Synchronicity

A Caucus Race and a Long Tale

cannot stop the thought

running in the dark

coming up a which way sign

(all good truants must decide)

Absolute, corrupting power sifts between his bones and veins, blooms beneath his beating heart, burns between his lips. The moon awakens behind him, one eye and nine tomoe, and beneath the sky like a haunting wraith lies the silhouette of the man who dared to attempt to destroy him. Rage and regret storm inside him; drifts into something sorrowful—something he wishes he could take back.

A hand rests on his head, and he careens into the touch, reaching for the warmth that lies beneath his skin—the warmth that feels like home.

Naruto opened his eyes slowly, feeling heavy and lost. Sadness clings to the edges of his vision, where his dreams wash away with the morning light. He lied there for some time, wondering why his eyes burned with tears and why his heart was filled with so much regret.

The moment he attempted movement he wished he hadn't; he was clearly ailing from an injured leg, and there was a wound across his torso that felt half-healed.

The blonde hissed in pain, grimacing at the look of his leg and hobbling over to his closet to fish around for his bandages. At some point during the night Kyuubi had wrenched his closet apart and the doors hung limp on the hinges, battered and broken. His orange jumpsuits were burned to ashes on the carpet; and Naruto took a moment to mourn their loss, stupidly saddened by their bitter end. This was quickly replaced with shock when he eyed their replacement: crisp, bone-white ANBU armor hanging in their stead.

He balked, gaping. He had an ANBU uniform in his closet. When the hell did that happen?

His eyes shifted around the dim room, catching upon the fox mask on his bedside table.

With great wonder, he slowly hobbled over to eye the mask with fascination. It was light in his hands, smooth alabaster planes of porcelain marred only by the slits for eyes. The ends curled up into fox ears, dipped in red. The only color on the white skin was the blood red handprint covering the bottom half of the mask, as if grasping the mouth.

Interesting choice of design, Naruto thought, turning it over in his hands. It certainly was… an alarming sight.

Naruto snorted. But Kyuubi would find that amusing, wouldn't he?

All his life had he wanted to be strong, to protect his friends, to besomeone.

He wondered if this proved that he could; or proved that he could make a deal with the devil.

In a lot of ways, Naruto couldn't connect with the life he'd lived just a few weeks ago; at one point, he could've recited his predicable routine hour by hour. He'd gotten complacent in that predictable reality. He awoke, trained with his team, argued with Sasuke and battled for Sakura's attention, gorged on ramen; rinse and repeat.

He couldn't even remember what he'd done after he'd left the team meeting—a patchwork of memories, distant and vague, came to him through his shifting thoughts. His claws, wrenching apart the human body; blood was getting everywhere, over his face and down his elbows, splattering against his uniform, he remembered his flicker of annoyance at that, at his irritation with the swords ANBU provided—his irritation in general. With the body he was in, with his human team, with the humans who were supposed to be his prey.

Naruto shook his head. Those weren't his thoughts. …They couldn't be. He'd never think like that.

The blonde blinked out of his reverie, looking down at his leg. He was bleeding all over the carpet. The blonde scowled; that shit never came out.

He spent the better part of the morning attempting to put his mediocre medical knowledge to good use; failing and mostly getting a whole lot of bandages in a whole lot of strange places, and finally wadded the whole thing up, tossed it in the trash, and called it a day. He debated the merits of going to his team's meeting, before ultimately deciding against it. He doubted his body would even cooperate long enough to get him over there.

At first he'd thought this all a great novelty; not everyone lived as both a Gennin and one of the most feared ANBU in Konoha's ranks.

But lately, every glimpse he caught of himself in the mirror, every time he used his newfound chakra control of lightning reflexes; he was constantly reminded that none of this actually had anything to do with him at all.

The thought sobered him even more, elevating his already arcane sense of loneliness.

.

.

.

Naruto shifted his weight, took a breath, and tried to call upon the fox once again.

No answer.

To be quite candid; this whole metamorphous confused even him. They shared the same body—and in essence, the same mindscape, but Kyuubi could feel as if he was halfway across the world with the distance between them. But how could that be? Hell, they were practically, for all intent purposes, the same person.

He shook his head, mood successfully dampened, and decided that the only course of action appropriate would be to head over to Ichiraku's and wait it out.

