Chapter 79 - Possibility

Mei knew quite well that it took years, decades, even a lifetime to build up and maintain a hardened mask. But all it took for it to crack open was a single thought.

Mei never had a hand in Yagura's death. After years of what could only be described as intoxicated delirium, Yagura broke out of Tobi's genjutsu - or maybe it was just Tobi feeling done with the parade and decided to finally collect Three-Tail. But Yagura, despite being played for a fool for a decade, managed to end his life with the Three-Tail still inside of him.

Finally, something he had done with clarity.

When Mei and the Kirigakure force she led arrived on the scene, trying to protect their Mizukage from the intruding kidnapper, what they saw was merely Yagura's corpse and a flash of the blood-red sharingan.

She didn't even understand what had occurred if not for the notes Yagura left behind, written in blood, with frenzy, desperation, and regret all mixed in, describing a story - frantic speculation from the point of view of the unhinged victim - that made Mei wonder if he was still in a genjutsu when he died.

So no, Mei never had a hand in the death of her predecessor, but that didn't mean that Mei never wanted to kill him.

Now, her acidic vapours corroded Yagura's paper-like skin; her molten mud retrained Yagura's body, melting his flesh and bones while his undying body worked to regenerate. She wondered if this was the moment when her mask towards her former Mizukage - the mask that she somehow managed to hold until his death - would crack and finally reveal all those traitorous desires that she never carried out.

Yagura's famous technique, the Water Mirror of Reflection, had turned the entire area surrounding Mei into a deadland of acidic mist, killing every living being - human, animals, plants, even - that dared to set foot in the area, except for Yagura, the one that couldn't die, and Mei, whose body was already immune to the poison of her own Boil Release.

The more Yagura reflected her acidic mist, the thicker the corrosive air around them became. Mei knew that even her own immunity had a limit, but she wasn't going to be the first one that buckled. Sadly, that assumption only applied when her enemy was alive, normal, and human.

The thick acid bit into Mei's skin, reverberating in a stinging sensation that she had rarely felt. But it was doing even worse things to Yagura, as his cracked skin dried and peeled, revealing a mashed-up body that was merely a reflection of the shinobi's soul that it housed.

"I never thought you had Kekkei Genkai, and not one, at that, but two." Yagura's muffled and cracked voice sounded, telling Mei that the vapours were doing their job in destroying Yagura's lungs even as the Edo Tensei body regenerated.

"It's a miracle that you survived under the Bloody Mist." He didn't sound angry or betrayed, just surprised, and perhaps quite hung up on that little detail.

"It's a coincidence," Mei said, as two water serpents rose around her. Carefully, she placed the seals from Konoha in the mouths of the serpent, one in each, cradled in the water. "I awakened them late enough that I knew what implication they had in the land I lived in."

Her parents died early enough that she never got much of her heritage from them. Thirteen, fourteen, fifteen? Terumi mei didn't remember, but it was on a mission that wiped out her entire team that she manifested her Kekkei Genkai, killing the advisories while they were still in shock. They didn't even have bodies left due to the corrosive natures of her attacks, saving her the trouble of getting rid of the evidence.

Ironically, it was the outcome of that mission that made Yagura promote her in the Kirigakure Shinobi Force. But it was also at that moment, that she realized that she was the same as those she was taught to distrust and ordered to hunt - the Kekkei Genkai users.

But those were stories of the past. Mei shook her head clear of the memories as she willed the water serpents to bite forward. The liquid serpents rushed past Yagura's arms, tearing his limbs apart as the yin-chakra seal released its content. The silver chakra seared the wound like a flash of colourless flame, repelling the paper fragments that tried to rejoin the broken body.

"... How's Kirigakure?" Yagura asked, in the vaguest, most unspecific way Mei could imagine. At that moment, Mei wanted to laugh. The Yagura, the fearsome Yondaime Mizukage with a bloody rule over the bloody mist, sounded so uncertain, like a child that made a mistake.

Perhaps Tobi didn't just drive Yagura to death in a physical sense. The reveal of the truth behind the bloody carcass was enough to imprint something horrible on Yagura's soul.

What made Mei even madder was that all of this meant that Yagura was suffering and repenting, that he genuinely cared about Kirigakure, even though for the remainder of history, he would forever be known as the tyrant that brought Kiri into more than a decade of genocide, civil war, and decline.

"I didn't prosecute those that were just hunting Kekkei Genkai users under your orders. I also gave pardon to those who were driven out under your reign. I'm trying to unite those that had been hurt and those that were forced into hurting others, all as Kiri-nin," Mei answered as she opened a scroll in her hand. She figured that this was what Yagura wanted to know, and with how the man listened with care, she was right.

"Kirigakure had been set back by at least two decades due to the Kekkei Genkai hunt and the bloody culture it brought. The repercussions are still there today, but I'm trying - we are all trying, to make Kiri a better place, one step at a time," Mei continued her words as she let the blob of her Lava Release roam over Yagura's body, encasing him into a solid coffin as the material hardened.

"That's wonderful to hear, and I'm so…" Yagura's voice whispered in the mist, but Mei didn't let him finish apologizing before letting the corrosive mud cover his head. Mei felt the acid seeping through her nose and mouth when she let the binding seal travel all over the blob of Yagura's grave. Everything felt acrid and biting, but she wasn't sure if that was physical or psychological.

The battle with Yagura had concluded, but that was about the only encouraging thing happening on this battlefield.

The battleground surrounding the lake had all been reduced to a clearing by a Tailed-Beast bomb from Three-Tail. Under Mei's direction, all of their sealing corps evacuated around Three-Tail, Utakata, and the Sandaime Raikage, for they couldn't survive in such a destructive environment. It made Mei realize how naive she had been, thinking that they could somehow seal Three-Tail amidst the chaos.

The Raikage's left arm reformed in the breeze of wind as he jumped down from the sky, lightning wrapped around his body like the God of Thunder himself. Saiken's chakra bubbled around Utakata as the man knelt on the water, unable to stand as one of his leg bones got shattered.

Mei could see the Raikage retracting his fingers one by one until finally, only two fingers remained.

"Dodge!" She yelled at the top of her lungs, hoping that for once Utakata would listen, because whatever touched that spear of lightning - crackling at the Raikage's fingertips, once said to have severed the tails of Eight-Tail all at once - was not going to survive.

It looked as if a comet had struck the lake, and Mei had to call up walls and walls of molten mud to prevent the electro-charged water from drowning the nearby battlefield, full of ordinary Kiri-nin trying to survive against trickeries of Zetsu clones and reincarnated assassins.

Mei thought she would see Utakata's body floating on the water, but instead, she saw a statue of coral bursting outward from Three-Tail's back. The creature itself flopped back into the water, with a hole punctured in its back, but Utakata was nowhere to be found.

The Raikage was deep within the pink mass, but as lightning tumbled around his body, the statue around him shattered into crystal shards. It was then that Utakata crawled out under Three-Tail, his body expanding into the shape of a Saiken. Energy gathered between Saiken's optical tentacles and swelled up into a ball of menacing purple.

With a shockwave, Saiken fired the Tailed-Beast Bomb right at the Raikage as he broke free of the mass of coral. The giant slug shrunk right after that, turning back into Utakata's broken and bloodied body as he sank into the water. Mei wasted no time in making the seal with her hands, letting tendrils of water wrap around Utakata's body and dragging him to her.

"So …" Utakata tried to say as he coughed violently. Somewhere in the earlier fight, he probably got his lung busted. Mei wanted to tell him to shut up, but not before he completed his sentence. "Saiken and I made a deal with Three-Tail … on your behalf."

Mei felt her eyebrows twitch. "What's the deal?" She knew for certain that she wouldn't like it.

"Kiri will stop trying to seal Isobu - that's Three Tail - into a Jinchuuriki and give him some peace. In return, he'll kick some ass with us." There was a frown as Utakata narrowed his eyes on the turtle-like creature that, in all aspects, looked half-dead. "Or at least, he'd try his best."

"And who are you to promise things on behalf of Kirigakure?" Mei wasn't angry. Really.

Utakata strained his neck as he turned to look at her. "I am Kiri's Jinchuuriki. After this war, if I'm still alive, I'll stay in Kiri as its shinobi." There was a pause before he added, "with Saiken as my partner." No doubt, that was an agreement from the slug himself.

In Mei's entire reign as the Mizukage and her campaign leading up to it, she tried her hardest in negotiations to extract the most benefits for Kiri. This time, however, she didn't even try, but it was the best deal she had gotten … as long as Kirigakure remained after the war.

