Second Bite at the Cherry @sakinthra
Sounding Thunder (Intermission Part Ten)

"So that's your student, then, Kakashi-sempai?"

"Yeah. My troublesome little student."

Troublesome, of course, was the biggest understatement of Kakashi's life. It was hard to believe that a year ago, Sakura was the most well-behaved of his genin team. The Sakura of back then would never have dreamed of challenging Konoha's darkest system...right? But here she was, having dragged what seemed like every genin her age into this convoluted plot, a plot that he wasn't even fully allowed to know about according to the Nara boy, and even despite his lack of knowledge he couldn't help but think that somehow, someway, Sakura was going to make this work.

But Kakashi wondered if he'd come to expect too much of her. She'd faced down Itachi, yes, she'd succeeded in the chuunin exams, yes, but this was political warfare, not a fight. A different kind of animal entirely.

He'd hoped the meeting with Tsunade would have convinced Sakura to have a bit of temperance, to leave dealing with Root to her elders. Instead, now Tsunade was on board with her scheme. Sakura and Shikamaru had managed to convince her this would work, had managed to give Kakashi a smattering of hope that this would work, and the strangest part, the part that really got to him, was the feeling that somehow the Nara had been planning for them to get on board with this scheme the entire time.

(He'd never admit it aloud, but sometimes Nara brains really scared him.)

"And what are you going to do if this works?"

Tenzo was asking good questions. He usually did. If 'this' worked, if Root was somehow peacefully disbanded, if the foreign Kage were convinced to join Sakura's cause and sign into the pact...well, what else was there to do? He'd technically succeeded in his mission to bring Sakura home, but naturally she wouldn't stay. She wasn't a Konoha shinobi anymore. She wasn't his cute genin acting out, running away from home, she was now an ambassador, and he...well, he would always be a Konoha shinobi. His home was here. His precious people were here...most of them, anyway.

"Whatever Tsunade asks of me." Kakashi ended up answering. "She might want me to help with reintegrating the Root agents to Konoha. She thinks I've done a good enough job with you."

"Many of them won't be as amicable to the idea as I was."

"Which is why I'm not fully convinced this is going to work."

"I don't think they are either. It's too hopeful to expect Danzo to step down without a fight." Tenzo was still watching Sakura and her companions as they made their way back to the civilian district. Tenzo had been watching Sakura quite closely since the meeting had started, now that Kakashi thought about it. He wondered what it was that was on the man's mind. Did he see something in Sakura that he was incapable of?

"We'll be prepared for a fight." Kakashi concluded. "We have our orders. I'll make sure the jounin are prepared for enemy forces. You'll be working on civilian evacuation."

"We fight a small-scale civil war. We win. Danzo is gone, Root disbanded. Everything works. Then what?"

"You're so worried about the future, Tenzo?"

"A war will weaken the forces of every village here. There are those that will want to take advantage. Akatsuki. Orochimaru. Even Kiri or Kumo might see there chance to take control of a slightly bigger border."

"Then we'd better hope Sakura can convince one or two of them that it's a bad idea."

It was a hopeful thought. There wasn't a chance in hell that Sakura would be able to convince Orochimaru of all people to sign a peace treaty, and Kumo had been on shaky terms with Konoha after the Hyuuga incident. Kiri? Who knew what the state of it was. All Kakashi had heard as of late were rumors of civil war and unrest.

"If we win, Kakashi-sempai, I'd like your help with something."

"Oh?" Kakashi looked over, curious. Tenzo had never been the type to ask for help. Kakashi had aided him with breaking away from Root, sure, but it wasn't as though Tenzo had actively been begging for help at the time.

But Tenzo shook his head instead of answering Kakashi right away. "Maybe...we won't talk about it yet. There's too much at stake right now. But if we win, you'll help me."

It wasn't a request that time so much as an affirmation of fact. Whatever it was, Kakashi was certain he'd be more than willing to help.

"...when we win." He correct Tenzo gently. "We can't afford to believe that we won't. And if we don't, we won't be around to think of it anyway."

"When we win." Tenzo agreed. And then Tenzo smiled at him, that same trusting smile that Kakashi was used to seeing from the man, even in times where the situation seemed impossibly bleak. He wondered if Tenzo placed too much trust in him sometimes, but considering all they had been through...perhaps Tenzo had simply gotten used to Kakashi being able to 'save the day'.

