Ok, bye canon?

So my consensus is, unless in the very very distant future, Naruto is not going to be paired for anyone. Trust me, he's not gay. I have won fic awards for writing outstanding gay porn—if I wanted him to be gay, YOU WOULD KNOW.

Also, SYNCH FINALLY HAS COVER ART. You can check it out via my profile! tbh I'm more excited about that than I am about the new chapter haha


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Despite all my rage,

I am still just a rat in a cage

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Meanwhile, Naruto lay in the dirt not too far from Sasuke, having an anguished mental debate as he attempted to wipe his best friend's blood off of his fingers. Oh god—was that part of an eyeball? He shoved his hand into the running water. Best not to ever find out.

"You fucking liar." He accused, bitter and hollow. "You said you had nothing to do with that."

"You were awake, then?" Kyuubi mused, not even attempting to be apologetic.

"Yeah, I was, you fuck!" Naruto growled. "And holy hell—couldn't you have given some warning you were about to tear out Sasuke's eyeball?"

"That only would have made it worse."

"Fine, maybe not for Sasuke—but for me, okay? I thought I was about to have a hernia from that."

The fox snorted, not bothering to reply to that.

Naruto peered back to Sasuke, who was staring sightlessly into the gray sky.

He squinted. "You're not dead, are you?"

Sasuke's eyes slid toward him. One looked familiar, three tomoe swimming along a sea of red. The other was mildly disconcerting; an intricate pattern of swirling knives.

"No." He replied, distant.

He seemed to be studying the blonde. Naruto wanted to look away. Instead he said, blunt as ever, "I'm not the fox."

Sasuke stared at him for a moment more, before snorting and looking away. "Yeah. I can see that."

The blonde hauled himself up to his feet, dusting off his pants. He stretched, cracking his back and finding an up-side down view of the sky. It looked ready to smite him with lightning.

He stretched out his legs for good measure, even though that really wasn't much of a fight, and rolled his ankles. Finally, when he no longer had anything to distract himself with, he returned his attention towards the unmoving boy in the dirt, scratching the back of his head awkwardly.

"Yeah, so… sorry for like, gauging your eye out."

Sasuke eyed him critically.

Naruto thought he might just not answer, but then he got to his feet. "It's fine."

He held a hand out in front of him, and Naruto could see the Sharingan in his left eye dilate and focus as Sasuke concentrated his attention onto it. He'd never actually seen one up close—not like this. It was almost strange, how it looked to have a mind of it's own.

He was almost unprepared for the kunai thrown towards him. He ducked out of the way in time, startled. It soared over the edge of the cliff, plummeting out of sight. He turned back around, furious, ready to throw a few kunai of his own. However, Sasuke did not appear moved, staring at him with a curious expression.

"Your eyes," He said, just before Naruto could berate him. "They're different, too."

Naruto blinked, not expecting that. "How do you mean?" He could feel a flow of chakra around his eyes—oh. A subconscious reflex. Sasuke wasn't actually trying to piss him off. Or maybe he was, but for the most part it seemed he'd just wanted a better look at Naruto's eyes.

"They're not a normal Sharingan, either."

Naruto frowned, and untied his hitai-ate. He rubbed the headband until the metal was shining once more, and drew it up to his face. The Uchiha was right—his Sharingan wasn't normal looking either. He stared down at himself, and nine spinning tomoe stared back. Unfortunately, Naruto had no idea what that meant, and didn't exactly feel up to pestering the fox about what the hell it was.

Naruto didn't have a chance to reply, as two burning chakra signatures lit up on the side of his vision.

He turned his attention towards the tree line, just as Yamato and Yugao dropped from the branches.

He couldn't tell their expressions from the masks, but from what he knew of them he could imagine Yamato's face as one of amused exasperation, and Yugao's of just legitimate exasperation. They stalked forward until they came towards the two boys—Yugao eyed them both critically.

"Hi." Naruto said, lamely.

He could also imagine the deadpan look she was sending his way.

"So!" Yamato greeted brightly, clapping his hands. "Am I going to have to drag you both back home in burlap sacks?"

"We'll walk, thanks." He replied, dry. He glanced back to Sasuke, who was staring with an unreadable expression at all three of them.

For a brief, terrifying moment, Naruto thought he might try to run again and they'd have to break his legs and actually haul him back in a burlap sack—but he followed suit after a beat. Yugao placed a soft but cautious hand on Naruto's shoulder, and Naruto jolted out of his thoughts at the warning. She wasn't looking at him, though, her mask giving nothing away, directed ahead of them. He thought the touch turned a little empathetic, but it was gone as soon as it came.

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Naruto turned to watch the Uchiha as he drifted out of the Hokage's office.

It was a little concerning, how inexpressive the boy was being. Even Naruto, who had gotten quite adept at reading minute expressions from all his time in ANBU couldn't get a strong read from the boy. He caught a few flickers of emotion when he caught the Uchiha's eye—but even those, he couldn't decipher. Fear? Apprehension? It was hard to say.

Tsunade blew a raspberry, leaning back in her chair and flopping out of posture the moment the door closed. "Well, no harm no foul. That's a thing, right?"

Yamato inclined his head. "He's young, yet." The captain agreed. "And more experienced ninja than him have fallen for Orochimaru's schemes; it'd be rather unfair to judge him solely off of this."

All eyes in the room turned to the blonde ninja lounging on the window sill. Naruto blinked out of his reverie, averting his gaze from the door towards all the shinobi watching him.

"…Uh?"

Yugao rolled her eyes at his untimely inattention. "We're discussing your teammate, Naruto." She explained. "Does he normally have an antagonistic propensity?"

"Antagonistic?" Naruto mused. "Huh, well, he's a jerk if that's what you mean. But obviously I'm a little biased on that."

He paused, and tried to take a step back from all he knew about the Uchiha. It was hard, considering how many years he simultaneously hated and wanted to prove himself to the boy. Not to mention that he didn't even understand the person Sasuke had become. It worried him, actually. Had he ever known him at all?

"He's… angry." Naruto said at length. "And he wants revenge—not all that surprising, I guess. But I don't think he's a traitor." Not after Kyuubi set him straight, anyway. "I think he just wants to get stronger, and is feeling frustrated with the village."

I'm not exactly helping. Naruto thought, morose. It was true, though; he doubted Sasuke had taken his resignation from Team Seven and subsequent promotion into ANBU very well—or rather, his pride hadn't.

Tsunade rubbed her chin thoughtfully.

Yugao, astute as ever, turned her gaze towards him appraisingly. "Do you think you'd be any help in this?"

Naruto snorted. "Doubtful." He shook his head. "We are—or, we were—rivals; which was fine when we were both Gennin. Now that I'm not…" He shrugged. And then, on an entirely different tangent, "Kyuubi might be a different story, though."

Tsunade frowned. "Why do you think that?"

He shrugged again. "He… talked to Sasuke, back at the Valley of the End. We didn't fight at all, actually. They just… had a conversation, and then Sasuke agreed to go back."

