Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto. My attempts to take over the franchise will have to wait, as I cannot get into the country to state my case in person. It's the personal touch that makes all the difference in swaying opinions.

Chapter 32: A Bonding Experience


A morning training session was a great way for Tenten to blow off some steam. Even though she was taking a bit of downtime, it didn't mean she could allow herself to get rusty. Yet, with her usual training partner, Naruto, away on a mission with his father, she'd managed to procure a temporary replacement in Tayuya.

Tayuya had been eager to get to an open field and show off. Much to Tenten's surprise, she managed to shock her fairly quickly.

"Zankuuha (Decapitating Airwaves)!"

Blowing through a clarinet, Tayuya created a mixture of sound waves and airwaves, strong enough to shatter stone. The range wasn't great, five to fifteen feet in effectiveness, but it was an absolute blast from the past.

It had been a while since Tenten had seen that jutsu. Years. Not since she and Naruto had first met, as a matter of fact. That Naruto remembered it and had managed to somehow teach Tayuya during the time they'd spent in Mizu no Kuni was kind of remarkable.

"I didn't know you could use wind ninjutsu," Tenten muttered.

Come to think of it, Tenten didn't know what Tayuya could do, aside from summoning, and the sound-based genjutsu she had already been privy to.

Tayuya's eyes danced excitedly at having used something new for the first time, "Never had anyone who could help me figure my element out until Golden Boy and I traded tips," She said, sealing away her clarinet now that she was done using it, "You think all we did at night is talk about how much life sucks?"

He'd taught the concept of the Zankuuha to her in a matter of minutes, assuring her that she would pick it up in a week. It took her two days, and it only took that long because they had to constantly travel, and she couldn't dedicate as much time to training as she would have been able to, were she staying in one place.

It had been a mutually beneficial exchange of ideas. Tayuya helped Naruto with his genjutsu, which was woeful, and in return, he helped her figure out some more diverse jutsu that befit her style, which heavily relied on her instruments.

Tenten grinned cheekily at the vulgar, musical redhead, "I already know one other thing you two do at night," She teased with a raise of her eyebrows.

If she'd been hoping for some kind of embarrassment from Tayuya, she was dealing with the wrong person.

Tayuya rolled her eyes as she responded, "Yes, Buns, sometimes people have sex. You will too, I'm certain of it," She said, "Besides, I only let him hit it the one time. Calm down. Consider it a bonus - an extra reward for all of my good work as a guide in Mizu."

Tenten gave her a confused look, "A bonus? For you?"

Now, it was Tayuya's turn to wear a grin of her own, "What Golden Boy lacks in experience, he makes up for in enthusiasm and coachability."

Tenten could sense that not only was her teasing ineffective, it was starting to backfire, "Okay, we don't need to have this conversation."

"Why not?" Tayuya asked, clearly delighting in turning the tables, "You don't think he's hot?"

"He's like my brother," Tenten deadpanned, "So... no."

"Boo, you're no fun," Tayuya chided Tenten's cutting off of the topic at-hand, "It can't be just me, right?"

Tenten busied herself during the lull in activity by picking up and sealing away some of the weapons she'd been training with that littered the field, "The only thing that's weird is that you didn't say anything about Minato-sama. That's who girls usually like."

"Yeah, note the term you used – 'girls'," Tayuya quipped with a roll of her eyes, "Girls who want their smooth, impossible Prince Charming to sweep them off their feet," She feigned a swoon for emphasis, which actually got Tenten to laugh under her breath, "Golden King is too pretty. He looks and sounds like a fairy tale prince come to life. Fuck that."

Tenten took note of the new 'Golden King' name that Tayuya had obviously coined for Minato, "And Naruto is for women?" She asked.

"Certain kinds of women," Tayuya reasoned with a shrug, "Golden Boy looks like he's gonna grow up to be more rugged. He's already shown me he knows how to get his hands dirty too."

Tenten couldn't help but notice that when Tayuya talked about Naruto, she sounded fond of him. Never in front of him, but when they were apart, she was quick to point out things she found as good points about him. Sometimes in the most backhanded way possible, but it was better than she would do for anyone else.

She was just as rough in her demeanor when it came to Naruto as she was when it came to everything around her, but when one was around her long enough to be able to see past it, it was evident that she thought highly of him.

Tenten found it kind of cute. The thought made her smile, "So, are you two dating?" She asked, in another attempt to corner Tayuya into an uncomfortable situation.

Again, much like the previous time, it failed. Tayuya honestly considered the question, "Mmm... I'm sure I can goad him into spending more time with me. I did it last night, after all."

Tenten's whole posture slumped in incredulity, "What do you mean, 'goad'? Just ask him. He'll say yes. It's not like he dislikes you or anything."

Or, conversely, she could just hang around him literally whenever she wanted. Tenten seriously doubted Naruto would care or even question it. Tayuya was a friend. Despite a fairly contentious start, he'd taken to her just as quickly as he'd taken to Kabuto, and to Tenten herself back when they'd first met.

It was just what Naruto did, win friends and influence people... when he got the opportunity, at least.

Tayuya, on the other hand, was much more accustomed to the dog-eat-dog, Mizu no Kuni way of doing things, where even the dynamic of positive relationships could be considered cutthroat.

The thought of showing even a hint of vulnerability put a scowl on Tayuya's face, "Not a chance in hell I give him even an ounce of leverage. He already has enough for getting me out of Mizu."

Tenten's mouth fell open in surprise. Leverage? What was she talking about? Naruto didn't take Tayuya with him because he expected a favor or loyalty in return. Was that something Tayuya considered when she thought of romantic relationships?

There wasn't a lot of time for Tenten to focus on this potential aspect of the musical kunoichi, as they were joined by the heiress to one of the clans responsible for founding the brand new village they were in.

