“You want to what?”
“I know you heard me Shiranui. I’m not repeating myself.” Kakashi replies, unimpressed.
Genma looks him up and down. He doesn’t look like he’s sustained significant head trauma, but with Kakashi it’s sometimes hard to tell. He is acting… jumpy though, or as jumpy as an ex-Anbu captain is capable of acting.
Kakashi looks away tellingly. “My pack needs more space to run around in.” He hedges.
“Bullshit. You run them outside the village at least twice a day, and even if they were complaining, that’s still not enough of a reason for you to crack open this particular can of worms.” Genma pauses mid thought, reanalyzing Kakashi’s wording, and another idea slots into place, painting a clearer picture. “Unless you’re not talking about your dogs.”
The copy-nin looks distinctly uncomfortable at that, detectable even underneath the mask.
“You haven’t told Iruka yet, have you?” Genma guesses.
“I don’t think I could handle the ‘I told you so’ right now.” he admits.
“It’s been like, what, four months? Did they really worm their way into your life that fast?”
Kakashi raises an eyebrow. “You haven’t met them, have you?”
Genma shrugs. “I met blondie for like thirty minutes.”
He waves off Kakashi’s dry response. “Still, this isn’t something I ever thought you would even consider after… well, everything.”
A slight pinch of pain creases the corner of Kakashi’s visible eye, an old tender wound that never fully healed over. “I’ve been running from that particular demon for long enough, I think.”
Genma huffs. “Well hell, Kakashi, did you honestly expect me to say no? Your clan lands are yours and always will be, so far as I’m concerned. I'll have to ask Rai where I put the damned paperwork, since I never thought I’d need it again, but after that it’s all yours.”
Genma sees relief smooth out the tension in Kakashi’s shoulders. “Thank you.” he says softly.
The Tokujo snorts. “Don’t thank me yet, I may have the land part but Iruka still has the assets. You’re gonna need to talk to him at some point.”
Kakashi laughs wryly and scratches at his masked chin with one finger. “I’m still not really sure how I’m going to start that kind of conversation.”
Genma shrugs. “My advice? Rip it off like a bandage. Waiting around will only make it worse, and you’ve got a lot of work ahead of you if you want to get that place up and running, so the sooner the better.”
The copy-nin nods. “True.”
Genma jostles the Jounin’s shoulder with his own, grinning wide around the senbon between his teeth. “Get going then! I have to go get Rai from the standby station. I’ll bring the papers by Iruka’s tonight, so go!”
“Pushy pushy.” Kakashi complains, but he complies, taking a few long strides before hopping out the third floor window of the Hokage tower with a lazy wave.
Those kids are good for him. Genma muses, and heads for the standby station.
“The what now?”
“You heard me Kiba, I’m not gonna say it twice.”
Team seven plus one Inuzuka and one Nara sit circled in the glade, the high midday sun streaming down and warming the long grass. They’d spent most of the last day and a half sleeping on and off, piled together on the only futon. Naruto doesn’t mind so much. He’s gotten so used to sharing space with his teammates that sometimes they don’t even feel like separate people– especially early in the morning when none of them are fully awake, navigating around spaces and each other with barely open eyes. They’re still not all the way coherent– Naruto is the only one supporting his own weight, since he can generally operate the best on little to no sleep. Sakura is leaning with her whole back against Naruto’s side, and Sasuke is half asleep with his head pillowed on Naruto’s opposite knee.
“The Nine-tails, huh?” Shikamaru says contemplatively, his jaw resting in his hand. “That explains a lot, actually.”
Naruto blinks at him, tilting his head in case he heard wrong. “It doesn’t bother you?”
Shikamaru has the gall to actually look confused by the question. “Why would it bother me?”
“No one who actually knows you gives a shit, Dobe.” Sasuke growls, his eyes still closed.
“I give a shit.” Kiba counters. “How come you never told us before now? You made friends with a freaking bijuu. That’s awesome.”
Sakura laughs at that. “See? Even Kiba knows better than to judge you for something stupid like that.”
“Speaking of secrets though…” Shikamaru interrupts. “There is a reason I dragged you three out of bed.”
Taking that as the cue it is, Naruto gives Sasuke’s shoulder a gentle shake. “Hey, jerk. You’re gonna want to be awake for this.”