Ichiraku greeted him with a warm smile as he happily slurped his noodles, even though it was five in the morning and not many were awake, Ichiraku always seemed to contain a vigor and joy that not only radiated from him but spilt onto his cooking, making it more delicious then anyone else's. Naruto wasn't used to waking up so early, and struggled between bowing his head in mock rest and attacking his seventh bowl of ramen. He sourly eyed the vegetables that were placed in the broth. Kyuubi insisted, saying that Naruto's body was a twig and needed some real food sources. And also, it was either this or the fox would begin to eat humans (claiming they held extreme nutritional value, and then going into explicit detail about the taste of bone marrow…) which set Naruto correctly onto the path of a semi-vegetarian.

By the time he reached the gates the ANBU he was assigned with were already there—and he was no closer to contact with Kyuubi than he had been an hour ago.

He recognized one of the indistinct figures as Uzuki Yugao, a woman he seemed to frequently work with, long aubergine hair spilling over one shoulder, an impenetrable bone cat mask covering her face. Even as she did nothing but laze against the side of a tree, she effectively cowed all the Chuunin on guard duty. Or maybe they were just flustered at her presence; it was difficult to tell. And she was alarmingly beautiful.

Not too far from her was another ANBU he recognized—although not to the extent of Yugao. But his horrible posture and falcon mask looked vaguely familiar. From his mask protrude a cigarette, and he seemed to forlornly contemplate the sky, head tilted up as he squatted in the shade of a tree.

There was one other, adjusting his pack in the shadow of a nearby tree, like a subtle spot of blotched shadow, so effectively blended in that it was difficult to discern the presence at all. Naruto felt no familiarity at the sight of him, and concluded that he had no history with this man.

Nervously, he moved to stand with them, feeling more out of place than he ever had when the children at the playground didn't include them in their games. It was infinitely more intimidating to be gathered around Konoha's finest shinobi than it was to be around small children with wary parents. The children—and the parents—didn't carry dozens of weapons on their person and know of at least three dozen ways to kill him without them.

These were the elite, with the missions Naruto only thought of on dreary academy days between daydreaming of Sakura and him and punching Sasuke in the ear, standing before him as if he was one of them.

Him. Just Naruto. Naruto, who had passed the Gennin test by the skin of his teeth and a heapful of luck.

Captain Yamato strode out of a whorl of smoke, not even bothering to beckon the other ANBU, who stood and immediately followed him.

He only paused when he noticed Naruto didn't do the same, turning around with some hint of displeasure.

"Kyuubi?" He lazily called to him. Naruto wondered how he got away with using that tone on Kyuubi, who took offense to even the slightest of facial expressions. Naruto blinked rapidly. …Did Kyuubi, perhaps respect Captain Yamato?

"Err…" He began timidly, as he shuffled closer and reached hearing range. "I'm not…I'm not Kyuubi."

Yamato tilted his head, and the other ANBU jolted visibly at the statement. "Naruto?" He asked, slowly, confused.

Naruto rubbed the back of his head. "Uh, yeah. Sorry." He didn't know what he was apologizing for, precisely, but it seemed the right thing to do. "I—Um, I tried to wake him up? I have no idea what's wrong though; he won't respond at all."

Yamato frowned. "That is… strange indeed," And then, with a turnabout face, "But this is not your fault, no need to apologize."

Naruto bit his lip, fortunate to have a mask to hide the movement. The last thing he wanted to do was look as intimidated as he felt.

Meanwhile, the ANBU behind their captain eyed their newest recruit in a new light. Let it not be said that Kyuubi was an incapable shinobi; if anything, it was disturbing how well the demon slid into the role, manipulating chakra as if it was an extension of himself, so deft and quick with the blade that even Captain Yamato had to praise him. He did not kill unless prompted—but never were they particularly merciful deaths. He'd made Naruto something of a reputation; already, the Konoha ANBU with the fox mask had a page in the Bingo book, well earned from butchering a team from Kumo with his bare hands.

It was not a matter of opinion to say that Kyuubi was the reason that Team Shiroi was still alive.

Yet, seeing the opposite side of the beast... was disconcerting. This was the true face of the demon who so ruthlessly slayed his enemies—just a boy, with big, bright eyes, swimming wide and grave in their sockets. Though it was easy to brush off Kyuubi's short height and small stature when the demon never once acknowledged it as a setback, seeing Naruto in the same body made for a striking comparison—as if somehow, all these qualities which Kyuubi often used to his advantage were once again detrimental.

