Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto or History's Strongest Disciple Kenichi. I challenge Kishimoto and Matsuena to a round-robin submission grappling tournament. Winner takes all when it comes to the rights of both series.

And I will put up my crappy 4-door sedan with 90,000 miles on it. So we all have something of equal importance at stake.

Chapter 40: Double Edge


Three hours. That was how long Naruto had to swim before he finally made it to shore. If only he could do that whole running on water thing he'd seen Jiraiya do back when they'd been training at his hermitage, he would have reached dry land by a somewhat respectable time.

By the time he pulled himself out of the ocean and onto a rocky shore, the sun was up. The sight of the sopping wet ninja slogging along in baggy clothes was quite the sight for some early morning fishing enthusiasts. He didn't pay any passersby much mind though, sparing them a glance and a nod of acknowledgment as he walked up to them, "Uh, hey guys."

"You alright, son?" An old man asked out of honest concern. It wasn't every day that you saw teenagers just walk up out of the ocean at seven in the morning, "Do you need any help?"

"Nah, I'm fine. Don't worry about me," Naruto said with a wide grin, "Uh, but if you could point me in the direction of the nearest station, that'd be great."

He got his directions, and so began the long, lonely trek down an empty country road. He could count the number of cars that passed him over the course of an hour on one hand. Unfortunately, Naruto's phone wasn't waterproof, so there was no easy way home, and drivers weren't keen on picking up hitchhikers.

On the other hand though, it gave him plenty of time to be alone with his thoughts, namely about what had happened the night before.

"That was smart, Naruto," He muttered to himself sarcastically as he walked along, hands shoved in his soaked pockets, "Yeah, real f'n smart. Trick my backup into going home and then get on a helicopter with the bad guys. Goddamn it, I deserved to die just now."

One could argue he deserved to die twice. Once because of the helicopter ride and a second time because of the fact that he had been completely prepared to fight Kanou Shou to the death, by himself. There was no advantage to taking that fight, other than getting the chance to shut the guy's mouth for good.

He was not a martial artist, at least not in the traditional sense. He was a ninja. His sense of pride only should have extended to being able to get the job done – whatever job he was doing. That was the length of where his pride in his abilities should have gone.

He should have left the moment he realized his actual target had been killed. So much for trying to take the initiative. What a bust.

"This was a messed up night," Naruto said out loud.

It was going to be a long day, and a long trip back. Maybe if he started running now, he'd get to a train stop in time to make it home before school let out?

XxX

(Back In Town – Shade Alliance Headquarters)

A very unwelcome surprise awaited members of the Shade Alliance as they slowly began filtering over to the building that they had been using as their base of operations.

By the time everyone got there, fire crews were still there, making sure hot spots were properly put out so a new fire wouldn't start. The building was toast. Burned down entirely.

The good news was that Siegfried would be fine. The guy was as tough as nails. Beyond inhumanly durable. He held the title of 'The Immortal Composer' for good reason.

Shikamaru stared at the scene before him without blinking. He hadn't blinked since arriving that morning, no matter how much smoke was or wasn't in the air. He visually drank it all in.

It could have been all of them in there when the place went up. They could have actually died. As he looked around at some of the rank and file members of the Shade Alliance, he wasn't sure how many of them were aware of this, and how many were just heartbroken at their clubhouse being blown up.

They could get another shoddy-looking place to hang out. In the grand scheme of things, the material lost meant nothing. It was what it meant that was the frightening part.

Shikamaru walked away from the others. He had to. He couldn't look at it anymore. Couldn't stand being around it anymore.

Before he could leave, a two hands set themselves tightly on Shikamaru's shoulder, holding him in place. He turned his head to see Kenichi and Takeda, a stern, serious look on their faces. The gravity of the situation was clearly not lost on them, two young men who had dealt with their own share of life or death moments by now.

Kenichi's voice came out reserved. Reserved, yet rattled, "Shikamaru-kun, who did this? Who is this guy?" Who was the ruthless individual that was willing to blow them all up, "Why did this happen?"

Shikamaru let out an exasperated sigh, "He's after us," He said, walking closer to the smoldering remains of the former Shade Alliance headquarters, "Siegfried saved us. Me, Naruto, Tenten, and whoever else would have been in there when he blew the place."

Sasuke blew the place early because he had been compromised. Had he gone undetected and finished setting his explosives, he could have destroyed the building at his leisure, with as many as all of them inside.

Takeda's mouth felt dry. He bit into the blade of grass in his mouth, letting the length of it fall to the ground, "Why would he go that far just to kill you?"

It could be explained by Naruto, Tenten, and Shikamaru ad nauseum. Ninjas didn't fight fair. If they did their jobs perfectly, no fighting was to be done at all. Honor came second to results. Honor came from results, "Because it's the mission," And the mission was all that mattered. Anything else was just extra baggage that needed to be taken care of, "You're all fighters. You're obstacles. That makes you fair game. If he has to take you out to get to us, he will. If you get killed in the process of his killing us, too bad. It doesn't matter. Not to him."

Kenichi remembered the dead eyes of the young ninjas who took Miu hostage in order to put Naruto in a vulnerable position. Taking lives meant nothing to these people, and from the sounds of things, Shikamaru wasn't surprised or appalled by any of this. He was sorry that it happened around them, but in the end, he accepted it.

