Synchronicity

By slexenskee

Action / Adventure

The Mock Turtle's Story

so pairings anyone? suggestions? het? yaoi? hmmm?

synchronicity

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there's a trapdoor in the sun

some DIE just to live

immortality

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Naruto couldn't claim Shikamaru to be one to amount to an amassed crowd to devolve into hoarse screams and rapid fist pumps, but he sure as hell was amusing.

The first round had Naruto leaning in his seat and tilting his head into the browbeating sun, waiting for the last punches to be thrown into the giant dustbowl beneath them and for the Chuunin to call the match. Sakura and Ino quickly followed suit, and with another round of drinks, the three were weathering out the hot sun with a unfathomable amount of boredom unlike what they had expected for the hyped up Final Rounds.

Around them, the rest of the suffering crowd didn't seem to be fairing any better.

"Sasuke, Sasuke…" Ino crooned aloud with a sigh, as she waved her hand to her face fervently, sprawled out in her chair. "That's all everyone's talking about."

"Of course." Sakura frowned and her brows bunched together, even though her eyes were deeply closed and she too was lying in her chair. "I mean… It's Sasuke-kun…" The smoldering heat made her voice a sleepy, dream-like quality.

The crowd came to an even slower drawl as a long, drawn out silence permeated the bottom arena, as the Chuunin Examinator was greeted again and again by ninja from the Hokage's suite, a continuing stream of smoke to his left.

"Do you think he'll be disqualified?" Sakura asked hesitantly, as her eyes slid open to gaze around to the annoyed—and become unhappier by the minute—spectators around her.

"He's like an hour late!" Ino groaned. "As much as I hate to say it, Sasuke-kun really set himself up for failure here."

"I know him," Naruto frowned. "He'll be here."

The blonde girl next to him only flopped her head in dismay. "How can you be so sure about it?"

He shrugged. "I'm not really sure." He admitted sheepishly. "I just, I have a feeling he'll be here."

Sakura didn't say anything to this, and the three lapsed into silence as she pondered Naruto's insight. The two had always had a deeper connection than Sakura had with Uchiha. He and Naruto seemed to be the correct amount of stoicism and optimism in one complimentary shade, and she couldn't understand how two people so mortally unalike could blend together into the perfect, almost brotherly, friends they were.

Even now, as Naruto moved away from her and Sasuke wandered off as well, they still seemed to carry a thin, intangible line of thread that kept them tied together, like a bond of blood, that she couldn't quite understand. It was almost as if it had been there the whole time.

"It's—" Ino pushed herself out of her slouched position in a hurried rush, careening over her seat.

"Sasuke-kun!" Sakura finished, already on her feet and leaning over the railing.

Kakashi and Sasuke stood back to back, the Jounin's leaf Shunshin carrying them from wherever they had been for so many tedious hours. Naruto sighed in relief. It seemed the Uchiha had made it after all. He grinned wryly at his best friend. He really couldn't fault him for the style. He must have picked up the tardiness from their classy teacher.

"Sorry we're late." Kakashi smiled, and Naruto almost wanted to laugh. For once, an outlandish lie wasn't immediately spilling out of his mouth.

Genma tilted his head back, chewing on a senbon with a smirk on his face. "Your name?"

"Uchiha Sasuke."

"Is that Uchiha?" Chouji sat up from his spot next to Ino, where he seemed to have slept off most of the waiting period.

"It's Sasuke-kun." Another new voice interrupted from the side, and Sakura whirled around to see a rather abnormal bowl-like haircut.

"Lee-san!"

"Everyone's here to watch the Sasuke, huh?" Naruto grinned to himself.

Of course, getting the match to start still took some time. The sand Jinchuuriki was taking his sweet time, and being downwind from the Gennin Naruto could smell the blood in his gourd. He's killed someone already… Naruto thought wildly, startled by the thought. Could that have been him, crazed and warped like that? So eager to kill ad so manipulated by his demons and manifestations? Of course, there was a clear line between the whisperings of Shukaku and the twisted mortality Gaara held, and Naruto supposed that both held an equal standing in their effects on the boy.

Kakashi had somehow appeared behind the five of them, along with Gai-Sensei, and Sakura immediately asked him about Sasuke's mark on arrival. Her face split into a relieved smile when Kakashi soothed her worries, but Naruto wasn't as easily placated.

"Sensei," He began quietly. "I—

"Uzumaki."

The command was quiet enough that he doubted any of his friends heard it, but Kakashi jerked his head in the direction of a cloaked, masked figure lounging on the far wall.

Naruto turned around as well, recognizing Yamato's mask glowing in the shadows. Kakashi raised a hand, which his captain returned with a nod.