The captain gave a worried glance to world outside the gates, scanning the forest. "We'll have to move." He sighed, resigned. "We won't make it to the rendezvous coordinates on time if we spare even a moment."

He motioned for the team to follow, but his attention was focused on Naruto. "I'm sorry; you'll have to come with us. We're not meant to kill anyone, though." He placated. "It's just a retrieval mission. I'm sure you'll be fine."

"…Right." Naruto agreed, shakily.

And then they shot off into the forest.

Naruto had never traveled this fast before, though he'd seen many an ANBU squad through his window at night, leaping across the village in quick, powerful strides. His body was accustomed to it, however, effortlessly charging through the bramble and wood, keeping pace with his fellow ANBU. His eyes darted swiftly across the speeding landscape; he felt more vulnerable than ever.

Though he'd never seen the fox fight before, from the aftermath and the fragments that drifted in his memories between waking and dreaming, he imagined him to be as efficient as he was unyielding. And from the way his ANBU counterparts looked at him—a combination of loathing and begrudging respect—he assumed that Kyuubi made for an excellent, if not savage shinobi.

He shuddered as they ran.

Kyuubi probably knew how to watch the subtle movements in the forestry, knew what parts of the human body caused the fastest death; and which caused the most painful. How to split a trachea clean in two and how to cut his claws through the ribcage and to the heart—under and up, right through the lung—

His heart sped quicker, and he called out to the fox once again.

He had about as much luck as he had the last thirty times.

After what seemed to him like hours, they descended in toa sun-speckled clearing, the canopy so thick sun beams shone through like crepuscular rays. The other ANBU dropped from tree limbs easily; Naruto stumbled down and almost landed face firsti into the dirt. Fortunately, no one was paying undue attention to him—most of their attention diverted to what was undoubtedly supposed to be their second squadron, splayed out lifelessly on the ground.

The other ANBU had immediately unsheathed their weapons, readying into defense.

"Ambush." Yugao hissed to their captain. "They knew we were coming."

"How?" The ANBU Naruto didn't recognize asked.

"How do you think, Koga?" The falcon-masked one spat furiously, losing patience. "A spy."

"Fuck Towa, no shit." Koga growled. "But who?"

"Now is not the time for quarrels." Yamato interrupted, shifting his mask, blank eyes peering into the distance.

"They're coming closer." Yugao informed. Naruto felt his pulse quicken. "They know we're here."

He closed his eyes, screaming inwardly as loud as he could to something along the lines of, "Wake up you fucking fox I'm about to diebecause I don't know jack shit of what I'm doing and we're all going to end up smudges of rotting skin on the forest floor if you don't wake your ass up and do something because they'll be here any minute and I'm not ready for this I can't do anything I'm just a Gennin (just a Gennin, just a Gennin)—

And Iwa ANBU tore through the forestry, ripping apart wood that sheltered the Konoha black ops and leaves and limbs fluttered to the ground like shattered glass and Naruto had never been so scared in his life, not even when the villagers had tried to kill him when he was six, or when he couldn't make a Bunshin, or when Mizuki crept closer to him—

His eyes opened, bloodshot and dark like the sunset when the sun burned bright enough to die the stars claret red, the wrathful eyes from his dreams, where the world swam in black and the mountains were made from corpses and the human race was nothing but the speck on his giant paw and he wrenched the sky open with his screams and broke the earth with his teeth.

But the only thing he felt was relief, and everything went black.

.

.

.

He gasped, and pulled himself out from the water his face was in.

He wiped it off of his face hurriedly, the water felt slippery and heavy, as he rubbed it out of his eyes and it became sticky in his hair.

Naruto paused, opening his eyes.

Not water, but blood.

He grimaced, pulling himself out of the repugnant red puddle and surveyed the area. He was kneeling in a shallow ocean of russet blood, hands wrist-deep into the fluid and he stood up quickly, trying to regain his balance as his countenance was lost completely. Towa lazed about some ways in front of him, shifting his gear, a few cuts but otherwise uninjured. Yugao was checking the fallen Konoha ANBU for pulses, while Yamato retrieved the scrolls they were supposed to give to them.

Koga seemed to literally appear from the shadows and paused, stricken, when he noticed Naruto's head up.

Naruto looked down at himself, covered in someone else's blood (with his nose, he could tell that it was a mixture of most of the dead Iwa-nin on the forest floor, and none of it was his), and about two feet smaller than anyone else here.

