Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto. But, as fans who take such an active engagement in the story and the world around it, so much so that we are motivated to read fan-created stories based in that universe, doesn't that mean that we are the ones that own it?
...No. It doesn't. If I tried to pull something like that in court, I'd get my balls sued to the wall. I don't own jack.
Chapter 34: A Gesture of Good Faith
Namikaze Minato was seen by everyone that had met him as a level-headed man – thoughtful and cool in temperament. However, A hadn't been the only one left in a bad mood after their last fight. Minato himself also had plenty of problems with how things ended.
While A had never touched him with any attack during the battle, nothing Minato had done to the man in return had phased him. The thought of hitting A with a Rasengan and him shrugging it off as though he had tripped over a root and fallen over stuck with Minato for days after the fact.
Despite being an even-tempered man, Minato didn't get to where he was by sitting idle and remaining complacent. He needed solutions, and to that end, it was often a wise move to seek council.
There was only one man whose opinion he oftentimes sought out above all others, so he loaded up on sake and sent a message via the toads for permission to hang out on Mt. Myoboku.
There wasn't a particular reason for it. The mountain just made for good drinking ambiance. And something that went well with drinking was griping.
"Seriously, sensei," Minato sighed, bemoaning his now empty cup, "I have no idea what to do with the guy."
Jiraiya chuckled and poured another drink for his student, "Have Naruto get the Kyuubi to shoot a Bijudama at him. See if that works," He said, offering the cup to Minato.
Minato accepted the drink but frowned at what he'd perceived as Jiraiya kidding around, "That's not as funny as you think it is, you know."
"I'm not even joking that much," Jiraiya said, shaking his head and taking a sip as he thought on what knowledge he could offer that would help, "Lightning Armor. That's what the last A used."
"The last A?" Minato questioned.
Jiraiya shrugged, "They like to pass down names in the Alpha Clan. A goes to the leader," He explained succinctly, "This guy is the last A's son."
Minato hummed thoughtfully, "I didn't think their leadership was patriarchal."
"Oh, it isn't. That's how good this new A must be if he was still able to take it anyway," Jiraiya said before getting back on track, "Anywho, the last A, he used Lightning Armor too. The last time the Alpha Clan ventured this far south, the Senju Clan tried to stop him."
"And they did," Minato specified. He remembered the build-up to this, though he'd had nothing to do with it when the time came, "The Senju Clan pushed them back."
"Sure. It and only took three days and three nights - for one man," Jiraiya said patronizingly, "One man stood up to an army 10,000 strong; alone, to cover a rout. By then, the Senju were desperate to push any advantage they could get over the Alpha Clan, so you can imagine how rabid they were to nip things in the bud when they had the chance."
Minato silently drank his sake as he thought to himself. He was considered absurdly powerful, but whenever he heard old stories about legendary figures of the past, some of their feats didn't seem real. Granted, given the right circumstances, he felt that he himself could have had a fighting chance at dealing with an army on his own, but that didn't make it any less remarkable that someone else actually had done it.
And now the son of the man who had nearly taken the great clans by storm were moving south again... and in an example of the worst timing possible, Minato's fledgling little village was in the buffer state between the destination, Hi no Kuni, and the origin, Kaminari no Kuni.
"Alright," Minato said, rising to his feet, "I'm probably going to have to fight that guy again, sooner rather than later. Time to run through some ideas to crack that armor. Come on, sensei. Training time."
While training every day to keep up one's skills was good and could result in gradual improvement over time, there was nothing like a dedicated intense training camp to provide a significant boost in a short period.
Jiraiya looked up at the blond man strangely, "You want to train now? But I've got a pretty good buzz going."
In fact, Minato was further along on that front than Jiraiya was, "Exactly. If we can make any of my stupid combat ideas work out while we're drunk, then they'll definitely work when I'm sober."
Jiraiya eyed the container of alcohol resting innocently nearby, "So, does that mean I can bring the rest of the sake?" He asked, wrapping his hand tightly around the drink.
"Bring the rest?" Minato parroted questioningly. He picked up the sake and gave it a shake, frowning at the lack of contents within, "We're probably going to need to get more. We're going to be here for a while."
An oft forgotten and overlooked aspect of the toad hermit style of ninjutsu - training and sparring drunk.
(With Naruto – Yu no Kuni – Unnamed Allied Shinobi Village)
Tayuya, Tenten, and Shino sat with Naruto as he took Kanako for lunch in town. Older brother that he was, he let the little girl sit in his lap, bouncing her on his knee. While Shino and Tenten were accustomed to the sight of Naruto doting on his young sibling, it was still new for Tayuya. She hadn't yet adjusted to how adorable she found Kanako and had to make a concerted effort to keep from cooing over it out loud.
She had a reputation to maintain, after all. Or, in this case, being new in town, she had a reputation to establish.
"Seriously," Tayuya said, shaking her head in disbelief, "People think that guy is some kind of monster?"
"You should hear the new one about him," Tenten said.
"New rumor," Shino commented, "What does Tenten mean? Of course, it's been going around that 'Red Scar' Naruto defeated two jinchuuriki at the same time, both of them in Tailed Beast Mode, without transforming himself."
Tenten rolled her eyes, "Which, how does anyone even know about that? It just happened the other day."
"That's triple-B.S.," Tayuya replied instantly, having seen the look on Naruto's face as he'd stopped eating upon hearing his friends talk about him.
Naruto nodded in confirmation, "Yeah, I definitely had to transform," He said, before realizing that hadn't been the most egregious part of this particular rumor, "Oh... and I didn't beat them both. It was kind of a draw."
At that, Tenten perked up, a large grin on her face, "Which is why we're planning to go out again! Time for jinchuuriki boot camp! Just like old times!" At that, Naruto and Shino shared a fist bump.
Tayuya found herself intrigued at the provocative-sounding happening, "Which involves what?"
Naruto couldn't help but share his oldest friend's enthusiasm for the concept of 'jinchuuriki boot camp', "Every time we did this, Ero-sennin had me throw around as much of Kurama's chakra as I could in a safe place until I started figuring out how it worked."
Those had been good times. It was an excuse for heavy-duty training with extreme potential for destruction, and not just for him. Tenten and Shino had even gotten in on it in the past. Even if it had been rough going, it had always been a good time. What could be more fun to an adolescent shinobi than roughing it for weeks at a time and spending all day every day creating horrifying explosions?
Tayuya, however, was far from impressed.
