The Cost of Living


Naruto bent low, performing a picture-perfect sweep kick on his imaginary opponent. He immediately raised his left arm – the one Kakuzu had cut off six months prior – and prompted several threads to shoot out from the stitches and pierce the air. They moved in a downward arc and stuck into a tree, spread out in a fashion such that a real person would be pinned spread-eagle into the trunk. Naruto walked forward, hand still outstretched, and pulled out a kunai, applying a small amount of wind chakra and holding it up to his pretend foe's throat. "Game, set, and match," he pronounced with a grin.

"You seem to have acquired an acceptable amount of control over Jiongu, brat, though perhaps you should consider fighting against an adversary who can actually fight back."

"Kakuzu, you're back!" greeted Naruto, turning around to face his mentor. "And you brought a friend," he noted slyly.

"Hardly," snorted the mercenary, dropping the corpse of a white-haired male wearing ANBU armor from his shoulder. He rolled said shoulder lazily and cracked his neck, the sound echoing in the quiet clearing. "The trip to Kirigakure was well worth the bounty this one will fetch."

"You were gone a long time," huffed Naruto, plopping to the ground and poking the Mist ANBU idly with his foot.

Kakuzu cuffed him from afar, his student not even flinching from the hit. "I would like to see you penetrate Kirigakure's defenses with your measly skills," retorted the hunter. "Considering how difficult it is to get into the country, remain inconspicuous, find and capture the target, and then escape without raising suspicion, two months is hardly a long time. I expect you will take at least six your first time."

"Uh-huh," Naruto agreed absently. "Why the hell did you lug him all the way back without a sealing scroll anyway?"

"I enjoy carrying the weight of my victims' bodies personally," he claimed, a tinge of pleased sadism in his voice. "There is a high degree of satisfaction in carrying the amount of money you are to be compensated on your back. Perhaps you will understand in time, when you are stronger." Naruto harrumphed unhappily, but let the acerbic comment go. "Come," intoned Kakuzu, reaching down to pick up the corpse. "You have had nine months to train with Jiongu, and it looks as if you are ready for the next step."

"Really?" exclaimed Naruto. "What's the next step? And where're we goin'?" he continued, jumping up and skipping up to Kakuzu's side.

Kakuzu shot him a look that the blond chose to ignore. After a moment, the bounty hunter said, "I plan on cashing in my prize. Then we are going to continue your training."

"I thought you weren't gonna help me with my training," Naruto chirped innocently. Kakuzu's look turned into a full-on glare. He reached over and shoved the blond sideways with enough force to make Naruto impact a nearby tree and fall to the ground.

"Do not look a gift horse in the mouth, brat. When you get something free, take it, judge its usefulness, and then keep it or sell it. Now get up and shut up."

Naruto pulled himself off of the ground and shook his head. He thought that he detected a hint of mirth in his teacher's voice but paid it no heed, too busy watching the swirling, colored dots dance in front of his eyes.

Naruto would never understand what idiot came up with the idea of putting an bounty exchange station within a bathroom. Granted, the smell of the bathroom would likely hide the stench of any corpses brought in, but still…a bathroom? He held back a gag as Kakuzu tapped on the wall between two urinals, revealing a bald man with a dark mustache and goatee, a deep scar above his right eyebrow. The man stared at Kakuzu and Naruto for only a moment over the rim of his trench coat before turning around and beckoning them to enter.

"Kakuzu," greeted the man, walking over to the wall and pulling out a drawer. "It's been some time. I see you even brought your protégé back this time. Naruto, right?"

The blond nodded as he and his teacher stepped forward to the open drawer, which turned out to be a sturdy table. "You would do well to remember his name, Zangei," retorted Kakuzu brusquely. "He is well on his way to becoming a capable bounty hunter, meaning that you will have increased interaction with him in the future."

Zangei merely nodded, gesturing for Kakuzu to lay the corpse on the table; the former Taki-nin complied silently. "I will keep it in mind. Now, who do we have today?" The scarred man pulled out a Bingo Book and began rifling through its pages, reaching the section for Kirigakure and beginning to flip slower. "Oh, it looks like you brought in a big haul, Kakuzu. Hōzuki Mangetsu, ANBU rank, and a member of the Seven Shinobi Swordsmen of the Mist; Kumogakure and Kusagakure both put 65 million ryō on his head. He must've been quite the fight."

