Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto. Since the last time I updated a purely Naruto fic, to my knowledge, Boruto (because I don't read it) has recently pulled some time-travel shit. Wow. Well, that just validates a countless number of fanfic concepts now, doesn't it?

Chapter 79: The Consequences Of Our Actions


For a moment, Ino thought she was dead.

She had felt the heat and the shockwave from an explosion, too close to be something that a human being could live through. And yet, she could feel all of her fingers and toes. She could feel the cold, hard ground underneath her. She could feel the blood slowly rolling down her own face.

The soldiers. The Fire Soldiers had exploded. Why had the Fire Soldiers exploded?

She started trying to pick herself up off of the ground, finding the patterns on the pavement beneath her swirling. A wave of nausea hit her, causing her to stop and take a series of deep breaths to settle her body. Okay, so she was concussed, but at least it was mild enough that she was able to recognize it.

"Ino! Ino!"

The calls from a familiar voice grabbed her attention, even if they hurt to hear, "Shika..." The girl called out, weaker than she would have liked, "Over here."

Shikamaru was quick to locate her by the sound of her voice through the smoke and debris in the air. He was down by her side in an instant, "What the hell happened?"

"Soldiers blew up near the samurai," Ino tried to explain, unable to muster the proper words at first, "I couldn't-. I didn't-. Y-Your bomb went off, and I had to get the samurai out of here, but they were scared, a-and the soldiers came and made it some kind of standoff, and-," She gave up on trying to make any sense more coherent than what she'd already been able to, "I don't understand."

Shikamaru didn't have the full picture yet, but he didn't need it. As much as he hated action, it was what was needed at the moment, "Okay. Come on, come on. We've got to go."

Shikamaru tried to pull Ino away from the blast site, only for the girl to fight against him and tug back, "No, I've got to help," She insisted, pointing at where she could sense fading chakra signatures. Those of the samurai, "Over there. Take me there."

The demand didn't sit easy with Shikamaru, but Ino had medic-nin training. If anyone could be saved, she wouldn't feel right if she didn't at least try, "Fine."

Ino was grateful that Shikamaru didn't try to fight her over it, and quickly categorized the situation. First, Mifune. He was unconscious, with mostly superficial damage. His underlings had done a marvelous job in shielding him when the blast went off.

In exchange for their devotion, however, both the bald samurai and the topknot samurai had suffered greatly. The topknot samurai lay on the ground, breaths coming out in choking breaths with heavy burns, and his right arm and leg missing. Part of his torso had been caved in from the force of the explosion.

Ino couldn't heal wounds that severe. Tsunade or Shizune she was not. It was too much for her to handle, and so she did the only thing that she could. She sedated him in order to make his passing more comfortable. There was a critical patient nearby that she could save.

Swallowing her despair, Ino crouched down by the bald, scarred samurai, her hands already glowing green to begin repairing what she could. The man squirmed in protest, until Ino shushed him reassuringly, "Shhhh. It'll be alright. I can fix this," She said, as soothingly as she could manage, "What's your name?"

The samurai underneath her hands, dutiful to the end, cared more for his lord than for himself, "Forget me, girl. The general-."

"Your general will be alright," Ino insisted, gesturing her head toward the prone Mifune, "I'll get to him after you. Your condition is more critical. What's your name?"

Realizing that even if he protested, he had no control over the situation, the bald samurai started to relax, "Okisuke," Even though he'd began to calm, he still used his one eye to watch Ino warily, "This level of treachery... why would the Fire Daimyo order his men to do something like this?"

"It wasn't the Fire Daimyo," Shikamaru was quick to say. The sooner that misunderstanding could be nipped in the bud, the sooner. This would all take a long explanation and plenty of evidence to smooth out; some of which they didn't have, "Akatsuki is trying to murder your general to cause an international incident."

"Akatsuki?"

"We don't really have much more than that."

XxX

Naruto had hightailed it to the Capital city as quickly as he could after finishing off Kakuzu. He didn't know what troubles awaited his friends, but knew that with Akatsuki involved, nothing would be easy. No matter how much he believed in Shikamaru and Ino, they had never met a member of Akatsuki that hadn't been a monster in some way.

When he saw the massive plumes of smoke rising from the center of the city, he knew something had gone wrong and hastened his pace the rest of the way. What he found at the heart of it all was ruin. Two whole blocks had been eradicated. Dozens of dead lay on the streets unmoving. So many hurt, buried under chunks of buildings.

Springing into action, Naruto created thousands of clones to get to work helping to find survivors and get them somewhere safe. It was all he could do in the moment for the place that had more or less been his home at one time for three years straight.

As his clones worked, the original Naruto wandered the scene of destruction, mouth agape. None of this was supposed to happen. It was supposed to have been a protection detail. If any damage was to have been done, it should have been directed at them – not the city itself.

"Naruto!"

Hearing his voice called, Naruto ran over in the direction it came from, bringing him to his old genin instructor, "Asuma-sensei! Are you alright?"

Asuma didn't look any worse for wear, but seemed just as put off at their surroundings as Naruto, "I should be asking you that. You were fighting Kakuzu alone. Sorry for leaving you to it, but-," Obviously there were more pressing issues.

Naruto understood. In fact, he would have been disappointed if anyone prioritized assisting him over stopping an explosion in the middle of the Capital, "No, no. Getting here to stop the bomb was more important... not that it mattered in the end."

Asuma grabbed Naruto's shoulders and gave him a shake, "Don't talk like that. The bomber had control over his explosives from a distance. The time wouldn't have mattered. He would have blown them whenever he felt like it," Getting down on himself now would do nothing. They'd done their best, "The bastard wanted a spectacle."

Well, in the end, he got one. But they didn't get Naruto. A silver lining on a rather morbid cloud.

Not being a healer, there was nothing more Naruto could do other than try to get people out. With this being the only task available to him, he set himself to it with as much spirit as he could muster. With innocent lives on the line, it was a considerable amount.

XxX

As Deidara flew to leave Hi no Kuni, he kept an eye out. He had been given specific orders to follow a specific route out in order to collect another of his Akatsuki brethren.

He didn't have to search very hard to find the general area. There were clear signs of conflict all over that eventually led him to the person he'd been looking for.

Hidan walked alone down a path, covered in wounds, his robe torn asunder. Under one of his arms resided the unconscious form of the Guardian Ninja Sora, noted to Akatsuki as a pseudo-jinchuuriki.

If Hidan looked bad, Sora didn't look any better, with many of his wounds in the same place as the ones on Hidan. The silver-haired man's primary tried and true jutsu managed to get the job done once again.

