Well, here we are again. Sorry it took so long. I hope you enjoy the chapter.

Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto.

Raiga Kurosuki awoke with a start. Like all shinobi, he was a light sleeper, so his young companion's cry easily roused his from his sleep in the mansion's extravagant master bedroom. Shooting up into a sitting position, Raiga cried out in worry "Ranmaru!" And practically tore off his sheets, tossing them to the floor as he swung his legs over the side of the bed and rose to his feet, rushing to the wall where the scabbard carrying the famed Kiba blades rested, unsheathing them and bolting out of the room in one quick motion before charging down the hall.

He'd known Ranmaru for years now, and the boy was always quiet and calm. He never had nightmares or made noise, always so well behaved. He never raised his voice or cried out... not unless he was in genuine distress or trouble.

As he left his room, he never noticed the wasp that had been poised to strike at him.

Quickly making his way to Ranmaru's room, he threw open the shoji door to the room, prepared to face whatever it was that endangered his friend... only to find nothing.

"Raiga, look at this." The boy pointed. Raiga eyes followed it and found... a reddish black beetle? That's what he was so worried about?

"Ranmaru, I'm surprised. Causing such a commotion over a tiny bug." His tone wasn't condescending. In fact, there seemed to be a hint of fondness in his voice. Shocking for someone who enjoyed burying people alive. "If it'll make you feel better, I'll...

The child turned to him and pointed behind him. "Raiga, look out!"

The ex-member of the Seven Swordsman of the Mist felt his eyes go wide. Something was behind him? How? It was true he'd come to rely on Ranmaru's senses, but he hadn't allowed his own to dull.

He spun around... only to find an odd, red wasp flying at him. Normally, this wouldn't evoke much reaction from a trained Shinobi... unless you happened to be an ex-member of ANBU and knew what kinds of techniques were out there. Particularly, that there was one clan famous for their use of wasps.

With one swift movement, Raiga decapitated the insect with his bare hand.

Ranmaru's next words confirmed his suspicions. "Raiga, someone's chakra is flowing through the insects."

"The Kamizuru." Raiga commented, his eyes narrowing. "Iwa must be after my head, maybe on a mission or for my bount-" He stopped abruptly and turned to his young friend. "Wait, the beetle too?" Receiving a nod, his expression became thoughtful.

"Watch out, there are more." Looking to the door, Raiga saw ten more of the odd red wasps crawl along the edges of the door before taking flight. Rather than fly towards him however, the wasps hovered in the air, pointing their abdomens toward him. As one, they fired their stingers, but the missing nin dodged to the side, closing the distance between them in one burst of motion and eliminating them with several quick strikes of his hand.

"Is that all of them?" Raiga asked, half turning to look at Ranmaru, who nodded.

"Except for the beetle, but it flew away."

Raiga frowned, cupping his chin in thought. "Who is this? At first, I thought it must be Iwa coming for me, but the Kamizuru clan only uses bees. Beetles are the Aburame's specialty... I've never heard of someone able to use both before..." He looked to his young companion again. "Ranmaru, can you tell me where the ones controlling them are?"

The young boy nodded and focused, his eyes glowing red once again. Seeing through the walls of the mansion and the stone and dirt of the mountain, he saw two figures hiding, one of whom seemed to be carrying a hive of insects on their back. "I've found them... they're both hiding on a lower ledge of the mountain... but the beetle from before is flying towards them. If they can control them like this, it'll probably warn them." His eyes rose to look at the missing nin. "I've never seen anyone with such massive amounts of chakra as these two before. We need to be careful Raiga."

"There's no need to worry." Raiga responded, smiling fondly. "Of course I'll be careful; I'll have you with me after all. Come on." He said, walking over and picking the young boy up by his shoulders before placing him on his own. "If it's a fight they want, then they've got it. Perhaps they'll be famous... then I'll be able to give them a wonderful funeral."

Meanwhile, Naruto and Fuu, having moved to the mountain that bore the mine, hid amongst the rock formations on the mountains far side, Fuu sitting cross-legged with her eyes closed as she maintained her connection to her beetle while Naruto crouched against the stone and watched for enemies. Fuu preferred to link her senses to the beetles as their chakra sensing abilities were superior to the wasps.

"Damn it!' Fuu suddenly cursed as she commanded the beetle to return home and rose to her feet.

This drew Naruto's concerned gaze to her. "What's wrong?"

"Raiga's on to us. That kid from before saw through my trick and warned him. Guess we know why he was with him now." Fuu replied, her brow set in a deep frown as she looked to the mansion, wondering how a child as young as that kid could willingly help someone like Raiga.

From the looks of it, this was the kind of kid she really couldn't stand. A weak willed person who followed someone they felt earned their loyalty, regardless of whether or not they agreed with what they were doing. That, or he was as sick as Raiga.

Naruto frowned as well, but for different reasons. Fuu wasn't looking, so she missed the faraway look in his eye as the blond recalled a kind hearted teen, willing to destroy the only hope of an entire country at his master's whim, because the man had been all he had in the world.

His eyes hardened, however. He hadn't forgotten all the innocent people buried in the ground. He didn't know what to do about the kid, but Raiga needed to be stopped.

Moving on from her thoughts on the child, Fuu continued, "Good news is I took the rest of them out." She smirked at the end, quite satisfied with the results of her efforts. Her cylinder was definitely getting crowded now. Using the Nanabi's chakra, she'd managed to breed four different, unique species of wasp, each with a different toxin. The poison those wasps contained would leave them all paralyzed for two hours. There was even one special project she was working on with them, though she hoped not to need it often, since it would mean she'd found herself or an ally on the wrong side of a poison.

The downside was the wasps were much larger than the beetles and thus easier targets and harder to miss. Any shinobi worth his salt would pick them out of the air in battle unless they were in large numbers, but they were excellent for surprise attacks.

Standing up himself, Naruto nodded. "Well, at least the small fry are out of the way. Now all that's left is the man himself."

Fuu nodded before took a step forward, leaving their hiding spot as she rested her hand on the stone. She didn't need to be able to see insects that ad fed upon her chakra to sense and communicate with them. She mentally reached out and found the beetle she had following Raiga. "He's on the move. He's heading up to the summit."

The two kicked off and quickly scaled the mountain, bounding from one rocky surface to another, and reaching the top in a matter of seconds. As soon as they landed on the summit, Naruto summoned a kunai to his hand with a flick of his wrist and an application of chakra, holding it in a reverse grip.

Scanning the terrain for any sign of their quarry, the two found only the empty air.

"Ok, so where's this guy hiding?" Naruto voiced out into the open air. Fuu would have sent her insect out to get an answer for him, but then both their eyes narrowed as a thick fog rolled in from out of nowhere. Both bolted together, standing back to back and shifting into combat stances. "Hidden Mist Jutsu, huh? Been a while since I've seen this one."

Fuu gave a slight grin as she replied. "Let's just hope this goes easier than that time, ok? If memory serves, you got put through the grinder."

Naruto returned her smirk with his own. "Tell me about it. Ever been a human pincushion before? Not fun."

