Extra Story: Fantastic Tailed-Beasts and Where to Find Them

One Year Post-War: Isobu and Saiken

Naruto is an idiot.

Sasuke groaned as he climbed out of the mixture made of mud, splinters, and maybe some other stuff he would rather not think about. Water dripped down his hair, dowsing his clothes in the chilling cold. He coughed a few times to clear his airways and tried not to think about how much of the swamp water he had swallowed.

"You're an idiot!" It wasn't enough for Sasuke to just think about it in his head, he needed to shout it out to make his point.

"How is this my fault?" Naruto yelled from a few metres away, also drenched like a sailor in a shipwreck with a piece of mud stuck on his nose.

"Utakata-san said that Isobu hates those that are loud, bright, and intrusive. Just look at you!" Sasuke shouted back just as Naruto rubbed his nose, spreading the mud on his face. Oh my god. He couldn't stop himself as he grabbed the hem of Naruto's orange jumpsuit, still soaked in water, and muffled his friend's face with it.

"Uwah, gah, Sasuke!" Naruto made a few indignant sounds as Sasuke wiped his face clean for him as roughly as he could. Sasuke took a step back and leaned on a tree that had miraculously survived, leaving Naruto to rub his cheeks, trying to ease the pain from the friction.

"Loud? fine, that's part of my charm. Bright? I'll let you know that orange is an awesome colour; we can't all be dark and cool like you," Naruto said, trying to push Sasuke off the tree with his shoulder. Sasuke refused to yield. It was his tree. "But intrusive? I only waved hello at Isobu. How would I know that he'd respond by shooting us with a jet stream of his spit?"

If waving hello entailed dashing to the edge of the lake, brimming with chakra, then swinging his hands like a madman - an excited, childish madman, but still - all the while shouting, "Hey Isobu! How are you doing! I'm Uzumaki Naruto, Kurama's Jinchuuriki. Nice to meet you! I'd love to chat with you—" and that was when the jet stream hit.

Yeah, then it would be a pretty accurate description.

Sasuke wasn't sure which part of that action sequence pissed Isobu off, but he was going to take a guess and say all of them. Still, they were hit by a flood instead of a forest of coral, so maybe they didn't completely drive the first impression to the ground yet.

Suddenly, both of them heard a snicker in the background. Sasuke whipped his head around and saw the man dressed in a loose blue yukata, eyeing them with amusement as the only person that was not soaked with swamp water.

"I see the first meeting did not go so well," Utakata said, not a hint of surprise at their fate.

"I don't know if I can call it the first meeting when we haven't actually met," Naruto muttered.

"Oh, trust me, Isobu saw the both of you. He's much more in control of the water than you think," Utakata replied. You don't say, Sasuke was sure that the man was holding back his laughter. "Bad timing, perhaps Isobu is taking an afternoon nap."

"Wait really?" Naruto asked and Sasuke couldn't help but wonder the same. Being friends with a Jinchuuriki came with a whole new set of perspectives. Sasuke learned to treat Naruto and Kurama as two entities. He also got used to giving time for Fuu to converse with Chōmei, treating him as a part of the conversation even if Sasuke was not privy to their language.

It honestly wouldn't surprise him, if Isobu was taking a nap under the water, only for Naruto to crash in and disturb his rest with overly cheerful - and irritating - introductions. Sasuke knew this because he had been the victim of such an ambush, back when the alarm system around the Compound hadn't been rebuilt yet, allowing Naruto to crash through the window when Sasuke wanted nothing more than to take a nap after an Anbu mission.

Utakata merely shrugged, telling them, "Better luck next time." Sasuke didn't know if luck had anything to do with it, but he got the message that now was definitely not a good time and they were unlikely to get anywhere. Might as well retreat and come back another time.

Utakata's cottage - Station, Sasuke had to mentally correct himself unless he wanted to aggravate their host and lose their shelter - was not bad. It was advanced enough to have hot water, giving Sasuke a much-needed bath to wash out the mud in his hair.

Sasuke wrung his jacket and let the water drip into the lake, before hanging it on a makeshift pole, stabilized near the campfire. It was then that Naruto walked out of the cabin with a loud sneeze, holding onto his drenched clothes as well.

"Put on a shirt, you idiot." Sasuke rolled his eyes as Naruto dipped his dirty clothes into the river, still sneezing. "Being a Jinchuuriki is not going to make you immune to cold and fevers, but you know what, being an idiot might."

There were many layers of sarcasm ladened in that sentence that Naruto had to take a moment to fully decipher. When he finally did, he let out a scowl and shouted back, "I just forgot to wash and dry my other shirts too, and did you just suggest that I'm an idiot no matter if—achoo!"

That sneeze was so strong that Naruto almost dropped his clothes in the water. With a sigh, Sasuke took pity on him and fished out one of his own shirts from his storage seal. He should have known that Naruto was the kind to do his laundry in bulk, waiting until he had absolutely no clean clothes left except for the ones he was wearing and then proceed to soak everything in the soapy water.

"Thanks," Naruto muttered as he pulled the blue t-shirt over his head, before quickly finishing his large pile of laundry.

The sparks crackled in the air as the two of them sat by the campfire, waiting for their clothes to dry. Sasuke poked the woodpile with a thick branch while Naruto huddled by his side, looking like he was trying to wreck his brain for something that was beyond his intelligence.

"We need a better plan of approach, Sasuke," Naruto said the most obvious thing after much thinking. Do we even have a plan before? Sasuke wondered, but then again, he supposed that for Naruto, running head into a problem was a plan of approach.

"Maybe start by finding out when Isobu is not taking a nap, or occupied with anything else, for that matter," Sasuke said. Utakata-san should be able to help with that … if he actually wanted to help instead of laughing at their expense.

"Of course, that too, but I'm thinking maybe we should find something Isobu likes, to make amends, you know, for disturbing his nap," Naruto said, enthusiasm beaming in his voice as he leaned closer. "Remember how Utakata-san said that Saiken really likes humid days with no sun, maybe Isobu has something that'll make his mood better too."

Sasuke remembered that on the day that Maiko-nee took them to Kiri, the sight of a giant Seven-tailed slug lounging around the shore almost made him blink into his Mangekyou on instinct, if Maiko-nee didn't follow up with a wave.

When the slug waved his antennae in return, before shrinking back to the size of a man, Sasuke considered it one of the most bizarre moments of his life - and he had a lot of those. Sasuke had to remind himself - and did so constantly - that times were different now, that he shouldn't treat a Tailed-Beast based on what he thought he knew, but rather on what he was about to know.

It was a particularly misty day with thick clouds covering the sunlight, Saiken's favourite weather, as Utakata later explained.

"But what does he like? Corals, seashells, seafood?" Naruto continued his thoughts, muttering out loud, and the guesses were getting more ridiculous by the second.

"Please, if Isobu wants coral, he'll just make them using his power; he thinks there's no coral that can match his own." Both of them turned to see their host walking towards the campfire, a string of fish hanging by his side. A moment later, Utakata added, "That's what Saiken said."

"Oh, Utakata-san and Saiken, do you know what Isobu likes?" Naruto asked immediately, all the while Utakata skewered the raw fish using sticks and planted them next to the fire.

"Saiken said no shortcuts," Utakata replied, finishing his sentence before Naruto could push further. "You said so before, you're going to learn who Isobu is, what he likes, what he wants, by yourself."

Just like that, Naruto closed his mouth, accepting the fact that he made a promise to himself.

"But even if you don't know what he likes, at least you know what he doesn't like," Utakata said, re-anchoring the fish-on-a-stick to grill the second side.

"Those that are loud, bright, and intrusive?" Naruto replied, still quite hung on Sasuke's words, it seemed.

Sasuke rolled his eyes and asked instead, "Are those … Tailed-Beast poachers getting more frequent?"

"You'd think they would learn by now, how nothing would come out of their greed other than death. But they're like cockroaches, given a bit of food, a bit of hope, and they came back with memories erased," Utakata answered as he furrowed his eyebrows in annoyance.

Before Sasuke and Naruto were allowed to go near Isobu, they had worked to help Kiri capture 'Tailed-Beast poachers' in exchange for their presence here. Of course, the Tailed-Beasts were not ordinary animals, and it wasn't their pelt or furs that were sought after. But the fact that many wanted to 'poach' their powers was all the same.

Sasuke always suspected that it wasn't just to make them work for their audacious request, but also to convince Isobu that they, like the Kiri-nin, were those that Isobu could selectively not attack, or at least hesitate a little.

"Have they found new ways of capturing the Tailed-Beast?" Sasuke asked again, picking up the hidden meaning behind the analogy.

"Not for capturing the Tailed-Beasts - they've moved on from the most obvious way of suicide." Utakata couldn't help but roll his eyes at the idiocy. Then, he pulled out a damaged scroll from his yukata and held it up in front of them.

"This seal has been circulating around, rumoured to be able to steal a portion of Tailed-Beast chakra. Not enough to affect the creature, but you can imagine the damage that a bit of Isobu's chakra can cause, even in small portions."

Ah, weaponizing the Tailed-Beast chakra. Truly, a tale as old as time.

Still, he could see the appeal and fervour surrounding this new tool. The shinobi poachers now no longer needed to defeat Isobu and the Kiri-nin; they only needed to survive against Isobu's chakra-infused attacks and run away - an easier task.

"Rumoured?" Naruto asked as he took the scroll on instinct and laid it out on his lap. His eyes followed the inked lines with curiosity and concentration, before letting out a frown at the smudged ink and the scorched paper.

"Kiri stopped the poachers from approaching Isobu or caught them before they could escape, but the scroll seemed to have some built-in mechanism so that it self-destructs when being hit with anything other than Tailed-Beast chakra. This is the best example we have." Utakata nodded at the damaged scroll, before shifting his attention to the grilled fish, making sure they weren't burnt.

"Someone is providing those scrolls and Kiri still hasn't found the one behind it yet?" Sasuke raised an eyebrow. Surely, with such annoying news circulating the missing-nin network, Kiri wouldn't just sit by and watch the poachers flock to Isobu.

Utakata grinned at him, telling him to figure it out himself, so begrudgingly, Sasuke started to search his brain.

It must be a very recent problem, Sasuke concluded. Even then, the fact that Kiri hadn't ended the problem at the source immediately, meant the culprit was good at hiding, or more likely, familiar with the tactics of Kiri hunter-nin. Combined with familiarity with Fūinjutsu …

"Hōshin." Sasuke found the image of the man, imprinted in his memory when he read Kiri's bingo book. A missing-nin declared right after Terumi Mei's reign, used to be a captain-level hunter-nin, one of the few that had knowledge of Fūinjutsu in Kirigakure.

