WoM- Yo! Wings here with my second Naruto story, based on a plot bunny by the totally awesome Lizeth over on Deviantart! 'dances like a moron' Seriously people, check out her art if you haven't already, it's way worth it! She was cool enough to beta this chapter for me, too, for which I am eternally grateful. 'smothers Lizeth in glompage' THANK YOUS!!

Moving on to the actual story, I don't own Naruto, any of the characters featured in this story or this plunny, and it'd be really great if no one sued me for writing this. 'laughs nervously' Right then, read on people!

Chapter 1- The Challenging Child

Kyuubi was restless.

So restless, in fact, that it'd given him insomnia. Which was precisely why he was now awake and wandering the thick forests of the territory he'd claimed so many years ago, rather then sleeping somewhere and waiting until nighttime to begin his nocturnal hunt. This inability to sleep was a generally rare occurrence that was becoming more and more common lately, due to the diminishing number of demons willing to step forth and challenge the fox, thus giving him an outlet to work off access energy. Not that the nine tailed Bijuu needed the sleep – he was fully capable of acting on very little rest when compared to the amount that humans and other lesser species needed – but it was still annoying that he had to go without sleep unwillingly, and it left the fox tense and snappish.

Irritated, the demon brought his muzzle down to the creek in front of him to drink, the lapping noises breaking the silence that seemed to be almost permanently settled around him, even when he was in his smaller fox form as he was now (It wasn't as grand as his full size was, but it made traveling through the forests of his lands a much simpler task, and reduced his chances of being annoyed by passing fools). The fox realized that he really shouldn't be so surprised at the sudden reluctance other demons had in facing him. After all, Kyuubi no Kitsune had a reputation, one so fearsome that it sent all but the most imprudent of demons running at the first sign of his presence. Even the humans had heard of the great nine-tailed fox – a beast who brought destruction and death to any who displeased him – and they had developed an even greater terror of his name than his demonic brethren.

But then, those useless apes fear anything with even the remotest hiccup of true power. Kyuubi scoffed to himself, his crimson eyes scanning the forest around him for any signs of intrusion. It was an automatic reflex, which came from years of jealously guarding his territory from trespassing demons looking for a fight, fools who thought themselves a match for the mightiest of the Bijuu. While their presence tended to annoy him when they did show up, imprudent and weak as they were, they at least kept the Kyuubi minutely entertained up until their deaths at his claws. There was little Kyuubi despised more than the feeling of boredom, and the annoyances it brought.

But, after thousands of years of existence, what was there left for a demon to do that he hadn't done a million times before? It was true, he could try his hand at conquering the world like Nekomata or Yamata no Orochi were so eager to do, but he figured that the experience of ruling more subjects then he already did would just be trying in the long run, and he had no desire to make the world his in the first place. He was content enough with maintaining his own lands, and had no problems with the current size of his territories. He merely wanted a challenge at the moment, and world domination would be a walk in the park for the strongest demon to exist in centuries.

Idly, the fox considered visiting one of the lesser tailed-beasts before common sense shot the idea down. After all, the only one of his fellow Bijuu he could tolerate for long periods of time was Kaku, and he had no idea where she was right now (probably out hunting or studying up on some new curiosity, knowing the badger). Shukaku or Raijuu would become aggravating very quickly if he wasn't careful. Isonade hated any and all forms of company, and he wasn't in the mood to deal with the sour shark anyways. Nekomata and Houkou were still recovering from their last 'friendly' chat months ago, when the cat and dog attempted to attack the Kyuubi and failed miserably. Sokou was a sniveling little weakling he had absolutely no desire to converse with, and no amount of boredom could ever get him to willingly visit the final member of the Bijuu. By no means did Kyuubi fear Yamata no Orochi (he had defeated the snake before, and would do so again next time the snake attempted to challenge him), but he certainly wasn't fool enough to offer the snake the chance to strike him in the back. Even lunatics could get lucky if you give them a chance, after all…

He could contact one of his lovers for a bit, but he had no idea which ones were available, and most of his favorite ones seemed to be getting annoyed with his refusal to take them as his mate. Maybe he could work on finding a new one instead? It had been a while since he'd slipped into a human village, after all, and there was one fairly close to his current position (or at least, close by demon standards, at any rate) called Konoha, or something to that effect. Doubtless he could find a pretty little female there to play with for a while…

The demon's train of thought was interrupted when another presence brushed against the edge of his senses, approaching fast. The chakra was blatant and challenging, dripping with bloodlust even before the demon entered Kyuubi's line of sight. The fox gave a haughty smirk to the snarling demonic wolf that came bursting into the clearing, an aura of chakra crackling furiously in the air around him, which turned into a feral grin as he began growling fiercely in return, tensing as he prepared to attack. The fox smirked to himself as he sprang forward to put the other demon out of the pitiful misery that was his life.

Perhaps he was going to have a little entertainment today, after all…


Blinking in alarm, the blonde infant stared cross-eyed at his button nose, as if surprised that the loud sneeze had actually come out of him. The sight made the women crowding around him coo and squeal in delight, even as his mother rolled her eyes with a quirky smile. Next to her, Rin bit back a giggle that was threatening to erupt from her lips.

"I swear you just get cuter every day, Naru-chan!" one of the women cooed at the baby, giggling when he beamed toothlessly at her.

"What are you and your husband planning for Naruto-sama's birthday, Kushina-sama?" another woman asked the redhead holding the child, smiling respectfully at her. Kushina forced back an instinctive flinch at the 'sama' the woman had attached to her name. God, she hated formalities…

"We're probably going to have a small party, just us and a couple of close friends," Kushina answered with a smile, which became more forced at the whining that greeted this statement.

"That's not fair, Kushina-sama!" A third woman pouted. (Insert another flinch from Kushina here.) "The whole village should be invited to celebrate Naru-chan's birthday, not just one or two people!"

Raising her eyebrow, Kushina opened her mouth to respond to that, but Rin heard the insults on the tip of Kushina's tongue before anyone else and quickly intervened.

"I'm sure the Namikaze family will welcome anyone who wants to wish Naruto a happy birthday with open arms, Hyuuga-san," she said with a bright smile.

"We will?" Kushina muttered dryly behind her, her doubt about the authenticity of that statement clear in her tone. Never letting up on her smile, Rin 'accidentally' elbowed the woman in the ribs (making sure not to harm the baby in the process, of course), and her smile took on a slightly sadistic gleam at the satisfying wince that passed Kushina's face as the pain sunk in.

"We'll be sure to come by with some presents then," the Hyuuga said as she and her friends left, still giggling about the cuteness of their beloved Hokage's only son.

"Thanks," Kushina said sarcastically to the brunette. "Now I've gotta make sure we have enough food for the whole freakin' village, Rin."

"Well, you have a month to prepare," Rin reminded the woman reasonably as she took Naruto from Kushina, bouncing the giggling boy in her arms and making silly faces for him. "And I'm sure Yoshino-san will be willing to help, too."

"But it'll be so much work!" Kushina whined, making a face. Rin rolled her eyes as the older woman sulked.

"Don't be a baby," she teased. "What happened to the days when you used to insist you could run circles around sensei, of all people?"

"Those where the days before that blonde time bomb you're holding came around," Kushina reminded the teen with an annoyed sigh. "I always work better on a full night's sleep, you know."

Rin laughed at that, holding Naruto up so that she could look into his eyes.

"Hear that, sweetie?" she cooed, giggling and holding Naruto a little further away when the boy made a grab for her hair. He'd developed a hair pulling fascination recently, specifically Kushina's but if he couldn't get to her then he'd settle for others (Minato was already beginning to gripe about premature baldness to his former students). Rin suspected this was why the redhead had begun pulling her long hair back in a loose ponytail more often recently, trying to escape those greedy little fingers. "Your mother doesn't appreciate you… how about you come to live with me instead? Would you like that, Naru-chan?"

"Fat chance," Kushina scoffed, snatching her son away from Rin with an irritated glare and holding him protectively out of the brunette's reach. "Minato has enough trouble convincing me to leave this kid with ANBU sitters for a few hours when we go on those boring diplomatic meet and greets the council is always making such a big fuss about. Do you really think I'd let him live somewhere else for any amount of time?"

"Ah, about that, nee-san…" Kushina and Rin blinked in union at the intruding voice, turning to find a masked teenager standing behind them, with two older ANBU flanking him on either side. Kushina's eyes narrowed on the boy, flashing in a way that had Rin backing away from the other woman with a sympathetic glance at her old teammate.

