Here it is. The Link: Snake and Fox. Re-read, re-enjoy.

The Link

Chapter I: Mission Success!

The rain fell heavily all around, and though it was already midnight the surroundings seemed darker than they should be, as if collaborating with the mood of the people inside the house, whose light flickered oddly as if trying in vain to ward off the pressing shadows of the night outside. The house was also oddly silent, though there were four people present. Perhaps the silence was their way of showing their nerves.

Jiraiya kept throwing anxious looks on both the small calendar and clock on Tsunade's desk, sometimes even glaring at it as if trying to dare Time to go even faster. It was Sunday, October 10th, an hour and twenty minutes to midnight to be exact. But it wasn't just Jiraiya who kept glaring at anything that seemed to represent time, for a certain Hatake Kakashi was also doing the same through his normal eye. He leant on the wall across the room, arms folded across his chest like what he normally does, his mouth clamped shut. Kakashi's uneasiness could be seen on the beads of sweat that bedewed his temples. It was strange because the storm only worsened the cold.

"One hour and nineteen minutes." Tsunade announced to the room at large.

Shizune stood up, unable to hold her anxiety any longer. Ton-ton snorted anxiously in her arms. "Tsunade-sama, this idea was bad from the start; you can't possibly hope Naruto will be able to -!"

"Shut up and take your seat." Tsunade snapped. Shizune swallowed painfully and landed back down onto the red couch, hugging Ton-ton closer to her. Kakashi thought she was close to tears. "You know nothing about that boy, so you stop judging him."

Jiraiya shot up now, and started to resume his pacing, his hands behind him. His bristly white hair swished violently behind him, displaying his uneasiness. "You should tell that to yourself, Tsunade. You don't know anything about the boy. If there are two people who know Naruto best in this room, it is Kakashi and I. Why you had to send him on this stupid mission – and all alone – you literally pushed him to his death..."

"Naruto will come back." Tsunade said curtly. She took a sidelong glance onto her desk clock. "One hour and fifteen minutes."

Kakashi did not say anything, but he closed his eyes. If Naruto doesn't come back, I will personally search for him, even if I have to wage war on the Sound by myself. Coming to this decision, the Jounin nodded quietly to himself. He knew it was useless to voice out his thoughts; the Godaime will just snap at him – or perhaps she'd crack and slam her slipper onto his face. Now he wouldn't want that to happen. Naruto, damn you, how am I supposed to tell Sasuke and Sakura...

"Honestly, Tsunade," said Jiraiya, breaking the silence. "Do you honestly think a Jounin like Naruto – and all alone at that – will be able to catch Orochimaru! Have you gone mad!"

The woman finally cracked, and Kakashi winced and braced himself for the sound of slipper coming in contact with a human face. Nothing happened, so Kakashi decided to open his normal eye and take a peek. Tsunade was standing behind her desk, glaring at Jiraiya. She would have represented a bristling cat perfectly. Or a very angry slug.

"I trust that boy with my life! I am sure he will succeed!" Tsunade spoke in a voice of forced calm.

Shizune finally gave in to the pressure and started to sob into Ton-ton's back. Kakashi transferred his gaze to the raging storm outside. It had been a month since Tsunade sent Naruto to try capture Orochimaru single-handed. A month with virtually no communication whatsoever. Kakashi may never understand why until he died – but that was the least of his worries. Neji, Shikamaru, Kiba, Sasuke and the others were all clamoring for news of Naruto – naturally they didn't know he was sent on this mission – but it would only be a matter of time before they turn into an angry mob with Sasuke in the lead and storm Tsunade's office...

"He will arrive on the appointed time. I am sure." Tsunade declared in a...defeated...voice. She slid back onto her swivel chair. "And if he doesn't...if he doesn't..." she hung her head.

The minutes passed by in a frightening pace Kakashi wouldn't have imagined possible. But he always believed that Time knew its tricks – when you wanted it to slow down it'd annoy you and go doubly fast – and when you wanted it to go fast it'd slow down enough to shame a snail and a porpoise in one go. Kakashi kept his eyes to the dark gloom outside, trying to squint through the thumbnail-sized raindrops falling from the sky.

Naruto, come on, damn you...nobody will blame you if you fail...

"Fifty-nine seconds." Tsunade announced in a faint voice.

Kakashi finally left his patch of wall and started tapping his foot impatiently. Jiraiya buried his face in his hands. Shizune stood up and left the room crying.