"You know your Bingo books quite well, don't you?" Utakata teased, handing out the grilled fish to Sasuke and Naruto.

"Hōshin defected when our current Mizukage took reign. You see, he worships Yagura, the Yondaime Mizukage, not necessarily his policy on the Kekkei Genkai Hunt, but Yagura as a symbol," Utakata said before taking a bite of his fish. "He thinks Terumi is undeserving of her position, might even think she killed Yagura after she revealed she has two Kekkei Genkai. But he had rarely caused enough trouble to let himself be noticed by the new Kirigakure. That is, until now."

"Things might get busy here. Terumi wants those poachers stopped before they can even approach Isobu, lest he gets annoyed by humans even more," Utakata warned and Sasuke nodded. They were expected to help, that was part of the deal.

It took Sasuke a second to realize that the fish in Naruto's hand remained untouched as his friend ignored the food - a very rare occurrence - in favour of studying the damaged seals.

"The self-destruction matrix must be layered with a portion of the main seal, so that when it's activated, it will first take out itself, preventing others from using the template to crack a solution, before taking a portion of the seal with it. This guy is aiming for long-term production," Naruto said in awe, his words shooting out like darts, no doubt trying to catch up to his thought process.

"Can you repair it?" Sasuke asked. Long-term production and distribution … It's like an experiment.

"The core is still somewhat visible here, but the auxiliary section burnt off is anyone's guess—" Naruto started by shaking his head, but a moment later, his eyes lit up, "Although, if I can see some of this guy's previous designs, then I might be able to guess what he's likely to write for stabilization and amplification. It won't be 100% recreation and it will definitely show, but I think I can at least make it look like what it's supposed to be, even making it work as intended."

"Utakata-san, will Kiri have a problem if we try our hands on this … situation?" Sasuke asked. Intervillage politics were finicky, and so was Hidden Village's pride.

"Depends on what you're proposing," Utakata said. At this point, he was the only one eating his dinner.

"Hōshin is probably waiting on the results of his seals, given how he aimed for distribution and even added proprietary protection," Sasuke explained, remembering how Naruto told him that the perfection of a seal required countless trials.

It wasn't possible for Hōshin to practice on a relevant target, less he wanted to make himself a target of Kiri-nin before he was sure that his seal worked. Therefore, he made those poachers his volunteers - if only they actually had the skill to get something.

"If he's interested in results, then we should give him one."

Utakata's grin only grew wider upon hearing Sasuke's words. "I like the way you think." That was a 'go', or at least, Utakata would try to persuade Kiri for them. After all, the man didn't want any extra work for himself when he could be lazing around in his cottage.

Sasuke didn't even notice, and neither did Naruto, that despite starting the conversation on the topic of how to please Isobu, at the moment when they finalized the plan to catch Hōshin, none of them were thinking about that in particular.

They learned enough from Kakashi-sensei to know that what Kiri was trying to attempt here was innovation - the first of its case, the blind trial that would no doubt be met with many challenges. The numerous attempts to weaponize a Tailed-Beast that roamed freely were merely one type of problem that needed to be tackled.

It was a learning process for everyone; an opportunity to show the possibilities of what was thought to be impossible. As if Sasuke and Naruto would let a Kiri missing-nin destroy that.

The mist hovered around Sasuke like it had a life of its own - which, it might as well did, with how skillfully the Kiri hunter-nin could manipulate it.

Sasuke rushed the rumbling chakra through his body and let them explode all around him. Chidori Current chirped loudly in the air, each stream of electricity clawing into his surroundings, hungry for any prey that dared to hide in the thick fog.

"Are you trying to kill me too!" Naruto shouted with a gruff voice just as a stream of lightning sailed over his head, scorching the top of his hoodie. The orange colour that Naruto loved was nowhere to be found on him today.

"Too bright," Sasuke had told him. "No missing-nin would dress in such a flamboyant manner." Disregarding the disappointment on Naruto's face, Sasuke added without mercy, "And make your voice rougher. It's too childish and chirpy right now."

"If you can't catch up, I'll throw you to them as bait," Sasuke replied back, his voice sounding like ice shards as he whipped his body around. That was the only warning Naruto would get before fire rose up Sasuke's throat and blasted out in its full glory.

Today, the camaraderie was nonexistent between them. The only things keeping them as partners of crime were greed and bloodthirst.

The storm of fire engulfed the residual lightning that lingered in the air. Like fireworks - but much more dangerous - a curtain of orange exploded behind them, draping the forest in a deadly shower of flame.

"Oh shit," Naruto cursed as the scale of the ninjutsu, but there was no hesitation as he threw a wind-infused Rasengan into the midst, adding to the chaos. For a second, Sasuke couldn't help but think that he was teaching Naruto bad things.

Flashy, obstructive to vision, and more bark than bite, Sasuke evaluated as he and Naruto escaped without a care to the pursuers they left baking in the burning forest.

"Are they done for?" Naruto asked with feigned nonchalance, trying to act unempathetic despite the horrid smell of burnt flesh and screams of agony. Acting and injuries were both unavoidable if they wanted to make it convincing. But with all the colour, the smoke, and the suffocating heat blending together and grating on their minds, it made them wonder if anything was still under control.

It's okay, we had this planned out, Sasuke told himself as he unleashed a pulse of genjutsu from his body. "Now they are." Under any normal circumstances, it would have sent the enemies - already distracted by the firestorm - into a state of confusion, closing the short window they had to survive using water ninjutsu.

"The scroll better not be damaged." Sasuke changed the topic when it seemed like they managed to ditch - bury - their pursuers, at least until the next batch came running at them.

"Safe and sound, partner," Naruto answered with a grin, trying to look like a street thug. Following Sasuke's cue, he even pulled out the scroll and unrolled it very briefly. The pattern of ink - specifically, the part that remained legible from the sample - flashed in their vision, and they both felt it, Naruto's Tailed-Beast chakra that was barely contained in the seal.

"You think it'll be enough to destroy a small camp?" Naruto asked as he shut the scroll. Do you think our acting is enough? That was what he really wanted to ask.

"That's all we managed to get. Those stupid Kiri-nin were even more of a menace than Three-Tail," Sasuke said, implying, We did the best we could, and so did Kiri-nin. As for if it was enough, the answer revealed itself a few minutes later.

"Show your face," Sasuke almost growled when the presence of a third party suddenly made itself known. Yes, he made himself known, implying that Sasuke had no idea how long he had been there, listening, observing, judging.

According to Kiri's intelligence, Hōshin made his name by developing a seal that would erase his own chakra signature, achieving the feat that would take Kiri's silent killers a lifetime to master, making him as slippery as an eel when evading Kiri-nin's capture.

Sasuke supposed that they could always try Naruto's negative emotion sensing, but neither of them wanted to alert Hōshin of their last resort before they were sure that he was within a range too close to escape.

"No need for animosity, not when you're holding one of my seals." The voice was accompanied by a figure that stepped out of the shadow. Mid-forties, pale complexion, straw-coloured hair, and dark eyes. This was Hōshin, Kiri's newest problem.

"But I don't remember you two being my customers." Hōshin narrowed his eyes at them and Sasuke knew that this was the first point of suspicion that they needed to resolve.

"Oh, we found it on some passerby's corpse and figured it was the popular seal that's been floating around in rumours. Got to eliminate the competition, ya know." Naruto gave the missing-nin a bright smile, but when coupled with the implication of his words, was quite disturbing.

"Survival of the fittest, of course." Hōshin hummed in agreement. Sasuke could see the tension in his facial muscles loosen a little, clearly finding Naruto's explanation reasonable.

"We don't have time for this shit." Sasuke clicked his tongue in annoyance, playing the role of an aloof missing-nin who wanted nothing but to move on to his objective and would eliminate everything on his path. "What the hell do you want?"

"I merely want to observe the capability of my seal when you unleash it on your target," Hōshin answered with patience, nodding at the scroll clutched in Naruto's hand. "Progress can't be made without feedback, after all."

Sasuke had thought of what Hōshin would do to collect his 'samples'. One, he could always take the scroll back from his customers by force to examine the chakra collected. But obviously, the earlier display by Sasuke and Naruto had advised against that.

Two, being a master of espionage, he could certainly tag along as a ghost if all he wanted was to observe. Therefore, for Hōshin to appear in front of them and declare his intent, it could only mean that he wanted to strike a recurring deal.

"In exchange, I will be able to supply you with improved seals, for your … ambition." Hōshin was certain that the power of the Tailed-Beast would be addictive enough for any missing-nin to want to come back for more after just a taste. Hōshin would provide the pipe to hold the opium, while Sasuke and Naruto just had to be the lab rat.

The life of a missing-nin was either a run or a chase. Some ran from Anbu like rats, while others chased power so they could gain a sense of security.

Suddenly, Sasuke flicked a shuriken before anyone could blink. Hōshin only had the time to widen his eyes before he narrowly avoided the spinning blade. But the Uchiha Shurikenjutsu was always a sequence. The second and the third projectile arrived, clashing against each other before separating onto unpredictable paths.

One of the shuriken grazed past Hōshin's thigh, dragging a bloody laceration with its trajectory before embedding onto the tree.

"You're checking for clones," Hōshin spat out with venom, already figuring out that Sasuke's aim was intentional. Sasuke was checking for clones to make sure that they truly lured Hōshin out. The good news, it looked like their plan worked.

Hōshin didn't hesitate to summon the Hidden Mist, all the while activating the seal of concealment as he flickered into the layers of opaque white. However, almost simultaneously, a coat of yellow wrapped around Naruto's body.

You could forge the sight, mask the chakra, erase your killing intent. Yet, as long as you still had a shred of animosity remained, it would be stripped bare in front of Naruto. It couldn't be more fitting, Sasuke thought, for someone with such a clear soul to hold the magnifying glass that could see through an entity's true colour.

"Fifty-seven metres, three o'clock, heading for four, " Naruto supplied as they both bolted towards the aforementioned direction.

Before Sasuke could even make it across half the distance, a giant slab of earth wall rose right at where he was about to step, forcing him to flip back if he didn't want to get his nose shaved off.

