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A Matter of Trust

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Mito woke in less than a second, grasping the blade she kept by her in case of intrusion in her bedchamber. Her breathing stayed perfectly even as she threw out her senses to try and find who had woken her, but the only sounds were the quiet hum of the night and her husband’s sleepy grumblings.

She opened her eyes and frowned when a second search still found nothing - surely she hadn’t become so paranoid that any noise would wake her? Her mind went to her youngest child, sleeping just the next room over, a small knot tying itself together in her stomach as she pushed herself quietly to her feet.

Ikuko had rolled off her futon in her sleep, arms clutched around her pillow as she drooled into it. Mito resisted the urge to smile at the sight, instead checking for any sign of an intruder after her progeny. Nothing. And with Juzaburo out on a mission right now, there should have been no one able to come this close without alerting both herself and her husband.

Perhaps she was losing her edge. The thought did nothing to settle her thoughts or her insides even as she forced herself to walk back to the main bedroom. Hashirama hadn’t moved since she’d gotten up, but she could feel the shift in his chakra that told her he was awake as well.

“Our daughter is fine,” she whispered to him. “And I can’t find any foreign chakra.”

“Come back to bed, then,” Hashirama replied, one arm lazily gesturing her over. “Too early to be up.”

“I don’t know,” Mito replied with a slight grin. “You could always use the extra time to work out your negotiations with the Hyuuga and Uchiha.”

“Noooooo,” The Hokage whined. “No more meetings… so much arguing…”

“Perhaps if you’d actually listened to me and passed on the hat, you wouldn’t have to deal with that today.”

“I tried, but Tobi laughed at me. To my face. And grabbed a mission scroll and left for a month .”

“I know, dear, I was there.”

And that was the sulk that always had her and her brother-in-law rolling their eyes. Really, for the most powerful man in the world, he was more a child than their actual children sometimes.

Any thought of comforting words was cut short when the next roil of her stomach was enough to make her hiss in unexpected pain. In a split second Hashirama was out of bed and at her side, resting his hand over hers while the other rested on her shoulder.

“Mito, what’s wrong?”

“I don’t…” She trailed off, feeling the slight tingle along the skin of her body that she hadn’t felt in a long while. “...the kyuubi?”

She hadn’t intended it as a question, but her mind simply couldn’t understand why, after this long, the demon she’d sealed inside herself had suddenly found this much energy to fight against her with. It was clever, to be certain, but all of its other attempts had been weak at best, mostly noticeable in how her control was slightly sloppier and her muscles a bit tighter as her body resisted.

The last time it had been this spirited had been the week after she’d sealed it, now that she thought about it. She’d spent a lot of her time vomiting out her insides as her body adapted to the seal and the thing inside of it fighting to escape. It had taken her a lot of tweaking from the inside of her mental scape in order to finally trap the thing enough to allow her to sleep and eat properly, but it had been worth it to be able to ignore its growls and threats.

Eventually the beast had given up, realizing she was capable of completely tuning it out if she wanted to, and some days she even forgot it was still there, only ink and flesh between it and Konoha.

“Is the seal weakening?” Hashirama asked, already prepared to call upon his plants to subdue the kyuubi if it was necessary.

Mito shook her head, running chakra across the seal. “No, the seal is sturdy. The demon just surprised me - it’s used all its energy up, I think-”

Something connected with her chakra, but the blistering heat of loathing and hatred was gone, replaced with something just as strong but more… Confused? Annoyed? Scared? It withdrew before she could react, and all at once her insides settled as if nothing at all had happened.

Something of her surprise must have shown on her face, because her husband’s hand tightened on her own.

“It’s stopped,” She told him, slowly allowing her chakra to settle back to normal. “But I might actually have to check on it, if only to figure out how it gathered up that much strength without my noticing.”

And to figure out why the kyuubi had been frightened, of all things. Demons didn’t fear anything, as far as she knew.

Did they?

~0~0~0~0~0~

The thing about mindscapes was that they were, to most people, merely theoretical platforms on which they could focus to organize and clarify their thoughts. It was a trick most Uzushiogakure children were taught to help them with visualization and compartmentalization, both of which helped when they moved on to learning their village’s ancient art.

To a jinchuuriki, it was a far more literal feature, born of the warped space-time contained on their own bodies and the mass of chakra within. It was, as far as Mito could determine, the meeting place between her soul and that of the demon, a place where she could visualize more clearly than ever the efforts of her sealing work.

As always her inner eyes opened on the seaside cavern she used to explore as a child, the opening to the beach behind her and the darkness of her inner mind further ahead. Mito strode forward into the shadows, able to see the winding paths and tunnels clearly even with no light present, focused on the path downwards she hadn’t taken in years.

In almost no time at all she reached the border between the two minds in her body, the cool dark caves smoothing to cobblestone walls as red light glowed in the room beyond. It was much as it had been when she’d last left it - golden chains stretched from the walls to the mass of red chakra in the center of the spherical room, as if she had trapped the sun itself in her soul. A walkway led from the entryway to the center, close enough for her to reach out and pull the demon’s chakra away if she ever needed to, though she’s never had reason to before.

The fox was not much different, either, pinned as it was to the chakra absorbing ball in the center with more than a dozen spikes made of ink and determination. Certainly there was nothing about it to suggest what had given it so much energy, and yet…

One massive eye opened, lips peeling back into a snarl. “Uzumaki... I should have known it was you.”

“Were you expecting someone else?” She replied wryly, fingers drawing the strings that attached to the chains. Nothing so much as twitched, so the chains weren’t loosening…

The demon snorted, closing its eye again. “Hardly.”

Mito frowned at the show of ignoring her, recalling how much the beast loved threatening her with all the ways it knew to tear a human apart. “Then what was your fit back there for? You clearly wanted my attention.”

The kyuubi remained silent, ignoring her as she strode up to it along the walkway and spun the sphere so she could look at each spike. They were perhaps a bit looser than they had been before, but not so much as to explain where it’d gotten the energy from.

“I think I like you like this better,” Mito mused out loud, curious as to what had caused this flip in personality of the demon. “The death threats were getting a bit stale.”

“You’re mortal,” It replied easily. “Eventually you’ll pass me on to some other Uzumaki brat and die, and they’ll pass me on and die, and one day someone will make a mistake and I’ll be free. There’s no reason for me to waste breath on something so temporary and uninteresting.”

Mito’s reply died on her tongue as she wondered how it knew what she had only started thinking about vaguely. Age was starting to creep on her bones, but she still had decades to look forward to before she had to pass on the burden of containing the dangerous beast. She had to prepare the seals that would allow the transfer anyways, as it was something never done on this scale before, and one mistake would indeed allow the kyuubi to rampage freely.

“That’s… fairly arrogant, don’t you think?” She replied instead. “After all, the Uzumaki are the best sealers in the world - I doubt such a mistake would get past them.”

“As arrogant as thinking humans can contain forces of nature forever?” It chuckled, a low laugh at some joke she didn’t comprehend. “You have no comprehension of what I truly am.”

“You’re a mass of chakra born of the hate of humanity,” She replied, recalling the lessons of old. “You tear down mountains and blast away lakes, you raze entire villages to the ground-”

“And yet you don’t even know my name.”

For the second time Mito stopped, trying to find an answer to that and failing. “You have a name?”

Its eye opened to focus on her, and for the first time in a long while she felt rather and remarkably ignorant.

Eventually it spoke again, closing its eye once it was finished making her feel stupid. “If a blond brat comes by and starts embarrassing your pathetic ninja forces, tell him the old man fucked up. He’ll understand.”

The hair on the back of her neck bristled. “Is that a threat?”

But the demon refused to reply, and eventually she had no choice but to leave with more questions than she’d entered with. Even with her husband’s specially brewed tea in hand, she could do little but stare into her cup and wonder why, for just a moment, the demon had looked so disappointed in her.

~0~0~0~0~0~

Keeping herself busy that day wasn’t too difficult - the first two hours were spent arguing Hashirama out of avoiding work by fretting over her as if the demon really had come close to escaping, followed by an hour getting Ikuko out of bed and to her genin team meeting.

Once everyone else was out of the house, she locked up and began her rounds of Konoha, starting with the small cluster of homes belonging to the families who had followed her from Uzushiogakure out of a sense of loyalty. From there she circled around to the other small families and clans, making certain village life and the organized ninja hierarchy wasn’t chafing them to the point of being a threat to Konoha before continuing on.

She was, as always, just on time for the Hokage’s meeting with the two largest clans, smoothing ruffled feathers and occasionally jabbing her husband when he was about to do something particularly foolish. Whatever amusement the two clan heads got from it was hidden well, and in the end everyone walked away satisfied if not necessarily happy.

“Sometimes I feel like getting these clans to get along is like throwing a bunch of cats into a hole and expecting them to play nicely with each other,” Mito sighed as she escorted her husband to lunch, bringing him past several sweets makers to the Akimichi compound so that some housing disputes could be settled while they ate.

“Your village did it, right?” Hashirama replied with a large grin. “They just need to work together more to see how much better all this is for everyone.”

“My village was made by refugees escaping the constant fighting,” Mito reminding him dryly. “My family hardly wants to fight each other, and no one sane would attack our defenses. It’s not the same thing at all.”

“Then that just means I’ll have to work harder to get people to settle down.”

She sighed, wondering how her husband could be so brilliant and yet so stupid. And why she’d agreed to marry him at all.

After that business was settled, she sent her husband off to his work in the tower while she finished her loop at the training ground where her daughter was training, eying Ikuko’s form to see where she needed work once she got home. She had just decided to swing by one of the sweets shops she’d passed up before when she felt the chakra beyond the edge of her senses.

Not because her skill had suddenly improved or because she’d decided to focus on that random approach to the village, but because it was enough chakra to match a demon and coming in at a rate that was fairly close to absurd. Her chakra flared in an alert to the ninja around her, and the genin were duly sent to start evacuating civilians if the incoming target proved hostile while everyone higher started preparing for a fight.

The first interceptions happened a mile outside the gates, and only slowed the chakra for perhaps eight seconds before it adjusted and started heading right for the gate. Mito arrived at the gate shortly before it did, a dozen jonin arrayed around her in defensive formation seven while she started preparing a seal to fritz out their control.

She was already swinging when the chakra came in for a landing in the clearing, only to be summarily bodied and thrown to the side. She pulled out her blade and regained her footing in time to see three of her jonin down, the stranger practically a blur as they danced around like the jonin were genin.

Mito felt something in her heart sink as the demon’s dismissive words echoed in the back of her head. There was no way it could have planned for this, could it?

The stranger paused in their assault once the last jonin was down, his orange and black bodysuit looking more damaged than the one sided fight could account for. He lifted a hand to his headband, adjusting it in such a way that she could briefly see the symbol of the Leaf carved into the worn and battered plate before the sun’s glare hid it again.

The boy, she noted blearily, was blond.

“Hey, hey, are you actually gonna listen to me or what?” the boy asked, huffing as he crossed his arms and stared her down. “I told the other guys I wasn’t an enemy, but they didn’t wanna listen and I don’t have time to waste right now convincing everyone I’m a good guy again.”

“You failed to announce your arrival and came in on an attack vector.”

“Well yeah, what was I supposed to do, get the drop on some random dudes on a mission and tell them to give you a letter?” The boy scratched at the side of his neck, not phased in the least by the other ninja coming in to surround them.  “Besides, I’ll be gone as soon as I find my friend. He wasn’t where I was supposed to find him and I figured here was the next most likely place, so…”

As if her day couldn’t be any stranger. She considered her likelihood of getting in a surprise attack on this boy, looked to her downed jonin, back to the absurd amount of chakra her opponent had, and came to a decision.

“I was told to let you know that the old man fucked up.”

At her words his entire posture changed, embarrassment and annoyance melting away as he focused entirely on her. In this instant she could see someone possibly capable of matching her husband, and barely kept herself from showing her nerves.

Seriously? I mean, I figured as much, but if he said that, then that means plan A is out the window.” The boy ruffled his hair and groaned, kicking at the ground. “Hey, is there any way I can talk to my friend? I sorta still need to coordinate with him on how to deal with stuff.”

“We’ll consider it if you cooperate quietly,” she replied, waving off the reinforcements as she kept her eyes locked on the boy.

“You got it, granny,” he agreed loudly.