Sasuke’s eyes flicker open all the way, ebony gaze narrowed in confusion. “Me? Why?”
“Do you remember when I told you I went through the black ops part of the archives looking for something to help Kurama?”
Sasuke nods. “Yeah. Before Uzushio.”
“Well I found something else. Something I didn’t want to tell you about until I was sure it was accurate, in case I dug up skeletons for no reason. I asked Shika to see if he could validate it.”
Sasuke blinks the sleepy daze out of his eyes and sits up quickly. “Skeletons… my clan?”
Naruto shakes his head. “Your brother.”
To Naruto’s surprise, Sasuke only freezes at the statement for about half a second before he takes a deep breath, obviously calming himself. “What about him?”
Before Naruto can respond, Sakura leans over. “If this stuff is dirty laundry you'd rather not air in front of us, Kiba and I can go.”
Sasuke shakes his head. “Don’t be stupid. You’re team 7, and dog breath can keep a secret if he has to.”
Kiba holds up both hands. “Hey, I know all about stupid siblings, even if none of mine are homicidal. My lips are sealed.”
Shika smirks. “I figured it would end up being a bit of an open secret anyway.” He pulls the file Naruto had given him out of the pocket of his shirt, notably thicker now than it had been when Naruto had handed it over. He flicks it open with his thumb, drawing out a small folio and handing it to Sasuke. “This is the original file copy Naruto gave me. Just looking at the front sends up all kinds of black op red flags already.”
“What kind of red flags?” Sasuke asks as he reads through the folio, eyes widening as he goes to open the file.
“Its got Root literally stamped on the cover, for one. By the looks of it, this ‘operation’ was carried out just before Root’s supposed disbanding.”
“A specific set of Anbu squads run solely by Danzo Shimura. My dad complains about the asshole a lot.”
Kiba nods. “I’ve heard my mom talk about him, but I’ve never met the guy in person. He apparently fancies himself as some kind of ‘Shadow Hokage’ and spent a lot of time trying to run the village under Sarutobi’s nose. The old man let it slide for a while since he and Danzo were old war buddies or something, but recently the Sandaime has had a lot less tolerance for his shit. At least openly.”
“They were trying to… recruit my brother? After the massacre?” Sasuke speculates.
Shikamaru shakes his head. “It’s not very clear in there, so I dug around a little. The problem with black op and old Root operations is that there’s never any evidence of them left over. So instead of looking for what was there, I looked for what wasn’t. Daily reports with timestamps missing, patrols that never checked in, messages that went out and never came back with responses. Everything points to some kind of deep dark operation, and it corresponds with the date and time of the Uchiha massacre.”
“So what do you think happened?” Sasuke asks. “Besides the obvious mass murder?”
Naruto is a little surprised about how level headed Sasuke is being about it all, but his friend seems to be able to separate himself from the event now in a way he couldn’t before. Naruto leans closer for support anyway, just in case. Sasuke presses their shoulders together gratefully.
“I’ve gone through a lot of possibilities, and I have three that seem the most likely.” Shikamaru states, setting the folder between them. “First, there’s always the distinct chance that there was some event or circumstance that drove your brother mad– a loss or a defeat or something of the like. Second, there's also a high probability that the entire thing was… orchestrated somehow, that your brother was only a tool used to commit the atrocity.”
“You think someone planned it?” Naruto snarls. “Who could do that?”
“It’s a short list for sure, but that’s just inside the village, ruling out an outside influence. Danzo is one, but that doesn’t rule out anyone on the council. Also, it’s unlikely that anyone, even someone as skilled as your brother, could take out an entire two-line clan without some kind of help.”
“The Uchiha clan was two-lined?” Kiba asks, surprised.
Sasuke nods. “There were two main groups of descendants. I’m the kin of Izuna, who became the ruling line and the clan heads. Those of the other line were descendants of Kagami, who became the clan protectors. Itachi had a designated protector as the next clan head, like my father before him, and my grandmother before that.”
“You said three possibilities.” Naruto interjects at Shikamaru. “What was the third?”
