Authors Notes 1) I don't own Naruto or its characters.

2) Constructive criticism is perfectly fine, compliments are also nice.

3) Thank you to my friend Alex for his help.

4) The age of the characters in this first chapter is 16. It stops following the anime/manga right around where Sasuke defects. I don't know what happens, so for this story, I am assuming he was successful.

Shikamaru grimaced as his team raced through the Stone Country territory, darting between boulders. It was definitely a blown mission. As he ran, his guilt weighed heavily on him. The mission had failed, and his best friend was probably dead because of his failure to create an adequate plan.

Stone ninja had been sighted along the Leaf border quite frequently as of late; there were even some sightings inside of Leaf territory. Tsunade had sent Gai's old team to investigate, posing as part of a merchant caravan from the Wave country. Tenten's message had come through underground channels, warning that they had uncovered the Stone village's plans, but were about to be captured. The Hokage had ordered a rescue mission immediately.

Shikamaru was to lead Ino and Chouji, his partners from his genin days; they worked well as a team, due to their years of experience with each other. Also attached to Shikamaru's team were Naruto and Sakura. The two students of the legendary sannin were used to working with Shikamaru's team, and their skills were needed. Sakura's healing abilities were second only to those of Tsunade; Naruto, with his legendary stamina and determination, had become - under Jiraiya's tutelage - one of the most devastating ninja that Konoha could call upon. Combined with Shikamaru's planning skills, Ino's infiltration jutsu, and Chouji's power, it was expected that the five of them would be able to break out their comrades without too much difficulty.

It had gone well at first. They had reached the Stone village without incident, and Ino had even managed to possess one of the guards with her mind swap jutsu. Before any of the other guards had figured out what was going on, Ino had released the captive Leaf ninja, and the group had begun to sneak out. That was where the plan started falling apart: another guard had reported for the shift change early; finding he cells empty, he had sounded an alarm.

Sakura was doing her best to heal the three rescued ninja, but it wasn't going well; the Stone interrogators had certainly done their work on them, and she needed more time. Time, however, was a luxury that they no longer had. The Konoha ninja had fled, with Stone elites in close pursuit. Chouji had held back, saying that he would buy the others time. And so, Shikamaru had begun to tear himself apart inside.

He had been too confident in his team's abilities. He was sure that they would be able to complete the mission with ease. He should have planned for a guard to show early. Any proper planner should consider unforeseen events. He glanced at the wounded ninja Naruto was carrying.

"Neji, do we still have anyone following us?"

The Hyuga branch member raised his head. The veins around his eyes puffed out as he activated his family's bloodline limit. Straining for a moment, he gazed back in the direction they had fled from, before slumping back in exhaustion.

"All six of them are still coming. They'll be on us in a couple of minutes. There's no sign of Chouji. I really don't think that he slowed them down. I'm sorry, Shikamaru."

It was confirmed. He had allowed his best friend to die for nothing. It was all his fault. Moisture stinging his eyes, he glanced towards Ino. Her gaze met his, tears falling down her cheeks as well. He felt a pain flash through his chest. They were all in danger, and she was the weakest out of the combat capable ninja. If it came to fighting, she had the lowest chance of making it out alright. His mouth opened, his thoughts being expressed in a single word.

"No."

Ino's face showed worry as she examined him.

"Shikamaru?"

"No. It's my fault we're in trouble. I'm the one who didn't plan the operation carefully enough."

She opened her mouth to say something, but he cut her off.

"I've already killed my best friend, I'm not about to let my girlfriend die. You guys go on, I'll stay behind and buy you some time with my shadow bind jutsu."

Naruto landed beside Shikamaru, motioning for him to take Neji from him. "You guys go on. I'll hold them off."

Shikamaru shook his head. "No, Naruto. It's my fault that we're in trouble, and I'll get us out."

"No, you won't." Naruto was adamant, his tone clearly showing that his mind was made up.

"You're upset because your plan failed, but you're still the smartest one of us. You need to keep going. If anything else happens, you're going to need to be the one to figure something out. And besides that, I'm not about to let any more of my friends die."

Shikamaru leapt over a rock before staring at Naruto. No one had stopped running during the entire conversation.

"You're my friend. What makes you think I'll let you die?"

