Author: Kraken's Ghost

Email: On profile.

Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto, nor am I making any money off this work. This is non-profit fanfiction.

Summary: Naruto and Kyuubi are forced to make a dangerous gamble when they're forced into a corner. Rating for violence and explicit cursing.

Chap. 1 – "What's that? BANG! CRAP! It's all over…"

"You feel it? It's here. Yes! It's here!"

"It seems it's been contained after all. I thought it was just a rumor the lower ranks were spreading. How disturbing that there are humans with that kind of power..."

"Who cares? It's here! It's contained, yes, safe now. We kill it, yes."

"Not yet."

"WHY? Why you deny this? We kill, kill, kill it, yes?"

"Yes, we will kill it. But even contained, I'd never consider the greatest youkai safe. The cultists… We'll use them to test its strength."

"Yes, maybe they kill it. I wants to kill it, but if they kill it, it can't be killing us first."

"Coward. But what did I expect? Make a pact and give them the seals. We'll watch and see how it fairs."

"YES! Kill, kill, kill it, yes I will! I go to kill you Kyuubi!"

"Leave already."


"…Ah…Kyuubi-san…How far you've fallen."

Uzumaki Naruto collapsed on his back, totally exhausted from the day's practice with his sensei, the Toad Sannin Jiraiya. He'd finally mastered a new explosive jutsu, though the exercises of the day had drained him of almost all his chakra. Now that he'd learned it, they could begin working on something new tomorrow. But for now he was content to just lay here in a weary stupor. Idly he watched his breath make faint vapor clouds in the chilly, spring air.

"Hey, Naruto! Start the fire would ya?" Jiraiya yelled from his spot on his bedroll.

"Yeah, yeah… Old pervert…" Naruto grumbled and dragged himself to his feet to fetch some firewood. A pinecone bounced of the back of his head.

"Ow! What the hell was that for?" He snarled.

"I heard that, you ungrateful brat!" Jiraiya yelled.

"It's the truth, ero-sennin!" The blond boy yelled back, sticking his tongue out.

"Stop calling me that!" The perverted hermit in question roared.

It was a good thing they weren't in any city, otherwise they might've been arrested for public misconduct (at least until Jiraiya summoned a giant toad on top of any officers dumb enough to chase him.) As it was, their bickering echoed loudly in the cool night air of the ancient pine forest they'd made camp in, with their noise only reaching the ears of the occasional startled deer. Their camping in the middle of nowhere had to do with the long term trip they were on. For the past year and a half, Jiraiya had been training Naruto nonstop in preparation for his eventual fight with Akatsuki. Akatsuki was an organization that's composed of nine S Class missing-nins and it held some of the most dangerous people on the planet within its ranks. For an unknown reason, they had become interested in Naruto some time back and had already tried once to abduct him. Well, not exactly Naruto. They were actually after the thing trapped inside of him.

Over fourteen years ago, on the day of Naruto's birth, an enormous nine-tailed fox demon attacked the Hidden Village of the Leaf. The monster outclassed the entire shinobi armed forces and was far too powerful to defeat. Their leader at the time, the Yondaime Hokage, sacrificed his life using an extremely powerful jutsu to seal the demon into a newborn child. Naruto was the lucky winner who received the creature and he spent the next twelve years of his life as an outcast in his own village, hated and seen as the demon itself rather than its living prison. Even crueler, he had no idea why the villagers all hated him until the day he stole a forbidden scroll from the Hokage and a traitor ninja told him the true story. He wasn't destined to be alone forever, though, and soon after he became a genin he found people he could call friends.

Over a year and a half ago one of his closest friends, Uchiha Sasuke, betrayed their Hidden Village in a blind pursuit of power. He and Naruto nearly killed each other during his escape, with Sasuke barely emerging the victor. He defected to Konoha's strongest enemy, the Sound Nation, to be trained by the Snake Sannin, Orochimaru. Ever since, Naruto had dedicated himself to becoming stronger not only to defend himself against the Akatsuki, but to able to protect the people important to him from any threat. He didn't want a repeat of what befell Sasuke to happen to any of his other friends. After all, Orochimaru certainly wouldn't be satisfied with only Sasuke when he had the whole Leaf to conquer. And so here he was, on a training trip in the middle of nowhere, with only a perverted hermit with debatable sanity as his company.

Despite being exhausted, Naruto managed to gather up enough firewood to last the night. Grumbling about lazy perverts, he set up the fire pit and summoned what was left of his chakra to ignite the pile of wood he laid into it. In minutes he was relaxing on his back near a cheery campfire, looking at the moon through the massive and shadowy pine trees all around them. The trees seemed like giant sentinels, lording over everything in their domain. His mind began to wander (as it tended to when he was relaxed) and he thought on his friends back home. He was really curious if they'd changed much in the year or so he'd been away.

Naruto had grown, not only in power and skill, but physically as well. He was still short, but at least he was taller than the girls of his class now. His face was leaner and his ribs didn't stick out anymore (though that was less from training and more from Jiraiya insisting he eat something other than ramen as his diet.) To his pleasure, his arms were also longer. Having a greater reach would definitely be an advantage in any fight. All in all, he had the beginnings of a large, lean frame that would be perfect for his wild combat methods. He still had a ways to go though and it seemed like it would be years before he was a respectable size. He hoped his body grew in sooner rather than later. After all, who'd respect a short Hokage? (Sandaime was short, but he'd heard the man was tall when he started as Hokage, so he didn't really think the old guy counted.)

"Hey, are you writing another of those dumb perverted books again?" Naruto asked when he glanced over and saw his sensei sitting cross-legged amongst a pile of scrolls. Jiraiya glanced up at his student and glared at him.

"For your information, no. I'm designing another scenario for you to think about," The white haired man said. Naruto mentally braced himself for the upcoming challenge.

A few weeks after they left Konoha, Jiraiya and Naruto had gotten into one hell of an argument over his training. Naruto was whining about never becoming Hokage when the Toad Hermit finally told him to shut up and listen. He gave him a situation, where Naruto was Hokage and he had a choice between allowing a couple dozen people he'd never met to die or sending one of his friends in to save them, even if it meant his friend's death. Naruto had gotten blustery and demanded to know what the hell that had to do with anything. Jiraiya had coldly replied that's what a Hokage is. A Hokage isn't a prize to be waved around, he'd continued, but a title of trust. The leader of the village has the lives of everyone in his or her hand. Did he really think he deserved such trust, the hermit had asked Naruto.

The blond genin had shut up for days after that. The swing in personality was so extreme that Jiraiya was beginning to worry he'd gone too far and crushed the boy's dream, even if he had spoken the truth. The hermit was even about to apologize when Naruto had demanded more information on the hypothetical situation. Surprised, Jiraiya had made up a bunch of stuff of the top of his head and watch his student screw his whisker-marked face up in thought. Then he grinned and said that he'd save the people in danger himself. Jiraiya had bonked him on the head and they'd continued on their trip, but from then on the Sannin made sure to include mental exercises as well physical in his training. It wasn't that hard for someone as creative as him to come up with new scenarios to play out, but it did mean he had less time to write his dirty books at night.

Oh well, sacrifices must be made if they didn't want Naruto to become a dumb Hokage ten or fifteen years down the line. He just hoped the blonde twerp understood how much he was giving up for him.

During their training, Jiraiya had analyzed Naruto's strengths and weaknesses. At times, he found Naruto capable of extreme cunning to the point of near genius. The downside was these incidents were only in combat and the boy had almost no strategic thought beyond a minute into the future. He was creative though, and the Toad Hermit encouraged him to actively use that talent with the mental exercises he made up. Naruto would probably never be able to outthink somebody in the long term, but with Jiraiya's help he wouldn't need to. If they could get his cunning and tactical thinking up high enough, then he'd at least be able to understand when someone else came up with a better strategic plan and use that to his advantage. If that Nara genius kept exercising his own mind, they'd be a perfect compliment to each as Hokage and Advisor. Well, assuming he ever got Naruto past genin.

Though to be fair, the boy advanced fast. It actually kept surprising him how fast Naruto was growing. If the boy was absolutely unable to do something, like strategic thinking, then that part of him changed rather slowly. But if it was something he excelled at, like chakra capacity, then he advanced in leaps and bounds. It was actually kind of weird. The boy advanced in different areas at different rates, but they didn't seem to be slowing down. If he could make his chakra capacity double in a month, then it would be tripled in two months, quadrupled in four and so on. He could pick up certain jutsu in days, when even a genius would take longer (and Naruto was a far cry from a genius.)

The kid just didn't seem to have a limit to what he could learn or how far he could grow. Jiraiya wasn't sure if his mind was playing tricks on him, but in his lifetime he'd only seen that from one other person before. Unfortunately, he still couldn't be certain about the boy's lineage or whether he'd inherited that Bloodline. It would be interesting if it was true, but he'd need to train the boy into at least adulthood to be absolutely sure.

"So what's the game this time, ero-sennin?" Naruto curiously asked.

"Hmm, alright, I think I've got it…" Jiraiya muttered while scratching his chin. He took a blank scroll and spread a good seven feet of it on the ground. Grabbing his brush, the hermit carefully covered the entire surface in seal script. It took several minutes to write it all down, even for a grand master of seals like himself. The hermit looked his work over and nodded before putting the brush away.

