The Last Prayer @graefoxx
37Legends

Hey friends. Apologies. This chapter should've been uploaded on Monday but I hadn't anticipated a birthday surprise over the weekend which delayed the update.

I had a lot of fun writing this chapter and I really hope you enjoy it. I want to thank my patrons for their support and encouragement for my fics and my original projects. Your support is the gas that keeps me going :)

16K. Warning: Blood and Violence.

Enjoy!


ITACHI

Secured in a bare room with his eyes covered and his hands securely bound, all Itachi wanted to know was, "…someone from the future?"

"Mnn," a mildly bored Naruto hummed.

Itachi has long believed in peace & duty and was never one to put limits on the possibilities of reality. The world has it's established rules and altering those rules with the use of chakra is only limited by time and imagination. Accepting things as they are is why he's never truly surprised by the dangers he comes across in battle. It's that mentality that helps him find the weakness in anything because everything has a flaw. However, in a world where even the dead can be summoned, he's never once come across traveling through time. Itachi assumed time travel was simply too complex or time-consuming to properly or practically utilize.

Last he learned, the current philosophy on presentism holds that the future and the past exist only as changes that occurred or will occur to the present, and so have no real existence of their own. From this perspective, time travel is impossible because there is no future or past to travel to. On the other hand, he's also aware of time dilation. Thinking of time travel through time dilation isn't truly time travel since that's little more than one object, like the planet, moving much faster through time than another object, like a different planet. A round-trip from planet to planet and back would render the illusion of time travel.

'So, do I believe him?' his quick-thinking mind wondered, listening to Naruto fidget where he sits. For once, Itachi had no answer, so asked again, "someone from the future told you?

Again, Naruto casually answered, "mnn."

Itachi didn't quite know how to process that. Knowing the future would naturally tempt anyone, an effective premise for a trap, however, he can't be sure what kind of trap Naruto would be setting up. He's talked to him long enough to get a sense of the boy. He's earnest, honest, a little slow, and wears his heart on his sleeve. He has a good heart, which is little more than a death sentence to a shinobi.

'Yet, he fights,' Itachi thought before asking, "what else did this person from the future tell you?"

"Sorry, that wasn't part of the deal," Naruto called out to the room. Itachi could see how a loud rash and blunt shinobi like Naruto could annoy many, but somehow, he found it refreshing to see someone that wasn't so cold and calculating. He smirked as he listened to Naruto finish, "so you believe me?"

"Maybe," Itachi replied.

"Good enough for me," a suddenly energetic Naruto responded. Itachi can hear him sitting more alert as he voiced, "more importantly, we need to figure out how to help Sasuke because what you're doing now isn't working."

Deciding to acquire every scrap of relevant intelligence, Itachi asks, "did the future person tell you that?"

"He didn't need to," Naruto answered. "But if that'll get you to help, then yeah."

"Help how?"

"Tell him the truth, I guess," Naruto replied, clearly conveying he has no clue. "It's what he needs the most."

Though he admires Naruto's spirit, he shakes his head at the lack of forethought while asking, "have you considered what knowing the truth would do?" Naruto's slow thoughtful hum is answer enough for Itachi to continue, "with undeniable reason, Sasuke's current target is me. When he kills me, he will naturally feel a release from his hate in the form of justice. If he learns the truth of all involved, his target could very easily shift from me to Konoha-" Thinking of the lengths of Sasuke's hate, it suddenly dons on Itachi why someone from the future would warn Naruto, leading him to ask, "…that's what happens, isn't it?"

"Pretty much," Naruto glumly confirmed. "I was told he leaves Konoha to learn how to kill you from Orochimaru, he tries to kill the five Kages at a summit meeting, and he actually kills Danzō."

"He kills…" Itachi begins to repeat but only stops himself because it seems so obvious that's what the hate within Sasuke desire most. Burdened by his failure, the Uchiha asks, "what's to stop Sasuke from taking out all his hatred on the village or the country?"

Just as casual, but with absolute certainty, Naruto easily answered, "me." The fact that he knows the future adds more weight to his words when the blond adds, "I have friends and loved ones who hated or really disliked me before they changed their minds. Besides Sasuke, I have one friend who's really angry with me right now. He's ignoring me and everything, but I won't stop trying to make up with him… because that's just what happens when I'm the one who takes the hate. Even if I get beat and bloodied by Kurama or Sasuke, I know I can endure better than anyone because that's what friends do."

'A weapon of heart,' Itachi thought with amusement, absolutely sure Shisui would've liked him. Deciding to think of his own plan, Itachi moved on to another concern and asks, "you must know why I'm a member of Akatsuki… what our mission is."

"Mnn," he hummed in the affirmative, mildly surprising Itachi. Even he doesn't know the scope of their mission. The blond then suspiciously questioning, "you're not going to try and pump me for info about them, are you? Because we really don't have time for that."

"They're not going to allow me to leave like this," Itachi pointed out to the young shinobi. "Kisame, in particular, will not stop chasing me until I've returned to the fold with reason or as a corpse. I know too much."

"Well… I don't mind sharing intel," Naruto eventually asserted, mildly surprising Itachi yet again. The Uchiha feels he should be more guarded with valuable intelligence. On the other hand, Naruto would likely know who to tell and who to be wary of. Naruto continues, "but I want to know you're going to help Sasuke, first."

Not surprised by the stipulation, Itachi voiced, "oh?"

"Yeah, and none of this, 'from the shadows,' crap, either," Naruto returned. "Sasuke needs to be your top priority. When I see that he's different, like less angry, maybe even apologizes for trying to kill me, then I'll tell you everything I know."

Sasuke without his hatred, Itachi suddenly felt heavy by the daunting task. Itachi had a mind for tactics and strategy, a body for the short life of combat and warfare, a soul for peace and serenity, but he couldn't claim to have the heart to genuinely move people the way Naruto seems to. If it was a fight, Itachi was more than capable, but placating Sasuke's righteous fury seemed insurmountable.

"Do we have a deal?"

Itachi's mind easily acknowledged that he's currently bound and blinded, however, he won't always remain so. Curious if Naruto had considered the simplest way for him to acquire what he wants to know, Itachi asks, "what if I simply take the information?"

"You can try," the blond readily replied. "But don't think I won't fight you off." Funnily enough, he added, "and I'd be really disappointed that Sasuke's older brother is that kind of guy. From what I've been told, you're a pretty cool dude."

His reply only reinforces to Itachi the type of person Uzumaki Naruto is. It made Itachi's mind spark with the realization that the best person to truly help Sasuke is the person with the biggest heart. He tells Naruto, "like every shinobi, I've always been prepared to die by my choices and for my duty. It's why I'll leave Sasuke to you, Naruto."

Itachi could hear the blond boy sit up sharply, demanding to know, "what! Why?"

"It's for the best if I remain embedded with the enemy and hinder their plans," Itachi reasoned. The fewer enemies for Naruto to take on, the better he'll be to face Sasuke when the time comes. Of course, what he now knows about Naruto is an enormous liability and says more to himself, "I'll make myself forget the past few hours-"

"Will you stop running!" Naruto yelled loud enough for Itachi to feel the vibrations in the air. Itachi can't see but he's certain Naruto's face is quite upset when he continues to argue, "I'm telling you staying with Akatsuki is a bust! Why would you want to keep wasting your time with them instead of helping your own brother?"

Knowing where Naruto's concern stems from, Itachi returns the honesty by admitting, "the only real way to help Sasuke is to die by his hand-"

"Then train him to do that!" Naruto yelled, confusing Itachi until he adds, "just don't leave him again."

'Loneliness,' he thought. Itachi knows Sasuke feels alone in the world, 'but that'll only make him stronger,' he concluded.

"What you're doing right now…" Naruto pauses for several moments to gather his thoughts before expressing, "what you're doing isn't going to make him better or stronger. You're just running away and hoping the problem solves itself. How's that any different than what Ji-chan did? He didn't get involved and talk with your tou-chan like he should've… and look what happened. Isn't that why you hate him? If Sasuke needs to fight someone, fine! He can fight me! He won't win, but I'll be that for you guys if you'd just stop running and be the brother he needs."

Itachi remained silent for several minutes, thinking about his actions and how powerful Naruto's heart is, then asks, "would you be the bar by which he measures his success? To fight him to the death if need be?"

"If you mean, 'will I put my life on the line,'" Naruto clarified in asking before asserting, "then hell yeah I will."

Itachi could only snicker at the refreshing ninja before answering, "I'll think about it."

THE LEGENDS

"Finally!" Jiraiya exclaimed, throwing out his arms in triumph as they walked through the East Wall's gate of the biggest gambling town in Fire Country. The three ninjas were sweaty and breathing noticeably heavy from a long day of continuous sprinting, but no worse for wear. Jiraiya quickly led them to the inn he generally stays in whenever he visits the city. In their haste, the three quickly shower, drop off their gear and traveling cloaks before meeting out front again.

They wore their usual attire, Jiraiya in his green pants & kimono shirt under a red haori with two yellow circles on each side and wooden sandals; Sakura in her short-sleeved red qipao dress with slits along the sides and tight dark bike shorts; and Naruto wearing his orange and black outfit under his short-sleeved red cloak with a black flame pattern at the hem. Though the three were hungry for a proper meal, they have a mission of vital importance to complete.

With only a few hours of daylight left, Jiraiya grabs a confused Naruto's wrist and exclaimed, "now let's go talk about the sorcery you pulled out of your ass to win over Kurenai-chan."

Groaning, Naruto rolls his head back in sheer disbelief while Sakura quickly became torn between her dream of meeting her idol and very much wanting to learn more about this unbelievable affair. An indecisive power struggle rages within her as Naruto blurts out to his Godfather, "but we still have to find her-"

"No, no, no," Jiraiya huffed with finality. Leaning down and sternly eying the blond, he points out, "it's the afternoon! What kind of gambler you know gambles during the day?"

"It could be all of them, for all I know," Naruto yelled back. "It doesn't mean we shouldn't look-"

"Send your clones," Jiraiya interjected as they start walking. "There's a lot of ground to cover, so, the solution is simple. Cancel all the ones you left training and spare a dozen to search the city while we finally talk!"

Naruto sighed and acquiesced for fear Jiraiya might lose it if he didn't. As they walk into an empty alleyway, Sakura agreed this solved her dilemma; his clones can search for Tsunade while she finally learns a love mystery unlike anything she's ever heard before. In the empty alley, Naruto creates a dozen clones that leap away to search the city then dispels the hundred clones he left training earlier that morning.