Both were unaware as Raiga came out from his hiding place on the cliff above them, having quickly changed into more combat appropriate attire. Looking down into the mist with his blades at his side, he voiced to his young companion, hidden in the pouch on his back, "Are you ready, Ranmaru?"

"Yes, Raiga." Came the response from the concealed youth. After a moment, he added, "They aren't there,"

"Huh?" The missing nin craned his neck to glance at the sack.

"They must have known we were leading them here... they sent clones ahead of them. The real ones are hiding just beyond the edge of the summit."

"I see." Was Raiga's response before he lifted his arms, slowly bringing the Kiba blades above his head. "Well, that won't be enough to save them... not when you're with me."

"The insect's chakra network is too simple for illusions to work on them... they'll warn them if I try to deceive them."

"No matter... this'll be over soon one way or another." His mouth widened into a cruel grin. He slammed the two weapons together, lightning arcing from the contact. "Ninja Art: Lightning Fang!"

A twin surges of lightning burst from the blades, shooting up into the sky and lightning up the night as the clouds grew and darkened, the moon vanishing behind them. Even hidden behind the mist, Naruto and Fuu could see the light from the attack, their eyes widening.

"What the-!?" Fuu said as the lightning gathered in the clouds before it began to coalesce... right above them!

Seeing that the attack would be too big to dodge completely if it moved as fast as he expected it would, Naruto leapt into action, jumping in front of Fuu to shield her as he ran through two hand signs before clapping his hands together and interlocking his fingers, completing the move just as the lightning burst from the clouds.

"Wind Style Barrier!" Wind visibly whipped around them, forming a translucent, spherical barrier of rapidly moving wind around them, razor sharp streams of the element whipping along its surface. The mist in the surrounding area was pulled into the whirlwind, spiraling into the barrier and vanishing in its swirling force. The lightning made contact with the barrier and harmlessly fizzled out into nothing while a small portion of it tore up the ground around them, carving small crevices into the Earth.

"What the... a wind barrier?" Raiga questioned as the mist thinned as more and more was pulled into the miniature cyclone, being too far away to here the blond call out his technique. The light show ended in about five seconds, allowing him to see a grinning Naruto before the haze, fed by his chakra, thickened once more.

Raiga cursed. A wall of wind could block any lightning technique he could produce without a storm to boost his powers, this was the perfect defense against his jutsu. And since the insects would warn them of any illusion, long range attacks were out... close to mid-range it was. Oh well, it'd been too long since he'd had a decent sword fight.

"Raiga! The clones are coming at you from behind!" Ranmaru called out, causing the famed swordsman to turn his head a moment before the clones charged towards him, the Naruto doppelganger in the front, its wind encased kunai poised to strike. Raiga raised his blade, crackling with lightning, to defend, the two weapons meeting with a clang the echoed through the empty area.

At the same moment that Raiga was going over his strategy, Naruto and Fuu were staring through the mist at the source of the flash from moments before as Naruto separated his hands and the barrier of wind dispersed, visible wisps of wind flowing through the air before fading away.

The two Jinchuriki focused chakra to their ears, sharpening their sense of hearing and listening closely for any indication that Raiga had moved from his position. In an effort to make Fuu's Scale Camouflage more effective in battle as cover, both had trained while hidden within the techniques shining powder, learning to fight without their sense of sight. While they weren't as skilled as, say, someone trained in Silent Killing, nor could they pick out such an opponent, they could still effectively locate an enemy and counter their moves while blinded.

"Fuu." Naruto said, turning his head to look at her as she rose to her feet. "You said that it was the kid who learned about your insects, right?" Receiving a nod in response. "Is he still with Raiga?"

After taking a brief moment to question her beetles, Fuu nodded as beetles and wasps began to crawl out of the opening of her cylinder. "Yeah, his chakra's right next to him."

"Damn. I didn't think he'd actually bring the kid with him. We'll have to block his senses or he'll always have the jump on us while this jutsu's up."

"Already on it."

Hearing the sound of metal meeting metal and knowing their clones had begun their assault, Naruto tensed his legs like a spring before kicking off towards the battle. "Let's go!"

With a grunt, Fuu mimicked his movement as her insects pouring from her cylinder and swarming in the air in her wake. Some following her while others vanished into the mist, spreading throughout the area.

Reaching the base of the ledge and leaping to the top in a single bound, the pair of Jinchuriki were greeted by the sight of Raiga fending off both their clones, ducking under a swipe of the Naruto clone's kunai, a barely visible blade of wind extending from it, and weaving around the Fuu clone's taijutsu. She and her clone would prefer to use their water swords... but against those blades, radiating electrical energy? Not a chance.

Naruto immediately summoned a kunai of his own and held it like a sword, another blade of wind chakra growing from it to the length of a long sword, before he leaped in to join the fray and swiping at Raiga from behind, who ducked under the attack, knowing better than to try and block the weapon.

Drawing one of the blades behind his back, Raiga threw the sword forward, unleashing a wave of lightning. Naruto and Fuu's clone leapt back to dodge, but Naruto's clone was caught in the wave of electricity and burst into smoke with a pained cry.

Fuu, leaping above the battlefield, summoned eight shuriken to her hands and held them between her fingers, lightning coursing through them, as she crossed her arms over her chest.

It'd been something of a shock to her when Jiraiya insisted she take an affinity test and they discovered that she actually had the lightning affinity, rather than water. Since then, while she still put some work into improving her skill in the water element, she focused on her newfound affinity and had made great strides.

She threw her arms out and let the weapons fly, raining down on Raiga who looked up at her and leapt back to dodge as Naruto threw his own kunai from his blind spot, only for them man to duck underneath the weapon and retaliate by bringing his swords together at his side, the blades inches apart, and forming an orb of lightning between them.

"Lightning Ball!" Raiga threw the orb of lightning at Naruto, who countered by summoning another kunai to his hand and quickly channeling wind chakra through it, causing the blade to glow. Planting his feet on the ground and launching himself forward, Naruto sliced through the ball of lightning, the two halves erupting into twin discharges of electrical energy behind him, as he closed the distance between himself and the swordsman, extending the wind surrounding his blade once more and swiping at Raiga.

Raiga ducked under the blow and countered with a stab of his left blade. Naruto weaved around the weapon and took another swipe with his kunai. Raiga parried the blow, pressing his sword against the kunai blade and locking weapons with his younger adversary.

"Well, well, this is a surprise. When I learned that someone had come to this little town after my head, I didn't expect it to be a couple of brats." Raiga said, his mouth twisting into an insane grin as he looked down at his opponent, pushing his blade against Naruto's. "You've got a good look in your eyes. Such determination... I'll give you a grand funeral when this is over. Remembering your resolve will bring tears to my eyes, I'm sure of it!"

"You're really a special kind of crazy, aren't you?" Naruto asked, gritting his teeth. "Listen pal, when this is over, you're the one who's going to need a funeral."

Naruto disengaged the blade lock as Fuu joined the fray, slashing her own lightning infused kunai in a downward arc. Raiga took a step back to dodge, the small blade passing within inches of his body, and countered with a slash of his blade.

