Man, if he could only just reach that bowl of ramen…

-+.:Nothing To Lose:.+-

º¤ø,¸¸,ø¤ºº¤ø,¸¸ º¤ø,¸¸,ø¤ºº¤ø
The sticks and stones,
They break my bones,
And still,
The words, they hurt me.
º¤ø,¸¸,ø¤ºº¤ø,¸¸ º¤ø,¸¸,ø¤ºº¤ø

-Chapter Six-

It was raining, the water positively jumping up from the ground in muddy splashes, hurling the dark liquid body against the blonde's skin in dirty patches as he chanced a glance towards his academy teacher, still standing stock still among the others at the edge of the clearing. Kakashi was back at the chunnin's side, a hand gripping the other man's shoulder, and Naruto was struck with the sudden urge to know if he was speaking behind that concealing mask of his.
Speaking about him.
About the monster.

"Sensei," he rasped through bloody lips, voice hoarse and spent, laced with the exhaustion he could feel a little too deeply within his bones, and both teachers stiffened slightly, shaken, and vaguely wide eyed.

Neither of them stepped forward.

It was eerily quiet but for the mad patter of silver rain and the occasional retching noises from the cover of the trees; Kyuubi had not only done his job, but he had pleasured in making the moments of death gruesomely unique and artistic, he might say, leaving the pink intestines and gray matter spread against every surface within a fourth of a mile.

On some of the trees, there were articles of personal belongings; headbands impaled through their metal bodies, masks with pieces of their owners still attached, and even the shine of a gold and silver ring that gave a touch of personality to the faceless corpses around it.

"Sensei," he tried again, and unexpectedly, the pony tailed man flinched.

Naruto jerked fractionally. He knew he could never expect even Iruka to completely trust him- Kyuubi had done a splendid job of recreating the chuunin's most traumatic memory- but it still sent needles of pain splintering into his chest to see it so blatantly laid out on the man's face. This was history repeating itself before their eyes, and after all, what was preventing this from happening again? Maybe next time inside the village, against his own companions? What if they used him again, used him to dispose of the enemy, and he turned on his imprisoners instead? Naruto couldn't blame them for trapping the demon inside of him, he would have volunteered if he had been able, but the monster in question was an entity of revenge, and not only was there a chance of Kyuubi finishing his unfinished business from thirteen years past, but it was very sickeningly possible.
Now everyone had seen what he could become, what he was capable of doing, what was lurking beneath his skin.

And Iruka must hate him.

"Dammit," he whispered to himself, clenching and unclenching his bloodied fists, trying not to remember all of the times that Iruka had given him… everything… and repaying him now with a splendid show of carnage and utter destruction.

His small torn hands finally settled, balled into fists at his sides, (and in the drying blood beneath his nails, there're a hundred names) and suddenly, he jerked. The red fire picked up in his veins, stung like a lattice work of poison through his body, and in the dim light that filtered through the rain, he snarled. It was so inhuman, so unprovoked and unexpected, and when the closest nin around him dropped like stones to the floor before their hands could ball around their ears, Naruto could hear the demon laughing hysterically in his mind.

So he did what any frightened fifteen year old boy would do, stood up, and ran. He had half expected the group of nin to pursue him, to track him down and hunt him like some sort of game animal, but even a mile away, there was nothing but the rain, and his muddy footprints in the ground.


They were organizing search groups. Nobody had volunteered, (why bother?) and, really, nobody cared what happened to the demon brat anyway. But the Hokage's word, whatever and however, was law.

The effects of the medication, he had said, were unknown, and it was to be assumed at all times that Naruto could change back at any given moment. He was unstable. Dangerous. Possibly under so much stress as to be crazy. He might attack them, but, (and he would say this with one poised finger and an air of pain) it wasn't his fault, so, don't kill him.

Kakashi wasn't quite shaking with rage, not exactly glaring at the old man who had arrived for this speech in the clearing, and not really fingering his kunai holster in agitation, because he knew his place (no matter how he wanted so deeply to break it).

