Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto. Dude, I've got to stop breaking my hands. I mean, I don't know for sure if I broke my hand. I can still move all my fingers and stuff, but it's hurt for like a week.

Luckily it's just the thumb on one hand. But who needs thumbs anyway? Not this guy!

...Oh. I guess I need thumbs so I can properly point at myself. One point for thumbs then.

Chapter 24: Cure For What Ails You

Jiraiya looked out over the twisted and mangled fields that had served as the battlefield the other day. What was formerly beautiful farmland would need some rehabilitation to be returned to normal, "This is going to take forever to fix," He said to himself, "Seriously, we need some earth release specialists to come onboard so we can smooth this back out. What a mess."

His complains died out when a quick flash of yellow alerted him to the presence of his student. A grin came to Jiraiya's face before he even turned around to face him.

Minato let out a whistle as he walked up to Jiraiya's side to observe the scene, "Looks like I missed quite the party. Were they that tough?"

Jiraiya shook his head, "It wasn't that. We could have laid them out, but it would have destroyed the village. I think this was a much better way of establishing that we can protect the people here if need be."

Unfortunately, a few good shinobi had given their lives in the process. The Hyuuga were professionals though. After a service for the fallen men and women, they had continued on with making sure there were no other attacks on the horizon. So far it was all peaceful.

Minato reached out and gave him an appreciative pat on the back, "Well thanks for being here, sensei."

Jiraiya waved off taking the lion's share of the credit. It would have downplayed everything that all of the others had done to win the day, "Oh no, I'm pretty sure I didn't need to be here. Your kid put the important parts of the defense plan together. I just went where he told me and fought."

Minato's eyes went wide, "Naruto did?" A proud smile formed on his face at the thought of his son taking the lead. Minato had seen he had the heart for it. That he also had the head for it to a degree was also "Good for him. Kushina got everything we needed from the Nara Clan for his antidote... now we just need someone who knows what they're doing to make it."

"We just have to get a decent medic now who knows what they're doing," Jiraiya said, simplifying the next step. Granted, it was a simple task compared to everything else thus far, "Chin up, Minato. The hard part is done."

Minato let out a sigh and ran his hand through his thick blond locks, "I know. It's just hard to see him suffer, even if he won't complain about it himself," He'd stopped off at the inn immediately upon returning to see Naruto up and about. It was clear he was trying to hide his anguish. When he thought no one was watching, he would limp and wince. Never in front of anyone, though, "Speaking of not complaining, Kushina got attacked at the Nara compound."

Jiraiya's eyebrows raised in interest, "By one of them?"

Minato nodded, "One went lone wolf, apparently," Which seemed odd, especially for such a laidback people. Even if they had real problems with Minato and his entourage, they wouldn't have let them in to begin with, instead of attacking. And having one attempt to attack out of the blue was equally unforeseen.

Jiraiya let out an annoyed groan, "All of this just keeps happening all at once," The Hyuuga Clan was attacked by an unidentified unit on their way here. The Guardian Ninja just so happen to try and throw their weight around here as well. Kushina gets attacked miles away," He said, listing out their most recent woes, "We're just not very lucky, are we?"

Minato doubted luck had anything to do with it. But there was nothing he could think of connecting the dots. All he could do was take them as isolated incidents, "Yeah... really unlucky."


(Meanwhile – With Naruto)

Every step hurt for Naruto, but every step he took also meant he was still healthy enough to go on. The pain meant he was still good enough to proceed. It was only when he couldn't walk anymore that he felt the need for anyone to worry, and he didn't want anyone to worry about him.

He would prolong that for as long as possible, and with the successful return of his parents and Kakashi, obtaining the ingredients for his antidote, he would theoretically only have to deal with the effects of the Five Elements Virus for a short time longer.

"Naruto, I really don't like you being up and around," Kushina mentioned as she walked through the streets with her eldest child, "I think you should go back to the inn and lay down some more."

Naruto rolled his eyes at Kushina's fussing over him, "Mom, we fought a full-scale battle while you were gone. I think I'm fine to take a walk around the village," Besides, if he spent any more time in bed than he needed to, he would go crazy, "I'm not dead yet."

Kushina conceded that point, but was still upset for how he got infected to begin with, let alone getting directly involved in the most recent conflict, "I'm still going to kick your ass when you're better for real. I can't believe you didn't just let the others handle it."

Naruto was at a loss for words for a moment. There was no way he was taking any kind of blame for that, "They made it to the village. I had to go out there. The only other person who could was Shino, and he was already hurt! I'm being as careful as I can."

