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The Pacifists

By karldin

Drama / Adventure

Chapter 1

Dear Readers,

This here is my new story. It begins from when the Uchiha are showing unrest, the prelude to the massacre. As stated in the summary, Naruto's parents are alive due to various reasons.

I hope you like this, and please review as you have always done!

THE PACIFISTS.

CHAPTER 1

"No, no, no! Absolutely not!"

"But Kaa-san-"

"Not one more word from you, Naruto!", said Kushina Uzumaki furiously, silencing her son who seemed to be on the verge of bursting into an impassioned speech. "What is wrong with you, you goof? Why do you think putting my baby as an ANBU captain a good idea?", she demanded angrily of the subject of her ire, her husband. Naruto tried to get in a word edgewise, but was simply shushed by the rampaging tornado that was his mother.

"You should be happy with what your son is achieving, woman", came a sarcastic voice from the kitchen doorway, causing them all to go silent. Naruto and Minato both made shushing sounds as the second Namikaze son, Akashiro. But Naruto's brother, well in character, ignored them both. "Instead, here you are, throwing tantrums like Sasuke. Shikamaru was right, you women really are troublesome."

That Nara boy is really not a good influence on my brother, thought Naruto apprehensively as Kushina seemed ready to explode. Akashiro was carelessly ladling soup into his bowl, but Naruto saw a faint smile playing on his lips at the imminent explosion they would all face. For all of seven years of age, Akashiro was curiously different from Naruto. Naruto had no idea when Akashiro had become such a mouthy kid. He was not exuberant, but when he spoke he managed to irritate everyone. Their mother had often been the unwitting target of Akashiro's urge to wind everyone up.

"Kushina-chan, it's alright. We all know you are proud of Naruto. Don't listen to Akashiro", said Minato, stepping in bravely. Kushina took one look at him, and then looked at Naruto. Suddenly the anger seemed to flee from her countenance as she collapsed into Minato's arms in tears. The Yondaime Hokage looked shocked at this…Kushina never cried, not even that day eight years ago when the masked intruder had torn the Kyuubi from her body.

"Kaa-san, I'm really sorry", said a chagrined Akashiro, rushing towards his mother.

"She's alright, Akashiro. Go on, leave for the academy. We'll be fine", said Minato as he soothed his wife. Naruto waved his brother goodbye, looking anywhere but at his weeping mother and saddened father. Kushina sat down gingerly with Minato, wiping her eyes on his sleeve. Naruto too sat down at the kitchen table, beckoned by his father. The last two years had been especially stressful on their entire family, what with Konoha's political situation and Naruto joining the ANBU at barely eleven years of age. But this new development was going to be a bitter pill for Kushina to swallow.

"Are you fine now, Kushina-chan?", asked Minato tenderly.

"How can I be fine, you goofy idiot?", said Kushina angrily, flaring up readily as she wiped the last of her tears away. "You've already let my baby nearly die more than a dozen times, by letting him join the ANBU. Now you want to make him a Captain, of all things. Have you finally taken leave of your senses?", she demanded, causing Minato to wince repeatedly at her sharp words. "And you! Don't you have any sense of self-preservation at all? Do you even know the average age an ANBU operative remains alive?", she spat, turning to her son.

"I know, Kaa-san; but averages are not the best guide here. Uchiha Itachi was becoming a captain too, there was no way I'd let him beat me to it", protested Naruto. Minato made discreet signals to grab Naruto's attention, asking him to tread lightly here. Kushina growled at him, and for a moment Naruto felt a shadow of real fear. Even wearing a homemaker's attire, Kushina Uzumaki was a Shinobi to the core. Not unlike Uchiha Mikoto, her friend from Genin days.

"So this was just to show up Itachi-kun?", she asked dangerously.

"Uh…", he stuttered, glancing at his father for help. Minato was shaking his head behind Kushina's back, evidently not impressed by the quality of Naruto's reasons to join the ANBU. "Yeah", he said finally to his mother, looking away from her. "Yeah, that was why. There's no way in hell I would let Itachi beat me at anything, not after he beat me at Shuriken Jutsu at the Academy final test. Can you imagine, me taking orders from Itachi? So you see, I had to be captain", he finished, squinting to see if she actually bought it.

By the sound of Minato's facepalm, it appeared she had not.

