81.81% Birth of the Forest / Chapter 9: Chapter 9

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Chapter 9: Chapter 9

Jiraiya and Naruto walked alone, leaving Sasuke in the clearing they had adopted for a training ground. Sasuke was really giving his all to the new fire technique Jiraiya had taught him.

He still has to teach me the Grand Fireball, thought Naruto. Sasuke had learnt shunshin from him, and had progressed rapidly with that technique.

Naruto did not really need the fire technique, but he thought it would be prudent to have at least one fire technique in his arsenal.

"Do you want to learn a technique of the Yondaime, Naruto?"

Naruto turned fast to him, excitement on his face.

"You mean the Hiraishin no Jutsu?"

Jiraiya laughed. "No, not that one. I do know the theory behind it, but the seals are customized so well that it can be used only by those with Minato's blood in them. It is a very powerful technique…"

Naruto looked a bit disappointed. Any theory behind the working of the technique would be of little use, until he had the exact seal array and understood it to the fullest extent.

He really doubted if Minato had left the seal array scroll lying around. He had to speak to his mother.

"No, Naruto. I will show you the Rasengan. It is an A-rank technique that was deadly when used in conjunction with Hiraishin. The terror your father inspired with this is…legendary."

Naruto was really excited. A new technique! His Mokuton, though it felt extremely natural and peaceful, was very familiar to him. Second nature. He had not had the joy of learning a new technique as Hashirama for a long time now.

"Show me, ero-sennin!"

Jiraiya adopted a deadpan look, holding out his hand.

"Money…."

A tic mark appeared on Naruto's face. Really, he had to pay to learn his own father's technique? He stared at Jiraiya with a cold look.

"Mokuton…."

Jiraiya waved his hands fast. "Ok, ok….no need to get excited. Watch carefully Naruto, with both eyes and sense."

Naruto nodded, satisfied.

Pure chakra began rotating in Jiraiya's hand, contained into a sphere. The chakra seemed to be chaotic, thought Naruto.

He concentrated hard, both upon the technique and Jiraiya funnelling his chakra to make the technique work.

Turbulence….

Turbulence. That was the essence of his father's technique. The powerful chakra being moved in chaotic rotations, and being contained into a sphere…

THAT'S IT!

Jiraiya stopped his technique, looking expectantly at Naruto. The blue ball of chakra winked out of existence.

"Silence barrier, ero-sennin…"

Jiraiya nodded. Naruto looked at Jiraiya with wonder in his eyes, once they were secure.

"That is a beautiful technique; my father was indeed a genius."

Jiraiya looked closely at Naruto. "You look like you are familiar with the Rasengan."

"I have seen something very similar to it, but on an unimaginably larger scale. To mimic that technique…"

"What technique, Naruto?"

Naruto looked at Jiraiya sharply.

"Bijuudama. The ultimate attack of the Bijuu, causing massive destruction. The Nine Tails could even penetrate my defence, even when I used the Gojuu Rashoumon…"

Jiraiya looked fascinated. Here was someone relating legend, someone who was legend himself.

"Was it during your fight with…Uchiha Madara?"

Now Naruto looked sad, thinking about his long gone friend. He had tried so hard to save him…Madara had been consumed with hatred. He wouldn't listen.

"Yes…Madara. We used to be so strong, the two of us. No village daredto attack Konoha with the two of us standing to defend it. Uchiha Madara and Senju Hashirama, closer than brothers, stronger than the entire village combined..."

Naruto shook his head, coming out of his reminiscences. That was a bygone era, and he would leave the past where it belonged.

"Anyway, I had that Bijuudama fired against me enough times to understand its workings. But the kind of control required to mimic it must be earned through practice only, that much I can see. My perfect control might help me learn it faster than others…but still it will take time.", Naruto said.

Jiraiya nodded. "True. Rasengan takes shape manipulation to the highest possible level, Naruto. Even for someone with control like yours, it will take training. There are actually three steps to mastering this Jutsu. The first step is…"

….

"DAMN IT!" swore Kakashi.

Gai looked at his rival as if he had declared he was Orochimaru's loyal subordinate. Kakashi never swore that loud.