"Anbu only," the Hokage continued. "Treat it as the highest caliber mission. The rest of you," he tried not to look at the torn bodies, some cut cleanly in half and spilling their contents into the bloodied dirt, "have clean up." He turned to leave, but Iruka was at his side in an instant, gripping an aged arm to get the man's attention. He immediately released the robes when the man turned sharply to face him.

"Hokage-sama, let me go talk to him," he whispered urgently, ignoring the arched brow of the other. "I can bring him back." Like the first time, when he stole the scroll of sealing, remember?, he might have added, had it been anyone other than that Hokage, but it went unspoken between the two of them.

"I'm sorry, Iruka." The leader looked it, but it just wasn't enough. Iruka stared at him in ill-concealed disbelief and rude anger. "He may revert under emotional stress for all we know, and we just can't risk having you there." The man paused, giving the younger man a look that might have implied a deeper knowledge of feelings Iruka really didn't want known, interjecting only when the chuunin made a movement to speak. "He's very attached to you, Naruto is," the Hokage murmured fondly, "If anything were to happen…" He spread his arms wide, a regal shrug, or just an old confused man trying to do the best he could for his village. "I'm sorry."

And then he was gone.

"Dammit!" Iruka slammed a curled fist against the nearest oak trunk, and it shuddered under the impact, hunks of bark crumbling away to reveal a hand shaped indent.

"I know," Kakashi muttered darkly beside him, staring pointedly at the damaged tree. "He has the same effect on me." Iruka glared at him, then sighed, resting his head against the oak.

"Tell me, Kakashi, what do I do?"

The jounin took out and flipped open his infamous book, though his eyes didn't move to follow the printed kanji on the page. "You know, Iruka, they say that those who go against rules, especially the Hokage's who has final say in, well, everything, are nothing but scum. But," he held up a finger to silence his friend, looking up from the pretty inked paper and holding Iruka with his hard stare. "Those who abandon their friends are worse than scum." He shrugged, the gravity of the moment capsized in a flash and a select few words. "At least, that's what I'm trying to teach the little runts, but I'm thinking they need a few more lessons."

When he looked back up from the page, Iruka, as expected, had left. Kakashi smiled, (the man was so predictable) and with a small snap, the book was in his pocket, and he was following his comrade through the thick of the forest. The air against his face was cool, despite the heat and intensity of the day, drops of rain leaking down the creases of his brow to drip vexingly against the skin of his neck.

"Sensei, what happened?" Sakura fell in stride beside her teacher, Sasuke quietly flanking the man's opposite side, looking for all the world like he wanted to speak, but deciding the situation was already turning in his favor. Better to not disrupt it now.

"Well, Sakura, that all depends on how much you saw right now." He gave her a crooked smile and a halfhearted chortle that rattled in his throat a second too long.


"What I mean is, did you see Naruto turn into the Nine Tailed Fox, slaughter just about everyone within a hundred plus yards, change back to promise everyone he wouldn't kill again, just in time to revert back to the monster and massacre everyone in sight?" He peeked a stealthy look at the girl who's jaw had rudely flopped open, then turned back to watch the night unfold before him, bounding from tree limb to tree limb effortlessly. "In that case, I'd tell you that he's managed to spook himself away, and we're currently chasing him down to ensure that he doesn't fall into the wrong hands tonight." Despite the situation, he couldn't help but tease his pupils, especially when Sasuke looked ready to drop with surprise. He had always wondered what the surly teen would think when confronted with the truth about his rival. Then again, Sasuke was smart. He thought he knew.

They wouldn't remember it in the morning anyway.

"He what?" Sakura gasped, shocked at her teacher's not only indifferent, but slightly humorous features.

"Oh?" he chuckled, and the two glared from either side of him. "I mean, Sakura-chan, what a silly thing to ask. We're playing hide-and-seek with Uzumaki. First one to catch up with Iruka-sensei wins!"

