Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto.

So, Akira Toriyama is gone, children. It was a sad day for ascended nerds like me when the news broke. I wouldn't be the man I am today without him. Not just because Dragon Ball Z was my gateway into anime and manga, but also because DBZ is, no joke, roughly 1/6 of the reason I worked hard at the martial arts and in the gym.

Because as a child, I knew ki and the abilities associated with it weren't real. I never thought otherwise. But... what if they were?

Rest in peace, sensei. Thank you for everything you left us.

Trust and loyalty are weird concepts. That's true, no matter how you slice it, whether you want to put it as a shinobi thing or not. It's also not something I've ever been particularly enthused about.

It's my own personal problem, really. Trust never really did much for me early on in my life. I trusted my parents. I mean, that's what you're supposed to do, right? Especially when you're a stupid kid who doesn't know anything. Well, that trust got me sold to a fat, overpowered, asshole shinobi with a man-eating sword. That's how much loyalty and attachment my scumbag parents had for me. But I digress.

As a clanless nobody, the whole clan thing never sounded good to me anyway. I mean, you've got to stand with these random fuckers, fight for them, believe in them, be offended on their behalf, etc., just because you share blood?

What about getting to know someone and setting your allegiance based on that? What if your clan is full of violent, manipulative, exploitative dickheads, and you decide you're not about that? What if you don't even want to be involved with the shinobi life? Well, that's too fucking bad. Everything you do from the moment you're born to the moment you die is for the benefit of the clan.

Golden Boy and his mother got banished from the Uzumaki Clan, but honestly, I think they got the better end of things there. Sure, they might have been put out in the cold, but at least they had the freedom to make their own ties. Ties that didn't have a goddamn thing to do with where they were born or who they were born to.

That myopic clan shit kept all kinds of interesting people from meeting each other as anything but enemies. It kept people who probably would have a lot in common and hit it off pretty well from having anything to do with each other. Maybe the world could have become a better place if that hadn't been the case. And yet, I kind of understood why all of the clans kept themselves so closely guarded. They didn't want to be used. They didn't want to be hurt. They didn't want to give someone the opportunity to take what little they had precious to them. Hell, I'm not so different myself.

Letting your guard down, giving people a chance to get close... it's scary. It's dangerous. But sometimes, when you pick the right people, it can really pay off, better than if you were just born with them in some cases.

It did for me, anyway.

Tayuya - 'End of Clan War Era Memoirs'

Chapter 36: Fire in the Hole

There was nothing quite like the comfort of sleeping next to a warm body. Despite her prickly demeanor, Naruto found Tayuya to be quite warm and soft to the touch. The feeling was mutual on her end as well. Tayuya enjoyed lying against Naruto's firm chest, feeling secure in his sturdy arms.

It was perhaps the best sleep either of them ever had. Of course, all good things had to come to an end.


Tayuya was the first to stir. Why? What business did anyone have with her so early in the morning? She could count the number of people she knew in this godforsaken village on two hands and still have fingers left over, and they likely knew that she didn't do anything early in the morning without already meaning to. Anytime she got going before noon could be considered her taking the initiative, and she definitely didn't plan on getting up early today.

Tayuya and Naruto had shared a wonderful night together and, up until that point, a nice, comfortable morning. Anyone wishing to interrupt that before either of them was ready to get on with the day needed to reconsider their actions.

And yet...


Tayuya's brow furrowed at the loud noise emanating from her front door. She turned her head and buried her face into the crook of Naruto's neck, "For fuck's sake..." She muttered irritably, "Golden Boy, go answer the door already. Deck whoever's on the other side."

Exactly as cognizant in the early morning as Tayuya, Naruto cracked his eyes open, wanting nothing more than to roll over and go back to sleep, "Me? This is your house."

"Right. I let you stay the night, so do what I say and get the door."

"You're the host. You're the one that's supposed to do that."

"You can literally make clones to do menial shit for you."

"My clones are me. They're not gonna do anything I wouldn't do."


"Goddamn it!" Tayuya finally exclaimed, fully awake at this point. Pushing herself up off of Naruto's chest, she crawled over him to get up, making a point to press her knee into his stomach as she did. The audible 'oof' it elicited from Naruto was almost satisfying enough to make up for her having to get out of bed and put on some kind of garment to cover her modesty.

It was too early to entertain, especially after the night she'd had. Anyone who knew her well enough to know where she lived had to know that messing with her at that point in the day wouldn't end well for them.

Grumpily throwing on a robe, Tayuya stomped to the front door, muttering to herself, "Can't believe this fucking... who on earth has the balls...?"

Throwing the door open, prepared to unleash a verbal tirade on whoever was behind it if they didn't have a good reason for being there, Tayuya froze in place, her scowl vanishing instantly at the sight of Kushina.

There she stood, smiling pleasantly in her housewife dress, hand-in-hand with Kanako, who seemed to be trying to look past Tayuya curiously. The entire image could hardly be considered intimidating.

...So why did Tayuya feel such a sense of dread?

"Good morning~!" Kushina greeted brightly, with a peppiness that could be argued as manufactured.

Tayuya lost all of her furious steam from a moment ago, "Uh... good morning," She replied lamely.

Still with an unnerving smile, Kushina wasted no time going straight for the jugular, "My son wouldn't happen to be in there with you, would he?"

So shell-shocked was she, Tayuya didn't even bother trying to come up with a story, excuse, or any kind of deflection for either her or Naruto's sake, "...Yes. Yes, he is," She mumbled.

Self-consciously, Tayuya pulled the neck of her robe a bit higher to hide the marks she could feel on her flesh from the night before. Between that and the way she could feel her hair was all askew, she knew she looked a mess. In fact, she knew exactly how the entire situation looked, and there wasn't much point in denying it. Lying would do no good when all Naruto would have to do was sit up unaware in the loft and Kushina would be able to pick his big dandelion head out of a lineup.

Naruto's mother had caught them dead-to-rights. That was all there was to it.

At Tayuya's easy admittance Kushina seemed to take a moment to appraise the girl, "Hm," Tayuya wasn't certain what she had been looking for, but before she could confront her on it, Kushina backed off, "Alright. Just checking, seeing as how he never wandered back last night," She said pointedly, "You take care now. Come on, Kanako."

Kanako began to fuss as Kushina led her away, "But mama, I told you, 'Ruto-onii's there. I told you!"

"I know, baby. He is," Kushina cooed, attempting to pacify the small girl, "You found him! Good job!"

Tayuya watched the mother and daughter depart before slinking her way back inside and slowly closing the door. She leaned her back against it for a moment and took a deep breath before shuffling her way back up to the loft. Naruto seemed to have rolled over and gone back to sleep. Unacceptable. Tayuya was fully awake and aware now, which meant they both had to be.