"What happened?" He rubbed the back of his head, where the mask's string met his hair in a vexatious itch.

"You killed them." Koga replied flatly, walking forward to roll over a dead man. Naruto saw the gash that ran from his chest to his stomach in four jagged lines. Somehow, he recognized this pattern as a quick—but ultimately painful—death.

"Kyuubi killed them." Yugao corrected quietly.

Towa scoffed. "If only Komachi saw this. She'd cry and send this boy back to his momma saying he was too innocent."

"Innocent? Really?" Koga scoffed, inspecting the other bodies that apparently Naruto had killed.

Meanwhile, the blond stood despondently, guiltily watching his blood-died toes as they continued to discuss him.

"If Naruto wasn't here then you'd be dead right now." Yugao hissed at her moronic teammates, before hoisting her pack and following in suit with Captain Yamato, who had jumped onto a tree branch.

Successfully cowed by their only female teammate, the two men stayed quiet as Naruto leapt up with a small smile, even if Yugao couldn't see it.

.

.

.

Naruto lay on his back, the rough edges of the red bridge's side dug into his skin unpleasantly, and he wiggled about until he got more comfortable.

He had one arm over his eyes, shielding them from the abundance of bright light on a cloudless morning.

Luckily it wasn't very hot, nor humid, and the river's ice cold mountain water cooled the area around it considerably.

Usually Naruto would leap onto the bridge with an inordinate amount of energy, boundless and uncontrollable, after a good night's sleep and a stomach full of ramen. Now, however, he hadn't even returned home, opting to stay the night on the bridge and catch some more hours of sleep by staying here instead of having to wake up from his apartment and drag his ass to the meeting place.

While his relation with other ANBU was downright abysmal, he knew enough about ninja etiquette (or lack thereof) to know that it wasn't uncommon to spend a night in a tree or under a bush, especially after a hard mission or sleeping off a hangover.

Today, or more closer to last night, Kyuubi had once again decimated enemy forces, as vicious as he was relentless. Perhaps the most strangest part was how much Naruto remembered of the event; usually he could pick out bits and pieces, but otherwise the events existed as a hazy film behind his eyes. Naruto frowned, scrunching his brows and trying to recall more than a few brief moments at a time He could remember… he blanched—he could remember beheading someone; but he could also remember stilling his urge to raze the whole place to the ground.

Naruto blinked rapidly. Kyuubi had been… holding back? Why?

But perhaps that made some amount of sense. It was true; Kyuubi was savage, feral, and often vindictive. But for the most part, all Naruto could see was a brutal pragmatism and an unrelenting efficiency; he killed when commanded, and stopped when commanded. He thought back onto what he could remember of last night. It almost seemed like… he acknowledged Yamato. Certainly not as an equal…

But perhaps he still regarded him with some kind of respect?

Yamato had asked, Naruto remembered clearly. He'd said stop. And Kyuubi had stopped.

That had to mean something.

"Naruto?" Sakura abruptly broke his reverie, standing so close it was as if her voice had gotten eight times louder since he'd met her.

"Not so loud…" He whimpered, adjusting himself to angle away from her, hoping she'd take it as a sign to leave him be.

"How long have you been here?" She didn't.

He groaned. "Dunno."

"Were you here all night?"

"...No."

"Did you get here this morning?" She continued.

He, once again, groaned in what could have been considered an exasperated sigh, before turning to her. "Sakura-chan, I'mreal tired. Please let me sleep."

Her brows furrowed and it looked like she wasn't going to be merciful, but luckily (and Naruto had never once considered the Uchiha's pompous ass a miracle) Sasuke plodded along sullenly and diverted Sakura's attention.

"Sasuke-kun!" She smiled brightly, hopping towards him like a butterfly to a flower, twittering on about something Sasuke obviously wasn't paying attention to.

Naruto dropped his head back down in relief.

Kakashi, who entered the scene many, many hours later, was much more merciful than Naruto's pink-haired teammate and had proclaimed, sotto voce, that they were, "Doing cooperative exercises" which included a depressed Sasuke and an overjoyed Sakura meandering off into the woods for some tree walking and water walking, whilst Kakashi trained Naruto. But what that really meant was; Kakashi read his book and Naruto slept.

By the time Naruto had even opened his eyes, the sun casted long shadows on the ground and boiled the sky into a temperamental red.

"Kakashi-sensei?" He muttered weakly.

