Howl of the Kitsune

Chapter 6

Disclaimer: I arose this morning and discovered a small slip of paper, lying beside my cup of morning tea, a small note. On this note was written a small disclaimer, that read as follows: "I do not own Naruto or any characters attached with that series. I only own my original content." Bit of a nasty shock that was, I can tell you.

AN: So, here we are again. Over two years. The face of the Naruto fandom has changed quite a bit since last I was here. I see a lot of new faces, new pairings and new adventures. Let's see if these old fingers still have their magic…

Naruto and Kiba trudged along the dusty road, twin grimaces of distaste on their childish features. It wasn't hard to understand why; the day was a particularly hot and humid one, of a type that made one's clothes cling irritatingly to the skin, and the sun beat down mercilessly. Mosquitoes and other such insects clamored around them in great numbers, causing no small amount of irritation. Added onto that was the rather embarrassing fact that they had forgotten to bring their lunches to school that day, what with the haste of their departure to school that morning, and it isn't hard to understand why these two hellraisers might be a bit bad-tempered.

However, that wasn't what was really bugging Naruto.

What the real problem was, as far as Naruto was concerned, is that he considered himself to be an utter failure.

Naruto grimaced as he squashed a particularly persistent insect with an unerring blow, deep in thought. He was going over the events of the day in his mind, his mood worsening steadily as he did so.

The day had started just the same as always. Kiba, who had recently turned nine, and Naruto, who was soon to follow, had been awoken by their alarm clock. Following their usual morning routine, they had smashed the thing into silence and gone back to sleep; at least, that was the plan. No sooner had the thing gone off than Tsume had appeared at their doorway looking weary, haggard and spitting fire in a rather amazing fit of fury. Not that that was wholly unusual; she was often grouchy, and even her greatest admirers could not have called her beautiful with complete honesty. No, it was the fact that she was up with the sun that had shaken them; it was her custom to awaken some six hours after dawn, around that most holy hour of Noonish.

This had nonplussed them, and understandably so, but not as much as the fact that, underneath her anger, they could sense some form of genuine sadness. They didn't ask about it, of course; young and foolhardy they might be, but not suicidal. So they had forked down their breakfast in record time and had bolted out the door, quickly putting the whole experience behind them.

Once they had gotten to school, they became a little depressed themselves. As the students gathered into the place of learning, preparing for another day of learning, the two brothers figured that it would just be another boring day of history and math. They were in this school to learn how to kick ass, damn it! Who gave two shits about what daimyo made a peace treaty with who a hundred years ago? As far as they were concerned, the only good thing about the Ninja Academy right now was the fact that it gave them time to catch up on some much needed nap time.

But then the day took a turn for the better. Iruka, having arrived exactly on time like always, had announced that they would be putting aside the course material for the day and begin learning a real ninjutsu. This had excited Naruto to no end, and Kiba had been ecstatic as well, eager to learn something that had some real value. After all, they had been doing basic chakra molding exercises daily over the last year or so, and it was about time they took advantage of that!

The jutsu was, they learned to their delight, the Henge no Jutsu, otherwise known as the Transformation technique. This jutsu was an illusion which, when used properly, made the observer perceive the user as whatever the user had chosen to disguise himself as. It's main usage was to disguise one's appearance by altering the structure or distinctive markings of their bodies, but there were many sorts of unusual ways in which this jutsu could be used; for example, when hiding in a woodland area, one could make themselves appear to be a bush or a small tree, thereby eluding detection.

To the two pranksters, already known in the village as the Brothers Dim by those who liked them and as the Hellhounds to those that didn't, this seemed a godsend.

And then their day had gone to shit.

Iruka had brought them all down to the center of the classroom and set them to learning the technique. Showing them how to properly mold and utilize their chakra, he let them give it a try, asking them to transform into his likeness. And the results? The class genius, Uchiha Sasuke, that gloomy drama queen whose traitorous family had backstabbed each other to death, got it right the first try. The first goddamn try.

After that, of course, they had to listen to the ecstatic fawning of Sasuke's little fan club, all gloating over their idol's success and each trying to catch his attention. It had taken Iruka a few minutes to get them to calm down and get back to work, but that had been enough to sour Naruto's mood substantially. After that, he dedicated himself to mastering the technique, trying to force the chakra to cooperate, to bend it to his will.

