It’s Just That Any One of Us Is Half Without Another One Is You – Chapter Seventeen

Most of the Konoha contingent ingathers to deal with Sai’s attack on Naruto and its implications. In the wake of this, Naruto proposes his new plan to Tsunade. Drama, Angst, I-4

The only reason Sakura didn’t kill Sai immediately was that Ino got in her way.

“Interrogation,” Ino reminded her, clipped, as she pulled her garrote tight around Sai’s throat and nodded to Chouji, who slowly took his weight off Sai’s back.

Sakura snarled softly, aware that her lip was curled up off her teeth and not bothering to lower it. How dare he. After they’d survived the Akatsuki attack, after Naruto had finally woken up again, how dare one of their own people turn on him like this!

“Easy, there,” B rumbled from behind her, where Sasuke was guarding Naruto. “Not saying it’s a good reason, but maybe he had family in the last attack by the Nine-tails? Wouldn’t be surprised if it came out now, after a full manifestation.”

Sai looked up at them, perfectly blank, as if he didn’t even feel Ino’s garrote. “Family?”

Or as if he didn’t understand the words. Quiet rippled out through the dining hall again, cutting through the soft scrapes of people starting to pick up their chairs. Quiet, especially, from the Mist-nin.

“I hadn’t heard Leaf did that kind of thing,” Ushio, Mist’s senior chuunin, said, eyes shifting between Sai and the rest of the Leaf-nin.

“We don’t,” Shikamaru answered, frowning. “At least not that I’ve ever heard before.”

“Omoi went for the Commander and Kakashi-san,” Karui said, golden eyes dark. “Guess we’ll know soon.”

“Naruto!” The dining hall door slammed open and the entire command group spilled through, Jiraiya in the lead.

“Speak of him and he appears,” Sasuke murmured, and Sakura let the dry humor in his voice calm her, reassure her that it was all right, because otherwise Sasuke wouldn’t sound that calm. She straightened slowly and stepped back to Naruto’s side; it didn’t escape her notice that several of the shinobi around them sighed with relief as she did.

Okay, so maybe she was a little more on edge than usual.

“I’m okay!” Naruto piped up from behind his human bulwark. “Sasuke saw him coming and Sakura kicked his knees out and he missed completely and everyone piled on.”

Jiraiya blew out a long breath and nodded to the knot of people around Sai. “Thank you all.” He frowned at the restrained and weirdly calm Sai. “Anyone have any idea why?”

“I’m afraid I probably do,” Kakashi-sensei murmured, stepping through the crowd to come and crouch in front of Sai. Quietly enough that only the nearest people heard it, he asked, “Are you a member of Root?”

Sai just looked back at him, silent and blank, and Sakura frowned. She’d heard of Root, but it had been disbanded years ago. If he had been Root, though… that meant he was ANBU.

“Nearly as good as a yes,” Kakashi-sensei sighed, standing, and turned to Jiraiya. “Commander. I’m afraid this is likely to get deep into matters of Konoha politics. Can we get some privacy?”

Jiraiya’s mouth tightened, lines deepening on either side. After a long moment he nodded. “Very well. But if anything you find out has any bearing on this mission, I will expect you to report it to the command group.” At Kakashi-sensei’s nod he jerked a thumb at the door. “Take him back to the Leaf quarters, then. No one will interrupt.”

Good, Sakura thought coldly.

Ino got Sai onto his feet with an efficient heave and aimed him out the door, garrote still snug. The rest of them stayed close all the way back to their own building and bent suspicious looks on the rest of Ino’s team, who piled down the stairs, talking over each other to find out what had happened.

“He’s a traitor,” Ino said bluntly, and watched the stunned expressions on the faces of other four for a long moment before nodding, apparently satisfied. “We’re going to use the inner room on the second floor. Watch the exits.”

Genma-san was watching from the top of the stairs, eyes dark. He exchanged a long look with Kakashi-sensei and bowed his head wearily.

“If we’re lucky, this will be the break,” Kakashi-sensei answered, as if Genma-san had said something, and the other man nodded.

“Hyuuga’s team has perimeter watch this shift,” he said quietly. “Should I keep them away when they get back in?”

“No, send them up. We need witnesses, if this is what I think it is, and the heir to Hyuuga, the favorite grandson of the Inuzuka matriarch, and the first cousin of the Aburame heir would be hard to disappear.”