With only a squad of clones searching the city and the few keeping Mei and Itachi company, Naruto's focus didn't feel burdened anymore and it was a great relief. He was, however, dragged through overly loud, rude, and busy streets whilst repetitive memories are painfully shoved into his brain, forcibly hardwiring strong chemical interactions at the synapse of all his neurons. Though his head hurts, he's happy to note he's become better at release chakra from both his elbows. It'll take him a while to master exerting chakra from all of his tenketsus but he'll do it if it means using the Hiraishin as much as he wants without passing out from exhaustion.

Allowing himself to be taken via piggyback on his Godfather's broad back is uncomfortable. It's already sunny, his white hair feel like needles, and his body is too warm, however, Naruto vaguely realizes he doesn't object to answering Jiraiya and Sakura's intense curiosity. It's been two days since they learned about his relationship with Kurenai and without much details or even proof, they've been forced to take it at face value.

'That's not really fair,' his hurting brain reasons. There are times when even he's amazed by how a woman like Kurenai ended up loving him, of all people. But when Jiraiya made steps to enter a bar, a concerned Naruto is forced to ask, "uh, where are we going?"

Jiraiya's answer of, "a nice and private bar to talk-" is immediately cut off by Naruto's frustrated reminder, "I'm underage!"

Stopping his clacking feet mid-step, Jiraiya huffs "fine," before rushing a few streets over, with Sakura right beside them, as he added, "a nice and private restaurant where we can finally sit down and talk!"

The first restaurant they enter, Jiraiya scans the lively room for empty tables and booths with a blasé Naruto hanging apathetically from his back when the elder shinobi is slowly stunned to see Tsunade and Shizune eating at one of the booths to the left. The blond gambler is eating a piece of fish when her wandering eye coincidently meets with his. It takes them several blinks before Jiraiya stomps his right foot forward, points aggressively at his old teammate, and yelled, "Tsunade!"

Tsunade slams her palms on the counter as she stood up, shaking all the cutlery on the jolted surface, spits out the bit of fish, and pointed just as sternly before yelling, "Jiraiya!"

Naruto hops off his Godfather's back, rekindling his energy for the mission as he looks over to the booth with the two women and a pig. Sakura moves right beside him to see her idol. Naruto recalls Naru-nii's description and knows the fair-skinned woman with onyx eyes, jet-black hair in a long white-trimmed black kimono is Shizune. And the blond-haired, brown-eyed girl wearing a grass-green haori over a gray kimono-style blouse held closed by a dark bluish-gray obi that matches her pants is Tsunade. Naruto and Sakura both raise their eyebrows at the sizable amount of cushy-looking cleavage showing.

For once, Jiraiya didn't care about the beautifully full shape of Tsunade's soft-looking bust. Eyes watering in unbearable defeat, the elder sage is so horribly torn between his mission and his passion that his shoulders slump low and his collar sags to the side. His duty is to convince his old teammate to return to Konoha, heal the Hokage, and become the fifth Hokage, however, his life's mission is much more sacred. A Jōnin falling in love with a Genin is the holy grail of his research and all Jiraiya wants to do is ask Naruto about the impossible hurdles he must've surmounted to be in a relationship with Kurenai-sensei.

Eying the curvaceous blond woman who looked like she was in her late twenties, Naruto mumbles to Sakura, "uuwhhaaa, so that's her. She really does look young even though she's old."

"Don't say that," Sakura whispered back.

"But it's true. Just look," Naruto reiterated in a whisper as Shizune joined them with her pig in her arms.

Never expecting to judge her idol as anything more than factually amazing, Sakura stutters to reply, "I- I- …I'm sure she has a really good reason."

Walking over to her old teammate, Tsunade's honey-brown eyes grow worried as a pale Jiraiya mumbles nonsensically to himself, "she's so gorgeous… but he's such an idiot… How? Why? I don't understand so much about the world…"

Raising a brow, Tsunade asks with concern, "what are you crying on about?"

Raising his hand in firm greeting, Naruto called out, "Tsunade-no-baachan," stunning Sakura's green eyes into the size of saucers. Even Shizune grew scared for Naruto when Tsunade turned an evil eye on Naruto as he continues, "heard a lot about you; most of it's pretty awesome. I'm Uzumaki Naruto, number one Hokage candidate!" As if recalling his manners, he introduces, "ah, this is Sakura-chan-"

"Haruno Sakura, Tsunade-sama," Sakura respectfully interjects with a polite bow. "It's a great honor to meet you."

"Why'd we have to find her so fast," a teary-eyed Jiraiya mumbled to himself. "Is this good luck? Bad luck? I couldn't even ask one question…"

Ignoring his Godfather, Naruto buoyantly adds, "she's read all your journals and she's going to be the best medi-nin ever." Delighted to hear his praise, Sakura avoids eye contact as she feels her blush heat her neck and cheeks. She shakes her head in embarrassment, amusing Tsunade's sharp eyes. "I'm so glad we found you before Orochimaru did," Naruto voiced with obvious relief.

Turning to a distraught Jiraiya, Tsunade asks for clarity, "Orochimaru?"

With a heavy sigh, Jiraiya digs deep for the courage to be patient in the face of his habitual joy, and cries to himself, "be strong… keep it together." Turning to each of the gathered ninja and pig, he added, "let no one here claim I'm unwilling to make unreasonable and unfair sacrifices for the greater good! Now, Tsunade… let's drink and forget our worries."

"No thanks," she flatly answered, then turned to Shizune. The ebony-haired woman walked back to the table to get the check as Tsunade states, "we already finished. And before you ask, we're leaving the city tonight so we'll have to postpone catching up for next time."

Looking quite confused, Shizune asks, "we are? Didn't you want to get your revenge on that gambli-" Tsunade's stern evil eye stunned Shizune into silence.

Ignoring her bald-faced lie, Jiraiya tells her, "oh, come on! I'm sure you heard what happened in Konoha last week. We've been running non-stop. You can spare us some time before you go." Pinning after the gold mine that is Naruto's love life, Jiraiya whines, "I've had to ignore extremely vital research to be here… even when I have so many questions… is it a jutsu? …is it love? …It has to be… but how? Or is the jutsu of life, love?"

Staring at him blankly, Tsunade diagnoses, "…I think you've finally lost it."

To his Godfather, an exasperated Naruto wearily emphasizes, "I promise we'll talk later." He then turns to Tsunade and asserts, "we need you to come with us and heal Ji-chan-"

"Is that so," a serpentine voice said from behind them. They turn to Orochimaru as he casually walks through the entryway of the restaurant toward them with Kabuto right behind him. "Oh, I do hope Sensei isn't too gravely injured."

"Asshole," Naruto angrily huffed. Sakura is immediately on high alert as Naruto balled his fist as he proclaims, "don't pretend you care when you were the one who hurt him!"

"Naruto," a serious Jiraiya warned, looking around the restaurant full of people.

"I must thank you for your hard work," Orochimaru gratefully voiced. "We haven't been here long and you led us straight to her." Jiraiya and Tsunade feel the trap as Orochimaru turns to them to ask, "this is such a rare opportunity, how about a drink for old times' sake? It'll offer us a chance to reminisce about the olden days."

The sight of Orochimaru reminds Naruto of all the pain and suffering he's caused both Konoha and Suna, of the people that died because he wanted to invade their village, and of his Ji-chan, looking sick and worn from the poison getting closer to killing him with every second. At the sight of Kabuto, all Naruto saw was the look of disappointment on Haku's face, and before he knew he took a step toward both of them. A strong palm landed on his shoulder and kept him from moving another inch.

"Wait," Jiraiya ordered before commanding the blond, "look around you. There are a lot of innocent people here."

"You really should pay better attention to your surroundings, Naruto-kun," Orochimaru sang in his husky yet old voice. "Kabuto."

"Hai, Orochimaru-sama," Kabuto replied as he raises his right hand to his chest, his fingers formed in a hand seal as if ready to activate a jutsu at any moment. For Jiraiya, Tsunade, and Shizune, it's an unknown, yet very real threat they can't afford to ignore.

Realizing there's very little to do but play along, Tsunade responds, "I'm fine with drinks, as long as you're paying." She turned to her ward and voiced, "Shizune," knowing full-well her companion will focus on saving the lives of everyone in the restaurant.

"Hai," Shizune submitted with a hard countenance.

Jiraiya ordered Naruto and Sakura, "you two stay here and stick together." While the pink-haired kunoichi nodded stiffly, Naruto only glared at Orochimaru and Kabuto. Jiraiya repeated, "Naruto-"

Pointing at Tsunade, the blond Chūnin asserted, "I'm not letting her out of my sight."

"Don't worry, I'll stay with her," Jiraiya assured him.

Tsunade couldn't help wondering if the boy was prone to emotional recklessness or if he's just daring, and snarled, "I really feel like I'm being looked down on." Turning to Naruto, she asserts, "hey brat, I don't need anyone watching my back, much less some snot-nosed rookie fresh out of the academy!"

Tsunade was mildly amused he kept his attention dead-on Orochimaru as he touted, "maybe not, but I don't trust that snake shit for nothing. He put a cursed seal on Sasuke and poisoned Ji-chan and the Kazekage."

"Ah, to be young again," Orochimaru quips with a wide grin. "You're right not to trust me, Naruto-kun, but hasn't it yet crossed your mind that I might use all the lives around you as hostages? Are you keen enough to sense my little yet very venomous snakes near the vulnerable ankles of women and children, or perhaps the explosive notes I secured on the building before walking in here?" Naruto is quiet as he begins to listen and smell for threats around him. The snake-nin chuckles as he asks, "no? Sometimes power is not as effective as leverage, boy, but if you'd be so kind as to realize you're incapable of going against me, it would save us all time."

A little girl and her older brother run around them toward their family at the far table as Kabuto makes clear to Naruto, "remain here and no harm will befall these people." Turning to Shizune and Sakura, he adds, "make the slightest move against us and I turn this restaurant and everyone in it into a crater."

"With you in it," Shizune pointed out.

"I'll gladly die for Orochimaru-sama," the silver-haired traitor replied with a humorless smile. Keeping his hand seal to his chest like a trigger ready to pull, Kabuto moved toward the both as he asked, "shall we have a seat?"

Before Orochimaru leaves, Naruto sharply asserts, "if you do anything to Tsunade-baachan, I won't go easy on you."

Orochimaru only smiled happily as the legendary sannins leave the restaurant.

NARUTO

Kabuto orders Naruto and Shizune to sit opposite himself and Sakura in the booth Tsunade was originally sitting in. He even orders them to keep their hands flat on the table. There's very little any of them can do with the rowdy room filled with family and friends being used as hostages, however, that doesn't stop Naruto from glaring at Kabuto. Sakura is concerned for the people joyfully dining around them, Shizune tries to think of a plan that would actually work, and Kabuto simply smiles disingenuously.

"Just so you know, I always knew you weren't worth a damn," Naruto couldn't keep from asserting. "I'm just pissed you're stabbing Haku in the back in the process,"

"That's a little dramatic," Kabuto snorted to say.