Lashing out with her foot, Tayuya kicked the bedframe, moving it a few inches. Naruto let out a groan that signified he was awake enough to acknowledge that she wanted something, "Golden Boy, that was Mama Red," Tayuya said, immediately jolting Naruto straight up with fear, "Chill out. She just left."

Wide eyed, Naruto sat up, trying to get a glimpse of the front door, "Did you tell her I'm here?"

"Yeah, but she already knew," Tayuya said, dropping herself back down onto the bed, "Fucking Buns. She probably grassed."

"No, Tenten didn't know I left the party," Naruto said in his best friend's defense, having the memories of the clone he had left behind to perform face duty in his stead, "...Did mom have Kanako with her?"

Tayuya looked at Naruto curiously, wondering what his young sibling had to do with anything, "Baby Red? Yeah."

Naruto breathed a laugh through his nose, "Yeah, that'll do it. Kanako's a sensor," He said with a measure of pride. His little sister could find him anywhere. Inconvenient as it was in this case, he couldn't help but take pride in it.

Tayuya was skeptical, "That itty-bitty thing? Already?" She doubted Kanako was even old enough to grasp what chakra was, let alone how to use it or find it in others.

"Mom thinks she can develop Kagura Shingan (Mind's Eye of the Kagura)," Naruto said, now fully awake and stretching, "It's not a kekkei genkai or anything... just a sensor technique some of our clan tend to have a thing for. I don't know how she'll learn how to control it though. It's not like we can go back and ask someone to teach her."

Naruto let his mind wander in consideration of Kanako learning how to one day utilize the boon of a sensor ability that the Kagura Shingan was. It was funny to think that while Kanako's potential future progress was at risk of being stalled by the present day Uzumaki Clan, his own was being held back by a ghost of Uzumaki Clan past in Mito.

It was on that point, Naruto found himself dwelling.

Uzumaki Mito. While she married into the Senju Clan, it wasn't as though they just plucked her out of a lineup while she was a child. If she was an Uzumaki, she would have become a kunoichi with the Uzumaki Clan. She trained, studied, and developed under the clan, and it was highly unlikely that she only started innovating in her field of sealing techniques once she got together with Senju Hashirama as an adult.

What were the chances that Mito hadn't done the bulk of her early research and work in Uzu no Kuni? And what were the chances that the Uzumaki Clan didn't have her notes, even the things she did while with the Senju Clan? They were close allies; even closer back then. In fact, who was to say that they didn't have access to material that the Senju Clan weren't even aware of?

Wide eyed, Naruto slowly rose from the bed, "Oh, shit..."

"What is it?" Tayuya asked, attentive to his change in demeanor.

Naruto shook his head, unable to put the entirety of his thoughts into concise words, "I've got to get everybody together. Now. Come on, let's go," He said, grabbing Tayuya's hand.

Realizing he was about to pull her with him, Tayuya, pulled first, yanking herself out of his grasp, "Whoa-whoa-whoa-whoa! Hold the fuck on," She said, "I look like shit and this whole house smells like we've been banging, so I know for sure I do too. Feel free to do the walk of shame if you want, but I'm not going anywhere until I get myself presentable," Kushina was the only person on the planet outside of her home that was going to see her in such a state of dishevelment, and that had not been by choice, "Now, is this an emergency?"

Naruto paused, realizing that he had been about to sprint out the door completely naked, "Uh... no."

True enough, recent revelation aside, none of this was particularly time sensitive.

Tayuya nodded and stood to move past him, "Alright. I'm taking a shower then," She took a few steps down the stairs of her loft before noticing that Naruto wasn't following her. Undoing the belt of her robe, she bared her shoulder and looked back, "Well? You coming or what, Golden Boy?"

"I... didn't know I was invited," Naruto replied, catching himself staring before too long.

Tayuya let out a laugh, "Well, you are. Interested?"

By the time she reached the bottom step she had let her robe slip off and hit the floor. In that same timeframe, Naruto had also made it to the shower and gotten it started.


(Tsuchi no Kuni – Water Screen Cave)

While neither Itachi nor Sasuke had been fond of the idea to go after the Four-Tails previously, having to scour the depths of the tailed beast's chosen hiding place made them resent the mission that much more.

Both brothers did their best to remain hidden as they stalked members of the Alpha Clan deeper and deeper inside of Water Screen Cave.

The location was a veritable maze. There were numerous caverns and passageways that led to nowhere, many of them only accessible underwater, all of them pitch dark. This last point was the thing that left Sasuke feeling the most on edge.

Contrary to popular belief, the Sharingan did not allow its users to see in the dark. Nor did it glow, nor was it visible in the dark. This was all battlefield lore. Anytime a Sharingan appeared to glow to an outside observer's viewpoint, it was merely the angle of the light hitting it. All this to say, Sasuke, as an Uchiha without the ability to use the clan's signature asset to his advantage, felt quite uneasy the farther in they went. The saving grace in this regard was that the Alpha Clan members taking the lead dropped flares to mark progress and allow visibility for their own shinobi.

The search for the Four-Tails carried on for hours, with no sighting of the creature made by any of the Alpha Clan. Every time a group backtracked from a dead end and moved back toward Itachi and Sasuke's direction, both would hold their breath and hope they hadn't been following too close. Still, they managed to maintain their cover while shadowing the enemy.

C let out a groan as he and Darui searched through an isolated chamber, cut off from the rest of cave via an underwater passage, "How in the world did something as massive as the Four-Tails manage to squeeze itself into this place?" He asked.

Darui chuckled, "There's probably something like an inner sanctum in here where there's enough space for it to be comfortable. But you've still got a point. Really makes you think, doesn't it?"

"Yeah," C said, letting the silence between them drag on for a moment, "...Anyway, do you think this is far enough?"

Darui nodded, unstrapping a broad, cleaver-like sword from his back, "I think so. I don't think they'll be able to remember the way back out very easily."

C quickly rolled through four hand seals. Both Sasuke and Itachi watched closely, prepared to react the moment he made his move. This was what C wanted, however.

"Raiton: Raigen Raikouchuu (Lightning Release: Lightning Illusion Flash of Lightning Pillar)!"

He discharged electricity from his entire body in the form of a blinding flash of light, one that caught the Uchiha brothers staring directly. Both involuntarily squinted and turned away to protect their important eyes from damage. In the instant they looked away, Darui rushed to their hiding spot, his sword drawn back to swing, lightning chakra running through the blade.

