Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto. It was totally my birthday today.

KISHIMOTO, you cheap s.o.b!

You've stiffed me for years on a gift, but you know what'd make up for all of that? The rights to Naruto. Look into your heart; your black, black heart. You'll know the right thing to do.

And then I want you to do the exact opposite, and give me the rights.

Chapter 14: The Stains of Time


Time passed, lives carried on, and as was the ebb and flow of the ninja world, the hotbed that was the Elemental Nations settled down and reheated several times over.

As the saying went, 'Rome wasn't built in a day,' whatever Rome was, and neither was a functional village where several if not dozens of clans from all over could come together and pool their resources instead of fighting over them.

An idea of that nature took a lot of planning, a lot of work, and someone had to do the actual legwork.

Two figures darted quickly through a heavily forested tropical wilderness. The southern islands of the continent had been the location of the standing mission that they and their third partner had undertaken. From the speed with which they were leaving the island, it had not gone well in this particular area.

The mission: to gauge the interest in the idea of a combined ninja village for a particular clan. The Kaguya Clan.

"Okay, I guess we can mark them off of the list," A fourteen year-old Naruto groused, wiping a speck of blood off of his cheek. Significantly taller in height, he wore a pair of navy-colored pants, brown sandals, a sleeveless mesh undershirt, and a snug brown pocket-less vest that was more armor than apparel. All marks of the Uzumaki Clan had vanished from any trace of his clothing, "Does anyone even hire these psychos for anything? How are they a clan?"

"I dunno. My guess is abduction and inbreeding. A fair amount of both I'd say," Tenten said warily, looking over her shoulder as she fled at Naruto's side, "I'm pretty sure fifteen's old enough for them to take me and… well, you know."

While Tenten hadn't grown out of her twin-bun hairstyle, she had grown out of wearing her pink top and instead changed over to a loose-sleeved white blouse with red fasteners and outline with a large scroll strapped to her back. Her black trousers had been traded in for a pair of puffy red pants that exposed the outsides of her bandaged thighs up to her waist. Her conventional ninja footwear had also been swapped for open-toed sandals, and on her hands rested a pair of black fingerless gloves.

Naruto's eyebrows turned up at the thought of the freaks chasing them forcefully procreating by stealing away women and having their way with them. As horrifying as the thought was, they did seem to be the type, "…I guess I really shouldn't let them catch you, should I?"

"At least not alive. That'd be nice," The bun-haired girl replied, "We really should have asked more questions before we sailed out here. I'll take the heat on that one. I totally forgot that there are some people out there that won't even hear us out before attacking us."

"To be fair to you, I'm pretty sure they didn't even know who we were before this whole thing started," Naruto reasoned with a cheeky grin, "I don't think it would have mattered who we were. They would have tried to cut our heads off on-sight," It was eerie how calmly he'd accepted this fact, "Well look at the bright side."

"What bright side?"

"I'm keeping this vest," Naruto said, pressing his hands to his chest and giving the well-fitting padded armor covering his torso a good thump, "I'm actually glad to be your guinea-pig for once. It kind of saved me today."

Tenten rapped Naruto on the arm with the back of her hand as they ran for dear life, "I think the words you're looking for are 'thank you'," Tenten chided half-heartedly, "But seriously, how does it feel compared to the plate armor? You've had the whole mission to try it. What do you think? Is it functional?"

Blue eyes rolled around in Naruto's sockets. She was asking him now? A really good time for it while they were running for their lives wasn't it?

She was always like that though, always wanting him to test her weapons and other tools out, but it was endearing in a way. It meant a lot that he was the only one she trusted with her prototypes though. She didn't have enough materials to produce large quantities of many items, so knowing when she had a pliable idea or not was very important to her.

They were older, but nothing had changed with what she wanted out of life. Inventing ninja tools and weapons was still her passion, and she'd only gotten better at it over time.

Naruto took a moment to think about the question as they continued to run, "Getting hit in plate armor doesn't hurt as much, but I can move better in this," It wasn't as protective as plate armor when it was hit, but it also didn't have the easy to exploit weakness of slipping a blade underneath a plate to stab through the leather underneath. The vest had full protection, "I ain't expecting it to stop a bolt of lightning or something, just a short blade. And it does, so it's great."

"It sure stopped that sword," Tenten pointed out, indicating a stab mark in the vest underneath Naruto's right arm, "Your mom's gonna flip when she sees that you got stabbed. That's like the fifth time this year isn't it?"

"That was not my fault. You were all like, 'Look out!'" Naruto said, mimicking a girly tone of voice, "You totally distracted me."

"Because you were about to get run through from behind with a sword, jackass!" Tenten responded irritably, "You're lucky I brained the guy from thirty yards away before he stepped in for the kill or you'd have really been testing that vest."

The two stopped whatever disagreement they were on the verge of having as they could hear metal objects hitting the trees behind them with a thunk. Some of their pursuers were quicker than they thought. Either that, or berserkers didn't need to pace themselves on long chases.

Either way, they were almost home free.

The moderately-sized vessel they'd taken to reach the island was in clear view through the thick trees, as was the sole person sitting onboard. His features were mostly obscured by a green open hooded jacket that hung down to his knees, and a dark high-collared shirt garment underneath that covered the lower portion of his face. His eyes were covered with a mysterious pair of goggles and he seemed to be sitting on the edge of the ship with one of his fingers extended.

…Probably speaking with one of his kikaichu. Shino had never really dropped that hobby, but whatever floated his boat. Heh, Naruto snickered at his own internal joke before ducking a hatchet thrown at the back of his head. Reality had a nasty habit of trying to bury itself into your skull or spinal column when it had the chance.

"SHINO! START THE BOAT!" Naruto shouted, covering his head as he dodged sharp weaponry raining down from above, "START THE BOAT MAN, OR WE'RE GONNA DIE ON THIS ROCK!"

With Naruto's distinctive and inhumanly loud voice cutting through the tranquility of the wilderness, Shino seemed to perk up from his apparent silent conversation with one of his insects sitting on his finger and calmly nodded, creating a few insect clones to head up and loosen the sails for departure.

As the ship began to move at a steadier pace, Naruto and Tenten bolted out of the forest, still with a good half-mile left to run across an open field before reaching their way out. With the loss of trees as cover, the weapons being thrown at them came closer and closer.