"Doesn't mean it isn't true," Naruto hotly returned.

"I didn't stab him in the back," Kabuto pleasantly replied. Tilting his head as if remembering the feminine boy, the silver-haired shinobi remarks, "I'm sure he had a sensed of what I am. He understands better than most."

Agreeing with Kabuto makes Naruto more annoyed as he practically spits at the amused boy, "he liked you! For whatever reason, he had faith you weren't a bad guy, and I hoped he was right, but here you are, stabbing Konoha and Haku in the back. How can you be okay with that? Didn't he mean anything to you?"

"You're a compassionate person," Kabuto noted with a hit of sadness. "Compassion has no place in our world-"

Leaning forward to eye him more critically, Naruto interjects, "or maybe it has the most important place." Kabuto notes Naruto's hand remain flat on the table as the blond continues, "you think just because you wear that Hitai-ate and take orders you suddenly stop caring? You suddenly stop being a person with feelings? Don't try to sell me on some bullshit about needing to be dead inside to be a shinobi because that only tells me you're a coward who can't hack it."

"So virtuous… but I don't care, Naruto," he quietly replied. "Be upset, or mad, or disappointed in me. What your narrow mind fails to understand about this world is not my concern. The only thing that matters—that has ever mattered—is what you can and what you can't do. And at this very moment, you can't do anything to save these people other than sitting there, being quiet, and cease testing my patience."

"Why," Naruto daring retorted, earning a warning from Shizune.

"Uzumaki-kun-"

But Naruto continues regardless of Shizune and Sakura's valid concerns. Naruto is much more clear-headed as he bluntly exclaimed, "let me guess, you don't want to hear how upset Haku would be to see what you're doing? He wouldn't hurt a soul but you're fine killing a restaurant full of people, yourself included, for some nutjob. Was Haku wrong having faith in you?" They stare at each other for a moment, and when it seemed Kabuto had no reply he wished to share, Naruto honestly expresses, "you're right. Haku's one of the smartest people I know, and do you know what he said about you?" An irritated Kabuto just listens as Naruto answers, "he said nothing about you is original. He said you're like the combined product of everyone you know… which is why you need better people around you. Because then you'll be better too."

In Naruto's stern blue eyes, Kabuto seemed reflective as he inhales deeply and shifts in his seat. Naruto extends the smallest of olive branches as he asks with a lukewarm attitude, "wouldn't you rather be around people who'd at least care enough about you to see the real you?"

The silver-haired boy seemed more agitated at the question as he hotly retorts, "are you trying to save me, Naruto? Is that what you think you're doing?"

Eying the boy unflinching, Naruto replies, "I'm trying to help Haku's friend-"

"Well don't!" he yelled, smacking the table with his free hand, making Sakura and Shizune extremely nervous for the safety of everyone around them. Leaning forward, he continues, "it's not your place! And all you're doing is tempting me to blow this building up just to shut you-"

Kabuto stopped moving his open mouth mid-yell. The lively guests around them no longer moved an inch. Everything around Naruto froze; from the billowing smoke of meat grilling to the soy sauce punched out of a stubborn container, to the sounds of a rowdy restaurant vibrating everywhere in the air. With his chakra activating his Hiraishin Fūinjutsu contract, it all froze perfectly still and silent for several moments before the three-dimensional reality of the booth he's sitting on, the table in front of him, and the people around him all warped around Naruto, like being at the center of a cylinder.

The beveled tunnel created and maintained with Naruto's chakra stretched images of Kabuto, Shizune, and Sakura toward the kunai maker in Sakura's back pouch. Fortunately, Naruto didn't have to travel far, and he had half-a-day of more chakra-control training, so, in addition to releasing spirit energy out of his hands and feet, he can also propel himself through the dense vacuum with both elbows. It made orienting himself in the crushing void to Kabuto's left much easier.

"Up," Kabuto finished yelling at a now-empty seat. Leaning back, he suddenly needed a second to realize Naruto suddenly disappeared. His onyx pupils flick to his right then quickly to his left just as a spinning mass of blue chakra hits through his hand. As Naruto didn't want to kill him, he stopped driving the drilling ball of chakra just above Kabuto's sternum. The tremendous force of the spin easily broke and bent every inch of Kabuto's fingers and hand like paper. The force of the momentum pulls his forearm in circularly, snapping more bone, followed by the rest of his arm, and then his entire body is sucked into the great spin of the miniature tornado.

Kabuto's traveling clothing is shredded as he's spun around like a ragdoll caught on a drill four times before Naruto cancels the jutsu, shooting the flailing body up. The silver-haired shinobi hits the ceiling, cracking it before falling to the ground, unconscious, with a heavy thud. From the tip of his right hand all the way up to his shoulder, skin is shredded, bones are crushed, muscles are torn apart, and he hemorrhages terribly on the floor. There are similar, though less severe, injuries to the rest of his body, however, Kabuto seems to be alive.

With the same Fūinjutsu-covered bindings he used for Itachi, Naruto ties Kabuto's broken and purple limbs. Shizune rushes throughout the entire restaurant sniping every snake she saw with little needles while Sakura ran outside to clear all the explosive tags off the walls. The patrons are all watching in curious fascination, unaware of how close they were to being poisoned or blown up.

When the kunoichi return to Naruto's side, Sakura remarks, "they couldn't have gone far."

Shizune sternly asserts, "you two stay here-"

However, Naruto shakes his head as he interjects, "not a chance." Crossing his fingers, he calls out, "Kage Bunshin no Jutsu." A single clone appears before immediately dispersing, instructing the clones he originally sent to look for Tsunade to begin tracking the Sannin. Naruto tells them, "I got my clones looking for them but we should be out there too."

Sakura asks, "can't you just teleport to Jiraiya-sama?" A curious Shizune repeats, "teleport?" to herself as Sakura continues, "didn't you give him a kunai too?"

"You're the only person I gave one to," Naruto answered, making a mental note to give one to all his loved ones.

"I'm sure Tsunade-sama will make a large enough commotion for your clones to spot," Shizune told the young ninjas. "But I want you to promise me you won't do more than find their location and tell me. I don't want either of you to engage in any form of combat. I understand want to help but these are three of the strongest shinobi in the country. Against an opponent like Orochimaru, even I wouldn't be of any aid to Tsunade-sama, do you understand?"

"You're saying we'd hinder them more than help," Sakura sadly replied.

"Tsunade-sama and Jiraiya-sama can take care of Orochimaru," Shizune assured them

"…If they don't need help, I won't do anything," Naruto eventually replied, though he couldn't stop himself from adding, "but I can't promise I'll stand back if they do."

THE LEGENDS

Orochimaru asks with his slippery voice, "who do you take me for, Tsunade?

It was a quiet walk through the moderately filled streets and alleyways of the gambling city. Orochimaru led them well away from the restaurant to a quiet, small, and unassuming bar near the edge of the city. Walking underneath the white flaps the three take a seat at a round table. Orochimaru orders a bottle of sake but no one drinks. The three are blasé about the tense animosity hiding just underneath the surface.

Jiraiya and Orochimaru have never truly got along, beginning with a rivalry and evolving to enemies; a son of Konoha protecting his home while another son wants to destroy it. Tsunade understood both sides and didn't want to be apart of either. She's had enough blood for a lifetime, however, here she is, sitting between natural archenemies being dragged back into the world she left.

"I wouldn't come empty-handed, Tsunade," Orochimaru continued. "I'm fully aware Jiraiya would never betray Konoha, and under normal circumstances, neither would you. However, perhaps if I promised to revive young Nawaki-kun and your beloved Dan… I wonder if that would entice you to help me subdue Jiraiya and allow our sensei to pass peacefully."

Orochimaru was having fun gazing at each of them as he spoke and smiled when Tsunade scoffed at his offer, complimenting him by speaking, "you've always been a son-of-a-bitch."

"Ku, ku, ku, and yet I don't feel I'm being unreasonable," Orochimaru voiced in solidarity. "You know I don't lie when it matters and you've long since left the shinobi world behind, Tsunade. All I'm asking is you remain as you are, and in gratitude, I'll revive your long lost loved ones to reunite with."

"What he's leaving out is if you don't, he'll try to kill you," Jiraiya dourly points out.

"Only if you attempt to save Sensei's life," Orochimaru argues as if it's a perfectly reasonable point. Whimsically, he very nearly complains, "I've planned that invasion for years and went through quite a lot trouble to see that man die. It would be rude of you to interfere with all my hard work."

"That disgusting talk is precisely why you never had any friends," Tsunade bites back, clearly upset he brought up Nawaki and Dan. As often as she thinks about them and cries or wallows, the last person she wants to bring them up is Orochimaru. 'Because it's too tempting to ignore,' a voice in her head thought with the picture of their smiling faces dancing in her memories.

"If I remember correctly, he didn't need 'em, right," Jiraiya sarcastically asked Orochimaru. "'Life's greatest hindrance,' you said."

"Oh, how well you know me," Orochimaru nodded to his former teammate. "All one needs in this world is talent and skill in supreme abundance. While the pair of you have indulged in your vices, I've spent those years surpassing all human limitations and dismantling any obstacle in my path. Nothing is out of reach for a mind like mine." Turning to Tsunade, he finishes, "…not even reviving those who have died."

Tsunade may not have reacted, but she desperately wanted to take a drink of sake. Sensing something of a shift in Tsunade's silence, Jiraiya quickly asserts, "it's not nor will it ever be our place to meddle with the balance of nature. Many have tried, many will continue to try, and it will always end terribly."

Smiling at his sanctimonious tirade, Orochimaru returns, "as ever, your narrow-minded thinking is still the greatest of your many weaknesses, Jiraiya." Tilting his head to look out the shop's entry flaps, Orochimaru voices, "sadly, we don't have much time." Jiraiya picked up on his heedfulness and begins sensing his surroundings as Orochimaru tells Tsunade, "if you like, I can revive one of your lost loves this very moment and prove to you how effective my technique is. All I'll need is a freshly deceased body," he finished turning his attention directly to Jiraiya.

"Don't be fooled, Tsunade," Jiraiya sharply asks of her. "I know how much you're hurting but you can't kill someone just to bring them back. You know they wouldn't want that and you'd hate yourself for the rest of your life."

"I'm certain they wouldn't want to be dead either," Orochimaru casually remarked. "And with my technique, they don't have to be. How much do you love them, Tsunade? How much do they really mean to you?"

Observing Tsunade critically, he admits, "healing sensei isn't the only reason he sent us. He also wants you to take over as Konoha's Godaime Hokage." Orochimaru snickers to hear that as Jiraiya adds, "I didn't want to tell you like this but some asshole wasn't leaving me much choice. You know what being Hokage meant to them. Are you sure-"

"Enough," Tsunade emphatically asserted as she the bottom of her fist through the old wood table, knocking the ceramic sauces and bottle to the hard floor. Having reached her tolerance of being a puppet with her emotional strings being pulled, she turns her irate eyes on Jiraya, she sharply says, "I expect that kind of emotional manipulation from him but not from you."