While he received no reply, he did hear the flipping of a page and a squawk as Sakura fell into the water somewhere far down stream.

"Hard mission, huh?"

Naruto mumbled weakly in response.

"Towa said that you—ah, Kyuubi—has becoming quite… infamous." Kakashi mused aloud.

Naruto frowned. "I guess so." His voice came out softer then usual, more resigned.

Kakashi tore his eye from his book, concerned. "I think that maybe you should take some time off the roster. I don't think it's very healthy for someone your age—

"I wish I could." Naruto's eyes (and Kakashi felt a kick to the gut that sent him spiraling, because they were Minato's eyes) stared into a burning sky, the pale blues mirroring his glowing irises, as they sucked the sunlight in the way the moon reflects the sun. "But I don't want to knowwho Kyuubi will target if I do. What if he starts attacking Konoha nin? Or worse, people I know in Konoha?" Naruto bit his lip as he said this. He had fully presumed that, after gaining control of Naruto's body, the fox would rampage and pillage the village to it's heart's content. Yet somehow, there was some sort of knowing bemusement to the fox, as if he found the entire idea of Naruto striking a deal with it as preposterous as it was amusing, and was only following the agreement on some level of entertainment for himself. Naruto had no doubt Kyuubi could do what he liked regardless of what Naruto said or did about it. So why wasn't he?

He didn't voice his concerns aloud, however.

Kakashi sighed. His student was forced into a tough position that he should never have had to deal with.

"And anyways," Naruto smiled, even if it was bittersweet and looked like it caused him physical pain to do so, "It could be worse. Everyone could be dead."

But at the cost of his life, the fools that the Yondaime, that ninja everyday, died to protect got to conveniently live their lives.

"Sometimes I wonder if perhaps that is what they deserve." Kakashi murmured, too low for Naruto to hear.

"Naruto," He smiled lightly, changing the conversation. "Why don't you join us for some basic exercises? I'm sure you don't need it, but…"

The, 'you should spend time with your teammates' was omitted from the sentence, but Naruto understood either way. He nodded as he pushed himself off the bridge with a hand, landing on the jagged upstream waters that sloshed and growled like a babbling brook.

"Not so easy, hmm?" Kakashi leaned over the bridge, book in his hand. While downstream near the lake were smoother waters, upstream was like walking on changing diagonal blocks of ice.

Another torrent of waves barreled down into Naruto, icy and bone-freezing straight from the mountains, and he sputtered as it forced him backwards.

As he surfed on the chilling watter, the boy grinned maliciously, forming hand seals he didn't know he knew, and shouted words that sounded foreign on his tongue, before a wave of water crashed over the bridge and onto Kakashi, and the blond jogged down the river to his teammates.

Sasuke and Sakura looked up forlornly to watch Naruto attempt to surf on a log, before the wave crashed into them too.

"Naruto!" Sakura shrieked, as she pulled herself onto the rocky bank.

In his retort, Sasuke spat out a water reed.

.

.

.

Tatsuji had been working secretively to give Koharu and Homura information on Amegakure for years now, and yet, he had never seen such a peculiar sight as this.

He had heard rumors about Yamato, considered by many to be one of the greatest ANBU captains of all time, and the mismatched team of ANBU that were under his command.

Of course, there was Uzuki Yugao with perfect velvety hair, silky smooth and the color of orchids not one strand out of place, even as she flipped out of the trees with her teammates. She was probably just as famous as he was; both beautiful and dangerous.

The other, whose name he didn't know—but was called Towa—squatted next to her, adjusting his bird mask, dark grey hair tied low at the neck as it fell off his shoulder. He'd heard rumors about that man, too—that there was a reason no one knew his real name.

Koga, he had met once before and was very sure belonged to another ANBU squadron, and must be a replacement for someone else.

And the last, unnamed and hiding behind a fox mask (interesting choice of animal, and he was fairly sure they had fell out of style after the Kyuubi's attack) with lemon colored hair that fell over his face and tan skin. He couldn't be much older then a teenager, and reminded Tatsuji sorely of Itachi. And everyone knew exactly how thatpredicament went down.

But the boy looked oddly eerie, standing beneath the wan, wintry spill of the moon, backdropped against Konoha's infamous killers. He didn't want to look at him—something instinctual compelling him not to.

He handed the scroll to Yamato, keeping gaze forcibly directed away from the blonde.