Tayuya was the first to notice the visitor, "Who the fuck is this?" She asked upon being presented with someone new.

"A friend, so be good," Tenten instructed, before speaking up and waving, "Hey, Hinata!"

Hinata smiled and bowed in greeting once she was close enough, "Tenten-san, good morning," She gazed around the field, "I figured Naruto-kun would be with you for practice."

Tenten smiled apologetically, hearing the sadness in Hinata's voice at Naruto's absence. She was about to explain, before Tayuya beat her to the punch in her unique, specific way.

"Eh," Tayuya started, getting Hinata's attention, "That was the plan before Golden Boy and his old man fucked off to who knows where after we woke up."

Hinata was visibly confused by the mystery person who seemed to have information that she didn't. Tenten was quick to step in and make introduction, "Tayuya, this is Hinata. Hinata, this is Tayuya. She has a mouth on her."

Tayuya did nothing to deny this, instead grinning proudly, "I do. I do have a mouth on me."

Hinata still wasn't certain of what to make of Tenten's new cohort, but that was no reason to be impolite, "I see. Well, it's a pleasure to meet you, Tayuya-san."

Tayuya on the other hand?

"Mmm, is it though?" Tayuya drawled, only to draw Tenten's ire, the latter reacting with a glare, "I'm kidding, Buns! I'm being nice! I'm a fucking delight right now!"

That was up for debate, but Tenten could get on her for that later, "Anyway... Tayuya's right," She said, speaking to Hinata, "Naruto and Minato-sama headed out to scout north. They shouldn't be gone for long though."

Hinata couldn't help but feel no small measure of concern for Naruto's well-being, "They know about the Alpha Clan, don't they?"

Tenten nodded grimly, "Actually, that's the whole reason they're heading that way."

XxX

(With Naruto - Yu no Kuni Countryside)

Naruto couldn't keep the smile off of his face as he and Minato raced through the woods. He had never gone on a mission with his father. In fact, most of what could be considered quality time between father and son had been spent training. There were only so many fond family memories that could be spent with dear old dad handing his son his ass in sparring or watching him crash into trees while trying to learn to control his speed.

While their trip north hadn't been very exciting in terms of action, the time they'd spent traveling had been used to catch up with each other. Sure, as far as work and official business went, they were both kept in each other's loop, but with Minato being so busy, and Naruto constantly taking missions that kept him away from the family, the day-to-day things got lost.

As they started to talk, Minato felt a measure of shame upon realizing that he didn't know much of anything about what Naruto did in his leisure time. But that was something they had the chance to remedy.

He found himself amused hearing some of Naruto's old road stories, "And when's the last time you visited this magical ramen cart that you love so much?"

"It's been a few months," Naruto recalled, grinning as he spoke fondly of some of his favorite non-shinobi people, "Ichiraku Ramen travels so much, they're really hard to track down. It's great when I can catch up to them though."

Hearing his son sound so happy reminiscing made Minato happy, "It's interesting that you traveled in a ramen cart for months. How did you not eat them out of business?"

Naruto laughed, unwilling to deny his notorious fondness for ramen, "'Cuz Kakashi wouldn't let me have as much as I wanted. Ayame-neechan made sure to sneak me more when she could," He loved that woman, and a part of him always would. His ramen princess.

Eventually, they quieted down when they realized they approached a forward post. Peering through the trees at a camp of an assortment of shinobi, they took note of everything they could see. There was nothing really of note there, as far as Naruto could see. Minato seemingly agreed, as with a gesture of his head, they moved on further into what they could now identify as Alpha Clan territory.

Minato frowned as he made a mark down on the map he was carrying. So, they were moving south after all. The last he'd heard, they'd recently defeated the Yotsuki Clan, and that clan was situated farther north.

At the very least, they needed to discover whatever would be targeted next.

As Minato thought of what they needed to accomplish to make their mission a success, Naruto's thoughts were roused by the growl he could hear deep within his mind. Since he wasn't in a bad mood, he already knew the source of such a thing.

'What's wrong, Kurama?' He asked the tailed beast in his head.

Kurama grumbled before letting Naruto in on his troubles, "Gyuuki."

The word was utterly foreign to Naruto's memory banks, 'Uh... gesundheit?'

"No, idiot. That's the Eight Tails' real name."

Naruto rolled his eyes. How was he supposed to know? Kurama rarely talked about his siblings, and when he did, he always referred to them by the number of tails they had, taking some kind of pride in being the one with the most out of all of them.

'Okay,' Naruto thought back to Kurama, 'You can sense Gyuuki. What about it?'

"He's smarter than Shukaku, which means if we're close enough to where I can sense him, he can sense me."

At that bombshell, a shiver went down Naruto's spine. Another tailed beast? Here? Now? It had been years since he'd had to deal with his last one, 'And, uh... would he do anything about that?'

Kurama found himself amused at Naruto's trepidation at once again having to face one of his siblings, "Again, Gyuuki is smarter than Shukaku. Less territorial as well. But... still kind of territorial," The fox took a moment to think things over, "Meh. It could go either way, honestly."

That was hardly helpful. But it was something that Naruto had to inform Minato about quickly.

"Dad," Naruto got Minato's attention as they continued to travel, "Kurama says he can sense a tailed beast. The Eight Tails."

Minato physically reacted, much the way his son had, "That's-," He started to say, trying to comprehend what he was hearing, "The Eight Tails hasn't been seen in years, Naruto. Is he sure?"

"As sure as your cheek bones are stupidly high, human."

"He says yes," Naruto deadpanned, instead of relaying Kurama's insulting remark, "And he says the Eight Tails can sense him too. What should we do?"

Both father and son paused on a branch as the former thought through a course of action, "It would be a pain if this caused an issue in the middle of the mission," He mused aloud, "How far away is it? Maybe we can avoid it altogether."