It hadn't worked very well.

As the hour for lunch had drawn closer, and the number of students who were able to make passable transformations had grown, Naruto had found himself becoming more and more frustrated with his lack of success. In fact, he had felt like it was getting harder each time he tried, no matter how much effort he had put into it. By the time lunch had rolled around, he had been one out of only four people who hadn't gotten the jutsu down; the other three were Nara Shikamaru, who had somehow managed to doze through the exercise while standing up, Suigenchi Matoko, a red-haired kid who was too busy talking during class to even bother paying attention, and Akimichi Chouji, who was far too busy munching on his chips to focus. And even despite that, they had been able to manage at least a partial transformation. Well, except Shikamaru; he had not even bothered to try.

As the lunch bell rang, and the students had raced off to the courtyard with lunches in hand, Naruto had turned to his brother Kiba, who had barely been able to pull off a passable transformation about ten minutes beforehand, and scowled darkly.

"Damn it, I can't get this Henge thing at all! I keep pushing and pushing, and I can't get the fucking chakra to do what I want!" He kicked moodily at the floor and shoved his hands moodily into the pockets of his tan cargo shorts. Kiba looked at him and opened his mouth, as if wanting to say something detrimental about the blonde's skill, but shut it without speaking. Annoying though Naruto was sometimes, they were still brothers, and they had a connection deeper than most siblings did. Kiba knew that this was one of those times where he should keep his mouth shut and just let Naruto work through it.

"Don't let it get to ya, Kiba. Hey, where did you stick the lunches?" Naruto's head jerked up quickly.

"Eh?" He queried wordlessly, confused. "I thought you grabbed 'em!"

"What?" yelped Kiba with considerable agitation. He was a growing boy, and as such had his stomach high on the list of his priorities. The loss of a much desired lunch, especially after a day of taxing chakra control, was too much. "Are you telling me ya didn't bring the goddamn lunches with ya? You asshole!"

"Hey, it isn't my job to grab your lunch for ya! Besides, I don't have my lunch either, so don't get all fucking bitchy, jerk."

"Go fuck yourself," Kiba had growled, turning away from his brother with an angry snarl. "You can't even do one fucking jutsu, so don't get all high and mighty on me, you prick." Naruto had flushed darkly at this, but Kiba couldn't have cared less at that moment. "Whatever. I'm gonna go find me some chow. Later, loser." With that, he had stalked angrily away, leaving Naruto shaking with rage, both at his brother and his own inability.

Suddenly, he had felt a tap on his shoulder and had turned around angrily. It had been Shikamaru, suppressing a yawn and scratching his neck lazily, with Chouji at his shoulder, already munching on another bag of chips. Naruto hadn't been in the mood to deal with anybody, but he found it hard to be mad at Shikamaru; the bastard wouldn't even notice if Naruto yelled at him, lazy as he was. Besides, they'd been pretty good friends ever since that first day of school, and Naruto knew that the Nara was nowhere near as dumb as he let people believe.

"Having some trouble, Naruto?" Shikamaru had asked lazily.

"No way! I'll have this jutsu down in no time!" Naruto had shouted, pumping his fist in the air. Shikamaru had merely blinked at him, unimpressed. Naruto had paused for a moment, remembering that the Nara disliked Naruto's energetic style of talking, and had toned down the exuberance; it had been mostly fake, anyways. "Yeah, a little, I guess. But I'll get the hang of it. I just can't manage to make my chakra do what I want."

Shikamaru had shaken his head slightly and muttered a low 'troublesome', causing Chouji to grin at his friend's slothfulness.

"You're putting too much effort into it, dumbass. You've got to relax and let the chakra flow. Try to force it too much, and it's only going to get more troublesome." Naruto had looked slightly confused at the idea, and Shikamaru had sighed and glanced quickly about. Once he was sure that only himself, Naruto and Chouji were still in the room, he sighed and clasped his hands together into the Ram seal, molding his chakra.

Then, with a sudden rush of air, Shikamaru had disappeared, replaced with a mirror image of Iruka. Naruto's jaw had fallen to the floor in amazement. So far as the blonde had seen, the only difference between his friend's illusion and the real thing had been the attitude; no matter what Shikamaru looked like, he couldn't help but notice the lazily slumped shoulders and the bored eyes. The fake Iruka had tilted his head to the side and smirked at Naruto.