Jiraiya looked at her sideways, daftly asking, "since when have I ever been able to convince you of anything? We'd be married with a liter of brats by now if I had any say about it." He can tell the small jest calmed her down some, then adds, "I get you have a choice to make here, but it only makes sense you be aware of all the details."

"I've grown quite eager to know your answer," Orochimaru voiced with his cruel smile. Standing to his feet, he asks her, "shall I send you to meet them in the eternal lands, or shall I bring one here for you?"

NARUTO

Naruto, Sakura, and Shizune are on the top of the tallest building in the pub area searching the throng of drunk, passive, or lively people meandering through the streets for any sign of the legendary Sannin. The three didn't believe they would find them in the colorful, ever-shifting crowd but they hoped for the signal Shizune assured them would occur. It's been twenty minutes As the sun closes in on the horizon, and Naruto is beginning to imagine the worst when he receives a quick cache of memories.

On a rooftop at the edge of town, his clone spotted a five-story tall explosion of displaced earth, grass, and rock a mile or so away into the green valley. His clone squints to see into the distance, and in the gnarled landscape, he saw small figures fighting one another; a blond woman in a green tunic fighting a white-haired man in red while a pasty white-skinned man observed. The Naruto clone quickly created another clone that instantly dispersed, letting the Boss and all the other clones know their location and how he's going to rush in to help.

Turning east-south-east, Naruto called out, "they're three clicks east of the city!" He leaped off of the tallest roof to the roof one-over. The wind rushes loudly through his cloak, speeding toward the rooftop below, and when he lands, he takes off at full speed.

"Uzumaki-kun, wait," Shizune called as she and Sakura jump to catch up to him.

"They're two, maybe, three miles away," Naruto called back as the three leap from rooftop to rooftop. "If we push it we can get there under three minutes!"

"That's not it," Shizune voiced from beside him. "I want you to promise me you won't get in the way. You could end up making things harder for Tsunade-sama!"

"Right now she's attacking Ero-sennin," Naruto called back, hating having to explain as it's only delaying them that much longer.

Shizune is a mixture of stunned and curious as she begins to ask, "why would she-"

"It's fine," Naruto cut her off. Trusting in Naru-nii's account of Tsunade as the next Hokage, the sprinting blond assured them, "I'm sure she has a reason. It's Orochimaru I'm worried about."

THE LEGENDS

From straight above him, Tsunade dropped her heal like an ax, and rather than shattering him into bloody pieces, an alert Jiraiya rolls out of the way, letting the ground take the hit for him. As expected, the sheer chakra-force released with pin-point accuracy erupts the earth, dirt, grass, and stone-like a tidal wave, hitting his rolling body as he's shoved much farther away. He lands on his feet several yards away, covered in dirt and grass as he eyes a very fierce and determine Tsunade of the Senju.

Though called the Legendary Sucker, Tsunade is more widely known for her talent in Iryō-ninjutsu, but the chakra control critical to her prowess as a medical ninja easily translates to her combat ability. Unlike many shinobi, Tsunade is blessed with large chakra reserves, intellect, and a durable body. She's easily frightening to ninety-nine percent of the ninja population and even after two decades of drinking more regularly than training, she isn't going to be stopped. Jiraiya was in the one percent.

Eying the beautiful Slug Princess as the earthy remnant of debris fall around them, the white-haired shinobi always thought they shared an intrinsic connection. It was as if every reincarnation in every lifetime whereby they are alive, they'd meet and love each other in some form. Even if he were a toad and she was a slug, he felt their story couldn't be told without the other. Jiraiya still felt that connection as an orphan next to her intimidating lineage, when he teased her about her flat chest, when she rejected him for Dan, when she lost her grandparents, her brother, and her lover. Even now, as she was fighting him in earnest at Orochimaru's behest, he did not feel betrayed.

Jiraiya prepared himself as Tsunade blitzed him with cold ferocity. The air wisped in pain with how fast and strong her punches broke through it and Jiraiya either blocks, evades, or parries four strikes every second. Whether sweeping to attack his footing, erupting the earth with a punch or ax kick, Jiraiya can weather her offense well enough, however, she managed to grip his sleeves and flip him several yards away on account of Orochimaru's interference.

The snake-nin made fighting all the harder for Jiraiya with his continuous faints at the worst time. The pale shinobi would stalk Jiraiya like a predator and would strike with every opening in his defense, Orochimaru would attack with his sword of Kusanagi or faint an attack simply to keep him off balance. After Tsunade's shoulder throw tossed him several yards away, Orochimaru is instantly attacking with volleys of fire bullets.

Jiraiya blocked with his wrist guards or dodge as Tsunade maneuvered around him and attacked just as Orochimaru finished. Jiraiya does his level best not to be outflanked or overwhelmed as his former teammates continue their combination attack. It wasn't until Jiraiya dodged a spear of snakes jutting from Orochimaru's wide sleeves that Tsunade landed a kick to his side, knocking the wind out of his lungs and telling him exactly where she stood.

Jiraiya grunts loudly from the hard hit and leaps near Orochimaru's strike zone. Despite the flare of pain rushing through his body, a clean hit from Tsunade would've broken his ribs and ruptured his organs. Knocking the wind out of him is her declaration of intent and though Jiraiya knows he's in prime position to be attacked by the pale shinobi, he trusts he won't meet his end.

Jiraiya shoots Orochimaru with white spikes from his hair as Tsunade leaps in the air and prepares her attack. Orochimaru slithers around the spikes and attacks in tandem with Tsunade. The Sannin converge on one point and in a disastrous conclusion, Orochimaru's sword is parried by Jiraiya's wrist guards as Tsunade kicks him solidly in the chest. The ebony-haired shinobi is sent flying several meters before hitting the ground rolling on dirt and grass until he eventually skids to a stop. His mouth opens to spit out blood before opening even wider to spit out an entirely fresh Orochimaru.

Though betrayed, the snake-nin smiles as he ever does, his slitted eyes focusing on Tsunade beside Jiraiya as he wonders out loud, "I wondered if you were truly on my side. Such a shame, but it would appear I'll have to kill both of you."

More words need not be spoken between the three for a solid second. They measure themselves and calculate tactics in the moment before Tsunade and Jiraiya attack Orochimaru together. Jiraiya and Tsunade attack like jutting spears from either side of Orochimaru who uses his masterful taijutsu and Kusanagi to parry, block, or evade. Orochimaru's feet are constantly moving, leaping away before Tsunade destroys the ground like a tidal wave or positioning himself from getting outflanked by the eight limbs snapping violently fast strikes at him.

Attacking with his snakes is quickly dealt with by Jiraiya. Defending against Tsunade's chakra-enhanced strength always keeps Orochimaru on the defensive, and the snake-nin can tell if he doesn't get distance from them, his chances of defeating them would be low. However, Orochimaru can't deny he loves the challenge. A few punches or kicks away from taking serious damage, his blood is pumping in glee. The sweat on his brow, the wisp of air from the punch he narrowly evades, the needles and Rasengan he narrowly avoids or blocks with Kusanagi, Orochimaru loved the fierce battle. They wanted to kill him, and he loved the attempt because he always had a strategy up his sleeve.

Orochimaru can sense ahead and feels Tsunade's intent to outflank him. The cunning Snake-nin ignores the move to his back in favor of striking Jiraiya, surprising his old teammate. Orochimaru parries one of Jiraiya's guards but is blocked by the second as Tsunade sprints in for the organ-rupturing punch. A plume of dark-red blood explodes from Orochimaru's back, splattering the red viscous liquid all over Tsunade's ample chest and lovely face.

Everyone stops. Face-to-face with Jiraiya, Orochimaru smiles pridefully as he drops the now empty blood capsule from his grip. Over Orochimaru's shoulder, Jiraiya focuses on the large splatter of blood all over the frozen Tsunade and is immediately concerned for her, her mental state, and how that vulnerability will alter the direction of this fight. Jiraiya is quicker to react and instantly grips Orochimaru's wrist to forcibly toss the man away.

As if rejecting everything going on around her, Tsunade only focuses on the red sight and heavy feel of blood on her face and chest. Her skin itches and burns as she feels her heart rate and blood pressure increase uncontrollably, making her breath faster and muscles tense and tremor. Her blood flow changes, rushing away from her heart, stomach, and intestines to her limbs, effectively disrupting the chakra flow throughout her body. Her pupils dilate, forcing her to see the trickling red threat more clearly as well as the memories of her past loved ones dying bloody deaths, and the imbalance causes Tsunade to drop to her knees when she no longer felt any energy left in her.

With Tsunade temporarily neutralized, Jiraiya does not allow Orochimaru the opportunity to attack her, using taijutsu, his hair needles, and earth release to alter the terrain to block the snake-nin when he'd blitz toward her. The pair go back-and-forth, trading blows and jutsu to either protect or exploit Tsunade. However, it's far too easy for Orochimaru to summon snakes to slither toward Tsunade, forcing Jiraiya to snipe them with shuriken he'd then multiply with Kage Bunshin.

Though Jiraiya is fighting Orochimaru back, he can't ignore Tsunade. The smiling defector won't let him. Any time it seems as if Jiraiya might plan a counter, Orochimaru would attack the insensible Tsunade, forcing Jiraiya to give up any plan of attack and become disadvantaged protecting her. With sword in hand, Orochimaru purposely kept the fight near her to use her stunned state to his advantage whenever he pleased.

He feinted a slice from a high guard that Jiraiya used to throw Orochimaru farther away from Tsunade, however, Orochimaru summons a dozen serpents to slither around Jiraiya toward Tsunade and double. A hundred and forty-four snakes slither venomous fangs toward the shaken Tsunade. With two flickers of hand seals, Jiraiya held Tiger seal as he called out, "Doton: Yomi Numa!" The earth ten yards around Tsunade turns to mud which the snakes quickly sink in as Jiraiya then yells, "Katon: Karyūdan!" He spits scorching fire out of his mouth heating and hardening the swamp, killing all the snakes, but allowing Orochimaru to fly toward Tsunade with sword primed.

Using Kawarimi to replace himself with the nearest dead snake to Tsunade, Jiraiya just manages to slap palms together, catching Orochimaru's Kusanagi sword meant for Tsunade's neck between his hands. Purposely waiting for the counter allowed Orochimaru to land a clean kick into Jiraiya's stomach, shooting him into the ground and dusting up grass and earth as he rolls onto his feet. Jiraiya was desperate to get back to Tsunade, however, Orochimaru is already on him, thrusting his poisonous sword straight for his heart. Not having expected his nemesis within point-blank range, Jiraiya instinctively knows he can either die immediately with a thrust through the heart or sacrifice a limb to continue fighting until the poison kills him.

