It’s Just That Any One of Us Is Half Without Another One Is You – Chapter Fourteen

Naruto is figuring out how to work with the Nine-tails, but Akatsuki is getting bolder. Shikamaru brings them word of the attack on Fire Country and when the new Akatsuki team finds the Island Turtle Jiraiya is the next to pay for facing them. Drama, Action, Angst, I-5

Naruto bounced on his toes in the middle of the rocky clearing B had said he could practice in without tripping over the Island’s animals. He was having So. Much. Fun.

Grinning idiot, the fox muttered in the back of his head. Naruto ignored that; Nine-tails spent a lot of time saying things like that to him lately.

“Hey, hey, ero-sennin,” he grinned. “I bet I can do that move you told me not to do, now.”

“Naruto,” Jiraiya said warningly, starting to get up from his spot under a tree where he had agreed to watch over Naruto’s training when Kakashi-sensei insisted he needed a break. And a drink. But Naruto was sure he could do this one.

He grabbed two clones into being and held out a hand for the Rasengan and concentrated. This was the hard part. As he fed in chakra, one of the clones transformed it to the Wind nature and the other… he grinned wider.

Are you crazy, you idiot? the fox barked, and Naruto felt the hasty rush of the Nine-tails’ power to his arm, shielding him from his own creation.

This will work, he said back, silently the way he’d learned to after a couple of caustic comments from the Nine-tails about babbling Leaf brats.

Only because I’m using half of my power to keep your fool arm in once piece! The fox actually yelped as Naruto pulled a little more power to hold the re-shaped Rasengan’s form. There’s nothing left for anything else if you still want to power that damn thing. You’re completely vulnerable!

“That,” Naruto said out loud, through his teeth, “is what a team is for!” He turned and hurled the Rasenshuriken at the peak of the crag behind him. It held form and struck in an explosion of pulverized rock, and he punched the air in triumph. “Yes!”

“What,” Jiraiya demanded, frozen halfway to his feet and staring at Naruto narrowly, “did you do?”

Naruto grinned some more. “Well, see, if Nine-tails gives me his chakra, I get a lot more than I do just through the seal normally. So there’s enough to protect my arm and still form a Wind Rasengan into a throwing shape!”

Jiraiya frowned. “That has to take a great deal of chakra to accomplish.”

“That’s what he said too,” Naruto agreed. “He says there isn’t any left over. But, like I told him, that’s what a team is for. So I can still use that if I have to.”

Jiraiya sighed, and rubbed his forehead. “Maybe it was a mistake to let Kakashi have the three of you for so long,” he muttered.

Naruto smiled up at him. “Nah, it was just right. Because we’re going to need our teamwork now, aren’t we?”

Jiraiya stood the rest of the way, only to lean back against the tree with a thump. "Not unlikely." His mouth quirked. "You really do remind me a lot of her, sometimes." When Naruto blinked he clarified, "Tsunade. Best healer you ever saw, and absolutely terrifying in the field. The things she would come up with! There was this one time, up at the border of River and Sky. We’d retreated so she could take care of my broken ribs and lung, and a flanking group of Rain-nin just about tripped over us." He took a long drink. "Idiot woman wouldn’t let go of me since she was in the middle of healing, so she electrified herself. Anyone who touched her got their neural signals scrambled like an egg, and she actually magnetized her damn knife with the current, so it drew all the shuriken and kunai." He sighed. "Of course, that strained even her control and reserves, and she nearly passed out when she finished with me. Try not to imitate that part."

Naruto nodded, wide-eyed. She’d never told him that story.

Jiraiya clapped Naruto’s shoulder in passing as he turned them both back toward the encampment, “You’re right, used with a team to support you it should work. I think, since it’s your idea, you should be the one to explain it to Sakura and Sasuke.”

Naruto swallowed hard. “Oh.”

