Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto. If I did, every morning I would just stand behind Kishimoto's desk and shake my head without saying a word until the series ended. I would never tell him what he did, but trust me, he would know.

He would know.


The effort of trying to bring the warring clans together had more moving parts to it than anyone would think. I didn't know it, mom didn't know it, the old man didn't even know it. Not at first anyway. Heh, look at me, throwing myself in there as if I were a factor back then. I was almost eleven years old when I got dropped into this.

Unfortunately, the entire process wasn't as simple as gathering the money you needed to get everything started and asking around to find out who was interested. Nobody was interested without some sort of persuasion. We had to have something for them that would make them want to be a part of it, or something to convince them that it was best for them and everyone else that they took part.

Then we had to find ways to keep them when there turned out to be a little work or unpleasant cohabitation involved. The threat of the day always just so happened to be, "-Or I swear to Kami my clan will walk," It was the unofficial motto of the village for years.

Then there's the balancing of egos that we still have to do. Oh dear lord. People are made of bitch. Varying degrees of bitch.

Politics aren't in my blood, I'll say that much right now. Sitting through and actually having to deal with massaging the egos of the clans and having to deal with what happens when people who had no problems fighting to the death over a pair of scuffed sandals feel 'wronged' by another party is more than I ever felt like handling. There are times when I just want to say to hell with it and let them duke it out, or take both sides outside and take out the trash my damn self.

That would cause more problems than it would solve, so I'm never allowed to do it, and I admit it. I can't punch all of my problems in the face. I wish I could, it would make things a whole lot easier, but I can't.

And I understand. Entire clans uprooted from everything they'd ever known and put together over generations to take a chance on an… experiment. That's what this is, an experiment, and if it fails this is never going to ever come close to taking place again. We'll be an example of how shinobi can't come together without murdering each other and we'll be an excuse to let the fighting for the sake of fighting continue. Somehow, we've convinced them to put everything into our stupid idea, and they're not about to let themselves get the shaft or the scraps from the deal. We're mercenaries! The bottom-line is what matters more than anything else! What is this village going to do for ME and MY PEOPLE specifically?! I get it.

Those weren't the worst parts though. We're working through that. It's all an exercise in progress. We have to learn what works and what doesn't in this sort of setting with the most eclectic cast of characters you can imagine. Heads will butt, feelings will be hurt, lessons will be learned. You know, that whole 'life' thing.

No, what had been, and always would be the worst part was the sheer trouble we got, just from trying the idea in the first place. I'm old enough to say this now. While bringing the clans together was a cause we believed would help countless people, there were some people that did suffer because of it.

Either they weren't raking in the money they used to make, or they felt threatened by a gathering of ninjas that they figured would turn on them and snuff them out, or they felt like we wanted the entire country instead of just running our base of operations here, or this, or that. There were hundreds of reasons for people to want a piece of us while we were setting this up.

Because you can never just do something. Everything has consequences to it, and the bigger it is the bigger the consequences, both positive and negative.

You don't just change a whole system without something or someone getting screwed over. The reason it was a system in the first place was because it worked for enough people for long enough that it became the status quo, even if it did decay into something so unbalanced that someone felt it had to change over time.

And here's the funny thing. People tend to get really testy when you start changing their shit around.

Uzumaki Naruto – 'End of Clan War Era Memoirs'

Chapter 13: Course of Action


*BOOM!*

Tenten stretched her arms over her head as she wandered through the woods, following the periodic sounds of chaos. With all of the excitement from the day before, she'd tired herself out. She'd slept like a baby that night.

Her partner had been conspicuous by his absence in the tent that the two shared however. His bedroll had been rolled up and ready to hit the road by the time she'd awoken, which was strange. They usually woke up at the same time… because she was usually the one to wake him up.

*BOOM!*

Well unless a clan battle had broken out just out of earshot of the campsite at least he wasn't too hard to find.

Another blast, from closer this time, and Naruto flew through the openings between tree trunks before landing right in front of her, the top of his head tapping her shins. Tenten looked down at him with a grin, figuring he was training that jutsu of his that Kakashi had given him the steps to, "Good morning Naruto. You're up early today."

Naruto opened his eyes and revealed them to be quite bloodshot and bleary, much to her surprise. He was clearly not in the mood for any chipper attitude, which was an extreme deviation from normal on his part, "…You didn't hear that last night?" Even his voice sounded dead exhausted.

Tenten blinked down at him and shook her head, "Hear what?" Someone could have set off an explosive tag next to her head last night and she wouldn't have known. She'd fallen asleep before Minato had flashed off to retrieve Jiraiya from decoy duty.

Naruto's eye twitched at her apparent ignorance to the events of the night. In reality though, it was probably for the better that she'd been so out of it. After all, he really wished that he hadn't had to hear Minato and Kushina get reacquainted in a spousal manner. How no one else seemed to stir in the dead of night was beyond the youngster.

Did they know he could hear them and technically see them? He really hoped they didn't. Kurama drumming his foot on the floor of his cell in an effort to estimate Minato's rhythm and tempo in an effort to further scar Naruto for life didn't help matters either. By two in the morning, Naruto had to sneak off and get away. Go anywhere. As long as he was outside of hearing range.

This turned out to be a surprisingly (disturbingly) far distance, because the farther Naruto went, the louder Kushina seemed to get, and the longer his nightmares would haunt him from that day forward.

Plus, when he'd finally gotten up and gotten out to leave, boom! Moonlight silhouette through the fabric of his parents' tent. And it had been pure evil in his eyes. There are certain things that one cannot unsee.

Which was why he started causing chakra explosions in the palm of his hand in his attempt to finish the Rasengan. The ringing of the failure blasts in the air and in his head would drown out his mother's love cries.

With a sigh, Naruto resigned himself to suffering alone. There was no way that Tenten wanted to know about his parents banging, "Nevermind," He said, stretching his arms into the air, "Help me up?"

Rolling her eyes, Tenten did as requested, "Honestly, why would you come out here all by yourself? It's still dangerous you know."

"I wasn't alone," Naruto said, pointing to another tree nearby where Fuu sat, knees to her chest and her bright orange eyes peering out above them, "See?"

Tenten recoiled, partially in surprise and partially because of the eerie factor of having someone watch someone else she knew like that, "Why's she watching you like that?"

At that prompt, Fuu stood up and walked her way over to the two, getting uncomfortably close before putting her finger right in Naruto's face, "Fuu wants to know how you beat Fuu."

"Uh…" Naruto said, sharing a look with Tenten before deciding that it didn't hurt since she already knew he was a jinchuuriki, "Kurama helped me. He let me use his chakra during the fight… and it sucked. But it worked."

Fuu flipped her accusatory hand upside down and hooked Naruto's nostrils with her index and middle fingers, pulling him along with her as she walked carelessly, "Nooooo, Fuu knows that! What did you do? All of that power. Chomei says Fuu's body would break if Fuu used that much. Fuu can't control that much. You turned red like a star, and then everything hurt."

Everything hurt as in everything on her hurt. A punch from Naruto in that form would have turned a normal kid with Fuu's body composition into human confetti.

"Ow! Let go!" Naruto wrestled himself free with a snort, "I don't know! All I know is that it hurts like hell! I can't control it! Kurama just tells me when he's gonna do it and then he does it!" Fuu seemed very underwhelmed by this information, "That's all I've got."

Fuu's eye twitched before she turned and walked away, "Boo. Boring powers are boring. Fuu thought it was cooler."

"What? I flattened you in three goddamn punches!" Naruto shouted, feeling extremely offended, "What's cooler than that!?"

"Not almost choking up a lung after every punch," Fuu pointed out, holding out a thumbs-down without even turning around, "You couldn't beat Fuu in a rematch now that she knows what you did and how you did it."

Naruto wanted to challenge her right then and there, but he really didn't want to have to take a triple-shot of Kurama's full power to prove a point. And speaking of points, Fuu had one. All she had to do was make him miss a few times or endure whatever he dished out to her, and he'd be in no more condition to fight, let alone keep using Kurama's chakra.

Still, he was ten. So he couldn't let something like that slide without a fight.

"Oh yeah? Well I only had to beat you once, and I did!"

That stopped Fuu right in her tracks. That was never a good sign whenever someone stopped cold.

"The only time winning once matters is when one side dies. You beat Fuu once, and you didn't kill her. If you don't kill your enemies, you give them a chance to get stronger or smarter and come back," With that, Fuu turned around halfway, eliciting more killing intent by looking at them with one eye than they thought the bubbly girl could muster, "If Fuu didn't like you all so much… if we fought again, right now, Fuu would definitely kill you."