Raising his forearm, Kusanagi is about to pierce through his guard and flesh when Naruto bats the legendary sword away with his chakra covered knuckle blade. In the stillness of that moment, Orochimaru stares at the unexpected arrival. Orochimaru's golden irises with slitted pupils stare into and Naruto's yellow irides with horizontal bar-like pupils. The reddish-orange pigmentation around Naruto's angered eyes only emphasizes the fury flowing within him.

Naruto had just managed to collect enough natural energy originally meant to pass along to the Boss when he arrived, however, he couldn't stand back and let his Godfather sustain a critical injury. Naruto's chakra-covered blade clanged against Orochimaru's sword, forcing the legendary shinobi to leap back a good distance. Far too close to Tsunade and Jiraiya, Naruto extended his blade as Jiraiya stood and prepared himself. They both stand defensively in front of Tsunade.

"Naruto-kun," Orochimaru evenly began. With the distance between them, Orochimaru observes the strong boy and doesn't like what he senses. Somehow this boy continues to grow every time he sees him. Rather than give in to the irritation Naruto continues to be, Orochimaru smiles and says, "I thought I eloquently explained what would happen if you followed us."

With a strong, 'HMPH!' Naruto sarcastically asks, "why the hell would I ever trust the shit that comes out of your mouth?"

Understanding the implication of Naruto's eyes and the pigmentation around them, Orochimaru remarks, "it would seem the reports I read about you achieving sage chakra were not exaggerations. I'm impressed. I admit, I didn't think anything of you but it would appear I may have been too harsh in my assertion."

"He's trying to stall," Jiraiya cuts in, lowering his stance in preparation. "He knows there's a time limit to senjutsu."

Turning to Jiraiya, Orochimaru smiles when his nose and sight note, "oh, I managed a scratch."

Naruto then notices Jiraiya's forearm is bleeding from a shallow sword cut into his forearm.

"That's more than enough to kill you," Orochimaru tells them. "Unless you take the antidote, of course. I can give it to you, Jiraiya. I wouldn't mind… so long as you leave." Jiraiya and Naruto revolted by the offer, even as Orochimaru's scratchy voice adds, "and there's no need to worry about Tsunade. I'll take special care of her."

"The nerve of you," Jiraiya snickers in disgusted disbelief. "Taking a piss and calling it rain."

"That's… enough," Naruto and Jiraiya hear from behind them. They shift their heads a little to pay attention as she sadly adds, "just leave me."

With a sigh, Jiraiya stands straighter and turns to Tsunade. He gets down on one knee, getting closer to her eye level, and palms her shoulder comfortingly. "Naruto," he voices. "Take care of him."

Nodding, the blond Chūnin confidently asserts, "ah, leave it to me."

With Sage mode running out, Naruto moves fast, meeting Orochimaru in fractions of a second and pistoning fists with blurring speed. And yet, Orochimaru can keep up with his speed. He isn't smiling anymore and his tactics were clearly superior, but he wasn't winning either. The only edge Naruto thinks he has on the snake-nin is his Frog Kata. The blond Chūnin's fist narrowly slips by his albino cheek, however, harnessing the natural energy surrounding him, Naruto manages to tag Orochimaru so hard in the face, he could hear the Snake-nin's neck snap as the body flies back ten yards.

Hearing Jiraiya's, "don't let up. That's not going to stop him," from behind him, Naruto sprints toward the body as its broken mouth opens wide. Watching another Orochimaru slither out of its injured body makes Naruto wonder what it's going to take to actually kill him. Bringing out his knuckle-dagger, Naruto extends the chakra blade before rushing the new body of Orochimaru.

Orochimaru can easily read the movement of Naruto's body for tells, however, he's not fast enough to capitalize on any openings. Orochimaru dodges and evades or blocks and counters Naruto's hard and fast strikes. He can feel his bones anguish with every block. Even Kusanagi's longer reach is barely able to keep Naruto at bay, let alone pierce the blond's skin. Orochimaru just needed one scratch and the pair fought hard to end the other.

While Naruto and Orochimaru rage in fierce battle Jiraiya turns to his distraught friend and asks, "Tsunade, can you do anything about the poison?"

Near the point of crying, a shaking Tsunade sullenly expresses. "just take the brat and go." When she looks up to see him, he can see the pain in her eyes, the suffering of her memories as she pleads, "leave… I'm just too… I…"

Palming her cheek, smearing some of the blood, Jiraiya chuckles and says, "I'm not going anywhere. This time, I'm staying by your side," he finished, and empty of responses, Tsunade only shakes in silence.

Naruto is head-slipping a series of rapid sword thrusts from Orochimaru, gradually losing in precision timing to the point he might get stabbed through the head. Though he didn't have eyes that can keep up like the Sharingan, his body instinctively knew flow and feeling, and something felt right about falling backward onto his hands and using one swinging leg to defend while the other lands on Orochimaru's stomach before kicking off as hard as he could. The kick's momentum flips Naruto on his feet and shoots Orochimaru back to a skidding stop.

The snake-nin vomits bile and blood before wiping his mouth and focuses his slitted eyes on Naruto. "I'm curious, Naruto-kun," he said. "How many clones can you create while in sage mode? From my research, I understand it can be very difficult to maintain multiple clones while concentrating on balancing the flow of energies."

Naruto doesn't answer and with the limited amount of sage mode left, Naruto moves to attack when Orochimaru extends his arms outward. Out of each sleeve, Naruto witnesses Orochimaru expel a bundled train of greenish-brown snakes in a hurried flow. The snakes hit the ground before wiggling and squirming in a bunch, merging into two copies of the Snake-nin. With three Orochimarus side-stepping for a better positional advantage, the clones quickly ignore Naruto to attack Jiraiya and Tsunade.

The moment Naruto tries to create clones of himself, Orochimaru quickly intervenes, pressing a continuous attack on Naruto to keep him from protecting Jiraiya and Tsunade. Jiraiya tries as hard as he can to defend Tsunade from Orochimaru's clones, mostly blocking their merry strikes, but it's more than his poisoned body can deal with. Feeling his chakra control destabilize, slowing him down and weakening his muscles, Jiraiya purposely took the punches and kicks as he desperately blocked the sword strikes. Jiraiya is solidly kicked away from Tsunade and a clone begins kicking her while she's down. As Naruto was battling to get away from the original Orochimaru, it was clear to everyone in the rocky valley, the clones were toying with them.

"I think that's enough fun," the real Orochimaru stated once his clone dropped Jiraiya on his back. The clone put his foot on his neck to keep him firmly in place while slowly raising his Kusanagi high. Sensing the distance and how much sage chakra he had left, Naruto's sage clone dispels, confusing Orochimaru to ask, "perhaps he didn't want to witness your end? No matter. Goodbye Jiraiya."

As Orochimaru's clone brings his sword down, a trembling Tsunade yells, "NO!" as a blade punctures explosively through Orochimaru's chest, offering a sweaty and beaten Jiraiya enough opportunity to twist away from the deflected strike and narrowly missing his head. Orochimaru's snake clone is looking at the large blade made of blue chakra sticking three-feet out of his chest.

Using the last bit of Sage chakra transferred to him by his clone, the real Naruto grips Orochimaru by the neck with enough force to snap the muscle-covered spine. He rips his sword out of the snake-nin and hurls the body toward the other clone like a missile. Tsunade grips the leg of the clone that was beating her and it slices the clone thrown at him. It's in the midst of slicing that body when sage Naruto clears the distance in a fraction of a second, and just as the first clone is completely cut in two, the second clone's chest is hit with a senjutsu Rasengan. Naruto drove the drilling sphere of chakra through its muscle, heart, and spine until there was little more than snake parts and blood flying everywhere.

Naruto turns to Orochimaru as the last of his sage chakra runs out and they both glare at one another as Shizune lands beside Tsunade. She quickly snatches her up then leaps toward the sickly Jiraiya and Sakura. The heaving, white-haired shinobi can't help but sluggishly bemoan, "kkuehh… that idiot. He knows… she has a phobia of blood… and he splatters snake guts all over her…"

Shizune quickly begins cleaning off the snake blood all over Tsunade as Sakura tells the revered shinobi, "please don't say that. We were too far and if Naruto hadn't somehow reached you in the blink of an eye, you'd likely be dead."

"Fine, fine," Jiraiya waved her off with a chuckle. "Good work," he stated before commanding, "Sakura… clean off Tsunade. Shizune… help me with this poison? I need you to… mask the symptoms."

Turning to Naruto with worry as he walks closer to one of the legendary Sannin, Orochimaru, Sakura anxiously asks, "shouldn't we help Naruto?"

Shaking his head groggily, Jiraiya informs her, "helping me and Tsunade… is helping him."

"But-"

"Don't worry," Jiraiya assures her with more force. "He's a lot tougher than you know."

In the field ahead, like looking at a matching from the Chūnin exams, Jiraiya, Sakura, and Shizune witness Naruto face off against a legendary ninja. As the wind blows kicking up loose grass blades, all three feel a sense of urgency when they realize Naruto will, for a time, have to face Orochimaru alone. For the minutes it'll take to get Jiraiya and Tsunade back to fighting strength, Naruto will have to hold the renowned shinobi off, defeat him, or likely die trying.

"You never cease to irritate, Naruto-kun," Orochimaru felt enough humility to acknowledge. "Perhaps I should dissect you bit by bit to learn if that's a skill or a curse."

"It's definitely a skill," Naruto snaps back with a fire in his words. "Cuz I'm only irritating to evil assholes like you."

Orochimaru snickers before wondering aloud, "but without your senjutsu, how will you fight me now, I wonder?"

He barely finished uttering his question when Orochimaru quickly launches after Naruto. Giving Naruto no time to plan is the ultimate compliment Orochimaru can pay him. It says Naruto is enough of a threat to take seriously, however, without the strength, speed, endurance, durability boost that comes from his sage chakra, Naruto is woefully outmatched. He's kicked in the stomach hard enough to send him thirty yards back and land hard enough to make him see stars.

Orochimaru didn't let up. His hand blur through several seals before he voices, "Suiton: Suiryūdan no Jutsu." Moisture is sucked out of the air to create a large water dragon. With the thickness of a tree trunk, the water serpent launches after Naruto like a bolt out of a crossbow. Despite his slight daze, Naruto senses his water dragon is much stronger than Zabuza's and is confident a normal Rasengan will only blow him away.

The blond waits for the most critical millisecond before dodging out of the way. The hard force of water clips his leg as it rotates unnaturally fast and targets Naruto again. With no time to do anything else, Naruto creates a large Rasengan to battle the great head of the water dragon. Naruto leans his entire body into the attack to counter the water dragon's momentum when it connects, nearly dislocating his shoulder from the force and splashing water everywhere.

