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Chapter 3: Smell of War

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Thousand hands Senju, a clan that changed the world as ninja knew it. A clan with so much people that if you killed one, ten others would take his place. A clan which was reduced to mere three members.

Senju, who were always numerous during Clan Wars era, numerous and not all that skilled compared to their counterparts in Uchiha. They defined 'jack of all trades, master of none' archetype, except for the founders of Konoha, who were a match for Uchiha's best.

Senju, who were systematically targeted by Uchiha Madara when he attacked Konoha in his desire to destroy the heritage of his more peaceful days. There was nothing to the clan except major land holdings in Land of Fire and a huge load of money in bank accounts all over the world.

A was stupefied when his father, Sandaime Raikage, had ordered him to create a plan for infiltration of Konoha just to kidnap one of the last three members of that same clan. Kumo didn't have any big name clans with fancy bloodlines and techniques. They had to use all their underhanded tricks to get where they were at the moment – almost the top of the world, but not quite.

Clans of Kumo raided temples for artifacts of lost eras. Clans of Kumo experimented on prisoners to find out secrets of their enemies. Clans of Kumo stole children of other clans from south, from Land of Water, from west, from Land of Earth, all just to acquire bloodlines and be one step above their enemies on the life's ladder.

History of Kumo wasn't all sunshines and rainbows. It wasn't easy and A thought those times were behind them. Yet there he was, infiltrating Konoha in another attempt to grab power, power of jinchuuriki no less, accompanied by B, two others and their agent in Konoha, Hidoi.

Hidoi was a bland looking man with a bushy moustache. There was nothing special to his appearance or accomplishments in Konoha. The special part of him was his skill as a spy and his loyalty to Kumo and third Raikage specifically. In better informed inner circles of Kumo there were thousands of rumors about him, about his time in Suna, about his involvement with acquisition of Nibi back before the Second Great War and about him and third Raikage being childhood friends.

Hidoi had spent ten years acting as Kumo's spy in Konoha and during that time he got information about Konoha patrols, barrier loopholes, underground passages and nearly anything an infiltrator would wish for.

With his help they slipped into Konoha unnoticed. Their target was in hospital under heavy security. At least A expected it to be so. A squad of ANBU and a couple of formal guards at the doors of his room.

"You're here for that boy, right?" Hidoi asked. His moustache moved together with his lips as the man spoke.

When A didn't say anything in return, the man just smiled.

"Your timing is perfect. Of all high ranks only Professor is present, you won't get another chance like that."

Professor. Even when the man was young, ninja of Kumo knew of him. Third generation Kage were all young, but Professor was the first and the youngest. Still, he wasn't one of those that you scared children with. He was powerful and he was respected for that power and for his knowledge.

A never believed in the legends about the man. But even then all legends had some truth to them, and truth was that even four of them not counting the spy were no match for Professor, much less Professor in Konoha. They had to do it right without any hitches and they had to do it fast, anything less and they would be done for.

"I hope you know what you're doing. Anyway, I should tell you that the boy possesses Mokuton."

Nearly stumbling in surprise, A continued walking after the master spy. That was big, bigger than they ever anticipated. If he played the cards right, they'd get two prizes for the price of one. He doubted Konoha would give away someone with Mokuton so easily, though.

"I wasn't aware of it." He finally said in response.

"It was announced only recently. The kid's supposed to be that huge symbol of Konoha's power returning to where it was during the reign of Hashirama."

"Is that true?"

The man was silent for a moment, pondering over the question.

"Propaganda. If things don't go terribly bad for them for half a decade, I think they can get to be the strongest, but right now Iwa's still the top dog. The jinchuuriki is still just a brat, even with Mokuton he is no danger. But yes, I can see him becoming a real monster. I've seen him once, he has that look in his eyes. You know the one."

There was a moment of silence as everyone contemplated the words. For all his father's posturing Iwa was still at the top, and it wasn't going to change unless they succeeded in their mission and got Kyuubi with or without its jinchuuriki.

This upcoming war was as much a war against Konoha and Suna alliance as it was an attempt to one up Oonoki. It was some sort of rivalry going on, a rivalry that turned Raikage and Tsuchikage into enemies trying to cooperate and take down one they hated both.

He was not allowed to fail here. Too much was at stake. Not counting the obvious things like the reputation of Kumo and its war potential, he was responsible for four men's lives. A failure would mean death, and he wasn't ready to bite the dust just yet.

