Disclaimer: I do not own the Anime/Manga Naruto, nor any of the characters in it. I do not make any money from the writing of this story. I'll only say this once.
To be clear, I am not the original creator of this story. The original story was abandoned a couple years ago and can still be found on AFF under the name "Enchanted" in the Naruto section. I am taking this old fanfic in a new direction. It's still a little choppy, despite several revisions. I flirted with a cooler, simpler title, but until I've rewritten a cooler simpler story with a better summary, PotBF (lol) will have to do.
I hope to smooth it out and finish the story completely in the coming months. Also, I've changed the title a couple of times and now I'm back to the original working title I though I'd use but decided against for several reasons. Since then I've warmed up to the idea, clearly.
Tsunade had studied the Scroll of Seals and all of Yondaime's notes endlessly and there was nothing. No clue at all as to what might be happening to Naruto could be found.
The weak and weary-looking blond lay tangled in the bed sheets of his hospital suite, surrounded by the various friends, mentors, and figures of authority that one would expect to find during such a crisis. The seal on his belly pulsed erratically, in time with heart. What scared her truly was the slow fading of that mark.
Naruto was dying. Moreover, it looked as though the prison containing one extraordinarily powerful monster was about to fail. Why this was happening was not entirely clear, although the injuries Naruto had sustained in battle may have contributed significantly. For days, they had tried desperately to contain the demon within. Many different techniques had been employed, yet all in vain.
A dark look marred the Hokage's beautiful face. Tsunade was worried. More than anything, she wasn't sure whether she had the skill to heal Naruto. He carried with him the founding Hokage's necklace, and had survived the death curse associated with it for this long. That did nothing to quell the uneasiness in her gut every time she thought about and weighed the gravity of the situation.
There was only so much his body could take before it succumbed to illness. His body temperature had reached feverish heights and he struggled for every breath of air. His vitality simply refused to come back, though neither did it fully leave him. The Four-Seasons' seal had weakened to the point of collapse, and nobody in the room had quite the knowledge of seals to repair it.
Only the Yondaime, who summoned the god of death in a technique that all but died with him would recreate such a masterpiece. The third Hokage was also dead, along with all of the Uzumaki clan, save one. Even Jiraiya, for all his savvy with sealing magic was still unable to devise an adequate solution.
Naruto had been trapped for days in this nightmarish purgatory, caught between life and death. It seemed their worst fear might soon be realized. The fox spirit was bound to seek retribution for his entrapment. Tsunade's helpless gaze landed on the room's other occupants.
Kakashi stood stiffly at one corner, his face unusually solemn, despite the mask. He had arrived just a moment too late and found Naruto already unconscious. Sasuke was nowhere to be found, and Sakura was already too hysterical for debriefing. The girl had calmed down, but the story still seemed strangely incomplete. And where was Sasuke now? The thought troubled him, but not as much as this.
Sasuke might have run away, but Naruto was so close to death. His skin was pale and drenched with sweat, his face contorted in anguish. It wasn't the sort of thing any teacher knew how to cope with. Iruka was slumped beside him. Only Jiraiya had the courage to say what need be said.
"Tsunade… I know this is unbearably hard to consider, but… you're going to have to make a decision. The seal is slipping and Konoha cannot defend itself from the demon fox. I know he means a lot to you, and to all of us, but… but as the Hokage, you must think of the village. As shinobi of Konoha, we all must think of Konoha's safety."
Kakashi felt his blood run cold. He continued to look sadly at his student. He was partly to blame for this. Sasuke and Naruto were rivals yes, but he never thought for a moment that the Uchiha might have tried to kill his teammate. The fingernails dug into his palms as he took in the Hokage's grim visage. Iruka had not moved from his place. He knew deep down what had to be done, but his heart could not accept this answer.
Iruka rose and came to Naruto's bedside. He tried several times to speak, but each time the words caught in his throat. Many more failures allowed him only a hoarse whisper. "Is there nothing we can do t…to save him?"