Deidara's clay bird swept down from the sky right in front of Hidan, "Looks like you had some fun with this one, un."

"Meh," Hidan grumbled, dumping the beaten and restrained Sora onto the back of Deidara's clay bird before climbing aboard himself, "The bucket-headed giant the White Zetsu transformed into put up more of a fight."

Deidara chuckled as he ordered his flying mount into the air, "Our mole on the inside did well to get that one and this one dispatched away from the Capital."

Hidan scoffed, giving Sora's prone body a sharp kick, "Not good enough. This was the fucking backup plan. As in, we need it if Kakuzu wasn't good enough to take the real jinchuuriki. Which he clearly wasn't seeing as how he ain't here, and the real Kyuubi jinchuuriki ain't here."

Deidara was much more content than the sadistic shinobi sitting behind him - and why not? He'd gotten to fight for a bit, gotten to create massive explosions seen by tons of people, and accomplished what was needed of the mission, "That can't be helped. Maybe if the Kyuubi jinchuuriki had stayed for a bit longer, we could have used this plan on him instead, but we'll take what we get in this case," He spared a glance back and smirked at the battle damage still present all Hidan, "From looking at you, I'm sure this one has more than enough of the Kyuubi's chakra in him to make sealing it all away worthwhile."

"I'm glad the stupid little shit didn't tear anything off during the fight," Hidan said with a bark of laughter, "Now that Kakuzu's dead, I can't have him just put me back together. Gotta be more careful."

Deidara spared Hidan a skeptical glance. The word 'careful' had never fit with what anyone knew of Hidan, "Really now?"

Hidan couldn't keep a straight face long enough to try and convince him, "Pfft... hell no!"

XxX

(The Next Morning – With Jiraiya – Tetsu no Kuni)

Jiraiya and Anko pressed onward in their pursuit of Orochimaru. With Tenzo's departure to handle the snake sannin's attempt at slowing them down, they remained hot on his heels. However, despite Tenzo's assurances that he could handle the berserk pseudo-jinchuuriki that had been set against them, Anko was still concerned.

It had been hours since they'd left him. Night had come and was about to give way to morning. Every so often she would spare a glance back the way they'd come, or she would open her mouth before thinking better of voicing aloud what was on her mind. She still had to focus on the task at-hand. She was the tracking specialist of the group, and there were more and more signs along the trail that they were getting closer.

Jiraiya spoke up, to make sure her attention was firmly on the task at-hand, "When we get to him, you remember the plan, right?"

'What plan?' Anko sardonically thought to herself, "Yeah. I've got it."

The 'plan' was very simple. Jiraiya was to fight Orochimaru. Period. Anko wouldn't have had much of a chance of dealing with the man even before he'd taken over a body containing the Sanbi, so her job was to make sure that it would be one-on-one combat.

Seeing that she would be little more than a liability against Orochimaru, she would be left her to mop up whatever was left of Orochimaru's forces, including capturing Yakushi Kabuto, if at all possible. It was a job she would have shared with Tenzo, had he not previously departed. Though he could still catch up and assist in what would undoubtedly still be a difficult task.

Speaking of catching up...

It happened quicker than they thought it would. Even as their tracker, Anko wasn't quite prepared for the trail to be as hot as it was, nor for them to find Orochimaru waiting patiently against a tree in the snowy forest.

"Stop," Anko said the moment they caught sight of him. She looked around for any traps or ambushes. Nothing. Just Orochimaru standing with his eyes closed.

Jiraiya squinted in disbelief, trying to make sense of the sight, "What's he doing?"

Orochimaru's yellow eyes snapped open, fixing themselves on Jiraiya and Anko's position, "Waiting on you. Well, waiting on one of you, anyway," He chuckled at his former student once they came into clear view, "I didn't expect you, Anko, but I can't say that I'm surprised, or disappointed. So good to see you again."

Anko glared heatedly at the man who had first taught her, "I wish I could say the same, sensei. At least I'll be able to say it after you're dead."

In response, Orochimaru clicked his tongue, "You brought help? Jiraiya, I'm disappointed. After so many years trying to follow whatever lead you could find all by yourself, you give up the ghost when I finally make it clear where I am?"

Jiraiya smirked, "What can I say? I learned how to rely on my allies."

At that, Orochimaru laughed to himself, "Well, I'm afraid you won't be able to rely on your toad allies this far north, Jiraiya. The same for me and my snakes, actually. Cold-blooded creatures don't perform so well in frigid environments."

Jiraiya noticed Anko curse under her breath, remembering how she tried to use one of her snake summons to fight the pseudo-jinchuuriki, only for it to be made quick work of. The temperature and the weather hadn't been in mind when she'd made that move.

While chiding herself for her previous oversight, Anko quickly avoided a flurry of pink crystal shuriken sent her way. The trajectory of the weapons guided Anko away from Jiraya and Orochimaru, off into the forest.

"Oh, don't mind Guren, Jiraiya," Orochimaru remarked upon noticing Jiraiya bristle defensively for Anko's well-being, "She's only meant to make sure that you and I aren't disturbed. She knows better than to get involved in my personal business."

Jiraiya scowled. He couldn't be too upset. This was, after all, part of the plan to begin with - for Anko to run interference against whatever entourage Orochimaru attempted to thwart him with, "So, what? You run for twenty years and now that you've got the Sanbi inside of you, you're all of a sudden man enough to face me again?"

The smug expression on Orochimaru's face only deepened at Jiraiya's attempt to needle him, "If I recall correctly, when I left Konoha, you were the one on your knees begging me to stay. You barely even fought back."

The reminder of one of the many great failures in Jiraiya's life was an unwelcome one, "Because I didn't want to kill my closest friend. But since then, I've had twenty years to watch my friend turn into a monster."

Orochimaru's voice took on a sad, mocking tone, "Oh, Jiraiya... I've always been a monster. You and Sarutobi-sensei always just turned a blind eye to it, until you couldn't any longer," By then, it was too late.

So many terrible things had happened as a result of Jiraiya and Hiruzen's sentimentality for Orochimaru. Now things would spiral too far out of control for anyone to stop if Jiraiya couldn't bring him down then and there, "Well, I guess it's time I clean up one of my messes."

Orochimaru watched in interest as Jiraiya drew a mask out of his travel pack, regarding it with a measure of trepidation before placing it on his face. It was at that moment, when Jiraiya subsequently rushed him with speed he wasn't prepared for, that he realized that there would be no warmup - no feeling out process.

Jiraiya wanted him dead, as soon as possible.

A punch from Jiraiya missed, smashing into the tree Orochimaru had been resting against. The trunk was turned to splinters at the point of contact, while the rest of the tree flew through the forest until finally colliding with another tree and coming to a stop.