Sakura swallowed her startlement at that, suddenly aware that, whatever Kakashi-sensei suspected, it must go far beyond one crazy ANBU.

Kakashi-sensei waved Sasuke and Naruto, and Shikamaru and Chouji, back against the walls of the room they brought Sai to, the one that Ino’s team had been sleeping in. “The first thing you all need to understand is that there are questions Sai will be unable to answer.” He glanced at Sai, now sitting calmly in a chair with Ino behind him. “Will you show them why?”

Sai shrugged and stuck out his tongue, and Sakura pulled in a hard breath at the mark on it. “A mission seal?” That meant someone had sent Sai to do this. She frowned. “Do you still have the keys to ANBU seals, Kakashi-sensei?”

“In fact, I do,” he murmured. “But I don’t have the key to this one.”

A chill stroked down Sakura’s spine. Was he implying that Sai had been suborned by outsiders? Or… by insiders?

Kakashi-sensei met her eyes and nodded just a fraction. “There’s other information he can give, but first we need to make sure he isn’t going to die in the middle of this.”

Sakura bit her lip and nodded silently. Bit by bit, she and Kakashi and Ino searched Sai for poisons or death seals under Kakashi-sensei’s quiet direction. Sakura’s stomach felt shaky by the time they were done, and not just because it was a hard thing to do to a fellow Konoha shinobi. It was also Sai himself; they might have been handling a doll for all his response or expression.

“Last thing,” Kakashi-sensei started as he closed cuffs back around Sai’s hands and stood, only to look up as Hinata, Kiba, and Shino piled through the door. “Ah, good timing. Hinata, can you check Sai for any implanted devices or techniques that might cause his death?”

Kiba shut the mouth he’d already opened, eyes wide. Shino rested a hand on Hinata’s shoulder for a moment before nudging Kiba back against the wall like everyone else. Hinata, after an uncertain breath, nodded. “Yes, Kakashi-san.” She engaged her Byakugan and examined Sai closely for a few moments. “Nothing that would cause death,” she reported steadily, "but he carries a paralyzing seal in his mouth.”

“That one we knew of. Thank you.” Kakashi-sensei looked around at them and sighed. “I had hoped this could be resolved without involving your generation, but it appears not. What we know for sure is that Sai attempted to kill Naruto in the dining hall this afternoon, and that he carries an irregular mission seal which will very likely prevent him from speaking about who sent him or why. We are here to find out whatever else we can.” Meeting Sai’s blank gaze directly, he added, “I believe I know the answers to who and why already, in any case.”

Ino frowned. “Then why…?”

Kakashi leaned against another chair, arms crossed. “What if I told you that I believe Sai was assigned this mission by one of our village Elders? And that this Elder leads a proscribed group, of which Sai is a part, answering only to him and carrying out whatever secret operations he decides?”

“I would say that was speculation and hearsay,” Shikamaru said quietly, from where he stood directly behind Sai. “At least, that’s what I’d say if I was an Elder.”

Sakura thought Kakashi smiled behind his mask, and that it probably wasn’t a happy smile. “Precisely. What is not speculation is that someone sent Sai to do this, someone with the ability to place that seal on him. And that the records of the Intelligence division show that, not too very long ago, there was a subdivision of ANBU called Root which was under the sole control of Shimura Danzou. Sai’s membership is similarly a matter of record. And Danzou-san has, more than once, said publicly that he does not trust the Hokage to take all the measures necessary to guard the village properly. Either the Third or the Fifth.”

“That’s a stronger case, yeah,” Shikamaru allowed, eyes fixed on Kakashi-sensei. Sakura, watching, caught a faint settling in Sai’s posture and had to look down to hide a moment of realization and admiration for her teacher’s deft touch. He was setting Sai up to cooperate with them, to think there was already no reason not to. “Well,” Shikamaru continued, voice perfectly casual, “if Sai can’t talk, maybe the things he packed can.” Sakura caught his glance at her and picked it up.

“Let’s see, then,” she said coolly, kneeling by Sai’s bedroll to sort briskly through his things. Weapons, mostly, including his drawing supplies, and… hm. She sat back on her heels, holding what looked like a picture book between her hands, watching Sai out of the corner of her eye. He didn’t tense, but something changed in the set of his brows, like the tiniest flicker of a frown. She paged through the book slowly, wondering if it was some manner of code. It read in two different directions. Two different mission plans? But the center pages were blank. She frowned over that, considering. Two boys, fighting the same things from two different directions, and… well, they should meet in the middle, except that they didn’t. One of the boys looked a bit like Sai.