"Do you actually think you can lie to your mother, Naruto?", she asked him, breaking the silence that ensued. She turned to Minato, bidding Naruto to be silent as she grilled her husband.

"Minato", she said seriously, "I know something is going on. Ever since the Uchiha clan members have been dying, since last year, you have been giving Naruto more missions. I know I am out of the Village affairs these days, but I am still a retired Jounin. I am also your wife. I wouldn't ask you normally, but this concerns Naruto. I need to know what's happening", she asked him intently.

"Kushina-chan, it's nothing. You know those troublesome Amegakure Shinobi…always annoying us. You know anyone could take care of them", grinned Minato nervously. It was Naruto's turn to facepalm at his father's less than spectacular aversion. Kushina stepped forward and poked Minato's chest fiercely, standing chin to chin with her husband as she stared him down.

"Have you been sending our son to kill those Uchiha, Minato?", she pressed quietly, and this time Naruto became very alert. Kushina's eyes had become red and slitted, and the air was filled with the malice of a Bijuu's chakra. "If you are, then I will personally make you pay. Don't make excuses. Naruto's missions have been coinciding too closely with every murder in the Uchiha compound!"

"The Uchiha situation is complicated", Minato answered in a hard voice, staring fearlessly into the eyes of a Jinchuuriki. Naruto knew his father held no fear of the Kyuubi or its chakra, not when he had faced down the real thing eight years ago. "The Sandaime and I are the only ones buffering between the Uchiha and the rest of the Shinobi. We are doing what we can. Naruto is among the only Shinobi I can count on, Kushina! The only others I can trust absolutely are the Sandaime and Kakashi."

"Swear to me you are not using our son to kill the Uchiha, Minato", Kushina snarled. Minato exchanged a short glance with Naruto, and sighed as he laid a hand on Kushina's cheek.

"I swear. I know you are worried about Mikoto and Fugaku, and their family...you must know me better than this, Kushina. Mikoto has been like an aunt to Naruto, and like a sister to me and you both. Naruto and Akashiro both play in the Uchiha compound with those children as if it were their own. Do you think I would make Naruto kill such close friends? Do you actually think me that cruel?", he questioned softly.

"No", conceded Kushina, lowering her eyes. "I'm so worried, Minato, what with all the tension in the village. You've let our son join ANBU at such a young age, and now you're making him captain an ANBU squad. I wish you'd tell me what is going on", she said, almost pleading at the end. Naruto wiped a stray tear from his face, not quite knowing how to console his mother. Akashiro and he both idolized their father, of course, but Naruto shared an especially close bond with his mother.

Perhaps it is because of the burden we share, he thought, placing a hand on his abdomen. "I can take care of myself, Kaa-san", he told her reassuringly, and she turned to him.

"I know. You are Minato's and my son, after all", she sighed. "But I am just so worried about you, Naruto. I was just speaking to Mikoto the other day, and she was so sad by how aloof Itachi has become. She says she can't even understand Itachi anymore; it is as if he is living in a different world. I just don't want that to happen with you. You've already grown up so fast I don't even remember you doing it!"

Naruto stepped forward and hugged her tightly, trying to convey all his certainty and resolve to his mother. "It won't, Kaa-san, I swear it. When I am with you, I will always be myself. No ANBU marble face with my mother", he promised her firmly, grinning a little at the relieved thumbs-up Minato shot him from behind Kushina's back. "It's alright, Kaa-san, really. I'm not Itachi…I can't imagine being so stuck up all the time. Don't cry", he said as she sobbed at his joke and promise, patting her back as he disengaged from the hug.

"Finish your breakfast. I will just go freshen up", she told him as her sniffles ceded. As she exited the kitchen, Naruto looked seriously at his father.

"We should really see about bringing her into the fold, Tou-san. Are you sure she's better of not knowing?", he asked seriously. "It's better she starts avoiding going to the Uchiha compound, Akashiro too. She can help keep him away if she knows why. She'll also be ready when something goes wrong."

Minato drained his own tea, and set the cup down on the table with just a mite more force than necessary. "No, Naruto. There is absolutely no way we can tip the Uchiha off to the fact that we are onto them. Your mother has always been emotional, and the Sharingan can immediately pick off her negativity. This is for her safety, and that of Akashiro's!"