Mito decided in that instant that she was not dealing with this mess without her husband’s tea blend to sustain her.

~0~0~0~0~0~

Mito glared into her teacup as if it was its fault for what she was dealing with now.

She wasn’t entirely unjustified in that thought either, as if she’d had a vice for sake like her husband, she wouldn’t have had the terrible, terrible idea of dragging the blond menace to the Hokage’s office to demand refreshments and a private place to talk, and thus the two man-children would not have had a chance to start building on each other’s insanities.

“I know, right?” The blond agreed fervently with her husband’s complaint on getting the clans to cooperate. “I had to fight this one Hyuuga guy who had the biggest stick up his ass because of his issues with his clan, and blamed everything on fate so he didn’t actually have to change anything.”

“I think most of them have trouble with their own clan.” Hashirama noted. “The only reason I haven’t stepped in yet is because part of the founding agreement was that clans wouldn’t be able to interfere with each other’s internal politics so long as they didn’t risk Konoha’s safety.”

Mito tried to remember how they’d gotten off topic so quickly and failed. Maybe they’d never been on topic at all.

“That sucks, especially when you know that all it’d take is punching the stupid people in the face until they realize they’re being stupid and fix themselves.”

It wasn’t too late to learn to like the taste of sake, was it? There had to be a stash somewhere in here that she hadn’t discretely removed before her husband noticed.

“Does that work?”

And dammit all, the Hokage should not look intrigued in a solution that would more than likely instigate a full out brawl in the streets before it solved anything!

“You better believe it!”

She slammed her cup down on the desk, avoiding cracking it in pieces though careful chakra control. “Neither of you are starting a brawl with the Hyuuga clan, or any of the other clans for that matter.”

“Mito-” Hashirama winced at her glare.

“No brawls. No diversions.” She threw back the last of her tea and resumed glaring both children down. “We are discussing what this rogue ninja is doing here and what we’re doing about him.”

“Yes dear,” the hokage mumbled, huddling in his seat and looking anywhere but at her.

“Ya don’t have to be so rude, granny,” Naruto grumbled. “I told you I was here looking for my friend.”

Mito refused to give anything away, not wanting to guess his reaction if he knew where his ‘friend’ was right now. “And why, exactly, should I trust you to be who you say you are? Perhaps you’re someone using a cover to get close enough to assassinate your target.”

“Seriously? I mean, I didn’t even plan on coming here at first, what’d be the point of making up a reason to be here?”

Mito could think of several dozen off the top of her head. “Describe this friend of yours, then, and maybe I’ll believe you.”

“Eh? Sure,” the blond rubbed at the bridge of his nose. “He’s grumpy, likes complaining a lot when he’s not napping, and has a wicked sense of humor. He’s also probably my only buddy who isn’t a perv of some kind, but I think that ‘cause he finds that stuff stupid more than anything.”

That… didn’t sound anything like she’s associate with the demon. Was he really that terrible an infiltrator?

“And does this friend have a name?” She asked carefully, almost relaxing as she thought of the best way to lead the boy on until she could seal and properly detain him. “I know most of my husband’s forces by name, so I could direct you to them once you’ve been cleared.”

“Oh, his name’s Kurama.”

She frowned. “You mean of the Kurama clan?”

Considering there were almost a hundred of them in the village, it might even be a slightly less terrible excuse while she tried to figure out which one he could be pretending to refer to. Or maybe he had a Kurama agent willing to work for him, though that’d be obvious once that person showed their hand.

“Nah, he says those guys ripped off his name a couple centuries ago, something about superstitious nonsense and a misunderstanding, I stopped paying attention a couple minutes into his rant.”

“A few… centuries ago?” And suddenly the sinking feeling was back.

“Yeah? That’s what he said, anyways.”

Mito’s lips pressed together thinly, nothing betraying her desire to shake the boy until he confirmed or denied her worries without outright asking. The idea of a human living several centuries wasn’t impossible - her clan regularly managed to reach nearly two hundred if they didn’t go down in battle, and some of the oldest records suggested people who lived even longer than that.

However, if there had ever been an Uzumaki Kurama, she would have known it, especially if they were several centuries old and living in the same village as her. If nothing else, such a massive life force should have had him stand out against the shorter lived people around himself.

“I will go and see if… Kurama confirms your identity. In the meantime, my husband can make certain you are kept safe until the jonin you… fought with will not attempt to get even.”

Translated: Hashirama you better keep a very close eye on this kid personally until I gather enough information to resolve this situation, and if I find out you slacked there will be trouble.

To his credit, her husband managed to hide his wince at her hidden threat and agree to her decision. And if the blond complained on how he didn’t need the protection, well, she wasn’t going to be the one to deal with it this time.

She had something much more important to check first.

~0~0~0~0~0~

Visiting the seal twice in the course of a day was not something she’d ever expected to have to do barring a dire emergency, and right now she was uncertain if this actually counted as such. The blond did not seem to be a threat to the safety of the village, but she could still remember the weight of his chakra, a brilliant well that nearly matched her husband’s reserves.

For a long while she simply stood in the doorway, staring at the demon pinned to the sphere, wondering if she was looking too much into coincidences. So much had shaken up her peaceful routine of the past few years that it might not even be her fault for jumping for conclusions so quickly, and yet she couldn’t forget how disappointed the demon had been on not even wondering if it had a name.

Or was it he? She suddenly recalled that Naruto had clearly referred to his friend as male, describing his attitudes with a casual fondness that came from a long companionship. It made it harder to reconcile the information with the demon she knew, who cared only for blood and carnage and threats and was anything but human.

If nothing else, she had to get information from the kyuubi, if only to stop a few of the questions bouncing around her mind. Though whether that would work with this new, quiet being who hardly seemed to care she’d been staring at it- him?- for the past twenty minutes was hard for her to say.

“Who, exactly, is the old man you referred to?”

She thought she saw an eyelid twitch, but she couldn’t tell if it had opened to glance at her or not. The demon did not reply in any other way, deepening her frown.

“You know, if you cooperate, I might consider loosening some of your bindings. I have a few other configurations for the seal in mind that would be more comfortable for you.”

Still nothing. The demon even had the gall to look peacefully asleep despite the fact that it shouldn’t have needed or wanted to pretend at it. Mito wondered if it’d stop if she pulled on some of its chakra, only to shove the idea away, because there was no way to be sure its chakra wouldn’t just amplify her irritation further.

“I won’t leave until you give me something, even if I have to drag it out of you,” she told it instead, hoping deep down that maybe she could find where the spark of fear had been once, or any sort of reaction she could work with really.

Silence. She wondered how her husband was doing, dealing with that blond stranger. Were they talking about clans troubles again even now? Should she have put this off until she was certain her husband wasn’t going to do something incredibly short-sighted?

She counted another hundred deep, even breaths from the demon before she sighed and conceded the first battle.

“Is your name Kurama?”

The breathing stopped. Its eyes didn’t open, but she knew that she had its attention at last.

“There’s a clan with that name,” she continued, watching closely for any further twitches, especially if this was something that could rile the kyuubi up. “Rather good with illusions, compared to most. It’s rumored that their secret techniques can even fool the Sharingan and Byakugan, though of course that could be a bluff. After all, if they did possess such a technique, it would hardly be tolerated long enough for them to establish themselves as a clan.”

“Naruto brought that up, did he?” It finally asked with bared teeth, one eye sliding open to stare at her. “I assume you didn’t bother to tell him where I was.”

“And why would you assume that?” She asked, keeping her despair from showing at the blatant confirmation of her concerns.

“Because he would be here right now,” the demon replied, and with a start she realized that it was laughing at her . “Even if you tried to keep him out, he’d argue at you until you gave in, and as that hasn’t happened, you couldn’t have told him anything other than the fact that I am somewhere nearby.”

Damnit, she didn’t like the kyuubi being this insightful. “So what? He’s an unknown who already knows far too much of what should be top secret and has no reason to keep it to himself. Giving him access to you would only guarantee disaster.”

“Naturally. I assume you learned from when you gave away the others as prizes to the other villages, then?”

Mito failed to bite back the snarl of frustration in time. “That was a completely different situation, meant to keep the balance of power between the villages-”

“You mean prevent the other villages from uniting against you in fear of your capabilities.”

Mito didn’t reply, which was all the confirmation the demon seemed to need.

“Don’t bother coming back without Naruto,” the demon dismissed her, closing its eye again. “This back and forth is annoying.”

Despite not being able to move, the demon made it seem as though it were making itself comfortable, breathing evening out again even as she stared it down incredulously. The sudden, vicious thought of dragging it until it told her how it knew so much took her a minute to shove down, and as she turned to leave she couldn’t keep herself from feeling like she was no longer in control of anything in her life.

Chapter Text

“You may speak to him in person once you’ve proven your trustworthiness to my satisfaction.”

Naruto leapt out of his seat, fists clenched tight. “What the fuck, old lady? I need to see him, we don’t have the time-”

“Unless you’re willing to share what, exactly, you need the most powerful demon in the world for, you have all the time in the world as far as I’m concerned.” Mito took another sip of her drink, eyes remaining firmly locked with the boy’s own.

“It’s for a secret mission, I told you-”

“As far as I care, you’re just a spy for a foreign village hoping to get your hands on the last demon in Konoha’s hands,” she cut in, waiting to see when he’d slip and give her the clues to piece together the puzzle that was Naruto and the new kyuubi. “Are you from Kumo, looking to remove one of our largest advantages before declaring war? Or perhaps a minor village hoping to gain prestige by doing what the larger ones couldn’t?”

“This isn’t about villages!” Naruto shot back. “This is about saving everyone!”

Mito raised one eyebrow in disbelief, even if it was clear the blond completely believed what he was saying. “Oh, of course, let me just hand over the most destructive force ever known so you can save everyone . Do you realize how stupid that sounds?"

“Stop talking about Kurama like he’s some mindless weapon!” Naruto snapped. “He’s only a threat to you because you all treat him like he is one!”

“You weren’t there when it reworked the map,” Mito replied. “All it took was one blast to create a valley a mile long-”

“Because Madara was controlling him,” He glowered. “If Kurama and the others only cared about causing destruction, there why are there still people? And towns, and cities, and everything else?”

Mito hesitated for just the barest moment, because she had never stopped to actually think on why she’d always known to stay away from the beasts, which seemed to be all the confirmation the blond needed.

“Someone out there has been manipulating people into hating and fearing them all, isolating them from each other, so that he can collect them all and use them,” He told her, drawing raised brows from herself and Hashirama. “And me n’ Kurama are the only ones who can stop him."

“Do tell.”

Naruto didn’t speak for a moment, face twisting in some internal debate before he closed his eyes and exhaled, some of his anger leaving his body.

“His name is Zetsu, and he’s not human. He can move through anything solid, and can’t be tracked by chakra or scent or anything normal. The only way you know he’s there is by his emotions, and Kurama’s the only being on the planet who can sense emotions reliably enough to track him down.”

Mito had not known that about the kyuubi, either. “What do you mean, sense emotions?”

“I told you my mission, granny,” Naruto said instead. “I’m not telling you shit until I see Kurama’s okay.”

“You-”

“Mito,” Hashirama interrupted, elbows resting on his desk the way they had been during the entire argument. “I think we should trust him.”

“Hashirama-”

“Everything he’s told us so far has rung true,” He said, shifting so he was sitting upright in his seat. “We should give him the benefit of the doubt-”

“No!” She wanted to throttle him. “Hashirama, it’s one thing to let foreign ninja join our forces, and quite another to give them access to a demon!”

“We gave away eight of them as proof of goodwill-”

“Which I knew would do nothing but even the field when they finally decide to push their boundaries-”

“They would have united against us if we’d kept that sort of power-”

“And so you want to just let some foreigner make away with the last one?”

“Of course not, I just thought-”

“You never think!” Mito grit out. “You just assume that everyone can be trusted until they stab you in the back like Madara did!”

Hashirama’s face went blank. Mito told herself she didn’t regret the low blow, and believed it.

“Granny,” Naruto interrupted, drawing her ire towards him, but his calm expression didn’t even falter at the heat. “What would it take for you to trust me?”

“I need to know who you are,” she replied firmly, hoping that would be enough to drive him off, but instead he offered a huff and a wry grin.

“Old man’ll be annoyed, but… there’s a way for ninja to see into each other’s hearts, if they’re strong enough. The old man called it ninshu, and all you had to do was knock fists together.”