Fuu ducked under the attack and twisted her body, launching a high kick at Raiga, who slipped around the blow. He attempted to retaliate with a stab of his right sword, but his counter was blocked when Fuu spun into a second slash of her weapon, clashing his blade and deflecting the blow, at which point Naruto returned.

The two teens attacked in tandem, attacking Raiga on both sides with a combination of slashes, kicks and punches, only for Raiga to weave around and block all their strikes, moving with timing and precision even most jonin lack, the sound of the battle ringing throughout the summit of the mountain. Naruto made a downward slash of his kunai only for Raiga to catch it in the prong at the tip of the blade. Sweeping his blade to the side, in one swift movement he disarmed Naruto, dodged Fuu's slash and lashed out with his own sword. Naruto sidestepped the blow and prepared to counter, only for Raiga to launch a high kick at him mid motion, catching him off guard and sending him back through the air, recovering and flipping to upright, making a hand seal as Fuu leapt back when Raiga slashed with both his blades.

'Wind Style: Wind daggers!' Naruto thought, preventing himself from vocalizing the technique to catch his opponent off guard. Naruto made several slashing motioned his hand, unleashing a barrage of sharpened blasts of wind at Raiga, hoping that with the mist still covering them, Raiga may be caught off-guard by the translucent blades.

Alas, Raiga clearly wasn't fooled as he leapt backwards, dodging the weapons and vanishing into the mist. The two Jinchuriki could tell where he was from the sound of his footsteps and prepared to make a move, only for an orb of lightning to light up the mist as it flew towards them.

Both jumped into the air to dodge the oncoming weapon, but as Fuu neared the ground, she found another, much more powerful blast of lightning coming at her, carving a path in the ground as it sped towards her destination. The blast collided with her body, only for it to be replaced with a boulder at the last second, the hunk of stone shattering into charred pieces in an instant.

However, the moment she reappeared, she found yet another blast of lightning headed her way. Her eyes widening, Fuu could only brace herself as the blast exploded as she neared the ground, sending her flying backwards with a cry of pain as chunks of stone cut into her skin. She collided with the harsh, unforgiving stone and bounced twice before rolling to a stop, lying flat on her stomach. She grit her teeth as she raised herself up on her elbows, lightning arcing around her body.

"What the hell was that? How'd he knew where I was going?" Fuu wondered aloud as she stared in the direction of the attack and pain coursed through her system. Even had their vision been cleared, Raiga shouldn't have been able to react that quickly.

She raised her head as Raiga emerged from the mist in a charge, his sword drawn back and ready to cut her, only to duck and reverse direction as several kunai flew at and above him, some passing through the space he would have occupied as he continued on his path.

Raiga sent out another wave of lightning as he vanished into the mist, heading towards Fuu's prone form, only for Naruto to appear in front of her, running through hand signs and summoning his wind barrier once more, shielding both from the blast.

"Nice save, Naruto. I owe you one." Fuu said as the lightning faded and she returned to her feet. "They just keep piling up, don't they? I'm going to wind up owing you forever at this rate."

Looking over his shoulder, Naruto replied with a grin. "Don't mention it; you've covered my ass plenty of times. Just be ready take this guy, alright?"

"Right." She replied as she readied her kunai.

Naruto separated his hands and released his barrier. The moment the shield came down, another blast of lightning erupted from the mist.

The two Jinchuriki leapt back to dodge, only for another orb of lightning to head for their destination, hitting the ground between them and forcing them apart.

"You're only delaying the inevitable." Raiga's voice echoed from near Naruto as he landed. Hearing him coming, he turned and raised his kunai to block as the ex-swordsman of the mist appeared behind him. Knocking his blade away, the two began a fast paced exchange of blows, but Naruto quickly found himself on the defensive, his adversary anticipating his every move. "You're definitely the toughest opponents I've faced since I left Kiri, I'll give you that. Your funerals will be my greatest works."

"Shut up!" Naruto growled as he deflected a blow before ducking under another. "You think being a member of the Swordsman of the Mist makes you tough? You aren't half the swordsman Zabuza was, and he didn't need any kind of special power to be a badass. You're only real strength comes from those swords."

"Don't ever compare me to any of the other swordsman!" Raiga snarled, the pure hatred in his eyes making clear his feelings towards his former companions.

"Why not?" Naruto smirked. "It's true isn't it? It's plain as day those swords are the source of your lightning powers." He locked blades with Raiga, staring defiantly into his eyes. "He didn't need anything but his skills while you need rely on a pair of souped up swords and a kid to be strong. What's wrong, compensating for something?"

With a growl, Raiga slashed with his other sword, causing Naruto to duck as Fuu came at him. Slamming his swords together above his head, Raiga unleashed a wave of lightning that forced both back before charging at Fuu as she landed.

The mint haired kunoichi frowned as she summoned a second kunai to her hand and held both her weapons in a reverse grip, shifting into a stance with the blades held in front of her and her right leg swept back.

She weaved around Raiga's initial attacks before ducking under a sweeping arc and catching his blade between hers when he followed up with a downward slash. She aimed a kick at his solar plexus, but Raiga leaned back enough that the attack missed him completely. He began to follow through only to step to the side as Naruto attacked from behind, armed with another kunai, extended with a blade of visible blue wind chakra his right hand and shuriken in his left hand.

The moment Naruto's foot touched the ground, he began to pivot into another attack, only for his eyes to widen as he found a sword headed his way. Raiga began his counter the moment he moved, spinning into a stab with his weapon, only to break off and leap back when Fuu swiped at him.

Channeling wind chakra into his shuriken, Naruto threw the weapons, the wind chakra extending from the blades, turning the small throwing stars into deadly buzz saws. Raiga flipped in midair, dodging the weapons and twisting his body to the side when Fuu threw one of her kunai when the cloak blocked his view.

When he landed, he immediately slammed both his swords into the ground. "Lightning Funeral: Feast of Lightning!"

A massive wave of electricity tore through the ground towards the two, who immediately leapt out of the way. However, as Naruto came down, he found another lightning ball speeding towards the ground where he was about to land.

He could only raise his arm in a feeble attempt to defend himself as the lightning orb exploded, sending him through the air with a cry of pain, lightning coursing through his body.

"Naruto!" Fuu cried, only to be distracted from her the blond's pain when Raiga came at her again, sending an arc of lightning towards her. As Naruto grit his teeth and sent a wave of wind chakra through himself, dispelling the lightning, Fuu leapt over the lightning blast and came down at Raiga with a downward slash of her blade, which he caught by raising his blades above his head, catching the small weapon in between his and locking it in place with the prongs.

With a twisted grin, he spun, dragging Fuu through the air towards the ground. She let go and righted herself, landing on her feet, but Raiga reversed his movement and kicked her in her chest, knocking the wind out of her lungs in a cough and sending her a few feet into the air.

Raiga moved to slash her, but was forced to dodge back as Naruto sent more wind blades his way while Fuu planted her hands on the ground and spun, lashing out with a kick. He came to a stop a few yards away, driving his left sword into the ground as he landed in a crouch as Naruto charged forward, readying his empowered kunai to slash at his foe.