"I don't think so," Kurama said in Naruto's head, "Gyuuki is getting closer as we speak."

Naruto paled, "Gyuuki is getting closer."

"Gyuuki?" Minato asked before putting two-and-two together, "The Eight Tails?" He amended, getting a nod, "Crap. Well, that isn't good."

An understatement, to be sure. The two of them weren't meant to be discovered. They didn't know if the Alpha Clan planned on targeting them or not, and they didn't want to give them a reason. Yet, a fight with a tailed beast would bring eyes from all over. That was bad news, in addition to the fact that, yes, they would be fighting a tailed beast.

Naruto let out a resigned sigh. And he'd been having such a good day, "It can sense Kurama, so if I leave, it should follow me while you-."

"Absolutely not," Minato interrupted, having none of that idea, "I don't care if Kurama has your back, there's no way I'm leaving you alone to deal with any tailed beast."

It wasn't just a matter of their splitting up serving no real purpose. It was the matter of a father letting his son do something so needlessly dangerous. How Naruto could think that Minato would be alright with such a thing, the man had no idea.

Then again, he had been sending the boy off on all sorts of dangerous assignments for years. But nothing like playing diversion for a tailed beast and an entire military force.

Naruto scowled at his idea being shot down, "Well, I don't like the idea of just leaving either," He said, looking off in the direction Kurama had instructed him to. It was then that he realized something, "Wait. If the Eight Tails is headed this way, shouldn't we be able to, I don't know, see it?"

He remembered Shukaku towering into the night sky years ago in the desert. He remembered Kurama being absolutely titanic back when he'd come across him back on Uzu no Kuni when he was a child. If a tailed beast was around, it would have been visible for miles around.

Unless... no.

What were the chances that there was another jinchuuriki running around?

XxX

(Yu no Kuni - Town Outskirts)

Sasuke was normally pleased to set out with Itachi on a mission. This time around, however, he found himself in a bad mood.

They weren't going on a raid. They weren't going to fight a battle. They weren't doing anything that Sasuke saw as beneficial to the clan. In other words, nothing that would earn his father's approval and respect. Therefore, as far as Sasuke was concerned, it was a waste of time.

But... Itachi had asked him to go. Itachi almost never had Sasuke accompany him on missions anymore. He couldn't turn it down. But that didn't mean he wasn't going to complain about it whenever he got the chance.

"Are we really going all the way to Yu no Kuni just for this Alpha Clan business," Sasuke asked. Some form of that question had come out of his mouth repeatedly since they'd first set out.

Itachi, flexing the kind of patience most older brothers lacked for their siblings, answered in his calm, even tone, "Yes, we are. I believe I told you before, but it is of grave importance."

Indeed, Sasuke remembered that weird conversation he and Itachi had shared after his older brother's argument with their father, "Itachi, I thought we agreed that we didn't have any business getting involved in that."

"I don't remember agreeing to anything, little brother," Sasuke let out a groan at Itachi's sidestepping of a commitment, "Besides, even if the Uchiha Clan weren't to get involved, it would behoove father to have a lay of the land. Opportunities may arise, or potential threats."

That made sense. It wasn't the most exciting thing, and it wasn't glorious work, but someone had to do it. After all, the intelligence the Uchiha Clan used to make their moves had to come from somewhere. If it was good enough for Itachi, it was good enough for Sasuke.

"Fine," Sasuke accepted begrudgingly, "We're just going to make sure we know what the situation is here. We're not sticking our nose into this."

Itachi chuckled slightly, "Why Sasuke, whoever said that we were going to do anything more than observe?"

XxX

In the midst of their scouting mission, Minato decided there was only so much they could see if they didn't get close to an actual settlement. But there, a choice had to be made. The smaller the village, the less the number of Alpha Clan shinobi milling about, but the more scrutiny there would be on an outside. In the end, both father and son agreed that despite the larger number of Alpha Clan members that would be stationed around a larger village/town/city, the better the chance would be that they could slip in and out.

Thus, they made their way to a noted hot spring town in the area, frequented by visitors from all over. As long as no one could make them on sight, they had a chance to have a look around and glean some good details from looking around and listening in.

Naruto and Minato donned cloaks that covered their standard clothing, and straw hats that covered their distinct bright blond hair. Less was more in this case, as using a Henge would alert anyone nearby who was chakra-sensitive that something was off. It wasn't worth taking the chance.

Splitting up with a plan to regroup two hours later, Minato took a moment to stop at a tea shop for a snack, and for the chance to perhaps eavesdrop on a conversation or two that could point him toward a lead to follow.

The entire time, he saw no shortage of shinobi and kunoichi traveling together. They seemed to come from many different backgrounds, but there was one thing that seemed to tie any of them together.

Somewhere on their persons, all of the active shinobi Minato that he could lump in with the Alpha Clan had a letter on them somewhere. The letter could take the form of a marked metal plate on a headband, a stitching on their clothing, even a tattoo in a visible place on their bodies.

Minato wrote in a small scroll he kept in his lap, hidden under his cloak, 'Letters may indicate possible groupings. Perhaps a glimpse at how the Alpha Clan divides its forces?'

There wasn't a lot that was known of the modern Alpha Clan, so Minato took note of whatever he could, meaning to learn more about specifics later. Any bit of information could help in case hostilities broke out.

"There goes the neighborhood."

The comment drew Minato's attention to a man with light brown hair and a scar on his cheek said. A ninja, clearly, from the looks of him.

When the man noticed Minato looking at him questioningly, he continued, "Sorry. I couldn't help but notice you eyeing the Alpha Clan shinobi. Not fond of ninja?" He asked.

Minato had registered his presence earlier, but hadn't minded, specifically because he hadn't been part of the Alpha Clan, and also because he was out of a range where Minato couldn't react in an instant. He'd already gauged his chances and figured he didn't need to be entirely on edge.

