from her face with his thumb. "…I feel the same for you, Anko," he finally said.

Neither of them knew if they could say they loved the other. They had been friends and comrades for years, and there had been an attraction between them for some time the past year or two. But they had only been dating a month, and while both knew that they felt more than lust or desire for each other, they were unsure if they could call it love. But they knew they felt something compelling for the other.

Anko trembled a bit and leaned against him, snuggling against him. "…can we go back to your place?" She finally said. "I just…I want to be with you…someplace quiet, where we won't be disturbed," she finally said.

Raphael nodded as he held her close. "As you wish," he whispered to her, holding her close. Yet the two remained there for a few moments longer, simply enjoying this moment of closeness.

Elsewhere, Naruto opened the door to Ganzo's shop with an excited smile. Earlier that day, a message had arrived at his apartment from Ganzo, letting him know that the special project the two of them had been working on was ready. He was eager to see it in action if it lived up to everything he had envisioned.

Ganzo was busy sketching something when Naruto entered. The blacksmith looked up, grinning. "Well, well, glad you got my message. Always a pleasure to see one of my favorite customers," he said, pushing the sketch aside. "I think I finally fixed all the kinks in the prototype. I've got it set up in the back to test out, and if everything works, then it should be ready to present to Raphael-san."

Naruto nodded as he eagerly moved forward. "That's great to hear! So you finally figured out how to solve the connection problem?"

Ganzo nodded as they moved into the back area, where Ganzo had both his forging and testing site for some of his weapons, armor, and other creations. "I think I've solved it. So far, I haven't had any problems testing it out. All that leaves is a final test and assessment from you and Raphael-san."

Naruto watched as the man moved to a workbench, where a hidden blade bracer was laid out. Ever since Raphael had shown Ganzo the hidden blade bracers to order the components, the blacksmith had made his own 'experimentation' bracer to test out new potential devices or upgrades for the assassins. Right now, this one had a slightly thicker hidden blade mechanism attached to it. Not enough to be noticeable to anyone else, but enough for Naruto to see the difference. He felt his excitement grow as Ganzo held it up to him.

"Are you ready?" He asked. Naruto nodded, eagerly undoing his left bracer to try on the experimental one.

Half an hour later, Naruto grinned as he paid Ganzo for the prototype. "Thanks again, Ganzo-san. If Raphael-sensei likes it as much as I do, we might need more of them."

"No doubt about that. It should come in handy," the blacksmith replied, smiling with the satisfaction that the prototype had worked perfectly. "Can you also give this to Raphael-san? It's a delivery he ordered before the Finals, and they only arrived the other day. Haven't had a chance to bring them to him," Ganzo added, holding out a somewhat bulky package to Naruto.

The young assassin took it with a nod. "Sure. I'll give it to him as soon as I see him. Thanks again, Ganzo-san!" He said as he left with the package and his prototype in hand.

As soon as he was outside, Naruto made an immediate beeline for the warehouse hideout. Since Hinata had told him Anko had something important planned with Raphael, he figured he'd drop off the package at the warehouse with a note. And then wait for the next day to show off the prototype. It had been something he had been contemplating since the later years of the Academy, and he had shared the idea with Ganzo sometime after the mission to Nami. Now that it was finally ready, he was excited to show it off to the others. However, he was also worried that Raphael might disapprove of it. He didn't think this was the case, as anything that could give them an edge in their assassinations would be helpful, but a small part of him still worried that maybe it wouldn't fit, or it'd go against something connected to the Brotherhood he didn't know about yet.

Still, he pushed those fears aside and focused on how eager he was to show off what he hoped would become an asset to the Brotherhood.

Konoha Gates

"T-That's Konoha?" Fuu asked as she stared at the massive village wall and gates in awe. Taki had been a small village hidden with a naturally formed sanctuary made by cave walls and trees, creating scenery of natural beauty for the town. But it paled in comparison to the grand sight before her. A massive wall surrounded the village, so high that she had to crane her head back to see the top of it from where she stood. With the gate open, she could easily take in the massive wooden doors, each roughly as thick as a broad-shouldered man. But through the gate was what had caught her attention. The sight of the massive village, filled with more buildings than she had ever seen in her lifetime. She could hear the distant din of people going about their daily lives, while ninja could occasionally be seen darting along the rooftops. And in the distance was an enormous mountain with four massive stone faces gazing over the village.

"Who are they?" She asked, her voice in awe as she pointed at the mountain her orange eyes were fixated on.

Yugito smiled as she moved next to her fellow jinchuuriki. "That is the Hokage Monument, and those are the Hokage who founded, led, and watched over this village," she answered. "Hashirama Senju, Tobirama Senju, Hiruzen Sarutobi, and Minato Namikaze."

"I-I see," Fuu said, her gaze roaming over it before returning to the village. "There must be so many people here."

"There are. Though, to be fair, I think we might actually be only the third largest village in terms of population," Asuma said as he joined them. "Last I heard, Iwa and Kumo both had greater populations. And after the recent invasion…well..." his voice trailed off as he eyed some of the still visible damage from the battle. It wasn't as bad as it was then, but there were still hints here and there of what had happened.