Honestly, after seeing all the shit here, if Mei could converse with Three-Tail, she would have proposed that deal herself. But Utakata didn't need to know that.

Just then, the puddle of water by their feet shimmered, showing Ao's face as the men spoke through the communication genjutsu. "Mizukage-sama, the Zetsu clones are devastating the normal shinobi force. Because of their substitution, we also have trouble working in close groups and it's difficult to defeat and seal the remaining four reanimated swordsmen—"

The last scene that flashed in the water was Ao opening his Byakugan as he turned around. Shit, Mei cursed, realizing that even the commanding ranks were being infiltrated by Zetsu clones.

Suddenly, Utakata's body tensed as Saiken's chakra shimmered around him. "The Raikage's back." Not even a second later, A rush of lightning zoomed towards him and Mei wrapped herself and Utakata in a dome of water before throwing them into the lake, dodging the fist of lightning by a hair.

Utakata and Three-Tail were not going to last long against the Sandaime Raikage, Mei realized. But she needed to go help her battered shinobi force against the other reincarnations, knowing from experience the savagery and bloodlust of the previous Seven Swordsmen.

What made it even worse was the bubbles that started to float out of the glistening puddles near the lakeshore. Harusame was sealed long ago, so their enemy must be … The answer brought dread to Mei's mind.

"It pains me to become a weapon to be used against my own successors. I only pray that some of you are strong enough to stop me." Nidaime Mizukage rose from the puddle of oil and water, looking just as depressed to see the Kiri force as Mei was to see him.

A wall of molten mud was constructed in front of Mei just as the bubbles shot towards them, warding off the deafening explosion as the bubbles bounced into the barrier. Utakata's tails expanded next, wrapping around Mei and himself, sensing the incoming danger in the form of a Raikage engulfed in lightning as the man broke through Mei's defence.

Mei thought she heard the sound of flesh being torn open - Saiken's tails, she realized - in the humming of lightning. The crackling electricity seemed to grow louder, making Mei realize that despite the similarities blending together, there were two different frequencies.

Saiken's tails were never completely torn through, for the Yondaime Raikage, engulfed in lightning as well, rushed in from the right and crashed his father off-course.

"Apologies for our delay, Mizukage-dono. We were trapped by a genjutsu on the way." The Raikage - the one that was alive - said as they both looked towards the man in the pale-blue robe.

"Yes, finally, you guys broke through the genjutsu! I was starting to think that the overall intelligence of Kumo dropped even lower from the time when I was alive," Hōzuki Gengetsu said with a hint of relief, but Mei was pretty sure that both Sandaime and Yondaime Raikage's hands twitch in annoyance.

It was good news that the reinforcement arrived, but Mei had one more worry. "The Zetsu clones are well versed in substitution, if our forces mixed together without preparation, it can become even more disastrous."

Even as she spoke, the mist thickened around the shinobi force, making the already wary Kiri-nin more distraught. It was funny that for the village of Kirigakure, which relied so much on the mist to make its reputation, they would one day find it distressing.

Before the Yondaime Raikage could even tighten his eyebrows, something totally unexpected happened.

A water shark rose from the lake, the layer of fluid peeled open as the bare-chested man jumped into the distraught army, cutting through the tension and the mist alike with the spiky sword in his hand.

Hoshigaki Kisame barged through the crowd of shinobi and beheaded one of them as his victim's face remained in shock. Mei's hand went up to her mouth as chakra built up in her throat. She would like to curse Itachi or Maiko or Konoha or whoever suggested that the missing-nin could be a force of aid instead of a force of chaos.

But the stream of corrosive mud was never fired off, for the body of the shinobi that Hoshigaki beheaded writhed violently. As Samehada latched itself on the corpse and devoured its chakra, the body changed to reveal a clone of white and green.

Hoshigaki didn't stop there, with a crazy grin, he charged in again, cutting down one shinobi after another, only to reveal them as Zetsu clones who had taken the skin of Kiri-nin amidst the mist and chaos.

As if sensing Mei's confusion, the shark-like missing-nin spared her a look of contempt and shouted from the other side of the water bank, "Long time no see, Terumi. I've come to save your ass, so rejoice!"

"Samehada is famished, and it loves sinister chakra, the eviler the better!" Hoshigaki said as he raised Samehada towards the shinobi surrounding him and moved it around, letting it point towards the shinobi one by one.

The legendary sword had already swollen to a disconcerting size, having absorbed the chakra from the mist and the Zetsu clone, but it still opened its mouth in hunger, growling with a burst of excitement when it arrived in front of a shinobi, who in every aspect, looked normal. "I guess Samehada really likes your desire to destroy."

Having received the orders from Ao, none of the other shinobi moved to stop Hoshigaki when he rushed in and dispatched his target. Unsurprisingly, the shinobi's body bloated to reveal a white mass. The Zetsu clone made an attempt to defend himself before Samehada cut him in half. The slaughter ensued, but the tide had turned.

Mei readied herself against the Sandaime Raikage and the Nidaime Mizukage while the latter even looked intrigued at the unconventional army that had gathered. With a groan of pain, Utakata pushed himself up from the water, limping, but nevertheless, still standing.

Behind them, Three-Tail - Isobu, Mei supposed he was called - roared as islands of coral expanded beneath his body, dyeing the lake a shade of rose, not that the water didn't already have a tint of pink from all the blood that had been spilt.

This was the most insane battalion Mei had fought in, with two Kage from different villages, a missing-nin that brought fear to his enemies and allies alike, a Jinchuuriki who refused to be called a Kiri-nin until mere minutes ago, and finally, a Tailed-Beast that got scammed into helping by said Jinchuuriki.

Well, it wouldn't be a scam anymore, if Mei sanctioned Utakata's proposal and planned to keep Kiri's end of the bargain.

Mei placed a hand on the lake surface, letting her chakra ripple outwards as she amplified her voice through the chakra-infused water. "Forget about sealing Three-Tail. All shinobi, work together with Hoshigaki Kisame to get rid of the Zetsu clones and incapacitate the Edo Tensei enemies!"

What answered her, of course, was a chorus of thundering shouts that not only came from Kiri-nin but Kumogakure shinobi as well.

(づ。◕‿‿◕。)づ fuwa~fuwa~desu~~~

"That's it?" Naruto couldn't help but say when he dipped himself into the water and sat down in a meditative pose.

Killer B let out a snort when he heard that. "Look kid, we're short on time and materials. At Kumo, we have the waterfall, the temple, and all the ritualistic crap. But right now, we're going to have to make do with what we have."

Naruto's mouth gaped open when he heard all those grandiose that existed in Kumo - they sound like they have the whole Tailed-Beast situation figured out - but that was before Killer B called them 'ritualistic crap' and killed the mood.

"Don't worry, the effects are basically the same," Killer B reassured him as Gyūki's tentacles sprouted from his back and dipped themselves into the water, surrounding Naruto like a cage. Thick, black ink started to flow out from those points, travelling towards Naruto with fluidity and integrity.

Naruto would have been fascinated by the unconventional way Gyūki forged the seal with chakra ink that wouldn't disperse even in the pond of water, but of course, Killer B had to add at the end, "well, it might not be as safe, and I definitely have not tested this version on anyone else."

"Whoa, really reassuring," Naruto replied with dryness, making Killer B click his tongue in annoyance. Still, the ink gathered under Naruto, threading around and clasping onto each other like serpents biting onto the tails of their kind.

A little farther away, toads circled the perimeter while Ero-sennin stood among them, supporting a dome that was designed to prevent those trapped inside from getting out. This was a safety measure, in case Naruto couldn't hold Kurama at bay before activating the new seal.

"Naruto, good luck! You can do it!" Fuu shouted from outside the barrier, making Naruto return a faint smile before refocusing his attention on Killer B.

"Remember, the ritual is a negotiation. First, you will have to present your case to the Tailed-Beast, showing him, in this 'waterfall of truth - Killer B Special Version', who you are as a person. Your darkness, your fear, and your desires, they'll all be stripped bare in front of yourself and the Tailed-Beast," Killer B reminded him as he sat down in front of them, his face stripped of the normal nonchalance as he repeated the words for Naruto to hear.

"Those that get lost in the reveal will never succeed in reaching their Tailed-Beast. After all, if you can't even accept who you are, then how do you expect to be accepted by your Tailed-Beast?" Chakra was being pumped into the seal from Gyūki's tentacles. The warm water stirred around Naruto, but he was basked in the overwhelming power that was radiating off of the black ink.