He narrowed his eyes at the deceptively simple barrier, one that could fall to pieces with one swing of his lightning-charged sword. Immediately, he blinked into the sharingan and under his vision, the chakra supporting the earth wall was drawn to discreet spots inside the structure.

Crap. Sasuke flung himself backwards just in time to see the earth wall being blown to pieces, courtesy of the explosive tags that were hidden inside. With a slide, he ducked behind the backside of a thick tree, only for the crown to be blown off and flew right above his head.

"Seventy-six metres, two o'clock!" Naruto shouted, who despite using a giant chakra tail to shield him from the debris and splinters, still slid back a few metres from the shockwave.

It was impressive how quickly Hōshin created distance between himself and his pursuers. Ah, screw it, Sasuke thought as he pulled out a scroll from his pouch.

"Send me to his direction!" he yelled, accelerating towards Naruto. When fighting against Hōshin, Jinchuuriki like Naruto and Utakata had to be wary of using Tailed-Beast Chakra in their attacks, which at this point was more often an automatic response than a conscious effort. However, Sasuke didn't have that concern.

"Are you sure? You'll be in plain view!" Naruto yelled back, but his body responded with urgency, sprouting two more glowing tails and morphing them into the shape of hands. A gust of wind gathered in the chakra palms, propelling Sasuke into the sky the moment he landed on the foothold.

The speed at which wind rushed past him was making it hard to open his eyes. Naruto was right, the moment he sailed above the forest, he would be an open target for Hōshin's counterattacks. Still, he pressed his finger onto the scroll that opened behind him, letting his blood smudge the fabric, dying the black lines a hint of red.

Something roared from below. Three dragons made of rocky scales destroyed the tree crowns with their heavy bodies and zoomed towards Sasuke, aiming to catch him in the air. But before they could snap their jaws around Sasuke, Garuda appeared out of the summoning seal, just in time for him to grab the hawk's leg.

With a violent flap of the wings, Garuda dragged Sasuke upwards, escaping the impact as the three dragons crashed into each other. Scales of stones grazed past Sasuke's ankle, digging into his skin, but he paid it no attention.

Lightning gathered in his hands, coalescing into the chirping of a thousand birds. Sasuke's mind was racing in an attempt to figure out exactly where Hōshin was. Unfortunately, lightning was not an element that liked to wait, so Sasuke concluded that the range could cover the lack of accuracy.

Hundreds of icy-blue senbon rained down from Sasuke's hand, spreading sparsely around the area where the Earth Release originated. Because Sasuke had to cover a large area, the density of his attacks would suffer. For a second, it seemed like nothing hit, but he wasn't done yet.

Chidori Chains. Sasuke snapped his fingers into the final hand seal, allowing the electricity sizzling on the senbon to turn frantic, connecting with each other in a fraction of a second.

Sasuke smelled it, the lingering scent of charred flesh mixed in with the metallic scent of blood. For a user of Lightning Release, that was as eye-catching as an imprint on the prey. Without any instruction, Garuda dived down, dropping Sasuke onto the forest floor with a roll in the dirt.

A pool of blood splashed onto the forest floor, telling Sasuke that a chain of lightning had managed to pierce Hōshin's body, maybe even one of the critical organs. It would slow him down, and unlucky for him, Sasuke wasn't the only predator on his back.

"Rasenshuriken!" Loud as ever, Naruto's yell was accompanied by a gust of shrieking wind. Within a moment's notice, Sasuke flickered to the commotion, dodging a storm of splinters on the way.

The Nine-Tail Chakra Coat around Naruto was long gone, but even without it, the destructive force from his jutsu still destroyed a strip of the forest, accompanied by a long drag mark on the ground, ending with Hōshin at the end of the line, barely conscious with his body slammed into a tree trunk.

"I saw it, I felt it too … It's the chakra of a Tailed-Beast," Hōshin managed to spit out the words before he choked on his own blood. Lacerations decorated his skin. A few of his bones were probably also broken, with how his muscle twitching every so slightly from the pain. Even then, Naruto clearly held back, making the most critical injury that the missing-nin suffered to be the fist-sized hole on the right side of his stomach.

Sasuke unsheathed his blade, walking towards Hōshin with his sharingan spinning in caution. "And Sharingan too. How far has Kiri fallen under the reign of that witch, to ask for help from Konoha just so they can protect the freedom of a lump of power that's rightfully ours."

By 'ours', he meant Kirigakure, Sasuke realized, just not Kirigakure with Mei as its leader. Naruto, however, took offence to the other part of his speech.

"Isobu is not a lump of power," Naruto objected, "He's a creature of the land and he deserves freedom as much as any human."

"You're a Jinchuuriki! You harness the power of your Tailed-Beast as its warden. Yet you criticize me for doing the same?" Hōshin looked like he could laugh if it didn't hurt so damn much to move. So, he settled for a curse.

"Kiri will see the right way - they will see through Terumi's ruse - that the only way to deal with Tailed-Beasts is to clutch them tightly in their hands. If not, they will be the ones on the receiving ends of that power. Just like the making of Jinchuuriki, that's the way it's always been—"

Sasuke slashed the blade across Hōshin's trachea as he flickered forward. A layer of red gushed down the missing-nin's neck and the last bit of his sentence was drowned by the sizzling lightning. Kiri had branded Hōshin as 'kill on sight'. Reasonable, considering Terumi Mei's new government wouldn't tolerate heretics that still fantasized about the old regime.

"Just because it's the way it's always been, doesn't mean it's a way that should continue to be," Naruto said, even if there was no point in arguing with the dead. "Even if Kurama and I were tied together under less than ideal circumstances, it won't stop us from wishing something better for others."

Words rarely worked on those that refused to listen. But as long as there was still one person who wavered in uncertainty, that wanted to believe but lacked the courage, then words of faith still had a purpose. At least, Sasuke figured, it was what Naruto believed.

It didn't take very long for Utakata and the Kiri Hunter-nin to clean up the scene. The mood given off by the group of Kiri-nin after concluding their headache-inducing mission was eerily similar to what Sasuke remembered from Konoha Anbu. They even took over Utakata's station to refill their supplies before heading for the next patrol, annoying their host with chatters and jokes, all to de-stress before they had to return to being silent killers.

"Che, they always have so many complaints about my station. It's not a bathhouse for leisure, for god's sake," Utakata scoffed as he strolled to the riverbank, covering Naruto and Sasuke with his shadow while the two of them laid down for a moment of rest. "Get up. Saiken said that Isobu has just finished napping."

Immediately, they were both jolted awake. Sasuke turned to Naruto just as Naruto did the same, the panic in their eyes mirroring each other like a reflection. Crap, they were so engrossed in coming up with a plan to deal with Hōshin that they forgot about that part.

"I'm Uzumaki Naruto, I'm from Konoha, no, let's start with I'm Kurama's Jinchuuriki … wait, maybe 'friend' is better," There was a slight pause in Naruto's frantic mutters, before he burst out, "What do you mean we're not friends, Kurama?" looking every bit offended.

The last time they came here, Naruto couldn't wait for the short trip between Utakata's cottage and Isobu's lake to be over. But this time, it seemed that it wasn't long enough.

"Wait, wait. I'm not ready! I need a better opening this time, not loud, not bright, and not intrusive, right?' Naruto whispered in a panic as he lagged behind Sasuke, a moment before Utakata pushed apart the leaves, revealing the giant lake on the other side of the view.

Utakata laughed without any apology and Sasuke just sighed. Before Naruto could straighten out his second sentence - the one after 'I'm Uzumaki Naruto' - Sasuke grabbed his shoulder and dragged him forward, pushing him towards the lakeshore before his friend could react.

Isobu could see them, maybe not through every body of water in this region, but definitely through Saiken, through Utakata, and the creatures that lived under his protection. The impression that Naruto was a loud, bright, and intrusive existence was never going to change.

So, why bother?

Naruto stumbled as he made it to the edge of the water and Sasuke followed with much calmer steps. Naruto only had a moment for his mind to draw blank before his instinct took over.

"I'm Uzumaki Naruto! And I really, really want to know you!"

The deafening shouts were followed by a few seconds of silence. Then, they were once again, doused by a curtain of water.

However, this time, the water was never meant to push, to reject. This time, when Naruto and Sasuke opened their eyes again after the chilling shower, they saw the majestic creature decorated with coral that sparkled under the setting sun, rising from the centre of the lake. An island within an island, stirring up waves after waves.

"Don't be fooled by the tough-looking shell, Isobu is actually an anti-social introvert by human standards." Sasuke heard Utakata whispering from the side, somehow making it to the shore while they were too distracted.

Naruto turned to Utakata, disbelief filled his face. To that, a white tentacle extended from Utakata's tailbone, shaking a little in a motion that awfully felt like a shrug while Utakata added, "Well, that's what Saiken said."

(づ。◕‿‿◕。)づ fuwa~fuwa~desu~~~

Three Years Post-War: Matatabi

Naruto couldn't help but let his jaw fall when he saw the giant waterfall that looked like it travelled from the clouds. The flashes of vibrant green from the bamboo at the top made it seem like a realm out of dreams rather than a reality.

The world is so vast, Naruto thought with awe, and this was only a corner of the Thunder Country, just a small valley hidden in the clouds.

"Now, Matatabi has a fiery temper, and she especially hates it when people trespass into her abode." Killer Bee's voice brought Naruto back to reality. Abode? Naruto wanted to ask where exactly would be considered the boundary to Matatabi's abode because you know, that was the point of warnings, right?

However, before he could say a word, a shower of blue flames, compacted into the shape of rodents, zoomed towards them. With a sigh, Killer B finished his sentence, "Yeah, like that."

"We're already in her territory?" Naruto couldn't believe that Killer B didn't mention that little detail, but now that he thought about it, the fact that the group of Kumo assigned to keep watch over them stopped advancing some time ago should have been a clue.

"Well, the term 'territory' is subjective. If you ask Kumo, then they won't acknowledge it, so Matatabi has to claim it by force," Killer B explained, beating a few flaming furballs to the side using his tentacles. Immediately, scorching marks appeared at the point of contact, accompanied by a smell that suspiciously resembled grilled octopuses. "And Matatabi doesn't like that topic too."

"I can't believe I took a leave from Anbu just to get myself into this." Naruto heard Sasuke saying as the latter slashed his sword down. Roaring lightning gathered on the blade before flying off in a cluster of shuriken, intercepting the blue flames in mid-air.