"It was well worth the reward," returned Kakuzu. "Brat," he stated, turning his attention to Naruto, "we are headed to the Land of Earth next. Pick a target from this while I count the money," he ordered, tossing Naruto his own Bingo Book.

Naruto flipped slowly through the pages in an imitation of his teacher, who was fingering through the money Zangei had handed him in a briefcase. After several minutes, Naruto turned the book towards Kakuzu, pointing at the right page. "Him," he stated simply. Kakuzu looked up from the wad of cash in his hands, staring intently at the page before inclining his head in a brief nod.

Shortly thereafter, the locking click of the briefcase could be heard. "We shall be on our way," Kakuzu bade Zangei. The scarred man nodded in understanding, showing Kakuzu and Naruto to the door before closing it discreetly behind him. "Let us go," intoned the mercenary with a swish of his cloak.

It only took a couple of hours of clipped travel to cross through the Land of Grass and reach the border of the Land of Earth from where the exchange point was stationed, but Naruto was grateful for the time. Kakuzu had spent a lot of time drilling into his head that he needed to think things through, but even still, it was difficult to do so unless it was quiet.

The blond knew that this wasn't a normal hunt. Despite having been on only two bounty chases, Kakuzu had only accompanied him once, and the 11-year-old hadn't chosen the target in either case. The handling of the Bingo Book had been the first indication that something was different about this particular case; most of the time, Kakuzu just told Naruto where he was going and who he was to capture.

Suspicious, Naruto had purposefully chosen a low-valued target, barely a Jōnin and worth next-to-nothing. On any other occasion, Kakuzu wouldn't have even wasted his time with such a pointless mission, and more likely than not would have attempted to beat the ever-loving shit out of Naruto for even suggesting the hunt. But to say nothing and merely nod his acceptance of the blond's choice?

Something was up, and Naruto was determined to find out what.

"Hey, Kakuzu, why're we goin' after this guy?"

"You chose him," replied the tall man curtly.

When he didn't elaborate, Naruto decided to try again. "Yeah, but…you never go for these small fries. So why're you suddenly all for it?"

Kakuzu smirked beneath his mask. "So you knew."

The blond nodded. "I just don't understand why."

Kakuzu halted suddenly, the action surprising Naruto. "Have you ever wondered how I am able to utilize all five elements?"

"…Years of practice and experience?" shrugged Naruto unsurely.

The mercenary snorted. "That is one component, yes. However, the original abilities are a power of the black threads that now course through your body."

It took a moment to digest exactly what the older ninja was saying. "You mean…Jiongu gave you that power?"

His teacher rolled his eyes. "Precisely. Jiongu has far more uses than you have discovered thus far, and your not taking full advantage of them is an embarrassment. This," he continued, unzipping and throwing off the trench coat he always wore, "is what we are after."

Naruto gaped unashamedly at Kakuzu's back. Stitches – prized marks of the kinjutsu stolen years ago from the Hidden Waterfall – crisscrossed his body, turning him into a parody of some demented ragdoll. The truly impressive feature was the four animal masks – ANBU masks, he realized – held seamlessly in place on his back. "Each of these," lectured Kakuzu, "contains the heart of an opponent I have fought and killed. Continually replacing them has allowed me to extend my life and use the remaining four nature chakras. Now," he finished, shrugging his cloak back on, "it is your turn. We are traveling to the Land of Earth so that you can begin to use this secondary function of Jiongu."

"…Why?" managed Naruto.

Kakuzu chose to read through the subtext and answer his pupil's real question. "You are wind-natured, which means you are naturally weak against fire-users and strong against lightning-users. To support your weaknesses, you will require Suiton-and Doton-aligned hearts in order to properly cover the gamut of elemental chakra. Now let us continue…you know how I hate wasting time."