He brought his fist up in front of him, body more relaxed than he should have been at being put in a corner or bluffing. “The reason the fighting never stops is because people are too scared to trust each other, too angry at the deaths of their loved ones to move on, and so they keep doing the same things over and over again. I want to stop that before it’s too late, but I need Kurama’s help, and I don’t want to hurt people just to find him if I can avoid it.

“I don’t know what’s convinced you that you can’t trust people, but you helped build Konoha despite that, yeah? All you need to do it give it one last shot.”

Mito stared into that earnest expression and thought back to a time when a darker-haired boy barely older than this one had told an upset foreigner married to him for the sake of a treaty that one day, he was going to change the world by helping people overcome their pride and set aside their differences.

She hadn’t believed him then, either, but she could now count the number of families who had seen what her husband had to offer and accepted.

(She remembered a girl who had helped her mother and sisters tend to refugees of the endless warfare on the mainland, of the despair and loss in the eyes of those who had lost entire families and clans to fear and hatred.)

“Fine,” she said. “Fine. But if I find one reason…”

She balled her hand into a fist and, after a moment’s pause, brought it into contact while expecting to feel an attack, or a flicker of chakra, or even nothing all all.






Instead, she saw.






She was four and she was staring longingly at other children in the park, but already knew that she didn’t belong in that world where adult eyes would glaze over her, refuse to see her, and the children would sneer or run away once they recognized her. She had heat in her stomach that wanted to crawl out of her veins and tear everyone to pieces, but instead she burned it so she could shout her goals even louder just to get annoyed glances to come her way.

She was five and she was crying because the old man who had promised to come for her birthday hadn’t and the orphanage hadn’t even bothered giving her the few pieces of candy the others got for their birthdays. The fireworks that had seemed exciting the previous year were now foreboding, because she knew what would happen if she went out to watch them alone.

She was six and had an apartment, because she’d gotten tired of other kids stealing her blankets and scarves when the adults weren’t looking. She was still too short for the stove, but she had a chair and a boiler and just enough strength to pour the hot water into a styrofoam cup without spilling it everywhere.

She was seven and had pulled off her first prank to celebrate getting into the ninja academy, a bunch of stink bombs she’d nicked from the stall of a rude old guy who’d thrown a mushy old tomato at her once. She’d then had to spend the rest of her day cleaning them up once she’d been caught, and resolved to get even better so they wouldn’t catch her next time.

She was eight and tried making friends with the quiet kid in class, because he was the only one who maybe looked as lonely as her. She’d seen him sitting on the docks, and had sneered at him because she was afraid smiling would scare him away as well.

She was nine and hated the kid who was top of the class, who had everyone circling him, wanting to spend time with him, wanting to give him everything he wanted, and who rejected all of it. She thought he was a bigger idiot than her.

She was ten and had gotten more detentions than any other student in the school ever, had ditched more than half her classes, and had become a regular customer to a small ramen stand to the point where there was almost always a bowl waiting by the time she sat down to eat. Every bite tasted like the sun had come out from behind the clouds.

She was twelve and in love with a girl who liked a jerk who thought he was too good for anyone else. She was the bottom of the class, had failed every written test ever given to her, and was convinced Iruka was an unfair jerk and Mizuki a boring old guy who sometimes give her tips.

She was thirteen and she had two siblings and a weird uncle who probably shouldn’t have been let around kids with his choice of books, and thought she could never be happier. She was going up in the world, and was still eying the Hokage’s hat, though with less hunger than before.

She was fourteen and she was learning from an old pervert who thought more of his drink and his women and his regrets than he did to his present. She spent a lot of time on her own, practising with a smile because otherwise fire would bubble through her veins and make her forget herself.

She was fifteen and she’d nearly killed a third of a legend, but he’d managed to make it through with an unsightly scar and a slight twitch in his left hand that would never have a chance to fade. It was her first and only time trying alcohol, and even the burn could not overpower the guilt that twisted her stomach for weeks afterwards.

She was sixteen and a sage, and her teacher was dead under a mile of water. Konoha was a crater, and the man responsible as much a corpse as the man he’d killed, and even as she told him she couldn’t forgive him, she also knew that she would never lift her weapon to get vengeance, because nothing would bring the dead back except a miracle.

She was sixteen and had faced down her own hatred and rejected it, just as she had every day before that from the moment she’d understood how cruel the world was to her. She had met her brother in suffering, and she had met both her dead parents while bringing the demon to heel.

She was sixteen and she was witnessing the end of the world. She had seen the world unite to fight a man long thought dead but now a living monster, standing alongside another dead man and a beast with more history than anyone remembered. She had made friends with the embodiment of hatred, and was singlehandedly turning the tide of battle in favor of her side.

She was sixteen and she was one half of a god, her brother and her old team standing together to banish the goddess back into the moon, and make sure she could never return.

She was sixteen and she was fighting her brother for the first time, the hundredth time, the last time. She was fighting for a world that could let go of the past; he was fighting for a past that wouldn’t let go of the world.

She was sixteen and she had killed her best friend.

She was sixteen and she had been killed by her best friend.

She was sixteen and being given a choice that wasn’t really a choice at all, and both she and the old man who was the son of a goddess knew it.

She was sixteen-

 

He was sixteen-

 

Oh kami he was just sixteen-







Mito stumbled back, her stomach roiling with the demon’s attention and the horror of a boy her own son’s age being responsible for saving the world twice over.

“How…” she wanted to ask a hundred things, the words catching and wilting in her mouth as a numbness settled into her chest at the thought of how far things had fallen from her husband’s plans, and just how deeply the rot of the Warring Era - and the shinobi system as a whole - had and would continue to run without anyone to recognize it for what it was.

(A part of her was frantic at anyone seeing quite so much of her own past, but with so many other concerns on her mind she couldn’t even muster the energy to care about that at the moment.

Later, on the other hand, was going to be a much different tale.)

“...sorry about that, Granny,” Naruto apologized, rubbing the back of his neck and somehow managing to ignore the half dozen tree branches half an inch from his head and chest. “Sorta forgot how weird it was the first time around.”

Hashirama was at her side, hands on her shoulders as she forced herself to shove aside her turmoil to focus on the bigger issue at hand. “You know the price of what you ask of me.”

Naruto frowned. “Yeah, I know, but I’ve still got some of the old man’s strength with me - that should be enough to help recover, shouldn’t it?”

“With what healing techniques?” Mito asked. “Many of those you’ve shown me won’t be invented for years at a minimum.”

His lips tightened. “I can just take half - it’ll still be enough for what I need to do.”

“Or,” she wondered at her own decision even as she made it, “You could teach me how to work with the- Kurama , and we will handle Zetsu. Unless you have a better idea of how to safely and permanently remove it without killing yourself?”

“This is my mission-” He started to protest.

“And since when does Konoha ever send her shinobi out without a team?” Mito asked with a pointed smile, stopping him short. “You are not retired from service nor are you dead, young man; you answer to the Hokage until either or both of those come to pass, so long as you wear that headband of yours.”

His hand reached up for the plate automatically, expression twisting between a confused smile and a wary scowl. “...I’m pretty sure I don’t count as one.”

“You have more of a claim than a third of our active forces,” She replied. “And we have the registration system to smooth over anything else.”

“...I don’t know if Kurama will wanna work with you.”

“I suppose we’ll just have to start with that, then.”

~0~0~0~0~0~

Mito didn’t even realize her hands were shaking until dinner, the faint ripples of her drink drawing her attention away from her daughter’s regaling of her training of the day. Hashirama noticed and had Ikuko start cleaning her dishes in the kitchen before moving to sit next to his wife.

“Dear, I know I don’t always think things through, and that I can trust a bit too fast. If you think he’s a threat to us, I can make sure he’s dealt with before tomorrow with no one the wiser.”

“If I wanted him dead, I would do it myself,” she replied, setting down her cup and resting her hands on the one Hashirama had rested on her knee. “He’s strong, but without the fox he loses most of his strongest techniques. I just…”

Mito exhaled, trying to piece apart the wad of emotions stuck in her chest. “Can you believe I’m angry more than anything? He shows me the near end of the world, and all I think of is how thoroughly all of us have been played so far. How easy it is to twist records and memory so that none of us remembered…”

Her nails dug into his skin for a moment before relenting. “He’s an Uzumaki, did you know? One of the last, out of an entire village, and the only reason he was born was because his mother was chosen to be the next jinchuuriki, and so escaped the total elimination of my people. He doesn’t even know how much was lost, because Konoha was too ashamed to teach about how she failed to defend her ally.”

She swallowed, feeling her shoulders tense and loosen as he wrapped his other arm around her shoulders and held her close. “Uzushiogakure is the only village with any decent memory of the teachings passed down from the Sage. My people are so proud to be a safe haven of knowledge lost to the wider world, but what does that matter when there’s someone out there who can twist those words into poison without a soul noticing the damage? How much of our knowledge is based on lies and planted rumors meant to weaken us from the inside?

“And the thing is, in this Zetsu’s place, I would do the exact same thing, because the Uzumaki are the greatest threat to his plans still alive, besides the Uchiha. And wouldn’t you know it, the Uchiha are due for the chopping block as well once he gets what he needs from them?” Mito laughed softly, thought it came out more like a choked scream. “And on top of that, Naruto just… expects me to make friends with the beast I personally chained up and locked away as a threat to the world, as if it didn’t have nearly a century of bitter resentment against me.

“I lied to his face about being able to let it loose - I know more about the sealing process than anyone else ever will. I could just open it up so that the backlash doesn’t kill me, break everything down the same way I put it up. But the question then becomes, how much flesh would it take on the way out? What trap would it leave behind in my veins and soul that would, when I least expected it, tear me to pieces in as slow and painful a way as it could manage?”

Mito closed her eyes, fingers meshing with his and tightening in a search for reassurance. “And the worst part is, he knows he would go in there and likely die in the process, and sees nothing wrong with it. The seal he was going to use - calling on the shinigami to draw himself and his enemies into the afterlife for good - it would have been a waste of that potential of his to be the change you were always hoping for.”

“You have the mask though, don’t you?” He asked quietly. “You could bring him back with it.”

“That would only bring the others back with him, and he would never allow it.” She exhaled. “I thought I had seen the worst humanity could do to each other, but… he knew hatred better than I could have ever imagined, and was able to choose to be better. He’s… remarkable, in too many ways, and I don’t…”

She trailed off for a moment, looking into her cup.

“I want to teach him about his heritage. He might have seen what I saw of home, but I don’t think he completely understands. He’ll be absolutely dismal at sealing, but my sisters will love him anyways, and try to drag him around every house in the village. I want more memories of my people, I want them to live long lives without fear of war, and if that takes pulling him by the heart until he loves it enough to protect it himself, by the gods I am going to take it.”

She finally looked to her husband, his expression soft in understanding. “I probably sound rather selfish, don’t I, using him like that? He grew up so alone that all it takes is some genuine affection to win his love and loyalty.”

“What it sounds like,” Hashirama replied after a moment’s thought. “Is that you want the best for everyone involved, even if it is manipulative. Maybe some of my raging optimism has finally rubbed off on you.”

Mito laughed. “Perish the thought!”

~0~0~0~0~0~

The third time Mito made her way down into the seal, she had a plan of attack to make the following few weeks manageable while she worked out everything Naruto had either intentionally or unintentionally revealed about the world to come. The first step was, of course, earning the begrudging cooperation of the beast - Kurama - in order to attempt to replicate some of what Naruto had managed at a third her age, and to do that she needed to start with making some amends.

The fox ignored her entry, but he certainly didn’t ignore the feeling of the chakra rods pinning him to the absorption sphere dissolving away, letting him fall to the floor of the spherical space carved out by the seal and her massive chakra reserves. She closed her eyes and exhaled, forcing the chakra that had been in those bindings to slowly reintegrate into her stores without overwhelming her system, then looked to the sphere hanging over the head of the now wary tailed beast.

“How badly do you want to keep Naruto alive?”

His gaze narrowed until only a sliver of red could be seen. “If that is a threat, you best consider if you can build a defense faster than I can tear it down.”

Mito snorted. “Please, if I wanted him dead he would be, and you would have no way to know. I’m talking about his self-sacrificing plan to drag Zetsu and Madara into the shinigami’s stomach.”

