Synchronicity

By slexenskee

Action / Adventure

The Lobster Quadrille

So, I'm no Naruto expert, but I've been trying to research all the multiple ways there are to unlock a Sharingan. I recall something about life and death situations, but I also remember in Kakashi Gaiden that Obito awakened his because of his need to protect Kakashi, so I'm assuming it comes out with an overwhelming emotion over something greater than oneself, like life/death/savingothers/well I dunno.

TO clarify, I sort of see Naruto's Sharingan kind of like Harry Potter's ability to have parseltongue. He wasn't born with it, and you could almost say he stole it. Voldemort unintentionally gave it to Harry, a boy who, without that, wouldn't have been able to carry it. Same with Naruto. Except Kyuubi intentionally gave it to him. Because there is a… transfer of powers? I'm actually confusing myself a little.

Anyway…. Onwards!

Naruto studied Gaara closely, as the crumbling body lilted beneath him, clumsily getting to his feet on a tree branch below the one the blonde was on.

The redhead jumped up for another swing at him, one Naruto barely dodged, body numb with confusion.

He landed, limply, some feet away, unsteadily supporting himself with the trunk of a tree.

"Kyuubi…" He trailed off, blue eyes wide in their grave sockets. "Y—You can't be serious… I'm not an Uchiha! I'm not—I'm not—" His eyes trailed to Sasuke. Seeing the dark-haired Uchiha elicited a variety of emotions he had once thought had been buried far into his dreams. The arcane loneliness, the sharp tangy bitterness of being rebuked once more from his peers. Of Sasuke, his back away from him, too far for the dumbass Naruto to ever catch up to.

To think, that he could achieve what that boy could achieve? That maybe, maybe they were equals… rivals? He shook his head. "How could I be able to get the Sharingan?"

"Do you need a history lesson now boy?" Kyuubi snapped cynically at him. "How you can really isn't the pressing issue."

As if he was grabbing Naruto with an invisible hand, he jerked the boys face and attention back to Gaara, who was watching him with sick fascination.

"Now, no more talking. Go forth. Look, he's hurting you're friends, isn't he?" And then, coyly, "Even Sasuke couldn't defeat him…"

Naruto pursed his lips.

He'd lived with Kyuubi talking in his head long enough to realize when the fox was guiding him with true, but ill-intented words. While he didn't want to comply to the fox's demands, and no doubt guide himself directly to where the fox wanted him to be, there didn't seem to be any other way to diffuse the situation. Sasuke was incapacitated, breathing labored and looking as if most of his energy was going to cutting off that crazy seal of his. Sakura was out cold on the branch. And Pakkun, well, Pakkun was a small dog. All of them were in danger.

The ANBU glared, unsheathing the sword on his back with his left hand.

"Alright, I'll do what you ask." And then, bitingly, "But don't think I'll let you get away without an explanation!"

Naruto charged at him, his sword meeting brick-like sand with a clang, before he flipped out of range of Gaara's monstrous claw. The redhead immediately switched to the offensive, Naruto parrying his strikes so close that he could stare directly into Gaara's crazed, diamond eyes. The black ops felt himself naturally searching for the opening in Gaara's defense, a move which, prior to Kyuubi, Naruto would have overlooked entirely and moved to just attacking him without strategy.

After more strikes, the blonde was able to discern its location, and aim for it with a deadly precision he wasn't aware he had.

Gaara roared and leapt backwards as he clutched his bloodied torso—as much as one with elongated rock limbs could do so—and, if possible, becoming more enraged. Naruto knew most likely that he did nothing more then anger the demon further, but there was nothing to be done.

He didn't have the slightest idea how he was supposed to unlock his Sharingan, seeing as though he wasn't awake for the only remaining Uchiha's, and Kyuubi was officially not answering his cries for explanation.

More close rang combat, and Naruto didn't seem and closer to his destination as he was minutes ago. Every solid hit he landed on Gaara seemed to knock the beast off balance for a few moments, before the boy would just pull himself back together and continue attacking. Not to mention that the sand had completely covered him, until Naruto could scarcely see much aside from the boy's sandals.

"Dammit—where's the opening? I know there's got to be one…"

The one where he had gotten Gaara in the chest had already closed back into a buffed wall of sand, and Naruto was running out of ideas.