"Come over here, I got your exercise set up," Jiraiya said. Naruto staggered to his feet and wobbled around the fire to his sensei. The blonde collapsed in front of his sensei, gearing his weary mind up for the challenge.

The Toad Hermit moved the scroll between them and pressed his hands on it. The script began to glow before floating up from the paper. The chakra formed into a three-dimensional environment the same horizontal dimensions of the scroll it flowed from. As Naruto watched, the image formed into a bird's-eye view of a hilly countryside. The area was the obvious sight of a battle, judging from the craters, bodies, and general debris lying all around. Tiny figures the size of insects began to form into varying types and rank of shinobi. Jiraiya grunted, satisfied with his work and looked up to his student.

"Alright, here's the game plan. Your main force is made up of three squads of jounin, four squads of chuunin, and a couple genin here and there. You also have two medic-nins, three ANBU, and a special jounin with a powerful Bloodline Limit that can alter the density and flow of air. There's also the Hokage, you. You're cut off from supplies and reinforcements. None of the runners you've sent have returned. You don't know the power of the enemy's forces, but you know you're outnumbered two to one at least. You've got a bad feeling they're gonna attack soon. What do you do?" The perverted hermit said.

"What's the mission?" Naruto asked automatically, while staring at the map. He forgot most of his exhaustion when Jiraiya started talking. He'd never admit it to the ero-sennin, but he actually enjoyed these little puzzles, even if they did give him headaches half the time.

"No mission… Well, not an official one, anyways. You need to get out of there alive. Preferably with most of your forces intact and as many of the enemy dead or disabled as possible. You want to limit pursuit or their assassin teams'll pick your people apart before you can escape more than a mile or two," Jiraiya elaborated.

Naruto frowned and puzzled over it. He leaned to and fro, taking in every possible angle of the simulation. Damn, the old pervert knew he sucked at strategy. He was much better at thinking on the fly than this planning crap. Then it hit him. He had the perfect idea and it wasn't the special jounin's Bloodline. Jiraiya obviously threw that in there to make him focus on the Limit and not the real answer for the simulation.

Neither student nor sensei noticed a straw hat falling from a tree fifty feet away.

Two dark figures moved as flashing blur through the night air. They bounced from tree to tree, barely slowing for an instant. They made almost no sound as they moved. Their dark cloaks and straw hats with hangings obscured most of their features, except for their cold and focused eyes.

The seals the higher-ups had provided worked like a charm, even if it did take awhile for them to find the target without a sample of its blood. No matter. They had found the Kyuubi-vessel and were moving to intercept. It was quite fortunate that it had decided to leave on a training trip with one of the Sannin out into the middle of nowhere. It was risky to attempt an abduction in the middle of the Leaf, but in the backwoods of Fire Country with no one around for miles? It was the best opportunity any of them would have for a long time. There was the issue of the old pervert, but the organization was confident they knew his limits and that the two agents they'd sent could handle him.

There, up ahead. The glow of their cheery little campfire gave them away for miles. How trusting of them. The larger of the two missing-nins halted just before the campsite. His partner stopped amid the branches to his left. They watched the two shinobi as they used some sort of illusion jutsu to simulate a battle.

The man grinned slightly. So the Kyuubi-brat was getting strategy training from the Sannin, huh? The profile on the brat must've been serious when it said he was dedicated to being the next Hokage. It didn't matter now. They'd grab the little shit and the Kyuubi would be back at headquarters by this time tomorrow. The man decided to make his move and dove through the trees. Behind him, his partner allowed her hat to drop, revealing a mechanical eye and an unpleasant smirk. She too followed, mere seconds after her partner.

"Ha! I got this one ero-sennin! All I gotta do i-"

"Kill your advisors and use the rest of your guys as bait while you escape."

To their credit, despite being caught off guard neither Naruto nor Jiraiya were in the same spot before the man's first syllable ended. By the time the stranger started his second word, both student and sensei were already in fighting stances and ready to defend themselves. Both the man and his partner were more than a little surprised at the speed they moved. Expecting them to be stunned, it was disconcerting to see both the target and his guardian ready to fight at a second or two's notice.

No one said a word for several tense moments. The larger stranger again spoke, to break the silence.

"What? Not gonna demand to know who we are or why we're here?" He asked.

"I know who each of you are and exactly why you're here. I'd been led to believe Akatsuki wasn't coming after Naruto for another year. Seems I was misinformed," Jiraiya's voice was cold enough to make hardened Hunter-nins hesitate. Odd. The man prided himself on his information gathering skills and it wasn't in the profile for him to shrug off a failure in his information network.

"Yep, that would be us spreading some misinformation. You need better spies, Jiraiya-san," The Akatsuki man said. The Sannin across from him said nothing, nor did his face even flicker in response. The stranger was surprised to find it hard to keep eye contact with the white haired man.

"Yeah…We got lucky you're training so far away from anyone…Yeah," The woman (man? It was hard to tell…) spoke for the first time. Again, neither Leaf-nin said anything. Even the abnormally loud blonde remained silent. That definitely didn't fit any profile. The Kyuubi-vessel was just staring at him with icy blue eyes that came close to his sensei's glare.

"Well, I guess introductions are in order," The man said as he pulled his hat off, revealing a bald head that looked like it was carved out of granite. He bore a scratched Hidden Cloud forehead protector and there seemed to be some sort of huge sword strapped to his back. He continued, "My name is Koutetsu Tsurugi and my partner is-"

"Who gives a shit?" Naruto growled and tossed a handful of shuriken at the missing-nin to shut him up. To the criminal's surprise, the steel projectiles moved far faster than a mere genin should be capable of. Even one taught by a Sannin shouldn't be capable of this, he thought as he dodged to the side quickly. There was a split in his cloak where a shuriken had nicked it, even though he evaded the attack at considerable speed.

"I don't give a fuck who you are. Shut up and fight or leave," The blonde demon-vessel growled in a surprisingly canine way. It was unusually intimidating, even coming from a fourteen year old. This was not going the way they'd expected. Both target and guardian were far more prepared than they'd anticipated. No matter, they'd simply adapt. It still annoyed Tsurugi though, that the plan was already experiencing mishaps.

"Fine, I hope your sensei's been preparing you brat," The Akatsuki growled. He rushed at the blonde the same moment Naruto charged him. The two exchanged a quick flurry of blows before Tsurugi leapt back a few paces. The kid was good, but it wasn't enough by far. He began making hand seals and wondered for an instant why the kid wasn't doing the same.

"So it looks like I get to kill you…yeah," Jiraiya's lip curled in disgust at the arrogant smirk on the woman-man-thing's face. He/She wasn't making any real moves towards him, so he was paranoid of some sort of trick. That trick appeared right next to his face an instant later in the form of some sort of clay bird.

The explosion knocked Naruto off balance and he rolled with it rather than fighting to stay upright. Glancing up, he saw a hail of metal passing right where he had been moments ago.

'Looks like his name really is a pun. Steel, huh?'

Another seal and more metal flew towards him. Naruto really couldn't make out what the objects were, but his neck crawled with a danger sense so it was probably a good idea to get the hell out of the way. Gathering what little remained of his chakra, he did a super-jump backwards over twenty feet and landed at the base of a large pine tree. His opponent grinned and whistled at the blonde's little stunt. Naruto wasn't so pleased and had to fight to keep himself from panting hard. That had been it. He was totally out of stamina, except for the little he needed to stay alive. He couldn't even make a single clone with his favorite jutsu, Kage Bunshin. His best skill, the wind technique Rasengan, was totally out of the question. He'd have to somehow beat this guy using only tai-jutsu, which wasn't his strongest area.

"Here it comes brat!" The man yelled and drew his sword. It was as long as that shark-freak's Samehada, but the metal was smooth and dark-gray. Naruto didn't know this, but it looked just like a claymore great sword from another era…albeit, a claymore that was a foot wide. The man pointed it at the blonde, who narrowed his eyes trying to anticipate what the guy was gonna pull next. Was he so fast that he could cover thirty feet with that thing? The man made a few one-handed seals and Naruto got his answer.

"That got you…Yeah. No way you could have lived…Yeah," The androgynous Akatsuki said. The missing-nin's smirk took on a look of confusion when the dust settled. Instead of a dead body or parts of a body, there was a bizarre, white pin-cushion where the Sannin had been standing. As she watched, the spines relaxed and turned into hair, before the whole mess retracted into Jiraiya's normal hairstyle. The man hadn't changed expression through the whole scene, giving the Akatsuki agent the same icy glare as before.

"You're pretty stupid," Was all he said as he rushed him/her. Clay birds and spiders flew every which way, blasting apart the ground and trees surrounding them. It didn't escape the missing-nin's notice that none of them came close enough to do more than singe the hermit's outlandish robes. As he rushed her, Jiraiya was already gathering whirling chakra into his hand, forming a glowing blue-white sphere that vibrated with barely restrained power. He thrust his palm out at the man-woman who quickly tried to-

Ducked out of the way as an enormous sheet of metal erupted form the man's sword and shot across the camp. It passed over Naruto's head, coming close enough to nick a tuft of blonde hair off his scalp and kept going into the tree behind him. Or was that, trees? The genin spared a quick glance behind his shoulder to see that not only had the tree right behind him been sliced through and was falling over, but at least five, maybe ten more were all cut through and falling in various directions. He looked back and rolled to the side as another wing of metal impacted the ground where he had been crouched.