Tsunade shook her head. She looked upon the precious child that lay dying on the bed, trying hard to hold back her tears. Despite great effort, her voice was cracked. "Maybe it's Naruto's destiny. Yondaime died to protect his village from ruin. Ironic, that his heir should share the same fate…"
The boy seized and coughed again, until a trail of blood ran down from his lips. Tsunade ran her hand above his chest and preformed another diagnostic with her chakra. Naruto was almost stabilizing, but that damned seal uncontrollably radiated something foul and destructive that was poisoning the boy. The pure, unfiltered chakra of the nine-tails was leaking, and it wasn't at all how she or the only other expert in the room, Jiraiya, expected it to. This chakra's behavior was weird, and it contradicted everything that either Sannin knew of chakra. It acted as though it had a mind of its own! But more than that, the seal was breaking in a strange way.
'Why,' the Hokage thought gravely, 'why him? Why so suddenly?'
Her words resounded hollowly in the minds of all.
The old man shook his head and pointed. "That isn't a related physical injury, Tsunade. Look," he scooped up a portion of it on his finger and presented it, "this is ink. The seal is opening, but not in the way Yondaime, nor any seals master would have designed it to in the event of an injury."
A heavy blanket of silence fell, so think that could have suffocated them. They stared at a boy whom they had all come to cherish, laying still on what seemed to be his deathbed.
"Jiraiya…" the Hokage's eyes narrowed a little, but the toad hermit interrupted her sentence before it began.
"If you're thinking of using the seal's key, I've already thought of that. The Four-Seasons' seal isn't behaving as it would under to ordinary circumstances. The Injury Naruto received was grave, and it weakened the prison considerably, however…" his eyes narrowed too, "that shouldn't have damaged the seal this badly."
Suddenly, a light erupted from Naruto's body. Its brightness doubled each passing second, until it was too much to take in. And then there was a quiet, even graver than the one that possessed that hospital room in the hours prior. There was an unnaturally calm, and the luminosity evaporated. Naruto was still breathing, but the color had left him and his eyes were screwed shut, and he appeared to be in lots of pain.
"Tsunade, there isn't much time." Jiraiya prompted.
"I know that!" Tsunade barked back. "Uzumaki Naruto was an honorable ninja of Hidden Leaf. His strength and determination has saved the village from ruin and brought broken spirits back to life. He will always be remembered." Tsunade spoke solemnly, as a swirling ball of emerald light burst to life in hands. It gave off a gentle hum as it spun.
"Powerful words for such pitiful beings. Now, back away from Naruto."
Once said, these words engendered an eerie calm. This deep and airy drawl was almost reminiscent of… Kakashi scanned the room, even uncovering his Sharingan eye, but no one else was present, not yet. His head was playing games with him.
And it seemed he had not been alone in noticing. But everybody else had trained their eyes on Naruto. The boy was changing. It looked unpleasant. The room grew cold. Seething red and blue chakra burst out of the gaping seal and dispersed into a fine mist that filled the room with murderous intent. The boy still lay within the bed as the chakra began to take human shape. It was him.
The sight of that resplendent man inspired a kind of awe and terror all at once. His face was young and sharp, framed by long red hair and possessed of dark, unpleasant eyes. Upon careful examination, he actually looked a somewhat like Naruto, but also somebody else- at least, someone Jiraiya and Kakashi had encountered once or twice before.
"Don't jump to conclusions. There is nothing wrong with the seal. It functioned as it was meant to. Your fourth Hokage created it to release me after thirteen years' imprisonment," he chuckled, "and you were so ready to kill your favorite kid ninja to stop it."
Not awaiting any questions, he set to healing Naruto's body. He smiled faintly as the birthmarks on Naruto's cheeks faded, and a radiant glow replaced them.
"Beginning today, I will take guardianship over Naruto."