"Kakashi." The Uzu kunoichi growled out in a feral warning. "This better not be what I think it is…"

"Sorry, nee-san," the white-haired boy said in an honestly apologetic tone. "Hokage's orders. Representatives from Kumogakure came a week earlier then we were expecting them. You're needed in the Hokage's office immediately."

Kushina blew out an irritated sigh at that, holding her son closer.

"Dammit, what the hell could those bastards want now?! Minato already approved that trade agreement with them. Why do they need to drag me away from my son to watch them argue about politics?!"

"Kushina-san!" Rin scolded, hastily covering Naruto's ears. "Watch your language! Naruto's learning new words every day, and we don't need him picking up your dirty mouth before he hits two!"

"Relax, Rin, it's fine." Kushina rolled her eyes. "Naruto hasn't started swearing yet, have you baby?" This question was cooed out at the child, whose attention was locked gleefully on the masked boy in front of his mother.

"Kaka!" Naruto cried out, eagerly reaching for the older boy. Behind Kakashi, one of the older ANBU coughed politely as the teen blushed crimson underneath the cover of his mask. He really wished Naruto would outgrow that nickname already…

"No no, Naruto." Kushina scolded the boy sweetly, who looked up at his mother in confusion. "Kaka-chan's being a bad boy right now, sweetheart, and a good little boy like you shouldn't play with a dirty traitor now, should you? Even if he does play horsey with you all the time!"

…Almost as much as the teen wished Kushina would just plain grow up.

Groaning, Kakashi ignored the way his men's coughing had finally dissolved into snickers and took his ANBU mask off to glare at Kushina, who smiled innocently in return.

"Do you really have to give me a hard time just for doing my job, nee-san?" he asked through gritted teeth. His age made it difficult enough for him to earn the respect of his men without Kushina's meddling to make it worse.

"Next time, tell Minato to send a different messenger for me to shoot," Kushina retorted.

"You should probably just hurry up and go greet them, Kushina-san," Rin interjected before the two could start bickering again. "The faster you get done, the faster you can go back to spending time with Naruto."

Kushina sighed irritably, knowing that Rin was right. As usual. Sometimes she really wondered why she spent so much time around the girl…

"Hmph! Fine then!" Kushina scowled, before turning to her baby, bringing him up to rest her forehead against his. "Mama's got to leave for a little bit Naruto, so you be a good boy for Hawk-san and Monkey-san, okay sweetie?"

Gurgling, Naruto responded with a wet kiss to his mother's nose, making the redhead grin as she handed her child to 'Monkey-san'. Kushina gave the ANBU a stern glare as he adjusted to get a better hold on the boy.

"Anything happens to this kid while I'm gone, and you two will be lucky if Tsunade herself can bring you to the point where you can eat through a tube, got it?"

"Yes, Kushina-sama," the ANBU said with a nervous laugh, which ended fast
when the wired blonde in his arms mysteriously found one of his bo-shuriken. Wincing, he hastily began a delicate game of tug-o-war with the infant as Kushina sighed and gave Kakashi a pointed look.

"They're competent fighters, nee-san," he assured the woman as Monkey finally freed the weapon from Naruto's grip, only to have the boy wail at the injustice of having his new toy taken away.

"Yeah, I'll believe that went I see it," Kushina said before turning to give her fellow female a pleading look. "Think you can give these guys a hand, Rin?"

"I'd love to, Kushina-san, but I have to start my shift at the hospital in ten minutes," she said apologetically.

"Nee-san, I'm sure your precious blonde nightmare will be safe in someone else's care for a few hours," Kakashi insisted, rolling his eyes as Kushina protested his name-calling (only she was allowed to call Naruto that!). Glancing back at the two ANBU, Kakashi frowned sternly at them. "Take Naruto back to the Namikaze manor at once, and keep a close eye on him once you get there. He has a habit of getting into things if you're not careful."

"Yes, Kaka-taichou," Hawk said automatically, freezing when he realized what he'd just said.

Kakashi's eyebrow twitched as Kushina and Rin giggled. His face burning underneath his mask as he led a grinning Kushina to Hokage Tower, Kakashi made a mental vow to teach Naruto how to say his full name before the week was out. Otherwise, he might never live this down.

"Okay, Minato, you have three seconds to tell me why the hell you dragged me away from my son before Konoha has to start looking for a their next Hokage."

Minato flinched as the love of his life slammed the door pointedly upon entering his office, glaring at her husband for all she was worth. The two ninjas from Kumo exchanged looks at the woman's antics, clearly wondering why security around the Hokage's office was so bad that a madwoman off the streets could wander in as if she owned the place – a madwoman who was not even a citizen of Konoha, if the Whirlpool headband she wore proudly on her forehead was any indication. In the corner, Sarutobi (who now served as Minato's advisor, in spite of having passed his title on to the younger man almost a year ago) valiantly attempted to hide his chuckles as Minato sighed and stood up.

"Kushina-chan," he greeted the redhead, giving her a look that told her to behave herself. "We've been waiting for you to join us. Yukio-san, Maemi-san, I'd like to introduce you to my wife, Kushina." Somehow, the incredulous looks Minato earned every time he introduced his spouse to members of other villages never got old.

"Naruto's birthday is coming up soon," Kushina reminded her husband, ignoring the other men in his office. "I still need to take him shopping for clothes. I don't have time for this!"

"This won't take long, Kushina," Minato assured his wife, giving her one of the special smiles he reserved just for her.

Damn you! That's cheating, you dirty creep! Kushina thought as her anger melted away, narrowing her eyes at her husband to show him she knew exactly what he was up to and that she wasn't happy about it. Minato's grin merely widened in response, and Kushina made a mental note to go through her husband's scrolls later and see if he had any sort of mind reading jutsu she wasn't currently aware of. She certainly wouldn't put it past him.

"Besides, we can do Naruto's shopping together when we're done here. That is, if you don't mind dropping in to see how the training for our newest group of ANBU is progressing first and stopping for a bite to eat at Ichiraku's along the way. I had a light lunch today, so I'm pretty hungry now."

…And there were times when the reason why she married a man who knew her weaknesses so well and exploited them so flawlessly escaped Kushina.

With the promise of family, fighting and food at the end of the meeting, Kushina grumbled to herself and sat grumpily in a chair. Sarutobi chuckled quietly as Minato shot him a look of amused exasperation.

But then, the Yondaime Hokage had been expecting some resistance from his wife from the moment that he sent Kakashi to retrieve her, since Kushina had never enjoyed these meetings. Truth be told, Minato wasn't fond of them either, but he understood their importance in maintaining the peace between the shinobi lands, so he endured. The young leader actually felt bad that his position forced Kushina to sit in on meetings such as these, but protocol insisted that the Hokage and his wife greet the foreign shinobi who visited Konoha for political reasons, as a show of good faith. It was a rule Kushina complained endlessly about, but still tolerated for the sake of her family and Konoha itself.

Besides, in spite of Kushina's general abhorrence towards politics, she proved herself to be an asset to Konoha, since she had a talent for stubbornly and persistently badgering people into agreeing to Minato's plans and propositions if they ever showed any reluctance. Indeed, the Namikaze couple had quite a talent for double-teaming opponents and confusing people into accepting their terms, a talent that had become infamous in other shinobi lands.

Which probably explains why these two look so nervous now. Minato thought with a hidden smile as he watched the Kumo nin fidget and share uncomfortable looks. After all, the potential treaties between Kumo and Konoha were still being discussed by both villages' respective councils, so these men had no official guarantee that they'd make it out of the office alive if they did anything to offend Konoha's youngest Hokage or his hotheaded wife.

Not to mention that merely making an allusion to Konoha's Yellow Flash still sent chills down the spines of even the most hardened shinobi.

"Now then, gentlemen," Minato addressed the men with a disarming smile, making them jump slightly. "Shall we get started?"

Maemi, the younger of the two jonin, still looked a little uncomfortable, but Yukio steeled himself to frown at the blonde Hokage and his wife.

"We apologize for our early arrival, Hokage-sama, but I'm afraid we have urgent business to discuss, regarding a group of rogue ninjas who have been attacking most of our potential clients."

"Oh?" Minato frowned at this proclamation, and out of the corner of his eye he saw Kushina sit up a little straighter. "Have you figured out the origins of these ninjas?"