"After that, you'll earn complete control of your mindscape, giving you a venue to open the seal and meet with Kurama without disturbing the outside. Whether you want to battle him for control of his chakra, or something else, that'll be up to you." A tentacle sailed over Killer B's shoulder and gave Naruto a pat on the head as it rubbed his hair in endearment.

Naruto saw the white teeth and the bright smile as Killer B raised his hand at him as a sign of good luck. Finally, the seal-infused water rushed up over his body and his entire vision went white.

Naruto smelt it first, the bloody scent that permeated the air, along with the smoke that made his lungs sting and his eyes water. When the scene in front of Naruto finally came into focus, his breath was caught in his throat, shoved down by disbelief, shock, and distress, making him unable to breathe.

Standing in front of the field of destruction - water dyed red and the ground stained black - Kurama let out a deep cackle that grew louder as every second passed as if he found it funny that this was what was drawn out of Naruto, the darkness that buried deep.

With the sinister whisper, Kurama breathed in his mind, "Welcome to the war, brat."

Naruto had an idea - a guess, more like - what his darkness and fear would look like. But it was only when it was materialized - pulled out of Naruto's inner space - that he realized how vivid, how real it could be.

"It's not—" real. Naruto almost shouted that out on instinct. The first lesson on breaking out of a genjutsu was to realize that it wasn't real. But the words choked in his mouth because this time, he couldn't discard this as an illusion.

The war was real. It happened in the past, and it was happening soon. Hell, it might even be happening right now as Naruto hid on Mt. Myōboku. He could be there helping. Surely, there must be something he could do, with his Fūinjutsu and Senjustu. Instead, he was here, wasting time trying to find himself in a scuffed ritual—

No, don't think like that. Naruto put a stop to his trainwreck of thoughts. He wasn't just wasting time here. He promised Kurama that they would replace the seal with something better. To fulfill that promise to Kurama without discarding his duty as a Konoha shinobi, Naruto must finish this.

Kurama laughed in a low voice, just enough to make Naruto feel like his mind was shaking. No doubt, the fox was there to witness every passing thought and every passing doubt that rushed through Naruto's mind.

Finally, Naruto understood what Killer B meant that everything would be stripped bare. There was no place to hide, not from Kurama, and not from himself.

If Naruto had been to a real war, then he would have realized right away that there was something missing from this entire landscape - people. But he had never been to one, so that realization came a little later - reminded him in a way that couldn't be missed.

"We're trying to protect you," someone cried out in a shaky voice, making Naruto turn around in a sharp motion. Maiko-nee stood some distance away, her hand was on her neck as thick, red blood flowed out between her fingers.

Naruto felt his stomach clench, for the image in front of him stirred up something in his memory - no, perhaps, it would make more sense to say that it was exactly because of that memory that he was seeing this now.

"You shouldn't be here, in this war," Maiko-nee said with a gasp of pain and even more blood flowed down her fingers and soaked through her clothes. "We're doing everything we can to protect you, but it wasn't enough. So why can't you just listen for once and run away?"

All of Maiko-nee and Kakashi-sensei's genjutsu lessons - although Naruto did sleep through the latter ever since he knew that being a Jinchuuriki meant certain immunity - told him that it was the worse idea to be dragged into the flow of genjutsu and be worked up by something that was a mere illusion.

But Naruto also recognized that this wasn't a genjutsu. This … trial on Naruto's heart wouldn't go away if he just hid under the cover of silence and impassiveness.

"I can't run away, Maiko-nee. I can't leave you and everyone else to do everything," Naruto said, trying to repeat his resolve. But it felt like his legs weighed a ton when he saw the deep distrust in her eyes, like an invalidation to his effort and his dream.

You see, Maiko-nee was the first person that showed Naruto what a shinobi was. Naruto heard stories from Iruka-sensei, learned lessons at school, saw those dressed in green jackets and wore the forehead protector from a distance. But it was Maiko-nee that showed him what a real shinobi looked like, in flesh and blood.

She was strong, kind, and knowledgeable. She spent time with Sasuke, and by extension, Naruto, teaching them her experiences and showering them with patience. Naruto also heard from Sasuke all about her missions - real, dangerous missions that served to protect the village, to protect the people living in it.

Maiko-nee made the concept of shinobi concrete, and Naruto made it his life mission to become that kind of exceptional shinobi and to become the Hokage, who was the epitome of that ideal.

So, against the distrust in Maiko-nee's eyes, uncertainties started to brew in Naruto's heart. 'It's for the best,' her eyes seemed to say, making Naruto question, do I really have the right to say 'I'm strong enough to help'?

Kurama's laughter was still rumbling in the background, no doubt taking in his inner turmoil like a serving of dessert. That seemed to do it for Naruto, though, as he clenched his hands and shouted back.

"I'm getting there, Maiko-nee! A good shinobi, a strong fighter, someone that can protect others, I'm really getting there!" Naruto remembered that Maiko-nee - the real one - once told him that if someone ever told him those words of self-doubt again, he should just punch them.

But Naruto didn't want to punch her, even if she was this evil version conjured up by Naruto's own insecurity, so he settled for the next best thing and shouted at the top of his lung, "I'm working to become the Hokage and I won't stop until I get there!"

"Empty words, dead last. It's all you're good at, anyway." A new voice emerged and this one made Naruto's arm fly up by the sheer familiarity. Sasuke's words were always sarcastic and biting, but it was never this cold, this … hurtful.

Naruto's clenched fist was already raised to his head, but when he saw the blood dripping down Sasuke's cheek, painting a line of red, starting from the rim of his red sharingan, he just couldn't punch into that condescending, infuriating face.

Sasuke had eyes that said he had seen too much. The sharingan was an expression of emotions, and Sasuke was never that good at hiding his emotions, to begin with.

"Do you know how many will die to protect you while you're still 'getting there'?" Sasuke said and as if on cue with his words, apparitions started to appear in the periphery. Naruto tried to focus on the evil version of his best friend in front of him, just so he wouldn't recognize in detail who those apparitions were.

Did he see a blob of spiky silver hair? Was that a Kanji for 'oil' carved on the metal? That robe looked awfully like the Hokage attire and if he just squinted … Naruto shook his head and fixed his gaze on Sasuke, letting his eyes bore into the swirling sharingan.

"It's easy being the protected one, isn't it?" Sasuke mocked as he walked forward. "But do you really think everyone fighting for their life wants to protect you?" Naruto widened his eyes when Sasuke closed the gap between them and pulled him into a suffocating hug that felt like it would break his bones.

Blood dripped down from Sasuke's eye and onto Naruto's shoulder as his friend whispered into his ears, "Wake up. You're the host of the Nine-Tail Fox. Half the village's shinobi knew by heart the destruction of that beast. We're just following the order of our Hokage, laying our lives down for something we didn't want to do."

Naruto's hands froze in midair, but Sasuke's fingers clawed deeper into his back as if they would rip out his heart. "That's the definition of Shinobi, Naruto. Shinobi are those that endure through what hurts them."

"Hahaha! So deep down, you do know that the shinobi in your village hates me," Kurama cackled from inside Naruto. "I was starting to think that you've forgotten that I am a force of mass destruction, proven by history."

"Can you be quiet! You're not helping!" Naruto screamed at Kurama in a hushed whisper. He really got his hands full here with this fake-but-not-really version of his friend, both literally and figuratively speaking.

"I'm not supposed to help, brat," Kurama yelled back. "I told you from the beginning that you shouldn't expect me to go easy on you. Besides, you're not even facing me yet and you're already lost in yourself."

That was right. Naruto hadn't even made it to the negotiation table yet and he was already stuck here. Naruto could have screamed some encouraging words and driven away the ghost haunting him with sheer volume, but Kurama would know the ebb and flow of every thought underneath.

As Killer B reminded him, how would he expect Kurama to accept his resolve when he was ignoring and masking the doubts that came with it?

But everything Sasuke mentioned - correction, what his inner darkness mentioned - was real and tangible. He couldn't deny that Kurama had once rampaged over the village and hurt a lot of people, whether under Tobi's control or not. He couldn't deny the animosity he had received from the villagers and he had yet to do something to change that.

"So, what are you going to do, Naruto? How are you going to answer?" Kurama goaded on as if Naruto's struggle was his best entertainment, which was probably not that far from the truth.