Despite his temporary inability to see, Itachi's ears worked just fine. He was able to hear the buzz of electricity echo off the cave walls. Before Darui could strike at them, he pushed Sasuke away and moved clear of the strike in the same motion. Still following the sound, Itachi threw a startlingly accurate barrage of shuriken that Darui needed to use the flat of his blade to deflect safely.

"Damn," Darui said, sounding impressed, "You did all that blind."

"You were able to protect yourself adequately in the dark as well," Itachi commended.

Sasuke was much less complimentary toward the enemy, "Tch. They knew we were there," He groused.

"I'm a sensor," C replied, "We knew you were following us a while ago. We just had to make sure you were far enough away from the others that you couldn't impede the mission."

Itachi realized the disadvantage they were at. It wasn't the battle conditions that were the problem. He knew he could adjust and had faith that Sasuke could as well. It wasn't the enemy's strength either. As formidable as C and especially Darui struck him as, he wasn't overly concerned over whether or not they could defeat them together.

The problem was that defeating them wasn't the point. A pitched battle was not the objective. The objective was the Four-Tails. Even if Darui and C were bogged down fighting Itachi and Sasuke, it probably wouldn't have done much to impede their overall goal. The Alpha Clan operated in numbers. They had likely brought enough shinobi to move the mission forward without their presence being necessary. That kind of luxury didn't exist for the Uchiha in this scenario. There were only two of them present.

They couldn't afford to let the enemy get that much of a lead on them.

A large murder of crows emerged from within Itachi's cloak, scattering around the cave and putting Darui and C on guard. At the same time, Itachi grabbed Sasuke and made eye contact, pulling him into a genjutsu where time seemed to slow to a near stop around them as they spoke.

"Sasuke, go," Itachi said, "Continue searching for the Four-Tails. I'll make sure these two don't slow you down and force us to waste any more time."

"By yourself?" Sasuke replied, "What about you? If we have to split off, shouldn't you be the one to handle the Four-Tails?"

At that, Itachi smiled, "It's better if you go and I stay. You have far more experience against tailed beasts than I do."

Sasuke smirked proudly at his brother's praise. It seemed he had something to thank Uzumaki Naruto for after all – the numerous battles between them over the years provided a reason for his brother to give him recognition. He'd keep that in mind the next time they met and he put a blade through the jinchuuriki.

With a nod, Sasuke accepted the task presented to him. Itachi pressed his index and middle fingers together and poked Sasuke in the forehead – a familiar gesture the younger Uchiha was accustomed to receiving from the elder. The genjutsu came to an end, and Sasuke used the cover of the crows to slip away toward the underwater exit of the passage.

It took only a handful of seconds before the Alpha Clan combatants realized that Sasuke had left, "Tch. The younger one booked it," C complained as he moved to pursue. He found his way barred by a flurry of crows before jumping back in alarm as Itachi seemed to appear in the middle of them.

"I'm afraid neither of you will be going after him," Itachi explained calmly, "I'll be your opponent here."

C scowled at the lone Uchiha, "You're buying time for your clansman? Or do you really think you can take the two of us on alone?"

"I believe you'll find me more than sufficient," Itachi said.

C growled at the man's reserved demeanor. Darui regarded Itachi closer however, and reined his cohort in before he reacted rashly, "C, he's not just running his mouth. If anything, he might be underselling himself," He noticed C's skeptical expression, "Don't you keep up with the bingo books? I thought you did your research. That's Uchiha Itachi."

C took an involuntary step back, "That's him? Isn't he in line to take over? And he's all the way out here?"

Itachi raised an eyebrow, "The Alpha Clan knows of me? That is surprising, given your last excursion outside of Kaminari no Kuni came well before my time."

"Should it be?" Darui asked, "After all, we've been preparing to move south for a long time. The Alpha's advisor has made sure our leader knows just about every notable shinobi in the Elemental Nations, and we've all been briefed on the heavy hitters."

"And yet, unlike your comrade, you don't seem too terribly concerned," Itachi observed.

Darui's demeanor was comparatively as cool and collected as Itachi's, "Well, I'm no pushover either, if I do say so myself."


(With Naruto – Yu no Kuni – Unnamed Allied Shinobi Village)

While Naruto would never paint himself as the sharpest knife in the drawer, he was more self-aware than many people considered him to be. That was why he tried to surround himself with people that he trusted and whose counsel he deeply valued. It was a lot easier to make decisions when you were surrounded by the opinions of people you thought were smart and could believe wanted good things for you.

He was also fully aware that a lot of the rasher decisions he decided to make in the past historically did not tend to go over well with these people. To this end, he had over the years cultivated a fool-proof way to spring any less than savory developments upon his friends and family.

People were a lot less likely to spend their time and energy complaining to you if they didn't have the energy to do so in the first place. Thus, he strategically called for a training session that morning that wound up being more of a grind than usual for Tenten, Shino, and Tayuya, who he had somehow started mentally including in his inner circle.

While everyone had their own projects they had been focusing on, Naruto and Tayuya did most of their work trying to improve on her budding control over her wind elemental nature. Her instruments, specifically the wind-based ones seemed to have lots of potential as mediums in that regard.

Naruto waited for a lull in the day's training, after everyone seemed sufficiently fatigued, to spring his latest suspect decision on his closest confidants.

"So... I'm going to Uzu no Kuni," Naruto said out of the blue. He winced when Tenten immediately choked on a swig of water she had been taking at the time.

Of the three others gathered – Tenten, Shino, and Tayuya – only Tayuya failed to produce any kind of reaction. It was understandable, as she only had the barest context of why this was significant, while the others had it in spades.

With Tenten temporarily indisposed as she fought for her breath, the quietest of the group, Shino, was the first to reply, "...What?" Despite the evenness of his tone, Naruto could hear the buzzing of the young man's kikaichu hive.

Naruto quickly explained himself, "I need Uzumaki Mito's research. Her real research. The stuff she did before she went to the Senju Clan and got all fatalistic about jinchuuriki," He said, "There's no way they didn't keep it."

Years ago, when Kurama was first sealed inside of Naruto, Kushina had been able to create a fix for his defective seal on-the-fly, and it held. That was significant. It was more than just his mother being amazing and understanding the contents of a seal by sight. She had learned to identify it from somewhere, which meant the Uzumaki Clan had sealing knowledge for dealing with tailed beasts. How much they had remained to be seen, but given that the modern-day progenitor of jinchuuriki theory originally hailed from there, they had to have more than was available anywhere else.

Even if sealing techniques of that nature were kinjutsu, you didn't just throw something like that away. Every last clan in existence would hold onto it, no matter what it did or what it cost the hypothetical user to perform, even if they had to keep it under lock and key.