At the age of seventeen, gone was all the baby fat, replaced with defined bone structures and outlines of muscle. Continuing the trend from their Academy time, Sasuke continued to gather glances of appreciation wherever he went, but Naruto figured that it was the constant scowl on his friend's face that prevented those glances from being taken further.

"Don't get distracted," Sasuke scolded with his piercing sharingan, "Someone giant is here."

Naruto whipped his head to the front. "Holy—" Before he could even finish the curse, they were towered by the shadow of a giant mythical cat. Naruto grabbed Sasuke using the tails and pounced away, landing a dozen metres away with enough momentum to drive cracks into the ground.

"For heaven's sake, Matatabi! Can you lay off some of that aggression?" Amidst the rubbles that slid off his coat of yellow, Naruto heard a layered voice, indicative of the control shared by the two entities. It was Gyūki, not Killer B, that voiced his frustration towards the feline creature covered in flowing blue flames.

"You dare to intrude upon my territory and patronize me?" Matatabi growled, her claws stopped by Gyuki's tentacles and her fangs barely an inch from Gyūki's horn. There was only a moment of pause before Matatabi swiped her tails down at Naruto and Sasuke, smashing into the earth right in front of them, forcing them to retreat again to avoid stray rocks.

That seemed to piss off Gyūki even more, for his tentacles swarmed around him and bashed into Matatabi, forcibly pushing the cat a few steps back. "You know that none of us here mean any harm to you. We Tailed-Beasts are not maniacs without a sense of reason!"

To that, Matatabi merely let out a snort as she rolled back up and crouched in tension. "Neither are we pets for shinobi, Gyūki. Or have you and Kurama left your dignity in that cozy little prison of your Jinchuuriki?"

"What did you just say?" "What did that furless cat just say?" Naruto felt a headache coming when he heard Gyūki's growl along with Kurama's snarl in his mind.

"Calm down, Kurama!" Naruto told the fox in a hurry, lest he joined the fray that was already running off-rail by the second. In the inner mindscape, Kurama lowered his head back down onto his forelegs with a displeased grunt, telling Naruto to fix this.

Meanwhile, a ball of blue fire was already growing in Matatabi's jaws and black ink started to gather between Gyūki's tentacles. Naruto was not keen to see the resulting clash, nor did he want things to descend even further into a full-on scuffle between mythical creatures of towering size.

Okay, here we go, Naruto drew a deep breath before the golden aura expanded from his body, constructing the avatar of a golden fox to cover him and Sasuke. Just as the two balls of destruction were fired toward each other, the golden fox landed in the middle in one bold swoop.

"You deal with the fire and I'll deal with the ink!" Naruto shouted. Sasuke answered with a 'hn' as he brought his hands to his mouth. A flaming serpent flowed out with Sasuke's breath, biting into the ball of blue flame from an angle, pushing it off course until it all crashed into the waterfall.

At the same time, a Rasenshuriken swirled into existence between three of Kurama's tails and flew towards the blob of ink. The wind shredded through the thick liquid and the integrity of the jutsu broke down in an instant, sending droplets of ink flying out in all directions.

Yikes, Naruto hissed when ink splattered on his chakra coat, leaving dark veins characteristic of poisoning before Kurama's chakra burnt it off. The dying plants around them that got drenched in ink, however, were less fortunate.

"Can we please all calm down for a moment and halt the jutsu of mass destruction!" Naruto shouted, and the fox avatar stretched its paws out in response. "I'm sure no one wants this abode to be destroyed … Well, any more than it already is, umm, sorry about that."

Tension thickened for a moment as Naruto held his breath in alert, then Gyūki let out a huff as his size rescinded back to the body of Killer B. This time, Matatabi accepted the steps provided by Gyūki, backing down as well, calming the aura of flame around her body.

"Kurama's host and the boy who has Sharingan, if I did not recognize you as the ones that released me from the husk, I would have flattened you into the ground instead of leaving it off as a warning," Matatabi said. Impatience and irritation were still abundant in her voice.

Naruto thought that they all had a very different idea on what constituted a 'warning', but he supposed the fact that the tail-slam earlier aimed for the ground in front of them instead of at them did speak volumes.

"Yeah, we really appreciate that." It was fine, Naruto just needed to get on with the program. "We never meant to intrude, Matatabi-san. We just want to meet you. In fact, I want to meet all the Tailed-Beasts, to know you all."

"Oh? So you're not here to spread Kumo's narratives, trying to convince me that they wouldn't stuff me in another Jinchuuriki so long as I play nice?" Matatabi mocked Naruto with an icy tone and Naruto … Naruto couldn't deny that.

Isobu's case with Kirigakure was not only a revelation for the Hidden Villages, but also for the existing Jinchuuriki and their Tailed-Beasts. Just like Kirigakure, Kumo already had a Jinchuuriki - one that was perfectly in tune with the Tailed-Beast, at that - making it a lesser risk for them to adopt the new approach towards Matatabi.

Similarly, just as Kirigakure was afraid of souring their relationship with Utakata and Saiken by sealing Isobu, Kumogakure was wary of Gyūki's reaction. Even if Killer B's loyalty lay completely with his Raikage, nobody wanted the perfect partnership that existed in Kumo's Jinchuuriki to fall awry.

Despite all that, if Matatabi's hostility towards Kumogakure remained to the point that she would attack any Kumo-nin she saw, even for the purpose of chasing missing-nin or warding off Tailed-Beast poachers, then Kumo would rather have two rageful Tailed-Beast they could contain than a giant creature that imposed near them as an uncontrollable danger.

Naruto didn't know the exact details of the agreement made between Konoha and Kumo, to allow for Naruto and Sasuke to come here and have the privilege of meeting Matatabi, but he did know that it included a lot of negotiation, a lot of favours, and a lot of promises exchanged between Kakashi-sensei and the Raikage. Really, the constant frown on his teacher's face could testify.

When Naruto couldn't answer, the aura around Matatabi grew colder. "Isobu is naive to think that charity from the Hidden Villages is something worth keeping. Any moment, they can go back on their so-called promises and take away the freedom that they spared like trash. If they want to stuff me into another Jinchuuriki, then they'd better be prepared to see corpses."

Ah, so that's why Matatabi keeps on attacking whichever shinobi that came on her path, no matter what their objectives are. Naruto realized that for her, it was easier and safer - for her freedom, for her pride - to treat every shinobi as if they had come here with the intention to capture because she believed that it would happen sooner or later.

"I want you and Kumo to coexist just like Isobu and Kiri, I won't deny that." Naruto was sure that he was going to push all the wrong buttons, but he doubted that Matatabi would give him a lot of time, so he had to go straight to the point. "So what can I do to convince you that there are many others who want the same?"

"Whoa, kid, you really don't know any subtlety, do you?" Killer B had to comment at the worst timing ever.

In a heartbeat, the fire spread under Matatabi's claws, raging towards them while the Tailed-Beast roared, "Get out of my territory!"

"That's a start," Naruto muttered while panting. He turned around, seeing the flames that chased them out of Matatabi's abode dancing vividly in the distance. When Sasuke raised an eyebrow at him, he corrected, "A less-than-ideal start."

"Time's ticking, Naruto," Killer B said before clicking his tongue in annoyance. The group of Kumo-nin that were assigned for surveillance had started to approach them, eyeing Naruto and Sasuke with wariness reserved for foreign shinobi. They saw the raging fire on the horizon, solidifying their belief that their presence would hardly make a difference.

"My brother is not a very patient man and Kumogakure is not a very patient village. If Matatabi doesn't show some semblance of cooperativeness within five days, then we will move to the method of sealing," Killer B warned, his face hardened in seriousness.

Naruto was sure that Killer B didn't want that outcome to occur either, but between Gyūki's opinion and his role as Raikage's right-hand man, he would no doubt choose the latter.

Five days. They had five days to forge an agreement between Matatabi and Kumogakure, or else, everything would be thrown back to the beginning as if nothing had ever changed.

"Ow, ouch!" Naruto groaned in pain when Sasuke wrapped the bandage around the burns on his forearm - a little unnecessarily tight, in his opinion. "I swear you're making it worse than if I just let it heal naturally."

"Good," Sasuke pushed the words out of his teeth and gave the knot one more pull, sending another shiver of pain down Naruto's nerves. "Serves you right for sneaking out on your own into Matatabi's territory."

"I just want to see if she's a little more receptive tonight." Spoiler alert, she wasn't. But it was already the third night, and they were still going nowhere. Matatabi wouldn't listen to Killer B and Gyūki's promise; she wouldn't believe Naruto's resolve. Moreover, she refused to entertain the idea that hidden villages could change their behaviours and their centuries-long struggle for power.

"Even if she gives you a chance to speak without drowning you in fireballs, what would you even tell her?" Sasuke asked, unimpressed as ever, reminding him that 'talking' had clearly been ineffective for the past three days, hence the dwindling mercy that Matatabi had towards Naruto, even if she recognized him as the one that freed her from the Gedō Statue.

"Maybe … Maybe about Isobu? Matatabi doesn't believe that a Hidden Village can resist the claim of a Tailed-Beast, but it can be done, as with Isobu and Kiri. If I can just convince her that, then maybe …" Naruto's words faded as uncertainty settled in his mind. It wasn't like they hadn't tried that before, so would the same old subject even make a difference?

Naruto had long learned that words alone couldn't accomplish everything, but in situations where words were the only option, it seemed awfully inadequate.

Sasuke pressed his lips together in a tight line, looking like he was debating if he could say something. In fact, Sasuke had been quiet during this whole trip - not that he was a sociable person, to begin with. Naruto often had to wonder what he was thinking; wanted to tell him that he could tell him everything that was bothering him.

But Naruto was ninety percent certain that if he said that out loud, he'd get nothing more than an eye roll from Sasuke. Sasuke was like a cat in that regard, he did things at his own pace, based on his own schedule. Therefore, Naruto waited, confident that the cat had warmed up to him enough to grace him with some kind of response.

"Who cares about Kiri and Isobu, who cares about what things are like between them?" Sasuke said, startling Naruto with the sharp words. "We're in Kumo, Naruto. Matatabi will be residing in lands under Kumo's jurisdiction, surrounded by Kumo-nin that come and go on their missions."

"It doesn't matter that Kirigakure has respected Isobu's freedom for three years, not if Kumo can't do the same for Matatabi."

Sasuke's words were like a drumming bell, pounding into Naruto's mind with every syllable. He's right, for Matatabi, Kumo and Kiri might as well be two very different things. It wasn't Naruto's resolve or Kiri's proof of principle that Matatabi wanted, but something from Kumogakure, from those that really mattered.