Sasuke's arms still felt suffocating, his tears of blood were assaulting Naruto's senses with their pungent sorrow, and his words rang loud in his mind. So, Naruto did what he would do if the real Sasuke was here. Naruto hugged Sasuke back and moved his head so that their foreheads could touch.

"You're hurting," Naruto said, and it was directed both toward the real Sasuke and his inner darkness who questioned him using Sasuke's skin. "We are hurting." Deep down, perhaps there was a reason why his inner darkness showed up as Sasuke and asked him the sharpest, most cutting questions.

Naruto and Sasuke, they were the same.

After learning about the truth behind the Uchiha Massacre, Naruto knew that Sasuke questioned what it meant to be a shinobi. Itachi-nii and Maiko-nee endured what could only be described as torture on their family and on themselves, but they still stood proud as a shinobi of Konoha.

Sasuke, as a member of the Uchiha Clan, understood what it meant to be alienated, to be judged as the worst of one's imagination, and so did Naruto.

"Shinobi endure pain and suffering, but they don't just do it for anything. Shinobi fight for what they believe in, and so will we. Haku fought for Zabuza because he believed in him. Zabuza fought for Haku's future because he believed that it can be better. Itachi-nii and Maiko-nee fight for the future they hoped for, and so do the others. Even you, Sasuke, I know that you're fighting to keep your siblings safe because you believe in them." So, can I assume that you're fighting to protect me because you believe in me too?

"Maybe I'm all words right now and that's all I can do. But it's because it's all I have that I can't abandon them. I will keep repeating them to myself over and over again so that I never forget to fight for what I believe in." All of a sudden, Naruto pulled his head back a little before rocking forward, feeling the pain from the headbutt numbing his brain.

The manifestation of Sasuke might have also let out a whine when he let go of his iron clutch on Naruto and stumbled back.

"It's not a sin to receive protection, Sasuke! I'm blessed!" Naruto yelled, saying the words that he wanted to say to the real Sasuke and himself, before Sasuke became all cool and mature, fighting against S-rank missing-nin in Anbu and protecting the village against Akatsuki.

"I believe that along with the protection, I received their trust and hope! It won't go to waste, because I will fight for those visions that I've been entrusted with." Naruto felt good, letting all those words out of his chest as he stared at Sasuke's sharingan, seeing the red blend with the reflection of blue.

"The shinobi at Konoha might still fear Kurama, they might still treat me with harsh glances and wariness. But even if there's just one person who's given me that trust, I will fight to keep it, let alone a whole village of them." There was a pause before Naruto said again, in a quiet tone that was meant to reach deep within, "You too, Kurama. I will return your trust by getting that seal replaced, believe it!"

For once, Kurama remained in silence, and so did his inner darkness. A second later, a layer of ink seemed to peel off of Sasuke, revealing Naruto himself underneath. It was kind of comical, seeing a version of himself, but with red eyes that oozes negativity, looking shocked and stunned as his jaw hung open ever so slightly.

I don't look that stupid all the time … right?

Still, stupid or not, that was him - that was also Naruto.

As Maiko-nee told him before, histories couldn't be changed and so the negativity would always remain. Naruto shouldn't be denying that negativity, instead, he was determined to walk his Path of Ninja along with it.

"Let's go!" Naruto said, reaching out with his hand in a fist, like the way Killer B had taught him, saying that it was meant for inseparable brothers. "Together."

That seemed to seal the deal, for the other Naruto also raised his fist. The moment their fists touched - skin to skin, bone to bone - the dark Naruto dissolved in a rush of breeze. Naruto felt the streams of wind rushing into his body as if they finally recognized him as their home. Just like that, Naruto knew that he had received another set of trust that he had to fight for.

The scene of the bloodbath melted around them, scraping away the views of the battlefield until all that remained was the dark hallway. At the end of the road, Naruto saw the giant prison gate and the giant fox that lay behind it.

"You made it here," Kurama said as he raised his head from his forelegs.

"I did." Naruto raised his chin a little so that he could meet the fox in the eye. Kurama stared back with inquisition in his eyes as if asking what he was going to do now that he finally arrived at the negotiation table.

The answer was clear and loud. Naruto didn't waste any time as he walked up to the spiral-shaped lock in the middle of the prison gate. He placed his hand on the seal, feeling the rough texture of the ink that spread over the fabric.

"I won't go easy on you. I meant what I said," Kurama said all of the sudden, just before Naruto could peel the seal off and open the prison. Despite the menacing tone that Kurama had put on, Naruto couldn't help but let out a laugh. It almost sounded like the fox was worried. Almost.

"I know that. Wouldn't expect you to." Just like that, Naruto ripped the large seal off of the lock.

It felt as if a hurricane had rushed out and flung Naruto back when the prison door flew open. Naruto had to fight for the control of his limbs as he rolled onto the ground and regained his balance. He heard the Kurama's roars in the background as a silk curtain of orange, made up of the fox's nine tails, waved at the end of the hallway.

"To establish a connection between your chakra and Nine-Tail's chakra, you need to catch him in a moment of vulnerability and breach his defence," Killer B told him before they started the ritual. Naruto didn't think much of it back then, but looking at it now, perhaps that was much easier said than done.

"Shadow Clones!" Still, Naruto made the hand seals and a dozen more Naruto popped up in a screen of smoke.

Kurama had seen Naruto wading through his own darkness and fear, but Naruto still needed to conclude the presentation of his case by showing him exactly what kind of fighting partner he'd be getting.

A whip of orange tails slapped down from above, making the trope of Naruto disperse in various directions. Naruto searched around his body, only to find that none of his sealing supplies made it within this … spiritual realm.

Oh well, just got to improvise.

With the shadow clones as distractions, Naruto bit his fingers and let his blood flow out of the wound. With care and precision, he ran his index finger over the floor, drawing out an intricate pattern that he had practiced thousands of times.

With only a swipe of his claw, Kurama dispelled the three shadow clones that rushed toward him. Eyeing Naruto hiding in the corner, the fox turned his body and brought his paw down, wanting to crush Naruto and his seal in progress.

Naruto held his place until the last possible second, finishing off the seal with a flick of his wrist. Pushing himself back at the last moment, he dodged Kurama's claw ever so slightly before he could be fattened into a mush.

However, just as Kurama's claw slammed into the ground, the patch of the floor under his paw glowed. Chains of ink sprout up from beneath, threading in between Kurama's nails and tying his claw down.

Kurama let out a growl of annoyance as his balance was disturbed by the sudden restraints. But no matter, that was only one claw, and he had nine tails that could still wreak havoc.

Naruto dodged a hit as the furry but deadly tail flew over his head. Two of his clones were already shaping a Futon: Rasengan in their palms. While Kurama was pulling his claw from the binding seal, one of them jumped up with the intention of slamming the ball of whirlwind into the fox.

Yeah, that might not work. Naruto saw the trajectory of Kurama's other claw. It would rip across his shadow clone before he could even make it within the vicinity. But Naruto knew himself - he wasn't the kind to give up. That shadow clone would continue with all the guts in the world, providing Naruto with the time to do something else.

Naruto moved his finger over his left palm, trying to remember what that particular seal looked like in mirror reflection. Just as the shadow clone dispersed with a scream of pain and the Rasengan blew up in the air, Naruto finished his seal.

Making another hand seal using his right hand, another dozen shadow clones popped up around him and rushed towards Kurama.

There was one, however, that hid behind Naruto in his shadow. While the rest of Naruto's clone army was rushing in with the attacks, he slapped his left palm four times on the floor, pasting a bloody print of the seal on four corners of that particular shadow clone.

Without looking back, Naruto charged in.

"Do not play around with me!" Kurama growled and with his words, came a strong rush of chakra that blew Naruto back and slammed him onto the wall. Quite a few shadow clones dispersed around him and Naruto could feel his bones cracking.

"Dude! How in the world do you see me playing around?" I'm literally losing my brain cells trying to stay alive under your attacks! Naruto never got to shout the rest of his words, for he had to roll to the right if he didn't want to get skewered by Kurama's sharp nails.

Steadying himself once more, Naruto dug his nail into the wound on his hand, to make the blood keep flowing and make sure that his supply of 'ink' never ran out. The second time he drew the seal on the floor, Kurama snorted at his naivety and did not fall for the trick.

Instead of slapping his limbs down, he swiped his tail in a horizontal slash. A shadow clone had to come in and push him to the side before being dispersed, otherwise, his entire spine might be broken in two.