Jiraiya, ahead of them, signaled them with a wave of his hand. "Less chit-chat. We need to see Hokage-sama quickly and inform him of what went down. Fuu-san, please stay close to me, okay?" He called out as he led them through the gates, with Fuu nodding while quickly pulling up the hood of the cloak she had been given. The group was stopped momentarily by a single chuunin gate guard. However, unlike regular times there were considerably more shinobi on guard at the gate, going up from the usual two or four to ten. The one who stopped them looked over the group, his eyes stopping on the hooded Fuu.

"Jiraiya-sama, welcome back," he said, looking back to the member of the Sannin. "Identification, please."

The Konoha shinobi quickly handed him their IDs, with Jiraiya adding an extra piece of paper. "Mission statement from Hokage-sama that we were to escort a VIP directly to him," he stated, nodding to Fuu as the chuunin glanced at her, then back down at the IDs and paper. After a few moments, he nodded and handed them all back.

"You're cleared," he said, stepping away and allowing the group to pass by. A pair of ANBU stationed nearby began to trail them discreetly, as an added security measure.

Despite having been briefed earlier that she needed to keep a low profile, Fuu couldn't help but look around and take in the sights of the village. She could now get a much better view of the buildings themselves. Most of them seemed to house various shops selling goods meant for tourists and locals. There were small shops selling various foods that were easy to eat on the go, and others were selling trinkets and miscellaneous things. It was a far cry from Taki, with its small size and population. Taki would have a few stands selling foods and goods and small-time craftsmen plying their trades. Here, there were so many shops selling so many things. And there were more people as well. She moved to the side as some kids ran by, laughing and playing after being cooped up in their homes for days or weeks as the rebuilding took place. Men and women moved from shop to shop, some window shopping while others purposefully strolled towards their intended destinations.

Eventually, the business morphed into a marketplace geared more towards the local populace or large-scale business. Fuu found herself stopping in amazement, seeing the number of people there. This market area alone seemed to be almost half as big as Taki had been, and it was only a portion of Konoha itself. It left her quite amazed as she had never seen anything like it, having been kept near Taki for most of her life thus far.

A gentle nudge in her side brought her back to reality as Yugito gently ushered her along. The former Taki jinchuuriki nodded as they quickly made their way through the village.

Yet they did not head for the Hokage's Tower. Instead, Jiraiya took them towards the ANBU headquarters. Fuu hesitated at that until Jiraiya reassured her. "It's for security measures. We need to make sure as few people know you're here as possible," he told her quietly.

Fuu nodded but still fidgeted nervously as she was escorted into the building and past several masked figures who silently watched them. Jiraiya led them into what looked like a meeting room, where they found Sarutobi waiting for them.

"Mission accomplished, Hokage-sama," Jiraiya said as he quickly stepped forward. "We recovered Fuu, who was being pursued by two members of Akatsuki. We were able to avoid an altercation with them, but they, unfortunately, were able to identify Yugito-san, so they know she was present on the mission."

The aged Hokage nodded quietly as his eyes went to Yugito, seeing the grimace on the blonde's face. "I see. Still, I'm glad to see the mission was a success," he said, turning his eyes to Fuu. "And you must be Fuu-san?"

She slowly stepped forward, lowering her hood. "Y-Yes, Hokage-sama. I'm Fuu," she said nervously as she bowed. Yet she couldn't take her eyes off of him as she did so. Just from his appearance, he didn't look like much more than a very old man, one more at home napping by the fireplace or telling his grandchildren stories about his youth. Yet she knew this was not someone to be trifled with. Even if she hadn't known him by reputation, she could still sense the power coming off of him.

Shaking herself from her thoughts, she quickly continued. "I-I humbly ask for a-asylum here in Konoha, as I was betrayed by members of my village."

Sarutobi nodded as he snapped his fingers, and an ANBU appeared, presenting him with a scroll, brush, and ink. "Please give me all the details about this betrayal," he said, preparing to write. It was merely a formality, as he already knew everything from the scroll he had received from Taki, but they had to play their part in making it seem like this was a coincidence and not planned.

Fuu quickly began to rattle off the details. Her voice edged with her nervousness as she shared the 'truth' with him. She had been briefed on the way to Konoha that she would need to give an altered version of how she found out about this betrayal to sell the idea that Shibuki and Konoha hadn't planned for this and that it was simply a coincidence that she had run into Konoha shinobi. And so, she told Sarutobi the edited version of what happened, with him writing it down.

"I see. Thank you, Fuu-san. For now, you'll be granted temporary asylum within Konoha until it is decided whether we can grant you full asylum or not. You'll be placed in a safe location, under guard. Please do not attempt to leave that location until directed otherwise," Sarutobi said officially as he finished writing down the details before giving her a tired grandfatherly smile. "I am thankful we were able to rescue you in time, my dear. Welcome to Konoha."

Fuu nodded before looking at the others. "H-Hokage-sama...w-will any of them be guarding me?" She asked, looking back at him. She would admit that as it stood right now, she was somewhat nervous about trusting anyone apart from those who had been escorting her to Konoha.