Remaining where he stands, Orochimaru's don't stop connecting seals and follows that Suiton technique with, "Raiton: Gian." Destructive lightning in the shape of a spear surges out of his mouth, crackling and flaring toward the blond wet target. Lacking any techniques that can directly counter the piercing lightning, Naruto ends his Rasengan and allows the rest of the water dragon to engulf him just as the lightning spears hit. Most of the fatal current zips evenly across the surface of the water, however, Naruto is still close enough to feel the strong discharge of electricity, shocking and paralyzing him.

In the midst of the lightning-covered water washes off of the stunned Naruto, Orochimaru smoothly connects his lightning technique with, "Doton: Doryūsō." In a straight line from Orochimaru to his blond enemy, mud and stone erupt out of the muddy rocky earth floor into spikes to skewer him. On his hands and knees in a puddle inches deep, spasming from the stunning aftershocks of the lightning, Naruto has no other option but to grab the most vital spikes before they can pierce his body.

His shaky hand grips the point of the spike aligned with his heart as well as the one that near drives into his stomach. He slips the spike that would've ripped through his neck and head-butts the spike aiming for his eye. Though he feels the shock of the painful impact, the spear did not go through his Hitai-ate. Naruto is cut at his thigh, shoulder, and side. Gripping the spear tips and hit in the forehead, Naruto is lobbed in the air before landing ten yards away, mercifully in some soft earth.

Observing his enemy as he walks over to the trembling blond, Orochimaru remarks, "how disappointing, Naruto-kun." Bleeding from the cuts, shaking from the electricity, and wet, Naruto struggles to stand as Orochimaru continues, "I commended your development by taking you seriously but you can't even defend against a few elemental techniques."

"Get him out of there," Tsunade with a little more strength in her voice. Now that she's clean of blood, she turns to Jiraiya and orders, "I'll take Orochimaru, you get everyone else away."

Flexing his uncoordinated fingers, he tells her, "just let Naruto handle it-"

"He's going to get killed," Sakura practically yelled, watching a bleeding and huffing Naruto finally stand on his own two feet. "Don't you care at all?"

"This isn't the time for training," Tsunade cautions Jiraiya, assessing how well she can mold chakra. As she is, she'll be hobbled against someone like Orochimaru, but it's better than letting another boy die in her place; especially one who looks so similar to Nawaki. "He's obviously no match."

Gripping her forearm with a trembling hand, Jiraiya contends, "how much do you want to bet he is?" Tsunade looks at Jiraiya with fire in her eyes, disappointed in him for betting at a time like this. "Neither one of us is ready to do anything significant yet," he tells her eyes. "I know my Godson. He's putting his life on the line to get you back to Konoha. The least you can do is come back and help Konoha if Naruto wins."

Ripping her arm free from Jiraiya's grip, Tsunade angrily retorts. "are you really willing to watch him die so you can get me to go back?"

"And be Hokage?" Jiraiya interjected, before simply answering, "yeah, I am. I'm willing to sit right here and risk just as much as he is."

Taking pause by the seriousness in his eyes, Tsunade asks with a desperate need, "why? Why do you have so much faith in him? In that stupid title?"

Jiraiya understands much about Tsunade. He knows that her fear of blood stems more from her PTSD than an actual fear of it. He knows that after the tragic loss of Nawaki and Dan, Tsunade lost faith in the title of Hokage, certain the only thing the hat represented was death. However, watching Naruto stand in defiance of his old teammate, Jiraiya chuckles as he proudly answers, "because if there was ever a gutsy brat who's worth it, it's Uzumaki Naruto."

Orochimaru smiles as he taunts a heaving Naruto with, "if I didn't know any better, I'd say you're nothing without your sage or Kyūbi chakra."

Sweating and dirty, Naruto spits blood from his mouth before he yells back, "whether I know one thing or ten, I'm still kicking your fucking ass!"

Chuckling, Orochimaru pridefully remarks, "nothing you do will work against me. Even your red chakra, will never be enough…"

While Orochimaru talked, Naruto centered himself. In a white room, he reached up for the abundant globule of life energy above him and it stretched down to reach his need. Before the five ninjas observing, yellow chakra suddenly engulfs Naruto, coating his entire body in yellow energy reminiscent of flickering flames. A black prominent swirl design manifests over his stomach and shoulders, and extend various dark lines along their body. His blue eyes are now orange, two of his bangs point up like horns and six magatama markings form around their neck and under his cloak.

As Jiraiya smiles, Sakura is the only one to voice what the other three are thinking. "What the hell is that?"

Fast milliseconds for most ninjas feel like seconds to a faster Naruto and in a flash, he clears thirty yards to punch Orochimaru in the stomach harder than he's ever been punched before. Launched back through the deafening air and hitting terminal velocity in less than a moment, Orochimaru is unable to move his limbs or recover before hitting the ground and rolling several times before skidding to a stop on his feet. With his burning stomach feeling like it's been gouged out, the snake-nin immediately vomits blood.

Orochimaru immediately brings out Kusanagi within the moment it takes for Naruto to be on him again. The flaming boy evades or blocks all of Orochimaru's quick sword strikes and cuts, and though Orochimaru can evade every slash of Naruto's knuckle chakra-blade, blocking a punch or kick nearly fractures his bones and sends him flying. Speed and strength suddenly became Naruto's advantage and Orochimaru was smart enough to change the playing field as quickly as possible.

Kicked far enough away again, the wincing onyx-haired shinobi wets his palm with the blood letting from his mouth, blurs his hands in a flurry of seals, then yells "Kuchiyose no Jutsu," before slamming his bloody hand on the ground. A large gaseous exhaust of white smoke erupts around Naruto before he's pushed back by a solid wall. The smoke quickly evaporates to show Orochimaru escape to a high elevation atop of Manda's head.

Sensing the tiny opponent in front of him, the largest snake summon demands to know, "Orochimaru… tell me you did not summon me to eliminate one brat."

As the great serpent speaks, Orochimaru snaps his head back. His neck cracks and shifts around before ten white fingers extend out of his widening mouth. The hands grab the boundary of pale lips before broadening the entire mouth wide enough for a recovered Orochimaru to hop out of.

"He's no ordinary boy," a renewed Orochimaru admitted. "Rather than eliminate, I only need you to play with him."

The chakra-covered Naruto looks up the towering snake. It was as tall as a small mountain and Naruto wondered how he should attack. Its body looked tough and Naruto wouldn't be surprised if its protective hide was several feet thick; making his knuckle blade useless. Jumping to its head or running up its body would leave him open to attack, but staying on the ground and attacking the body didn't feel like an option. It dons on Naruto how lackluster his arsenal is in a situation like this and kicks himself for not learning more.

"Play? You waste my time with this," Manda asked. "You had better prepare a hundred sacrifices for me or expect the worst."

"Then I leave him to you," Orochimaru called before leaping off its head toward Jiraiya, Tsunade, Shizune, and Sakura.

With the sight of Kusanagi in hand as the deathly-pale shinobi free falls toward his loved ones, Naruto immediately tries to leap over the large snake, however, it's faster than he anticipated and hits Naruto with a quick coil of its long body. Though it's the equivalent of being hit with the side of a brick wall, Naruto doesn't feel any pain, however, he does feel the delay. While Orochimaru close in on his targets in a straight line, Naruto has to move around or leap over grand waves of the snakes twisting and coiling body; taking up precious seconds. It's clear to Naruto, Orochimaru decided to ignore him and focus on his mission of killing Tsunade and likely anyone around her before he can reach them.

Jiraiya, Tsunade, Shizune, and Sakura can see Orochimaru sprinting toward them and prepare to meet him head-on—taking out their kunais—but it's clear who his target is. With the poisonous sword in his right hand, he leaps to stab a moderately shaken Tsunade when Jiraiya leaps in front of her, arms braced for defense while Shizune and Sakura are on either side of her.

Sensing Naruto is still far away, Orochimaru laughs, "you can die together," as he extends Kusanagi's blade to reach the pair quicker.

No one, not even Orochimaru could feel the stop in time, but his slitted eyes are suddenly blunted by a flash of brightness. A yellow chakra-covered Naruto appears out of nowhere to catch the tip of Orochimaru's Kusanagi with his left hand, the searing metal easily cutting through the flesh between his middle and ring fingers as it's angled away from Jiraiya and Tsunade. Naruto's blood coats the length of the blade until the fewer working muscles in his hand grip the guard and Orochimaru's hand. Tightening his grasp with his chakra-enhanced grip, Orochimaru isn't going anywhere as Naruto forms a Rasengan in his right hand.

Sweating profusely around his broad smirk, a fierce Naruto eyes Orochimaru ferociously as he chuckled, "hehe, you should really stop underestimating me." No matter how much Orochimaru pulls, Naruto slams the giant ball of shredding chakra into his gut, calling out, "Rasengan!"

Ripping through blood-filled muscle, Orochimaru is shot back sixty yards with a torrential propeller-like spin for seconds until he slams into a sizable boulder, radially fracturing the surface of the stone loudly. Half of a bloody body drops to the floor with a wet thud while the other half is plastered to the rock. Out of that horrendous mess slithers out a white snake covered in streaks of blood and out of that white snake's mouth, slithers a whole but weakened Orochimaru.

Naruto only manages three steps before he loses Kurama's chakra and drops to a knee, fizzling out of his yellow cloak. Heaving for air, a sweaty Naruto begins to feel pain travel from the deep cut on his left hand up his arm to his heart, lungs, and stomach, wresting away his tentative control over Kurama's chakra. Rotating his head back, he eyes the bloody blade of Kusanagi and recalls the poison that handicapped Jiraiya. Naruto feels monstrously sick and his chakra was horribly unbalanced, like trying to grip water in his hand. Forcing himself to stand again, he brings up his sharp-enough knuckle-blade as he tries to regain more control over his haywire chakra-network.

Though exhausted, Orochimaru rises to his feet as Manda slithers around the large boulder to view him. The evil snake peers down at the foiled Snake-nin and condemns him. "Pitiful," it says. "I should kill you now," it threatened.

Though Orochimaru only focuses on Naruto taking tentative steps toward him and inexplicably recalls his own, long-passed battle with Hanzō of the Salamander; when he was a Konoha shinobi. Watching a defiant Naruto standing protectively in front of his former teammates, his hitai-ate reflecting the last bit of sunlight, Orochimaru felt perplexed, uncertain, and uneasy, and feeling anything in battle other than excitement bothered him. Naruto truly bothered him.

