Synchronicity

The Pool of Tears

Oh yeah. By the way: to me, Madara will always be... Madara. None of this 'sike, he's actually Obito just pretending'. I think fanon had it best - that Madara had found a way to overtake Obito's body. It sounds plausible to me, anyway, and I haven't really kept up with that aspect of the manga... but I feel like Rin's death was incredibly anticlimactic and not the kind of thing that would make someone decide to take over the world.

.

the sky I've forgotten

is a monochrome

this illusion that trickery has cast over me

,

"Uzumaki Naruto."

Naruto knelt unwavering in the center of an unusually clear patch of forest, the ring of trees above him darkened in the gloaming light, caught along the edges by the boiling red sky. The sun behind him burned the edge of the earth in flames, eliciting an inhuman glow against his profile.

The ANBU dropped from the trees gracefully, silently; blended shadows of the sprawling forestry around him.

The blonde squatted in the center of the blood spattered clearing, the limp, lifeless bodies around him turning the jagged, sliced earth into a shallow ocean of red. His hair lay atop his head in a messy skew, as if he hadn't slept in days, and his eyes never strayed from the iridescent sheen of the moon, almost so entranced it was somewhat unnerving to watch.

The boy finally seemed to stir out of his dream, rising to his feet slowly, crookedly, as if half his body remained in slumber. He moved then: a jerk to the side to where the black-ops hung in the shadows, russet red eyes shifting through bramble and heavy darkness to pierce right through the Captain's heart.

Kyuubi stood up at his full not-so-intimidating height of five feet and three inches; even still, such an alarming display cowed his present company into a restless, uneasy defense. Though he was nothing but a boy, a strangled demonic presence wrapped around him, a salient energy boiling beneath his skin and threatening to overtake him completely—perhaps most unnatural were the eyes. And the rage behind him which could pierce through flesh and bone, tearing out the soul to peruse it's contents.

"Something wrong?" He tilted his head; nothing overtly alarming about the movement, and yet the ANBU shifted cautiously around him.

Captain Tenzou unwillingly remembered the Fourth Hokage's tired smile, and wary blue eyes as he stepped away from him, a cautious hand on his shoulder as a silent salute, walking off into the distance as nine red tails dyed the horizon into a fiery death and an inhuman roar pitched the world until it shook.

Shaking the wisps of memories of another sunny, bright-eyed man, he made a vague gesture to the butchered bodies beneath Kyuubi's feet.

"Our mission was to assassinate a group of missing-nin from Iwa that had crossed the borders."

Kyuubi made a noncommittal noise of assent.

"What's the problem then?" He snorted, stepping over the forming puddles of blood to narrow his demonic eyes on the ANBU's mask. "I did it for you."

"Yeah," The Captain replied somewhat blithely, stepping forward. "I can see that."

His gaze swept around the clearing, giving a cursory look at the kills. Swift—but in no means merciful.

"Naruto-kun, I'm going to have to request you to follow us." He returned his focus to the blonde in front of him, who had yet to move.

"Hmm?" Kyuubi purred, finally leaning forward to sniff at the man in front of him. While the man himself gave no reaction, the team around him quickly drew their weapons.

"Kyuubi no Kitsune." Tenzou began again, tightly. "Drop the act. We won't hesitate to detain you by force if necessary."

"Is that so?" The fox mused. "Even at the cost of Naruto's life?"

Tenzou's grip on his tanto tightened; the blade shook almost imperceptibly with the force belied in his hands. "Yes." He bit out. Although he would do everything in his power to prevent that.

Kyuubi appraised him with a deathly cold expression. Finally, he smiled. "Alright."

Captain Yamato was fully aware that any cooperation by a dangerous monster was an action that surely couldn't be trusted. He was also aware that, if he wanted, Kyuubi could dispatch his whole team, or at the very least mortally wound them. And while he trusted himself to be able to diffuse the demon, not all the ANBU in his current platoon were able to defend against a terror that most were much too young to have fought against before. His team waited hesitantly until Kyuubi walked forward, cautiously flanking him and bringing him into the group.

The sky in the Hokage's windows lit the room with soft morning light—the scene itself would have been as peaceful as it was predictable had it not been for the events of this morning: the elderly Hokage leaning against his chair, turned towards the windows to contemplate the skyline, pipe in hand. Unfortunately, nothing about the current situation could be described as 'peaceful'—predictable, even less so.

