Heart threatening to burst out of his chest, Roshi jumped through the forest in vain, searching for any trace of their friend.
But it was pointless. The trail had ended long ago and he and Han could only wander aimlessly through the trees. As the more sun rose in the sky, the possibility that they could find their Mizukage was growing more and more unlikely.
Hope diminishing, Roshi could hear nothing of the world around him. Only the beating of his heart. Vision growing blurry, he forced himself to breathe.
One, two, three, four, inhale. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, exhale.
Images of Yagura swam through his mind. Fingernails ripped out one by one for information. A sword speared through his body. The empty eyes of a corpse staring into space.
Roshi shook his head. Yagura couldn’t be dead. He couldn’t. The man was a cockroach in human form. He was too annoyingly resilient to die.
Yet, despite his reassurances, Roshi couldn’t stop the despair from gripping his body in its grip. Was Yagura dead? Or worse? What if their last interaction— a middle finger and a curse— had been the very last time they spoke? Roshi wasn’t sure if he could live on if that was the case.
“Has Kokuo said anything to you?” Roshi asked Han for what must have been the hundredth time.
“She hasn’t.” Han’s normally calm voice shook with fear. Roshi could only imagine the thoughts running through his mind. Was he just as terrified?
Roshi shook his head, throat tight. “Neither has Son.”
The sun was now high in the sky— nearly lunchtime. But food was the least of his worries. He wasn’t sure if he could keep anything down if he tried.
Yagura’s body ached and his head spun. His stomach heaved and he swallowed down the urge to vomit over himself.
Groaning, Yagura forced his eyes open.
Immediately, he had to close them as the brightness burned his retinas. By instinct, he tried to raise a hand to shield his face, but both of his arms were tied down. Shifting in place, he realized his legs had been locked down as well.
Slower that time, he opened his eyes, wincing at the light. But after a few seconds, his vision adjusted and he took note of his surroundings.
He was inside a small, circular, windowless room, the only light coming from a mysterious above. The walls, floor, and ceiling were pink, reminding him of exposed muscle tissue. His seat, a heavy metallic chair, sat at the center of the circle, chains restraining his arms and legs. An interrogation room.
Yagura swallowed down his nausea, breathing slowly as he stared at his surroundings.
He cursed himself. He had committed a rookie mistake and allowed himself to be impaired by alcohol. Especially after their encounter with Kakuzu, he should have known something was bound to happen.
The bounty hunter had implied he suspected Yagura was a jinchuuriki. Had he tracked them down and isolated Yagura for their mission? Did he wish to extract information out of him first? Was he about to die?
Well, at least his pants were still dry.
Yagura examined the restraints around his arms more closely. While they appeared like normal chains, fuuinjutsu markings engraved on the surface revealed their true purpose. He guessed the restraints around his ankles were the same. But if they were seals, enough power could break them from the inside out. And if there was anything he had an excess of, it was chakra.
‘Isobu?’ Yagura reached out, fearing it was already too late.
‘I was waiting for you to wake up.’ Isobu’s calm, steady voice responded at once.
In an instant, Yagura felt his heartbeat slow. As long as Isobu was there, he could do anything. ‘Have you used any of your chakra yet?’
‘I have not,’ the bijuu answered. ‘I assumed you wouldn’t want to reveal your secret unless absolutely necessary.’
‘And you’d be right, thanks.’ Yagura let out a small sigh of relief. At least for now, his identity as a jinchuuriki was safe. ‘These chains look plenty strong. But if I can push enough chakra through it, perhaps—”
‘Need my help, then?’
Despite the situation, Yagura smiled. ‘Can you lend me your chakra?’
Isobu snorted, already combining his chakra with Yagura’s own. ‘Do you even have to ask?’
In an instant, power surged through Yagura’s body and his lips turned up into a manic grin. He took a deep breath in and out before focusing their chakra onto the chain over his right arm. Energy pushed against the seal, making the script glow bright. Yet it did not dissolve or break like he had expected.
Yagura frowned. It must have been stronger than he had assumed.He pushed harder, searching for a breaking point. Still, it held steady.
Frowning, he forced more and more chakra toward his restraints. But instead of cracking open, the chains turned hot enough to burn the hair off his wrist. With a grimace, he pulled his chakra back.
‘Why didn’t that work? It should have worked!’ Yagura rolled his wrist, wincing at the small burns.