"If there's one thing about these guys, they're pretty good killers!" Tenten pointed out, getting a nick in the long sleeve of her blouse from the never-ending wall of weapons flying their way, "They don't really seem good for anything else though."

A happy sound of triumph came from Naruto as he and Tenten caught up to their boat and ran alongside it, jumping on just as the sails were released to full mast. The moment his feet touched the deck, Naruto wheeled around and flipped off the Kaguya Clan members that had been outpaced by the seacraft only to turn back around and see that they had to sail through a pass in order to leave the island.

A long pass where the waterway would be surrounded on two sides by high cliff walls.

The sense of ecstasy was quickly lost.

And the resounding curse that echoed through the open air reached for miles.

"FUCK!"

Steering the ship, Shino shook his head before speaking up in his quiet manner, "I remember why this is the first mission I've taken with you two in four months. Why you may ask?"

"-Because it always ends something like this," Naruto finished for him, not even needing to hear why. They did seem to have bad luck when the three of them all chose to team up together, "It's not even our fault this time."

As they travelled between the cliff walls they could see the Kaguya Clan members barreling over the sides, running down the walls to outright rush their ship and undoubtedly kill them once they got aboard. The look in the beady, maniacal eyes that they all seemed to share and the vicious shrieks that they all cried out with as they charged left no arguments to the contrary.

With a sigh of resignation, Naruto cracked his knuckles and prepared to forcefully kick as many homicidal lunatics off of the boat as he could.

It was a rental from the nearest fishing community, and he wanted their damn safety deposit back.

"Let's do this," Naruto said, looking over at Shino for support, "You ready?"

"I'm steering," Shino pointed out, insects flying out from the openings of his clothes to do his part without necessarily needing to move, "Unless you would prefer being dashed against the walls, I think I should stay at the wheel."

With a frown, Naruto looked at their immediate surroundings, "Let's save that for if we get overrun."

While Naruto had accepted that they were about to engage in an intrusive display of hand-to-hand combat in close quarters, Tenten was at wit's end.

They had been travelling to the southern ass end of the Elemental Nations for weeks, had to pull together money on their own doing odd jobs to get a boat to run the mission, she'd wasted a ton of weapons dealing with enough of the Kaguya Clan members already, and she was quite certain one of them had grabbed her chest and her ass while they had been trying to kill her.

She wanted a nap in a comfortable inn bed, she wanted a long soak in a nice warm tub, and she wanted to be out of a situation where defeat meant being sexually assaulted and murdered… and potentially not even in that order. The opposite actually would have been nicer in that circumstance.

"You guys should have just left well enough alone," Tenten hissed through her teeth, arms covering her nose and mouth, revealing a pair of seals on the backs of her gloves with the kanji for 'blade' on them, "Nobody has time for this!"

Quickly swiping the index and middle fingers of both hands on the backs of the others, shuriken and other small throwing tools found their way into her hands to throw with rapid-fire speed and uncanny accuracy. Every time she moved her hand past the seals more weapons entered her hands.

"Kuchiyose: Raiko Kenka (Summoning: Lightning Flash Blade Creation)!"

Nothing missed its target. A slew of bodies numbering past the dozens rained from the air and hit the surface of the water with harsh splashes. Naruto could only watch wide-eyed until it all came to an end. He had no idea that she'd have wound up using the gift he'd made her like that, in all of its delicious fuuinjutsu-infused glory.

Abject slaughter had never looked so magnificent.

…Probably because they hadn't really been that close to it.

Everyone remained silent for an extended period of time until they'd left the pass and reached the open ocean, gulls cawing in the air and waves breaking against the side of their boat.

"Um," Naruto said, breaking the tranquility of escape and survival, "Happy birthday?"

Tenten rolled her eyes, "My birthday was weeks ago Naruto, and thanks," She said, holding up her hands to show him the backs of her gloves, "Literal lifesavers," With the adrenaline of the chase leaving her system, she sank against the column that held the steering wheel, with Shino still operating it, "Ugh."

There was still blood on the deck, but that would come out with a quick enough scrub. Other than that, all there was to do was bask in the tranquil silence of the boat ride. A welcome reprieve from the terrifying shrieks from the horde of killers after them mere moments ago.

"So that was the Kaguya Clan," Shino said before basically summarizing their entire day in a single sentence, "I think any ninja village would be better off without them."

"That didn't work out at all!" Tenten exclaimed, pointing back at the island they had barely escaped with their lives, "Hah, fuck that clan! What was that!?"

Naruto pointed over his shoulder back at the island that they were hurriedly gaining distance away from, "Somebody had to know we were walking into that! People suck! We asked around about them before we sailed out here and nobody said anything. We asked the guy we borrowed the boat from!"

"We didn't even receive a warning," Shino said, adding on, his voice slightly miffed at how things turned out.

"We didn't even get a goddamn warning!" Naruto repeated in so many words, "Can I hit that guy when we get back to shore?"

Evil sounding laughter sprang up inside of Naruto's head, obviously from his tenant within, "Muahahahahaha!" Kurama cackled evilly, "Ahh… that was fun. Let's go back."

'No Kurama, we're not going back there. Ever,' Naruto thought, getting a response of 'killjoy' from the biju, 'Why didn't you sleep in a hiding place on that island if you like it so much?'

"Because I was actually trying to sleep when I stayed on yours," Kurama defended, "If I'd have slept on these morons' island and one of them had found me they would have just kept trying to kill me instead of bugging me awake every so often like you did. They remind of two other psychotic humans I ate before honestly."

'I wish you'd have eaten that bastard in the mask,' Naruto thought with a deep scowl on his face, 'A lot of things would be different if you had.'

"True enough," Kurama said, speaking seriously for the serious tone of the conversation, "But many of the things that would be different wouldn't necessarily be for the better. At least as far as you and your friends are concerned."

Tenten opened her eyes, bringing herself back from the state of almost dozing off as she noticed the look on Naruto's face, "What's the matter?" They weren't dead and they were getting far away from there. It was the best news she figured they could have gotten at that point.

"Nothing."

Whenever Naruto was grumpy and wasn't actually willing to rant about what it was that was bothering him, those close to him learned that it was always one thing.

Tenten pulled her knees to her chest, frowning as she spoke, "You're thinking about the guy in the mask again, aren't you? You have the same look on your face every time you do."