"What is wrong, my eternal rival?"

Kakashi looked at him, his visible eye blazing with anger.

"Sakura has left the hospital! I think Itachi showed her something disturbing in his Genjutsu. Something to do with Sasuke no doubt. She left a note telling she was going to warn him. We need to pursue her…"

Gai looked at him warningly. "We have to notify the council before leaving the village in the next few months. Those are the rules for Elite Jounin…"

"DAMN!" swore Kakashi again, and disappeared. He had to get these irritating formalities over with.

If Sakura came to face Itachi again, she would die. He felt only little exhaustion, as he had thrown off the worst of the Tsukuyomi with his own eye.

He had to save his students.

…..

The more Naruto got acquainted with Jiraiya and his eccentricities, the more he felt that his godfather was a man of his word.

He was a super-pervert.

The first time he had accused Jiraiya of being a pervert, the man had with wide eyes and weirdly wiggling fingers proclaimed himself the super-pervert. Naruto had scoffed, dismissing his boastful claim.

The man had discussed with him the three vices a shinobi could fall into: Women, alcohol and Money.

That hypocrite. He was currently indulging all three of those so called 'vices', leaving him to practice the Rasengan.

The first step was popping a water balloon. Since he had his epiphany about the Rasengan's working, he had tried and tried to pop the balloon. He was close, and he knew it.

He leisurely walked down the street, stowing away his water balloon. Control exercises like this one required finesse and calm, and could not be done with a frustrated mind.

Anyway, he had to talk to Sasuke. The Uchiha had really been killing himself with that self-punishment he called training.

Naruto appeared in front of their hotel, walked up leisurely to their room and pushed open the door. Sasuke was staring at open space with his Sharingan activated, presumably training his doujutsu.

"Training the Sharingan, huh?"

Sasuke turned to look at him. " Yeah. I need to use the Sharingan well with shunshin. I have the eyes to keep up with my speed, and I will make use of it. What do you think?"

Naruto nodded.

" An excellent idea, Sasuke. A true user of the Sharingan and the shunshin simultaneously will be fearsome. Just like Uchiha Shisui. I would recommend that you learn Kenjutsu as well…"

Sasuke looked thoughtful. Yes. That would go very well indeed. Kenjutsu was an extremely useful and sophisticated art.

In fact, the finesse required for Kenjutsu would be higher than that needed for Taijutsu. He already had his sword, and he had Kushina-san to teach him. He had Naruto to spar with.

Sasuke felt rather happy. His training was in the right direction. His momentary elation, however, was quelled by a shrill voice. A voice that was too familiar.

"SASUKE-KUN!"

Naruto looked at the door in alarm, sensing Sakura's extreme agitation. Something had happened.

Appearing in front of the door, he opened it swiftly to reveal a dishevelled Sakura who promptly threw herself upon Sasuke making sure he was alright.

"Are you alright, Sasuke-kun? Are you hurt….!"

Sasuke gently pried Sakura's invasive hands off his body.

"Calm down, Sakura. What happened? Tell me, slowly."

Naruto and Sasuke watched their teammate in apprehension as she took a few deep breaths to steady herself.

"Sasuke-kun, it is your brother…."

Sasuke looked on high alert. His face showed no anger, only extreme determination.

Naruto stared into Sakura's eyes.

"He was in Konoha, wasn't he? Did he attack?"

Sakura gulped, and nodded.

"Tell us. Tell us everything, now." Sasuke ordered.

"It was in the forest of the god. I saw Kakashi-sensei, Asuma-sensei and Kurenai-sensei fighting Kisame and Itachi…", Sakura launched into her story.

Naruto ran full pelt through the town, casting around for his errant godfather. The man needed to be informed of this immediately as he had the means to get the news to his spy network discreetly.

There…A very large chakra. Somewhere near the outskirts. It feels like ero-sennin's.

He disappeared with a series of shunshin, coming closer and closer to Jiraiya's position.

There he was. Sitting beneath a tree, giggling like an idiot doing his so called research.