“He what ?” He sits up straight, ears grazing against the chakra sphere. “That was not the plan he and I agreed to!”

“No, it wasn’t,” she agreed. “But with you and the other beasts out of reach, and the fact that he isn’t willing to seal Madara away the way he did Kaguya, he’s gone with the option he feels most likely to remove them from the field without putting anyone at risk.”

“Out of reach.” He replies flatly.

“Until I trust you to not find some way to kill me on the way out, you are staying right where you are,” she countered. “Not to mention I have no desire to put a bounty on your head when Naruto inevitably lets you loose right before he kills himself.”

The kyuubi’s lips peeled back. “You say that as if you care what happens to me.”

“I say that as someone who wants a secure path towards a future that does not have four great wars waiting to happen, and that future involves Naruto whether or not he accepts it yet.”

The fox chuckled darkly, the sound echoing around the room. “I’d almost forgotten what a cold, manipulative wretch you are, Uzumaki Mito. Truly you are a paragon of the shinobi way.”

Mito lifted her head and smiled widely. “Why, thank you, Kurama, I appreciate my efforts being recognized by one of your considerable experience.”

Teeth snapped half a foot from her face, and it took considerable effort to not immediately lash chains around his neck again to keep herself alive, but they both knew Hashirama was just waiting for him to try and make an escape attempt and would not take kindly to her untimely death.

“One hundred years I have wondered what it would be like to tear you limb from limb,” he snarled. “Do not test my limited tolerance for your games, brat. You have my cooperation for the time it takes to end Madara and Zetsu; do not waste it.”

She bowed slightly at the hip, hands together in respectful farewell, then turned and walked out of the room, jail doors slamming down as the sphere holding back most of the fox’s chakra started leeching slowly into the room’s walls. By tomorrow, her system would be as prepared as it could be for his influence - and she knew she’d need all the advantage she could get.

Chapter Text

Kurama kept to his side of the bargain, keeping his chakra in rhythm with hers instead of pushing it through her network, and so she allowed him access to her senses to see how Naruto was watching them work with a critical eye. Though she couldn’t see it, she could feel her husband’s concern warring with his interest and some flickers of guilt a few feet behind and above her, the trees around him creaking in empathy.

A full night of sleep had blurred most of the memories to nigh unusable, but she still retained enough of an impression to know whether she was on the right track. Tracking emotions was not unsimilar to tracking chakra, only with the added caveat that humans, being flighty creatures, tended to flit through them faster than one could identify, muddling and stirring them around into concoctions she would have been able to name if she’d seen them face to face.

In the back of her mind, she could feel the fox chortle, no doubt amused that his third jinchuuriki, with no talent for standard sensory skills whatsoever, had mastered this particular talent in a fraction of the time it was taking her.

“Hey, granny…”

Mito opened one eye, allowing her attempt to separate out individuals fade back for a moment to take in his curiosity and frustration and boredom, all playing across his face as readily as they did his heart. “Yes?”

“You were the one who recreated jinchuuriki, right?”

“My family never completely lost the knowledge of them,” She corrected, opening her other eye. “But I did reintroduce the concept. Why do you ask?”

“Kurama told me once he hated my mom as much as he hates Madara,” Naruto’s eyes squinted. “But you were the one to seal him first. I thought he’d be, ya know, more mad with you than her.”

Mito’s brows scrunched together in thought, Kurama’s growls confirming the issue. She honestly would have thought he’d loathe her more, but it was true he was more irritated with her than outright angry despite her role in his and his siblings’ fates.

“I cannot speak for him, but I can make a few guesses,” she replied after a moment’s thought. “For one, I had access to my husband’s chakra, meaning I was able to keep the fox asleep for long stretches of time and so prevented him the time needed to build up resentment for me. For another, your mother came to Konoha during some very trying times.”

The knowledge of the loss of her home and family still burned in her gut and mind, and that was as a distant possibility that wouldn’t occur if she had anything to say about it. As a child having to deal with it? She couldn’t even imagine how that girl would recover from that.

“Would I be right in assuming that she shoved much of her guilt and anger in your direction rather than dealing with it herself?” She asked quietly, nodding at the spike of anger roiling through her body before she pushed it back with calm. “I very rarely thought of him, and in those times I did it was more in making certain he wasn’t waiting to cause me trouble at an inopportune time. If he’s more sensitive to negative emotions than positive, he would not have gotten much of them from me.”

Naruto tilted his head, brows scrunched in thought. “But what about the wars? Didn’t you fight in those? Er, will fight? Maybe?”

Mito hummed in amusement. “I’m not a frontline fighter - I was primarily trained to be able to defend house and home. I am more than capable on the battlefield if necessary, but I would give up too many advantages to make it worth it for anything less than the most dire causes. If the first war comes, I imagine that I will be the one to stay back and keep Konoha running smoothly while my husband and brother-in-law lead the fights at the borders.”

Provided that both were still alive to do so, of course.

“Then why did you do it?” He asked, a bit more frustrated. “Why make jinchuuriki a thing again when you could have just let him go?”

Mito smiled wryly. “Do you want the petty answer or the practical one?”

Naruto scowled, arms crossed. “Both.”

Kurama seemed focused on her as well, more interested than he likely wanted to let on, so she obliged.

“From a practical view, Madara was the one to change the game. No one before him had been able to control the demons- beasts with any sort of strength or reliability, meaning the only defense against them was not being in their way. That the Sharingan could presented serious issues - were there other bloodlines out there capable of subduing or subverting the beasts, ones who would hoard them all themselves to create a power imbalance in their favor? Would the beasts sit back and allow these bloodlines to continue to present a threat to them, or would they take initiative to remove those threats from the world?”

“Kurama was, at the time of the sealing, threatening to end Madara and ‘his entire accursed bloodline’, and we had no idea if he was serious about it. Neither Hashirama nor I were willing to risk Konoha or her people being in the crossfire of Kurama’s rage, and so I made the most expedient choice to assure that we would decide how the power of the beasts were to be balanced.”

She then shrugged her shoulders. “As for the petty reason? He put his tail through my husband’s chest - if he were any other he would have been dead. I didn’t want the fox to have another chance to finish the job.”

Naruto grimaced, hand lifting to his own chest before letting it drop again. “Would you still do it now, knowing the future?”

Mito smiled. “Absolutely. I know Kurama would have gone through with his revenge if he were allowed, and with others out there bringing back dead bloodlines specifically to control the beasts, the jinchuuriki would have been the best way to keep the beasts within constant view so that, when Zetsu and his allies made their move, there would be advanced warning.”

Naruto’s expression darkened at the same time Kurama’s annoyance slapped her from below. “I thought you said you were sorry.”

“I am sorry for not thinking on the long term effects of my seal, and for not thinking to speak to him more, perhaps bring him around as an ally of the village. To act sorry for the creation of the jinchuuriki would not only be a lie he would see through in a second, it would ask him to forgive me for what he and his siblings have endured, which I could hardly expect any more than I forgive him for seriously and unashamedly threatening Konoha for the actions of one man.”

Naruto shook his head. “That’s seriously cold, granny.”

Kurama echoed his agreement.

“That’s why I’d prefer you to train my successor, when it comes time for that.” She felt a quiet thrill in getting her husband, Naruto, and Kurama to all but faceplant at the offer from seemingly nowhere.

“As far as I can tell, I will be holding Kurama for several more decades at a minimum,” She continued before any of them could start misconstruing her line of thought. “By the time I am old enough to need to look for a successor, your body will likely be too old to take on the strain of being his partner again, even if he cooperates fully with you. And it’s already shown that my best effort in training a successor will only make things worse, if not outright fatal for whoever is chosen.

“You know the type of person Kurama will work with, and you will have plenty of time after your mission to work out ways to make peace with the other villages before things fall into war, or perhaps even find a way to make the jinchuuriki system no longer necessary in the long term. If anyone can find a way to offer the others something better, I’m going to guess you’ll be the one to find it.”

Kurama was begrudgingly impressed and skeptical, her husband was shocked with a side of dawning optimism and suspicion, and Naruto… well, she only had to look at his upright posture and steeled expression to know she had him hooked.

The tricky part was keeping him that way.

~0~0~0~0~0~

“Granny?”

Mito hummed in acknowledgement, most of her attention focused on determining the minimum amount of the fox’s chakra necessary to start receiving emotive feedback. It was a delicate balance, one she was gauging by the crinkling expressions and flutters of chakra around her when she was inching on too much.

“I know you can’t just leave without it being a huge deal, but…” The sound of bags crinkling behind her drew a sly smile to her lips just long enough for a few people to notice before she wiped it away. “Why am I the one stuck doing D-ranks for you?”

“Leaving you to distract Hashirama from his work would have only left him further behind since his brother isn’t back to whip him into productivity,” She replied, gaze flickering down a side street before looking forward again. “And if I recall correctly, you wanted to make certain I wasn’t going to do anything ‘weird’ to your friend.”

“Sheesh, do you need to make it sound perverted like that?” Naruto grumbled. “You’re the one who told me I couldn’t just walk around on my own.”

“I did, though I’m surprised you listened considering your history with authority figures.”

She had just enough of the fox’s chakra to feel the echo of embarrassment and good humor behind his grumbling to her side. “Well, you’ve been trying to help me since I got here, even if you were super suspicious of me at first, so I figure you have a reason for this too even if you’re not telling me.”

“Do I now?” Mito turned slightly so she could see her escort out of the corner of her eye.

And there was a stab of annoyance and some partially healed grief across his face and heart. “Yeah, the old pervert used to like to do the same thing when he was training me. I probably missed a lot, ‘cause I think he kept expecting me to pick up on everything right away like my dad and he forgot I’m not so good with the subtle political stuff, but I did learn a few things.”

“You also had other things to learn that took priority over all but the most basic political training,” she replied, wondering how far into her workings he was seeing. “If you like, consider this my next lesson in the matter.”

Naruto’s brows scrunched, gaze focusing away as he stopped to put his thoughts together. She tried to recall if he had ever been pushed in quite this manner, but if he had, those memories had been lost to the unreliability of the technique he’d used.

“...I don’t know anyone,” he replied slowly, looking back to her as he picked up steam and confidence and train of thought. “And they don’t know me, but they know you and like you, so… if they see me with you, they’ll trust me because they trust you and you trust me.”

“Oh?”

“And the d-ranks are to show I’m willing to help even with the small stuff, which helps with making me trustworthy, and… also makes civilians more comfortable with ninja, because right now they’re still really nervous about this whole thing, right?”

Mito raised a brow.

“That’s how Sakura explained them when I complained too much…” he defended himself, rubbing at his nose. “Am I close?”

“Those are certainly a few reasons,” Mito agreed.

Naruto groaned. “How many reasons can you have for something like this?”

Mito hummed her amusement. “As many as you can get out of it. You did just fine for someone of your training, believe me - not everyone would have thought of that last bit. I was trained for politics and intrigue from when I could understand speech, so I have something of an unfair advantage over you.”

“No kidding,” he groused, sighing as he let the bags sink to the ground so he could rest for a moment. “By the way, where are we going with all this? It feels like we’ve been walking for ages.”

“Actually, we’ve been here for about ten minutes while you’ve been contemplating political motivations,” she smiled as he sputtered, turning to look to the amused young man who’d been waiting for her attention. “Hello, Kagami.”

“Hello, Lady Mito,” he replied, bowing respectfully along with his patrol partner, a woman two years his elder who Mito was unsurprised to recognize as his fiancee. “We weren’t expecting to have you come by the compound again for a while.”

“I had some things come to my attention that required some schedule adjustments,” she replied easily, taking one of the bags from Naruto’s grasp and offering it to her brother-in-law’s youngest student. “I do hope I’m not interrupting a patrol.”

“Not at all,” he replied, beaming as he pulled out one of the fruit from its bag. “Lemons? Do you need me to kill someone for you, Lady Mito?”

“Not this time, I’m afraid,” she lifted a sleeve to hide her amused smile. “I do need you to let your team and my husband’s team know to meet up at my house once Tobirama is back from his mission.”

“Oh?” He asked, putting the lemon back into the bag as he considered her. “I would have done that without the incentive.”

“Most of that is for your clan head, apologizing in advance for possibly ruining your patrol schedule for the indefinite future,” she chided gently, enjoying the narrowed eyes and pursed lips of the other three, as well as those of the other half dozen dwaddlers who just happened to be in range of the conversation. “I trust it will make it to them intact this time?”