Gaara sprang up once more, the two of them lashing out in the air. Naruto made to kick a formidable looking crack on his side, when Gaara latched onto his leg, twisting the both of them in the air before he kneed the blonde, sending Naruto crashing back into the ground.

But that was precise angle for Naruto to squint back up at the falling Suna-nin, and see his opening.

Before Gaara could fully impale him on his downward strike, Naruto rolled out of the way, jumping back into the trees and creating Kage Bunshin for distraction.

As Gaara went after the other two, Naruto jumped lower.

He took a breath, and, with any luck, he might be able to pull this one off.

He thought of a fire Justu—any fire Jutsu—making seals that seemed right, as if his body was accustomed to the seals that Kyuubi had been teaching his fingers to make in a certain order.

"Alright, alright," He prepped himself, fingers dexterously intertwining.

He took a breath. "K—Katon… Katon…. Uh—jutsu—uh… super crazy fire thing!"

Naruto managed to extract a mangled, malnourished looking fire dragon out of his mouth, with no small amount of surprise from the blonde, who was unprepared for such a backlash of the giant creature coming out of his trachea that he was pulled backwards and swept off of his feet. Without the proper control, the fire dragon twisted a bit as it shook uncontrollably, but ultimately managed to hit the weak spot underneath Gaara's tail, sending the boy in an explosion of fire, as well as most of the local fauna.

Naruto almost managed to impale himself on a tree branch, had Sasuke not intervened and lessened his fall.

The two boys ended up hitting a tree trunk with a dull thud, sliding onto one of the thicker branches in a tangled heap.

Naruto blinked at his once teammate as he made his way onto his feet. "Sasuke…"

Sasuke took one look at him, the wide blue eyes instead of red, surprised face in comparison to the impassivity he had seen in the forest of death. "Finally decided to go back to your normal self?" The Uchiha wheezed. "Even after all that you only managed one blow. …Shape up, will you?"

Naruto would have laughed harder had his spleen not hurt.

"I can't save you this time, like I did in the wave country… you dim wit…"

"Shut up, will you?" Naruto chuckled hoarsely, helping the Uchiha to stand.

He couldn't describe it, had he even the words to, but there was something clearly soothing about having the Uchiha to watch his back like that. No matter how far their lives seemed to take them… It made Naruto smile.

Although, speaking of Wave…

"Sasuke," Naruto watched Gaara with caution, as the beast shifted a bit from where it had landed among charred branches and smoke. "About that time…"

The Uchiha side glanced at him questioningly.

"How did you unlock your Sharingan?"

There was a moment of silence, before, "Why would you choose a time like now to ask that?"

Naruto huffed, looking distinctly annoyed. "What does it matter? Just answer the damn question!"

Sasuke turned away then, a frigid look to his face. "It came from… great emotional distress."

Naruto could have scoffed. Could the guy be any more vague? And on that note, dramatic? "So… does that mean you were really angry? Or upset?"

Naruto thought back on their journey to Wave. What could have made Sasuke so upset? Or angry, even? Haku, besting him? Zabuza, taunting them all?

Or was it…

"Hey… Naruto." Sasuke twisted the conversation away, just as Naruto realized. "Sakura, you have to save her no matter what. I know you can…"

"Once you've got her, carry her and run as far and as fast as you can…"

Naruto furrowed his brows, a bit enraged that Sasuke thought he would let him do this all by himself. "Sasuke…"

"I already lost everything once before… I don't ever want to watch those dear to me die before my eyes again…"

Those dear to me…

The Uchiha leapt away from him before Naruto could say anything else. The blonde smiled secretly.

"I get it…" He whispered to the cold, silent air.

In Wave, Sasuke had saved Naruto. He had activated his Sharingan in the process of saving the blonde's life. He had been angry at Haku, at himself for not being strong enough, and at his death, which seemed imminent.

Like strength, his Sharingan was awakened through his need to protect others.

Naruto leapt after the Uchiha.

Sasuke had already been weakened, with fighting his own match with Gaara, and then again in the forest, and by continuously combating that crazy seal of his, so it wasn't any surprise that Gaara was able to knock him away without much effort. Naruto jumped to his side, where he was rubbing at his seal as if it troubled him a lot more then whatever damage Gaara had inflicted to him. It was so black it was near purple, swirling at the neck like inky fangs sinking into his tendons. His dark eyes were stormy, watching Gaara rearrange his stone limbs into order once more.