‘Not sure,’ Isobu’s voice sounded uncertain for the first time. ‘I can lend you more.’
‘Might as well try.’
Yagura took a deep breath in and out, gritted his teeth, and prepared himself for pain. Once again, the seals turned bright and his skin began to burn, but the chains remained. Why was it taking so long to break free?
“Don’t bother.” A deep voice seemed to come from nowhere, making Yagura jump. “The seal I used is strong enough to restrain a rampaging bijuu.”
“Uh...” Yagura turned his head around the room, searching in vain for a source. “Hello?”
As if in answer, the wall parted and the bartender from earlier stepped out, a smirk on his face and arms crossed. “You woke up faster than I had anticipated.”
“Oh, hello there.” Yagura raised his hand as high as the chains would allow to wave, forcing himself to smile. “You’re the bartender from earlier. Sorry, but it seems I have forgotten your name.”
The bartender blinked, taken aback by his forcefully calm reaction. But he recovered quickly and he grinned. “We never introduced ourselves,” he admitted.
“Well, my name is Kaito,” Yagura said, straining the restraints to point to himself. “I’d shake your hand, but as you can see, they’re a bit... indisposed.” He shook his wrists as much as he could, making the chains clink. “I’m guessing I drank more than just umeshu?”
The man’s smirk widened, answering Yagura’s question. He stepped forward, tall figure casting an intimidating silhouette.
Yagura forced himself not to shift in place.
“I’ll admit, when I captured you, I wasn’t expecting to strike gold,” the bartender said, eyes studying Yagura up and down.
Yagura blinked, readjusting his arms in a vain search for comfort. “Uh... What?”
“Well....” the man scratched the back of his neck. “It’s not every day that one captures a Mizukage that died years ago.”
Yagura’s breath froze in his lungs and the blood drained from his face. Fuck.
‘Fuck.’ So Isobu had forgotten about his disguise, too?
The panic must have shown on his face because the bartender crouched down and grinned. “You’d been using a transformation jutsu, I gather?”
Yagura could only gape at him. The possibility of losing his cover and his life were becoming more and more likely. For once, he had no reply.
The man laughed. “Don’t worry, I have no desire to kill you.” The yet hung in the air, unspoken.
“Well, if you want me for my body, just know I have a wife and she might not be happy about it.” Despite his thundering heartbeat, Yagura forced a grin. “Though I guess what she doesn’t know won’t kill her.”
The bartender laughed again, harder than before. “Don’t worry, I just wish to talk for now.” As if to demonstrate he meant no harm, the room shifted to provide him a stool upon which he sat, arms crossed.
With a start, Yagura realized the room he was in was made out of stomach lining.
“Gross,” he mumbled.
“If it works, it works,” the other man said with a shrug, turning his chin up as he smirked down at the trapped Mizukage.
Yagura frowned and his mind raced through options. Perhaps if Isobu lent him enough chakra to do a full transformation it would be enough to break the chains? And if he had some time alone, he might be able to create a counter seal. Or— his stomach burned with embarrassment that it might be his only option— would he have to rely on Han and Roshi to rescue him?
His mind ran through possibilities and increasingly dismal situations.
The masked man had put him under a genjutsu. If the organization had found him pissed drunk in a bar, wouldn’t they want to put him back under their control? Or kill him? Or do whatever they wanted to do with Han and Roshi?
But if that was the case, why was he still alive? And why was the man talking to him? After all, wouldn’t—
‘It’s going to be fine, Yagura.’ Isobu's panicked voice snapped him back to the moment. ‘I’ll use our bijuu mindspace to contact Kokuo and Son. If they—’
‘Wait!’ Before Isobu could get help, Yagura stopped him, his mind beginning to make connections he hadn’t before.
Yagura’s heart thundered in his chest, loud enough he wondered if the other man heard. Who was powerful enough to make chains able to contain a bijuu? And who would use a stomach as a prison? Who would recognize Fourth Mizukage Yagura Karatachi?
There was only one person Yagura could think of.
“You’re Jiraiya, aren’t you?”
Silence settled. A heavy weight settled in Yagura’s stomach and sweat dripped down his back. But his eyes refused to move away from his captor, daring him to reveal the truth.
“Huh...” The man blinked and scratched his chin, making Yagura tense. “Guess I shouldn’t be surprised with a former kage in front of me.”