"...That's it?" The musically inclined kunoichi asked.
Naruto nodded in confirmation, along with Tenten and Shino, "Yeah-huh."
Given who Tayuya was dealing with, she had expected so much more, and found herself sorely disappointed, "Okay, better idea," She offered, "We already know the Alpha Clan had jinchuuriki before you were ever even born, right? Well, what are the chances that they were the first?"
"...What?" Naruto said.
It took a concerted effort from Tayuya to censor herself in front of Kanako, "This fuc-friggin' idea of sticking big chakra monsters into people didn't just come out of nowhere. Who did it before anybody else?" She asked, making Naruto pause in thought.
"We tried this before," Tenten said, "We went up to the mountains where the Sarutobi Clan keep their records. We poured over whatever we could find in that place. We didn't find anything relevant."
"Then go somewhere else," Tayuya reasoned, not backing down from her point.
"A difficult proposal," Shino said, "Why? Because the Sarutobi Clan has the deepest records on everything in the Elemental Nations."
"Then we don't look at records," Naruto interjected, having had enough time to really think on what Tayuya had said. She was an outside perspective, and maybe just what was needed to move forward, "Guys, I think we've got to go back. Like, way back. We can do this. We've just got to think outside of the box."
Tenten cringed, "I don't like the way you said that."
"You're not going to like the idea either," Naruto said, preparing his best friend for what was to come out of his mouth next, "We've gotta talk to the Senju."
Tenten reacted exactly how Naruto expected her to, as in, not well, "Is using Kurama's chakra frying your brain?" She gave him a hard swat on the arm, "You want to talk to the people who probably want you dead more than anyone else?"
Naruto rubbed the now sore area where Tenten made contact, "There's a pretty good chance the Uchiha want me dead just as bad. I could have suggested we go talk to them," He offered in his own defense.
"I said 'probably'!" Tenten asserted, "You can't be serious. This is such a bad idea."
"The last time I checked, a bad idea is better than no idea," Naruto said.
"And how do you suggest we carry out this bad idea?"
Contrary to Tenten's expectations, Naruto did in fact have what one could loosely consider a plan of action, "Well, dad said he ran into a Senju yesterday in the town we went to. We could start there."
His suggestion did little to change his oldest friend's mind on the matter, "That was yesterday, and it was before you fought a giant monster battle nearby!" Tenten pointed out, "Who knows where they could be now?"
"Where even are we?" Sakura asked as she followed her mentor's lead through a village that hadn't been on the map.
Nawaki figured he would do his sister a favor on his way home and scope out the most recent change to the region – the village that had popped up out of nowhere. Well, not exactly nowhere. But it had never been notable enough of a location to show up on most maps, unless they were extremely localized. Not until now when the population jumped ten times over in a matter of weeks, and traffic coming through increased exponentially.
"I dunno. This place never had a name before," Nawaki said, taking in everything he saw around them. With the number of different shinobi around, freelancers and clan-affiliated, it made the place seem more like a neutral outpost town than one that was aligned with ninja, "Pretty peaceful for a village inhabited by a bunch of different clans."
As interesting as he found it, Sakura found it intimidating. The Senju had no shortage of enemies, and there was no telling who among them was just walking around for a day out.
"Can we please just go home now?" Sakura begged Nawaki.
"We are going home," Nawaki insisted, "We're just passing through. No big deal."
'Just passing through'. Those sounded like famous last words if Sakura had ever heard them. Damn her sensei and his inquisitive nature. While she was also curious, her survival instincts overrode her desire to learn in this case. But it would be fine. She was level-headed, and Nawaki was an experienced, powerful shinobi who was well-versed in diplomacy. If something went wrong, they could probably talk their way out of it. Everything would be fine.
"Oh, hey! It's the girl with the pink hair that threw a water tower at me!" Sakura cringed at the sound of a voice she had gotten to know very recently, "Hey, pink girl! Hey!"
Sakura slowly turned to find 'Red Scar' Uzumaki Naruto waving to her from a lunch bar.
Nawaki gave Sakura a pat on the back that knocked her off-balance, "You made friends with Namikaze's boy? That's great! Why didn't you tell me?" He said, before walking over to mingle, "Oi! Remember me? From the Kakuzu thing! Long time, no see, kid!"
"Is that Senju Nawaki?" The bun-haired girl sitting with Naruto asked.
"Ugh..." Sakura groaned, dragging a hand down her face as she followed.
It had been a very awkward day of travel for the Uchiha brothers. The adage 'keep your friends close and your enemies closer' had been one Sasuke had heard countless times during his life, but he'd never had to face it quite so directly.
Danzo and his contingent hadn't done anything threatening since they had first run across each other. The nameless shinobi in blank masks obediently walked in formation, Danzo at their center. Still, Sasuke couldn't help but feel trepidation in the old man's presence. Mostly because Itachi, normally always calm and collected, seemed to be on edge. Most who didn't know Itachi wouldn't have been able to tell, but Sasuke had been around him for as long as he'd been alive.
While his face held the same impassive expression that it normally did and his body language gave nothing away, Sasuke could notice a different cadence to his breathing. As far as Itachi went, that was the equivalent of sweating bullets from a normal person.
If Uchiha Itachi was concerned about something, it meant that there was trouble.
"What do you want, Shimura-san?" Itachi asked, tiring of whatever game Danzo was playing, "I doubt we simply crossed paths out of the blue. You aren't the kind of man to allow such a meeting to be left to chance."
"Astute, as expected Uchiha-san," Danzo said, though both brothers doubted the authenticity of the compliment, "You are right in the assumption that I wished to speak with you."
Whatever business Danzo had with his clan, Itachi wanted to expedite his interaction with the man, "I can take whatever message you wish to carry to my father. You can trust in that."
Danzo shook his head, frowning in disappointment, "No-no, and such a misunderstanding right after I complimented you. Or maybe you were intentionally being obtuse."
Sasuke would have been quick to come to his brother's defense at the poorly concealed slight, had Itachi not physically grabbed onto him to shut him down, "Whatever you would like me to do for you, my cooperation ends at carrying a message."
"Even if it would benefit the Uchiha Clan?"
"The Uchiha Clan will decide what benefits the Uchiha Clan."
"And are you not being groomed to lead the Uchiha Clan?"