"You're probably right", agreed Naruto after a while of silence. Akashiro was a great deal like Kushina, always wearing his feelings openly. "Akashiro will probably go around insinuating about it near Sasuke, and blow up everything", he said wryly. Minato grinned abashedly; they both knew that was exactly what Akashiro would do if he knew what was going on. That kid's first instinct was to rile up someone and he succeeded more often than not.

"Anyway, I have today free before beginning tomorrow again. Tell Kaa-san I've gone to Ichiraku", Naruto said, standing up.

"Of course. Be sure to bring her a good portion of what you eat as well", Minato said with a smile, both of them knowing full well of Kushina's rapacious appetite for Ramen. Naruto tossed his father a lazy salute, and washed his hands. No doubt his parents would do a lot of discussion once the house was empty…his mother's tension had been mounting for months and Naruto knew his recent promotion was the last straw.

He knew they needed to have it out, and it was better he wasn't there for it. He speedily exited the house as he heard his mother returning to the kitchen. It's only going to get harder, this Uchiha situation. And that is only counting one problem we have inside the Village, he thought gloomily as he walked out onto the street.

"Ohayo, Ohayo", he replied to the multiple greetings people gave him as he trudged the road. Being the Yondaime's son had given him instant recognition, and the careful eye of every tutor he had at the academy. It had also given him quite a bit of unwanted adulation from the populace. The shadow of my father's greatness, he thought whimsically as entered the shadow cast by the Hokage mountain. The respect he bore for his father was nothing less than phenomenal, but it did get wearying for him to get singled out as the Hokage's son.

He had been conscious of it even as a child and it was what drove him to create an identity for himself. He passed the Academy as he strode towards Ichiraku's, returning greetings from random people, and ignoring the odd glance of disdain or resentment. The academy was a major part of every Shinobi's childhood in Konoha, and it played a major part in his as well. He closed his eyes for a moment, recalling his first day at the place.

He remembered standing quietly by his father's side as he talked to the Academy instructor. The Academy had always fascinated him…he couldn't wait to get his hands on some real Shuriken and Kunai. So when his father had, one day, with a somber face announced that it was time for Naruto to be joining the academy, he had literally bounced around the house in excitement.

"Hokage-sama, you should teach him yourself. Or if you are busy, Kushina-sama should teach him. Considering what he houses I am not certain the Academy will-"

"The Academy is perfect", interrupted Minato, shooting a wary glance at Naruto. "He will learn here, and not just how to be a Shinobi. He is a child who is too shy outside the house. He must learn how to live with peers. All the Shinobi skills in the world are useless without that one thing", he said firmly. The instructor paused for a moment, and then nodded diffidently.

Naruto, for his part, was just eager to get on with it. "Uh, Aburame-sensei?", he began shyly.

"Yes, Naruto-sama?"

"When will you teach me how to throw Kunai?", he asked, unable to bear the excitement as he pictured himself dashing around, throwing Kunai with perfect aim and hit bulls-eye on a dozen targets. The solemn air was split by the laughter of the Hokage, joined a moment later by the instructor.

"Not for a long time yet, Naruto-sama. Not for a long time. You are the Hokage's son, and we can't have you cut yourself into pieces anytime soon now can we?", wheezed the instructor, his laughter dying down with Minato's. Naruto wondered just what was so funny.

He had never liked the emphasis the instructor had put on the phrase "Hokage's son". That preference was further reinforced when classes commenced.

"Be good, Naruto", his mother warned him gently. It was the first day at the Academy, and all the parents were there to see their children off. "Oh, there's Mikoto-chan. You have never met her son till now, have you Naruto. Come on I'll introduce you", she said enthusiastically, dragging a reluctant Naruto to meet her friend. Mikoto waved to her friend with one hand as the other was occupied holding a serious looking boy with the dark hair and eyes of the Uchiha clan.

"Oh, hello Kushina-chan!", smiled Mikoto as they waded through the press of parents and children to meet. "It's Itachi's first day too! Itachi, you remember Kushina-san don't you?", she asked her son. The boy nodded.

"I do indeed. Hello, Kushina-san", he said politely to Naruto's mother, sketching a polite bow. Naruto just stared at the boy as Kushina chuckled, wondering who even spoke like that. He decided right there that the boy was just too full of himself.