'What in the world?' Orochimaru thought to himself. In the middle of his evasive action. When it came to speed, they had always been evenly matched, but once again Jiraiya was directly in his face, forcing him into defending himself with taijutsu - something he was not fond of doing, "No games, eh, Jiraiya? That's fine with me!"

Orochimaru lashed out with a punch that Jiraiya caught in the palm of his hand. A surprised Orochimaru looked down at the offending limb. Before Jiraiya could strike him, he regurgitated a snake that contained his Sword of Kusanagi.

Jiraiya let go before the sword could strike him across the face, giving Orochimaru the chance to put distance between them and retaliate, rolling through three hand-seals to launch a ninjutsu, "Suiton: Mizusentan (Water Release: Water Spikes)!"

Massive spikes formed from the moisture in the air and from the snow, large enough to uproot trees and smash through them. Jiraiya avoided the points of several of these spikes, working his way closer to Orochimaru with every powerful bound he took. However, Orochimaru had bought himself all of the time and space he needed.

By the time, Jiraiya closed the distance, Orochimaru's body was fully engulfed in the chakra of the Sanbi. The last thing Jiraiya saw before his former friend's features became fully concealed by the raw power was a manic grin, "Is this what you came for, Jiraiya!? Is this what you want!?"

Three chakra tails emerged from his back. Only instead of appearing as limbs or some other appendage, the way Jiraiya had been accustomed to seeing them as, they showed themselves as large, hissing snakes.

Jiraiya lashed out with his hair as a weapon, lengthening it and hardening it with chakra, "Ranjishigami no Jutsu (Wild Lion's Mane Jutsu)!"

"Sen'ei Tajashu (Many Hidden Shadow Snake Hands)!" Multiple snakes emerged from Orochimaru's sleeves, each coated in the Sanbi's chakra, much like the man himself. Each serpent bit and snapped at Jiraiya's attacking hair, which seemed to have a life of its own. As the two jutsu clashed, three chakra tails emerged from Orochimaru's backside, flanking Jiraiya from the sides and from above. The tails went to smash into Jiraiya, only for him to evade by the slimmest of margins.

As Jiraiya landed on the side of a tree, Orochimaru's laugh came out in a warped warble, "Your hands, Jiraiya. Is that what I think it is?" He asked, making note of the webbing between Jiraiya's fingers that he'd noticed before, "To think... you of all people are capable of Sage Mode."

Jiraiya spared glance at the massive crater that stood where he once had been. Already, the forest had been warped and torn asunder by the ongoing fight, "You really must not be that smart after all. I've been calling myself a toad sage for decades now. What did you think that meant?" He said.

"You never used it around me before," Orochimaru replied, making an attempt at sounding offended at his friend hiding something from him.

"I rarely need to," Jiraiya shot back before pointing to the mask on his face, "Besides, if you knew how ugly I looked right now... heh, well, you'd be more grateful that I'm wearing this."

"But I am grateful, Jiraiya," Orochimaru said, "I'm grateful that you're here to help me test my own limits. After I left poor Nagato hanging, I've been curious. Just how much further can I go?"

At that, Jiraiya froze, knowing very well the name that had just left his enemy's lips, "...What about Nagato?"

"Ku-ku-ku-ku-ku-ku..." Orochimaru laughed at the reaction, "All this time gathering information on me, discovering Akatsuki through your pursuit of me. And you never discovered who the leader was."

Despite Jiraiya's best efforts, there wasn't much that he had discovered before Akatsuki started making their moves, "And you're saying it's Nagato? My Nagato? My student?"

For a moment, he had been distracted from what he had come to do. One moment. That moment almost cost him his head.

Dozens of Orochimaru's large chakra-shrouded hidden snakes burst from the ground underneath Jiraiya. With his reaction time and increased speed, he was able to fend off most of them, with the exception of one that sank its fangs into the back of his leg, right into the calf.

Jiraiya winced and kept himself from audibly showing pain, though it was excruciating. The burn of Orochimaru's foreign Sanbi chakra pumped into his system, along with whatever poison the snake otherwise would have had to begin with. He reached down and crushed the snake's head with his bare hand, but it was too late.

"I'm not saying anything else, because none of that matters," Orochimaru said, "What matters right now is you and I. And I so dearly wish to enjoy the time we have left together."

He was too smug for Jiraiya's comfort, "What was in that snake bite?" Whatever it was, was undoubtedly bad. Very bad.

"Let's not worry about that," Orochimaru purred, moving forward threateningly, chakra tails waving like snake heads, "Like I said... let's enjoy the time we have left."

XxX

(With Naruto – Hi no Kuni – Fire Daimyo's Court)

Between Naruto and Ino, Team 10 had their share of wounds that needed tending to. Naruto left his more than one-thousand clones behind at the Capital to continue helping with what was needed there – searching for injured, trying to deal with the damage, and keeping an eye out for anymore treachery from Akatsuki.

There was nothing more they could do at the scene. In the meantime, they returned to the Fire Daimyo's court. Asuma had left the Hokage's side at the man's consent for a grand total of one hour in order to assist his students. Any longer than that would have been negligence to the actual mission.

"What a disaster," Hiruzen said to his gathered shinobi. With everything that had happened, they hadn't been able to retire until late in the night, and there would be more to deal with once the morning came, "To attack here of all places..."

It wasn't as though the court was unguarded. The Fire Daimyo had thousands of soldiers, in addition to the Ninja Guardians, though with the reveal of Kenta being replaced by a White Zetsu, it put the matter of security into question. They would have to keep their own watch during the night, as if they were in the wilderness, surrounded by wild animals and potential enemies.

Asuma let out a tired sigh. It had been a long day. This mission wasn't supposed to have been so hard, "As bad as this whole deal went, it still could have gone worse, dad."

Hiruzen scoffed at the remark. Years and years of experience had taught him otherwise, "Don't say that. The meeting still hasn't happened yet," He observed, "It seems you are right though. Mifune-dono lives, even if one of his guards didn't make it."

"Yay for field medic training," Ino celebrated weakly, still looking a tad woozy from her own head injury. Despite her injuries, she still insisted on giving Naruto a once-over after things had settled down, "God, you look like you lost, Goldie."

Naruto smirked underneath his girlfriend's ministrations, "You should see the other guy," His advanced healing, and a once-over from royal medics helped heal the skin that had burned away during his last battle, "I still can't believe that Deidara guy got away from Asuma-sensei."

"Well, he can fly," Asuma replied dryly, "And to be fair, there were more important things going on at the time - namely the two gigantic explosions in the middle of the city."