Shino was the first to say anything, "I find this surprising. Why? Because I didn't think you'd know what the word 'fatalistic' meant," It was Shino's attempt at a joke to break some of the tension, but all it did was allow the floodgates to open for the most levelheaded of Naruto's inner circle.

Tenten suddenly found a strong desire to throw something at Naruto's head. Something sharp, not blunt, seeing as how he had apparently suffered enough concussive trauma to his brain if these were the sorts of ideas he had rattling around upstairs.

"Why?" The bun-haired kunoichi asked quietly, "Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?" She repeated louder and louder before reaching out and grabbing Naruto by the front of his vest, "WHY!?"

Naruto hadn't expected Tenten to be enthused by what he had to tell them, but he hadn't expected her response to be quite so volatile, "Why what?"

Tenten shook him by his vest, punctuating every sentence with another shake, "Why is this your first idea? Why do all of your ideas involve you doing the riskiest thing you can think of at the time? Why can't you just sit the eff down for FIVE MINUTES, chill out, and just catch your breath? Why are you like this!?"

Naruto didn't know which question took precedence in order of importance as he was also fairly certain the questions grew more rhetorical as they went on, so he answered chronologically, "...Technically, this wasn't my first idea. Winging it with Kurama was my first idea. Then the Alpha Clan showed up with their own jinchuuriki, so the Senju Clan was my second idea. This would be the third."

"So come up with a fourth idea!" Tenten snapped, "One that isn't crazy! One that doesn't put you square in the crosshairs of the people who probably want to kill you the most!"

Naruto scoffed and gently removed Tenten's hands from his garment, "Come on, Tenten. The most? The Uzumaki Clan would probably be third highest on the list, at best. Fourth now, if me and dad pissed off the Alphas enough."

"Probably fifth," Tayuya chimed in, "I'm pretty sure that Mei lady from Mizu no Kuni is pretty pissed at you too. That's one's still fresh," Naruto gestured to her, co-signing to the point she was making.

"Ugh..." Tenten slumped down to the ground, her back against a tree. It was still early in the day, and she already felt tired, "It's so hard to love you, Naruto. I swear to God, you make it so hard sometimes."

A wave of guilt rolled through Naruto at his best friend's reaction. He had just wanted to inform her of his next move. He hadn't been seeking to recruit her to take part. He would never ask Tenten to do anything she truly didn't want to, "H-Hey, you don't have to go-."

"-You know good and damn well I'm going!" Tenten exclaimed, ripping clumps of dirt and grass from the ground to pelt him with.

Tayuya stood back and watched as Naruto covered up from the barrage of soil and sod, "As funny as it is to see Buns lose her shit, she kinda has a point," She said, "Golden Boy, do you ever fucking, like, stop?"

Naruto didn't understand the question, "Huh?" He hummed; body covered in debris.

"Are you always so extra?" Tayuya asked, "Just since I've been hanging out with you – you ran all over the world to Mizu, fought one of the Seven Swordsmen and some dude with the motherfucking Rinnegan. Literally half a day after you got home from that, you ran all over the countryside again and picked a fight with the Alpha Clan-," She ignored Naruto's mutterings that he didn't start that fight, "-Then tried your luck with the Senju. Now you want to sneak into another place filled with people who I'm guessing also want your head on a stick, all so you can steal their shit," She finished, turning to address Naruto's closest friends, "Is he always like this?"

"Yes," Both Tenten and Shino dryly replied simultaneously.

"Awesome," Tayuya huffily blew her bangs out of her face, "Good to know I'm in bed with a complete busybody."

Naruto squinted his eyes in her direction, "Are you talking about ninja stuff, or the other thing?"

Tayuya chuckled, "Why not both?" She said with a smile before she noticed Tenten watching them with a smug expression, "What are you looking at, Buns!?"

"Nothing... nothing," Tenten said as she stood, dusting off her hakama-style pants, "So, when are we leaving?"

"You're sure you want to go?" Naruto asked tentatively.

Tenten walked over and clapped a hand on Naruto's shoulder, "If you're really set on this, there's no way I'm letting you deal with your old clan alone."

"Nor will I," Shino added, placing his own hand on Naruto's other shoulder, "You know you can count on my support."

As wonderful as the moment of camaraderie was, Tayuya quickly decided to opt out of taking part, "Killer. You all have fun with that. I'll see you all when you get back, if you don't get killed, that is"

"You're not coming with us, Tayuya?" Naruto asked with a tilt of his head.

Tayuya fought the urge to bite her own lip at the sight. People were idiots. They thought that this was supposed to be some kind of monster in human flesh? Not a chance. And why did she find little things like that attractive? "G-Give me a break, you goober. I'm still getting settled in around here. I can't just run off for who knows how long already."

It was an excuse, but one that was good enough for Naruto, "Alright. Well, if you need anything while we're gone, I'll make sure mom will help you."

Tayuya nodded absently. Honestly, she had nothing more that she necessarily needed to do to set herself up to stay there. Her home was set up and she was steadily getting the lay of the land. She simply didn't want to join herself to anyone at the hip.

The village was the most comfortable place she could ever remember staying. She was getting closer to select others. After only knowing them for two months, she was beginning to get along well with Tenten. She liked Naruto – a lot. And that was scary to her. The idea of putting down real roots was utterly foreign. Even when she'd had her houseboat moored to the floating city of Hashike-gai, it had been more of a hub than a home. That was why it hadn't been too terribly difficult to leave Mizu no Kuni for the mainland when the opportunity had presented itself.

She had never found anything in life to get attached to before. The feeling that she was actually starting to do so, that she kind of wanted to do so, frightened her.


(Tsuchi no Kuni – Water Screen Cave)

C realized quickly that Darui had been spot on when it came to his estimation of Itachi's abilities. Not only was Itachi as dangerous as his status of clan inheritor would suggest, he had in fact been underselling himself.

The Alpha Clan pair should have had the advantage. It was two-on-one, in the dark where the Sharingan wouldn't be as effective, where C could use his sensor abilities in lieu of sight. Any use Itachi tried to make of his Sharingan could quickly be turned against him with blinding effectiveness due to C's own jutsu.

Tactically, they held all the cards. Strength-wise as well, they weren't exactly lacking either. C was a highly skilled and decorated shinobi, experienced and battle tested. Darui was a complete monster in his own right. He had been trained by the previous Alpha and served as the right-hand man of the current one, with many unique techniques at his disposal that no one else could duplicate. His strength was never in question.

And yet, C felt wholly out of place.

C let out a soft gasp as Itachi seemed to appear directly in front of him from the shadows themselves, kunai in hand, the lethally sharp tip poking out from beneath his cloak. C leapt back to get whatever distance he could, but he knew it wouldn't be enough to get him out of harm's way. He had been caught flat-footed.