"Duty calls." Said his teacher with a quirky smile (that really could only be seen in the creasing of his eye) and a pleasant wave.

Naruto only nodded, not particularly enthused.

"I thought I was off duty…?" He began once he was in earshot, trotting over to the masked figure with a curious gaze.

His captain adjusted his mask into the light. "Change of plans."

"Did you find anything?" In particular, anything outside of the walls that could indicate where Orochimaru was hiding now. However, he only received a grim look.

"Nothing good."

Naruto stiffened.

"Suit up." Yamato turned, an arm raising from the folds of his black cloak until a glimmer of a hand waved into the distance. Naruto peered into the wavering lines of the far side of the stadium, until he could make out a hazy swath of black dotting the stadium's wall. A hand was raised in return, and the sun caught the metal of a glove and seared his eyes.

"We're meeting in the Hokage suit in five." Was all he said before he walked quickly into the shadows, blending into the inky darkness.

Naruto frowned, as around him, the stadium began a crescendo into cheers as the awaited match began. A plume of sand quickly followed, erupting into the sky before tiding back like a wave. He bit his lip. What was happening? Would Sasuke's match be cancelled, even though the Gennin had trained so hard for it?

He spun quickly in the other direction and walked hastily to the exit, cursing that he had worn civilian clothes today and figuring that if he ran fast enough it'd take him two minutes to get to his apartment and another two to get back, and he could probably somehow manage to change on the way without being a complete streaker—

"Was that…your boss?" Naruto almost jumped at Sakura's tentative voice.

He had made it into the hallway, a dim sparsely lit corridor where only the light from the doorway lit the long stretch of tile. She had her hands behind her back, and a strange, ephemeral look on her face.

He nodded slowly. "Yeah, there's apparently a problem, so, I've got to…" He trailed off, struggling for words, not knowing what to say.

At his pessimistic words, she looked up with a frightened glow. "Right now? But the stadium—

"We'll handle it." He gave her an easy smile, which felt entirely wrong. "So don't worry!"

She bit her lip, and looked tentative to accept his dismantling of her precautions.

But he was already leaping into the sky before she could ask anything else, and was nothing but a slight speck of blonde in the vast distance of Konoha. Her hand clenched to her sides, and she wondered, and hoped, that everything would be okay.

Naruto made it to his house as quickly as humanly—or, kind of inhumanly—possible, and grabbed his armor and shucked it on as quickly as possible, digging around for a couple scrolls filled with weapons, grabbed his katana and Wakizashi, and had to double back for his mask, but mostly remembered everything. He skidded to a halt on the rough pavement of the rim of the stadium. The spectators looked like nothing but bright blurs, and he could dimly make out the forms of Sasuke and Gaara below, battling it out in front of the masses.

He also spotted the Hokage's suite looking grand and spacious on one side of the stadium, with more clarity from its closeness to the top of the dome.

"Yamato-taichou." He said, politely.

The rest of their team had assembled, and he moved from one stony, expressionless mask to the next.

The Mokuton-user turned to him, giving a slight nod. Naruto wished he could see the expression behind the mask. The blonde shifted uneasily, moving to stand next to Yugao, who had her head slightly tilted as if she was watching the fighting below. Naruto could barely hear anything up here, just the soft graining of sand and the clattering of movement above the whistling wind. Every time he tried to peer below, his eyes caught sight of the unnerving Kazekage, and he stood rigid.

There was something painfully off about that man…

"Yugao," He whispered, and the woman next to him tilted her head back. "Who is that man?"

"The Kazekage." Her mask muffled her voice. "The leader of Suna."

Well, whatever Yamato taichou was conversing about with the Sandaime was quiet enough that Naruto couldn't hear a word of it, and he stood in silent testimony of those unwavering yellow eyes. Why was the man staring at him like that? Did he know who he was (even with the mask?)

Sandaime closed his eyes with what looked like resignation.

"Send them back if they haven't found anything." And, with a pointed look to the large, restless crowd beneath them, "I want all my ANBU back here for the final round."

Yamato bowed. "Understood."

He beckoned for his team to follow him as he made for the stairs.

"Yamato-taichou?" Naruto caught up to him. "What's going on?"

He shook his head. "Not sure. Sandaime-sama is calling back all the ANBU for something…" He drifted off. "I think he's nervous."

Naruto tilted his head. "About what?" But immediately, the thought of Gaara's large, restless and inhuman eyes unsettled him. He thought of the monster, which lay inside the body, the blood lust that Sasuke was facing…

"About the redhead?" Towa scratched the behind his mask.

Yamato shrugged indifferently. "Something like that." There was a fork in the hallway, and he turned to his team.