'Damn! He's acting pretty gung-ho for someone who wants to capture me. Why the hell is he trying to kill me?' Naruto thought.

The man performed his attacked again. Naruto dodged, but at the last moment was screwed up by the ground shaking to near earthquake levels as all the falling trees finally hit earth one after the other. It didn't screw him up too bad, but even that relatively minor error was more than enough for the attack to land a serious slash along his side. The flesh and muscle ripped deep. A loud, wet splashing made him thing for a one horrible instant that he'd actually been eviscerated, but it was just blood gushing out. Sickened from pain, he dropped to one knee and almost missed the dark, but welcome presence at the back of his mind.

"Stupid brat. Why must you always get us into these situations? You'd better appreciate this."

Dark red chakra erupted from Naruto's body. The wound at his side stopped bleeding and began to close. Oddly, his features remained unchanged. It seemed as though the Kyuubi had only given him a chakra boost, rather than the higher level body altering. No real matter. If he wasn't exhausted to begin with, he wouldn't have been stuck on the defensive the whole time. Naruto's opponent was already sending another blade at him, only now it was moving slower to the genin's eyes. With a chakra powered jump, the boy leapt up, ran across the top of the blade, and hit the ground running on the other side. In an instant, he was on top of his enemy. Though the missing-nin was now forced into close range combat, he actually seemed pleased for some reason.

'Ha! 'Bout time brat. I expected you to use it sooner, bu-'

The man's thoughts broke off as he watched Naruto form a Rasengan with one hand. It was twice as large as a normal Rasengan and was the same dark red as the swirling aura covering the boy's body. Tsurugi cursed, knowing there was hardly anyone on the planet, even in Akatsuki, who could survive a direct blow from that thing. He ran his palm along his own blade and began gathering chakra into the pooling blood. Naruto rushed him, his blue eyes seeming to glow with demonic fury. Tsurugi brought his blade to bear as an impromptu shield against the boy's jutsu, even as the chakra in his free hand molded into a dark sigil of some sort.

The Dark Rasengan slammed into the carbon-steel of the sword, immediately drilling into it. The massive blade held for an instant, then it was torn apart with a hideous metallic shrieking noise. The pieces were flung in all directions as semi-molten globs. It didn't matter to Tsurugi. The sword had done its job of interrupting the vessel's attack long enough for the missing-nin to counter. As the man swept his hand in to attack the blonde's abdomen, he was vaguely disturbed that the kid's jutsu had barely lost any form, even after shredding forty-five pounds of high-grade carbon-steel. No matter. This fight was over.

Tsurugi's hand slammed into Naruto abdomen, directly over the seal on his stomach that kept the Kyuubi imprisoned. The sigil burned right through his orange jacket and bonded with his flesh directly on top of the Yondaime's seal. Stunned, Naruto jumped back from his opponent. He was surprised to note the man do the same. Tsurugi stood there, not at all concerned about the loss of his sword. In fact, he seemed rather smug that he landed that one blow.

'What the hell is this guy waiting for?' the genin wondered.

A sudden jolt in his stomach caused Naruto to look down at the wicked looking mark on his abdomen. A queasy lurching feeling rippled through his guts.

"What the-"

"What's that? That feeling… That sigil… It looks familiar…No! A demon seal! But how? Damnation! Boy! Boy, listen to me! Let out all of my chakra! Burn it all off now! You have to do it now! Boy! Do you hear me? We're dead if you don't get rid of it!"

Naruto wasn't able to hear the demon fox's bellows over the strange roaring in his head that grew moment by moment. His body felt strange. It felt like he was being tickled, yet also like he had to puke at the same time. His limbs became heavier and he dropped to one knee without realizing it. Spasms and jerks wormed their way through the muscles all throughout his body. They were becoming more intense as the seconds past.

"Wha-" Naruto's voice clogged up. Dammit, he couldn't even talk! What the hell did that guy do to him?

"Heh, lemme guess. You're wondering what that thing was, right?" Tsurugi asked, his arms crossed over his chest and wearing a smug expression. Naruto could only glare as his jaw began clenching tighter and tighter against his will. "No worries, brat. You'll find out soon enough."

The spasms were growing. They were starting to hurt. They were starting to hurt a LOT. Confused and unable to move, Naruto could only kneel helplessly as his arms and legs began twitching violently. Even his neck was jerking a bit. Damn, if only the fox could help him. Obviously it couldn't or he wouldn't be sitting here like this in the dirt.

The spasms stopped. Before Naruto could feel relief, fire seemed to spread through his veins. It felt like someone had mixed vinegar and baking soda inside his body (one of the few science facts Naruto knew, which he'd learned for its messy prank potential.) Right now, it felt like his blood was foaming and bubbling and trying to boil its way right out his skin. The pressure in his veins was growing. His muscles were swelling like overfilled balloons all over his body. It was growing too much. His body couldn't take it. What the hell was happening to him!

"Heh, any minute now, brat, any minute and you-"

With a wet, ripping sound the larger muscles in Naruto's arms, his upper legs, his torso, and his back exploded as fiery, chaotic chakra tore its way out of his body. Blood splattered everywhere on the ground as the energy flew outwards. The greenish-gray chakra ripped up the ground all around him as it twisted and coiled on itself. The boy felt a single moment of horrifying agony and then he was down, still as death. The Akatsuki stared at the target, dumbstruck at the sight. The chakra continued to flow from the boy in torrents for several moments before it died down. A pool of blood started to spread under the brat. The missing-nin couldn't believe that the seal had done this to the vessel. He was about to go and see if he could keep the target alive when the earth shuddered underneath him.

The bizarre chakra had caught both Jiraiya and his opponent off guard. The Sannin had taken one look at Naruto's body and lost his temper.

"You two just made a huge mistake," The hermit growled at the woman-thing, who couldn't muster up the usual smirk do to the target's state. Jiraiya merely bit his thumb and smeared it on his hand before slamming it into the ground. "Kuchiyose no jutsu! (Summoning Skill)"

The androgynous Akatsuki only had a chance to see an enormous cloud of ninja smoke, before a gigantic webbed foot flew out of it and landed on her. Jiraiya ignored the sickening crunch as Gamabunta landed directly on top of his opponent. As far as he was concerned, that was simply one down, one to go. He turned and gave the male attacker a look of unrestrained fury.

"Shit!" Tsurugi snarled as he jumped back to the tree line. This was not how the mission was supposed to go. They let their egos get in the way when they made the deal for the seals and blindly assumed that their 'benefactors' were actually helping them. The missing-nin looked from the bloodied boy to the Sannin and his toad. He had to suppress a shudder at the look of raw fury in the hermit's eyes. Even on his best day, Tsurugi would have a hard time beating any of the Three Legendaries (assuming he even could.) Gamabunta rarely listened to Jiraiya, but when they did work together they were nigh unbeatable except by Orochimaru and his snake or possibly Itachi-san.

'Hmm, I shouldn't fight. Besides, we can't risk the target's life any further I guess we'll have to-' Tsurugi noticed for the first time that his partner was absent. His eyes traced past Jiraiya and noticed part of an Akatsuki cloak sticking out from underneath Gamabunta's foot. Even as he caught sight of it, the toad lifted his paw up and wiped what was left of the missing-nin off on a couple trees nearby, muttering about stepping in something nasty.

Time to retreat.

Jiraiya watched the man chuck a hasty smoke bomb and run before it had even exploded. He waited till the man's panicked chakra faded into the distance, before diving towards his student.

"Naruto? Naruto, are you- Oh, Kami-sama…" The Sannin trailed off, feeling a cold, sick spot growing in his stomach. The boy was shredded. He looked like somebody had gone gung-ho with a blender all over his body. He was lying in a pool of his own blood that was still growing. His blond hair looked neon compared to his ashy-blue skin.

'He's dead,' Jiraiya thought. He couldn't help but stare for a moment longer, until Gamabunta's voice jolted him out of his stupor.

"JIRAIYA! Why did you summon me! We're in the middle of nowhere and I stepped in something nasty. What's going on?" The toad bellowed, taking a drag off his enormous pipe.

Jiraiya didn't answer immediately. Instead he was praying to every god and deity in existence as he leaned his face over Naruto's mouth. A moment later and he was thanking them all as he felt the faintest breath against the whiskers on his face. Thank the Kami he hadn't been able to shave for the past few days. The hermit ripped off one of the sashes on his outfit and tore it into hunks. He was going to give Tsunade a huge kiss and a giant tub of sake when he got back to thank her for all those times when they were young and she'd insisted that she teach at least him basic first aid. He was never going to tease her about her medical skills again.