"I'm afraid that Yugito-san, Asuma-san, and Jiraiya-san won't be able to guard you at this time. They have duties they must return to. However, Karasu and Neko can be assigned to continue guarding you if you wish," Sarutobi said, indicating the two ANBU who had been silently standing at the back of the group.

Fuu glanced at them, hesitating. During the trip, she had talked with the Konoha shinobi, but the two masked ANBU had remained quiet and aloof. She'd rather have any of the others, especially Yugito. But at the same time, they had their duties. She finally nodded. "T-Thank you, Hokage-sama. I'm sorry to be a bother," she said, bowing once more.

"It is no trouble, my dear. I will see to it that they each take shifts as part of your guard detail," he told her with a smile. "Now, let us get you to your safe house. I'm sure you could use a nice long rest in bed and a warm meal."

Fuu bowed again at that, as Sarutobi snapped his finger and the ANBU from before reappeared. "Please take Fuu-san and Neko to safe house seventeen. Then return and begin drafting a guard rotation for her. Neko, please ensure she is properly instructed on the safety protocols."

Neko bowed before leaving with Fuu and the ANBU, leaving behind the others. Sarutobi let out a tired sigh, slumping in his chair as he removed the Hokage hat from his head so that he could rub his forehead. It was very easy to see the mental wear and tear weighing down on the older man, both from his posture and how tired his voice sounded. "We will need to be careful. Shibuki will need to play the part of an outraged leader, and I'm sure Iwa or Kumo, if not both, will attempt to use this in some way against us. And if it's not them, it'll be Danzou wanting to get his hands on Fuu. He's already fuming over my denial of letting him train Naruto or yourself, Yugito-san," he said, eyes closed.

"Tell me what you need, and I'll do it, Hokage-sama," Yugito said, bowing. "Fuu is my kin, like Naruto. And like him, I'll do whatever is in my power to help and protect her."

Sarutobi gave her a small smile. "I appreciate the offer, Yugito-san. In truth, if it weren't for the fact that it might cause too many problems, I'd ask you to enlist our friends 'aid' in handling Danzou. As it is now, be ready when we finalize asylum procedures for Fuu-san," he said, sitting up. "Jiraiya, I want you back out there as soon as possible. Get a read on the Akatsuki; see if you can't determine what their next move will be, or find out more about their members. The more we learn, the better prepared we can be to remove them from play. As for the rest of you, that will be all. Remember, what has happened here is an S-ranked secret. You cannot inform anyone of what happened until directed otherwise."

The remaining members of the Fuu recovery group nodded before leaving as Sarutobi let out another tired sigh, relieved that soon all this would be behind him. Tsunade had told him about her intention to become the next Hokage, so as soon as he finished a few loose ends, he'd be able to hand the reigns to her and finally settle down, to spend his remaining years quietly with his family.

'Until then, duty calls,' he thought tiredly as he stood up, heading back to his office.

Unknown Location

Within a dark room, a series of shadows appeared. Most of them were human in appearance, except one that looked like a hunched squat figure, while another seemed to have strange growths surrounding his head. But little could be used to identify these figures aside from their eyes, the only things visible amongst the shadows that made up their forms.

"Kakuzu, Hidan, report," one of the figures spoke in a masculine, monotone voice. He had spiky hair and purple eyes, with the pupils of the eyes being surrounded by rings.

One of the other shadows, bearing a similar resemblance to Kakuzu, spoke. "Our mission was a failure. Somehow the jinchuuriki managed to escape her escort and was found by a group of Konoha shinobi. We would have attacked and taken her, but Jiraiya of the sannin was leading them. Not to mention that the Nibi jinchuuriki was with them as well."

There was some shifting among some of them at this news while one of the other figures glanced at the purpled-eyed shadow, their own hazel eyes narrowing slightly at the mention of Jiraiya. The purple-eyed shadow ignored them, focusing on Kakuzu. "I am disappointed. You should have sought to acquire both," he said, his voice not seeming to leave the monotone despite claiming disappointment.

"I would have if Kakuzu hadn't been a fucking bitch," the shadow next to Kakuzu spoke, his swearing quickly identifying him as Hidan. "I could have easily taken that fucking cat. no problem."

"Then you're as much of an idiot as you are vulgar," another spoke up, drawing Hidan's glare and finding himself staring into a pair of Sharingan eyes. "Jiraiya alone would have been a challenge, but Yugito Nii is no pushover. She is far more skilled than the Taki jinchuuriki."

"And what's your excuse, Itachi-san, uh?" Another figure with a long ponytail and only a single visible eye. "Your target wasn't much better than theirs, and he still got away. Maybe you ain't all you're cracked up to be, uh."

Itachi made no response or sign of reaction, but the tall figure next to him chuckled softly. "The kid wasn't that bad. He gave me a nice little memento," the shadow, Kisame, said as he reached up to touch his cheek. "Give him a few more years; he might be worth a damn."