"The four of you get back to watching the crowd. If the Sandaime has reason to believe there will be danger, we're to follow his orders." He made a gesture towards the hallway to the right. "I'll be communicating with the other teams."

He wandered off then, in a way Yamato captain had a way of doing, sort of like he disappeared into the shadows.

Towa and Koga did the same, which left him and Yugao standing in the deserted corridor. Luckily, she didn't disappear as well—because Naruto hadn't the slightest idea what he was supposed to be doing, and instead, followed her—and he walked after her swishing hair into the opening, the sound of the crowd murmuring getting louder. They exited into the bright sunlight and damp heat, and Naruto could scarcely make out the fighting below.

Sasuke was displaying a taijutsu form that Naruto didn't remember him ever knowing. He was fast, surely, faster and stronger then Naruto remembered. But so was Gaara. He shivered.

"Yugao…" The woman stilled. He gulped hastily. "I think… I think there's something wrong with that kid…"

He followed her as she walked down the stairs, keeping to the shadows and blending with them uncannily. "Which one?"

"The redhead." He elaborated, debating whether to tell her what he knew or not. He decided it was worth a shot. "He's not normal."

"Obviously." She retorted, coming to a halt at the railing. There was a clear view of the rest of the stadium from here, and he could make out the fighting below with clarity, as well as the smudges of pink and yellow across the terrace where Sakura and Ino were.

Naruto chuckled. "Well yeah, but—that's not what I meant."

"What did you mean, then?" She looked half interested, scanning the perimeter.

"I mean…" His voice lowered. "He's like me."

Yugao stilled, and turned to him.

"What do you mean by that?"

"He's a Jinchuuriki." Naruto explained. "I can tell—err, Kyuubi can. But he's not like me. He's, he's crazy. I think he's going to kill Sasuke."

Yugao digested the information, crossing her arms. Below them, Gaara had cocooned himself in a ball of sand for some time now Naruto studied the side of her mask as she leaned over, looking intently as the Uchiha planted himself on the wall, unmoving.

"Who else knows of this?" She asked abruptly.

Naruto blinked. "Err—no one. Why?"

"This would explain how Kyuubi was able to sense him…" She muttered.

"Eh?" Naruto tilted his head.

"A while back, we had a mission to River country. Do you remember anything like that?" Naruto shook his head. "The sand made it impossible to see anything beyond a couple meters, yet somehow, Kyuubi was able to perceive a group of Suna-nin heading our way. When I asked him, he said he could 'sense' them. At first I had thought he meant like some sort of technique, but now I understand…"

Naruto hummed in agreement. That sounded correct. Kyuubi had always been able to tell when Gaara was near—he supposed the same would occur with all other Jinchuuriki.

But there was something odd about the way he worded it. He could sense the smallest part, he'd say. Naruto couldn't understand what that meant.

"Either way," Yugao finished her musings. "This is important to know; we should report this to—

She didn't end her sentence, as a shrill cry of thousands of birds echoed around the dome, a sound quite familiar to her. She paused, and Naruto did as well. While Naruto had never heard anything quite like it, Yugao was well acquainted with the sound and swirled around immediately, looking for the cause of it. She had expected to see a white-haired Jounin surrounded by an mass of twisting electricity, but instead, she saw a dark haired boy with a hand of electricity.

"The Chidori…?" She breathed in wonder.

Naruto watched as well, morbidly fascinated at what his rival could do. "What's that?" He whispered in awe.

"Kakashi-sempai's famous technique." She explained, looking amazed. "It's an assassination jutsu; he's infamous throughout ANBU for its usage. It's called the Raikiri, because it's said to have cut through lightning. To think, he taught it to a Gennin…"

Naruto was impressed as well.

Sasuke heaved his fist into the giant ball of sand, puncturing it effectively and causing the arena to shake in small tremors as the momentum was absorbed entirely. There was a sick moment of silence as nothing happened, an accumulation of all the arena holding their breath, eyes widened in fascination.

The quiet didn't hold for long, as Gaara began to scream.

Sasuke pulled away, looking as if he had drawn blood, a clawed hand of sand following him out. The dome of sand dribbled to the floor, leaving a wounded Gaara in its wake. If Naruto had suspected Gaara to be strange before, he now had overwhelming proof. Not only did he look maniacal, but his smell, it reeked like nothing he'd ever smelt before. Like hatred and bloodlust and irrational madness.

Around them, a hush descended.

Yugao whirled around, eyes widened. "Genjutsu—!"

Naruto drew his hands up immediately. "Kai!"

Yugao did the same, looking around the slumped civilians to where fleeting dark coats were making their escape. She could see the other ANBU team stationed looking around as well.