"This is to be taken directly to the Hokage's assistants." He said with finality.

Captain Yamato nodded once, not saying a word as he beckoned with his hand to the other ANBU to leap back into the trees, making their visit as swift as possible. The blond turned back at first, piercing him through the gaping holes of his eyes before joining them.

The ANBU team took off like a flight of birds embarking to the south, quick and smooth, but wary of the length of their journey and stamina.

Oddly, it was Kyuubi who spoke. "He reeks of distrust."

While Yamato had never known that it was possible to smell emotions, he wouldn't put it past a vengeful demon king to be able to do so. "Why do you say that?" He asked, partially humoring the demon.

The demon sneered and didn't answer.

Obviously Kyuubi didn't take well to being treated like a child, and must have noticed the bemusement in his Captain's voice. Or perhaps, he had smelt it on him? Yamato chuckled again.

"Give the scroll to the Hokage." Was all he said, avoiding Yamato's words entirely.

Yugao and Towa sent him looks, as they hopped past the forestry lighting-fast and featherlight-quick.

"And we should listen to you, because…?" Koga growled at him, abhorrence only lightly veiled.

Kyuubi fiercely snarled back, as if it was a secret language made of reflexes and movements and animalistic mono-symbolic sounds that none of his present company was aware of. "I never said you had to."

Humans, he mentally digressed, such a waste.

"But those elder mortals," Kyuubi sniffed the air distastefully, as if he was talking about foot fungus and not the village's most esteemed elderly. "They are ruthless. They believe differently to your idolized Hokage."

"Doesn't take smelling emotions to know that." Towa mirthlessly laughed under his breath.

"You're saying you think he gave us explicit orders to bypass the Hokage for a reason?" Yamato ignored his subordinate.

"Perhaps." The demon's tone was even, and he said nothing else for the duration of the run.

The team split as they entered the gates. Yamato penned down the mission scroll as he entered Konoha.

"Get some rest." He called to his team, but was making a special point to Kyuubi. He knew it must be difficult for Naruto to cope with an uncooperative body due to the excessive amounts of strain it was put under daily.

As he walked up the stairs to Sartuobi's office, he hoped that young Naruto was dealing with the pressure well, for there weren't many people his age that could.

"Hokage-sama." He bowed formally to the village leader, who waved at him in response.

"And how was he?"

Hiruzen asked for a specific report on Kyuubi's behavior daily. Yamato cleared his throat. "He learns remarkably fast. Not just human jutsu, but also mannerisms and speech patterns. A week ago he couldn't understand sarcasm, but he seems to have an…abnormally tight grip on it now." He didn't think it was imperative to inform the Hokage of the ridiculous amounts his subordinates were short-handed by verbal irony.

"Does he get along well?" The Hokage leaned closer, concernedly.

Yamato hedged. "I'm sure if he wanted, he could easily play nice. But I'd suspect anything of the sort to be foul play."

"As I'd think as well." The Sandaime nodded, closing his eyes.

He was silent, as he blew his pipe again.

"The council wants an intimate report on his every move. I had first conjectured this to be an extensive concern over the mental stability of a demon, as I'm sure you know it isn't uncommon at all for village's to use their Jinchuuriki as weapons. However, his is not a Jinchuuriki to be molded, but a demon with a mind of its own, something much more powerful then a simple rampant brainless fool. Since Kyuubi is a fully sentient being, this obviously is another matter entirely. The council, perhaps, is unaware of this fact, but Utatane and Mikotado wouldn't be fooled. They surely must have realized the crucial difference between Naruto-kun and other Jinchuuriki."

"You don't suppose it's a contrivance for any upcoming wars?" Yamato frowned beneath the mask. "As a weapon? He's much too young."

"The young are malleable." The Hokage sighed. "Kyuubi surfacing is almost, appreciated in these circumstances. And at any rate, isn't that what he already is?"

Tenzou, not knowing how to respond, decided upon letting silence resume, poignant in its ringing, as if wallowing for the boy who was lost in the waging strife between Hokage and council.

"The council has already used the broken seal as a ploy to use the boy for their intent purposes, which also benefits Konoha." Yamato contemplated. "While for Naruto-kun, it has the opposite effect."

The ANBU captain locked eyes with the Hokage. "He isn't fairing well; I'm often reminded of a boy lost at sea, his head barely above water."

"Thank you for your report, Yamoto."

The captain only bowed in response.

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