Still, by the seventh time Naruto tried the same thing, leaving seals on the floor that Kurama knew not to activate, the fox narrowed his eyes as the suspicion brewed in his mind. Naruto knew it wasn't going to fool Kurama eventually and this was the longest he could have lasted.

Besides, the timing was perfect.

Just as Kurama thought of trying something of mass destruction and purging the seals once and for all, Naruto snapped his eyes open as the markings of Sage Mode appeared around his eyes.

"How did you …" Kurama asked through his gritted teeth, before a shadow clone sitting in the corner of the hallway suddenly popped into his vision. Marking of bloody seals still remained at the four corners surrounding the clone.

It was a simple Reflection Seal, mimicking the abilities of a chameleon, perfect for espionage and infiltration. Unfortunately, the version that Naruto could make on the go would break apart the moment the target hidden inside moved - something about the design not intricate enough to account for the tracking of light during movement. But hey, going into Sage Mode required complete stillness anyway.

Feeling the rush of strength and vitality that coursed through his veins, shadow clones popped up all around Naruto. Some charged in with Frog Kata, while Naruto's real body stayed focused and let the chakra swirl in his palms.

Was Kurama just going to stand there and watch him prepare his jutsu? No, of course not. Like how Sasuke used to complain, the enemy could kill him ten times over while Naruto tried to figure out how to multitask using his shadow clones.

Kurama lowered his body as his tails flailed around to defend himself against Naruto's shadow clones. So much anger from being tricked gathered in his eyes that it might as well have seared a hole in Naruto. Letting out a roar that pushed the clones back with the sheer air current, Kurama opened his mouth and let droplets of blue and red energy gather in the air.

Naruto saw the Tailed-Beast bomb from Fuu and Killer B, so he knew exactly what kind of destruction it would cause. Yet, he stared back at Kurama, eyes fierce with determination as he stood his ground and continued to let his chakra and senjutsu energy gather in the swirling ball.

This strategy would never work a second time, It was now or never.

"Now!" Naruto yelled just as the Tailed-Beast Bomb would gather to its max. But even without the commands, the shadow clones that remained knew exactly what to do.

With their motions in sync. The Naruto clones clapped their hands together and activated the seals that littered the hallway - those seals that Kurama didn't manage to destroy before his attention was taken away by Naruto's Sage Mode.

Metallic chains rose from the seals, glistening in the dimly lit hallway as they grabbed onto Kurama's limbs, tails, and neck and pulled him down.

"Adamantine Sealing Chains: Naruto Special Version!" The clones yelled in unison with pride beaming in their voice.

Naruto did tell Sasuke a month ago that he made a lot of awesome seals. That was … partially true. Although, most of his seals were already designed by Ero-sennin and he just learned the application. Instead, he spent all his time, all his measly knowledge on Fūinjutsu, on this.

He knew from the moment that he opened that scroll from Uzushiogakure and laid his eyes on the drawings of the Adamantine Chains, that he couldn't forget it. It was his heritage, and he was determined to find it, in his own ways.

The sudden pulls from the chains made Kurama lose his balance just a moment before the Tailed-Beast Bomb was fired off. Because of that, the purple mass of destruction was fired into the ceiling, missing Naruto and his aggregates of clones as they worked to bring the Rasengan to its max.

Naruto felt Rasengan expand to a size that had never been reached before. Then, he rushed forward, through the fallen debris blocked by his shadow clones, and pushed the ball onto Kurama.

"Ōdama Rasengan!"

The swirling ball of chakra and natural energy exploded upon the impact, driving Kurama's head into the floor while his limbs were being temporarily tied down by the Adamantine Chains.

Naruto landed on Kurama's giant head as the smoke cleared. The fox glared at him but was stripped of the energy to say anything as he recovered from the hit.

This was the moment of vulnerability that Killer B mentioned. Naruto stretched his hand and touched Kurama's fur. He could feel their chakra being connected, those of his own blending with those of Kurama's, mixing and turning, like roaring waves that shook him to his core.

Anger and betrayal seeped out of Kurama's eyes at the first, but that was soon replaced by shock when he realized that Naruto didn't connect their chakra to take control of Kurama's chakra, like what Killer B said he could do.

Instead, Naruto simply blended their chakra together, letting them swirl and wrap around each other, hoping that they could somehow become one.

"I'm keeping my promise, Kurama. We're going to fight together against Akatsuki, against Tobi." Naruto explained as he rested his head on Kurama's fur. "It won't be me taking control of everything, using your chakra to fight alone."

Finally getting a hold of himself, Kurama let out a cold laugh and said, "Naive as ever. You said before that you'd be positive for all of us, didn't you? Let's see if you can shoulder - no, survive under my negativity."

Just then, something cold and dark invaded their connection and Naruto felt as if his mind was being wrapped by lava and then frozen by ice, all in the span of one breath. Memories stabbed into Naruto's brain, and he saw it, figments of Kurama's experience, as he was hunted and restrained by shinobi of the past and as he brought slaughter and calamity in return.

Hatred and suffering thicken by the second, suffocating Naruto with overwhelming pressure. It wasn't just Kurama's hatred, but also the hatred of those that hunted him and in return were killed by him. History seemed to repeat itself endlessly and every time, the resentment and ill-will stacked on, growing denser and denser until Naruto felt like he was being crushed.

"Do you see now, Naruto? How the cycle is never-ending. It repeats more times than I can count, and it will continue to repeat itself in the future." Kurama's voice growled in the background, asking the most important questions. "What do you know about the hatred that stemmed from losses, in your protected life that never witnessed the loss of someone you loved? What can you do about it?"

Naruto couldn't even think as he struggled to breathe under the waves of hatred and resentment. Was this why Kurama always laughed at him whenever he claimed that he had enough positivity for both of them? Was Kurama laughing at his sheltered mentality?

Despite losing his parents at birth, Naruto was spared from the sorrow of the losses when he was growing up, and along with it, the pain, the anger, and the hatred that brewed in one's heart. How lucky he had been, compared to others, compared to …

Dumbass, look up. Naruto thought he had heard Sasuke's voice. It must have been his imagination, but he felt as if a hand had grabbed onto his, steadying him from the wave of negative emotions.

Look at me, Sasuke's voice said, and Naruto did.

"You're right, I hardly have to experience such sorrow and hatred that comes from losses," Naruto said as he gritted his teeth to keep himself conscious. "But I've seen those who have, and they amaze me each time with their awesomeness. They are my hope, and they showed me the possibilities!"

Sasuke, Maiko-nee, Itachi-nii … if they could continue to have hope in life, to turn their sorrow and hatred into the determination to make the future better, then why would Naruto ever doubt the possibilities?

"Then what about us Tailed-Beast? You've seen it, how such a difference - such bad blood and hatred - never seems to go away!" Kurama yelled in reply. It can't be mended, he was saying, and everything in his memory seemed to further reinforce that point.

But Naruto had the guts to give him a smile. "As I said, possibilities, Kurama! There are already those that overcame the differences, starting with Jinchuuriki like Fuu and Killer B. Sure, not everyone will reach an acceptance right away, and they might never will. But those that do already exist and it's already starting."

The forces that held him steady - from Sasuke, from Maiko-nee, from Ero-sennin, from Kakashi-sensei, from Sakura … from everyone that pulled Naruto along in life - seemed to give him a second wind of strength, and he used it to make the number 'one' with his hand.

"Sure, a story of zero to hero might be nice, but a zero to one, that was more than enough to show the possibilities, don't you think?" Naruto said as he strained his voice, but he could hold his back a little straighter now. "And it won't stay at one forever. More will believe, I'm sure, and I'll work towards it, believe it!"

"I only have the lifespan of a human, but Kurama, you'll continue to exist even after I die. You'll have much longer than me to witness!" With one last shout, Naruto was suddenly rewarded with a breath of fresh air. He gasped for the chance to breathe like a drowning person who finally reached the surface of the lake.

Only when Naruto shook his head to clear his nausea that he realized that the negativity in Kurama's chakra seemed to calm. Moreover, he could feel the connection of chakra between them being tied and melded together. Kurama's chakra roamed in his body, and his chakra swam freely in the midst.

"You're insufferable," Kurama grunted as he dropped his head back on the ground. The Adamantine Chains had long expired, but the fox made no attempts of swiping his tails or clawing at the tiny Naruto that stood on his head.