"Oh, he's so serious. Like a little storm-cloud", Kushina whispered to Mikoto as they shared a hearty laugh at the expense of a serene looking Itachi. "Naruto, you too remember Mikoto-san, don't you? You met her the other day at the ration outlet?", she asked her own son. Naruto tore his eyes away from Itachi and looked up at Mikoto who was looking kindly at him.

"Hello, Mikoto-san", he mumbled, discreetly stepping behind his mother's legs. Mikoto knelt and gleefully pinched his cheeks, causing him to retreat even further.

"He's too adorable, Kushina-chan!", said Mikoto with a bright smile. "He and Itachi will be best friends, won't you Itachi?"

"I don't know, Kaa-san. I am not opposed to the concept", came the serious reply. "But I don't think Naruto-sama's capacity will surpass mine. Only those with equal or near equal capacity can form a true friendship, everything else is a mere illusion or an excess of trying."

Again Naruto was reduced to staring at the boy, this time along with his mother. He hadn't ever heard someone his own age call him "Naruto-sama" or anything of the sort. And what was all this about capacities? Naruto was far from stupid, and it sounded to him like this Itachi was labelling him stupid. He tugged on Kushina's sleeve as she looked on in puzzlement at Itachi.

"I don't like him, Kaa-san. I don't think we'll ever be best friends", he said conspiratorially to his mother. Kushina was about to reprimand him, but it appeared Itachi had heard what he had said. With that calm expression, and superior demeanor Naruto was beginning to despise, he spoke:

"You are not required to like me, Naruto-sama. We are merely Shinobi working for the same Village. Please do not constrain my capacity with your lack of the same", said the young Uchiha boy. That was it. Naruto may not have ventured out of home too much, but he could never take being put down like this. Anger surged through him as he threw himself at the boy, intending to show him a thing or two.

But somehow, he found himself pinned to the ground. There was no pain but he couldn't move either thanks to Itachi immobilizing him with an arm lock. "I told you, Naruto-sama. The difference between you and I is too large. Do not fight me until your capacity can match mine", said the Uchiha quietly. Naruto flinched as he looked into his nemesis' eyes, wondering why they had suddenly become a bright red with a single tomoe.

"Let him go, Itachi! Kushina-chan, I am truly sorry-"

"It is fine, Mikoto-chan. Your son was defending himself", Kushina excused graciously as she pulled Naruto to a standing position. "And he has the Sharingan already? You really are quite the prodigy, Itachi-kun!", she said happily. Naruto was offended by how little his mother thought of this episode. She had never called him a prodigy! He looked back at Itachi, who was showing no particular emotion after subduing him. If it were Naruto who had done the subduing, he would have gloated for hours on end.

"He is. Fugaku confirmed it yesterday; Itachi awoke the Sharingan earliest in the Uchiha clan. No one has ever done it under eight years of age, but Itachi did it a week ago exactly on his fifth birthday!", exclaimed Mikoto proudly, ruffling her son's hair. As the two women went on chatting, Naruto tried to catch Itachi's eye. His anger forgotten quickly, he wanted to know how the Uchiha had done that maneuver.

But he was being completely ignored. "I'll match your capacity soon", he murmured to the boy, seeing if he heard that. Just when he was about to turn away in frustration, Itachi replied calmly.

"I await the day, Naruto-sama."

"Don't call me sama!", shouted Naruto as Mikoto moved away finishing her conversation with Kushina. "Kaa-san, I really don't like him. I'm going to finish him in Taijutsu class! I'll be a prodigy too!", he said determinedly, letting go of his mother's hand and trudging determinedly towards the Academy doors. He was followed by his mother's delighted laughter and encouragement.

"Good luck, Naruto! Be a good boy and come straight home!"

Naruto shook his head, wondering just why Itachi was so stuck up. He still didn't get it, not even now when they were about to captain ANBU squads of their own. He had grown out of the resentment he had borne Itachi since that less than cordial first meeting, but the rivalry was there still as strong as ever. He still wanted to find out who was better among them; Itachi had always avoided unnecessary fights, and always refused a fight with him. He had stopped trying after a while.