"It's the smart thing to do. You want to throw your life away to try and slow them down." Naruto gave a predatory grin, and Shikamaru had to repress a shudder. He could have sworn that Naruto's eyes had flashed red for a second. "I guarantee that I'll take them with me."

Shikamaru stared at him for a few seconds, clearly debating what Naruto had said. Finally he nodded his head, reaching out to take Neji from Naruto.

As soon as Shikamaru had taken Neji, Naruto vanished, appearing beside Sakura. In one fluid motion, he reached beneath his shirt, and pulled his necklace over his head. He gave it to Sakura, who slid it into a pocket on her chuunin vest.

"Make sure that gets back to Granny Tsunade, okay Sakura-chan?"

Fighting back tears, the pink haired kunoichi nodded.

"Thanks. I'm sorry, but I guess that I've broken my promise to bring Sasuke back. Can you maybe forgive me, Sakura-chan?"

Tears were falling down her face as she answered the second question. "Of course, Naruto."

"Alright, you guys all get going, and I'll get ready for our friends back there. Do not come back to back me up! No matter what happens, I am dead. And friend or foe, after I unleash the jutsu I've got planned, I'll kill everyone I see.

"Shikamaru, tell the Hokage I used a new technique I call Primary Seal Unbinding jutsu. She'll understand what it means.

"So long everyone. Good luck in the future."

With a wave and a smile perfected by years of forced cheerfulness, Naruto dropped back, watching his friends' forms shrink as they continued on. He stripped his jacket and shirt off, and pulled out a kunai. Clenching his teeth, he sunk the blade into his arm, dragging it down and tearing his flesh open. He could feel the demon's chakra flowing through him, trying to regenerate the wound. Naruto concentrated, trying to block the flow of Kyuubi's energy. It was partially successful; the wound was still healing, but much slower than it normally would. Forming his fingers into a cross, Naruto brought forth a single kage bunshin. Looking at each other, they nodded, the shadow clone moving directly behind Naruto.

"Alright, let's get to work."

The Stone ninja were moving quickly, desperate to catch up to the escaped prisoners and their rescuers. Taraiyo led; he was confident in his party's ability to recapture their quarry. He looked to his right, at his two injured teammates. They had been the ones to engage the fat ninja that had stayed behind to buy his comrades more time to escape. He and the other three had simply bypassed them, continuing the pursuit. The fat one hadn't even been able to occupy the two for five minutes before they caught back up. Still, it wouldn't do to assume that they were completely uninjured.

"Matsu, Ichiharo. Are you two still able to fight at top form?"

Matsu merely nodded without turning his head; it was next to impossible to get any words out of him. Ichiharo, however, had no such compulsions about making his feelings known.

"That piece-of-shit bastard was a lot tougher than he looked, Taraiyo. He only got one clean hit on me, but I'm pretty sure it cracked a couple of ribs. If Matsu hadn't been able to get his genjutsu on him, I suspect it could have gone a lot differently."

"Alright, you just hang back when we catch the others. Try to focus on some of your mid-range jutsu, and support whoever needs it most.

"Remember everyone, four of us are still fresh, Matsu can still fight, and Ichiharo is still capable of ranged support. They only have four ninja who are in any shape to fight, and they'll need to defend their three comrades they tried to rescue. As long as we play this smart, we can easily win. Remember, we're all members of Hidden Stone's Elite."

"Taraiyo!"

The squad leader looked ahead of him. Miria had her head tilted back. She motioned for the squad to stop, and turned slowly, facing into the breeze. He could see her nostrils flaring as she took in the air.

"The wind just shifted. It's bringing their scents back, but something isn't right. One of them is way too strong."

Taraiyo's brows narrowed; he didn't like surprises. They represented problems for his team, and it was up to him to try and figure them out.

"Another diversion staying behind? We can just bypass him pretty easily, can't we?"

Miria shook her head.

"I wouldn't recommend it. It's too strong a scent to just be because he's closer than the others. It's like there's more than one of him. If we bypass them, we could find ourselves being the ones pursued."

"So you're saying that there's a second squad waiting, to buy the original team time to escape?"

"No, it doesn't make any sense. I said that it was too strong a smell to be only one person, but it's only one persons scent. It can't be both, but as far as I can tell, it is."

Taraiyo rubbed his temples, sighing.