Which was flimsy and he knew it, but he was hoping that he could claim ignorance on the subject. He doubted any of them would try to interrogate the real story out of Kyuubi—and he doubted even further that Sasuke would want to say much on the event either. He didn't like keeping secrets from his Hokage and his team, but what else could he do? He was about as much in the dark as they were in this. Had Kyuubi murdered that Danzo guy? It sure as hell seemed like it. And if so, why? And where the hell had he gotten that Sharingan eye?

No, best to keep that to himself for now.

Tsunade sighed. "The fucking fox, of course."

"That could have some merit." Yamato appraised lightly, to the distinct horror of everyone else in the room.

"Really?" Yugao returned, flat. "Because I could also see how that could be disastrous."

Yamato hummed. "Well, that's true." He smiled. Then: "But he was the one who returned the Uchiha, correct?"

Naruto nodded.

"Without any difficulties?"

Well, not unless you counted gouging his eye out. Naruto nodded again.

"That's a bit interesting, don't you think?"

"And not in a good way." Yugao added, ominous. "No one knows why the fox does what he does—not even the Sandaime did. Hell, not even us, and I'd say we're a pretty fair evaluation, considering how much time we spend with the demon."

Tsunade rubbed a hand against her temples. "Well, it's both the worst and the best option. But let's consider some others for now. Now I don't think this warrants any legitimate discipline—but I do believe it's some cause for concern. Does any one know why he left in the first place?"

All eyes, once more, turned to Naruto.

"How am I to know?" The blonde balked. It wasn't like he was on the guy's team anymore—or, for that matter, that they ever had anything approaching a working relationship in the first place. Sasuke was the first and perhaps only person he'd call a friend; that didn't mean he liked the guy. Or understood anything of his motivations.

"Fair enough." Tsunade sighed.

"Perhaps Kakashi would be a more informative source?" Yugao hedged. "Isn't he the teacher?"

Naruto mage a vague noise. It was possible. But if anything, Kakashi and Sasuke's relationship was equally as bad as Naruto's and Sasuke's. That said, Naruto wasn't very sure Sasuke had a relatively working relationship with anyone.

"Or," Yugao began again, "Could it have something to do with Itachi?"

"That might be an understatement." Naruto muttered.

Yamato turned to him. "Why do you say that?"

"Well it's just…" Naruto drew a leg up, resting his head against his knee with a thoughtful expression. Perhaps he'd been a bit hasty in his assessment; he did know quite a bit about the Uchiha. Not because the boy confided in him or any such nonsense, but simply from such close proximity to him. "I get the feeling everything he does is… to get better. He told us that his goal in life is to kill a certain man."

"I'm going to take a wild guess and assume that man is Uchiha Itachi." Yamato noted, dryly.

"So, what you're saying is this was a while coming?" Tsunade's hand moved from her brow to pinch the bridge of her nose. "Shizune!" She barked to the door. "Sake!"

A shuffling, and then the Hokage's assistant was pushing her way through the door with a bottle of sake—Naruto wouldn't have been surprised if she'd been waiting out there for some time in anticipation of this command.

"I guess." Naruto answered, somewhat sheepish. Now that she put it like that…. He could see how this was sort of inevitable.

Maybe it had even started in their mission to Wave? That was the first and only time Sasuke had acknowledged him as a human being and as an even marginally worthy adversary. Not too soon after Naruto had been whisked off into ANBU—he couldn't imagine it was easy having to deal with Sakura alone. Not to mention Sai, who appeared as irritating as he did weird.

And then the Chuunin Exams; the fight with Gaara, and the inevitable shit show that was his encounter with his elder brother.

Tsunade downed her glass, waving dismissively. "Fuck. Well, Kakashi can deal with him." She turned to the blonde. "I have something more important for you to do than babysit a wayward Uchiha."

Naruto shifted upright at that. "Huh?" He turned to his team, who looked at as much of a loss as he was.

"A delegation is coming in tomorrow." For someone so incredibly drunk, she looked rather serious. "You're to be here for the meetings with me."

Naruto's mouth opened in surprise. This sounded like bureaucracy. Why the hell did she want him involved then?

"Hokage-sama," Yamato interrupted. "You assigned us to—

"Yes, yes." Tsuande sighed. "But I'm afraid you'll have to complete it without him. I'm sure Komachi is out of the hospital, yes? This would be a good opportunity to ease her back into the swing of things."

Naruto could tell Yamato wasn't pleased about being left out of the loop like this; however, in true testimony to his professionalism he only inclined his head slightly. "As you wish."

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Turns out Kakashi was the one assigned to keep an eye on Sasuke. Naruto supposed it was the most logical, not to mention the least blatant obvious of all the options. Kakashi was their sensei, after all; it wouldn't look too out of place to see him maundering around behind the Uchiha.

That said, Sasuke did not appear to have any motivations to break out of the village again. He looked… well, as sullen as usual. He also wasn't doing anything of significant interest—he bought groceries, he wandered around the village, he stared at the lake for a stupidly long time. Naruto wasn't sure if he knew he was being watched, or he really was that boring.

At any rate, Kakashi abandoned his post some time before sundown, and considering he'd left with Yamato in tow, most likely to go and grab some food before working the night shift. Naruto pounced on the chance to speak to the Uchiha alone. He'd feel a bit more guilty, but he was fairly sure Kakashi knew he was there—it was rather unlike his Sensei to simply drop his assignment for no other reason than barbeque and sake.

He dropped soundlessly out of the trees, as the Uchiha continued to half-heartedly fling kunai at a nearby row of wooden planks. He did not turn when Naruto intruded upon his silence, but there was a slight pause in his rhythm, giving acknowledgment to the blonde's presence.

There was a brief, quiet moment in which neither of them said anything. Sasuke's arm dropped from it's position, the kunai hanging loosely from his fingers; his face was turned in the other direction. Naruto blinked, and withdrew his hands from his pockets.

In the next moment, Sasuke was flying at him in a spray of kunai and the blonde rolled backwards and out of the way. The Uchiha dove forward and drove a kunai into Naruto's forehead—but the blonde beneath him erupted into a cloud of smoke, and he whirled around to defend against Naruto's blade. He wasn't as unprepared this time, and expected the kunai in his hands to give as it melted beneath Naruto's blade; he threw a kick to the blonde's face that had the ANBU ducking out of the way.

The blade caught against his arm in the interim though, slicing its way up his sleeve.

Sasuke hissed, flipping backwards into a retreat. He spared a glance at his arm; a long, thin line drew its way up to his shoulder. Around it, burns had already started to form.

He looked up again to see five Naruto's running towards him.

He blew a fireball at two of them, ducked around the third to stab it in the back of the neck, and numbly dodged the fourth before it could do the same to him. He dispersed that one with a shuriken hidden up his sleeve. The fifth, and the real Naruto, came last, and with a surge of red chakra he wasn't expecting.

The acidic energy ate at the air around him, and he twisted violently out of the way to avoid its reach. It almost seemed to have a life of its own—extending past Naruto to burn through his shirt.