Kagami sighed when his partner immediately had to bite their cheek to keep from laughing. “Yes, Lady Mito. Do you want me to deliver any other messages?”

“Just the one, thank you,” she replied. “Naruto and I still have other errands to get to before the day is done.”

“I wish you both well in your endeavors,” he answered in farewell, bowing again along with his partner before the returned to their route.

“...you’re gonna make me think about the politics of that too, aren’t you?”

Mito smiled one last time before smoothing her expression. “A lesson only sticks with regular practice, after all.”

His groan of pain was only half faked that time.

~0~0~0~0~0~

“I hear you’ve been busy with Hashirama’s newest stray.”

Mito finished loosening her hair from its tight confinement, locks falling down over her shoulders and down her back. “Hello to you as well. I assume your mission went well?”

“Well enough,” Tobirama replied, the faint smell of blood and the road still clinging to his clothing. “You usually don’t take personal investment in newcomers.”

“Well, most newcomers aren’t family, either,” she agreed, grabbing her comb and setting to work on the knots accrued over the course of the day.

“A cousin?” He asked knowingly, having met her sisters and their spouses and no doubt realizing he looked like none of them. It also helped that none of them had anything close to the bright gold hair he had.

“On my grandfather’s side. He was sent my way after he finished his training, and now I’m handling his political skills.”

She didn’t even need to look to picture his relaxed lean against the wall, a placid expression covering his heavy skepticism. “Diplomacy?”

“He leans more to the Hashirama side of things, in both regards.”

“You want him to take my brother’s place?”

Mito set her comb down on her lap, running fingers through her hair to check for anything she might have missed. “Hashirama scares the other villages; what happens if something does manage to kill him, and we have no matching powerhouse to keep the balance of power?”

“You think someone’s starting a war.” And there Tobirama caught on to her reasonings, combing over what he’d picked up on since his return with that angle and not liking what he was seeing.

“I’ve seen what Naruto can do,” she told him. “He’s got the potential to match Hashirama, if not surpass him entirely. He not only got the reclusive toad summons to teach him the secrets of natural chakra, he figured it out in a week, and mastered it not long after.”

Mito took the opportunity to turn and actually look at her brother-in-law, who was forcing himself passed the stunned phase into rapid mental calculation, leading to where she’d gone once she’d had a chance to sit down and actually work out how ridiculous Naruto was. Considering Hashirama had learned the secrets of natural attunement from the slugs in just under two weeks, and that both were directly incarnated from the first sage’s son, it was possible that they were not so much learning as simply reminding themselves of what they could do.

Huh, that actually explained quite a few things about them, and Madara as well. Mito felt a sudden urge to tear through the archives of Uzu to try and pin down other incarnations and whether they were equally extraordinary. Perhaps the Uchiha wouldn’t mind sharing some stories?

“Where did you find him, Mito?” Tobirama asked, very visibly holding back swears and a hundred demands all at once.

“He was sent my way by a grandfather of mine after finishing his training,” she repeated, an innocent smile on her lips. “To be fair, it was on a mission that might well have killed him, so I feel completely justified in changing the mission parameters, especially with who his opponents are.”

Tobirama frowned, and Mito let her smile drop as she picked her next words extremely carefully.

“Madara is still alive, and the one who saved him is the most dangerous being in the world.”

She didn’t even need Kurama’s chakra to see the moment of panic and horror behind the anger flushing his cheeks and gritting his teeth together. “How.”

“It’s a long, convoluted story, one you might want to sit down for.”

Tobirama took one breath, then a second, slower one, then forced himself into sitting cross legged on the floor.

Mito took one last moment to make sure she was recalling everything she could, then began. “It started with the kyuubi acting very strangely just last week…”

For all that Tobirama was as cynical as she was, it was reassuring to see no disbelief in his expression as she established all she knew and theorized of a distant future, broad swathes interspersed with intense detail that would have embarrassed her in any other situation for its sloppy presentation. Mito was equally proud that she was able to convey the loss of her entire village without wavering this time, just another issue to discuss and make contingencies for on the off chance that her upcoming mission didn’t head off the forces at work.

And in the end, the future that had been set to come about hadn’t been bad - the great villages had come together willingly to fight Madara and his protegee, and had even remained relatively intact by the time Kaguya had been unleashed and then defeated. If Naruto and his friend had survived, they possibly could have come together to finally accomplish what Hashirama had always tried so hard to reach for in an era not ready for it.

But that was sixty years and a world away, and no matter how well things might end, she didn’t want to see the good in a world where her family and home were but ashes on the ocean breeze.

“Things have to change, both for us and for the village. I will not blame the ills of the world on an ancient family spat or on the last resort of a madwoman more than I have to, but both need to be gone before any plans they have gain the traction they need to make things worse.”

Tobirama sighed and shut his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose. “I cannot even begin to describe how much of a mess this all is to sort through. I’m guessing Hashirama doesn’t know all of this?”

Mito laughed. “No, I decided against having him sprint off to the northern reaches on his own out of a misguided sense of duty.”

“Honestly, I wouldn’t be shocked if that’s how he finally killed himself,” Tobirama shook his head, looking back to her with a frown. “When are you heading off to handle the issue with your cousin?”

“I’ll be finished inking all the seals I need within the next week, and with any luck I’ll have worked things out with Kurama by then, so perhaps a few days past that.”

Tobirama nodded thoughtfully. “I assume your cover should include a minor diplomatic mission to the north to get his feet wet before looping around to visit your home?”

“Hashirama suggested Mountains, since they recently came together to create a village - Hidden Waterfall if I recall correctly - and we could pass through Iron along the way to meet the samurai before looping around through Rice Fields and Hot Water, give him a break from his intense training of the past few years…”

He snorted in amusement, most likely in what she would try to pass off as a ‘break’. “So give you about a month before you’re expected to be back?”

Mito smiled. “That should give us enough time to complete the mission, handle our investigations, and get to Uzu before anyone has a chance to notice any discrepancies if all goes well.”

“And if it doesn’t?”

“Keep a feeler out for the kyuubi getting loose again.”

Tobirama tilted his head back thoughtfully. “This is reckless by your usual standards.”

“The possible end of the world brings out the worst in me, I’ll admit,” she replied, shaking her head. “But compared to letting Hashirama’s retirement plan kill himself off in some noble final stand, I feel my plans are perfectly in line with my usual standards.”

Tobirama choked. “You aren’t making him Hokage.”

“Of course not, for the same reason I’m not in the line of succession for the hat,” Mito agreed. “But he is training my successor, and hopefully he’ll be able to hold up foreign relations well enough that we can afford to take time to train someone for a worse case scenario.”

“I still can’t believe I took the damned thing,” he replied. “Are you sure we can’t just strap my brother to the desk until we can stick Hiruzen with the position?”

“About that, actually.”

“...you didn’t.”

“Be sure to bring some of those sweets the children like on your way to lunch at my place, won’t you?”

Chapter Text

Despite much grumbling from all nine children involved, everyone was around the second largest table in the house, pulled from storage and cleaned not an hour before so that all ten of them fit comfortably. To her left, Hashirama was easing as he vented all of his troubles with his work to his brother, who occasionally had to lean away to avoid a wide flung arm. Naruto sat to her right, and was telling the chuunin sitting across from them all about the places he’d been during his training journey.

She sipped at her tea, serene in the knowledge that soon everything would be falling into place so that she could leave for a month without Konoha falling to pieces.

“There’s no way you invented something that could take out Lord Hokage at twelve!” Homura snapped, glowering at Naruto. “He’s the most powerful ninja in the world!”

And there went the good feeling, Mito thought with a sigh as she tried to remember which technique he was talking about.

Naruto leaned back with a mixture of annoyance and glee. “Yeah, but everyone’s got weaknesses to exploit if ya know what to look for. I just went for the easiest one I saw and practiced until I made it work. It usually only works once or twice before people catch on, but the first time? Complete knock-out.”

Knock-out - oh, that one! Mito glanced over to Tobirama, who despite himself was interested in any sort of technique creation and so was no doubt preparing himself for when Naruto inevitably showed off to his captive audience. Hashirama was also interested, though he had no idea what was coming and so was understandably more nervous about the state of his students in the near future.

“Prove it, then,” Danzo challenged, eyes narrowed as if he weren’t keeping himself from eagerly trying to figure out the technique for himself.

Naruto simply broadened his grin, pushing himself to his feet, and Mito gave a quiet prayer to the lost innocence (hah!) of the souls around her who had no idea what they were asking for.

“Take this on for size, then! Ninja Centerfold Technique!”

And even as the smoke started to clear, Mito understood how it caught such high level opponents off guard, because for all it was at base an elaborate Disguise technique, in his hands it was so much more . The way he moved and held himself, the way he twitched his hands and glanced from face to face, even the way he smelled all changed, leaving even her on the wrong foot for a moment while she had to convince her brain that this was still, in fact, the same person.

No wonder it caught veterans, who were trained to read all this minute detail in an instant, by such disarming surprise. It played perfectly into the one small flaw that came of being so well trained that you didn’t need to think, and made the primary focus of the technique as effective as it was.

It was one of the most brilliant pieces of subterfuge Mito had ever seen, doubly so for the fact that Naruto himself didn’t seem capable of it on the surface.

“Naruto, would you do me a favor before you dismiss that technique?” She asked, ignoring the furious flushing of all six chuunin and her husband as she set her cup down and stood up.

“Sure?” He asked, frowning in suspicion as she walked behind him.

She prodded at the technique a few times, noting the firm hold he maintained on it to physical contact and noting where it’d hold up to and collapse to certain applications of chakra. “Throw a punch for me, would you?”

When Naruto complied (and got squeaks from the chuunin), she nodded and turned to Tobirama. “Well?”

“In terms of distraction, it’s one of the best I’ve seen,” Tobirama admitted, patting his still incredibly embarrassed brother on the shoulder. “If he had caught me with that in a battle, he’d more than likely get a hit in on me, possibly the last he would need.”

“It’s improper !” Hashirama and Hotaru squawked in unison.

“We’re ninja , any advantage is a good advantage, and I’m surprised no one came up with it before him,” Mito pointed out. It could have been a product of his era being more open minded about those sorts of things, or simply Naruto not caring about how such a technique made him look-

Oh, right. He wanted the attention. “It’s not something you use too often, I suppose?”

Naruto laughed. “Nah, people would start expecting it if I pulled it too often, and my whole thing is about surprising people.”

“I think most of us are starting to realize that,” Mito replied with an approving nod. “You can release it now, if you like.”

Another plume of smoke returned Naruto to normal, his arms crossed behind his head as he grinned unabashedly. “Not too bad, huh?”

“You accomplished what you said you would,” Tobirama agreed. “Have you developed it further?”

“Yeah, I’ve got like half a dozen variants on it, to cover as many bases as I can. I have ideas for one or two more, but I haven’t really had the time to work on them lately…”

“How do you make it work so well?” Hiruzen asked, sitting back with a thoughtful expression now that the embarrassment was mostly past. “It’s just a transformation, but the way you use it is…”

“Can’t you tell?” Koharu replied. “It’s confidence . Most people who use the technique use it for infiltration, and so have to be on alert for anyone catching them unexpectedly. His version isn’t meant to hide him, so he has complete control over how and when others will see him.”

“Do you mind if other people use it?” Kagami asked, flushing slightly but keeping his chin up as the others looked to him. “Because I have a spar coming up with my jerk of a cousin, and with that I could lay him out flat in seconds and hopefully knock his ego down a few pegs.”

“Eh, I don’t mind,” Naruto shrugged. “I mean, the only part to really figure out it how to own it, ya know? I know a lot of women get pissed when I use it because it’s objectifying, and people get all weird when they’re caught in public naked or see naked people, so you’d have to be able to ignore all that if you want it to work.”

Kagami nodded thoughtfully. Torifu, who had remained silent through most of the commotion, held a serious expression on his face.

“I never want to face you one on one,” he stated simply, punctuating it with another bite of his meal, and Mito couldn’t find it in herself to fault him for drawing the conclusion he had.

“I want a fight with you,” Hiruzen declared, looking as eager as he had the one time Mito had agreed to a spar with him. No doubt he wanted to see what other techniques Naruto had turned to new ends, taking them apart to see how and why they worked and whether they would be useful out on the field. “After lunch?”