"Hey, Ero-Sennin! Listen. Itachi and Kisame targeted Konoha again, and tried to capture Sakura-"

"Where is she?" interrupted Jiraiya.

"Right here. She came to warn us, ero-sennin. Itachi and Kisame might target her at any time…can you install some security seals in our rooms?"

Jiraiya nodded and disappeared.

Naruto sighed and sat down in Jiraiya's spot. The man certainly knew how to choose his resting places.

Trees…were the best.

Sasuke heard a knock on the door to his room. Not good.

Jiraiya never knocked, preferring to come through the window. Activating his Sharingan, he went to the door and opened it.

And stared up into another pair of Sharingan. His heart began to beat faster as he stared at the face of his traitorous brother, Itachi.

"Hello, Sasuke. I see you have a fully mature Sharingan. And Sakura-san. I am sorry, but I will have to kill you two. "

Sakura gasped, but said bravely." Do you think you can hold out against Jiraiya-sama or are both here…"

Itachi looked amused as he disappeared only to appear behind Sakura and kick her. But he kicked only empty air.

Sasuke was on the opposite side of the room with Sakura held securely in his arms. Sakura looked dazed by the speed as Sasuke set her down.

"Itachi, you should never have come here. I have seen Naruto destroy an army. I know of Jiraiya's reputation. Not even you can defeat them.", Sasuke said.

He had long since taken Naruto's advice and had calmed himself during a fight. No longer did he simply fire up at the mention of Itachi's name.

As Naruto had said, that was weakness. Anger was a weakness.

Itachi looked at his brother.

"I can match either of them, if I have to. But as you say, not both at once. But I do know that you will never beat me, Sasuke. You lack hatred."

Sasuke snorted.

"I have changed, brother. You won't dictate my actions anymore…" he held out his hand and began charging it up with lightning chakra.

"Kakashi-san's Raikiri…"

Sasuke's hand was now covered in lightning, errant arcs of it dancing around the room. Suddenly he disappeared and reappeared almost instantly, the lightning hand buried in Itachi's gut.

Itachi smirked down at him.

"Foolish little brother. My eyes will always be stronger than yours."

Sasuke gasped as the world rippled in his perception, and he saw his hand buried… not in Itachi's gut.

To his horror, it was buried in Sakura's.

His eyes widened as he saw the light of life leaving his teammate's eyes. Sakura gasped out with her last breath,

"Sasuke-kun…"

Sasuke could not comprehend what was happening. He had been fooled by Itachi into stabbing Sakura. He could not bear seeing Sakura gurgling blood.

Itachi stood behind him.

"Weak…and blind."

Sasuke felt utter grief exploding in his heart, as he lost someone he considered a precious person. Itachi was taking away one more.

That traitor!

Sakura slumped as Sasuke removed his hand, horrified. He watched as Sakura fell down to the earth. His Sharingan would make sure that this scene would forever be imprinted in his mind.

Slowly he turned into Itachi, unable to look at Sakura. His eyes were burning, and shed tears incessantly.

"I will never forgive this…"

Itachi still looked at him stoically. His eyes morphed into his Mangekyou.

"Oh…and what will you do, little brother? Your eyes are no match for mine, I have shown you already. You are weak."

The tears falling from Sasuke's eyes were no longer normal. The young Uchiha's face was twisted with mad rage and loss, as he cried tears of blood.

His three-tomoe Sharingan changed into his Mangekyou Sharingan, and a sinister chakra exploded from him.

He opened his eyes and stared at Itachi.

His eyes were no longer normal, but consisting of three ellipses intersecting at the centre.

Naruto got up fast as he felt Sakura's wound, and the sinister chakra of Sasuke. He knew it too well.

Sasuke had awakened the Mangekyou Sharingan.

Before he could disappear, he felt someone appear behind him. A very huge chakra and it felt different and familiar at the same time.

"My name is Pain, Kyuubi Jinchuuriki. Save yourself the fight and come with me peacefully."

Naruto turned and saw something that surprised him to no end.