"One out of two isn't bad," Ino said, trying to find some kind of silver lining.

"50% is a failing grade," Shikamaru remarked.

"Progress is progress," Asuma told his students, "Does anyone have a headcount of how many Akatsuki members there are versus how many we've put down?"

Seeing as how Shikamaru had been there for most of the situations that had led to clashes against Akatsuki, he was best equipped to recall their run-ins, "Kakuzu of Takigakure," He started listing off members that he knew of.

Naruto raised his hand, "Killed him. Killed the shit out of him and bagged his body."

Shikamaru nodded in approval. Maybe there was something they could learn from the corpse. He continued on down the list of Akatsuki he knew were gone, "Hoshigaki Kisame of Kirigakure."

"Dead."

"Uchiha Itachi of Konohagakure."

"Sasuke killed him."

As far as they knew, that was the extent of Akatsuki's losses, "That's three down that we know of, and according to Jiraiya-sama there were nine," Asuma said, "I can't imagine it's easy to replace a slew of S-rank criminals."

"I doubt the samurai will care much about that, however," Hiruzen said, "The ones who are left attacked their contingent. They'll see it as shinobi not being able to contain shinobi problems."

Ino let out a sigh and relaxed back into a sofa, "What are they going to do, cut themselves off from the rest of the Elemental Nations? Oh, wait. They already do that," It was then that she remembered the rank of the person she was responding to, "Err... Hokage-sama, sir."

Asuma let out a groan and palmed his forehead, "Forgive her, Hokage-sama. She's concussed. That, or she's been hanging around Naruto too long."

Naruto took offense to his sensei's attempt to pass the buck, "Hey, don't blame her on me. She was mouthy way before we ever started dating."

"Look who's talking," Ino shot back at her boyfriend.

Naruto didn't deny the accusation, "Yeah, but I've always been like that."

Hiruzen looked around the room at his amassed shinobi, "It's important that you all realize we could be very close to the dawn of something none of you have seen in your lifetime - war."

That three letter word sobered the mood in the room significantly. Shikamaru reacted with the least surprise out of the three chunin, having already heard of the possibility from Asuma, "Hokage-sama, are you sure about that?" He asked, wanting to hear it from the mouth of the main man himself.

Hiruzen didn't mince words. They weren't children any longer. These were hardened warriors. They could handle what lay ahead, "I'll be frank. If it doesn't happen after this meeting, things won't stay peaceful for much longer."

Naruto punched into his palm, "Who are we fighting? Suna? Iwa? The samurai?"

Hiruzen stared at his surrogate grandson, wondering for a moment how to answer in a succinct way that he would understand, "...Yes."

Naruto visibly deflated, "Oh," He hadn't been aware that things were potentially that bad for them.

"I honestly don't know, my boy," The Hokage said, "It could be one, it could be two, it could be all three. Some could ally with the others, or they could all fight each other as well," He offered, throwing out some possibilities, "What you and Shikamaru say in your report this morning will go a long way towards determining if we make the declaration first, and against whom."

All of a sudden, Naruto felt the true weight of his presence on this mission. Of course, that could have also been the feeling of a few hundred clones dispelling themselves moments ago, "...No pressure though, right?"

"All you can do is tell the Fire Daimyo what happened," Hiruzen said warmly, "Whatever happens from that point onward is no longer in your hands."

That did very little to make Naruto feel confident in the scheduled meeting.

XxX

(With Jiraiya – Tetsu no Kuni)

Whatever Orochimaru had injected Jiraiya with, whatever was now pumping through his system, he was operating on borrowed time, and he knew it. The pain from the original area of the snake bite had spread from his calf to along much of his leg.

It wasn't as if he hadn't expected chemical warfare. He'd prepared for Orochimaru's poisons, building an immunity to as many as he could over the years, even when they were teammates.

The snake sannin's devious concoction was potent, but Sage Mode was allowing Jiraiya to fight against it. How effective it would be once the venom started reaching his vital organs was up for debate. Jiraiya didn't plan on the fight lasting that long anyway.

Still, it was doing its work on him. He felt slower than before. That was no good, as even at top speed, Orochimaru was still able to evade him, laughing as he kept out of Jiraiya's reach, "Come on! At this rate, you'll die before I even get to show you anything good!"

As the game of cat and mouse led them along the side of a mountain, Jiraiya decided to make his move, 'How about I show you something good?' He thought to himself, having built up chakra in the back of his throat, "Katon: Dai Endan (Fire Release: Big Flame Bullet)!" He fired a large, but well-controlled stream of fire from his mouth, propelled by oil. Instead of aiming at Orochimaru, he set the forest ablaze around them, cutting off his path, if only momentarily.

It left him open, however, as Orochimaru turned with the quickness of a cobra and lashed out with a spin kick that hit Jiraiya in the face and shut his mouth. It was a small price to pay in Jiraiya's mind to get Orochimaru to stop running. Thanks to Sage Mode, and the use of the Frog Kata fighting style, Jiraiya was able to turn his body at the very last moment to take a lot of the crushing force out of the blow – that, and allow him to keep enough of his composure to avoid the three swinging snakes that followed up.

The important thing was that Jiraiya had gotten Orochimaru to face him again.

After avoiding Orochimaru's snake 'tails', Jiraiya closed the short distance between them and threw a punch that Orochimaru leaned out of the way of, bending backwards at the waist, just underneath the fist that passed through where his head had been. His next move would have been to cut Jiraiya's entrails out with his sword, but he felt the force of something hit him under the chin, just as Jiraiya missed.

It was the hardest Orochimaru had been hit in quite some time.

Whatever had hit him did so with enough force to send Orochimaru sailing into the nearby mountainside. Hitting hard enough to smash the surface, his head bounced back and then forward. As he fell the short distance to the ground silent shout ripped from Orochimaru, more the effect of all of the air being forced from his lungs than anything else.

Landing on the ground, Orochimaru took a quick knee and looked up at the sight that awaited him. His eyes went wide as Jiraiya had formed a Rasengan at least ten times the size of his own body and was bearing down on him with it, "Senpou: Chou Odama Rasengan (Sage Art: Ultra-Big Ball Rasengan)!"

Orochimaru swiped some blood away from his lip and formed the snake seal before slamming his hands onto the ground, "Kuchiyose: Niju Rashoumon (Summoning: Double Rashoumon)!"

Two gargantuan gates with demonic faces on the door and frightening colored spikes along the frames shot up out of the ground between the two, intercepting Jiraiya and his Rasengan variation.

There was only time to prepare two. Two of Orochimaru's strongest defense. That he would have summoned more if he'd had the time to do so spoke volumes of how bad he expected things to go if the Rasengan got anywhere near him.