"Again, that is not your concern," Itachi said. Sasuke noticed that his older brother seemed to have come close to the breaking point of his patience, "You have been traveling in our shadow for a day. As accommodating as I have been, we're nearing the heart of our clan's territory, and I cannot permit you go much farther. If you have business with my father, please, inform me of the details. If you have business with me, please, inform me of the details."
Sasuke prepared for combat as Danzo's entourage seemed coiled to leap to their master's defense. A raise of Danzo's hand kept anything from happening beyond that point.
"The Uchiha are cornerstones of the society we have built as a whole," Danzo said, "There are things in motion that would threaten that society. I am trying to get in front of these things, but I need allies," He brandished a micro-scroll from within his shirt and displayed it for the brothers to see, "Take this to your father. In it, he will find the means to reach out to me, if he is so inclined."
Sasuke looked at the old man in disbelief, "You had to follow us for a full day just for that?"
"I wished to gather the measure of the next generation," Danzo said as he threw the scroll to Itachi and turned to leave with his bodyguards, "I had high hopes, but every generation that follows never fails to disappoint me more than the last."
With that, he vanished in a Shunshin, leaving Itachi and Sasuke alone to continue on their way home. Still wary however, the siblings waited until they were certain he was gone before speaking again, all the while keeping an eye out.
"What did that mean?" Sasuke asked, "I know it was an insult, but..."
Itachi shook his head, "Danzo is a man stuck in the past. If he had it his way, every year would be fifty years ago. There are few things men like that fear more than progress. They resent the future, and what it means for them and their 'contributions'," He gazed at the scroll in his hand, contemplating burning it then and there.
But that was above his station. After all, it was a message meant for the clan head. Whether he was the man's son or not, he lacked the authority to dictate whether or not it was worth his time. Danzo's honeyed words would reach Uchiha Fugaku. Itachi just hoped his father was wise enough to note the poison that was undoubtedly hidden within.
(With Naruto – Yu no Kuni – Unnamed Allied Shinobi Village)
As much trouble as Sakura had expected her time around Naruto Uzumaki and his ilk to be, she and her sensei had shared a pretty peaceful lunch with them. It was still odd to think about the variety of shinobi she found herself sitting with coming together for anything more than a momentary joining of forces, but between Uzumaki, the Aburame boy, and the two clanless girls, everything seemed genuinely copacetic. They seemed to all trust each other.
Specifically, they all seemed to trust Naruto. Nawaki was right. This was interesting. It seemed like a microcosm of what Minato Namikaze had been championing for the better part of two decades.
Whatever positive opinions she'd been forming, however, took a backseat once she heard what Naruto requested of Nawaki.
"You can't be serious," Sakura said, "You want to meet with Tsunade-sama?"
Tenten rested her cheek in her hand, "That's what I'm saying," She said, "Naruto, if you want a Senju Clan bigwig to be the one to kill you, I'm pretty sure Nawaki could use that notch in his belt instead."
Nawaki downed some of his drink before spinning in his seat to Naruto, the one that had originally brought the topic up, "I get where you're coming from, kid. And you're actually on the right track if you want to talk to her about jinchuuriki. But you might just wind up opening some sensitive doors if you want to go that route. I'd say it'd probably be best to let certain sleeping dogs lie, but that'd make me a real hypocrite."
Sakura could tell when Nawaki was hedging toward one decision or another, and didn't like the way he was leaning on this one, "Sensei, you can't seriously be thinking about letting him see Tsunade-sama."
"Why not? You worried about her?" Nawaki scoffed before addressing Naruto again, "No offense, but Nine-Tails inside of you or not, my sister would probably paste you."
"It doesn't matter," Naruto insisted, "I've got a lot of things I want to ask. If she wants to try and put me down the way she's wanted to for years, I'm willing to take that chance."
"Oh, don't be so dramatic," Nawaki said with a roll of his eyes, "...I can get her to meet with you."
Naruto felt he had gotten what he'd wanted far too easily, "What's the catch?"
Nawaki took a moment to savor his drink again, knowing that what he would have to say next would go over poorly, "You have to go alone," The rest of Naruto's party began to make a fuss. Even stoic Shino's hive began to buzz at the idea, "Hey-hey-hey, he's gotta ride it like that! That's just how it has to go!"
"Why?" Shino, of all people, piped up to ask.
"Because she isn't going to come to meet him, so I've got to take him into our clan realm," Nawaki said as he began to explain, "Just him traveling by himself through our lands is still going to freak everybody out. Him with backup? You're gonna be shadowed by raiders all the way through just waiting for a chance, even if I'm there. Remember, kid, you've got a bounty."
At that, Tayuya perked up, "Golden Boy has a bounty?" She asked, pausing to think before following up with another important question, "...What's it up to?"
Tenten was quick to admonish the musical kunoichi, "Tayuya!"
"What?" Tayuya defended, "That's a fair question! It's not like I'm looking to cash in! I hang out with the guy! I'm just wondering how much heat he gets on a regular basis!"
Nawaki brushed past the two girls arguing, instead focusing solely on Naruto, "I'm just telling you what's what. She won't parlay with you unless you're alone. And she actually does hate your dad, so she definitely won't let you near without taking a swing at you if you bring him," He stopped to reevaluate when he realized that probably wouldn't sell the boy on the terms, "If it helps, I'll guarantee that I won't let her lay a finger on you."
Tenten couldn't help but be skeptical, "You'll fight your own sister to keep Naruto safe?"
Nawaki smirked at her, "You say that like I haven't gone a few rounds with her before. But it won't come to that. I know past history probably hasn't left the best impression on you, but sis is more reasonable than you think."
One didn't become head of one of the two most powerful shinobi clans in the Elemental Nations by being solely bullheaded and violent. They had to possess a certain shrewdness, in order for them to navigate the shark tank of clan politics and the give-and-take of inter-clan interactions.
"And what do we have to give you in return?" Shino coolly asked, "Why? Because I cannot imagine a favor of this magnitude being done for us without proper compensation."
Nawaki spun in his chair, leaning his back against the bar, "We can talk about that after we get your boy back home safely," He didn't intend to make any plans until it was certain he could actually bring him back, "I hope you know what you're getting yourself into, Uzumaki."
Naruto grinned at the man in return, "Oh, don't worry. I'm pretty sure I don't."
(Northwestern Mountain Range – Sarutobi Clan Archives)
The stronghold of the Sarutobi Clan rested at the top of a gorgeous mountain range with a pristine view of the lowlands through the clouds. The sight of this much was enough of a reason for explorers and adventurers to scale the heights that would bring them there. There were also the human-friendly monkeys that could be found running around all over; big attractions for those who enjoyed wildlife.