Kushina knew Naruto was trying to be as responsible as possible. But that was just it, he had been responsible for more than just himself in their absence. All things considered, he had taken the correct course of action, "I know. It just scares me. Having kids like you is very stressful, I'll have you know. I've done a very good job of avoiding gray hairs so far. If I get any, I'm blaming you."

Naruto rolled his eyes, "I don't think you can blame me for something that happens to old ladies naturally," He felt the killing intent before he felt the coldness of Kushina's glare, "Hey, you can't hit me, I'm sick!" He hurriedly said. It seemed to work, as he felt less of a sense of danger. Still, Kushina didn't take her eyes off of him.

This was the scene Tenten came across as she caught sight of the two Uzumaki pariahs approaching her position at the town square, "Hey you two," She greeted before noticing the body language of Naruto and Kushina. She turned to the former for an explanation, "...What did you do?"

Kushina gave her the answer instead, "Just said something that he really shouldn't have, and will be paying for as soon as possible," Naruto gulped and took a step away. Kushina turned to Tenten with a loving smile, "Nothing outside of the ordinary. What about you, honey? What did you need us to see?"

Tenten clapped her hands together excitedly, eager to share what she'd asked them to meet her for, "You know how we're looking for someone who knows enough about drugs to put the Five Elements Virus antidote together?" Naruto and Kushina nodded, "I think I've got just the thing we need right now. Or, more like just the person."

Kushina's eyes lit up happily, "That's great! Where do we have to go to get in touch with them?"

Tenten snapped her fingers and pointed to a nearby barbecue restaurant with tables set up out front, "Lucky for us, nowhere, seeing as how he hasn't skipped town yet. Come on," She approached a silver-haired young man dressed in purple with glasses, "Hey, Kabuto!"

Kushina looked over at her son, who seemed just as lost as she was, "Who is Kabuto?" She asked, getting a shrug from Naruto, "Tenten, who is this guy?"

Tenten waited for her pseudo-family to reach her where Kabuto was sitting, "Well, Kabuto was the medic-nin for the Twelve Guardian Ninja," She realized she had bungled her words revealing that first when Naruto and Kushina went on-guard, "I said he was! Was! He didn't even fight... or heal anyone during the battle."

Kabuto held his hands up disarmingly, showing himself to be anything but a threat with his nervous reply, "To be fair, I would have tried to, but Fudou threatened to kill me if I got involved," He said, "Just being honest... heh."

Tenten scoffed at Kabuto's attempt to justify everyone else's paranoia, "Yeah, but his being an idiot worked out for you in the end. He didn't kill you, I didn't kill you. We hit it off. Anyway, the point is, I think he can help."

Kabuto wiped his mouth and his hands with a napkin before standing up from his table, ready to do his part, "What can I do?" He said, sounding stern and prepared.

Kushina frowned at the thought of asking someone that had been with the people trying to destroy the village, but Tenten was vouching for him. She had a good head on her shoulders, "We need you to synthesize an antidote for the Five Elements Virus. We have the ingredients, but no one good enough to put it all together. Can you do it?"

Kabuto's tough demeanor dropped upon hearing the request, "Oh, I thought it would be something hard or dangerous. I'm not much of a fighter. Yes, I would be happy to."

"That's great!" Kushina said, "Come back to the inn with us, and we can work out a price for your service."

Kabuto chuckled good-naturedly, "There's no need for a payment. I already owe you guys, specifically Tenten, for getting me away from the Guardian Ninja. There was no way someone like me could do it on my own."

He said this with a smile directed right at Tenten, who felt very put on the spot all of a sudden, "Aw, well.. it's not-," She tried to string together enough words to sound intelligent, but it was a struggle, "I'm sure you would have been able to if you... err... I mean, you're welcome."

It was the best move she could make, once she realized she could hear Naruto snickering at her. Kushina pushed him with her elbow to get him to stop, "Stop laughing at her, Naruto."

"I'm not laughing," Naruto disputed holding his torso and chuckling to himself, "Oh, man. It hurts to laugh."


(Hi no Kuni – Northwestern Mountain Range)

Bag slung over his shoulder, Asuma marched into the village of his birth, filled with his clansmen. It had been quite a long while since he had returned home. But with the forces of his employer depleted, there was nothing for him to stay at the capital for.

Yes, it had been a defeat, but it was nothing personal, just business. The only member of the Twelve Guardian Ninja that he considered a friend was Chiriku, who had also survived. Things could have been much worse. All he had to deal with for now was a bruised ego, and not that much of one, seeing as how he hadn't really been beaten.