He called up another katon jutsu, and the blonde dove to the side as fire erupted out of his hands. He didn't quite make it out of the way, and Sasuke watched with stilted disbelief as the blonde rolled upright and drew the fire into the palm of his hand, where it was swallowed up out of existence.

He felt the Rasengan before he saw it—all at once all the air in the clearing churned itself into Naruto's hand, a blinding blue-white light erupting around him. He'd never seen a technique like that—where the hell had Naruto learned it? He poured his chakra into his own hand, feeling the electricity crawl up his arm.

The two met in an uncontrollable combustion of energy, rupturing the ground and taking violently into the air with a bright light. The explosion threw them both back onto the ground.

Sasuke pulled himself off the ground, just as Naruto did the same.

They couldn't be more than a foot apart; he could count the tomoe in the blonde's unnatural red eyes; there were an unnecessary amount of twigs in his hair, considering they hadn't been fighting in the trees; his mouth was set in a grim line of determination. He didn't recognize this person anymore.

The two pairs of luminous, inhuman eyes met, before Naruto drew his fist back and punched the Uchiha in the face.

He didn't quite lose his balance, but when he recovered he held a hand to the side of his face, directing a scathing glare at the blonde. He wiped angrily at a trail of blood escaping from his mouth.

"Are you going to explain anything?" Sasuke scowled. "Or am I to guess?"

Naruto dropped to the ground, pushing his hair off his sweaty forehead. "I dunno." He replied mildly. "Are you going to try to fight me again?"

His expression turned pensive. "No." He said, at length.

This drew Naruto's curious look.

The eternal mangekyou spun slowly in Sasuke's eye as he held Naruto's gaze unwaveringly. Naruto wondered if his own eyes looked similar. It was getting hard to tell—activating it was starting to become a knee-jerk reaction whenever he fell into combat. Around them, the training ground looked like it'd gone through a war or two. Along with most of the foliage, they appeared to have also uprooted all of the grass. The parts of it that weren't upturned dirt were still smoking.

"Alright." The blonde shrugged. "What do you want to know?"

Sasuke didn't even know where to start. "Why did you become ANBU?"

Naruto blinked.

That was… not what he expected.

"The fox." He answered.

Sasuke gave him a long look. "Because you're a… Jinchuuriki?"

"Something like that." Naruto hedged.

"But you've always been a Jinchuuriki." Sasuke countered. "Why now?"

"The seal broke." Naruto shifted uneasily. That may be inaccurate. He doubted it broke on his own; Kyuubi had something to do with it, he was sure. "And we thought it'd be best if I joined ANBU."

"And you…" Sasuke paused. "What are you two?"

"That's a really great fucking question." Naruto smiled, though bereft of any legitimate humor. "I don't really know anymore."

We are one and the same, the fox had said, but that was in manipulation. It was plain as day to see how little Naruto and the demon resembled each other; which was to say, not at all. Just thinking of the demon made all the hairs on the back of his neck stand—he didn't want to think about their last encounter at all. The inhuman eyes that now swam in Naruto's, giving absolutely nothing away.

Meanwhile, Naruto was practically an open book.

That was reassuring, at least.

Naruto frowned. "Why'd you go to Orochimaru?"

Sasuke blinked. "What?"

"Orochimaru." Naruto repeated. "Why would you do that?"

He scowled. The last thing he wanted to do was explain to Naruto that he was… jealous of him. That Naruto could go from the deadlast in his class to one of the strongest ANBU in Konoha—into the kind of ninja that Chuunin whispered rumors about when they lounged around, the kind that got dragged into the Hokage's top-secret briefings, whether voluntarily or no.

He shrugged it off. "Power."

Naruto studied him carefully. "Are you still?" He asked, at length.

"What?"

"Looking for power?"

Sasuke drew a hand up to his temple, pressing lightly at the pressure there, a physical manifestation of the Sharingan swimming in his left eye. "Yes." He admitted. And then, before Naruto could reply, "But… there are other ways to get it."

"And your brother?"

Sasuke stiffened.

Not even half a day ago he would have lashed out at Naruto for even asking—for even knowing anything at all about his life goal. But a cold numbness had washed over him, as he lay next to the blonde in the dirt, staring up into the wicked sky with a foreign burn in his eye: his entire life had changed, again. He didn't know what his life's goal was anymore; revenge, still? The anger was still there, surely, just as violent as it had been before. Even though he knew that there were pieces of his clan's massacre that he didn't know yet, he still knew he needed to avenge them.

"I will avenge my clan." He swore, clenching his fist. Naruto eyed him appraisingly, waiting for him to elaborate. "If that means I have to kill him, then…"

He paused, looking away with a determined visage.

"Then I will." He ended. And then, turning back to Naruto, "But I plan to get the full story out of him first."

"And out of your fox." He added.

At this, Naruto snorted. "Good luck with that one." To Sasuke's curious look; "We're kind of stuck in the same body right now—and even I can't get anything out of him."

There was a moment of silence as Naruto tossed his wakizashi between his hands absentmindedly, and Sasuke's gaze had once more turned pensive.

"What's it like?" He asked, suddenly.

Naruto looked up.

"Being a Jinchuuriki." Sasuke elaborated.

He caught his sword in his left hand, holding it there as he thought on this. Where the hell would he even begin?

"It's alright."

He couldn't even believe he was saying that. About a month ago he would have said the exact opposite—it was terrifying, the worst thing that ever happened to him; it felt like he was the only thing standing between the most powerful entity in existence and everything he loved. But Kurama was… a lot more than just a violent amalgamation of energy. He might like to deny it; he might insist that he was the Juubi, a true beast made from nothing but hate and chakra, but Naruto didn't quite believe it.

Maybe he had been that, centuries ago. Maybe he really had brought the world to its knees, tore asunder the sky with his jaws: the greatest calamity to ever befall humanity. But somewhere along the way, he'd changed. Someone had taught him how to be wise, resourceful, cunning. There were dreams that weren't his; full of anger, and sorrow. Someone had taught him how to feel.

"That's it?" Sasuke snapped, incredulous, when it appeared Naruto wasn't going to expand on that. "It's alright?"

"Well, no." Naruto shook himself out of his thoughts, rolling his eyes. "But how am I supposed to answer that? I've been one my whole life! It's not like I know anything different."

Sasuke frowned, mouth twisting.

"It sucked, for a while." Naruto played idly with the sword in his hands, pushing the hilt with his thumb until a sliver of metal glimmered in the moonlight. "I hated not knowing why everyone avoided me. I guess it was relieving to realize it really had nothing to do with me, but the stigma of the Kyuubi attack."

He shrugged. "We've got… I dunno. An agreement I guess. That doesn't mean I think he tells me everything, or that he doesn't have motivations of his own."

That's an understatement, he noted, duly.

Sasuke had seen the demon emerge from Naruto's skin only once—that he was aware of, anyway—and it was infinitely clear to him that the fox played by his own rules.

"What does he want from me?"