Perfectly concealed in the shifting shadows of the trees, the one who was currently called Sai watched them go and looked back thoughtfully at the broken rubble Naruto’s strike had left. That had been a remarkably powerful attack. He could understand why Danzou-sama had assigned him to keep watch on the Nine-tails and its vessel.

Not that he really needed to understand, of course.

With a flicker, the shadows were empty again.

Another day, another training session. This time, Sakura had insisted very firmly that she and Sasuke were coming along. If he was going to need them to cover him, they would all practice together.

By the time she got to that part, Naruto’s ears had been ringing hard enough from the rest of her reaction that he’d agreed meekly. Of course, that meant that the fox spent a lot of his time growling sidelong at Sasuke. Naruto couldn’t decide whether that was better or worse than having the fox telling him off for sloppy technique.

Sakura flashed over the rocks, playing opponent for this round, nearly glowing the the power of her seal, and her fist punched right through Naruto’s half-formed Rasengan. He yelped as Sasuke dove in front of him, driving Sakura back for an instant with a burst of flame.

“Where’s your concentration today?” Sasuke demanded, rounding on him. “That was pathetic.”

The fox actually whined.

Naruto sighed. “Nine-tails keeps glaring at you; it’s distracting. Though it is kind of funny when you both get pissy about my technique and he gets all pained about having to agree with an Uchiha,” he added reflectively.

Mouthy brat, the fox snapped.

“What?” Naruto asked, looking aside so the other two would know who he was talking to. “It’s totally true.”

Sasuke sighed. “Would it help if I swore to him that I would never try to bind him unless it was to save you?”

No, the Nine-tails answered sharply. That was how I wound up sealed in the first place. Damn humans.

“I think that would just mean he growls at you because you’re like Mito-san, instead of because you’re like Madara,” Naruto relayed, mouth quirking. “He just likes throwing tantrums.”

BRAT! the fox howled, and Naruto snickered.

“I’m glad to see the two of you are getting along so well,” Sasuke said, a bit dryly. “If it’s distracting you, though, we’d better work on it some more. I don’t want to think about what he’ll be saying if we ever do come up against Madara.”

“Bet Naruto would pick up some new names to call his opponents,” Sakura put in, obviously amused by the whole thing. “Come on, then. One more time. Sasuke’s turn to attack.” She tugged up her gloves and set herself beside Naruto.

Naruto took a deep breath and formed a new Wind Rasengan, readying himself to hold it against Sasuke’s Fire techniques. He was getting faster at forming them, no question, but pushing in enough of the Nine-tails’ chakra without bursting the sphere—that was the trick.

The sun slanted down the high blue sky as they worked, one Rasengan after another holding or bursting. It was hours before both Sasuke and the fox were grudgingly satisfied. Naruto collapsed to sprawl out on the thin turf. “I don’t know why you don’t like him better,” he panted at the fox. “You think way too alike.”

“Well no wonder you tease the Nine-tails so much, then,” Sakura laughed, sitting next to him a lot more gracefully. She had a lot more endurance these days, and activated and deactivated her seal like breathing. Naruto was kind of envious; he wished he could do it that easily with the Nine-tails’ chakra.

“He’d better understand that it’s just teasing,” Sasuke muttered darkly, handing the water bottle over to Naruto. Naruto smiled up at him, with the warm feeling in his chest that Sasuke’s little moments of protectiveness always gave him. And maybe the fox was worn out by all his growling or something, because he seemed to settle, too.

They rested in quiet for a while, but it wasn’t long before Sakura cocked her head. “Listen. Is someone coming?”

Sure enough, Iruka-san appeared through the trees, from the direction of the encampment. “There’s a messenger from Konoha coming!” he called to them, waving. “Do you want to be there to see who it is?”

Naruto bounced up to his feet at that. “Yeah!” They had messenger birds pretty regularly, but they hadn’t had a person since they all got to the island and it started moving. Personally, he was dying for some gossip from home.

Most of the Leaf contingent was gathered at the shore to see who’d come, and almost as many people from the other nations. Naruto supposed this was a pretty boring assignment, so far, for people who weren’t figuring out to how fight with a crotchety old fox growling in their ears.