"Nope," Darui rolled through five hand-seals with great haste before Itachi could reach C, "Suiton: Suijinheki (Water Release: Water Formation Wall)!"

Darui spat a stream of water from his mouth at the ground between C and Itachi. The water circled around C and rose to create a wall that cut off Itachi's access to him. Just as quickly, the water suddenly broke into a wave that crested in Itachi's direction, threatening to carry him away.

As the water hit Itachi's form, he seemed to break apart into several crows that flew themselves to safety. A clone. The moment C registered this, however, he could hear the sounds of metal clanging. Turning his head, he saw Itachi and Darui engaged with one another at close range.

Sparks flew in the dark as Itachi pitted his straight sword against Darui's cleaver blade. The latter used broad structure of the blade to hide his body behind it, avoiding several of Itachi's sneakier strikes and persistent combinations. Itachi's speed advantage kept him clear of Darui's retaliatory swings. The length and overall size of the sword gave Darui more reach, something Itachi remained wary of as he darted in and out.

It was only when Darui applied lightning chakra to his sword that Itachi chose to disengage. In addition to lightning chakra making Darui's offense that much more potent, he ran the risk of breaking his own sword on it.

C tried to use the opportunity to slip away. Sasuke, after all, was still free, searching the caves for the Four-Tails. He had no idea how powerful Sasuke was on his own, but if Itachi believed in him enough to send him off on his own, he was likely more than capable of at least thwarting the Alpha Clan's aims.

From the corner of his eye, Itachi noticed C make his move toward the water and formed a tiger seal, "Suiton: Suigadan (Water Release: Water Fang Bullet)!"

As C dashed to the nearby water, preparing to dive in, several pressurized projectiles formed underneath the surface. Just as he reached it, they shot from the water directly at him, spinning like drills.

Watching the bullets fly his way, C found that he couldn't dodge them all. Noting their trajectories due to the trails that formed behind them, he prioritized the ones clearly headed for potentially fatal targets on his body and made sure to protect his vitals and his hands. Teeth grit determinedly, he felt three bullets hit him, the force sending him flying back.

It wasn't a kill, Itachi noted. But he had wounded C. That was good progress. What was odd about it, however, was the lack of reaction from Darui. Even though the man had come across as a cool customer from the outset of the fight, Itachi had expected some kind of emotional response from seeing a comrade go down. The reason became clear when Itachi noticed the glow of green chakra surrounding C's hands as he ran them over his injuries.

'A medic,' Itachi observed. He quickly found himself on the defensive as Darui recognized that he had picked up as much.

Darui had already been rolling through hand seals, "Raiton: Kangekiha (Lightning Release: Wave of Inspiration)!" A crushing jet of water spewed from his mouth, charged with electricity.

Itachi's eyes momentarily went wide, even as he avoided it altogether. He had been watching closely, preparing to copy whatever jutsu Darui used, until he actually saw what it was in real time, "You can use water and lightning release in tandem. Impressive," He complimented.

An honest-to-goodness fusion technique. The Alpha Clan was shaping up to have more than just overwhelming numbers on their side. From Darui's display, they clearly had skilled men and women within their ranks.

"I can only do it with water and lightning," Darui admitted, "Still haven't quite gotten the hang of mixing wind with either yet."

Itachi felt his interest further piqued, "You have three nature transformations?" Itachi could use three separate elements as well, but that didn't make it any less notable. Just when he felt that Darui had run out of ways to impress him, "I see."

"Three basic ones," Darui added with a shrug before hurling himself back into combat.

All of this bought C precious time to heal himself. In a matter of minutes, he had managed to deal with the most severe of the damage, allowing him to remain an active combatant. But active and effective were two different things.

As the battle escalated, C felt like more and more of a liability for Darui, but every attempt he made to leave simply prompted Itachi to target him instead, forcing Darui to step in and save him. None had been as devastating as the first time, but still he remained. Itachi was not about to let him leave. His positioning was sublime. No matter what Darui did, no matter how they tried to maneuver themselves around, Itachi always either kept himself between them and the passageway out, or kept the way out within his field of vision so that he could react to C's attempts to escape.

Of the two of them, Darui had the best chance of even touching Itachi. Swallowing his pride and deciding to do what was best for the mission as a whole, C hung back and played a supporting role for the more effective direct threat against their enemy.

"Darui! 4 o'clock!" C called out for his ally's benefit as Itachi dipped into a pitch-black portion of the cave.

"Got it," Darui replied, throwing a kunai with a paper bomb attached.


The blast missed Itachi by a wide margin, but it also temporarily illuminated their surroundings. Darui used the slight moment of full visibility to pressure Itachi further, closing the distance between them by rushing to the area he saw Itachi moving toward.

To keep Itachi from anticipating this and countering it, C would always try to keep himself in Itachi's line of sight and out of Darui's supporting the latter by periodically making use of his Lightning Illusion Flash, first to force Itachi's gaze away from Darui and to hopefully implant an image that would leave him vulnerable.

No matter how well C tried to time this however, both the blinding effect and the false images he created only seemed to affect Itachi for an instant, nothing lasting enough for Darui to exploit. Itachi seemed to be able to work around being unable to see, usually responding by lashing out with startlingly accurate shurikenjutsu that C had to break concentration on his own jutsu to dodge.

Even knowing the Sharingan was notoriously effective at seeing through genjutsu, it was as though all it took for Itachi to break through C's genjutsu was to blink his eyes. It was maddening. While Darui could still compete, as C knew that he still had much more up his sleeve, C had no choice but to concede that he himself was out of his league.

Despite that, he felt Itachi was also still holding back significantly.


Sasuke tried not to concern himself with his brother's wellbeing as he continued to make his way through Water Screen Cave. He trusted in Itachi's ability to fend for himself against any foe, whether he was outnumbered or not. Besides, Sasuke had his own problems to worry about.

While it felt good for Itachi to have full confidence in Sasuke's ability to deal with a tailed beast, that didn't make the reality of actually doing it a simple task. Fighting Uzumaki Naruto was always an ordeal, and he was just an overpowered idiot as far as Sasuke was concerned. From every story told involving a tailed beast, taking on a real one was akin to fighting a force of nature.

Which begged the question, how exactly did the Alpha Clan plan on capturing it? There was no way they were going to just seal it into a jinchuuriki on the spot. They had to have a means to contain it and move it to a more reasonable location.

The tracking skills Sasuke picked up during previous clashes with the Inuzuka Clan came in handy as Sasuke was able to pick up on the trail of the Alpha Clan. Though it took some time, he was able to find and catch up to them. Eventually, all he had to do was follow the echoing roars he began to hear.