It was a spiky orange haired man, in Akatsuki robes. But his eyes…

"A wielder of the legendary Rinnegan. I have no time to fight you, Akatsuki. I am sure you have heard of my prowess. Let me leave peacefully, or else…"

Naruto had no time for the banter. His teammate was dying. He wouldn't dare underestimate the Rinnegan, though.

"Mokuton: Jukai Koutan!"

Thousands of trees were born from the earth in front of him and rushed towards his opponent, who looked mildly surprised. Naruto exerted even more, and trees were born in all directions and surrounded the lone Akatsuki, hurtling at him rapidly.

Pain looked at the trees rushing at him from all directions. This child was very, very strong.

The trees were branching out and multiplying, becoming uncountable by the second. It seemed as if Pain would be killed any second by Naruto's Jutsu.

Naruto could sense a massive build-up of chakra from his opponent.

"SHINRA TENSEI!"

Naruto shielded himself with a wood wall as his attacking forest was blown into pieces, wood splinters flying everywhere. The air was thick with them.

A terrifying Jutsu. Obviously, this was a technique that manipulated gravity itself. It was truly an almighty push.

"You cannot beat god, Uzumaki Naruto. You can never stand up to these eyes."

Personally, Naruto disagreed.

He walked up to stand opposite Pain. The Akatsuki shinobi looked at him arrogantly, and Naruto could not help but respect him. This man could definitely be a hard ninja to fight.

But he had no doubt that he would prevail.

"You may wield the Rinnegan, Akatsuki, but you are no Rikodou Sennin. You have no understanding of the true power of those eyes. An upstart…that is what you are. A child playing with things he has no comprehension of…"

He watched as the spiky orange haired man lost his arrogance, to be replaced by anger. The anger gradually gave way to his own amusement.

"I could say the same to you, child. You may have the Mokuton, but you are no Hashirama!"

Naruto smirked. If only he knew. It was easy enough to deal with that Gravity technique once he had faced it. He may have others, though.

An attractive technique would complement a repulsive one; the duality of chakra demanded it.

He held out the bird seal.

"Mokuton: Ten'noTsurugi!"

A hundred long pointed stakes of wood with sharp edges rushed towards Pain from all directions again, in a perfect circle.

Pain's flung out his hands again. "Shinra Tensei!"

The massive force exploded in all directions, ripping up the ground. Naruto smirked. He would find this one interesting.

The hundreds of stakes rushing at pain bent back, curling almost to the ground, but they did not break. Pain's eyes widened as he saw what was happening.

The stakes all snapped back to cut the Rinnegan wielder. Pain who had not counted on the elasticity of the stakes, pointed both hands at the ground.

"Bansho Ten'in!"

The earth below Pain was pulled up in a massive columnar explosion of rubble, intercepting each and every one of the stakes.

Pain walked out from the rubble he had used to defend himself. Too bad he had used his gravity manipulation to bind his defence together, thought Naruto.

"That was clever. You are strong, but I repeat. These eyes cannot be defeated."

Naruto raised his hands in a ram seal, looking around the ripped up clearing. Their location was isolated enough for him to let loose a bit without endangering the town.

Pain charged at him, engaging in a match of Taijutsu. Naruto found that he was fighting an extremely resilient opponent; his powerful strikes were having little effect on the man.

Naruto took a hard punch to his stomach, knocking the breath out of him. It seemed that the Rinnegan gave some gifts to its wielder. He could not lay a hand on Pain, no matter how unpredictable he made his strikes.

Pain was somehow able to counter each and every one of his hits and he was using gravity manipulation to counter his raw strength.

Naruto shone silver for a moment, and slammed his hands down on the ground. A shockwave similar to the one he had sent at Orochimaru rushed towards Pain, blasting the ground beneath it to bits.

"Shinra Tensei!"

This time, the force that blasted outwards from Pain easily overcame his own shockwave and flung him back painfully striking him hard breaking bones.

Naruto landed a few hundred paces away, falling hard. He could feel his ribs broken, his wrist damaged.

If he had a normal body, he would have gone down instantly with multiple broken bones. If he had Hashirama's body fully developed, he could have shaken off that blast easily.

But now, he took minor injuries. He concentrated healing chakra to the areas and they healed instantly.