He only hoped he could live up to his, no everyone's expectations.

Everyone was loud, too damn loud.

Shikamaru closed his eyes and let himself inwardly groan as his fellow rookies bickered around him, only this time with the added bonus of a grumpy Neji Hyuuga thrown into the mix. Neji was naturally upset at how the meeting with the Hokage had gone. He was being asked to put faith into a plan he'd known nothing about, and he'd have to placate the Hyuuga elders who were no doubt frothing at the mouth to get answers as to how Sai knew about the Hyuuga's most carefully guarded secret. Shikamaru had to admit: Sai dropping that little tidbit about Root would have been much more useful several weeks ago, when he'd been trying to stitch the general plan together, but sometimes you just couldn't predict how the future unfolded, no matter how many paths you tried to account for.

He just wished Neji didn't have to be so loud about his discontent.

"Think of it this way, Neji." Sakura spoke up, and Shikamaru just about wanted to kiss her for redirecting Neji's yelling away from him. "If we fail to live up to your clan's expectations on the matter, you can deal with it yourself. Waiting one more day isn't going to change that Root knows about your clan secret, all it's doing is giving us a chance to deal with it in a way that the Hyuuga might not be able to on their own without causing a potential civil war."

"From the sound of things, you're already expecting a civil war." Neji answered in turn. "Besides, the clan will want to deal with Danzo personally for spreading clan secrets-"

"What, and our clans won't?" Ino butted in. "It's not just bloody Hyuuga Root's got intel on, as far as Sai can remember it's everyone. Unless we plan on giving knives to all the clan heads and having them all come and stab Danzo at the same time, it's unrealistic to expect any one clan to have some sort of priority on dealing with him."

"But it's not your clan that's just been called out on the matter. The Hyuuga are expected to deal with this now."

"A-and we have been!"

Surprisingly, it was Hinata who spoke up this time, though she still fiddled with her hands and found it difficult to meet Neji's eyes. Shikamaru didn't blame her. Neji had nearly killed her the year before, and even if Neji had mellowed somewhat, he still struck an intimidating figure.

"I've been involved in this too, Neji, and I'm the clan heir. You can tell Father that I have decided to deal with this problem myself, is befitting action of the clan heir upon learning of this insult to our clan. I can talk with him...I can talk with him tonight and help him understand."

It was definitely unnaturally bold of Hinata to step up in such a way, and Shikamaru couldn't help but wonder if, somehow, this top secret mission had been good for her self esteem. Being a part of something outside her father's influence, being around those who saw value in her abilities and contributions to the cause...yes, it only made sense that Hinata would find confidence here. But the real question was whether or not she could keep that confidence when it came to facing her father.

"She'll do a better job of convincing the clan if you're in her court." Shikamaru finally spoke up. "It's a lot to ride on, Neji, but if anyone can convince the Hyuuga to play it our way, it's the two of you working together."

Neji was quiet, contemplative, and though Hinata could not yet meet his eye, that did not stop him from trying to see through her. Whatever he saw, whatever Hinata had implied, it was thankfully enough. Neji nodded.

"We should go now, Lady Hinata. Better to calm your father's fire now than give it time to linger."

With that, the Hyuuga left, and after a time so did the rest of the rookies. Only Sakura took time to linger, and Shikamaru could tell that it was mostly nerves. Tomorrow they would be bringing their plan together. Tomorrow they would see if it would be enough.

The problem was that Shikamaru wasn't sure that it would be. Not yet. He was still waiting for the final piece to make its way across the board, if it would make its way across the board, and that piece was running out of time. If that piece stayed where it was...their job was going to be a whole lot more difficult. Not necessarily impossible, but a lot more difficult.

He eventually shooed Sakura on her way and made his way back to his bedroom. A Nara knew the value of sleep, and if he went into this battle sleep-deprived, it would only be a detriment to everyone who counted on him.

(It was a strange feeling, being counted on. Troublesome. There was a part of Shikamaru that still wanted to throw in the towel and just sleep his way through the following day, not deal with this at all...but perhaps his mind had finally realized that sometimes, it was more troublesome to ignore a problem than to deal with it in the long run.)

He let his eyes close and tried to push his worries to the back of his mind. Sleep, he insisted to himself, it was time to sleep.