Even in Isobu's case, it took him a while to selectively hold back his attacks against Kiri-nin and allow them to venture closer to his island. That was already the result of an added goodwill built from having battled against Akatsuki together. The Mizukage had given Isobu plenty of time and she was persistent in her vision.

Sadly, this time, they had neither time nor a Kage that desperately wanted one outcome over the other.

"But Matatabi has been rejecting messages from Kumo, even if they are from Killer B and Gyūki," Naruto reasoned with a frown, "or more like, they're the only one that can survive against Matatabi's attacks and still has energy left to start a conversation, other than the Raikage."

"If Raikage is here, Matatabi is going to see it as a sign of Kumo's campaign for Tailed-Beast suppression. Also, Kumo has too much pride for that," Sasuke said. "As for Killer B and Gyūki, you have to admit that they are the exception in the hidden village, different from the mass that fears for their lives in the presence of a Tailed-Beast."

Matatabi had too little trust and too much rage to tolerate the normal shinobi of Kumogakure, and in return, Kumo had too much pride and too little courage to try anything more.

But if it's the voice of Kumogakure that needs to reach Matatabi … Naruto stood up on an impulse. "Sasuke, I have an idea. If Matatabi won't allow them to speak, then we can be the messenger to deliver their words!"

Naruto realized that there were probably a few things that could go wrong in that plan, but he thought it was at least worth a shot. Sasuke opened his mouth, no doubt ready to point out some of his wishful thinking, but a moment later, he merely closed his mouth and nodded.

But then again, Sasuke never needed to point out the flaws in Naruto's plan, for reality already fulfilled that duty with diligence.

"Raikage-sama's order states that we're not to make contact with Two-Tail, in any way shape or form, except in extreme circumstances where suppression is needed," the Kumo-nin said in a stern voice with no room for negotiation.

"Come on, Katsui-san, even your leader said he'll overlook this." Naruto pleaded, pointing to Killer B who was humming in rhythm some distance away. "I won't put the Kumo-nin in any harm's way; we'll be the ones who deliver your words, whatever they may be."

"Thank you for your concern, Uzumaki-san, but it's not about our safety, but the fact that we have orders given to us." Again, the shinobi named Katsui emphasized the word 'order'. Before Naruto could press any further, the Kumo-nin let out a small sigh and interrupted, "It might be best if you don't press for our opinion on this matter."

"But it is the Kumo-nin, not us from Konoha that Matatabi will be neighbouring with. It is not us that can speak to her of Kumo's determination." Naruto didn't want to give up, not when they had no other ideas left.

"You don't know where to stop, do you, Konoha-nin? You want to know our wishes?" A third voice interjected from the side, from a shinobi standing behind Katsui. Despite the warning look from Katsui, the shinobi tightened his fist, looking like he could barely hold back his temper. "My father died in suppressing Two-Tail's rampage, and my uncle lost his wife to Eight-Tail's destruction. What do you think my opinion on Tailed-Beast will be?"

"Okoi! That's enough!" Katsui yelled as he turned around and gripped the younger shinobi's shoulder. Reluctantly, Okoi closed his mouth and gave Katsui an apologetic bow, before walking away without giving Naruto and Sasuke another look.

"I'm sorry …" Naruto didn't even get a chance to finish his apology.

Shaking his head a little, Katsui repeated his point, "It's best if you let us remain silent."

Ah, I might have fucked this up.

Naruto wasn't usually the kind to sulk, but when Sasuke found him by the stream that ran along the camp, he was no doubt, in the process of sulking.

"I thought that they're here because they want to be here, not because they're forced by someone else's ideals," Naruto muttered, identifying Sasuke's presence without the need to turn around. Killer B told him that the Kumo-nin who came with them volunteered for the surveillance job. Otherwise, there was no point risking shinobi's life to Matatabi's rage when Killer B was the only one who could get close.

Like the careless idiot he was, Naruto just assumed that they volunteered because they were motivated to see coexistence being forged between Matatabi and Kumo, or at the very least, they weren't against it. But he supposed that real-life circumstances were rarely that simple, pressure could come in many ways other than an explicit mission assignment. "I really suck, don't I? Being so insensitive about these kinds of things."

Naruto thought he would get to sulk for a little longer, that was until someone kicked him in the back and made him face plant into the stream with a shriek.

"What the hell, Sasuke? You know, even an 'I told you so' is more reasonable than kicking me into the river!" Naruto sputtered as he coughed the water out of his airway, but there was no pity and no remorse in Sasuke's eyes as he knelt by the riverbank.

"Perhaps some of them don't really want to be here, but more often than that, shinobi endure for things that they believe in, even if the circumstances are painful and maddening." There was a sureness in Sasuke's voice as he uttered each word with clarity. "We are too prideful for our own good, after all."

It was as if a dam was opened as Naruto poured out his thoughts. "I believe that there are those in Kumo that also want the Tailed-Beasts to coexist in peace with shinobi villages, that there are those who believe we can do better than producing one Jinchuuriki after another, all to contain a power that we're too fearful to let go of. I really do, Sasuke, but …" am I pushing too hard, am I being too impatient?

"If you really do, then put more faith in those Kumo-nin. It's not like we can do anything more than that," Sasuke said with a shrug that both infuriated Naruto and somehow made him feel relieved.

"You're right, but you know, Sasuke …" Splash! A chakra tail whipped out of Naruto's tailbone and pulled Sasuke into the stream as well. "You still have to pay for kicking me into the water!"

"You're the one who looks like you need to wash your brain to get rid of the clogs." Sasuke fired back with the insults, but Naruto just laughed louder, especially when his friend rubbed his eyes with a grunt of disgust.

When they returned to the camp, Naruto marched towards the group of Kumo-nin and before anyone could react, he bent down in a ninety-degree bow. "I just want to apologize, to all of you, but especially Okoi-san, for being so insensitive before."

Counting three seconds, Naruto raised his head again and rested his eyes on the Kumo-nin, including a stunned Okoi. Katsui narrowed his eyes, looking as if he was waiting for Naruto's next move. So, Naruto took a deep breath and continued.

"But I still believe that your voices are important; that the voices of Kumo's shinobi will be the thing that will make a difference to Matatabi," Naruto said with an unwavering tone as he laid a scroll and a pen onto the ground. "So please, for anyone that's willing, I ask for your resolve and I ask for your hope, no matter what form they take, and I'll make sure that they reach Matatabi."

Naruto gave them another bow before he left. The scroll lay untouched beside the Kumo-nin's tent and Naruto imagined that it would remain so for some time. But this time, Naruto was determined to be as patient as possible, at least, until the five-day deadline could hit them like a hammer.

Day five, the last day before the Raikage decided that there was no salvation between Two-Tail and Kumo; before Kumo marched in with an army and a Jinchuuriki Candidate. At the crack of dawn, Naruto and Sasuke woke up and found the Kumo-nin already scattered out to survey the boundaries of Matatabi's territory.

The scroll was still lying on the ground near the tent. Hope and worry mixed together into a nauseating feeling in Naruto's stomach as he picked up the scroll and stretched it open.

Thank gods, there were words. Not just any words, but words that made Naruto's heart beat in excitement and gratitude.

"Look, Sasuke!" Naruto had to hold back his volume as he pushed the scroll in his friend's direction.

"I told you, we're shinobi that endure." Sasuke's voice was much calmer, but Naruto swore that there was a small breath of relief that escaped.

Once again, Killer B took Naruto and Sasuke into the territory that the rest of the Kumo-nin wouldn't enter. Once again, Naruto stood in front of the waterfall, now cradled by none of the pretty vegetation that existed five days ago.

Once again, ghostly blue flames arrived before their master did.

"I thought I made it clear that I have no more patience for your platitudes!" Matatabi roared, the flaming coat around her body puffed up just as a cat would puff up its fur, before missiles of blue fire darted out towards them.

"I know, I know!" Naruto shouted, slapping some of the fireballs away using Kurama's tails while the others exploded around them with crackles of Sasuke's lightning. "But these are messages from the Kumo-nin stationed outside that I really want to deliver to you! Because their owners can't do it themselves."

Something Naruto said triggered Matatabi and he was 99% certain that it was the word 'Kumo-nin'. With a roar, Matatabi gathered up a giant ball of plasma and shot it forward. The blue flames grazed the ground as it slid forward, only for Killer B to crack the earth open and summon up a tornado of water in defence.

"No, I'm serious, Matatabi-san!" Naruto stretched the scroll open in his hands, hoping that mythical cats had enough visual acuity to make out the paragraphs on the scroll, written in distinct strokes to signify a grand total of … two people who made entries.

That was more than enough in Naruto's book.

"Is she seeing this? Am I holding it close enough?" Naruto asked Sasuke as the latter breathed out his own firestorm to counter Matatabi. Sasuke might have judged him a little as he rolled his eyes and snatched the scroll from his hands.

"First of all, focus on surviving while you're at it," Sasuke said just as Matatabi pounced at the fox avatar. With a sharp maneuver, Naruto shielded them with a giant Rasengan before retreating a few steps back. The three of them could probably defeat Matatabi if they put their heart into it, but that would just be driving it closer to a declaration of war, so they had to go with the defensive route.

"Secondly, she's not going to read when she's aiming her fire at us." Sasuke was definitely judging. "What happened to your loud, bright, and intrusive existence? Just tell her in your usual - very much in your face - voice."

Naruto learned to filter like 50% of Sasuke's insults on autopilot these days. The other 50% still riled him up all the time, but even then, Naruto had to admit that he got a point. Alright, here goes for nothing.

"For my entire life, I was raised with the belief that if Tailed-Beasts were not sealed within a Jinchuuriki, they would destroy the village." Naruto let the words flow out of his mouth while they dodged a claw that struck down before Gyūki's tentacles pulled her back.

Figured, it wasn't exactly the best line opener and certainly didn't sound like they were bringing down prejudices and outdated traditions. But Naruto promised that he would deliver the messages as the Kumo-nin meant. They were getting somewhere, he swore.

"But during the war, I fought with Three-Tail, not as a beast to be subjugated, but as an unexpected ally who did not turn on the humans even after we won with much exhaustion. I do not know if the centuries of hurting each other can be overcome, but I do hope that something can be changed in Kumogakure." Naruto raised his voice at the end, just in case the sound was muffled by the explosions of fire and lightning, joined by splashing water and rumbling earth.