"Enough," the first figure, Pein, said. "We must deal with this situation. Konoha now holds three of the jinchuuriki while successfully thwarting two of our attempts. We will need to rectify this situation."

The figure next to him, the one with hazel eyes, spoke up in a feminine voice. "We could try to incite Kumo and Iwa to act against Konoha. Both villages hold animosity towards Konoha for differing reasons. Konoha now having three jinchuuriki in their possession would most likely cause worry and unrest in those villages. And considering that those three are all the strongest villages, having them engage in conflict would certainly help our cause by weakening them."

Pein nodded. "Agreement. We'll begin directing our agents to spread rumors to Iwa and Kumo about Konoha possibly building up its forces to invade them. It will hopefully cause them to launch pre-emptive strikes against Konoha, or at the very least attempt to force Konoha to give up some of the jinchuuriki they now have, making it easier for us to acquire them. Perhaps we could also send false reports to Konoha to get them to act against the other two."

"Possible, but unlikely," Itachi replied. "Konoha will act to defend itself, but they will attempt diplomacy before anything else. If there is an aggressor, it'll be one of the other villages."

"Very well. In the meantime, we will wait and watch. If a chance arises to seize any of the jinchuuriki and their Biju, we will take it. But considering how much we have gained Konoha's attention, we must be discrete for now. Return to your missions," Pein ordered, dismissing them all. The various shadows flickered and disappeared, leaving the room silent and still.

Assassin Warehouse, Konoha

"Sooo…you seem to have had a good time yesterday, nee-chan," Hinata said with a grin, sitting in one of the chairs in the office area of the warehouse. The lavender-eyed girl watcher her guardian, sensei, and older sister figure with a mixture of happiness and amusement, as Anko had seemingly been on cloud nine since the previous day and her date with Raphael.

Hinata had been a bit surprised at how worried Anko had seemed beforehand, before the genin had gone off to do some training. Anko had returned by the time she had finished her training, leaving Hinata to wait and wonder what had been going through Anko's mind. Yet that worry had disappeared when Anko finally did return home in the early evening, the biggest smile on her face as she seemed to almost float into the living room.

Since that point, nothing had seemed to dampen the jounin's mood. Not even the teasing or probing questions from Hinata.

Even now, Anko just smiled at Hinata. "Laugh all you want now, Hinata. Just wait till it's you and Naruto," she said, her smile changing to a smirk at the sudden flustered look on Hinata's face. She just grinned as she sat back, closing her eyes as she relived yesterday once again in her memories, even as she felt her heart start to beat a bit faster, remembering the walk afterwards, retiring to his apartment for some privacy and what had followed. They hadn't progressed beyond cuddling and making out, though Anko probably would have been fine if things had become very…physical. But it still did not lessen anything that happened yesterday. Somehow, the admittance of her softer side and his acceptance of it had made it all feel so much…more. She really couldn't describe it; everything had just felt more than it ever had before. The feel of his lips on hers, the warmth from pressing against him, and the tingling sensations caused by his touch all felt more powerful in ways she couldn't really describe.

She let out a small dream-filled sigh, opening her eyes to see Yugito standing there now, a very knowing grin on her face. Yet the jinchuuriki of the Nibi said nothing beyond giving Anko a wink as she sat down as well. If one person could probably understand what Anko was feeling and thinking, it was Yugito, given her own relationship with Iruka.

"I think perhaps we should go get some dango after our meeting today," Yugito said with a knowing grin to Anko. A signal that she wanted some girl talk and details from the purple-haired woman.

"Maybe, kitty-chan. Maybe. Depends on if anything comes up in my schedule," Anko responded, her attention eventually being drawn towards the door as it opened.

Kiseki, Naruto, and Raphael all soon entered, Raphael carrying the package Naruto had received yesterday. He paused for a moment as his face lit up with happiness when he saw Anko, whose own face did the same. Of course, both quickly remembered they were surrounded by others, pushing aside their joy for the moment. "Greetings, everyone. Sorry for calling another meeting so soon, but some things have popped up. One of which is this," he said, indicating the package that he now set on his desk. "I'll be going over that before turning things over to Naruto, who has something he wishes to share with us."

Everyone glanced at Naruto, who looked a bit nervous and embarrassed for a moment as he sat next to Hinata. Yet their attention was pulled back to Raphael as he began to open the package. "An idea struck me while we were in Nami no Kuni, and I requested Ganzo-san purchase a set of items for us that I think will be beneficial to us in future missions," he said, soon pulling out a blank mask. It was similar to the ones used by the ANBU, except for the fact that it was completely featureless.

Everyone leaned forward at that in sudden interest and understanding. "You're going with the mask idea you mentioned?" Anko asked, remembering him contemplating it while looking at one of the festival masks during the celebration in Nami.