That was definitely a girl taken away from her family and raised by the greediest ninja in the land to be nothing more than his human attack dog. There was no mistake, or lapse of identity with her. She was a killer. An unbalanced killer who had to adjust for the kind of life she'd been forced to lead, but still a killer and an unapologetic one at that.

Tenten knew what Naruto didn't; that Shino had softened Fuu's biju chakra armor and allowed Naruto to smash the rest of the way through to deal that devastating damage to her. This time, even if he did hit her, he'd be trying to hammer through the full portion of her superhuman natural defense.

And just like that it all disappeared, and the brightest smile a human being could put on their face found itself back in place, "But Fuu doesn't want to, so she won't! Masked guy said Fuu can do what she wants, and Fuu doesn't want to kill anybody!" She finished with a giggle.

Just like that, she was gone. Off to do whatever it was she normally did when she wasn't watching them.

…Thus leaving Naruto and Tenten markedly more unnerved than when they'd first met up that morning, but for different reasons.

Tenten was unnerved because Fuu had basically said aloud that losing to Naruto meant nothing. If they fought again she would defeat him. A girl that had tried to kill them only a day ago was close enough to wring their necks if she so had the notion.

On the other end, Naruto wasn't so much intimidated as demoralized. He wasn't afraid of her because of what she said; only saddened really.

Fuu wasn't a bad girl that was in her element as a killing machine, and she wasn't born into a ninja clan and had no inherent predisposition to fighting. She hadn't even wanted to be a ninja. Kakuzu took her and made her one. He ripped her away from her family, took her childhood, and tried to make a monster out of her.

Now that she wasn't fighting them like Kakuzu's guard dog it was clear that while Fuu was a little off, she was no monster. Monsters didn't cry when they were hit.

Naruto remembered a girl like Hinata, being chased by the Uchiha Clan with the intent to kill, all over taking mercenary business away from her clan so that theirs could thrive. Tenten's parents were killed in a battle between the Senju and the Uchiha years ago.

And those were just the things he knew about because they'd affected people he knew!

Either way, he was beginning to pick up on why Minato was out to do what he was doing. Taking in the culture shock of the mainland was making it clear why Minato was so for creating a place where ninja clans didn't slaughter one another. He wanted to learn more about it.

…Daresay, it might have been something he would have been proud to help out with.

XxX

(Cha no Kuni – Small Fishing Village)

A simple mission to pay for an item to return to the main clan headquarters. That was all that had been on the docket for Sasuke when he'd been dispatched with a near full platoon worth of his clansmen. It was easy, but every mission couldn't be storming fortresses and taking down enemy elements to the Uchiha. The more mundane tasks had importance as well.

Mundane wasn't necessarily the word of the day when it came to what awaited his eyes upon reaching the meeting point.

'This is awful,' Sasuke thought to himself as he walked through the suffering town with his fellow clan members. Apparently they all had been warned to wear rebreather masks just to enter the town limits, and it was obvious why. The air was diseased. The entire place smelled of death, and not the sort that came from battle.

He'd seen his share of settlements that had suffered from clan conflicts, but those situations had been easy enough to remedy. Most of the time when general safety fell far enough in an area, towns and villages would take the risk of becoming an outpost to a ninja clan. It made them a target for enemies of the clan they assisted, but they became a protectorate instead of just a possible battlefield. While it wasn't a guarantee of safety, it was better than the alternative.

This had nothing to do with that though. It had nothing to do with any sort of conflict that was taking place nearby. As far as the Uchiha Clan knew, there was no shinobi activity anywhere near there. These people all looked sick, as if stricken with the plague.

"What's wrong with this place?" Sasuke asked aloud as he and his father walked past a man sitting outside of a building, twitching on the ground. It seemed like the only thing differentiating him from a corpse was the clear sight of pain in his eyes.

…Was that pus coming from his eyes?

"This is what happens in places with no ninja presence," An older Uchiha Clan member told him, "Just because there aren't any clan wars being fought here does not mean that things are safe or peaceful. In all honesty it just makes things worse in countries without a strong daimyo."

Places far out from the monarch of the realm found themselves cut off from getting assistance via the enlisted soldiers in the daimyo's employ. They liked to keep their warriors close to protect themselves and their nearest interests from the crazy ninjas that did battle all over the place.

Criminals of all sorts pervaded these unfortunate locations. If they didn't matter to ninjas or the feudal lords, they might as well have been invisible. That led to bandits, or worse.

"Places like this can't afford to hire us can they?" Sasuke asked, getting the gist of his fellow clansman's point.

"No. That's pretty much why we don't do anything. There's no interest here for us, and they aren't paying us, so we don't touch it," The adult Uchiha then grinned viciously over at Sasuke, realizing that he was stewing over this, "Of course, the first time we find an excuse that these sorts have wronged us, we usually get rid of 'em in a hurry."

That helped… sort of.

Anyway, they were supposed to be there to meet someone, for something or another. Sasuke remembered his father being very vague when he was in earshot about what they were getting. All he knew was that his father wanted him to go out in order to garner experience in more than just combat.

This was one of those 'shut your mouth, open your eyes and ears' sort of things. His purpose there was to watch and soak everything in, even if it was a gruesome sight.

Before long, they came along a man that seemed out of place. Not just from his appearance; long dark hair, a sheet-white skin tone, yellow snake-like eyes, and a kimono that seemed too to have been the property of a person from this sort of town. No, this man seemed almost gleeful at the pitiful sight of the dying town around him.

He was the only person who wasn't sick or wasn't wearing some sort of cover over his nose and mouth. Even the four people around him that looked as if they served as his muscle had their faces covered for safety from whatever was ravaging this place. Those sorts seemed to be unified from the similarly cream-colored tunics in different styles and their body types varied drastically in shape and size.

"Orochimaru," Sasuke's companion said, "Your message to Fugaku-sama arrived with news. You have something we may be interested in?" He then looked around at the village, "I'm assuming this has something to do with it."

"Just a final test. A way for you to… see the results of my work. A preview before you may choose to buy," Orochimaru said with a pleased smile on his face, "I'm very satisfied with the results for something I came across unintentionally. Did you know that the stronger the chakra of the infected, the worse the virus ravages their body?"

The Uchiha man didn't say a word at first, simply taking in the effects of the bio-weapon and what he felt it was worth, "And we're the only ones you've told?"

"Correct. You're the first. I always love how you Uchiha find methods to use my creations. So resourceful," The grin on the man's face never left, "Of course, if you're not interested in having the exclusive rights to my bioweapon, I'll have to take my business elsewhere. I'm sure there's another clan that would find a use for this."

Against them.

That was the unspoken point he'd driven home. If they didn't buy the exclusive rights to the weapon he would sell it to someone else, and there was a good chance that they'd use it against the Uchiha Clan at some point.

"And you're saying that the stronger the chakra, the worse the effects?" The thoughts of how such a thing could be applied were staggering. This wasn't some stupid poison gas that an enemy would realize was coming. It was an airborne virus.

"Kukukuku… if this disgusts you, you really don't want to see the results of the test when it was used on actual shinobi," Orochimaru said, "The survival rate for civilians is 32 percent. As of now the survival rate for shinobi is… significantly less I should say."

"Is it really now?"

"It's extremely effective, I can assure you. 5 million ryo please."

With a gesture of the Uchiha man's head, a ninja a kunoichi of the clan handed over a scroll to Orochimaru's bodyguards, receiving one in return, presumably containing a certain amount of whatever they had bought from him.

"Remember, it's not only waterborne, it's airborne. Make sure you don't breathe it in. Take every precaution. The canister sealed inside of the scroll has three separate deployments all ready for you." Orochimaru explained, giving them the crash course on what they needed to know to use the weapon, "The pathogen itself will be dangerous for two days in the open air without finding a host to infect. As I'm certain you know, coughs, sneezes, and mere breathing from those infected release fresh pathogens to continue the cycle. It's very fast acting and the effects will begin setting in within five minutes."

"An antidote?"

"An antidote is extra. 2 million more."

The Uchiha Clan member growled before turning and walking away, "We'll take it under consideration. We brought enough to pay for the weapon, nothing more. Fugaku-sama will contact one of your representatives if he finds it necessary."

Damn it, he'd given then enough for it to be effective in action after a test run on a lesser known enemy facility but he hadn't given them nearly enough to waste on having their medics try to design their own or come up with a cure.

It wasn't as if it was going to be used on them. They had the rights to it, and if nothing else Orochimaru did straight-up business. You couldn't believe him if his tongue were notarized otherwise, but when it came to matters of his science and the business it brought him he was straightforward. It helped to ensure repeat business even when other clans knew that he sold to their enemies alike.

"Be very careful then," Orochimaru said between chuckles, "Make sure to only take the canister out in a sealed room while your mouth and nose is covered. For safety of course. I would hate to see my clients die using my weapon. It's bad publicity you see!" He called out as the purchasing party got farther away.