But when Naruto finished his sentence, there was a rare heartbeat of quietness where movement slowed down. That was when Naruto knew that even if Matatabi wasn't convinced, at least she heard. So, Naruto moved on to the second entry despite the flaming tails that swiped down.

"My father died during Two-Tail's suppression. I thought the conflict between Tailed-Beasts and humans had started since the beginning of the world and would exist until the end of time, just as my father did, for his uncle also died in a Tailed-Beasts rampage," Naruto read as he willed the golden tails to wring back Matatabi's tails and bind her claws.

Again, not the best start, but the history involving Tailed-Beasts and hidden villages rarely involved pretty things. Enduring the past and moving on to the future, however, was what shinobi were made of.

"But as I look at my children, and I think of their children, even the children of their children, I hoped with all my heart that they didn't have to lose a parent, a family, or a child to something that may be stopped now. I wish for Kumogakure to coexist with the Tailed-Beasts in peace, without the need for any more campaigns of suppression, without another cause of the tragedy that has already been repeated too many times in history."

Naruto was thankful that Matatabi at least waited until he said the last word on the scroll before she fired a ball of blue plasma right at his face.

Naruto let out a groan of pain when they got blown back a dozen metres, left a crack on the ground, and slammed straight into the waterfall. Water poured down the chakra coating and Naruto forced the avatar to stand up, fanning the tails out in a defensive stance, just in case there was another fireball coming.

"Ugh, again, I can't believe I took a break from Anbu for this," Sasuke said with gritted teeth while messaging his ribcage. Uh oh, Naruto could tell by the way that his sharingan spun in a fury that Sasuke was seething. He was this close to opening the Mangekyou and beating some sense into the giant cat.

However, when Sasuke looked up and locked his eyes on Matatabi, the tomoe in his eyes slowed in its spiralling. It was then that Naruto noticed that Matatabi had paused in her destruction. At that moment, her flaming pelt flowed as the only movement in a scene of stillness.

"Human, such finicky creatures," Matatabi's voice rang in the field, still with plenty of mockery and contempt mixed in. But something might be different, Naruto could only hope.

"I know right? We lie as spies and tell lies to the spies. We betray alliances for greed, turn on each other for survival," Naruto replied. He couldn't blame Matatabi for having a mountain load of doubts and distaste towards human nature, having been on the receiving end of its worst aspects.

"But it also means that we're not inflexible and unchanging; it means that we'll believe in possibilities."

In the corner of his vision, Naruto saw Killer B transforming into the full size of Gyūki, not to attack, but to transfer control to the bull-headed octopus, allowing Gyūki to ask, "So, will you give humanity a chance, Matatabi?"

"Okay, everybody calms down," Naruto shouted in a hurry when the Kumo-nin flickered into battle formation, their hands in their pouches or on sword handles, clearly ready to pull out their weapons once given the cue.

As for what set them into battle mode, probably the giant mythical cat covered in blue flames that walked out with them.

Matatabi paused her steps, raising her head to observe - more like, to judge with disdain - the Kumo-nin as they released the metallic weapons in their grips. Slowly, Katsui took a step forward, closing the so-called 'safe distance' that Kumo had once set for Tailed-Beasts, even if just by one metre. Soon, the rest of the shinobi followed suit as they gathered closer.

"I expect tranquillity and quietness around my Territory, Kumo-nin," Matatabi said, reaching out with her claws and scorching a mark onto the ground, marking the boundary of her chosen habitat. "As for any trespassers that Kumo is too incompetent to get rid of, leave them to me and I don't guarantee a full corpse."

It took the Kumo-nin a second to realize that the giant cat was speaking to them and was clearly waiting for an answer, preferably before her patience ran out. So, with some difficulty - mostly due to the shock - and lots of courage, Katsui replied, "Understood, Matatabi-san."

There was a bout of laughter from Naruto's side. He turned and found it to be coming from Killer B, who was in the process of taking off his Hitai-ate. With relaxed steps, Killer B walked to where Matatabi had scorched the mark on the ground and planted his Hitai-ate into the ground, making it look like the Kumogakure symbol was etched right next to Matatabi's marking.

Thus, this was the start of an agreement.

(づ。◕‿‿◕。)づ fuwa~fuwa~desu~~~

Three Years and Four Months Post-War: Kokuō and Son Goku

"I was just so mad, you know, because Iwa treats Tailed-Beasts like toys to be distributed as if their will doesn't matter as long as Iwa gets their fair share of the prize," Naruto ranted. Perhaps the snow that fell on their body could help calm some of that rage.

"And your response to that is to sneak off to Iwa under the guise of a mission without telling anyone?" Pakkun did not look impressed, nor did he sound understanding. Without giving Naruto a chance to say another word, the bulldog turned to Sasuke and said, "And I expect you to know better, Sasuke."

"We were near the border and he's not coming back quietly." Sasuke looked like he was done with life, a look that was really growing on Naruto - not by choice - for the last two days. "The other option would be to fight and certainly expose ourselves to Iwa's border guards. I used my best judgment."

"We finished the mission and we didn't not tell anyone," Naruto objected, "I sent back a messenger hawk." and kind of hoped that it won't arrive until I get out of Fire Country.

"Yes, that's why I got sent to track you," Pakkun said in a deadpan tone, "Both of you are in a lot of trouble, so before you get yourselves into even more trouble, get the hell out of Earth Country and return to Konoha, that's an order from your Hokage."

There was a stretch of dead silence before the bulldog rested his forehead on the snow and whined, "And of course, you're not going to listen. Look, kid, I know things are not moving smoothly with Iwa, but Kakashi is doing his best. One wrong move here and you're going to make things worse, not just for Konoha, but for the entire Tailed-Beasts situation as well."

Pakkun's words suddenly brought a wave of guilt to Naruto, which he was trying to push off many times already. Of course, he would never blame Kakashi-sensei; it wasn't his fault that Iwa refused to let go of their ownership of the Tailed-Beast, claiming that it was only fair because every other Major Hidden Villages all had one Jinchuuriki.

Kumo, Kiri, Suna, and Konoha were all willing to relinquish the control of their last Tailed-Beast as soon as their current Jinchuuriki lived out their natural lifespan, even planning to invigilate each other for the coming decades. Yet, that still wasn't enough to convince Iwa, who demanded to 're-acquire' their Jinchuuriki in the meantime to 'keep things balanced'.

If they had gone ahead with the sealing by force, those existing Tailed-Beasts like Matatabi and Isobu were going to be outraged. The other Hidden Villages would also start having problems - and thus, second thoughts - on the new agreement with Tailed-Beasts.

Kakashi-sensei and the other Kage had been putting pressure on Iwa, making them think twice before going ahead with the sealings. But that stalemate was as stable as a sinking ship. It was a matter of time before Iwa pushed ahead with the sealing, knowing that there was only so much the other villages could do without escalating things into armed conflicts.

"I know Sensei is doing his best to negotiate with Iwa, but it's always like this. We say that we're fighting for the Tailed-Beasts' interest, but they're always the ones last to be told," Naruto said, the frustration bubbled up in his chest, overtaking the rising guilt.

"Then what are you trying to accomplish by coming to Iwa?" Pakkun asked, sounding equally frustrated by Naruto's stubbornness.

"Tell them that Iwa is preparing for sealing, maybe convince them to run and hide, to places that the Iwa-nin can't reach." Even as Naruto said it, it sounded like a wacky plan whose only purpose was to stall as they prayed that Iwa would have a change of heart.

Pakkun pointed out exactly that. "Even if we ignore the fact that Iwa already has sentinels marking down the Tailed-Beast's movement from a distance, having the Tailed-Beasts escape right under their nose might aggravate their intentions to keep them tied up and controlled."

"Kurama told me that Tailed-Beasts can survive in extreme environments; Kokuō in snowy mountains covered in permafrost and Son Goku in the deadland near volcanoes. Even if Iwa-nin can track them there, they won't be able to capture them without paying a steep price," Naruto answered, somehow feeling a little more confident that he at least thought some part through.

Iwagakure was smart, they didn't approach the Tailed-Beasts right away, even ignoring the missing-nin that tried their chances at the mythical creatures, merely keeping tabs from a distance, just so they could be both flexible and prepared.

Naruto didn't know if the Tailed-Beasts sensed their lurking presence, if they knew how imminent the danger was, or if they decided that they would rather answer Iwa with violence than go into hiding - Kurama said that they could survive in extreme weather, not that they liked it - but a warning was the very least he could do.

"Sasuke and I were careful during our journey. Sasuke uses genjutsu to mask our presence, and we're going to take a path that's too cold for normal shinobi to survive, let alone reach Kokuō. Kurama's chakra coats will keep us alive. We won't lead trouble back to Konoha, that's my duty as a Konoha-nin," Naruto paused a little, before finishing his last sentence. "But as a Jinchuuriki and someone who claims to want to change things for the Tailed-Beasts, this is something I want to do."

A burst of low rumbling laughter sounded in Naruto's mindscape as Kurama stirred in his rest, opening his eyes for a second before pretending to sleep again. He was adamant in keeping his hands-off approach, refusing to sway the other Tailed-Beasts for Naruto, just so he could see how far Naruto and the villages that supported his ideology could make it.

"Naruto's idea is not unsound," Sasuke added as the ninken turned to him, extending his exasperation to Sasuke as well. "Matatabi and Kumo had just agreed on some semblance of peaceful coexistence three months ago. If Iwa forcibly seals Kokuō or Son Goku now, it will break what little trust Matatabi has in humans. If Kumo responds in the wrong way and turns from the alliance agreement, this whole thing will start destabilizing,"

"If we can physically prevent Iwa from sealing the Tailed-Beasts without tying it back to Konoha's intervention, then it'll buy us time to negotiate with Iwa, or at the very least, stall for some time before the situation starts to regress." Just like that, Sasuke filled the gaps in Naruto's ideas, furnishing them with logic and rationality, as he had always done.

Really, Naruto could hug Sasuke right now, but his friend was still a little mad at him and he was certain that he would get punched in the face, so, maybe not?

Pakkun paced around, leaving little paw marks on the thick snow. Again, Naruto felt bad for being the main contributor to his stress. "I hope the two of you know that your rebellious phases are coming a little too late and a little too grand for anyone's heart. It certainly isn't cute at all."

With a sigh, Pakkun pointed his paw at the snowy floor and said, "Give me your map." Naruto didn't waste a single second rolling out his map in front of the ninken.

