Author's Notes

Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto, nor do I own the teachings of the Kitsune. I'm borrowing Naruto, but I'll put him back. I'm heisting the teachings of the Kitsune from Wizards of the Coast's Magic: The Gathering.

If you don't want to read these, you can skip right on past to the next chapter, it's the prologue. It picks up a week after the end of the present Manga arc, upon the return of Sakura, Naruto, Yamato and Sai to Konoha.

But I wouldn't suggest it. I don't write author's notes very often, and if you ask me a question, you'll find I'm not gonna bother answering it outside the story. Most things will find answers in the story. If the question is important, I will work an answer into the story.

This is a Naruto/Sakura fic In spite of my previous dilly-dallying between pairings, I've decided that this fic is 100 percent Naru/Saku. Don't like it, leave.

Now, a couple things to note before we delve into this story.

1: There is a difference between strength and power. Strength is how much damage a punch causes. Power is the result of multiple factors combined. An example would be Kakashi and Sakura. Sakura is at least twenty times stronger than Kakashi. Kakashi, however, is far more powerful. The combination of a far wider base of techniques, considerably greater experience, and better speed and senses more than make up for his lesser strength. Strength is easy to improve with training, power is much harder to improve.

2: Naruto will not be becoming a demi-god in the course of this story. Keep in mind, however, that the series makes a point of implying that he, Sakura and Sasuke have the potential of being another group of Sannin. Especially since they've trained under the previous Sannin.

We have already seen in the manga several examples of just how powerful the Sannin were during their prime (Just about any of Orochimaru's fights, baring the one where he has no arms). Eventually, Naruto Sakura and Sasuke will reach that point in terms of power.

3: I'm not going to use the suffixes of Japanese. I'm not comfortable with them. I will attempt to use the technique names in Japanese, because I think their English names are stupid. But I will not be using Japanese suffixes.

That's enough for now. If something comes up that I feel deserves a note, I'll drop it in here, and make a quick statement at the beginning of a chapter.

Chapter 1: The Lost and The Forsaken

Haruno Kasumi was not easily shaken. Her career as a kunoichi had been long and distinguished, not to mention a little bloody from time to time. She had been under serious consideration for a promotion into ANBU before she had the awe-inspiring gall to go and get married to one of her assassination targets.

"What's happening to her?" Kasumi asked, as she sat by her daughter's bedside, gently brushing the sweat-soaked hair off of her face. Her daughter had been admitted to the hospital two days previously for exhaustion. Now she wasn't so sure that exhaustion was merely a cover.

Tsunade frowned as she glanced over the tests in front of her, her gaze practically demanding that one of them jump up and wave its arms, directing her to the cause of her apprentice's condition. Alas, the tests were no more forthcoming than the previous four batteries. "I have no idea. Nothing's coming up on tests.

"If it is poison, it's certainly slow-acting. She hasn't been on a mission in over a week." Tsunade said. That was as far as she could go with that issue, any more and she would be breaking her own orders for secrecy on the events at Teichi bridge, and Orochimaru's lair afterwards.

"I see." Kasumi murmured. Her eyes traced over the bandages on Sakura's left arm, wondering what they were covering. She had noticed the scar there when the girl returned from her mission. Nothing major, and definitely nothing to have the bandages wrapped around it an ugly red-green color.

Sakura had claimed that the injury on her upper arm was from Orochimaru. Tsunade wouldn't put it past the snake to resort to a poison in battle. If nothing else could be said for him, he was an excellent ninja.

Tsunade wasn't Hokage for nothing however. Having trained the girl for close to three years, she had grown proficient in reading her every action, and had picked up the lie quickly. Although she hadn't seen the actual wound on the girl's arm, she had seen Naruto's slight reaction when Sakura had lied. He was the one who had injured her. Not Orochimaru, but Naruto.

And whatever else could be said for Naruto, he was not the kind of ninja who used poisons. He blustered and bluffed, and then clocked you on the back of the head while you're paying attention to that Kage Bunshin you never saw him make, or replace himself with.

He also was just stupid enough to come barreling into a hospital room, voice at full volume.

Jiraiya came in shortly behind Naruto. Glancing at his old friend, he put a hand on her shoulder. She slipped him a small smile, appreciative of the support. Neither of them wanted to admit that they had grown so close to the apprentices they were so hesitant to take on, but they had. Last time Naruto had been in bed like that, Jiraiya had nearly drowned himself in sake. She'd paid for every cup, too.

Tsunade turned to the jinchuuriki, her face impassive. She was thankful that Kasumi was restraining herself. If she had said anything, it would have made it much harder for Tsunade to do what was necessary now. Turning a stern gaze onto Naruto, she felt as much as saw his blue gaze meet hers, and she saw, beneath the mask of cheerfulness, that she had his complete attention.

"Naruto. What the hell happened to my apprentice?" Anyone else would have cowered at the tone. Naruto wasn't anyone else, however… He was Naruto and only Sakura could make him tremble from words alone. Tsunade needed the threat of violence.

Naruto didn't respond, as the mask of good cheer slipped away. His eyes darted from hers, as he turned his full attention to the girl in bed. Her face twisted up with a sudden spurt of pain. Naruto tensed slightly, before forcing himself to relax. "Kyuubi. Kyuubi happened."

Jiraiya knew that he'd be paying for Tsunade's sake for the rest of the week.

"You did this?" Kasumi's voice was thick with emotions, and Naruto couldn't miss the threat of violence in it if he wanted to. He wasn't certain if the woman next to him had training as a ninja, but he wasn't about to take the chance that she was. Moving to look out the window, he nodded.