Not for Mitarashi Anko, however. The immeasurable stores of knowledge kept on-site weren't much incentive for her either.
"Going to the library is not my idea of a romantic getaway, Scarecrow," Anko complained as she and Kakashi walked over a bridge connecting one mountain peak to another, "Can't sweep a girl off her feet with a good book."
At that, Kakashi scoffed, somewhat offended, given his own pastimes, "You absolutely can. Anyway, we didn't come here to catch up on our reading. I need to speak to someone."
"I thought we were trying to pin down Danzo so we could introduce him to the Shinigami," And there certainly was a lot of legwork when it came to accomplishing this task.
"And the last thing we learned about him was his presence in the Fire Daimyo's capital," Kakashi said, "We're here looking for a Guardian Ninja."
Anko's brow furrowed in confusion, "Didn't Jiraiya and the village kids take them down?" She knew for a fact that Fuu had taken out her share back when that attack had occurred.
"They didn't kill all of them," Kakashi pointed out.
Anko rolled her eyes, "Well, yeah, obviously that Kabuto kid survived. But that was because he flipped sides, right?"
"All bodies were accounted for with the exception of two," Kakashi said, "The ninja monk Chiriku, and Sarutobi Asuma."
The latter of which shared his surname with the clan territory they currently found themselves in, "And we're just waltzing into the guy's home in the hopes that he's here?" Anko asked.
"Where else would he go?"
"Back to the Fire Daimyo?"
"Why? There's nothing to go back to. The Guardian Ninja were annihilated," Kakashi said, "Besides, if it was me, after losing everything like that, even if I did plan on going back, I'd find a place to take a little personal time first."
Anko didn't say anything to follow up. Her gaze simply lingered on Kakashi from behind as he continued to lead the way. The more time she spent around him, the more he would give her a glimpse into why he was the way he was. But just a glimpse. Anytime she tried to dig a little deeper, he would close ranks on himself and shut her out. After knowing him for years and traveling with him on this mission to find and kill Danzo, she still didn't know anything about his past other than the fact that he had been working with Namikaze for a long time.
At first, she'd just wanted to know more about Kakashi out of the general curiosity that came with being a ninja. The man was mysterious and seemed to revel in it. But the more time she spent around him, the more it seemed like Kakashi seemed to guard his past desperately. Was there some great tragedy? Some great shame? Was he hiding an identity from a different life? Whatever it was, it had made him a shuffling corpse of a man who only seemed to find purpose in his life when he was forced to fight for it.
Engrossed in these thoughts, Anko almost ran into Kakashi's back when he came to a sudden stop. Peering around him, she saw him focused on a blue-haired woman in a backless black dress gazing out from the edge of a cliff.
As if she felt the attention on her, the woman turned around, her amber eyes narrowing at the sight of them, "Hatake Kakashi."
"Uh... this a friend of yours?" Anko asked under her breath.
Kakashi would have rather been torn apart by his own summons, "Not particularly," He replied, "This is Konan."
"So, you know of me," Konan said.
Kakashi shrugged, "I'm very familiar with you from that time you tried to kill my students," There was a bite in the end of his tone.
"Scarecrow, come on," Anko urged, "If we held grudges against everyone that tried to kill us once or twice, we'd be right where the Senju and the Uchiha are."
"I know," Kakashi said, "We're all professionals here. I only hold grudges when it's something personal."
Konan folded her arms against her chest, "They should be able to take care of themselves. They're shinobi, Kakashi."
"They were ten."
"Oh," Konan turned away, turning her attention back to the view, "That's the time you're talking about."
Implying that there was another, more recent time that Kakashi had not been present for. Kakashi bit down the feeling of anger that initially welled up in him. Obviously, she had failed in that venture as well, "What are you doing here, Konan?"
Konan sounded bored in her reply, "Why does anyone come here, Kakashi? For information and understanding."
"I shudder to think what interests you enough to come all the way here to study."
A ghost of a smile flitted across Konan's face, "Not me."
Kakashi immediately realized what that meant, "Nagato is here?"
Konan slowly walked over to Kakashi and Anko, reaching out to place a hand on the former's face while the latter bristled, "Don't look so scared, Kakashi. No harm will come to you in this place. After all, this is neutral ground," With that, she walked past them.
Anko sneered at Konan's back as she departed, "I don't like her," She confided in Kakashi.
"Not our problem, unfortunately," Kakashi sighed. Even if it was, he didn't necessarily want to risk tangling with Nagato without ample reason, "Come on. We're already looking for someone."
(Hi no Kuni – Senju Clan Headquarters)
With Naruto in tow, Nawaki's travel speed picked up from a leisurely saunter to a brisk pace, one that Sakura would have even considered fast. In all her time with Nawaki, he never traveled quickly unless there was a need for it. For a man that loved to take his time when out and about, it was a measure of how seriously he took having Naruto along with them that he insisted they make good time in returning home.
Despite Naruto's amiability with her and her sensei, Sakura still found herself mistrusting of him. While Nawaki was confident in his ability to handle things if relations with Naruto turned south, he was still a jinchuuriki, and thus was more than a few notches higher than Sakura considered herself equipped to handle in a serious fight. His potential for destruction also put Senju Clan installations at risk, but as long as Nawaki took responsibility for anything Naruto got up to while he was with them, Sakura could live with his presence.
"Alright, you two. I've gotta report to sis, and hopefully soften her up to meet with Uzumaki-san," He said before giving directions to his apprentice, "Sakura, be a dear and keep our guest company."
Sakura let out an unholy screech, indignant at her sensei's order, "You want me to watch him?" She asked, "What the hell am I supposed to do if he goes all tailed beast in the middle of the compound?"
"Hey..." Naruto tried to defend, "I don't do stuff like that in public. Usually..."
Nawaki rolled his eyes. Honestly, the way the girl carried on sometimes, it would be easy to overlook the fact that both he and Tsunade had trained her, "You punch him in the face and call in the two-thousand other shinobi we have wandering around the place. Not that he will," He said, sending an apologetic look Naruto's way, "Besides, you're not meant to protect this place from him. You're protecting him from the others in this place. Don't let anyone attack him."