And then her eyes widened. "Hokage-sama!"

The purple-haired kunoichi leapt onto the railing, taking two strides before jumping onto the wall and running horizontal, making for the Hokage's tower. She was stopped, however, by a cloud of smoke, which erupted straight in the center of the arena, giving Naruto enough time to jump after her. Luckily more black-ops teams had arrived at the stadium, and Naruto could make out two figures leaping out of the Hokage's suite and into the distance, pursued by more ANBU teams.

"What's going on?" He panted beside her.

She shook her head. "This is bad." She hissed. Towa came up beside them from his station on the roof. "Nine traitors…" She spat.

Beneath them, the Kazekage's children along with their teacher had assembled, the redhead on the ground, head in his hands. Genma had moved to stand over Sasuke in the face of the four now traitorous Nin. Naruto found his gaze wandering to them, wanting more then anything to jump next to Sasuke, but found himself wavering between his duty as an ANBU and his duty as a friend.

"Team Aoi and Kiroi are in pursuit of the Kazekage, along with Hokage-sama." Towa was explaining.

"Well what are we supposed to do?"

"I—" He paused "I don't…there aren't any official orders."

"Screw official orders!" Yugao growled. "Protect Konoha, there's your official order."

She turned to Naruto. "C'mon, we'll find Yamato-taichou and Koga and see what we can do."

Naruto swiveled back from where he had been more concerned over Sasuke, a confused look on his face like he hadn't heard a word of the conversation. "Err—what?"

If Yugao hadn't had her mask on he'd have seen the utterly exasperated look on her face. She knew Sasuke was his teammate, and he was injured, but Naruto had to realize that he wasn't a Gennin anymore—Sasuke wasn't his teammate anymore, and more importantly, he had actual duties now.

"Naruto." She said. "Come on. We're leaving."

"But—

"I know he's your friend," She cut off with little patience. "But there is an invasion going on right now, the Hokage might be in terrible danger, and our first priority is to protect Konoha. Not our friends."

Naruto looked stricken. "I know." He sighed.

He gave another look to Sasuke, who was crouched on the ground, clutching his injured arm. Would Sasuke fight as well? He wasn't in any condition to…

"They're getting away!"

Naruto jumped off on the wall, landing on the railing some feet below.

Yugao made a move to go after him. "Naruto!" She barked, angered beyond belief that even now, the boy would disobey orders. "What are you—

"Gaara!" He pointed to where the two siblings were heading over the wall. He turned to Yugao, pleading almost. "No one else knows that he's a Jinchuuriki Yugao!" He paused. "And I'm… I'm really the only one who can stop him. I have to go after him!"

She looked as if she was debating it, before she sighed. "Alright, go." She turned back to Towa, who was looking confused over the whole debacle. "I'll tell Yamato. You, Towa! What are you waiting for? Let's get moving!"

They jumped onto the roof, Towa already leaping into the sky, but Yugao turned to him. "I'll catch up to you, okay?"

He nodded.

"This is your first solo mission as a black-ops." Were her stern words, before she too disappeared.

Naruto took this as fair warning before he took a jump into the center of the arena, where Genma and Sasuke still were.

"Genma." He called, at the same time Sasuke cried, "What's going on?"

"Sorry, but the Chuunin Exams are over." The Tokubetsu-Jounin said to the Uchiha. "You go pursue Gaara and the others."

Sasuke didn't look pleased with the answer. "You're already at Chuunin level. Go make yourself useful to the village." Genma waved him off.

Sasuke looked miffed, but spotted Naruto walking towards them.

The Jounin noticed the ANBU. "I'm going with him." Naruto insisted. "Gaara is… a special kind of opponent."

"Dobe." Sasuke stood, hands in his pockets.

Naruto smiled at the insult. "Teme." He greeted, before making a move to jump over the wall of the arena. "Let's go?"

The two made their way into the forests surrounding the arena, light scarcely making its way into the dense shrubbery. Naruto peered at Sasuke from the side of his mask. To think the Uchiha was able to grow in such a short amount of time… it was incredible. Gai's prodigy, Lee, was apparently the fastest Gennin of their generation. However, Sasuke was able to become on par with Lee with just a couple weeks to crash course on his speed, where it had taken Lee years to do so.

Maybe it was just the Uchiha genes. Maybe it was just Uchiha in general. He'd never met any other beside Sasuke, but Kyuubi seemed to have an innate hatred for the clan in general. Naruto had never actually asked the beast it in particular, but the simple notion of Sasuke made the beast angered. The really surprising part, was that not only was the demon fox angered by the presence of the Uchiha prodigy, but he was restless as well. Naruto couldn't figure it out…

Speaking of the fox, such close proximity to Shukaku seemed to have awoken him.