With that, his disguise disappeared in a cloud of smoke. A second later, an older man with long white hair appeared. Two long lines— tattoos or face paint— ran down his cheeks like tears. A helmet inscribed with the kanji for oil adorned his head.
Yagura’s pulse pounded in his ears. After months and months without leads, without money, without time, he had found the ever elusive man. Finally.
“I don’t think anyone has ever correctly guessed my true identity before.” Jiraiya admitted as he scratched his chin. “Though I’ll admit I do prefer to show off my real handsome face when talking to people.” He puffed up like a peacock. “I’m curious though... What gave it away?”
Yagura shifted, tightening his hands into fists and making the chains clink. “The room transforming. It looks like the inside of a stomach.”
The other man huffed. “I guess that when you’re looking for me, you would already be familiar with my techniques.”
“You are the Toad Sage. Who doesn’t know who you are?”
Jiraiya shrugged and shook his head. “You’d be surprised.”
Yagura hummed. While his initial hypothesis had been confirmed, he wasn’t out of the fire. Why had the sage taken him? What did he want? And did it have anything to do with the organization possibly hunting down jinchuuriki? Or— he hated to consider it an option— was Jiraiya a member of that mysterious group?
Whatever the case, if Yagura played his cards right, he could take advantage of the situation.
‘Didn’t we already agree you don’t know how to play cards, Yagura?’
Yagura winced. Why did they always bring up his bad juck?
Jiraiya caught the expression. His eyes narrowed and he leaned in closer, misinterpreting Yagura’s grimace.
“I don’t wish to harm you,” Jiraiya said. His tone was honest but his eyes revealed the truth. The only reason Yagura was still alive was because the other man permitted it.
“Pretty rich coming from the man who chained me down with the strongest chakra seals I’ve seen in my life.” Yagura shook his arms and feet, making the restraints clink.
“Heh, sorry about that.” Jiraiya leaned back, arms crossed, not looking sorry at all.
“So what do you want from me, anyway?”
“Well... when I hear about someone trying to find me, I tend to get a bit suspicious.” Jiraiya laughed as his eyes fell upon the chains. “Though... I might have overdone it a little.”
“That’s an understatement.” Yagura rolled his eyes.
“I have a few questions,” Jiraiya said in the same tone one would use to talk about the weather. “It would be better for you if you answered honestly.”
Yagura readied a retort, but his thoughts were cut short when something slimy pressed himself against his skin. He shuddered at the touch. The stomach lining had stretched itself to rest over Yagura’s pulse— a crude method to detect lies.
“Seriously?” He glared at Jiraiya. “At least warn me before slimy things touch me! This kind of lie detection isn’t even that accurate anyway.”
“I’m not an interrogation expert,” Jiraiya confessed with a shrug. “But I know enough to tell when people are outright lying to me, Yagura Karatachi.”
Despite his experience and power, Yagura felt himself shrink back. When was the last time anyone had called him by his true name? How many living people even knew it?
Yagura gulped, forcing himself to meet the older man’s eyes. “Well... I don’t think I have much choice but to talk, do I?”
“You really don’t.” Jiraiya grinned. “Although...” He scratched the tip of his chin. “Call me an idealist if you wish but I’d prefer not to kill anyone unless I have to.”
Yagura forced himself to grin back. “Same here.”
‘Oh, you hear that, Yagura?’ Isobu’s voice was dry. ‘You might be tortured for information but he might not kill you. Isn’t that nice?’
Yagura resisted the urge to roll his eyes. ‘I see you’ve been spending too much time with Matatabi.’
Unaware of his thoughts, Jiraiya hummed, eyes scanning Yagura up and down. After a moment, he shook his head and sighed. “Let’s just say I have lots of questions.”
“Oh?” Yagura tilted his head to the side.
“Tell me...” Jiraiya leaned forward, placing his elbows onto his knees. “How did a former Mizukage end up following after two Iwakagure missing nin?”
Yagura closed his mouth. He’d rather not recount that particular tale.
Jiraiya inched ever so slightly forward. “And why did you fake your death to begin with?”
Yagura tightened his lips shut.
Jiraiya frowned with growing impatience. “Are you part of Akatsuki?”
“Akatsuki?” Yagura frowned. The name pulled at vague memories at the back of his mind. Something about a revolutionary group in the Land of Rain?
“I guess that answers that question.” Jiraiya sighed, turning to stare at the wall over Yagura’s shoulder. “Well, next question. Who—”
“Wait, why are you asking about Akatsuki?” Yagura interrupted. “Isn’t that the revolutionary group from Rain?”