Besides, if a shinobi wanted to speak with him, that would just cut out all of the actual legwork he would have otherwise needed to do to gather info.

"I'm fine with them. But there sure are a lot of these types," Minato commented, "Have you been here before?"

The man nodded, looking around as he took a sip of his drink, "This is a resort town. Unaffiliated with ninja, save for the merchants and other clients who give them business. But, ah, as you can see, it's become something of a hub behind the front lines for the Alpha Clan," He smiled and shook his head, "It's like this in tons of places along the line, I'm afraid."

Minato accepted the information before extending his hand, "I'm sorry, I never caught your name, friend."

The man grinned at his botched introduction, "Ah, sorry about that," He shook Minato's hand, "Name's Nawaki."

Minato expertly schooled his reaction. He knew that name. The hunter of the Senju Clan. The younger brother of clan head Tsunade. Grandnephew of the man that originated Minato's signature jutsu. A jutsu that Minato had been accused of stealing.

There was no way in hell Minato was giving a Senju his real name.

"Arashi," Minato gave Nawaki as an alias without a moment of thought. It was something he'd cobbled together on the fly, but it would do for the time being, "How much of this area have you traveled through lately, if you don't mind me asking?"

Nawaki shrugged noncommittally, "A good chunk of it over the last few weeks. Been treasure hunting," He added as an added juicy carrot for further questioning, "I'm on the trail of something good. But... my apprentice insisted on taking a break," He finished with a sigh.

"So you decided to stop here for the hot springs?" Minato asked with a smile.

Indeed, as it seemed to be as good a place as any, "The poor girl does good work," Nawaki admitted, "And I have been dragging her all over the place lately. She earned the right to dig her heels in here."

"I wish I could get my son to take a break," Minato said, taking the opportunity to release a little bit about his own personal life, "The moment he comes back from one business trip, it seems like he heads out on another one. His mother wants him around more, but she'll never tell him."

It had been that way for years, ever since they had all been reunited. Naruto never settled back into being the little boy that Kushina had sent away from Uzu no Kuni, and even with Kanako to dote on, she'd never quite adjusted to how quickly he'd grown out of that portion of his adolescence.

Minato had seen it as Naruto adjusting to what he'd needed to do to survive. Then again, Kushina had grown up with clan ties, while Minato's own upbringing hadn't exactly been a family-related one, so his point of view might have been skewed.

Despite Minato's complaints, Nawaki found that he liked the sound of a young man with what he saw as a touch of wanderlust, "Sounds like your boy wouldn't complain about my travel schedule. Want to trade your son for my apprentice? Just for a trial period?"

The idea made Minato laugh out loud, "I wouldn't trade him for anything in the world."

It was just as well. Nawaki had been joking anyway, "Eh, Sakura's too smart of an apprentice to let go of anyway," He said, making to stand and leave, "Well, speaking of my apprentice, I think it's high time I go find her. Nice meeting you, Arashi-san."

"Same," Minato felt he could say honestly, "Happy hunting, Nawaki-san."

To think, he could have such a civil conversation with a notable member of a clan that supposedly hated him. It probably never would have happened if Nawaki had known who he was.

XxX

(Meanwhile – With Naruto)

Despite being in what should have been the relatively safe confines of a town, at least compared to the wilderness, Kurama was restless inside of Naruto's mindscape. It was a tad bit funny at first, but as time dragged on with nothing happening, and the likelihood of it decreasing by the moment, it started to be annoying.

Naruto couldn't even hear his own thoughts over Kurama's constant grumbling, 'Look, Kurama, we're in a village. don't tailed beasts hate being around humans?'

"Yes, but if he was in my territory, I wouldn't care where he was. I'd go there and kick his tentacled ass out!"

Naruto rolled his eyes at Kurama's self-assured reply, 'Well, look at it this way then. If Gyuuki is around somewhere, someone'll scream, and we'll definitely see it coming.'

"And then we'll kick his ass like we did with Shukaku."

A shiver went down Naruto's spine, remembering one of his more significant childhood traumas, 'You and I remember that fight very differently,' Naruto remembered all of the near-misses and spending an entire night thinking he was going to be murdered, 'I really don't want to fight a tailed beast again. I almost died the last time.'

"Bah, you're stronger now. And, even better than that, you've got me."

True enough. And he knew better how to utilize Kurama's chakra than he did back then. Even so, he maintained his stance on things, 'I appreciate your freaky spirit. But I'm gonna take a hard pass. We're not supposed to get into any fights. We're just supposed to-.'

"Uchiha."

'What?'

At Kurama's warning, Naruto found himself staring across a crowd at one of his least favorite people in the world. Uchiha Sasuke seemed just as surprised to see him as Naruto felt, and equally as thrilled.

Without breaking eye contact, both boys strode through the crowd, gently moving past the general population until they got within arm's reach of each other.

While anyone who noticed them would have just seen two people standing fairly close, staring at each other, the moving people concealed the fact that both of them were trying to stab the other down near the belly.

The only thing that kept the people around them from freaking out was the fact that their travel cloaks kept the arms holding their kunai concealed. But that couldn't last forever.

"What are you doing here?" Naruto whispered under his breath so only Sasuke could hear him.

Sasuke sneered back and responded predictably, "I should be asking you that, you freak of nature."

It wasn't as though it were the first time Naruto had heard such a thing from an enemy, let alone Sasuke, "That's rich, coming from a guy with mutant eyes."

The two young men glared at each other, and an unspoken agreement was made to take their dispute elsewhere. In a puff of smoke, both disappeared from the streets. On the rooftops above those streets, Naruto and Sasuke clashed blade-on-blade, testing one another out as though they were playing a game with fatal consequences.

They disliked each other immensely and it had been that way for years, but the heat of their feud seemed to rise and fall depending on where either of them were in their lives. Sometimes they went at each other's throats like wild animals. Other times, they just seemed to be going through the motions, fighting just because the other was around and because it was what they were supposed to do.