"You're useless, sensei."


He knew he should never have chosen this place to hide. Iruka-sensei would know, would find him, would try to help, and he-

Naruto didn't think he could handle it if he hurt the gentle chuunin when he lost control. He hadn't even wanted to stop running. The pouring rain washed away the heat from his body, quelling the fiery demon inside his belly until it was only an angry murmur in his mind. No, the rain was good, but despite dreams of courageous self sacrifice and dazzling gallantry, Naruto wasn't ready to abandon his only home, to leave Konoha forever to spare them from the demon, too afraid of losing the only thing he had left, even if his presence was a heavy burden on the village. Too damn scared. Like a baby, he told himself harshly, but his legs slowed to a trot, then a walk, finally stopping inches from the rotting shack.

Back to where it all started.

He traced soft fingers in the dead wood of the wall, sodden hair clinging to his neck and losing the battle to stay upright and spiky. Iruka had saved him here, what, three, four years ago? Protecting him from betraying his village, and consequentially, death. Funny, how he had ever doubted Iruka's firm intentions, kind voice, gentle touch. Funny that he had to run away from the man even now. His fingertips graced the indents where, once upon a time, kunai had pinned his academy teacher, and he himself had learned what he was.

Naruto snorted, dragging his body tiredly through the creaking door, only vaguely wondering if the flooring would hold out on him. Uncaring, he threw himself to the cold ground, tossing an arm over his eyes to wait out the effects of the medication. The stirrings in his belly were becoming more insistent, provoking him, growing at him, demanding release upon those who had wronged them.

Sakura had set him up, his teachers, both his teachers, had abandoned him, and now, now was the time he could extract revenge. He could pretend to be better, spend the night with Iruka, then, in the dead of the night, pull out a concealed kunai and-

"NO, dammit!"

The entire building shuddered as his small fists slammed into the wall, the crimson in his eyes gradually ebbing to purple, then slowly regaining their blue hues once more. Somewhere from the labyrinth of his murky damp mind, the demon howled with laughter.

"Never," he gasped, panting so hard his ribs stung. "Never, not to Iruka-sensei…never…" He didn't know who he was trying to convince.

"Soon, Kit. Soon."

"Not now, not ever you manipulative son of a bitch," he muttered back, mentally slamming another door against the massive sealed cage. He wrapped a hand protectively around his heaving ribs, glaring from beneath his bangs. "Go rot."


Naruto nearly jumped out of his skin, spinning so quickly that he lost his balance, falling unceremoniously on his back and scrambling away from the voice.

"Go away," he wheezed, voice hoarse with fear, because if there was anyone he did not want to see, it was Iruka.

"Naruto," the man said, strained and cracking with what Naruto wanted to imagine was concern for him. "Naruto, I want to help you."

"Go away." Naruto pulled his upper lip back, revealing a set of elongated canines, then snapping it back in place, too late to try and hide the evidence of his guilty nature. "I'll kill you." He didn't intend it as a threat so much as a warning to the man, but he could see the immediate impact of his words- hesitation and the fear that crossed the chuunin's eyes as he hovered uncertainly in the doorway, dripping mud and water into a growing puddle at his feet.

For a moment, neither of them spoke, Naruto trying his best to glare the man away from his hideout, willing him to understand that he couldn't possibly go back to the village when the demon was just out of reach, slaughter on its one track mind. Finally, Iruka shrugged.

"Fine then," he said easily, trying to suppress the shivers running up and down his spine as he tried to count the telltale signs of the demon in the boy. Deep whisker marks. Violent purple eyes. Bloodlust. "But I'm still staying here with you." He offered a slight smile to the boy, dropping his soggy vest to the ground on his way towards the wall Naruto has pushed himself up against, and slid down it, coming to a relaxed sitting position next to his student.