Abruptly, she remembered the way the Mist-nin had looked at them, in the dining hall, and the things they had heard from Zabuza and Kakashi-sensei, years ago. Two boys…

“Did you know him?” she asked, turning to Sai to show him the side of the book with the other boy. Softer, she added, “Did you fight him? Is that what happened, in those blank pages?”

“That’s what happened,” Sai confirmed, face blank as ever. But his voice was a little tighter, now.

“Who was he?” she asked, watching him. Yes, there was definitely more tension around his eyes now.

Sai looked down at the book in her hands for a long moment and finally shrugged. “My brother.”

Sakura’s stomach twisted, despite every attempt at discipline and calm, and she closed her eyes as the pattern clicked together in her mind’s eye. “You were trained together. Right up until the day you had to fight him. To the death.” It wasn’t a question. Kiba and Naruto choked, and Hinata made a distressed sound. Sakura opened her eyes and looked at Sai as steadily as she could. He looked back, expressionless. Or almost. It didn’t take Shikamaru’s nod to know this was something they might use as a lever, here, but the thought of using such a tragedy as a lever—again, after the way Danzou had obviously used it once—sickened her. She hoped with all her heart Kakashi-sensei had another way in mind.

On an impulse, she leaned forward and laid the book in Sai’s lap. “This is yours,” she said, quietly.

Slowly, his fingers wrapped around it.

“No wonder the Third outlawed it,” Naruto said, low and rough.

Over the sounds of agreement, around the room, Kakashi-sensei’s voice was level and calm. “The organization known as Root was officially dissolved, yes. But it was never suppressed. Remember that.”

“What are you saying?” Naruto started low, but his voice was picking up volume by the syllable. “The old guy would never have let anything like that happen, not if he knew!”

A little to Sakura’s surprise, it was Hinata who answered. “The kind of responsibility the Hokage has can lead people to do… things they don’t like.” She was twisting her fingers together, but her soft words were steady. “The Third was also the one who refused to confirm Sasuke-san in his place as the head of Uchiha. It had to be him, because the other noble clans didn’t oppose it.”

“The Third acted however he felt was needed to protect the village and the people in it,” Kakashi-sensei agreed, quiet, almost hypnotic. “And Danzou has always said he acted for the same principle. I suspect that’s why he uses that seal, hm?” He cocked his head at Sai, casual and understanding.

“It’s best if our missions are sealed,” Sai said, still looking down at the book. “We have done things to protect the village that would be considered questionable.”

Questionable even by the standards of ANBU meant something a little more extreme than most of the others would assume, and Sakura exchanged a quick, grim look with Ino.

“So, Danzou is trying to make himself a second Hokage, is he?” Ino asked, contempt in every word. “With his very own ANBU that reports just to him. I suppose corruption and ambition are always with us.”

“It can’t just be that!” Sakura started up on her knees to play the opposite part, supporting Kakashi-sensei’s lead. She glared at Ino, which came easily given how often they fought. “If the Third knew, then they really must be doing what’s right for the village!”

“What’s right?” Ino’s brows and voice both went up in disbelief. “Try to remember that it’s your own teammate who just nearly got killed!”

Sakura flinched back. “That… but…” She stared at Sai as if torn, and, right on cue, Kakashi came forward again, resting a hand on her shoulder as he crouched down in front of Sai.

“You can’t speak of it,” he said quietly. “But perhaps you can at least indicate if my guesses are right. I think Danzou probably sent you along to make sure Naruto didn’t fall into Akatsuki’s hands. You were to strike if he did?”

After a thoughtful moment, Sai nodded silently. Sakura bit her lip harder, which had the useful side effect of hiding her surge of exultation at this break.

“And if one of the other villages tried to take him?” Kakashi went on. Another nod answered that. “But neither of those happened. So there must be a third condition. Something to do with the Nine-tails and the seal, I imagine.”

Sai nodded again, quiet calmly.

“But the seal didn’t break!” Sakura leaned forward, pleadingly, resting a hand as if by accident on the book in Sai’s lap, the reminder of her sympathy (a true sympathy, even if she was using it as a tool now). “The Nine-tails didn’t escape, Naruto is still in control! So why…?”