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Ame

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They have caught a rat. To think that all of the things that eventually led to downfall of original Akatsuki could have been prevented if they only looked harder into the backgrounds of their own people… But they were fools, naïve fools who thought the world could be changed with just words.

The world could not be changed with words only, for the change to start it required actions. The brave and the bold actions of people who were not afraid of the change. Yahiko was the bravest of them. And he suffered for it.

Konan still remembered her days with original Akatsuki. They all were so full of hope back then, even though things weren't going good at all. Now things were better, but the air was different. She had thought a lot of it and the conclusion she came to wasn't something she wanted to think about.

She changed. From the time when Yahiko died because of Hanzo in original timeline to the time she practically forced Yahiko to let her contact Danzo and Konoha's Root before Hanzo himself could, she changed. And not for the better. With her, she brought this change to Akatsuki. She just hoped she didn't change too much.

Yet what she hated the most was the look in Yahiko's eyes, when she and Nagato brought him the news of the traitor, the rat, Hanzo's mole. Of all people in Akatsuki, Yahiko perhaps was the one hurt the most by that. He trusted and valued every and each one of them like brothers, or sisters, but that trust was misplaced.

When Yahiko was done with the man who betrayed his trust, it was her time. She was sure to let the man know what she thought of his actions and decisions he took, and by the end of it he was pleading her… for something. She was so far away inside her thoughts she didn't even hear the words he said.

The end he met was not a pleasant one. She wasn't Hidan, or Zetsu, yet what she had done looked like something both would enjoy doing. She hated it and hated herself for it. In a way, she too was betraying Yahiko's trust, trust to be the best person you could be. To change the world you had to change yourself first, and as it was, she was failing.

When Nagato had entered the interrogation cell he saw her standing there over a corpse of a man both of them had called a comrade not so long ago. Her cloak was splattered with blood as were her hands.

The woman stood silent as Nagato approached her. He placed his hands on her shoulders and turned her around so she would face him. He looked over her face noticing a faraway look in her eyes and tense jaw muscles.

"Relax. No one blames you."

"I blame myself." Konan replied, her words barely audible.

Nagato sighed and hugged the woman he considered a sister in all but blood. Normally Konan was like older sister for him and Yahiko, but sometimes she had moments like that. Moments when it seemed like she was a little girl scared of her own shadow.

They never had a real childhood. Growing up in a war-torn country, even under Jiraiya's guidance, they had to mature fast. They still were children in a sense. Children that were only discovering the world around them. They already learned of death, of power, of right and wrong, of many things, but betrayal was a thing none of them knew before. It scared him. And it probably scared Konan even more, since she always wanted to take responsibility for the things that happened with them.

"I won't lose my family twice, Nagato. You, Yahiko, the rest of Akatsuki, I don't want to sacrifice anyone for some noble cause. If that's what it takes, I'll become a demon that would destroy our enemies, but I won't sacrifice anyone, if I can. You and Yahiko are the bridge, I'm fine with being it's supports."

He inhaled through his mouth and the air tasted like iron. They said war changed people. It wasn't even a war yet, but Konan was already thinking of things too hard. It was strange. Yahiko once told him how she was when he met her. And now it seemed she was returning to that state.

"Maybe you should relax some. I won't ask you to take it easy, but at least think of yourself."

Konan shook her head in response and untangled herself from his hug. She walked to washbasin and began washing her hands. Nagato watched at the back of her head waiting for her to finish.

They may have been like a family, but they were failing at that.

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Konoha

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There was many a time when he wondered just what the fuck was he doing with the chance Nagato had given him. There was many a time when he wondered just why he was wasting so much time. And a lot of time did he waste. Eight years of doing nothing but being a kid wasn't something to be proud of.

He was doing stupid things, he knew it, hell he was being stupid all around. But that was pretty much what he was. He never was a genius and he never was one to come up with a plan before charging into the fray.

As it was, he didn't know what he was supposed to do. Nagato has entrusted his dream of world peace to him. And he was being a huge disappointment so far. Maybe Nagato was just as much a fool as he was. To think he was moved just with that sloppy speech he had come up while grasping on straws, since he knew that even if he could take a half dead man, beating his companion would be too much for him as exhausted as he was then.

Stupid decisions gave only stupid consequences. That's how it was and how it is. The whole task of making the world peaceful was so daunting he didn't even know how to approach it. People were different and had different opinions, goals, values and so as long as there were even two people in the world there would be conflict. But could peace and conflict co-exist? Humans wouldn't be humans without conflict. If the wars stopped would it be peaceful? He had no idea. There was always a threat of war.