The infamous masked man that no one had a name for, and no one other than Naruto had ever seen hide nor hair of. Shino had been around for more than long enough to be privy to the backstory there, "You constantly refer to the man in the mask," Shino said, eying Naruto speculatively, "It has been four years hasn't it? And have we seen or heard of any sign of this person? I would say that we have not. Perhaps he is dead?"

That would have been great, if the man were dead, but luck didn't run that true in Naruto's family. And honestly, Naruto would have felt cheated if the man had died or been killed without facing him again.

He beat him senseless and victimized him when he was smaller and not very powerful. He took advantage of a chance vulnerability in Kurama and Naruto's own weakness, and for what? Naruto still had no idea what it had all been for.

It kept him up sometimes. For four years. Would the masked man ever come back? Would he do anything to Minato or Kushina? Would he try his hand at taking advantage of Naruto again in a moment of weakness, or would he go after the newest, most helpless member of his family just because he could?

Either way, they had to get back to the mainland as soon as they could. The wind was turning and none of them wanted to be caught out on the water during a storm. It was definitely the season for it.

XxX

(One Day Later – Southwestern Hi no Kuni)

Six separate sets of feet ran across the muddy mountainside trail, the only thing separating a cliffside from a long spill down into a thick forest.

Soaked to the bone, a pair of siblings ran as if the devil were behind them. And they might as well have been for all the good that would come if they were caught with what they had.

A wild-eyed teenage boy with messy brown hair and red fang markings on his cheeks. He wore brown pants and a black leather jacket covered in nicks and scrapes from years of conflict and hard living. Running at his side was a floppy-eared white dog large enough for the ninja to ride if he chose.

An older young woman next to him ran as well, surrounded by three grey-furred dogs with white undersides. She had brown hair tied in a single ponytail and similar red marks on her cheeks. Her eyes were calmer and more confident than her brother's and her facial features were more delicate than was normal for even women of her clan. She wore a leather-fashioned battle dress with green and red accents, the back nonexistent revealing the bare back of her torso to the elements.

"Bastards," The girl growled out, referring to their enemies, "Kiba! Don't let them get the damn canister back!"

Self-consciously, Kiba held onto the strap securing the bag over his back, willing to keep it in his grasp at all costs. The boy looked back over his shoulder as if trouble would be upon them any second, "I know sis!"

They were well aware of how the Uchiha had eradicated the Fuuma Clan. They hadn't been a big deal in decades. Not since the secrets of their trademark shuriken became common amongst every ninja in existence. Even so, they had held out into the common era and had shrugged off Uchiha Clan influence, choosing to fight against them instead.

Until a few years ago when they all died in the course of a few weeks. And it only happened because while not as powerful, they occupied a position too well-defended to attack directly. It was noted as biological warfare, as what got to them wasn't a poison and more of a disease.

And in the hands of the Inuzuka siblings was a canister containing even more of what had killed the Fuuma Clan.

The Uchiha Clan had been poised to use it on them. They had pulled their advance teams that had been prodding the deep forest territory of the Inuzuka Clan and in the guise of such had been about to dispatch a small squad to do to them what had been done to the Fuuma.

At least until they were noticed crossing the unofficial demilitarized zone and were ambushed. It broke down and everyone wound up separated, but Kiba and his sister wound up getting the most valuable piece of that particular puzzle and immediately fled with it once they realized what they had.

They couldn't let them get it back, and they couldn't let it be opened.

The smell of burning filled their potent noses before a kunai with an explosive tag attached landed in front of their intended path. Both brother and sister, as well as the four animals with them, all stopped and jumped as far away from the high explosive as they could. The detonation didn't catch the two, but they had to cover up to protect themselves from debris and potential shrapnel.

Either way, it caused them to stop and allowed the enemy the chance to close the distance and cut them off at the pass, taking a position on a small ridge positioned at a curve in the mountain path.

"Fuck," Kiba said, "Hana, this ain't good."

There was only one. A young man wearing a white short-sleeved shirt that went down into a dark blue cloth around his waist that went down to his knees. Underneath that he darker blue pants and black stirrups that went down to his sandals. On his wrists he wore a pair of armguards that stretched up to reach and cover his biceps from harm.

He stood with his back to the two, his black hair matted down by the rain, allowing them to see the large crest on his back, that of the Uchiha. The ninken immediately bared their fangs and dug their claws into the mud. Only the orders of their human partners kept them from trying to tear him apart.

"Don't look into his eyes," Hana said to Kiba immediately, "Look at the ground if you have to. Trust in Akamaru and your other senses if it comes to it, but don't make eye contact," She was fully aware that they were facing the youngest son of the current Uchiha clan head. An objective of their raid had been to kill him if they could. They found something more important during the attack though, and broke off the attack to leave with it.

He'd caught up with them, and he'd done it all alone. They couldn't smell any backup coming for him.

"Hand it back over," Sasuke said in a no-nonsense tone of voice. He didn't have any interest in some sort of genocide, "If you do you'll see the end of all of this. If you don't you'll probably die before anyone else in your clan does."

Kiba smirked while all of the ninken amassed just growled, barely restraining pure bloodlust, "You're the only one that caught up?"

Sasuke shook his head, "Well the others had to stay back and clean up what was done to your other teammates," They had smelled the spilled blood being quickly mixed into the mud by the rain, but didn't turn back. They had been hoping that it hadn't been as Sasuke was saying, but hearing it only made them angrier, "You Inuzuka should have just given up earlier."

But that would never have been a possibility.

The Inuzuka Clan didn't operate under one uniform system. Control was broken into numerous packs consisting of a few dozen people each, all with various lands throughout the unsettled woodland and grasslands that they called home. The leaders of each pack came together to form something of a weighted confederation, with power leaning toward those who had more people to take care of, and land under their control.

All of this made the process of war against them quite messy. While there were some who wished to surrender to the Uchiha Clan and adhere to their concessions in order to keep what they could, as the Uchiha weren't going to outright drive the Inuzuka off of the lands they lived on and cherished, there were other packs willing to fight tooth and nail to the bitter end.

Sometimes there were both sides in great numbers in single packs, and that had a propensity to tear families apart.

Not in Hana's and Kiba's pack though. Everyone stood with their mother in fighting back as hard as they needed to in order to rend the enemy asunder, even if they had to fight against turncoat tribes that were willing to side with the Uchiha to keep from being killed by them like so many others.