"Nah," the man cut him off, smiling to show that he wasn't angry. "We'll talk about it later, but right now, why don't we talk about something else, yeah?" Smalltalk while dancing with death. Risky, but maybe the only chance at surviving a sure demise. Naruto grabbed the lure.

"Well, I have been wondering…" He hesitated for a fraction of a second before rushing on. "How did you become a chuunin, sensei? I've never actually seen you fight in, you know, missions and stuff. Just lecture a lot. And yell."

The chuunin studied the patterns of rot and mold on the floor between his bent knees, trying to hold back his laughter, because Naruto seemed serious and honestly curious.

"Well, it was actually-"

This time, when the door slammed open, Naruto really wasn't prepared. He had jumped to his feet before the handle hit the wall, and wavered. For a moment, he was caught in Kakashi's sharingan gaze, dizzy and nauseous as it spun the room in circles…

Iruka caught him before he hit the floor.

"Naruto…?" He somehow pulled his eyes from the spinning red and black waves to focus hazily on the patch of pink peering from behind his jounin teacher's vest.
So he had been wrong. Iruka wasn't the worst person that could possibly show up at a time like this.

He could hear the blood rushing to his head, pounding so insistently in his wrists and neck that he thought he might explode in a colorful display of crimson and gold.

She shouldn't be here. What was she doing here? Didn't they realize? Didn't they understand that they'd thrown this all into jeopardy by bringing her here tonight? If there was one emotion forbidden to him at the moment, it was anger- calling to and feeding the demon inside of him, weakening all the defenses he had tried so hard to build.

But it was already too late.

"Finally, Kit. Let's play."


For a moment, there was utter silence. It was debatable, what first hurled Kakashi against the opposite wall, and at the same time slammed the single door shut with such fiery impact that the walls about them rattled, but when it was over, Naruto was standing alone in the middle of the room, surrounded by what was undeniably nine pluming tails of crimson chakra.

"Oh, Kit," the blackened lips crooned while the tails thrashed around them, forcing the others flat against the walls to avoid being burned. "It's been so long… so very, very long."

An ethereal glow was gathering around the boy's body, his maniacal charcoal grin illuminated in the pulsing red glare of the tails, and when he lifted his dancing eyes to the room, they were a hard laughing blood red.

The room erupted into action.

It was Kakashi first, dodging the wreathing tails with a precision only afforded to him by the blazing sharingan glare that trained on each curling fiber, finally coming to a breathy halt before his shaken students.

"Sakura, Sasuke." The man didn't look behind himself to see if they had heard over laughter and creaking wood, instead following Iruka's every movement as the chuunin hurled seal after seal at the demon.
He was only borrowing time none of them had.

"The entire building's encased in chakra- some kind of molded barrier." He shook his head, and Sasuke might have thought it was in awe that his teacher did so, but since when did the great Hatake Kakashi find anything that surprising? The palms of his hands itched with anticipation. "It's strong," he continued, a hopeful note of triumph edging his voice, "but not unbreakable."

"Kakashi-" There was a sharp warning in Iruka's urgent call; the demon was losing patience with their game. The jounin quickened his words, fingers twitching distractedly as he spoke.

"You'll make it out to the forest, and from there, Sakura, remember the signs I showed you for summoning?" The girl nodded numbly. "Good. I don't care who or what you bring, just get the Hokage here in person." Another nod, and determined tightening of fingers around steel.

"When I give the signal, aim for directly below the window. Sasuke, give it maybe five meters, and chidori should do the rest." Kakashi finally glanced back at his genin, and a fraction of a second passed before both eyes widened in surprise. Swinging around, he swore, lunging forward and drawing back just as quickly as a great tail swooped between him and his raven haired pupil who had detached himself from the group, fucussing his spinning sharingan on his target with an air of determination.

"Dammit, Sasuke, you idiot!" he hissed at the teen. Another chakra tail swung between the two, and the man waited until he could see his student rushing headlong towards the occupied demon. "Get the hell back here!"