Shikamaru takes a deep breath before he speaks. “The third and mostly likely is a combination of the two. The more I think about it, the more likely it seems to me that Itachi was… manipulated somehow. With Kiba’s help–” Shikamaru jerks a thumb in the dog-nin’s direction. “I managed to get a peek at Itachi's old personnel files.”
“Is that why you asked me to pants Ibiki over by T&I? Because I wouldn’t have complained so hard if I knew this was what it was for.” Kiba admits.
Sakura’s eyes go wide and she dissolves into snickers. “How the hell are you not dead?”
“Akamaru and I are very fast when properly motivated.” The nin-dog in nestled in Kiba’s jacket yips at the sound of his name. “Some half dressed purple-haired Tokujo came by the next day with a fruit basket too.” Kiba continues. “It was all really weird.”
“Did you take the basket?”
“Of course I took the basket. I don’t have a death wish.”
“Anyway,” Shikamaru says pointedly, and Kiba and Sakura both shut up. “From what I saw, Itachi was a shining example of a loyal shinobi. Not even minor marks for any kind of insubordination. He followed orders to the letter, all except for one instance.” Shikamaru pulls out a sheaf of papers that look like handwritten notes; Shika’s given the handwriting, and flips them so that they’re facing Naruto and Sasuke. He points to a section halfway down the last page. “Here, there was in incident just before the massacre where Itachi doubled back from what was supposed to be a team oriented mission. The only reason his CO could state for the sudden withdrawal was that Itachi ‘felt something was wrong.’ I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the two occurrences were so close together, and it’s possible that this is the event that triggered his spiral.”
Sasuke sits back and runs an agitated hand through his hair. “It can’t all be a coincidence. But why the hell would someone inside the village want to destroy one of its strongest clans? That doesn’t make any sense…”
~I think I have something to say about all this.~ Kurama comments from the back of Naruto’s psyche. ~Mind if I cut in?~
“Let me check.”
“Guys?” Naruto interjects Shikamaru and Sasuke’s intense conversation. “Kurama has some input on this whole thing. You mind if I let him say his piece?”
Sasuke stops short and blinks at him. “You can do that?”
Naruto nods. “Sure can.”
“Hell yeah, I say go for it.” is Kiba’s input.
“I don’t care, obviously.” Sakura states. “He’s free to talk when he likes so far as I’m concerned.”
“Of course.” Sasuke agrees.
Shikamaru nods. “I’m all ears. Anything an immortal chakra being has to say is probably worth listening to.”
Naruto nods and closes his eyes, letting Kurama push up through him.
The shade materializes in wisps of gilded red chakra, winding and folding together into a solid shape. It’s a lot smaller than the shades Kurama usually prefers, only about the size of a small dog instead of a large horse, but it also looks much more concentrated– barely even see-through.
Kurama drapes over his shoulders like a furry chakra shawl, stretching lazily like a contented cat.
~Ahh It’s good to see outside again.~ the fox rumbles, curling his tails over Naruto’s shoulder. ~Nice to meet you all in person, I suppose, even if you are humans.~
“Be nice.” Naruto chastises, giving Kurama’s mostly solid snout a scratch.
~I am being nice. These little humans are yours after all.~ Kurama rumbles.
Shikamaru blinks at the bijuu, the only sign of surprise on his face. “Somehow not what I’d expected.” He drawls.
“So you’re the Nine-tailed fox, huh?” Sasuke mutters. “I thought you’d be taller.”
Kurama puts his head in a clawed paw and stares over at him. ~Very funny Uchiha. You’re lucky you’re precious to my kit or I’d swallow whole, sharingan or no.~
“You don’t seem very capable of following through with that threat.”
“Hey.” Naruto interjects. “Let’s not get off topic here. You said you had a thought on this whole Uchiha massacre mess, right Kurama?”
The fox nods easily and turns back to Shikamaru. ~I believe the Nara is mostly correct, but you’re missing one key element.~
Shika ticks up an eyebrow at that. “And what might that be?”
~When you’ve lived as long as I have, you become adept at sniffing out all the telltale signs of human deception. And this entire Uchiha mess stinks of a conspiracy.~
“What do you mean conspiracy?” Sasuke asks.