“If the seal changed at all?” Kakashi-sensei asked softly. Sai smiled his alarming smile as if pleased that they’d finally gotten it and nodded again.

Sakura leaned back again, frowning. “But it’s a double seal, so the Nine-tails would still be under control even if it were changed or damaged. Why give an order like that?”

Kakashi-san sighed. “Because Danzou’s ideas of what will protect the village are very rigid and very strict. And not what would make good policy as a Hokage. Since the Third died, Danzou’s decisions have been untempered by any larger view. The Fifth has had no proof of what he was doing, not something she could convince her whole Council with.”

Until now, at least, and that made Sakura very, very happy. She was going to see that old man die for this, one way or another. The attack on her teammate had clearly been his doing, and it had come close enough to send adrenaline sizzling down her nerves every time she thought about it. And while part of her still howled to kill Sai now just to be on the safe side, a growing part was just as enraged over what had been done to him.

Kakashi-sensei stood silently and rested a hand on Sai’s head. “Questionable things must sometimes be done, to protect what we care for,” he said. “But Danzou forced you to kill what you cared for, didn’t he? I suspect he did it to make you unable to care. How, then, could you possibly judge for yourself what is necessary and what isn’t?”

Sai blinked up at him. “I don’t need to judge. Only act.”

Sakura swallowed, and reached abruptly for Naruto and Sasuke, to reassure herself they were still there, still her anchor, her reason for fighting. To assure herself that she had something to hold her back from the pure, uncaring edge she could hear in Sai’s words—the edge she remembered hearing, whispering to her soft and tempting, in Orochimaru’s voice, telling her not to let herself be held back by sentiment. Someone had said that to Sai until he had believed it. Their hands closed on hers, and the three of them clung together.

“If only one person judges, and yet his judgments become the action of many, the result is madness.” Kakashi-sensei slid his hand down to Sai’s shoulder, gripping it tightly. “You had no way of learning this, I know, but try to listen now. That’s why we have a council, to advise the Hokage. That’s why the Hokage and the Elders and the division commanders and the noble clans are all involved. So that no one person can act beyond their individual strength without convincing others that they are right. Danzou never convinced you. He only shaped and conditioned you. That’s anathema to what our village is. Even ANBU leaves its operatives their own will and judgment.” Kakashi-sensei’s voice turned dark and cold for a moment. “For breaking that faith with all of you, I will bring him down.”

Sai had a faint frown now. A puzzled one. “I don’t understand.”

Sakura shuddered. Of course he didn’t. Having to kill his own brother, a brother he’d probably loved… she would have done her best to turn off her heart, too!

A brother he’d probably loved…

Sakura straightened, assumptions suddenly shifting. “Sai,” she said, husky. “That book. What did you mean to draw in the middle? It couldn’t have been the two of you fighting each other. You couldn’t have known that was coming.” She felt Sasuke shiver against her, and wrapped her arm around him.

Sai blinked slowly. “I… don’t remember.” He looked down at the book, distant and curious.

“Maybe,” Naruto had to stop and clear his throat to get the roughness out of his voice, “maybe you were going to draw the two of you fighting together. Instead of against each other. I mean, if he was your brother and you grew up training together.”

Sasuke flinched and Sakura tugged him into the middle, so she and Naruto could both hold him. When she looked back at Sai, he was staring at the book with more expression than she’d seen yet—something dark and hurt, and still a little wondering. “Together,” he murmured. “That was… yes. I wanted to give it to him, once we both passed our final trials for fieldwork.”

Hinata made a quick, pained sound, muffled behind her clasped hands; her team had closed in around her, too.

“For him and for you,” Kakashi-sensei said, very soft and cold as ice, “I will bring Danzou down. Fight for the village your brother would have wanted to live in, if you continue to fight.”

Sai actually seemed comforted by that deadly tone and lowered his eyes. “Yes, Kakashi-senpai,” he said, meekly.

Sakura watched Kakashi-sensei take a long breath. “This mission has failed,” he continued, more briskly. “Will you attempt to keep carrying it out, if you’re released?”

Sai shook his head. “I wasn’t told to complete it at all costs, and I could only complete it at the cost of my life, now.”