Sasuke could feel the victory singing between his fingers, wrapping the explosive tag around several biting shuriken. He smirked triumphantly.
He couldn't lose.

The weapons in question, he hid below two others, momentarily freezing his feet with concentrated chakra milliseconds before landing on one of the massive burning tails, pushing off and leaping to the next with a great hiss of evaporation. The demon, wildly engaged in singeing the chuunin's clothing with bursts of fire, was howling in animalistic pleasure, and goaded the exhausted man with silky words through the lips of the only child he had cared for. Sasuke pinned his target with blazing eyes, leveling the blades between the buttons of Naruto's spine. Underfoot, the thin surface of chakra-molded ice below his sandals hissed.

Sasuke flung the blades from his body, and was instantaneously pitched backwards, flying through the air with a scalding hot tail embedded in his midsection as Kyuubi howled in rage, unable to react as the blades zeroed in on his vertebrae. Exploding tags, Sasuke thought, detonate on impact. There wasn't a chance.

The explosions rattled his ribcage, jarring his teeth into his lower lip, and Sasuke was smiling, even as his back hit the wall, and everything went silent.

"Sasuke," somebody moaned, and he realized that it was Iruka. "How could- It's still Naruto!" The gasped name of his rival sent shivers down the Uchiha's spine, and a deep regret stabbed him in the stomach, rising like bile to settle coldly in his chest.
He had killed Naruto.

Sasuke's brain was still rattling loudly in his head, his vision dark and blurry from impact, the shock just settling in, but that laughter
It shouldn't still be here.

The boy looked up, and choked.

Iruka was standing still now, everything was still now, holding a darkening patch on his forearm, heaving in exhaustion, and looking haggard and spent. The shrapnel was still clattering to the ground around him, and the kunai slipped from his fingers to crash loudly against the creaking wooden floor. For a staggering moment, Sasuke thought he might have hit the chuunin somehow, but the man was digging the shards from his shoulder, and the bloodied pieces he dropped to his side were not the black tipped shuriken Sasuke had launched, but the steel kunai Iruka had used to intercept them. There was a hazy guilt settling in his eyes- they might all die because of him tonight, and the dead never come back- but there was no regret, even looking at the bloodlust in his pupil's slitted eyes.

Kyuubi chortled, curling his nine tails smugly about him, and every move, every gesture, was just so completely Naruto that it was sickening.

"My, what bony prey I've landed on," he cooed, all teeth and nails (and a biting poison that rips through the clothes and settles in the chest) as Kakashi held a protective arm between the demon and his pink haired student. Sasuke wasn't far behind, leaning against the wall as he attempted to rise with a grimace, the blade of his kunai tipped outward, ready, but quivering. "Hatake Kakashi." Kyuubi sauntered over, dark and quiet with catlike grace and an animalistic hunger that wrapped tightly around the jounin with an airy domination. "Oh, I do remember you."

In a fluid motion, the blonde, his hair gleaming a sandy rose color in the artificial light, was at the man's throat with a kunai, the jounin's sharingan eye spinning wildly as he brought his own blade up to parry the blow. The sweat rolled down his brow as the fox let out a throaty amused howl.

"Umuino Iruka," he purred, not bothering to break eye contact with Kakashi to look at the man creeping up from behind. He had the chuunin's wrist locked in one clawed fist before he could retreat, bending it back effortlessly until the sharp metal clashed from the chuunin's hand to the ground. "I'm not entertained."

"Kyuubi no Kitsune," the older white haired man growled by way of acknowledgement, his voice full of a deep respect, arms shaking as he held off the knife sliding perilously close to his throat. A rope of nearly tangible crimson chakra constricted around the jounin like a snake, thickening into yet another thick tail as one faded out from behind the fox. In seconds, Kakashi was lying motionless across the room, Iruka swearing profusely until, with the lightest shove, he was thrust back next to his companion, leaving deep friction tracks in the rotting wood to mark his progression through the room.