"Most of the other clans understand," Hana said, "The one thing you don't do is step over the Inuzuka Clan's territory like it's yours, so what makes the Uchiha think they can?"

"Your lands inside of that forest are too good of a natural stronghold to ignore. It's perfect for a new fortress," Sasuke explained the reasoning of his clan leader's actions, "If it wasn't going to be us, it was going to be the Senju. We just figured out how to get to you without getting torn to shreds trying to take your territory first."

It wasn't as if destroying the Inuzuka happened to be their aim. Such a thought was giving a clan of savages far too much credit. But they were fighting a dogged enemy that wouldn't back down. Well if they wanted a fight to the finish, they would get one.

Everything was just another step to stay ahead of the Senju Clan. That was what mattered. The next great outbreak of open war was coming soon. As far as clashes with clans like the Inuzuka went, it was a field exercise in comparison.

"You're forgetting something really important right about now," Kiba said with a particularly vicious grin on his face, "Your guys aren't here. It's six-on-one," As far as he was concerned, that was enough for the talk. If he was going to try and stop them, "Get my back Hana. Let's go Akamaru! Gatsuuga (Fang Over Fang)!"

Kiba and his large white ninken charged forward several quick steps before blazing their way up the ridge at Sasuke, their bodies spinning quickly enough to take on the form of living drills.

"Hm," Sasuke formed a single hand-seal, causing the entire cliff underneath him to detonate and explode.

The moment he'd gotten their attention and had them look up at him, he'd already caught them in a genjutsu. He wasn't particularly good with them though. Not like Itachi. Instead of something complex, all he did was conceal the explosive tags he'd dropped and allowed to scatter all over the ridge while he'd been talking and squaring off with the siblings.

Kiba had charged right into the blast. All Sasuke had to do was survive the collapse of his little perched position, which was easy enough.

He left enough of the space around him clear that he was able to ride a single portion of land down the collapsed ridge until he landed safely on the rubble blocking the cliffside mountain pass that had

"You forgot something important too," Sasuke pointed out after nastily rebuking Kiba and Akamaru's attack, "Numbers or not, don't attack an opponent with the high ground."

There was no possible way that Kiba could intelligently respond. Half-buried under rubble, what remained visible of him was not a sight worth seeing. His right arm was entirely gone, and the right side of his ribcage had been blown open and exposed. His face was mangled and burned raw. The rocks and mud surrounding him were stained red with his blood, and possibly Akamaru's as well. He was nowhere to be found.

There was just enough left of Kiba for Sasuke to search his devastated body. The canister containing the virus was far too tough to be damaged by an explosion. They were constructed to endure almost any sort of trauma without rupturing.

"You are fast. You're really fast. But to me-," Sasuke said, reaching down to pluck the canister from what was left of Kiba's bag, "-You're moving in slow motion."

Feeling a heavy, metallic object, the same shape of the virus canister, Sasuke removed what he thought to be what he was after, only to widen his eyes in fear at pulling out a decoy. But, he knew one of those two had taken off with it! The other Inuzuka members that had taken part in the raid were accounted for with the rest of his squad.

Throwing the useless canister down on the ground in anger, Sasuke stomped to the edge of the path and looked over where there were still rocks and debris falling into river far down below.

The girl…

The last thing Kiba saw was the expression on Sasuke's face when he realized that Hana had the real container and he'd blown her off of the overhang, and despite the horrible agony he was in, as everything started to go dark for the last time he was able to pass on with a smug grin.

Hana always told him he rushed in too quickly for his own good. Hopefully she'd be able to get the virus far, far away from their home and the Uchiha Clan planning to use it on them.

XxX

(Some Time Later – Southern Coast at Hi no Kuni/Kawa no Kuni Border)

"Kaiza you asswipe!" Naruto yelled over the rain, feeling a distinct urge to hop off of the side of the boat before Shino could even finish docking at the jetty.

Looking up from where he was fixing his nets, a muscular fisherman with an 'x' shaped scar on his chin, short spiky black hair, and a rope tied around his head saw the return of one of his ocean vessels and smiled, not at all affected by the light rain falling from the sky, "Well, well, well. Look at you. You came back!"

Leaning over the side of the vessel with a twitching eye, Naruto's head followed Kaiza even as they pulled past him and slowed to a stop. He didn't even wait for the gangplank to go down before jumping out and back onto (mostly) dry land again, "You didn't say anything about those Kaguya guys!"

"You guys looked like the types who knew what you were doing," The fisherman said with a big grin, only to find himself doubled over from a quick punch to the belly, "Oof! I'll accept that…"

"Naruto," Tenten chided, "Him telling us wouldn't have kept you from going anyway," It would have prepared them for the first person they saw to try and slip a knife into their bellies, but they still would have went, just to see it for themselves, "Minato-sama wouldn't want you to do that."

"Yeah, but the old man could have just teleported himself out of that if he really wanted too," Naruto responded before frowning and helping Kaiza back upright, "Sorry Kaiza… I shouldn't have hit you. Do you want to hit me back?"

Kaiza just grinned and laughed a deep laugh, "I'm not punching a fourteen year-old kid, even if he does hit like a grown man. Contrary to popular belief, all sailors aren't roughnecks," He patted Naruto on the shoulder and shooed the teenagers off, "If your village idea ends up being a place with a water route for supplies, drop me a line would you? Sounds like living in a ninja village would be interesting."

It seemed that the civilians who learned of the budding concept of a village of ninja clans seemed more intrigued by the idea than a good number of the clans that were privy to the idea. Even in a place that was never really touched by shinobi activity such as Nami no Kuni, where they'd stopped on the way to the death trap island that housed the Kaguya Clan.

They had been making some progress on the front of finding interested parties. Not enough though. Only two clans had really committed and that in of itself was fickle. A change in the wind and all of that could change as well.

Thinking about it made you wonder how Minato didn't have wrinkles yet. The man always seemed, cool, calm, composed, and in good spirits. Of course that probably had to do with a tiny influence that he usually kept close around as he traveled lately.

With an upward nod and a smile, Naruto headed off, followed by Shino and Tenten down the street with a clear view of the ocean. It was a nice view and a great main street area for town vendors and businesses.