Naruto trudged along just slightly behind Kakuzu, his mind caught in a daze from trying to process all of the new information he'd been presented. If his teacher was going to give some sort of long-winded dissertation every time he answered a question, Naruto was probably better off not asking some things.

"So…now that you've told me why we're in the Land of Earth, does it really matter who I target?"

"No," Kakuzu responded. "You did choose a rather pathetic target, one not even worthy of our time," he added dryly.

"Bite me," retorted the blond, flinching seconds later as Kakuzu shot him a chilly glare that promised pain. "So…" he drawled nervously, staring at the rocky terrain of the Land of Earth and counting the border guards, "now what?"

"Pick one of the pathetic shinobi in front of you to fight, and I will dispatch of the remainder," Kakuzu answered lowly, a manic glint entering his eyes. Naruto shuddered; he had noticed over the years that Kakuzu had rather frequent homicidal urges, and while the frequency with which he attacked Naruto had declined over time, he suspected that the reason the bounty hunter had a habit of being gone more than he was present was to satiate his murderous desires. The 11-year-old almost felt sorry for the Rock Chūnin on border patrol. He nodded to show he understood, and then both ninja moved.

Naruto veered slightly to the right, aiming for the Chūnin furthest from the rest. Kakuzu, noticing this, followed the blond slightly, cutting off the other four Iwa-nin from Naruto's target. "You have to get past me first," grinned Kakuzu, his skin darkening. "Show me your worth."

Meanwhile, Naruto cornered his own prey, a young man in his late teens with sandy brown hair and green eyes. Said orbs flickered intermittently in Kakuzu's direction, where Naruto could only presume his teacher was making short work of the other ninja. After allowing this action to continue for a couple of minutes, Naruto crossed his arms over his chest. "Ya know, maybe you should pay attention to your real opponent."

His words seemed to galvanize the Iwa-nin, who suddenly became more focused on the blond. He ran through a short string of hand seals, putting his hands to the ground and causing several spires to rise from it. Naruto jumped to the right before leaping back to his original spot as more earthen spires erupted from the ground, reaching with one hand towards his weapons pouch.

"How have you not finished yet?" called Kakuzu, interrupting Naruto's shuriken throw, all of which imbedded themselves in a rock near his opponent.

"Kakuzu!" shouted Naruto. "Shut up! This guy's annoying!"

"I put up with you, do I not?" he returned idly, inspecting one of his nails to emphasis his boredom.

Naruto growled, the noise evolving into a raspy scream of frustration that began to erupt from the back of his throat. The Iwa-nin, sensing opportunity, jetted forward with a kunai extended for Naruto's neck.

He never made it there. Ten feet away from the blond, Naruto whipped around and threw forward his right arm, the black tendrils of Jiongu bursting forth and ensnaring the Iwa-nin. The teenager dropped his kunai as the threads wrapped securely around his wrists, ankles, and throat, completely restricting his movement and holding him aloft. "Now what?" glared Naruto at his mentor.

"Use the power I have granted you to take his heart and make it one with your chakra system. Jiongu will know what to do." The green eyes of Naruto's captive widened at this proclamation, while the blond merely shrugged.

Naruto raised his left arm, allowing the black threads to slither out from the suture there. They shot forward suddenly, burying into the Iwa-nin's chest and causing him to gag. After a few seconds, the light dimmed from his eyes and the threads emerged, a pulsating something encased in their grasp. The bundle disappeared into Naruto's arm, and the blond could feel a new power flooding through him. "Whoa…"

"Take off your shirt," commanded Kakuzu suddenly. Naruto raised an eyebrow at the abruptness of the order but did as he was told, removing both the vest and shirt he wore. Kakuzu stepped up behind him, holding something up to his back for a matter of seconds before removing his hand. "It is done," he intoned.

Naruto wished he had a mirror. "What's done?" he asked, annoyed.

"I covered up your new acquisition with a mask. I assumed that you would not want blood and organs to go unprotected," he deadpanned, "and so took the liberty of getting extra ANBU masks. Jiongu took care of the semantics."