"Wait… Manda-sama," a silver-haired boy with a wrapped stomach calls as Kabuto lands unsteadily beside Orochimaru. He looked equally exhausted, thoroughly injured with his entire right arm, shoulder, and chest completely bandaged, in a sling, and many band-aids on his face, and yet, he was still moving. Naruto wondered why he healed so fast as he pleaded with the large summon. "If you must kill everyone… please kill them ahead of Orochimaru-sama… if only… to avoid the embarrassment of killing your own summoner in front of them."

Manda hisses angrily, "you speak of embarrassment when there's no greater embarrassment than being summoned by such a failure! I'd just as well devour all of you before erasing you from my memory!" Turning to Naruto and the company behind him, Manda finished, "beginning with you."

When Manda begins slithering toward Naruto, Kabuto grabs Orochimaru and shunshins away. As the large towering snake with its menacing eyes approaches them, Naruto tries to harmonize with Kurama's chakra, turning from golden-yellow to his normal appearance with irregularity. Running wasn't going to work, and without the control necessary, he didn't trust he could use Hiraishin to spirit them away safely. His foggy and exhausted mind is trying desperately to think of a strategy when a hand claps his shoulder firmly.

"Not bad, brat," Tsunade voiced as she stepped ahead of him. He oddly noted the pressure of her hand on his shoulder felt strong as she slowly added, "I owe you one. Shizune, take care of him."

Landing on his other side, Shizune replies, "hai, Tsunade-sama," before taking him away.

Tsunade bites her thumb, drawing blood, and though it gives her pause to see the red liquid, the beaten and bloody boy behind her makes her wonder. To face that Orochimaru and beat him back, saving her and Shizune in the process, Tsunade is forced to realize that time washes over all things. Snickering, Tsunade is annoyed at herself for being saved by the boy behind her.

'He's special,' she thought, 'not unlike Dan and Nawaki… chasing after that title until he's like that.' Tsunade didn't like it now any more than she did back then. She didn't like that one bit. 'But… I… can hold the title,' she realized. As Manda approaches, she feels a measure of hope at the thought, 'until he's ready, I'll hold that bloody title out of an easy reach and show everyone the sad sacrifice it takes to wear the hat.'

With conviction, Tsunade slams her palm on the floor and yells, "Kuchiyose no Jutsu!"

A grand waft of smoke erupts from nothing, and out of it, the gentle giant slug Katsuyu emerges into existence, raising Tsunade and company with into the air. Immediately Katsuyu splits three smaller versions of itself underneath Naruto & Shizune, Jiraiya, and Sakura, and quickly begin transporting them off the main body and away from the battle.

Sakura is surprised at the speed of the elephant-sized slug. Her hair whips in her face, they're moving so fast. As they get farther and farther away from the large summons battling one another, Sakura asks over the rushing wind, "shouldn't we help?"

"Nah," Jiraiya points out as he lays comfortable on the soft silk body of the rushing slug. "Katsuyu is nearly impossible to kill," he pointed out. "Tsunade's going to drag it out to make sure we get clear before escaping herself."

"She'll be reversed summoned to Shikkotsu Forest," Shizune further elaborated while focusing on treating an unconscious Naruto. Her chakra-covered hands are on his chest and wounded hand as she adds, "once we're safely away, Tsunade-sama will rejoin us."

Looking from her slug over to Naruto, Sakura yelled over the loudness of their speedy travel, "can I help treat him?" However, Shizune does not reply and Sakura can tell why. She's focused on saving his life, and for the entire ride back to the city, Sakura wished she was the one saving his life.

ITACHI

It's been many hours since Naruto's clone explained why he would be disappearing. He didn't explain exactly what he learned, but Itachi can tell from the sounds of his pacing and elevated breathing that it was worrisome. Itachi promised to give his answer to the real Naruto, and though the clone accepted what could very well be a lie, somehow Itachi felt more burdened than the clone seemed to. It was as if Naruto was water, strong when needed, generally tranquil most of the time, and can fit any shape. Itachi simply knew that regardless of what he decides to do, Naruto will act accordingly and in Sasuke's best interest.

Itachi sighed, sitting alone, free of his bindings and blindfold, and is still uneasy about the choice ahead of him. He knew himself well enough to know his plan would lead to an outcome favorable to Sasuke's continued survival in this world, however, there was clearly a cost, and Itachi is starting to doubt if it's worth it.

'A short and sweet life or a long and lonely one,' he thought absentmindedly, wondering which journey would be worth it. A shinobi's life is generally short. It's why so many wish to live a long life. However, from the perspective of a normal civilian, a shorter interesting life is more appealing than their longer dull life. It made sense to Itachi that Sasuke live a long life when so many of his family and clansmen have died. No matter the cost, Sasuke should continue their clan, however, he couldn't shake from his mind how similarly he'd expect Sarutobi Hiruzen to act and that was a thought he cannot abide by.

Itachi wasn't certain, and acting without a plan was foolhardy, but then he heard rushing footsteps coming from the end of the hall. He then hears a familiar sucking of air through teeth as well as heavy breathing. Well passed of the glowing Fūinjutsu-covered walls, Itachi heard his brother's steps moving from room to room, knocking and listening.

When he finally reaches his room, it's the moment of truth for Itachi. He can practically see Sasuke through the door, looking desperately for his brother and he calculates the probability of his original plan with what he learned about the future. No matter how high the number, Itachi could only feel doubt. And he knows how doubt can kill any shinobi. He then calculates the probability of Naruto's untested road and though the number is low, there's a stronger measure of hope and possibility he can sense.

"Hello," Sasuke yells through the door. "Is anyone in there? Naruto? Sakura?"

Itachi makes his choice.

MEI

As rays of the setting sun slanted into Mei's empty room, she stares at the parchment of Fūinjutsu Naruto left her. Since her youth, Mei has been exposed to quite a bit of Fūinjutsu, enough to be comfortable with many arrays or orders of execution. However, the multifaceted, somehow interlaced layout made no sense to her. She couldn't even tell where the function began and ended. The only section she can read said, 'miso chāshū ōmori,' and she failed to understand the significance of the ramen order. The clone said it was his favorite phrase, though, miso ramen with roasted pork fillet explained nothing to her.

'He's either a genius or a jester,' she thought, setting the important scroll down.

With a long exhale, Mei takes solace in the fact that he agreed to help her. He gave her his blessing to use Zabuza and if Haku agreed, he'd travel with him using the Hiraishin. However, his promise to help her came with the condition that she help him meet and speak with the Yondaime Mizukage. Mei still didn't understand what was so important that he needed to talk with Yagura about but she didn't get the impression that it would come back to hurt her cause.

'Of course, this all means I have to pretend to get married,' she thought, and a full five seconds pass before she starts smiling. After another moment, she's snickering lightly, shaking her head at the absurdity of the optional plan. The silence of the room once again descends and Mei is disappointed to be alone after spending so many hours talking with Naruto. But going to sleep, her dreams were of funny interactions with him and she slept soundly.

JIRAIYA

Jiraiya stuck to the wall of the three-story inn they were residing in. He was dressed in all black, glued to the wall three stories up, and facing away from the moonlight to blend flawlessly into the wall's shadow. His heart rate was dangerously low and his breathing was so shallow to avoid sound, he doubted a K-9's ears could hear him. Listening to the night-time sounds of In the gambling city, Jiraiya listened to the night-time sounds of girls propositioning, men catcalling, shouts of evening specials, thieving, drinking, and gambling, all the while feeling tremendously nervous. Jiraiya had far too much riding on this covert mission.

Confident in his stealth, Jiraiya turned his gaze to the intended target room's window. He knew he couldn't touch it yet it was open just a crack to allow cool air to enter. The opening was impossible for him to fit through, but he was not deterred. Reaching into his black coat, he pulled out an elderly blue and orange toad and smiled at the brilliance of his plan. Slowly moving the toad to the window, the bored-looking thing suddenly and unexpectedly croaked far too loudly, startling Jiraiya so severely, he nearly killed it with a jerking squeeze.

Any sound during this critical mission is unforgivable, and bringing the toad to his eye-level, he relayed that serious information with the desperation of his murderous eyes alone. The toad is instantly terrified and nods repeatedly before Jiraiya slipped it through the space of the ajar window. Jiraiya is reversed summoned to Mt. Myōboku and then again within the toad's mouth before it grows in size then lets Jiraiya out into the snore-filled room of one Uzumaki Naruto.

Jiraiya observed his heavily bandaged Godson sleeping comfortably without a care in the world. Snarling, he thought, 'as if I hadn't been waiting for him to come clean about everything he's done with Kurenai-chan!' Jiraiya mentally cried over the self-restraint he's been forced to endure for the mission. With the wait so very nearly over, his wide grin nearly breaks his face as he mentally cheers, 'finally! Please, Kami-sama, let it be the best story I've ever heard!'

With his very first step toward his sleeping, drooling, target, a furious Tsunade kicks the sliding door to the side hard enough to shake loose dust from the ceiling, and yells at the stealth Jiraiya, "what the fuck is the matter with you!? Let my patient rest!"

Caught like his life was in grave jeopardy, Jiraiya retorts, "y-y-you're the one yelling right now," as he takes a step toward the window.

A fuming Tsunade grabs him by the ear before he escapes out the window and drags him out as she yells, "because this is the third fucking time! Now get out and stay out!"

Oblivious to the world, Naruto remained sleeping soundly in his futon.

MABUI

Through expansive forests, green valleys, marshes, rivers, and lakes, to the familiar geysers and fjords of the home country, the three run non-stop up the mountain Kumogakure rests upon. Within the range of mountains, there are several access points known only to high ranking shinobi and though it's nearly impossible to see through the thick clouds and falling snow, Samui leads them flawlessly to their designated return entry.

In her traveling cloak, Mabui wasn't cold, however, there was a chill she couldn't shake no matter how much chakra she used to keep herself warm. She casually noticed it when they were leaving Fire Country, but up in the freezing mountain, the chill is much more prevalent. During their speedy return, she thought a lot about the mission, the boy she left behind her, and the boy in front of her. As a psychologist, trained in accepting difficult realizations and emotions, Mabui had to think the chill she can feel in her chest has a lot to do with the aftermath of her choices.

Darui may have only thought of her in a casual way, but Mabui shouldn't expect him to be completely emotionless about what she's done or what she's about to do. Immediately after entering the secret access point, Team Samui is escorted by security directly to the Raikage's office. Mabui, Samui, and Atsui are at attention in front of Ay at his desk, Dodai to his right, and Darui to his left.

In the large office, Ay slamming the butt of his fist on his sturdy table echoes amazingly well throughout the hollow chamber. He yells, "where the hell's my tea!?"

Mabui listens intently for Ay's nervous secretary as she rushes in a best she can with a tray of tea clattering in her shaky palms. Mabui wouldn't have noticed how cute she was if Darui didn't take the tray from her and she smiled in gratitude. She bows before leaving and Darui sets Ay's tea on the desk.