Naruto laughed, devoid of humor. "No fucking clue." And then, "You know, he can hear you."

Sasuke blanched.

"That doesn't bother you?"

Naruto blinked. He set the sword down in his lap, pondering this as if the question had never struck him. "Not really." And, let's face it. Naruto could probably win awards for obliviousness; it was probably for the best that he had a demon to closely observe all the details he'd never catch.

"But I feel like I should at least warn you in advance." He tossed his sword in the air, before pointing the hilt at Sasuke. "We might have an agreement, but he's still got his own plans; trust me on that one. Wherever you fall into that… just, be careful."

Sasuke scowled, but didn't say anything in response. Sound advice, surely. He couldn't imagine that a demon like that would simply give him this power—and for what? To appease Naruto's wish for him to stay in the village? He snorted. Unlikely. There had to be another reason the fox hadn't wanted him to go to Orochimaru.

But for the life of him, he couldn't figure out what it was.

Still, this was only proving Naruto's point. It was clearly foolish to fall so easily into the demon's machinations. Yet he could see the opportunity just as clear; the fox had already given him a taste of the power and knowledge he had. He could only imagine how much Naruto benefitted from that, being the other half of him.

A game, then.

If he wanted the fox's power, he'd have to play the fox's game.

"Okay," Naruto blew a raspberry. "So, can we stop talking about feelings now?"

"Yes." Sasuke snapped, equally relieved.

It was then that Kakashi ambled into the clearing, holding a bag of takeout.

He took one look around the clearing, which was still smoking, and then to his two wayward students lying on a patch of upturned earth.

He blinked. "Do I want to know?"

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Naruto wasn't sure where this left him and Sasuke, exactly, but he felt as if it was a significantly better place than before. After Kakashi had hauled the Uchiha away and reprimanded Naruto sternly for blowing up a training ground—"Honestly Naruto, you should know this by now, the ANBU team that uses this in the morning is going to be out for blood"—Naruto had spent some time wandering around the village, before inevitably ending up on his roof.

He figured the fox must be onto something with all this meditation and shit, and if anyone in the world was going to know how chakra worked it would probably be the fox.

Unfortunately, he wasn't the most patient of ninja, nor was he particularly inclined to sit for long hours doing essentially nothing, so it wasn't working out all that great for him.

"What am I trying to accomplish here, exactly?" Naruto whined, not even fifteen minutes in.

Finally the fox answered him, after almost an entire day without deigning to respond. He gave a grand capitulation. "Honing your senses."

"Honing them on what?"

"The world."

Like that was helpful.

Kurama gave an involuntary sigh, recognizing Naruto's confusion. He pulled the blonde's hands together, clasping them around each other. He gave the blonde a moment, and then, "What do you feel right now?"

"Like I'm about to sneeze."

Well yes, the fox felt that now, but he scowled in irritation. "Not that."

He could feel Naruto's amusement, and knew the boy was having him on; he had no idea when the blonde's horrid sense of humor had started to become a source of fond exasperation rather than legitimate irritation, but he was still appalled with himself for finding it in good taste at all.

"You're doing something with my hands." The blonde noted. "You're pulling chakra into them."

"Yes." The fox agreed, and then Naruto felt the very breath in his lungs escape him, along with the air in the space around in them; a violent wind sucking it all into his hands.

His eyes widened when the fox pulled his hands away, revealing a perfect, blinding ball spinning rapidly in his hands.

"The Rasengan." Naruto noted, aloud this time. He wasn't…. entirely surprised. "You used this on Sasuke."

"So I did."

Naruto pulled his hand up, admiring the chaotic ball of energy. It spun contentedly in the palm of his right hand, as if waiting for him to throw it at something. He was almost tempted, if he wasn't so aware of the fact he was sitting on top of his own house, and that blowing it up would be somewhat detrimental.

Kyuubi moved into his skin again, to take control of his hand; he closed it with a snap, and all the chakra dissipated, seeping into the world around them as if it had never been there in the first place.

"Now, you try."

Naruto mimicked his first gesture, and clasped his hands together. He recalled the way his chakra poured from his core, crawling up to his shoulders and then winding down arms. When it reached his hands, it began to warm him from his fingertips down to his toes. He gave a shaky exhale and then slowly opened them. It was certainly harder than Kurama made it out to be; keeping the spinning energy moving but still as compact as it was proved to be more difficult than at first glance.

He kept it up, though, until the Rasengan had pulled all the breath out of him once more, and the trees around his apartment began to groan ominously with the strain.

Then he clapped his hands together and extinguished it.

He flopped out of his meditative position, sprawling against the rooftop. As he caught his breath again, he entertained himself for some time counting stars, but eventually he kept counting the same ones all over again and he gave up. He peered up into the unending space anyway, squinting into the distance as if he could see through the abyss.

"Hey, Kurama," He began suddenly. "What was the sky like? When you were the Juubi?"

This gave the fox pause. Naruto wondered if he'd actually managed to surprise him. He could almost feel him unwillingly star gazing with him. "Much the same." Kurama replied, reluctant, after some deliberation. "Perhaps it has moved some, but for the most part the same stars from centuries ago are still there."

"Really?"

His hand moved on its own accord, drawing to trace against a soft speckling of light, far in the distance. He felt as if he should be more disturbed at how easily Kyuubi could slip into his skin. "That one." The demon said.

Naruto focused his attention onto it.

"That is Polaris. It has pointed north for… perhaps for longer than this world has even existed."

"Longer than you've existed?"

"Undoubtedly."

Naruto hummed, reclaiming use of his hand to use it to scratch his nose. Even that felt fluid, instinctual; as if he had been the one to draw it up to the sky in the first place. "How long ago was that?"

There was a long moment of silence, and for a while Naruto thought he'd lost the demon once again.

"I have taken many different forms." Kurama hedged. "It is hard to say how much time has passed between."

"Forms? You mean, like the Juubi?"

"Yes." The fox allowed.

"What was it like back then?" Naruto breathed, absolutely charmed at the idea. He never cared much for history class; Iruka made it sound like everything was an eternity ago, and also super boring. But Kyuubi was practically a living relic of the past—Naruto's imagination couldn't even begin to conjure up an idea of what the world was like back then.

"Endless war." Kyuubi answered, almost immediately.

He frowned.

"This was a world long before ninja walked the earth—before chakra, even." Naruto's eyes widened; he hadn't even realized that a time like that existed. How could there be a time without chakra? Not even just ninja, but chakra itself?

"How could that be?" He balked. "How did—why did it change?"

"Because a woman gained the forbidden power of the Shinju. Her descendants eventually became the shinobi world as you know it today."

Naruto listened with quiet rapture as Kyuubi told him of foreign lands and worlds that felt as if they could never have taken place here. He'd never heard this story before; he was pretty sure they never covered this in his shinobi history class. He wondered if there was any other living being who knew of this ancient world. What kind of things had Kyuubi seen throughout the centuries?

"His teachings were called Ninshu—in many ways, they were similar to the jutsu you use today."