Jiraiya’s eyes widened. “Rain? What do you mean by the Land of Rain?” Something in his expression became unsettled, although Yagura could only guess as to why.
“Well...” Yagura began. “It’s been over fifteen years since I last heard of them, but I definitely remember the organization was founded in Amegakure.” He shrugged.
Jiraiya leaned forward, resting one forearm on top of his knee. He gestured with one hand for Yagura to continue.
Yagura grimaced. If Jiraiya wanted to know about a dead organization, Yagura was more than willing to talk. It was better than being asked to tell the story of his fake death at least. And if a dead organization could someone get him in the man’s good graces...
“Akatsuki was originally formed to overthrow Hanzo as leader of the village and bring peace to the region,” he began.
“Hanzo?” Jiraiya raised a single eyebrow.
Yagura shrugged. “Considering war hasn’t ended and Hanzo’s still in power... I’m gonna assume Akatsuki wasn’t very successful.”
“That’s an understatement.” Jiraiya snorted. “So how and when did you learn about Akatsuki and their mission?”
“It was near the end of the second shinobi war,” Yagura began. “Before I became the Mizukage.”
‘And before you decided to seal me inside yourself,’ Isobu added.
Yagura ignored the bijuu. “I was part of the espionage unit of Kirigakure. It was our job to collect intel about the other nations. The existence of Akatsuki was just one of them. The third Mizukage considered using it to destabilize the region, but resources were scarce at the time. Because of...” He trailed off.
“Because of the war with Konoha,” Jiraiya finished the sentence for him.
Yagura nodded. “Yes... because of the war.”
Silence fell and the two men stared at each other, lost in their own thoughts.
Yagura stared at the other man, vague plans beginning to form. Jiraiya wanted to know about Akatsuki and Yagura wanted to know about Orochimaru. Intelligence trading was a shinobi time-honored tradition if ever there was one.
“I won’t say anything else about Akatsuki unless we can make a deal.” Unable to cross his arms, a stern frown would have to do.
Jiraiya hesitated for a second, which only raised Yagura’s hopes he could talk his way out of his imprisonment. “What kind of deal?”
“You’ll let me go and won’t reveal the truth of my identity. And—” Yagura raised his voice before Jiraiya could object. “I will be more than happy to share any more intel I have regarding Akatsuki.” Even if what he knew was close to nothing.
Jiraiya hummed to himself before nodding. “Fair enough. So what else do you know about Akatsuki?”
“Uh-uh.” Yagura shook his head. “If you want me to say anything, you have to answer some of my own questions.”
Jiraiya raised an eyebrow. “I’m not sure if you know the lack of leverage you have now.”
“Oh, I’m well aware,” Yagura confessed. “But considering my friends and I had been searching for you just to talk... I’d like to talk. So how about we take turns? Even if you end up killing me in the end, I’d like to die satisfied with knowledge.”
Jiraiya rained an eyebrow before leaning back and shrugging. “If you insist. Ask away.”
Yagura paused as he considered. He couldn’t waste even a single question. What if Jiraiya decided interrogation wasn’t worth his time and tortured the information out of him instead?
“What’s Orochimaru’s weakness?” If he only had a limited number of questions, he might as well go all out.
Jiraiya’s eyes widened and his jaw gaped open. He stared at Yagura for a moment more before recovering. “Why do you want to know about Orochimaru?”
Yagura snorted. “I thought we were asking and answering each other a question at a time.”
Jiraiya’s mouth was set into a thin line but he couldn’t disagree. He gave a reluctant nod. “Orochimaru is vain,” he began. “He cares about appearances but has a cutting tongue. He dislikes cold foods in general. He’s obsessed with looking young forever and—”
“I wanted to know his weaknesses in battle, not about his least favorite food!” Yagura interrupted.
Jiraiya shrugged, a smirk tugging at his lips. “You didn’t specify.”
Yagura pouted. “I’m not gonna talk if you don’t answer my questions.”
“I did answer your question.” Jiraiya’s voice grew cold and he leaned in closer. “So now, answer my question. Why do you want to know about Orochimaru’s weaknesses? Remember, I can tell when you’re lying.”
Yagura pouted. “Fine. My friends and I had a bit of a... squabble with Orochimaru not too long ago.” He paused. How much should he answer? “We’ve been trying to track him down not just for the bounty, but to atone for our first encounter with him.”