"No, Hokage-sama," Maemi responded. "We've managed to capture a few, of course, but none of them wear a headband to identify them with, and all committed jisatsu before they could be questioned." Minato's frown deepened at that. Enemies of war were generally kept under close watch after being captured, so that these men could still commit seppuku when already in enemy hands told him that this was an organized attack, and not just a random group of riffraff stirring up trouble.

"How long have these attacks been going on?" Minato asked the men.

"Two months, Hokage-sama," answered Maemi with a bitter smile.

"Two months?" Kushina interjected, frowning at the men. "That's a long time to go without clients… haven't your men found their base of operations yet?"

Yukio and Maemi seemed startled by the redhead's interruption, and glanced at Minato as if wondering if he wanted them to answer or not. Minato merely waited patiently for their response, which was given after a moment of hesitation.

"We don't know where their base of operations is yet," Yukio began darkly. "All the members of the group who escape our custody get away by crossing into Konoha territory, and due to the treaty agreements being made, we are unable to cross the Konoha boarders without an escort and therefore cannot pursue them."

The silence that followed this statement weighed heavily in the room.

"Are you suggesting Konoha has something to do with this?" Kushina hissed, rising to her feet.

"I am merely telling your husband what has been reported to me," Yukio retorted.

"The hell you are!"

"Kushina." Minato frowned at his wife, who scowled back at him, not backing down in spite of the warning look in his eyes.

"Oh come on, Minato! You can't tell me it doesn't piss you off to have these jerks come in here and pull us away from our son just to accuse our village of a crime it didn't commit!"

"'Our village'?" Yukio sneered. "Forgive me, Kushina-san, I was under the impression that you hail from Uzu no Kuni, a village which was destroyed years ago?"

"Kushina has lived here in Konoha ever since Uzu's destruction, Yukio-san," Minato broke in, a coldness in his tone that undermined his polite words. "She has risked her life for Konoha on countless occasions, and proven herself to be loyal to a fault. She is just as much a citizen of Konoha as myself and our son, and deserves every bit of the respect she's earned from this village. Kindly remember that when you address her in the future."

Yukio faltered at the look on Minato's face for a moment, before bowing his head respectfully towards the redhead woman and murmuring out a humble apology. Kushina, for her part, scoffed and raised an eyebrow at her husband, who pointedly ignored the 'I-could've-handled-it-on-my-own' look she was giving him.

It had taken him years to get Kushina to the point where she felt at home in Konoha, and he wasn't going to have this man making comments that could destroy all that hard work.

"Getting back to the matter at hand, though, I'm pretty curious myself at what could bring to you accuse our village of leading such an underhanded attack against yours," Minato said coolly, bringing the focus of the conversation back where it belonged.

"We're not making accusations, Hokage-sama," Maemi protested, looking uncomfortably between his partner and Minato. "We were sent here by the Raikage to request that Konoha allow our shinobi to search for the group in question. Once the group is found and charged appropriately, Konoha will be free of all suspicion."

Minato considered the man's words before sighing heavily.

Given that their lands were still in the middle of negotiations, this request was automatically put under suspicion. After all, Kumo had no real proof that they were being attacked, and if Minato granted them access to his lands so casually, Kumo could use the opportunity to try and invade Konoha. On the other hand though, if they were telling the truth and Minato refused the request, then Kumo would immediately believe that they were, or were at the very least in league with, the group that was attacking them, which could spark another war. Minato couldn't risk that, not after the last war had only just ended.

There's only one thing I can do… Minato thought grimly.

"I'm afraid that any shinobi groups you send to handle the matter will have to be kept small and will be accompanied by Konoha nins that equal or surpass them in number and rank," Minato said seriously.

"With all due respect, Hokage-sama, this is Kumo's problem," Yukio protested at once. "Our village is suffering because of these cowards; we should be the ones to bring them to justice!"

"If the rogue ninjas are found, then your men can bring them back to Kumo and try them accordingly," Minato said smoothly. "But as long as there are any investigations being made in Konoha's lands by foreign shinobi, then our people will have at the very least an equal role in it as the village in question. Besides, if these shinobi really are hiding in Konoha's territories, then they put our village in danger by casting suspicion for their crimes upon us, and I will not take such a thing lightly." The Kumo shinobi shared looked at that.

"We will… discuss your terms with the Raikage when we return to Kumo," Yukio promised reluctantly. Minato nodded, knowing that this would be the best he would secure from the Kumo nin at the moment.

Still… Minato thought darkly. I don't like this situation. From the sounds of things, someone is trying to frame Konoha for attacking Kumo… The question now is, why?

And, as Minato pondered over this to himself, he had no inkling that at that same moment, in a house that was only blocks away from his office, two ANBU guards had fallen bloody onto the floor, their eyes unseeing behind their masks.

Really, you think he would have at least had the courtesy to make himself a mildly entertaining challenge before trying to face me…

Frowning in annoyance at the corpse only a few feet away, Kyuubi jumped out of the creek (the same one he'd been drinking from only moments before the attack) and shook, droplets of water flying in every direction. After giving himself a once over to check for any blood he may have missed, the fox left the clearing with a graceful flick of his tails.

Walking silently through the shadows cast by the thick canopy of leaves above him, Kyuubi sighed to himself irritably, annoyed that his moment of fun was over already. Was it just his imagination, or had the demons outside of the Bijuu been getting weaker and weaker over the last few centuries? No wonder their numbers were decreasing lately…

Mildly annoyed at this thought, Kyuubi growled softly to himself, his heckles frightening a nearby bird from its roost. The kitsune watched it fly away with disinterested eyes until it was merely a speck in the distance, which was about when he leapt fluidly into the tree the bird had abandoned, jumping from branch to branch in a blur of red fur and tails, intent on working off as much energy as possibly to get some sleep before night fell.

One must wonder what our kind is coming to, Kyuubi thought in disdain as the wind rushed past him. A bunch of lazy, pathetic weaklings who allow human shinobi and monks to kill them off… If this keeps up, those foolish apes might get arrogant. We certainly don't need another Uchiha around. Now that thought irritated the fox. Briefly, he contemplated heading to the village again, that leaf one, just to remind those humans who the superior species really was, but decided against it after another moment's thought.

After all, it wasn't worth the energy he'd have to expend to cause such large-scale destruction to wipe out a single measly village, and none of the humans had gotten cocky enough to challenge him. None other then him, anyways, and Kyuubi knew the Uchiha well enough to realize that the madman would probably enjoy the kind of annihilation he had in mind.

In all honesty, he probably should've killed the man a long time ago, but Kyuubi had been curious after their first encounter, wondering what could become of such a strange human. By the time he realized Uchiha was a liability, it was already too late. The man had gained enough strength and knowledge of the Bijuu, specifically of Kyuubi himself, to be a serious threat. Kyuubi could not risk doing anything now, other then keeping a wary eye on the man in case he should try anything. He didn't fear the Uchiha, but some of the tricks the man had learned while the demon wasn't paying him any mind were… mildly concerning. The Uchiha was undoubtedly the first human to gain strength that could rival the Bijuu, and if the fox had any say in the matter, he'd be the last as well. Especially if more humans gaining that kind of power meant they all ended up becoming the equivalent of Yamata no Orochi's clones.

Really, there was nothing even mildly entertaining about such obsessive, power-hungry maniacs, Kyuubi thought with a scoff. For the life of him, he could not understand why simple-minded creatures sought strength they could never hope to properly control for such ridiculous reasons. Particularly if they were also foolish enough to believe they could ever learn enough to be his equal. I am not the King of Demons for nothing. Kyuubi thought, his lips pulling back to reveal fangs as he gave a feral grin at the implications the challenge carried. If any of those weaklings wish to dethrone me, they're welcome to make an attempt. But they should know by now not to think me merciful. If they make a serious attempt for my crown, then their blood shall be the next to decorate it.

Truthfully, though, he wasn't expecting any of the Bijuu or the Uchiha to attack him any time soon. His brethren had left him well enough alone ever since Nekomata and Houkou tried to defeat him by combining their powers. The last he'd heard, Houkou was still off hiding somewhere, licking his still healing wounds like the dog he was. Nekomata is seemed had taken the blunt of his force, and was still at the cusp of life and death. Kyuubi knew better then to think she wouldn't pull through, though. Someone who surrounded herself with death as Nekomata did had to have learned ways to counter it herself, and the fox was expecting the living she-devil to be back and bothering him again before the month was out.