"Is that what you do? Use ninshu?" He asked tentatively, referring to the chakra manipulation he'd seen the demon do more than once.

"Yes, something like that." Kyuubi hedged, before continuing, "He travelled the lands, spreading these ideals. He was revered as a god."

Naruto digested this thoughtfully, as Kyuubi continued to explain the Savior of the World—the Rikudo Sennin. The man in his dreams, he was sure of it. There was a brief half-dream in his memories—Kurama staring at him, at the Rikudo Sennin, with something like regret.

"Who was he?" Naruto found himself blurting. "What was his name?"

Kurama did not speak for some time. "His name was Hagoromo Ootsuki."

He couldn't tell anything from the inflection in his voice, but something in his heart shuddered to a halt at the name. It took him a bit to realize that the feeling wasn't coming from him at all—but from the demon housed in his skin. Why did that name mean something to Kurama?

All of a sudden the moment fell apart, as Kyuubi sat upright. His head snapped to the left, where he seemed to scrutinize the indeterminable distance.

A strange wave of emotion swelled over him, and wow, okay, that was new. He'd never been able to feel what Kurama was feeling before. Not that it was in any way helpful; it wasn't any emotion he could understand.

"What?" He asked, warily. Around them, the night sprawled over the world in an impenetrable abyss. He belatedly realized his Sharingan had awakened; even then, there was nothing to see.

"What's wrong?"

"Wrong?" Kurama echoed, after he seemed to shake himself out of whatever reverie had captured his attention so fervently. "Not wrong. Simply… surprising."

Yeah, because that didn't sound ominous.

There was a split second, and then Naruto couldn't feel anything at all from his demon. He pouted needlessly. "Okay. Then, what's so surprising?"

"You don't feel it?" The demon replied.

"Feel what?"

"The other Jinchuuriki."

.

.

.

The two other Jinchuuriki, as it were.

Naruto supposed that must have been why Tsunade wanted him there in the first place, for whatever meeting was going on.

He was running a little late, after having spent most of the night… stargazing. He couldn't exactly call it anything else, and he sort of felt a bit sheepish for completely missing some well-needed rest in favor of, what was in essence, staring blankly at the sky. Still, it was anything but unproductive.

By the time dawn broke, he arrived through the window of the meeting room to see Tsunade throw a left hook into a large man's face.

He gaped, shell-shocked, as the impressively built man dropped like stone onto the ground. After some moments, he drew himself back to his feet. In her brief time as Hokage he'd seen Tsunade use a finger flick to throw someone through the wall before—this guy must be impressive to survive a full on blow to the head. And then get up after like it was nothing!

Even stranger; Tsunade didn't even seem all that mad. She crossed her arms, a frighteningly indifferent expression ossified into her expression. The man rubbed warily at his cheek—that was going to leave a mark, possibly for forever—and didn't seem intent on retaliating.

For his part, Naruto had no idea what the fuck he was supposed to do. Someone just hit his Hokage! He is a ninja of Konoha! He must avenge her! Though to that end, she seemed to be doing a fine job holding her own as it was. That, and the two ninja by the door—presumably companions of the weirdly large dude—hadn't made a move to step in either, and he figured he could take his cue from them.

Tsunade caught him from the corner of her eye, tiling her head slightly in greeting. "Ah, Naruto. You finally decided to show up."

He wanted to point out she'd never actually given him a specific time to arrive, but manfully refrained.

She didn't wait for a reply, gesturing to the man in front of her, who hadn't stopped appraising her silently. "This is A. He's the Raikage."

Naruto choked.

His attention snapped to the two ninja in the back. One was tan, and wore a pair of sunglasses even though he was indoors. The other was a small woman with flaxen hair and a pair of piercing, narrowed eyes set affectionately upon a small nose and heart shaped mouth. He'd think she was pretty, but she was staring at him like she wanted to take him out back and execute him, not take him out back and jump his bones.

A tingle of energy pricked against his skin in waves, and he scrutinized them further. It was not an… entirely pleasant feeling, but it was certainly familiar. He could briefly remember feeling something of the same when he'd first laid eyes on Gaara.

These were the Jinchuuriki Kyuubi had sensed, then.

"Uh," He said, lamely. "Hi."

The Raikage's attention slid to him, and Naruto found himself the unwilling victim of that appraising gaze. He refused to back down, though, matching his look.

After some amount of silence, the Raikage blinked, snorting. "Some guts in this one."

Naruto wasn't sure if he'd passed some sort of silent test or not, and turned to Tsunade. She wasn't looking at him, though.

"You better have a damn good reason for setting this meeting up—hell, for setting foot in Konoha at all."

He looked like he wanted to fight her on that, but he was also clearly holding himself back. Very clearly holding back, if he let Tsunade punch him in the face and didn't even punch her back in retaliation.

"As I said," His attention returned to the Hokage. "I want to put aside past differences."

It was Tsunade's turn to snort. "Yeah, awesome." She narrowed her eyes. "Now tell me the real fucking reason."

He appeared to be weighing his options. Finally, he motioned towards the two Kumogakure nin in the back. They both stepped forward.

"A few days ago, two unknown operatives wearing cloaks of red clouds attempted to capture one of my shinobi." He gestured to the blonde woman.

Tsunade raised a brow. "And why the hell do I care?"

"Because she is a Jinchuuriki." Tsunade blinked in surprise. "And I have reason to believe that they were attempting to capture her because of this."

Her eyes flew hesitantly to her Kage. When he nodded, she elaborated quietly, "They mentioned something about a sealing… I think they were trying to extract the Nekomata."

"Akatsuki."

All eyes snapped to Naruto.

"That's the group you're talking about." He elaborated.

Tsunade's eyes narrowed. "Ah." Was all she said, not surprised at all.

The Raikage's expression turned livid. He pivoted towards Tsunade, angrily. "And you knew of them?" He towered over her, "And you did not forewarn us?"

In the space of a moment, an overwhelming wave of heat plumed into the air of the Hokage's office as Naruto's unsheathed sword hovered loosely against the Raikage's neck. In reflex, his shinobi returned the gesture, aiming their weapons at the blonde. His eyes slid to the Raikage's companions, a cold look to his face. They looked livid—because he had his sword to their Kage's neck? Or maybe because he'd gotten the jump on them? It was hard to say.

He lowered his sword slightly, and the searing heat of the room cooled noticeably. There was one long burn across the side of the Raikage's throat, but otherwise no indication that the heat had ever been there at all.

"You dare." The female Jinchuuriki hissed.

Naruto narrowed his eyes. "You dare to threaten the Hokage?" He echoed, annoyed, his attention moving to the Raikage, who still had not moved. "In the middle of Konohagakure?" As if this room probably wasn't full of ANBU in the shadows, just waiting for Tsunade's signal?

Tsunade dropped a light hand onto his shoulder, and he lowered the weapon. The Raikage's look had turned speculative, all his attention diverted to studying Naruto. Almost absentmindedly, he rubbed the burn crawling up the side of his neck.