“You’re on,” Naruto agreed, looking ready to shove the rest of his plate in his mouth and run for the nearest field before Mito casually grabbed his shoulder and shoved him back to his knees.

“You can have your spar after we get to the reason I called everyone here today,” she chastised lightly, sitting down herself and refilling her tea cup. “Unless some of you have guessed it already?”

“It’s not just diplomatic training, is it?” Koharu asked, frowning. “Because Lord Tobirama has been handling that between missions and training.”

“Lady Mito said it was going to interrupt my patrols indefinitely,” Kagami added, fist pressed to his mouth as he thought out loud. “So it has to be something long term that she thinks our clan heads and elders would approve of once they hear about it.”

“Back-up training,” Torifu decided, looking to Mito for approval. “For the Hokage’s hat.”

Hashirama rocked back slightly on his knees, as did Naruto and the other five teenagers.

“And what brought you to that conclusion?” Mito asked, head tilting back slightly.

“Because the clan head does something similar with their second and third borns in case something happens to their heir,” he replied. “Lady Choukichi is just starting it with her youngest, so it was in the back of my mind.”

“The Akimichi are certainly reliable when it comes to seeing the long game,” Mito praised, a light smile on her lips. “Can any of the rest of you think of why I might be starting this now?”

“There’s a war coming,” Danzo declared, brows furrowed. “And Lord Hokage and Lord Tobirama need to lead the battlefields, so someone needs to be available to take up their duties.”

“Isn’t that what Lady Mito does already?” Hotaru asked, frowning as well. “And we would already be preparing for war if one was starting soon, wouldn’t we?”

“That doesn’t mean one isn’t coming,” Danzo shot back. “The other villages are gathering strength, and sooner or later they’re going to start testing the limits of the treaty Lord Hokage had them all sign.”

“And that doesn’t mean they’re going to outright declare war on us,” Hiruzen argued. “Not with Lord Hashirama around to slap them down and Lord Tobirama to see them coming the moment they reach the borders of Fire.”

There was some muttered agreement from the other chuunin, hard pressed even with shinobi cynicism in their blood to imagine a scenario that could take out both Senju brothers.

Homaru finally asked, “Well, why do you think Lady Mito wants to train us as Hokage candidates?”

“Lord Hashirama’s been wanting to retire,” he replied easily. “Remember the rumors about Lord Tobirama being offered the hat and turning it down?”

“I thought it was just a rumor some old aunts had come up with to stir up a scandal,” Koharu admitted with a light flush to her cheeks.

“I’m afraid that did happen,” Tobirama admitted. “But brother forgets that I am not nearly as charismatic as he is, and several of the clans are wary of me.”

“Like the Uchiha,” Kagami agreed. “I think the Kurama and Hyuuga clans are also ambivalent about you.”

“Just so, which is why while I could take the hat, I would prefer it go to one who not only has investment in the future of Konoha, but the unified approval of the village.”

“So whoever is the strongest at the end of training?” Danzo asked.

Tobirama raised a brow. “Danzo, who would win a fight between myself, my brother, and my sister-in-law?”

Danzo blinked, frowning. “Ah… you would, Lord Tobirama?”

“Oh?”

Realizing he’d just been trapped by his own admittance, Danzo scrambled to recover his argument. “Because you have the stronger techniques!”

Tobirama huffed a laugh. “I’m afraid that most of my skills only work against him once; I could probably kill him if I had sufficient motivation, but that would rely heavily on his familial nostalgia working against him.”

Mito glanced over, holding back a smile at the slightly disturbed expression on her husband’s face at the blunt admittance. “In case you were curious, I won the few spars I had with both of them. They have horrible habits of holding back just because I don’t have the same degree of training in physical techniques as the rest of my clan, until they remember all I need is a finger.”

Mito held up her finger to make the point, and Naruto made a soft noise of sudden revelation to her side. The fact that the chuunin all wore expressions between awed and nervous was as satisfying as knowing that none of them doubted her for a second.

“Could we please just get back to the part where you were deciding my successor for me?” Hashirama asked, looking fairly wrung out by the slow derail from the original point of the conversation and his inability to get in a word before then.

“Do you or do you not want to retire?” Mito asked.

“...yes, dear…” He conceded, head hanging in defeat.

Mito gently pat his back. “Don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of opportunity to sit in on their training, and you’ll even get the final say on your actual successor. Won’t that be nice?”

She wasn’t wildly entertained at how he slumped further while muttering about how his life had somehow led to this. Really, she wasn’t.

~0~0~0~0~0~

“I think I would be a lot more put out by this development if you hadn’t warned me about it ahead of time,” Tobirama told Mito as they relaxed at the edge of the clearing Naruto and Hiruzen were clashing in.

Naruto had so far stuck to using shadow clones and a handful of other techniques, though even those were keeping the Sarutobi prodigy on his toes as he split his attention between all his opponents. It was reassuring to see, however, that Naruto himself had been caught by surprise several times when Hiruzen managed to spit out an unlikely combo of techniques before the blond could counter them.

“So an upgrade from mild disappointment to middling disapproval?” Mito replied, chuckling warmly when Tobirama gave her a flat look for her teasing.

Surprise in the field usually meant an unpleasant fight or an even more unpleasant death. Surprise in a spar, however, was a valuable learning experience that meant one didn't get surprised out in the field later, and Naruto no longer had the Kyuubi - Kurama, she reminded herself, he had a name! - to help cover for the sensory details natural chakra didn’t provide.

“You and I both know that not everyone in your clan can handle the technique even with the Uzumaki life force,” He replied pointedly.

And considering Madara was going to be the lesser of the two main threats they were facing in the near future, Mito was not ashamed to plan out how she was going to deal with any situational awareness issues Naruto still had. It was a pity she didn’t have the time to set up a thorough training course, but she could always put it together later and introduce him to it then.

Hmm, maybe she could introduce her other students-to-be as well? A little extra training never hurt all that long...

“...Mito, do I want to know what you’re contemplating right now?” Her companion asked, eyes narrowed in suspicion.

“Just some things to get done once our trip is over with,” She replied easily, smile just on the edge of being a smirk.

Tobirama sighed deeply, tilting his head sideways to avoid a stray kunai. “Is this liable to destroy any of the training grounds?”

“It depends on the children, but it should be limited to weapons to start with. You’ll know well before I move on to more exciting methods.”

His gaze unhardened. “...ah, that sort of training. If you keep it to the trees, we can just make my brother fix it.”

Mito hummed in contentment, Kurama’s snoring in the back of her head a surprisingly relaxing counterpoint. Whether he was actually asleep or faking it was difficult to tell, but she supposed it didn’t matter at the moment. “And what will you be working on while I’m gone?”

“Besides my students?” His gaze flickered to the side in thought. “I still need to smooth out issues with the academy, since the Hokage has been nagging me to raise the age of entry earlier than I had planned, and I will have to keep a finger on how the village feels about the candidates. Provided those don’t eat into all my time, I’m going to try and tackle the administrative positions again, attempt to draw in the clans so that they’re more invested in the long term productivity of the village.”

Mito tilted her head slightly as she thought. “Have you considered how to approach the Uchiha and Hyuuga?”

“I’ll have it be part of the students’ training regimine at some point; I think the Uchiha will be more amiable if it comes from Kagami and Torifu, and the Hyuuga won’t want to seem less invested than them, so they’ll follow with just a bit more nudging.”

“And it also can’t be your words from their lips or they’ll be on guard,” Mito continued the train of thought. “So you have to lead them to the idea naturally, while making sure they realize the necessity is there.”

For all the two were planning on nudging all six into beneficial positions in the blooming administrative system, they couldn’t predict exactly how the teenagers would develop under a focused training regime. Balancing what needed to get done with ways to keep the more wary clans from calling foul was an unfortunate reality they would have to keep dealing with regardless of the presence of - abet soon to be lack thereof - a crazed Madara and Zetsu pair riling things up in the wider world.

As if knowing her thoughts were moving back towards them, Naruto and Hiruzen chose that moment to throw their final moves, Rasengan versus Fire Release, with naturally explosive results.

“I think it’s time to call the match,” Mito shook off the light coating of soot and debris with a soft chakra burst, with Tobirama’s swirl of chakra washing away his own coating.

“At the least, we know they’ll be good for pushing each other,” Tobirama agreed, striding forward to where the two boys were coughing through their laughter at the match, Mito right at his side.

~0~0~0~0~0~

Hashirama’s emotions were churning in the back of Mito’s mind as he sat meditating across from her in the small training field behind their home. The part of her not focused on balancing just enough of Kurama’s chakra to leave a thin, protective layer over her skin without the obvious visual effect starting to show determined the benefits of letting him work out whatever was bothering him on his own versus engaging him in conversation; she figured he would start it on his own in the next few minutes, and focused instead on tamping down the thin orange sheen just coming into visual range.

While Naruto and Kurama had not used the jinchuuriki chakra cloak for long in the grand scheme of things, they had figured out how to make it work to the needs of the war they were in - namely, mass healing and enhancement as well as the protection of vulnerable lives against enemies that just plain refused to go down to anything thrown at them. As a force multiplier, there was no doubt that it would be next to impossible to stand against for any besides the best the world had to offer.

Mito had no use for any of that, but the most basic principles were not a thing she was going to turn down going into a life-or-death assassination mission. Resisting foreign chakra while also allowing herself (and the fox, to a lesser extent) to snap back at any foolish attempts to capture her was a trick that would only work once - but that once would count for a great deal.

(It was a shame about the healing, but her Strength of a Hundred seal was a delicate thing and would likely not tolerate her gorging it with highly concentrated demonic - beastly? - chakra.)

“Mito?” Her husband asked, drawing her gaze away from her palmed hands. “Are you sure you’ll be alright without me or Tobirama as backup?”

“As much as I can be in this scenario,” Mito replied.

“I just…” Hashirama hesitated. “If you don’t come back…”

Mito smiled in understanding. “If I thought I could get away with bringing either of you along, I would. But if anyone were to happen to go after him, you two are among the most likely, and I don’t doubt he knows that and has contingencies in place to hinder you both.”

Madara might, by some long odds, have plans in place for her as well, but she doubted there was any accounting for Naruto, and certainly not for a cooperative Kurama.

Hashirama inhaled, then slowly exhaled. “Send a message ahead if the cousins have too many gifts for the kids for you to carry.”

Mito chuckled. “That’s what Naruto will be around for, dear.”

~0~0~0~0~0~

By the time the day Mito and Naruto were to set out on their official (and unofficial) mission, most of the village had caught on to the fact that Hokage candidates were being trained, and all eyes were on the six as they were evaluated by their comrades and seniors.

The Hyuuga were put out that one of their clan was not among the group, while the Uchiha were quietly gleeful at one of theirs being in line for the hat. Other clans were less intense about the issue, but still interested enough that there was more traffic passing by the training fields then ever before. Tobirama was skillfully ignoring the attention, while the teenagers were doing their best to follow his lead.

Between all that, Mito being handed a mission scroll by her brother-in-law in the rudimentary missions room was barely worth mentioning, as the knowledge that she was training up a diplomat was old news at this point, as was her visit home to see family. Hashirama had laughed and sent his warm wishes along with her, along with a kiss on the cheek for her and a pat on the shoulder for Naruto.

By the time they were out the gate and heading north, Naruto was radiating impatience, all but ready to just drop everything and smash his way to northern Iron country. That fact that he actually hadn’t despite his obvious desire to was testament to his self-control and, perhaps, the political training starting to settle in.

“Are ya sure we can’t just drop by this Waterfall place after we deal with Zetsu and Madara?” He asked instead, his mullish expression looking entirely ridiculous on him. “I mean, it can’t take that long to get done, can it?”

“Perhaps not,” Mito agreed. “But I could give you several reasons why that would be less efficient in the long run.”

Naruto groaned when she failed to elaborate after a moment. “Urgh, come on, do I have to do this?”

Mito raised a single brow.

“...fine,” he gave in, the conversation lulling for several minutes as he forced his thoughts away from his mission to hers.

She took the chance to stretch out across her senses, the usual weight of Konoha’s population fading into the distance and opening up the softer signatures of the world that often got lost in the concentrated mass of chakra. It’d been a long time since she’d left Konoha, perhaps longer than necessary, but her husband’s village didn’t have the comfort of generations of relative stability and practice in managing such a large population.