~You have the tip of the iceberg, which by itself is...impressive I must admit.~ Shika allows himself a small smirk at that. ~But you are not looking far enough back. From what I remember through Kushina’s eyes, tension between the Uchiha clan and the rest of the village had begun to grow steadily after the end of the third shinobi war. I recall the fear being thick in both the clan and the outside village.~
“Tension? What the hell kind of tension?” Kiba asks.
“Wait, fear?” Naruto interjects. “Of the Uchiha as a whole?”
Kurama nods. ~It started with the segregation of the Uchiha to a special district, I believe.~
“Segregation?” Sasuke mutters, shaking his head. “That’s not how I heard it.”
“‘For the protection of the village’ I would guess.” Naruto theorizes. “Haku said that’s how the persecution of Kekkei Genkai started in Kiri. People were afraid of them and they were eventually hunted down and killed.”
“Haku?” Shikamaru asks.
“A missing-nin we met on our mission.” Sakura explains. “It’s a long story.”
Shikamaru tilts his head in acknowledgement and doesn’t press any further.
“My brother… he always claimed to love the village more than the clan.” Sasuke says softly. “But still that’s no reason for him to murder them all!” Sasuke’s voice rises in volume as emotion begins to leak into his voice. “An entire host of people, dozens of families!” He stops short when Naruto grips his forearm briefly, giving at a soft squeeze. Sasuke's voice lowers and he takes a deep breath. “It’s not forgivable.”
~No one is saying that it is, little firebrand.~ Kurama soothes. ~You are well within your rights to hate him for everything he’s done. But hating him gives the act power, and makes you a slave to your emotions. Do not let it rule you.~
Sasuke breathes deep again. “Don’t worry about that.” he assures. “He has no power over me. Not anymore.”
Kurama makes a pleased and contemplative rumble. ~Your kind have always felt more deeply than most humans are capable of. It is… refreshing to see an Uchiha that does not let fear or hatred rule him.~ Kurama then turns back to Naruto. ~I take back what I said, kit. He’s alright for an Uchiha.~
Sasuke scowls. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Naruto shrugs. “Kurama had a bad experience with a broken-eyed Uchiha. One of them manipulated him into attacking the village and killing my parents on the day I was born.”
“Manipulated?” Shikamaru asks. “How?”
“Under certain conditions, fully evolved sharingan are capable of controlling tailed beasts. Not indefinitely, at least not in Kurama’s case, but long enough to wreak havoc.” Naruto elaborates.
“Broken sharingan? How can a sharingan be broken?” Sasuke demands, leaning forwards to rest his elbows on his knees so he can more easily see Kurama.
~Quite easily apparently, if the entire Uchiha line is anything to go by.~ Kurama quips. ~In fact, you're the only Uchiha I know of that hasn’t screwed theirs up yet.~
“You mean since Indra.”
~I mean at all.~ the fox stresses.
“Can you two argue about this sharingan crap later? I thought we were talking about a conspiracy.” Kiba barks, obviously confused with all the dojutsu and bijuu jargon flying around.
“Kurama is trying to say that he thinks someone backed the Uchiha into a corner on purpose.” Naruto explains, stroking a soothing hand down Kurama’s chakra in an attempt to calm him back down.
“If someone wanted a powerful clan out of the picture, it wouldn’t be difficult to stir up unrest against them, especially after the war.” Shikamaru agrees.
Sakura nods, humming thoughtfully. “The more they were persecuted, the angrier they got, and the easier it was to convince people they were a threat. Not only did someone probably orchestrate the massacre itself, but the events leading up to it.”
~This is likely correct, little genesis.~ Kurama agrees.
“There are still some things that don’t add up though.” Shikamaru interjects. “Even if unrest started inside the village, that doesn’t rule out the interference of an outside party. We also don’t know Root’s role in all of this.”
“This Danzo guy has some shit to answer for, that’s for damned sure.” Sakura growls.
Kiba shakes his head. “Unfortunately for everyone involved, the asshole is untouchable. Accusing him would actually be harder than accusing the Hokage– not only is the dude an ex-council member, but status notwithstanding he’s still so entrenched in political red tape there’s no way to get at him.”
“I knew that, but how did you?” Shika asks. “I know your mother talks to your sister about a lot of things, but not about anything classified.”
“Yeah well, she rants to Kuromaru in the yard too. Akamaru gets some of the juiciest gossip, don’t you boy?”