Jiraiya tore right through the first defensive gate, much to Orochimaru's concern, but the second held... at least for a moment. It dented, it buckled, and finally blew wide open; but so did Jiraiya's Rasengan, eventually exploding.

The blast took the entire mountain at Orochimaru's back with it.

XxX

(With Naruto – Hi no Kuni – Fire Daimyo's Court)

Politics were more nerve-wracking than fighting.

Naruto idly wiped away a bead of sweat from his brow that had started rolling down his face. He hadn't even been aware that he had been sweating. Even if the Hokage had told him that all he could do was tell the truth about what had happened to him during the mission where he'd been captured by Iwa, the knowledge that what he said could result in consequences as dire as war left him with a sickly feeling.

War. Sure, it had always been something that he was tangentially aware of. Shinobi fought wars. He'd sat through enough of Iruka's history classes to know that much. Wars were where most of the Hokage had earned their keep and shown the world what they were capable of. It wasn't until Naruto had actually started taking missions of his own, had put his own life on the line in battle, had seen others do the same, and had seen those same lives taken that the reality of war sank in.

People died on standard missions involving between four and sixteen people. How many teams would be put on missions of similar danger, set against other shinobi? How many from both sides would die far away from home?

And Naruto wouldn't have felt any justice had come because of it. An entire war being fought over what happened to him? What kind of arrogant git would feel any sense of satisfaction about something like that? How was he supposed to see it, as his being important? And in a way, it did mark him as being important.

...But then, hadn't he wanted to be important for his entire life? For the village to respect and care about him?

Yes, but not like this. It wasn't the same. The last thing he wanted was for a single fellow Konoha ninja, or even an Iwa ninja, to die because of him.

However, he still told them everything. It wasn't like he could lie or omit anything. The Hokage already had his full briefing and mind sweeps from the Yamanaka Clan. If his old grandfather figure would have wanted him to dress up the truth, he would have told him as much.

"-And that was all I can really remember, Daimyo-sama," Naruto said, wrapping up his recap of past events, "...Unless you want to hear about the trip back to the village."

The Fire Daimyo smiled at the young shinobi as he idly fanned himself, "No, I think that will be quite sufficient, Naruto. Thank you," He looked over at Hiruzen, who had been paying more attention to the daimyo's reaction to "Hokage-dono, these affairs affect you more directly than they do me. What is your opinion on the matter?"

Hiruzen had weeks to think about what he would say when presented with the moment before him, "While this had the potential to remove two major resources from Konoha, I'm hesitant to declare war over it. As you can see, Naruto-kun is alive and well. Uchiha Sasuke is as well."

The Fire Daimyo nodded in agreement, "Yes, Naruto certainly seems to be in just as good of condition as I sent him back to you in. It would have been a shame if Iwagakure had managed to extract the Kyuubi from him. He and Shikamaru wound up being my two favorite Guardians while they were here."

Naruto couldn't help himself, "Aww..." He was all smiles.

"With good reason," Hiruzen said, allowing Naruto the moment of frivolity despite the seriousness of the conversation, "Given the loss of life and the knowledge if the village's infrastructure Naruto and Sasuke gained during their escape, in the grand scheme of things, capturing them actually cost Iwa more than they gained."

Mifune, the head samurai listening in raised an eyebrow of intrigue, "Forgive me for interjecting, Daimyo-sama, Hokage-dono. Am I to ascertain that you do not wish to go to war against Iwagakure?"

Hiruzen nodded grimly, "Konoha will not declare war on Iwa," He said.

Naruto breathed a sigh of relief. No war, at least not yet. Not one that would be started because of something directly involving him.

"We will not declare war," Hiruzen continued, "But we will retaliate for these actions. Our retaliation will subsequently lead to war, most likely," He said, as though asking for permission from the Fire Daimyo. He received an almost imperceptible nod.

Just like that, Naruto felt as though his heart had stopped, "So... there is going to be a war?"

"I will offer the Tsuchikage a chance to make things square," Hiruzen gestured to the area around his neck, "As I recall, and as I can clearly see, you don't have the Shodai Hokage's necklace. You haven't since you returned."

Naruto's eyes widened and he laughed sheepishly. This was the first time it had come up since he'd escaped Iwa, "Yeah... they kinda took it off of me while I was a prisoner," He hadn't even been awake for it.

Hiruzen looked at Naruto astutely, "I know you're aware of the value of that necklace; both monetarily and symbolically," Naruto nodded stiffly. He'd been repeatedly told that the damn thing was worth three mountains and the gold underneath. That and the fact that it belonged to Konoha's first and most powerful shinobi, "I will demand its return. If he does not, it is as good as stealing a priceless artifact from the village. That by itself would not be allowed to stand, let alone what happened to you and Sasuke."

"Would he attempt to sell it back to you?" The Fire Daimyo asked.

Hiruzen shook his head, "He would make an 'offer' to be smug. But in reality, he would never relinquish it. It has value as a physical symbol of his getting the better of Konoha," The old man let out something between a sigh and a groan, "He would rather fight. I would wager that he wants to fight."

It had been almost twenty years since the last major war. All of the villages had been building their strength the entire time. The major victors in the Third Shinobi World War were Konoha and Kumo. If ever a target were to be placed on any of the five major villages, those would be the two, and if there was ever a time to take a shot, it would be in a tumuluous time such as then.

Even so, Hiruzen could see the sheer disappointment that Naruto had, believing that the soon-to-be hostilities between Konoha and Iwa would be because of him, "Things have been going this way for a long time, Naruto," Hiruzen tried to assure him, "If you had never been captured, it would have been something else. Whether it was a month from now, a year from now, or whenever... war would have come."

"Hmm... is Suna not also complicit in conspiring against Konoha?" The Fire Daimyo asked.

"The Kazekage is claiming his ninja were defending Kaze no Kuni's sovereignty from terrorists and foreign encroachment," Hiruzen said, "I will bring this up further with the ambassador once they return from Suna, Daimyo-sama, but I would rather not go to war against two villages at once," However, he knew that there was always the chance that he would have no choice in the matter.

"Yes, of course, Hokage-dono," The Fire Daimyo said in acceptance, before looking over at his former employee, "Well, Naruto, I believe that will be all the details we need from you."

Naruto nodded and stepped away from the three dignitaries before moving to leave the room. He kept it together until he got outside into the courtyard. He felt ill enough to have to put his hands on his knees. War had all but been confirmed.

He'd tried to save a fellow jinchuuriki. He'd tried to take the fight to Akatsuki instead of waiting for them to hunt him like an animal. He'd convinced those with more power than him to allow him to do so, and now it looked like a portion of the world would burn as a result.