Shikamaru removed the hands from his shoulders and continued on his way, "This is why we weren't supposed to let anyone else know what we were," He said, "The second you made it a thing, and then threw your lot in with us... well, you see it."

No mercy could be expected. Not for any of them, if Sasuke thought it would give him a better opportunity to kill off the ninja kids. And as far as Shikamaru knew, Sasuke didn't even have a team with him yet. The thought that things could get even worse than this was chilling.

The voice of one of his friends reached out to stop him, if only temporarily, "Where are you going?" Takeda asked.

Shikamaru shook his head and looked up at the sky. Even watching the clouds couldn't make him get this off of his mind, "To figure out how to deal with this," He said, before continuing on his way, "Somewhere less depressing."

XxX

(Later That Day – With Kenichi – Ryouzanpaku Dojo)

Kenichi's eyes locked with the ground as his feet carried him home. There was a numb feeling spread throughout his body. Not for the first time since undergoing his training as a martial artist did he wonder just what he had gotten himself into.

An entire building, burned to the ground, done with the intention of trying to kill someone. Teenagers, high school students, just like him. People that weren't even fighters. It was a lot to take in. Just when he thought he was getting a handle on his life, something else came along that blew him away.

"Someone blew up the Shade Alliance headquarters just to get to Naruto," Miu said, sounding for a moment like she couldn't believe what she was saying, "That's the life of a ninja, it seems."

That didn't make it right. Kenichi knew that Naruto accepted all of these things, expected them even. Even so, it made his blood boil to think about, "Shikamaru-san said Siegfried discovering the guy who planted the bomb saved everyone, so everyone should be okay at least... right?"

Miu let out a sigh, "No one's seen Naruto-kun all day," No one had been able to get in-touch with him. "With everything that's happened, and after the talk I had with him last night, I'm worried."

Naruto had flights of fancy where he wouldn't tell anyone what he was up to. But when he hadn't shown himself earlier that day, Niijima had revealed that he'd sent Naruto information on a member of YOMI's whereabouts so that he could conduct a raid.

With everything else that had happened, and with their luck, something else could have gone wrong while he was out. What if he was hurt, or worse?

As they reached their destination, a pickup truck full of chickens pulled up past them, stopping in front of the gates of Ryouzanpaku. Before either Kenichi or Miu could wonder what it was there for, Naruto jumped out of the back, brushing feathers and hay off of his clothes.

"Thanks a lot!" Naruto yelled to the driver up front, "I appreciate the ride from the station!"

The driver waved from out of his window and pulled off, "No problem, kid! You take it easy!" Some people were just nice.

Naruto waved back, grinning gratefully, "Later, old man!" Once that was done, he noticed Kenichi and Miu standing right there with him, "Oh, hey guys."

"N-Naruto-san?" Kenichi reacted in shock at seeing his friend emerge from a truck full of poultry, "Why were you in that truck? Where have you been?"

Naruto's demeanor shifted with a nervous laugh, hands uncomfortably placed on his hips as he refused to meet anyone's eyes, "Oh, you know. I went to go fight a member of YOMI last night after I left. Kinda got caught up while I was there. Did I miss a lot at school?"

He figured he had said something wrong when both of his friends looked at him incredulously. Kenichi was the one who voiced what they were both thinking, "School? Naruto-san, the hideout was destroyed! By someone after you!"

Naruto's mouth fell open before he regained his composure with a scowl, "Oh, fuck you, Sasuke," He mumbled to himself before pushing open the gate to Ryouzanpaku, "Alright, let's go. I need to hear this."

As if he needed another reason to take on the ninja after him.

Instead of training, Naruto, Kenichi, and Miu sat down with the masters of Ryouzanpaku and recanted what they had been through in their respective experiences. Naruto went first, starting with everything that had happened since he had left the night before.

Naruto looked around at the amassed martial artists and began his tale, "Okay. Well, first of all, I almost died last night. And would you believe me if I said it gets worse from there?" He said, ending with his eyes on his weapons master.

Shigure didn't respond with words. Instead, Tochumaru appeared on her shoulder and with his front paws, gestured for Naruto to expand, "..."

Naruto took a deep breath before he began to delve into the scariest part of his evening, "I met the One Shadow. That's a really scary guy."

The entire room went deadly silent. It was eerie, "...What happened?" Akisame eventually asked.

Naruto remembered what he was told, about Konoha and Kuremisago, about what would have been his role in Konoha's plots and schemes. About the One Shadow wanting to offer Naruto a mission that went unsaid, "Nothing."

They didn't need to know any of that. No one needed to know, even Naruto himself. It was a what-if that only served the purpose of renting space in one's head. It was a mind game, and it was effective enough on him when he knew that was what it was.

For one of the few times since Naruto had gotten to really know the Elder Fuurinji, he was completely serious as he got up and pulled Naruto off of the ground and into the air to look at him closely, "No one hurt you, did they?"

Naruto was too stunned at being picked up off of the ground like an infant by the giant man to actually be offended by it, "Basically. I mean, I did have to jump out of a helicopter, but that's not so bad," He was more ashamed at the fact that he'd gotten suckered into something that could have gotten someone else hurt; namely Thor and Kisara, "The whole situation was a trap. I just wanted to be proactive about this whole thing. I mean... I don't know."

Shigure grabbed Naruto by the collar of his shirt with the end of her sheathed sword, still holding him aloft, "Yami has been... around for over 70 years," She said, giving him a shake, "It isn't... something that can be broken by reckless... attacks."