Somehow Samui knew that was the right time to voice, "team Samui reporting."

"Mnn," Ay grunted, though Mabui wasn't sure if he was acknowledging Samui or happy with the sip of tea he had.

Without any pleasantries, Dodai clears his throat and begins, "you were tasked with acquiring Kubikiribōchō by any means necessary. The mission was later amended to securing Konoha genin Uzumaki Naruto by any means necessary as acquiring him, meant acquiring the sword, his Uzumaki blood, and his talents in Fūinjutsu."

Darui looks as bored as ever, though he voices, "you had enough time to figure out a plan."

Ay sets his steaming tea down to grimly confess, "and it appears you've failed to capture a single genin. I expected more from you, Samui."

So as to maintain the level of respect the Raikage is always due, Dodai leans closer to his leader and whispers, "perhaps we should hear them out, Ay-sama."

Grumbling, the muscular, shirt-less, leader leaned back in his chair, uncaring, as he gruffly commanded, "speak."

Mabui and Samui have talked and prepared precisely for this moment. Both of them knew this plan had a high likelihood of failing and Mabui was happy to know neither of them wanted that. This was a mission within a mission, because more than anything, Mabui couldn't leave Naruto behind. Her body flared hungrily every time she thought of him. It's why she dreaded losing him and why she believes the chill won't go away until she sees him again.

Sensing Samui beside her, Mabui is also thrilled at the prospect of her joining them. Though this is strictly limited to the bedroom, Mabui can't deny she enjoyed dominating the powerful, yet submissive woman with Naruto. She enjoyed handing her over to Naruto, like a toy to amuse himself with. Though it's a double-edged sword, because thinking about Samui's submissiveness also makes Mabui recall how much better Samui is at satisfying Naruto. Mabui internally sighs.

Quietly respecting Samui for her many talents, Mabui listens to the blond begin to report, "mission success is still pending, Raikage-sama."

"Explain, thoroughly," Dodai kindly voiced, knowing Samui's propensity to be brief. Mabui, however, grew scared Samui might actually be far more explicit in her report than she'd like.

"First, Uzumaki Naruto," Samui continued. "No matter how many traps we prepared, direct combat, whether with Konoha shinobi or Naruto himself, was not an option."

"Combat within enemy lines is always difficult for a three-man team," Darui dully voiced. "And this team wasn't formed for combat, but he's still a sixteen-year-old boy fresh out of the academy. A simple bait & trap would've worked."

Mabui would agree if it were any other sixteen-year-old, and silently agrees with Samui when she responds, "even I'd be unable to defeat Naruto."

The three men posture their bodies straighter to hear Samui admit as much, and Dodai asks, "aren't you overestimating him a bit too much?"

Samui says nothing, which may as well be a no to everyone gathered.

"Naruto, you say…" the droopy-eyed Darui casually noted. "You seem to have developed a personal connection with your target."

Again, Samui's silence is her confirmation, however, Mabui speaks, "we have." They turn to her as she adds, "with reason."

"I'll be the judge of that," Ay told her.

"Continue, Samui," Dodai asked.

"Of the two feasible options available, securing an exit and keeping Naruto sedated the entire journey back to HQ was the least ideal," Samui reported. "Once Naruto awoke, we would have to convince him to stay or fight him, and fighting would likely come with a heavy cost."

"I don't understand," Darui grumbled. "Is he, or is he not a genin?"

"He is," Mabui answered. She could feel her ire toward Darui rise every time he pointed out Naruto's age or rank, and humbled him by conveying, "and also Konoha's Jinchūriki with some degree of mastery over his tailed beast."

"All the more reason he should be next to you now, on the floor in chains if need be," Ay called out angrily to Mabui, however, she would not cower before the much larger and more powerful man.

Holding her ground, she reveals, "and he also excels in Senjutsu." Darui's droopy eyes fully opened, Dodai's brows drew together in deep thought, and Ay's broad shoulders flexed tensely. They remained quiet for several moments in deep thought, reassessing what they think they know before Mabui adds more for Darui's benefit, "a genin, perhaps, but he's obviously atypical."

Dodai eventually asks, "what was the other option?"

Samui continues, "the overall goal of our mission was to convince Uzumaki Naruto to defect to Kumogakure, however, he's a patriot and would never forsake Konoha within the time frame we had."

"If you're thinking of requesting a long-term mission, you can forget it," Ay immediately interjected.

"If you couldn't do it in a month," Darui contended, looking at Mabui as he adds, "even with the lengths you were approved of going, then it wouldn't matter if you had more time."

Mabui held her tongue and clenched her fists as Samui agrees. "Correct, however, as reported, Sunagakure and Otogakure's joint invasion of Konoha failed, and from that failure, a unique opportunity presented itself. In an effort to neutralize Naruto prior to the invasion, he was offered an Omiai by the Kazekage for his daughter in hopes of freely getting close to him. The document was signed by both Hokage and their Daimyō, making it official, and allowed the Kazekage's daughter to get close to him."

"Clever," Dodai remarked. "Though I don't see how that helps us or your mission."

"That legally binding Omiai Konoha insisted Suna honor was written to include multiple wives," Mabui answered as she withheld her smile.

"No way," Darui snorted, quickly figuring out the scheme. "You can't be serious."

"Uzumaki Naruto is a gold mine that we do not own," Mabui conveyed. "We can either deal ourselves in to share the wealth, destroy him so no can have him—likely causing a war—or leave him be and lose out."

"Then you should've killed him," Ay growled, standing in a burst of frustration.

"It's just as difficult to kill Uzumaki Naruto as it is Bee or Nii-sama," Mabui dauntlessly said to her irritable Kage.

"So send me and I'll kill him," Darui offered, irking Mabui.

Speaking clearly yet without provocation, Mabui explains to her commanders, "if you sign the Omiai, Naruto is willing to come here." Turning to Darui, she added, "then you can see for yourself what a value he is."


I hope you enjoyed it. Naruto is getting stronger so that's always fun to write :)

Theory: They say that Tsunade is a descendant of the Senju and don't flat out say that her name is Senju Tsunade is because her grandparents—Hashirama Senju and Mito Uzumaki—had a daughter who married someone with some strong blond genes(since many Uzumaki's are redheads). That daughter would obviously take the surname of her husband, just like their children will. If Hashirama and Mito had a son, I believe their son would keep the Senju surname and Tsunade would've just been stated in canon to be Tsunade Senju, not Tsunade descendant of the Senju.

I don't know why I looked it up but the fastest mile(ran downhill) is 3 minutes 23 seconds, which is insane. I currently run 9 minute miles so I was curious how fast characters with chakra could run within the Naruto world. I personally believe they use chakra as they run, especially on high-up branches or rooftops, which means they always have chakra circulating their body, enhancing their muscle's performance as they move. If you don't take the body flicker into account, I'd assume the average shinobi could run a mile in half the time as our top record, so 1 minute 11.5 seconds. I'll put Naruto,(remember, just running) at under a minute, which means he's running(with chakra) OVER 60mph/96kph! If he had on KCM, I'd guess 25 seconds per mile; at KCM II, a single second; and with the Flying Thunder God tech, instantaneous! I don't know why that amazes me :)

For those of you who wonder if Naruto's Rasenshuriken would seriously damage Manda, I considered it, and came to the conclusion that it would NOT deal significant damage due to two key scenes from canon. The 1st is Tsunade stabbing Gamabunta's tanto through Manda's head. Other than Manda being stuck to the ground, he didn't seem overly hurt so I wouldn't call it a critical hit. And the 2nd is when Sasuke summoned Manda to take shelter in its mouth from Deidara's massive suicide bomb. Manda might've died, sure, but Sasuke survived by being inside its mouth. That's some serious durability. It's up to you if you think a Rasenshuriken is more destructive and Deidara's bomb, but I don't. A Rasenshuriken may destroy at a cellular level but so does a nuke-sized bomb. This is why I didn't have Naruto use Rasenshuriken on Manda. I'm open to any differing opinions tho.

Oh, apologies if you were hoping for a Manda, Katsuyu/Tsunade fight. It just seemed irrelevant since Katsuyu isn't an offensive-heavy summon and nothing Tsunade has was going to kill Manda. Vice versa, Manda wasn't going to kill Tsunade or Katsuyu, not that he can't, but it seemed unlikely to me since the fight was meaningless once Orochimaru left. I just didn't feel the need to write out a couple hundred words that would only amount to a delay tactic.

Thank you friends and patrons( /graefoxx). If you'd like to support me, please comment, like, share, or even buy my original novel, Old Hand Steel by Santana Bazil on Amazon. It costs as much as a cup of coffee and keeps me writing more and more. I'll update another chapter of A Deathly Contract soon. And I'm still trying to move the motivation for From Ruin. THANKS AGAIN!

Let me know your thoughts. If I messed up anywhere, please let me know. Have a great one and be safe,

-Grae

Anonymous reviews have been disabled. Login to review. 1. 01A Will of Fire 6655 0 0 2. 02The Kami Awful Plan 6805 0 0 3. 03Dango Blues 9602 0 0 4. 04Two Masks 7759 0 0 5. 05Resistance Is Dead 10575 0 0 6. 06Broken Rules 7003 0 0 7. 07Why Bother 8742 0 0 8. 08End Is To Begin 7520 0 0 9. 09The Line 12968 0 0 10. 10Time May Tell 9617 0 0 11. 11Tools of The Trade 9463 0 0 12. 12A Special Person 11237 0 0 13. 13Underneath It All 8520 0 0 14. 14Transference 10261 0 0 15. 15Unobstructed 10686 0 0 16. 16Bonds That Matter 11638 0 1 17. 17Thick Comfort 11249 0 0 18. 18The Month-Long Cost 11518 0 0 19. 19The Burden 15078 0 0 20. 20Heaven and Earth 10809 0 0 21. 21Together 14232 0 0 22. 22The Prelims 11000 0 0 23. 23The Threshold 15827 0 0 24. 24Always 18279 0 0 25. 25The Monster Study 11250 0 0 26. 26The Dining Table 13520 0 0 27. 27Omiai 12721 0 0 28. 28Hope Vs Experience 12723 0 0 29. 29The Mission 14858 0 0 30. 30The Right Exceptions 22788 0 0 31. 31Memories of Tomorrow 25747 0 0 32. 32Invasion 20844 0 0 33. 33Nine Wives 18165 0 0 34. 34A New Prank 15919 0 0 35. 35Shark Attack 14420 0 0 36. 36Leaders 12413 0 0 37. 37Legends 16139 0 0 38. 38Stranger Than Fiction 13006 0 0 39. 39Worlds Collide 13300 0 0 40. 40Follow The Sun 18189 0 0 41. 41The Unseen 26058 0 0 42. 42Ceremonies Part 1 20023 0 0