"Indeed. Ganzo-san was able to purchase several blank porcelain masks like the ones utilized by many of the ANBU or other elite shinobi in the various villages," Raphael explained. "As they are right now, they are usable. However, each of us should be able to add our own unique identity to them. Ganzo-san told me that he could easily alter each mask to its wearer's specifications. For instance," he added with a smile, pulling out another mask. Unlike the previous one, this mask was altered to resemble an eagle head, with a short protruding hooked beak. The mask was a dull grey in color with muted scarlet and black trim and the Assassin emblem on the forehead. Raphael placed it on his face, channeling a small amount of chakra into it to cause it to stick in place. "And there we go," he said, his voice slightly muffled as he pulled his hood up, shadowing the mask with it.

"Not bad," Kiseki said as she took in his appearance overall. "Why the eagle, though?"

Raphael channeled his chakra into the mask again, removing it. "The eagle is something of a symbol for the Brotherhood," he said as he set the mask onto his desk. "A few hundred years before my time, members of the Brotherhood would dip an eagle feather into the blood of their targets to signify a successful kill. It is said to tie into some traditions of our founders, though no one is quite sure. There's also the fact that a few members of the Brotherhood were gifted with seemingly supernatural senses, similar in a way to the bloodline abilities of some shinobi clans. Somehow, their senses were so much keener than that of a normal person that it gave them an almost supernatural ability to detect enemies, targets, allies, and even hidden secrets. Not everyone could do this, but those who could were taught how to use it in the field. This special ability was called Eagle Vision. I figured it only made sense that I should wear an eagle mask as the head of the Brotherhood here in the Elemental Nations."

He turned, removing the other masks. "The rest of you are free to have yours customized however you want. As I said, Ganzo-san knows how to alter them, so feel free to take them to him with your chosen designs."

Each of them stepped up, taking their masks while noticing that there were still several blank copies within the package. As they looked over their blank masks, each began to consider what design they would like. However, they were drawn from their thoughts by Raphael speaking again. "Now, I believe Naruto also had some business for us today?" He asked, sitting behind the desk.

Naruto nodded, nervously setting the blank porcelain mask on the chair. "…I…I have a new possible weapon for us," he said, taking a deep breath as he tried to calm his nerves. "During the academy, I started to have an idea for a new possible addition to the hidden blade bracer. I talked to Ganzo-san about it, and he managed to finally create a working prototype of my idea. And yesterday…well, we finally tested it," he said as he held out his left arm, showing the hidden blade mechanism on the underside of his bracer.

The mechanism now was slightly more bulky, as an attachment had been added over the normal hidden blade mechanism. Right below the wrist was a small circular disc with two dark wooden arms running down the length of the mechanism on either side of a flat piece of metal. Laying on this flat piece was a thin flat metal rod, running under the flat disc at the front of the mechanism.

Naruto reached up to the rear of this addition and pulled back on a handle. And in an instant, the two wooden arms sprang forward, drawing a string connected to them taut and revealing the device to be a miniature crossbow mounted to the underside of his bracer.

"I call it the Phantom Blade," Naruto said nervously as he held his arm still, allowing them all to examine it. "It's basically like the poison dart but instantly lethal." Carefully he maneuvered past them to the training area, quickly aiming at one of the training dummies. With the same movement made to trigger his hidden blade, he fired.

There was the faintest 'thwip' as the miniature crossbow fired, and a slight hiss through the air as the dummy jerked from impact. All of them barely caught sight of the small metal dart sticking out of the dummy's neck as Naruto pushed the switch back in, the arms of the launcher folding quickly back into place. He looked to the others nervously, waiting to see what they said. (2)

There was silence for a few moments until one of them spoke up. "Well, that was pretty cool," Anko said, getting up to pull the bolt from the dummy's neck and look it over. It was a simple metal rod; one end sharpened to a point. It wasn't that far from a senbon in design, but somewhat longer, thicker, and heavier, with only a single point. She handed it back to Naruto as the others gathered around him.

"It certainly is an interesting device. May I?" Raphael asked. Naruto very quickly undid the bracer and handed it to Raphael, who began to scrutinize addition. "What made you think of it?"

" was your hidden pistol and my crossbow," he said, removing his crossbow from its back holster and watching the bow arms snap into place. "You told us about the hidden pistol and how you didn't think you could recreate it here. And since I wasn't thinking about using the poison dart launcher, I thought perhaps I could try to create something that was a quieter version of your hidden pistol. The poison dart launcher doesn't have the power to deliver a killing blow with its projectile alone, so it wouldn't work for that. And then, when training with my crossbow, I started getting the idea for the Phantom Blade there."

Raphael pulled on the switch to extend it again as Naruto continued. "I also was thinking about how it could be a good, discrete ranged killing method. The poison darts can take a bit too long if you're trying to kill quickly, while throwing knives can require too much movement and draw too much attention. The crossbow isn't stealthy at close ranges and can be a bit awkward to use in confined areas. This eliminates a lot of those problems. It doesn't have the range or power of a normal crossbow, but it's quieter. And it'll kill a target more quickly than slower acting poisons while drawing less attention than faster acting poisons. All without the movements needed with a throwing knife or shuriken that can draw attention to you."

Raphael nodded as he inspected it in its deployed form, watching Naruto pull a small side lever to draw the nocking mechanism and bowstring back before sliding the bolt in to reload it. He pushed the switch back in to retract it before handing the bracer back to Naruto. "I am impressed. Though why did you not come forward with the idea earlier?" He asked curiously.