…This was one of the latter times. There was no passion or real sense of malice in their fight. It was merely routine.

Breaking apart after one clash, they stood off across from each other on two separate water towers. There, Naruto let out a sigh, "Why does it always have to be on-sight with you?" He asked, despite the fact that he was just as responsible in this instance for a fight starting.

Sasuke had an immediate answer, "Because we hate each other. That's why," It was as simple as that, as far as he was concerned.

"At least I have a reason to hate you," Naruto shot back, "Last time I checked, I didn't plague bomb you, you try-hard. Guess you must really see me as a threat to waste the whole canister on me," He taunted.

"Or I really want you dead that badly."

"Too bad you suck at getting the job done."

"Fuck you."

"Fuck you!"

Naruto noticed Sasuke begin a sequence of hand-seals. In that instant, he tapped into Kurama's chakra in order to blitz him. But Sasuke had already dealt with that, and had been the one to plant the suggestion into Naruto's head with his Sharingan.

When Naruto rushed him, he was met with a blinding wall of feathers flying into his face and mouth. Sputtering as a result of the distraction, he was nailed in the back by a flying kick that knocked him off of one of the water towers they had been fighting on.

Sasuke didn't have time to admire his handiwork, as when Naruto fell, he reached out with a chakra tail and latched onto Sasuke's leg, dragging him down with him. What followed was an ungraceful fall directly into a hot spring.

Both boys forcefully burst from the water. Sasuke drew his sword. Now angered at being soaked in such an undignified manner, he ignited the blade of his weapon with chakra.

Apparently, Sasuke had managed to pick up that little trick after Naruto had pulled it on him the last time around.

Naruto zipped around Sasuke in bursts of speed, avoiding strokes of the Uchiha's flaming sword by increasingly slim margins, 'Can he see me better now?' Naruto thought to himself, 'Holy crap. And I know he's starting to get my timing down.'

Fighting against Naruto was forcing Sasuke to improve his Sharingan just to try and keep pace. The same went for Naruto in regards to coming up with ways to counter and negate Sasuke's Sharingan. Admittedly, he'd recently been relying on his outright speed advantage as a crutch, but if that was being steadily neutralized, he needed to figure out something new.

As they continued their lethal dance, locked in their own world, both Naruto and Sasuke were caught off-guard when large shadows appeared over them. Both stopped and looked up to see the very water towers they had been fighting on previously were torn out of their foundations and sent crashing down on top of them.

It wasn't enough to kill them, as they were good enough to avoid any serious harm. Still, it had been a startling interruption to their battle.

"What the hell was that?" Naruto exclaimed as he and Sasuke both stood atop the wreckage, "Was that you? I didn't know you could do that!"

Sasuke felt no small measure of confusion at his rival's assumption, "You mean, that wasn't you?"

Naruto's mouth fell open in shock, "How could I do that!? I wasn't touching either one of those things!"

Sasuke growled back, "You're a jinchuuriki! Last time I checked, you can do all kinds of weird shit!"

Naruto gestured to their surroundings, "If I could do this to you without touching you, don't you think I would have busted it out one of the ten-thousand times I had to fight your ass!?" He took a deep breath and lowered his volume back to more manageable levels, "You sure your pink-eye bloodline didn't do something?"

"Pink-eye?" Sasuke repeated, feeling an eye twitch at the casual insulting of his clan's most notable ability, "That's it. I'm not leaving this town until you're a corpse."

Naruto smashed his fists together, prepared to go another round, "Hope you like hot springs then, because you ain't killing me, ya dick!"

"THIS IS THE WOMENS' BATH, YOU MEATHEADS!"

An angry woman's voice preceded the fallen towers both boys stood on being lifted off of the ground and flipped over - with them still standing on them.

This time, there was no bewilderment; only annoyance. Freeing themselves respectively, Naruto punched a hole through one of the towers, while Sasuke sliced his way through his own. Drenched anew, they both shot angry looks in the direction of the individual interfering in their impromptu duel.

What they didn't expect to confront them was a dainty girl. She wore a dark red combat dress with mesh armor underneath, and a black breastplate over top. Her wet pink hair was pulled back into a ponytail. Her green eyes glared at the two of them just as heatedly as they glared at her.

"One day..." The girl said to herself, fists shaking in anger, "Just one goddamn day. One day where I don't have to run all over creation following my jerk boss into some godforsaken crypt... or up some freezing cold mountain... or worse, doing all of that on my own after he ditches me for some half-assed lead! And it gets ruined! Just like that!"

As the girl seemed to lose it, Naruto tried to get her attention, "Uh, who are-?"

"Shut. Up," The girl grunted before taking a moment to count to ten and calm herself down, "'Red Scar' Uzumaki Naruto," She quickly identified, "Why are you fighting a deathmatch in the women's bath?"

The sweet tone she used for the question seemed to guarantee harm if he answered incorrectly, especially when she pulled black gloves tightly over her hands.

Naruto pointed to the rooftop he remembered falling from, "First of all, I was fighting up there," His pointing finger swung around to Sasuke, where he stood looking elsewhere, seemingly done with the conversation, "This asshole kicked me into the women's bath. So I dragged him in too."

"And that makes it better?" Sasuke asked with a smirk, trying to throw gasoline on the fire.

"I didn't know it was the women's bath!" Naruto exclaimed at Sasuke before turning back to the girl to defend himself, "I didn't see anything! I was too busy trying not to get cut up by that sack of shit!"

The girl looked to the other boy that had intruded on her bath, quickly identifying the clan crest on the back of his clothes, "An Uchiha?" When Sasuke turned to her, giving her a good look at his facial features, she felt her heart melt, 'Oh my God, he's gorgeous!'