"Twenty...fifteen...ten..." Tsunade made a choking sound.

The sudden tolling of the midnight hour came as a shock. Jiraiya gave a deep sigh. Kakashi ran to the doors and threw them wide open, unmindful of the rain that now slicked his clothes. The dark was so thick...maybe he just couldn't see...there...something moved! That might be Naruto! But was just a peddler trying to flee from the rain...

The midnight hour passed like a nightmare. It was now 12:15, and still no Naruto. Kakashi clenched his hands into fists and was just about to run outside when -!

"Wait!" he said suddenly. Tsunade and Jiraiya looked up. "Light! Please, a lamp, anything! Hurry and put your asses to it!"

It was Tsunade who moved, unnerved. She quickly lit a waterproof lamp and handed it to Kakashi, who thrust it into the night and rain, holding it above his head. Tsunade gasped and clapped her hands to her mouth. Jiraiya squeezed in between her and Kakashi, bloodshot eyes wide.

Naruto was walking toward them, looking...alive but...there was an awful lot of bandages on his head. He was carrying something...Jiraiya gave a disbelieving moan as he recognized the pale flesh. Naruto was smirking smugly as he finally came to a halt before them. He carefully deposited his 'package' onto the wet ground. It didn't move. Naruto planted his left hand onto his hip before extending out his right to a thumbs-up.

" Mission success!" he declared.

Tsunade slowly lowered her hands. She was crying as she hugged Naruto. "Damn you, moron! You're late and you had us all worried! What happened to you!"

"Eheheh...we had trouble along the way..." Naruto answered sheepishly. "She did put up an amazing fight, but she realized what the link could do and tugged along sulkily..."

Jiraiya frowned. "She? What do you mean?"

Naruto nodded toward the bundle on the ground. Kakashi stepped forward and turned it around. Gasps came from both Tsunade and Jiraiya. It was...a pale woman...with long, sleek black hair. Her black kimono clung to her body suggestively and in spite of himself, Jiraiya felt something trickle down his nose. It was a moment before Kakashi spoke because he had had to unstick his throat.

"Naruto...who is this?"

Naruto didn't reply. He disentangled himself from Tsunade's arms and punched himself. There was a shrill shriek as the woman snapped out of her sleep and jerked up, clutching her bleeding nose. Realizing she was somewhere she wasn't supposed to be, she looked up at Kakashi, Tsunade and Jiraiya, and realizing who they were, hissed like an agitated snake before leaping to her feet.

"You! You!" she hissed, pointing at them all with a bandaged hand. Tsunade would have to die a hundred times before forgetting that hissing accent.

"Oh can't be...Orochimaru, is that you?"

Jiraiya simply gaped, and Kakashi did not notice his mask drop as a heap around his neck. The pale woman suddenly colored. She did not seem to notice that her kimono slipped a few inches down her left shoulder, offering the men a generous glimpse of her...ahm.

"Don't gape at me like that, Tsunade!" Orochimaru yelled. "And you, Jiraiya!" And then he recognized Jiraiya's look, and immediately hoisted up the kimono over his shoulder.

Kakashi, Jiraiya and Tsunade turned to Naruto. The blonde only cackled and ran a hand through his hair again.

" was the only thing I could do...besides the Link..." Naruto stammered. "I was dying and I didn't have time to think..."

Tsunade looked like she had been punched in the gut. She looked at Naruto's bleeding nose, and then onto...Orochimaru's...own bleeding nose... The Godaime repeated this process. Naruto, Orochimaru...Naruto, Orochimaru... she gasped.

"Naruto you idiot! You linked with him!" she burst out.

"WHAT!" Jiraiya said in outrage. "What!"

The frog hermit walked toward Naruto and slammed his fist onto the blonde's head – and as expected, Orochimaru's reaction was immediate. An invisible fist hit her – or him – agh, whatever – on the head, and her hair loosened from its messy style and spread around her before she fell unconscious onto the mud. Naruto, however, did not lose unconsciousness – he only swayed on his feet.

"We...are in a serious shit." Jiraiya nodded.

Tsunade kneeled before Naruto. She was crying and laughing at the same time. " will we execute Orochimaru if he's linked with you? Do you know what the Chakra Link does? You two are bound together for life! If we kill Orochimaru, you will also die!"

Naruto's blue eyes widened. "Oh...oh no...I...I didn't think of that..."

Kakashi slapped his own forehead. He seriously needed some pain killers.