Either way, it led to some time off. And with nothing better to do, he decided to go see his father. It didn't take a lot of questioning or searching to find where he was. There were only a handful of locations that served as Sarutobi Hiruzen's traditional haunts.

Asuma came across Hiruzen at one of the many observatories on the mountain, sitting in front of an easel, smoking a pipe. Typical, "You've been painting the view from up here for years," Asuma called out, "How long you gonna keep making these landscape portraits, old man?"

The old man with the painting supplies laughed and turned to face Asuma, "When the view stops being so fantastic," Hiruzen said, greeting him with a smile, "Hello, son."

Even if they didn't always see eye-to-eye, he loved his father, "Hey, dad."

"It's good to see you, Asuma, especially after the rout suffered by the Guardian Ninja."

Asuma ran a hand through his hair and popped a cigarette into his mouth, "So you know about that, huh?" He asked, his lighter sparking to life, "Yeah, Chiriku and I were the only ones to make it out. He went back to the Fire Temple for a bit, so I decided to come home too."

"What did you think?"

"Huh?" Asuma replied in confusion.

"Of your opponents," Hiruzen specified, "When you fought them, when you observed them. What did you think?"

Asuma remembered faintly that his father had something of an interest in the progress of the allied village idea, "It was... different. I've never seen an Inuzuka and a Hyuuga fight together before," He recalled with a smile on his face, "I don't think they had ever worked together once before they fought us."

The two girls couldn't have been more different from each other, and yet they came together quite effectively to combat a threat greater than themselves. It wasn't just them either, but it was the example that Asuma had been directly exposed to.

"If that's what it's all about, I can see why this whole thing has you interested," Asuma said.

Hiruzen only laughed, like an old man finally seeing a younger, less experienced person start to come to a realization, "Indeed. Now come. How things have been for you otherwise."

Asuma thought of topics to converse with his father about, but there was one thing that had been plaguing him for weeks, "Well, there's an old man in the Fire Daimyo's court now."

Hiruzen raised an eyebrow. In previous visits, it would have been easier pulling teeth, "You don't ever talk about things that happen with your work."

"I don't trust him," Asuma said grimly, "Dad, do you know anything about a man named Danzo?"

Did he? Of course he did. And this man making his presence known on any kind of open scale meant nothing good.

"Tell me as much as you feel you can," Hiruzen demanded.


(Cha no Kuni – Grand Verdant Stretch)

"Keep your wrist straight," Naruto said, adjusting Kanako's hands as she made little fists, "See that? Hold that steady. Now try."

Tenten walked into the pub of the inn they were staying at as Kanako repeatedly punched at the palms of Naruto's hands. There was almost no real impact behind her punches. Then again, she was three-years-old, going on four, "Isn't this a little too early for her to start training?"

Naruto minded his younger sister, even as his friend approached, "It's not even training. It's just keeping her from hurting herself," He said, "Besides, I don't think we'll have much of a choice."

"She's that strong?" Tenten asked, sitting on the floor to watch the two siblings interact.

Naruto nodded, a grim look on his face that Kanako didn't notice, focusing more on trying to hit her brother's hands hard, "She told me how many were coming, and how strong they were."

"That's not good," Tenten pointed out. Sensors were very useful, but some that were unprepared with exceptional power could be overwhelmed by it. Very few went untrained before that particular gift came to them, "A brush with someone who has too much 'you-know-what' would be really bad for her."

'You-know-what' was killing intent. Most with experience overlooked it, but it was a major deal. By itself, it could be potent enough to negatively effect full-fledged shinobi. For an untrained child with sensor abilities of an adult, it could potentially be fatal. The sooner Kanako learned how to deal with such a thing before it came up, the better.

"Mmm," Naruto hummed, gathering Kanako up into his arms once she'd tired herself out, "Mom and dad aren't gonna like it."

"Ruto-nii," Kanako fussed, "I wanna fly with Fuu-chan."

"We'll see if we can find her," Naruto told the little girl, despite the fact he was obviously heading to the rooms to put her to bed, "You wanna carry her?"

Tenten gleefully turned the offer down, "No way. She wants you."

Naruto knew an opening when he saw it and took it, "Speaking of wanting somebody," Tenten groaned, knowing what he was getting at before he even started, "You like Kabuto?"

"I met him during a fight, Naruto," She said, trying to dodge the topic, "I killed a man in front of him."