"Does this mean … does it mean that you'll believe?" Naruto swore that his voice was shaking. Kurama's eyes might have twitched, but otherwise, he said nothing in rebuttal.

"Yes, you see the possibilities, right?" Naruto yelled out, and this time, Kurama threw him to the ground and growled at his stupidity.

"Stop laughing like an idiot! Just get on with it and replace the seal before I regret it!" Yep, Kurama was definitely losing patience. With frantic nods, Naruto walked to stand in front of the fox. Placing his hands on the ground, he activated the new seals given to him by Ero-sennin.

Glowing lines expanded under both of them, enveloping them in a warm light. Naruto could feel the pattern being traced on his stomach - a different one from before, one that would abolish the chains, the jail, and the barrier that separated Kurama and him.

"See you on the outside, Kurama!" Naruto said, only for the fox to give him a snort.

"Stay a bit longer here. There's something else not quite spent in the previous seal just yet." Kurama said as he melted into the background. Naruto didn't get a chance to ask what he meant by that, but when he turned, everything became clear.

Everything that happened today in Naruto's mindscape was not an everyday experience. Still, having his parents appear straight out of the photo that Kakashi-sensei gave him really did blow it out of the park.

Naruto opened his mouth and then closed it, but his eyes trained on the red-haired woman and the blonde-haired man, unable to move away. The process was repeated several times before he managed to ask, "… are you conjured up by my imagination?"

"What do you mean 'conjured up'? We're real!" The red-haired woman - his mom, Naruto guessed but couldn't quite say - said with a mix of anger and fondness. She paused a little before exchanging a glance with Naruto's dad, the Yondaime Hokage himself. "Well, not real per se, but it's us, Naruto, manifested through a bit of our chakra sealed with Nine-Tail."

His dad rubbed his neck as he explained with a smile, "I sealed a little bit of my and Kushina's chakra while sealing Nine-Tail. I had hoped that we can do something to protect you in the future, when the seal breaks unexpectedly or when you have to confront Nine-Tail."

His gaze lowered until it rested on Naruto's stomach, where the new seal had just been settled. "But I see that it's not necessary. You're taking care of everything on your own and we seem to be a little bit extra—"

The man's voice was cut off when Naruto ran towards them and crushed them in a bear hug.

"Not extra," Naruto muttered as he buried his face in his parents' shoulders. "I'm glad I can see you two, even just once in my life."

Naruto always meant what he said. He meant it when he said that even if there was just one person who had given him trust along with their protection, he would fight to keep it. That started when he was born - when his parents gave up their lives to protect him, and in turn, entrusted their love and hope with him.

"Naruto, we're so sorry that we can't be there when you're growing up." His mother sounded sad as she said that, but Naruto just shook his head furiously.

"Come on, I'm pretty sure that I get to grow up because of you two," Naruto said as he pulled himself back from the embrace and looked at his parents.

Damn, my old man looks so handsome and cool. I mean, what do I expect, my good looks must come from somewhere. My mom's red hair is really as vibrant as the picture! No, more vibrant, the picture doesn't even capture a tenth of it!

Naruto had so many thoughts that he wanted to say, but they all seemed to fall short when they reached his mouth. Instead, he wanted to say something that would placate their worries, telling them that their son was doing alright.

"I have friends that treat me like family. I have those that care about me, not as a Jinchuuriki or a legacy, but just as me. I've learned so much from them, and I learned so much from the two of you as well!" Naruto said, letting the words rush out of his mouth.

Don't feel sad. Don't worry about me. I'm living my life in the best way possible.

For a moment, he indulged himself, asking his parents about details of their lives. Like, was it true that his dad could travel from Earth Country to Konoha in the blink of an eye? It was true, his dad admitted with a humble grin, but only if the Hiraishin seal was set up in place. How did his parents meet and fall in love? He swore he just heard the most awesome love story ever …

He had so much more that he wanted to talk about with his parents, but deep down, Naruto knew that this reunion wasn't meant to last. The chakra would run out, and Naruto had a war he needed to go to.

His dad seemed to know this as well. He seemed to see through the reluctance to leave buried under Naruto's happy words, brawling and eventually being beaten by the resolve for something greater.

"Dad, Mom. I have to leave now," Naruto said, his voice quiet and soft. "The man who instigated the Nine-Tail Rampage back when I was born, he's waging a war against Konoha, against all the shinobi villages, to capture the remaining Tailed-Beasts and do some really awful stuff to the world."

"I figured that you have a strong purpose now, so go do what you have to do," his dad said with a light-hearted laugh as he rubbed Naruto's hair in encouragement. There was a pause as his old man looked at his mom, before returning his attention to Naruto.

"Before we separate again, we do want to apologize for letting you bear the burden of being a Jinchuuriki. It's … not something that a father would do if he's only thinking of his son." His father said with sadness and uncertainty in his voice, and that made Naruto want to shake his head in rebuttal.

His father was the Hokage and the Hokage fought for what they believed in, whether that was the village for their loved ones.

Naruto didn't know how to explain his overwhelming feelings, but Sasuke always called him a lump of emotions that couldn't be hidden - ha, funny he should say that - so Naruto hoped that they would get it, just from the aura leaking out of him or something.

They did, giving Naruto another hug that spoke of their pride and thankfulness.

"I'm glad to be your son, Dad, Mom," Naruto said as he rubbed the back of his neck in embarrassment - something his dad tended to do as well, he noted. "Anyway, I'll always think of you guys and it'll give me strength, believe it!"

"Oh no, you've picked up on my catchphrase!" His mother said before bursting into laughter, which in turn made her husband and Naruto laugh over their heels as well.

Whether it was because the chakra supporting the bits of consciousness finally ran out, or if Naruto had firmly decided to return to reality, his parents started to fade into showers of golden sparkles.

I'm leaving, Dad, Mom. But I know you'll always watch over my back.

(づ。◕‿‿◕。)づ fuwa~fuwa~desu~~~

Naruto opened his eyes and had to cough violently to get the water out of his lungs. Then he saw Killer B hovering over him, casting a shadow straight out of a horror movie on his face, making him scream out of shock.

"So much energy, so I assume that you made it?" Killer B asked as he waved his hand, signalling the sage toads to lower the outer barrier. Naruto nodded as he rubbed the brand new seal on his stomach. He could feel it, stronger than ever, the mixing of his chakra and that of Kurama, like two streams that circled each other, both separate but together at the same time.

He could also feel it more vividly, the way Kurama sat in his mindscape, with nonchalance and dignity like he owned this place. It made Naruto's eyes twitch, but at least the fox looked like he was more at ease now.

"Ero-sennin …" Naruto called out, but he realized that his shishou was nowhere to be found, merely leaving the sage toads to maintain the barrier. The looks of seriousness on both Killer B and Fuu's faces explained it all.

The war must have started.

"What are we waiting for? We should go and help!" Naruto shouted, pushing himself out of the pond.

"Calm your heart, Naruto. The war has just started, yes. Invasions are happening on all three battlefields and Jiraiya went back to Konoha to help. But for the three of you, your deployment needs to be treated with care," One of the Elder Toads said as he jumped over to the edge of the pond. "Now that all of you are ready, let me explain the situation first."

With a kick, the toad elder rolled open a giant scroll with the map of the continent painted over. While the three of them gathered around, the Elder bounced around the map, putting his footprint on Konoha, Suna, and the Northwest corner of Water Country.

"While the identification of enemies at each battlefield is just preliminary, we already have a glimpse of the pattern and intention. At both Suna and Kiri, the main force of invasion seems to be Edo Tensei shinobi, with multiple deceased Kage being brought back. Zetsu clones are being used to weaken the forces internally, giving Suna, Kiri, and their respective reinforcements from Iwa and Kumo, a much harder time to defend against the powerhouses that were reanimated."

The elder wrote 'Edo Tensei' with big strokes at those two locations, before directing their attention to Konoha. "As for Konoha, while Edo Tensei and Zetsu clones are making an appearance, the main force of destruction is Pein and his bodies."

Killer B had fallen into silence as the man furrowed his brows. He looked like he was understanding some stuff, but Naruto had no idea what that stuff was.

"Nara Shikaku from Konoha suggests that Tobi's intention is probably to obtain the Tailed-Beasts at Suna and Kiri using overwhelming attacks before the reinforcement can arrive and the battle can drag on. For Konoha, Pein, whose existence goes beyond the normal realm of ninjutsu, was sent to bring destruction in the hopes of drawing the remaining Jinchuuriki there."