Shikamaru had drifted off for all of five minutes when there was a knock at his door. He groaned, and in response he heard his mother's voice answer him.

"Someone at the door for you, Shikamaru. Someone important."


Shikamaru bolted upright. This was it, it had to be. The missing piece. The piece he'd been waiting for.

He practically sprinted to the front door, startling his mother as he passed. He threw it open with uncharacteristic enthusiasm, and he couldn't help but grin as he saw who was waiting for him.

"Just the person I was hoping to see."

"You are certain that this is everything that Sakura Haruno has learned of our organization?"

"Yes, Nagato."

It was always odd, talking to one of Nagato's puppets instead of his true body. Nagato at least had remembered enough tact not to send her Yahiko's body, but rather another body that she had not been familiar with in its lifetime. It still didn't make it easy. None of what she did for Nagato was ever easy.

"What do you think of her plans?"

"Eliminating Danzo?" Nagato answered, looking apathetic at the thought. "If she succeeds or fails, it does not matter. Once the Bijuu are under are control, Danzo will not stand a chance against us regardless, and neither will she."

"But Nagato, this might be our chance." Konan insisted. "We can get vengeance now, and we'll put ourselves in Sakura's good graces. She won't have any reason to suspect us if we help her, and that scum will be-"

"No, Konan. That is final."

Konan had to bite her tongue to keep from lashing out immediately. She still trusted Nagato to some extent, but this? To let the one who'd led Yahiko to his death go unpunished when the means were right in front of them? She wasn't sure what Nagato was thinking.

"We won't even be ready for the Bijuu for at least another year."

"And I cannot afford to lose you to him too."

That statement hit home. It was a small spark of humanity, proof that something was left in Nagato that cared for her still, but even then Konan was not sure it was enough. Nagato had grown so detached from the world in his plans for revenge that she was half convinced he actually thought himself a god.

"You wouldn't." She protested. "I won't be alone."

"No, Konan. Come home. That is an order."

For a moment, she thought of defying him further. Nagato wouldn't kill her if she disobeyed, but...he could disable her. Bring her home himself. Maybe he didn't approve of her actions, but if she continued to speak up now...there was no chance of convincing him otherwise.

So she dropped it.

"I hear your order." Konan replied, choosing her words carefully. Thankfully, Nagato did not press the issue further. His puppet leapt away into the night, no doubt slipping through Konoha's defenses with ease. She waited for a moment until she was certain that his presence had faded.

It would take about a week to return to Ame from Konoha. That was a week she had before Nagato would grow suspicious. And if her understanding of the situation was correct, she likely only needed to delay her return by a day to do what was right.

She left her room in a huff, heading straight for the next one where her genin were preparing to turn in for the night.

"Prepare yourselves for battle." Konan told them.

"Battle?" Urin replied. "I had thought we had been disqualified from the chuunin exams?"

"It is a different kind of battle that awaits us. Be ready." Konan replied. She looked to her three students. Each were confused, but took to her orders quickly. The Angel had willed this, after all, and they would never question her will.

Tomorrow, Yahiko's spirit would finally be able to rest.

Tomorrow, she had no doubt she would see Danzo dead.

"You know, Leader will be pretty cross if he finds you've detoured us all the way back to Konoha, Itachi."

"What the Leader does not know will not affect his demeanor towards us."

Konoha had darkened as the sun set, and the low rumble of its citizens had quieted with the coming of the night. This quiet was one Itachi was quite familiar with. In his time as Anbu, he had operated under cover of night almost exclusively. It was through this experience that he was able to pinpoint the areas where he and Kisame would not be disturbed. He had only intended to be here for a day, but what he had learned in his infiltration had intrigued him enough to make him wait.

The Hyuuga were up in arms; they had caught word that a part of Konoha had gotten access to certain clan secrets. It was Root, of course, it had to be. There was rumor about that the Hyuuga would be bringing the city council to trial over this scandal, and if that was the would Danzo be able to work his way out of that?

And then there was the matter of Sakura Haruno...the girl who had somehow broken through his Tsukuyomi. (Which shouldn't have been possible, though perhaps his clan tablet held a clue that he had missed before.) The one who had caused the Hyuuga to make such an accusation against Konoha was one of Sakura's companions...and a former member of Root, as it turned out.

