i just want to be the one
that's true…

-Blue Eyes, Cary Brothers

Later Sakura would wonder about how she had called out his name. Her voice had sounded without her knowledge, surprising her almost as much as it had everyone else. For a sliver of a moment, she had actually wondered who had been the source of that astonishing cry, until with a jolt her mind caught up to the present.

The name she had cried out unconsciously had been like a catalyst, sparking off a cascade of realizations that ended in that one incredible conclusion. Understanding had come later, puzzle pieces falling into place after she had known what the complete picture was going to look like. It was only after she'd assigned the name to the unknown entity emerging from the shadows that she'd realized how very obvious her conclusion had been – matching the sun-gold fur, the fox-shape and of course those shockingly blue eyes to everything that Naruto was.

At the sound of her voice, the great golden head swung round to fix on her, eyes regarding her with a depth of eager happiness that humbled her. With a faint gasp, Sakura tore her eyes away from the blue familiarities set into a strange face, her gaze moving slightly upwards to fix on the red-headed body slumped – she only now noticed – on top of the fox's back.


Sakura took a step forward, the movement almost as involuntarily as her earlier cry had been.

As if that had been a signal, the fox – Naruto, Naruto, she chanted to herself – quietly toppled over, spilling his unconscious burden onto the ground beside him. Sakura, her foot not yet down from that first step, began to run. There was a muffled thump, and then a burst of exclamation from Gai, as his rival also chose this moment – in perfect sync with his young student – to faint.

Sakura, intent on the two fallen figures in front of her, did not even turn her head. She threw herself on her knees beside the golden fox, hands instinctually moving to the throat to search for a pulse. Sakura was a medic-nin, not a veterinarian, but she'd trained enough on other forms of living creatures to have a working knowledge on how to treat a…giant demon fox?

She shunted that thought away, burying it beneath the long checklists of things to check for and examine and fix. Her fingers buried themselves underneath the thick ruff of fur, snowy-white at the throat, searching for the pulse. Her stomach settled from its wild spinning when a steady, although worryingly quick, heartbeat vibrated underneath her fingertips. She let out a long breath that made her shoulders shake a little; it felt like the first time she'd done so since Kakashi had arrived.

She cast medic-trained eyes up and down his body, cataloguing the list of hurts that her sharp green eyes could find while her hands did the same, lightly probing for broken bones, untoward protrusions or indentions, and any sudden up-welling of blood.

The fur underneath her hands felt almost sinfully opulent, sliding in between her fingers like water, smooth and silky and as soft as a dream – except, of course, where it was matted down with blood. Irrelevantly, her mind jumped back to the mop of spiky gold-blond hair she had often felt in between her hands – mostly because of slaps applied upside the skull underneath, or seizing the golden strands in her fist for a good hair-pulling. Despite its rough, scruffy appearance, she'd always felt Naruto's hair was oddly well-conditioned for a boy's hair, enough that she had considered asking him what he used. Now she realized that it had felt like…felt like fur.

The realization was helped by the fact that the fur was the same fair color as Naruto's hair, as golden as flames, accented snowy-white along the throat and belly, tail-tip and paws, as well as three sharply-delineated slashes of white on each side of his muzzle. Sakura was strongly reminded of Naruto's facial markings in negative as she noticed them, lifting her hand to trace her fingers along one of the markings.

A deep-blue eye – surely they hadn't been so intense in color before? – slowly slid open as she touched his face, focusing on her. Sakura smiled at him, trying for comforting, the competent-medic way she smiled at patients in the Konoha hospital, but feared that she only came across as teary. Naruto made a noise that sounded like a plaintive whine. Sakura closed her eyes and tried to collect herself, her breath catching on something suspiciously like a sob when Naruto nuzzled into her hand.

And then she realized that he wasn't nuzzling into her hand; he was trying to direct her attention to the other collapsed demon-vessel nearby. He pushed at her hand with his nose, the only motion he could convince his aching body to perform, and whined again.

Reluctantly, Sakura drew away from him.

Since their only (conscious) medic-trained ninja was busy with the two jinchuuriki, it fell to Team Gai to tend to a totally drained Kakashi. Gai and Neji dragged Kakashi to the shade of a tall oak tree – not so much for the shade as to get the man propped up against the trunk. Surprisingly, the one with the most medical experience – probably from all the time he spent in the hospital, Neji had once sniped (upset at being upstaged) – was Lee, and he began to set the older man's broken bones, ignoring his own hurt leg – the one Sakura hadn't had time to heal – in the process. At the same time, Tenten, as the one with the most dexterous hands, took care of sewing the most gaping wounds shut, in order to limit the blood-loss.

In the meantime, Gai gazed with worried, uncharacteristically solemn eyes at the giant fox sprawled a short distance away, ignoring his team's questioning looks, the inquiries held just behind their teeth, ready to be asked as soon as Gai let them.

He didn't let them. Not yet.

How could he explain that their friend may have just turned into a demon?

Neji's whimpering has been moved to the next chapter.

Tenten: (grins evilly)

Neji: (glaring at Episode 152) Haven't I been tortured enough already?

Tenten and Naruto: (in chorus) No.

The giant squirrel has declined to make an appearance, despite Lee's pleading, due to its wariness about the giant fox.

Blue Eyes by the Cary Brothers
This Side by Nickel Creek
Leave No Man Behind from the Black Hawk Down OST

Now I'm off to watch Episode 152, which my computer has just finished downloading. Hopefully it'll give me an idea how to handle Gai's characterization in the next chapter.

Mommy Rogers: thanks for the much-needed heads-up. And the Canucks comment? More appropriate than ever, cos I just got to go see a Canucks game live which converted me to a Nasden fan quite solidly. Well, as an international student, it's not yet home, but here's to hoping. XD

FireDragonBL: Agreed, Tenten needs more airtime. Here's to hoping she gets it in the anime! (WoOT for collapsible bo staffs!) Rest assured that I plan a fairly major part for her in this series. (rubs hands together evilly)

Smiter, my friend, we do think alike. That scene (with some additions) was one of the first planned in my head for this fic. (evil grin) It's not going to happen for a little while yet, because I have…plans


Oh yes, and please note that I write for fun. This is a hobby. I do this when I want to forget things I'd like to. In short: I don't consider this a duty at all. SO I don't feel obligations to finish, or write fast, or put things in to please readers, unless it pleases me to do so. It's awesome that so many cool people take the time to review and make it fun to write, so a big thanks for all the support.