"I didn't think I was being reckless," Naruto said, trying to defend himself. The misinformation had been planted for Niijima to find. The moment he learned of that, the scheming boy would be miffed, "I'm so tired of just reacting. All we do is get jumped, from all sides. We just sit back and take it. I hate that. One of these days, something really bad's gonna happen."

All he wanted was to make sure that didn't happen.

"Something really bad already did happen," Kenichi said, "There's another ninja who tried to set a trap to blow up the Shade Alliance headquarters with you in it. Siegfried found him and fought him last night, but he got hurt."

Naruto took a deep, calming breath. So it had started, and likely would have ended soon thereafter if Siegfried hadn't been there, "Fucking Sasuke," He muttered to himself as Shigure set him down.

"Another situation involving the ninja, I presume?" Akisame ventured to guess, "Do you know this one, Uzumaki-kun?"

Did he know him? One could say that, a long time ago, "Last time I checked, he was top of the class," Naruto said sardonically. The whole blowing up buildings thing was new though, "Gah, fuck him! Why did he need to-? I mean, people could have been-!" At a complete loss of words from his anger he got up and went to storm out before he was again stopped by Shigure lifting him by the back of his collar with her sheath.

"Where are you going?" Miu asked, wondering just what kind of good could come from Naruto rushing off for a fight.

"To handle this. I'm gonna-," Naruto started off with a lot of fire, but it was quickly put out when he realized that he didn't know where to start when it came to hunting Sasuke down, "...I don't know what I'm gonna do," He said, visibly deflating, "But I've gotta do something!"

"-By yourself," Miu said, arms crossed, looking wholly unimpressed with Naruto's desire to again shoulder the load of dealing with his past, "You're going to head off and try to do something about Konoha again all on your own."

"It's not just your problem," Kenichi pointed out, "It hasn't been for a while now."

"I know that, but none of you want to do it my way," Naruto groused, trying to make his point, "This is what happens when you don't go at anybody! They can just take their time and pick their shots!"

Sakaki spoke up from where he had been leaning against the wall, "While he has an ass way of putting it, the kid has a point."

"Crush your enemies," Apachai remarked in agreement.

Akisame wasn't so quick to jump onto that line of thinking, however, "Then again, Naruto-kun did just try to do things his way and was lured into a trap for his trouble."

Shigure dropped the end of her scabbard on the top Naruto's head, "Foolish... disciple," Shigure chided.

Naruto felt the need to defend his decision to go on his mission, "Hey, I lived! Kisara and Thor made it out just fine too," He explained, "And Pigeon-boy even killed one of the weapons disciples, so it kind of worked out," The room lapsed into an uncomfortable silence at Naruto's tone deaf statement. Indeed, there were a bunch of Katsujinken people around, "...I'm sorry. You're right. That's terrible."

Just because someone dying did in fact work out for him, didn't mean he had to bring up that it did. That was bad form.

Elder Fuurinji took the opportunity to project his thoughts aloud, "But to hear that Kanou Shou killed one of the disciples of the Hachiou Danzaiba..." He mused, "...This can either be very good or very bad."

Naruto blinked and looked up at the towering blond master, "How so, old man?" Shigure gave him another tap on the head for his casual disrespect that he ignored.

Elder Fuurinji took no offense to Naruto's comfort in speaking his mind, "The tensions between the armed and unarmed divisions have been strained for decades. Since the very inception of Yami, in fact," He explained for the benefit of the youngest martial artists in the room, "At times, they're outright hostile to each other."

"You wanted a chance to take a shot? You may get one sooner than you think," Sakaki said, grinning like a dangerous predator, "Nothing like a Satsujinken civil war to create some openings."

XxX

For the first time in months, the masters that comprised the Nine Fists One Shadow all gathered via teleconference to discuss the progress of YOMI's aims. More specifically, the problems that one of their disciples had caused.

Kanou Shou had killed one of the disciples of an Eight Executioner Blade member.

The truce between Yami's armed and unarmed groups had always been perilous. They were powerful fighters that lived to prove their superiority over other equally powerful fighters. That led to countless clashes between the two branches. But they needed to work together to bring about their plan of the Eternal Setting Sun. The two sides going to war now would ruin everything for all of them.

Therefore, the most influential people on the unarmed side needed to come up with a way to keep that from happening. First thing though, they had to figure out what to do about the source of the problem – the man that was meant to inherit all of their unarmed styles, Kanou Shou.

With such an eclectic set of individuals, responses varied. Some wanted to give him a slap on the wrist, others wanted him heavily penalized. Others didn't care one way or the other.

"He's growing unstable. Out of control," Kushinada Mikumo declared bluntly, "Physically, the boy is the most gifted martial artist of his generation. But mentally..." Before he could finish, one Hongou Akira interrupted, making his feelings known.

"I would choose my next words wisely," The normally cool, collected Karate master said, threat underlying. Despite his would-be opponent being a lethally skilled ally and fellow trainer of Shou, he quickly defended his disciple, "Some would take what you're trying to say as dangerously insulting."

Showing no tact, and a complete lack of fear in the face of Hongou's fighting abilities, the demon-masked Silcardo Jenazad continued to prod with criticism, "Your disciple lacks the mental fortitude to inherit the styles of the One Shadow Nine Fists. He's always been weak in this aspect, Hongou."