The ninken yips in affirmation from the depths of Kiba’s sweatshirt.
“If he did do it, and the evidence is pretty damning, we can’t just let him get away with it.” Naruto growls.
“Exactly.” Sasuke grits out. “If he’s behind all of it, then his hands are just as bloody as my brother’s, if not more.”
“And that’s if the massacre was all he was behind.” Kiba adds. “Who knows what other kinds of crap he’s pulled under Sarutobi’s nose? The village could be rotting away under our feet and we wouldn’t even know it. That is assuming the third doesn’t actually know about it. He may have covered it up to prevent a civil war or something. The other clans wouldn’t have stood for it.”
“I think we’re jumping to conclusions here.” Shikamaru interjects.
“You think he didn’t do it?” Sakura asks.
Shika shakes his head. “I didn’t say that, but I think we need more information. A lot of this is all theory, speculation. We need evidence.”
Naruto blinks, and Sasuke stills. “Shikamaru?” Sasuke asks, disbelieving. “What exactly are you saying?”
Shika sighs. “If Danzo Shimura is responsible for the massacre, this proves he’s a master of the long game. If you want to back him into a corner and prove him guilty, we’ll need to beat him on his own board, with his own pieces.”
“You’re offering to help us go after this guy?” Sasuke questions.
Shikamaru smiles, soft and wry. “Obviously. If I don’t help you, you three will run into this blind and deaf and then where will you be?”
Naruto chuckles nervously, mostly because he may or may not have been thinking just that.
“Oh hell, I’m in.” Kiba crows. “They won’t even see us coming. Who suspects a bunch of Genin, anyway?”
“We have your back.” Sakura assures, reaching over to grasp Sasuke’s shoulder.
“Are you sure we can’t just go beat the crap out of him?” Naruto asks, and Sakura elbows him in the ribs.
“Don’t be stupid.”
Sasuke looks more than a little stunned. “Wait a second– you're serious.”
~Of course they’re serious.~ Kurama rumbles, flipping a tail to swat as Sasuke’s hair in mild admonishment. ~Did you honestly think you were alone in this? I thought you smarter than that.~
Shikamaru has a battle plan in the works. This conspiracy with Danzo can cause nothing but long-term trouble for Konoha, and he has a lot to protect here. The plan has stages– the first of which involves a lot of waiting and watching. There isn’t a lot the five of them can do as they are right now, but while they wait, Shikamaru can set a strong foundation and contemplate the thousands of moves and angles in the meantime.
They migrate back to Naruto’s apartment for a long overdue lunch. Shikamaru takes a needed nap while food is made, which is helpful for further mapping out moves, counter-moves, and contingency plans.
Sakura wakes him up gently to press a bowl of curry into his hands, a familiar and calming food nowadays. Naruto and Sakura had no doubt made it with Sasuke in mind.
Shikamaru rolls his shoulders and takes a pair of chopsticks from her gratefully.
“Extra helping.” Sakura says warmly. “Choji says you need it when you’ve been thinking too much.”
She hops up next to him on Naruto’s bed while he eats, watching Sasuke play tug-of-war with Akamaru while Naruto goes through some of his Uzushio scrolls. They seemed to have opted to let him sleep instead of waking him as soon as the food was done, which Shikamaru appreciates more than he can say. All the talking and organizing and strategizing had taken more out of him than he thought.
“Did you know there was a time when you couldn’t even mention Itachi or the Uchiha clan to Sasuke without him getting defensive and angry?” Sakura says, her spring-water eyes soft as she tucks her chin against her knees. Shikamaru doesn’t answer; Sakura doesn’t seem to be expecting him to. “Did you know that Naruto used to flinch every time someone touched him,” she continues. “Even on accident?”
Shikamaru does know these things, has seen the evidence of Sakura’s words in thousands of interactions and small gestures. He is adept at seeing all the little things his friends do to hide their pain, and all the little things that give that pain away.
“You know I do.” He says eventually, and takes another bite of his curry. Odd, how the flavors never seem to be the same. There is no recipe for team 7’s curry, no guidelines and no measured rules, but it somehow always manages to taste fantastic.
“They’re good for each other.” Sakura says, almost sadly.