"Don't worry about that guy," Naruto gave him a thumbs up, which the Uchiha blinked at. "I'll take care of it."

Deciding that it was better to stick with the techniques he did know, instead of the ones his fingers fragmentally recalled as if they were out of a half-remembered dream, he whipped out a couple dozen Kage Bunshin, and proceeded to attempt to overpower Gaara.

Sasuke watched with morbid fascination as Naruto once more conjured up an overwhelming amount of Kage Bunshin, after already attempting to harness a Karyuu Endan, one of the hardest—if not the hardest—Fire Jutsu. He could feel Orochimaru's curse seal pulsing with his heart, as if whispering his deepest desires, his sickest dreams in one dull thrum. Everything he'd ever been jealous of, Naruto's strength, his imperviousness to hatred, his ability to overcome the darkness that presided so heavily over the rest of humanity, they all seemed to caress him longingly, false promises that he didn't know were fake anymore spoke in his thoughts.

The Bunshins did overwhelm the Suna-nin, for a few moments at least.

"Wha—What the…"

Sasuke looked up, where the giant raccoon had managed to splinter apart trees in its rapid growth, nearly a hundred times larger then it had been previously.

Naruto too, looked up at the gigantic raccoon, which now towered over the entire forest.

Shit.. He had used up all his chakra with those Bunshin. He had sensed that Gaara was already tired out, and had been sure that one last entourage of blows would be able to take the guy down. Obviously, he had underestimated the other Jinchuuriki. The tanuki was larger than Gamabunta, and stood menacingly overtop the forest, peering down over his snout as he growled about, gigantic paws swiping the tops of trees off with small flicks.

Naruto cursed once more under his breath, unsure of what to do next.

His reserves were so low that if he attempted to use any more, he'd probably lose consciousness.

Normally this wouldn't have been a problem, as he had been gifted with another limitless supply, that was only double-edged with the fact that each usage warped him even more into the hateful, twisted creature Kyuubi had become, that the chakra was deadly to humans and their chakra coils, and the fact that it could only be accessed with the demon's consent.

Not to mention the fact that Gaara didn't seem to have this issue at all…

The giant raccoon swung its large tail, effectively barreling over what could have been a tenth of the forest, the trees to Naruto's right falling over like lopsided dominoes, almost hitting—

"Sakura!"

Naruto leapt to where she was pinned to the tree lifelessly, cutting through the sand with a kunai and jumping away with her before her tree crumbled to the ground as well.

He laid her near Sasuke, who was watching him with wide eyes.

"Naruto—!"

But the blonde paid him no mind.

He knew he couldn't keep this up for much longer. Sakura was already out cold, and Sasuke was well on his way there, his freaky seal almost completely taking over the side of his cheek.

Naruto couldn't do anything about Kyuubi's toxic chakra, nor its ability to change his psyche. But… maybe he could…

As if pulling it out of a deep pit of tar, wedging up Kyuubi's chakra from within him was almost the most excruciating thing he'd ever done, bringing him to his knees and almost forcing him to throw up. The demon wasn't of much help, crying in anger and attempting to throw Naruto out of his body—a feet which, after many times of the two switching, seemed to become harder and harder—as he tried to wrench his chakra back.

"What do you think you're doing? ! ? You don't think you can best me—

But Naruto gave one last wrenching tug, yelling aloud with the force of it and, like pulling a cap where it had been tightly clasped in a bottle, the chakra popped out so forcefully Naruto could hardly contain it, suddenly finding himself overladden with toxic chakra that it pooled around his feet, melting the bark of the branch he was on.

There was a moment of silence, as Kyuubi seemed to shocked to do anything more then stare in silent, sick interest as his very own chakra responded to Naruto's will over his.

"You DARE to take my chakra away from me! ?" The beast began once he had collected himself, angered. "Just who do you think you are, boy? "

But Naruto didn't answer him.

There was something warm and wet trailing down the side of his nose, and he quickly dabbed at it with his finger.

He pulled it away to find the tip glistening with crimson.

Blood?

He took out a kunai, studying himself in the glinting reflection.

"The Sharingan!"