"Who's that you got there, Jiraiya? They look pretty mangled," Gamabunta said as he leaned his huge, scarred face down to look at what appeared to be a pile of raw meat with blond hair on top of it. Jiraiya took the chunks of cloth and formed tourniquets at the top of Naruto's arms and legs. If he lived, hopefully the fox could repair any damage to his limbs. It wasn't like they were getting much circulation anyways, the hermit grimly noted. When he caught up to the man that did this to his student…

"It's Naruto," The Sannin distantly said as he ripped open the boy's shredded jacket. He cursed and fought the urge to lose his dinner. The boy's muscles were destroyed. There was no other word for the scale of damage done to his body (though 'shredded', 'pureed', 'torn to ribbons from the inside out', all came to his mind.) There was a huge breeze as Gamabunta reacted to the sight of his youngest summoner with a sharp intake of breath.

"Kami, Jiraiya… Is he going to survive?" The Boss Toad asked, an unusual note of worry in his deep, bellowing voice.

"I have no idea," The hermit answered as he shoved a blood stopping pill or three into the boy's mouth. Seeing the bleeding slow down to a dripping pace rather than a steady flow, he reached into his pouch for a soldier pill. He was just about to force that into the boy's mouth when his eyes glanced down at the mark covering Naruto's abdomen. He jerked the pill away like his hand had been burned.

"What is it?" Gamabunta asked.

"I don't know. There's some sort of seal messing up the Yondaime's. Something's screwing his chakra up," He would have to hold off giving the boy any chakra supplements until he had the Godaime check him out.

"Boss Toad, I need to get the boy back to Konoha! Only Tsunade can help him!" Jiraiya yelled as he took off his outer robes and wrapped them firmly around Naruto. He lifted the boy into his arms and leapt atop the giant frog. The boy seemed much lighter than usual.

"Alright, but I'm only doing this for the kid. Hang on!" Gamabunta roared as he jumped over a quarter a mile in the Hidden Leaf's general direction. Jiraiya channeled his chakra into his feet to stick to the toad's skin. Carefully, he swayed and moved in time with the toad's leaps, knowing sudden movements would only worsen his student's condition. It couldn't be helped though. Speed was more important than being careful.

Jiraiya could only pray that Tsunade could save the boy. He couldn't handle losing another student before their life even started.

Unseen to any of them, the dark cloaked figure of Tsurugi had doubled back to the camp ground in time to see the massive outline of the toad disappearing over the starlit horizon.

"Shit, this plan is totally screwed," The large man grumbled as he walked over to the bloody ground where the target had lain. He withdrew a kunai and wiped the flat of the blade along the stained dirt. Standing up again, he wrapped the blade in a cloth before tucking it away.

Without another moment's hesitation, the man jumped into the trees and raced along, following the toad's general route. It wasn't exactly hard to track them with the earthquakes Gamabunta was making. He'd get a general idea of where they were going before reporting in. Not once did he glance to his partner's final resting spot on the side of several pine trees. There's no love lost between Akatsuki agents.

'Hopefully the higher ups will come up with a better plan next time,' Tsurugi grimly thought as he raced through the dark.

Dawn was just breaking over the peaceful Hidden Village of Leaf. The early pink and gray light made a beautiful contrast when seen through the many trees that grew throughout the village. The sun's earliest rays were just creeping across the Hokage Monument, where five faces carved into the cliff-side stared out over the Leaf. Many residents who were up at this time often took a moment to just stare at the beauty of their home.

Yamanaka Ino was not one of those people.

Ino hadn't changed much since Sasuke's defection. She was a bit taller now and she had more meat on her. She had allowed her blonde hair to grow long again, though not to impress anyone this time. She still wore her purple combat dress and bandages. Her face was a little sharper, as some of her baby fat had faded away. She was also becoming healthy in certain areas as well. She was on her way to becoming a very voluptuous woman. That fact mattered little to her though, as there was nobody in the village that she wanted staring at her curves.

The blonde girl slowly stumbled down the stairs of her home into the back room of the first floor flower shop. She didn't have any missions with Asuma-sensei today, so her parents had told her to open the shop this morning. Ino hated getting up early. Her mood was made worse since she hadn't slept very well last night. She kept smelling blood in her dream and felt like her legs were off balance the whole time. It had been pretty weird.

Yawning, the genin grabbed a watering can and stuck it in one of the large tubs in the back of the shop. As she watched the water slowly fill up the can, the pretty blonde wondered at her dream. She rarely dreamt much and when she did it was almost always something bad. Her family's main jutsu worked on the principle of invading someone else's mind. She had often wondered if her family sometimes had premonitions as a side effect of opening up the mind like that. She always thought to ask her father about it whenever she had the odd dreams, but she also seemed to forget every time before she could talk to him about it.

'Maybe I'll remember today,' Ino thought, too tired to actually speak out loud. She reached over to turn the faucet off and lug the full can out of the tub. A sudden tremor stopped her. She blinked, looked around, and shrugged before reaching for the can again. A greater tremor stopped her hand again. The genin stared as yet another vibration rippled past. This one was great enough to actually form ripples across the water in the can. Slowly, she walked over to the back door and looked out the small window in it. A rumble strong enough to rattle the glass shook the shop. With some apprehension, the blonde reached out and opened the door to look outside.

Her jaw dropped. That was a BIG frog.

The massive red toad had just hopped over the outer walls and was looking for a clear spot to jump to deeper in the village. Even as Ino watched, it seemed to find one and took a massive leap into the air. Ino watched at it landed about half a mile away from her home. The rumble felt like an earthquake and her legs wobbled under her as she grabbed the door frame to keep her balance. A flash of deja-vu hit her. This was the weird feeling she had in her dreams all last night. Then where was the smell of blood?

Too late, Ino realized that not only had the tremors stopped, but the toad was in mid-flight again. The massive frog hit the ground two streets from her house. The ground seemed to turn to jelly as she was knocked onto her butt. Rubbing her shapely posterior, the blonde stared up at the frog in awe. She had been unconscious during the Sound invasion and hadn't seen any of the snake summons that had attacked their city, so it was a definite first for her as she watched the giant toad.

There seemed to be an odd looking man riding on top of it. His white haired flashed in the morning sunlight and Ino could just barely make out the odd red lines on his face. He was holding a bundle of cloth that was covered in blotchy red marks. A spiky mess of yellow and red…Straw? No…Hair. Yellow and red hair stuck out of the bundle. Something about the man and his cargo seemed familiar to Ino. Why did giant toads, a white haired man, and spiky blonde hair ring such a loud bell in her head?

All in an instant it hit her. Flashes and snippets of conversation between her and her friend/rival Haruno Sakura floated past her. Learning that each genin of Team 7 was being taught by a Sannin. Hearing from Sakura that her teammate Naruto had left with the Toad Hermit Jiraiya on a training mission. Feeling jealously that the blond idiot had such a powerful sensei, while her own spend more time playing games with her lazy teammate, Shikamaru. Naruto's grinning face as he kicked the crap out of Kiba and, later on, Neji. His blonde, spiky hair shining in the bright light. Spiky…Blonde…


With a sudden queasy feeling, Ino realized who was in that bundle and just what those red stains were. The whole time it had taken her to come to that conclusion had only been a couple seconds. Gamabunta (she now recognized the pipe and sword from the history books at the academy) was just starting his next jump. Without really thinking, Ino was jumping up and running in the direction of the hospital, knowing that was the toad's destination. She didn't even pause to close the door behind her. She looked up as the massive toad leapt over her head and further into the village. She wasn't even sure why she was doing this, but that didn't slow her run in the least. One of the Rookie 9 was in trouble and she was going to make sure he was alright.

At least, she was pretty sure that was the reason.

The Fifth Hokage, the Slug Hermit Tsunade, would have agreed with Ino that mornings were evil incarnate. She had managed to get totally drunk last night and, as Shizune had warned her, she was now paying for it. She slouched at the desk of her office and glared at the paperwork that refused to go away. It was morning, she had a hangover, and now she had a treaty with a minor feudal lord to negotiate on top of it all. What else could go wrong?

"Hokage-sama!" An ANBU yelled as he burst through the door.

Tsunade's eye twitched as the noise reverberated in her skull.

"Yes?" She managed to hiss out between gritted teeth. The ANBU ignored the tone that had made stronger men than him flinch away in terror.

"Hokage-sama, Jiraiya-sama has returned."

"So soon?" Tsunade asked, some apprehension growing in her voice. Her old teammate had said he wasn't going to return for another year or so. If he was back now…

"He came in riding on Gamabunta-sama just five minutes ago. He told me to get you. Hokage-sama…His student is wounded," The ANBU finished carefully, knowing the Godaime's relationship with the Uzumaki brat.

"What!" Tsunade tried to yell, but it came out as more of a strangled gasp. Her hangover was forgotten in a rush of adrenaline. "How badly?"

"Hokage-sama…He's critical. Jiraiya had to restart his heart once on the way back to the village. Shizune-san is trying to treat him now, but sh-," The ANBU was cut off as Tsunade left. She didn't leave through the door though. The Hokage had turned and simply smashed through the window as she leapt to the streets below. The ANBU rushed to the empty window, along with the guards who had came in at the loud crashing noise. One of them let out an impressed whistle as they watched their leader blur across the rooftops to the hospital.

"Damn…I'm never getting between her and that kid. Ever," The man said in awe.

The other two ANBU could only nod in reply.