Naruto's stomach churned. His mouth started to water to the point of discomfort, as though he were preparing to vomit.

This was how Shikamaru found him, placing a hand on his friend's back once he got close, "...That bad, huh?" He muttered quietly.

"It's gonna happen," Naruto said, finding little to no relief in his teammate's presence, "There's gonna be a war, Shika. What are we gonna do?"

"We're going to do what we always do," Shikamaru said resolutely. Hearing that things were likely to spiral into war was jarring, but he'd had more time to accept the possibility than Naruto had, "...Are you more upset that we're going to war, or are you upset because you think it's your fault?"

Naruto took a moment to gather himself, eventually standing up straight and gesturing to Shikamaru to let him know he was okay, "I know it isn't really... because if it had just been Sasuke that they took, it would have been just as big of a deal," A war still would have been on the brink of occurring, "But it wasn't just him. We both blew up Sora-ku and went flying over the border."

"It could have been anyone," Shikamaru reasoned with a shrug.

Naruto could see what he was trying to do, and while he appreciated it, it just wasn't the time, "It wasn't anyone, Shika. It was me. And everyone on both sides knows it," He said, shaking his head, "You know, I always wanted to be in the history books for being Hokage. Not as the answer to the question, 'who started the Fourth Shinobi World War?'"

"Let's hope it doesn't get that big."

"Yeah, because hoping for the best has been working so well."

"I guess that's fair."

XxX

Just because Naruto left, that didn't mean the discussion between the Fire Daimyo, the Hokage, and the Head Samurai of Tetsu no Kuni had ended. Instead, the topics changed to one closer to the Hokage's heart.

"What of Orochimaru, Hokage-dono?"

Hiruzen kept his expression stony, even in the face of the important query from his far north samurai counterpart "We are taking steps to deal with him before he can harm anyone else."

It was something that had been long overdue, but then again, it wasn't as though they hadn't been trying. Orochimaru had never made it as easy to locate him as he had before then, and so they jumped all over the opportunity.

Sadly, in most cases, intent didn't matter; only results did. The higher the stakes were, the more this rang true, "And if you fail?" Mifune asked.

"I can guarantee Konoha's full cooperation in dealing with him," A lame duck response. But it was the best Hiruzen could do. It was a request from another for a show of confidence and good faith.

Unfortunately, Konoha's past dealings with Orochimaru did little to inspire what was needed to bring that good faith forward. "Tetsu no Kuni does not want Konoha's cooperation," Mifune said, "Merely their understanding that the samurai have our own designs to move against your rogue shinobi and this... Otogakure element."

Oh no. That was not good. Otogakure wasn't a village, so much as it was a series of bases, dozens if not hundreds of them, scattered all over the Elemental Nations. The countries in which they existed had no idea of their presence until they were discovered.

If the samurai were on the hunt for Orochimaru, and were as serious about it as they should have been after losing entire villages to his twisted scientific ambitions, they would have to scour the shinobi world to root him out. For the sake of their personal justice, they would step on as many toes as they needed to.

"You will do this alone?" Hiruzen asked, questioning the wisdom of such a course of action without voicing it aloud.

Mifune nodded stoically, "The samurai deal with samurai affairs. The shinobi keep to their own. This is how it has always been, Hokage-dono."

Yes, Hiruzen supposed, he did know. But to say that the lines were now blurred would be an understatement. Between Orochimaru, Akatsuki, and what a samurai-led hunt across the Elemental Nations would do, their worlds were intertwining quicker than any of them could be prepared for.

XxX

(Meanwhile – Tetsu no Kuni)

Orochimaru had never been under the delusion that Jiraiya wasn't one of the most powerful shinobi in existence. He had never been under the delusion that Jiraiya wasn't one of the most powerful shinobi that had ever come out of Konoha in its long history of producing exemplary combatants.

...He just wasn't better than Orochimaru. He was never better than Orochimaru.

Orochimaru picked himself up from where he'd been thrown to the ground, looking at the destruction wrought despite two of his strongest defense being up and taking the brunt of the impact, diverting the absolute worst of the force around it.

Where there had once been a mountain at his back, there was no longer. Also, where there had once been an arm on Orochimaru's body, there was no longer. The same for part of his foot on his opposite side.

Everything hurt, but it was nothing that would stop Orochimaru. He had long since prepared for the day when he would battle someone dangerous enough to inflict such harm upon him. What would dismembering him really do when he could simply replace his entire body altogether.

Shedding his entire body like a snake, from his own mouth, a new Orochimaru emerged, looking completely unharmed, "Ku-ku-ku-ku-ku..." He laughed tauntingly, "Poor Jiraiya. If you had fought against me only six months ago, that may have done the trick."

Jiraiya returned the laugh with a chuckle in his own right, "Even if it didn't, you're still not looking too hot, buddy."

"And have you looked at yourself lately?" Orochimaru asked, gesturing with his hand, indicating that Jiraiya should check his own.

Jiraiya looked down at his right hand. Where he normally would have seen the healthy glow of his skin, it was pale, with deep green lines peeking out from underneath his hand guard – his veins. If most of his body wasn't covered by clothing and the mask on his face, he bet he would see those lines trailing up his arm and over much of his body, starting from where he'd been previously bitten.

Great. So now, the fight had dragged on long enough for his body to physically show the effects of what had been done to him. That explained a lot about the last attack he'd launched not getting the desired effect. But Jiraiya had a way to fix that. Something Orochimaru hadn't picked up on. Not until it was too late.

Much to his confusion and horror, Orochimaru's entire body went still. He couldn't even open his mouth to speak and question his situation.

Jiraiya smirked, his eyes drifting down to the ground at Orochimaru's shadow. Instead of his former friend's silhouette, it was his. The Gamadaira – Kageayatsuri no Jutsu (Toad Flatness – Shadow Manipulation Technique).

Orochimaru's eyes followed Jiraiya's, his pupils dilating when he noticed the change in his shadow, "What... the...?" He was eventually able to strain out, "When? How?"

Jiraiya opened his hand and formed a Rasengan, "You know my favorite thing about my disciple? Making Shadow Clones is so easy for him, that he stumbles into genius things to do with them that he never thinks twice about after he pulls them out of his ass once."

'Uzumaki?' Orochimaru thought. He was aware of Jiraiya's latest student, thanks to Kabuto. The current jinchuuriki of the Kyuubi. Lots of potential, Kabuto said. Orochimaru had only interacted with him once, however. In that meeting, the boy had quickly fled.