Jiraiya stared at him for a moment before nodding, the prison detecting no lies. “I see. Well, I guess if you’ve got a deathwish...” He sighed and shook his head. “Anyway, your turn.”
Yagura hummed to himself. The other man was unlikely to reveal much about Orochimaru and both of them knew it. But perhaps if Yagura prodded at the right place...
“When was the last time you talked to Tsunade?” Yagura made sure to meet Jiraiya’s eyes straight on.
“W-what?” Jiraiya jumped at the sudden mention of his other old teammate, eyes wide.
“We met with Tsunade before we started searching for you,” Yagura explained. “We talked about Orochimaru and... other things.”
“You... you talked to Tsunade?” A mix of emotions crossed through the man’s eyes before cloaking his expression behind a haughty mask. “Guess she must’ve had some time to kill.”
“Perhaps.” Yagura forced his expression to remain neutral. “So? What’s your answer? When’s the last time you talked to Tsunade?”
“The last...” Despite his experience and abilities, hurt crossed through the man’s eyes. “Must’ve been... over ten years now.”
“And you’ve never thought to track her down?” Yagura suspected he was hitting below the belt, but he was chained down in a frog’s stomach. He’d take any advantage that he could get.
Jiraiya grimaced and he looked down at his feet. “That’s none of your business. I don’t think she’d want to see me, anyway.”
Considering the woman had looked conflicted about sharing Orochimaru’s weaknesses, he doubted Jiraiya’s assertion.
“If you say.” Yagura shrugged.
Jiraiya cleared his throat. Composure returning, he glared at Yagura before asking his next question. “Who are the leaders of Akatsuki?
“I don’t know,” Yagura confessed. “We were never able to infiltrate Amegakure, just obtain some of the intel. To be perfectly honest, even what I’ve told you so far could be wrong.”
“But you don’t think it’s wrong?”
Yagura shook his head. “Hanzo was a dictator. Is it really a stretch to believe a group of young people might rally together to throw him down?”
Jiraiya hummed to himself before answering. “I suppose not,” he admitted.
“Anyway, my turn again.” Yagura stretched his shoulders back as much as he could. “Why do you want to know about Akatsuki? They were active nearly fifteen years ago. So why?”
Jiraiya was silent for a long moment, dark eyes studying Yagura. Despite his experience and power, Yagura felt himself shiver at the sight. When was the last time he had faced anyone he could consider an equal in battle?
A thousand and one thoughts seemed to flash through Jiraiya’s eyes. Finally, he spoke.
“Because I have been tracking Akatsuki for the past few years.”
Yagura blinked. Akatsuki was still active? Had they expanded out of Amegakure into other nations?
Jiraiya nodded, his expression once again becoming unsure as thoughts flitted through his mind. Yagura considered speaking up and asking his next question, but an instinct in his gut told him to wait.
Finally, Jiraiya spoke. “I believe Orochimaru was involved with Akatsuki as little as a year ago,” he confessed.
Yagura’s heart dropped into his stomach. “W-what?”
Jiraiya looked away at the wall, jaw tense. “If you want to track down Orochimaru, you should know there might be an organization that stands behind him. Anyway, I believe Akatsuki—”
But Yagura heard nothing more. His heartbeat thundered in his ears and he could barely hear his own thoughts. Orochimaru was part of Akatsuki? Or... had been part of Akatsuki? Was the organization chasing down jinchuuriki and Akatsuki one and the same? Was there even a way to know for sure?
Thoughts raced through his mind and his heart threatened to beat out of his chest. Why hadn’t he seen the connection earlier? Was it Akatsuki? Or someone—
The use of his real name made Yagura jump and focus his attention back on Jiraiya. “W-what?”
Jiraiya frowned, leaning forward with his head slightly tilted to the side. “What’s wrong?”
“I... I...” Yagura swallowed. Whose turn was it to ask a question? He couldn’t recall. Whatever the case, he needed to remain calm, so he swallowed down his panic. “How can you know if someone belongs to Akatsuki? Is there... any kind of trademark?”
Jiraiya raised one eyebrow before answering. “Their clothes,” he answered. “They’re...”
“Dark cloaks adorned with blood red clouds?” Yagura guessed.
Jiraiya blinked. Just like Yagura, his frown deepened as connections formed. After a moment, he nodded, lips set in a straight line.