Kakashi-sensei nodded to Ino, who unwound her garrote and turned at once to her team, to be gathered into Chouji’s arms while Shikamaru watched Kakashi-sensei with dark eyes. Kakashi-sensei undid the cuffs and stood back with a sigh. “I don’t think there’s anything that needs to be reported to our mission’s command. But when Tsunade-sama gets here, I imagine she’ll want to hear it all. It may alter how we continue this mission, too. Everyone get as much rest as you can.” He swept a stern eye around the room. “Don’t speak of this with anyone else.”

A murmur of agreement went around the room, and Sakura was very glad to be released. She wanted their own room, and her team with her, and to sit and shake for a while. She’d taken part in a few interrogations, but never of someone from her own village before! “Come on,” she whispered to Sasuke and Naruto, tugging Naruto along when he looked back at Sai, hesitating. “Let Kakashi-sensei take care of it for now.”

Naruto nodded reluctantly, and followed, and was perfectly willing to wrap her and Sasuke up and fuss over them for a while. Sakura huddled with Sasuke, on their piled bedrolls, and thought about this comfort that was so readily hers, and thought about Sai and his brother, and put her head down on Naruto’s shoulder while she cried.

Kakashi knew his voice was too hard, as he finished his report to Tsunade. Too serious. Too demanding. But he’d felt like he had fire under his skin for a day and a night, now, waiting for her to arrive so he could give her the proof, finally, of Danzou’s actions. The proof that was sitting in his room across the valley, waiting with inhuman calm, exactly like a weapon sitting in its rack.

“Send me home,” he finished, harsh. “Send me home with this, and assign me to eliminate him. All of ANBU will understand why it was me, and that he died by the same sword he lived by.”

Tsunade didn’t look up from her hands, clasped on the black oval table of the command HQ room. “And then how am I different from him, Kakashi?”

He slashed his hand across the words, violently. “You don’t ask that about Akatsuki! How is what Danzou’s done any less of an attack on the village?”

Her hands tightened. “And if I have one of my Council killed out of hand, how will the village feel any safer for that?!” She finally looked up, mouth sick and set in a pale face. “No. It will be in Council, with a public record. Danzou will be heard. He’s mad enough to take pride in what he’s done, if it comes to that.”

“Playing publicity games with your people’s lives, Tsunade-hime?” Kakashi asked very softly.

She stood up slowly, and for a breath he wondered if he’d let fury drive him too far. But when she came to him she only closed her hands on his shoulders, strong and steady. “Their lives were already played with. All we can do is try to set them straight again and hope. I know it hurts you,” she whispered. “I know you want to do something now to fix it. I know. But we have to care for everyone, as best we can, and that’s never as easy as killing off the threat. Never.”

He bent his head, shuddering under the weight of that. “Wasn’t there anyone else you could have chosen?” he asked, very close to pleading.

She lifted a hand to touch his cheek. “It’s because of this that I chose you,” she told him, terribly gentle. “Because you love them. Because it hurts. I’m sorry.”

There would be a day, Kakashi saw with abrupt clarity, when he would have to do this to Naruto. And that thought felt so much like a dagger under his ribs that he reached out and pulled Tsunade close, holding her tight, the way he would one of his own team. He’d been ANBU, and he understood cruel necessity, but she was a healer; it had to be half killing her to do this to him. “I’ll survive,” he assured her, low and rough. “And I won’t kill Danzou until you say I can. Well. Not unless he attacks first.”

She snorted against his chest, half laughter and half her usual annoyance. “Oh, that’s reassuring.” She pushed him away and reached up to muss his hair, grinning at his elaborate indignation, and they both eased away from the pain of the moment. “Well, I suppose the first thing I need to do is take a look at Naruto’s seal and see what my idiot student has gone and done this time.”

As if his name had summoned him, or, far more likely, as if Naruto’s patience had finally run out, Naruto himself barged through the door before the last word was all the way out of her mouth.

“Tsunade-baachan! You have to help me heal the Nine-tails!” he declared.

Tsunade stared at him for a long moment before pointing to a chair. “Sit.” When Naruto had thumped down into the chair with bad grace, she hitched a hip up onto the table and crossed her arms. “Now. Try that again, starting at the beginning this time.” Kakashi faded back to lean against the wall and watch.