The blue-sailed boat running up the island’s flank was one of the Lightning Country’s, and Naruto could see the sailors hustling around the deck already but he couldn’t see anyone he knew with them. He managed not to sigh, but he did slump a little, only to be nudged by Sasuke.

“The passengers will stay out of the way until landing,” Sasuke said quietly. "I learned that fast, traveling with Jiraiya."

Naruto perked up again. “Oh.” He grinned a little and leaned against Sasuke’s shoulder in silent thanks.

Sure enough, as the boat eased up against the rocky inlet, more heads appeared and Ino squealed. “Shikamaru! It’s Shikamaru and Chouji!”

Watching her light up, Naruto wondered if Sakura was really right, and Ino would be easier to deal with now her real team was here. He sure hoped so. He bet her Intelligence team hoped so too. Everyone crowded down toward the boat as Shikamaru and Chouji climbed up to the shore.

“Shikamaru?” Ino whispered, stopping short. Naruto’s head snapped up and around to stare at her. She sounded afraid.

Abruptly, Ino was elbowing ruthlessly through the small crowd, shoving other ninja out of her path with no regard for rank. She caught Shikamaru’s shoulders. “What is it? What happened?”

Everyone quieted at that, and Shikamaru’s voice was clear in the silence, though he didn’t raise it.

“Two of Akatsuki were in the Fire Country. They attacked the Fire Temple before we found them. Asuma-san…” Shikamaru closed his eyes. “Asuma-san was killed.”

Ino made a small, sharp sound, biting her lip hard enough to turn it white.

“Raidou-san’s team joined us,” Shikamaru went on steadily. “We picked up Mitarashi-san’s team when we reported in, and Hyuuga Tokuma located the Akatsuki pair when they came back toward the village again. That time, we stopped them.”

“Jiraiya-san should hear about this,” Kakashi-sensei said quietly, coming to rest a hand on Shikamaru’s shoulder. Shikamaru just nodded and caught Ino’s hand when she started to protest.

“I’ll be there after I’ve reported.” Their eyes held for a long moment, and Ino nodded like he’d said something more.

“C’mon, Chouji,” she said briskly. “I’ll get you guys settled in the Leaf building.”

The crowd broke up and followed slowly in Kakashi-sensei and Shikamaru’s wake back toward the encampment. Naruto’s team closed up around Ino and Chouji, along with Kiba, Hinata, and Shino, silent support for their yearmates.

“Shikamaru’s still really torn up,” Chouji was saying as they climbed. “He almost scared me, when he was setting up the ambush for Hidan, the one who killed Asuma-sensei. But, you know, I think what really hurts is that he can’t do more for Kurenai-san.”

Ino winced. “Fuck. Is she…?”

“She’s pretty broken up,” Chouji said softly, looking down at the path.

“Kurenai-sensei,” Hinata whispered, hand pressed against her lips.

“What?” Naruto asked her, worried by all this cryptic concern. “Is there something wrong with Kurenai-san?”

“Kurenai-sensei is going to have a child,” she said softly. “By Asuma-san.”

Naruto’s eyes widened. “Oh shit.” Unwanted information cascaded through his brain, about pregnancy and stress and all the really bad things that a shinobi’s usual coping methods could do to a developing baby. “She’s got a good doctor, right?” he asked anxiously. “I mean, she’s got someone who knows what they’re doing, right? They’re not going to let her drink too much or spar till she falls down or anything stupid like usual, right?”

All seven of them stared at him for a blank moment before Sakura and then Ino started laughing, and Kiba rolled his eyes. “Who was it decided Naruto should be a medic, again?” he asked thin air. “I think you mean ‘stupid like you’.”

Naruto planted his fists on his hips and glared. “I’m serious! There are, like, lectures on all the crazy stuff shinobi do and how you have to remind them not to if they’re pregnant!”

“Kurenai-sensei is more sensible than that,” Shino remarked.