There was a brief exchange of swordplay between the two before Raiga ducked beneath a liquid bullets from Fuu before leaping back to dodge further attacks.

With a grin that spoke of triumph, Naruto shot forward, drawing his right arm over his chest, his blade just past his left arm and to unleash in a sweeping arc.

However, this was just a cover. His index and middle fingers of his left hand extended, an invisible wind sword formed at his fingertips, ready to slash the unsuspecting swordsman.

Raiga leaned back to avoid the sweeping slash of his kunai, but just as Naruto began to move his left hand, the blond's eyes widened as a slightly panicked young voice called out from the sack on the swordsman's back, so quiet he almost missed it, "Raiga, dodge to the right, now!"

Raiga did as the voice told him, the invisible blade passing his left arm by mere inches. He began to counter, only when more liquid bullets, this time coursing with electricity, rained down from above, forcing the two apart. Raiga skidded to a halt, planting his left blade into the ground.

Fuu landed next to Naruto as the male Jinchuriki studied their opponent. "Damn it! It's like he knows exactly what we're going to do before we do it." She complained as she stood and readied her weapon.

Naruto continued to scrutinize their opponent. They'd thought the boy was a sensor, but if that was the case, he wouldn't have been able to see the wind sword coming and Raiga would be growing cold by now. On top of that, when he thought about it, the fight didn't add up. It was to be expected that the boy could help Raiga pinpoint their location, but he was doing more than that. He was predicting their moves. He couldn't just sense them, he could see them!

"That's because he does." Naruto replied with a frown.

"What!?" Fuu quietly exclaimed.

"It's that kid, he's got him strapped to his back. He's been telling him all our moves."

"Are you kidding me? Does he have the Byakugan or something?" Fuu questioned, that being the only dojutsu she knew of that would allow one to see through solid objects.

Naruto shook his head. "It's worse than that. He can predict exactly what we're going to do. It's like he has the Sharingan and Byakugan put together." The Kyuubi Jinchuriki turned his head and looked at Fuu out of the corner of his eye.

Raiga chuckled as he rose to his feet, ripping his sword from the Earth. "That's right. As long as we've known each other, we've always stood together as one. I serve as the arms and legs and Ranmaru the eyes. You should feel privileged; you're the first in a long time to discover our secret. Together, we're unstoppable!"

"Yeah, like no one's ever said anything like that to us before. Guess how it usually turns out." Fuu replied, as she raised her blade to defend, her face set in a look of determination.

Beneath this, however, she was beginning to feel a hint of pity as his words made her re-evaluate her opinions on the boy strapped to the swordsman's back a little. If Raiga had to serve as his arms and legs, then he was likely paraplegic, or born otherwise unable to fend for himself and if he wound up with Raiga, then that was likely because he was the only one who actually tried to help him out...

'He probably can't even stand on his own...' She thought briefly, recalling his frail appearance.

That, however, didn't wash away his sins. He'd still willingly gone along with the subjugation of the entire town, as well as the murder of dozens of defenseless people. She could understand being loyal to one's savior, but for this kid to just go along with whatever he did, right or wrong, to just stand by and even help as he callously took innocent lives to sate his own greed sickened her. She couldn't really feel that bad for him, not after everything he'd helped in here.

"Well, aren't we the confident ones." Raiga commented as he raised his blade once again, bringing the two blades together above him. "Fangs of Lightning!" Once more, two massive pillars of lightning erupted from the blades, flying into the sky before coming down on the two Jinchuriki, who were forced to dodge in different directions.

Raiga charged at Naruto, who placed one foot on the ground before kicking off with a grunt, moving to meet him. The pair once more began to exchange swipes of their weapons, Naruto dodging Raiga's sword strikes as he sidestepped and weaved around Naruto's unblockable sword.

With a grin on her face, Fuu charged forward, sending out a mental command to the insects she had called out earlier, who spent this time spreading themselves out through the area. Naruto, hearing the buzzing nearby as many insects took to the air, knew what Fuu was about to do and his own mouth spread into a grin as well.

Ranmaru was watching from within his sack when suddenly, something happened that made his eyes widen. At once, the hundreds of insects Fuu had called upon, some still on the ground, others in the air, flared their chakra all at once, covering everything under a shroud of chakra, blinding his powerful eyes.

"R- Raiga! I can't see!" Ranmaru called out, his voice panicked. This was the first time he could ever recall such a thing happening.

"W- what!? Ranmaru, what's wrong?" Raiga asked, concern for his young friend clear in his voice before he was suddenly reminded of the kunoichi who leapt into the air, slashing at him with her kunai. Without Ranmaru's directions and still in shock at the boy's declaration, Raiga's parry was much slower than before, but still he easily blocked her attack.

Unfortunately for the ex-swordsman, he found that it was just a distraction. Naruto leapt to attack him, slashing with his wind blade. Raiga managed to side step the blow, but the blond's attack tore his cloak, and more importantly, the strap holding Ranmaru to his body.

Ranmaru was sent flying through the air, where Fuu's forgotten clone, lying in wait for an opportunity to take any advantage, caught him before leaping away.

"Raiga!" The panicked boy cried as he was taken away. He struggled weakly, but he wasn't able to free himself of the clone.

"Ranmaru!" Raiga cried before he grit his teeth, fury overcoming his expression as he raised his blade, his tattered cloak falling to the wayside. "Bastards!"

Once more, metallic clangs could be heard as the ex-swordsman clashed with the two Jinchuriki. Without Ranmaru to help him, Raiga was a much less effective opponent. However, he was still an A-rank ninja and a skilled and experienced swordsman. Attacked on both sides, Raiga leapt back, briefly out of their reach, and slammed the hilts of the two blades together, forming a large, double-bladed weapon.

"Ranmaru, hang on! I'll find you soon!" Raiga called out as he charged to meet them in battle once again, his style now completely different, spinning rapidly his body rapidly to slash at them with the double-bladed weapon and moving it to parry blows while twisting his body to snake around them.

Seeing an opening as Raiga kicked at Fuu, Naruto ducked under a horizontal slash of his sword and before making an upward cut with his wind sword. Raiga leapt back, but wasn't fast enough, the blade cutting through is chest and sending blood into the air. Leaping back and spinning the weapon overhead, he unleashed a massive wave of lightning that sent both Jinchuriki flying backwards, pain shooting through their systems.

Raiga launched himself at Fuu, thrusting his weapon toward her, which she parried, only for the swordsman to grin. He separated the two blades once more and in one swift motion, sliced her across the chest, nearly cutting her in two, her expression shifting into one of shock and horror.

But his eyes widened when her body suddenly turned back before breaking apart into countless beetles, the same ones that had moments before flared their chakra and blinded Ranmaru's Dojutsu, which promptly covered his arms and wasps flew at him from above, launching their stingers at him. His face going from a look of shock and then to rage, Raiga unleashed a wave of lightning which incinerated the insects and the stingers.