The bodyguards all seemed to smirk behind their facemasks as they followed their leader away. Sasuke bit his tongue, but the ire was clear on his face until they'd gotten far enough away that he felt he could let loose without ruining the dealing.

"What the hell was that?" He snapped irritably.

"We just bought -."

"-That guy is a monster, and he threatened us!" Sasuke said, wishing one of them would have shot a fireball at that snake and been done with him. They definitely would have been doing the world a favor, "I thought you said-."

"Sasuke," One of the older clansmen said stoutly, "Orochimaru is a proven commodity and a resource that no clan can afford to make an enemy of. Not even us."

"That man has the power inside of his head to turn the tide of things anyway he wants, and the strength that opposing him for no reason would be a foolish idea," Another one of the adults said, "It's just that the only things he seems to care about are his weird experiments. Luckily, when they work he's more than willing to sell them to the highest bidder."

"He's a mercenary, just in a different way. It's not so different from us."

Sasuke looked around him at the horrible plague Orochimaru had unleashed on the little village as a test, 'These people aren't even ninjas.'

He wasn't accepting that sort of answer. That snake was nothing like them. This was different from hurting people in battle or during a mission. Sasuke had been born for warfare. To him, the second you picked up a weapon or ingratiated yourself in the discipline all bets were off, you were fair game.

But what did these people do that justified this on any moral level? Just live in a convenient part of the country where Orochimaru could get away with doing as he pleased? This was just suffering for the sake of suffering.

XxX

Anything to keep from making eye contact with Minato or Kushina.

That had been Naruto's mindset when he'd returned to camp with Tenten and Fuu and found everyone awake. It took him all of five seconds to notice that his mother was positively beaming and his father's satisfaction seemed so thorough that he seemed to have a lean to his walk.

This brought forth thoughts that no ten year-old should have had to face. It brought forth thoughts that no one's child should have ever had to face when it came to their parents.

So yes, anything to keep from making eye contact with his parents until he could suppress the memory of their passionate night of reunion.

It didn't hurt that his partner was a specialist in ninja tools and seemed to have a teeny-tiny obsession for tinkering and inventing new weapons. Minute really. It was only around one hundred different blueprints. Either way, there were very few things that could occupy a young man's attention better than exotic sharp, pointy things and objects that exploded.

Naruto, Tenten, and Shino went through the process of reading all of Tenten's meticulous plans of design, mechanical estimations, and down to the penny costs of materials for her would-be creations. Fuu just laid around behind them, airily staring up at the sky and kicking her legs aimlessly.

"When would you even get around to making all of these?" Naruto asked earnestly as he ran his eyes over another of Tenten's design scrolls, "And why do you know how to make all of 'em?" Because she seemed certain that all of her designs were fool-proof, and thus far they had been.

"I don't want to fight battles forever and die before I turn 30. This is my exit strategy," Tenten said with a smug smile, "One day, word will spread about my special ninja tools when people see them in action, and I'll start getting paid to sell them to clans and other ninjas, and then I can get the materials I want to make the harder stuff, and then I'll keep going from there! I'll take that money and retire from being an active ninja."

She was clanless, so being a lifetime kunoichi really didn't guarantee her anything other than a lonely death before she got to be even Kushina's age. Her plan was her only way out of the life before she got too infamous that didn't involve subsistence farming and/or living like a serf for the rest of her days. Being a statistic was not a part of her master plan.

It still didn't explain how she knew what she did of weapon design. Minato was a kingpin with seals, not with engineering, so he didn't teach her about creating ninja tools.

Studying Tenten's works as well, Shino raised an eyebrow behind his sunglasses. She had a rather sensible plan. Very sensible for a young girl to have. It was actually sort of impressive, especially for an eleven year-old, and while some of these designs seemed pretty… wild, as far as her current track record went if Naruto was to be believed Tenten was four-for-four with things she'd already made and used.

Tenten laughed to herself at the thought of her own ambitions before her smile became rather somber, "Kunai, shuriken, crossbows, catapults… those are all well and good, but against people like that Konan or against monsters like Shukaku, or in the middle of a big battle, what kind of difference can someone like me make by myself? That's why I want to make strong ninja tools, so that someone like me can make a difference when it matters."

Naruto frowned and looked up from the blueprint when he heard her saddened tone. She didn't think she made that much of a difference? No, she was awesome! She was definitely Naruto's favorite person that wasn't related to him.

Once he sat and reflected though, at the moment she was his favorite person, including people that were related to him. That made her number two on the list right behind his mother… and oh there went that thought again. Must suppress…

"Okay!"

Damn it mom…

"Everybody that's coming with my family, listen up!" A happy Kushina chirped spiritedly to the amassed camp, "The next plan of action; to get the fuck away from Hi no Kuni!"

Everyone waited for further explanation on just what the forthcoming days would have for them. They received none. Still, Kushina seemed thoroughly proud of her determined course for the lot of them. None of them could see why.

"…And go where exactly 'Red'?" Jiraiya eventually spoke up, sitting off by the back of the camp, a smile on his face. So this was Minato's wife? He liked her, and not just because she was pretty.

"Anywhere," The redheaded mother said, not losing her mood a bit, "I don't care. Take your pick. Hell, rock the vote. Be democratic. Just as long as it's not somewhere in Hi no Kuni. I hate that country," Most of the battles she'd had to fight in her life had been fought in Hi no Kuni, bringing bad memories. Thus, she was not a fan and wanted to stay as far away as possible.

"I'll go ahead and drop Shino off with his clan then," Minato said before looking over to the kids. They had just as much stake in what was happening as everyone else so hearing from them on what they thought was only apropos. Though when he checked on them, Naruto seemed oddly preoccupied in thought.

"Naruto," Minato asked, putting a hand on his sidetracked son's shoulder.

Naruto's eyes lit up as if he were a computer in sleep mode, thus the last real thought of focus that had been on his mind before he'd sidetracked himself with looking at blueprints jumped up, "Get-off-my-mom," He hurriedly said before the rest of his brain caught up with his voice, "I mean… what?"

Both of Naruto's parents looked sufficiently mortified while Jiraiya threw a thousand-watt grin on his face. Kakashi actually paid full attention to the people around him outside of combat for once, and Anko openly laughed.

Minato idly wondered if he'd have to have a little talk with his son later. One that he figured he'd have to have a few years from then, but one that he'd have to have nonetheless.

Wow. The whole 'dad' thing was really happening. It was really sinking in now.

Deciding to be the one brave enough to break the silence, Shino cleared his throat with a cough that cast attention over to him, "I would rather remain with your party, if it isn't a disruption to your affairs, Namikaze-san."

That came as a surprise. Normally the Aburame weren't ones to get on very well with people outside of their clans. Most found them an odd, creepy sort, and that in turn led to them not showing very much camaraderie.

But Shino seemed to like Naruto and Tenten, and they liked him. They could have been friends. As long as it was fine with Shino there was no reason not to. Clearly the kids worked well enough together as Fuu hadn't torn them limb-from-limb, so why not?

"You can stay with us for as long as you'd like Shino," Minato said with a smile, "From what I've heard, you could have returned home by now after your mission to help Kakashi, Naruto, and Tenten ended."

Shino just nodded and made no impression that he was going anywhere. He had been invited to stay, which was what he had wanted. He wasn't going anywhere.

Unfortunately, Anko did not share the team player mentality with people she'd only recently met.

"I'll be breaking off from your merry little band," The purple-haired woman chimed in, raising her hand as if she were in class, "Nothing against you guys, but working with others gets you killed," It worked out once, but only due to a series of extremely fortunate circumstances going their way as far as she was concerned.

"And working alone gets your kidney pilfered," Kakashi interjected, "…Just saying."

Anko turned her attention to Kakashi, taking his interruption in a different way. She gave him a downright seductive smile as she sauntered over to him, "Aww, are you gonna miss me when I'm gone Scarecrow?"

"Sure," Kakashi said, lowering his book to give Anko the deadest stare he could muster with one eye, "Look. Can't you see how much I'll miss you?"

"Oh, you know you love me."

Hardly.

"Love's for suckers," Kakashi then spared a glance over at an offended Minato and Kushina before shrugging and speaking to the youngsters, "I stand by that statement. Kids, don't ever get married or keep a steady lover. Rolling stone and all that."

Jiraiya grinned and elbowed Minato in the side, "Kakashi always was my favorite of your subordinates."

"Yeah sensei…" Tenten said, swirling her index fingers clockwise before pointing down, "I've learned to take everything you say about everything that doesn't involve being a ninja, and just ignore it. I like being happy."

"You'll grow out of it," The older ninja assured her, getting a harsher glare from Kushina that basically told him to stop trying to corrupt kids to his more cynical way of thinking.