“You’re as good for them as they are for each other.” Shikamaru counters, wiping a bit of sauce off his lip with his thumb. “When they go too far outside themselves, it’s you they trust to draw them back to earth again.”
Sakura laughs like it’s been startled out of her, a flush drawing across her cheeks at the compliment. “You really do know just what to say to people, don’t you Shika?”
“Not everyone.” Shikamaru denies. “Just people I don’t care to lose.”
Sakura beams and slings an arm around his shoulders, jostling his chopsticks. “You’re such a good friend it’s scary, you know that? Be it chakra demons or crazy conspiracies, nothing scares you off, does it?”
“Please don’t let that get around.” Shikamaru grumbles.
She laughs again, bright and carefree. “Kiba’s the same way, but for him it’s all instinct– protecting the pack and all that. The blind loyalty is something else, but you? You know everything that’s going on, every catch and hardship, and still here you are.” She leans in, rests her head on his shoulder. “Don't ever let anybody take you for granted, okay?”
A soft ache blooms somewhere under Shikamaru's ribs, and he swallows hard. “Okay.”
She pulls him close in a one armed hug, a little too tight to be comfortable, but Shikamaru finds he doesn’t mind. “Good,” she chirps.
“Speaking of being taken advantage of,” Shikamaru digresses, suddenly eager to change the subject. “Naruto mentioned in passing that you had a fight with your parents? What was it about, if you don’t mind my asking?"
“Oh, that.” Sakura says darkly, pulling back a little. “It’s okay, it’s not like it a secret or anything. My parents are civilians right? When they entered me into the academy, they did it because I had shown chakra talent and that was village policy. I don’t really think they ever expected me to want to be a ninja the way I do now. We’d been arguing about it for a while before it actually blew up– my dad wants me to quit being a ninja and do something ‘safe’ and ‘suitable’ for a living.” She spits the two words out like they leave a bad taste in her mouth, her face twisting with frustration and disgust. “It really only got heated when they found out I was going on my first C-rank mission. They tried to stop me from going, we argued, and I stormed out. When my dad tried to stop me from leaving, I almost accidentally broke his wrist.” She flexes her hand, as if remembering the moment. “The thing that sucks is that I know they care, but they think they know what’s best for me and they are so wrong. I love this life, I love being part of a team, I love being a ninja, and no matter how much they wish differently, I won’t give it up. Not even for them.”
“A wise choice, in my opinion.” Shikamaru murmurs. “Parents should help lift you up, not hold you back. And if they do love you, they’ll come around in the end.”
“I hope so.” Sakura muses. “They’re still my parents, even if they can be idiots.” she jostles him playfully in the side. “Thanks for letting me rant. Sometimes it helps to talk to someone I’m not already attached to at the hip.”
They both jolt when Naruto’s voice interjects loudly from the other end of the room as the Uzumaki tears into his pack of scrolls. Akamaru yips and dives under Kiba’s knee and the dog-nin rubs at his ears. “Geez, dude, warn somebody.” he grumbles.
“I forgot about the summoning scrolls!” Naruto exclaims as he digs through the pile of brown library scrolls stacked by the window.
“What summoning scrolls?” Sasuke demands.
“The Tsubasa clan Treasure jutsu!” Naruto explains. “Gotcha!” he shouts as he pulls out one of his black scrolls, the one lined in platinum. He sets it in his lap, flicking open the clasps and unrolling it. “I remembered them when we were talking with Uhei about summons and contracts. Kurama promised to teach us about them when we got back, but it completely slipped my mind.” Naruto runs a finger along the intricate silver patterns of the seals, obviously searching for one in particular. He stops when he comes across a seal marked with a curled feather. “Here it is.”
“Wait, I thought everything in that scroll was kinjutsu.” Kiba reminds him.
“Some of it is yeah.” Naruto agrees. “But the Tsubasa clan’s Treasure Jutsu has two sets of summoning scrolls. I think only one set is actually forbidden.” Naruto places a hand on the seal, and after a moment of concentration and a hum of chakra, he pulls from its depths a glittering decorative scroll as long as the Uzumaki’s torso from hip to shoulder. “Make some room, will you?” he asks. “I’ve got eleven more of these.”