It was sweltering.

Kyuubi smiled, his teeth razor sharp as he grinned winsomely at his prize.

"You. Uchiha. I've been waiting some time now for this," he growled, eyes hidden in shadows accentuating his lazy leer. "Let's fight."

The fine hairs rose on the teen's neck, and a cold sweat was breaking over his body from that stare. This wasn't Naruto. This wasn't the dead last happy-go-lucky boy he had sparred with at the academy, pounded into the dirt countless times, and helped back up every time after.

"Idiot," he muttered, his pride not allowing him to lose this mental battle, (dammit, Naruto was still there, laughing at him from those crimson, crimson eyes) but there was an underlying fear of being heard. "It's not…you." Tremors ran slightly up and down his frame, neck hairs prickling in response to the bloodlust in those red eyes. The demon did not seem in the least daunted, grinning toothily at the other boy. He had watched his host humiliated by this teen, beaten and embarrassed, and losing every time, and it wasn't so much for Naruto's sake that he played this deadly game, but because revenge was what he was built for, and, Oh, Naruto, it's so delicious.

"One and the same," he purred into the shell of the boy's eye, relishing the responding tremors it elicited. "Are you… scared?" The blonde swayed forward, his very smile threatening to his surroundings. Unpredictable. And where was Naruto? The loud boy they had so neglected all these years? Obnoxious and determined, whether the world admitted it or not, Konoha just wouldn't be the same without him. And now Sasuke knew why.

Red eyes pinning him to the spot, sharp incisors lengthening, if possible, the demon had him secured to the wall by the neck before he could react. "You were never really a match for me, dobe," he whispered mockingly, lips brushing against the other boy's ear.

"Let him go, Naruto! Can't you see he's suffocating?" Sakura's eyes were nearly as wide as Sasuke's, tears spilling from their green depths as she tugged imploringly on his jacket, still wet from earlier that night. She stared him down, beseeching from him some sign of the old character she knew. For a moment, the boy's features seem to soften at her voice, but it was not within the demon's cruel nature to act compassionately upon the same faux innocence Naruto had once fallen for. He grinned, flaunting his dominance by applying more pressure and lifting his raven teammate off the ground.

"You're next if you don't shut up, bitch."

Enhanced through the demon's mind, Naruto could feel the rush of pleasure in his very blood that in any other case might have been his own. It surged in his own heart, his own feeling, the very fuel the demon within him was running on. He would defeat Sasuke; his rival in strength, and his rival for Sakura's affection. With Sasuke out of the picture, Sakura would surely-

"What. Was. That?" Red eyes fixed on the large hand that had collided with his own, a smirk tipping his lips as he followed the arm up until his gaze rested on a familiar masked face. "Really, Kakashi, is that all you have to give me?" Kyuubi uncurled his clawed fingers, letting the black haired boy drop to the ground gasping, lips moving in a soundless speech. "You, a jounin. How utterly pathetic." He gazed at the dried blood caking his finger nails, then swiftly brought a hand up to the jounin's face, wiping the rust colored iron unabashedly against the man's smooth skin. "I could kill you," he said idly when the man refused to move. "And I could make you beg me to kill you." Kyuubi looked up, his red irises flashing, his face flushed with excitement.

As if to prove his point, a clawed hand wrapped around the man's wrist, easily snapping it before the jounin had time to even look.

"Naruto," Iruka whispered from the side, trying to ignore his comrade's sharp breath and grunts of pain as he tried to pull away.

The demon was gripping higher, breaking the elbow now with a grin, not bothering to look as the jounin shouted out. "Naruto's gone, love," he laughed, "It's just you and me and this."

There was another crack, another yell, and from somewhere deep in the demon's throat, a responding laugh.