Anko let out a noise of thought, "Scarecrow does have a point though. Working alone did end up with Kakuzu harvesting my kidney. I miss my sweet-ass kidney," She looked around the gathered party before her brown eyes shone upon locating a viable target, "Eh, what the hell? I'll take you."

"What?" Everyone present asked at once.

Fuu, the person Anko had been pointing at, sat up from where she'd been kicking her legs into the air and fixed the older kunoichi with a skeptical look, "You want Fuu to go with you?"

"Sure!" Anko chirped as if it were obvious, "Everybody else is tied down to ol' Yellow Flash here-."

"-I'm not," Jiraiya said abruptly, figuring that if Anko, the fine piece of woman that she was, happened to be taking on a partner for the time being, it might as well be him, "Sexy, top-shelf shinobi, totally free and clear to go and do whatever I want here. I'm just throwing that out there."

He was thoroughly ignored.

"-So I figured, why not bring you with me?" Anko finished, walking over to the mint-haired jinchuuriki, throwing an arm around the curious girl's shoulder, "You're a good hand in a pinch, and you're a potential mini-nuke in human form. Come on. I promise I'll teach you all sorts of cool stuff you wouldn't learn here, like-," She trailed off and started whispering in Fuu's ear.

What she had to say apparently involved one of the other kids, because Fuu wound up staring hard in their direction, "Why would Fuu want to learn that?" Anko slapped her on the shoulder and whispered to her again, "…And that's a good thing?"

Anko nodded with a mischievous grin, "It is. I promise."

"…Fuu agrees then. But she won't do anything she doesn't want to."

"Hey, you can leave whenever you want. Just give things a shot first, partner."

Minato cleared his throat, "Well actually, if you're going to be off looking for work, which is what I'm assuming you'll do-," Anko nodded, her attention piqued by someone like him seemingly preparing to ask something of her, "-I've got a mission for you to take, if you'd like."

"Well…" She would have been lying if she said she wasn't intrigued, "…How would you pay me?"

Kushina didn't even try to mask the deadpan in her tone, "My son and his friends just stole enough money from the biggest miser in shinobi history to fund four clan wars from scratch. How do you think?"

A fair point. How Anko had forgotten that a large sum of cash and other high-valuable goods had been pilfered from Kakuzu's pit of greed, she didn't feel like dwelling on. She was not going to get sniped at by Minato Jr.'s redheaded mommy, "Careful now. We can always take a little walk and handle our differences like kunoichi, Tomato."

"Aw fuck, I mean, err…" Minato snapped before realizing that he'd cursed in front of his son… who'd muttered the exact same curse, so being a good influence didn't really matter in this instance. He wanted to be more articulate, but he really didn't know how in this instance.

Both father and son knew that Kushina was somewhat touchy about her red hair. Minato knew from seeing Kushina interact with ninjas from the mainland willing to insult it in the past, and Naruto knew it from civilian clients around Uzu no Kuni sometimes pointing out the almost universally shared color of the clan's hair and her at times touchy responses.

Kushina chuckled huskily with closed eyes, grinning in a manner very reminiscent of her son, "Honey, I've been locked up for the last three months with nothing to do but worry, wait for an opening, and get back into full fighting shape so if the time came I could tear one particular bitch's blue hair out by the roots," At that point, Naruto started grinning. His mom was cool when that scary latent killing intent wasn't focused on him, "I'm all pent up, and I might not know when enough is enough. I don't want to hurt you too badly, because I kind of like you."

Okay, it was the Yellow Flash's wife, who was not only unafraid of fighting an experienced, extremely active adult kunoichi, but who also seemed to be a little stir-crazy and antsy for combat. Looking at Naruto sitting behind her she caught the boy shaking his head as if to say that it was a bad idea.

Minato held up his hands and quickly inserted himself into the line of fire. It wouldn't do to have Kushina beat the daylights out of a new comrade. He only had so many that would actually actively help him at the moment, "Alright, alright. So, mission?" He asked, holding up a scroll with the details on it.

Anko stared past him at the still grinning Kushina, but took the scroll. As much as she wanted to take a piece of the sure-fire action she'd get in the sort of fight she'd find against Kushina, she wasn't fully healed yet. It was also another reason traveling with Fuu. The girl was earnest as hell and tough enough to more than watch out for her. If nothing else, if Anko was honest with her and didn't do anything to hurt her Fuu would be good company.

She took a moment to peruse the mission and raised an eyebrow at it before shrugging, "If that's what you want to pay me for, sure. It sounds a hell of a lot more peaceful than what I usually get up to."

Minato just gave her a wry grin, "You'd think so. It'll be harder than you think."

"Well whether it is or it isn't, I took your contract, and my word is bond," Anko said, sliding the scroll through her belt for temporary holding, "Sounds like a scouting mission to me, but I'll search high and low anyway. So Fuu, are you in or are you out?"

Fuu huffed and stood up from where she'd been seated and dusted off her skirt, "Fuu already said she was coming," She then flashed a smile at the younger portion of the gathering, "Sooo, Fuu will be leaving with Anko for a while. Maybe when she comes back, we can be friends?"

Naruto looked at both Shino and Tenten. Shino wasn't exactly the go-to on how things of this nature were supposed to go. Tenten was still considerably unnerved by the girl's strength, especially when she tried to stack it up against her own abilities.

"Well I think we're friends now," Naruto said extending his hand that Fuu shook, "…If you can get past the 'us fighting' thing, I can too. I kind of wanted you to HANG AROUND!" He exclaimed when he suddenly found himself pulled in a hug.

Anko snickered and bore the looks from the other adults before shrugging. Oh, traveling with that girl was going to be fun.

Fuu hadn't had a hug since Kakuzu had taken her from her family, and Naruto was the nicest person she'd met since then… even if he had taken it upon himself to belt her with a few biju-enhanced punches. He was too stunned to hug her back, but she didn't mind. It was the most positive human contact she'd had in years.

Naruto adjusted quickly enough and did actually muster enough to return the gesture. There wasn't anything to be afraid of when it came to Fuu, "Yeah, we're friends," She must have been an extremely nice girl before Kakuzu got a hold of her.

Pulling away Fuu gave Naruto a knowing look, "You wanted Fuu to teach you biju stuff didn't you?" Naruto's sheepish expression was all the confirmation she needed, "Fuu doesn't know that much about that. Chomei was just being nice and helped out," Fuu revealed, "Besides, Chomei doesn't like Kurama."

"Uptight bug," Kurama sounded off inside of Naruto's head, "It's just as well. Our powers don't work the same anyway."

Well there went that idea.

Anko took that time to herd Fuu away from the other kids, "Well there's no time to make money like the present. Come on, the sooner we see this through and finish, the sooner we can see your new little crew again." Fuu waved goodbye and Anko cheekily blew Kakashi a kiss that he didn't care to see before the two of them took off through the woods.

Jiraiya clapped his hands one time to get attention on him, "Alright, I'm heading out too. Places to go, people to see, and all of that noise," He had to keep on putting out feelers to see if there were any clans interested in

"Check with the Hyuuga Clan," Kakashi advised, knowing full well what Jiraiya's self-imposed mission would be, "Their clan head seemed interested when we stopped through," And if nothing else, the goodwill Kakashi had won for helping them at a dire time would get Jiraiya an audience to talk.

Jiraiya let him know he'd take it under advisement with a nod before he left. His departure was markedly mundane for his standing, as he merely left in a puff of smoke.

And that was the way that it was, that it had to be. There was no time to dwell and soak in everything that they had been through. Anko's run-in with Kakuzu, Fuu's life that had effectively ended when Kakuzu was killed, what had happened to Naruto and Kushina to prompt everything that had brought them to that point, they could not stop and look back.

"Let's get moving then," Minato said with a smile. Even with everything, he had his family with him. Whatever happened from that point forward, at that moment he was as content as he ever felt he could be, "Kushina doesn't want to be anywhere near Hi no Kuni, so we're heading north."

XxX

(A Week Later – Uzumaki Clan Village)

For almost fourteen days Nagato had been nigh inapproachable. The only one who seemed to be able to get close to him was Konan, thus any messages that members of the clan and the village had to give to him went through her first. This wasn't seen as particularly odd, as many had seen Konan as the right-hand of Nagato for quite some time despite the fact that she was an outsider. As far as many of them went, Konan might as well have been of the clan herself.

Nagato was depressing Konan though, which in of itself was quite a feat as her usual demeanor was always somewhat depressed. To say that she was in a deeper state of despondence was saying something.

It all revolved around Nagato though. Ever since Minato's blitz on the village to take Kushina back, and Kushina's willingness to fight Nagato if need be to ensure she left with him, something had changed.