The Hokage looked up at the near silent intrusion—craning around to watch a plume of smoke erupt against his carpet.

A platoon of ANBU dropped into his office, and once the smoke cleared, and Sarutobi readied to open his mouth to ask for the mission report, his eyes landed on a blood spattered Naruto, and his words died a quick death in his throat. His first thought was somehow, despite all rational, logical belief, Naruto had gotten himself into ANBU affairs—probably through a prank—and had interfered with their mission, maybe even causing harm to himself. The hope washed away as his eyes drew to Naruto's indecipherable expression; a terrifying mask of indifference that he had never before seen on the blonde's face.

"What is going on?" His voice rang clear and stern, and even his ANBU weren't immune to his tone, visibly reacting to his words in a ripple of movement.

None of them seemed willing to answer, shifting uneasily on their feet in the face of their Hokage's controlled, quietly calamitous voice.

"Naruto-kun..." Yamato began quietly. "We believe he has been...incapacitated..."

Hiruzen looked questingly at the fox boy, realizing quickly with a snarl; "Kyuubi."

"We don't know how it happened, sir." The ANBU captain began again, he gave a quick, apprehensive glance to the demon in question. But Kyuubi remained cooperative and docile at his side. "It seems that young Naruto-kun is not in control at all; he shows no signs of even subconsciously being aware of this, and we believe Kyuubi has forcefully taken over the boy's mindscape and is now using his body. This might have been caused from a slight malfunction in the seal—

Snorting loudly, Kyuubi interrupted the man in mid report.

"First of all, I didn't forcefully do anything, like you said, Naruto isn't in control. At all. Therefore, there was nothing to be forceful about."

"What have you done with Naruto?" The Hokage rose to his feet.

"Do? Nothing. He's in here somewhere." Kyuubi tapped his head, smirking. "And second: there was no malfunction in the seal."

Before anyone could stop him, he lifted up the fabric of his shirt, showing the very scant remains of the once great seal. The fading seal pulsed with his heartbeat, but it was so faint that even then Sarutobi had to squint to make out the design.

"What…how…" He whispered, confused gaze meeting Kyuubi's inscrutable red eyes.

"Maybe it wasn't water proof?" He shrugged jokingly. No one laughed.

"I don't know what happened." He feigned innocence, wanting to leave as soon as possible because Naruto's conscious was stirring. "I woke up, free, and the seal was gone. Obviously that blonde mortal's work was nothing but child's play."

The Hokage paled considerably.

"You know what this means, right?" Kyuubi grinned, feral and wild. "I'm in free control. That means that I can do whatever I want, and I suggest you don't stand in my way."

"Stand in your way?" Echoed Sarutobi angrily. "Even when you raze Konoha to the ground? You expect me to do this?"

Kyuubi opened his mouth to speak; he had no intention of telling them that he had no real motivation to do any of that—no, there were much more pressing matters to attend to than empty revenge—but Naruto beat him do it, dragging him out of control.

"Don't listen to him!" Naruto panted to the shocked audience.

"Naruto?" The Hokage walked around his desk, placing a wary hand on Naruto's back, leaning down with a concerned frown. "What on earth is going on?"

"I—" Naruto caught his breath slowly, bright, burning blue eyes darting back and forth from the ground to his admired Hokage's face, hesitant. "The seal…" He faltered.

"I know, we saw the seal." The Hokage explained quietly. "But, what I want to know is how it happened and why you didn't tell us."

Naruto flushed, looking downcast. He never cried, not once in almost seven years, but he felt tears pricking his eyes anyway as he thought on what was perhaps his most deepest fear; conjured from loneliness and years without any attention.

"I—I thought you would think I was the demon if I told you." Naruto gulped, hand quickly moving to cover his eyes. "I thought that you'd hate me for not being strong enough to keep him away! That you'd hate me because I wasn't doing what I was made to do… to jail the Kyuubi."

Sarutobi sighed heavily. "Naruto, you weren't meant to jail the Kyuubi. You were meant to be just a normal boy. But the Yondaime gifted you to be a hero, even if Konoha hated you for it. The seal…disappearing is grave indeed, and I don't expect you to be able to fend off the demon yourself."

Naruto only nodded numbly, eyes downcast.

"Naruto-kun, you must tell me how this happened."

Naruto frowned, darting a quick look to the ANBU team still assembled behind him. Wordless, Sarutobi glanced up at them, and they disappeared as silently as they had entered.