Naruto didn't let her off so easily, "So? That doesn't answer the question," They met half of the people they knew during fights, "I'm not asking if you're in love with the guy. I just asked if you liked him. You can feel like you like someone before you really know 'em."

Tenten glared at Naruto, but he honestly seemed to be asking, instead of picking on her, "I... can't believe I'm talking about this with you."

Naruto shrugged and continued to rock Kanako to sleep, "Who else are you gonna talk to?"

Tenten gave him a deadpan look and began ticking off people on her fingers, "Hana. Hinata. Fuu. Your mom. Anko," She said, "All better options than you. Even Kanako here would be better."

"I'm the best," The little redhead said tiredly.

Naruto laughed and kissed Kanako on top of the head, "I thought I was the best."

"Ruto-nii's the best," Kanako agreed sleepily.

Naruto and Tenten looked at each other knowingly. There was no way Kanako was going to remember anything about wanting to fly with Fuu before she fell asleep. That left them with their conversation, "Tenten, I'm your best friend. I think there's a law or something that you've got to come to me about this stuff," Naruto said, "Come on. You know you want to talk about it. I'm a dude. I might know something you don't that could help."

Tenten crossed her arms and looked away, "There's nothing to talk about. I think Kabuto is a nice guy. And he helped save your life, which is kind of a big deal. That's all. Why do you care, anyway?"

"Because we almost get killed every day. As long as we're facing down mean guys with weapons and jutsu, I want to make sure you're happy while we're stuck doing it," Naruto said, trying and failing to sound profound, "If that means making sure your lady boner for some dude is appeased from time-to-time, I'm more than happy to help."

The lip on that boy was undeniable, "Would you watch your mouth?" Tenten said.

"What? Lady boner isn't a curse," Naruto replied, "And Kana didn't even hear me. She's out of it."

Fair enough, on both accounts, "You should worry more about yourself than me," Tenten mumbled.

Naruto grinned and bumped her hip with his, "I am. We're symbiotic to the point where we can both live vicariously through the other's happiness. That means when you're happy, I'm happy."

Despite herself, Tenten couldn't help but grin as well, "And when I'm upset, you're upset?" She tried to predict.

Naruto found the door to his and Kanako's room and worked the door open with his sister in his arms, "Yeah, you haven't noticed every time you have those little monthly issues of yours," He went to put Kanako to bed, but stopped when he realized Tenten hadn't followed him in. That she'd stopped suddenly at the door and was staring a hole through his back, "Uh... is that one of those things I should have thought instead of said?"

"Put the baby down," Tenten demanded calmly.

Naruto turned and saw the demon wearing the skin of his best friend, "Nuh-uh. I'm not gonna do that."

Tenten made her request again, "Put the baby down so I can stab you."

"No," Naruto said, instead climbing into bed underneath the covers, never letting go of Kanako as he did so, "I'm gonna just lay down here, and take a nap with my sister where it's safe. You go find Kabuto and maybe if everything goes right you could lose your v-card before I do."

Because when you were already in a hole you couldn't climb out of, why not dig it deeper? If you dug deep enough, you would eventually come out of the other side.

Tenten sucked her teeth and decided to let things be as they were... for now, "Everything that just came out of your mouth, you're gonna be paying for that sooner rather than later."

"I choose later," Naruto selected without needing to think about it, "So... later!"


(Several Weeks Later – Northeast Hi no Kuni – Mumei-ba)

Mumei-ba was an outpost town a stone's throw away from the north-northeast border of Hi nu Kuni. Such towns were usually hubs for civilians and shinobi alike. It was noticeably less impressive to some than many others that existed elsewhere, but it was close enough to the capitol that there was less of a chance of trouble breaking out between random ninja elements.

That was just fine for Kakashi. He hadn't come for any kind of battle, or a mission. He simply came to get himself informed. The man with proper knowledge was always a step ahead of his enemies.

...Even if he had to speak with a man who was technically his enemy to do so.

Kakashi entered a dive bar and quickly scanned the sparsely populated afternoon crowd to find who he was looking for, "You could have ordered me a drink if you were going to make it here first."

Uchiha Itachi barely spared Kakashi a glance, instead returning his gaze to the countless bottles of alcohol on display behind the bar, "There's no point. I don't drink, and you refuse to in front of anyone else."

Kakashi let out a sound of acknowledgment and took a seat next to him, "Well, you know. I have to keep up my reputation as an upstanding shinobi for others to look up to."

"You'll forgive me if I don't immediately take your words at face value in that regard," Itachi replied.