It was an easy place for them to meet back up with Naruto's family since most of the hotels were also positioned on that street. Sooner or later as long as they walked around they would have eventually been seen by someone that would have come out to get them out of the rain.

"'Ruto-nii!"

Speak of any of the devils.

Naruto rolled his eyes and grinned, but braced for impact regardless. There were only two ways this was going to end; either with a cheerful little kid attaching herself to his lower body or aiming for his neck and coming up way short. Fortunately for the aforementioned child, she had learned her lessons and aimed for the lower half on that occasion.

"What's up Kana?" Naruto asked, continuing to walk as a tiny redhead wrapped her limbs around his leg.

The small girl had long red hair, her bangs framed away from her face and back with the rest of her hair in a loose ponytail with two blue hairclips. She wore burgundy shorts and a sleeveless burgundy garment over a long-sleeved white shirt.

Almost four years ago, shortly after the trip to the Sarutobi Clan domains, Naruto had been taken for a short amount of time by Jiraiya in order to teach him and let him get more mission experience. It had lasted around three months and upon returning he had been presented with the surprise of his mother's slightly swollen belly and news that he would be getting a sibling.

To that very day he retained that he hadn't swooned or fainted upon finding out. He had passed out. There was a difference.

Roughly nine months later he had been more than happy to welcome Namikaze Kanako into the family and the world, and Naruto had a new reason to try and make it better if he could.

She had been given Minato's surname because Kushina technically wasn't of the Uzumaki Clan any longer the way she had been when Naruto had been born, and giving your kids a clan's surname when you weren't one of them was a quick way to piss them off and send them after you.

They had enough problems without that becoming another one again.

"Where you been?" The little redhead asked, as her brother walked her into the inn her family had been staying in, an eager shine in her blue eyes. She was a sucker for a good story, and there weren't many better than ninja mission tales.

"Doing stuff," Naruto responded vaguely, stopping to pick the little girl up onto his hip before he continued to walk. He was not about to tell her about busting his way through dozens of homicidal lunatics, mostly because he didn't want to give her nightmares, and otherwise because a story about running away wasn't very cool.

The answer did not satisfy Kana though, causing her to wrinkle her nose at him in aversion, "What stuff?"

"'You're too little to do it,' stuff."

"D'ya bring me a present?"

"I did not bring you a present," Naruto replied, reaching down and picking her up off of his leg, "There really wasn't anything there to bring back for you from where we were," Besides, he spoiled her enough as it was already.

Shino and Tenten sat down at a table in the front pub where they saw Kushina watching over her youngest child from, at least until she'd seen her brother outside in the rain and ran straight for him. After a long trip to get a boat they could use to explore a few islands before returning to the tiny nation to meet up with the main party, they were quite tired.

"Mission complete Kushina-san," Shino said, reporting to what was technically the second-in-command of his employer.

Taking her de facto status seriously, Kushina nodded and prepared to hear out the most professional member of her son's favored working unit, "And what are you thinking about the Kaguya clan?"

"They… are not exactly the type suitable for what we have in mind," Namely, they didn't have the bloodthirsty, savage, raider sort in mind as possible clans to take part in the village plan.

That would be another clan to strike from the list. Coming off of their cooldown period and trying to get things going again was proving to be troublesome to get some traction going.

A few years ago they'd made a lot of messes. Between the sealing of Kurama inside of Naruto, as well as trouble with the Uzumaki Clan and other dust-ups. They had to lay low and avoid open conversation with clans Minato had stricken up relationships with before taking his family on with him. The Senju Clan was growing increasingly more reactionary, and if smaller clans had been noted as supporters of the village idea, they would run a risk of having to meet the Senju Clan in battle.

No one wanted a piece of that, even with a clear butting of heads occurring behind the scenes with what was traditionally thought to be their sister clan in the Uzumaki. They were growing testy and were more willing to leap when they felt froggy.

The clans who were ideal for the village scenario were taking a wait and see approach to gauge just how badly doing such a thing would set off the powerhouses of the world, and the clans without the foresight to do so were so twisted that one wouldn't necessarily want to be partially represented by them anyway.

Case in point, the Kaguya Clan.

Just… no.

Tenten let out a sigh as she watched Naruto play with Kana in the more open area of the pub, away from other guests and patrons. She wished she had siblings, "Kanako is so cute."

Kushina clicked her tongue and shook her head, "Lucky kid's the exact opposite of Naruto," She said, "Minato's facial features, but my dominant traits, and she acts more like Minato too," Daddy's girl that she was, "Granted, that definitely makes easier to handle than Naruto was, so I'm thankful for that."

"Really?" Tenten asked with an intrigued grin, "Kana's better than Naruto was. Go figure," Her sarcasm was fully on display, but she was earnestly interested. Knowing things about her best friend's life before she met him fascinated her.

"Oh yeah. I love him to death, but Naruto was a tough brat to raise," Kushina grinned at the thought even though he'd given her fits at the time, "He was good when he was a baby, but around the time he turned… I want to say four, he started acting up. A lot. And he never stopped."

Some of that she wanted to blame on Naruto being her first child, and the fact that she had been a single mother raising a boy. In the end though, she knew her son, and knew that sometimes he liked being a handful.

Naruto appeared, still bouncing his little sister up on his hip, "That's because that's when Karin stopped being nice and started being a-," He censored himself and watched his language in front of Kana, only because Kushina gave him a look, one that Kana tried to give him as well. It wasn't nearly as effective, "Alright, alright, I won't say it."

Knowing Tenten probably had no idea who Karin was, Kushina gave a curt explanation, "My niece. Naruto's cousin, and his closest family back on Uzu no Kuni."

"-Which was kind of pathetic because she didn't even like me," Naruto added before shifting the conversation away from the awkward silence, "So! What's next?"

Kushina grinned at her eldest child, her cheeks in her hands with her elbows planted on the table, "Your father is heading off to meet with Anko about that mission he gave her. She says she's finally got something for him to see this time."

Anko's mission had been extremely simple in theory, if not utterly time-consuming and more complicated than one could have figured when put into actual practice. All that had been asked of her was to find the best possible set of locations she could that would be able to support a village the scope of the type Minato wanted to build.

…It was a more dangerous job than one would have thought at first. Anko definitely found that out after accepting what she'd originally thought to be an easy contract.