"This coming from the man whose disciple has already been beaten," Hongou shot back bitterly, "Your princeling was beaten down before he ever came close to the sole disciple."

It was an insult that wasn't one, as far as Jenazad was concerned, "My disciple was never anything more than a means to an end for me," He said, "Your disciple is like a son to you. What a disappointment – the both of you."

Hongou let a silence settle over the teleconference for a moment before speaking again, "If you were in front of me right now, Jenazad, I would make you regret that statement."

Jenazad chuckled, relishing the idea of the fighting the man, "If that's really how you feel, you know where to find me, 'God Hand'. I wonder how long you would keep that attitude in battle with a demon."

"Enough," Saiga said, bringing the disagreement between Yami members to a swift end, "The Armed Division will want compensation, and Shou will need to be adequately punished. This is not a time we can afford to make enemies out of them. Not when our plans are this close to coming to fruition."

"Hmm," Diego Carlo stroked his chin in thought, "And how do you propose we do that?" The master luchador asked with his normal unflinching grin.

"Provide them with an opportunity they wouldn't have otherwise," The One Shadow declared, "Diego, I think you would be the best equipped to help in this capacity."

XxX

(With Naruto)

Naruto had skipped school for a second day, this time by choice to go to the hospital to see Siegfried. If only he had some kind of magic technique that would let him make a perfect copy of himself to sit in on classes, but alas, this was fantasy. And seeing a friend was more important than listening to a day full of lectures.

After hearing about the state they found Siegfried in, the last thing Naruto expected when he walked into his room was to find the musical martial artist singing and doing pirouettes on his bed, despite the neck brace he wore. Instead of trying to get him to stop, the doctors and nurses were clapping along in rhythm with him.

"Sieg..." Naruto complained, holding up a hand to keep from seeing too much from Siegfried in his hospital gown, "Sieg, c-could you stop for a bit?"

It took Naruto speaking up for Siegfried to notice his presence, "Oh, Naruto-san! It's so good to see you, my friend, tralala~~!" He finished with a flourish, plopping down gracefully under the covers again, "What brings you here?"

Naruto stared at him oddly before carefully taking a seat against a visitor's chair that sat against a wall, "Uh... you got your neck stretched by a ninja dropping you on your head from 30 feet in the air," He said, "...I thought you would still be unconscious until I got to this floor and heard all of the music."

No longer entranced by the music, the doctor present in the room spoke up, "Kugenin-san has a very sturdy constitution," He said, referring to Siegfried.

Naruto turned to the medical professional with a grin, "Obviously, doc," He said before addressing his Shade Alliance compatriot, "I'm happy you seem to be okay though. I guess Sasuke really is no joke if he could beat you."

Siegfried sat up ramrod straight against the headboard of his bed, "Yes, he was quite formidable. Am I to ascertain that you know the man that destroyed our hideout?"

Naruto's grin turned strained at that point, "Yeah... just another part of my past that won't leave me alone," He explained.

Siegfried's face twisted in momentary thought, "Now that you mention it, it does make sense. He fights nothing like you. His rhythm, completely unique from your own. But fundamentally, I could hear hints of the same core composition."

Which made sense. They had received the same basic training that served as the foundation to everything that they learned from that point forward. It was impressive that Siegfried could notice such a thing after only one fight with him, and it made Naruto sad that he'd almost been killed by something that hadn't been his business.

Naruto leaned back in a chair, his eyes drifting up to the ceiling of the room, "I'm sorry you had to deal with that on your own. I'll handle it, Sieg. I promise."

"Oh, you'll handle it? Yeah, all by yourself, I'll bet."

Naruto turned his head to the side where he saw Kisara and Thor standing at the door, the latter towering behind the former in the entrance. While Naruto wasn't surprised to see Thor, as he and Siegfried were close friends, seeing Kisara was a surprise.

Seeing her upset was not. Actually, neither of them seemed particularly pleased.

Thor walked over to Siegfried to inquire about his friend's condition. Meanwhile, Kisara marched over to the seated ninja, hands on her hips.

Naruto already knew what was coming and with a sigh, he looked up to meet her eyes directly, "Alright, let me have it."

Kisara didn't hesitate to take the invitation, "You're an asshole."

A great place to start, "Uh-huh," Naruto accepted easily.

Once she started though, she was on a roll and wouldn't be stopped, "You could have let us come help. Geez, you walked right into a trap! We had to hear about it today from Shirahama!" She pointed a finger right in his face, "You could have been killed! How do you think that would have made us feel? We were standing by a station waiting on the last train home while you were getting one-on-one time with the devil!"

Naruto took the opportunity to try and take a little heat off of himself, "To be fair, I would have called you guys once I was clear, but I had to jump into the ocean. My phone was toast," That reminded him, he still needed to replace that when he got the chance.

Kisara stopped for a moment before regaining her fire, "T-That's not the point!" She insisted, "You know what you did! I would kick the shit out of you right now if we weren't in a hospital."

Thor had been letting Kisara do the talking, as she was volatile enough that she didn't need his help to express her displeasure. But even he had to throw in his two cents, "We went along to support you. We're all martial artists, Naruto. If you treat us like burdens, what do you think that says? It's insulting."

Kisara knew that Naruto only really felt bad when what he did made others feel bad. Today she lacked mercy, and decided to pile on, "Freya-nee is gonna be pissed when you see her again. She was actually really impressed with you from that date thing a few days ago, you know?"