Uzumaki Naruto was born during war. Iwa and Konoha made peace just a little before Namikaze Minato became Yondaime, but neither Kiri nor Kumo wanted to stop then, and it took another two years for Kiri and whole four for Kumo until finally the Third War was over.

Hyuuga incident could have prolonged the war, but Konoha's resources were exhausted and Kumo would have been able to last another year if the war continued, so Konoha gave in to demands to hand over Hiashi's body, only it wasn't Hizashi's, which brought another question: why did Kumo tolerate it?

Uchiha's massacre could have led into war, but Kiri started another round of civil war just about then and political climate between then allied Iwa and Kumo was particularly tense. He didn't really remember what the reason for that was, but it was as it was. They were so close to another war and that time it would have been one where none of the sides really had any allies. Fortunately none of the Daimyo wanted another war then.

Suna and Oto invasion could be considered a start of the war. Konoha's war against Oto. At the time Konoha was without a leader and greatly weakened on top of that, it was only his success in bringing Tsunade back that stopped another great war. No matter what kind of person Tsunade was, her name meant a lot in the world of ninja, especially when attached to the name of her clan. That and Third Tsuchikage growing old and a little too cautious.

Smell of the war was always in the air of Konoha Uzumaki Naruto knew. In Konoha Senju Arashi knew, smell of the war was even stronger. War smelled like fire, iron and sweat.

Konoha was preparing for imminent war. The war that would begin in less than a month most likely. Regular drills and training for all active chuunin and tokebutsu jounin, genin getting more and more involved in Konoha's infrastructure, jounin doing seemingly innocuous missions around strategically important locations.

And how was he supposed to establish world peace in this kind of environment?

The least he could do was become poster boy of Konoha, Hashirama/Tobirama reborn and hope that spirits of Konoha's ninja would be lifted. But even that he didn't know how to do. Inspiring people wasn't easy. Sure when it came to single person he seemed to be able to do miracles. Gaara, Neji, Zabuza, old woman Chiyo and finally Nagato were good examples of that. But a whole lot of people? No way in hell. He spent around ten years of his life as Uzumaki Naruto trying just to make people stop ignoring him.

There was no way in hell that plan of Orochimaru and whoever was backing him would work. What the hell had he been thinking? That was just so really, really stupid he had no words for that.

Sure he made progress with Mokuton and whatever, but he wasn't Hashirama. He was not Hashirama. We wouldn't swoop down on Konoha's foes and win the war with just his presence. Maybe if he still could go into Sage mode or even access Kyuubi chakra then he would, but he couldn't do either of that.

And it showed. His lack of confidence was transparent for someone like Anko or Nawaki. They knew, and they knew he was aware of them knowing it, but neither side has spoken. Neither side has made statement. It was just like smaller scale war going on. And currently it was in a stalemate of sorts.

Nawaki wasn't a person to get into other people's business, he wasn't a shrink. Anko, even though she was a curious little girl, was an orphan, and orphans tended to grow up faster. Moreover, Jiraiya always said that he should add another three years to girl's age. And that meant that Anko knew it wasn't her place to call him out on that problem of his.

So he was on his own in that deep shit he had gotten himself into. And the only way out was to man up and swallow all of his lack of confidence. Same old, same old. He had gone through almost the same thing, when Jiraiya died getting that intel from Ame.

Almost, but not the same. Back then, he had people he could trust with his innermost thoughts. Right here, right now, there was no such person. He was walking blind. If only he had been Shikamaru. Maybe he would've had an answer already. But then again, wishful thinking didn't do any good to anyone.

He had to experience the real deal first, at least. It didn't matter how much smell of war there was in the air, if he didn't really know a thing about it. If he wanted to do anything about this world peace thing, he had to stop thinking like Uzumaki Naruto and start thinking like… like Senju Hashirama, at the very least. If it had not been for the man, they'd be in clan wars era still.

Yet there still was one thing he would definitely have to do: find out more about Akatsuki. According to what Nagato told him they already existed as a sort of opposition to Hanzo's rule in Amegakure. So that was his first stop as soon as he was 'free to move' in figurative sense. From there, he could think of his next move.

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AN: So, yeah. I'm cutting it here. I don't know if I'd ever post anything again (not just this fic, but in general), but you can be assured I want to finish this. That doesn't mean all that much, though.

P.S. Senju literally means thousand hands if you're wondering.