However, so preoccupied was he with the insects, their buzzing and their venom, combined with his desperation and rage over his friend's plight, he failed to notice Fuu coming at him from behind, four shuriken, charged with lightning, held in her hands and her arms crossed over her chest.

"Don't!" Ranmaru's voice cried out through the mist, too late to prevent Fuu from letting her shuriken fly. The star-shaped weapons pierced through Raiga's torso, going straight through his body and vanishing into the mist. Raiga coughed up blood as the front and back of his shirt were slowly dyed crimson. The throwing stars had pierced both lungs and another vital spot.

Naruto and Fuu watched solemnly, but still ready to defend should the need arise, observing the swordsman's final moments as he stumbled forward, struggling to stay on his feet even as his lungs filled with blood. Looking up towards the night sky as the mist gradually cleared away, he quietly uttered one word, "Ranmaru..." choking up crimson liquid with each syllable before he fell forward, crashing into the ground and ceasing to move, the famed Kiba swords still clasped in his hands.

Just as Raiga's life ended, the mist that covered the summit vanished completely, revealing the sky beginning to brighten as morning approached. A new day, both for the land and the still sleeping village below, its people unaware that they were once again free.

Looking down at the body of the swordsman, Fuu sighed before turning to Naruto. "So... what are we going to do with the kid?"

The blond raised his hand to his face and closed his eyes, "I don't know..." He closed his eyes and seemed to think for a moment before shaking his head, directing his blue eyes on Fuu. "Come on," He said, turning to where Fuu's clone stood by the sack that held the boy, propped up against a rock. "We'll think of something. For now, we should talk to him."

With a nod, Fuu followed, pointing her thumb over her shoulder at Raiga's body as she did so. "We'll handle this. You take care of the body."

The clone ran to the body as its creator directed while the pair of teens walked to the sack. Kneeling down, Naruto unzipped the bag to reveal the frail child. The boy's face was an emotionless mask as he stared up at the two.

"You..." The boy said, looking to Fuu. "You were the one controlling the insects... your chakra was running especially strong through that beetle... you could see through it, couldn't you?"

Fuu nodded. "And now we meet, face to face." She replied, frowning at the child.

"You've been helping Raiga keep control of this town using your dojutsu, haven't you?" Naruto asked, his own brows set in a deep frown as he stared at the child, who didn't answer. It didn't matter, the question was rhetorical.

"Why would you help someone like that? You can see through that bag, so you have to know what he's been doing." Fuu asked before throwing her arm out in a furious gesture. "How many of his funerals did you sit through? How long did you watch these people suffer? Did you at least try to talk him out of it all?" Receiving no response aside from a slight flinch at the mention of the people, she knew the answer. Her eyes narrowed as her nose wrinkled in disgust.

"You didn't like any of that, did you?" Naruto asked, more sympathetic than his fellow Jinchuriki. "How'd you get mixed up with a guy like Raiga?"

"... I didn't have a choice." Ranmaru said and Fuu scoffed at the boy's words. "Raiga told me it was for the best... for us and the village. I wouldn't speak out against him when he began to enslave the village. I couldn't... not after everything he's done for me. He's all I had... he's been there for me, ever since we met." Emotion faded from his face once again, but this time he didn't just look neutral. He looked... dead. Like there really was nothing else for him and Fuu's look softened a little.

"... He found me in a small village in the Land of Water." Naruto's looked down at the boy in pity, already having a guess as to where this story would go. The confirmation that he came from the Land of Water drew an even greater parallel between this child and the ice user who'd spared him and his wayward teammate on his first real mission. "I've never known my parents, and I've always been frail and weak. I was unable to even stand under my own strength. It was only thanks to the villagers living nearby that I survived. They took pity on me and brought me food. That is, until they discovered my ability. After that, they stopped coming... I'd resigned myself to dying of starvation until the day Raiga came. He came to the village one day, leading a band of ANBU in search of a traitor. They had orders to destroy the village, but with my eyes, I saw that he was crying as he took their lives and I realized, he too had no meaning in his life. Inside, he was a lonely and tortured soul. When he came to me, he chose to save me instead of following orders, allowing me to truly see the outside world for the first time. Since then, we've always been together." His expression saddened, tears welling up in his eyes. "And now... I'm alone again."

Naruto shook his head, regarding the boy with a sad look as he mentally cursed the Fourth Mizukage. His parents had probably died in the Bloodline Purges. How many lives were ruined because he stoked the flames of hatred towards bloodline holders? He briefly wondered how many stories like Ranmaru and Haku's there were from the natives of that country. At least things were different now. According to what Jiraiya had taught him, the current Mizukage had a bloodline. That showed times were changing at least.

Fuu meanwhile closed her eyes, raising her hand to her forehead and burying her finger tips in her green locks as she sighed. She still didn't feel all that badly for him after everything he'd helped with, but the kid really hadn't had many options. He literally couldn't even stand up for himself. And on top of that he'd grown up at a time where the people of the Land of Water looked at Bloodline holders like they were demons...

Just like they did Jinchuriki.

He'd never known his family. He'd had to live off of other people's charity his entire life. While that didn't excuse his actions it explained how he went along with it so easily.

"You two came here to deal with us, didn't you? Then please, finish it." Ranmaru said, shocking both Jinchuriki.

"Hey, hang on a sec! You're not asking us to kill you." Naruto said as he looked at the boy with wide eyes.

"What's the point in going on? I can't survive on my own and I've got nothing to live for."

Before Naruto could protest, he was cut off by a clear and resolute, "No." from behind him. He turned to see Fuu, her brow furrowed as she stared down at the child. It was easy to see that she was angry. He'd heard this tone before. It was how she spoke when faced with something like the field of unmarked graves. It was how she got when faced with an injustice that made her truly angry.

And angry she was. At the boy's actions, at his weakness for not even trying to talk Raiga out of it and now for just throwing his life away so easily, at the fact that people had looked at him like he was a monster and treated him like trash, just like they had to her and Naruto, and for what he was asking them to do now. "You don't get to just check out. Not after what you've done." She stared down, her orange eyes boring into his red ones. "Did you enjoy this?" She asked, her question visibly startling him. "Did you like the power you felt as you helped Raiga kill all those people? Did you think it made you something? Someone powerful, to lord over these people like that?"

"N- no... but..." He trailed off uncertainly. He knew what he'd done was wrong, but he just couldn't go against his only friend and risk driving him away.

"But you did nothing." She continued. "You know Raiga's last words were your name?" She asked, getting a nod of confirmation. "Someone who cares about you would listen to what you want. If you really meant as much to him as he did to you, you might have been able to convince him to stop this, but you didn't even try!" She took a step forward, causing him to flinch. "Now you don't get to decide to just give up and die. You've got a hell of a lot to make up for. And don't give me any of that bull about dying being your atonement. Laying down your life for a cause or in a selfless act would help make up for what you've done, but what you're suggesting is just running away."

There was also the fact that, even with her shinobi training, she was NOT going to kill a child unless it was absolutely necessary.