"Naruto…" Sasuke began slowly, as they continued on.

He tilted his head.

"When did you become…" The Uchiha gritted his teeth and looked away at this. "ANBU?"

Naruto took a moment to try to assemble a proper response. At some point, he'd have boasted that he'd increased to what some consider the most high-ranking position that a ninja could receive, sans Kage. Now, he didn't know what to say.

"A while ago." He decided upon.

The answer obviously wasn't what Sasuke wanted to hear. "How?" He hissed through clenched teeth.

And there was the real tricky part.

What was he supposed to say to that? Without telling Sasuke his darkest secret?

They met up with Shino, the bug user hadn't changed from what Naruto remembered of their academy days. He still creeped him out, and he still wore dark glasses that shrouded his eyes. "You guys go on ahead," The Chuunin said, when they met up with Kankuro, one of the Kazekage's children, and a user of puppets. "I'll keep him off your back for a couple minutes."

They continued on, and Naruto was grateful for the distraction from questions he didn't want to answer. It didn't last long, however.

"How do you know where you're going?" The Uchiha asked.

"I—" Naruto thought out how to word this. "I can sense him, I guess."

"How?" The Uchiha prodded. Sasuke had never really taken an interest in him before. They had been rivals, yes—still were to some degree. But Sasuke had always assumed that he was the better of the two. He had the Sharingan, he had the lineage, and he was the genius. Naruto, orphan Naruto who was dumber then a rock and loud as hell and didn't have a bloodline or a special technique (or so the Uchiha thought) was somehow his equal.

Naruto didn't say anything, and Sasuke became more angered at the lack of response.

He used to know Naruto.

Naruto was blonde like the sun and couldn't whisper. He had a shit-eating grin and he wore too much orange to possibly be a ninja. He was obnoxious. He failed his Gennin test three times. Almost did it again, but somehow he passed. He couldn't make a Bunshin (but he could make a Kage Bunshin). He was helpless and useless on missions (but he had incapacitated Haku, a feet which Sasuke, even with his Sharingan, couldn't achieve). He was stupid and he was clumsy and he was the dead last of the academy, dead last of all the Gennin, and, he was a member of Yamato's black-ops team.

Sasuke had come to the sickening conclusion that he didn't know Naruto anymore.

Naruto was out of his reach.

Naruto walked away that day, hands in his pockets. He was wearing drab looking clothing, was Sasuke's first thought when he arrived at the bridge. Naruto looked marginally less dumb with a dark fitted blue shirt, and Shinobi slacks, headband around his neck. He looked sad, too, like he didn't understand himself anymore. But Sasuke wasn't going to say anything to him about that. Sakura was pestering him, but she moved on to him when he arrived. Naruto took the lack of attention with glazed eyes, a confused and wrenching look on his face, twisting the smiling features Sasuke once new into a warped version of itself.

Naruto walked away from them, and Sasuke was about to call out, "Where do you think you're going, dobe?" We haven't gotten to fight yet. We haven't sparred yet. You haven't proven yourself to me yet. I don't want to admit you're my equal yet.

He didn't say any of those. Naruto walked away, hands in his pockets, hair limp and lemon colored, and Kakashi moved into his line of vision, until he couldn't see the boy disappear down a corner.

"Why does Naruto get all these missions and we don't? Aren't we a team?"

"Well, I've come here to talk to you about that…"

Even now, running together, miles and miles separated them, and Sasuke hated how even now the separation was palpable.

"How, dobe?" He repeated, the words seething and coming out of clenched teeth.

"I don't know, okay?" The blonde suddenly burst, skidding to a halt and breathing heavily, a fact, which had nothing to do with the speed they were running because stamina had always been Naruto's forte. "I don't know. I just can." His fists were clenched at his sides, he looked… unhinged.

"Dobe…"

"I don't know anything anymore." The blonde looked away then. So lost and confused, azure eyes hazy.

Sasuke wanted to say something. Anything.

But a scream and the sound of a body crashing into dense wood made them both freeze. The moment was lost as Naruto collected himself, breathing and holding it until he could feel his lungs burn, before releasing.

"They're close." Was all he said, before taking off into the darkness.

They must have been a couple yards away, when Naruto's radio crackled.

"Kitsune? Kitsune—can you hear me?"

Naruto picked it up grimly. "Yeah, loud and clear."

"Rendezvous at location seventy-four with Team Aka. I'll be over in ten."

"Understood." He put the radio back in its holster, turning to Sasuke. "Go on without me."

