AN: To be completely honest, I wasn't in love with this chapter. I kept redoing it and redoing it. And this is the best I could come up with. And I kind of feel like I'm messing with you, the reader, with this chapter and the buildup. But on the other hand, I do like where this leads. And I think you will too. Oh well, I guess… "It's all, part of the plan." Meh, whatever. Sorry for the long wait- busy, and no signs of that changing. So no idea when the next installment will be here. Anyway, I don't own Naruto, and I hope you all enjoy.

Chapter Ten: "Cat's In The Cradle"
-Title of a song by Harry Chapin

"-And you understand what Orocimaru-sama has asked of you?" Kabuto clarified quietly. He glanced around; nighttime, pitch-black, no movement. Perfect. This was a conversation that he could ill afford to be overheard.

"Yes," Mizuki replied gruffly. "Due to Orochimaru-sama's inability to confront the Kyuubi Jinchuuriki at this time, I am to use the opportunity my position grants me and obtain intelligence on his acquaintances. If possible, I am to feel out and recruit if the opportunity arises," Mizuki recited. He glanced at the clock. "Kabuto-san, it is getting later. Perhaps-"

"Yes, I must remove myself. Follow your orders as expected. After all, I will be watching," Kabuto finished pleasantly before getting up and removing himself from the darkened office. But he could have sworn he sensed something- no, it must have been his paranoia. There was minimal movement- Mizuki shuffling papers and glancing through files- before another figure arrived swiftly afterwards.

"Hello, Mizuki," A hooded figure greeted in a neutral tone, and his eyes glazed over. "Would you be so kind as to tell me what you and Kabuto were discussing?"

"Kabuto-san has instructed me to watch over and get close to all acquaintances of Naruto Uzumaki," Mizuki repeated blandly at his master's command. Sasori of the Red Sand was silent for a long moment as he pondered the implications of that statement.

"Has he now? And why, dare I ask, would Kabuto wish you to do such a thing?" After all, he hadn't ordered Kabuto to undertake any such operation. Leader-sama had ordered a hands-off approach towards the Kyuubi Jinchuuriki. Towards all Jinchuuriki- Kyuubi was simply included in that list. His preparations were not yet complete, it seemed. Though if the rumors about Itachi's confrontation with him were true, things might be suitable spead up to avoid further complications.

"Orochimaru-sama has ordered him to do so," Mizuki answered quietly. From his facial expression, it seemed as if he had no idea the magnitude of the news he was delivering. His superior though…

For a second, Sasori's mask of neutrality slipped, and he actually frowned slightly. Before it returned to the way it was supposed to be. Had he now? Then why hadn't Kabuto reported that when he interrogated him earlier. It was only a few hours ago- it wasn't like there was much opportunity for change. How very peculiar. And Mizuki… well Kabuto didn't know that he had another set of eyes and ears in the Leaf, did he? As Sasori sat pondering, he came to the sudden realization that Kabuto had been slipping in his performance. Slightly, but just enough to let the idea take form. Some critical pieces of information his other spies had reported seemed to slip through Kabuto's net. And he had been so capable too. Now Leader-sama was… displeased with his network's capabilities in some areas, and a certain medic-nin was apparently the cause, seeing as in the beginning of his decline he had been more willing to defer to his judgment than the spottier intelligence of others. But his deteriorating effectiveness had been what originally necessitated his finding another set of eyes and ears inside the Leaf. Someone close to Kabuto- to see why he was making these mistakes all of a sudden. Mizuki. After all, it was always more practical to assume the possibility that an agent had either hit a wall or lost their touch rather than they were deliberately withholding information. But now he learned, and not from Kabuto, interestingly enough, that Orochimaru had a particular interest in the Kyuubi container? Peculiar. Quite suggestive, actually. Could it be that Orochimaru had neutralized his technique? He'd thought it was undetectable, but… it seemed that Kabuto was no longer his agent. Rather, it seemed to be the case that perhaps the medic-nin was playing him for a fool. And Sasori was no one's fool!