Naruto took a deep breath.

"Well, it started when my stomach started feeling…weird. I wasn't sick or anything, but I felt like…it's hard to explain." He struggled for words. "I started losing track of time—like, really losing track of time, more than normal, anyway. I'd lose days at a time and not remember what happened. And then, then I woke up and Kyuubi was there, moving my body, in my head and—

The Sandaime laid a steadying hand on the boy's shoulder, when it became clear Naruto was having difficulty continuing his trail of thought. "He took control?" The Hokage filled in, quietly.

Naruto nodded helplessly, taking a shuddering breath and refusing to let his emotions get the better of him. "Sort of." He agreed. "We… he… he said he wouldn't hurt anyone I cared for, or the village."

Sandaime's disbelief was palpable on his face. "Naruto…" He started slowly, "You cannot possibly believe—

The turnabout was swift and controlled; in one moment a terrified, blue-eyed boy stood in front of him, and in the next a cold-blooded killer stood in his place.

"Sandaime-sama." A deadly smile grew against his lips. "I have a proposition for you."

"Kyuubi." Hiruzen snarled, hand leaving the boy's shoulder.

The fox did not acknowledge this; but his smile grew tenfold. "Would you like to hear it?"

Did he have a choice?

The man raised a brow slowly, but beneath his calm demeanor was a look of steel. "Yes, I would."

"I'll join your ANBU." Not a question. It was clear that Kyuubi didn't expect to be deterred from this.

Sarutobi narrowed his eyes. Why? What game was the fox playing at?

"And what would you gain from that?" The Sandaime asked slowly, refusing to be fooled.

"Many things." Kyuubi replied without missing a beat. "But perhaps the better question would be; what would you gain?"

Sandaime's eyes lowered. "What would I gain, indeed?" He returned with great deliberation.

"Aside from the ecstasy and endless elation from you archaic counterparts?" Kyuubi snorted, dryly. Hiruzen blinked in shock. Kyuubi waved him off. "I have seen much through the eyes of my previous containers—

Hiruzen sucked in a breath at the mention of Mito and Kushina, as brief as it was. They had all conclusively believed the fox to be a dormant energy inside of them; though clearly Naruto was proving that theory blatantly incorrect. No, it appears the fox had been awake and calculating the entire time.

"And it was clear to see the unrest wreaked upon this village by its ineffectual leaders." Kyuubi cut him off, and then, languidly, "No… I don't expect to find much adversary there."

The Hokage scowled. "If you expect me to bow to the whims of a demon simply because of this—

"Oh, but my Hokage-sama," The fox interrupted, beginning to pace the floor before the Hokage's desk. "It's clear your are forgetting, perhaps the most ineffectual of them all."

"Danzo." He hissed.

"He above all else will fight you on your decision to repeal the demon vessel from ANBU." Kyuubi agreed. "After all, is that not the true, great purpose of the nine-tailed Jinchuuriki? Of all Jinchuuriki?"

And then, before Hiruzen could respond, "However, there is no need to involve them unduly in our dealings. In fact, such an association would be detrimental to my goals."

"Of which you still haven't disclosed." Sarutobi pointed out.

"Ah? But Hokage-sama, in many ways our goals are similar." The fox refuted.

"I fail to see the similarities." Intoned the Hokage, flatly.

"We share a common enemy."

And then, the fox clarified, "Just one, common enemy." His smile was a slow, vicious build. "An enemy Konoha has been in constant threat of since, why, since before you were born, even. Any guesses?"

Sarutobi growled.

"No?" Kyuubi tilted his head appraisingly. "None at all? Come now, certainly you could take a gamble: there is a garishly large statue in his honor in the land of Hi no Kuni, after all."

"Madara Uchiha." The Sandaime replied, grave. His gaze sharpened. "How? What do you know of him? He's alive, then?"

"Wouldn't you like to know?" The fox countered. And then, to the Hokage's look of rage, "Yes, he is. I'm sure you can infer some opportunities that the man utilized to sabotage his former allegiances."

"The Uchiha massacre—but of that, I already suspected some outside involvement."

"My release and subsequent resealing into the Uzumaki boy." Kyuubi added, much to the old man's shock.

And, as the Sandaime's alarm grew, "He will not stop there. Even now, he is planning something far greater than you could possibly conjecture."

"You cannot possibly believe I will agree to this."