“And I asked Neji-niisan to look after her, when we had to leave,” Hinata added, reassuring.

“Well all right, then.” Naruto tried to put hospital horror stories out of his mind while they found a room for Chouji and Shikamaru, and settled down to wait for Shikamaru to return.

It didn’t take long. Ino pulled him down onto the bedroll between her and Chouji almost before he was all the way through the door, and Naruto couldn’t say she was wrong. Shikamaru looked older, today. Harder and darker. Naruto felt the Nine-tails stir inside him.

“Chouji and I will be part of Raidou-san’s team, for now,” Shikamaru said quietly. “We’ll keep looking for Akatsuki’s bases in Fire Country.” He looked up at Naruto and there was fire in those dark eyes, the kind of fire Naruto was a lot more used to seeing in Sasuke’s. “They won’t get past us.”

Naruto clenched a fist, frustrated. “We should stop hiding, me and B. They’ll come to us, if we stop hiding, and then this wouldn’t have happened!”

For a moment Shikamaru seemed to waver, and then he closed his eyes with a sigh. “Yes, it probably would,” he said, low. “Unless we’d had information beforehand about what those zombie freaks could do. The one who killed Asuma-san couldn’t die. I mean really couldn’t die. And his ritual meant every wound to him happened to his opponent too.”

Sakura pressed a hand to her mouth. “Shit,” she hissed though it.

A corner of Shikamaru’s mouth twitched up in a grim not-smile. “Yeah. I didn’t see it fast enough.”

Ino smacked him on the shoulder, hard. “You stop that! It wasn’t your fault!” She paused and glanced over at Naruto. “It wasn’t anyone’s fault but Akatsuki’s,” she finished, soft and steady. “So you shut up too, Naruto. We’re not going to hang you out for bait.”

“Asuma-san,” Hinata whispered, voice shaky, and leaned into Kiba when he wrapped an arm around her shoulders. More firmly she repeated, “Asuma-san’s memory does honor to his clan. We shouldn’t… shouldn’t take that away.”

Naruto scrunched up his face, trying to work that out. “Huh?” he finally asked.

A breath of a laugh escaped Shikamaru, though he still looked down at his hands. “Yeah. Even if we’re not part of a noble clan… we’re still shinobi of the Leaf.” He looked up at last. “We took down two of Akatsuki and only lost two lives. We did that without risking them getting their hands on our host. We did it to protect our village and country—the lives in our care.” He took a slow, trembling breath. “Including our village’s children. Asuma-san died to keep those things safe—not happily, but willingly.” He smiled, a little crookedly, at Naruto. “You need to let other people do that too, you know; it’s not just you.”

Naruto opened his mouth to protest, and closed it again slowly. If Asuma-san had felt the same way he did, about protecting precious things… he looked down, swallowing against the ball of sadness and pride swirling inside him like one of his own Rasengan. “Yeah,” he said, husky. “That’s… that’s something that should be honored. You’re right, Hinata.”

“It will be,” Sasuke said, resting a hand on Naruto’s shoulder. “Like the others who have gone before.”

Hinata nodded against Kiba’s shoulder. “He left this in our hands. Now it’s our turn,” she said softly.

That hot spark of fury flickered in Shikamaru’s eyes again for a moment. “Yes. It is.”

“When we get back,” Chouji spoke up firmly, laying one big hand on Shikamaru’s back, and Shikamaru smiled at him, rueful and sidelong.

“Yeah, I hear you.” He stretched his arms up and let out a breath and looked a little more his usual self as he asked Ino, “So, how’s your Intelligence team here doing?”

“Oh my god, never speak of them to me, ever!” Ino waved her hands wildly. “Sato and Tanaka broke up right before we started this mission, and they’ll barely even speak to each other unless there’s actually a blade coming at one of them. And then there’s Sai, who makes Naruto look well-socialized!”