When that time came, Kyuubi would probably welcome the vindictive cat, merely because she offered more of a challenge to him then he'd had in a good while. For now, though, the fox had had quite enough of the cunning female, and he did not want to so much as smell the scheming little twit anywhere near him.

As far as her partner in crime went, Houkou had more than learned his lesson, the poor fool. Really, the dog should've known better by now then to trust Nekomata enough to watch his back against the Kyuubi of all people. It didn't matter now, though. The fox knew that, as cocky and annoying as the dog was, he would avoid angering Kyuubi for another century or so after the humiliating defeat he'd been served at Kyuubi's claws.

The Uchiha, it seemed, was busy concentrating on diminishing the numbers of his own race yet again, and was leaving the demons well enough alone. Kyuubi couldn't say that this disappointed him, and prayed to Inari that one of those shinobi the man was busy pissing off would manage to bring the dark-haired human to his knees, thus saving Kyuubi the trouble of having to eat the man himself.

The fox had no idea where Yamata no Orochi was, or what he was up to, but at the very least the Kyuubi knew that, this time at any rate, the snake's plans didn't involve him, and the nine tails was satisfied enough with this to know better then to go looking for trouble.

Right now, though, sleep was the fox's main priority, and everything else could burn up and die for all he cared.

Slowing down at that thought, Kyuubi dropped back to the earth and stretched before yawning widely and lazily sauntering into a nearby cave, one of his many 'homes' away from home. After sniffing the place carefully to make sure no creature took refuge in the cave during his absence, Kyuubi set up a barrier to keep his chakra from alerting others to his presence, (lest another challenger come and wake him just as he was starting to get to sleep) before he curled into a ball near the entrance, where the sun could warm him as he napped casually to await the coming of night.

Mitsubachi Kaiyo cringed as a twig snapped beneath her feet, tensing as if expecting a sudden shower of shuriken. Somehow to the Iwaga kunoichi, every noise she made, no matter how insignificant, seemed to be magnified by a thousand. Nervously, Kaiyo glanced down at the sleeping bundle in her arms.

"How much longer until we're out of Konoha territory?" she asked her partner in a hushed voice. They were the only survivors of the mission, since the other three shinobi who'd been sent to Konoha with then had been cut down by the ANBU guarding the baby. Her fellow survivor was a scarred monster of a man, whose only constant companion was the Nodachi he kept strapped across his back. The man claimed that his name was Nakigara, and they had worked together on missions once or twice before, but Kaiyo was fairly certain his name was an alias. She didn't press the subject of his true identity, though. He was a talented shinobi who could help her get this mission done and report back to their leader, and that was all that mattered to her.

"We should meet up with the main group in about twenty minutes," Nakigara responded gruffly. "After that, it's half a day's travel to the rendezvous point." Kaiyo frowned at that, glancing at the child in her arms again. Usually, seeing a mission through brought her relief, but this one just left a bad taste in her mouth.

It doesn't matter. Kaiyo attempted to steel herself. Man, woman or child, it doesn't matter who or what the target is, as long as we see the mission through to the end.

For some reason though, these thoughts didn't make the kunoichi feel any better.

"How long until someone discovers the boy is missing?" Kaiyo asked, though she knew they should be as silent as possible right now. Still, that silence would leave her alone with her thoughts, her doubts, and she couldn't risk allowing that to interfere with the mission.

"A few more hours at least," Nakigara answered, sparing a brief glance at the sleeping infant. Unlike his partner, the man seemed to have no reservations about what they were doing, a perfect shinobi. "The Kumo representatives will probably keep the Hokage and his wife busy for a while, and most of the couple's close acquaintances are active shinobi who are on duty and wouldn't have time to visit. No one noticed us coming or going, either, and sedating the child kept him from drawing anyone's attention while we left the village."

Kaiyo felt herself flinch a little at that, and mentally scolded herself for it. What was wrong with her? She was a shinobi for crying out loud. Kidnapping a child was nothing compared to some of the things shinobi had to do!

"The sooner we got out of here, the better," Kaiyo murmured, fixing her eyes forward and trying to ignore the slight weight of the infant in her arms. Nakigara grunted noncommittally at that, his eyes trained forwards as well.

It really is a small price to pay. Kaiyo tried to reassure herself yet again when the infant stirred with a small cooing sound. Besides, heaven knows how many mothers and fathers lost their children to the Yellow Flash, so it's really more like retribution for his crimes than anything else. And if it brings my brother back to me, then I should be willing to pay any price.

Still, Kaiyo couldn't help but wonder if the price she was paying was her soul.

Kushina hummed happily to herself as she practically skipped down the streets of Konoha towards her home. After half an hour of torturous back and forward arguments between the Kumo nin and Minato, her husband had finally agreed to let her out of the meeting early, to go home and retrieve Naruto so that the family could leave as soon as the meeting was done. Really, Minato was probably only doing it to save himself from the headache Kushina was hell bound on giving him for making her sit there and listen to him and the foreign shinobi discuss new regulations for rice trades for a full thirty-two minutes and nine seconds, but the redhead could care less if it meant she got away from the meeting.

Maybe I should do that more often. She thought wickedly before shaking the idea out of her head. As much as she hated those dreadful conferences, she loved Minato and didn't want him to get into trouble with the council over more of their stuffy rules and traditions because of her. Not much, anyways…

Finally making it to her home, Kushina was mildly surprised to find the place silent as she walked through the gates. Usually, Naruto had newbie babysitters screaming in terror and pleading for their beloved Hokage to save them by now.

Poor boy must be losing his touch, the redhead thought in amusement, opening the door.

"Oi, Monkey-san! Hawk-san! Good news, you guys are done for today." Kushina frowned when silence greeted her arrival, rather then the cries of relief she was expecting. Strange…

Wandering into her home, Kushina's eyes swept the area for anything suspicious as she made her way to the closed door that led to her son's nursery.

The smell of blood hit her hard when she was only a few feet away.

Crashing through the door half a heartbeat later, Kushina froze when she saw the bodies littering the floor. Two were the ANBU Kakashi had instructed to guard her son, and the other three were shinobi without headbands to identify their origins. Gasping, Kushina rushed past the bodies and to her son's crib, hoping against hope that her worst fears hadn't been realized.

The crib was empty, save for a single note which Kushina picked up with trembling hands, her eyes widening as she read it.


"NARUTO!" Leaving the now crumpled note to fall to the floor, Kushina raced out of the nursery and half stumbled into room after room, looking for any sign of her baby boy. Minato's study, the kitchen, the bathroom, the den… None of them showed any signs of being tampered with. It wasn't until she got to the final room, a guest room on the west side of the house that she found the entry point, a window whose lock had been picked on the side of the house where the view from public roads was obscured. The kunoichi found herself gripping the doorways for support as she watched the curtains billow slightly in a passing breeze.

Gods above, please let this be a bad dream... Kushina begged, her heart pounding in her throat. The redhead's eyes swept the room, catching sight of something on the ground only a few feet from her. Kneeling, Kushina gingerly picked up a stuffed frog plush, Naruto's favorite toy. Minato had bought a few days after the couple had discovered they were expecting, ignoring Kushina's wry reminder that they were still in the dark about their child's gender and insistence that a girl would look weird hauling around a stuffed frog.

Suddenly, the hands gripping Naruto's toy began shaking again, clenching the frog with more force then necessary. Standing up slowly, Kushina set the frog down on the vanity she passed on her way to stand on the window's ledge, using her now free hands to make hand symbols that almost felt unfamiliar with how long she'd been off duty to care for her son.

Moments later, a white swan just barely smaller then her house appeared in a cloud of smoke, ruffling his feathers irritably before stretching out to his full height and glowering irritably at the woman who summoned him.

"What is it this time, Kushina? And so help me, if you just called me here so that little blonde brat of yours can try to pluck me bald again-!"

"Tentomushi," Kushina said abruptly, the severity of her tone startling the bird into silence. "I need your help."

"See anything?" Kushina called out, her red hair whipping around her as she peered over the bird's wing joint to try and scan the forest below her. It was difficult for her to look and keep careful control of the chakra she was using to keep herself adhered to the giant swan. She had never had very good chakra control, though she made up for it by having plenty of chakra to spare. Still, as Tentomushi was so quick to point out to her, she wouldn't be much use to her son dead. As such, she had no choice but to rely on her summon's eyes and ears.