Sakura wanted to ask Nawaki just who he thought that would be stupid enough to try anything on Naruto. But then her brain started working properly and informed her that enough people had tried in the past that he wound up getting his reputation in the first place. She didn't put it past any hotshot Senju Clan up-and-comers who saw and recognized Naruto to gather and try to take a shot at him.
This was how Naruto and Sakura found themselves sitting on a bench along a footpath in a scenic park that led to the clan head's castle. Sakura kept plenty of space between them while she took the downtime to check over the back catalogue of some of the recent findings she and Nawaki had made.
Naruto had wanted to be friendly with the girl, but it seemed that she didn't have the time to learn to like him. That was fine. As off-putting as it was, they hadn't exactly had the greatest first meeting, even if his reputation hadn't already proceeded him. Besides, he had his share of friends that he didn't need to go scrounging around for more. At least Sakura wasn't openly hostile.
As they sat, there was no shortage of passers-by that came through, all of them taking note of him. Some looked scared and hurried past, while others fixed him with spiteful glares.
It was all the usual standard fare whenever he lingered in places where people would know of him. Being in Mizu no Kuni hadn't been fun, but at least he hadn't had to deal with the notoriety of his status while he had been there. The only thing that hadn't happened yet was the armed posse coming to try and impose on him.
Right on cue, however, several Senju Clan shinobi approached, some Naruto recalled having seen already walk by. One young man with a bandanna over his head adorned with the Senju Clan emblem seemed to be the leader, as he was the only one with the temerity to step forward. He sneered at Naruto, the corner of his mouth marred with a jagged scar. Long since used to this game, Naruto stared impassively at him, unblinking with his blue eyes, as deep, cold, and crushing as the ocean waters surrounding his home island.
The interloper blinked first. They always did.
Instead, he focused his attention on Sakura, who hadn't bothered to even look up from the journal she busied herself with writing in, "Who's this, Haruno? Didn't know you had time for a boyfriend with all of that book-worming you have to get up to," He taunted.
Sakura didn't rise to the bait, "This is Naruto Uzumaki," She replied matter-of-factly, "I'm pretty sure you knew that already before you walked up."
"Yeah, we know," A female member of the clan said, "What the hell is he doing here?"
Sakura clicked her tongue and shook her head, "Now, you see, that's a question for Nawaki-sensei. After all, I'm just the book worm," The first young man opened his mouth again when Sakura interrupted him, "Two things before you start again. One: he's Nawaki-sensei's guest. What would attacking him say about the Senju Clan's word?"
"Just because Nawaki-sama brought him here doesn't-."
Sakura kept speaking, bulldozing right through whatever weak response she was about to be met with, "Two: that's 'Naruto of the Nine-Tails'," Naruto waved at them listlessly for emphasis, "Half of you are shaking in your boots just standing here, and you haven't even seen what I have from him."
"We've heard the stories!" One of the other Senju shouted before remembering that Naruto was right there. They continued to regard him warily, "We... were figuring you would jump in to help."
Sakura raised her eyebrow as if to ask if they were serious, "At the risk of sounding redundant-," She started, "One: he's Nawaki-sensei's guest. Two: that's 'Naruto of the Nine-Tails'," From there, she continued listing more, "Three: he's just sitting there. If anything happens, it's because you started it. And four: you treat me like crap. That last one's pretty important."
With that, Sakura picked up her things and went her own way. Naruto looked between her and the amassed Senju Clan shinobi before following after her. It didn't take long for him to catch up. Sakura hardly regarded his presence and kept walking.
"Thanks," Naruto said, smiling at her. It was rarer than he'd like that things were nipped in the bud so cleanly.
"Don't thank me," Sakura replied, "Best-case scenario if you wind up fighting them, we piss off Namikaze Minato because those idiots kill you. Worst-case scenario, you paint the park with their guts, the rest of the clan jumps in to try and take you down, and that makes it worse."
The pragmatic way Sakura reasoned for defending him wiped the smile from Naruto's face. Reasons for speaking up for him aside, that she did it at all was still worth something to him, "So... they treat you bad?" Naruto asked, trying to make conversation, "You're Nawaki's apprentice. You don't work with them?"
Sakura stopped walking and pursed her lips, "Sensei usually works alone, or he did until he started dragging me along, so no. I was mentored by the clan leader's brother, I get to work with him hands-on, and I got extra training from the clan head herself to make sure I could keep up with sensei in the field," A wry smile came to her face, "There isn't a drop of Senju blood in me. So, I hope you can see why they wouldn't be fans of me."
She was an affiliate shinobi; far better off than a freelancer that was outsourced dangerous, low-paying work, yet still meant to be a tributary to the Senju Clan. She was little different from one of the clans that fell under the Senju's umbrella. However, she was an outsider that had been granted training and opportunities that few others of her generation had. At best, some received advanced medical instruction from Tsunade. No one other than Sakura though had ever been trained by Nawaki at all.
That grated against a good number of Senju who felt they were better equipped or more deserving of the position. It made her a bit of an outcast in her own regard. Sakura didn't seem to have many friends among the clan she was meant to serve. He had yet to see anyone so much as greet her in passing. He had originally thought it had to do with his presence, but now that didn't seem to be the case.
Naruto hummed in understanding, "That sucks."
"Yeah, it does," Sakura sighed, "What's it to you though? Why would you care?"
Naruto chuckled, "We don't have the time, and you don't care enough to hear why. But trust me when I say, I kinda understand."
And if Minato had taught Naruto anything since they had reunited with each other years ago, it was strength and control wouldn't end war as they knew it. It would be understanding.
If nothing else, getting to talk with Tsunade would at least give him a chance to understand just why it was so awful for him to be a jinchuuriki, according to the old powers.
(Yu no Kuni – Unnamed Allied Shinobi Village)
After a week or so of hanging around and getting acquainted with the place, Tayuya would admit to herself that she did enjoy being on the mainland. Only to herself though. There was no way she would admit to being content to anyone else around her. She reserved the right to complain at any and all times.
Still, the villages she had seen thus far were cleaner and safer than anything she had gotten accustomed to in Mizu no Kuni. The people were definitely more pleasant. She could walk the streets without worrying about having to look over her shoulder, lest she find a blade slipped into her back.
Of course, just because the people were friendlier, that didn't mean that she was in a mood to be more pleasant.
"Come on, you need to meet more people," Tenten insisted, having stopped by Tayuya's home to impose upon her.