Kakashi took no offense to this. Quite the contrary. It seemed to amuse him, "Oh, you Uchiha can always just see right through me. No, wait, actually that would be the Hyuuga."

Itachi didn't rise to Kakashi's antics that would usually inspire a reaction from others, "Did you leave a message for me to meet you here so that you can test a new standup routine on me, or do you have information to trade?"

Kakashi and Itachi had fought one another to a standstill years back, but there had never been any enmity between them. For the time being, the Uchiha and Minato's organization were not sworn enemies, even if skirmishes kicked up every now and then. That meant the two savvy shinobi could use the other as a resource. Both traveled extensively and kept their ears to the ground.

Itachi wasn't the only person that Kakashi had set up this sort of exchange with either. Despite not being a people person, Kakashi knew how to get news from them.

"Very well then," Kakashi said. If Itachi wanted to get right down to business, that was fine, "For starters, your clan's little bioweapon won't be as effective any longer. The antidote is out there in the ether now."

Itachi didn't seem too terribly broken up about this news, "I was never a fan of the Five Elements Virus," Chemical warfare mixed with near genocide wasn't his cup of tea, to say the least, "It's just as well. It was intended to be used on the Inuzuka front, but we're leveling back on that offensive. Father fears our clan is being stretched too thin. The Senju Clan has been too quiet lately."

Kakashi sighed, "Please don't tell me another battle is on the way," If they had to duke it out, they could do it far away from where Minato's ninja village was being set up.

Itachi could understand the man's ire. He himself also tired of the constant stop-and-start conflicts between his clan and their primary rival, "If there was one that I knew of, I would tell you. I wouldn't rule it out in the near future, however. Many of our forces are pulling back from contacts near the frontier."

That meant an amassing of resources, for one reason or another, and that wouldn't mean anything good when the time came for whatever it was.

"Well, the Inuzuka don't plan to retaliate. They're territorial, and they think they bled you white in the woods," Kakashi offered as a bonus, "With that bit of good news from me, do you have anything to contribute?"

"Nothing political that you would find intriguing, or wouldn't be able to learn on your own," Itachi said, making Kakashi believe for a moment that he wouldn't share anything with him this time around. However, there was a reason Kakashi maintained professional contact with Itachi – because he was reliable, "...Are you still searching for that person?"

"Aren't we all looking for that special someone?" Kakashi said with an eye-smile, being annoyingly cryptic. Just like that, his demeanor changed abruptly, "You have something on the masked man?"

There was only one person they knew of that either had to identify without properly identifying him, because no one could.

Itachi nodded. One day he would ask Kakashi what his interest was in this particular figure who seemed more ghost than man. He was only known by his vague alias. There was nothing more concrete known about him to identify him by.

"Information from Mizu no Kuni is hard to come by, so when you hear several things out of there, all with similar details, it is almost assuredly accurate," At least as far as shinobi rumors went, "A man with a spiral mask has been spotted there multiple times."

It was then that Kakashi really wished that Itachi had been benevolent enough to order him that drink, "Of course it would be there. Why wouldn't it be?"

Itachi looked over at the older Sharingan-equipped shinobi oddly, "You're familiar with the situation there?" With Kakashi's alignment, he figured the man wouldn't have been very well-versed on what happened beyond the sea.

Familiar? Anyone who spent enough time around the coast heard the rumblings coming out of there, "Have you been to that place? It's complete bedlam over there," Kakashi said, "Minato-sama's son and his friends went to one island there. Let's just say it didn't end diplomatically," They had not tried anything that way since.

"It's that much worse than the mainland?" Itachi asked.

Kakashi paused to think of a way to put things that Itachi could easily understand, "Imagine all of the chaos that happens on the mainland, just condensed to a country with half the land of a single country, and that land is split up in islands."

When he put it that way, Itachi could see how things could been seen as uglier than what they were accustomed to in, say, Hi no Kuni, "It seems as though you may have your share of trouble ahead of you if you wish to further investigate."

Kakashi blinked and pointed to himself, "Me? Oh, heavens no. Are you kidding me? I'm not setting foot in that place over this!" He swore he could see a twitch from Itachi. That made the entire conversation worth it for him, "...I do know someone who's more than willing to head that way to take a look, though."

This is a shorter chapter than I'm used to putting out for this story, but I feel like the points I needed to be made for this chapter were made without dropping 10K words on the page.

So home is being put together. What will come of this? And what will come of whatever is happening in Mizu no Kuni? How bad is it there, really? We are all going to find out.

That's it for me, suckers. I hope you enjoyed.

Kenchi out.