"You have no choice." Kyuubi returned. He cocked his head to the side, as if listening to something the Sandaime could not. "But our young charge is reawakening. I advise you to instate me soon—before I decide to approach one of your colleagues."

Sarutobi clenched the pipe in his hand tightly, cracking the wood. Of course. The fox had intentionally been caught by the ANBU team. Everything in him told Sarutobi not to trust that fox as far as he could throw him—yet he had to begrudgingly acknowledge that the demon had a fair point. And his news was… startling, to say the least. For too long Hiruzen had suspected something amiss among not only the Uchiha massacre, but the deaths of Kushina and Minato as well. Both, he had tentatively placed on Danzo—but it seems even more than he was aware had been caused by unseen forces.

The blonde boy stirred in front of him, blinking dazed blue eyes rapidly, sightless gaze transfixed on the floor. Finally, the boy snapped out of his daze, looking up at the Hokage.

"Sorry—" He stuttered, "I tried to keep him out—

The Hokage shook his head. "It's not your fault. You did nothing wrong. I'm actually very proud of you, sticking up to a demon like that. You know, I don't think even the Yondaime would have done such a thing."

"Oh." Naruto blinked. "Wait. Really?"

Sarutobi smiled. "Yes. But now, we must find a way to fix this."

"Well, Kyuubi just seems to like killing people." Naruto mulled, thinking distractedly about what Kyuubi did when he had his body. Or well, what he could remember, at any rate. Often times he found the memories hard to pry out of his head. "He likes the challenge. But lately, he's been upset that there's nothing challenging to kill."

Oh, The Hokage thought, disparaging, how uncomplicated this would be if the Kyuubi was but a simple beast with only bloodlust to drive him.

The frighteningly intelligent, driven demon that had stood before him mere moments ago was anything but a simple beast. The Hokage feared that, for generations, the Kyuubi had been severely underestimated.

Naruto shuddered. "I can tell he wants to go after the Jounin here in Konoha. He's itching for a fight."

"You think we should let him?" The Hokage asked patiently.

"No!" Naruto shouted quickly. "But...maybe he could kill other people? Like, Iwa-nin or Kumo-nin or something."

Sandaime smiled, but it was forced and creased at the edges, a fact that Naruto was unaware of as he watched the man's face. "That's a very good idea, Naruto-kun. Now there's a special job description for what you're saying. It's called the black-ops, do you know what that is?"

The Sandaime looked up, knowing gaze piercing the thin air at the far side of the room. Immediately, a masked ANBU shifted out of the shadows. The blonde took a nervous sweep of the room, catching upon the ANBU in the corner.

"Like them, right?" He guessed. "I've seen them before a couple times..."

"Yes, like them." Hiruzen smiled to the child. "Now, I'll have to talk this over with my subordinates." At the thought of Utatane and Mitokado's gleeful face at such a notion, his ire lit once more. Of course, Danzou as well will be nothing short of ecstatic. He hardly doubted the council—who have been pushing for this idea for some time now—would raise against it. Curse that demon for so effectively utilizing this against him. "But I'll work on getting this fixed for you, okay Naruto?"

"Okay." The blond echoed in a whisper, big china blue eyes and winter wheat coloring reminding him frighteningly of Minato.

The Sandaime watched the horizon outside of the windows, the world lit with dawn.

"At any rate, I think you should go home and sleep. You have a team meeting at eight, right?"

"Oh! That's right! I'd better go!" Naruto grinned at the Hokage. "Thanks for helping me out, old man." His voice turned soft and austere at the end.

The Hokage only smiled. "My job is to help my people, Naruto-kun."

With that, Naruto leapt out the window, racing to his house as fast as Sarutobi could watch him. This boy… so pure and naïve. That innocence was devolving rapidly: and no longer would Naruto be the innocent boy that he was now. Not with this new problem, not with Kyuubi taking over his world, and certainly not with the solution they had come up with—that Kyuubi had forced Sarutobi's hand in. Perhaps the fox hadn't been entirely deceiving, not with his ultimate goal of Madara's destruction, at any rate. From what Hiruzen could infer from history, the fox had more than enough personal reason to despise the Uchiha. But the Hokage doubted that this was the demon's ultimate goal. No, there had to be something else.

But there was nothing to be done. Aside from his own council opposing him on any kind of decision to keep Naruto out of ANBU, he didn't hold any delusions on how easy it would be for Kyuubi to simply approach another hidden village. Any of them would give the fox whatever he desired in return for his assistance.