The world which he used to see now felt like a blurry, hazy dream made of glass. The world he saw now, full of clarity and perfection, made him loose his balance, pivoting a foot behind him to keep himself from keeling over. Everything was so real, so clear. The limpidity of the sky everlasting, the round, buffed head of Shukaku twisting to find its prey.

Was this how Sasuke always felt like?

Like he could take on the world, and then some?

Naruto narrowed his eyes—the Sharingan didn't hurt at all, and in fact, if Naruto hadn't seen them, he wouldn't have thought his eyes looked any different—tracing the now precise lines of Gaara's visage.

Naruto used more of Kyuubi's chakra to summon Gammabunta, the demon's will almost completely nonexistent at this point. Naruto almost suspected that the demon was actually allowing him to do so now, as the fox purred contentedly from the back of his mind.

"Good… very good…"

Naruto ignored him in favor of steering Gamabunta In front of the monstrous tanuki, which roared in delight at the face of its new prey.

Naruto studied the demon closely, looking for some way to break its defenses.

"You've accessed the Sharingan, as I knew you could."

"Yeah—don't think I've forgotten about that, you crazy fox." Naruto glowered. "How the hell did I get this?!"

"The explanation will come later." ]Naruto invariably knew the ninetails was lying. "But for now, let me deal with the demon."

Not that Naruto had any choice in the matter.

Their transitions had becoming smoother, almost unnoticeable, but yet Naruto still felt as if he was conscious of what was going on—a trait which certainly hadn't been there before.

Kyuubi squinted at the corpse-like boy protruding out of Shukaku's body. The redhead was obviously the medium, and judging from his dark lined eyes Shukaku must torture him day and night, threatening to eat his very soul if the boy dares to close his eyes.

Kyuubi grinned as the boy began to spell himself into fake dreams, letting Shukaku out in the process.

Shukaku was so pleased by his 'cunning' escape from his jailer, a feat which Kyuubi had not only surpassed, but had also used to his advantage, that Kyuubi almost felt sorry for him. The Sharingan was a weapon beyond the capabilities that humans would ever be aware of. Aside from Madara, Uchiha wasted their power on mundane things, like simple advanced sight and copying Jutsu. But Kyuubi knew better then that—he knew of the eyes' greater powers.

But alas, that was far off in the distance. And for now, he was simply pleased with unlocking them.

Shukaku roared in glee. "I'm free! Free!" He turned to Kyuubi, who was watching him with lidded eyes atop of the giant frog. "And here's someone I want to kill right now…" He drawled, turning his enormous body to face the nine-tails fully.

Kyuubi tutted. "Frog." He called with no small amount of distaste to the summon below him. "You're dismissed."

"But boss—" Gamabunta stuttered. "Are you sure that's—

"Go."

The toad grumbled, before disappearing in a giant plume of smoke, leaving Kyuubi to drop back into the tree line.

Shukaku charged, and Kyuubi leapt atop his snout, gracefully maneuvering Naruto's lanky body to the demon's weak spot—the sleeping human. It only took one kick to the boy's temple to knock him clear out of Shukaku, collapsing the giant raccoon demon into shattered, roaring dusty sand.

The redhead fell limply with a thud onto the forest floor, a nasty looking bruise next to his kanji tattoo and already starting to wake.

Kyuubi landed on his feet some feet away, crouching his knees on impact as around him, the only remains of Shukaku's almost escape spat onto the ground in sandy remains. Tufts sprayed over Gaara's face and into Kyuubi's hair.

The boy was climbing to his feet, struggling as he did so, as Kyuubi flexed one of Naruto's hands. The tendons ached in protest, no doubt due to the body's already obvious strain, and the toxic chakra coursing through its torn chakra coils. He supposed that perhaps he had taken the little human's body for granted—underestimated it, even. The bones and ligaments had taken a beating continuously, finding the strength to repair themselves. Even the chakra coils seemed to have created some sort of resistance to his demonic essence.

And now…

He smudged off the dirt on Naruto's ANBU gloves, where the metal plate that covered the back of the hand glinted dully beneath the grime. He pulled it up to his face, to admire the newly awakened Sharingan, making it's slow swim in his eye.

Yes, perhaps he did need to give the boy a bit more credit. He had been useful, after all.

Naruto blinked, suddenly becoming aware of where he was.

He lowered his hand, rubbing at his eyes weakly like he had just eased himself away from a fuzzy, soundless dream.