"One Miso Ramen for me, Teuchi-san and pack four for Kaa-san", he said to the affable owner of the restaurant. Teuchi's daughter Ayame seemed to be absent for the day. He watched Teuchi enthusiastically make Ramen, with a skill that almost always converted to heavenly dishes. "Teuchi-san, when will you teach me how to make Ichiraku Ramen?", asked Naruto, looking greedily at the steaming bowl of his favorite dish. This had been a running joke between them ever since a four year old Naruto refused to eat anything until Teuchi taught Kushina how to make his 'special' Ramen. That had been the first time he had visited the place.

"You know I won't do it ever, Naruto", returned Teuchi humorously, along with a large bowl of the most delicious Miso Ramen ever. "Feel free to skip eating in protest if you want", he added, referencing that first day of their association. Naruto however was in no mood for throwing pointless tantrums as he slurped the Ramen noisily, and with no decorum whatsoever. Within a few short moments, he had finished with the entire bowl and pushed it away the moment the last morsel entered his mouth.

"Time?", he asked Teuchi, munching on his pork slice. The Ramen maker had stopped his watch, and looked at Naruto with a smile.

"Forty-five seconds."

"Shit! I still can't beat Kaa-san. She averages thirty seconds per bowl", rued Naruto as he waited for Kushina's order to come by. Their Ramen eating contests were legendary within the family, and cost Minato no little. Teuchi took away the bowl, handing Naruto a box of tissues to clean up.

"So Naruto, doing well for yourself now huh? Already the talk of the village", said Teuchi good-naturedly as Naruto cleaned off the remnants of Ramen from his speed-eating. "We've got not one prodigy now, but two, and both from the same batch. They're already saying there will never be another like you and Itachi-san", Teuchi said. Naruto shook his head. Old man Teuchi really was a gossip monger of the highest order. Also, he chafed at being mentioned in the same sentence as Itachi.

"I've already said this, Teuchi-san", he clarified yet again, this time with exasperation, "I just train more than the average Shinobi. I'm no prodigy", he said, the last word distasteful as it passed his mouth. Prodigy meant Itachi, and Itachi meant irritation to him. Where the other Shinobi saw a solitary genius, Naruto saw an irritating genius. He watched Teuchi shake his head amusedly, waddling off to prepare the rest of his order and consequently leaving him alone in the small eating area.

"Why on earth do they confuse hard work and motivation with born talent?", he mumbled again, confused by how people perceived him. He knew they viewed him as the Yondaime's son still to a certain extent, but really these concepts were simple. Itachi again, he thought, annoyed. He has them convinced that genius runs in families.

"Thinking about Itachi again, niisan?"

Naruto turned to see his brother enter the restaurant, and his eyes narrowed. "Why aren't you at the Academy, Akashiro?", he asked sternly. He looked over his brother's shoulder, and sure enough there was the redoubtable Nara Shikamaru. Now Naruto was positively irritated. "And you, Shikamaru. You both shouldn't be skipping out like this. I'll tell Kaa-san, Akashiro", he threatened, bringing out the big guns without hesitation.

"Yeah, don't sweat it", said Akashiro, as he and Shikamaru lethargically seated themselves on either side of him. "We had a test today, niisan. Since it got over today, we're here to celebrate. What do you want to have, Shikamaru?", he asked his friend. The Nara said nothing, musing upon the choice for several seconds.

"I think I'll have what you will be having", said Shikamaru lazily. Akashiro looked disappointed.

"Oh, I was planning to say that to you. Anyway, Teuchi-san!", he bellowed, "give me whatever niisan was having just now!", he ordered, and Naruto rolled his eyes. Sometimes his parents wondered about Akashiro, who was obviously quite intelligent. Naruto felt personally that his brother had a much tighter handle on emotions than himself, despite being younger by five years.

"So how did the test go?", he asked his brother curiously.

"Flunked it, niisan. Got a zero. Shikamaru and I fell asleep before the test began", sighed Akashiro. Typical, thought Naruto, looking at his brother. In looks, they were as different as their personalities. Naruto had often been identified as a near exact copy of the Yondaime at that age, with hints of Kushina about the face. Akashiro was the opposite, however. He was a male version of Kushina down to the hair with hints of Minato.

But Naruto's temperament resembled his mother's a great deal…he was fiery and passionate most of the time though that had quickly mellowed during his time in the ANBU. Akashiro on the other hand inherited Minato's calm and collected nature, along with a healthy dose of laziness. No one was sure where that last trait had come from as none of Minato or Kushina's forbears had possessed it.