He'd slipped, in his time with Sakura. Mention of Root had come to light. He'd been so caught off guard by the news of his brother that he hadn't thought. And seemed as though Sakura might have taken that knowledge and ran with it.

There was no point in confronting Danzo and potentially compromising his position if a girl was willing to do it for him. So Itachi would wait. He would see how the next events unfolded, and if it wasn't to his liking...he would speak with Danzo himself.

Danzo and Hiruzen had promised, after all. They had promised to keep Sasuke safe within the village.

And Itachi would see why that promise had not been kept.

1. Chapter 1 848 0 0 2. Chapter 2 3162 0 0 3. Chapter 3 2532 0 0 4. Chapter 4 2819 0 0 5. Chapter 5 2551 0 0 6. Chapter 6 2767 0 0 7. Chapter 7 2188 0 0 8. Chapter 8 1950 0 0 9. A Brief Intermission 949 0 0 10. Chapter 10 4053 0 0 11. Chapter 11 3692 0 0 12. Two Worlds Away (Intermission Part Two) 1320 0 0 13. Chapter 13 3836 0 0 14. Chapter 14 2739 0 0 15. Chapter 15 2390 0 0 16. Failures (Intermission Part Three) 2824 0 0 17. Chapter 17 3234 0 0 18. Chapter 18 6529 0 0 19. Chapter 19 4214 0 0 20. Three's a Drag (Intermission Part Four) 2630 0 0 21. Chapter 21 3341 0 0 22. Chapter 22 2924 0 0 23. Chapter 23 6969 0 0 24. Chapter 24 3801 0 0 25. Chapter 25 4158 0 0 26. Alliances (Intermission Part Five) 2667 0 0 27. Chapter 27 6918 0 0 28. Act One Epilogue 30 0 0 29. Act Two Prologue 1 0 0 30. Chapter 30 7214 0 0 31. Chapter 31 3687 0 0 32. Other Worlds, Other Minds (Int Part 6) 7031 0 0 33. Chapter 33 2703 0 0 34. Chapter 34 2734 0 0 35. Chapter 35 3454 0 0 36. Chapter 36 3502 0 0 37. Chapter 37 2836 0 0 38. Sparks (Intermission Part Seven) 3351 0 0 39. Chapter 39 3664 0 0 40. Chapter 40 4064 0 0 41. Chapter 41 4611 0 0 42. Chapter 42 3675 0 0 43. Chapter 43 3720 0 0 44. Alekhine (Intermission Part Eight) 1118 0 0 45. Chapter 45 6405 0 0 46. Chapter 46 6106 0 0 47. Chapter 47 4601 0 0 48. Chapter 48 4531 0 0 49. Chapter 49 3483 0 0 50. Coming Storm (Intermission Part Nine) 7177 0 0 51. Chapter 51 4480 0 0 52. Chapter 52 5763 0 0 53. Chapter 53 3722 0 0 54. Chapter 54 4708 0 0 55. Chapter 55 5271 0 0 56. Chapter 56 5280 0 0 57. Sounding Thunder (Intermission Part Ten) 2812 0 0 58. Chapter 58 9001 0 0 59. Chapter 59 4492 0 0 60. Chapter 60 5379 0 0 61. Chapter 61 9941 0 0 62. Chapter 62 8222 0 0 63. Chapter 63 4430 0 0 64. Chapter 64 4766 0 0 65. Chapter 65 7008 0 0 66. Chapter 66 5769 0 0 67. Act Two Epilogue 2816 0 0 68. The Months Between 9232 0 0 69. Act Three Prologue 96 0 0 70. Chapter 70 5300 0 0 71. Chapter 71 5013 0 0 72. Chapter 72 4580 0 0 73. Chapter 73 5123 0 0 74. Chapter 74 3585 0 0 75. Chapter 75 3963 0 0 76. Chapter 76 4747 0 0 77. Chapter 77 3671 0 0 78. Chapter 78 2347 0 0 79. Chapter 79 5030 0 0 80. Chapter 80 3135 0 0 81. Chapter 81 4371 0 0 82. Arbitrium (Intermission Part Twelve) 3793 0 0 83. Chapter 83 3219 0 0 84. Chapter 84 2189 0 0 85. Chapter 85 2827 0 0