Shizune worked desperately to save her young friend's life. She had cut away his clothes to see the injuries underneath. Naruto's gaudy orange outfit now lay in a pile of red strips next to her. Behind her, Jiraiya hovered well out of the way, but ready to assist if he could. He was present mostly to see if there was anything he could do about that seal on the boy. As long as it was on him, the fox wouldn't be able to heal Naruto. The hermit had figured that out on the way back when he realized his student wasn't healing right. The genin had given him a terrible scare when his breathing had suddenly stopped ten miles out from the village. Performing CPR on his student while on top of a gigantic, anxious toad was not a pleasant memory to the man.

It did seem like the fox was able to at least slow the boy's bleeding and to force him to produce more blood. Naruto had lost more blood than there was in the bodies of two full grown men over the course of the trip. Jiraiya was covered in it up and down his front and Gamabunta's forehead had been a darker stain of red before he'd disappeared. The Toad Hermit only hoped Tsunade had totally gotten over her blood fear. He was worried about developing a phobia to the stuff himself.

He'd watched as Shizune gently laid the boy out in the center of the large room. They were in the largest healing room in the building. The room itself was fifty by fifty feet in size and the entire floor was covered in extremely complex seals and rune script. It was probably the largest and most complicated set of seals Jiraiya had ever seen. Naruto lay in the center of it all. His deathly pale face contrasted sharply with the seals lying all around him. Shizune was trying her strongest healing jutsu on the boy's chest, trying to repair his most vital areas. Jiraiya worried that the seal might interfere even with that, but he didn't have the power alone to break the damn thing. He'd have to let Shizune do her best to heal the boy until Tsu-

The doors of the room burst open with enough force to drive them into the walls where the hinges had swung them.

'Speak of the devil,' Jiraiya thought in relief. For the first time in hours, he felt that Naruto might actually have a chance at survival.

Tsunade hadn't even paused as she rushed into the room, several medic-nins trailing behind her. Shizune's back was to her and she couldn't truly see Naruto from this angle. She crossed over and walked around her student, ignoring Jiraiya's warning. She dropped her medical bag (which she had swiped from a passing nurse earlier.)

Naruto was…shredded. His whole body had rips and tears along it, like some wild animal had done its best to make him into ground meat. She could even see bone exposed in some places. And the blood…

The beginnings of the old fear began to well up in the Sannin. In her mind's eye she saw Nawaki and Dan's faces floating past her in a sea of red. Now Naruto's face was joining them. Another of her loved ones dying…

Shizune's frustrated tears snapped her out of it. Tsunade shook her head a bit and looked to her student's progress. It wasn't much. No matter how hard she was trying, her apprentice couldn't get Naruto's flesh to mend for more than a second before it reopened. The Godaime kneeled down and, needing her considerable strength, pulled Shizune's hands away from the boy. The young medic-nin gasped at the sight of her mentor, not even noticing her loud entrance in her concentration.

"I'm sorry, Tsunade-sama! Nothing I do is working! Something seems to be blocking any jutsu I try," The dark haired woman said, almost hysterical at the lack of progress. Now that Shizune was leaning back, the Hokage could actually see the extent of Naruto's injuries. A chill ran through her as she realized the boy should've been dead minutes after he was wounded. Something seemed to be forcing his blood production into overdrive to keep up with the constant loss.

"Must be Kyuubi…" Tsunade muttered, channeling chakra into her hands and using a diagnostic jutsu. Sweeping her hands across the boy's body, she realized why Shizune was so damn upset. Something was blocking her jutsu and disrupting the chakra as it entered Naruto's body. Her eyes drifted past the red-black wound on his chest and to his surprisingly uninjured abdomen. She wasn't exactly sure what she was seeing, but she knew that the Kyuubi's seal shouldn't look like that. There was a glowing red seal surrounding it and worming its way through the original like a parasitic worm. The chakra in her hand disrupted further the lower she moved her hand until her entire jutsu dispelled as she passed over the seal.

Tsunade stared at it in shock. If that thing disrupted chakra so badly that it messed up jutsu for other people, what the hell was it doing to Naruto's body on the inside? She made a couple quick conclusions as she stared at the script.

"Somebody get Jiraiya!" She bellowed to the medic-nins that were staring at the boy.

"I'm right here, Tsunade-hime, no need to yell," The hermit grumbled as he stepped forward.

"Why the hell did you leave this thing on him?" The Sannin yelled.

"Because I wanted you to look him over first before I tried anything. You're the medic, not me," Jiraiya replied with a calm he didn't feel.

"Then get your bleeding ass over here and help me break this seal!" The Hokage roared at the top of her lungs. Everyone in the room jumped, except the person she was yelling at. Her old teammate walked up and bit his thumb, while pulling a small brush from his pocket. Tsunade grabbed a sponge from her bag and began to clean away the blood on Naruto's abdomen.

"Did you try blood stopping pills?" She asked Shizune in a terse voice (though far gentler than the one she used with Jiraiya.) Her apprentice shook her head.

"No. Jiraiya-sama said he's already given him six on the way here. I didn't want to risk blood clots since he's not healing right. If one should lodge in his brain…" Shizune trailed off, not needed to finish her statement. She scooted back so Jiraiya had enough room to start making seals surrounding the sigil on the boy's stomach. Tsunade gave a worried glance to her old teammate.

"Six?" She asked in disbelief. The Toad Hermit only nodded shortly.

The Godaime shook her head and said to Shizune, "Get some sutures, clamps, and any sort of advanced healing solution you can find. We need to stop the bleeding as soon as possible."

Her apprentice nodded and rushed out of the room.

"You know…To break this thing, it's gonna drain all of our chakra. You won't have enough energy left for healing jutsu afterwards," Jiraiya commented casually as he wrote.

"I know, but that thing is screwing up his inner coils somehow and keeping the fox from healing him. I think it caused the Kyuubi's chakra and Naruto's own to react violently to each other. If we can't use jutsu, then we'll stitch him up manually until the fox can heal him," Tsunade said. She used a scalpel to make a cut in her own finger and began to ink out seals of her own onto the boy.

Jiraiya nodded. His old teammate's analysis of the seal just supported his own conclusions. Orochimaru would be salivating if he knew these things existed. Shrugging off thoughts of his old rival, the Sannin bent down and continued his work.

Ino carefully stepped over the broken glass of the Konoha General's automatic doors. It looked like a rampaging bull had busted in here just a couple minutes ahead of her. The hospital lobby hadn't changed much since the last time she had been here, except for the breezy new entrance. A couple janitors passed by her as she walked up to the receptionist. Their faces looked horrified at the destruction. Another set of doors lay on the ground further past the information desk. From her previous visits, Ino knew the hall behind those doors led into the advanced healing rooms. She had been there once before when Chouji had been heavily injured during Sasuke's defection. From what she could see, the destruction continued down there with harried medic-nins and nurses running all over the place. She sighed as she stepped up to the receptionist.

You could always tell when Naruto was in town…

Ino spent a couple minutes futilely trying to get the woman's attention. Since the receptionist was currently arguing with several visitors over the safety standards of the hospital, it was probably going to be awhile. The blonde genin gave up and walked past the desk to where several people were only now picking up the demolished doors to the inner hallways. Inching her way past the workers and panicked doctors running amuck, Ino made her way down the hall at a much slower pace than her panicked run to get here.

It had taken her a good fifteen minutes or so to reach the hospital. The toad had been long gone by the time she got there, though it left several enormous footprints in front of the medical building. As she meandered through the hallways (occasionally pressing herself against the wall to dodge medics rushing back and forth) she found that following the trail of chaos was much easier than actually trying to remember where the treatment rooms were. Maybe Jiraiya-sama had been a little panicked on his way in? It didn't take long for her to find the ward she suspected Naruto was in, but she was stopped at an ANBU checkpoint at the beginning of the wing by a couple guards.

"Sorry, but no one under Jounin rank is allowed through here," One of them said.

Glaring at the man's bird mask, Ino demanded, "Why not! It's not like the Hokage is here or anything!"

Both ANBU sweat-dropped. It was hard to believe there was anyone in Konoha who didn't recognize Tsunade's signature destruction. Then again, this girl just might be lucky. Both the guards felt a bit of envy at the thought of being ignorant to the Godaime's temper.

"Actually, Hokage-sama is back there right now. She's treating Jiraiya-sama's student, the Uzumaki boy," The other ANBU (who wore an elephant mask) replied.

"Uzumaki…? Oh, you mean Naruto!" Ino exclaimed, not really that familiar with Naruto's surname as it wasn't part of any well known clan. "He's really here then? I have to see him! We took the chuunin exams together a couple years ago."

The ANBU in the bird mask shook his head.

"Like I said, we can't let anyone back."

"But…Please! He's a friend of mine! I just want to see if he's alright!" Ino pleaded. She was fibbing a little on the friend part. Not that she and Naruto were enemies or anything, though she was still a little sore that his encouragement had helped Sakura fight her to a draw in the exams and kept her from going to the finals. He was still a comrade, even if he wasn't a close one. The Rookie 9 from that year and Team Gai tended to watch out for each other, even if it was at a distance. Even the colder types like Neji and Shino would back up one of their own, even if they didn't act like they were concerned. Ino was no different. She had to at least make sure their comrade was going to be okay.