When you were searching for a place to stake a land claim, there were oh so many complications that could arise. Maps seemed to be rewritten every other week when it came to land holdings and national borders, and it was laughably easy to step on the toes of several different parties if you found yourself in the wrong place when the wrong person had some sort of claim over whatever turf you were on.

Anko had gotten herself and Fuu into a lot of fights over land-related misunderstandings over the years.

"She says she's got something we need to see every three months," Tenten said, "Where's she saying you should build the village this time? Swampland?"

"No," Naruto chimed in, bouncing a grinning Kana on his hip as she seemed to mimic his own mischievous expression, "The foot of an active volcano right?"

"The middle of seasonal tornado lands?" Tenten ventured, slowly grinning at the past misses of Anko's attempts to get paid by finding Minato the perfect land to build a village for ninjas on.

Naruto laughed before another one came to mind, "Ooh, how about that place with all of the landslides and earthquakes! I kicked a rock sitting on the ground and sent half of the place over a cliff."

"That wasn't as bad as the time she tried to get Minato-sama to take that spot at the edge of the Earth Daimyo's personal lands. 'He won't notice until the place is halfway built,'" Tenten said, mimicking Anko's cadence before huffing, "That was a real blast. Poor Fuu. She's got to be some sort of saint or something to stay on with Anko for as long as she has."

Kushina decided to cut off the teasing right then and there, not because it wasn't exactly nice, but because she herself wasn't included in the festivities, "Alright, that's enough of that. But anyway, either Minato will come back, or he'll have us meet him wherever this place is. So until then, relax."

Naruto looked at his mother, and then to his little sister in his arms who looked back at him with the brightest smile. Kanako was most certainly not going to leave him alone for the next few hours, not after he'd just gotten back after being away for a few weeks, but he wanted to go lie down, "Right. Come on Kana, let's go take a nap."

"Aww, I don' wanna take a nap," The others could hear Kanako pout as Naruto carried her off, "Mama, do I have to?"

"Naruto can play with you when it stops raining Kanako," Kushina said, knowing that she wouldn't push the issue. Like she said before, Kanako was a good girl instead of a hellion like Naruto was, "If you go sleep for a bit you won't have to wait for as long. Naruto, you're rooming with her until we leave."

He was always diligent in watching her, and if push came to shove he was the best bet there was for someone willing to fight tooth and nail to keep Kanako safe.

"Really?" Kanako asked, wiggling fitfully in Naruto's grasp, "Yay!"

"Siblings usually tend to dislike sharing living space," Shino pointed out after seeing the little ninja-spawn's exuberant outlook on the situation.

"Well Kana doesn't, because I'm a great fuc-, err, freakin' brother," Naruto said, editing himself when he saw Kanako give him another firm gaze as they went up the stairs, "You're gonna stop giving me that look."

"Bad words are bad onii-chan."

"Who are you supposed to be, mom?"

XxX

"So what do you think boss-man?"

Anko had seemed incredibly pleased with herself by the time Minato had made his way to the coordinates where she'd requested to meet up with him. He was a tad skeptical after a few years of start-and-stops when it came to her finding him a good place to build a village.

After arriving and being led a short distance through open fields, rolling green hills, and all-around fantastic natural aesthetics, confusion reigned for the aspiring leader when he found himself taken into a quiet little village that he couldn't remember having visited before. That had been when Anko had asked him the question.

"You can't build a village where there already is one Anko," Minato said in a deadpan tone. He traveled two days for this?

"Thanks for stating the obvious," The purple-haired kunoichi replied, "But really, I think this has been going the wrong way the entire time," Anko said with a grin on her face, as if she'd been planning out her pitch for quite some time, "Looking for open land to build a village from scratch just keeps starting trouble. Instead, we should find a place with a village that already exists and see if they'd want to have us build your little ninja utopia around them."

It was what ninja clans did with other towns to begin with, setting up satellites so to speak. Only this would be them basically taking a consenting village and instead of using it as an outpost it would be the main stronghold.

Anko could see the expression on Minato's face show that he was if nothing else giving thought to the idea, "Think about it! Even if this place isn't your idea of where you want to go, another village could think of it as built-in security from marauders and being collateral damage in ninja wars. Merchants would get an easier source of clientele, and a close source of the security of their choice when they go outside to do business. If you do this right, it could really be an economic game-changer."

Minato couldn't help but stare at Anko in a bit of amazement. He was aware that she was crafty and damnably professional about her work, but admittedly hadn't taken her for much of a thinker beyond the surface, "You've really given this a lot of thought, haven't you?"

If Anko had been offended, the lopsided grin on her face didn't show it, "Hey, I'm more than just bloodlust and a rockin' bod, ya know?"

It was at that moment Fuu descended from the sky and landed in the road right by them, wings of chakra disappearing as she did so. Brushing off her skirt, she turned and faced Minato with a smile, a shimmer of life in her orange eyes that she hadn't possessed a number of years ago. Other than growing up, she hadn't changed very much since she'd been younger, at least not from appearance.

"Showoff," Anko remarked once Fuu had landed.

Her grumpy attitude was thoroughly ignored by the green-haired jinchuuriki as her eyes panned around in search of someone, "Minato-sama, it's good to see you again," She said, her greeting poorly disguising her desire to see her younger friends, "Fuu was just wondering if you came all this way alone."

Minato bade the girl a smile as she walked the rest of the way over. She was certainly a far cry away from the eerie little girl she'd been when he'd met her, "I'm afraid so. Naruto had a mission and he was actually able to take his team this time, so no escort from the kids."

Fuu's countenance dropped at hearing that her favorite people weren't present while Anko rolled her eyes, "When are you going to stop speaking in the third person?" The older woman asked.

"When it stops bothering you that Fuu does it," Fuu answered, perking right back up at the prospect of exasperating Anko.

XxX

(East Coast of the Elemental Nations Mainland)

The meetings between the Senju Clan and the Uzumaki Clan were becoming less and less hospitable. Over the years things had changed from a welcoming sort of hospitality that had existed in the past whenever the two sides were to meet. Tsunade hadn't set foot inside of the Uzumaki Clan Village in almost four years.

This year she wasn't even setting foot on the island nation of Uzu no Kuni itself.

Instead, Nagato was coming to her, technically. She wasn't bringing him to the main Senju stronghold, and if that were the case she wouldn't be welcome back in the comfortable setting of the Uzumaki clan head's mansion either.