With a knock, Konan entered the office, knowing that Nagato would not answer one way or the other regarding her allowance inside. He was seated in the same place he'd sat the last several times she'd come to him; in his chair staring out of the window to the west.

On his face was the look of someone who had let something go, and that something had taken a piece of him with it as it had left.

Before she could open her mouth to speak to him, he beat her to the punch, "Was I wrong?" She didn't know what he'd meant, "I knew what it meant when Kushina married him. She's a loyal woman, and she never would have turned her back on Minato, even with ten years apart. It's one of the reasons I admired her."

Konan frowned deeply but listened. He was confiding in her, and she would not interrupt until he was through.

"I couldn't have her and I knew it, and my own desires caused me to make decisions that I shouldn't have. That I knew better than to make," Nagato continued before looking at his own hand, watching as it shifted into a chakra cannon, "You can try and do good with the power you're given. You can do your best to live up to the responsibilities people bestow unto you with it, but in the end, what good is power if you can't have one thing that you want?"

He wanted Kushina. He wanted the Uzumaki Clan to be seen on the same level as the Senju Clan, and not one of their underling clans (albeit one with high standing and value).

"We are only human you know," Konan said to him, shutting the door as she walked inside, "We make mistakes, we're blinded by our avarice. The fact that you can admit to yourself and others that you erred makes you better than most."

Nagato laughed wryly and turned to her, pointing at his eyes, "People say that these eyes are divine, more than human, but if only they knew," Konan shook her head, knowing that Nagato was referring to his own lineage. More appropriately his direct parentage and what it was supposed to have represented… a long time ago, "They would call it an abomination instead."

"The Senju Clan doesn't need to know anything about this," Konan said, trying to get some sort of positive reaction out of him, "Kushina was never a figure of importance to them. There's no need to-."

"Konan, I don't give a damn about the Senju Clan," Nagato interjected before she could finish the attempt to give him some sort of comfort. The Senju only paid attention to their 'sister clan' during the yearly conference meetings or when they needed bodies to fight the Uchiha. Other than that, the Uzumaki could sway in the wind as far as they were concerned, "Tsunade made an effort to strong-arm us, and what was her contribution to the effort? To send her Mokuton-using pet with you to go after Naruto and his protector."

…For all of the good that it had done in the end.

Nagato could have gotten the same effect or better by keeping things in-house and sending Konan with a team of her choice. But no. Tsunade considered it a Senju problem only because of the trouble that Naruto's current status could bring their clan by association. In the end it was still seen by her as the Uzumaki Clan's fault, thus they apparently needed their hands held to fix it. Insulting.

And Konan had dutifully gone along with it, because he had asked her to.

"I'm sorry Konan," Nagato declared earnestly, "I put you in the position to act in my stead, for as much as it handcuffed you. This was never your issue to be involved in. You have my eternal gratitude for helping me as much as you have."

A smile tugged at the blue-haired woman's lips as she stopped and turned around, "There's no need to thank me. I've already made my choice to stay by your side a long time ago. So what will you do now?"

One thing he wouldn't do was waste resources on Minato, Kushina, and Naruto. It wasn't worth it. He still despised Minato's very essence, and Kushina had hurt him deeply with what he'd seen as a betrayal of both him and the clan, but there were more important things afoot. They were a wild element, but not dangerous. Minato wouldn't start a fight with them now that he had what he wanted, and Kushina wouldn't be conspiring with enemies to the clan.

Nagato's thoughts had been turning outward since the panic of Minato and Jiraiya's little escapade occurred. Namely, beyond the confines of the island nation that housed their settlement. Uzu no Kuni was a double-edged sword to the clan. It was an easily protectable location too small for any other clans to really get a foothold, but with enough trouble at sea and on the islands outside of the country that they could receive plenty of work.

On the other hand, because of how easy they had things when it came to their constant clientele and because the nature of their missions rarely pitted them against the powerhouse clan of Hi no Kuni, as well as their status as a subordinate clan to the Senju, they received very little respect. Even with their ability in sealing, an extremely difficult field of the ninja arts, a specialization that no other clan could claim, they weren't perceived as a truly imposing clan.

They had the strength to match any clan in the Elemental Nations. If the Senju Clan believed they could bend them over a barrel and treat them as children, they would find themselves with a problem.

"This clan deserves better," Nagato said, "For decades, we've been cleaning up the messes other clans have been creating with all of their fighting. I'm sick and tired of it. I'm sick and tired of inheriting all of the Senju Clan's problems when they won't take ours seriously in the slightest. I'm just sick and tired of being so damned sick and tired, and it's about time we put an end to it."

Nagato wanted to be a kind man, but he had the propensity to hold grudges, and those grudges tended to stew and fester.

…One could say it was partially in his blood in a way.

XxX

(Northwestern Mountain Range)

It was obvious that the idea of finding training while you traveled was not a Kakashi original when their travels took them to a mountain. Instead of following the beaten, winding path, they took the direct route up, and the kids weren't allowed to use chakra for the climb. They could only use their bodies and their muscles to pull themselves up.

For the entire way… and if they fell no one was going to come for them. Fortunately they were tethered to Kakashi, but they had to keep climbing for themselves.

"I hate you old man!" Naruto shouted through his teeth, gritting them as he pulled himself up behind his parents and Kakashi who walked ahead of them, "You guys suck!"

Shino didn't complain, but he wanted to badly. Tenten on the other hand was too tired to think about complaining. Oh, how walking straight up instead of climbing would have been a simpler affair. The things you took for granted until you're forced to go without.

Still… it was difficult to understand how one could take the life energy inside of their body that gave them access to superhuman abilities for granted. The folly of youth perhaps.

"What are you going to do when you don't have enough chakra to perform another jutsu but you need to keep fighting?" Minato asked, leading the way up the mountain, sticking to the cliff face with his feet, "You barely have enough energy to hold your arms up or even hold a weapon. What will you do then?"

Naruto wanted to say that he'd never run out of chakra ever, but that wouldn't have kept him from having to do the 'exercise' anyway. All it would have gotten was a lecture from Minato or a tongue-lashing about being lazy from Kushina, because the question was supposed to be rhetorical… and adults apparently didn't like it when you actually answered them. Mostly because there was no way to do it without sounding like a smartass.

Kushina's question, on the other hand, was one he could answer. The moment she reached the top of their mountain ascent she looked back over the edge and unloaded the question, "Naruto, what are the minimum number of hand-seals that go into a class three barrier seal and which ones are always going to be in the technique?"

"Ugh… five," Naruto said, trying to think as he kept climbing, "And it'd be Ne, Ushi, and uh… touching the surface of what you're placing the barrier against counts as a hand-seal doesn't it?"

"Yes, that's all three," Kushina informed him as she sat down and watched the kids continue to climb, "Now, what are the differences between the five classes of barriers?"

Kakashi, who had also finished, turned his head to see Minato and Kushina grinning at the sudden quiz, "Is this something that happens a lot?" He asked, fixing his gaze on Naruto for a moment, "He can actually answer that?" Most ninjas didn't learn anything about seals past how to unseal weapons or how to apply paper seals to targets.

"Of course he can," Kushina responded, almost looking offended at the unspoken implication, "I raised him, I trained him," Until the unpleasantness with the sealing of Kurama, Kushina had never really had Naruto operate outside of her watchful eye, but she knew one thing for certain; that if nothing else he would know his way around fuuinjutsu, "Those aren't even hard questions to him. He's just tired."

And proving her point, Naruto spoke up just a second later after finding a good hand-hold in the cliff face, "Class ones are spiritual wards and weak limiting seals that take paper tags as mediums. Class twos are area-encompassing barriers that go around buildings or caves, with multiple placement points or users to make sure enemies can't break it they only find one of 'em. Class threes are small-scale supplementary techniques. You can use 'em as traps to buy time or limit an enemy's mobility and stuff like that. They get weaker over time and can fail if you hit 'em hard enough or enough times-."

"Oh dear lord he's still going," Kakashi said in a stunned manner. Having traveled with and trained him, he hadn't figured that Naruto was particularly book smart. Apparently he was, at least when the book was based on sealing techniques.

"-Class fours are direct battle barriers that ninjas can use to stop attacks against 'em in fights," He knew that one because Kushina could do a few of them, "And class fives are the best. Class fives are huge area-covering barriers. They can block entire battlefields, castles or towns depending on how many people there are minding the jutsu. Not many people learn how to do the ones that can actually stop and block things though. Most are huge sensor jutsu, and most of 'em take ritual arrays that take forever to make."

"That's impressive and terrifying at the same time," Kakashi pointed out before another sobering thought came to mind. If Naruto knew about them… "How many of those can he actually do himself?"