That was good and all, certainly giving Naruto a clearer view of what was happening outside. However, his brain was still slow as a pool of mud as to what to do next. His face must have had the word 'confused' written all over it, for Killer B let out a sigh as he started explaining.

"It's a simple play on the time delay. Konoha is a big blockade to chew through even without any Jinchuuriki, so Akatsuki has decided to use their main Edo Tensei force to capture the Tailed-Beasts at Suna and Kiri, whose Jinchuuriki were also a major part of their fighting power. In the meanwhile, Pein brought enough pressure to Konoha that they had to do everything they can to stop him," Killer B said and Naruto tried his hardest to follow his logic.

"If Pein plowed through the defence at Konoha, us Jinchuuriki under its protection - especially you and your hotheadedness, kid - won't be able to sit and watch, we will be drawn there. Even if the battle at Konoha stalled, the confrontation at the other two battlefields should have ended, allowing the enemies' firepower to converge at Konoha."

"So, Pein is there to … stall for time?" Naruto asked with uncertainty, because it sounded ridiculous, for an enemy of such calibre to serve such a lacklustre purpose.

As if reading through his thoughts, the toad elder let out a snort and bonked him on the head. "Don't underestimate Pein. He's sent to occupy Konoha's force precisely because he alone can take on all we have. He will leave no mercy to claim victory and he has a good chance of it, despite all of Konoha's defence."

Naruto shrunk under the toad elder's temper, but nevertheless, he asked again, "then where would we come in? It seems that all the battlefields are not doing so hot right now." Naruto wondered if he could make a sea of shadow clones so that he could support all of the battlefields.

"Yes, the situation is dire at every corner, but we're not letting it play out as Tobi's plan. For one, the yin-chakra seals are an immense help to the normal shinobi force, so the defence at Suna and Kiri was not crumbling as quickly as Tobi would hope. Secondly, we have reinforcement planned for Kiri, someone that Tobi has not accounted for."

Oh. Ohhh. The strategies were starting to clear up in Naruto's head. He could feel the hopeful gazes from the toad elder, hoping that he would finally grow some brain cells for looking at the big picture and propose the right direction …

"We need to reinforce Suna!" Naruto arrived at the conclusion, making the toad elder nod with a satisfied look. "If Tobi wants to end things quickly at Suna and Kiri so he can focus on Konoha, then we gotta screw that up. If Kiri is accounted for, then we have to stall the enemies at Suna and bury them in the desert, forever."

But wait a minute … "But it still won't change the danger Konoha is facing … and there will be no one left to reinforce Konoha, will there?" Iwa was going to prioritize Suna, and Kumo was going to prioritize Kiri. And now, even the Jinchuuriki would be going to Suna, stepping away from the trap that Tobi had laid for them at Konoha.

"Believe in your comrades, Naruto. The deployment strategy comes from Konoha, so they know the responsibilities on their shoulders and they have deemed it to be viable," the toad elder stared at him, calming down Naruto's panicked heart with his seasoned glare.

"But Tobi can teleport, can't he? Will he be sitting still while we make an appearance in Suna?" Fuu asked on the side. She had been quiet, but no less invested in the war.

"That's the next thing. Right now, Tobi is observing the battle at Konoha, but as soon as he gets the news that the three hidden Jinchuuriki decided to go reinforce Suna instead of Konoha, he will no doubt be trying to relocate his forces, including himself." There was a moment of pause as the toad elder narrowed his eyes in determination. "We're counting on that moment. The Hatake youngster is determined to stop Tobi's teleportation once and for all."

Kakashi-sensei … Naruto gulped down a mouthful of saliva to get rid of the nervousness. There were so many nodes at every point of this war that Naruto felt small in comparison. He clenched his fists and dug his fingernails into his palm. The stings were refreshing, reminding Naruto that he was trusted to help, and he was strong enough to do something.

"Jiraiya had left observer toads at Suna and Kiri in preparation. With Naruto's summoning contract with Mt. Myōboku, that gives the three of you some mobility to escape and move between the village." Naruto nodded at the toad elder's words. It was easier to get out of Mt. Myōboku than to get in again.

Reverse summoning only worked for one person at a time unless everyone to be transported signed a contract with the Sage Toads. Even then, they were exploiting the fact that Mt. Myōboku had multiple toads that could answer the summons. It wouldn't be as free as Tobi's teleportation, that was for sure, but it was better than nothing.

"If Tobi's teleportation can be blocked, we will treat you three as a mobile battalion. If not, then use Mt. Myōboku as a route of escape." Finally, the toad elder finished his explanation and Naruto's roles, along with the two other Jinchuuriki here, became clear.

"Naruto, listen up." Just before Naruto got teleported out of the Sage Realm, Kurama finally woke from his nap and called out to him.

"Even if our chakra blends as one, you're still a newbie when it comes to fighting with Tailed-Beast characteristics. So when you need to, let me take over the control." There was a tone of challenge in his words as if daring Naruto to have the guts to relinquish his control to Kurama.

To that, Naruto just laughed. "I'm counting on you, Kurama!" The new seal allowed Kurama to fight as Naruto's other half, but it didn't take away Naruto's chance to reign in Kurama should he be going too far. That was why Naruto was determined to finish the ritual and replace the seal.

They had signed a contract that they mutually agreed upon. That was the difficult start of their uneasy trust, and it would only go uphill from there.

Naruto steadied himself after the teleportation, only to eat a mouthful of sand as the howling wind plummeted into his face.

He opened his eyes just as the image of Gaara falling down from the sky was imprinted in his vision. The waterfall of sand that used to protect Gaara slushed down in the background, exhausted and lifeless. On the ground, a gaping flytrap of white was already waiting, ready to swallow up the red-haired Jinchuuriki.

Without any resistance, Kurama's chakra enveloped Naruto, burning an orange colour so bright that it glowed yellow as the coat settled dense around his body. It felt so different than before when Naruto had to squeeze for crumbs of Nine-Tail's chakra that leaked out like a scavenger.

Killer B and Fuu were quick to react as well. Octopus tentacles extended from Killer B's waist, forming soft padding that made the black sand bounce off before reaching Gaara. Wings fluttered behind Fuu as she swooped in and caught Gaara.

As for Naruto, he went straight to the Zetsu flytrap. For some reason, the plant-like white mass seemed to crowd his senses like a swarm of darkness, emitting a wave of hatred, bloodlust and hostility.

Rasengan gathered in his palm, swirling violently as Naruto dashed in front of the white creature. The expression on the flytrap's face froze in surprise just before Naruto slammed the ball of chakra down and shredded the creature to pieces.

Tendrils of black flew around him, and Naruto raised his head. He could feel the mist of black, kind of like Shino's bugs, but much more evil, originating from the village of Sunagakure. He focused his senses and finally traced one of its origins… that's weird, it looks like one of Suna's shinobi.

Suddenly, the wheels started clicking in Naruto's head and he remembered the existence of Zetsu clones that the toad elder mentioned.

"It's Negative Emotions Sensing. Trust your intuition, not just your eyes." Kurama grumbled in a low voice just as Naruto made the hand seals, allowing a sea of orange to gather around him before dispersing into the mass.

Still, it felt too far away, and the clone was already raising a senbon in an attempt to ambush. Faster, I need to reach farther … Ummm, how did Killer B do it when he extended his tentacle? As a human that lived with four limbs and no tails for fourteen years, he couldn't for the life of him figure out how Killer B managed to command Gyūki's tentacles like a second set of hands.

But he wasn't fighting alone. With a snort of contempt, Kurama took over and extended a bright-orange tail from Naruto's tail bone. The tail lashed through the air like a whip, slapping the Zetsu clone to the side while the Suna-nin that was his prey screamed in shock.

Kurama didn't hold back as the tail smashed the clone into the floor of sand. At the moment's notice, the white mass started sprouting, growing into the tree, with crowns of leaves and all.

"... Naruto?" Gaara asked in uncertainty as he slumped over Fuu's shoulder. Naruto's jaw almost fell open in shock at how much Gaara had grown since the last time they had met. He wondered if this would count as a meeting between pen-pals … although Gaara never wrote back, so could they really be considered pen-pals?

"It's so good to see you again, Gaara! Though I wish it's under a better circumstance," Naruto said, before pointing to Fuu and Killer B. "That's Fuu, the Jinchuuriki of Seven-Tail Chōmei, and Killer B, the Jinchuuriki of Eight-Tail Gyūki. We're here to help, as the, uh, Amazing Jinchuuriki Squad!"