"Nothing," Tentomushi said grimly, giving his wings a powerful flap. "Those swallows back there definitely saw two shinobi heading this way with a baby, though."

"They could've changed their directions to cover their trail…" Kushina murmured, more to herself than to the swan. "Minato's always telling our teams to do that if they think they've got some time before enemy trackers get on their tails."

"And neither of us specializes in tracking, either," Tentomushi finished wryly for the kunoichi.

"Never thought I'd regret that," Kushina said bitterly, her fingers burying into Tentomushi's white feathers and gripping tightly. The swan, who would normally yell at her for pulling at his plumage, ignored the action and kept his eyes trained to the ground to seek out any life that did not belong in the forests of Konoha, and instead concentrated on the self-loathing tone that was so unfamiliar coming from the woman on his back.

"Don't," the bird said gravely. Kushina frowned at him in bewilderment.

"What?" she asked, not understanding what Tentomushi was trying to tell her.

"Don't regret anything, Kushina, it doesn't suit you," the swan explained, sighing in a long-suffering sort of way. "And considering that your resilience is one of your few redeeming qualities, I should hope that you'd maintain it for a good long time and pass it on to that son of yours once you get him back from the fools who tried to take him from you." Kushina stared at the swan in surprise for a moment, before a soft smile found its way to her face, her grip on Tentomushi's feathers loosening.

"Thank you," she said softly. Tentomushi merely dipped his head in response.

"I think I see someone up ahead," the giant swan said suddenly, his eyes narrowing as Kushina tensed on his back. "There are two people not too far off in front of us, moving southwest. I think one of them is carrying something, but I can't see too clearly."

"Are they ninja?" Kushina shouted over the wind, only mildly concerned about alerting their target to their approach. She was never good with all that subtlety crap, and they'd have to be blind not to see the giant white swan chasing them down anyway…

"They'd have to be with how they move," Tentomushi confirmed. "I'm going to have to fly in lower so you can jump off, the trees are too thick here for me to land."

"Gotcha," Kushina said with a sharp nod. "Thanks, Tentomushi. I definitely owe you a million."

"You can make it up to me by teaching the boy not to yank my feathers off every time you summon me," Tentomushi responded with a scoff as he dipped lower, until his belly was practically brushing the treetops. Kushina smiled at that before releasing the chakra she was using to stay on the swan's back, allowing herself to fall to the earth.

Good luck, Kushina, Tentomushi thought as he pulled up to avoid hitting the trees. Flapping his wings to gain some leverage, Tentomushi allowed himself to disappear in a cloud much like the one he'd been summoned in, knowing full well that Kushina would summon him again the next time she needed him.

Kaiyo and Nakigara tensed as one when the red-haired woman landed in a kneeling position in their path, glowering at them lividly as she straightened. Nakigara had noticed a giant bird following them nearly ten minutes ago, but their unfamiliarity with Konoha's terrain and their proximity to the rendezvous point made meeting up with the rest of their group before confronting the enemy the best option. Falling back slightly to protect her cargo, Kaiyo studied the cold-faced kuniochi warily, cursing to herself when she recognized her from the files they'd been given on the Hokage and his family. Namikaze Kushina, the wife of the Fourth Hokage and mother of the child Kaiyo and Nakigara were currently in the process of kidnapping.

How did they catch up to us so soon? Kaiyo wondered furiously, her eyes searching for the shinobi the woman had brought with her. The other kuniochi appeared to be alone, but Kaiyo doubted anyone who was stupid enough to chase after an unknown number of enemies by herself would survive very long in the ninja world.

"Give me back my son." Kushina's low voice brought Kaiyo out of her musings, making her take another step back at the venom-laced words. Alone or not, this woman was clearly the main threat right now.

Without a word, Nakigara leapt upon the woman with his Nodachi, forcing her to dodge to avoid being cut by the large weapon. A curt nod from the scarred man sent Kaiyo the signal that she should run, which the kuniochi did after responding with a nod of her own.

"Naruto!" Kushina cried out, making the baby wrinkle his forehead and stir for a moment before settling back down. Determined on getting herself and the mission objective out of there, Kaiyo continued running.

Scowling wrathfully, Kushina began after the woman who had her child, but was stopped when something impacted on her side hard enough to send her crashing into a tree. Winded, Kushina turned to find Nakigara standing over her, his blade raised. In the split second it took the redhead to roll between the large man's feet, the Nodachi was brought down hard to the place where the kuniochi had been not half a moment earlier. As she rose to a standing position behind Nakigara, Kushina grabbed a kunai from her holster, which she promptly buried deep into the man's right shoulder.

Jumping back to avoid Nakigara's fist as he turned to confront her, Kushina kept herself a reasonable distance away from the man as the two stood off, Nakigara handling what was probably a very intense pain remarkably well.

Not wanting to waste any time on a stand off with the enemy while her son was in danger, Kushina charged Nakigara, throwing three shuriken as she approached him. Nakigara dodged or blocked the weapons flawlessly, and turned to throw one of the captured shuriken at Kushina. The redhead dropped to one knee as he let the weapon fly, allowing it to pass harmlessly over her head. Springing back to her feet, Kushina used her momentum to deliver a crippling uppercut to Nakigara's jaw, jarring his brain as she lifted the larger man off his feet.

After landing on his back (which dug the kunai still sticking into his shoulder even deeper into his flesh), Nakigara quickly rolled to a kneeling position and brought his Nodachi above his head to block the fist Kushina had intended to drill through his teeth.

"You're better then you should be, for a woman who's been on leave for over a year," Nakigara spoke at last, almost startling Kushina for a moment.

"You'd be surprised what a woman can do when you're trying to take her baby away from her," Kushina hissed back, before using her back leg to kick the man's throat with all the force she could muster. Falling back again, Nakigara coughed and wheezed furiously as he tried to regain the ability to breathe. Kushina, however, was not gracious enough to allow him the time to do this.

One kunai through the heart later, the kuniochi was racing off in the direction Kaiyo and Naruto had gone in at top speed, leaving Nakigara to die as yet another shinobi in the shadows.

By the time she reached the point where she was supposed to meet up with the rest of the group, Kaiyo's breathing was heavy and uneven from the running she had done to get away from the baby's mother. The woman wasn't sure what was happening between the redhead and Nakigara, but the results of their battle no longer mattered to her, since she'd accomplished the mission goal.

Sitting down with her back to a tree, Kaiyo adjusted her grip on the baby in her arms to get more comfortable for the wait she had ahead of her. Tilting her head, Kaiyo studied the baby again, a little nervous. It had been nearly three hours since the sedative had been administered, after all, and the mixture had been diluted so as not to kill the child. If that was true, then the baby should wake up soon, which was just about the last thing she needed when she was alone with a vengeful mother on her tail.

"You're probably one of the most problematic missions I've had in a good, long time, kid…" Kaiyo sighed, closing her eyes wearily. They shot right back open, though, when the baby made an unintelligible noise and curled into the warmth the woman's body offered. Kaiyo cringed at the action.

Poor little guy doesn't even know what's in store for him. She thought sadly, guilt stabbing at her yet again. Was this really the only way to free her brother? Maybe they could fake the baby's death somehow instead… After all, it wasn't as if he was to blame for Konoha's crimes. Why should an innocent child have to die for her to reunite with her brother?

Before Kaiyo could contemplate this any further, a rustling sound was head from the foliage in front of her, making the woman shoot to her feet with practiced ease that came with being under constant attack from the enemy. She relaxed slightly when roughly twenty ninja came into her line of sight, led by a man in a thick, dark brown cloak, with a hood that was pulled up to cast a shadow over his face.

"Kiyoshi-sama…" Kaiyo murmured, bowing to the man. Though she couldn't see his expression, Kiyoshi didn't appear surprised to see that, of the five shinobi he sent to retrieve the baby, only one returned to him alive.

"Your mission was successful?" It sounded more like a statement then a question, but Kaiyo answered anyways.

"Yes, Kiyoshi-sama. But I'm afraid that there's been a… complication. Nakigara and I were attacked by the boy's mother while escaping. Nakigara stayed behind to deal with her, but I'm unaware of the outcome of their battle." Throat tightening, Kaiyo relinquished her hold on Naruto when Kiyoshi took the child from her. Turning back to the shinobi flanking him, Kiyoshi singled out two men standing on the far end of the group.