Naruto's head perked up like an interested dog, "What? She said something about me?"

Kisara took a step back, knowing she had Naruto's full attention, looking away slyly, "A lot actually. She said you seemed a lot more grown up and thoughtful. Just the fact that you agreed to let her help with your problem. And when it turned into a real date, you were cool," She could swear she saw Naruto puff his chest out. There was no time like the present to burst that bubble, "...Now she's mad because you went all stupid lone wolf again."

Naruto jumped up out of his chair trying to plead his own case, but the words wouldn't form themselves, "But... but..." Eventually, he gave up, entirely exasperated, "Ugggggh! Fine! I promise, I'll call in the cavalry the next time I wind up face-to-face with a deadly Satsujinken master who could kill me in ten seconds... which with my luck will probably be in the next few weeks. So, you know, just keep your schedule open."

His tone had been sarcastic, but in reality, he was only partly joking. Who knew what could happen? There was a chance something like that could actually happen.

Thor nodded however, seemingly satisfied by this, "You'd better," Siegfried agreed.

Kisara scoffed and blew the whole thing off, "Whatever. Your word doesn't mean shit to me, Uzumaki. Back that up with some collateral, then we'll talk."

Naruto shot her a look and groused at his honesty being questioned, "Well what do you want? It's not like I have a whole lot worth putting up."

Kisara hadn't expected Naruto to concede so easily, and such was at a loss for how to proceed from there, "Uh... let me think about it."

"Well, in the meantime, we've gotta get stronger," Naruto said, thinking on priorities. YOMI' wasn't going to stop either just because Sasuke was taking shots at them, "I guess we need to find a new place to hang around too."

The Shade Alliance headquarters had been pretty useful as a place to commiserate. It made him feel terrible that he'd brought troubles upon his friends that led them to losing it.

Siegfried held up his hand to stop Naruto, "No need. I will pay for a new building in the same spot."

Thor didn't seem surprised by this. Likely because he had already known that his best friend was that loaded. Naruto and Kisara, however, weren't aware that they were friends with someone so rich, "Oh. Well, goddamn then,"

That would take care of one problem, at least.

XxX

A serious blow had been dealt to the Shade Alliance in the course of a night. Up until this point, nothing like this had ever happened. Losing fights to more powerful opponents was one thing but being hit right at the heart of their operation hurt badly.

Without a base of operations, they were back to finding whatever space they could re-appropriate for themselves to meet. Empty classrooms, corners in arcades and cafes, alleyways. It was terrible. It made them look like a group of thugs and miscreants, an image many of them hadn't had in forever.

All of them were angry. Many of them wanted revenge. It was a rough environment to be around.

"This is bullshit. We can't just let whoever did this get away with it."

"They hurt one of our captains. Siegfried didn't deserve that just for trying to protect the base."

"I heard it was only one guy. One of those ninja people."

"That's right! It's time for the Shade Alliance to hit the streets, sweep the city!"

Shikamaru tried to commiserate with them all. They had every reason to be upset. But eventually he had to walk out. What he was hearing, with more and more frequency from the rank-and-file, grated on him.

The members of the Shade Alliance were good people, most of them. But a good chunk of them were defectors from Ragnarok, back when it was the biggest gang of delinquents in the town, running roughshod over everyone. They were dumb muscle converted by the success of the group, and Niijima's machinations. They had changed for the most part, but in times of great stress, old habits die hard.

Just as he reached for the handle to leave, Ukita's voice rang out, "Where are you going, Shikamaru?"

Shikamaru stopped at the door and turned around. Ukita and Takeda had come to speak with him, having been present at the meeting place. There was a sharp look in Shikamaru's eyes as he explained himself, "If this is just going to devolve into Ragnarok 2.0, I'm out of here," He declared, "I didn't expose myself to all of this crap getting rid of what Ragnarok was just so another group like that one can run around."

Takeda remembered how apprehensive to say anything Shikamaru had been before when the attack on their base had come to light. That interaction still irked him somewhat, "This isn't the same thing at all. We're not just going around looking to cause trouble. This guy destroyed our headquarters. He hurt one of our friends. I thought you weren't like Naruto about this whole thing. You're fine with us being involved."

Shikamaru shut his eyes and sighed. Yes, that was right. He had spoken with Niijima about being more proactive and using what they had to handle problems before they reached them at home. It had been the reason Naruto had run off to try and deal with a member of YOMI before they could challenge or otherwise attack him.

And that had worked out terribly. It had been a trap. They were too eager to move, and it nearly cost them. Just like now, everyone was too eager to react. But that had nothing to do with Naruto. That was another matter.

The intelligent ninja washout eventually spoke, "You want to know why Naruto really doesn't want any of you getting involved? Because you won't do what needs to be done to make it stop. And I agree with him. We know what to do, and we're willing to make it happen."

He almost immediately regretted what he'd said after it left his mouth. If there was anything he could have said that would make him sound superior and holier than though, he couldn't have thought of it. This was not his intention.

Takeda bristled. He didn't know Shikamaru as well as he knew Naruto. Despite the rank bestowed upon him by Niijima for his knowledge of practical strategy, it was clearly just a paper title. Shikamaru had only done battle alongside the Shade Alliance once. And most of his plans were to help deal with problems that his and Naruto's ninja background brought up.

The boxer wasn't shy about bringing this up, albeit in a very confrontational manner, "You used to be one of them, didn't you? You are on our side, aren't you?"