"Henge no Jutsu… Success."

"Badass," Naruto had whispered, watching in awe as Shikamaru dispelled the illusion. "You got it right the first time. And you did it just as good as that Uchiha bastard."

"Dumbass," Shikamaru had retorted with feeling, punching Naruto's shoulder lightly. "Don't group me in with him." Naruto had grinned widely at this remark, returning the punch. There were only three people in the Academy class that Shikamaru got animated about: Ino, who he avoided like the plague, Chouji, who he viewed as his closest friend, and Sasuke, who showed off far too much for the Nara's liking.

"C'mon," Chouji had said loudly, clapping a beefy hand onto Naruto's shoulder and smiling, "let's go get some food. Shikamaru's treat." The Nara had muttered darkly, but with a smile on his face, and Naruto and Chouji had laughed together as the three walked off towards the Academy cafeteria.

The rest of the day had gone uneventfully, but Naruto, despite Shikamaru's advice, had never managed to get the jutsu down at all, and had received a failing grade for the exercise. Of course, that didn't bug him much; he had gotten many such low marks in the time spent at the Academy. No, what irked him was that this was the first official jutsu he had been taught, and he had blown chunks at it. Hell, not only that, but he was the only one in the class who hadn't even been able to get the basics down.

That fucking sucked.

And now, here he was, going home in this damned heat with these fucking bugs swarming all over the place, his brother still slightly pissed about the lunch fiasco and his heart heavy at his own failures. All he could do now was pray that Tsume had a mission today; the later she heard about this, the better.

Without warning, he was jolted out of his train of thought by a low, rumbling noise. He glanced up and noticed Kiba, hands curled into fists at his side, staring angrily down the road and growling furiously at something or other. He trudged a few more paces and came to a halt just behind his brother's right shoulder, his head craned slightly as he scanned the horizon…

'Oh, fucking hells. Not this again.'

Not fifty paces ahead, there was a small gaggle of girls all crowding around someone. They were all young; the oldest amongst them couldn't have been more than fourteen, and the majority of the lot seemed to be around his own age. He scowled. For that matter, more than half of them were girls in his class. Which meant that they could only be here for one reason…

"Oh, this shit is just golden," he muttered darkly to himself, glancing at his brother. Kiba didn't even seem to notice; all of his intent was focused on one individual. Just then, there was a sudden parting in the flock of females, and the center of that storm of prepubescent attraction came into view. He was dressed, as always, in one of those dark, hand-me-down shirts with the tall collars. His dark hair, pale skin and brooding stance combined to present a rather dark and mysterious figure; a fact that made the girls swoon and the boys rage.

It was Uchiha Sasuke, the one and only boy prodigy of Konoha, the sole surviving descendant of that ancient and powerful clan of warriors and Konoha's newest heir to the heart-throb crown. To Naruto, however, he was nothing more than a great, big arsehole with a stick the size of a redwood tree jammed in it, and Naruto could feel his hands clenching and unclenching in furious frustration.

"It's that bastard again," Naruto growled angrily to Kiba, his eyes focused on Sasuke with a heated intensity. "Everywhere he goes, he gets people falling over themselves to suck his dick." With a scoff, he made to turn away, but was halted by a scathing remark from Kiba.

"Fuck that guy," Kiba bit out between clenched teeth, his fingers arching and spasming as if he was gouging a certain person's eyes. "I'm sick of him, I'm sick of his bullshit, and I'm sick of his fucking attitude. The fuck does he think he is, huh? The fucking Hokage?"

"Whoa," Naruto replied warily, surprised by the vehemence Kiba was showing. "I hate the bastard too, but what the hell was that?" Kiba said nothing, but Naruto pressed the issue. "Seriously, where did that come from? Why-" He broke off suddenly, a flash of yellow having caught his eye.

There, at the heart of the bevy of broads, was a slim, blonde girl with her hair tied back in a ponytail. She was dressed rather fetchingly in a purple top and a small matching skirt, her head cocked prettily to the side as she stared adoringly at Sasuke's profile. She was holding on to his left arm with both hand and batting her eyes at him in what she must have thought was a flirtatious manner, but which Naruto could only see as nauseating to the extreme. Of course, it could only be one person: Yamanaka Ino.