"Why is Orochimaru so interested in the Kyuubi Jinchuuriki?" After all, the last he had heard, the Snake Sannin was obsessed with gaining the Sharingan. Itachi had discovered this firsthand. It seemed so like his former partner- chasing after knowledge and immortality. All he'd ever wanted; striven for. Why did Leader-sama ever think his own vision was or would be compatible with his former partner's? Most among their number felt nothing for their former homes, the former lives they had led. Orochimaru was certainly an exception. Personally, since he had already achieved both, he had no interest, no feeling, about his partner's wild ambitions, his delusions of grandeur. Until he'd crossed a line, that is. Now he was very much interested. And that, was definitely a troublesome thing. For Orochimaru, that is.

"He wants to recruit him," Mizuki explained emotionlessly. "He thinks Uzumaki is the key to turning the Uchiha. And his circle of friends… a Byakugan user, another budding medic-nin, a cunning Nara, a skilled and fierce Akimichi, an Aburame with an exceptionally large hive, the Yamanaka clan heir, and an Inuzuka prodigy." Mizuki paused, trying to figure out how to say the last point he needed to elucidate upon. "If he gains Uzumaki, and that gains him the Uchiha, well… why stop there?"

Sasori shook his head slightly. Orochimaru's greed could be rather disgusting. Itachi saw firsthand how disgusting it was. "And you have been ordered to gather intelligence and try and turn them?" Mizuki nodded. Well, if it was good for Orochimaru, Leader-sama would be unhappy. And if he became displeased… nothing good could come of that for the fearsome puppet user.

But what to do? What to do? If Orochimaru wanted such an outcome, all measures must be taken to deny him. Now how to go about doing so…? He gazed at Mizuki curiously. Perhaps… yes. And Kabuto could not be allowed to get away with his treachery either. So…

"You will attempt to follow Orochimaru's orders. However…" Yes, this could work, "The position Kabuto-san has put you in. Quite stressful. Rather paranoia inducing. You will feel that, Mizuki. Quite deeply." Mizuki's glazed eyes betrayed no understanding of the situation. "Anger. Irrationality. Fear. You will feel it subconsciously Mizuki. It will make you quite ineffective, your position quite tenuous." It was the advantage of using the mind-altering seal. And the few upgrades he'd quickly administered in the wake of Kabuto's apparent betrayal. His mind would never realize what was going on, how irrational he was becoming. That was the beauty of his plan. And at some point, he would snap. And that would only serve to expose Kabuto, and Orochimaru's machinations. All without implicating himself- he reset his pin to disintegrate upon his death. None would discover his involvement.

"And now I must depart. Do good work, Mizuki. I'm counting on you more than you'll ever know," Sasori declared quietly as he left the room. A minute later, Mizuki shook his head as the glazed look disappeared from his face, and after shaking his head, he got back to dealing with the pile of work on his desk, feeling a slight prick of irritation at Kabuto wasting so much of his night.

"And if you squint your head a little and look past that cliff, you can see Kumo off in the distance," Jiraiya remarked with a wave of his arm. Naruto spared a dry glance his way. "Okay, fine, maybe you have to really, really squint past all the clouds, but it's there," He remarked defensively.

"I'm sure I'll appreciate it more in person," Naruto replied. "After all, I have to do something while you head off to the bathhouses," He grumbled. He'd forgotten how much that particular trait had annoyed him last time. This time, it was still annoying, but at least he knew how to keep his attention otherwise occupied. It didn't stop him from bitching at Jiraiya like a good godson would, though. Fair was fair, after all.

"Research, gaki!" Jiraiya snapped. He rubbed a small tear from his eye. "Beautiful, beautiful research. Someday you'll understand," He remarked idly. "Someday…" He trailed off wistfully.