Yagura’s pulse pounded in his ears as thoughts and speculation jumbled together.
What did Orochimaru have to do with Akatsuki? How did a revolutionary group from Amegakure evolve into an organization chasing down jinchuuriki? Did Jiraiya even know they wanted jinchuuriki? Or about Kakuzu? Or Sasori? Somehow he doubted it.
And if the organization they were chasing and Akatsuki were one and the same... There’s a way we can both benefit.
“So this organization you call Akatsuki....” Yagura met Jiraiya’s eyes. “How much do you know about them?”
Jiraiya’s lips tightened. “I believe it’s my turn to ask a question now.” He leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees. “It seems like you’ve had more than one encounter with Akatsuki. So tell me, what do you know about them?”
Yagura opened his mouth to answer before reconsidering and shaking his head. “I’d love to reveal everything I know about this group,” he lied. “But... these chains around my wrists are really making me forget.” A bead of sweat trailed down his face onto his lap.
Jiraiya’s expression hardened and he opened his mouth.
“In exchange for not telling the world I’m still alive, I’ll tell you everything I know,” Yagura promised before the other man could speak. “And...” he hesitated. “I believe that we currently have the same goals. Because it seems we’re both chasing down Akatsuki.”
Jiraiya raised an eyebrow. “How can I be sure you’ll keep your promise?”
“Well... For one Konohagakure and Kirigakure are now allies.” Yagura shifted in his seat, chains clinking against each other.
Jiraiya met Yagura’s eyes, arms crossed and expression blank.
“Considering how the last war went... I don’t think anyone wants another conflict to break out,” Yagura continued. “And I doubt the current leadership wants that either.”
A twitch under the other man’s eye revealed the first cracks.
“Besides, you also have more leverage over me than you can imagine,” Yagura continued. “I’d rather not get into specifics, but I would rather die than have my identity revealed publicly.”
Jiraiya hummed, staring up at the ceiling deep in thought. He was ready to agree— Yagura could feel it.
“Also... let’s just say that Akatsuki might’ve had a hand in why I ended up faking my death.”
The mention of his false death was the final morsel Jiraiya needed. The man turned his gaze back down to him. He nodded, although something in his eyes remained uncertain.
“Very well.” Jiraiya stood up, towering over Yagura. “We have more to gain from each other working together,” he admitted, speaking almost to himself. “Just don’t make me regret not killing you.”
Yagura let out a weak chuckle. “I’ll try. Though...” He met the taller man’s eyes in challenge. “Just know that if Kirigakure learned I was still alive, the village would almost definitely fall back into civil war. I’m not sure either the Mizukage or the Hokage would like that.”
Jiraiya laughed, sounding genuinely amused. “They wouldn’t,” he admitted with a shake of his head. “Wouldn’t want a new war to start so soon after the last one ended.”
“I don’t think anyone would,” Yagura agreed.
“Well, in that case... Let’s shake on it,” Jiraiya extended a hand out at the same time the stomach lining moved away from Yagura’s wrists. “I’ll let you go and I won’t tell the world about your existence. In exchange, you’ll tell me everything you know about Akatsuki.”
“Deal.” Yagura raised his hand up as much as he could, meeting Jiraiya’s and squeezing. “I promise I won’t do anything to start a war.”
‘On purpose at least.’
Yagura ignored his bijuu as the restraints kept him from shaking Jiraiya’s hand up and down.
Jiraiya grinned before raising his hands up to his chest in a release sign. An instant later, the restraints around his arms and legs broke free, falling down and getting swallowed by the stomach.
Groaning with discomfort, Yagura rolled his wrists in circles.
As he restored normal circulation to his extremities, he thought about the situation he had found himself in.
He was furious that he had lost his cover, but he had also gained more than he had expected. What would the other jinchuuriki say about learning the organization chasing them was named Akatsuki? And if Jiraiya considered that organization a threat, there was an opportunity for an alliance.
Besides, Jiraiya hadn’t figured out his jinchuuriki status, which could only be a good thing.
It’s bad enough that someone knows I’m not dead.
Yagura stood up, wincing as he stretched his legs, sore after who knew how long chained down. Already, he could tell his body would be in pain for the next couple of days. But at least he wasn’t dead. One could never be certain of that in their business.
“I’ll contact my friends,” Yagura said, looking up to meet Jiraiya’s eyes as he stretched his shoulders back. “Let’s talk more about Akatsuki after that.”