Once, Naruto had been fond of Ino. Why? Well, she had balls, for one. She was never afraid to speak her mind or tell someone off; hell, there were times when she'd used words he'd never heard, and that was saying something considering Tsume's immense vocabulary of oaths and curses. They had never really been friends, but they had respect for each other, even if it was mingled with a mutual feeling of irritating annoyance.

And then… the Massacre happened. After that, Sasuke changed. Naruto had never gotten along with him before that; in fact, he'd hated the pretentious bastard. But Sasuke had been a decent guy before that, despite his arrogant tendencies. But after the Uchiha Massacre, the Sasuke that Naruto had known became a different creature altogether; uncaring, stoic, driven and hard. He treated everyone with the same cold attitude. He was indifferent at best, and furiously spiteful at worst. Every word he spoke dripped with a venomous sarcasm that never failed to piss Naruto off something fierce. Naruto, Kiba, Shikamaru… for that matter, most of the boys in the class hoped he'd just fall down a flight of stairs and break his fool neck. Some were even willing to help him do just that.

But the girls thought it was amazing. It made him cool and sexy and strong and brave and damaged and dangerous and hot and… the list went on. Nearly every girl in the class wanted to be the first to heal his broken heart, to be that special person that turned his sad and hopeless life around and gave it meaning. Or maybe they just wanted to fuck him. Naruto didn't know, but what he did know was that any girl that wanted to be in Sasuke's good books at that time decided that the best way to do that was to tear down their idol's rival. Which, apparently, was Naruto.

And Ino really wanted to be in Sasuke's good books.

Almost overnight, Ino, and at least half of the other girls in their class, turned against Naruto and, by extension, many of the other boys in their class. Naruto had gone from the class prankster and joker extraordinaire to a pariah amongst his peers, something to be hated and reviled at every opportunity. And Ino knew all of his buttons, and she took sadistic pleasure in pushing them.

As a result, he'd lost all respect for the 'Uchiha Fan Club', but the worst one of all was Ino. He tried his hardest to ignore her after that, but he couldn't resist rising to her barbed insults, and at least three times a week they had a raging bitch-fest in the middle of class. On top of everything else, she'd stopped training with them and, from the sounds of it, had almost stopped training altogether! This, to the workaholic Naruto, was tantamount to heresy.

Baring his teeth slightly, he laid a hand on Kiba's shoulder, startling him out of his rage-induced stupor. The elder Inuzuka jumped, let out a guttural groan out of frustration, and turned away, shoving his hands on his pockets. Together, the two of them made their way back down the street, opting to take the long way 'round rather than deal with the snide Uchiha and his giggling gaggle of girlfriends. This was a battle that just wasn't worth the fight, not after the day they'd had.

That is, until the battle came to them.

"Inuzuka," came the voice from just behind them as a hand grabbed Naruto's shoulder. Naruto jumped, startled, and whirled around as quick as he could, knocking the offending hand away with a yelp of astonishment. He growled and bared his teeth at the mysterious assailant.

"…the hell do you want, bastard?" The words came out in an odd, guttural fashion; a trait he'd picked up from his elder brother. His blue eyes flashed in anger as he stared down the newcomer.

Uchiha Sasuke merely scowled in response, staring right back at him. He said nothing for a long moment, standing there and eyeing Naruto with a cold detachment, as if he was judging him on some esoteric quality. The Uchiha looked annoyed by something, and his stance showed annoyed reluctance. None of this mattered to Naruto; it merely served to add fuel to the fire that was burning in his chest. Gods above and below, how he hated this guy.

"Don't you talk like that to Sasuke!" Naruto blinked and grimaced as another newcomer made her entrance. Ino strode into his view, hands at her hips and eyes narrowed in disapproval. She continued her unwanted admonishment. "He's twice the ninja you'll ever be! Anyways, he was trying to do you a favor, so show some thanks, dammit!" She turned to Sasuke and her tone adopted a sickenly sweet quality. "I don't know why you bother being nice to Naruto, Sasuke. That mutt doesn't deserve it!"

"What the fuck did you just call me, you shit-faced moron?" Naruto roared as loud as he could, holding his fist in the air and shaking it at Ino. That word was taboo, and she knew it! She just laughed at him, pointing a finger as she taunted him.