'Oh, I do. I really do, Ero-Sannin.' They continued in comfortable silence on the rocky mountain path towards the Cloud Village. They had been like this for the last few weeks; travel, stop, rest, let Jiraiya research, let Naruto train, argue a bit, devolve into witty insults, rinse, lather, repeat. They actually got along pretty well; Naruto knew exactly how to get his Godfather off his back about training so much. By simply telling him that the women dug a strong, powerful Shinobi, and that as his Godson, and apprentice, he had a duty to do his best to make him proud. And then the man would go off and do more 'research' all the while declaring proudly that someday Naruto's adventures would take centerstage in Icha Icha. Which never failed to send a shiver down his spine.

'Of course. You faced down Madara Uchiha, the mad god Pein, and the Impostor, and this is what strikes cold fear into your heart,' A rumbling voice snarked in his head. Naruto visibly frowned; Kyuubi had been very quiet for the past few years. Very quiet, especially for the fox.

'You are a Demon Fox, Kurama. I don't think you can appreciate the fearsome power of a book published by Ero-Sannin,' Naruto replied idly. And really, it didn't. Seeing as Naruto had actually read all of it, and written some more, he knew. Oh, did he know.

'How did you know that name!' It snarled in response. Naruto paused; he'd forgotten for a moment, a tiny moment, that this Demon Fox was not the one he'd worked alongside for many, many years. This conversation as so similar to one they'd had once about his mentor that he'd just… well…

'You told me,' Naruto replied finally. The fox was not patient as the headache he now had from its rumbling for an answer attested to. 'We'd worked together for many years, and in the heat of battle, you told me. That day was the first time I really used your power in full,' He said neutrally.

'So that's how you really attained my power! I willingly handed it over! As if such a thing will happen this time around,' The Fox scoffed. 'And here I thought it was due to the little pitched battle we fought.'

'Oh no. Believe me, you didn't hand over your power. I really had to fight you tooth and nail to earn the right to it, and then we were kind of forced to work with each other or be destroyed,' Naruto explained patiently. He already knew the Fox wouldn't believe him. 'By the way, how did you know about Madara and Pein?' He asked curiously.

Kyuubi scoffed. 'Did you really think I couldn't see what you were up to, foolish little monkey. Need I remind you that I am the most powerful of the demons? If it is within my power to create typhoons and hurricanes with but a flick of my tail, then of course I can see what you saw. And Experienced.' It neglected to tell him, however, that there were some things, some events, that it was seemingly incapable of seeing. But why did the Monkey need to know that little detail?

Naruto froze, though Jiraiya didn't notice. 'Can you now? So you can see the circumstances under which we were forced to work together? How interesting. And I imagine you also specifically looked for our fight last time around.' If Kyuubi were standing directly in front of him, it would be the scariest, most terrifying grin he ever saw. 'You do know that I have ten more methods to defeat you in reserve in reserve, right? But why hasn't the seal prevented you from invading my mind, I wonder?'

'Because we were one,' Kurama replied finally, though it itself was dissatisfied with the answer. Naruto had resumed walking and quickly fallen back in step with his godfather in the meantime. 'Once we merged to that degree, the seal was never intended to let us split apart once more. It is why you can not control the Sage Energies you used to possess. Once upon a time our energies merged, two powers becoming one. The Sage, the channeler of natural energy, can not become in tune with it when there are such warring energies in their body. The conflict of two different entities, both with experiences of the Sage, prevents proper channeling of that energy.'

'You possess the Sage Energies because of the way we worked together in a precious life! You are now the resonator that allows me to become in tune with my surroundings, in tune with nature. Without being merged as we were before…' Naruto trailed off as the enormity of the situation finally dawned on him. He couldn't access Sage Mode anymore. That was why he couldn't do it! So that meant… that meant that in order to become a Sage once more, the Kyuubi would need to be beaten back.