Sasuke nodded, leaping off onto another branch before he was out of sight. Naruto frowned. Sasuke had grown, sure. But he didn't know what Gaara was capable of. What Gaara was. The blonde cursed silently. He should have said something. Sasuke could be walking into his death trap and Naruto should have said something.

"Have a little faith."

The blonde froze at the guttural voice, a deep stirring in his mind.

"He's an Uchiha after all. They have an incorrigible ability to survive."

Yugao's breath came out in short puffs, a numbness enveloping her, which she hadn't ever felt before. Gekko hadn't contacted her in a number of days. This wasn't unusual in the shinobi world. He probably got a mission and forgot to tell her. That was what she had thought. To think… he was dead. Killed in coordination with this invasion…

Yamato had been sending her worried glances whenever he could, tearing down the enemies with his Mokuton Jutsu, until nearly all of their opponents had been wiped out. When this happened, they moved into another fray, Yugao hurtling herself head first into the fighting, feeling her blade in her hand, ringing with blood and bones and flesh better then she could feel her own heart.

A familiar sound—looking up into the bitter fall sky, crisp in the mouth and numbing tingling ears, watching the sky crowd with the silhouettes of birds as they flock to the end of the earth, their cries louder then the quiet of the morning—and she turned around to see Kakashi's Raikiri slaughter another five Suna-nin.

"Kakashi-sempai…" She said weakly in greeting.

As a new ANBU placed on the rising platoon of the infamous Hatake Kakashi, Yugao had been thrust into the world of the black-ops with what was considered an entirely young team. Captain Kakashi was barely twenty, and the team was composed of late teens and early twenties. Kakashi had been her everything back then, the suave and handsome team leader, an impressive repertoire of Jutsu, a secret technique created all on his own, and a past which even to this day Yugao didn't really know anything about.

"Hey, kid." He rubbed her shoulder, and she resisted the urge to lean into it. Kakashi had always been a fantastic Team leader, even to this day. He'd stop the fighting, just for a moment, just for a moment to comfort her. "You doing okay?"

"Fine." She answered stiffly.

Kakashi's gaze lingered on her, before he dropped his hand. Yugao wasn't his little subordinate with puffy purple hair anymore. He supposed she could take care of herself.

The blonde some feet away, however…

"Naruto." He called, but the blonde didn't turn.

The ANBU cut down another opponent, swinging with his Wakizashi to parry the Nin's kunai, but the real attack was his hand coming from below, claws twisting into flesh and ripping organs, the Suna-nin collapsing into the ground. The blond spun and parried another blade, slicing through the other three until he was surrounded with kneeling corpses.

"Naruto!" Louder, this time.

Why wasn't he…?

"Kyuubi." Kakashi narrowed his eyes. This time, Naruto's body turned to face him.

"Kakashi-sensei." There was something mocking in that drawling voice.

"And Naruto—?"

"Sleeping." The demon seemed to derive enjoyment from Kakashi's concern looking sort of amused as he shook out his right hand—the one that had been cutting through limbs.

Naruto's mask had been splintered and lay on the ground, mingling with the carnage. Kakashi repressed the revulsion he felt, seeing Naruto's face splattered with blood, smirking, red eyes lit. Instead of carrying a conversation, Kyuubi moved back in the direction towards the forest, walking over to the edge of the building they were on, looking ready to jump onto the next one. Yamato, who had been incapacitating a number of foes, stopped to halt the fox.

"Where do you think you're going?" The ANBU captain said.

"That Uchiha," The fox began conversationally, looking thoughtful. "He won't be able to last long against Gaara."

"I wouldn't be so sure." Kakashi interrupted. "I wouldn't underestimate him, either. Sasuke's been training hard, they should be about even now I'd think—

"That would be true." The demon conceded. "If Gaara wasn't a Jinchuuriki."

Kakashi's eyes widened. Yamato paused.

"A Jinchuuriki?" The black-ops hesitated. "But, Suna doesn't—

Kakashi frowned. "So… that technique, and the sand…"

"They are all Shukaku's." Kyuubi scowled. "The tanuki has the boy under his thumb, not surprising. By now, I'd suspect he's already breaking free from the boy, and is coming out." He smirked at the gray-haired Jounin, the cynical features twisting Naruto's features entirely. "You wouldn't want that demon going against the Uchiha, would you?"

"Go." Ordered Yamato. "And hurry up with it." The Mokuton-user had worked with the demon enough to know that Kyuubi wanted to be over there. Tenzou would go himself, if he could. But there were too many invaders, and too little ANBU, and he knew he was needed. Sending Kyuubi to deal with Shukaku—while it made a lot of sense, probably wasn't the brightest idea. Considering how little they knew of the tailed beasts and how they interacted—was his only option available.