The steam of the bath didn't hurt in enhancing Sasuke's features from her point of view. She could have simply stood looking at him all day, and seemed to be on the way to doing that when Naruto's hand in her face.

"Hello?" Naruto said, waving and snapping his fingers to get Sakura's focus, "Are you okay? He didn't genjutsu you, did he? He does that to people."

"Ugh," Sakura sighed, grabbing Naruto's hand and moving it aside, "Whatever."

Feeling the hostilities had subsided, if only temporarily, Naruto grinned at the girl, "If I want to hear that from someone, I'll talk to Sasuke," He jerked his head in Sasuke's direction, "Well, you know who I am. Who are you?"

"Haruno Sakura," She said, less than pleased to be giving her name to Naruto. She perked up when she tried to get Sasuke to speak to her, "So, your name is Sasuke?"

Despite the attempt at engaging him, Sasuke thought himself above it all, "I'm leaving," He declared, specifically to Naruto, "We'll finish this later, loser. Right now, I have real work to do."

As loathe as Sasuke was to admit it, Naruto was very strong. As much as he wanted to take him down and prove he was better, he could acknowledge that it would take longer than he had time for. He wasn't the kind of opponent that Sasuke could fight without sparing enough time to really get into it with him. Itachi hadn't brought him along on his mission to fight the jinchuuriki, even if Sasuke really wanted to. More than anything else, Sasuke wanted to prove himself Itachi's equal. He couldn't do that having a brawl in the hot springs.

Naruto felt much the same in his own way, "Sure. I've got better things to do than slap you around too," He said, idly digging a pinky inside of his waterlogged ear, "Next time you might want to bring more than your hot, pointy stick," He stopped when he considered what he'd said "...That didn't sound right. Forget that."

"Idiot," Sasuke scoffed as he departed.

Naruto flipped Sasuke's retreating form a pair of middle fingers, "Good riddance."

'Aw,' Sakura thought to herself as she watched Sasuke leave, 'It's probably for the best anyway.'

If Sasuke found out she worked for the Senju Clan, he'd probably try to kill her. And she didn't want to have to shove her fist through his pretty face.

That left her standing there awkwardly with the other boy, the one she would have preferred had left in Sasuke's stead – Naruto. Sakura had heard all of the rumors about how dangerous the jinchuuriki was. While she hadn't necessarily believed them, any part of her that had found itself thoroughly crushed when she saw him and spoke with him.

He didn't seem like a monster. Just a dumb teenage boy.

"So…" Naruto eventually said, not knowing what to say at that point, "I'm gonna go now too. Unless you want to fight."

Sakura did not want to fight. Not in the slightest. Even though she was confident in her abilities, she was still fully aware of who she was standing in front of. Besides, even after what she'd just done, he didn't seem to actually be wary of facing her in return.

Aside from that, she really just wanted to use that day to rest. Fighting anyone now that her rage had subsided was the last thing she felt like doing.

"Definitely not," Sakura said, running a hand through her own hair, "I'm going to find another spa. Preferably one where there aren't people fighting."

"Sorry about that," Naruto apologized before leaping off.

Sakura looked around and decided to make herself scarce as well before staff or town authorities came around asking questions. After all, she didn't want to be left paying for the damages. With the Alpha Clan around, it probably bought her a cushion of time, as the people running the hot spring likely didn't want to have to deal with the scary shinobi types stationed nearby.

Exiting as inconspicuously as possible, it didn't take her long to run into Nawaki in the streets. He seemed to have been waiting on her to boot.

"Hey there," Nawaki greeted with a massive grin, "Have a relaxing time?" He asked knowingly.

Sakura wanted to punch him in his smug face, but she knew that seeing as how her strength and the taijutsu she used to exploit that strength had all been innovated by Nawaki's sister, there was no way that anything she tried on him would work in that department.

One day though...

"An Uchiha and 'Red Scar' Naruto tore the place apart," Sakura explained, omitting the fact that she had been the one to cause most of the property damage.

At the mention of Naruto, Nawaki let out a thoughtful hum, "Huh. Haven't seen that kid in years. Makes sense he'd be here though, seeing as how I just ran into his dad a little while ago," When he saw him in the tea shop, the man had clearly been trying to go incognito, so Nawaki let him be.

Sakura found herself doubly surprised. Nawaki had met Naruto before? He had met Naruto's father in the town they were in?

"Namikaze Minato?" Sakura asked, getting a nod of confirmation from Nawaki, "...Did you two fight?"

Nawaki fixed her with an odd look, "What? No. Why would I fight him?" He had nothing personal against Minato, even if the rest of the Senju Clan saw him as the enemy for killing Senju Tobirama and as a thief for his use of Hiraishin no Jutsu, "There's a time and a place for these things, Sakura. Anyway, it's good to hear his kid is doing alright. You know, he screwed me out of a massive haul once? It's kinda why I snatched you up."

Sakura looked at her mentor curiously, "Really?"

"Yeah," Nawaki admitted, "Kakashi used little Naruto to do the legwork while he kept my attention. It was really effective, so I afterwards I figured I needed a flunkie of my own," He smiled down at Sakura and ruffled her wet hair, "And here you are."

Sakura's eye twitched in annoyance at being treated like a child, and at being called a flunkie,"So, I have Uzumaki Naruto to blame for my working for you? Great!" She exclaimed, "I wanted a real reason to not like him. Thanks for giving me one."

XxX

(Yu no Kuni - Unnamed Allied Shinobi Village)

Training had been fairly uneventful for Tayuya, Tenten, and Hinata. Productive, but uneventful. Eventually, however, Hyuuga Clan members arrived to bring Hinata back to her home as there was business she required to attend to. That left Tenten and Tayuya alone again.

Both girls decided that it was as good a time as any to head back into the village and the hotel they were staying at for a proper lunch.