'That's right!' Kyuubi crowed. 'If you were planning to go back on your deal, then you will never have access to Nature's power! Consider this my Ace in the hole.' Kyuubi could have done a great Cheshire cat impression at that moment,

'Then I will simply have to beat you once more,' Naruto declared nonchalantly. 'I defeated you and my darker half once upon a time, and that was with the Rasengan, Shadow Clones, and Chakra Chains. Imagine what I can do now. Imagine the power of the Rasenspear or the Rasenshuriken colliding with your precious tails.'

'You can't do it,' Kyuubi countered immediately. 'We both know that you're simply bluffing.'

'Maybe, maybe not. But we are a few hours away from Kumo. Once I arrive, we can settle this once more, if you like,' Naruto offered. 'I can arrange a meeting with the Great Toad Sage, obtain the key, have him provide transport to the Island Turtle, fight myself at the Falls of Truth, and then fight and defeat you. It's that simple. Granted, I know you won't surrender your power easily, until you see how the chips are stacked against us, but I will have access to Sage Mode, and that may be worth the cost,' Naruto threatened.

"Gaki. Gaki! GAKI!" Jiraiya finally shouted, interrupting their conversation.

"What!" Snapped Naruto, annoyed at being interrupted.

'We'll finish this later,' Kyuubi warned before leaving the conversation.

"You alright?" Jiraiya asked, concerned. It seemed like his godson was distracted. And there was one distraction in particular that could prove to be a very bad thing.

"Fine," Naruto grumbled. He hesitated, as if considering whether to say something or not. "Remember when I talked with the Great Toad Sage?" He nodded. "Well, he told me about this ability called Sage Mode," He actually had, once upon a time, "And I was pestering Shima and Fukasaku to try and teach me, but they… well, they can't. And I just found out why," He pointed to his belly.

"Oh," Jiraiya replied awkwardly. What really was there to say to that? "So… what can you do about that?"

It might have served Naruto poorly at times in the past, but he was always one to go with his gut. "Well, the only way I can properly access it is if I defeat the Kyuubi," He remarked slowly.

His Godfather did a double-take. "Good luck with that!" Jiraiya scoffed. "You're good, Gaki, but you're not nearly good enough to defeat the most powerful demon!"

"Yeah, I can," Naruto replied idly. He saw the look on Jiraiya's face. "Look, I know how to do it- Rasengan, and maybe the advanced wind form of that attack, a little help from a Sage, and a lot of positive emotion. But trust me when I say it can be done. It just requires time, effort, and a lot of sweat and blood."

"Yeah, sure," Jiraiya remarked uncertainly. Okay, this sounded kind of nuts. But put that on hold for the time being. "Anyway, I wanted to talk to you about Kumo. More specifically, Kumo and you."

"Let me guess, you're pretty sure they're going to try something because of my mother, and because of my interference a few years back," Naruto suggested.

Jiraiya blinked. "Okay, you do know about what happened between your mother and Kumo." He cleared his throat. "But yes, that's exactly what I think. Now, I think it will be subtle- they don't want to risk an angry Jinchuuriki destroying their village, after all- but I think it will be something."

"Any idea what that something will be?" Naruto asked. He had his own ideas, but his godfather was better positioned to know something in this situation.

"No. I have no idea if it will be a blade in the night or just constant surveillance, hoping to find a weakness," He confessed readily. "Just be on guard for it. Trust me, the Raikage is a craft bastard."

"Fair enough, Ero-Sannin. I will be cautious," Naruto acknowledged his warning. He was already on guard for Kumo's eventual treachery; it had happened in the past. "Now how about we hurry up so we can reach Kumo sometime today?"

"-That is why I am concerned, Hokage-sama," Danzo Shimura finished courteously after laying out in full each and every reason he thought the village was not adequately prepared in the case of war. "I feel that if the situation continues, a coalition of enemy Hidden Nations, Iwa and Kumo come to mind, shall be at our doorstep to destroy our village and douse the Will of Fire you preach about so loudly," He finished sourly.