"Check the situation. If the woman's still alive, finish her off," he ordered. The ninja bowed to Kiyoshi before taking off to follow their orders.

They'd only barely made it past Kaiyo when they were mowed down by a shower of kunai.

"I'm flattered that you'd go so far for little ol' me, but there's really no need," Kushina called out as she strolled casually into view, resting Nakigara's Nodachi against her shoulder. Her eyes flashed fire when they landed on Kiyoshi, who studied her impassively in turn. "Now you've got exactly three seconds to give me back my kid before you and your men become history."

"Bold words for a woman who is so vastly outnumbered," Kiyoshi responded, the barest hint of amusement coloring his tone. Kushina grinned darkly at that, dropping the heavy weapon she was shouldering to form hand symbols as she countered the man.

"You'd be surprised what a member of the Uzumaki clan can do with a Shadow Bunshin." And, as soon as those words left Kushina's mouth, five more Kushinas appeared in a cloud of smoke. Letting out a single, soft chuckle, Kiyoshi turned back to his followers.


As one, the group of ninjas surged forward to attack the redhead, who jumped in with her clones to meet them halfway.

Dodging a combined attack from two ninjas and then using a third as a human vaulting board to get above the crowd and start chucking shuriken, the original Kushina immediately began looking for any opening she could find that would get her closer to her son. Mentally securing a path before she landed, Kushina immediately began to carve a path through her enemies, using the brute strength her clan was famous for in combination with the speed that came from years of sparring with Konoha's notorious Yellow Flash, to make quick work of anyone who didn't have enough common sense to get out of her way.

Unfortunately, Kushina's speed, though impressive by the standards of most ninja, was still no Hiraishin no Jutsu, and her year haitus had a bigger impact on her ability to fight then she first thought. This led to the redhead substaning more damage in her brash charge to her son than she felt she should have. Still, she eventually ended up breaking through the crowd, though admittably a little bloodier then she had started out. She didn't let this slow her down though, and jumped at Kiyoshi with every intention of ripping him apart piece by piece with her bare hands.

Kiyoshi seemed to have other plans, though, and dodged Kushina before she could lay a hand on him. Balancing Naruto in the crook of one arm, Kiyoshi flung a shuriken at the woman. Kushina sidestepped the projectile, but before she could counterattack, Kiyoshi's men were upon her yet again, one of them slicing her forearm with a kunai as another tried to come in from behind and slash her throat, but ended up cutting her collarbone instead when he was jolted by one of his allies.

Cursing in a combination of anger and pain, Kushina pivoted on her heel to deliver a left hook to the man behind her, knocking him off his feet and causing him to crash into three shinobi standing behind him. As the four of them struggled to get up, the man who cut Kushina's arm up moved to attack again, forcing Kushina to drop to the ground to avoid his blow. Kicking up at the man, Kushina heard the sickening crunch of the man's knee being shattered upon impact, causing him to fall to the earth with a cry of pain.

Jumping back to her feet, Kushina fumbled around frantically in her pack for a moment before finding what she was looking for. Springing to the sky, Kushina tossed a kunai with a scroll attached to the handle at the enemy nins who only just managed to get back on their feet, sending a mental thank you to Minato for making her carry the things as she raced to avoid the coming blast.

There was no way for the other five shinobi to escape the sudden burst that came when the scroll exploded though, and they were left to suffer the consequences of that when a mist of blue-gray powder surrounded them. As soon as the men took in a breath of the powder, they began coughing and wheezing violently, just like Minato had told her an enemy would do if the powder got into their lungs. It was some kind of powerful poison the medic nin of Konoha had developed, which had a list of side effects that included itching to death if not treated within an hour of exposure. Kushina hadn't paid much attention to what Minato was telling her at the time, too busy trying to convince Naruto that he wanted the nasty mashed peas concoction she was trying to feed him instead of the ramen he was trying to guilt Kakashi into sharing, but she was glad that the scroll managed to come in handy after all.

With the threat of the five shinobi she'd been fighting officially nullified, Kushina turned back to Kiyoshi with an expression that could make an Uchiha freeze in his tracks, intent on getting her son back even if it killed her and every other nin there. She started advancing towards the man, only to have two ninjas block her path.

"Dammit, don't you guys know when to quit?!" Kushina spat out with a scowl. Had the situation been a little less serious, the redhead would have probably considered that ironic, with how many times those same words had been directed at her.

"I'm afraid that our client would be… displeased if we relinquished this child so easily, Namikaze-san," Kiyoshi explained mockingly to the redhead. "It is regrettable that this situation is causing you pain, but perhaps it will teach you to be more selective about whose children you bear in your next life."

"Sorry pal, but you don't get the right to tell me that until this life is over," Kushina snarled back, glaring menacingly at the hooded man holding her son.

"Don't worry, Namikaze-san. That will come to pass soon enough." The words had barely left the man's lips when Kushina felt a sharp, sudden pain in her right knee.

Crying out in pain, the redhead fell, automatically clutching the kunai one of the men had buried into the back of her knee. Hissing, Kushina ripped the weapon out and used it to slash at a shinobi who moved in to take advantage of her moment of weakness, catching both of his eyes in her arc. The man howled and abandoned his attack to clutch at his face, and Kushina immediately took him out, getting back to her feet as fast as her injured leg would allow. Gritting her teeth, Kushina tried to ignore her pain and kept her weight on her good leg, keeping her kunai in hand in case anyone else tried anything.

Looking around, Kushina tried to access just how bad the situation had become. From what she could see, all of her clones had been taken out, and about twelve enemy ninjas still remained, including the hooded man and the woman who'd stolen her child. She had a few shallow cuts and a bad injury to her right knee, but nothing that would impair her ability to fight if she got creative.

Good thing creativity's a strong point of mine, Kushina thought as she went through her list of options. Just creating another cycle of Bunshin would just wear her chakra out eventually with no guarantee of success, and there was no water nearby to work with, either. She couldn't risk using any wind jutsu because she had very little control over them, and could end up hurting her son. She needed something big, that could do a lot of damage and at the very least distract the nin long enough for her to take out their leader and get her son… Something that wouldn't be expected, and wouldn't harm Naruto…

An idea struck Kushina, and an evil grin made its way to her face.

Flipping her kunai so that it remained accessible, but out of the way, Kushina began making hand symbols that made the remaining nins tense and start towards her, intent on stopping whatever trick the redhead was trying to pull.

They had barely taken three steps when a cloud of smoke burst around their target, and a dozen white swans surged forward to attack.

As a child, Kushina could never see why so many people thought that swans were romantic. They were kind of pretty, she supposed, but then she'd never been one to keep up much with what was pretty and what wasn't. All she'd ever known was that, for all their grace and elegance at a distance, the white birds could be downright mean when it came to fighting.

Which probably explained exactly why Kushina got along so well with her summons.

Speeding towards Kiyoshi as fast as she could with her bad leg, Kushina brought her kunai back up to slice down where the man's head should have been. Unfortunately, her blade only met air. Wheeling around, Kushina spotted Kiyoshi again, standing next to the woman who'd taken Naruto from Konoha.

"Your endurance is impressive, Namikaze-san," Kiyoshi said dispassionately. "But even you must realize that it cannot last forever."

"It doesn't have to," Kushina scowled back. "It just has to last long enough for me to kill you for trying to kidnap my baby."

"Oh?" Kiyoshi said, pulling out a kunai. "In that case, we should try settling this a different way…" Kushina tensed, preparing herself for the coming attack. The attack that came, however, was much different then the one she was expecting.

Twirling the kunai around, Kiyoshi brought it down to the neck of the child sleeping in his arms.

"Call back the birds, Namikaze."

Kushina froze, staring at the man in shock for a moment. Taking her silence as a refusal, Kiyoshi brought the kunai closer to Naruto in warning, dragging a thin line against the baby's neck. Naruto crinkled his nose against the pain, whimpering softly for someone's attention.

"Call back your summons, or I will kill this child."

At Kiyoshi's side, Kaiyo could feel her growing unease at the situation. She knew her leader was bluffing; he would not kill the child who they were specifically told to bring back alive, but Kushina was clearly more of an annoyance than he first believed. They needed to take away her ability to fight them, and there was little that could work better than threatening her son.