The blond turned and stared at the taller ninja, understanding dawning in his eyes. "You mean, those last bounties…"

"Do not read into my actions, brat," Kakuzu defended haughtily, "I killed those ANBU because they were well worth the cost. The masks just ended up being additional perks. Now come…Hōzuki's mask still requires a Suiton heart to house."

Naruto looked around as Kakuzu came to a halt, the clearing they were currently in quite serene. A waterfall fell gently into a smooth lake, the peaceful feeling in the area relaxing Naruto's nerves; the new power he felt coursing through him had been somewhat overwhelming during the trek out of the Land of Earth. "If you want me to get a Suiton heart, shouldn't we keep goin' to Kirigakure?" he asked.

"No," came the blunt response. "As I mentioned before, Kirigakure is far away and very difficult to infiltrate. This place will serve two purposes."

The blond looked around, attempting to find something special about the clearing. Stumped, he sighed and bit down his pride. "And where exactly is 'this place'?"

"This," Kakuzu presented with mock grandiosity, "is the renowned secret entrance to Takigakure." His pupil looked at him in slight disbelief, causing the bounty hunter to rub the bridge of his nose in irritation. "There is a reason Takigakure is named as such, brat," he ground out. Naruto eyed the waterfall, his mouth forming an 'o' of understanding.

Kakuzu rolled his eyes in frustration, thinking how fortunate it was for Naruto that killing the group of Iwa-nin had satisfied his homicidal urges. He reached into a sleeve and pulled out a picture, holding it up so Naruto could see. "This is Tamura Tadao. He was my contact within the village for information, but he has outlived his usefulness."

The blond studied the picture, noting the man's features just as Kakuzu had told him to long ago. He possessed a slim face with blue hair and sulfurous yellow-green eyes, greediness glinting in their poisonous depths. "If he was your contact, why do you want me to kill him?"

"This bastard is trying to blackmail me," growled the former Taki-nin, "and I do not allow such foolishness to go unpunished. He thinks that I will pay him a ridiculous sum of money in order to prevent him from telling the village about my existence and activities."

"Then why don't you kill him?"

"My presence within my home village would not be an inconspicuous one," he snorted, "and I do not believe I could control myself if I…returned. There is a reason why there are no witnesses to any bounty hunting trips I take. You would do well to follow the same procedure."

"I guess I can do you this favor," the blond acquiesced at last, grinning slyly. "Tell me what to do."

Naruto surfaced from the pool and gasped for air, immediately regretful of trying to make the mission out to be a bigger deal than it was. That bastard Kakuzu didn't tell me how long I would have to hold my breath for! I'll kill 'im! He hoisted himself from the water, dragging a briefcase out behind him. Fully out, he shook himself off and looked around.

The pool he had come up in was one of several, waterfalls trickling into all of them. Short grass littered the area, and a few trees were growing intermittently some distance away. Naruto placed the briefcase on the grass beside him, unfastening the locks and checking the contents.

He heaved a sigh of relief when he saw that the money Kakuzu had received from Zangei was still safe and dry. The blond had asked his teacher for the briefcase in order to solidify the image of paying the blackmail ransom. Kakuzu had very reluctantly handed over the money, but not after telling him in vivid detail what he would do to the blond if all the cash wasn't there upon his return.

Naruto shuddered…the images were not pleasant. He got to his feet and picked up the briefcase, wandering aimlessly to the right. After twenty minutes of walking, he paused, sharp eyes catching sight of something interesting.

Two teenage boys, obviously ninja, were picking on a third kid who looked to be about Naruto's age. They looked to be content with simply verbally abusing the third person until one of the boys shoved the other party. The kid tried countering, but that opened the way for the two boys to start physically beating on him.

Suddenly the blond heard a snicker not far away, and swiveled his head, finally managing to pinpoint an adult hidden carefully within a clump of bushes a hundred feet away from the kids. Naruto eyed him carefully, noting blue hair and an angular jaw. That's the one, he thought.

Naruto approached the man, clearing his throat to capture his attention. Sulfurous yellow-green eyes turned to face him, wide in surprise. "Tamura Tadao?" Naruto posed.