"Alright, here's the plan. This new group is just there to slow us down, but we can't afford to go around them. If we do, they just follow us, and we end up horribly outnumbered and surrounded. We're going in. We hit them hard and fast, take them down, and continue the pursuit. Those spies may have discovered them, and we're not about to let them get home and report, okay? Good, then let's go, we don't have a lot of time to waste."

The group took off once more, moving at top speed. After several minutes, Mirai again held up her hand. The group came to a stop, eyes darting from side to side, looking for the enemy. The country was named Stone for a reason, as was abundantly clear now.

"It's here."

"Well?" Tarayo's voice echoed off the rocks. "Come on out, we're here to fight you, you're here to fight us. We might as well get this over with."

Stepping out from behind various rocks came the ninja of Konoha. Ino, Shikamaru, and Sakura moved into the open, taking battle stances. Naruto appeared last, leaping onto the boulder that he had been behind. He looked down angrily at his teammates.

'I told you to not to come back."

Shikamaru shook his head, a look of annoyance on his face. "I told you, Naruto; I'm not going to lose any more teammates."

Sakura tossed her head, throwing her pink hair behind her back. "You promised me you'd bring Sasuke-kun back. I'm not letting you off with finding a way out of it."

"And I need you to bring Sasuke-kun back so I can steal him away from forehead girl." Ino winked, but did not take her eyes off the Stone ninja. "It looks like we all need you alive after all."

Naruto grinned, turning his right palm upwards, a swirling blue ball of chakra appearing within it. "Alright then, like that idiot there said, let's get this over with. I want to go home and eat some ramen." Chakra collected in his feet, and he propelled himself off his boulder, palm outstretched. He streaked downwards, heading for Mirai, the closest target. "Rasengan!"

As she leapt backwards, the other three ninja charged, drawing kunai as they ran.

Ino had barely taken three steps when a kunai pierced her throat. Her hands went to her neck as she collapsed to the ground. Shikamaru whirled around, pain etched across his face. "Ino-chan!"

Jago, one of the Stone ninja, darted forwards, a katana drawn. Before the heartbroken shinobi could turn to defend himself, the blade stabbed straight through Shikamaru's heart.

As Mirai and Illyera engaged Naruto and Sakura, Taraiyo glanced around uneasily. This was way too easy, something was wrong. As Mirai and Illyera both landed blows, it became clear. All four ninja disappeared in a puff of smoke.

"Rasengan!"

Taraiyo spun at the sound of the voice, just in time to see Ichiharo struck in the chest. The rasengan's blast carried the unfortunate ninja into one of the rocks littering the battlefield. There was a sickening crunch, and he landed face down. His neck was clearly at an unnatural angle and he was not moving. Naruto crouched facing his opponents, glaring at them. He stood silently, allowing them time to take the sight in.

He wore nothing from the waist up, having removed even his forehead protector. His frame was clearly well muscled, packed tight, suggesting both incredible strength as well as a high level of dexterity. By far however, the most noticeable trait was the seals running over his body. His stomach, chest, forehead, even his arms and back were covered in fresh seals, all of them drawn in blood. He spoke without a sliver of emotion in his voice. "I'm sorry about your friend, but you all need to go home."

Taraiyo took a single step forward, motioning for Jago to check on the fallen Ichiharo. "I'm sorry, but I cannot allow that. You see, we need to catch your comrades that appear to have left you behind."

"No. I can't let you to do that."

"I see, but try to understand. There's still five of us, compared to one of you. And furthermore…" He trailed off as rock erupted from the ground, imprisoning Naruto up to his ankles. "You're in a very poor position to negotiate from."

Naruto began to raise his right hand to his face. "Final warning, go home or we all die."

"Oh, really?" Taraiyo stretched his right hand forwards. Naruto recognized the gesture; it looked very similar to Gaara's when he activated his desert funeral.

"Too late." As he spoke, he bit into his thumb. Drawing it down, he formed a diagonal line of blood over the seals he had etched onto his stomach. As the rock around his ankles began to shoot upwards, red chakra surged out of Naruto, blowing the stones away.

If the Stone elites had understood what was going on they would have run. Akatsuki had been chasing Naruto for four years now, desperate to get their hands on the Kyuubi. They had made many attempts in those four years, and there had been a couple of close calls.

It had been Naruto who had first asked Jiraiya that they talk to Tsunade about it. It was Naruto that had spoken to the two sannin on the dangers of the Kyuubi being unleashed, and Naruto who had proposed the solution for it.