Sure enough, the swans disappeared only moments later, leaving Kushina standing alone in the midst of her enemies. As her baby's whimpering escalated into outright crying, the redhead glared hatefully at Kiyoshi but otherwise made no move, lest he harm Naruto. Kiyoshi chuckled when he saw this, and turned back to his subordinates.

"Kill her slowly, men. We want to leave a clear message to the Hokage when his men find her."

Kushina clenched her fists, but did nothing to stop the nins advancing slowly upon her, all too eager to carry out their leader's orders after the damage she'd done to their numbers.

The blows seemed to start coming from every direction at once, tearing at Kushina's skin and clothes, and making the grass slick with her blood. She could barely breathe under the assault, forcing back cringes every time another hit struck her. Eventually, Kushina could feel herself becoming numb to the pain, a frightening sensation to the redhead since she knew that it meant death was near.

She had failed.

Closing her eyes against tears that wanted so desperately to fall, Kushina choked back a sob as memories of her friends and family began to replay in her head, as if mocking her with what she now stood to lose.

Minato… Kushina thought sadly as her body shook with pain. Naruto… Gomennasai.

Was that shouting? And crying?

Kyuubi grumbled softly to himself, ears flattening against his head as he tried desperately to hang on to the sleep that had so callously abandoned him for so long. He'd murder whoever was making that racket later. Right now though, rest was his main priority.

Unfortunately, the noise only seemed to grow, and it was soon joined by the potent smell of spilled blood. Kyuubi's eyes snapped open as his instincts stirred to life, ensuring that he wasn't getting any more sleep that day.

The fox growled angrily. Someone was going to die for this…

Standing up, the demon stretched out carelessly before dissolving his barrier and taking off into the forest to find whatever had so rudely interrupted his sleep to make sure that to never happened again.

It didn't take the fox long to find himself in a clearing, watching roughly a dozen men (shinobi, it looked like) gang up on a woman while a hooded man, another woman, and a bawling infant watched on the sidelines. It was difficult to decipher smells in the chaos in front of him, but it wasn't hard for him to tell that the woman was losing badly. Kyuubi didn't care about that, though. He just wanted someone to pay for waking him up.

Growling loudly, the fox caught the attention of the occupants of the clearing, who immediately turned to face this new, and clearly more threatening presence. The men readied themselves for a fight, and Kyuubi fought the urge to scoff. Did they really think they could last with him as their opponent? Annoyed, the demon let off a small wave of his chakra, no more then a tail's worth, to show them exactly what they were dealing with. Unsurprisingly, the humans all froze under the immense presence of his power. Even the brat stopped crying upon feeling the strength possessed by the King of the Bijuu.

Stepping into the clearing, Kyuubi watched with muted satisfaction as fear and horror reflected on the faces of all the humans who laid eyes on him as he unfurled all nine of his mighty tails.

"Kyuubi…" One of the closer ones whispered, taking a shaky step back. The fox grinned wickedly in response, and nearly laughed when three foolish ninjas jumped forward to try and slay him. Letting out a mighty snarl, Kyuubi encased himself in a sphere of chakra, stopping the weapons short before they could ever touch him. With speed the human eye could not hope to follow, he then proceeded to kill all three nins in an instant.

The remaining humans gave a cry of horror at the sight of their fallen comrades, and Kyuubi smirked to himself as more stepped forward to challenge him in sheer desperation, only to join the other corpses in the clearing. Now the smell of fear from the remaining humans was almost overwhelming, amusing the fox to no end.

Movement caught Kyuubi's attention, and he turned his head lazily to eye the man in the cloak as his handed the infant off to the woman and stepped forward to confront the fox. The demon scoffed at the man's arrogance.

For a moment, Kyuubi contemplated growing to his full size and eating the man whole for his insolence, before a faint scent on the hooded human caught his attention, making him growl.


Any entertainment he may have been having was effectively killed at the faint smell of the red-eyed human. Uchiha should have known better by now than to send his human puppets into Kyuubi's territory if he wanted them to return alive. Idly, the fox wondered what the man could possibly want with a baby and a woman, before deciding that he couldn't be bothered to care. Right now, the important thing was to make sure that the Uchiha learned to keep his schemes of world domination away from Kyuubi's lands.

"Kyuubi-sama," the hooded man called out to the demon. The fox's eyes narrowed at his approach. The man's chakra was acting strangely for some reason… "I apologize if we have disturbed your peace, but I'm afraid that this quarrel is none of your concern."

Kyuubi scowled at that, irritated. Normally, a degree of politeness would have been enough to make him consider letting the human live, but the connection to Uchiha had shortened this man's life drastically. And the gall of the man to tell him what was, and wasn't his concern! Though the fox could not attack the red-eyed man directly, he was not above foiling the human's foolish little plots.

Everything that takes place in my territory is my concern, human, the fox growled out, mildly annoyed that his 'voice' did not carry the same intensity when he was this size as it did when he was in his true form. Why are you in my lands? Did your foolish master not warn you to stay out of my way?

The hooded man chuckled softly at that.

"You are mistaken, Kyuubi-sama," he said in an annoyingly superior tone. "I have no master." Kyuubi growled dangerously at that rebuttal, eyes narrowing at the human. He was about to retort when a shift in the man's chakra patterns caught the demon's attention. It was then that realization struck the fox.

I see… he said, annoyed. He almost felt foolish for not catching on sooner. So that is the trick you are using now, is it human?

"I do not wish to confront you just yet, Kyuubi-sama," the hooded man said, ignoring the confusion his men now displayed. "That is why I have done things this way. Let me finish my business here and be on my way, and I will consider myself in your debt."

Kyuubi scoffed at that.

Fool. He sneered. In an instant, he moved to attack, cutting down the hooded man like a weed. The female holding the child screamed as the human's body, hood and all, dissolved into a pile of ash, which was blown away by the wind.

Your debt is something I have no need for, Uchiha. Kyuubi thought darkly to himself, hoping that the coward could sense the declaration from wherever he was currently hidden away. A split second later, most of the Uchiha's followers were upon the demon, emboldened by their anger, intent on killing him for what they assumed was the murder of their leader.

Kyuubi growled furiously as he quickly dispatched the shinobi with ease, darting forward to finish off the ones who had held back even before the corpses of the vanguard had hit the ground. Normally, Kyuubi would have considered slaughtering the pitiful creatures boring and beneath his abilities as a Bijuu, but these humans were working with Uchiha.

For that crime, they could not be allowed to live.

Pouncing upon the humans before they could even register his presence, Kyuubi began killing off the mortals with ruthless efficiency, growling in disgust when some of the faster ones finally tried to make a run for it, abandoning their fellow shinobi. Needless to say, they did not make it far. It wasn't long until the only enemy left was the woman, fearfully clutching the infant Uchiha had been after.

Kyuubi sneered as the woman backed away from him, her entire body trembling so badly that it was a wonder she could stand at all. The fear of death was evident in the human's eyes as Kyuubi rushed her, which was no surprise, really. What was a surprise, though, was the actions the woman took before Kyuubi cut her down with his claws.

As the demon approached her, the kunoichi curled in on herself to protect the baby in her arms from the demon, keeping the child unharmed even as she herself fell dead to the earth. The action was strange enough for Kyuubi to hesitate a moment after killing the woman, studying her with a puzzled frown on his face before brushing her off to instead contemplate the annoyance that was Uchiha. Whatever the foolish little mortal was up to in his lands couldn't be anything good, after all. He had thought the man had learned his lesson after the last time, but apparently the fox had been too lenient. Of course, that was the last time Kyuubi would ever make a mistake like that, but there was still a question of just what the Uchiha was plotting now that could involve—

"Damn... You don't pull your punches, do you?"


Kyuubi turned to see the redhead that had been the target of Uchiha's men push herself off the ground with her forearms, her breathing ragged and her chakra dangerously low. To be honest, the demon was mildly surprised to see that the woman was still alive, let alone strong enough to make such a disrespectful comment. Considering her for a moment, the fox decided to humor the human and respond to her statement.

Of course not, he said, arrogance befitting of a kitsune dripping from his words. Going into a fight with anything less then your full strength is disrespecting what power you have. Everyone who chooses to fight must be prepared to suffer the consequences of a loss.

"No mercy for the weak?" the woman scoffed lightly in between ragged breaths.

Everyone other than me is weak, mortal. Kyuubi preened. It is merely a matter of how much weaker they are in comparison. Those who are strong enough to be entertaining are allowed to live, and those who are not worth fighting a second time die at my claws. Mercy is just a pretty word you humans use to dress up your weak hearts when it comes to taking a life.