Naruto had sealed up Tayuya's houseboat for transport. Upon arriving on the mainland, he'd told her to pick a spot before unsealing it and having the boat portion submerged underground. Now, it was just a house-house. She was the first amongst them to have a place of her own. Tenten still lived out of the hotel in the village with Naruto's family, and Shino would be residing with his clan when they arrived en masse.
Unbeknownst to Tayuya, the fact that she had her own place meant that Tenten had plans to use it as the standard meeting place in the immediate future. For the time being though, she was trying to motivate Tayuya to come hang out with her and others. It was proving to be a less than successful effort.
"I don't need to do anything, Buns," A resistant Tayuya remarked, leaning on the front railing of her home, "You, Golden Boy, and Cream Puff are all the friends I need. I do like the bug guy though. Man of few words. I appreciate that."
Having tagged along with Tenten, Shino nodded and gestured Tayuya's way appreciatively.
"I don't get why you're being so anti-social," Tenten said, "It's just going to be a party. You like to drink. You like to run your mouth. Seems right up your alley."
At that, Shino chose to chime in, "I would not paint Tayuya-san with such a broad brush Not everyone who seems sociable excels in public situations."
"And bug guy goes up another notch in my books," Tayuya smirked.
"Please don't encourage her," Tenten asked of Shino before focusing back on Tayuya, "I just want you to feel comfortable here."
Tayuya regarded Tenten closely before sighing. While she had drifted closer to Naruto than to anyone else, Tenten was easily her closest female friend, "I'm just not used to this shit, you know? I keep expecting the worst out of the fuckers around here, but everyone just seems to want to be left in peace. It's weird."
Living there had her fighting against every instinct she had been forcefully ingrained with from years of dealing with cutthroats in Mizu no Kuni. It was an adjustment that she could safely say she wasn't anywhere close to comfortable with just yet.
"Of course," Shino said with a shrug, "Why, you ask? Because that is the point of Minato-sama's idea to bring the clans together – no more wars between them."
"Hence the party," Tenten continued, "All the old-heads used to fighting each other are gonna have a harder time adjusting to everything than younger people like us. We're just trying to get everybody acquainted, you know?"
Tayuya grinned, finally seeing Tenten's scheme for the evening, "So, that's what it is. You're enlisting me for community outreach."
Tenten wasn't ashamed at her scheme being laid bare, "It's worth a try. Besides, we're closer to peace now than anyone else has been since the Sage of Six Paths days, at least as far as we know."
"Never gonna happen," Tayuya stated skeptically before considering Tenten's proposal in a new light, "But... I guess it could be funny seeing how awkward this party's gonna be," After a moment of consideration, she changed her mind, "Eh, why the hell not, Buns. I'd love to be there to watch this whole thing blow up in your face."
(With Naruto – Hi no Kuni – Senju Clan Headquarters)
When Nawaki arrived to retrieve Naruto, informing him that the meeting with Tsunade was a go, Naruto felt a weight settle in his stomach. Nerves that hadn't been there before suddenly appeared. The entire way to the main castle where Tsunade awaited, Naruto's brain swam with all kinds of thoughts and insecurities.
This was the leader of arguably the most powerful shinobi clan in the world. This was a woman whose word basically declared him an outlaw to most of the ninja world. And now he was to come face-to-face with her.
"-Hey, are you listening?" Nawaki jostled Naruto upon realizing that the teenager hadn't been listening to his instructions for quite some time, "I'm trying to make sure sis doesn't eat you alive in there."
Naruto rolled his eyes. It wasn't like he planned on hammering out a treaty, "I'm not here to negotiate anything with her. I just wanna ask some questions."
"Information is currency, kid," Nawaki said, "She isn't going to come off of anything without a good reason for it. I'll be sitting in to make sure things don't get heated, but don't expect any backup from me."
As cordial was Nawaki was being, he was still a high-ranking member of the Senju Clan. He wouldn't have much of a stake in any of Naruto's interest, and if something went down, he would obviously side with his own flesh and blood.
Once inside the castle proper, Nawaki led Naruto to a garden in the center of the stronghold where he saw a lone woman standing on a bridge over a manmade stream. Her back was turned as the pair approached. Once they reached the bridge, Nawaki stopped and nudged Naruto forward.
Swallowing down whatever nerves he had, Naruto carefully approached, making sure his footsteps were easily heard. He stopped directly behind the woman and stood in place, waiting to be acknowledged.
It wasn't immediate. It took some time, in fact. As he waited, Naruto contemplated if she expected him to bow or something. He scoffed inside of his own head. If that was her expectation, they would be standing there in silence for quite some time.
"So," Tsunade eventually said, still keeping her back to Naruto as she leaned on the railing of the bridge, "You're him. The jinchuuriki boy."
Naruto pursed his lips before taking Tsunade's initiation of conversation as an invitation. He stepped forward next to her, leaning on the railing similarly, "In the flesh."
Tsunade gazed at him from her side, her brown eyes appraising the young man that had been a headache for her more than once over the years, "Hm. You have some of your father's more striking features, but you look more like your mother," She observed, "That's good. I'm not much of a fan of your father."
"That's what they tell me," Naruto said with a small smile, "Though, I guess you aren't much of a fan of me either," At that, he turned the tables, taking a close look at Tsunade to the point where she felt the need to point it out.
"Well?" She asked, amused, "Did you find whatever you were looking for just now?"
Naruto didn't answer at first, instead squinting his eyes and pursing his lips, "Just... taking it all in, really."
"Never thought you'd get this far, did you?" Tsunade said.
Naruto shook his head. It wasn't that, "When I agreed to this, to try and talk to you, I didn't think about how I would feel when I saw you," He said, "Heh... it's kinda wild that for someone who had a lot to do with my life taking a hard left turn, I had no idea what you even looked like until thirty seconds ago."
Tsunade chuckled, "That's normally how it goes, kid. Think about it like this – I've been public enemy number one to the Uchiha Clan for over 20 years now. In that time, how many of them do you think have ever seen me who've lived to tell about it? How many of them even know what I look like?" She asked rhetorically, "The best most of them have is an outdated picture from a hand-me-down bingo book."
Naruto found himself amazed that he was having a cordial conversation with someone as powerful as Senju Tsunade, "For someone who wants me dead, you're really not as... testy as I thought you'd be. I didn't think you would want to talk to me at all. Nawaki made it seem like you'd kill me the second I got close."