"You two are roughly here right now." Pakkun pointed to a location on the map and dabbed his paw around it. "I caught the scent of shinobi around these parts. Now, don't get caught or die in the snowy mountain."

"Thank you, Pakkun." Naruto couldn't help but pick up the ninken and hug him, making the ninken step on his shoulder with annoyance. "Please tell Kakashi-sensei and everyone at home that we're sorry and please don't worry about us."

"Don't count on it, kids. You two are definitely getting suspended." Pakkun rolled his eyes before disappearing in a puff of smoke. Silently, Sasuke picked up the map and rolled it close. Without another word, they resumed their journey in the snow.

"Sasuke, are you still mad?" Naruto asked as the wind howled in the background, loud enough to drown out his words.

"Not now, Naruto. You really don't want me to answer that when I'm freezing," Sasuke replied, pulling his hood lower as lumps of snow melted in Kurama's chakra coat. Yeah, he was still mad, but more than that, was his voice shivering a little?

"I'm sorry for dragging you along," Naruto shouted, leaning closer to his travel companion until their shoulders were touching. He siphoned even more of the Tailed-beast chakra into the coating that surrounded Sasuke and asked, "Is this a little better?"

Sasuke turned his head to look at him and Naruto could see how pale his complexion had gotten as if the cold was slowly freezing his blood. Is the chakra coat not working? Naruto panicked, cranking up the output of his chakra, hoping that it could do something to relieve the cold.

Suddenly, a hand grabbed his arm and he heard Sasuke telling him, "Calm down, I'm fine. Stop wasting your chakra unnecessarily. Even if you have a lot, it does run out."

It's not unnecessary, Naruto wanted to argue. He should have thought a little more about his so-called plan, to take into account that Sasuke didn't have the vitality of an Uzumaki or the healing of a Jinchuuriki like Naruto.

He should have thought a little more instead of confidently declaring that he would be enough to keep Sasuke safe; he should have been more humble when he suggested they took a path that was deadly for humans.

Still, Naruto nodded, calming down the bubbling coat of orange around them. Naruto grabbed Sasuke's hand to pull him along. For once, Sasuke didn't object.

The whiteness from the snowy plains seared their visions. The shrieking wind sounded like it could shred their bones, bringing shards of ice that could shatter their veins. Despite Sasuke's stubbornness, Naruto could feel his friend's steps slowing down as they moved across the blanket of snow that never seemed to end.

"Do you want to rest for a while?" Naruto asked, his hand still holding onto Sasuke's wrist, terribly afraid to lose him in the snowstorm. This part of the journey was only supposed to last for a few hours, but it was feeling like forever.

"Are you stupid? We don't have proper shelter. If we stay here too long, not even the Tailed-Beast chakra will save us." Sasuke glared at him despite the laboured breaths and the shivering voice.

"Okay, you rest, I'll keep us moving." Naruto was always the 'act first, apologize later' kind, so he bent down and slugged Sasuke over his back.

"What the hell—" Before Sasuke could explode, Naruto picked up his pace, forcing Sasuke to grab onto Naruto's shoulders and stop struggling if he didn't want to be exposed to the ruthless wind.

"You're making me want to fall asleep, you idiot." Naruto heard Sasuke saying from behind, his voice almost as light as a whisper.

"Don't fall asleep then, just keep saying stuff, anything," Naruto replied, trying to sound reassuring instead of the panicking blockhead that Sasuke always said he was.

"You're an idiot." Of course, that was the first thing Sasuke said. "I can't believe you would just run off like that. I thought we're supposed to do this together, because who else is going to keep you from doing idiotic stuff, like this."

"I'm sorry, Sasuke. I didn't want to get you into trouble as well." Naruto said. Even when they were little, Naruto thought that Sasuke was probably the definition of excellence - in all sorts of ways, maybe except his personality - such a contrast to a troublemaker and a dead last like him.

They were like stars with paths that would never cross, but with a mishap of gravity or something, they met in each other's orbit and realized how similar they were to each other.

"If you ever thought that I won't be coming with you after hearing about your crazy plan, then I'm going to be even madder than I already am," Sasuke warned, but it wasn't very threatening in his current state, so Naruto let out a laugh instead. The arms around Naruto tightened a little, probably in an attempt to strangle him, but Sasuke ran out of energy and decided that it wasn't worth it.

Sasuke mumbled about a few more things afterwards in an attempt to keep himself awake. He complained about how he just got promoted to an Anbu Captain and now he was going to be suspended before he even learned his team assignment. Naruto promised to pay him back with free ramen during the suspension and he seriously hoped that his wallet was thick enough.

Naruto told him about this new seal he was working on, aiming for quicker communication but with a simpler setup. Despite not being a practitioner in Fūinjutsu, Sasuke was never bored of Naruto's explanations and he hoped that it would continue to keep Sasuke's brain awake rather than putting him to sleep.

"Sasuke, I can feel the weather getting warmer. We're almost there!" Naruto could barely contain the excitement when he saw the outline of the mountain in a painting made of endless snow, telling him that they had finally made it out of the lifeless land.

It took a frightening second of silence for Naruto to register that he got no response.

"Sasuke?" Naruto asked again as he ran as fast as he could towards the mountain base. Don't panic, Naruto repeated in his head. He could still feel Sasuke's heartbeat drumming against his back and the breaths fogging in the cold. It was probably just the exhaustion from having to circulate his fire chakra beyond his limit and less likely to be hypothermia.

"Come on, you're the one who said that it's bad to lose consciousness." Naruto was collected enough to get far away from the deadland and into the region where the weather was more forgiving, but he thought that he might be going crazy if he didn't get an answer soon - a word, a sign, or even a grunt of annoyance, to tell him that Sasuke was 100% okay.

Naruto halted his step, deciding to start a fire first to warm up their bodies. But before he could set Sasuke down, he heard something that awfully sounded like the clicking of hooves on the frozen ground.

It was then that Naruto saw it, the white horse-like creature that strutted in the distance with a pelt that was even purer than the whitest snow. Steams were being pumped out of his hooves, melting the snow into a puddle of water with every step he took.

Just as Naruto laid his eyes on Kokuō, the Tailed-Beast turned his head and looked at Naruto.

Sasuke felt like his body was made of lead. Nothing seemed to move according to his will, and it was hard to tell if it was his limbs or his mind that was sluggish.

It's cold, how annoying. Sasuke didn't like the cold - most Uchiha didn't, being the ones born with fire or something like that. It felt as if the fire chakra that coursed through their veins were fighting against the unbeatable nature.

So, in the winter months of Konoha, the training ground at the Uchiha Compound was often filled with the smell of burnt wood and scorched charcoal as its occupants poured out their flames with restlessness.

Somehow, Sasuke remembered the warmth that surrounded his body when he squeezed himself into the thick blankets, rid of the dampness by the residual heat radiating off of his chakra. It made him want to close his eyes a little longer, except that some shred of iciness kept on escaping inside, grazing past his skin and freezing …

Sasuke opened his eyes and whipped his body up, his hands automatically went to the sword hanging by his waist. But before his eyes could adjust to the brightness of the snow again, Sasuke felt a crushing weight that jumped to hug him.

"Sasuke! Thank the gods, you're awake!" Naruto shouted way too loudly and way too close for his rebooting consciousness. "I mean, you're only out for ten minutes, so I definitely did not panic. I'm just so relieved that it's not hypothermia - or at least, I don't think so, but I'm not Sakura, who I really wish is here right now, so—"

Sasuke decided to physically shut Naruto's 'definitely not panicking' speech by covering his mouth with a hand. "I got it. I'm … feeling fine." At least, I think so.

He was still freezing and everything - bones, vessels, muscles - felt stiff and heavy. His chakra was slugging around slowly. He could feel the attempt of fire trying to break through the iciness - thankfully, a much easier task than before.

But orange chakra layered and layered on him, growing to a thickness that Sasuke was sure was the result of Naruto's panic. Even if this orange blanket was leaking in the chilling cold and fitting awkwardly because Sasuke was not the original owner, he said nothing while Naruto hugged him tighter, acting as if he wanted to turn into a blanket as well.

Suddenly, Sasuke's breath was caught in his throat, not because of Naruto's suffocating hug, but because he saw the white creature resting on the frozen plain with his sleek tails folded around his bent legs.

Maybe a lot more happened in those ten minutes.

"Yeah, that's Kokuō. We kind of ran into him when we made it out of the lifeless zone." Naruto explained, finally releasing his death hold so Sasuke could stand straight in front of the Tailed-Beast. "He's on the friendlier side because he recognized us from that time at the giant husk."

There was an undeniable hopefulness in Naruto's voice, a result of Kokuō's receptiveness. A little part of Naruto hoped that Kokuō would be willing to avoid conflict with Iwa and take the run-and-hide option, even though the Tailed-Beasts had every right to want to rain down retribution.

"I don't plan to socialize with humans either, Jinchuuriki or not." Finally, Sasuke heard Kokuō speak. His voice was calming and soothing, like a flowing spring. "So speak your piece and leave. This place is not designed for human habitation, even with the help of Tailed-Beast chakra."

The tips of Kokuō's tails swayed a little, pointing to Sasuke, clearly reminding them that he especially did not belong here. Therefore, without wasting a beat, Naruto started explaining the situation at Iwa and the general status of Tailed-Beasts all over the world.

"Are you willing to go into hiding?" Naruto asked with some uncertainty, waiting for Kokuō's answer as the latter swept his tails in silence, as he had done through the entirety of Naruto's debriefing.

Sasuke could practically see the jitters starting to build up in Naruto until finally, Kokuō spoke up. "Is that all you've come for?"

Of course, he knew. Kokuō had quite a few more lifetimes ahead of Naruto and Sasuke in terms of dealing with Iwa. Of course, he knew that Iwa's plan to seal him was on the horizon, laying in wait for the best timing. Then, Kokuō's answer to Naruto's request was already more than clear.

"No, that's not all." Even Sasuke was surprised at how quickly he responded, even earlier than Naruto. It was quite comical actually, seeing Naruto's mouth half opened when Sasuke stole his line. It had been years, but as far as Sasuke knew, Naruto never forgot about his original hopes, his purest desires.

"Yeah, I didn't just come for that. I know it's kind of bad timing, given what I just told you, but I've always wanted to get to know the Tailed-Beasts, your likes and dislikes, your thoughts, anything." Naruto said, rubbing the back of his neck in embarrassment. "But I also know that it takes time and a lot of trusts, and usually a few bouts of flooding and fireballs, given my experience."