"Aw, look, Sasuke! The little puppy is barking at us! Isn't that just adorable?" She laughed again, louder, knowing that she was pissing Naruto off and not minding in the least. Naruto opened his mouth to put her in her place as best he could, but Sasuke, who had been ignoring their little debate, decided to speak.

"…Inuzuka," He said, holding up his hand. "You dropped this on the street." Naruto looked at him blankly and then glanced at Sasuke's hand. Clutched in those thin, pale fingers was a familiar scroll, green with orange lining. It was Naruto's scroll; one he'd written in earlier that same day, in fact, and it held all of his notes he'd taken on the one jutsu they'd been taught and what little information he'd managed to pick up about manipulating chakra. Next to ramen, it was the nearest and dearest thing to his heart. And that bastard Sasuke had it in his hand, holding it like it was some foul piece of trash he'd picked up out of a gutter. Naruto made to snatch it back, but Sasuke was quicker.

"Give it back, Sasuke," he growled, making another grab for the scroll. But, as much as he hated to admit it, Sasuke deserved his title of prodigy, and Naruto was no match for the black-haired boy's speed.

"Some ninja you are," replied Sasuke, tossing the scroll idly back and forth between his hands as he stared down Naruto. "What kind of shinobi loses things in a street like that? I don't think you deserve this scroll. You can't even do a jutsu." Naruto flushed with anger and made a grab for the scroll again, but Sasuke slid out of reach, balancing the scroll on a finger.

"Give it back, Uchiha," came Kiba's voice as the Inuzuka stepped forward, holding a hand for it. His face was once again flushed, showing that ever-present hot temper that was a trait of their family. Sasuke ignored him entirely in favor of Naruto, and Ino stepped forward to stand in Kiba's way.

"Stay out of it, Kiba," she demanded, arms spread to block his advance. "Get your dog nose out of Sasuke's business." Kiba's face went from red to purple, but he suddenly stopped, not even saying a word. An odd expression on his face, he stared at Ino and remained where he was. That distraction aside, Sasuke addressed Naruto once more.

"Don't bother trying to get someone else to fight your battles, Inuzuka mutt. If you want this scroll, then act like a ninja and take it from me." Sasuke tossed the scroll nonchalantly and caught it behind his back without looking away from Naruto, black eyes cold and a small smirk on his face. "That is, if you can."

Naruto let out an unintelligible shout of anger and balled his hands into fists. Fuck this Uchiha prick. He'd show him a thing or two. Just because he couldn't do jutsus didn't mean he couldn't kick seven kinds of shit out of this arrogant asshole. Teeth bared, he lunged forward, pulling back his right fist for a sucker punch.

A hand caught his fist and yet another familiar voice made itself known.

"Naruto! What have I told you about fighting?" Umino Iruka lectured, adopting his usual 'Teacher Voice' as he pulled Naruto away from Sasuke. He raised a finger and shook it in front of Naruto's face in well-meaning authority. "No more of that, you understand? I know boys will be boys, but there's no sense in fighting each other. We're all on the same side, after all!" He smiled disarmingly at Naruto, who couldn't help but deflate a bit under Iruka's good-tempered rebuke. He opened his mouth to protest, but Iruka shushed him with another wag of his finger. "No, no, I don't want to hear it just yet."

"Can't even handle your own problems without Iruka to bail you out…" muttered Sasuke darkly, his smirk reverting instantly to a scowl. Iruka rounded on him and his smile seemed suddenly less genuine.

"Sasuke, I've warned you time and again about that attitude. I understand, but I won't allow it. Now, that scroll is Naruto's, unless my memory fails me. I trust you were about to give it back to him?" Iruka's voice trailed off in a strange, dangerous manner that made Sasuke's scowl grow in intensity. Iruka was clearly in no mood for backtalk, and not even Sasuke would cross him willingly when their teacher got like this. With a grumble of disappointment, he tossed the scroll at Naruto, who caught it clumsily.

"Whatever," muttered Sasuke, turning away from them. "It's not my fault the mutt's stupid." Iruka frowned in disapproval and opened his mouth for another lecture, but Sasuke was already walking away. He sighed and glanced at Ino, and there was an odd look in his eyes.