Naruto propped his elbows aggressively on the table. “Okay, so. When my dad sealed the Nine-tails into me, he also cut away half the fox’s chakra. His yin chakra. And he’s really pissed off about it,” here Naruto waved his arms widely as if to indicate the size of the temper in question, “and I don’t blame him! And it was the Ten Stems Twelve Branches seal, so I know we can’t get his chakra back, but we can heal him can’t we? Help him regenerate it?”

Tsunade opened and closed her mouth twice before she managed to say, “Okay, one,” she held up a finger, “yes it is sometimes possible to heal a wound to chakra, especially if the body is still intact. I have no idea how that would be complicated by working on an elemental spirit who doesn’t have his own body right this moment. But before that there is two,” another finger, with some emphasis, “which is, what the hell are you thinking, trying to strengthen a spirit that will take you over and burn you out if it gets much stronger?!” She planted her fist on her hip and glared at him.

He glared right back. “He won’t do that! We have a deal.” He crossed his arms stubbornly, chin jutted out.

“A little more beginning might have been helpful,” Kakashi put in before they could get any deeper into their deadlock. “Naruto appears to have reached a truce, and possibly even a friendship with the Nine-tails.”

Naruto winced as if at a sudden noise and wiggled a finger in one ear. “Thanks, Kakashi-sensei. That was loud. He says he’s totally not friends with some idiot human kit.”

“Rather like Naruto’s relationship with Sasuke, really,” Kakashi added blandly, with just a tiny bit of malice aforethought. Naruto and his new friend had been the cause of enough stress this week, he felt he deserved the indulgence.

Naruto glowered at him, though the corners of his mouth were twitching. “Kakashi-sensei, that wasn’t very nice. You made him howl.”

Kakashi spread his hands innocently.

“Let me get this straight,” Tsunade said, a little muffled past the hand pinching the bridge of her nose. “The scourge of our village, the terror of many a person’s nightmares, the most appallingly powerful of all the tailed beasts… and Naruto has made buddies with it.” She slid back down into her chair and buried her face in her hands. “I’m not even surprised, you know.” She heaved in a deep breath and looked up to fix an eye on Naruto. “And you want to heal your friend.”

“It’s the right thing to do,” Naruto insisted. “He didn’t choose to attack us. He got injured in a fight that wasn’t his fault, and we were the ones who did it!”

“There were a lot of people injured in that fight, and we can’t fix all of them either, Naruto,” she told him quietly.

Naruto looked back at her, not angry now but very serious, and answered just as quietly. “Sensei.”

That was all he said, but everything was in that one word. Her responsibility as the one who had taught him to heal as well as fight. His belief in the principles she’d given him. His faith that she would stand by those principles now and do the right thing. Kakashi was impressed; Naruto truly had matured lately, and he had to wonder how much the demon fox might be responsible for that.

Tsunade locked eyes with her student for a long moment. Finally she folded her hands and spoke soft and level. “Think about this, and answer me truthfully. If the Nine-tails is healed, can you still remain yourself?”

Naruto got the inward look he’d developed recently, the one Kakashi was starting to suspect indicated a conversation with his resident spirit. “No,” he murmured finally, “no, you’re right. Okay.” He looked up at Tsunade. “I’ll still be me. Yes. We really do have a deal, and he’s, um, kind of pissed off that everyone seems to be doubting his word. But you know… I’m not exactly the me I was before I graduated. Or before I was teamed with Sasuke and Sakura. Or before you taught me. It’ll be like that. He and I can talk, now. We really are getting to be friends.” He paused and added pointedly, glancing just a little aside, “No matter how much he growls and yells about insolent mortal spawn with no respect.”

Kakashi straightened up against the wall abruptly, catching something he hadn’t before. “Naruto,” he said, cautious, “when you talk about your deal with the Nine-tails… do you mean that the two of you have a contract now?”

Naruto blinked and paused, head cocked. “He says,” he reported a bit wryly, “that he’s not some damn animal summons, but that the essential principle is not entirely dissimilar, though I shouldn’t go getting a swelled head about it.”

Kakashi had to admit, through a bit of a daze, that Naruto’s verbatim quotes of the Nine-tails really did sound a bit like a much older and even more irritable Sasuke.

“It’s a promise between us,” Naruto added, smiling. “We’ll both keep it. Which means,” he added, looking pugnaciously at Tsunade again, “that I’m going to heal him!”