Tsunade sniffed. "I already knew." She gave Yugito a sidelong glance. And then, to the Raikage's sharp look, "You really didn't think we wouldn't keep tabs on the other countries?"

She raised a brow. "Come now, as if you're not doing the same."

A—the Raikage—scoffed, and Naruto swore he heard him mutter something like 'Jiraiya'. Huh. So the old pervert's spy network was good for something after all.

She gave a vague wave towards Naruto. "This is Uzumaki Naruto."

Every brow in the room rose at that—and Naruto blinked again. Was he missing something again?

"ANBU?" A appraised, with no small amount of surprise.

The shinobi next to him snorted. "Kinda young, isn't he?"

Yugito crossed her arms, apprehensive. "Reminds me of that Uchi—

"Yes, we know." Naruto interrupted, much to his chagrin.

"ANBU, yes." Tsunade spoke over all of them. "And also, the Jinchuuriki of the nine-tailed demon."

This really gave them pause.

The change almost seemed involuntary this time, as the chakra signatures from the two other Jinchuuriki flared to life. It was also entirely imperceptible—aside from a few blinks, Kurama appeared to look the exact same as Naruto.

At first glance, they looked to be two relatively ordinary humans. But the tinged chakra seeping around them proved otherwise; Kurama tilted his head. Ah. Gyuki and Matatabi. Now there was an interesting pair. He never recalled them being particularly close—would that therefore extend to their Jinchuuriki? It didn't appear so. Then again, he couldn't recall a single trait he and Naruto shared. He narrowed his eyes at the Hachibi; he had often wondered if the second largest part of him would remember their days as the Juubi.

Unlikely, though.

"They don't feel like you." Naruto noted, somewhat surprised.

"They're not strong enough." Kurama returned. "As I said—I am the largest part."

"How much larger?"

"How—" The fox made an irritated noise. "It's not any sort of scientific measurement, Naruto. But it is a vast difference. Consider that all the power I had as the Juubi is split, but not equally. Half of it went to me. Perhaps a quarter, to the Hachibi. An eighth, to the Nanabi. A sixteenth to the Rokubi…—shall I continue?"

Naruto didn't answer for a moment, stunned. "Wow. Okay. So you really are the largest part. I didn't realize it was such an… exponential decrease. What would that make Gaara?"

"You cannot measure it as such." The fox reminded. "But, as it were, an infinitesimally small fraction, I would assume."

And even then, the Sunagakure Jinchuuriki had managed to cause so much damage. Naruto couldn't even begin to imagine the kind of terrifying power Kyuubi was capable of.

"But do not give away our relationship just yet." Kyuubi cautioned. "Let me watch them a little longer."

Fair enough—Naruto wouldn't have, anyway.

Kurama redirected his attention back to the physical world. "And why would Konoha forewarn you?" He countered, to the party assembled. "Considering your… illustrious history with Konoha."

And then, perhaps a bit smugly, "And not to remark upon your illustrious history with Konoha's Jinchuuriki."

The Raikage did not look pleased. Tsunade's look turned furious. Naruto was absolutely confused. What the hell did that mean? He'd never met these people in his life.

"Naruto brings up a good point." Her voice remained flat and unaffected, but there was a dangerous undercurrent to her words. "Why should we help you at all?"

"Because this kind of threat cannot be allowed to continue." The Raikage returned. "This group—Akatsuki, as you say—has already ensnared our colleagues. My spies have informed me; that old bat of a Tsuchikage brokered a deal with them for some mercenary work not too long ago."

Tsunade's look turned pensive.

She sighed, leaning against the back of her desk, folding her arms across her chest. "Well, you bring up a good point."

"But don't consider this forgiveness." She added, scathing. "I agree; Akatsuki is too large of a threat to allow to go on. I'm willing to call a truce on this—but only this."

"That's all I ask." Replied the Raikage.

"B, you said?" Tsunade turned to the equally large man next to the Kage. "And Yugito." The blonde nodded.

"Well, it's good to meet you both." She greeted, giving a nod of acknowledgment. They bowed in response. "As I said, this is Uzumaki Naruto, the Kyuubi Jinchuuriki."

As if finally allowed to, B split into a wide grin. "Nice to meet you, kid."

"Likewise." Yugito echoed, rolling her eyes at his enthusiasm.

Naruto returned his smile. "Yeah, you too." Though he was somewhat confused. Not that he didn't want to meet other Jinchuuriki—quite the contrary. But what motivations could Tsunade have in introducing them?

She turned back to the Raikage, sighing. "Well, if we're going to do this, we're going to have to get everybody else involved."

The Raikage scowled.

"Yeah, I know." Tsunade agreed, warily pinching the bridge of her nose. "I'm not looking forward to it either. I'm assuming I'll have to be in charge of logistics." She blew out a breath. "We can discuss matters further later. As it is, I'll need to debrief my shinobi."

They took their leave some not soon after, but not before the large Jinchuuriki—B—pulled him aside.

"You've got guts kid," He began, smiling. "I like it. I wanna see what you're made of." He rapped his knuckles against Naruto's chest. He almost reeled back from the amount of punch held in such a small gesture. Huh. Definitely not the kind of guy to underestimate. And then, waggling his brows. "Next time, we'll duke it out, yeah?"

"For sure." Naruto returned his grin.

The amiable man gave him a salute as he followed his kinsmen out the door, leaving Naruto grinning stupidly at the door.

Naruto was not surprised at all to see at least two dozen ANBU emerge from the shadows the moment the Kumo-nin's chakra signatures flickered in the distance. He couldn't read their expressions, as they all had masks, but he thought he might be getting the hang of this whole 'honing your senses' thing because he could feel a tangible unease in the air.

"Well," Tsunade began, dry. "I'm hoping I don't have to repeat any of that. Any questions?"

The crowd made no move to reply.

"No? Awesome." She soldiered on. "The true reason for this alliance is to be kept only to the people in this room—the official statement will be drafted up later, but I don't want the public at large aware of Akatsuki's intention to collect all the Jinchuuriki. I don't want to even think of the cluster fuck that would be."

He tried to read the atmosphere in the room. He could tell there was no small amount of curiosity directed towards him—perhaps more surprising was the lack of ill-intent. He was fairly used to at least one person in a crowd staring at him in contempt.

She clapped her hands. "So, everyone's good? Yeah? Okay, now get the fuck out of my office. It is way too early for this bullshit."

He caught Yamato's eye across the room, and his captain gave him a surreptitious nod. Naruto wasn't entirely sure what it meant, but it felt reassuring. He lingered there as his fellow ANBU dissipated into smoke, until nothing but shinobi smoke was left. There was a tingle in his stomach, and then, like a wave, he could feel Kurama's presence drape over him. The fox turned to the Hokage, who did not seem at all concerned with the fact he had stayed even when she'd ordered them all to leave.

"You wanted me here for a reason, Hokage-sama." And, wow, could Kyuubi pull off his voice well. Even Naruto could barely tell the difference between the fox and himself. "I'm sure this wasn't an unintentional coincidence."