"Who's asking?" replied the man in a reedy whine. His voice grated on Naruto's ears, and the blond was forced to visibly contain his flinch.

"Kakuzu sent me," he stated brusquely. "I have the money."

"Ah, good, good," grinned Tadao. "Let me see the briefcase."

Naruto placed the briefcase down and unlocked it, turning it around so it opened towards the informant. The man's eyes lit up in excitement, allowing Naruto a moment to focus on the group of fighting children; only the third kid was left, lying motionless on the ground.

"Well, it looks like it's all here," said Tadao in his high voice. Naruto heard the click of the briefcase locks as the Taki-nin closed it, deciding that now was the time to act. "Pleasure doing business with—"

Naruto reached out with his right hand and grabbed the man's throat. "Ah, blissful silence," he sighed. His eyes hardened and he brought the man right up to his face in the closest imitation of his teacher that he could muster. "Kakuzu sends his regards," he whispered wickedly. Then he thrust his left hand forward, threads bursting forth just like with the Iwa-nin. Tadao's eyes widened and then glazed over as the threads stole his heart and assimilated it into Naruto's system.

He dropped the corpse of the informant as power flooded his body again, causing him to moan. The blond rubbed his forehead to try and stave off the headache he felt coming. "Okay…there should really be a label for side effects on that scroll," he groaned.

Suddenly, a kunai was at his throat. "Who are you, and why did you kill this man?" demanded a tomboyish voice.

Naruto mentally berated himself for dropping his guard. He felt the kunai tickle his skin and realized that he had yet to answer the question. "This man was a traitor to your village," he explained, deciding that half-truths might just get him through this.

"Say you're right," retorted the voice after a short pause, "that would imply that you don't even belong to the village. Where's your allegiance?"

Naruto gulped slightly. He preferred to kill only when necessary (or worthwhile, as far as bounty hunting went), and judging by the voice behind him, his captor was too young to be worth any significant reward; he began to work the black tendrils in his body towards attacking his opponent, waiting for the right moment. "I have no village allegiance," he hazarded, stalling in the meantime.

The person behind him was silent for a moment, and Naruto figured he or she was mulling over his answer. He stayed perfectly still under he heard his captor groan, the hand with the kunai retracting just a hair. That was enough for him.

The blond quickly threw up his right arm, pushing away the kunai and leaping away in one swift movement. He turned around to see his opponent – a thin, tanned, child around his age with light green hair – clutching his or her stomach in pain. The kid groaned, and Naruto felt something prickle his conscious. Kakuzu's gonna kill me, he sighed.

"Are you…okay?" he tried.

"Do I look okay?" snapped the kid, the voice – while tomboyish – now distinctly female.

"Not particularly," shrugged the blond. "Hey…you look familiar," he realized. It took a minute of staring before it finally clicked. Naruto reached into one of his many pockets and pulled out a battered photo. He held it up next to the girl and ordered her to lift her head up.

She looked up so Naruto could see her face, and he gasped when he saw a black bruise painted around one of her orange eyes. "You're the Jinchūriki! Fū, right?" Another moment, then, "Hey, you were the one being picked on earlier!"

"Your powers of deduction…are astounding," she grit out. "How do you know I'm a…Jinchūriki?"

Naruto nudged the body of Tadao. "He was an informant for…my mentor," he finished after a pause. "Why were those kids pickin' on you?"

Fū scoffed. "You wouldn't understand."

The blond was silent for a long time. At length, he spoke in a solemn voice. "They think you're a monster. They blame you for the deaths the Bijū inside of you caused. You're the target of all of their pent-up rage and hatred. Worst of all, you can't defend yourself, because then people think that you're 'attacking' them. Am I close?"

All Fū could do was stare at him in wonder. "How—?"

"Do I know?" he finished rhetorically. He looked down quietly in shame, as if debating what to say. "I know because I'm just like you. I am the host to the Kyūbi."

Fū was too stunned to speak. Naruto watched as her eyes seemed to go blank for several seconds. After a moment, they seemed to refocus and she removed her hand from her stomach, where it had been resting to quell the pain. "You're telling the truth," she whispered in awe. "I never thought I'd meet another person like me, someone who shares my pain and understands."