Damn. He was tired, and aching all over.

As if suddenly catching his attention, Naruto focused on the other Jinchuuriki, who was struggling to get to his feet, panting heavily.

He looked upon him with an almost overwhelming surge of sympathy. "We're the same… you and I…" He whispered quietly, as if he couldn't quite believe it himself.

Gaara charged at him; he charged back. The two ended up tossing through the dirt, rolling into a slow stop some meters away from each other. Naruto willed his body to move—all those months of meticulous training, of ANBU missions and chakra lessons, and yet somehow the only thing he could move was his head? !

Maybe it was his stubborn personality, his inability to give up, or the near translucent reflection of himself he saw in Gaara, but he pulled himself closer to the redhead.

Sensing him move, the other Jinchuuriki choked. "My existence won't be put out…" He grounded out, taking Naruto's movement as the blonde's attempt to finish him.

But Naruto didn't stop.

"…D—Don't come closer! !"

"I understand… being alone, incomplete. What you must feel…" He choked out softly, almost surprised himself with the hitch in his voice. As if he hadn't quite understood how much he and Gaara were alike until he was a few feet away from him, watching his scared, bitter eyes that reminded him of his own. "What your pain must be. I get it.."

"But there are people who helped me get through it." He added, attempting to use his arms to pull himself up to his elbows. "People important to me."

Their eyes met. "If you ever try to hurt them…" If Gaara was surprised with the Sharingan spinning intimidatedly in his eyes, he made no comment on it. "I'll kill you."

The blonde shakily got to his feet, knees almost buckling with the pressure. All this fighting, the hundreds of nin that Kyuubi had taken pleasure in dissecting, that fighting with Gaara, his near chakra exhaustion made it a struggle to even get to his feet. The redhead's eyes followed his movement, as he took a deep breath and attempted to turn off his Sharingan.

Once he did so, he felt some of his strength come back to him.

Sasuke barreled out of the bramble, looking more exhausted then Naruto.

"Sakura's all right now." He panted, surprised to see Naruto on his feet. "This guy's out of chakra, and Sakura's been saved from the sand."

Sasuke, it seemed, wasn't the only one anxious to meet their teammate. Gaara's teammates, the ones Naruto had seen that day long ago in the forgotten desert, leapt

down from the trees. The girl with the four pigtails looked especially ferocious, but Naruto might just be thinking that in Shikamaru's plight.

The two readied to attack, but Gaara stopped them.

"That's enough…" He rasped, turning to face the sky. "Stop it."

Kankuro looked back, brows furrowed, before he resignedly eased out of his position. "I understand…" He bent over to swing one of Gaara's limp arms over his shoulder.

The three departed with their incapacitated teammate mere moments after.

Naruto shifted his weight uneasily, feeling that even though he had made it out through a great battle, the worst was still to come.

As if acting on his thoughts, Yugao sprung through the trees, snapping Naruto out of the fearful weight on his shoulders. Her mask switched between him and Sasuke, before inevitably falling on his shorter visage.

She seemed to take in his battered appearance, before continuing, "Naruto…" There was something broken in her voice, something Naruto hadn't heard in it before.

"Yu—Neko.." He corrected himself wisely in front of Sasuke.

There was something… off about her—the usual poised countenance which followed her like a silent grace seemed thrown off its equilibrium—a feat which Naruto had never experienced before, and he felt the hairs rising on the back of his head in apprehension.

"What's wrong?" He asked her lowly, voice almost muted.

She faltered, before shaking her head. "H—Hokage-sama… he's been—" She choked, and for a brief, terrifying moment Naruto wondered if behind her mask were tears. "The ANBU have all been summoned for a meeting immediately."

Naruto nodded wordlessly, before turning to Sasuke.

There was a halting moment, where their eyes met and it was as if nothing had changed at all.

The illusion shattered however, as Naruto began softly, "Take care of Sakura." Before he leapt into the trees without noise, Yugao joining him.

Whatever he had expected, this wasn't it.

Naruto and Yugao leapt through the village like small blurs, their feet barely meeting one roof before blasting off to the next.

The purple-haired ninja lead him to a rooftop, which looked as if it had seen greater days. Trees grew atop it, and a wraith-like clout of smoke simmered in the air like quiet death.

They arrived to silence, a crowd of ANBU standing, but unmoving.