Tsunade smirked. "You really are sharp, aren't you?" And then, scratching her chin, "You know, I heard you were kind of a moron."

"Hey!" He protested, though it went unheard.

In direct contrast, Kurama only smiled. "Oh, well I probably deserve that title." He said, sweetly, the little fuck.

Her smile strayed after that. "You're right, though." She harrumphed, leaning back in her chair and propping her feet on her desk. "Jiraiya had warned me beforehand about the incident. As you know, he's keeping tabs on Akatsuki. So when the fucking Raikage comes in to see me, well, I figured that was the most likely reason why."

Kurama tilted his head. "Why bring me?" Intimidation? A show of power didn't seem quite like Tsunade's style.

"What did you think of them?" Tsunade returned, seemingly on a different tangent entirely.

Kurama paused, and then receded to allow Naruto to answer the question.

"They seemed okay." Naruto shrugged. "Why?"

Tsunade rubbed her temples. "The ninja world is… broken, Naruto. Traveling through the borders has only made me realize this more. And Akatsuki is only capitalizing on this weakness. My ancestors are probably rolling in their grave, but I'd rather see a peaceful resolution. If combining forces is what it takes—then, perhaps it is time to put aside past differences."

Naruto opened his mouth, stunned. He closed it after a beat. "That's… really wise of you, Hokage-sama."

"Don't call me that." She snapped, instinctual. And then, slumping into her seat. "I hate this job."

Naruto smiled slightly at that; for someone who was so vocal about her displeasure, she was surely made for the position. He'd want to do the same, if he was in her position; he'd want to extend the olive branch.

"The Jinchuuriki seem nice." He said at length.

"Well, the girl didn't seem to like me all that much." He amended. "Tsunade, why did you call me here?"

"Would it not be beneficial for you three to meet?" Tsunade countered. "This is not the kind of threat to take lightly. The tailed-beasts are truly the most powerful forces of nature; the very idea of someone trying to collect them all, for whatever reason, doesn't bode well with me." She added, serious, "I want you to look out for each other. A pipe dream, I know, considering the state of affairs the five nations are in today—but, you know, better to stand together than apart."

Naruto blinked.

That was… surprisingly mature of her; diplomatic, even. Honestly, he was stunned. He hadn't expected her to be that good at being Hokage—but maybe he could learn a thing or two from her. If there was one thing he still undoubtedly needed to learn, it was diplomacy.

Then he grinned. "This position is really rubbing off on you, isn't it?"

"Fuck." She cursed in agreement, waving her hand in the air. "Shizune! Sake!"

.

.

.

"So," Naruto began some time after they had left, in a voice that was way too casual to be coincidence. "What was that back there?"

"What was what?" The fox returned, distracted. That above all else proved something was amiss. The fox had never—in the entire time Naruto had known him—been anything approaching distracted.

"That!" Naruto replied loudly. "You, right now! You're all… speculative. What are you thinking about?"

Again, Naruto thought the fox would decline to answer him. Perhaps it was testimony that he did. "I'm thinking I need to retrieve something I had lost."

"You lost something?" Naruto guffawed. "What, like five centuries ago?" He snorted skeptically.

"Yes, something like that." Kurama replied, absentmindedly. Naruto sputtered. He'd been joking. He hadn't actually thought—

"You realize that five hundred years ago… is a really long time, right? Whatever you lost is probably long gone."

Kurama chuckled. "And yet, that sword in your hand says otherwise."

"Oh." Naruto looked down, his fingers fluttering against the sword, almost possessively. "Right." Agreed, cowed.

He frowned suddenly. "Wait. So is this thing you lost… something like this sword? Y'know, like some cool artifact?"

"Yes, as you so eloquently put it. They are quite useful."

"They?" Naruto echoed.

"There are five. And unfortunately, I do not have nearly as good of an idea of where they may be as I did the sword of Hagoromo."

Naruto nodded absently, before he almost tripped on his own feet. "Wait!" He righted himself quickly. He was lucky this training ground was utterly deserted, or people would think him weirder than usual. "You—this…" He held the sword again, staring at it as if he'd never seen it before.

"You didn't tell me it was that—that—" He began, flustered. "That dude's sword!"

Kurama snarled, vaguely irritated. "Have some modicum of respect, Naruto. But yes, that sword belonged to the Rikudo Sennin."

His gaze trailed down the slim weapon; the pristine hilt that did not appear to have weathered half a millennium, the long glistening black arch of the scabbard. He unsheathed it, and watched the sunlight catch upon the edge of the metal in wonder.

He returned it to its scabbard, reverently retying it to his belt. "So, we're looking for these artifacts?" He began, returning to their prior conversation.

"We are." And then, as if it physically pained him, "If you are up to the task."

Naruto blinked, taken aback. "… You're asking for my permission?" He asked, incredulous.

"I'd prefer you to be aware and consenting, yes. Unfortunately, this task may take a number of days, as I do not know the exact location of the relics. However, I will be able to detect them at some distance."

"Great." Naruto harrumphed. "A treasure hunt, then?"

Kurama bristled. "These objects of are infinite value—in each of them is an almost limitless source of power. They are more than just mere treasures." He sneered.

"Okay, okay!" Naruto returned, sheepish. "So, let's go find them, yeah?"

.

.

.

He lay on his back, staring sightlessly into the same ceiling he'd seen since perhaps even his birth. It hadn't changed; there was a slight and almost inscrutable dark stain in the left hand corner from an accidental leak; countless pockmarks from kunai and shuriken lay embedded into the wood from all the times he had listlessly lodged them up there, young and bored and waiting for Itachi to come home and train with him. His hand curled into a fist.

The ceiling hadn't changed.

But he had.

The world dipped into startling clarity as a familiar burn crawled behind his eyes. He thought he could feel a minute shift in his chakra towards the left; he may just be imagining it, though. Almost absentmindedly he drew a shuriken from his pocket, studying the profile reflected in the metal. Between the glare of the moon and steel was one slowly spinning star. It looked nothing like Itachi's—or at least, what he could remember of it—nor did it look anything like Naruto's. A sharingan completely of his own.

With it activated, he saw movement in the corner of his eye.

Sasuke turned slightly; a figure dripping in moonlight emerged from the frame of his window, indeterminable but for a pair of inhuman eyes.

He lowered the weapon, curious.

"Hey." Naruto grinned, cocking his head to the side. "How do you feel about an adventure?"

.

.

.

Yamato pinched the bridge of his nose.

Naruto had only seen his superior do this once before; and it was not an event that boded well. He hoped he didn't end up like the last guy—in pieces on the floor.

"How long, did you say?" His Captain asked, again.

Naruto shrugged. "Uh, I'm not entirely sure…"

This did not look to be appeasing him.

"But uh—I do know they're supposed to be in Kumo!" He backtracked hastily. "So, at least we have a location, right?"

"Naruto." Yamato started, flatly. "Do you have any idea how big Kumo is?"

"Ah… yeah…" Naruto replied, voice small.