The Hokage sighed. Loudly. And took a puff from his pipe; meetings like this were always stressful. And they had been gaining frequency. And all of them touched upon Naruto in one way or another. Last month it had been Danzo specifically trying to arrange a marriage for Naruto in the hopes that it could gain Konoha another ally, like Kumo. Or as the Hokage called it: A hare-brained scheme. "I am afraid I do not understand what you are asking me to do, Danzo-san. You asked for an audience to complain about problems that, unfortunately, I am powerless to deal with." Danzo looked incensed.

"Fine, let us go down the list. You complain that our great clans have lost prominence? Well, there is little that can be done about the loss of the Uchiha clan, except if they were somehow prevented from being mostly lost in the first place," Danzo lowered his gaze slightly. "Now all that can be done is to wait for young Sasuke to grow and hope that Mikoto remarries and bares children. Aside from the obvious problem though, the Hyūga clan, another area of your concern, seems to be in strong condition, with a skilled clan heir in Hinata Hyūga ready to take over when necessary. Finally, with the successful surgery and sealing performed by one Naruto Uzumaki, Yakumo Kurama is once again healthy and whole, and the Kurama clan, though weakened, seems like they will regain their strength in the coming years. Aside from that, the Aburame and Akimichi clans are just as strong as they were in years prior. So I can say definitively that in time, this is a problem that will disappear. In time, though; nothing can be done to hasten the process right now, unless we can somehow attract other clans. And I'm not willing to hold out hope on such a slim possibility."

Danzo shifted slightly, but he was not ready to concede just yet. "That is all well and good, Hokage-sama, but what of the Namikaze clan? After all, we have discovered that there is a Namikaze in our midst, who has been apprenticed to Jiraiya of the Sannin. And he is arguably the most talented ninja of his generation. And the village's only Jinchuuriki." He shifted slightly. "And there are whispers that he is on the shortlist of possible successors, should he be old and wise enough when the time to choose one comes. What of him?"
"What of him?" The Hokage countered gruffly. "You most likely know of his lineage by this point. Uzumaki, Namikaze, Senju. He is the last of the Uzumaki, one of the few remaining Senju, and the sole Namikaze left. What else need be said?"

"Hokage-sama. He is the cornerstone of our village's future. With his talent and pedigree, he is of course in line to be a successor. But that is my concern. Should the next Hokage, or at least a future Hokage, be allowed to roam freely around the Elemental Nations with only one protector? Granted, it is Jiraiya-sama, but still, If feel that this is an exceptional risk to take," Danzo concluded gruffly.

"I do understand your concerns. I voiced the same to my former student," The Hokage admitted. "However, he has worked diligently for a decade, and been absent from his Godson's life for the same length of time. If anyone has paid their dues towards being allowed to do such a thing, then it is certainly him. And Naruto is quite capable. Granted, there are potential complications…," The Hokage looked away slightly, "But I'm sure interested and vigilant parties working on our village's behalf will work to mitigate them if and when they do arise," He finished quietly.

"I see," Said Danzo slowly. "You are willing to interface with… interested parties on this matter?" He asked thoughtfully. Almost unseen to the Hokage, a small smile appeared and disappeared from Danzo's face. "Well, will these interested parties be… penalized for their involvement?"

The Hokage stared at him neutrally. "Depending… circumstances depending. However, I can assure you that if something were to happen to-how did you put it?- a potential future successor, then the costs to be paid would be much greater," He replied evenly after a few moments. "But, if good work were to be done… well, perhaps such noble parties could be given a place in the service of the village's defense," He suggested quietly.

"You have given me much to think about, Hokage-sama," Danzo replied slowly. "But I believe I can use my influence to make certain that the future Hokage is protected," He said with a smirk.

The Hokage leveled him with a cold stare. "See that you do. Already, reports have reached my desk that he has come face to face with Itachi Uchiha. If your actions end up costing the village…"

"They won't," Danzo assured him swiftly. "I should take my leave, Hokage-sama. Thank you for your time," He said as he slowly got to his feet and walked towards the door. The Hokage watched him depart with something resembling regret on his face. And once the door closed, he quickly opened his desk draw, pulled out a piece of paper, and began to write.