Naruto noticed Yamato, who was silently staring into the gray colored sky.

"Yamato-taichou…?" Naruto looked around, before turning to Yugao. "Yugao, what's…"

Yamato turned to him, expressionless. "The Sandaime's dead, Naruto."

.

.

.

.

The sky spat out torrents of rain, like glossy sheets which pelted the roof of Yugao's apartment wave after wave.

As he sat on her couch, waiting for her, he wondered for a few moments that; if he had been a Gennin still, would this be his first time wearing anything but orange? If Kyuubi hadn't burned all his jumpsuits, and had he never joined ANBU, there'd never be a reason for him to wear anything else. It was a warped thought in the back of his head, and one he'd rather not dwell on. There were many uncertain things in his life, and most of them he realized there was very little he could do about it.

But there was one thing he was certain of.

Yugao couldn't be left alone.

The Sandaime had been important to him—perhaps more so then he was to most people. He was almost like Naruto's grandfather, watching out for him without ever fully interfering. Naruto was aware that it was the Hokage who made his teammates keep a close eye on him, who had placed him on Yamato's—one of the most reputedly docile ANBU captains available—team.

And while there was something incredibly unnerving about his death, he knew that whatever he was going through Yugao must be having it almost a hundred times worse.

Naruto hadn't the chance to talk to Kyuubi directly, as for most of the day ending the Chuunin Exam fiasco he and the other ANBU struggled without their leader, relying on each other and other shinobi in the village to repair the damage. Naruto wasn't sure what the village would have done without strong leaders like Yamato and Kakashi-sensei stepping up to control the chaos.

For the most part his Gennin friends seemed lost and unsure of what to do, helping to repair some of the damage and doing what were normally considered D-rank missions for free.

This was part of the reason why he was where he was, waiting in Yugao's sitting room, watching her bedroom door anxiously for when she would come out.

All the pictures of Hayate remained glimmering in the dull foyer, as if losing their brilliant memory with the relentless tousle of clouds out in the sky. Naruto wondered what it felt like to lose someone so close to you, and thought of the separation of his teammates. Compared to this, it seemed to meager.

"Sorry about that," She closed the door, and Naruto had to almost lean to hear her soft voice. "I didn't think it would take this long."

Naruto had never seen her in anything other then Shinobi slacks and ninja attire, so the dress sort of threw him for a loop.

"Uh—its fine." He stammered, quickly getting up and walking with her to the door.

The two of them—actually, the whole village—looked unnaturally somber, dressed entirely in black. Figures made their way to the roof where the ceremony was going to be held, moving like black ghosts across the streets. Naruto wasn't sure where Yugao was going, but he followed her through the downpour nonetheless. In her hands were white flowers, looking fresh compared to the bleak world around them.

Eventually, they made their way to a familiar looking stone, cleared away from the trees. Naruto couldn't quite place when he'd been there before, until he saw a dulled figure, also in black, hovering before it.

"Kakashi-sensei…" He whispered into the rain, surprised.

His teacher had his hands in his pockets, poofy hair somehow tamed by the elements and almost looking droopy. Of course, he still had his mask on.

"Are those for Hayate?"

Naruto wasn't entirely surprised that Kakashi could hear them over the rain.

Yugao moved closer, laying her flowers onto the stone engraved with names. "The ceremony for the Sandaime is about to begin. If you don't…" Whatever she was about to say, she stopped with a side glance to Kakashi. Naruto could guess it had something to do with his notorious reputation for being an all around slacker.

"Kakashi-sempai," She started anew. "You're here for Obito-san, right? You're always late for examinations. Is it because of some special cause?"

Naruto had never heard of this before.

He had always just sort of assumed Kakashi was late because he was a lazy ass.

"I actually was always very early." The man looked down. "But I didn't know what to say when I got there. I used to be foolish, and did meaningless things all the time…"

He pushed his hands deeper into his pockets, suddenly reverting back to his usual slouched posture. "Maa, and how are you, Naruto-kun?"

The blonde started. "Uh—good, I guess."

Kakashi's expression when he turned around looked no different then it had ever been, but Naruto wondered if it had changed before, when he had been speaking.

"You seem to be healing fast." He remarked, taking a look at all the bandages over Naruto's face.