The fox's loyalty was a very dire question with no real answer. However, Naruto's was always faithful.

Knowing the council, they'll see this as the perfect opportunity to get what they've always wanted, the perfect weapon to pierce at Konoha's most dangerous enemies. It was what they did with Minato, and surely, what they would do with his son.

Both options would crumble Naruto's innocent perspective of the world, the one that Sarutobi had strove to protect, and leave him just like the other protégé's of Konoha, the estranged children warped from their childhood, and turned into crazed, society-harming shinobi or to missing-nin.

The choice was simple however, have this power with him, or turned against him. And ultimately, it had already been made.

"Hokage-sama?" Captain Tenzou called aloud warily.

"I'm afraid this choice ways much heavier on my mind than I let it appear to Naruto-kun." Hiruzen sighed.

"I don't understand..." The black-ops captain trailed off.

"You saw him…so afraid of what other people think, so afraid to be shunned from the attention that so very few people give him." The man stared distantly at the benign presence of the sun, peeling over the very top of the Hokage Mountain. "Already, the innocence I have striven to protect is now cracking. I fear I haven't done an attentive job. I fear with this new development, no longer will Naruto be the young boy I see now."

Captain Tenzou remained quiet for some time.

"He's a sweet boy at a tender age." Tenzou agreed. "But like most Gennin now, he's going to be tested and tried against enemy shinobi, and just like all his peers, he will lose the fragility that accompanies him through childhood. If anything, I think it would be best."

"I suppose you are right." Hiruzen tapped his pipe, lighting it and placing it in his mouth. "I can't protect him forever."

"I implore you to keep a watchful eye on him," Added the Hokage. "—the both of them."

.

.

.

Naruto stretched his arms above his head, both mind and body burning for sleep. He blinked blearily into the sky. Had he slept? He didn't think so. Almost subconsciously he brought his hand up to a cut he'd found earlier that morning, grazing from his cheek to his ear. He hadn't the slightest idea how in the hell he'd gotten it—but he could only assume Kyuubi had something to do with it.

The boy smoothed out his shirt—Kyuubi had actually burned his jumpsuits, much to Naruto's chagrin—and patted his cargo shorts for kunai. Luckily, he had left a whole canister in his back pocket. He'd started with about five, but, well... best not to wonder where they all went.

He crossed the red bridge, refusing to allow Sasuke's scowl to bait him into another fight as he neared, crossing his arms and pointedly standing in the opposite direction.

"Naruto!" Sakura gasped, delighted. "You're not wearing your jumpsuit!"

Naruto shrugged. "Yeah. About that…" He rubbed the back of his head. "They seemed to have mysteriously burned up yesterday."

At that, both Sakura and Sasuke stared at him with incredulity.

Sakura shrugged off her shock, shaking her head. "Well, small blessings and all that."

Naruto pouted. He liked those orange jumpsuits.

"Oh!" She careened closer, tracing the gash on his cheek. Normally, Naruto would have been touched at her concern and turning a riotous shade of red at her smooth finger against his cheek, but now he was just too tired to care. "Where did you get this?"

"Uh. Cat. Yeah. A cat scratched me yesterday." He murmured sleepily.

His mind wandered away from his two teammates; back to the Hokage's tower. Had this morning… really happened? He couldn't remember anything from last night—his time under the moonlight a vague patchwork of blood and glimmering metal, and the heady, broiling rage inside him—

Sakura's concern washed into annoyance. "And why did you do that to Sasuke-kun yesterday? We had to get his arm checked out! We're supposed to be teammates, you know!"

Naruto snorted. Hah.

Perhaps that event will go down as the only good thing to be done by Kyuubi.

Throwing Sasuke into a river.

"He deserved it."

Sasuke growled. "Just wait dobe, I'll kill you."

"Sasuke-kun!" Sakura admonished. For a shinobi, she had a real aversion towards the word 'kill'.

"What?" Naruto wedged a finger into his ear unceremoniously. "If Sasuke wants to believe that shit, let him. He couldn't get a scratch on me." Or, at least not with Kyuubi around to toss him into rivers.

Sakura frowned at him, about to open her mouth when Kakashi poofed into existence above their heads.

"Morning young ducklings!" He called jovially, swigning from the rafters above them.

"Kakashi-sensei!" Sakura postured, pointing up at him. "I've been here for almost three hours! Where have you been?"