An annoyed tic formed on Shikamaru as he scowled back, "Yeah, I used to be one of them, and guess what? They didn't want me. You know who did? That idiot, Naruto."

Even when Shikamaru had given up, even when Shikamaru hadn't wanted anything to do with anyone else, Naruto never quit on him or left him to wallow in rejection and failure alone. As much of a pain in the ass as being Naruto's friend could be, Shikamaru would never forget that. Years of camaraderie, even when Shikamaru never gave him anything back in return.

Thinking about all of those things got Shikamaru to close his eyes in thought and calm down. He didn't care what the Shade Alliance thought of him. They were decent people, but they weren't his friends. They hadn't bled alongside him, suffered alongside him the way Naruto had.

But Naruto wasn't going to leave them alone, because they were his friends.

"I'm not going to say I'm on your side," Shikamaru continued, "You clearly won't believe me now, since we're having this conversation in the first place so I'll say this. I'm on Naruto's side. And as long as he's on your side that should be good enough for you."

With that, he left. Shikamaru was non-threatening in appearance and demeanor, but when he left the cafe and moved through the crowd nearby, they moved out of his way.

"Wow," Ukita said, wiping off his sunglasses, "I mean, I know Naruto gets touchy about anything involving ninjas, but I never thought Shikamaru would get worked up about it."

One of the other members of the alliance, Mizunuma adjusted the glasses on his face as they could see Shikamaru slinking away outside, "But have we ever even been around Shikamaru whenever this stuff comes up? Who knows how he feels about it? We never ask."

"Because none of them want to talk about it," Takeda said, aggressively chewing on the piece of grass in his mouth as he and Ukita moved to sit back down, "Seriously, it pisses me off. We get it. Konoha is secretive and dangerous. They act like us knowing about how these guys operate will make things any worse for us. We've been fighting them. They've tried to kill us already. They just blew up our base. This isn't protecting anyone!"

Tenten, arm still in a sling, sat back the entire time, absorbing the conversation until Shikamaru had departed, "You know, I do live with them too," She remarked dryly.

Ukita held up his hands defensively, not wanting to have offended a friend, "Hey, we're just trying to get everything straight. It's all really confusing right now. It's frustrating."

"Frustrating isn't the fucking word for it," Takeda snapped, "This is bullshit. After all of this, they don't even trust us."

After all he had done to try and close the gap, to catch up. The training he had gone through under his master James Shiba hadn't been for nothing. He wanted to stand on the same level as Naruto or Kenichi. He was a martial artist too. He was their rival as well. A friendly one, yes, but still one that wanted to prove he could be better.

Instead, he was saddled with sitting back while Naruto tried to do everything himself to spare anyone else the trouble. It was insulting. Even YOMI didn't bother paying them much mind. It was all about killing the Sole Disciple. Never mind anyone else around him who also called themselves a fighter.

Tenten let out a scoff of laughter, even in the face of Takeda's mood, "You don't get it," She said, shaking her head, "The fact that Naruto and Shika leave me with you is evidence that they do trust you," Ukita and Takeda looked at the young markswoman in confusion. She gestured to her injury, "I'm still hurt, guys. Bad. I mean, I'm getting better, but it'll still take some time."

"What does that have to do with them including us?"

Tenten smiled sadly as she went into detail, "My beating that archer girl had to piss off YOMI. Plus, this Sasuke person is here to kill the three of us, and I'm the weak link right now. No, maybe I'm the weak link, period," Even at full health, Tenten doubted she could last very long in a fight against Naruto. She could probably last longer against Shikamaru, but winning would still probably be beyond her, "...If Sasuke person is really doing his homework, he would know that."

Takeda wasn't having any of that, slamming his taped fist down on the table, "No way," He said before pointing at Tenten emphatically, "You got hurt saving Naruto from a member of YOMI, right?" Tenten nodded, "No way you could pull that off if you were really weak. A whole team of us lost to two of them during the D of D Tournament."

And she had won against one all on her own, removing the archer disciple from the equation entirely. The thought that she had made a difference, that she had helped someone that had helped her as much as Naruto had since she'd met him, it made her feel a lot better about her current circumstances.

"I guess you have a point," Tenten said, her mood significantly brightened from before, "Thank you, Takeda-san,"

Seeing Tenten cheer up actually managed to improve the way Takeda was feeling, "You're welcome. There's no way I could just leave a pretty girl feeling all down on herself. It's against my nature."

Things had become much less tense. In essence of that, Tenten tried to extend an olive branch from the side of her roommates, "I'll talk to them. But I don't think I'll really have to. Naruto's been trying to find a way to explain everything and cut you guys in, and Shika? Well, he knows you have a right to be involved. That's why he's actually mad."

After sitting and talking, Takeda had a whole new motivation for training. He also had a new aim, "I guess we just have to show everyone that the rest of us can handle all of this too," All he needed was a moment to prove it.

XxX

(With Naruto – Koryou High School)

Naruto walked into what he considered his daily prison with an air of sluggishness. Jiraiya had handed him his backside during training for the last two days since he had returned home, and this was after Shigure had done it during their afternoon session.

Neither was pleased with what had happened with him and the One Shadow, for similar reasons. For once, Jiraiya and Shigure's teaching fell upon the same wavelength.