"-And this is where you shall be staying," The guide informed Jiraiya and Naruto. "I must take my leave now. If you have any questions, the gentlemen at the front desk will be happy to answer them," She said as she left the room.

Naruto quickly turned to Jiraiya. "Do you have something to write with?" Jiraiya handed it over, and Naruto pulled out a sheet of paper and quickly jotted down 'Is the room bugged?' He handed it over to Jiraiya.

The Toad Sannin's eyes widened before they closed. "No," He answered after a minute. "Why did you think that?"

"Because they let us into the village with barely any complications, and we're allowed to roam free?" Naruto asked dubiously. He quickly pulled out the diplomatic pass he'd been given. "I figured they either had listening devices in the room or-" His eyes widened slightly, "We're going to be tailed," He said with finality. They'd already discussed the possibility, so it wasn't really shocking.

Jiraiya nodded. "Good. I thought I'd have to brief you on that little aspect. Glad to see you've gotten good instincts. Or a little help from beyond," He added knowingly. The smirk on his face dropped as he threw up a privacy jutsu. "What were you saying about the Kyuubi earlier?"

Naruto shook his head. "I… well, I discovered how I could possibly gain control over it. Look, I was being kind of rash, but I know where to go and what to do to obtain it. Island Turtle." Jiraiya stared at him. "It's here. In Lightning. I go there, defeat the darkness within myself, and then the Kyuubi by opening the seal," Naruto explained. "But like you said, just because I know what to do does not mean that I'm actually equal to the task. Yet," He finished, staring intensely at Jiraiya.

"Yet," Jiraiya agreed. "But I've no doubt you one day will be, Gaki," He admitted easily. "And it is food for thought. But you need the key to open that seal, so, put that on hold for the time being." Besides, Jiraiya thought, glancing around, the more the Gaki said, the more chance there was that wandering ears could pick up something that he'd rather they hadn't. "So, got any plans?"

Naruto shrugged. "I was just going to wander around and see the sights. Besides, if they're going to tail me, then I might as well lead them on a merry chase," He finished with a grin.

"All right, gaki. Just don't stay out too late," Jiraiya warned. 'Like I'm in any position to tell you that.' "And keep that warning scroll close by, just in case."

"I won't, Ero-Sannin. Later," Naruto said as he walked out the door.

"Can I get you something?"

"Yes, please. May I have a bottle of your finest sake?" Naruto asked as the pretty brown-haired waitress came over to his table. He glanced around. "Oh, and a bottle of sake for the lady three tables down who's tailing me. Thank you." Shaking her head, the waitress strode away to fulfill his order, while the blonde lady glared at him. 'You're welcome, Yugito.' He could sense the killing intent rolling off the room's occupants. They'd come in a few minutes after he'd arrived, and he held no illusions about what they were here for. Luckily, he'd prepared for this slim possibility.

"Should I have ordered something for you too?" He asked casually to the table's occupants behind him. They stiffened slightly. Of course, he'd known them rather well in a previous life. And where they were, their sensei was sure to be. "Or maybe I should have gotten something for the gigantic black man sitting at the edge of the bar?" And who could forget about Killer B. And his damn lame rapping. Well, the reception committee was all here.

Suddenly, B and Yugito got up, and casually strolled towards him. Behind him, he could feel Team Samui shifting their chairs. And hear a weapon or two being quietly withdrawn. Well damn, so much company. It felt like old times. The waitress nervously brought over his sake and a glass and then went to the front of the bar, locked the door, flipped the sign closed, and left. If that wasn't an indication of what to expect, he didn't know what was.