His eyes snapped up to Pain in utter resolve. He slammed his palms together and shouted his technique.

Six huge Dragons of wood rose out of the earth, floating up in the air magnificently. Naruto stood up on one of them, directing his creations.

Naruto flared his chakra, shining bright silver. The dragons began to shine silver as well as they flew in the sky, circling around Pain's location.

Pain looked at the sky with wonder, seeing it filled with Dragons that shone with the Kyuubi Jinchuuriki's chakra. He flung out his hands gathering his chakra for this technique. It would be big.

Naruto pumped his chakra through his dragons, as the wood they were made of were so conducive to chakra that it was almost as if they were an extension of him.

He could feel Pain gathering his chakra as well, presumably to unleash that huge gravitational push.

The Dragons floating high in the air opened their mouths, revealing a shining silver light within their mouths.

Heavenly pillars of light. A technique he had not used for a long time. It was as stronger than even Bijuudama if he wanted it to be, but he wanted to keep the terrain surrounding them relatively undamaged. He used Mokuton to conduct, amplify and shape his chakra into pure energy. The dragons dived from every direction towards Pain in a circle, causing the Akatsuki shinobi to gather even more chakra. The air was saturated with the sheer amount of power they were exuding.

"Mokuton: Hikari no ten'nohashira!" intoned Naruto.

Six huge columns of burning silver light, descended from the mouths of the diving Dragons, flashing towards Pain in a heartbeat. The air was impossibly bright, filled with Naruto's technique.

"Shinra Tensei!"

Another explosion rippled out of Pain, this one larger than ever. The columns of light were not dispelled, only deflected.

The six columns of light collided with the ground chaotically, thrown out of course by Pain's jutsu. The combined explosion, also joined by Pain's gravity manipulation caused a huge explosion, multiple shockwaves emanating from it. Naruto's sight went white as he shielded himself with a wooden sphere, and let the other five dragons dissipate. This fight could not continue at such a level.

The village would be destroyed. Already he could feel the massive shockwaves generated buffet the village…but thankfully only at the edge.

He watched from high up in the air, standing upon his dragon, high enough in the air to escape that explosion.

He could still feel Pain's chakra down there. The cloud of dust parted slowly to reveal the ground.

A crater. A crater that spread to at least a Kilometer, and went around half a kilometre deep.

He could sense the alarm of the villagers, they were frantic. The crater had not encompassed the village, thank kami.

But he assumed that the shockwaves had caused a momentary storm in there. His Dragon dived, landing upon the ground.

He jumped down to confront Pain, his wood dragon following faithfully behind him.

"Do you really want to attract so much attention to yourself, Pain? Destroying this village in our fight would cause the villages to focus upon Akatsuki. Do you want that?"

Pain looked at him impassively.

"That is of no import. I want you captured, and I will take out anything in my way to see that happen. Perhaps you should stop fighting…"

Naruto stared back calmly as well sure that Pain knew his answer. The two faced each other inside the crater they had created.

The ground started rumbling, the rubble breaking into even finer pieces everywhere as they readied themselves for another bout of combat.

The air behind Pain suddenly distorted spirally, causing a man in Akatsuki robes and an orange mask to materialize.

"Tobi is here! Tobi is a good boy! He will take Leader-sama back to the hideout!" the man yelled out in a childish voice.

Naruto stared at him.

Pain was looking at him with annoyance on his face. But Naruto could sense the Mangekyou Sharingan in the weird orange masked man, and a very strong chakra.

Traces of his own chakra. He was irritated. Why did everyone have his chakra these days?

"Tobi, I need to finish this. Stay out of it!"

But Tobi shouted his denial childishly, and gripped Pain's shoulder causing them both to disappear in a swirling vortex of space-time.

Naruto sighed. That was one fight he did not want to do in a populated area. He had no intention of becoming responsible for mass slaughter due to collateral damage of all things.

Sasuke and Sakura seemed safe. Jiraiya's chakra had also stopped fluctuating, indicating that his fight was over as well. He could sense the pervert moving towards his teammates.