"Look, we really are sorry," The elephant mask began, "But we can't just let anyone come wandering back. The kid is busted up really bad and the Hokage needs to work uninterrupted. We're not even allowed to let lower ranked medic-nins back."

Ino felt her hopes drop. Dammit, the man had a point. But now she was even more worried. Was Naruto really injured so badly that the best medic on the continent had to work totally undisturbed?

"Can you at least check and see how he's doing?" The blonde girl asked.

"We can't leave our posts," The bird mask replied, a hint of sympathy coming into his voice. ANBU knew more than anyone else what it was like to have severely injured comrades. Their missions were the deadliest, after all.

"Ahhh! Isn't there anyway I can get back there!" Ino yelled in frustration.

"Well…" Elephant started, scratching the chin of his mask in thought. "If you had someone of sufficient rank accompany you… maybe…"

"Do I count?" A deep, lazy voice asked.

Ino whirled around as both ANBU stood up even straighter.

"Kakashi-san!" The guards said in a stereo effect.

Ino narrowed her eyes at the tall man in front of her. Yes… She remembered him. He was at the chuunin preliminaries. He'd been one of the jounin-sensei that stopped Neji from killing Hinata. Later he'd held Naruto back from chasing after Lee when the genin was wounded by that Sand-freak. She also remembered him at the finals, when he and Sasuke had arrived late. Taking in the masked man's lean and muscular form, she wondered if he was here to see Naruto too.

Hatake Kakashi observed the three ninjas in front of him with his single visible eye. He'd been at the memorial, staring at Obito-san's name, when he felt the ever increasing earthquakes. He'd recognized Gamabunta immediately, having seen his sensei, the Yondaime, summon him on multiple occasions. The silver-haired man had watched the giant frog cross the village until it stopped at the medical complex. Moments later, it had dispelled in a cloud of smoke.

Kakashi wasn't called a genius for nothing and reading 'underneath the underneath' he'd come to the conclusion that either Jiraiya or Naruto was severely injured for the Boss Toad to come riding in to town in such a fashion. Knowing the mysterious Akatsuki organization was after Naruto, he'd concluded that it was far more likely his former subordinate needed medical attention, than the infamous Jiraiya. Wanting to check up on him and to see his student after so long, the jounin had headed off at a good clip to the hospital. On the way, he'd been easily passed by a frantic looking Tsunade. That caused made him more worried than anything else.

"So…" The copy-ninja drawled, his semi-fake lazy attitude showing. "Gonna let us through?"

"Of course, Kakashi-san," The bird mask replied. "Will you be taking the girl with you?"

Kakashi gave Ino a glance. It was pretty odd that the Yamanaka girl was here. Last he knew, she hadn't spoken more than a couple sentences to Naruto the entire time he'd lived in Konoha. If it was Sasuke, he'd understand, but Naruto? Oh well… If she wanted to tag along, that was fine by him. Besides, it looked like she might resort to using volume as the weapon of chose and every member of Team 10 turned pale at the thought of Ino's vicious tongue. Asuma-san told horror stories of his student's antics.

"Sure," The jounin said, in an easy going way. "Why not? I'm sure Naruto'll appreciate visitors."

The ANBU nodded and moved aside to let them through. They immediately jumped back into position to block a harried looking chuunin who was carrying a message to the Hokage from the Fire Council about property damage costs.

The genin and jounin walked along the hall in silence for a minute or so before Ino turned to Kakashi.

"Thanks. They wouldn't even tell me how he was doing," The blonde said.

Kakashi looked down at her and gave her his trademark half-circle eye smiles.

"No problem," He said, with a nearly visible heart floating above his head. "I'm worried about the goofball too."

Ino gave him a grateful smile. The two walked the rest of the way in companionable silence. It wasn't very hard to spot the room Naruto was in. There was a large hole in the wall where two double doors used to be. Ino wondered a moment at all the demolished doors she'd seen today before she stepped up to the doorway.

She wasn't exactly sure what she was seeing at first. It was a large room, with seals covering the entire floor. That much she got. It was the strange object lying in the center of the room that she didn't quite grasp. It looked like a pile of shredded meat. What confused her was the blonde straw at the end of it. It looked like someone had shaped some raw beef into a vaguely human form and put a blonde wig on top of it.


Ino must have made some sort of sound, but she wasn't aware of it. She couldn't tear her eyes away from the mea- …the person on the floor. She wasn't aware of the other people in the room… Only the person lying there. A dead person. There was no way anyone could look like that and be alive, not even a shinobi. The scent of blood filled her nostrils.

Ino barely felt it when long arms wrapped themselves around her mouth and waist and pulled her from the doorway. She didn't know it, but Kakashi was doing the same thing to her that he had done to his blonde student at the chuunin preliminaries when Lee was hurt. The genin wasn't aware of the jounin leading her to the bench built into the wall beside the room and gently forcing her to sit on it. It was only when he snapped his fingers in front of her eyes that she finally focused on him.

"Ino-san? You all there?" He quietly asked. She idly noted that he had to squat to be anywhere near eye level with her sitting.

"Naruto… That was Naruto…" She choked out. The silver-haired man nodded.

"I'm going to go help them, Ino-san. Both Jiraiya-sama and the Hokage are running low on chakra and they might need someone to fill in. Are you going to be alright here?" Kakashi asked. It wasn't very fair to leave the girl alone, but at the same time he needed to help his former student. The two Sannin in the room were burning through most of their chakra trying to break some sort of seal on the boy and they would probably need another person with high chakra levels to assist them. And as cold as it sounded, Ino was ninja. She'd have to learn how to deal with the gruesome side of being a shinobi sooner or later. If she couldn't take seeing a comrade mangled in a hospital, then she'd probably wind up making a fatal mistake on a mission if she saw the same thing in the field.

Those who don't care about their comrades are worse then trash.

'Hai, Obito-san. I know I'm being hypocritical, but I can't watch her until I'm sure I'm not needed to help Naruto,' Kakashi thought as memories of his best friend floated through his mind.

"Help…? Yeah… Yeah. Yes! Go! Go help him!" Ino said, snapping out of her stupor long enough to shove the copy-nin's shoulder towards the door. She barely made the tall man wobble even in an off balanced squat, but her message got through. Kakashi gave her one last eye smile before he hurried through the doors.

'Tough girl,' He thought as he caught Shizune's eye.

Ino stared after the copy-nin for a few seconds.

'Don't worry,' She told herself. 'Naruto has two Sannin, a medic team, and the Copy-Ninja looking after him. He'll be alright.'


Naruto was a pile of ground up meat lying on the cold floor looking like he was on a butcher's block.

The thought hadn't yet fully sunk in before Ino was rushing to the restroom just around the corner. Her last coherent thought before she emptied her stomach in one of the stalls was that she would probably never be able to watch Chouji devour steaks again.

It had been almost ten minutes and the damn seal still wasn't breaking, even with two Sannin channeling their chakra into the blasted thing. Jiraiya had no idea what that sigil was or who created it, but he was cursing its existence with every fiber of his soul. Both he and Tsunade had chakra swirling around them, making a windy roar in the room, and were channeling the energy into the string of seals that led up to the genin. At least Shizune was able to get in there and start suturing the worst of the boy's injuries together. The bleeding had noticeably slowed, at least in the chest area, but if that seal wouldn't break the fox would never be able to heal his student.

'And if the demon can't do its thing, Naruto will die,' The Sannin thought grimly. If they only had someone with high chakra… Shizune was skilled, but like most medics she had far more control than reserves when it came to chakra. None of the medics in the building had the kind of power needed. They didn't need a Kage level shinobi, but a very strong individual was still required nonetheless. Not for the first, nor the last time, Jiraiya lamented the Yondaime's death. This seal would be child's play if they had his power backing them.

'If only Arashi-kun was alive… Or even-'

Hatake Kakashi walked in the doorway. His visible eye had an unusual tenseness to it as he looked at his former student. Without a word, he pulled his forehead protector up, exposing his Sharingan enhanced left eye, and walked towards Shizune to see what he could do.

At that moment, Jiraiya felt like yanking the jounin's mask down and kissing him till his mismatched eyes crossed.

"Kakashi-kun!" The Toad Hermit yelled over the noise of the chakra, "We could use a hand if you got one!"

"Where do you need me?" The Copy-Ninja replied.

"Grab a brush and start inking a line of seals with your blood out from Naruto's chest!" Tsunade ordered, sweat running down her eyes from the strain she was under.

Kakashi took a few moments to eye the setup with his Sharingan. He was standing just in front of Shizune, which was towards the entrance of the room. To his left, Jiraiya was crouching at the edge of the room, his hands planted on the floor. A thin line of glowing seals made their way across the floor and its permanent black seals, to Naruto where they circled the red sigil that intertwined with the Kyuubi seal. To his right, another line of seals led to Tsunade, who was mirroring her fellow Sannin. Kakashi closed his normal eye and focused on the chakra radiating from the script.

The seal set was advanced, but linear. Both Jiraiya and Tsunade were using the same seals, even if they were at different positions to the boy. If they were using the same seals, then he could make an identical set and join right in. Kakashi was no seal expert, especially compared to a Sannin, but he had enough skill to use these without risking further harm to the boy.