"Barriers are high level stuff," Kushina said, "He can do one class three type and more than a few class ones since anybody can scribble some arrays on a piece of paper."

The first to pull himself over a ledge, Naruto crawled on his hands and knees for thirty seconds before retaking his feet, heading back to the cliff to help pull Shino and Tenten up once they grabbed the top.

Tenten rested on her knees and winced at her bleeding hands, "I wish I had some gloves," She probably should have started wearing gloves anyway seeing as how she dealt with sharp objects and explosives regularly.

Minato let Naruto, Tenten, and Shino catch their breath for a moment, breaking out a map and smiling as he looked ahead. The trail ahead of them led to a bridge across the vast chasm between mountain peaks where trees seemed to be growing through the mountainside. Dotting the sides of the mountains were cottages that seemed to hang in the air.

This was the domain of the Sarutobi Clan. While they were a notable clan with powerful ninja, they were truly famous for another reason aside from their skill in battle. It was for that reason that they had come to see them.

In a world where secrets and information of any kind were so closely guarded that even finding beginner clan techniques written on scrolls was a rarity, the Sarutobi Clan were the finest scribes in the Elemental Nations, and it was this stockpiled knowledge that provided them with the bulk of their business instead of the conventional mercenary work done by other clans.

They would sell any information to anyone willing to buy it from them, even other ninja clans, and if within their vast annals they didn't have what their client wanted they would go out and obtain it any way that they could.

As the six visitors made their way through the quiet mountaintop town, Naruto couldn't help but wonder why they were there in the first place. Were they about to do another mission? It couldn't be for money if they were. They had enough where they were contracting Anko for one of their own.

"Hm," Kakashi commented in mild interest, "I can't say I can recall crossing paths with a Sarutobi before."

Having regained her air and disliking being left out of the loop, especially regarding things that involved her, Tenten looked around their surroundings curiously, "Minato-sama, did we come up here for a reason?"

Not that she minded going there just to go. Were it not for the luck of the draw that ended with her traveling with Naruto and Kakashi, she would have still been in her little village trying to get strong enough to beat that gang of three thugs.

"Yeah old man," Naruto started, getting a visible flinch out of Minato and a smirk out of Kushina, "What are we doing up here?"

Minato held up an index finger before drilling it down on the top of Naruto's head, "You can never have enough intelligence on your side Naruto, and these are the best people in the world to go to if knowledge is your vice of choice, you can consider this the veritable den of inequity."

A swat of the hand, and an upturned blank look was all that followed from his son, eliciting a sigh out of Minato and an observation from Kakashi, "Okay, good. It was just the seals after all."

XxX

(Village in Central Hi no Kuni)

Tsunade was pissed, which wasn't unusual, but having it directed at her younger brother made it a good idea for him to take a short sabbatical for about two weeks. They were in the middle of territory where you could find a Senju Clan member in any town, so if nothing else he'd have at least a few allies abound if something happened.

Sitting at an outside bar in a town about a day or so away from the main headquarters, Nawaki looked down at his small cup of sake before fishing one of the valuable pieces that Naruto had given to him out of his pocket; a ring from Kakuzu's stash. Staring at it managed to draw a laugh out of him.

Between Kakuzu's money being out of reach, buried under countless tons of rubble at the bottom of a deep, deep lake, and Nawaki completely ignoring the standing order to take out the jinchuuriki child for the danger he posed, Nawaki was on his sister's bad side at the moment. And yet she had refrained from crushing the brooch he'd given her as proof of the money pit's existence in her hands.

She was either keeping it to wear during formal events, or she was going to hock it and use the money to gamble with for a spell. Either or wouldn't have been out of character.

"Do you mind if I join you?"

Nawaki looked up to find an old man standing a safe distance from the table. He had short, shaggy black hair, a cross scar on his chin, and a closed eyelid, signifying that the right one was missing. He wore a black robe that went down to his ankles over a white kimono shirt.

Heavily scrutinizing the man, Nawaki found that he couldn't identify on sight what clan he came from, or if he was from one at all. He was obviously a shinobi though.

"I guess I should be civil and offer you a drink if you'd like," Nawaki said, gesturing to the second sake cup at his table, "I was kind of hoping a girl would be interested in coming over to join me, but since you're here you might as well. I can always order a new cup when you leave Mister…"

"You may call me Danzo," The elderly man said, simply waving off the offer, "How kind of you. However, I neither drink nor accept consumables offered to me by others. I hope you understand."

"Eh, probably a good principle to have honestly," Nawaki said, drawing out his words as he poured himself more to drink, "…Seeing as how we're all killers and everything. Tch, for all you know the guy offering you a drink could be slipping you poison or whatnot."

Danzo nodded in agreement, "Indeed. But I'm afraid I have a measure of business to talk to you about."

"Take mission requests and things of that nature to headquarters or a clan outpost. There's one in this town," Nawaki replied automatically, "If you're here to try and kill me, let me finish my drink first."

The mood changed momentarily, Nawaki's killer intent flaring for a split-second to try and force this man or anyone he had hiding around to spring into action if an attack truly was forthcoming. Of course, this man seemed to know exactly who he was, so approaching him before attacking him to prompt a lowering of his guard clearly hadn't been what he'd had in mind from the beginning. Fair enough.

"It's nothing of the sort," Danzo assured him before lacing his fingers in front of his face, elbows planted on the table, My clan takes it upon ourselves to make sure that things in our line of work stay… as balanced as possible, if you can understand."

Nawaki didn't. It sounded quite shady though, "Uh…huh. I've never heard of you."

"My clan name is well hidden," Danzo replied, "I would tell you, but if I did so you would not be allowed to make it far enough to tell anyone else what it was, and that is not a threat, merely an example of our ways," Nawaki nodded, understanding that he was not there to provoke a fight, "Our services are not for sale. We only operate in the interest of stability."

"What does this have to do with me?"

"You were the last person to make contact with an element that will prove to be dangerous if left alone for much longer."

Funny, it was almost as if this man and Tsunade were sharing notes on scolding him. It was almost as if he were twelve again.

Nawaki downed his cup and sighed as it burned on the way down, "This is about the jinchuuriki kid isn't it? Putting aside how the hell you even know anything about that-."

"We know more than you think. It's our job to," Danzo said, his steely one-eyed gaze locked with Nawaki, "Your little episode involving Kakuzu, the Uchiha, and the dust-up that occurred over his money made quite a bit of noise."

A fair enough point. A lot of people did wind up dying, and while no one ever wound up finding Kakuzu's head, the bodies of the dozen-plus Uchiha and various other ninjas that died in the countrywide search didn't necessarily disappear.

"Well, putting that aside, he didn't seem any more dangerous than any other ninja," Nawaki drawled smartly, idly twirling the handle of the Raijin no Ken like a baton, "…He just seemed like a kid to me."

And he wasn't even going to talk about the green-haired girl that was supposedly Kakuzu's 'monster'. She had been crying heartbrokenly when he'd come across her with Kakashi and Anko, with Naruto seemingly consoling her for whatever reason.

They were kids. Whatever people had thought jinchuuriki were for as long as they had, those two weren't it.

"He won't be a child for long," Danzo said, speaking as if this were something a man of Nawaki's experience should have already known, "And to make him twice as dangerous, he's Namikaze Minato's son. I'm certain someone in your station is aware of what he wishes to accomplish."

"Tobirama-ouoji royally fucked Namikaze," Nawaki pointed out, proving that he knew his own clan's history, even the shady parts no one talked about. He was the grandchild of Hashirama and grandnephew of Tobirama. He knew this, "He was kind of extreme and he did it to a lot of people, but Namikaze was the only one who could really hit back. Beat him with his own jutsu I heard."

"And am I to believe that you don't hold this against him?"

"No, if he were in front of me I'd be trying to take his head, same as anyone else," Nawaki clarified calmly, "It's not going to end with him killing my family member and taking one of our signature jutsu to use on his own. I'm just saying, Tobirama-ouoji started it."

Tobirama started a lot of things. He had good intentions, but mistrusted other clans to such an extreme degree that everyone not of Senju blood was either an enemy or an expendable commodity. He was the one that truly closed the door shut on anything civil ever really existing between the Senju and the Uchiha. It was him who shattered the last-ditch effort to create some sort of peace between the two superpowers with a marriage between a member of the Uzumaki and the Uchiha Clans.

Good lord did he ever cause that one to explode.

"It is what we know," Danzo explained, "Can you possibly imagine a world different than the one we live in? We're shinobi. Our way is to fight for profit, for what we believe in. There's a balance to that, and it's more delicate than you would ever know. Were it to just up and vanish, what would happen?"

Nawaki smacked his lips, "…So your ideal scenario would have been me slitting Namikaze's kid's throat the second I realized who and what he was."