"You know, this whole thing makes me feel closer to my mother really. After all, Kumo tried to 'recruit' her as well," Naruto said casually as he took a drink of his sake. He glanced carelessly at his 'guests.' "Neko, Hachibi, and… well, I'm not quite sure why they're here," He said, thumbing at Team Samui. "My, my, such attention. What can a poor little Genin like me do for you?" He asked in a polite imitation of Kabuto. Hey, the medic-nin's manner had always been really grating, so if it worked against him, it would probably work for him. He hoped.

"How do you know who we are?" Yugito asked carefully. Hmm, none of them seemed to be going for any weapons, so either they didn't intend to fight… or perhaps they believed they'd already won.

"Now, now, Neko. Some questions don't really deserve answers. You know what they say about cats and curiosity," Naruto chided gently. He glanced to his sides. "Though I can't help but wonder if you would actually purr if I-"

"Maybe he's been sent to assassinate them and-" Luckily for Yugito and her slightly heated face, the resident conspiracy theorist took that window of opportunity to start weaving a new one. Though the thread he used was of rather poor quality, in hindsight.

"Omoi, shut up!" Karui snarled.

"I don't know. That certainly sounds like a reasonable explanation," Naruto shrugged casually. Yugito and B stiffened. "After all, I doubt they know exponentially more powerful Kyuubi makes me than their little biju make them." He coughed delicately. "Ah… what were the stories again? Tsunami's and hurricanes with but a flick of its tail?" He took a swig of sake. "But not correct, fortunately for you."

"I don't know who you think you are, boy," Yugito snarled angrily, "But I doubt you could last five seconds against any of us, you pathetic little Genin." Apparently his comments had rather negatively affected her as she seemed to have her claws out… figuratively, at this point.

"Now, now, we're all friends here," Naruto replied cheerfully. "The alternative would be very bad for your health, my dear." 'If it comes to it, you up for a little Nine-Tailed Destruction, Fuzzy?' "Though I am feeling a tad confused as to why you're all here?"

'If it becomes necessary, reduce this pathetic village to ash with my power!' Kyuubi roared in reply. "We just here to talk Yo. See? Cause she's the Neko and I'm da B!" Oh, he just had to start with that crap.

Naruto turned his head slightly to look at Samui, who hadn't spoken yet. "Is he insane?" He asked curiously. Hey, it was something he'd desired to know for the longest time. It was as good a time as any.

"In his own way," She replied tightly.

"So… you want to talk. What can I do for you?" Naruto asked. "Oh, before this gets too far, what exactly is supposed to stop me from sending a messenger pigeon to Konoha and telling them of this conversation, since I already know the topic?" Another sip. "Just to satisfy my curiosity, you understand."

B and Yugito glanced at each other. "Let's just say that it won't arrive, and leave it at that," She warned.

"Ah. You plan to kill each and every messenger pigeon I might send to prevent word from getting out. And I'm sure the next piece you play will be a threat against my Godfather. Which, if it were known, might be enough to lead to another war," Naruto mentioned calmly. "And I could just tell him…"

"Tell him and he dies," Yugito threatened angrily.

"Well, I don't really need to tell him anything," Naruto replied sweetly. "He already knows."

"Boo!" All the occupants in the room, save Naruto, jumped at the Toad Sage's exclamation. They all whipped around, again except Naruto, to see the white-haired Toad Sannin glaring at them sternly. He shook his head. "Threatening Konoha diplomats, trying to coerce a loyal Shinobi, negotiations on bad faith… yeah, negotiations are definitely off. You know what that means, Gaki."

Naruto stood up. "Well, I hate to run, but as negotiations have just been terminated, we really should be going before the urge to kill you all and decimate the village overpowers me," Naruto stated cheerfully.

"Already got our things, so let's go. And Konoha will definitely hear about this," Jiraiya warned cheerfully. The pair left the others in stunned shock at their sudden departure and apparent failure of the Raikage's plan.

"What the fuck just happened?" Omoi asked incredulously. None left could answer him.