After a moment, Naruto began, "You know, she's right about throwing your life away. Besides, I don't think Raiga would have wanted you to throw your life away. You said he was your reason for living, right? What would he say if he knew what you were asking us to do?" He gave the boy his usual wide grin. "He'd have wanted you to be happy, and if that meant making up for what you helped him do, then I'm sure he would have supported you all the way."

Ranmaru looked troubled as he remembered once asking Raiga what his funeral would be like. Raiga had been upset at the mere suggestion of his death. They were right, he knew that, but...

Looking up with tears welling up in his eyes once more at the loss of his only friend and his own powerlessness, he asked, "Then what am I supposed to do? How can I make up for what I've done? I can't even stand on my own!"

"Well for starters, you shouldn't be so quick to just give up." Naruto answered. "Even if all you can do is live out an ordinary life, helping out people when you can, then that's what you should do. Eventually, you'll find new people who'll be there for you, just like Raiga was. And if you can't find anything else or really want to save lives, you can always join a ninja village. They might be able to do something about your body. Maybe even Konoha! Most villages would love to have someone with your abilities."

Ranmaru didn't respond, tilting his head down with a troubled expression. Naruto gave a reassuring smile and said, "Anyway, you're definitely not going to find your answer up here. Come on, I know a kind old lady who'll be happy to take you in." With that, he created a shadow clone that picked up the sack, holding it behind his back.

While Naruto did want to help the kid he didn't completely trust him. Whether he'd liked what he was doing or not, he was loyal to Raiga and they did just kill him. Still it was obvious Ranmaru was a gentle and kindhearted boy, yet another parallel to Haku, and Naruto hoped he'd find the peace in life the ice user only found in death. Besides, if he did try something he was sure they could handle it.

Fuu placed a hand on her hip, closed her eyes and let out a sigh. She'd known from the moment that he warned Raiga about her insects things were going to turn out this way. She'd be lying if she said she didn't want to help the kid. Even if she hated his choices, she empathized with his past and hoped that this could be a fresh start for him. That being said, given his deficiency, the outlook wasn't too good for him.

Looking up, she smiled fondly at Naruto as he rose to his feet and looked over his shoulder at Ranmaru. He was really too forgiving for his own good. And loyal to a fault. Really, what else could you say about a guy willing to just forget that someone stabbed him through the chest? He seemed to want to save everyone, or at least give it his best shot.

But then, she admired that about him. That he remained so kindhearted, even though he'd lived the same kind of life she had. When she brought this up he was quick to point out she had a good heart too, ignoring that that might have been true, when they first met it had been buried behind a cold wall and layers of cynicism topped with snark. How would she have turned out if she hadn't met him? She didn't even want to think about how her life wouldn't have turned out if she hadn't met him, even ignoring the fact that it would probably have been short thanks to the Akatsuki.

He brought a warmth she had never known into her life. Something more than Shibuki or even Hiro and Airi had. It made her happy to see him smile, to hear him laugh. She felt like she never wanted to leave his side.

Her thoughts were cut off as one of her beetles flew near her. Raising her hand, she allowed the beetle to land on her extremity and looked down at it as it gave its report. Turning her head to Naruto, her expression serious, she called out, "Naruto." She said, getting his attention. "Rokusuke just ran off from the curry shop. Looks like he's headed to town."

Naruto's eyes widened. "What? Seriously, what's he thinking?" He shook his head. "Man, good thing those other guys are already taken care of." Rising to his feet and turning in the direction of the curry shop, he added, "Come on, let's see what he's up to."

Fuu nodded and her clone chose that moment to approach her, its footsteps catching her ears and drawing her attention. "Here you go, all wrapped up for you." it said, holding out two scrolls, one unmarked and the other marked with the kanji for 'Sword', obviously containing the Kiba swords while the former held Raiga's corpse.

She nodded, taking the scrolls. With a nod and a two fingered salute, the clone burst into smoke and vanished. With that, the two took off in search of the miner.

The pair of Jinchuriki, with the young dojutsu user in tow, traversed the rocky terrain, bounding across the landscape as blurs as they searched for the missing miner. Following along the direction Fuu's insect had set them on, it didn't take long for them to realize where he was headed...

The field of unmarked graves.

They soon arrived at their destination, standing at the edge of the field. The two Jinchuriki looked on, their expressions downcast, as they found the wayward miner. Kneeling in the dirt with a look of determination etched on his face, Rokusuke was desperately digging through the soft soil, trying to unearth his buried friend. Their arrival had been so fast and quiet that the miner hadn't even noticed him, but given his fixation he was likely completely oblivious to what was going on around him.

Naruto sighed as he looked on, feeling bad for the man. He must have been close to the other miner, probably like brothers, to go to these lengths. He hated telling someone a friend or loved one didn't make it.

Ranmaru meanwhile wondering what was happening, used his dojutsu... and immediately wished he didn't. Knowing what the man was going through... and that he helped cause it... pained him. Especially without Raiga to justify it. He clenched his eyes shut and turned his head away before he heard quiet footsteps as the two teens walked away, leaving him and the clone alone as they approached the miner.

Rokusuke didn't notice the pair until he suddenly saw two shadows looming over him. He spun around with a cry of shock, his look of wide eyed terror calmed a moment later when he saw that it was the two young shinobi he and his fellows had brought back with them. "Oh... it... it's you."

Naruto smiled sheepishly and rubbed the back of his head. "Yeah, sorry about the shock. We were about to say something, but..."

Rokusuke glared up at the pair. "Well, what are you doing here? Don't worry about me, you've got a job to do. You have to save... huh?" He trailed off when Fuu smiled and pulled out a scroll from the pouch on her back, hidden between the cylinder and her back. Opening it up, she placed her hand on one of the circles and, in a puff of smoke, one of the famed Kiba blades appeared.

"Recognize this?" She asked as his eyes widened and his jaw went slack. Of course he did! The entire village had seen those swords when Raiga declared himself their new overseer. But that meant...

His expression became one of disbelief, mixed with a twinge of hope. "So... it's over? It's really over?" He asked, his tone making it clear a part of him almost couldn't believe it.

Naruto nodded. "Yeah, it's over."

For a moment, the miner couldn't even move. Part of him had been sure that this was a waste of time, that kids their age could never pull it off. He felt so many things at once, but above all, was elation. They were free, after so long.

Turning his attention back to Kanpachi's grave, digging into the earth once more as he quickly said, "Well then, lend me a hand! We can still save him!"

"Rokuske." Naruto began sympathetically. "I know it hurts, but... he's been down there for going on two days now. Do you really believe you can save him?"

The miner stopped then, all energy seeming to leave him, his expression making it clear that, on some level, he'd always known the truth.

Fuu got down on one knee and placed her slender hand on his shoulder. "Listen... Kanpachi may be gone, but think of everyone who's still here." She waved her arm out, gesturing towards the many bodies. "All these people left others behind when Raiga decided to steal their lives from them. Everyone in your village lost someone during this crisis, but you've still got people and they need you to be strong for them. We can't bring back the dead, but we can try to make them proud of us and carry on their wishes. Just don't forget the ones you lost, and stand together with everyone still alive, and you'll make it through."