"We're not as bloodthirsty as you would make me out to be," Danzo said in his indecipherable tone of voice, "But ideally, yes. I wouldn't have expected or wished for you to find any joy in taking that young of a life, merely comfort in knowing that you did what was necessary to keep things as they are."

Nawaki looked around them and threw his hands in the air as if to ask 'what?' To keep things the way they were was not a good enough reason, "Look around. Things suck as they are. All of my granduncles except for Tobirama were butchered as kids before they were even as old as the one everyone seems to have a problem with, so forgive me for not having a taste for it myself."

"Understandable," Danzo said, "It is my clan's place to do what must be done when others are unable or unwilling. I cannot hold it against you for what you believe. I didn't come to convince you of any folly, just to confirm as much as I can about the existence of this jinchuuriki child. You are not the only one my clan is approaching on this matter."

"You sound like you and yours are going to take him out yourselves," Nawaki said, smirking slightly, "Kind of gives cradle to the grave to a different meaning."

Danzo's mouth affixed itself in a prominent frown, "You don't get it. It's not necessarily the boy, or what's inside of him. It's what he can represent and who he's with. That's the real danger."

"A danger to what exactly?" It wasn't as if Minato had a running hit-list going, and Nawaki highly doubted that Naruto did.

"To everything my clan has spent the last two centuries working to maintain."

XxX

(Northwestern Mountain Range – Sarutobi Clan Archives)

One week. Minato had paid the Sarutobi Clan 7 million ryo for five days' worth of unlimited access to their grand library for just himself and one other person. Any tangible question that one could have could be answered by the information that lay within the deep walls of the library enclosed inside of the mountain that served as their home. Access to that sort of information was not cheap, nor was it something that the Sarutobi Clan were willing to grant to people en masse.

The biggest catch was, for larger projects you had to find what you were looking for yourself. Everything was categorized and kept in a strict classification system, and obsolete information was replaced routinely, but still, the staggering amount of material made it easy to get sidetracked. Finding everything you were looking for in the course of a small window of time was extremely difficult.

People did not come there for simple matters that were easy to look up. Access to the library was simply too expensive to buy a slot of time inside for anything less than intensive research and study. For small amounts of particular information you could pay them to teach it to you. It was far less expensive, but you wouldn't get much.

Therefore, hiring them in that capacity didn't work if you didn't know what you were looking for. The library was your best bet in that regard.

From an upper level of the grand library, Minato leaned on a safety railing and looked down at where he could see his red-haired wife grumbling to herself and reading through several texts at once. She was clearly irritated with all of it, and audibly cursed when a clone of her came up to deliver more, "Fuck, 'ttebane!"

It was positively adorable to him. God he had missed her.

Minato himself had found much of what he was looking for. Entire stacks of paper notes that he'd taken filled his arms that he had yet to seal away to take along with him on the trip.

"The patience to research isn't a trait shared by your wife I see."

A wrinkled old man with grey spiked hair and a grey goatee walked up to Minato with a smile on his face. The garb of the old man closely resembled that of a scribe or a classic librarian, a small pair of reading glasses resting over his eyes, eyes kinder than most would find on a shinobi. Even with his obvious age, his posture seemed to exude nothing but power.

"I hope you're finding everything you're looking for," The old man said with a short laugh, "You've certainly paid us enough."

Unsurprisingly to Minato, when he'd made this man's acquaintance he had already known who he was. Then again, he had expected nothing less from what was perceived as the most well-informed ninja clan in the Elemental Nations. Sarutobi Hiruzen; the head of the Sarutobi Clan for decades.

He was one of the rarest commodities in the ninja world, a man who had survived to actually see old age, and his power was clearly evident simply from his posture that radiated poise, dignity, and strength.

"I hope my son and his teammates aren't disturbing anything in your town," Minato said with a short bow, knowing full well that Naruto had a thing for getting into trouble. Hopefully Kakashi was keeping them out of anything huge, but he'd have to go and check on things in just a bit, if only to touch base.

"Don't be absurd. It's quite a sight to see a child from the Uzumaki Clan, the Aburame Clan, and a purely civilian family all coexisting," Hiruzen said with a smile on his weathered face, "Three different backgrounds of ninja together. It's something you don't see every day. I would say that this in of itself is more of a success than I've ever seen in regards to your ambition."

"It is possible. It looks like it's circumstantial, but it's possible," Minato said with a shrug, "Naruto hasn't gotten the chance to feel too strong of a dislike for other clans yet, even the Uchiha. Tenten is wary of most clans after living through the battle that her parents were killed in, but Kakashi says she does a good job hiding it for the most part. Shino is like his clan in that he tries to affix a logical model to everything he comes across."

It proved something to Minato, on the smallest scale imaginable, but it was proven nonetheless, that what he wanted was not impossible. The idea of a place where ninjas didn't have to worry about being aimlessly slaughtered, where the kids could grow up without being taught to hate one another just because they weren't of their own clan.

By something being proven on the 'smallest scale imaginable', it only proved that when the ninjas were young it was easier to get them to consider the idea as feasible. It wasn't much, but it was a start. It was something.

"This system is only going to get worse if it continues," Hiruzen said, taking a puff of his pipe as he walked through the seemingly endless rows of bookcases and scroll-cases with his guest, "The Uchiha and the Senju are bleeding their riches dry, not just by fighting one another, but with all of the fighting they do with others. Eventually the amount of money they spend will cause them to become more desperate and totalitarian in their approach when it comes to dealing with other clans."

"What do you mean?"

"They'll be less willing to speak on their grievances and quicker to jump into large-scale action," Hiruzen said, smiling wryly at his thought, "I'm afraid talk isn't as cheap as people like to say it is. Actions are far more economical these days. What does it matter if you're right or wrong when you can just crush the people who have a problem with your actions?"

That was a sobering thought. What little morality was left in this world was hanging by less than a thread. That seemed oxymoronic given the world they lived in, but the moment you thought there was no possible way things could go downhill any further, the universe always conspired to prove you wrong.

"The approach of the Senju changed radically after Hashirama's time passed. Tobirama wasn't exactly the most… sociable or peaceful clan head in history I'm afraid," Hiruzen recalled, a true student of the ninja arts, both in the practical combat applications, its theory, and its history, "Everything in his 'Senju first' approach could have dipped into extreme territory. I believe during the course of his reign was when the Senju lost the rhetorical moral high ground over the Uchiha."

"You know, I might have noticed," Minato said with a wide grin that seemed to hide a deep-seated grievance, "…When he signed off on sending me and all of those other freelancers on that mission that he thought would kill us. You know we only learned a single part of the jutsu we had to learn in order to perform the mission? Yeah, they taught us just enough so that we'd send ourselves to his little rendezvous/ambush to get killed afterwards instead of paid."

It was sort of brilliant in a cutthroat way.

Hire a bunch of no-name hacks to set explosives for you in an Uchiha Clan fortress, and teach them how to teleport out to a pre-set a Hiraishin marker where you would proceed to murder them with a clan platoon.

Thus keeping your jutsu secret, despite the contract both they and you had signed to seal the deal in the first place.

Except for the part when one of the freelancers hired wasn't a hack, just a clanless shinobi… who proceeded to kill the entire Senju platoon, leave, master the jutsu he was never given all of the parts to, and then wound up killing Tobirama in battle years later.

…The grin on Minato's face wasn't entirely satirical. That had been one particular kill that Minato remembered feeling some sort of vindication from. It had been proof to him that he had the strength to go for the things he wanted. Even though he had killed an aged Senju Tobirama, it was still Tobirama, and he had still done it by outclassing him with the jutsu that Tobirama had been the one to create.

It also helped that he hadn't been the one that had picked the decisive fight to begin with. Apparently a clanless nobody getting famous for using a Senju Clan jutsu was too much for Tobirama to take to his grave.

The loud sound of a book slamming shut attracted Minato's attention back downstairs to Kushina, hunched over the table she'd chosen to sit at. It was the first time he'd seen her actually close a book since she'd gotten something to begin reading.

"I've been searching every scrap of sealing theory I can find, for the last two days," Kushina said, rubbing her eyes blearily. She hated studying in any capacity, "All of them basically say to take the same approach with a jinchuuriki's development."

"What's that?"

"Take no chances. Kill it if you can. Use as many numbers and as much force as you have available. If you can't do that, stay away before the seal holding the biju fails," Kushina said, none too amused by the complete lack of information that the best stores of collective knowledge in the world had to offer in regards to the one thing she needed to know, "Apparently even the 'experts' who wrote these would think Naruto is as much of an atrocity as everywhere else does."