The two met onboard a ship a mile or so away from shore so that Tsunade could feel some measure of security and control over the setting, even though it was Nagato's ship.

The proceedings were strained, to say the least.

"…What?" Tsunade's voice could cut have cut steel. It was clearly the rebuttal of a woman entirely unused to being told 'no' when it came to anything.

Especially things of a military nature. Navally based in this instance. She wanted free reign to use the quick waterways that the Uzumaki Clan had traditionally secured for merchants as a secret attack method against the Uchiha Clan in a region that they were beginning to dominate. The newest war wasn't going to be fought in central Hi no Kuni, if it was going to remain in Hi no Kuni at all, and the mobility of the seas that the Uchiha Clan could never have would have been the supreme advantage.

Nagato had been her ace in the hole. And now she was being told the exact opposite of what she wanted.

"You think you've won the little 'race to the coast' because you've had us keeping them away from the area, don't you?" Nagato asked, the bare minimum of light reflected in his Rinnegan eyes. He stared at her, never blinking or showing anything other than blank tolerance, "What if I told you that you're not getting any sort of outlet to the sea for your war games?"

This had become increasingly commonplace over the years.

Nagato's responses to his clan's involvement in any of the Senju Clan's affairs always boiled down to three concerns in any given situation. Are we going to be reimbursed for the fight? Is [insert enemy's name here] a direct threat to us if we don't fight them for you? Are you saying there will be consequences from you if I say we're not fighting?

In order to spur any positive action, the answers to the first two questions always had to be yes, and simply hinting that yes was the answer for question number three was grounds for Nagato to immediately call the meeting to an end to call her bluff. He was done deferring to Tsunade's whim. The jinchuuriki episode was perhaps the most emasculating affair the Uzumaki Clan had ever endured, and they had lost face around the Elemental Nations as a result.

That wasn't even counting that Nagato's more accepting side had withered and died in the time following Minato's outright blitz on the village to leave with Kushina. Those things combined left him with markedly less patience and willingness to defer to the whims of their sister clan.

Both Tsunade and Nagato were well aware of the common perception that the Uzumaki Clan was barely more than the little sibling of the Senju. A stigma came with that, one that had never been debunked by anyone on the Senju's side. They were lesser to the Senju, not equals.

After the fallout that had occurred with Naruto becoming the most recently created jinchuuriki, the relationship had been horrendously strained.

"I don't like what I think you're saying Nagato," Tsunade said. Something had been wrong with him for quite some time. Over the years he'd grown more distant, confrontational, less willing to abide by her requests than he had in the past since taking over as the head of his own clan. It was as if the man was finally becoming fully aware of just how much power he had at his fingertips, "We need to work together to stop them from-."

"You're not doing this to stop anyone from reaching this coast," Nagato declared, cutting her off bluntly, "You want free reign of the water routes and our assistance with transport so you can ferry supplies and ninjas around the southern bend of Hi no Kuni and fight them there when you think they'll come. We have sources of information of our own. We're not quite the hicks you would like us to be."

The Uchiha Clan had gone straight through the countryside and were currently embroiled in battle after battle as they tried to solidify secure strongholds in the previously untouched wilderness area.

They were done reacting to one another's actions. Now instead of fighting aimlessly for business to build up capital, it seemed like the two age-old enemies were taking prerequisite measures to prepare for open war. It was almost that time again, for the two of them to square off and try to wipe one another from the annals of history.

If you weren't with either of them when it started you were to be stepped on or rolled over.

Tsunade's fingers drummed on the railing of the deck, holding back her irritated strength from smashing right through it with the thunderous taps, "Well, well, well," She said, taking a drink of the beverage she'd brought along. She of course wouldn't be trusting any sort of food or drink from anyone else, "…If I didn't know any better, I'd say your Uchiha was showing."

"Now, now, that's just a rumor," Nagato said, not bothered at all at the 'subtle' jab at his lineage, "But even if it was true, what does it matter to you?"

"It matters when the leader of the clan meant to be our distant relatives is the child of an Uchiha man."

And there it was; the primary reason why the relationship between the Senju and the Uzumaki had been eroding for years. After Nagato's Rinnegan had surfaced, things had changed, and when he'd taken over leadership things only deteriorated from there.

"If you believe the stories, the patriarchs of both clans originate from the same individual," It had always amazed him just how paranoid over the bloodlines mixing the Senju and Uchiha Clans had been.

It had cost his parents their lives and almost his in its infancy had it not been for the sympathy of the Uzumaki Clan his mother had come from. It was funny, because they had been put together in a bid for peace, but the scramble over who the child of their union would go to caused it all to splinter.

Instead of one of them getting the progeny of that marriage, they were more comfortable with being assured that neither would have it, hence the assassination of his parents before they could be with child. He was told the truth after his Rinnegan had awakened, on that damnable mission he'd been given the credit for. The one that had signified the beginning of his climb to clan leadership, and the one that scribed in stone Kushina's affections for Minato instead of him.

He had never harbored any ill will over it after finding out about it. He had no memories of his parents, and he'd been raised as a clan child same as any other. But it did always bother him just how absurd the blind aggression between differing clans could be, for no reason that he could ever find. Justification barely ever went any further than, 'They're different from us, so they don't deserve what they have over us.'

"You should be careful Nagato," Tsunade warned, "Those pretty eyes of yours don't make you the messiah you know."

"It's closer than you or the Uchiha make yourselves out to be," Instead of trying to put out the growing flame, Nagato stared the buxom blonde leader down with advice of his own, "And you should be careful Tsunade. Being the leader of the strongest clan doesn't mean you can simply take on anyone you choose and expect to win."

After decades, the historically one-sided relationship between the two clans was all but over.

XxX

(Southern Coast at Hi no Kuni/Kawa no Kuni Border)

With a short break in the rainfall, Naruto had taken Kanako out for a short walk around. He wasn't going to get any sleep until she fell asleep, and the two of them shared lineage, which meant that she wasn't just going to get tired like a normal person; he had to actually tucker her out.

She wasn't anything close to being frenzied mess that he had been even when he was her age, but she had the inherited vitality of the Uzumaki Clan, so when she had her mind set on being active it took quite a bit of it to wear her down.

Fortunately, Kanako was still very young, so it wasn't very difficult for someone like Naruto to tire her out.