He could sense a chakra he had recognized before. Was it him who had assaulted Sasuke? No matter, he would find out the truth today.

"We have to stop meeting like this, Itachi."

Sure enough, the Uchiha appeared in front of him, Mangekyou Sharingan blazing.

"Tsukuyomi"

Naruto suddenly found himself in an empty world where clouds raced against a blood red sky.

Itachi appeared in front of him. Naruto tested the nature of the Genjutsu by sending out momentary pulses of his own chakra.

Strong. Very strong, indeed. To actually put someone who was a sensor type, a Jinchuuriki…and him in a Genjutsu of this strength was exceptional.

He gathered his chakra and sent it out in a huge blast. His eyes widened when the world did not even waver.

Something stronger was needed.

"I need to talk to you, Naruto-kun. I cannot do so if you keep irritating me with those blasts of chakra."

Naruto studied Itachi. "You know this cannot hold me."

"I do. But I wish to talk to you, and this is the safest way. I control space and time in this perception."

"What did you do with Sasuke?"

The world shifted into his hotel room, where he saw Sasuke facing down Itachi, Mangekyou blazing.

"I will never forgive this, Itachi!"

The two brothers faced each other, their accursed eyes meeting.

"Amaterasu!" they shouted in unison.

In the centre of the corridor materialized a large torrent of black fire. The entire place was melting away with the sheer heat, both brothers trying to dominate and control the heavenly flames.

Sasuke was screaming, unused to the Mangekyou while Itachi grimly pressed on. The corridor had caught fire entirely, actually melting into some slag and still not extinguishing.

A shockwave suddenly disturbed the building, causing Sasuke to lose control of the flames. The young Uchiha had given out from his first overuse of Mangekyou.

Itachi turned with surprised eyes towards Naruto's and Pain's fight, and disappeared.

Naruto observed Itachi quietly as the world turned back to its original state.

"What happened to Sakura?"

Itachi sighed.

"I put all my strength into a Genjutsu of two layers. One to make Sasuke stab Sakura-san, and the other to make him believe that the wound was deep. It is not easy to overpower Sharingan, but I can do it."

Naruto nodded. "From your emotions, and your actions…I can only conclude that your aims do not lie with Akatsuki. Tell me, what happened in the Uchiha massacre? Hiruzen was going to tell me, but he was killed. Will you tell me?"

Itachi looked at him sharply. "Yes, I know all about that. You, Naruto-kun, are an enigma. You have the pure raw strength of Hashirama, you have his potent chakra, and you use his exact same techniques. I have my suspicions about you, but I would like you to tell me in exchange for the truth about the Uchiha massacre."

Naruto considered. If Itachi proved to be trustworthy after all this, then he most definitely would deserve to know his secret.

"You go first, Itachi. Show me what happened that night."

Itachi nodded and the world began to change and mirror the events of the Massacre, and Itachi's perspective.

A young Itachi learning and perceiving the truths of the village and its ancient heritage. A young Itachi learning of the balance of power in the elemental nations.

A slightly older Itachi becoming ANBU, after making Chuunin and Jounin at unprecedented ages. Playing with an adorable little Sasuke.

The Uchiha clan and the council recruiting him to spy on each other. Itachi's miserable life as a double agent. The Uchiha clan planning a coup and making Itachi a central part of it.

Itachi informing the council, who decided the elimination of the entire clan was wise. Itachi taking the job on, to spare chaos in the village.

Him making contact with the man who claimed to be Uchiha Madara. The two of them slaughtering the clan.

Mikoto and Fugaku Uchiha accepting death in their son's presence, telling him he was too gentle. Itachi torturing Sasuke to make him learn hate, his heart breaking into a million pieces the entire time.

Becoming a missing Nin and taking it all upon his shoulders. Joining Akatsuki and protecting Konoha always from the shadows…

The visions slowly faded away, leaving Naruto to face Itachi within the original Genjutsu.

Naruto looked at Itachi with absolute admiration and respect, mixed with sadness. What a man! What greatness and nobility!

He bowed deeply to Itachi.