"Who got top marks?", Naruto asked, in an effort to begin motivating his brother. Alas, he knew in his mind how futile that was. Still he never stopped trying by command of his mother.

"Uchiha Sasuke", answered Akashiro. "He seems to want to get his brother's approval rather badly. I have no idea why", he said, squinting at his brother. Naruto face palmed as Shikamaru too looked quizzically at him as if he could explain it. This was one thing he actually liked a great deal about Akashiro; even at this young age, his brother had a strongly developed sense of self, needing no one's approval to be himself.

This was in strong contrast with Naruto, who fed off the acknowledgement of others. Perhaps Uchiha Sasuke was the same, thought Naruto, needing his brother's approval to truly succeed. "Akashiro, you really have to try hard at the Academy", said Naruto seriously. "Being lazy will only get you killed in the field. Tou-san, Kaa-san and I won't always be there to protect you, you know?"

"See, this is why I prefer clouds to people", said Shikamaru matter-of-factly to his friend, and turned back to slowly munching on his food.

"Niisan, why do you always make me think about the future?", whined Akashiro, ignoring Shikamaru's quip. "I know you're an ANBU captain and all that, but really, not everyone can do it like you and Itachi-san. Can't you just let me graduate in the normal amount of time? I don't want to move fast like you. Nice double entendre, huh?", he asked Shikamaru, who nodded appreciatively.

"Very nice indeed, Akashiro-kun. Now kindly proceed home before sensei comes searching for you two", came a distinctly lazy voice. "Ah, Naruto, we're fellow captains now, huh? So you won't be taking orders from me any longer…makes me sad when I think about it."

"Oh Kakashi-san, it's you", said Naruto, watching his brother walk out dispiritedly back home with his friend. No doubt their parents would be puzzled by Akashiro's performance. They, better than anyone else, knew how clever their son could be- it puzzled them when he did not apply himself. "Yeah, we won't be on the same team any longer. Is there a problem? Today is an off-day for me", said Naruto to the copy ninja.

"For me too", revealed Kakashi, waiting for Naruto to get his order. Once that was done, they both greeted Teuchi and stepped out of the restaurant and into the busy streets of Konoha. "Sensei's given an off-day to all the ANBU captains. I think ROOT is on unofficial duty today", he added, glancing at a side alley to catch a flicker of motion. Naruto had caught it too, and quite clearly. Apparently, ROOT was doing its duty even as they spoke.

"Danzo is already interfering then?", asked Naruto quietly.

"He never stopped", answered Kakashi with a chuckle. Then he turned serious as he looked at Naruto, "I heard chatter that he was trying to recruit Itachi into ROOT, or atleast make him sympathetic to its cause. As should be obvious, we can't have that happening. I just finished having a chat with him myself about it."

"What did you talk about?"

"Oh, this and that. A few threats and promises, you know how it goes", said Kakashi genially. "Oh don't look like that, Naruto. You know how the ANBU works. We don't like one of our own switching sides in the middle of war, or indeed any other time. Even someone like Itachi, who is playing every side of the board simultaneously", admonished Kakashi at his glum look.

"I have no idea why Tou-san won't consider this, but it's been bugging me forever", said Naruto in a low voice as they sat on a bench next to the memorial stone in the training grounds, "How do we know Itachi is telling us everything? He could be selling us out to his clan even as he tells us he is selling them out to us. Or he could be selling out both or one of us to ROOT. I just cannot get a read on him and I've tried for years", spat Naruto with frustration.

"Maa, why are you so excited?", asked Kakashi, puzzled. "Whatever gave you the impression that we are so dependent on Itachi's intel?"

"We're not?"

"Well, in a way we are, yes, but for the most part it is irrelevant. We've been warned and that is what matters. We will be ready for them no matter what they try", said Kakashi reassuringly. "The only problem is ROOT. We have no idea how they will act in all this. We considered asking Itachi to look into ROOT, but he's already such a shady character that we didn't bother."

"You're wrong, Kakashi-san", replied Naruto. "There is another variable, and it's Itachi himself. I still don't know what Tou-san is playing at, promoting him to Captain."

"Aside from the fact that he more than deserves it?", asked Kakashi with a smile. "Sensei probably wants to soothe the ever hurt Uchiha pride by acknowledging their prodigy. It seems to have worked for the moment, by what we know and see."