"A woman was in dire need of soap this morning, and being such a kind neighbor I went to the grocery store. But a black cat crossed my path and I had to take a detour…but then there was construction and I had to turn around—

"Liar!" To emphasize her point, she grabbed a rock from the ground and swung it at his head. Anticlimactically, he swung out of the way.

"At any rate," Kakashi dropped onto Earth right side up. "We have a mission today!"

"What kind?" Naruto asked, feeling something like relief wash over him. Finally, something that had even an inkling of familiarity.

"Well, a local farmer broke his leg yesterday, and we're going to go water his crops for him! All seven miles of them!"

Naruto's jaw dropped, Sakura flopped to the floor, and Sasuke hissed, "That's crap."

The next twelve hours were excruciatingly painful, not only in length but in exercising patience.

Naruto used his Kage Bunshin to easily take care of the two and a half miles of pumpkins and watermelons that he was assigned to. The real problem was watching Sakura complain about hers because she had no such tactic to speed up this process. Naruto had noticed somewhere between his eighty-second watermelon he watered that Kyuubi had also neglected to mention that he had two cracked ribs and a possible torn tendon in his shoulder—from what, exactly, he had no idea.

The woes of having a demonic alter ego.

"Naruto!" Sakura whined again. "Can you at least help me, now that you're done?"

"You're doing a fine job yourself!" Naruto grinned, from his throne on the largest watermelon in the entire patch. It was about the size of a table, round and verdant green, bust covered in jagged pink lines. He patted it fondly. He almost wanted to keep the thing, just as a consolation.

She groaned.

"Naruto."

The boy leaned around, to see Sasuke darkly frowning at him.

"Fight me."

Sasuke was so predictable…

"Why?" He peered at the boy, grinning. "You'll just lose, Sasuke-teme."

Sasuke twitched. "That was a fluke."

"Which?" Naruto smirked. "The first, or the second? Or maybe both?"

The Uchiha charged at him, kunai ready. But instead, Naruto leapt out of the way with a speed he didn't possess before, Sasuke's kunai skewering the melon into a burst of sticky juice.

Naruto landed slightly off kilter, mainly because of his injured side, with a thrill of adrenaline rushing through his system.

He'd never felt like the before. This strength…this power. Obviously Kyuubi had honed his body's senses and reflexes. It felt amazing. He'd never felt so in control, and so powerful. He felt as if it would take mere seconds to crush Sasuke.

The feeling elicited vague memories that didn't feel like his, diving through throngs of shinobi, the glint of his sword as he took them apart piece by piece.

He frowned, dodging Sasuke's second strike and shifting the boy's weight so that he went flying into a patch of leaves. What had Kyuubi been up to? He looked down at his hands, as if they might have the answer. They didn't—however, they did have callouses in places he'd never noticed before.

Sasuke stood shakily to his feet quickly, breathing through his nostrils with harsh labored noises, like an angry humiliated beast.

With a flurry of moves that Naruto hadn't seen before, he engaged the blond in one of his weakest skills, Taijutsu.

Strangely, Naruto met all of his strikes with counters, blocking his kicks with ease and going on the offensive with strategically placed punches. Sasuke, more angered than ever with the dobe so easily beating him, kicked the blonde with a chakra enhanced kick, sending him flying near the river.

Naruto grinned when he got up.

He'd never felt this way, and was loving every minute. Was this what Kyuubi felt like when he fought? This rush…it was almost an addiction.

"Why are you laughing dobe?" Sasuke mocked. "Did it hurt that much?"

"Actually," Naruto popped his joint back in place without a flinch. "It didn't hurt at all."

Growling in white hot rage, the Uchiha slammed into him, sending both of them into the water.

Toppling backwards, Naruto threw the Uchiha off of him. Naruto threw up his hands, bracing himself for the ice cold water, but all he felt was the backsplash of Sasuke's fall.

He blinked.

Instead, he was floating on top of the water. Not falling in.

Was he… walking on water?

Naruto grinned, laughing in both delight and awe.

He had no idea how, exactly, his chakra control had gotten to such heights that he could walk on water, but he was pleased with the results. Kyuubi obviously was doing something to his body, and Naruto wasn't objecting to it at all.

"Be thankful for it, too." The fox grumbled in response. "How you've managed to survive this long is beyond me."

Naruto frowned. He hadn't even noticed that Kyuubi was awake.