Sasuke certainly looked worse for wear, curse seal spread over half of his face, at near chakra exhaustion.

Gaara, on the other hand, looked as psychotic as usual, a part of Shukaku splintering out of the left side of his body like a malformed hand.

Naruto kicked the other Jinchuuriki aside—no, Kyuubi did. But he had felt the resounding impact as his foot collided with the side of Gaara's face. But he didn't remember telling his body to do anything. In fact, he could hardly remember how he even got here…

"N—Naruto…?"

The blonde whirled around.

A little nin dog—Pakkun—and Sakura trotted up.

Dammit. He didn't what Sakura to see him like this—

"Sakura-chan! Get out of here!"

She looked stricken, but didn't move.

He couldn't feel himself. He was wavering, between the drowning sensation when Kyuubi took over, that feeling of floating in limbo in a place which didn't reside on this plain, and the feeling of being in control of his own body, of his mouth, of his words. But Kyuubi was still here, he could feel the power thrumming through his veins, puissant and unrelenting and so hot searing through his veins. But he could still see Sakura, could make out the lines of her face, of her bottle-green eyes, of her hair and how it framed her cheeks.

Gaara made a move towards her, and he willed his body, Kyuubi, all of them to move at once.

"UCHIHA SASUKE!—

The sand demon pushed Sakura out of the way, making a move for Sasuke as the Uchiha deftly tried to get onto his knees.

Fist met bone and both Naruto and Gaara toppled into the trees before the redhead could make impact, luckily the blonde was able to land on a branch while the larger malformed body of the Suna Gennin tumbled into the bramble below.

Naruto growled at himself, willing his body to get up. He tried to call to the fox, but it was like calling to his consciousness. Where was he? Why couldn't he hear him? There was so little noise…

Now wasn't the time to be confused.

He stood, shakily, face to face with the monster Gaara had become.

The sand, or whatever it was that seemed to be made from stone or some other material which wasn't flesh, had curled around his arms to resemble large, cracked talons. His smirk had only grown wider and his lone tail curled around him. The only part of him which even partially resembled his once human state were his sandaled feet. But mid shin they turned into sand, just like the rest of his once humanoid body.

Naruto felt sick. Was this what he would become? His seal was already broken, gone, entirely. Kyuubi muttered around like he knew it would have happened all along, but he didn't give Naruto any answers, and Naruto had never been good at piecing clues. But Gaara had a broken seal, too. If Kyuubi took over fully, would he look like this? A giant, colossal monstrosity with sad, lonely eyes?

He found himself drifting off, and his breathing began to feel like someone else's, and the familiar grip of unconsciousness overwhelmed him, blood red eyes opening and appraising the form in front of him.

"As I had suspected." Kyuubi murmured.

Behind him, Sasuke's curse seal pulsed around his neck, his hands gripping the bark as he wavered between consciousness. Sakura was slumped onto the tree, and the little nin dog was snarling.

"Are you still human?"

"I was…" A moment's pause, as if talking was laboring for the mass of flesh and sand. "Never a human…"

Kyuubi only looked mildly amused at Gaara's ramblings. He supposed he didn't look any different from a regular human compared to the monster before him in this short body, blonde hair wild and about. But it was muscled, and strong, and would have to do for now. He'd much rather take the smooth human tendons then the hunkering brute Shukaku's vessel had become.

"I am a monster…" It cackled.

A thrust of sand shot out at the nine tails, who dodged it easily, still looking thoughtfully at what Shukaku had become.

He had thought, if he could possibly lure the demon out, he could take what was his. It hurt, to be so close to another part of the Juubi, yet so far away… Without that… that man, he could never be whole again. But this wasn't Shukaku, no. This was just the little boy, dressed up in a monster's fur, playing demon. Shukaku surely was behind it, whispering words, spreading lies. But the essence, the shard of the Juubi was so marginal that Kyuubi could hardly feel it.

"No," He smiled. "You're just a human."

A beat of deliberation, and then;

"You're useless to me."

He aimed for the head, the weakest of the armor judging from the cracks splintering along the neck. He was able to shatter a side of the boy's face, cracks running along the raccoon-like snout and features. With his other hand, he drew molten flames to sear the side of the boy into glass.

"Shukaku…" He muttered, staring into the eyes.

They were diamond shaped, and he could recall the days in his memory, before his imprisonment in the moon, when his Sharingan resembled something like that, and he could see its barest reflected in the demon's eyes.

"Can you remember being whole?"

The demon inside the boy shook at the prospect, one which he had forgotten long ago without the memory as Kyuubi had. He could remember only fragments. A man with spiraled eyes. The most powerful demon. The largest of the shattered parts.