As he went deeper underground, the cave began to shake and things about the cave itself began to change. Instead of cold and wet, it started to feel warmer, steadily increasing in temperature until it was eventually sweltering. It didn't take long to learn why. The cave eventually opened up into a massive chamber, but it was completely different from any other part of it that Sasuke had seen,

The last corridor leading to the chamber seemed to have been carved out of the earth itself, differently from everywhere else. There were lava flows running through areas along the ground.

On the bright side, with the natural light the flows created, Sasuke could see properly again. That, and they made it obvious that he was close to where he needed to be. It was upon entering the open chamber itself that Sasuke got his first glimpse of the Four-Tails.

The Four-Tails was a titanic red-furred and green-skinned gorilla. It had eyes with yellow irises and white pupils, spike-like protrusions along the length of its tails, long, blunt fangs, and two long horns curving upwards on its forehead like a crown.

The size of the opening underground made sense; the Four-Tails had merely carved out its own den to make itself comfortable, and it was already receiving guests by the time Sasuke arrived.

The Alpha Clan had a plan, it appeared. A quick headcount estimation of shinobi visible to Sasuke's keen eyes noted at least 200 uniformed, armored men and women working in coordination against the Four-Tails.

The gigantic tailed beast raged and roared, swinging its massive arms around, smashing walls and rock formations as it tried to crush and kill nimble attackers that seemed to be assigned to pestering and aggravating it with powerful, painful ninjutsu and ranged weaponry.

Paper bombs were thrown into and detonated in the Four-Tails' face. Various flash tags kept going off, blinding it and making sure that it could never tell quite where any of its diminutive targets were.

In strategic positions around the cave, there were several Alpha Clan shinobi trying to wrangle the Four-Tails with special chains, imbued with fuiinjutsu.

Things weren't going perfectly, and there were more than a few injured and dead, crushed and burned by the Four-Tails' might, but it was the most efficient pitched effort against a tailed beast that Sasuke could envision seeing. Everyone had their roles, and they executed those roles to the letter. They were stalwarts in their duty, never flinching in the face of the Four-Tails' raw power.

Of course. It made perfect sense that the Alpha Clan, with two active jinchuuriki and experience with having them would have developed a method for dealing with tailed beasts themselves. While all of the tailed beasts had their individual quirks and abilities that any battle plan had to be tailored to, the general idea for taking them on was fairly uniform.

Limit their movement, keep them unable to focus on any individual threat in particular, prevent them from manifesting their full destructive power. All of these things were applicable and encouraged. In fact, it could be argued that they were musts in fighting tailed beasts, and the Alpha Clan had turned it into a science.

"Bring it out!" One of the Alpha Clan shinobi shouted to their support team, "Bring out the pot!"

"Get the Kohaku no Jouhei (Amber Purifying Pot)! Hurry!"

A large pot was unsealed from an ornate storage scroll and carried forth to where several shinobi were trying to hold down the Four-Tails with their chains. It had to be a sealing device, which meant Sasuke needed to intervene.

Sasuke had prepared in advance to deal with the major numerical advantage that he knew the Alpha Clan would have at their disposal by default. With the distraction of the Four-Tails, it gave him the opportunity to thin their numbers and make a splash right from the outset.

Quickly sneaking around the cave, Sasuke set up several stakes to create hard points for him to set up ninja wire, also wrapping it around rock formations. The Alpha Clan didn't notice him, and his Sharingan allowed him to keep an eye out to prevent anyone from seeing him before he launched his attack.

Once he was prepared, Sasuke pulled out a single fuuma shuriken, opening it up to expose all four blades of the deadly weapon. With the end of his prepared ninja wire tied through the opening in the middle, he took aim and threw it.

Amidst all the commotion of the battle with the Four-Tails, the individual closest to the Kohaku no Jouhei didn't notice the weapon coming his way until it was embedded in his torso, killing him.

Sasuke's aim and spacing had been perfect, throwing it from just the distance it needed to pull tight the slack of the ninja wire strewn about the cave, revealing a tangled, complex array that ran around, between, and through the Alpha Clan positions. Before the weapon even hit its mark, Sasuke had already started the four hand seals he needed to activate his intended technique.

"Katon: Ryuuka no Jutsu (Fire Release: Dragon Fire Jutsu)!" From a strand of wire he held in his mouth, Sasuke breathed fire that ran the length of the wire, splitting off onto the various tangled strands.

Whole lines of enemies found themselves engulfed in flames. Anyone touching the wire, or too close as the flame passed fell victim.

Just like that, the Alpha Clan's available manpower fell by an entire tenth. The sudden shock and surprise of losing an entire portion of their restraining and sealing teams immediately resulted in more losses when the Four-Tails took advantage of its right arm being freed.

Hooting and bellowing, the massive gorilla raised its fist in the air, using chakra to coat it in lava, before slamming it down on the ground repeatedly. With every smash, lava burst from the ground like water from a geyser. Anyone too close and too slow found themselves caught up in the miniature eruptions.

In a matter of seconds, a precise operation being executed to the letter had turned into utter chaos and carnage.

An overseeing officer for the Alpha Clan could only watch as everything started to fall apart. Turning his eyes back in the direction that the first flames originally came from, he noticed Sasuke standing atop a rock, observing the scene, "What's the meaning of this Uchiha?" He snarled.

Sasuke smirked down at him, "My mission is to make sure you don't get your hands on the Four-Tails. Period."

Out of anger, the man pressed his fist to his palm and swiftly pulled it away, "Raiton: Supaakumuchi (Lightning Release: Spark Whip)!" A whip made of pure electric chakra sprang to life, held at the ready, "Your clan will pay for this! This means war!"

War wasn't anything new for the Uchiha Clan. It always seemed like they were at odds with someone. If they were in between tilts against the Senju Clan, it was the Hyuuga, or the Inuzuka, or any other number of clans. As far as Sasuke was concerned, a war with the Alpha Clan was nothing out of the ordinary.

"As if you weren't already planning on starting it yourselves. Or are you moving south out of Kaminari no Kuni again on vacation?" Sasuke replied, "Anyway... I think you've got bigger things to worry about right now," He gestured his head to the rampaging Four-Tails.

By this time, the Four-Tails had freed itself from the rest of the chains and had begun rampaging with impunity. Everything was in complete disarray. The chamber began to fill with magma from the ground up. The cave began to resemble the inside of a volcano with every second that passed.

The mission was blown. They were losing people too quickly – had lost most of the restraining team already. A glance back Sasuke's way revealed that he had already left. His job was done, after all. There was no need to stick around fo anything else. Not when he also ran the risk of incurring the Four-Tails' wrath.