"You are great, Itachi. So great that even my sacrifices dwarf in comparison to yours. You deserve to know my secret. Listen carefully, and know your answer. Use that Mangekyou of yours to stare at my mind's reflection…"

Naruto used the connection Itachi had allowed between them to show him the truth of his own identity and watched as Itachi's face began to transform from stoic to true wonder and joy. He ended the visions at the point when Hiruzen was convinced beyond belief that he was Hashirama.

A smile lit up Itachi's face, his eyes burning with happiness and amazement.

"Amazing…to have you back as Uzumaki Naruto, Hashirama-sama. With you protecting the village…"

"Don't get too comfortable, Itachi. I may be strong, and I will surpass even my old strength…"

Itachi could not help but gasp at this.

"…but there is more to the Akatsuki than just what has been revealed. The one who called himself Uchiha Madara in your past was an impostor."

Itachi's face grew even more surprised, but Naruto continued urgently.

"I need to tell you what I think. I think that the impostor is involved with Akatsuki for a reason. Pain has the Rinnegan, as you well know. He has no mastery over those eyes, or the battle would have been much tougher. Do not let your guard down because I am back, Itachi. Konoha needs you now more than ever."

Itachi nodded, still looking uncharacteristically happy.

"But my burdens are lessened, Hashirama-sama. With you watching over Sasuke, my plans for him are unnecessary. I will not turn him into the darkness anymore and orchestrate my own death. I can protect Konoha better if I am alive, now."

Naruto nodded.

"I have no doubt that you have read the tablet in the Nakano shrine?"

Itachi nodded. "That is how I got the secrets of the Mangekyou."

Naruto continued. "Then you know of the history between Senju and Uchiha. You must have an idea of the Rinnegan's power. If Pain attacks again with all his strength, I will be the only one standing between him and Konoha's destruction. There is much more to this…"

"What do you mean when you say, 'Pain's full strength', Hashirama-sama?"

"Listen carefully Itachi. I could sense that Pain was nothing more than a puppet, and that he was being controlled by chakra transmission from another location. I could sense five other such puppets and I assume they each wield the six paths."

Itachi looked very alarmed now, "If the true Pain attacks with all six paths unified…"

"Yes. Only I can defeat such a person, as Konoha stands now. There must be a reason he is using the splitting of paths. You must find out, Itachi. I will be concentrating on getting back to my full strength, so I can defend Konoha when Akatsuki makes their move."

"I will find out, Hashirama-sama."

"And one last thing. You are the only one who can decipher more of the Rinnegan's secrets. You know what you must do. Will you consider it?"

Itachi nodded slowly. "I will. Will you tell Sasuke of your identity?"

"He is a child, Itachi. A troubled one, but a child nevertheless. I will burden him with such knowledge only when he is ready. I want him to be my true friend, not my follower. On that note, I would ask you to drop the honorifics as well. Call me Hashirama, here."

"Alright, Hashirama. I think we have spoken as much as necessary. I can feel Jiraiya-sama approaching."

"The time will come when the nations will rise up against Akatsuki, Itachi. Please keep Konoha safe until such a time."

Itachi nodded and the illusion broke, leaving Naruto facing Itachi in the devastated crater.

"You are a greater shinobi than me, Itachi. You have my word that your sacrifice will not be forgotten by Konoha. And I will take care of Sasuke, don't worry about him. Concentrate on Akatsuki, and we will meet when you see fit."

A smile broke through Itachi's face, before he disappeared.

Naruto turned around, and spoke.

"What happened, ero-sennin?"

The white haired sage appeared in the crater, whistling at the scale of the damage.

"Who did you fight, Gaki? I fought Kisame to a stalemate, and still did not cause this much damage…"

Naruto sighed. "I will tell you everything later. But first, are Sasuke and Sakura safe?"

"They are. Kakashi and Gai followed Sakura here and got them out of that burning hotel. They are on the way back to Konoha. Those flames were Amaterasu, weren't they? I had to seal them up with my strongest fire suppressor."

"We can talk in a more secure environment, ero-sennin. Too many secrets…"

Jiraiya nodded, and the duo disappeared with a shunshin.


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