"Got it," The jounin said as his Sharingan finished recording the seal order. He reached into Shizune's open medical bag lying beside her and pilfered one of her thin brushes. He carefully stepped past the woman and knelt across Naruto from her. He nicked his finger with a kunai and began to carefully ink out seals on the boy's stomach.

Shizune didn't even notice him as she carefully finished closing off a severed vein in the genin's upper shoulder.

It took several tense minutes to ink out the entire line of seals. Finally, Kakashi discarded the brush and gathered chakra into his hands before slamming the palms onto the marks he'd just made. The kanji glowed blue leading up the boy and the energy joined the Sannins' in combating the dark sigil.

At first the fresh chakra didn't seem to do anything, but after a couple moments there was a noticeable change in the strange seal. Jiraiya grinned viciously as he felt the sigil give. It was like poking a finger through thick Styrofoam. Even with three powerful ninja focusing their chakra into it, the sigil still resisted several minutes before it cracked completely.

Shizune paused as she watched the glowing red seal dim to black before breaking apart and fading from the boy's skin. As she watched, the Kyuubi seal slowly reformed into its normal state. She laid her suture and needle down and tried a diagnostic jutsu on the boy. The chakra worked like a charm.

"Tsunade-sama! The jutsu are working now!" Shizune called to her mentor. Her voice felt louder than usual, now that the noise from the chakra winds had died down. The Hokage got to her feet and staggered over to Naruto.

"Let me see…" She said as she performed the same technique as her student. Her eyes closed in concentration, but they snapped open in surprise.

"Dammit to hell…" Tsunade muttered. Sensing two presences hovering behind her, she turned to look over her shoulder.

"Hatake-san, if you had come ten minutes later, Naruto would have died. Thank you… And I don't mean that just as the Hokage," The Sannin said. Kakashi gave a nonchalant shrug.

"Glad I showed up on time for once," He calmly replied. Tsunade noticed that he didn't cover the Sharingan. In fact, he was watching both her and Shizune's hand motions very carefully with it.

"How is he? How bad is it?" Jiraiya asked.

Tsunade sighed and motioned to Shizune to keep stitching the boy. She turned to look at the two men.

"Whatever made that seal knew just how to kill a demon-vessel in one strike. The Yondaime's seal allows the Kyuubi's chakra to mix freely with Naruto's, with the only limit being how much the fox is willing to give up or how much Naruto's body can handle. This mixing of human and demon chakra isn't harmful in anyway to him, even without the seal in place. The seal just acts as a one-way floodgate and the two chakras merge naturally in his inner coils."

Tsunade turned back and began perform a delicate healing jutsu. She trailed the glowing energy over the areas that Shizune had stitched up. The boy's torn flesh began to sluggishly mold back together, though not as much as it should have.

"That thing though… I don't know what it is or does exactly, but I do know what it did to Naruto."

"It mangled his chakra somehow, right?" Jiraiya asked, while crossing his arms in thought. Kakashi continued to watch both the stitching and healing jutsu with undeterred focus.

"Much worse than just that," Tsunade said. "The new seal warped the original seal to cause the demonic charka to react violently with the human chakra. It was like mixing potassium with water."

Shizune looked up from her work with a shocked look on her face. She was the only one with enough real chemistry knowledge to know what that meant. She grimaced and returned to her work. Naruto's bleeding had slowed enough that the tourniquets could be removed. Looking at the blue-white flesh of his arms and legs, the medic-nin prayed that the Kyuubi would be able to restored function to the boy's limbs. A shinobi would rather die than lose the use of their arms and legs…

"Basically, it caused the chakra to explosively tear out of him. The damage to his muscle groups came from the inside of his body outwards, destroying them almost completely," Tsunade continued as she traced a line of stitches along Naruto's collarbone. "Not only did the chakra destroy his muscles, but it also screwed up his inner coils and acted as a scrambler for any incoming chakra. That's why our healing jutsu had no effect when we first brought him in."

"I wonder why the hell those bastards used it on him…" Jiraiya muttered. Kakashi's ears perked up.

"Who did this?" He asked, though he had a sneaking suspicion he already knew.

Jiraiya glanced around and made sure nobody else was in immediate earshot.

"Akatsuki," He mumbled as he leaned in towards the younger man. The copy-nin only narrowed his eyes and nodded. He had yet to break eye contact with the medic-nins' hands.

"From the effects you described, I'm guessing the seal was a mistake on their part," The Toad Hermit continued in a marginally louder tone towards the Hokage. "All our information said they wanted Kyuubi, and by proxy Naruto, alive for whatever psycho reason they cooked up. Makes no sense for them to kill him in the middle of nowhere. I thought they were a bit more competent than this, trying out an untested seal out on their main goal."

"Hmm…" Kakashi muttered, taking in the news.

"Well, whatever mistakes they made, that thing did a number on his chakra. Even now my healing jutsu isn't having much effect," Tsunade said. "We'll have to manually stitch him up before trying any healing. Though it could be because my chakra is so damn low from breaking that seal."

"Hokage-sama," Kakashi broke in, "Let me take over for you. I still have most of my chakra left. You'll be able to focus on closing up his critical areas."

Tsunade gave the man a critical look.

"You know medical jutsu?" She asked, not having seen such skills anywhere on the elite jounin's rather lengthy profile.

Kakashi winked with his normal eye and tapped the left side of his head, next to his Sharingan eye. Tsunade was torn between whacking the man for stealing her technique and relief that he could keep going in her place. She was getting dangerously low on chakra.

"Alright, but you better have damn good chakra control. Just trail behind Shizune as she works. Don't worry too much if it's not having much of an effect. Just do your best with it and move on. We're just trying to keep him alive for now," The Hokage said. She moved over and let Kakashi kneel next to her. She was only partially surprised when he performed the jutsu near flawlessly and picked up where she left off. Well, at least he'd have that skill if he was ever injured in the field…

"Hoping the Kyuubi will pick up and repair the kid where we can't?" Jiraiya asked, leaning over to watch the assorted ninja work.

"Absolutely. As it stands, there's no way for Naruto to ever resume active duty if the fox can't undo the destruction done to his system. Hell, he probably won't ever be able to walk again if the Kyuubi can't heal him."

"What's the extent of the damage?" Kakashi asked, as he calmly channeled chakra into the boy's damaged flesh.

"What isn't damaged is more like it…" Tsunade grumbled, though her anger wasn't at the boy.

"To start with, his inner coils are royally screwed up, even with the Akatsuki seal gone. The demon chakra and human chakra won't work properly together for quite some time. That's what's keeping Kyuubi from healing Naruto right now. The demon can't control any chakra it sends out, keeping it from repairing anything. I'm surprised it was even able to get his blood production up enough to save the boy.

"Speaking of which, I guess the fox decided to go overboard in the areas it could still affect. The Kyuubi made Naruto's blood production increase over twenty times its natural rate. That's the factor that saved his life. The cost though, is that it's stripped his body of almost all its reserves. What's left of his muscle groups have atrophied. If he ever gets back on his feet, he's lost months if not years of physical training. Worse than just that is the damage the tourniquets did."

Tsunade gave a look to Jiraiya.

"They kept blood in him and that kept his body from completely eating itself, but as it is his arms and legs are virtually dead from anoxia. I think the Kyuubi can repair the damage in time so we'll hold off amputation, but it may be weeks or even months before he regains use of them. He won't be happy about that."

"That's an understatement," Jiraiya muttered. Oh well, the brat could yell at him as much as he wanted, as long as he was alive to do the yelling.

"Internal damage is minimal, thank the Kami. He's busted a few ribs and cracked a vertebrae, but it's nothing life threatening. There's not much else, except for his destroyed muscles. The muscular damage extends from the front and back of his upper torso to his upper arms and most of his legs. Those sectors are almost totally destroyed. It's not really a matter of healing as much as regenerating new flesh from scratch. Even I can't do that to another person. If Kyuubi doesn't rebuild his muscle structure, he'll never leave a bed again. Hell, he'll never be able to lift his arms again," Tsunade grimly finished.

"Well maybe the demon's taken a liking to the kid," Jiraiya muttered. Three sets of eyes gave him a look that said, "Did you hit your head!"

Sweat-dropping, the Toad Hermit tried to cover for himself, "Okay, well Kyuubi probably hates Naruto more than any other human except the Yondaime, but even so, it'd be suicidal to not get the boy back into fighting condition. They won't leave off just 'cause the brat's bedridden."

Tsunade 'hmm-ed' in thought.

"Well, that's not here and now. Let's finish patching him up and get him to a bed. He needs nutrients badly and I want to get an IV in him as soon as possible."

Nobody said anything else as they worked on Naruto.

Staring at the wall for three hours isn't healthy. Ino had reached that conclusion 2 hours and thirty five minutes ago. At least the wall was better than that hanging clock's taunting ticking. This was even worse than waiting on Chouji. The Hokage had already healed her teammate by the time she had gotten there and she only had to sit around for a half hour while waiting for him to be moved to a normal hospital room. Besides, she'd had Chomaru for company. Though the clan head was a bit intimidating, he was quite friendly to her and they had passed the time talking about some of Chouji and Shikamaru's more amusing antics.