“Good enough for me.” Jiraiya nodded, the stomach transforming and receding around them. “I guess they might be worried about you.”
Considering how Yagura would feel if the situations were reversed, that was probably an understatement. But Jiraiya didn’t need to know that.
He shook his head. “Nah, they’re probably glad to have a break from me.”
‘Roshi!’ As the hope became little more than a thread, Son Goku returned, snapping Roshi out of his spiraling thoughts. ‘I was able to contact Isobu. They’re safe.’
In an instant, his body felt a thousand pounds lighter and his lungs felt like they could breathe again. He froze midjump, landing on a branch. Nearby, Han stopped as well, crouching on a neighboring branch. Had Kokuo contacted the other man, too?
“Y-you have?” Roshi realized he had spoken physically only when Han turned to look at him.
‘Fucking turtle said the asshole is drinking at a bar now.’ The Monkey King’s voice sounded angrier than Roshi had heard in decades, but the relief was impossible to miss. Had the bijuu been worried about his sibling, too?
Roshi turned to look at Han. The naked relief was clear as day despite the mask covering most of his face. Roshi could only imagine his own expression.
‘Where are they?’ Han’s voice joined Roshi’s thoughts.
‘They’re in a different town not too far from here,’ Kokuo’s soft voice answered. ‘There’s another man there, though Isobu didn’t say who.’
‘Was it the bartender?’ Roshi asked.
Silence from the two bijuu revealed they didn’t know the answer.
Han and Roshi looked at each other again. What had Yagura gotten himself into? Had he fought himself out of a dangerous situation? And why hadn’t he tried to contact them earlier?
Whatever had happened, they needed to return to Yagura’s side as soon as possible. With twin nods, they followed their tailed beasts’ instructions to Yagura’s location.
Only a half hour later, they arrived at a town built next to a major river crossing. Slowing once they reached the town, they walked through the streets until they came to a small pub. They pulled back the curtains and entered, Han at Roshi’s heels.
Roshi’s eyes were immediately drawn to the bar. There, Yagura sat, talking to a tall man with white hair.
But Roshi barely glanced at the other man. Relief coursed down to his toes and he ran toward Yagura, searching for signs of injury. He looked worse than the foolish chuunin that had challenged Han to a drinking game, but he was alive. Paler than usual and with bags under his eyes to rival a panda, but unharmed.
“Y— Kaito!” Roshi gripped Yagura’s shoulder, shaking him and half-expecting the figure to disappear. “W— Are you okay?”
Yagura grinned and Roshi’s relief skyrocketed. “I’m fine,” the man said, waving at Han over Roshi’s shoulder. “I guess I got a little bit drunker than I thought.”
“Ain’t that an understatement?” Han mumbled from somewhere behind Roshi, the relief easy to hear.
“Sorry.” Yagura scratched the back of his neck, a smirk on his lips.
“What happened?” Roshi studied the other man up and down, searching for hints of events from the last sixteen hours.
“I just...” Yagura picked up his glass— some sort of red juice— and drank. “I kinda met someone and we had a riveting conversation.” With his head, he nodded toward the man sitting next to him.
In their panic and relief, Roshi had paid little heed to Yagura’s drinking buddy. But now, Roshi focused his attention on him. The man was tall, though nowhere close to Han’s height. His white hair hung down to below his hips and two red tearlines were tattooed down his cheeks.
“Uh... Good afternoon.” Roshi studied the new man. Something about his appearance tugged at Roshi’s memory but after the events of the last twenty-four hours, his brain refused to cooperate.
“Afternoon,” Han greeted, voice sounding more exhausted than Roshi could remember.
“Good afternoon!” Unlike the three jinchuuriki, the new man’s voice was chipper and his eyes were clear and alert.
Yagura took another sip of his red drink before smiling and pointing at the new man. “I’d like you to meet Jiraiya.”
“Nice to meet you.” Jiraiya grinned, raised a hand up to wave. “Kaito told me we have a lot to talk about.”
Roshi felt his eyes widen and his jaw drop as he stared at the new man. Jiraiya? Was he really—
“Jiraiya?” Han’s voice from nearby sounded as confused as Roshi felt.
The new man nodded before picking up his own drink— what looked like orange juice— and taking a sip. “I’ve just been getting to know your friend for the past few hours. I think we need to talk.”