"There is no text on the functions of a jinchuuriki," Hiruzen said, deflating Kushina's mood, "At least no firsthand accounts. It has never been recorded as having occurred you see. There are theories written up by Uzumaki Mito," A flash of surprise came across Kushina's face, "It was from her that the taboo of the jinchuuriki was originally established, but the idea is older than any being alive today."

"What?"

"My dear, you are not looking far enough back," Hiruzen said, beginning to roll up the scrolls Kushina had been looking through and collecting the books to put them back, "You won't find what you're looking for in contemporary works. You have to look into material with questionable legitimacy if you want to find anything that may be helpful."

Kushina tilted her head and looked at Minato who was just as lost as she was. What exactly did that mean? Questionable legitimacy?

Hiruzen loaded the scrolls and books onto a cart and turned to the couple with a smirk, "It's simply a matter of how strongly you believe the legends of old to be, how hard you're willing to look for them, and the ability to distinguish fact from fiction as you put it together."

Was he… giving them a hint without really helping them?

Minato and Kushina shared a look, and an unsaid question between the two of them that both decided they would have been remiss to refrain from asking.

"Sarutobi-san," Kushina asked politely, a stark difference from how tense she felt at the moment, "Why are you telling us any of this at all?"

Hiruzen began to push the cart away before stopping prior to disappearing amongst the hundreds of millions of books and various texts, "…You find yourself in a unique position. As one who would like for you to succeed, I doubt you both understand just how important it is, the commodity you have in your possession."

Minato narrowed his eyes, not liking where this conversation was going, "And that 'commodity' wouldn't happen to be my son, would it?" Kushina's stare could have burned through Hiruzen's back after hearing Minato's assumption aloud.

"Speak softly and carry a big stick my friend," Hiruzen said, never turning around as he returned to tending to the primary responsibility of the Sarutobi Clan, "Good intentions and a novel idea will only take you so far. People will need to know that you are strong enough to see this through. In a matter of years, you will have the most valuable piece of leverage you could ever ask for in garnering the allegiance of clans willing to join your planned village."

After hearing Naruto referred to by the general public of her own clan as something other than a human being, hearing it elsewhere didn't sit well with her, "My child isn't a weapon," Either in the legitimate sense or as a bluff to coax attention their way into forming the village in question.

Hiruzen didn't turn back again to continue the conversation, having spoken his part, "We're all weapons dear."


Omake: New Friends 3

The first father-son heart-to-heart Minato saw himself having with Naruto did not involve a conversation that he thought he had at least three more years to prepare for. However in his exuberant reunion night with Kushina he had overlooked the fact that they had been quite noisy.

Naruto was unable to look his own mother in the eye for two whole days, and everyone already knew why. Kushina was embarrassed that she'd allowed such a thing to happen, and it fell to Minato to try and fix the awkwardness.

Minato had gotten Naruto for some alone time under the guise of critiquing his Rasengan that the boy swore was damn near finished, but he wound up sitting Naruto down away from everyone else and blindsiding him with the topic of the day.

"Ew old man, I don't want to talk about that with you!" Naruto exclaimed, moving to get up off of the boulder they had been sitting on for the talk.

Minato rolled his eyes and pulled Naruto back by his arm to keep him seated, "You think I want to? But it's my fault that you heard something last night that you shouldn't have. So I've got to clear up any questions you might have," It was his job as a man and a father.

Had he been held at kunai-point, Naruto couldn't have been any less enthusiastic about the pending talk.

Clearly seeing that Naruto wasn't going to break the ice without being prompted, Minato decided to get him talking first. Once the boy started it was hard to stop him, which would help with this, "Okay, well first, why don't you just tell me what you already know. That way I won't be repeating things you've heard before, and I can fill in the blanks."

Naruto gave Minato a blank look despite blushing due to the fact that his father was going to give him the sex talk. Eventually he relented. The sooner he started talking, the sooner it would come to an end and he could go about his business for the rest of the evening.

"If you say so," Naruto said, fidgeting around in place despite Minato's encouraging smile, "Uh, let's see…"

XxX

(Forty-Five Minutes Later – Back at Camp)

Minato walked back into camp as if he'd run into a ghost while wandering elsewhere. Upon being sighted by Kushina he was met with a kiss and a hug from the grateful woman, "Thank you Minato, for whatever you said or did."

"Huh?"

"He can actually look at me again. He smiled at me, hugged me, and said he was sorry."

Hearing a human voice again, Minato snapped out of the trance he was in and shook his head, "I thought he didn't know anything about sex," He said bluntly.

Kushina pulled back from the hug, giving him a strange look, "Of course he does. I had to tell him about some of it," She said as if it were obvious.

What had he expected? That she'd told him the stork story when he asked her about where he came from? Not a chance. That was just misinformation that no one had the time to correct later, ergo it was worthless. Oh, the poor bastard figured he'd have been dealing with someone who didn't know anything about what had been happening.

"That was not some! That was way more than some!" Minato suddenly exclaimed before calming down, "If he knew then why did you want me to talk to him about it?"

"I thought you could maybe generalize it and somehow get it across that it's not some horrible thing that it happens with you and I," The redhead explained, raising an eyebrow, "…What did he even say?"

Minato went pale and ran a hand down his face, "I said I'd fill in whatever blanks he had. He didn't stop for about… fifteen minutes. Everything I actually expected to have to tell him, he already knew it. Then there were the subcategories," A shiver went down his spine, "…I need to live more."

"Well I do too. We can always fix that later. We only just got reacquainted after all," Kushina said, up close and in Minato's ear, giving it a quick nip that put a stupid smile on his face, "It doesn't matter though. Naruto's about to be eleven. It's not like he's going to be interested in it anytime soon."

Minato quickly pulled his mind out of the gutter and pointed something out, "Yeah, it doesn't matter yet. I'm thinking it's not the best idea that Naruto and Tenten sleep in the same tent when they get a little older, if she's staying on for that long that is."

The only reason the issue hadn't been forced before was because Tenten never had her own tent. Out of necessity she'd had to use Naruto's and they'd gotten used to it. Neither of them were spoiled, so they were never going to complain. Shino wasn't keen on sharing any of his privacy, so Naruto wasn't just going to wind up bunking with him. The Aburame kept everything close to the vest.

A moment of thought took place before Kushina could see how that could get awkward in the near future as she looked over at the assembled younger ninjas, "Oh."

"-And with Jiraiya-sensei popping in and out every so often…"

"Ooooh," Kushina cringed, remembering that a few of Jiraiya's widely spread writings had gotten her through a few lonelier nights over the years. According to Minato he behaved himself for the most part for the first meeting. That wouldn't last, "…Hm. Maybe we should start looking into getting them separate tents."


Major Clan Information

Sarutobi Clan
Leader: Sarutobi Hiruzen

Population: 1.5/5
Military Strength: 3/5
Economy: 2.5/5
Notable Traits: Main stronghold exists in an easily defendable elevated location. Powerful direct fighters. Skilled in taijutsu and ninjutsu. Highly knowledgeable on the ins and outs of the ninja world. Main business comes via the selling of knowledge. Neutral mindset on the clans that populate the Elemental Nations.
Area of Operations: Northwest Mountains bordering Tsuchi no Kuni.


Ugh… canon is giving me an aneurism. Of all the cheesy, half-baked… I don't even have the energy. At this point I'm just reading it as reference material, and I doubt I'm going to use much of anything I've learned in the last forty or so chapters or will continue to learn through the rest of the series.

Chakra is apparently intended by the Sage of Six Paths to be magic 'let's get along' juice that would let everyone understand each other without the need for words, and the Sage gave it to the world to do just that. That's just… man. There's the friendship and camaraderie aspect of the series which had always been on display, and then there's this. Setting aside the fact that doing that is fucking retarded when the whole world wants to fight, and apparently his mother had been ruling the world just beforehand and showing them just how kickass chakra could make a person.

"Oh, you're an angry, warlike people who had been fighting for as long as anyone can remember? Oh, you're giving them guns so that when they're angry they can shoot it into the sky and let everyone know how they feel from the sound! That's so… wait, that guy over there just took the gun and shot the guy that killed his parents, stole his wife, and did his sister.

Wow… didn't see that coming."

You really couldn't have kept this simple could you Kishimoto? Bad guys and shades of grey characters abound, learnable superpowers, and a gigantic, colorful world with extreme depth; because if nothing else he did a fantastic job of world-building. You can do almost anything in the Naruto world. He didn't even have to fill in most of the stuff that he stumbled through filling in since the war started, and things would have been so much better.

Now it has the morals of an afterschool special. There's a lesson to be learned here when it comes to creative works, I'm certain of it. I just have to find it first.

Anyway, I hope I at least amused you for a few minutes today. I'm going to the gym. Maybe I can find significant meaning in moving around big metal plates for an hour or two?

Kenchi out.