"And you still got within arm's reach," Tsunade said, looking Nawaki's way. She grinned as her brother tried to ignore the fact that he could hear every word being said between the two, "If I had a problem with you being here, you'd have seen my dear brother go flying out of one of these towers."
"So, why?" Naruto asked, "Why'd you push Nagato into having me killed? Why'd you send that hitman with the wood jutsu after me?"
"It's nothing personal."
"Sure feels personal."
With Tsunade not answering Naruto's question, and Naruto not moving the conversation elsewhere, the two fell into silence until Tsunade did so herself, "Nawaki tells me you took on the Alpha Clan not too long ago."
"Yeah, the other day," Naruto said, "They have jinchuuriki. They have for at least 30 years."
An expression of severity formed on Tsunade's face, "That lines up with the end of the last time they invaded south," She muttered under her breath, "A really has been building up for decades, just to make another push."
Naruto shook his head, "I didn't come to talk about the Alpha Clan. Well, not just the Alpha Clan."
"Oh, really?" Tsunade asked with a raised brow, "Well, what would you like to discuss? I'm all ears."
Naruto took a breath. In all the time he had been traveling and waiting, he hadn't settled on a way to approach Tsunade on what he wanted. He had nothing to give her that he could guarantee. The only thing he could do was start talking and work things out as he went along. Not the best plan, but he didn't fancy himself much of a politician to begin with.
"The jinchuuriki I fought, they have better control than me," Naruto said, "I guess it's because they've had way more time to figure it out, but if they're gonna attack again, I don't have years to close the gap."
Tsunade narrowed her eyes at Naruto, "What does that have to do with me?"
"The Senju Clan is one of the oldest clans there are," Naruto said, "You have to have something on jinchuuriki or tailed beasts, or something, anything."
"The Sarutobi Clan are the scribes, not us," Tsunade said, trying to pass Naruto's focus elsewhere.
"We tried them," Naruto replied, "We tried them years ago. They didn't have anything we could use."
"Then there's nothing," Tsunade said far too quickly.
Naruto gave the Senju Clan head an incredulous look, "Just because they have the most info doesn't mean they have all of it. Or do you really think I'm stupid enough to think you actually let them have access to the good stuff?"
The stocks of gathered knowledge the Sarutobi Clan had amassed was staggering. They possessed the finest library in all of the Elemental Nations, but they knew only what they were able to gain access to. Keeping secrets was part and parcel of being a shinobi. There was no chance that any shinobi clan would make all of their knowledge available. There were too many things any would wish to keep secret, things they would work harder to keep concealed than others. Clan techniques, controversial history, etc.
"Then why do you think I would share anything more with you?" Tsunade asked.
Naruto licked his lips to buy himself time to push down his nerves before coming forward with his trump card, "Because we're related, aren't we?"
Tsunade's frosty demeanor gave way to amusement, "Oh, so you know we're cousins, do you?"
Naruto rolled his eyes, "Yeah, Senju and Uzumaki have got blood ties from way back, and blah-blah-blah."
At that, Tsunade's expression softened, "They're actually closer than you think. Does the name Uzumaki Mito mean anything to you?"
Naruto took a moment to think about it. Even though he hadn't been very well-liked in his childhood, he had known all of the people important enough that he needed to know, "I don't remember anyone like that from Uzu."
"That's because she left your home a long time before you were born... to marry Senju Hashirama," Tsunade said, "Uzumaki Mito is my grandmother," She smiled at the resulting expression on Naruto's face, "See? Not so distant."
Naruto didn't know how to respond, "That's... neat. But what does that have to do with what I asked you?"
Tsunade walked past Naruto, arms folded under her ample bosom, "She innovated the concept of what we now call jinchuuriki as we know it. She is also the one who forbade it."
Uzumaki Mito had been a powerful kunoichi and influential enough that the rest of the shinobi world listened to her decree – even the Uchiha. For a time, at least.
Naruto placed a hand on his own stomach, the place where his seal was positioned, "Is she the reason why everyone says we're an abomination?"
Tsunade let out a sigh, "She never used terms like that to describe them. That was just what people wound up believing over time," She turned and glanced at Naruto over her shoulder, "Jinchuuriki have the potential to bring a great many terrible things upon the Elemental Nations. You hold within you the power to destabilize everything that we know."
"That's already happening," Naruto deadpanned, "One way or another."
Tsunade snorted, "You're telling me. Either the Uchiha are going to kill us all, or the Alpha Clan are going to absorb everything around them, or your father's hare-brained scheme is going to be the end of us all."
Naruto clicked his tongue at the jab against his father, "I have a question."
Knowing she had struck a nerve, Tsunade smirked, "Another one? Well, aren't you just the most curious kid I've ever met."
Naruto ignored her attempts to patronize him, "Do you like the way things are?" He asked.
"Like what now?" Tsunade replied.
Naruto gestured flippantly, "Y'know... all of the killing, and the dying, and the fighting a war that's been going on since the Sage of Six Paths died," he stopped and tilted his head curiously, "...Do you even know why the Senju and Uchiha started fighting anyway?"
The word 'business' had been on the tip of Tsunade's tongue, but that couldn't have been right. The only competition for work they had these days was competition they actively sought out in order to hurt the other's bottom line. The more she thought about it, the more she realized that no one had ever given her a reason as to where the bad blood had originally come from. It was just the way things had always been, and she had accepted it as such as a child.
Now, as an adult, this meant she lacked the answers, "It doesn't matter anymore. Reasons change. And Namikaze Minato is a fool," She insulted to cover her own ignorance.
Naruto bared his teeth, "Why? Because he wants to stop all of this!?"
Tsunade didn't back down against a child raising his voice, jinchuuriki or not, "Because better men than him have already tried! They tried and they failed!" She shouted back, "If you want to stand there and say your father is a better shinobi, a better man, than Senju Hashirama, who tried to make peace with Uchiha Madara and was betrayed, parlay be damned, Nawaki better be ready to step over here to cover your ass now!"
There was a hotheaded, reactionary part of Naruto that desperately wanted to square up with Tsunade, good idea or not, but he'd had diplomacy and de-escalation drilled into his head for the last few years. Besides, Naruto knew he took more offense to slights against Minato than the man did himself. If Tsunade had insulted him face-to-face, he would have laughed it off.
Naruto wasn't Minato's attack dog. Minato had said so himself. If he needed to be defended, he could do it himself.
"Betrayed how?" Naruto asked after things had seemed to calm down, "I'm never gonna understand where you're coming from if I don't know what you're talking about."