"Such compassion is almost inspiring in a demon nowadays, fox face," the human quipped back. The fox cocked his head as he contemplated the woman after that statement, wondering vaguely if he should end her life that much faster for her blatant sarcasm. Before Kyuubi could reach a decision, though, a soft cry was heard from the direction of the woman the demon had just killed, soon erupting into a full-fledged wail for any source of comfort. Upon hearing the noise, the human woman Kyuubi had been conversing with turned her full attention to the infant laying on the ground a relatively short length away from her. Apparently deciding that the baby was a bigger concern than the fox that had just slain a small group of shinobi in a matter of seconds, the woman half crawled to the child, prompting Kyuubi to raise an eyebrow at her.

You're only killing yourself faster by moving around so much, he informed her in a bored tone.

"No shit," the woman grunted, her eyes locked on the baby even as she addressed the fox. "But my son needs me, and I'll be damned if I'm not there for my baby when it counts." Ah, so that's what this whole ordeal was about. Kyuubi almost rolled his eyes at the human's foolishness.

You killed yourself just to get one child back? Kyuubi clarified in disgust. Why on earth would you die for a child when you can have another just as easily? It would be a much smarter move in the long run, and you're still young and fairly attractive by human standards. Kyuubi studied the woman critically as he said this, noting that without the blood and bruises, she would actually be quite presentable.

"Thanks, but I don't go for inter-species relationships, fox," the redhead said dryly as she reached the child and pried him out of the grip of a corpse. She propped herself up against a nearby tree, taking the infant gingerly in her arms. Kyuubi was mildly relieved that the brat stopped wailing almost instantly. "And for your information, any halfway decent parent would die for their kid on a moment's notice. Naruto is the most important thing in the world to me, and I'd do anything to keep him safe."

…You named your child 'fishcake'?

"Yeah, so?" The woman said defensively as she gently brushed at her baby's bangs, inspecting the boy for any injuries he may have accumulated in the time the enemy had had him. "It has sentimental value… and I like ramen. Besides, it beats 'Kamaboko'."

Kyuubi nearly rolled his eyes at that. Humans…

It still does not make sense to me, for someone to die for another like this, he said in annoyance. Your own existence should always come first and foremost.

"Well now, aren't you a selfish bastard?" the redhead observed, before her eyes grew gentle as she looked at her son. "I don't think I could ever explain it to you… and even if I could, you probably wouldn't care anyways, being the great Kyuubi and all—­" Kyuubi narrowed his eyes at the woman's sarcasm, and once again considered just eating her and getting it over with. "—but a life where your own existence is all that matters isn't even worth living in the first place. Having a child really changed my life for the better. I mean, yeah it gets hard sometimes, but Naruto always makes it worth it, in the end."

Are all humans as ridiculously sentimental as you are? Kyuubi questioned in boredom, making the redhead roll her eyes.

"Ugh, just forget I said anything… A bastard like you could never understand what I'm talking about. You don't have a paternal bone in your body, and raising a kid is the most challenging thing someone can do." Kyuubi stilled at that, narrowing his eyes at the woman in displeasure.

Are you suggesting that I'd be incapable of raising a child, human? he growled out coldly. The redhead's breathing was becoming more and more labored, her words slurring on her tongue… Clearly she was on borrowed time as it was… But Kyuubi could not stand for the thought of a dying woman, shinobi or not, insinuating that there was something he could not do. He, the most powerful of the Bijuu! Answer me, human!

"Like you could prove me wrong, fox face," the woman drawled out dryly in return, before planting a gentle kiss on her son's forehead while ignoring the demon's angry snarl. She hoped Minato was already on his way with a horde of ANBU at his heels. She wanted her son back in Konoha where it was safe as fast as humanly possible.

Just hope Minato's not too pissed off with me for this… Kushina thought, closing her eyes and holding Naruto closer. Kushina smiled sadly to herself as she thought about her husband. Silently, the woman apologized to her husband, for all the pain she'd leave behind for him to muddle through. But at least this way, he would still have Naruto. Kushina had faith that their son would help her husband pull through in the end… Opening her eyes, Kushina smiled gently at her baby. Yeah, Naruto would be there for Minato, even if she couldn't be.

"Be strong, Naruto," Kushina whispered softly into her son's hair. "I know you can be… And help your papa out, too. He's hopeless without one of us there to make his life interesting, you know." Naruto only cooed in response, his fingers tangling into her hair. Kushina almost cried at the familiar gesture. "I love you, kiddo… I hope you remember that when you're older."

Doubtful, Kyuubi said coldly, having overheard the woman's speech. The child is merely a kit, far too young to remember this day at all. To remember you, even.

"He'll be a year old next month, on October tenth," Kushina said, not really sure why she was telling the demon this when he probably didn't care in the first place. It was probably just her talkative nature. "And it doesn't matter if he doesn't remember my face, if he can still remember my feelings."

You really are the most sentimental human I ever met, woman.

"Yeah, and you're probably the most anal demon alive, bastard," Kushina said immaturely in return. "'Sides, I can't see you hanging out around too many humans." Unable to deny the truth of this statement, Kyuubi merely scowled at the woman in response. Privately, though, he felt that Yamata no Orochi was far more anal then he could ever be.

While he was considering this, Kyuubi felt the final fragment of the human woman's strength dissolve away, her breath rasping to a dead stop. Kyuubi frowned. It was almost a pity, really… He hadn't had such an interesting conversational partner in a while… Still, what was done was done, and now there was no more reason for Kyuubi to stay. Standing up, the fox stretched his long, lean body before turning with a fluid flick of his tails to leave the clearing.

He had just made it to the trees when a soft cry caught his ears.

Pausing, Kyuubi turned his head to look back at the infant, who had apparently sensed his mother's passing. Kyuubi frowned, knowing that the child's wails would undoubtedly attract a predator. Deciding that it wasn't his problem, the fox turned to leave again.

A bastard like you could never understand what I'm talking about. Kyuubi stopped again, eyes narrowed as the human's words came back to him. Bah! What did he care about softhearted human emotions? Annoyed, Kyuubi turned again to glare at the crying child.

You don't have a paternal bone in your body. Raising a kid is the most challenging thing someone can do. Growling as the woman's words mocked him, Kyuubi turned back around angrily.

I'll show that woman… He thought irritably. There is no challenge on earth too great for the Kyuubi no Kitsune.

As he approached the dead woman and her child in a fluid motion, Kyuubi allowed his chakra to envelope his body, morphing him from his fox form to one that was similar to a tall, handsome human male, with angry red hair that fell down the length of his back. He was dressed in robes of the finest silk, which didn't even whisper as he walked, and his eyes, still slanted like those of his fox form, were a deep ruby color with slits for irises.

Coming to a stop in front of the child, Kyuubi kneeled down, taking the baby from his mother's arms. Naruto was surprised by the action, and stopped crying immediately to blink up at the demon with wide blue eyes. Kyuubi could feel his own eyes go wide at the sight of the child he was holding.

He's so… tiny, Kyuubi thought, slightly awed that anything could be so small and light. He'd never had much use for children before, so this was the first time he'd ever seen one up close, and this boy was—

Kyuubi started when the baby in his hands suddenly giggled loudly, arms flailing. Sweatdropping, the demon tried to figure out how to get the child to settle back down when the boy suddenly reached up, grabbed some of Kyuubi's hair in his grubby hands and yanked down hard. The demon growled in response to the abuse.

…This was going to be harder then he thought.

WoM- Okay seriously, what is with all my Naruto stories being 30+ pages long? 'passes out' Anywho, before anyone bites my head off for killing Kushina, please note that I did it for a good reason and with great reluctance. Seriously people, she's one of my favorite characters to write! 'tears up' Next chapter things should get interesting, though, especially since I'm gonna explain a little bit of this and that I couldn't fit into here, and I'll be introducing another member of the Bijuu! Don't bother asking who it is because I'm evil and don't divulge spoilers of any sort. Till then I beg you for constructive reviews and bid you a fond farewell!


I'm in dire need of a beta reader for my Naruto stories. I checked out a ton of the beta reader bios here on , and was severely disappointed with all of them. Lizeth was cool enough to beta this chapter, but I need someone else to help me with the rest of the fic, hopefully someone who's good with grammar and is willing to work fast. PM me if you're interested!