It took a moment, but finally, Rokusuke looked up and nodded. Naruto couldn't help but smile slightly as Fuu gave the miner a reassuring look, thinking once again how far she'd come since she stopped hiding her true self.

It wasn't long after that that the sleepy villagers finally woke up, expecting another day of sweat and toil under the tyranny of the Kurosuki family. It was a very pleasant shock for them when they began to walk to the mine only to find a pair of teens, obviously shinobi from their forehead protectors and the trio of their own who escaped standing triumphantly before all the members of the Kurosuki family, all of the criminals unconscious and bound by rope. Once they realized their eyes and ears weren't deceiving them a loud cheer erupted throughout the town. After what seemed like an eternity, they were finally free once again.

Afterwards, there was a day of celebration as the people rejoiced that their nightmare was over, followed by one of mourning as the villagers gathered together at the field of unmarked graves, now marked with a sign: 'Never forget what was endured during this dark time, nor that you should cherish what you have, for it can be taken away at any moment.', mourning the victims as one.

Once this was over there were only two issues left. The first being Ranmaru, who was at the moment staying with Sansho. They still hadn't figured out what to do with the kid. He wanted to do something to make up for what he'd done, but as he pointed out his options were limited in his current state.

The second issue was currently being debated right before them: the fate of Karashi, the son of the kindly old curry chef.

"Please, he hasn't been one of them for long and he was only trying to stand up for himself, like I always told him! If he knew what they were really like, he never would have joined him! I know you can't forgive him, but please give him a chance! He's all have left." Sansho pleaded.

"After everything his pals have done, you expect us to just let him walk away! Hell no!" One of the villagers grabbed the cowering, still tied up Karashi by his collar. "We're shipping him off to prison with the rest of his buddies! Let's see how you like having your freedom taken away!"

Amid the cheers of the other townsfolk, Karashi shook his head and begged. "No! Please! I- I didn't know what I was doing! If I'd tried to leave or stop them, they'd have given me a funeral! What was I supposed to do?!"

"Have a backbone!" One of the villagers snarled in response. "Remember Chie!? She'd known you since you were a child! She was buried for refusing to let your friends have their way with her, and you just stood by and watched it all!"

"They're not my friends! I didn't even know about that until they were already burying her, and then what could I do?! All I ever did was stand guard at the mansion!"

Naruto let out a sigh as the debate, which was clearly not going Karashi and Sansho's favor, raged on. He didn't feel particularly bad for Karashi. He made his choice and he really had no excuse for it, but who was going to take care of Sansho? Her son's stupidity would probably make her a pariah too. She had nothing to do with it, not like she made his choices for him, but it was just human nature. They'd look to spread the blame as much as possible, and an innocent old lady would suffer for her son's mistakes. Stupid in his opinion, but there it was. The fact that she'd put them up would likely be to her benefit in the eyes of the villagers, but she'd still probably never see another customer from Katabami.

After a few moments, during which the villagers never budged, Naruto looked up and smirked as the proverbial light bulb went off.

Fuu looked back and forth as the argument continued before looking to the male Jinchuriki as he stepped forward, put his thumb, index and middle fingers in his mouth and whistled loudly. "Hey guys!" He called out, drawing all eyes towards him. "How about this? Since Karashi deserves to pay after everything you've had to put up with, what if you put him to work in the mine?" Seeing the villager's angered expressions, he raised his hands in a placating manner and continued, "Now I know what you're thinking, but think about it this way. It's not like there's much he can do to you now; he's just one guy. And then you could give him a taste of what you've had to put up with and all the money he makes can go to the families of those who lost people."

That got the miners thinking and Sansho hopeful, though Karashi didn't seem too pleased. "But how am I supposed to make a living if all my money goes to the village?"

He quickly realized this was the wrong thing to say as glares were directed towards him once again.

"Oh, I'm sorry. Is that not to your liking? Well, I'm sure you'll like having your own little cell instead then." Fuu said cheerfully.

Naruto shrugged, raising his hands as if to say 'what can you do' while closing his eyes and giving a mock defeated expression. "Well, if he'd prefer to go to prison then..."

"No, wait!"

"Look, you've done wrong and now you're going to pay for it. If you want money, you're just going to have to spend any off-time you've got working with your mom." Naruto told him. "If you don't like it, tough. You brought this on yourself." Karashi sighed at this, knowing there was no way out. "And if he makes a run for it, just contact Konoha and let me know, I'll track him down and put him in a cell with the others. You have my word."

Gradually, his suggestion won out and Karashi's fate was decided. The dejected young man was to work in the mine for the next 15 years, with the same intensity and hours they had to put in under Raiga's rule, and all his profits would go to the families of those who'd lost people. Karashi actually seemed somewhat relieved when all was said and done, but then, given the alternative he probably knew could have gotten off a lot worse.

A few hours later and the pair were heading back to their temporary lodgings. As Naruto and Fuu walked down the path back to the Curry of Life Shop, the sky and clouds above painted varying hues of orange by the setting sun, Fuu clasped her hands behind her back as she turned and looked at Naruto with a smile.

"You know, that was a nice thing you did back there for Sansho."

Naruto shrugged. "Eh, what was I going to do? She's going to need Karashi's help down the road; I couldn't just let her suffer for his boneheaded mistakes." After a moment's pause, Naruto looked at Fuu out of the corner of his eye. "So, what are you going to do with the Kiba swords?"

"Huh?" Fuu blinked. "What do you mean?"

Naruto looked at her and arched a brow. "What do you mean 'what do you mean'? The swords are yours, are you going to keep them or turn them in for the extra cash?"

The white clad girl frowned. "But it was a joint effort; I figured we'd decide what to do with them together."

"Yeah, but you're the one that got him in the end." The blond pointed out. "Besides, my half of the bounty's enough for me and those swords would suit you. I think you should keep them."

Fuu's eyes turned to the sky and she put a finger to her chin in thought. "Well... Kiri would probably have something to say if they found out I had them..." She then waved that concern off. "Eh, they can get in line. We've already got our fair share of people after us for what we are anyway." She pumped her fist, her mouth widening into a smirk. "All right, I'll keep them! I can't wait to try them out!"

Naruto grinned at that. "You'll probably have Raiga and even Ameyuri beat with those swords in no time!" He said, recalling what they'd learned of the previous swordsman from Jiraiya before they left.

Raiga had been one of the last survivors from the previous generations of the Seven Swordsman of the Mist aside from one other. The rest all went missing nin and their swords lost when they perished. Now only two remained who could claim the title of Swordsman of the Mist: a new swordsman who was loyal to Kiri Jiraiya knew little about, wielding the last of the swords in the village's possession, and Kisame Hoshigaki. The abilities of the swords were also a closely guarded secret, and his knowledge of their powers had been limited, but it was fairly obvious what the Kiba's powers were.

The female Jinchuriki chuckled and grinned excitedly as the possibilities ran through her mind. Thinking of the swords and where she got them quickly brought her mood down, however, as her thoughts wandered back to the village. "How long do you think it'll take for them to recover from all this?"

