Disclaimer: Naruto is not mine.

The Price of Freedom


             It was hot.

             Summer was back again, bringing with it fever, discomfort and sweat. The sun was unrelenting, beating down on their backs like an overzealous taskmaster.

             Even at night, no cool breeze came to give them respite. The stifling heat was unbearable. It pressed down on them from every side and even swimming didn't do anything to help.

             It was almost physical, almost tangible, so thick and cloying that it seemed like touching it was a possibility.

             It was very hot. The air was too thick to breathe, and it smelled different.

             Almost…smoky…              Smoke…



             Naruto's eyes snapped open and he automatically looked up. Where his ceiling should be was a cloud of thick grey smoke, almost filling the room. A movement caught his eye and he turned his head. His door was flickering with orange light, and black smoke was rolling from under it, carpeting his floor.

             He sat up slowly, stunned. As smoke filled his room, he stared at it dispassionately. This isn't happening. I'm just dreaming. I'll wake up any minute and have a cup of ramen and everything'll be just fine…

             //You idiot! You're going to get us both killed!//

             Naruto started. Kyuubi?

             The demon fox didn't answer him. He had already taken control of the boy's body.

              "Stupid boy." He growled. "You're already a jounin. You should know when you're in danger."

             The fox made its way to the window, red eyes glowing eerily in the shifting smoke. Taking the latch off, he gave the shutters a push. They didn't budge.

             He growled again and banged his fist against the shutters, which had absolutely no effect at all.

             Someone's sealed us in, mumbled Naruto in his mind

             //You think I don't know that?// snarled the fox. The air was really getting unbreathable. It was all too familiar.

             Naruto was stunned at the fox's depth of feeling. Ever since the day he had accepted the fox and vice versa, they had been, if not the best of pals, uncomplaining companions. Through all the years, Naruto had thought that he had taken all the surprises the fox could throw at him. But this feeling…this feeling of anger and hopeless, he had never felt before. He caught a thread of the fox's thoughts and was surprised yet again. But before he could ask the demon about it, it had already taken a running jump towards the window, curling into a ball as his body crashed through the old wood and down to the street below.

             Already, sirens were sounding in the distance and people were gathering around. Luckily, no one noticed him, as he had landed in the bushes. Flames were already licking out from his window.

             Both Naruto and the fox watched as their only home burned, all the possessions they had gathered over the course of eighteen years gone as if they were nothing.

             Now that they had the time to stare, the fire seemed strangely contained. No flames burst out from any window other than their own, and none of the people evacuating the building seemed like they had suffered a fire.

              "So, it was me they were targeting," Naruto said quietly.

             //Us.// corrected the fox. They both knew whom Naruto was referring to. He had nicknamed them 'The Kitsune and Naruto Extermination Society': the people who had been trying to kill them ever since he could walk, even though getting saddled with a demon wasn't exactly his choice.

             //Like I asked to be stuck with an idiot like you.// grumbled the fox, smirking a bit. //Let's argue later. We need a place to stay. Got any ideas?//

              Naruto suddenly felt his exhaustion catching up with him. He had had mission upon mission upon mission, hardly getting enough rest. I don't know, Foxy, he mumbled, using the nickname the fox hated. You take over for now…I'm so tired…

             The boy slumped over suddenly, leaning against a tree. The fox grumbled. Trust the kid to fall asleep at a time like this. He searched his host's mind and quickly pulled out a name. He was surprised. This was the one the kid trusted the most?

             Shrugging at the strangeness of human minds, the fox took over the body and quickly loped to a house at the other end of town, where another boy was, a person who Naruto trusted the most, who he had held in the highest regard the moment he had first met him.

             Uchiha Sasuke.