Naruto shuffled his feet, looking down. "…I…was nervous that it wouldn't work, or you'd think it was a dumb idea," he admitted. "So I wanted to see if the idea could work before I brought it up."

Raphael just blinked before crouching in front of Naruto "I can understand the first part there, but I wouldn't have done that, Naruto. I admit I would have rejected the idea if I thought it wouldn't be worth it, but only after considering it. I wouldn't have just rejected it out of hand."

Naruto glanced up, looking sheepish. "I just wanted to impress you with an idea that could be helpful."

Raphael sighed and smiled as he gently reached out, ruffling Naruto's hair. "You don't need to impress me, Naruto. You've already proven yourself to me so far. And this," he said as he tapped the bracer with the Phantom Blade equipped to it, "is an impressive and possibly quite useful tool. I'd like for you to talk to Ganzo-san about manufacturing some more of these attachments."

"I think I'd like to try it out," Hinata said. "I imagine it'd be quite a surprise in the middle of a figh, or very effective for dealing with someone in hallways or narrow areas."

"Agreement. I'd like to try it out as well," Kiseki chimed in, causing Naruto to blush a bit at their words, even as he felt happiness over their approval and enthusiasm for his idea.

"Easy there, everyone. We'll get our chances soon enough," Raphael said with a chuckle, standing up. "Once Ganzo-san has made more for us, that is. Good work, Naruto. But feel free to bring forward new ideas in the future. And the same for the rest of you," he said.

Returning to his desk, he set the spare masks to the side. "Now, with that out of the way, does anyone else have anything to add?"

When no one said anything, Raphael nodded and picked up a letter. "Then that will be all for this meeting. Anko-chan, a moment please?" He asked, holding up said letter to her. "When you get a chance, can you have this sent to Ryoushi-san since you were able to contact him about Hinata's training? I wanted to speak to him as soon as possible."

Anko nodded as she took the letter. "You got it," she said, placing the letter in one of her supply pouches, only to yelp when Yugito latched onto her arm.

"So, with this meeting done, I do believe it is time for some girl talk," she said with a grin, grabbing Kiseki as well and dragging both women behind her out of the warehouse, leaving Naruto, Hinata, and Raphael to sweatdrop at their antics.

"…well then," Naruto said, slowly standing only to be stopped by Hinata.

"Naruto-kun…would you like to go get some lunch with me? My treat?" She asked him, her voice slightly shy as she spoke. Even though she knew it wasn't a date, she still felt a thrill, worry, and anticipation as she waited for his answer.

"That sounds great," Naruto said with a smile, though he paused for a moment as he took in her appearance. She wasn't wearing a bandana, feeling more secure in no longer trying to hide the seal. Her bangs did partially cover it, but not entirely. He stopped as he took in the sight of her hair now hanging more freely, no longer restrained as it usually was. The pair of side bangs that framed her face, the rest of her indigo locks hanging like a waterfall down to a bit past her shoulders now. Her light, lavender-white eyes had lit up at his acceptance as her shy smile grew wider, causing her whole face to light up.

As he felt her grab his arm and start to lead him away, he found himself wondering why he had never really noticed before how cute Hinata was when she smiled.

Konoha Council Chambers

"Everyone, please be seated," Sarutobi said, taking his place at the head of the table as the various Shinobi Council members sat down, having risen when he entered. Many of them were surprised to see Tsunade standing behind him but were even more curious about the young green-haired girl that had accompanied him. Though a few already knew who she was, thanks to their own sources or positions within Konoha.

Sarutobi, now seated, began. "I called this meeting to relay important information on events that have recently transpired. For those of you wondering about our guest here, this is Fuu, a Taki kunoichi who recently was brought to Konoha seeking asylum. She is also the jinchuuriki of the Nanabi."

There were immediate murmurs from the clan heads at this shocking news, with Shikaku Nara letting out a quiet and tired 'troublesome'.

Sarutobi waited for the murmuring to quiet down before he elaborated. "Fuu was recently made aware of attempts by elements of Taki to betray her to a dangerous group of S-ranked missing-nin. She was able to escape the shinobi escorting her to a handoff with members of this organization and came across a patrol of our shinobi, where she made her initial plea for asylum. They brought her in successfully, but not before encountering the missing-nin sent to acquire her."

"Earlier today, a letter was sent by Taki to us with a demand that Fuu be returned to them immediately," he continued while holding up said letter. "While I personally do not believe that to be a wise choice as it would likely result in her being taken by this group of missing, I recognize that this is something that should be discussed."

There was silence for a few moments before Shikaku sighed while leaning forward. "Hokage-sama…this group of rogue shinobi you're talking about…it's the Akatsuki group, right? The ones who went after Naruto Uzumaki recently?"

The aged Hokage gave a nod at that. "You are correct Shikaku-san. During the recent mission undertaken by Naruto Uzumaki and Jiraiya, two members of this Akatsuki attempted to capture Naruto. They were identified as Itachi Uchiha and Kisame Hoshigaki, who infiltrated the village initially and then left in pursuit of Naruto."