His morning looked like it wouldn't be drama-free, as he noticed Hyougo and his fellow kodachi disciple Yui hanging out close to his locker. After the double date with Freya, it seemed like something of a truce had been called between Naruto and Hyougo, but one could never be sure. Either way, when he approached, he did it carefully.

Naruto walked past and to his locker, grabbing the things he needed from it before acknowledging the YOMI pair. Hyougo and Yui nodded to each other before the latter walked off, giving Hyougo a pat on the back. For support maybe? Support for what?

He pretended to ignore the gesture as Hyougo walked over and leaned against the lockers, arms crossed lazily as he looked out at nothing in particular, "So, my guys are all pissed. I guess that comes with the territory when one of your own is dead."

Wow. Starting things off bluntly. Well, there wasn't really time for small talk since the bell was going to ring in five minutes.

"I'll bet," Naruto said before making his own position known, "I didn't do it, by the way, if anyone from your side is trying to pawn that off on me."

Hyougo looked his way for a moment before looking away again, "Nah. You didn't do this one. You killed Tabitha."

"The archer girl? No, my friend killed her," Naruto said before remembering that he had told him this before, and hadn't revealed which one, "...I'm not telling you which one."

"Relax," Hyougo insisted. He could probably guess which one had done it if he really cared. That wasn't why he was there, "Just because we're all YOMI doesn't mean any of us are friends, even in the armed division. Just as long as you don't kill Yui or anything. Then I would have to murder the hell out of you. Non-negotiable."

Naruto made a note to try and avoid doing anything too permanent to the other kodachi disciple who worked closest with Hyougo. Their tentative truce for the time being was the best thing going when there were enemies at all sides. Still, that begged one question.

"Why are you telling me this?" Naruto's curiosity beseeched him to ask.

"Honestly? Because I actually like you more than I like those smug fuckers in the unarmed division," Hyougo admitted, "More than most of the people in the armed division too, actually."

This came as a surprise to Naruto, even though they had gotten along well enough on the double date, after initially trying to kill each other, anyway, "Well, I don't hate you either, I guess. That doesn't seem like a good enough reason to give me dirt though."

Hyougo turned to face Naruto seriously, letting out a sigh before smiling amicably at his enemy, "You gave me a chance, dude. With Makoto," He clarified when Naruto tilted his head in confusion, "You didn't try to tank the whole relationship right off the bat. You didn't tell her who I was, why I was here."

As handsome as Makoto thought he was, as well as they had hit it off from the very beginning of their interactions, Naruto had been her friend first, and he had been a good one. If she knew that he had come to Kouryo High School to wait for a chance to fight and kill him, she would have never spoken to him. Even then, if she knew she would have likely broken up with him immediately.

And yet, Naruto didn't hold this over his head. He didn't lord it over him. He didn't threaten him with it. He didn't even tell him to stay away from Makoto or else, because he could see that whatever crap YOMI's armed division had in store for him, that didn't mean they had bad intentions for anyone else.

Naruto rubbed the back of his head, embarrassed at being shown gratitude by a rival, "That's... as long as you keep her out of this, and you treat her good, I don't care if you're in YOMI or not," He said, "You can't all be assholes. I guess, I'm just taking a chance on you not being one."

Hyougo threw his head back and laughed out loud at such an honest answer. He figured he could at least return the courtesy, "Alright, well... Yami is fractured."

Just like Elder Fuurinji alluded to back at Ryouzanpaku's dojo, "What does that mean for me? For all of us, actually?"

Hyougo pointed to his own temple, and then to Naruto, "Have you ever wonder why it took this long for the Satsujinken martial artists to link up after Yami formed? I mean, it started right after World War II," He said, leading to his answer, "It's the same reason why there isn't a Katsujinken equivalent."

"Because all martial artists want to beat each other's ass at least a little bit," Naruto deadpanned as though it were obvious. Most martial artists were all rivals to some degree, no matter how they tried to group together and what they wanted to call themselves as a unit, "The only reason Ryouzanpaku's masters don't fight more is because the Elder would never let it go down on his property. The property damage would be a bitch."

Hyougo was glad that Naruto could see what he was beginning to get at, "Uh-huh. What I'm saying is, this partnership isn't bringing the weapon users closer with the bare-handed guys," Quite often, the unarmed martial artists would throw their weight around on their weapon-toting counterparts. It got old quick, especially when they were all interacting directly more often, "It's only putting pressure on things. It isn't gonna take a lot to make everything break."

"Like armed division and unarmed division going at it?" Naruto ventured to guess as a scenario, "That sounds awesome," He would pay money to watch that happen. That sounded like a hot ticket to him.

"That, plus martial artists splintering off in those factions too," Hyougo said, "The thing about these Satsujinken/Katsujinken ideologies is that it's like a spectrum," A blank stare from Naruto was his response, "...Uh, there's extremes. Not everyone thinks the same way because they're on one side or the other."

Naruto blushed at having the concept dumbed down for him, "Oh. I knew that," He'd had his own share of ideological dust-ups with some of his own friends, and likely would in the future as well.

Hyougo doubted him, but let it go for the time being, "As far as I'm concerned, Kanou Shou basically gift-wrapped an opportunity for you with his dumbass move. I'm figuring you're the kind of guy who can actually take it. That, or you know people who can."

Probably, yes. But whether Naruto would was another matter entirely. Everything he was hearing sounded great. But the source it was coming from gave the blond ninja cause to pause, "If I do something to screw all of this up, I'm messing your plans up too, right? I just don't get it. You've been working at this for a while right?"