Sitting on the balcony of the suite that served as Tenten's domicile for the time being, Tayuya didn't bother mincing words on the current object of her curiosity, "Ghost-Eyes wants to fuck Golden Boy, doesn't she?"

Tenten nearly choked on the dumpling she'd been eating at the time, coughing and needing a moment to clear her throat, "What's with that nickname? And what kind of question is that!?" She demanded to know, tears in her eyes.

Tayuya shrugged, "Every time anyone brought him up, she got that stupid look on her face."

"Why's it stupid?" Tenten ventured to ask, now recovered from her previous fit.

Tayuya growled, not knowing how to put into speech just what her problem was, "You know! It's just... girly and soft," She said, wringing her hands as though she were trying to reach for the words she needed, "Like, thinking about him puts butterflies in her stomach or something. Ew. Fuck that."

Tenten chuckled under her breath, keeping her humor to herself. Of course, Tayuya didn't recognize that she herself showed some of those same behavioral symptoms.

"To answer your question? Yes. For years," Tenten said, "Hard-headed Naruto doesn't see it. I'm just glad you had enough tact to not bring it up around her," Or that she had enough tact to not taunt Hinata that she'd already managed to pull such a thing off herself.

For as much as Hinata wasn't Tayuya's kind of person, she couldn't bring herself to just be outright cruel for no reason. Being nasty to Hinata would have been like kicking a kitten. That, and after training with her, despite her delicate appearance, it was evident to Tayuya that Hinata could hold her own in combat, thus, she kind of respected her.

"Give me some credit," Tayuya grumbled, "I'm not a complete bitch."

Tenten rolled her eyes, "-Just mostly one, is what you were going to say, right?"

Tayuya smirked, "Oh, Buns, look at you, finishing my sentences for me. You're getting to know me so well."

"God help me," Tenten muttered, looking down at her hand when she noticed an insect land on the back of her hand. Her eyes went wide at the sight of it, and she jumped up out of her chair with an uncharacteristic squeal.

Tayuya cringed at the sudden noise and drew her flute, prepared to defend herself, "What the fuck!? Who's attacking!?"

There was no attack. Tenten jumped down from her balcony and ran over to a person that she hadn't seen in quite some time, "SHINO~!" She exclaimed, wrapping the stoic boy up in a big hug.

Shino didn't return the physical gesture, simply holding out a finger for the kikaichu he'd sent Tenten's way to return to him, "Hello, Tenten. It's good to see you as well."

Knowing it was just the way he was, Tenten didn't let Shino's lack of apparent enthusiasm dampen hers, "We missed you! Does this mean you're back?"

Shino nodded as they both returned to the balcony, "Yes, I was able to heal properly and restore my hive in my clan's care. I traveled with them back to the village."

"So the Aburame Clan is here too?" Tenten asked, getting a nod from Shino, "That's great! Naruto's gonna be over the moon when he gets back."

Tayuya watched Shino take a seat with Tenten, specifically noting the bug from before disappearing inside of his body, "Did that guy just have a bug crawl inside of him?" She asked under her breath, somewhat put off, "The mainland is so fucking weird..."

Tenten found herself amused at Tayuya's reaction and quickly made introductions, "Tayuya, this is my friend Shino. Shino, Tayuya."

Shino nodded in acknowledgment, getting Tayuya to breathe a laugh through her nose, "Huh. He's quiet. I like him already."

Tenten was all smiles, getting to sit and catch up with one of her oldest, closest friends again, "You've missed so much stuff."

XxX

(Meanwhile - With Naruto)

Minato did his best to keep a smirk off of his face and any laughter out of his voice. When he and Naruto had been reunited amid the chaos of an incident somewhere else in town, something about a destructive fight, it became very obvious that he'd had something to do with it.

All Minato had to do to goad the truth out of him was fix him with a stern look. Apparently, being Naruto's father still meant something to the boy.

"I didn't mean to get into a fight with Sasuke," Naruto eventually blurted out.

"Uh-huh," Minato droned, "Sure you didn't."

Naruto continued his very physically animated explanation of the series of events, "One second I was looking at him, the next we were going at it. And then that girl chucked water towers at us," He shook his head in bewilderment, "It just all happened so fast, you know?"

Minato refused to let him off the hook just yet, replying in a deadpan tone, "No. Seeing as how I don't fly into blood rages, I don't know. You'd have been better off trying that excuse on your mother."

Naruto squinted his eyes, trying to imagine his own mother going berserk on an enemy, "Does mom go into blood rages?"

"No," Minato replied before taking more time to properly answer his son, "Well, not anymore, at least. Having you and Kanako really helped mellow her out."

It was at this point that Naruto noticed Minato's lack of anger or disappointment, "...Are you mad?" He asked.

"Eh, not really," Minato said, dismissing the entire incident, much to Naruto's surprise, "The little uproar you kids caused gave me enough of an opening to grab some sensitive information. Other than that, we got what we came for anyway. We've got a good scope of how far into the region the Alpha Clan has moved."

Naruto dared to look at Minato with a hopeful side glance, "So... mission accomplished?"

"Basically," Minato said, finally smiling at the younger blonde, "I didn't bring you along on this because I needed the help, Naruto. I brought you along because I wanted to spend some time with you. I know we don't get to very often."

It made Minato feel bad. Naruto was on the road doing missions so often, it made the man feel like he was using his own child as a workhorse. Despite the fact that Naruto never complained about the mission load he took on, Minato was well aware that it was on-par with Kakashi's... and the less that needed to be said about how screwed up that man was, the better.

Naruto was still young. He was just about to turn 15. One of the major reasons that Minato had undertaken his endeavor to bring so many warring clans together was so the youth of the shinobi world didn't have to burn themselves out with endless fighting.