"Oh", was all Naruto could say as they sat in silence. Kakashi hummed as he opened up a board of Shougi, beginning their usual routine on off-days. I wonder what will be decided at tomorrow's meeting, thought Naruto, his thoughts on the ANBU captains' meet that the Yondaime had called. Since ANBU was the one arm of Konoha Shinobi that was directly under the Hokage's command, it went without saying that it was a division that could be trusted the most by the Hokage. The sound of wood striking wood caught his attention.

"Your move, Naruto", said Kakashi genially, and soon the game was underway.

The divide in the chamber was almost tangible, even to the unobservant. But this meeting was happening under a shroud of heavy secrecy, under guard of ANBU.

The Yondaime Hokage, Namikaze Minato, sat with his predecessor, Sarutobi Hiruzen in chairs that were almost opposite the other occupants of the room. Shimura Danzo the head of ROOT division of the ANBU, and the other elders Homura and Koharu were seated in those chairs and the tension in the air was almost palpable. Minato knew that the Sandaime and his former teammates were almost always at odds, with Homura and Koharu usually favoring Danzo's radical schemes.

"Thank you for giving my ROOT Shinobi a chance, Hokage-sama. Hatake Kakashi's little speech with me notwithstanding, I am grateful for this chance", said Danzo deferentially with an inclined head. "I assure you their report will be of the highest quality; you can rely on them to protect Konoha when the times demand it."

Though it was not vocalized, Minato felt the disapproval of Hiruzen by a lifetime of knowing him. Though he admired the Sandaime, he did not ascribe to the principle of letting Danzo handle the dirty work and making the old war-hawk a handy scapegoat. "You are welcome, Danzo-san. I have called this meeting for a reason. We have had a major development", he said, not wasting time with further pleasantries. He turned towards the door, and called out, "Itachi, please come in, and remove your mask."

An instant later, a young man knelt opposite them, with his crow mask in his hand. Minato studied Itachi, as always impressed by the young Shinobi's utter dedication to Konoha. He was not quite certain what had helped form Itachi's esoteric ideology, but he knew for certain that with Itachi the Will of Fire was as strong as any Hokage's. ANBU were handpicked by the Hokage, and when Minato knew when he had tested Itachi that he had found a truly rare breed of Shinobi.

"Tell us again what you told me half an hour ago, Itachi", prompted Minato, interlocking his fingers as he leant forward.

"Hai, Hokage-sama. On the news that I was made ANBU captain, my father let me into the inner circle of the clan. I attended the first meeting at the Naka shrine today", said Itachi in that emotionless tone to the meeting at large. Minato saw Danzo's eyes widen with excitement at this; everyone had been trying to spy on those secret Uchiha clan meets, and Danzo had been trying to infiltrate it for years, but it was all in vain.

"I am to feed top-secret ANBU intel to them, so they can neutralize the ones who guard the Hokage and his family. The coup 'd'état will not be large. Only those in the highest echelons of Konoha's administration will be assassinated, along with their families", finished Itachi calmly, his face betraying nothing of his emotions about his clan or their plans.

Minato's eyes narrowed, the only visible reaction he gave to Itachi's intel. Sheer rage overwhelmed him for a moment as he heard the Uchiha clan's plans to murder his family…and after everything he had done to accommodate their wishes! He saw Hiruzen sigh with defeat, as if acceding to the inevitable end, while Danzo smiled in triumph.

"The Uchiha are an unstable force, guided mostly by their passions…present company excluded", said Danzo, inclining his head to Itachi who did not even blink. "They must not be allowed to jeopardize Konoha any further, Hokage-sama. They must be removed, root and branch, before they bite the hand that fed them! You see now, Hiruzen, what I proposed was no abomination", he said in a gravely smug tone to his former teammate.

"Perhaps I was…wrong about this", the Sandaime conceded grudgingly. "Itachi, even if they took out our ANBU guards, how do they plan to kill us? We are a little better than the ANBU", he asserted, looking curiously at Itachi while Minato discarded his rage with an effort, and listened. This was important; Kushina, Danzo, and Hiruzen were all S-class Shinobi, while he was the first to be categorized SS-class in many generations. Answering the question of how they were to be killed would let them form their response towards this crisis.