Yamato gave a sigh. "Well, I don't know whether to commend you or whack you over the head."

Naruto blinked up at him, confused.

"On the one hand, you did ask permission first. I don't know whether I should be thanking you or the fox. And, this may actually work for our favor."

Naruto brightened. "Really?"

"Yes." Yamato nodded. "I'll talk it over with Hokage-sama. I think this could be a very useful experience for you… and Konoha."

Yamato lead him out of the ANBU HQ with a firm hand on the back, marching him all the way to the Hokage tower. The old bat still had a glass of sake in front of her, but she appeared weirdly sober, considering this was the fourth time Naruto had seen her drinking… in the past four days. She didn't look at all surprised to see them, waving them in with a resigned hand.

"Hokage-sama." Yamato greeted, with a strange amount of cheer. "I have a proposition for you."

She raised a brow, shoving her stacks of paper out of the way, and looking relieved for the interruption. "Ah, Yamato. What can I do for you?"

"I'd like to give Naruto PT." He said, smiling. "For an unspecified amount of time."

She raised her other brow as well.

Naruto, for his part, had no idea what kind of game Yamato was playing.

"Yamato," She began, sounding amused. "I hope there's a punchline in here somewhere."

"Oh, there is." Naruto was starting to get downright frightened. He'd never seen Tenzou smile so much. "You see, Naruto wants to go hunting for lost artifacts in Kumo."

Her look turned incredulous.

"With Uchiha Sasuke."

Now it looked downright consternated.

"And I was thinking," Yamato continued, before Tsunade could interrupt. "It might be good for them. You did say that leaving the Uchiha with Naruto was both the best and worst option, and Komachi could still use some time to readjust before we send her off to another team."

She opened her mouth, but he continued on smoothly, "Not to mention, I think that gallivanting across the Kumo countryside sounds like a grand idea for bonding, don't you?" He gave Naruto a jovial glance. "I dare say B, Yugito, and Naruto will either simultaneously commit Seppuku or become fantastic friends by the end of it!"

Naruto's mouth dropped open.

Tsunade did not look mollified in the slightest, though she did appear thoughtful. "That's putting a lot of faith in the Raikage, isn't it? Both the Uchiha and Naruto in his territory? That's not even remarking upon the questionable sanity of our last remaining Uchiha." She pointed out.

"It's a gamble. But it may be a good opportunity to see how willing Kumogakure is to commit to this alliance." Yamato agreed. "And I think Naruto is mature enough for it, no?"

Naruto flushed and the prideful look his Captain gave him.

"Naruto, maybe." Tsunade hummed noncommittally. "He is ANBU. The Uchiha though…"

Yamato turned to him. "What was it you said you were looking for, Naruto?"

Naruto startled. He hadn't actually… told anyone yet. He definitely hadn't said anything about it being entirely Kurama's idea, and that the only reason he was going along with it was because the idea of owning five artifacts of almost unlimited power sounding like a great plan to him.

Fortunately, his alter ego took the opportune moment to swiftly take over.

"Secret Jinchuuriki Jutsu scrolls." He lied smoothly. "Jiraiya mentioned that many of the lost Uzumaki clan scrolls were smuggled into Kumogakure not long after the destruction of Uzushiogakure. I think they might be helpful for me, all this considered. B and Yugito as well. In fact, it might be helpful to find them and spread the knowledge to all of the Jinchuuriki, if you really are considering an alliance with the other villages."

Yamato and Tsunade took this at face value. Meanwhile, Naruto had felt his blood grow cold. Uzumaki clan? Uzushiogakure? What the hell was Kurama talking about? Why had he never heard of either of those before? And why… why did both his Hokage and ANBU Captain not appear at all shocked by these revelations?

"So the old hermit actually does something while he's out there." Tsunade snorted. "Ah, well, I suppose, if your captain is alright with it. But I'll warn you to keep your guard up Naruto; this is highly unusual. I'll get in contact with the Raikage for extra protection when you reach Kumogakure, but this is a long way from home."

She pierced Kyuubi with a hard glare. Kyuubi only blinked back. "This is your first leadership role in a mission—I expect you to act accordingly. The Uchiha is both your comrade and responsibility.

"Fuck, I suppose I'll have to promote him to Chuunin for this." Tsunade grumbled. "I can't let a Gennin out for this. And there's no way I'm letting you traipse through Kumo without any contact; Yamato, I want updates every two weeks."

The ANBU Captain nodded seriously.

"You're not worried over another attempt to steal both a Konohagakure bloodline as well as the Jinchuuriki?" Kyuubi questioned, his voice unnervingly light, tilting his head.

"Oh, I am." Tsunade replied, flat. "I'm counting on you, fox, to make sure that doesn't happen."

Kurama smiled. "Very perceptive of you."

"Naruto would never be so eloquent."

"I'll keep that under advisement."

Tenzou turned to him, looking mildly concerned, as if appalled he hadn't been able to see the switch.

His curling smile fell flat. "Is that all then, Hokage-sama?"

"It is." She narrowed her eyes.

Yamato moved towards him, cautiously, still studying him closely, as if he wasn't quite sure who he was speaking to. "Well, I bid you a fond farewell." He said, at arms length. "I know you'll take care of him."

Outwardly, Kurama appeared expressionless. But something like resolve hardened in Naruto's chest, and it didn't seem like his.

"It'd be in my best interests, no?" Kyuubi tilted his head.

"All of them." Yamato added.

Kyuubi scowled. Unfortunately, he still had use for all four of them. Naruto, of course, was integral to his plans. If the boy perished, he would along side him. He'd already gone through great lengths to keep the Uchiha, and he needed the other Jinchuuriki out of Akatsuki's clutches if he wanted to use them as his own.

Having Gyuuki and Matatabi was a minor setback, but nothing he couldn't maneuver through. And it was well worth it to have the blessing of Konoha for this. He had no intention of making an enemy of them if he could avoid it—of making any enemies, for that matter. Not when his plans were already so close. He managed to finally break through his seal, had tamed his tenant into something approaching complacency, and was now on his way to collect Hagoromo's treasured tools. No… best to allow them to believe of him what they will.

"Yes, all of them."


Every time someone asks me something I want to tell them why the plot's going this way why Kyuubi does what he does but then I'd give it all away so then I just have to go sob in a corner somewhere. So that's what I'm doing right now. Also, if anyone caught spelling/grammar mistakes/typos... four for you Glen Coco, you go Glen Coco! I don't actually have a beta, and I normally read it over twice but then I always end up fiddling with it or getting unhappy with it and then it never gets updated and yeah. It's a sick cycle.

Also - this is AU, but for the most part I don't reference any plot devices that weren't part of canon. i.e. Hagoromo's sword is real, so are his tools. Koga and Towa and Komachi are all from the Naruto video game (one of them, anyway) etc. No OC's - I don't have any plans on making any significant ones either.

If you didn't get the memo in my gigantic lettering in the beginning, SYNCH HAS ART :D Finally! Thank god! Now I can stop using the WER one!