Shukaku roared, making to escape the boy.

Kyuubi flipped back onto one of the trees, feeling the thrum of power he hadn't had in a long time. He had found a way to break Kushina and Minato's seal, yes. But it was meant to be broken. Naruto was meant to overpower him, to use the key to unlock Kyuubi. But Kyuubi had a different agenda. He needed Naruto, needed the boy until he could have his own body back. No…not as the fox. The fox was Madara's, and he would only be placed from Naruto into the Uchiha's hands.

He needed Naruto.

For now.

But this body, even after the months of honing muscles and human tendons, of studying the body, increasing its speed and potential, strengthening its chakra coils by feeding segments of his own demonic chakra, wasn't enough for him. It would grow to be more useful, yes, but there was something that he needed the boy to do, to unlock—he was sure that Naruto could, he couldn't in his fox form, but in this human body, he was sure it could happen.

Shukaku yowled, erupting into its final form and destroying the forestry in its wake. The towering beast resembled a monstrous raccoon, screeching into the open sky and shaking the ground with its power. Kyuubi could remember the moments in which he had been free as well—if one could call being under Madara much of freedom. But his form in the fox couldn't placate him anymore… not when he remembered what it was like to have his true body back.

"Kyuubi…" It whispered lowly, with hateful reverence.

The demon fox smiled.

"Come out with me, Shukaku." He lured. "Don't you want to fight?"

The raccoon roared, angered from years of imprisonment, ready to destroy anything it could. Kyuubi remembered a familiar rage, after escaping from Kushina, only to be met with Madara—damn Uchiha. He had grown stronger from that event, realized how little freedom as the fox meant. He and Shukaku were so, so different now. The weakest of the parts, so shallow and stupid, so easy to manipulate.

"Aren't you angry?" The blonde stalked around the demon, which seemed to cry aloud in its agreement, looking like a cat stalking its prey, amused and excited. "Don't you hate them all? What they've done to you? Trapped you in that body?"

Kyuubi doubted the demon was seeing anything now besides it's rage, ready to attack anything—even the demon fox.

"Good." He smiled.

Naruto felt himself wake up to the inhuman wail coming from a monstrous demon that hadn't been there before. His eyes widened as he looked up into the wide, diamond shaped eyes of Shukaku.

"Kyuubi—what?"

He didn't have any time to say more, as the great raccoon lashed out at him, and he crashed into branches, tumbling into the dirt. He groaned. Fuck, that hurt. He thought Kyuubi was going to take care of it, but instead, he found Gaara even more demonic looking then before, not to mention about forty feet taller, and a thousand times more angrier. All the demon fox seemed to have done was rile him up.

"That's exactly what I've done."

"And now you'll—wait what?" Naruto stood up on shaky feet. Above him, Shukaku roared once more, the ground shaking at the sound.

"We've come to another block, Naruto. One which I believe you can overcome."

"And what would that be?"

"I need you to unlock something of mine…" The demon began quietly. "Which I have lost over the years. I believe you may have the ability to recover it."

"Yeah?" The blonde wiped blood from his chin. "And what's this ability you keep going on about? Why don't you have it any more?"

"That's neither here nor there." The demon answered vaguely. "If you can do this, I'll tame Shukaku for you."

Naruto blinked. "And—can you save Gaara?" The boy was a Jinchuuriki, like him. Naruto would be lying if he said he didn't see himself in those wide, lonely eyes. If Naruto hadn't had his important people, hadn't had Sasuke and Sakura, Iruka and Kakashi… would he have turned out like Gaara?

"I suppose." Was the answer, ambiguous as ever.

"Alright. What do I need to get back for you?" The blonde asked bitingly. Before pausing. "Is it like a treasure or something?"

Kyuubi chuckled. "No, nothing like that."

"Naruto…"

The blonde stilled at his name.

"If you do this for me, I promise to never harm any of your friends."

Naruto's breath hitched. "All of them? Even everyone in Konoha?"

"Yes…" The demon hissed. "Everyone in Konoha."

"Okay." Naruto narrowed his eyes in determination. "I'll do it. What do you need me to do?"

Kyuubi could have laughed at how easily everything fell into place.

"I want you to unlock the Sharingan."

d o n t l o o k a w a y

What could Kyuubi mean by that hmmm? :D Naruto is called Kitsune by his team only, Kyuubi by his team plus everyone else. The fight with Gaara is to represent the fading between Naruto and Kyuubi. There's still a line, yes. But it's blurred considerably. I didn't want to lose the manga version, but I wanted to keep my version. Ehh.

Anyway!

Pairings, anyone? Anyone? Got anything? I'm at a loss here.

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