Kokuō's tails twitched a little - a sign of surprise - before the Tailed-Beast turned back to a painting of serenity in the snow.

"I have to try again, but please give my request some more thoughts?" Pushing was dangerous with the Tailed-Beasts, but Naruto didn't want to give up.

Suddenly, a cloud of steam washed out of Kokuō as the creature rose on his hooves. Sasuke expected the vapours to be scalding and caustic like every other Boil Release he had known, but when the steam washed over them, it was … warming.

"I don't like the freezing weather, but I can tolerate it better than most of my kin," Kokuō said, tapping his hooves against the melting ice. "If I stayed in the snow plains, many of those who wanted to capture me would die before they could reach me. Then I don't need to kill as many."

Naruto opened his mouth, a little confused at this conversation's suddenness. But soon, that confusion melted into a faint smile as he replied, "Thank you for telling me about you."

There might have been a flash of amusement - it was kind of hard to say because Kokuō was definitely not the emotional type - on Kokuō's face as he continued. "You're a strange one, but I guess so is my last Jinchuuriki, Han. He made a name using Boil Release, protecting his village as he was expected to do, but he hated fighting every step of the way. He's a … what's that word human uses?"

"A pacifist." Sasuke supplied, and Kokuō nodded.

"Han secluded himself from the village, barely used his power - my power - unless he had no other choice, even if it strained his relationship with Iwa and tainted his reputation with the people that he protected." There was a pause, before Kokuō shrugged, "But the quietness was nice."

"The two of you get along well," Naruto exclaimed in a whisper, his eyes beaming with wonder. "The two of you understand each other."

"I wouldn't say that. He rarely talked to me and vice versa," Kokuō replied. "But as I said, the quietness was nice."

"I'm sorry about him," Naruto couldn't help but say. Han was one of the earliest Jinchuuriki being captured by Akatsuki. By then, there was nothing Konoha could do other than to mark the loss of Five-Tail on a map.

"Jinchuuriki for us are transient beings. Compared to our lifespan, the time we spent in one host was no more than a nap. It's the thought of mindless subjugation that angered us and some of us had a few more terrible naps than others." Kokuō turned his body and started walking away from Naruto and Sasuke.

It wasn't the direction of the mountain covered by permafrost. It was the direction where Iwa had their teams stationed.

"Wait, are you planning to face the Iwa-nin?" Naruto shouted in a hurry as they moved to catch up.

"Based on what you've told me, boy, Iwa is lacking a Jinchuuriki for them to relent, am I correct in that interpretation?" Kokuō asked without pausing his step.

Naruto had to take a moment to think before answering tentatively, "Yes?" He turned to Sasuke, who nodded at him in confirmation, allowing him to shout with more confidence, "Yes! But why do you ask …"

Suddenly, realization dawned on them and it was so shocking that the two of them halted their chase. Kokuō wasn't planning to confront the Iwa-nin with violence. He was going to pacify them by allowing them to seal him into a Jinchuuriki.

"Wait, wait for a second! Kurama said he wants to speak to you - well I do too, but Kurama's far more impatient." Naruto ran to an empty spot as the outline of a golden fox expanded around him, bursting into a thick aura that was all too familiar, yet all too foreign to Sasuke.

"Kokuō, are you certain? Even with everything Iwa has done to you, everything that the Shinobi world has done to us?" Kurama's deep voice mixed with Naruto's younger pitch, blending into one as the fox vocalized using the boy's body. "It is them who owe us."

"I know, and I'm certain. You're looking forward to seeing something change, isn't that why you've taken a liking to the boy? Well, I do too, and I have plenty of time compared to the life span of one Jinchuuriki," Kokuō said and Kurama hissed at the mention of his tolerance towards Naruto.

"Son Goku will not appreciate your sacrifice," Kurama remarked and that finally made Kokuō pause his steps a little.

"He and Shukaku have always been the more childish and brash ones out of all of us. I supposed that I'll wait for three days before I go to the Iwa-nin, make sure you talk some sense into our kin in the meantime." Just like that, Kokuō picked up his steps again.

"I'm not your messenger! Naruto, you're dealing with that one." Kurama let out another grunt of frustration before the aura shrank around Naruto until only the boy remained in control of the body.

Still, Naruto didn't move for a few minutes as he stared into the distance, watching Kokuō walking deeper into the snow storm until his white pelt was indistinguishable from the frozen plain.

"I didn't mean to, Sasuke," Finally, Naruto let out a whisper and Sasuke could hear the mixture of feelings - guilt, admiration, sadness … that was swirling inside of his voice. "I didn't want any of them to be sealed again."

Sasuke could feel it - Naruto's desire to run after Kokuō, telling him that he didn't have to do this, that there must be another way. But this was Kokuō's choice to make, it was his decision to do something instead of waiting for a miracle to land.

"Kokuō-san is amazing," Sasuke told Naruto, who was rubbing his eyes to push back the tears - not that he would ever admit that he cried. Feeling merciful for once, Sasuke decided that he would pretend not to see.

"Yeah, he really is," Naruto said, breaking into laughter as he shook his hands, drying the wetness before the wind could freeze it into ice. "I just wish more people can see it, not just Kokuō, but also Isobu's care for the creatures living on his back, Chōmei's protectiveness over the rainforest … All of the Tailed-beasts are so different, but they're so unique and awesome in their own ways."

"Then tell people about it. Nothing's stopping you." The words just slipped out of Sasuke's mouth so naturally. But after more thinking, Sasuke added, just in case, "Maybe be a little more selective of the facts. I don't think Saiken will appreciate you telling others that he likes to bathe with his bubbles." Even if Naruto thinks it's beyond adorable.

"Tell people about it … Sasuke, I've got an idea!" Naruto yelled as excitement rose as the top contender in his bubbling pot of emotions. However, there was just a bit of apology in his tone as he continued, "I'll tell you about it on the way, but I think our stay in the Earth Country is going to get a little longer, probably our suspension too."

Yeah, they were definitely going to sneak to Son Goku's location, just need to traverse half a country, avoid all the Iwa-nin, and get past a bunch of highly-trained sentinels without leaving a trace. Piece of cake. Really.

Sasuke thought that he might lose his job in Anbu after this, but this was Kokuō's request, so it was worth it in his book.

(づ。◕‿‿◕。)づ fuwa~fuwa~desu~~~

Four Years Post-War: Human

"The boy was awestruck as he watched Kokuō strut towards the distance. Slowly, the outline of his pure white body blended with the snowy landscape. The boy had so much more he wanted to say, and there was so much more about the mythical beast that he wanted to learn.

He doesn't know when would be the next time they meet, or what form Kokuō would take. But at the very least, he was hopeful that they would meet again, for that was the blessing given by peace."

I paused at the end of the chapter. "It's a beautiful story."

Slightly incriminating too, seeing that Naruto implicitly confessed that he and Sasuke snuck into Iwa's territory to make contact with their Tailed-Beast, a topic that must be treated with utmost diplomatic sensitivity.

But Konoha got that sorted out with Iwa after the agreement regarding Tailed-Beasts was signed. Seeing that Iwa gained the security of a Jinchuuriki without having to go through any violent suppression campaign - or doing any of the work except to make it worse if I were honest - they agreed to let it go with mixed feelings.

"Indeed it is," Kakashi said as he made the correction to his current document and finished with a stamp. Then, he raised his eyes and nodded at the pile of letters piled up at the edge of his desk. "Very eloquent writing too. Perhaps it's time for Naruto to take some of those correspondences off my desk."

Hmm, about that. The period of suspension was very conducive to Naruto's quality of writing, seeing that he had ample amount of time to catch up on his theory classes and immerse himself in Jiraiya's literary masterpieces, but let's not push too hard. Upon seeing my look of skepticism, Kakashi asked with a sigh, "Alright, how much of that is Sasuke's edits?"

"Let's just say enough to make his days in suspension much more fulfilling." The first draft that arrived in the Uchiha Compound was definitely more of a work in progress.

Before Kakashi could contemplate if he should make my little brother's suspension even more fulfilling, I reminded him, "It's only been a year, Kakashi, way too early for you to push things onto teenagers."

Granted, there was a certain sense of hypocrisy in that, given that we handed out assassination missions to twelve-year-olds, but I thought that we should at least make an effort to try even if it didn't always work out. After all, paperwork was another breed of demon.

"Maiko, I love you, but sometimes you speak the words of the devil." Kakashi was not impressed at my reminder. Unfortunately, I was about to make him even more miserable.

After a final ink stroke, I slid the documents that were on my corner of the desk to the pile of paperwork on his left. "If you can review and sign those Anbu team assignments by the end of the day, that'll really streamline my workload."

"Hmm, here I thought the position of Anbu Commander exists to help me with my workload." Kakashi leaned back onto his chair, probably contemplating for the umpteenth time, how well would Tsunade-sama take to him retiring from the Hokage position in record time.

"I do help you with the workload, by reducing the average amount of time you have to spend on each document, just not the overall number." Everything in Anbu had to go through the Hokage's eyes, to prevent the making of another Danzō. We in Anbu were all about precaution, after all.

Deciding to take a break with some less stressful topics, he eyed the notebook in my hand and asked, "Have they decided on the title yet?"

"They were debating on the adjective, but I think it's been set now." I flipped the notebook back to the first page and turned it around to show him. For some reason, I found the particular title that Naruto and Sasuke settled on vaguely familiar.

On the page, a single line of the text remained in a sea of crossed-out words:

Fantastic Tailed-Beasts and Where to Find Them

A/N: Alright, this is the last extra story I think I will write, that means this fic will be officially completed now! Thank you all, again, couldn't have done it without my readers, so I'm beyond grateful to have you all!

I really wanted to write this story about Naruto and Sasuke's journey with the Tailed-Beasts, to explore the different Tailed-Beasts, their personalities, and their interaction with our boys and the world itself. The title of the book is a coincidence on Naruto and Sasuke's part (although by the divine intervention and desperate attempt at puns by the author). Maiko found it familiar because she died a few months before the movie Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them would have been released and might have seen the movie posters being put up for advertisement here and there.

Anyway, Sakura and Sai would have been roped into it to do cover design and illustrations. In a few years, it will go on to be a bestseller, making Jiraiya very proud.

P.S. Check out my new work in progress if you're interested : ) It's still in the Naruto fandom, called Painting of the Transient World (浮世絵), or as I abbreviated it, PotTW