He couldn't even speak however, leaving Jiraiya to slowly shuffle his way over, a Rasengan forming in his hand, "Me though? A guy like me has to work his ass off to keep up with people like you. I pay attention to things like that. And he does shit like that all the time, so I had plenty to work with."

Sometimes the master could learn lessons from the student. Shadow Clones were perhaps the most versatile jutsu in existence, because they were capable of just about anything the creator could do, and could move independently, knowing upon creation what they had been spawned for the purpose of.

That, and seeing Shikamaru's jutsu as much as he did back when the boys were Guardian Ninja gave him the inspiration to come up with a bastardized version. He had to infuse his own chakra into the victim's shadow and sink into it to paralyze and control the enemy's body. He also had to hold his breath to keep it active. It didn't work the same, or nearly as well as the Nara Clan's signature technique, but when utilized by Jiraiya's clone, it did what Jiraiya needed it to.

-Stop Orochimaru dead in his tracks, and leave him wide open for something he couldn't survive.

The Rasengan slowly grew larger and larger, right before Orochimaru's eyes. This time, he couldn't move. Jinchuuriki cloak or not, Jiraiya could wipe him from existence with that attack.

In his hubris, he had treated one of the most dangerous shinobi in existence like an afterthought, and he wound up paying the price as a result.

'No...' Orochimaru thought as Jiraiya moved in for the kill, 'No... it can't be,' After all he'd done to position himself to have all of the power he needed to achieve all of his goals. He had only just started. There was so much more to do, 'It can't be! Not to him! Not! To! Him!'

Orochimaru's entire body began to transform, and Jiraiya quickly averted course to keep from being crushed by the newly added size his opponent had put on.

Within five seconds, Orochimaru had gone from a human state, to that of the full-fledged Sanbi. The clone holding him by the shadow had been destroyed, not that it could have held back something like a tailed beast once things had gone that far.

Getting as far away as he could in quick order, Jiraiya was gifted with the sight of Orochimaru's inner monster fully unleashed upon the world. As hard to believe as it was, Jiraiya had never seen a tailed beast out in the open. He'd seen plenty of jinchuuriki in various states, but never a full transformation.

For a man who had seen just about everything, it was still terrifying.

...And yet, it was exactly what he had wanted.

For all of the advantages being fully transformed provided, for all of the research Orochimaru had likely done on jinchuuriki before taking the body of the one he'd created... he'd still only had the Sanbi for less than a year. He hadn't mastered it yet. And even if he had, the strengths of the Sanbi didn't play into Orochimaru's strengths as a shinobi whatsoever.

Between Jiraiya, Tsunade, and Orochimaru, the latter had always possessed the weakest constitution. Brute force had never been his forte. He could do it when he needed to, but there was always something lacking when compared to someone who specialized in being a powerhouse cut loose.

Also, almost as equally as important, Orochimaru was poor at fighting from underneath. He hadn't found himself in so dire a position since Hanzo had almost killed the three of them single-handedly, but no history since then led credence to him ever improving on that front – such as Uchiha Itachi severing his hand and forcing Orochimaru to flee Akatsuki.

So, how fitting was it that a man with as versatile a repertoire as Orochimaru resorted to pure brute force when he had been outmaneuvered? He would revel in the power present to him, but he wasn't accustomed to throwing it around. And there was one important thing he would lose in the process...

His jutsu.

The countless jutsu that Orochimaru had spent decades learning would be useless as long as he was in that form. The arms of the Sanbi were so short, they could never reach across its body. Therefore, Orochimaru couldn't make hand-seals.

It was what Jiraiya had wanted, but that didn't make the situation any less dangerous. Especially now that Orochimaru's venom was slowly doing its work.

As the toad sage stood on a rocky outcropping overlooking Orochimaru in all of his transformed glory and horror, he understood that as much as he had planned for this, it was one thing to plan for it and another to execute once everything began moving forward.

After all, this was what he'd prepared for.


Omake: What's Mine Is Yours (5)

Dinner in the Yamanaka household was awkward for Naruto. Ino's mother was welcoming as always, but her father seemed to know that something was up. He kept looking between Ino and Naruto during dinner, both of whom were awaiting the proper moment to spring a particular piece of information on the jounin.

For some reason, Naruto was convinced that Inoichi knowing that he and the man's daughter were sleeping together was integral for the relationship to move forward. For some reason, Ino thought it was a good idea to let him know as well. But now that the moment had arrived to tell him, neither had the first idea of how to do it smoothly.

The evening moved to Naruto and Ino sitting in the living room with Ino's parents for some conversation. In between the verbal conversation, Ino and Naruto were having a private telepathic one.

It was hard to carry on two coherent conversations at once, but Ino was good enough with her jutsu to make it work, "Goldie, how are we gonna do this? It's not like we can just start a conversation with, 'Hey, just so you know, I've been inside your daughter. Great craftsmanship, Yamanaka-san!'"

Naruto was less accustomed to talking out loud while thinking something completely different, so he just smiled and nodded unless someone said his name, "I dunno! I didn't think that far ahead! And what the hell? Was that supposed to be me? I wouldn't say something like that!"

He could think it though, and had, in front of Inoichi, no less. In hindsight, that was probably where Ino had gotten it from in the first place.

"Well, one of us needs to think of something!" Ino thought back to him, "I'm cutting the link. He knows something's up. You probably aren't leaving tonight without telling him something."

Why? And tell him what? It wasn't like Inoichi could pull a secret out of him that he didn't even know existed.

...Of course Inoichi could. He was second only to Morino Ibiki in interrogation for Konoha. He could have Naruto confessing to things that he didn't even want to know if he tried hard enough. That wasn't even taking into account that he had taught Ino all of the clan techniques that she knew.

"What about you, Naruto?"

Ino's mom speaking to him brought Naruto fully back into the situation before him. He'd lost the plot of the conversation altogether. Whatever they had been talking about beforehand was beyond him, "Err..."

Before he could come up with an an excuse, Inoichi jumped all over the opportunity presented to him, "Is there something on your mind?" He asked, knowing full well there was something making Naruto uncomfortable. There had been a strange air between them during their last few meetings, and it irked at Inoichi.

Naruto looked around at the entire family. Feeling self-conscious, he rubbed the back of his head sheepishly, "Uh... well, it's kind of personal, Yamanaka-san."

His attempt to excuse himself was not allowed, "Oh, Naruto, don't worry about that," Inoichi said, trying to wave it off, "This is a safe place. You can tell me anything."

Naruto didn't believe him. Not in the least. But he was trapped, and he couldn't just leave. Ino had been right before. He had to say something to get Inoichi off of his back, and there was no graceful way to let slip what he and Ino really wanted to tell him.

That left one other thing in mind that was good enough to get Inoichi to leave well enough alone, and it wasn't something meant for him.