Kiba blinked. “Wow.” Naruto growled and Shino quietly drew Hinata against his own side, clearing the way for Naruto to jump on Kiba and scuffle.

Ino pointed at them. “That! He’s even worse than that!”

Everyone was laughing a little by the time Naruto finished knuckling Kiba’s head and sat back down with his own team, and he congratulated himself on a job well done. Ino looked satisfied, too, and he figured she’d had the same thing in mind as he had. It wasn’t long before they all broke up to their own rooms to sleep, and he hoped they might just all manage to get to sleep, now.

On the mainland, a lean man with hypnotically ringed eyes lifted his hand from the head of a slumped Cloud ninja. Slowly, his eyes focused again. “They’re on Cloud’s Island Turtle, out on the sea. They’ll be moving constantly.”

The silent-footed woman beside him cupped her hands, staring into them for a moment. When she parted them a flock of paper birds fluttered up into the sky and swooped east, toward the coast. “Don’t worry, Nagato. We’ll find them.”

Being in the temple really weirded Naruto out, but it was the only place where he could practice full transformation. At least, the only place he could practice it without totally freaking out the whole encampment, so the temple it was.

Not that he had much to freak anyone out with, so far.

“This is ridiculous.” Naruto lashed the fan of furry tails trailing behind him.

That’s my pride you’re waving around, Nine-tails snapped. Have a little respect, brat!

“No, no,” B waved a hand. “It’s a good sign that you can manifest all the tails. That’s the last step before a full transformation.”

Naruto sighed. At least he was getting somewhere. Even if Sakura had really, truly lost her mind, when he started working on this, and said the tails were cute. Cute! As if! The Nine-tails had hunkered down inside him in a disgusted huff after that one, and he hadn’t been able to get a damn thing more done that day.

“You’re gonna need time for this.” B leaned against the temple wall, large arms folded. “It takes a lot of trust to really transform, and you and the Nine-tails haven’t been talking for long.”

Naruto scowled and kicked a stone stair; he knew it was probably true, but that didn’t mean he had to like it.

Omoi, sitting cross-legged at B’s feet, looked up at that, completely solemn. “Hey, you should be careful. I mean, what if you accidentally kicked a secret switch and set off the self-destruct for the temple and then that set off an avalanche down into the valley…”

Karui rolled her eyes and promptly put him in a headlock. Naruto grinned a little as Omoi flailed theatrically; she sure was easy to wind up. He could see why Omoi did it so much.

“Stop complaining, Naruto,” Sasuke called from the steps off to the other side. “Just work on your Rasengan while you’ve got the tails out.”

Naruto sighed. “Yeah, yeah, fine.” He supposed practice was good even if it wasn’t quite full power yet. And, in a way, the tails were a bonus. He chewed on his tongue with concentration, arching two of the tails forward to press against the chakra gathering in his palm.

As long as he had the tails, he didn’t need clones to do this. That part was kind of cool.

He had just completed a Rasenshuriken with his tails when the temple door slammed open. One of the Sand genin stood in it, panting. “Akatsuki,” he gasped, “they’re here! Commander Jiraiya is down!”

The Rasenshuriken came undone in a clap like thunder as Naruto sprinted for the door, jumping straight over the Sand-nin. He barely noticed Sakura and Sasuke coming up on either side or his forgotten tails streaming behind him as he streaked down the path toward the encampment, heart in his mouth. The crags and trees around them were alive with blasts and crashes, and Naruto wondered for a flashing moment whether Akatsuki had somehow had way more people than they’d all thought.

Leaping down the last steps on the temple path, Naruto looked around wildly, head whipping back and forth as he searched through the chaos for Jiraiya.

“There!” Sasuke snapped, red eyes narrow and sharp, pointing to the cracked wall of the building the Mist shinobi had taken over.

A body with long white hair lay at the base of the wall.