More layers of seals. They had spent most of a year researching it. Naruto was sure that if he were to be tested, he would display ANBU levels of knowledge on binding seals. Together, the Naruto, his sensei, and the Hokage had worked out everything they had wanted to do, and had begun adding further seals to Naruto's body, making them impossible to detect unless you expected to find them.

They had created a second seal to imprison the demon. It was designed to be activated if the Fourth's seal ever failed. It wouldn't stop the Kyuubi from taking control of Naruto's body as the original did, but it would still bind the demons soul inside, preventing it from escaping back to the spirit world. And once it activated so would the third layer of seals, designed to utterly destroy Naruto. His body would cease to function, and both he and the demon would be destroyed. The seals would take some time to kill Naruto however, probably a couple of minutes. The problem was, during that time, the demon would be in control. And Naruto had just completed the final line needed to disable the Fourth's seal, giving its power to the other two.

It was simple as far as Naruto was concerned. Since the new seals had been added, he had been unable to draw on Kyuubi's power as easily as he had before. It was a problem, but he was willing to deal with it in order to ensure that the Akatsuki would never get their hands on the demon.

He had seen Stone elites in action before, and he knew what kind of strength to expect from them. Six in a row, he could possibly take, but not six at once. Even with the demon adding to his power he didn't think he would be able to do it. So he unbound the first seal, and relaxed. He could feel the demon surging through him, and he relaxed, allowing the demon to gain control. Let Kyuubi have control of his body. Give the demon access to all of its power. Let it tear his enemies apart while his friends ran. He had volunteered to stay behind; he was dead either way.

Had the Stone ninja understood all of this, they would have run. But they had no way to understand what their opponent had just done, and so they stood their ground.

Kyuubi bent his knees and leapt, and Naruto soared into the air, tearing himself out of the rock prison he had been in. He landed, and his eyes were red, the pupils slits. He darted forwards with an animalistic keen, his hands becoming claws. As he reached Jago, he tore out his throat. The stone ninja tried to oppose him but it was hopeless. Sixteen years ago, the entire village of Konoha had tried to stop the demon's rampage, and had failed. None of the remaining four ninja were as strong as the Fourth Hokage, and they had no chance. It was over in barely a minute. Naruto stood amid the carnage, his tongue spilling out to lap the blood up from his claws.

Throwing back his head, the demon keened again in triumph. It was free of its seal, free to rain death down on the insignificant humans that had imprisoned it. It could feel Naruto locked in the corners of his own mind. He was starting to worry. He knew he couldn't regain control from the demon, what if the final seals weren't strong enough to defeat it? Kyuubi could feel the chakra of the seals welling up within him, preparing to release, but they were nothing compared to the awesomeness of his power. He threw his arms open, and tilted his head to the sky, in a macabre imitation of a person greeting the new dawn. He grinned at the concept; this was his new dawn, his new day. All he had to do was defeat the meaningless protections that had been placed upon his vessel and…

Pain screamed through his body. Falling to his knees, the demon pitched forwards, breaking his fall with his paws. Chakra screamed through his body, tearing at organs, and piercing his brain. This was not right, the humans were not supposed to be this strong. He released chakra to regenerate his damaged organs, but the seals on Naruto's body simply responded by focusing more chakra into those areas. His claws dug furrows into the ground; he kept his teeth clenched together, out of fear that if he opened his mouth he would bite through his tongue. He could beat these seals; he just needed time to unravel them. As chakra burned further into his brain, his vision began to blur from the pain. There was no time.

Ignoring the pain, the Kyuubi threw all of his chakra outwards, ignoring the damage the seals were doing to him. He was enraged. There was no way he would allow the miserable piece of filth who had imprisoned him for so long to actually succeed in his plan. The seals imprisoning him began to glow as he threw his chakra against them. His claws and fangs grew a little longer, and he shut his eyes, concentrating.

A tremendous snapping noise echoed off the rocks, and a tail shot forth, tearing through Naruto's pants, and the Kyuubi screamed at the burning sensation in his head. A second one followed, along with another scream. A jerk paralyzed Naruto's body, and it collapsed face down on the ground.