Tsunade looked just as shocked as Kakashi felt. “If it’s a contract…” she murmured, and trailed off. After a moment, though she shook herself and straightened. “If it’s a contract, of course you have to abide by it.” She nodded just over Naruto’s shoulder, the same direction he glanced when talking to the Nine-tails. “I apologize for misunderstanding the weight of this bond.”

Naruto cocked his head again and then turned red. “I, um. I think maybe I won’t say what he just said? Especially the part about your grandmother. Eheh.” He rubbed the back of his head. “He, um, well in general he says thanks.”

Tsunade glowered and muttered something under her breath. “All right, fine. But this is going to have to wait, because I can’t stay here as long as the research for this would take. I have to get Sai back to the village and deal with Danzou.”

“Then we’ll come home now and I can get started while you take care of that,” Naruto said firmly.

“You are not coming out of this mission’s protection,” Tsunade snapped.

“They already found us, though!” Naruto protested. “And it’s an island, we’re sitting ducks!”

“Naruto!” They were leaning over the table, nearly nose to nose, when someone cleared his throat.

“If we aren’t intruding on the debriefing, Hokage,” Darui said, leaning in the doorway, “the mission command team actually has some thoughts about that.”

Tsunade threw herself back in her chair. “Yes, everyone might as well add their bright ideas,” she said a bit sourly.

Kakashi took it as a comment on the general temperament of village leaders that everyone filed in without minding her ire in the least.

“Naruto makes a reasonable point,” Darui started, when everyone was seated around the great oval table with Naruto scowling beside Tsunade. “The greatest strength of the Island Turtle, for the purposes of this mission, was concealment. If that’s breached, and it seems likely it was, then it might be better to surround our hosts with their own people again while we search for Madara. The strength of Akatsuki is now considerably reduced, after all.”

“We’ve seen better cooperation here than I would have imagined,” Yuzuki put in, “and I truly believe that will have benefits for a long time to come. But each village always knows any of the others may be an opponent at any time. Everyone feels more secure in their own place. That is also an advantage.”

Tsunade nodded slowly. “It’s true that two Akatsuki teams have been removed since this mission started. Madara and perhaps one supporter are all that’s left. I suppose there’s a good case to be made for a home ground advantage, now.” She folded her hands under her chin. “Would you all have this mission separate again, then?”

“Sand is the ally of Leaf,” Temari said, chin lifted. “We will send support to your village, to defend Naruto, if you’ll have it.”

Tsunade smiled warmly and Naruto’s scowl was slipping away, replaced by a tiny grin. “That will be welcome.”

“I believe the Mizukage would be willing to send the Swordsmen to aid both Leaf and Cloud,” Choujuurou put in, lifting his hand a bit shyly.

“I have no idea whether my father will permit it, or the Raikage accept it for that matter,” Kitsuchi said a bit dryly, “but I will put forward the idea of sending Rock’s aid to Cloud, as well. Many of our people have been favorably impressed with B-san, on this mission.”

Tomita of Sound stirred, looking up from his folded hands. “When Orochimaru died, we took some of his network intact. Sound will search for word of Madara among the smaller countries.”

Tsunade was nearly glowing. “Thank you,” she said, looking around the table and spreading her hands as if to encompass them all. “Thank you all. I am honored by your willingness to aid us in this time, and I’m sure the Raikage will be as well.” She pursed her lips thoughtfully and added, “Once he’s done shouting, of course.” She smiled at them again, edged and bloodthirsty now. “Together, we will put an end to Madara.”

A soft rumble of agreement ran around the room. It was heartening, and yet, for Kakashi, also frightening. He saw how she did this, how she moved them, and he knew it was because she offered them her own trust. Her own heart. She was Naruto’s teacher, no question. Someday, he would need to do this too, and the thought was both tempting and terrifying, because he knew that he could. If he dared.

Someday wasn’t yet, though, and he turned his thoughts, with some relief, to the simpler task of ordering and withdrawing the Leaf contingent. She was still his Hokage, one of the Legendary Three, the leader and shield of Konoha. There was comfort in that, even as they prepared to heal one of Konoha’s worst nightmares and face down another long thought dead and gone.

A/N: Canon says that Shin died of disease before he and Sai fought, but that isn’t nearly as narratively useful. Since the poor schmuck’s dead in any case, I’m going to say he and Sai were, in fact, set against each other as planned. It makes Sai’s complete asocial feralness that much more believable.