"You believe me, just like that?" he questioned skeptically.

She smiled wryly. "I spoke to the bug." At Naruto's inquiring gaze, she elaborated, "Nanabi no Kabutomushi. Apparently he was reacting to the presence of the Kyūbi and that's why I was in pain."

"Ah…" He wasn't quite sure how to respond to that. Then, suddenly, an idea occurred to him. "Are you accepted in this village?"

"Not really," she replied. "Why?"

"No real reason," he shrugged carelessly, "but if you're looking for acceptance, I think I know a place where you can find it. Interested?"

Kakuzu strode (he never paced) back and forth in the clearing his blond pupil had left well over an hour ago. It wasn't that he was worried about him, but the idiot did have his money. Tadao shouldn't have proven to be such a big problem, but if Naruto had gotten caught, even a platoon of elite Taki-nin (as few as they were) might have been able to overwhelm him with his limited experience.

That brat has five minutes before I go in there and take off his head for losing my money.

Fortunately, Kakuzu didn't have to wait that long. After three minutes, bubbles began to form in the middle of the water, attracting his attention. Moments after, Naruto's blond head burst through the surface, followed by several deep gasps of air. "Brat," growled Kakuzu, "where. Is. My. Money."

The black briefcase containing Kakuzu's cash flew through the air and landed on the bank next to the tall man. "Good," he stated after checking the contents. "Now hurry up. I do not wish to dally here any longer than necessary."

That was when a second head burst through the water, also taking in gulps of air. Kakuzu immediately began preparing a powerful technique to take care of the intruder, but Naruto's spluttered "Wait!" caused Kakuzu to pause in curiosity. He waited until Naruto and the other person swam to shore and flopped onto the bank, chests heaving in rhythm.

Kakuzu's green eyes stared with piercing intensity at the other person before switching their gaze purely to his pupil. "You little shit," he hissed, "what did you do?"

Naruto coughed up a lungful of water before answering. "I took out your guy and brought back Takigakure's third best secret – the Jinchūriki of the Nanabi. Aren't you proud?" he smirked.

Kakuzu hauled the blond up by his collar, bringing him within inches of his face and leaking powerful killer intent. "What was your intention by bringing this pest out with you?"

"I thought that…maybe…you could help train her…like you kinda did with me?"

"Do not presume to speak for me, you insolent pest!" snarled the mercenary. "You were the first student I have ever taken on, and until you have earned your keep, I will consider even that a mistake. I will not allow you to drag me into training another useless, annoying sack of flesh."

Before Naruto could protest, Fū's voice cut through Kakuzu's rant. "You never told me that Kakuzu was your teacher, Naruto." Her voice was a mixture of fear and awe, and Kakuzu dropped Naruto carelessly onto the grass before walking over to her.

The bounty hunter leaned in close, appearing to inspect her before saying in a dangerously low tone, "What have you heard of me, little girl?"

"Only what the history books have told us," shrugged Fū. "That after becoming a great ninja and then failing to assassinate the Shodai Hokage, you betrayed the village, but not before stealing Jiongu, and…the heart of some guy? Dunno, that part was pretty vague. But you're an inspiration to me!"

Kakuzu raised one eyebrow. "Most people do not have such a reaction to my deeds and actions."

"My name's Fū, and I hate Taki as much as I think you do. Naruto gave me something to believe in, where before I only experienced pain and misery." She removed her hitae-ate from where it was wrapped around her arm and scored it with a kunai, symbolizing the end of her village affiliation. "Will you take me on as a second apprentice, Kakuzu-sensei?"

Kakuzu punched her head, but was surprised when the Fū in front of him burst into a cloud of dust. "Hm…interesting trick," he called aloud to the surrounding foliage.

"It's part of my Bijū's abilities," returned Fū's voice. "Pretty cool, huh?" The green-haired girl jumped down from a tree, landing not too far from Kakuzu. "So, am I enough of an asset for you to train now?"

The tall ninja looked at her for a long moment, considering the request. At length, he turned away, picked up the briefcase, and walked on. "Do not call me 'sensei'," was all he said.