Naruto looked down at that. "... I don't know. Things will probably never be the same around here." The blond replied after a moment's thought. After a brief silence, he placed his hands behind his head, "But at least the worst is over, so they can start to move on. We can't really do much else for them now." Naruto replied and a silence fell over the pair. After a moment, he left out a sigh and shook his head, causing Fuu turn to him and raised a brow.

"What's wrong?"

"I still can't think of what to do with Ranmaru." After another moment, he shrugged placing his hands behind his head. "Well, maybe it's better that I don't. I want to help him, but it won't mean as much if I help him through it. Maybe it'd be better for him if he finds his own way. The best I could offer is to send him back to Konoha for Tsunade to look at and I don't know how that would work out, especially with the Hyuga, not to mention Danzo. Considering his Dojutsu, they'd probably try to put him under their thumb or something. Besides, I think he's had enough killing for a lifetime."

Fuu smiled. "Yeah, that might be for the best."

After a moment of silence, Naruto gave her a wide grin. "Hey, how about we get some of that curry you like so much? My treat."

He'd probably hate himself in an hour or so for actually offering to condemn himself to that dish of rice soaked in lava as he doubted he'd be able to pass it to Fuu this time around, but the way Fuu's expression lit up made his future suffering worth it.

With an ecstatic smile, Fuu let out a squeal of delight and launched herself at her fellow Jinchuriki, wrapping her arms around his neck. "Oh, thank you! I can't wait!"

Naruto, briefly surprised, reciprocated the gesture, snickering to himself at how easy she was to please. The blond's own arms wrapped around her slim waist, his hands resting on her soft, warm flesh and briefly, he lost himself in the feeling of having her body melded against his, her chest held tightly against his while he inhaled her sweet scent as he closed his eyes.

Fuu enjoyed every moment of having his strong arms wrap around her. It gave her a feeling of happiness and safety. Recently, she would find any excuse to do this. She cherished the feeling of being close to him, of being able to stand beside him. She felt like she never wanted moments like this to end.

It only lasted only a few seconds, a few oddly rapid beats of their hearts, perhaps a bit longer than it should given the reason, before Fuu broke the embrace and grabbed his hand with her smaller one, rushing towards the shop and pulling him along. "Come on, let's go!"

Neither noticed their hands remained clasped together until they were seated.

As the evening sun hung in the air above Konoha, Tsunade sat in her chair, cursing her luck, glaring down at the table, her eye twitching with irritation at the... travesty before her, annoyance rolling off of her in waves. Her mouth twisted in a scowl, she was almost willing the object of her ire to burst into flame. Here she was, having just finished another long hard day of the boring and repetitive duties of a Kage, only the light at the end of the tunnel keeping her from falling asleep on her desk at times or throwing it out the window in frustration at others. And then... just when it looks like she could sit back and relax... this happens.

Tsunade let out a growl of irritation as her eyes narrowed.

In front of her, Shizune was chuckling sheepishly, rubbing the back of her head with an apologetic smile.

Tsunade's eye twitched.

The Hokage of Konoha found herself sitting in the shadow of a massive pile of paperwork Shizune had just brought in at what had seemed to be the very last moments of her workday, regarding several factors, including a request from the daimyo, forms relating to a upcoming treaty, various issues put forth by the council and more, the most numerous being reports on previous missions that needed to be re-submitted. And all had to be filled out by tomorrow morning...

... In triplicate.

After a few moments of continuing the stare down, Tsunade deflated with a sigh, crashing back into her chair and raising her hand to her forehead, feeling the beginnings of a headache coming on.

"Sorry about this, Lady Tsunade." Shizune apologized to her sensei and surrogate parent.

The Slug summoner of the Sannin waved her off, her eyes closed. "It's alright. It's not like this is your fault or something."

At this, Shizune jerked, her expression shifting to that of nervousness. While it was true about half of the forms had nothing to do with her, the others... not so much. She'd unintentionally given people a few ideas about improvements to the hospital... and after discovering an error in one of the mission logs, she'd filled out the form that had put in motion the majority of the forms now sitting on Tsunade's desk. She could only hope that her sensei didn't notice...

That hope died as her blood chilled and her heart a pit formed in her stomach when Tsunade cracked open a single honey colored orb, glaring up at her first apprentice. "You look nervous. Is there something you want to tell me?"

Laughing nervously, her face shifting to a blue color as she inched away from the Sannin, feeling the temperature in the room drop about 20 degrees, the medic replied, "No, whatever gave you that idea?"

Obviously not buying it, Tsunade sat up to question Shizune again before her attention was seized by a small toad jumping onto the open windowsill. "Hey, boss lady! Got a message for ya!"

As the toad hopped over to Tsunade, the Sannin arching a brow as it held out a scroll for her to take, Shizune placed a hand on her chest and breathed out a sigh of relief, thankful that the Senju's attention had been diverted...

Until, seeming to sense her relief, Shizune could feel the older woman's glare on her, causing her to twitch, her face taking on a panicked look. "Don't think I've forgotten about our conversation. We'll pick up where we left off as soon as I see what Jiraiya wants."

Returned her eyes to the scroll, Tsunade unfurled the paper and scanned its contents.

Hey, Tsunade

Been a while, huh? I'm just moping around on my own while those two students of mine go after their next bounty. Not like I've got much to do now...

Tsunade's lips twitched. They would have formed a smile were it not for the veritable mountain of work before her. She could still remember when she received Jiraiya's frantic message about their lost bet...

It had taken her half an hour to stop laughing.

But I guess I can't complain. We've made some amazing progress. Get this; those two have set their sights on Raiga Kurosuki. That's right, one of the last of the rogue Swordsman of the Mist. Who knows, maybe they'll bring those swords of his back with him. Shame they used Zabuza's as a grave marker. If not, we might have been able to start our own Swordsman of the Leaf, how about that? Oh well, they don't need it anyway, and that cleaver wouldn't have suited any of the old Team Seven anyway.

Now on to business. Tsunade, I think it's about time Naruto find out about his parentage.

Tsunade's eyebrows rose to her hairline as she read those words.

In all honesty, he's not the immature brat he was when I first came across him during the Chunin Exams. He may not act like it all the time, but he's grown up. His parents would be proud, and I think it's time he knew the truth... about them and me.

Anyway, just a heads up.

My torture will be over by the time we get back to Konoha, so do me a favor and have a reward waiting for me. I'm begging you; I need something to get me through this dry spell.


Once more, Tsunade sat back and let out a sigh. This could go very badly for Jiraiya... She shrugged.

Eh, oh well. Let the perv sweat a little. She had no doubt Naruto would forgive him, and they'd probably wind up closer than before once all was said and done.

"What is it?" Shizune asked, taking a step forward, worried by Tsunade's reaction.

"It's nothing to worry about... though Jiraiya might be in for it in a few days." Seeing Shizune's curious expression, Tsunade elaborated. "He thinks Naruto's ready to learn about his family... about time if you ask me." Shizune was clearly shocked to hear that, but before she could inquire further, Tsunade's eyes hardened, giving her a look that would make a volcano freeze over. "But enough about that. Shizune, what do you know about all these papers?"

As always, please review.