Naruto pounded over and threw himself down, only vaguely aware of Sakura spinning around to guard his back, of Darui standing on the broken wall and barking orders, of B coming behind them, of Sasuke on his knees on the other side of Jiraiya with wide, haunted eyes, hands reaching out helplessly. Jiraiya was barely breathing, each faint breath caught short. Broken ribs, then. Internal bleeding probably. Heat under Naruto’s fingertips as he ran them delicately over Jiraiya’s skull warned of bleeding there too, sluggish now because Jiraiya had almost no blood left. His throat was half crushed. And…

Naruto bared his teeth, hands pausing over Jiraiya’s stomach.

“B,” Darui was saying, voice hard, as Naruto looked up, “there are giant animals all over the island. Can you get the native animals after them without killing us too?”

“On it,” B rumbled, running past them without breaking stride.

“Darui-san,” Naruto said, low. “I’m going to try something. Don’t stop me.”

Darui frowned down at him. “What are you going to do?”

Naruto’s hands were already lighting up with chakra as he reached down, down, crying out in wordless demand to Nine-tails. “I’m going to heal him.”

Sakura knelt down beside them with her back to the wall. “Get me Hinata,” she snapped, “and we can cover him.”

“Like I would stop a healing?” Darui muttered before yelling for someone to find Hyuuga Hinata. Naruto shut all of that out. Sakura and Sasuke would take care of it; he trusted them. He had to, because what he was about to try wasn’t actually possible. Jiraiya had a broken spine. Nerve injuries could sometimes be fixed, especially if the nerves were intact and just not signaling, or signaling wrong. A spinal cord that was physically torn couldn’t be. It wasn’t possible.

Well, neither was reviving someone who was dead.

He was going to do it anyway.

He focused down and down again, tighter than he’d ever done before. His hands were glowing with the fine patterning of chakra that made the base for Mystic Palms. The bleeding was stopping, and new blood was generating fast. Good. Jiraiya would live long enough for him to do this, though he’d be a while recovering the body mass being eaten up by this healing. Naruto reached deeper into himself, and felt the fox’s agreement, casual but ungrudging. Naruto gritted his teeth as that wild chakra rushed through him, sharp-edged, fighting to hold it, to work it…

His tails reached forward.

As they fanned and wrapped over Jiraiya, the raging pressure, the ragged pain of handling so much fox chakra smoothed out. Naruto rested his forehead on Jiraiya’s chest, dizzy and panting, vision starting to go fractured and dark with the clash of alien and familiar as he molded chakra with his tails, wove it finer and finer, until he could string it between the snapped ends of spinal nerves, teasing them back together. Slowly, slowly, and he was gasping for air now, human hands fisted in Jiraiya’s shirt as the signals of human and fox body warred up and down his own spine. The torn nerve ends crept closer, closer as he poured all his power into this most delicate of work, chakra scattering out of his control around the edges.

He was losing too much energy for the work he was accomplishing. The pace of healing was too slow. This would take too much to finish, more than he had. But he couldn’t stop now, he couldn’t, he wouldn’t! Jiraiya had been one of the first to believe in him, to trust him and teach him, been the one to pass on the things his parents couldn’t. His teacher and Sasuke’s, one of the people who had helped put Sasuke back together. Naruto didn’t care how much it cost him. He would find a way!

His own strength was giving out, but the fox’s strength was still raging through him, threatening to overwhelm him, and there were still gaping canyons of micrometers to go, and he screamed, half at the fox and half at Jiraiya and mostly at the universe to let this work. The fox snorted, in his head, and the inhuman chakra he shaped steadied for five precious heartbeats more.

And it was done.

Naruto collapsed over Jiraiya, breath sobbing in his lungs. You owe me one, idiot kit, whispered in the back of his battered-feeling brain, and a laugh wracked his body. Yeah, he agreed.

“It’s done!” he heard someone cry, and hands slapped down on his back, steadying his faltering heartbeat, easing his clenched lungs. Two more hands lifted his shoulders up and another set traced lightly over his chest, down his arms, pressing sharply here and there. He could feel that easing the tremble of his overextended chakra and opened his eyes wearily to smile at Hinata. She smiled back, tremulous though her hands were steady.