And it would all go up in smoke if Naruto told the proper people who could begin meddling and making things even more difficult for Yami than they had been before.

Hyougo swiftly distanced himself from the machinations of those who stood above him, "I haven't. I don't care about whatever big plan Yami has cooked up, whatever it is that brought the armed and unarmed divisions together. Yui doesn't either. I just want to try and be the strongest disciple there is, and I can't prove that if I can't even fight half of them without getting in trouble, can I?"

Whatever plans were being cooked up didn't matter to him. His only concern was getting stronger, proving himself, and having a ball living his life along the way. Because losing to the wrong person could mean dying very young.

Begrudgingly, the more Naruto interacted with Hyougo, the more he felt like he was beginning to understand him.

"You're a weird guy. I don't hate it though," Naruto admitted, before making a snap decision and fixing Hyougo with a placating grin, "Okay. I'll do you a favor and tear this whole thing apart. Then you can fight anybody you want. You can even fight me."

Hyougo scoffed and shook his head, "I can fight you right now if I want to. Makoto wouldn't like that at all, though," He remarked as he walked away, "Later, Uzumaki."

Naruto spared Hyougo a wave and turned to go about his own business before stopping at a locker and popping it open, revealing Niijima crouched down inside. He wasn't surprised to find the bowl-cut boy eavesdropping. In fact, he had counted on someone overhearing, "You get all of that?"

Niijima nodded, frantically tapping away at the PDA he had on-hand, "I love it. But can we trust him?"

Naruto doubted it. But if Hyougou was lying or trying to lure him into something, there was enough truth in his words to cover up whatever wasn't, "I dunno. But we're getting hit on two sides here. We've got to try something off the wall," He stood Niijima up and smoothed out his school uniform, "Don't get skittish on me now. This is supposed to be your thing. Treachery, clandestine stuff. You know, all that bullshit."

"Oh, I'm in my element, ninja, don't you worry," Niijima said with an obnoxious, chittering laugh, "But it has to be done right. To bring the whole house of cards down all at once, we need to pull the right one," They had rushed last time he had pulled intel too juicy to ignore, and that almost backfired on them badly. This time, mistakes would not be made.

And when the time came, Naruto planned on everyone doing something to take part. Everyone deserved a piece of trying to tear YOMI apart, and that would leave them in the clear to deal with Sasuke or anyone else that Konohagakure wanted to send to get rid of him.

He was a ninja, and that meant more than just doing things with his hands. It involved using his brain too... or the brain of someone better equipped for sabotage. Friends weren't resources, but when they wanted to help and insisted on doing so no matter what, why not use them?

He'd once said he'd love to fight battles with his friends, so long as they were their battles. It was about time to put his money where his mouth was.

Naruto watched as Niijima pulled out a false back to the locker and fled inside of a tunnel system undoubtedly connected to all sorts of places in the school. It was surprising to see, but not that much when he thought about who he was dealing with. Conversation done, he slammed the locker shut and went ahead to homeroom.

Before he could walk in, he could hear some of his friends having a heated back-and-forth. Specifically, Kenichi and Takeda.

Kenichi sounded as though he were pleading about something, "Takeda-san, YOMI wants to kill me. You didn't have to do that. You don't have to this!"

Conversely, Takeda sounded much calmer and rational about his side of things, "Kenichi-kun, trust me. I get it. It's dangerous. But this is something I want to do. I want to walk beside you guys, not behind you."

By then, Naruto had entered and gotten within Kenichi, Miu, and Takeda's field of vision. Curiously, he looked between the three of them who all looked at him as though he were intruding. It made him feel awkward, "Why is everyone so quiet? What's the matter?"

Before anyone else could say anything, Takeda walked up to Naruto, putting a hand on his shoulder with a large grin, "Nothing at all, Naruto-kun. Everything is just perfect," In his other hand, he held up a YOMI emblem.

Inscribed on solid gold, a symbol of fire was molded with the kanji for flame.

Pleased with himself, despite the uncomfortable wake he had left the others in, Takeda flipped the emblem into the air and caught it, sauntering off elsewhere.

Now it made sense as to why everyone was acting weird. Takeda was going to go one-on-one with a main member of YOMI. Naruto looked around at Miu and Kenichi for clarification, "Guys, I don't know which one that is. Who's Takeda fighting?"

Miu bit her lip in apprehension, "Takeda-san is going to fight Tirawit Kokin," She explained, eyes darting over to Kenichi uncertainly, "But-."

"-But it was supposed to be meant for me," Kenichi finished for her, glaring at the ground, fists shaking, "Takeda-san stepped in and challenged Kokin before he could challenge me," He seemed very conflicted about it after hearing the tanned boxer's reasoning.

Naruto sat down at a desk near his two friends and settled in, "Uh... is there a story I'm missing out on, or something?"

He figured it would have to be a good one to lead to this.


Well, Takeda's got balls, and he's staking his own claim to being on the level of the other more powerful disciples with a challenge to one of YOMI's finest. But how did this come about? Plus, what's the play now? What's Ryouzanpaku going to do once they get confirmation that Yami is close to exploding.

What is the One Shadow's plan to make peace with the armed contingent of Yami?

Why am I asking you all of these questions when you might not even remember the plot lines to this story?

I don't know. I just hope you enjoyed the chapter. Until the next time I get back to this one, folks.

Kenchi out.