"Fall back!" The order went out, albeit begrudgingly, "Grab the Kohaku no Jousei and go! Now!"

They could locate the Four-Tails and try to capture it again sometime later. They could not, however, risk losing one of the Treasured Tools of the Sage of Six Paths. That was a degree of failure that would cost whatever survivors remained from the mission their heads.

To say that A would not be pleased was an understatement too overt to properly put into words.


(Unknown Location – Border with Tetsu no Kuni)

To get the best view of the world one lived in, sometimes it was best to take a look at it from the outside. That was Shimura Danzo's reasoning for his plans to leave the lower Elemental Nations in order to spend some time in the country of Tetsu no Kuni.

Tetsu no Kuni was a land utterly free of shinobi, neutral from the conflicts that plunged the rest of the world in perpetual combat. It was the perfect place for a man like him to keep out of reach of the countless enemies who would seek to take his head. Now that the Alpha Clan seemed to be descending from Kaminari no Kuni to extend their reach further, such a sojourn seemed prudent. There was no need to be in the crossfire when he could watch from afar.

With most of his operatives active in the field across the Elemental Nations, Danzo bade his usual personal guard leave him alone to cross into Tetsu no Kuni alone, while they find their own way in. The samurai were not to be trifled with, and he wished to give them as little reason to scrutinize him as possible. His guards could keep watch over him from the shadows. After all, that was where they were meant to operate from anyway.

Of course, that left a small window of opportunity for anyone looking to get close to him. Though that was an opportunity that very few were capable of exploiting, as the first step to doing so was possessing the ability to locate Danzo in the first place.

It turned out, Orochimaru was one of those people.

The snake masquerading as a man appeared before Danzo on a stone bridge spanning a deep, rocky river expanse, seemingly waiting on him.

"Hello, Danzo," Orochimaru greeted pleasantly, his piercing gaze staring straight through the subject of his attention.

As innocuous as the greeting was, there was always an underlying edge to every word that came out of Orochimaru's mouth. Even the most innocent remark was delivered, either intentionally or not, with enough chilling menace to give the most hardened shinobi pause.

This perception did nothing to bother Orochimaru. In fact, he reveled in the startling impression he left on every person who had ever met him.

It turned out, Danzo was not one of those people.

Any surprise Danzo may or may not have felt at Orochimaru's presence didn't outwardly register, "I would ask how you knew where to find me, but..."

Orochimaru smiled, "Oh, come now, Danzo. I know how to keep in touch with all of my best customers."

Which was why Danzo wasn't concerned. As one of Orochimaru's best customers, Danzo knew that whatever Orochimaru wanted with him, it wasn't to harm him, which begged the question he was obligated to ask, "So, what business do you have with me?"

Orochimaru approached Danzo slowly, before circling him like a predator, "I had some interesting guests the other day. They came uninvited, without warning," The pale-faced man chuckled to himself, "They almost got their hands on some sensitive research. Almost."

Danzo's ever-present frown grew more pronounced, "The actions of the Alpha Clan have nothing to do with me."

"Really now?" Orochimaru asked, "Because they knew exactly where to find three of my hideouts and hit them simultaneously," He hissed in aggravation as he stood behind Danzo, "There are select few people on this planet who know where even one is. Even less who know where to find multiple."

Clients got in touch with Orochimaru via outside contacts who then informed his underlings and passed on requests to him. Given that he dealt with extremely dangerous people, and that his methods tended to make many enemies, he always worked to keep some distance between himself and others outside of his influence. At least one degree of separation at all times, even when receiving deliveries and payment.

Exceptions were rare, such as when he found himself intrigued by a client and felt the desire to assess them, when he needed to explain how his creations worked, or just when he wanted to see the fruits of his labor in action. In this case, however, a more direct approach was needed. Danzo also wasn't the type who would let just anyone get near him without his own reasons.

Danzo didn't flinch, despite Orochimaru's attempts to intimidate him, "Do you truly believe that I gave the Alpha Clan the location of your hideouts?" He asked.

"Oh, I'm just going down the list," Orochimaru replied, his tone then turning sharper, "It's a list of one, by the way."

Danzo shook his head at the threatening undertone of the man's words. Such posturing was wholly unnecessary, "I figured you to be a more intelligent man, Orochimaru," He said, beginning to calmly walk out Orochimaru's reach, "The Alpha Clan figures into none of my aims. Quite the opposite in fact. What they're doing threatens to upset the delicate balance of the shinobi world that I have struggled to maintain."

"Ah, yes. Your glorious 'balance'," Orochimaru said tauntingly, "How is that working out for you, by the way."

Between Namikaze Minato, the jinchuuriki, the increasing instability of Rinnegan-wielder Uzumaki Nagato, and the aforementioned Alpha Clan, not well.

Danzo did not admit to any of this, however, "The same as it ever is," If he felt any consternation, he didn't allow it to show on his expression or in his tone.

"Of course," Orochimaru said patronizingly, "Regardless... if you are not the informant, who is?"

Danzo's cane tapped the stone with every step as he walked over to gaze out over the bridge at vast mountains surrounding them.

'Who' indeed? If Danzo had the answer to that question, it never would have become a problem in the first place. Not for him, and not for the Elemental Nations as a whole. It wasn't for lack of trying, either. Danzo surmised that whoever it was, they had been positioning themselves for a very long time.

"Every attempt I have made over the last fifteen or so years to insert spies and saboteurs into the Alpha Clan ranks has failed," Danzo said, "Someone there knows of me. Knows about how I and my foundation operate. And they know intimately enough to thwart me."

There was someone else playing the game of thrones from the shadows. Someone with their own grand aims for the shinobi world. And those aims looked to run contrary to Danzo's.

That simply would not be permissible.


(With Naruto – Yu no Kuni – Unnamed Allied Shinobi Village)

Naruto, Shino, and Tenten spent the rest of the morning and the early afternoon gathering supplies and preparing to set out. Having done this so many times on short notice, the team had a well-oiled routine for their excursions.

Tenten would always serve as quartermaster. When it came to supplies such as food and general weaponry that they would all share, she was the best at getting everything together quickly sorting it all out neatly.

Shino was very detail oriented. Whenever he found himself on one of these missions, he would take care of laying out the route, setting up the most efficient ways to navigate the countryside, avoid potentially hostile clans, and get them where they needed to be with the least amount of hassle. Whenever he didn't go on a mission, it felt like merely traveling caused a lot more problems.

It was always Naruto's job to get clearance for whatever they were going to do. Since a good number of the missions they went on were really just things done on a whim at Naruto's behest, it was only fair that the entire responsibility of selling their superiors, his parents, on whatever it was fell on his shoulders.