"No," Killer B shook his head, disgust clear in his voice, "That's a terrible rhyme." Well, most of his rap was kinda confusing too, but Naruto never complained about it for the sake of friendship.

Gaara looked too tired to deal with their bullshit, so like the responsible leader he was, he filled them in on the situation. "I've finally sealed my father, but there's still Sandaime Kazekage and Kakuzu from Akatsuki that showed up a little later."

True enough, a giant pyramid carved with black seals stood in the distance. But beyond the cloud of iron sand, stood the black-haired Kazekage and the familiar enemy with swarming cords that connected his body with the masses of black around him.

"Suna-nin are also struggling to deal with the reincarnated shinobi lead by Sasori. We're running out of yin-chakra seals, and the Zetsu clones overwhelmed my sand turrets …" Gaara's voice fell into silence when he saw trees after trees that started to grow in Suna's landscape.

"Yeah, my shadow clones are dealing with the Zetsu imposters," Naruto explained as Gaara struggled to peel his eyes away from the scene of desert reforestation. Sand started to be pulled away from the village, flying to gather under Gaara until he could stand on his own on the floating platform.

A puff of smoke later and a toad appeared on Naruto's shoulder. "Tobi went into the teleportation space and your sensei went in with him." Naruto felt his muscles tense in anticipation. Kurama's Negative Emotions Sensing was turned up to the max, in case - and I only mean the slight chance, because of course Kakashi-sensei will win - Tobi managed to get here

"They're coming," Gaara warned as the sand shook around them. Spikes of iron shot out of the desert, homing towards them. All of them scattered and dashed out of the attack range, except for Gaara, whose sand wrapped around him in a shield, blocking all the iron sand without any fail.

Shimmers of gold seemed to be mixed in with the brownish-red sand grains, shining brightly under the afternoon sun. Despite Gaara's broken breaths, he stood in front of his village and its people so naturally, defending every attack that may or may not reach the normal shinobi force, as if he had done it a thousand times before.

Fuu rushed towards Kakuzu, dashing between the wild cords with agility as she shot out sticky chakra webs covered with corrosive powder, trying to pin down the masks that seemed to be attacking everything and everywhere.

Gyuki's tentacles extended from Killer B's back and grabbed onto the giant obelisk that was drilling towards Gaara, preventing it from moving forward. Narrowing his eyes, Sandaime Kazekage willed the obelisk to dissolve as the fluid black sand reshaped into chains around the tentacles.

But Naruto was already there, a handful of kunai with seals attached was hidden in his left hand, while the Rasengan grew in his right.

As if on cue, a chakra tail extended from his back, shaped into a hand as it spun around the Rasengan, adding the wind chakra to the shape transformation.

"Thanks, Kurama!" Naruto yelled into his mindscape and Kurama let out a grunt in return. Was this what it was like when Killer B said that it felt as if Gyūki was fighting beside him?

With a high pitch of shredding noise, Rasengan crashed into the Iron Shield, raised by Sandaime Kazekage at the last moment. The magnetism pulled the iron construct together and grains of iron kept on piling up as Naruto's Rasengan shredded more apart.

Just then, five more chakra tails extended from his back, each grabbing a sealing kunai and stabbing them into the sand, making a semi-circle around the Kazekage. Unlike during that time in his mindscape, Naruto had pre-made seals prepared.

Naruto got thrown back as the Iron Spears stabbed into where he was, but not before Naruto activated the seals with an injection of chakra. Adamantine Chains surged out of the seals, rushing towards the reanimated enemy with rattling noises.

Everything was going well until that point. Killer B broke out of the iron shackles with brute force. Gaara's sand was ready to bury the Kazekage as soon as Naruto restrained him with the Adamantine Chains.

But alas, a sea of black cords rushed out from beneath and warded their target from the glowing chains. In the corner of his vision, Naruto could see Fuu making the trajectory of a shooting star as she crashed towards Suna's walls.

"Sorry! I was hit by a really strong and really weird wind!" Fuu yelled out as Chōmei's chakra protected her from being turned to mush. Unfortunately, the same couldn't be said for Suna's village wall.

"Oh hell no," Killer B almost growled as rare anger leaked out of his voice. Following his gaze, Naruto saw what elicited the man's rage. It was another horde of Edo Tensei army, led by what looked to be two Kumo shinobi, one with wild blonde hair and the other with silver.

Naruto felt his stomach clench when the chakra that resided in him seemed to resonate with the coat of red that was appearing on the two leading Kumo-nin.

"That's the Gold and Silver Brothers, Kumogakure's biggest sins. They were said to have once survived in Nine-Tail's stomach by eating his flesh, thus gaining a part of Nine-Tail's chakra." Killer B Explained as they dodged another combination attack from Sandaime Kazekage and Kakuzu.

Huh?

"What in the world were you eating, Kurama? Couldn't you set some standards for the stuff you put in your mouth?" Naruto screamed in disbelief. The worst part? Based on the way Kurama growled in anger but refused to explain, what Killer B said was probably the truth.

"I'll take them on. They have to be crushed with pure force before they can utilize the special tricks of their Treasured Tools." Killer B said as he ran towards the newcomers, his body expanded to its full Gyūki size along the way.

The bull-headed octopus roared as it blocked the path of the Gold and Silver Brothers, "You think you stand a chance as a fake Jinchuuriki? Well, here comes Kumo's greatest, Killer B!"

Given everything, that might be the best rap Naruto had heard from Killer B so far.

Thirty minutes into the battle, Kakuzu had been incapacitated and sealed by their combined effort, so was one of the Kumo brothers, and they were almost there with the rest. Tobi had yet to appear in the vicinity of Suna's battlefield. Neither had the messenger toads informed him of his appearance anywhere else, so Kakashi-sensei must have been doing alright so far. This meant that Naruto could fully focus on the enemies in front of him.

Right. As if.

A seal pasted to the side of his stomach turned hot as it glowed in a warning.

Sasuke, Naruto thought with worry. Only when the seal he had given to Sasuke was drenched in blood and chakra, would Naruto's own copy respond with urgency.

"Focus, Naruto!" The toad elder reprimanded as Naruto smashed apart an iron cylinder with a Rasengan. A veil of corrosive and blinding scale powders dropped down from above, distracting the Kazekage enough that his next attack missed a beat, giving Naruto just enough time to get out of the sea of iron needles.

Of course, the toad elder would know. The seal Naruto gave to Sasuke used the power of Mt. Myōkobu to identify the location and achieve teleportation.

"I know!" Naruto shouted back, angrier at himself than anything else. They were here for a reason, and that was to reinforce Suna when Tobi's teleportation was still being occupied.

Gaara and One-Tail were still recovering from their earlier battles - the injuries that Gaara took to prevent the large-scale attacks from reaching the normal shinobi force were certainly not helping. Killer B had his hands full with the remaining Kumo brother, whose livid anger towards his brother's defeat fueled even more violence. It took intense focus, Killer B said, to not get screwed by the Treasured Tools they were using.

At the very least, Naruto and Fuu needed to help Gaara seal Sandaime Kazekage, or they would be leaving Suna as battered as when they came.

Taking a deep breath, Naruto refocused his attention and concentrated on the swirl of Kurama's chakra inside of him. He was getting better at being in tune with it, he was certain. Whispering a promise in his heart, Naruto let the orange coat of Kurama's chakra roam more fiercely around his body and charged towards the fortress of Iron Sand again.

Wait for me a little longer, Sasuke, I'll be right there!


A/N: A chapter for Naruto, and hell yeah, I'm embracing Talk no Jutsu. Nothing can beat the original anime when Naruto met Minato and later, Kushina, but I tried to make it complete. I truly think that Jinchuuriki can be the bridge between Tailed-Beasts and humans, for they live and feel in both spheres. The Tailed-Beasts have lived for a long time and they will continue to exist, so maybe they are also attracted to the possibilities of something that breaks the old norm. In this story, Naruto has not gone through major battles like with Pein, nor did he lose Jiraiya. But what he's shown more are truths and possibilities, from those around him. Those that believe in the possibilities become possibilities for others.

With Naruto's point of view told, we're finally all caught up on all battlefields ... except for Kakashi and Obito, we'll get to that. Fun fact, the Gold and Silver brothers were supposed to be sent to stall the Kumo forces, but since Obito is offline in the Kamui space, Black Zetsu, alone in a group project, had to improvise and get Kabuto to pull them over in a hurry.