At the mention of Itachi, Mikoto flinched ever so slightly, remembering not only her son's treacherous actions but his more recent attack against Sasuke. It was still hard for her to accept that her own son had been willing to do that, considering how close Itachi and Sasuke used to be.

She was drawn from her thoughts as Sarutobi continued. "The two shinobi who pursued Fuu have been identified as Kakuzu, formerly of Taki, and Hidan, formerly of Yugakure no Sato (Village Hidden in the Hotsprings)."

There was a stir among them as they heard the name Kakuzu since the man was quite infamous for attempting to assassinate the Shodai Hokage, Hashirama Senju. Tsume frowned as she now spoke up. "How in the hell is one of them Kakuzu? The man would have to be far older than you are, Hokage-sama. No offense," she added on, making Sarutobi smile slightly.

"No offense taken, Tsume-san. To answer your question, I am not certain. It is believed he acquired some type of forbidden jutsu that allows him to continue living well past a normal lifespan, but we know little else. His companion Hidan is a relative unknown to us. Still, considering he is working alongside the likes of Kakuzu, Itachi, and Kisame, we cannot underestimate his capabilities," he stated, getting a few nods from everyone.

"Okay, so sending Fuu back to Taki doesn't sound like a great idea if it means she falls into the hands of shinobi like that," Choza Akimichi said. "But I doubt anyone's going to just sit back and accept us having three jinchuuriki. Things were tense enough when Yugito-san defected to Konoha."

"It is safe to assume Iwa and Kumo might use this as an excuse to act against us," Shibi Aburame observed, drawing everyone's attention to the usually quiet member of the Shinobi Council. "Given that we are still recovering from the recent invasion, we would find ourselves in dire straits."

"Especially since we would have very few allies, if any at all," Danzo stated. "Suna is in no position to aid us. Taki would likely side with Kumo and Iwa, Kiri would not take part due to their current circumstances, and the majority of the other villages would likely offer neither side any support. Kusa is the only village that might support us." As he said this, he kept his gaze focused on Sarutobi. Though no other words were spoken, both men knew the unspoken message from Danzo, one of condemnation for relying on 'allies' rather than focusing on strengthening the village and going it alone.

Sarutobi, however, mentally shrugged off the wordless accusation. "That is why I will attempt to take the wind from Iwa and Kumo's sails before they can attempt any aggressive action against us," he said. "I will call for a summit meeting of the leaders of the various villages to be held within the next two months. There I will explain the dangers of this Akatsuki organization and hopefully blunt any aggressive intentions by showing that we lack any hostile intent. Before that, I believe it is prudent to finalize the decision to give Fuu-san asylum. Are there any opposed to this motion at this time?"

There was silence among the clan heads and shinobi elders as they looked at each other, before Danzo finally spoke. "I'm afraid that I must object, Hokage-sama. While this Akatsuki organization seeking the jinchuuriki is a concern, I do not believe it warrants putting the village in danger just to protect one individual."

"I agree with Danzo-san's opposition to granting Fuu-san asylum. It would not do the village any favors to take her in and antagonize the other villages," Hiashi said, backing up the one-eyed shinobi elder.

"Then it shall be put to a vote," Sarutobi stated, looking around. "All opposed?"

As expected, Danzo's good arm went up, as did Hiashi's, Homura's, and Koharu's. The rest kept their hands down as Sarutobi glanced around at them all. "And all for?" He asked, already knowing the answer before every other hand was raised. "Then the motion passes. Fuu-san, you will be granted asylum within Konohagakure. You will be given protection and housing within these walls. While you will not be considered a Konoha shinobi, we would ask that you use your skills and abilities to defend this village should it come under attack, until such time as you choose to return to Takigakure no Sato" he said.

Fuu, who had been nervously biting her lip the entire time, quickly nodded. "O-Of course Hokage-sama! I'll be happy to do a-anything the village might need," she said quickly.

Sarutobi nodded as he turned back to the others. "Very well then. I will send the call for a summit meeting of the village leaders and kage. There is, however, one more piece of news. This summit meeting will likely be my last major act as Hokage of Konoha."

This immediately drew everyone's attention as Sarutobi continued. "The recent invasion of this village by Suna and Oto, as well as other events, has made me realize that I am far too old to be the Hokage. I was already leaving my prime when I made Minato-san the Yondaime Hokage, and while I have done my best to continue watching over this village after his passing, I am simply too old to continue doing so. I will oversee the current situation to its conclusion, and upon either the success or failure of this summit meeting, I shall step down and allow my chosen successor to take the mantle of Godaime Hokage," he said before gesturing with his hand. "My chosen successor is Tsunade Senju."

Tsunade stepped forward at this point, drawing everyone's attention. Danzo immediately frowned, looking tat Sarutobi but not saying a word. He didn't have to, as Koharu spoke for him.

"Hokage-sama…while Tsunade-san is indeed a strong kunoichi, she has been absent from the village for many years. Are there perhaps any better choices? Candidates who have been proven to be…more stable, and showing greater...dedication to the village?" She asked, attempting to be careful in her words.