"I do not know yet", Itachi said simply, causing them to frown. "I do know they have a plan for dealing with the Hokage, but they did not tell me yet. I believe I will know once I have gained more of their trust."

"The question is this, Minato", said Koharu in her slightly quavering voice, "Do we order a preemptive strike on the Uchiha? We already know they have betrayed the Village. We cannot be faulted for resorting to the sword, not after extending the olive branch for years."

Not that you did any of the extending. That was me and the Sandaime, thought Minato sourly. "You may leave if you wish, Itachi", he said kindly to the boy, knowing how painful it must be for him to hear people discuss his clan's extermination and do nothing about it. But Itachi stayed put, shaking his head slightly in refusal to leave. In that instant, Minato felt blazing pride for the boy…the boy who chose village above clan, who chose peace above destruction. Never had he seen such steadfast devotion to ideals, not to an extent of forsaking one's own blood.

If only you truly knew what a son you had, Fugaku, you would stop reaching for more than you could hold, thought Minato sadly. He looked at Koharu, already knowing the answer to her question.

"We will not strike first", he said firmly, ignoring the annoyed exhalation of Danzo. "We will rely upon our intel, and we shall be ready for them when they strike. Only when they draw first blood shall we respond. We shall keep a close eye on them until such a time, and until then try to defuse the situation through dialog only. No clandestine operation by you, Danzo-san", he said sternly to the bandaged man. He acknowledged the Sandaime's relieved smile with a nod to him, and to Itachi, who he knew must be relieved beyond measure.

"Hokage-sama, we will be completely vulnerable", protested Danzo quietly. Minato raised his hand to stall further protests by anyone.

"The way I see it, we are at a crossroads. We can either choose to believe that the Uchiha can be guided into doing the right thing. This path would be what the Shodai would choose", he said solemnly, "or we could choose the pragmatic, uncomplicated path of the Niidaime which is to eliminate the threat before we are ourselves destroyed. We must seek to understand the Uchiha, and see exactly who is stirring up this malcontent."

"Minato is right", concurred the Sandaime strongly, "the Village's darkness begins only with distrust. We must go to the heart of this issue, and finish this peacefully. The Uchiha belong to Konoha. They are not our enemies."

Silence ensued as each of them considered the ramifications.

"We will discuss this more and how to execute it at tomorrow's meeting, when all the ANBU captains will be present. Itachi, you are dismissed", said Minato, breaking the somber mood. Itachi disappeared with a Shunshin, and Minato watched Homura, Koharu, and Danzo file out of the room silently. "Sandaime, should we contact sensei about this?", he asked seriously.

"No", replied Hiruzen after a moment of thought, "Let us leave Jiraiya be. He is tracking Orochimaru, and my old genius of a student is another threat we should be careful of. I do not think it is time to bring back the Sannin, Minato, not yet. That would tell of how desperate we are."

"There is something going on in the Village that I am not aware of, Sandaime", said Minato heavily, with his face in his hands. "The masked man's warning rings in my mind, even from eight years in the past. I do not know why, but I get this feeling of foreboding…my gut says he has something to do with all this. He nearly killed me and Kushina that day, and if it weren't for the sacrifice of Sarutobi Shuji, Akashiro and Naruto would be orphans."

"Shuji was a great man and Shinobi. I never believed he would use the Reaper death seal in that manner, not until I saw it…who knows what was running through his mind?", wondered Hiruzen, recalling his once most trusted kinsman who had summoned the death god in his place. But why he dealt with the Kyuubi the way he did was a mystery. "The point is, Minato, you are dishonoring Shuji's sacrifice with this indecision. You already defeated the masked man once. When next you meet, go for the kill without hesitation", urged the Sandaime to his successor.

"There was something familiar about him", murmured Minato, lost in memories of that dreadful night. The two men, the two Hokage, sat there each lost in their own thoughts. Kushina would kill me if she knew what mission I was planning to assign to Naruto tomorrow, thought the Yondaime glumly. Being Hokage had been his dream, but he had not quite foreseen the conflict between his duties as the leader and his love for his firstborn.

But if anyone can handle it, he thought, a feeling of stifling pride surging through him but this time for his own son, It is Naruto.

Author's note:

I truly hope you liked it! I look forward to your opinions, in fact I await them eagerly even as you read this!

Sincerely,

Karldin.

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