Naruto had to admit that while Kakuzu was…interesting…to hang out with, having Fū around was a blessing. It was great to finally be able to have someone his own age to hang out with, even if the past three months since Fū's arrival had been somewhat busy.

While Naruto had been adjusting to the random power surges of the new Suiton and Doton chakras within him, Kakuzu had drilled Fū on all of her abilities. Unlike Naruto, who seemed to have been granted limitless chakra and elevated healing abilities, Fū's main ability allowed her to utilize the Jinton element, what she called Dust Release, a combination of wind and earth elements.

Currently, both Naruto and Fū were waiting for Kakuzu in their usual training field on the outskirts of Onanji. Naruto eyed Fū using his peripheral vision, taking notice of her outfit change. She wore a short fishnet shirt under a slightly shorter white shirt which revealed her abdomen. White armlets covered her arms up to just past her elbows, and white ninja shoes protected her feet. A white skirt covered more fishnet material which went down to mid-thigh, and Fū's scored Waterfall forehead protector was in place on her right bicep. An empty, red cylindrical bag hung on her back, held in place by crisscrossing red straps over her chest.

Risqué, he thought offhandedly.

Kakuzu's curt greeting of, "Brat, Fū," cut off his thoughts.

"How come you don't have a derogatory name for her?" pouted Naruto.

"She has respect for me," he replied blandly, "and she does not annoy the shit out of me like you do." Naruto huffed indignantly, causing Fū to giggle lightly.

"As for the real reason I am here," continued Kakuzu, "close your eyes and hold out your hands, brat." Naruto did as he was told, and seconds later he heard Fū gasp. He felt a brief sense of excitement before there was a swishing sound and Naruto lost the feeling in his right arm. He opened his eyes to find the black threads of Jiongu reconnecting his now severed right arm at the same junction it had done a year ago with his left one.

"This is becoming a habit with you," Naruto told Kakuzu in a voice unfazed by his lack of appendage.

"True," droned his teacher, "but I wanted to demonstrate to you the capabilities of your new weapon." Naruto's eyes found what the tall ninja was referring to – a wakizashi with a twelve-inch glistening steel blade connected to a plain black handle.

"Whoa," he murmured, reaching out with both hands as his right arm finished reattaching to his body. "You got this for me?" he choked out.

"For fuck's sake, do not get all emotional on me," Kakuzu chastised. "This will expand your thus-far limited repertoire and aid in your wind chakra manipulation. I expect you to pay me back for that in the years to come."

"So are you gonna teach me how to use it?" Naruto asked, voice filled with awe as he sheathed and unsheathed the weapon over and over again.

"No," scoffed the bounty hunter, "I have little use for such trivialities. So while I train your new friend here, you will serve under a kenjutsu master I managed to find for you."

As Naruto quirked an eyebrow in curiosity, Kakuzu motioned towards the forest where two figures in black cloaks were appearing. The shorter of the two possessed raven black hair and blank crimson eyes, his face betraying no emotion whatsoever. The taller one rivaled Kakuzu's height, and carried a tremendous object wrapped in white bandages on his back. Naruto could only surmise that this man was to be his new teacher.

Does he have…blue skin? wondered the blond as they got closer. He also noted slits in the man's neck – Gills? – and beady, bloodshot eyes that shone with a sadism which probably surpassed Kakuzu's own. "This is Hoshigaki Kisame, one of the former Seven Shinobi Swordsmen of the Mist," Kakuzu introduced without emotion. "He will train you for the next year using whatever methods he so desires." Kisame grinned at this, revealing row upon row of sharp teeth; Naruto gulped slightly, but otherwise made no other move which revealed his emotions.

"We're gonna have a good time, aren't we, Fishbait?" chuckled Kisame. Naruto shot a scowl at Kakuzu, who completely ignored it, before following Kisame and the other man away from Onanji and northeast towards the Land of Lightning. Fū waved a rather tepid farewell before following Kakuzu in the opposite direction to continue her training.

Both Jinchūriki had a long year ahead of them.

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