He had spent all morning thinking about how he was going to sell Kushina on his heading out again so soon. Above all else, he knew he couldn't tell her where he planned on going, lest he find himself tethered to his room with his mother's chakra chains.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, he didn't have to worry so much about how he would explain himself.

Naruto sat in the downstairs lobby of the hotel his family had been using as their home base. His eyes were fully open, unblinking as the sounds of his mother and father getting physically reacquainted with one another sounded out through the building. He desperately tried to mentally project himself anyplace but there, to no avail.


Minato had just returned from training on Mt. Myoboku with Jiraiya. Where the toad sage himself had gotten off to, Naruto didn't know. Nor did he care, given the sounds assaulting his senses. And it wasn't just him having to deal with it.

"I'm so sorry about the noise," Naruto embarrassedly mumbled to some of the staff as they passed by, red in the face as the shouts and knocking sounds continued.

He wouldn't have been surprised if they could be heard down the street.

On some level, Naruto felt this was a response from the universe for ditching the party the night before to sleep with Tayuya. It didn't seem fair though. The two of them had been discreet, they hadn't disturbed anyone, and they had been responsible. To subject him to this was just cruel.

The embarrassment compounded when Kakashi and Anko walked in, back from their search mission. Kakashi had his usual indecipherable expression on his masked face, "You look like you're having a great time," He said sarcastically.

Anko grinned up a storm at Naruto's clear discomfort, "What's the matter, brat? You don't like hearing this? These are the sounds of your conception."

"Ugh…" Naruto groaned, head in his hands as Anko cackled.

"...Where is your sister?" Kakashi asked.

"Far," Naruto said, "Far away from this godforsaken building. Fuu's playing with her."

At least Minato and Kushina had the good sense to get Kanako a babysitter before they started going at each other. Thank goodness for small mercies. She didn't need to see or hear any of this. As long as Naruto had a say in things, that child would be kept clear of as many of the woes of the world that had afflicted Naruto at a young age, be it violence, or-.



Even Tenten couldn't help but wince as she entered the hotel, her cheeks slightly reddened with embarrassment. She too had heard this far too often since her adolescence, though it didn't hit home as personally as it did for Naruto.

"Well, Minato-sama is back," She deadpanned.

"Yeah, I noticed," Naruto replied just as dryly.

"Oh, Kakashi-sensei and Anko too," Tenten reacted upon noticing their presence, "How was your mission?"

Kakashi made a non-committal gesture, "A mixed bag, really," He said enigmatically. It was the kind of non-answer Naruto and Tenten were accustomed to when it came to their old teacher, "So, guess who we met, studying on the Sarutobi Clan's mountain range?" Naruto and Tenten looked at each other before shrugging, "Konan. Apparently, Nagato is busy reading up on something or another."

Naruto's gaze sharpened. It took every ounce of composure he had not to grin or send a meaningful look Tenten's way, but he knew she had the same thought as him, "Is he still there?"

Anko shrugged, "They didn't seem like they planned on going back to Uzu no Kuni anytime soon. Why?"

Naruto didn't say anything at first. He simply looked over at Tenten, who sighed and stomped off, "Yeah-yeah-yeah... I'm getting the rest of my things, then we'll grab Shino and go."

"You're not going to go fight him, are you?" Kakashi quickly accused.

"Hell no," Naruto scoffed, "Been there, done that, brought back a souvenir for the trouble."

"Tayuya's totally going to stab you when I tell her you called her a souvenir!" Tenten called out from down the hall.

"Tenten, go get your stuff!" Naruto shouted after her.

Kakashi remained skeptical, continuing to eye Naruto with uncertainty, "Do you promise? I know what you're like."

Naruto rolled his eyes and put his right hand over his heart, "Kakashi, I promise, I'm not going anywhere near the Sarutobi Clan's territory to fight Nagato. Now, whenever my mom and dad are done-," Naruto winced and shuddered at the sound of his parents moaning in unison, "-With that, can you tell them I took off to go do a thing?"

"Well... I do have to debrief anyway," Kakashi said as he momentarily considered the request to pass on a message, "Oh, sure. Why not? You've suffered enough. Go on. Get out of here."

Naruto pressed his hands together and bowed gratefully, "And that's why you're my favorite mentor."

Kakashi's single visible eye crinkled as he smiled behind his mask, "Now you're lying," He said brightly.

Choosing to neither confirm nor deny this, Naruto took the first opportunity given to him to bolt from the inn. Kakashi could swear he even tapped into Kurama's chakra for an instant to get him farther away faster.

It idly occurred to Kakashi in the immediate aftermath that he never asked Naruto what it was he planned on heading out to do, nor where he was going. All Naruto told him/assured him of was what he didn't plan on doing.

Oh well. If Naruto wasn't going after Nagato, it wasn't likely he was doing anything too terribly outlandish. As insanely hard to kill as the young man was, it was hard to imagine him putting himself into a situation dangerous enough that he couldn't handle. Tenten likely would have put an end to that before it ever began.

Yes, there was nothing to worry about.




...Meh. They were big kids. They dealt with Nagato and Konan. What could happen?

And that's the chapter. Whew. Been a while, yeah?

So, for the most part, certain characters shouldn't be able to put up a fight against other characters, and I get that. And I agree. For example, Ebisu shouldn't last ten seconds against Jiraiya, no matter what either of them do.

However, at a certain level – the level where everyone is a complete monster in their own right – I don't care about so-and-so is stronger than him or her, or can do this, that, and whatever, so that means they would beat everybody else in a fight without breaking a sweat. Take that MMA math crap to the old Sherdog forums. Even if it is accurate, the respective ability levels of certain characters should be high enough that even if they are outmatched, they can at least make something of the fight.

I like superpowered settings, and I like writing battles, short or long, even contests or complete squash matches, because the idea of taking one weirdo and matching them up against another weirdo to see what I can do with their weird-ass powers to make something resembling a coherent, sensical fight amuses me and brings me great joy. Arbitrary, vague, ticky-tack power creep issues do nothing but ruin my good time.

And really, isn't that what this is all about in the end? My entertainment?


...Yes. The answer is yes. It was always yes. My amusement comes first.

Young fic writers, take note. When writing these things, yes, it's great when people like your work, and always endeavor to adjust and improve when you can, but at the end of the day if you don't like what you're writing then it won't be any fun for you. It'll be a slog, and you'll come to resent it. And people can tell when you're not having fun writing something.

Alright. That's enough of that. Who even listens to me anyway?

That does it for now. I'm getting too old for this, I swear. Until the next time, though. I hope you enjoyed.

Kenchi out.