"When Orochimaru attacked at Teichi bridge, I used the Kyuubi's chakra." He used his reflection to meet Jiraiya's eyes. "I must have hit at least four tails, because I don't remember what happened."

Yep. Jiraiya was buying Tsunade's sake for the week. And maybe some for Sakura's mother too.

"Yamato says that she tried to snap me out of the transformation." Jiraiya's expression shifted ever so slightly, as he filled in the blanks. Tsunade's darting eyes, making a circuit from Naruto to Sakura to Jiraiya gave an indication that she too had made the connection. The third lady was the only one that hadn't, to his knowledge. And he wouldn't be the one to give her enough information to piece it together. Turning his eyes to Sakura, he watched with feigned impassiveness as her grimace settled out.

And her eyes opened.

Ouch. Ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch, OW.

Sakura was a kunoichi. Ninja are trained to be resilient to pain. She knew that. So, logically, whatever was being used to shove hot needles through her had to be pretty nasty. Honestly, finding out what it was didn't seem to appealing, but she decided that if she didn't find out how Orochimaru was torturing her, and where, she'd never be able to get out. Hard to help rescue Sasuke if she's being kept prisoner, after all.

She heard something about clawed armadillos, as she struggled to pull her eyelids open. Orochimaru's torture master must be either insane, or have some very interesting methods. Better find out if there were a way to get away from clawed armadillos.

Funny, Orochimaru's torture master looked a lot like her mom. And his dungeon was a lot better lit than the candle-lit corridors she'd seen in most of his bases. And it had windows. Fairly certain it went against the creepy dungeon code to have windows. Ruined the ambiance.

"Sakura." The mother look-alike cried out, as she hugged her. Looking past the weeping mass of woman holding Sakura to her, she saw Tsunade standing at the foot of a rack that looked identical to the beds in Konoha's hospital. Next to the apparition of her sensei was a pervert named Jiraiya. And by the window, stood a ninja fishcake, better known as Naruto.

Somehow, she doubted Orochimaru had captured all of them. Genjutsu, then.

"Sakura, that was a week ago." Naruto said from the windows. The pink haired kunoichi looked over at him. She knew very well that it was bad practice for interrogators to reveal how much time had passed. The disorientation of timelessness was part of what helped them break people down.

Tsunade shook her head, and silently added disorientation to the list of symptoms Sakura was displaying. That and a complete inability to maintain internal monologue, but that didn't go very well into a list of symptoms. Better to leave it at disorientation/hallucinations.

Honestly, it wasn't that uncommon for a ninja who had a rough mission to wake up and believe themselves under a genjutsu, or in an interrogation set-up. Only thing more common was for a ninja to lash out at medics who came close while they slept.

Naruto leaned forward, resting his head against the glass. It was cool to the touch, and he was welcome for the relief. The cool glass gave him something to serve as a talisman from the thoughts he didn't want to be having. "This is my fault."

Well, Tsunade wasn't about to deny that.

Jiraiya, however... "Boy, you didn't do a damned thing. It's his fault."

Naruto snorted. "Which him? Sasuke, Orochimaru, or the fox? All three are good runners up, but I still say I'm the champ at this point."

"Orochimaru, of course. Who else?"

"Orochimaru didn't make you train me to use the Kyuubi. I did." He looked at Sakura's reflection, his head still against the window. "I got impatient, and turned to a demon to get stronger. Now she's paying for it. Just like she's the one who paid for Sasuke's betrayal."

Okay, now that was a little further than Tsunade was willing to let his pity party go. "Last I saw the charts, you're the one who got a Chidori shoved through your right lung." Logic was her friend, her ally, it was tool good shinobi used with abandon, and medic-nins relied on it constantly. She knew Naruto well enough to know it wouldn't mean squat.

She was right.

Twice in one mission he'd failed her. He'd broken his promise, again. He'd failed in bringing Sasuke back to her, again. They'd had the bastard right in front of them, just waiting for them to knock him out and drag his sorry ass back. And he couldn't do it. He wasn't strong enough.

And he'd hurt her. He'd lost control of himself. No, he'd let himself be taken by Kyuubi's power, his bloodlust. He'd wanted to let go. To just kill. Kill Orochimaru. Kill Kabuto. Kill anyone who got in his way. For a short time, he had let himself slide into the madness that Gaara had slipped into, to just kill and kill without reason. At this rate, he might just get his wish. He might have killed her by using the Kyuubi's power.

There is a little known, yet often observed quality of tension. Mix a medium sized portion of it into a small room, stir well, let sit, and it turns into an oppressive weight. The jumbo-sized portion that filled the room right now was nearly suffocating.

Haruno Kasumi had almost forgotten that tension could do that. Almost. She vaguely remembered sitting sessions like this with fallen comrades and teammates. Sometimes they would make it. Sometimes they wouldn't.

That it was her daughter at the center of the room's tension blew every one of her previous hospital vigils out of the water. None of them compared to this.

The blond ninja, Uzumaki Naruto, hadn't said anything since his comment about the demon. She didn't really care at the moment. She'd get worry about him and the Kyuubi once she was done sitting a vigil over her daughter.

Jiraiya watched his apprentice. The boy's eyes were closed as leaned against the window. He was muttering so softly, he doubted the boy himself could hear what he was saying.

Unfortunately for him, a room full of ninja with more years of experience than he had years of life is a hard crowd to deceive. One thing Jiraiya had picked up over the years was how to read lips. And so he knew what Naruto was planning as he left the support of the window, and then the tension of the room. Sighing, he squeezed Tsunade's shoulder, and slipped out of the room. The boy's father had entrusted him with duties, and the boy was too close to let him die now.