She'd never waited while someone was dying though. By herself, no less

The only thing that kept her from storming in there and demanding to know what was going on was the memory of Naruto's decimated form. She had little desire to see that again before he was all comfortably bandaged up. Besides, she might interrupt some delicate procedure that could cost the boy his life and she didn't want that hanging over her head. Still, this waiting was getting to be painful. She would just peek in, see how far along it all was, and sit back down. It's not like it'd be hard to look inside, considering no one had bothered to put the doors back in place (read: no one was strong enough to dislodge the doors from where Tsunade had embedded them in the walls.)

Ino had stood and was just leaning to look into the doorway when both Tsunade and Jiraiya came rushing out the room and down the hall. Tsunade was carefully carrying a large, blanket wrapped bundle. The two Sannin disappeared around the corner before Ino could get a word out. She was about to follow them, having a pretty good idea what was in the blanket (what was with Sannins and toting Naruto around like a sack of potatoes?), when a large hand landed on her shoulder.

"Don't worry, he's fine. They're just in a rush to get him into a hospital room and on a nutrient drip or something," Kakashi said. Ino looked up at the tall man and jumped at the sight of his blood-red left eye. The copy-nin noticed her stare.

"Oh, whoops," The jounin said sheepishly, as he pulled his forehead protector back down. "Forgot I still had that open. I was wondering why I was getting dizzy."

A large sweat-drop appeared on the back of Ino's head. What a flake.

"So he's alright?" The genin asked, changing the subject. Kakashi started to answer when he suddenly wobbled on his feet. Ino let out a startled yelp as the large man nearly bowled her over on his way to the floor. Both ninjas were surprised when his fall stopped as the blonde girl caught him under his arm. Years of dragging Chouji out of restaurants when the chubby boy had eaten himself halfway to oblivion had paid off. Staggering, Ino managed to get the tall jounin over to the bench she'd been sitting on.

"Chakra exhaustion… You moron! I thought you're a jounin, for Kami's sake!" The girl snarled as she propped the Copy-Ninja's semi-limp form back against the wall. "You're supposed to know better, you idiot…Naruto must have rubbed off on you."

"Nope, I've always acted like this," Kakashi replied with a cheerful little upturn to his visible eye. Ino fixed him with a baleful glare that could've wilted all the flowers in her parents' shop. The Copy-Ninja's eye seemed to 'smile' even brighter.

"Pain in the ass…" The girl muttered as she sat down next to him. "So how is he?"

Kakashi's eye returned to normal and visibly drooped lower than usual.

"He's alive. That's really the best we could've hoped for. His muscle structure was destroyed throughout most of his body. Odds are he'll never regain full use of his arms and legs. Even if he does, the injuries have set him back years in physical training. He'll have to re-teach his body how to be a shinobi all over again," The jounin said, his voice low with sadness rather than laziness for once.

"Oh…" Ino said in a very small voice. "Then his dream…"

Kakashi nodded.

"He'll never be strong enough to become Hokage," The copy-nin replied, his shoulders sagging.

Flashing images of Naruto screaming out Hokage at the top of his impressive lungs moved through Ino's mind. When you thought of Naruto, Hokage was always in there somewhere. Everyone in the Rookie 9 knew he dreamed of being Hokage. Hell, anyone who really knew anything about Naruto knew that. Even in their earliest days at the academy, the hyper blonde was always spouting off about it. Even if it was just nonsense, at least Naruto was able to dream and work towards his goal. To have that taken away from you completely must be a terrible feeling.

"But Tsunade-sama was able to heal even Lee! Can't she…?" Ino trailed off at the look in Kakashi's eye.

"Even the Godaime has limits. Lee was all there, even if he was damaged. There are pieces of Naruto that are simply gone," The jounin sighed. Days like this, he felt all 28 years of his life. He shouldn't feel this tired when he wasn't even 30, dammit. Not all of his exhaustion could be blamed on over-using the Sharingan yet again.

"Kakashi-san… Who did this to him?" Ino asked. It was one of the thoughts that had repeated itself like a broken record the hours she'd been waiting.

"…Very dangerous people," Was all Kakashi said in reply. At Ino's questioning stare, he sighed. "I'm sorry Ino-san, I really am, but I can't tell you anything specific. All I can say is these people have been after him for years and with his injuries, he's a sitting duck. Even the Hokage's ANBU guards might not be able to protect him. If he doesn't recover…"

"Oh…" Ino trailed off. They sat in silence for a few minutes longer, before she jumped up.

"Well, we'll just have to go see him then!" She declared. "He won't stay down for long. He'll be up and destroying people's eardrums in no time! Even I know you can't keep him from his dream and I barely know the idiot!"

Kakashi had a surprised look in his slouching eye as he watched the girl in front of him as she scrounged up a crutch from a nearby storage room.

'Naruto… Even if you don't get your dream, you've gained another friend.'

The tall jounin didn't say a word as Ino fussed about, hauling him up and propping the crutch under his arm. Then again, Kakashi didn't need to say anything, even when Ino grabbed his unoccupied arm and held him up on the other side. His visible eye was upside down and beaming brightly enough to give passing medics sunburns.

For a man who never showed his face, Kakashi was surprisingly expressive.

Author's Notes:

New Jutsu:

Kuroi Rasengan (Dark Rasengan) (A Rank Jutsu): Fire Elemental battle skill. Nin-jutsu. No seals used.

It's basically the same thing as a normal Rasengan, except it's composed entirely of demon chakra and is elementally Fire rather than Wind. It still acts in the same destructive, drilling-spinning manner of the Rasengan, but also burns and melts the target. The slashing and drilling aspects are weakened in favor of the extreme heat damage. This move cannot be used to stun an opponent (like Jiraiya did when he first demonstrated the Rasengan to Naruto) as the heat is too high to control. This jutsu causes internal damage like the Rasengan, but burns and cauterizes organs and veins rather than slashing and twisting them. The Dark Rasengan is about twice the size of the normal Rasengan and about 1.5 to 2.5 times as powerful, due to the stronger nature of demonic chakra. It's the core component to the 'Level 2' Rasengan that Naruto used in his fight with Sasuke at the Valley of the End (Note: from the manga perspective. It seems to be different for the anime.)

General: Some might notice I killed off the Akatsuki member from chapter 247-249 of the manga. Quite frankly, I'm pissed off that some smirking, ugly little twerp who plays with plastic explosives of all things can beat the living crap out of Gaara. So I killed him/her/whatevr-the-fuck-it-is off in protest. Has anyone else noticed that for a super-powerful, demon-possessed killing machine, Gaara gets his ass beat all the time? Lee knocked him around, Sasuke put a hole in him, Naruto beat his ass, Kinimaro nearly killed him, and now this ugly Akatsuki loser blasts him halfway to death. Anyways, to anyone who actually likes tanuki-boy, he will be a major part in this story and he will kick ass. Okay, rant done.

MAJOR side note: I'll use the original Japanese names for the series jutsu, but for the ones I've made up I'll use a Japanese name the first time, then English from then on. I don't pretend to know Japanese with any skill and I probably butcher the language. All skill/name translations are looked up through various online dictionaries, but they could easily be wrong. If they are, please let me know if you have a better translation. This was just for your information, in case anyone wonders at the odd mix of Japanese and English jutsu names.

As a future note, this story is going to definitely be Naruto X Ino (like you couldn't guess) but will likely be Naruto X Ino X ? in very later chapters. The other character will not be an OC… I wouldn't curse anyone with reading yet another Mary-Sue or Gary-Stu or whatever… I originally had this as an idea for threeway of some sort and was just going to be that, but then I realized there was an actual story in here, so I decided to try and write the damn thing. As for OC's, I will put some in, but only as a supporting role for the original Naruto characters (who'd want to read thirty pages on someone I made up anyways? We're here for Naruto and Co. right?) I have some ideas on other pairings, but I'm still open to suggestions at this point.

As another side note, I may add brief omakes to each chapter later on if the story gets off the ground. Not priority though.

Reviews: I love getting reviews for my stuff. I really appreciate constructive criticism. If there's something wrong with my story, please point it out to me or give me a few tips of advice. I am an amateur and it could really improve later chapters if I know where I'm screwing up. I don't like flames as they don't really help anyone. You totally hate my stuff, read something else. is a big site, you know .

Next chapter: Chap. 1 posted on 3/04/05. I hope to post Chap. 2 next Friday, 3/11/05.

Omake! (If you don't want the mood spoiled then just skip ahead to the next chapter.) (Added 4/02/05)

Omake 1 (Eh…Removed it cause I want to write a better one later.)

Omake 2 sent in by Dany le Fou.

At that moment, Jiraiya felt like yanking the jounin's mask down and kissing him till his mismatched eyes crossed.

In fact, he did just that. Several things happened.

Shizune fainted at seeing the two greatest perverts she knew kissing.

Tsunade was so shocked she lost her hold on her genjutsu and resumed her normal form. Instantly, all the male medic nins (as well as a couple of female) who had fantasized on the Hokage ran for the nearest bathroom. It would take days to clean up the vomit afterwards.

And Naruto chose that very moment to open his eyes. The first thing he saw was the two men. 'Bastard fox! Reopen my wounds NOW! I'd rather be dead than live with that image.'

End Omake 2

(Thanks dude!)

Happy April Fool's Day!