"Naruto," Iruka tried again, "Fight it, Naruto." He cautiously wrapped a gentle hand around the boy's wrist, guiding it away from the gasping man while the demon gazed unfocussed at the juncture between his neck and shoulder. A tremor ran down his spine, and a tired growl slipped past his blackened lips. "Naruto," he persisted, "come on, Naruto. We'll get out of here, we can go get some ramen after, wouldn't you like that? We'll go to the ocean- I heard you telling Kakashi-sensei you liked the ocean, so, why don't we go there for the weekend, just the two of us-"

Iruka stopped short as the boy's head fell against his shoulder, the ethereal glow subsiding and darkening the room considerably. When Naruto looked up again, disoriented and unbalanced, his eyes were still red, but they were a dull shade of maroon, softened about the edges and more human than they had been that night.

"Sensei?" It was muffled, tired, and there was a heavy weight to the word that the man disliked intensely.

"Hey, I'm here," he whispered back, dropping to his knees on the damp floor, and steadying the boy who followed suit. Naruto cringed slightly, drawing his body into itself.

"I feel…"

Iruka held his head while he vomited to the side.


"Ugh," he moaned, pushing away from his teacher and staggering backwards when the man tried to steady him. "Kyuubi… Oh Kami, my head's spinning…"

He refused to let Iruka near him while he emptied the contents of his stomach for the second time. "I- I can't… sensei, he's ripping me up!" Naruto's voice was reaching hysterics, shielding away from the chuunin, and clutching at his head while the demon fought for control.

"Maybe you should-"

"No," he moaned quietly into his hands. "It's happening all over again…"

"Naruto, calm down, it's just going to-"

"Sensei, I can't stop it… wire- do you have barbed wire?"

"Naruto, what are you-"

"It's the only way to stop it! Do you have any?"

"I-" Why, yes, he did have wire- it was as much a weapon as any kunai or shuriken, but suddenly, it all made disgusting sense. He'd seen this before, had to stitch the wounds shut the last time Naruto had pulled this stunt, and the kid had almost died even then. He hadn't known it last time, meticulously unwrapping the thin wire and pulling it out of the skin of Naruto's wrists, but it was the perfect plan, he had to admit, however revolting the notion. If the demon manifested and struggled against it, it would slice the flesh, and he would either bleed to death, or heal the wounds over the metal, eventually releasing its decaying toxins into the boy's bloodstream. Return the body to the host, or die.

"Naruto, I'm out, but just hold on, just for a-"

Naruto had already started convulsing, thrashing and striking out at the air with curved fingers, and his irises were soaking up the reviving glow from the tails.

"The vest," he growled through lengthening teeth.

"You want my…?"

"Dammit, put it on!"

Iruka glanced at the green vest he had discarded on his arrival only a while before, and that time seemed so distant too him while he listened to the blonde keening on the ground. Not taking his eyes off the boy, he walked to the entrance, picked up the article of clothing, and donned it.

"Naruto, why…?"

"Did you… miss me?" The body had stopped shuddering, and strikingly evident though it was, Iruka hated to admit that Naruto had lost the battle against the fox. He wondered vaguely if it hurt the blonde.

From somewhere in the corner, Sakura began hyperventilating loudly, trying to still her ragged breaths, and only gasping louder. Sasuke's head was in her lap, the green glow of her chakra ebbing away from her hands- Iruka assumed she had been healing a head wound; Sakura was always good with that kind of thing. He waited, and the fox was surprisingly calm, watching the girl and unconscious boy with patient, if not humorous, eyes, until she finally ran out of oxygen under his heated gaze, and passed out cold in the corner of the ruined shack.

"Well that was pathetic," the demon sneered, his tails pluming behind him and lashing out like an agitated cat.

There were only eight.

"That's the thing about you mortals," the fox scoffed, thoroughly disappointed in the lack of activity. "You're so frail, and," he was by Kakashi's side in an instant, pinning him by the throat to the wall, and clucking at the man's feeble attempts to summon his dogs. "You all die so easy."


Iruka's hand shot out as if to reach for the monster, knowing where the demon's boredom and implications would lead if he didn't interfere. Kakashi was slowly losing consciousness.