Don't mock me. I mean, what kind of training?

"Training you've obviously never heard of. It's called chakra training." The Kyuubi sighed at his ignorance.

Ah, well he was right about that. "What's that?"

The fox snorted. "Honing your senses and chakra control. That way you aren't as weak as you were."

"I wasn't weak!" Naruto protested.

"You felt that rush, no?"Kyuubi returned. "The feeling of strength and power, knowing you could easily dominate your opponent. Don't tell me you didn't like it."

"I'd never felt anything like it before." Naruto admitted.

"Because you were weak. Now that you're not, it feels so much better, doesn't it?"

He supposed. He'd never… felt anything like that.

As Sasuke gasped for breath some ways down the stream, and Naruto stood to survey the damage.

The Uchiha didn't look like he sustained any bad injuries, aside from assimilating the appearance of a wet rat. The dark haired boy shook his hair out as he sputtered for greedily air, inhaling loudly. Naruto never realized just how much the Uchiha wasn't what he thought he'd be. Sasuke, for the entirety of Naruto's life, marked an unattainable notion of power, a symbolism of everything Naruto wanted to be—strong, well-liked, admired—and yet, at the same time, there he was, defeated. By him.

Naruto grinned lopsidedly.

For once, he had beat Sasuke.

Sasuke's eyes widened as he saw Naruto standing on the water.

"That dobe…" He hissed to himself. "How the hell does he know how to do that?"

"Well, aren't you boys all feisty today?" Kakashi appeared near the bank of the river, Sakura in tow.

Said pink-haired girl flushed as she noticed Sasuke's wet form, but her eyes still held a tinge of confusion and anger.

"Naruto what the hell?" She shook her head. "Why are you always picking fights with Sasuke-kun?"

Naruto frowned. "Sakura-chan! He told me to fight him!" The blonde protested.

"And you agreed?"

"No!" Naruto sputtered. "He charged at me!"

She threw her hands up in the air. "The both of you are morons."

"Now Sakura, we've been over this. Sasuke-kun shouldn't get into fights that he can't win. Obviously Naruto's been doing some training on his own!" Kakashi chastised her brightly, and she folded her arms and frowned in response.

Naruto only smiled secretively.

"Naruto…" Sakura deadpanned. "…And training?"

Kakashi watched her expression from the corner of his eye. "Yes Sakura, that's what ninja do to get better," He replied, dry. "They train."

Sakura blushed at the rhetoric. Kakashi had a way of making her feel so stupid when she berated Naruto.

"And speaking of training, I had some on the agenda." Kakashi smiled. "But it seems that we've taken too long to water these plants, and we'll just have to do it tomorrow."

Sasuke groaned, fishing himself out of the water like a drowned cat, shaking out the water from his limp, dark hair.

"Sasuke-kun!" Sakura raced to his side, only to get a cold shoulder as the Uchiha pushed her off.

"Anyways," Kakashi pulled his orange book into his hands. "I think it's about time you guys headed home, huh?"

Sasuke muttered something, glowering, and pushed past the group huddled at the river's edge. Sakura glanced quickly over her shoulder, before heading after him. Naruto didn't move to follow them, watching them leave with a complicated expression. Kakashi attention slid to the boy standing on water. He noted that Naruto seemed familiar with the technique, even though the boy looked like he half expected himself to fall in.

"Hokage-sama informed me of the predicament with the broken seal." He began without preamble.

"Yeah…" Naruto fidgeted under his sensei's stare. "I should have told you…"

Kakashi waved him off. "It's my understanding that you were afraid of our reactions?"

"Kinda." Naruto kicked water with his feet, avoiding eye contact.

"You shouldn't be." Kakashi dismissed his concerns with a smile, which came out as more of a crinkle in his eye. "The seal malfunctioned, not you. And also, Kyuubi's going to be placed as ANBU, for the benefit of Konoha?"

"I know it sounds crazy, but I think it would be a good idea." Naruto admitted. "That way, he can still kill as much as he wants, but it would be more beneficial for him to kill Konoha's enemies…right?"

"But how do you feel about that? Won't it be as if it was you killing?" Kakashi asked, turning the question back towards him.

"I—…" Naruto struggled for words. "I don't…

"Naruto-kun." A man with a senbon hanging from his lips appeared from a cloud of smoke. "Mission from Hokage-sama."

Naruto sent an apologetic look to his sensei, before leaving with the Jounin.

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