"Well, that was fun," Naruto remarked as they walked out of Kumo. The Raikage had attempted to blame the coercion attempt on B going rouge and his unrestrained patriotism. When that had failed, he'd tried the whole inebriated angle; claimed B and Yugito had gone out for drinks, and then they'd tried to recruit him while under the influence. His third attempt, where he'd insinuated that these were drunken hallucinations, had been the one that really did him in. Jiraiya wasn't in the mood to hear it, so they'd walked out of the village soon after, desite the potential consequences.

Of course, it presented the whole problem a souring relationship with Kumo would present on any given day. But on the other hand, Naruto felt quite a bit better about leaving the den of vipers so quickly. Kumo had always been obsessed with acquiring more power. The Nine-Tails Jinchuuriki, son of the legendary Fourth Hokage, was just too big a target for them to resist. It was why they had been briefed about the possibility that negotiations would be terminated quickly, just like they were a few years back with Hinata's kidnapping. Unfortunately, there was little he could do in that situation but call them on their bullshit and let the whole matter come to light. Would he have liked things to have gone better? Yes. But what was there for him to do? All the alternatives he thought about were not good options. For better or worse, Konoha and Kumo were on the outs for the time being. Though he couldn't deny, as much as he wished he could have, that it hurt, being threatened so vigorously by people he'd called friends in a previous life. But he had no time to dwell on that; there was an important matter close at hand.

"So, now that's done with, where to?" Naruto asked curiously.

Jiraiya shrugged. "No idea, Gaki. We're just going to make camp and wait for orders." He paused. "However, I… well, I think it's safe to say; Sarutobi-sensei has been looking for more allies to enhance the village's power and prestige. Kumo's out, and so is Iwa, so that leaves…"

"Well, we have an alliance- grudging respect, relationship with Suna. So either we're going on a diplomatic mission there, or…" He paused for a second, wondering about the other possibility, "We're heading to Kiri to scope out both sides of the conflict, and/or possibly make an offer to one of them."

"We'll probably do both at some point, but I think Kiri will probably be our next destination. Not that we have a license to guarantee support or anything, but this is more a fact-finding mission," Jiraiya warned.

"It's in a state of total war, isn't it?" He already knew it had been. "Doesn't it seem… reckless to head into a warzone rather than relying on your agents and the like?" Naruto asked. It's just… Tobi's arm extended quite far into Kiri. And then there were rouge Mist Swordsman to consider. And with Tobi went Akatsuki. Kiri could very well prove to be a death trap.

"Don't worry, Gaki. It will take sensei a bit to plot out our next move, and in the meantime, we'll just do some serious training so we'll be ready when the word gets here," His Godfather reassured him.

"Yeah, it's just… never mind, I'm just being paranoid." Kisame. Kisame was definitely a possibility. And what if they, by some unfortunate chance, ran across the zombie pair? He really didn't have anything destructive enough to destroy them on his own. Or what about facing off against Sasori and Deidara? Or what if Orochimaru's forces were ordered to strike? Mist was really looking to be a trap. But on the other hand, traps like this worked both ways, and if his training went well… If his training went well, then, if he ran across those S-ranked scourges, he might be in position to deal some damage. Not win, but leave an impression. Maybe.

On the other hand, he really needed something destructive. Something that could really deal some damage if Sasori, Kisame, Deidara, Hidan, Kakazu, Pein, Tobi, and their Grandma's decided to gang up on him while in wave. It was time to reclaim his Rasenshuriken. And maybe, if luck was on his side, his Rasenspear as well. And then, once he had those two back, he could think about fighting the Kyuubi to get back Sage Mode. And from there… he would need to earn Kurama's trust once again so he could unleash all Nine-tails if the situation arose. But that was a very ambitious plan that was closer to being a dream rather than a reality at this point. Baby steps. Much to do to even get to that point. But, as a slight grin flickered across his face, if those bastards were possibly waiting for him right around the corner, then he was going to be ready for them. His friends were not going to pay the price for his mistakes this time around. Not if he could help it. Dattebayo.