For the K.O. he took her to the beach and walked around with her until she went out like a light, head on his shoulder as he carried her around. It was almost too easy to take much pride in.

Naruto couldn't get the grin off of his face as the only sound he could hear on the nigh empty beach was that of the crashing waves and Kanako's soft breathing, "So easy," He whispered to himself.

"I can't get over it, every time I see you two together," Tenten said, walking up behind them quietly after noticing that the little girl was asleep, "Before your parents had Kanako, I never thought you would have been the type to be good with kids."

"I'm not. It's just with her. When Mom had Kana I really had to try and shape up," Naruto said with a smile as he stared out at the water, "Not just for me. If it was just me I could have been fine with being a brat. But it was for her. Ready or not, I had to be ready to actually take care of somebody."

"Well, Kana adores you," The weapon-user said, before adding in a joke, "And another plus, she isn't anything like you!"

"She'd better not be like me. Mom and the old man left her with me a lot when there was something that they couldn't send me on," Naruto could still remember all of the early times he'd been left alone with his infant sister, "Do you know how scary it is to look at your own flesh and blood, and realize that everything that happens to her is on you?"

Even if it was just for a week? Even if it was just for a day?

No, he didn't want Kanako to be anything like him. Naruto was the way he was because the only source of affection and encouragement he got growing up was from Kushina. She was the only positive relationship he could really say he had amongst his clan. It wasn't until he left and the core of his personality had been formed that he'd met more people that gave him a chance to win them over.

That wasn't going to happen with her. Not if Naruto had anything to say about it. It was another reason to get the whole village idea done with; tons of kids her age for Kanako to interact with and grow up with. Having a stigma with one clan wouldn't stunt her entire social life for a decade the way it did his, because in a place with shinobi of multiple backgrounds there was always a chance to find someone somewhere. It was just another experience he'd had that could be added onto the list of things that would never touch her.

Tenten managed to catch herself staring at the brother and sister silently to the length that it had been uncomfortable for her to realize it. Feeling the pinch of awkwardness, she cleared her throat and brought up something to distract herself, "What was your home like?" The sudden question got Naruto to look at her in abject confusion, "You know. Uzu no Kuni. Your village. What was that place like?"

It took until asking the question for Tenten to realize that she'd never asked him about where he'd grown up before. She also realized that he'd never brought it up, and he never seemed too markedly concerned that for all intents and purposes he could never go back.

Thank goodness he was kind of dumb, otherwise he probably would have called her out to make fun of her.

"Well it's peaceful there, or at least it was when I left. More peaceful than anywhere else we've been since for sure," Naruto explained, wondering what brought along Tenten wondering about his home all of a sudden, "In the village, we were so close to the river and the ocean, you could hear it all the time. I think that's why Kana always falls asleep so easily when she's around running water. Like home or something, you know?"

That certainly sounded like a sweet and profound riposte. It was almost enough to make you look at the speaker differently simply from hearing it.

But Tenten already knew the speaker well, and was quick to point out something off about Naruto's statement.

"How exactly could this remind her of home? Kanako's never even seen Uzu no Kuni," Tenten said with a sly look on her face, as if knowing she'd caught him slipping.

"…Uh, I said 'or something'!" Naruto said, hurriedly making up an excuse, lowering his voice after remembering that he was still holding his sleeping sister, "Don't finish my thoughts for me Tenten!"

"Aww, too bad. You almost made yourself look cool just now," The older girl continued. His reactions to being called out were just too great sometimes. If you waited long enough, you could always count on Naruto to say or do something dumb, "You held in your dork for as long as you could, didn't you?"

"Wha-? A dork?" The words didn't seem to compute, "No I'm not! Kana doesn't think I am!" It was perhaps the weakest argument in the history of their entire relationship.

"Kanako is three. Give her time. She'll learn."

Naruto just scowled and let things lie as they were. He knew he was awesome. Thunder sounded out in the distance, which meant the rain was probably about to start up again soon. It was time to return to the inn before they were all caught in the downpour. If Kanako got sick, Kushina would murder him.

Gesturing with his head, Naruto motioned for them to return to shelter and made to leave while Tenten took one last long look at the ocean. Judging from the weather they'd been having, chances were that the next set of rains wouldn't let up until after they left and she wanted to take in the view and the feel while she could.

While looking down the stretch of beach, her sharp eyes picked up something sprinting right toward them, causing her to focus on it as it got closer and closer. It was fairly large to be moving so fast to boot, "Hey, do you see that?"

Naruto turned and looked as well, squinting his eyes as they weren't as good as Tenten's were, "Uh, are you talking about that huge dog running right for- OOF!"

Tenten had been able to take Kanako out of Naruto's arms before he was unceremoniously tackled to the ground by the large, frantically whining, and seemingly extremely intelligent grey-furred huskie. The impact had been quite impressive. Almost reminiscent of a speeding cart hitting a deer on a highland road if one had to compare it to something on-the-spot.

Kanako on the other hand woke up in the unfamiliar grasp of her brother's teammate and looked over with bleary eyes, only to fully wake up when she saw Naruto being grabbed and pulled through the sand by his sandal at the jaws of the powerful, clearly well-trained creature, "No fair Ruto-nii! I wanna play with the puppy too!"

It wasn't playing, it wanted to show them something. That wasn't just some run-of-the-mill family pet. That was a fighting dog, and if it was that hysterical, to grab Naruto and drag him off to do whatever to help, it had to mean there was trouble afoot.

"Yep," Tenten said, debating whether or not to immediately catch up, or take Kanako back to the inn first. No matter what she decided, at least there was a drag trail through the sand to follow, "He's just that lucky isn't he?"


Alright, that's chapter.

Now, I've advanced things by four years, because there was no more story I could tell within that time frame. I had set up the players for the future, had given Nagato his 'losing his smile' series of events, and had pretty much introduced the world as it is as best I could.

There are things I started that must now manifest themselves in the future, because that's how stuff works! Oooooooohhhhh...

So, now I'm going to go celebrate my birthday in style. By working.

Then after I get off at midnight I'm going to go plug in a few hours on that new EA Sports UFC game that just dropped. Because it's Wednesday, and nobody parties on a Wednesday.

Now that my friends, is the reason for the season.

Hope you enjoyed. Kenchi out.