"Wait," the chuunin repeated again, hand still outstretched, edging closer to the fox in his student's body. (There's an old saying, "A wolf in sheep's clothing", and Iruka thinks that Naruto is the perfect sheep.)

Iruka was now the one against the wall in a flash, and he was glad he didn't see it coming. Maybe this is how he'll die- all fast movements and blurs and no pain.

He doesn't get his wish.

The claws rip at his chest, at his neck, at his back, and he could feel Naruto's –the fox's- hot musty breath on his neck, and there was a fierce anger in the quick movements and raging exhalations. Iruka realized, maybe a moment too late, that the demon did not stand to be patronized by his prey.

"Let them go," he tried anyway, and the nails dug deep into the fabric of his thickly sealed vest, shredding it completely in seconds. (He now realizes why Naruto had him don it, trying not to think of what state his skin would be in without its padded protection). "Naruto, let them go, and no matter what, I'll stay here with you." Iruka was desperate, but he wasn't a liar.

Naruto's eyes darkened slightly, the corners crumbling down in a frustrated frown, and the Kyuubi snarled, determined not to be caught in the same trap again. It's the same tune, just new words, he reminded himself bitterly, raging against his blonde host, hurling himself up against the sewer walls of his mind. The chuunin had no trump card, and as long as he wasn't distracted by the pretty lyrics, there was nothing that the fox could not handle.

Until Naruto snagged his complicated mind and attempted to seize control.

"Dammit, brat, get the hell out of my mind while I'm playing!"

For a dazed and blood-deprived moment, Iruka entertained the thought that Kyuubi might be talking to him. He imagined that he was within the fox's mind, but, no, he was never really good at reading people, even when it was clearly written on their faces.

Vaguely aware of his surroundings, and being shaken like a rag doll by an infuriated demon, Iruka did the only thing that seemed natural to him.

"I'm sorry about your life, Naruto," he offered, pulling the teen, fox spirit and eight thrashing tails and all, into a tight embrace, settling his neck as comfortably as he could on the blonde's shoulder, and waited.

Naruto was in chaos.

Ankle deep in the sewage of his mind, and staring at an empty sealed cage, Naruto watched as his own hands attempted to disembowel his teacher, and pausing in just enough time to leave a bloody track of nails across the man's back.

"Wait, but this is Iruka-sensei!" his mind screamed at him, even while the demon raked across skin and burned with fiery deadly tails. "You can't hurt him! You can't hurt him because he- he…"

"I love you, Naruto," he whispered.

And everything went black.

Too numb to consider what had happened, Iruka stood rooted in place, rocking back and forth with his blonde student cradled in his arms. He imagined Naruto's eyes were a deep ocean blue, reflected in the shards of weaponry littering the floor like trash before they closed.

"I don't think…he'll remember it." Kakashi rose shakily, gripping his knee for stability before supporting his weight against the wall. "Not this time, anyway, and after all the stress his body's gone through. Not to mention his mind."

"We'll seal the demon the first thing when we get back."

Kakashi nodded, shutting his eyes and hovering in silence for what might have been eternity. Finally, "You're lucky." A forced smile. "All I get from Sasuke is a nasty temper and mood swings."

Iruka snorted. "Like broken arms and damaged property is any better?"

Kakashi attempted a shrug, winced, and gave up. "Maybe not, but watch out where you put your feelings, Iruka," he murmured seriously. "You never know what's going to happen when your back's turned."

"I think I might be willing to chance it." He laughed dryly. "I've got nothing else to lose."

A/n- Alright, I know Its been a while, but I sort of just fell out of writing fanfictions. :-( Actually, thanks to the consistency of all your wonderful support, I decided to give this another go! Hope you all enjoyed… if I end up writing another chapter, there's probably going to be a little smut right off the bat. I won't burn out your eyes though. :-)

...I'd say Barack The Vote... but all our candidate suck... :-(