Hinata spun, striking the practice log, sweat dripping down her brow. She rained more blows down on the log. She needed to become stronger. Strong enough to be considered a true ninja. Strong enough to win Naruto-kun's approval. For when he returned from his mission, she would tell him her feelings for him; no matter how scared she was, she would tell him. She had promised it to herself, and she would not take back her words. That was her way of the ninja.

Her byakugan showed her old teammate approaching from behind. Stopping, she turned to face him. "Kiba-kun."

"You haven't heard? The team sent to rescue your cousin has been sighted. They should be here any moment, and reports say that they were successful."

"Thank you, Kiba-kun. I, I must be going now." As Kiba nodded, Hinata turned and took off in the direction of the main gate. Generally, ninja were not supposed to move at high speeds throughout the village streets, but she wasn't following that rule today. Coming to a halt, she could see Tsunade looking the group over. Something was wrong. Naruto was missing, as was Chouji. Hinata's eyes darted back and forth, searching for the blond haired ninja, but he was nowhere to be found. Her cousin caught her eye. He was sitting with Tenten, his hand on her shoulder as Tsunade spoke with them. As she caught Neji's eyes, he removed his hand from Tenten, and began walking towards her.

"Neji, where is he?" Her voice shook as she spoke. Slowly, he shook his head, unwilling to speak. "No. No. Where is he, Neji-nisan? Where's Naruto?"

"I'm sorry, Hinata-san."

"No!" The others turned. They had never heard the Hyuga heiress raise her voice, and now she was screaming. "No! Where is he, Neji-nisan? No!"

Her cousin grabbed her, wrapping her in his arms as she screamed, tears falling down her face. Tsunade approached the two of them, gently placing an arm on Neji's shoulder. "We need to go to the hospital to ensure you or your teammates have no lasting injuries. Stop in when you can. And I'll expect you in my office at eleven o'clock tomorrow for the mission report. Still holding Hinata, Neji nodded. The others began to follow the Hokage to the hospital, leaving the two relatives alone.

The body lay on the ground in the Stone country, unmoving. A crow fluttered to the ground, landing beside it. Slowly, it hopped towards the corpse. With a flutter of wings, it landed on the body, and lowering its head, pecked at the flesh of the neck.

In a flash, a clawed hand grabbed the unfortunate animal, tearing into its flesh. With a gasp, Naruto rolled over, sitting up, and clutching at his throat.

He moved slowly, careful to avoid detection. He had stolen a cloak and a mask in the night from the first village he had come across. No sense alarming those whose path he crossed. He was near Konoha, near home. All he needed to do was cross the walls undetected, and make his way to the Hokage's office. If he could make it there, O-baa-chan would know what to do. As he came closer he could make out music playing, and what sounded like fireworks in the sky. He paused, unsure. He couldn't recall anything like this happening before. As he approached the road, he spotted a man leading an ox, which was harnessed to a cart. Dropping down in front of the merchant, he bowed.

"Excuse me sir, but can you tell me what is going on in the village?"

The merchant looked him over and nodded. "You haven't heard about the festival going on? The whole village is celebrating. Something about a demon dying I think. Whatever it was, I sold my wares in one day." His eyes shone as he spoke. "I'm heading back to the Grass country to visit my family."

"The whole village? Everyone?" The masked ninja's voice shook as he spoke.

The merchant shrugged as he answered. "Well, it sure seemed like it. Are you heading into the village?"

"Do you need an escort to the Grass country?"

"You aren't going to Konoha?"

Naruto looked down the path towards the village. The folds of his cloak moved, as he raised his hands to look at them, although he did not remove them from beneath the cloak. In his mind he remembered everything. Every curse or threat muttered at him as he walked down the street. He felt the sting of blood dripping into his eyes, his forehead cut open from a rock thrown at him. He closed his eyes, trying to think of the good times. Iruka buying him ramen. Tsunade giving him his necklace. But for every happy moment he could think of, there were ten more of villagers spitting on him, or pulling their children away. People calling him a demon. A demon. What were they going to think of him now? What would his friends say when they saw him. He would be alone, like Gaara had been.

"Hey kid?" The merchant's voice cut into his thoughts, jerking him out of his deliberation. "I said, aren't you heading to the village?"

"… No."

Well, that concludes the first chapter. If there was anyone out there waiting for a new story from me, sorry it took so long. Anyways, please review, as it gives me a reason to write, and I will try to update on a regular basis.

Delais.