However, Naruto never blamed Minato for this. It was something he had chosen to do on his own. And Minato's dream was something too important for him to be caught up in his own feelings. After all, he'd spent the first ten years of his life without Minato in it. Having him around at all as an active participant in his life was better than Naruto could have ever dreamed as a child.

"You're busy, dad. I know that," Naruto said, "And I'm not good at the whole 'being boss' thing, so it's not like I can help you there."

Minato stopped their walk, reaching out to put his hands on Naruto's shoulders, "Is that why you take so many missions? Because you want to help, but you don't know how?" He asked, looking Naruto dead in his eyes, "I'm going to need all the help I can get soon making sure things get organized," He offered, wagging his eyebrows in an attempt to lead Naruto into accepting a more administrative role.

Naruto could see what he was getting at, and could only smile back apologetically, "I'd do more harm than good hanging around," He said, "The Hyuuga Clan are cool because they know me better than most of the others. Aburame too, but when more of the clans you managed to talk into giving the village a try show up..."

He let it go unsaid. They were afraid of him. The Hyuuga and Aburame knew better, and knew of him before the fact that he was a jinchuuriki was common knowledge. But there would be others. Many others. And they wouldn't take to his presence nearly as well.

Keeping him around a lot when things were guaranteed to be tumultuous even without his presence couldn't possibly end well for their future prospects.

Minato let out a sigh. There was something in Naruto psyche that made him value himself less than he should have; as though he weren't allowed to be safe or happy, "The village is supposed to be a home for all of us. All of us includes you as well. You're going to make your mom sad if you keep staying away."

Naruto winced at the very obvious attempt to play on his family ties, "Low blow, dad."

That was too bad. A shinobi wasn't supposed to fight fair, and Minato had no plans on doing so in this regard, "And you're going to miss out when I start training Kanako. I know she'd love to have her big brother around cheering her on and helping her out-."

Naruto tugged at his hair and growled, "Alright! Alright! I get it! I'll try to hang around more."

"I just want you to give it a try," Minato insisted with a nudge, "I think you find it easier dealing with people trying to kill you than with anything else."

"Because it is easier. Just win, or find a way out. Simple," Naruto groused, "I can't get into a fight with all of our allies just because they think I'm weird," Winning wouldn't prove anything either. Even if he did it without Kurama, most would just assume he won because he was a jinchuuriki.

"Good," Minato brushed Naruto's cheek with his fist, "But I don't think you give yourself enough credit. A lot more of our allies think-."

The father-son talk ended when both noticed their tranquil surroundings disturbed. Both Minato and Naruto went on their guard, as the former called out into the trees.

"You can come out," Minato said, arms crossed as he looked up into the canopy, "It must be so uncomfortable trying to suppress that much chakra."

Two men emerged. Both dark-skinned with white hair, and gargantuan in size when compared to Minato and Naruto; one with sunglasses, the other without a shirt.

Unlike other members of the Alpha Clan that he had come across up to that point, Minato couldn't see any letters indicating allegiance. Still, he would have staked any amount of money he had on his person that they were affiliated.

They seemed too powerful to just be running around in the same area where the Alpha Clan was expanding without being associated with them.

Naruto stared up at the men, a low growling from Kurama audible in the back of his head.

The man wearing sunglasses pointed down at Naruto, seemingly very excited to see him, "See, bro? See? Gyuuki never tells a lie," He started to rhyme, "The one we're looking for is that guy."

The larger and sterner of the two Alpha Clan members looked down on Minato and specifically Naruto, "This boy is the Kyuubi jinchuuriki? Are you sure, B? He doesn't look like much," He said with disdain.

Naruto immediately took offense, both to the tone and content of the remark, "Hey! I am totally much! I'm too much!"

Killer B continued trying to convince his brother that Naruto was the real deal, "A, I'm tellin' you this shit. The Nine-Tails jinchuuriki is legit."

Naruto gestured to B as if to show that he was correct, "Right? Listen to him! I'm legit! In fact, I'm too legit! I'm too legit to quit!"

"Gyuuki," Naruto heard Kurama say in his head.

'What?' Naruto asked.

"That man. The one who identified you," Kurama said, "It's him. Gyuuki is there. They're just like you and I."

Another jinchuuriki? Like Naruto? Like Fuu?

Before Naruto could feel any sort of shock or panic, the interaction was cut short by the loud, booming voice of A sounding out for Minato and Naruto to hear, "Hey! You two. Do you know who we are?"

Minato and Naruto looked at each other before the former spoke up for the both of them, "Representatives of the Alpha Clan, I'd take it."

A smirked, his massive arms crossed over his chest, "Correct. But a little lacking on specific details. I guess it makes sense though. We haven't been this far south in decades."

"Do you know who I am?" Minato ventured to ask.

A shook his head, not seeming to mind being ignorant as to Minato's identity, "It doesn't matter who you are. The only reasons I would need to know you is if you're an exceptional member of my clan... or if you're an enemy," He said in a threatening tone, "It's much more preferable to be one of those things instead of the other."

Minato's gaze hardened at what he saw as a clear implication, "Are you asking us to join you?"

A let out loud, boisterous laughter, "You don't just get to join. You have to prove you have something of value to offer us," At that, a layer of lightning chakra wrapped itself around A's body. He gestured with his head to Killer B, "If my brother is right, your boy there has that something. You though? I'm going to need to see it."

Minato drew a Hiraishin kunai, while Naruto tapped into Kurama's chakra - both of them set for combat.

"Well, I certainly hope we don't disappoint," Minato remarked.


So, first impressions between the differing sides: not great. And we all know, if you can't get along, you might as well get it on. In a fight, I mean. Or the other way too, I guess, if that works for all sides. Why not?

Regardless, next chapter, there will be fighting. Minato and Naruto vs. A and Killer B.

...S'go.

Anyway, I hope you guys enjoyed. Until the next time, I'll catch you guys later.

Kenchi out.