Instead of talking to Inoichi, Naruto took a deep breath and turned on the couch to Ino, "I wanted to ask you this in private, like when I got everything worked out, but I guess there's no reason not to do it now."

Ino raised a delicate blonde eyebrow in confusion, "Not to do what?" Whatever her boyfriend was going to say, they never talked about amongst themselves.

"Ino-chan, you've been staying over at my place a lot for a while now..." Across the room, he heard Inoichi grunt in displeasure, kept silent by an elbow from Ino's mom, "...And you know how I'm getting that house built on my clan grounds. It's almost done by the way," Ino nodded, eyes wide in rapt curiosity, "What I'm trying to say is, do you wanna move in with me?"

"WHAT!?" Inoichi shouted and jolted out of his chair. Ino's mother tried to tug him back down into his seat, but he stood as still as an outraged statue.

Ino stared at Naruto one eye covered by a blonde bang, the other visible and wide, "Whoa," She whispered under her breath, "...Seriously?"

Naruto started to back down, seeing her reaction as one of apprehension, "I-I mean, you don't have to if you don't want to. And you don't have to say anything right now! I wasn't even gonna ask you tonight. I was gonna wait for something more chill and less dramatic than dinner with your parents."

"No!" Ino exclaimed, much to Naruto's surprise. He had started backtracking because of her response, and that wasn't her intention at all, "Not 'no' as in I don't want to move in with you. I mean 'no' as in... it's not a problem you asked me now, Goldie," She said with a big, beaming smile, eyes shining brightly, "I would love to move in with you."

"WHAT!?"

Inoichi continued to let his displeasure known, but Naruto wasn't paying him any mind, "Really?"

"Mm-hmm," Ino said with a nod, her smile turning much more sly and cunning, "I've been, like, slowly in the process of moving my day-to-day stuff in anyway. You know, making it so I have to come back here less and can stay with you more."

Naruto breathed a laugh out of his nose, "I noticed. That's kind of what started all of the thinking about it. Was that you dropping hints?"

Ino shrugged her shoulders, "No, actually. But I'm glad doing all of that sped things up. I didn't know how I was going to sneak most of my wardrobe in without making it obvious."

"Absolutely not, you two!" Inoichi finally inserted himself properly into the goings-on, "Ino, no! You can't move in with Naruto!"

Ino's mother clicked her tongue and rolled her eyes,"Oh, Inoichi, hush," She said, crossing her arms over her chest.

"No, I will not," Inoichi said, continuing with his fit, "Two teenagers living together, alone? The next thing you know-!"

"-They'll be having sex?" Ino's mother interrupted, anticipating her husband's point. He nodded, and a visible chill went down his spine at the prospect, "I'm afraid it's a little late for that, dear."

Inoichi's entire body went stiff. He robotically turned Ino's way, his face imploring her to tell him that his wife was mistaken. Ino gave him no such news, "Yeah, daddy. That's already been a thing for a while. You kind of missed end of watch on that one."

Inoichi impotently looked Naruto's way, only for Naruto to give him a slow, serious nod of confirmation. The long, high-pitched squeak that came out of the mouth of the famed Ino-Shika-Cho member belied his status in the village.

"But... but..." Inoichi stammered lamely, "You're my baby."

Ino readily agreed, "Yep. But I'm not a baby," She specified, standing up and walking over to take Inoichi's hands into hers, "I'm a chunin who's been on missions all over the Elemental Nations, fighting all kinds of dangerous creeps, and working in T&I for the last year and a half. I'm pretty sure all of that is worse for me than letting Goldie plow me."

Naruto winced as he saw Inoichi's jaw clench. The man had recoiled as if physically struck, "If you said that differently, it might not look like he's getting his teeth pulled every time someone says something about it," Naruto said.

"'-Than practicing the baby-making dance with Goldie.'"

For that one, Naruto actually had to stop to consider it, "Better, but still really blunt."

Not discouraged, Ino kept trying, "Okay. Then how about, '-than letting Goldie flop around on top of me.'"

"No," Naruto deadpanned, "Also, that makes me sound bad," Last time he checked, Ino didn't have any complaints about his performance in bed.

The next one from Ino, he didn't have to consider at all, "'-Than me riding Goldie like that mechanical bull in that bar-.'"

"Ino, no," Naruto stopped her before she could finish, hand over his own face in exasperation, "None of that is good. Look at him. You're killing him," True enough, Inoichi was leaning against the arm of his chair for support, his wife patting his back... though she was hiding laughter as she did so.

Ino grinned coyly, clearly enjoying herself now, "I know. At this point, it's just funny to watch him react."

Naruto looked at his girlfriend oddly while she sauntered back over to him, "Weren't you scared to tell him thirty minutes ago?"

Ino rolled her eyes, hardly able to sit still in her seat, she was brimming with such excitement, "Yeah! But that was before you made me so happy by asking me to move in with you!" She threw herself against Naruto, arms around his neck as she pressed her cheek to his, "I feel so good right now, I could fight Tsunade by myself with a smile on my face!"

Even though she was being a handful, Naruto loved her, and couldn't help but be infected by her positivity. He gave Ino a smooch on the cheek and pulled the happy girl into his lap. This also had the added – yet consciously unintended – effect of putting a physical and psychic barrier between himself and Inoichi, if the need arose.

Inoichi didn't seem truly furious though, just emotionally drained, "I... don't like this," He said.

"Obviously," Naruto replied.

Inoichi dragged his palm down his face, feeling his age, "...I don't like it, but it's my job to support you. So, if this is what you want, I'll leave it alone."

Ino got off of Naruto and walked over to hug her father, "Thank you, daddy."

"Thanks, Yamanaka-san," Naruto added, knowing that in the grand scheme of this, this would change nothing.

"This changes nothing," Inoichi stiffly said, confirming just as much for Naruto. All the same, his visage softened over Ino's shoulder, "...Just take care of my daughter, Naruto."

Naruto didn't need to be asked to do such a thing. He hadn't planned to do anything else, "We take care of each other," He insisted before a new thought drifted into his head, "Oh, Ino-chan! That was a way you could have put the sex thing to make it more subtle!"

Ino giggled while Inoichi groaned at the reminder of his only child's deflowering at the tender mercies of the local jinchuuriki.

Well… it could have been worse. It could have been with someone he didn't like.


That's the chapter, guys.

Next time around, Jiraiya throws down with Orochimaru, who's getting in touch with his inner turtle-monster. And we've got other stuff going down as well, so, you know, hang around for a piece of all of that.

This is all I have for you right now. Until the next time, when I can get back to it—

Kenchi out.