Fortunately, or not depending on how one looked at it, Mito did have that experience. In the early months and years of Konoha, she had been quietly giving pointers and suggestions to Hashirama and Tobirama, adjusting or throwing away what didn’t work in the village founded by dozens of mutually wary clans as opposed to a handful of mutually friendly ones. She had gotten used to having to step in and be a neutral judge in the inevitable bickering and fights that came with shoving volatile personalities together, perhaps more than she should have, but at the time there hadn’t been anyone else who she was sure the clans would trust to be mostly unbiased.

But now… now, she had Naruto, and a whole generation of young ninja who had grown up alongside each other in the Academy and the village streets. While there was no doubt that the biases and distrust would take several more generations to sift itself out, the foundations were there, and would only be strengthened as the clans were pushed together and saw how they all fit into the vision that was Konoha.

Mito had no doubt that it would happen - the coincidence of Konoha’s heirs of Naruto’s generation being in the same year and then on the same teams? She would eat a sea slug if that hadn’t all been planned by the previous generation specifically to foster the close ties that would finalize the intervillage bond between them all. And it wasn’t a bad idea either, though one that would have to be written down and tucked away for use well down the line.

“Hey, granny,” Naruto cut into her thoughts, drawing her focus and gaze to his furrowed brow and scowl. “This isn’t another one of those ‘top secret’ missions that’s to get me out of the way while other people do the fighting, is it?”

Mito blinked. “Why would you assume-”

Wait, hadn’t there been something he’d been doing at the start of the fourth war? She vaguely recalled something about a waterfall and a fight with the fox. “Was that what they told you to get you to that island?”

“Yeah, and it seriously pissed me off when I found out why I was really there. I mean, I learned some important stuff thanks to Kirabi ‘cause of it in the end, but knowing that I might not have made it in time to save my friends…” Naruto grimaced, one hand clawing over the area where the Kyuubi was once sealed in him.

Mito came to a stop, Naruto hesitating in the middle of his next leap when he saw she wasn’t reacting to a potential threat incoming, but instead regarding him thoughtfully.

“Granny?”

“When you first were planning on coming back to stop Zetsu and prevent the fourth war, did you stop to consider what you would do after you succeeded?” She asked him.

Naruto opened his mouth to reply, only to pause as he realized she already knew what his answer was. “Not really. I figured me ‘n Kurama would figure it out after we handled the important stuff.”

Mito nodded. “And now?”

He straightened up. “I’m gonna get everyone to get along, whatever it takes!”

“And how will you accomplish that if, the first time you had a chance make a good first impression on a newly formed village, you blew it because you decided relations with them was less important than some top secret mission you refused to share any details about?”

Naruto said nothing, but his clenched fists and flushed face said everything.

“Naruto, I have full confidence in the success of both of our missions here because I will have you at my side. Hidden Waterfall is at best going to be distrusting of anything to do with the Senju or Uchiha after both clans humiliated their best some decades ago, but as Uzumaki you and I might be able to patch up some of our relations, at least enough so to have a neutrality treaty in the near future. However, I cannot guarantee that even your methods of winning over former rivals will work if they think Konoha considers them a lower priority than whatever other missions have us out this far north.

“In addition, the advantage we still hold over Zetsu and Madara is that neither of them are expecting us, and won’t be even if for some reason Zetsu is here causing trouble. A week is not going to change their capabilities or plans significantly, and meanwhile you will be gaining experience in dealing with village heads who are stubborn about clinging to what they know instead of reaching for what they can gain.”

“And once we’re done, we’re both gonna take out those two?” He asked, some of the tension having bled out of his body as she spoke.

“Of course,” she agreed. “As I said back in Konoha, shinobi don’t get sent out on their own, especially on such a dangerous mission. However, if you’re going to be diplomat to the whole world, you’re going to have to start considering how to prioritize both long and short term goals in order to best achieve peace in the future.”

Naruto sighed, head falling to his chest. “Sorry about that, granny.”

“Whatever for?” She asked, one brow raised as he looked back up at her in surprise. “As you told me, you aren’t trained in politics because your teacher was more concerned with making sure you had the skills you needed to survive multiple powerful missing nin coming after you. It’s not your fault if you’re used to having missions being extremely time sensitive and the enemies being several steps ahead of you all the time.”

“Yeah, but you’ve been helping me this whole time, and then I went and accused you of going behind my back to keep me out of things.”

Mito snorted, unable to keep a small grin off her face. “Naruto, I go behind everyone’s backs to get things done - it’s what I do for a living in Konoha. The reason people trust me despite that is because I do it equally and fairly , and am fairly open about my reasoning for what I do if I’m confronted about it. I’m hardly going to be offended at being called out on my meddling.”

Naruto’s nose scrunched up before he chuckled as well. “You’re seriously weird, granny.”

Mito’s eyes crinkled in mirth. “Oh, you don’t even know the half of it yet.”

Chapter Text

Several days later, Mito was confident that Naruto's future as a diplomat was secure. She hummed thoughtfully as she finished mending the tears on her sleeve from where a Waterfall shinobi had tried to pin her to a wall with a javelin.

The poor woman had had no time to realize her mistake before Mito had deftly cut the javelin loose and proceeded to knock her out.

Mito pulled the last stitch tight, using a sliver of chakra to cut the extra thread away before tying a knot in the loose end to assure the stitch held, then leaned back and sighed. While it was understandable for Waterfall to be skeptical of friendly overtures from Fire Country, it had really been rude of their hosts to try and poison the chopsticks, and then ambush them with several dozen elite shinobi when they thought the Uzumaki duo had been weakened sufficiently.

Naruto was confident that all of them would be able to recover enough to be able to go back to their duties after a sufficient amount of healing and bedrest. The destruction of the chief's house was an unfortunate side effect of their escape, but perhaps the next building would be a bit more secure.

Overall, it was a rather acceptable first attempt for diplomacy, within average for the records of the Uzumaki. Sure, the Waterfall shinobi were temporarily weakened, thoroughly humiliated, and forced to spend their funds and efforts on rebuilding and possibly restructuring to make any information gathered on their defenses useless, but that just meant that sending Naruto back after a year or so of training would make them more likely to talk than try to pull the same stunt twice.

Still, that didn't mean there weren't a few other things to get done before they reached Iron. "Naruto?"

The lump curled up under the covers of the other futon grumbled before replying with a muffled, "Yeah, granny?"

"Attention on me, please."

Naruto grumbled some more but complied, rubbing at his eyes as he rolled into a sitting position facing her. "Is this another politics training thing? I thought we already did that for today."

"Actually, I was going to test you on seals, but if you'd prefer the politics…"

"Seals?" Naruto replied, much more awake now. "I thought you said I was hopeless."

"It struck me not long afterwards that you didn't grow up surrounded by seals like most Uzumaki; you wouldn't have had any reason to get used to the mechanics of it all while growing up. While I suppose I could judge you based on your years on the road with a student of mine, it would be better to test you in a neutral environment when your safety and that of the world isn't hanging over your head."

"I guess that makes sense - wait," His face scrunched in confusion. "how do you know pervy sage was your student? He never told me anything about that."

"He was - or I suppose will be? - my granddaughter's best friend and teammate. I would honestly be more surprised if I didn't take him under my wing and teach him the arts alongside her, considering the talent he seems to have for it."

His expression cleared all at once. "So you're gonna start teaching me?"

"Just the basics for now - we do have a mission to finish first." Mito replied, pulling out a small folder from its hidden pocket in her sleeve and opening it to reveal a sheaf of seal-covered sheets of paper. "Are you able to decipher these?"

Naruto took the sheaf and thumbed through them slowly, face scrunched in concentration. "These ones are flash bombs, and these ones explode after… four seconds?"

He paused on the last five, brows creased in confusion before recognition lit in his eyes, head snapping up to look at Mito. "This is the old man's seal! How did you-"

"If there's one thing I never forget, it's a seal," Mito replied. "This isn't precisely the same seal due to the fact that we don't have the appropriate bloodline to act as the focus, but fortunately we don't need it to be, because we aren't sealing away a goddess, just a small shard of her ego."

Naruto looked back to the seals. "Some of the conditions on these are different from each other."

"I'm not entirely certain what Zetsu counts as in chakra and soul terms, so I had to cover the most likely ranges. If he doesn't manage to fall under at least one of those sets of conditions, I have some spare ink and paper on hand in order to throw together a few other ideas I've been contemplating."

"...you're seriously scary, granny." Naruto handed the sheaf and folder back over to her. "Why paper, though? Won't it fall apart and let him out eventually?"

Mito tucked the sheaf of seals back into the folder and tucked the folder into the hidden sleeve pocket it had been pulled from, giving Naruto a chance to think over it himself.

"You're gonna put him into something else later?" Naruto asked, one fist tucked under his chin while his other arm held itself against his chest. "Not a person, right?"

"No, not a person," Mito agreed, tilting her head forward slightly in a silent gesture to continue.

"Into a pot or something? I think that's what some of the tailed beasts were sealed into between jinchuuriki. But what if that doesn't work? I mean, Zetsu's… weird."

"He is; that's why I'm getting an expert opinion."

Naruto's entire body tilted twenty degrees to his right.

Mito didn't try very hard to hide her smile. "I'm more of a generalist when it comes to sealing than anything; I was more valuable as a prospective partner when I had a solid foundation of everything as opposed to a heavy focus in one or two fields. The Uzumaki specialized in soul and spirit matters would be much better suited to keeping Zetsu contained and examining him in order for us to determine the best way to get rid of him for good."

Her smile faded a bit as his expression slowly fell from shock and a slight amount of fear into a sullen scowl, including a slight slough even as he righted himself again. "Naruto?"

"I just… no one ever really told me any of this stuff about my family before I came here, and now I hear all of this stuff about what everyone can do and knows that I just- I can't imagine it." Naruto's hands clenched around his knees. "Even the stuff I learned from pervy sage and saw some other ninja do in the future - and the whole time, you guys just- how much am I gonna have to learn just to catch up?"

Mito frowned, sitting back and clasping her hands together. "I think you might be surprised at the fields you'll be ahead in. Yes, the Uzumaki are ahead of the world in sealing, because for the past thousand years it's been one of our main focuses. The technology I can recall from your time… we don't have the infrastructure to support most of that that yet, and some of our dependance on using sealing to make up for deficiencies in other fields is a weakness that might be part of why Uzushiogakure fell.

"In addition, you've done something no one in the world has done before. You befriended the tailed beasts. All of them, even if it was only in proxy to those who knew you better. Not to mention you have firsthand information on the birth of chakra and the Sage, histories which are half-lost even with our efforts to preserve them and the potential sabotage from Zetsu. I can guarantee you a quarter of the village is going to be beside themselves trying to mine your head for every last scrap of information if they find out what you know."

Naruto straightened up, sheepish smile in place as he rubbed the back of his neck. "We aren't telling them about the time travel, are we?"

"Only the expert I have in mind," Mito promised. "On the other hand, Mushi might just explode from excitement at this project, so we may or may not need to direct his excitement at people who are less likely to spread it further in order to win the gossip championship for the year."

Naruto did not look entirely reassured.

~0~0~0~0~0~

The sage arts were perhaps among the rarest abilities in existence that weren't tied to a specific bloodline. Not every summons clan had the ability to offer sage training, and even then they withheld the secret except to those who had proven to have the right mindset for the art.

Hashirama had described his training with the Slugs - two weeks in the heart of Katsuyu's forest, learning to balance between letting the world into himself and preventing that overwhelming oneness with nature from claiming him permanently. Between his bloodline and the help of the slugs, he managed to work past the most dangerous part of the learning process and begin integrating it into his repertoire of techniques to pull out.

Where Hashirama's sage marks were a deep red splashed from ear to ear and lightly traced on his forehead, Naruto's marks were more concentrated around the eyes, outlining the pupils and eyes themselves in orange while the pupils themselves changed shape. When Mito asked, he confirmed that his vision did not actually change notably despite seeming like a dojutsu, which fit with what her husband had told her.

It was fortunate that the samurai had already begrudgingly let them past the border without an escort, because explaining why they were picking their way north while using an unknown technique would more than likely have raised a few questions. Unfortunately, getting close to the area where Naruto thought the statue would be was not easy, not only because they had to suppress most of their normal chakra in order to avoid detection for as long as possible, but because as far as Naruto could tell, the statue hadn't even been recovered yet.