Tsunade bristled at the older woman's words, but Sarutobi beat her to any response. "She is one of four possible choices, yes. However, I consider her to be the best choice out of all of them. Of my other choices, one is far too valuable in their current position to have them take up the position. One of them would very likely refuse the role outright, not considering themselves a good choice…and one of them certainly has the leadership skills and experience…but I question their capability to truly lead this village the way it was meant to be led," he added, enjoying the barest twitch of Danzo's visible eyebrow. A clear sign that Danzo saw the subtle jab for what it was.

"I have spoken with Tsunade-san and I believe that she will embody the core ideals of the Hokage's position. And that she will prove to be a strong, capable Hokage. I will be there to help her acclimate to the position, until such time as my advice and help are no longer needed."

The rest of the Council raised no objections, leaving Danzo to mentally stew even as he gave no outward signs of his thoughts. He had once again been passed over for the position of Hokage. Once more, the title fell into the hands of one too emotional and weak to do what was necessary for the good of the village. Danzo knew there was little he could do, as it fell to the current Hokage to nominate their successor. Only when a Hokage was killed or incapacitated before naming their successor could one be chosen by the daimyo or the Shinobi Council. In such an instance Danzo knew he could finally take the position he believed should be his. But for now, he would be forced to wait.

Sarutobi, seeing no more concerns or verbal discontent with his choice, nodded. "Very well then. This meeting is adjourned," he said, standing. "Fuu-san, let us finalize the details of your stay in Konoha."

Fuu nodded as she began to follow Sarutobi out of the room with Tsunade. The last Senju was fuming slightly at Koharu questioning her validity as Hokage, even if the elderly kunoichi had some points regarding her. Still, she wouldn't let it get her down. Instead, she reached out for her new resolve, now that she had accepted becoming the next Hokage. She'd prove that she could live up to the example of her grandfather, granduncle, brother, and beloved and become one worthy of the title of Hokage.

Sarutobi smiled to himself as he sensed Tsunade's posture straightening, sensing his former student and chosen successor's resolution on something. It filled him with pride and a sense of hope for the future of the village, reassuring him further that he had made a good choice. Now all that was left was to resolve the coming issues regarding giving Fuu asylum in Konoha. He knew Shibuki wanted Fuu to stay in Konoha but had to play the part of an 'outraged' village leader and demand her return in order to further sell that this wasn't them working together. He felt there was no real danger from Taki unless Akatsuki moved against the village to try and force Fuu to come back. Iwa and Kumo were the major concerns, Kumo more so. Despite the blackmail Yugito had supplied him with and the potential evidence he could leverage against them for the recent kidnapping attempt on Hitomi and Hanabi Hyuuga, he knew Kumo would use this chance to try and weaken or attack Konoha. And Iwa, despite being led by the infamous 'fence sitter' Onoki, would follow if it meant taking Konoha down a few notches, especially after the last Shinobi War and Minato's actions against them. He hoped that the summit would, at minimum, allow him to dissuade them from launching another shinobi war. At most, he hoped it might even turn the villages against the Akatsuki and ensure that this organization was forced to move more carefully, if not disband or be destroyed.

He let out a tired sigh as they approached his office. Politics was a very dangerous game, especially in the shinobi world, where lies, deception, and subterfuge were commonplace. He was looking forward to finally retiring and not having to deal with such things. To finally being able to spend time with Konohamaru and help the young boy become a proud shinobi. He smiled to himself as he thought about that potential future, hoping that he could soon make it come true.

And that will be that for this chapter…fuck.

Sorry for the long wait everyone. I actually was really getting into this one for a while there, writing a lot out, enjoying it…and then just shit hit the fan. Hard. My dad lost his job, we were having a bit of financial worry here, laptop starting acting up a little bit, and add all that onto just the absolute batshit insanity that is our lives now and days, my motivation to write plummeted. I only managed to get it back the last week or two to finally start working on this chapter and trying to get it done.

I'm really sorry for the long wait, and I hope the chapter is okay. I'll try to do better, when I can.

Till next chapter, thank you for your patience and sorry again for the late chapter.

1. If anyone here is familiar with, has taken part in, or is a practitioner of Japanese tea ceremonies, I apologize for most likely butchering things here. I did my best researching about them to try and get as much of this right as I could, but I have most likely done something wrong or left out important details. I'm attempting to write out a nodate style ceremony but have sadly found very few extremely detailed sources that would allow me to cover everything.

2. Yes, this is the same Phantom Blade from Assassin's Creed: Unity. It was one of the few good things I found in that game. So I thought I'd include it here in Shinobi's Creed. Interestingly enough, the weapon actually first started off as a prototype creaed by Leonardo da'Vinci for one of Ezio's assassin recruits who wasn't ready to be equipped with a hidden pistol attachment. However, there is no mention of the design being wildly used until the French revolution, where it apparently was considered standard issue for most French assassins, much like the Hookblade was for the Istanbul/Constantinople chapter of the assassins.