Tsunade didn't answer, instead choosing to turn the tables on Naruto, "Since you're so full of questions, brat, I've got one for you. What do you think is going to happen if your father's little clan alliance plan works out?"
Naruto frowned and squinted his eyes, "Everyone involved stops fighting each other. We all start working together and-," He stopped when Tsunade started to laugh, "What's so funny?"
Tsunade's fit of humor passed quickly enough, "I know you have to be pretty idealistic to buy into this whole thing, but you can't possibly think it's going to be that simple."
"Of course, I don't," Naruto defended. He didn't know everything about how things were going to work, but he trusted his father. His mother believed in him wholeheartedly, and he had managed to convince many powerful people that clans coming together way the way of the future, "It's not gonna be simple, or easy. But it's worth a shot if we can maybe end all of these wars."
Tsunade shook her head, "That's not going to end the wars. All it's going to do is change the nature of war as we know it. Your father won't create peace, he's going to push the world into new caverns of violence," She said, "Not intentionally, but the rest of the world will have to get creative. Who's to say someone else won't find your father's idea novel and come up with their own alliance?" She asked rhetorically, "I'll bet you anything that this will just lead to more death. More than any that have happened because of the way things are now."
"I'll take that bet. And even if I lose, it's worth it to try," Naruto said, "Maybe you're right. Or, maybe you're not. Either way, someone's gotta try something different, because this isn't working."
Tsunade regarded Naruto closely before turning her back and taking her leave, "Unfortunately, we don't have anything recorded on training jinchuuriki, seeing as how we had never planned to make any in the first place."
"So, that's it?"
"That's it," Tsunade said, "...If you need accommodations for the night, Nawaki can help with that. When you're ready to leave, he'll escort you out of the realm."
Naruto watched Tsunade leave and couldn't help but feel like everything he'd done that day had been a waste. He almost got into a fistfight with a clan head in the middle of their territory, all for nothing. Well, it had been worth a try.
The atmosphere was awkward as Nawaki escorted Naruto out of the main castle. Despite the man's offer to get him in front of someone that Naruto previously believed would have sooner seen him dead than speak to him, it hadn't led to anything substantial.
"I sure blew that one..." Naruto eventually muttered, "Not like I had anything to gain though."
"Maybe," Nawaki replied before complimenting him, "But you did better than I thought you would. I definitely figured I'd have to get between you two at some point, especially when she started egging you on."
Naruto raised an eyebrow, "So, we're in agreement that that's what she was going for?"
"Oh yeah," Nawaki chuckled, "Word to the wise, don't think you can just drop back in whenever you like. I might like you, but we aren't friends. Sis will sic Tenzo and an extermination squad on you if you pop up in our territory again. Hell, she might show up and do it herself."
"It's kinda bullshit though," Naruto complained, "All I found out is that you guys' grandma innovated jinchuuriki, and that's it. What am I supposed to do with that?" As silence passed between them, he frowned at another thought, "...Tsunade really seems like she hates jinchuuriki though."
She had tried to hide it, but Naruto had experienced the distaste of others enough to know when someone held negative emotions toward him. When she'd shouted at him, it was more akin to her real feelings than anything else she'd shown during the rest of their conversation.
Nawaki reached out and put a hand on the boy's shoulder, "It's more like she hates the idea of them. Nothing personal," He said for his sister's sake, "No one should know how to make a jinchuuriki. It's a method buried by our clan... until fifteen years ago, anyway."
"What happened fifteen years ago?"
Nawaki stopped walking and fixed Naruto with a serious look, "You were born," He said with grave seriousness. Naruto stopped in his tracks, at which point Nawaki burst out laughing, "I'm just kidding! Ahh, your face!"
"Alright, alright," Nawaki held up his hands defensively, "Fifteen years ago, a very important object was lost. Stolen, actually," He specified, "The Scroll of Seals. A scroll compiled by gramps, containing instructions on how to perform several kinjutsu."
Naruto couldn't believe that the Senju Clan had lost something that had been left by their most notable shinobi, "You just had something like that laying around for someone to take?"
"No!" Nawaki reacted, face red as he only then remembered the embarrassment of the incident, "Only the clan head had access to it! S-Shut up, kid, I'm telling a story here!" With a cough, he regained his composure, "Anyway, one of the things inside that scroll was seal that could be used to seal a tailed beast inside of a person."
Naruto, having fully taken in the story up to that point, butted in again, "Wait, if only the clan head has access to the Scroll of Seals, why do you know what's in it?"
"Because who do you think the clan head bitched to when it got taken?" Nawaki asked, remembering the warpath Tsunade had been on at the time, "I had to go looking for the fucking thing too."
"You didn't find it?"
"That's the weird thing. I did find it," Nawaki recanted with wide eyes, "It took months to track down, but I got it back here safe and sound. Didn't even have to fight for it. Like it was left for me or something."
From what Naruto knew of Nawaki, his reputation was that if it existed, he could find it, no matter how difficult it was, "So, you were on the thief's trail and maybe they ditched it so they could lose you."
To Naruto's surprise, Nawaki shook his head, "That couldn't have been the reason, because that shouldn't have mattered. But I never did find the thief," He admitted, "I don't know if they copied down everything they needed, or if they learned it before I found them. Pisses me off to this day. We thought it was your dad at first."
Naruto furrowed his brow, "Dad? Why?" If Minato at one point had gotten his hands on a scroll full of kinjutsu and never bothered to teach him any of them, they were going to have words.
"Because I swear, whoever stole it could teleport or something. Either that, or they were so fast they could take off and lose me without a trace," Nawaki said, "I tracked the scroll's signature. I never got one from the thief."
For someone like Nawaki to admit that he couldn't find something or someone, it had to have been a truly puzzling moment for him.
"Come on," Nawaki continued leading the way out of the compound, "I figure you don't want to hang around here any longer than you need to."
Naruto spared a glance back at the castle where the Senju Clan head resided. Sometimes, you couldn't win over everyone, "Yeah, I should probably get back before something falls apart."
Whether she couldn't help him, or simply wouldn't, it seemed like Naruto and Kurama would be on their own in mastering their tailed beast connection. That was fine. As long as they had each other's backs, they would figure it out.
Ladies and gentleman, we are done! For now, at least. That's the chapter.
I've got no real author's note rants to go on this time around, so I'll leave you all to get back to your regularly scheduled lives. Until the next time, guys.