“…absolute idiot,” the medic behind him was saying through his teeth. “Miraculous fucking moron, I can’t believe you did that, what kind of absolute brainless wonder…”

Naruto sat up mostly under his own power as his chakra and the fox’s settled slowly back into balance. “I’m okay,” he said, breathless.

“You are insane,” the medic snapped, and Naruto craned his head around to see that it was the blue-haired senior medic from Mist. “And the Hokage is insane too, to teach you something that dangerous!” He sat back on his heels with a long sigh, finally lifting his hands from Naruto’s back. “But you do seem to be recovering; that’s some amazing vitality you have. If we get our beasts back, perhaps I’ll suggest to the Mizukage that we should train one as a medic.” He scooted around Naruto and checked Jiraiya. “He’ll be all right too, I think.”

Jiraiya stirred and Sasuke’s hands, which Naruto finally recognized as the ones holding him upright, tightened hard on his shoulders. Sasuke was looking down at his teacher with fear lurking at the back of his eyes. Jiraiya coughed painfully and pried his eyes open to squint up at them. “Need a drink,” he husked.

Sasuke inhaled alarmingly and Naruto ducked on reflex. “Shut up you absolute idiot!” Sasuke’s voice echoed off the buildings. “You nearly died! Stay where you are and recover like you have more than two brain cells under all that hair!”

Naruto grinned down at Jiraiya as the man’s eyes started to dance, sunken as they were. “What, don’t I even get a pretty nurse?” Jiraiya asked in a pitiful tone, only slightly marred by the lingering hitch in his breathing.

“No,” Sasuke said, very definitely.

Naruto was snickering and the Mist medic was rolling his eyes and Hinata was edging away cautiously when the second in command for Sound came skidding around the corner. “Darui sent me back. Where’s the casualty?” she barked.

“Karin-san.” The Mist-nin brightened. “Perfect.” He waved a hand at Jiraiya. “The Commander needs to be on his feet again, and he’s still missing a lot of blood and all his stamina. Can you do it?”

Karin snorted, throwing back one of her loose sleeves as she strode to Jiraiya’s side. “Of course I can. Out of the way, you.” She hip-checked Naruto aside and held out her bared arm to Jiraiya while Naruto sputtered. “Bite me,” she ordered brusquely.

Jiraiya blinked. “This is a bit sudden, isn’t it? No dinner first, no drinks even?”

Karin turned nearly the color of her own hair. “Shut up and bite me, you old pervert,” she yelled, “before I smack you into next week!”

The Mist medic drew the rest of them back, around the corner into the overgrown stone plaza between buildings. “Karin-san can heal very bad injuries very quickly, this way,” he murmured. “Best to let her get on with it.”

Naruto snickered. She did seem to have the right bedside manner for someone dealing with the ero-sennin. “Okay, so…” he looked around, wobbling only slightly. “Hey, wait, where’d Darui-san go?”

“He left about the time your tails caught fire,” Sakura said dryly. “He said he’d try to decoy Akatsuki long enough for you to come out of it. He didn’t seem too happy at the time.”

“I did warn him what I was doing,” Naruto mumbled.

“No, you really didn’t. But that’s okay.” She gave him a beady eye. “It is okay, right? You’re recovered? You’re not holding out on the team strategist or anything?”

Naruto held up his hands hastily. “I promise not! It’s gonna hurt if I have to shape too much chakra soon, but Hinata and, um,” he stopped and looked at the Mist-nin guiltily.

“Maeda Kazuki,” the man supplied, mouth quirked.

“Hinata and Maeda-san got me stable and all,” Naruto finished. “So as soon as Jiraiya-san is better, we can go find these Akatsuki guys and kick ass.”

“No need to find us,” a hoarse, quiet voice said from above them, and Naruto spun around, heart tripping, to see a man in one of those damn red cloud robes standing on top of the command building and looking down at them.

Or rather… at him.