"You didn't see me before." Said the blonde flatly. A day ago he clearly looked like he'd been mauled by a couple attack dogs and tomahawked in the back. He didn't look very different today, either.

The three made their way to the Sandaime's funeral, which was a solemn affair, quiet aside from the pelting rain which scoured the vigilant watchers. The Sandaime's coffin was open, drenched, and empty, aside from a picture of his smiling face. Even the many bouquets of flowers, looked like dulled blotches of color.

Naruto had a certain understanding of death—vaguely, in the back of his head. Killing people was one thing, a normal thing, as the job description of shinobi comes and goes. The death of a loved one, of someone close, was something that shook Naruto more then he liked. Many people died in the invasion—Hayate, Yugao's boyfriend, dozens of ANBU, of Chuunin and even civilians—including the beloved leader of the leaf.

Naruto wasn't sure what to feel.

Yugao was a still presence beside him, her eyes sightlessly watching the misty rain in front of them crawl wraith-like through the crowd.

The Sandaime had given up his life to save Konoha—to stop Orochimaru, to save his village, his people, and his friends.

Naruto vowed to do the same.

.

.

.

It didn't matter how much he grew or how far life took him, Naruto would always be at Ichiraku Ramen.

This fact was what essentially made him so easy to find for Jiraiya.

"I heard this is where you go all the time." The Sannin smirked. "Huh, and to think that they were right…"

Naruto paled considerably, and cringed.

"Oh—no…" He spat out his ramen. "It's you!"

A pause, and then,

"The Perverted Sennin!"

"I don't appreciate that…" The Sannin sighed.

Naruto watched him apprehensively, slurping his noodles. "Is there a reason that you're here?"

"Yeah." He jerked an imposing thumb towards himself. "I'm here to take you on a training mission!"

Naruto blinked, and then frowned, placing his bowl down. "A training mission?" That sounded a little complicated. "I mean, what is my ANBU team gonna say to that? I can't just up a leave them. And I don't want to go on a training mission with you anyway! The last time you promised to show me something cool, you taught me how to summon a frog."

"Toad." Jiraiya rolled his eyes. "And yes, that's true. But this time, I swear I'll teach you a cool technique."

Naruto chewed thoughtfully. "I wouldn't mind learning something like the Chidori…"

"I'll teach you something better!" Jiraiya promised.

Naruto watched him skeptically, as Jiraiya mentally pleaded for the boy to lose a little common sense and just come with him. The last thing he needed was for Naruto to start throwing a loud fit where the Akatsuki could hear him.

The blonde seemed to think about it, before agreeing. "Okay, let's go."

Jiraiya mentally cheered.

"Ah—hold on," For a moment, the blonde seemed to be in a completely different world, before hesitantly returning to his home planet. "Actually, could you give me an hour or two to get ready? It won't take long?"

"An hour?" Jiraiya grumbled under his breath, rubbing the back of his head. Jeez…what kind of ninja took that long to pack? "Sure, I guess…"

"Okay!" Naruto leapt up. "I'll meet you at the Northern gates in an hour!"

"Meet you there." Jiraiya nodded.

After the Toad Sannin had left, Naruto whirled on Kyuubi.

"So what's the big issue?" He asked the fox, who had been restless in the back of his mind since Jiraiya had announced the training trip.

"Someone's here, Naruto." The urgency to the fox's usual laconic, goading tones made anxiety coil in Narutos gut.

Naruto gulped, hurrying along faster. "What do you mean, someone? And why do you sound so freaked out?"

"No one good." Replied Kyuubi. "Hurry, and do as the pathetic human tells you."

"You want me to go on that training trip?" Naruto echoed incredulously. "You're kidding. Why?" And then, darkly. "What are your motives?"

"Believe me when I say I have our best interests at heart." Kyuubi scoffed. "The question of whether you are strong enough to face these adversaries or not isn't an issue at present—you're not. I may have been attempting to train your weak human body—

"Hey!"

"—as diligently as possible, but it would only be detrimental for our general well being for these intruders to be aware of our…. Connection."

"So stop talking to you?"

"Stop allowing me to use your body." Corrected Kyuubi. "For now, at any rate. Speak of our connection to no one; especially those who don't already know. Leave quickly and keep your guard up…"

The demon trailed off.

"They have come for you."

And Naruto sure didn't like the sound of that.

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