"When I first saw it with Sage Mode, it already had most of the demons in it, with their chakra all tangled up inside. I only noticed 'cause Kurama could sense them underneath all the evil chakra the statue had." Naruto's eyes opened, the natural chakra melting away from him as he looked deeper into the mountains. "Either it's a lot further away than I thought it was, or Madara hasn't summoned it from the moon yet."

Mito's fingers brushed against the sheaf of papers in her sleeve. "Does that mean he doesn't have the Rinnegan yet, or merely that Zetsu hasn't gotten him to summon it yet?"

"Iunno," Naruto stood up, stretching his arms out and breathing deeply. "I can't find Madara either; I think he and Zetsu did something to block chakra sensing. Maybe that's just hiding the statue too?"

"If he thought Tobirama found out he faked his death, he'd have every reason to try and counter any attempts to find him without luck and foreknowledge," Mito rested a hand on his shoulder. "We'll just have to keep on looking."

"Or," Kurama piped up from the back of her mind, causing her hand to tighten ever so slightly on Naruto's shoulder. "You could use the technique you've been learning from me to just track their emotions."

Mito couldn't even stop the laugh that bubbled up from her chest, recovering from the shock and, indeed, embarrassment of forgetting Kurama was there for a while.

"Granny?" Naruto asked, arms flailing a bit at the sudden emotional swing she'd just gone through.

"My apologies," she huffed through one last laugh, tears at the corners of her eyes. "Kurama was just reminding me that he is still in fact capable of tracking down emotions."

Naruto faulted. "How do ya forget something you've been practicing for the past three weeks?"

Mito huffed. "I am unfortunately still in the habit of not thinking about the seal on my stomach, not to mention the other things we had to get done before we got here. I should note that you didn't bring it up either, despite you making good use of it already."

His expression was enough to draw another short laugh from her lips. "So you forgot as well, then."

Naruto slouched in defeat. "Hey, I only had it for three days, and then I had to deal with all this stuff in the past, gimme a break."

Mito could feel Kurama hiding his face in his hands, his grumbles about useless airheaded brats enough to have her laughing again.

~0~0~0~0~0~

The cavern entrance had been blocked with a boulder, but something like that was hardly a barrier to a well placed destructive technique, as Naruto proved quickly. Mito allowed him to rush ahead, drawing all the attention of their enemies while she pulled out her seals and allowed her senses to unroll enough to determine where Zetsu was in the cavern. If he was fleeing-

No, he was attempting to sneak up on Naruto while the latter confronted Madara on his actions thus far, which they had been expecting and why they were handling things this way. She primed the first two seals, already tied to senbon, and threw them to land right to either side of Naruto.

The flash went off first, Madara's chakra reacting sharply to both the burst of light and Naruto's leap to the side, drawing his eye away from the second seal long enough for its timer to burn down and set off a minor explosion. In those four seconds Mito had leapt forward into the blast zone, Kurama's chakra rising up to envelop her skin just enough to ward off the damage while her chakra pooled into her feet and legs.

She landed with enough force to shatter the cavern floor just after the explosion went off, the debris hiding her location from the Sharingan while she focused on activating the first two containment seals and lunging for the suddenly unveiled Zetsu. Both slips of paper stuck to him via her chakra for a moment before he leapt back, fizzling out as the chakra dispersed.

Behind her, Madara was working hard at maintaining a distance while Naruto kept closing it again, his clones having taken advantage of the smoke and light to split Madara's attention. Another explosion rocked as the Uchiha just dodged a ranged Rasengan attack, Kurama snarling at her to get the next two seals ready already before Zetsu cut his losses.

"Interesting," Zetsu commented as she rushed forward again, another flash-explosive pair of seals being thrown at him as she rushed forward, her fingers slipping back into her sleeves to grab the containment seals. "Konoha has sent us it's jinchuriki early."

Mito didn't reply, one hand activating the seals while her other twisted into the hand seal, her chakra splitting as a shadow clone held back, holding most of the Kyuubi's chakra she'd called up initially. She lost track of Zetsu as her emotional senses faded, but she knew his last location and how he was likely going to move, and so she was able to catch him with the third containment seal before he had sunk fully into the ground.

She leapt back when it was clear it hadn't worked, with irritation throwing a senbon at her clone to have it release its chakra back to her. It had kept track of Zetsu's movements for her up to its death, so she had just enough time to react to the attack aimed for her chest, twisting around on a hand and using a burst of chakra to throw herself from a retreat into an attack.

The fourth containment seal smacked into Zetsu's sternum, and Mito could have heaved a sigh of relief as this one managed to do the trick, pulling Zetsu into itself and hanging in place just long enough for her to snatch it back up. Tucking it into her other sleeve, she focused again on the fight between Naruto and Madara, the latter's chakra fluctuating with frustration and…

"Naruto! Eyes!" She snapped, Naruto reacting in time to switch with a clone before the genjutsu from the newly formed Rinnegan could hit him. Without Kurama, his sage chakra could only resist the technique from those eyes so much. She made another clone, throwing it forward with another paired set of seals while she started crafting a new seal in her mind, dodging the technique thrown her way as her clone was destroyed mid-throw.

The same flame that went for her also had taken out the clone and the seals, allowing the senbon to fly past Madara uselessly, and Mito threw the rest of her stock to land around him as her fingers twisted into another hand seal -

And she snapped into place behind him, swapping with the senbon. This close, she could see the healed scars where Hashirama's cells had filled in the wounds, darker patches among paled skin, and she swapped with a flash seal as his gaze snapped to her, her eyes shut briefly to avoid the genjutsu already being held back in those eyes. Naruto took the chance to rush in with a clone, a rasengan between them enhanced with natural chakra, and Marada looked back to them just long enough for her to pull up more of Kurama's chakra.

Kurama's chakra, allowed to flow freely, felt almost like it should be burning her. Mito suspected this was because the fox wanted to burn her, but wanted to kill Madara and keep his numbskull friend alive more.

Regardless, the chakra enveloping her danced like the flames the land was named after, orange where Naruto had managed a gold of total synchronization, and that fact failed to bother her. The success of the cloak at all was more a concession to the fox's desire to get back at Madara again, which was only possible were his chakra able to enter the rogue Uchiha's system.

She and Kurama were of agreement that this was the only time she was going to use it; it made her too much of a beacon even with the expansion of her senses and abilities it provided, and the last thing she wanted was for the other villages to know for certain where they were hiding the fox.

(She was sure there was some suspicion her way as it was, but suspicion and confirmation were two very different things.)

One tail of chakra stabilized around her, and she lunged right at Madara, eyes shut as her senses kept track of him even as he dodged her strike and moved to retaliate, Naruto moving in with another attack in the meantime. But her lunge had never been meant to hit - the tail of chakra extended and buried itself into the ground, burrowing to where Naruto was forcing Madara to hit the wall before lunging for him.

It missed, but the effects of that much natural chakra near him didn't.

The Hashirama cells, already reacting to the sage chakra Naruto had been using and the minute burst of beastly chakra she'd been coating herself with, went into overdrive. The scars started growing and blooming, Madara's balance abruptly thrown off as his centers of mass and chakra shifted in response. His eyes sparked with chakra, and the effects reversed themselves -

But it had been enough. Naruto burst in with a natural-chakra enhanced fist on one side, and Kurama and Mito struck with spikes of demonic chakra from several others.

And while Madara was recovering from that, Mito landed next to him and pressed a finger to his shoulder.

Chakra suppression was tricky to manage without a dedicated seal, but she'd had nearly five minutes to piece it together in her mind and then into a prepared package on her fingertips. Madara hit the ground, one of his eyes faded to a blank white while the other held rings, his expression thunderous.

"So this is Hashirama's revenge on me, then? Not even bothering to fight me himself?"

"Please, like I'd give you the chance to use whatever contingency plans you had in place for my husband or his brother," Mito ignored the snarls of Kurama and the way his chakra whipped and cracked around her, ready to murder the Uchiha the second her control slipped. "Naruto, if you want to look away, you best do it now."

The Uchiha snorted in disdain. "And there's the coddling. Konoha's already sunk itself low if your little brat will be bothered by this."

Naruto's gaze narrowed. "I'm fine, granny. Just get it over with."

Mito obliged, and Kurama lunged.

She kept the chakra he was pushing through her into Marada to four tails, but the burn from his malicious glee was still enough to have her hissing and mentally noting down a visit to her younger sister for an assessment of her coils after this just to be safe.

By the time Madara was a bloody smear across the ground, Kurama had withdrawn back into the cage with an apology that was mostly an afterthought, his chakra humming in a way that again had her happy she'd chosen to seal him away when she had.

Naruto looked a bit green from the carnage, but shook it off quickly, looking to her for direction. "That's everything, right?"

"We just have to clean up a bit," Mito replied, considering the blood stain idly. "Would you prefer to do the honors, or shall I?"

~0~0~0~0~0~

"Why didn't you tell Hashirama everything when you first got into his office? You could have easily gotten him to support your mission from the start and not had to deal with any of the things I put you through."

Naruto choked on his bite of teriyaki, coughing several times before replying. "Why are you asking that now granny?"

"Call it idle curiosity; now that we're past all the immediate issues, I'm allowing myself to focus on other things." She took another bite of her food, giving him a bit more time to think about his answer.

"I guess it was 'cause it was my mission, ya know?" Naruto answered. "I mean, I saw how good he was when he was holding back the ten tails, and Madara didn't even want to fight anyone else but him until he came back to life and managed to trap him. And when the two forgave each other at the end…"

Mito blinked. "Madara forgave Hashirama?"

Naruto nodded through another mouthful of rice.

She brows scrunched, fingers tapping together. "Then why not bring Hashirama along, if redeeming him was possible?"

Naruto grimaced. "Madara only realized he was wrong after he got betrayed by Zetsu and used to bring back Kaguya, but before that… nothing anyone said got through to him, not even Hashirama or Obito. He honestly thought he was saving everyone from hurting anymore, and even when I tried to show him what happened, he didn't want to see he was wrong."

Kurama snorted in the back of her mind as she asked, voice carefully kept level, "You tried to use your ninshu technique while we were dealing with Zetsu?"

Naruto scowled, seeing right through her calm demeanor. "I had to at least give it a shot, granny, otherwise I'd be going against my own nindo."

She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. "You're right, I suppose. I just don't like the idea that he might have seriously injured you if he tried to take advantage of your mercy."

"I knew what I was doing," Naruto muttered, quiet for a moment before he asked, "What about you? You saw a lot of what I went through; why didn't you try and bring Hashirama or Tobirama anyways? I bet you could have figured out a way to keep them safe from whatever Madara had planned."

"You assume I know what he could have come up with while sitting in that cavern for all those years," Mito replied, shaking her head slightly. "I did tell Tobirama what was going on, and he agreed with me that involving Hashirama… it would have broken his heart again."

Mito rested her hands on her lap, sitting back and looking Naruto in the eye. "Hashirama tried everything he could to convince Madara to stand down during their battle at what would become the Valley of the End. When things went wrong, Hashirama gave up and killed Madara, but afterwards... "

She mouth twisted. "He wept that day, when they brought the body back and laid him to rest. He waited until after the few of us who knew what had happened had left, but he didn't move from his spot for hours. I think the only reason we were able to tear him away was because the rest of the village needed him to be there for them."

Mito looked down to her hands, which were somehow still despite the emotions being dredged up with the memories. "I love him too much to do that to him again. Call it selfishness, but if he had gone to that cave…"

She looked back up to Naruto, his face soft and open. "I don't think he would have walked back out; not as the man I know, at least."

Naruto waited a bit to reply, leaning back in his own seat. "Keeping secrets like that usually doesn't turn out great, even if it's to keep them from hurting more."

Mito exhaled slowly. "I know there's no way he wouldn't figure it out eventually - he might already have some guesses as to why - but I want to wait until I have the right words."

"Why not just tell him what ya told me?" Naruto tilted his head, scratching at his neck. "I mean, he'd understand it was from your heart, right?"

Mito didn't reply for a moment, letting a small smile creep onto her face. "Maybe I will, at that."

(She'd already done that the day she met Hashirama, after all; what was the harm in doing so again?)