"Yamanaka Ino, I did not care for the way you acted back there," he admonished in a stern tone. "I thought you were more responsible than that. Not only did you not do anything to stop this situation from arising, you went so far as to prevent Kiba from stopping it himself! What do you have to say for yourself, young lady?" Ino groaned and rolled her eyes, pointedly looking away from Iruka. He wasn't pleased with that response, but decided to let it go for now. "…Very well, then. If I see more of this sort of behavior from you, I'll have to speak to Inoichi about it. Do I make myself clear?"

"Yes, sensei…" she muttered angrily, before turning away and running off after Sasuke. Iruka watched them rejoin their group and move away with a sigh before turning around and addressing the two Inuzukas.

"Naruto, Kiba, I know you have your problems with Sasuke, and I sympathize, but I will not tolerate fighting amongst comrades. It runs against everything that our village believes in! As a shinobi in training, you should know better than to-" He lectured them loudly, but Naruto broke into his diatribe.

"But, Sensei, Sasuke was the one picking a fight with me! I didn't-"

"That may be the case, but you were the one who threw the first blow, Naruto! It's your job to be the bigger man in these kind of situations." Naruto withered a bit under the force of Iruka's sudden vehemence. Iruka saw this and sighed again, wearily, and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Naruto, I understand it's hard and it's not fair. But so are many, many other things in life, especially the life of a shinobi. You need to understand that just because it's hard doesn't mean that you should do it anyways. Understand?" Naruto nodded, and Iruka smiled. "Besides, it's like your mother always says. You never start a fight…"

"…But you always finish one. Huh, didn't think you were paying attention, Umino." Iruka started and whirled around, hand reflexively reaching for a Kunai. Inuzuka Tsume snickered a bit at his anxious reaction but waved him down, striding forward towards the Chuunin and the two boys. She nodded at Iruka, fangs glimmering in the sunlight as she smiled at the teacher. "The boys didn't bother you much, I hope?"

"No, ma'am," he shook his head and rubbed his scar a bit anxiously. Tsume always made him a little scared when she was about. "Just teaching them a life lesson. One that I hope they don't forget." The last sentence was directed at Naruto, who grunted and kicked at a stone. Kiba merely nodded vacantly, his mind clearly elsewhere. Tsume grunted in much the same manner as Naruto and waved her hand at Iruka.

"Fine, fine. Anyways, I gotta get these boys home. Got some training to do and such. See ya 'round the block, Umino."

"Uh…" Iruka blinked twice, a bit perplexed by the sudden dismissal. He nodded and reflexively stood to attention. She was, after all, a Jounin, and a Clan Head to boot. "Yes, ma'am!" That said, he held up a hand in a half-Ram seal and vanished in a whirl of leaves, leaving Tsume alone with her two sons. She looked from one to the other in knowing appraisal.

"…So. Do I even want to know what went down?" Kiba just shrugged, still distracted, while Naruto bit his lip and said nothing, still fighting off what was left of his anger. She sighed and idly craned her head to crack her neck before she spoke again. "C'mon, brats, we're going back to the compound." Naruto and Kiba nodded, but Kiba noticed that she had an odd look in her eyes.

"Uh, Mom? Something going on?" He asked her, far more restrained than he'd been all day. Naruto blinked and glanced at Tsume, noticing her expression as well. She looked at them both again, longer this time, and sighed once more, that strange look in her eyes more pronounced than ever. She finally cleared her throat and straightened her back, gazing at the pair of them with intensity. They noticed her seriousness and mimicked her, returning her gaze with their own as they gave their mother their full attention.

Another long moment, and she nodded, her lips twisted into sad smile.

"It's time to finally welcome you into the Inuzuka clan."

AN: So, a small cliffy there, I suppose. I think you'll both love me and hate me next chapter. Although, quite frankly, it's nothing compared to the cliffy I left you all with back in '09. Well, I can't say that I'm back in full fanfiction action, but at the very least I am alive and writing once more. I plan to only update this story and, maybe, The Bloody Mist as well. I made the amateur mistake before of having far too many stories that were WIP, and I plan put all of my focus into these stories. I hope this update pleased, and I apologize if it felt a bit out of whack. I'm still rusty, and it may take a chapter or so before I get back into my swing. As always, feel free to let me know what you thought. I hope to update before another week has gone by. I'll keep you posted and keep on posting.