Tsunade opened her mouth to protest but the kyuubi raised a hand to silence her. "I have seen life through Naruto's eyes and I am displeased by what I saw. This one is the scion of a man I have begrudgingly come to respect. I was pleased to see that similar traits run deep in his offspring, despite everything that happened to him."
He sat against the bed beside his former host, bearing with the authority of a shinto god. "Naruto would be under my protection as often as possible. I will take to training him when he has no other duties to fulfill. Under my eyes, this child will become strong."
His gaze came level with Tsunade as he continued. "His progress as a ninja shall not be hindered. Should I find any opposition to Naruto in your council, Tsunade, I will see to it that they understand they are in no position to argue."
The kyuubi smirked amusedly when he saw the Hokage's face. She was making a colossal effort to remain calm and professional. "You may speak your mind now," he said calmly, waiting for her to organize her thoughts. Finally managing to quell her anxiety, she stared defiantly into his molten eyes.
"Don't toy with me!" She seethed. "Naruto… Naruto is an adult. And this village is and has always been his home. He doesn't need your charity to become powerful. Naruto is already strong! Who the hell allowed you to come here and issue demands? Monster!"
The great demon sighed and looked coyly back at her. Sometimes he wondered why humans insisted on being so bothersome. They possessed neither the skills nor the wisdom to consider themselves dominant, and yet he did not want to dwell on this topic. He was becoming increasingly annoyed by their foolishness. Patience was no virtue to him. "What I require of you is perfectly reasonable and will render no harm to your precious settlement. For your compliance, you would have me as your agent and your protector. If not, I shall take the boy with me and see to it that he is tended to as he deserves. I am willing to lower and degrade myself to the point of joining your ANBU division to strengthen this village. However, the child shall be raised according to my design. This decision is not negotiable. Accept my offer or Naruto leaves with me."
Tsunade was not sure what to do. She could not defy the kyuubi to readily without great risk and the demon did appear genuinely concerned for Naruto's welfare. And as a part of ANBU, Hidden Leaf's overall power would increase. Yet she still could not bring herself to trust the creature. Its explanation of the seal did not seem realistic. Bringing the nine-tailed fox under control again would require additional time and preparation. It was dangerous to do anything in this situation, but for the time being it seemed frugal to allow the demon to believe its demands were feasible.
"I agree to the terms your conditions, so long as you won't hurt anyone in this village."
"Can you guarantee that nobody in your village will try to hurt Naruto?" The Kyuubi quirked an eyebrow.
This demon was trying her patience. "Of course I can't!"
The demon returned her expression with another look that betrayed nothing.
"I cannot guarantee no harm will come to them."
The Hokage understood what he meant and nodded. The demon fox smiled serenely at her, but the expression bore no warmth. Softness entered his gaze only when his eyes fell upon Naruto. Taloned fingers came forth to caress the young man's sharp, masculine face, however as soon as his fingers touched Naruto, the illusion shattered.
The sunny blond glowed a frosty blue, almost blinding in its brightness as before. After the light dissipated, collective gasps echoed across the room.
On the bed still lay the youth. Long, rich locks of hair curved about the features of that face. Dense eye lashes fanned the full cheeks as they fluttered for a moment. High cheekbones stood out beneath the pale and flawless skin. Even the kid;s bone structure had been altered. The body's figure looked more fragile. Long, slender fingers curled into the sheets as a low-pitched moan escaped from the child's throat.
Kakashi came forward, as did the others. They watched as the body that replaced Naruto so suddenly remained quite unconscious. Iruka's eyes widened incredulously. Tsunade, being a medic, took a moment to digest the sight. Jiraiya let out a disbelieving whistle. The Kyuubi chuckled in amusement.
"That confirms my suspicion."
Tsunade snapped out of her revere.
"What is the hell is this? What happened?"
The demon smirked as he traced his hosts smoother features.
"Yondaime was wise. He knew that Naruto would not live an easy life. He knew his child would be the constant target of his enemies. Maybe the seal had another purpose. It seemed to have maintained a high level technique. The appearance of my host was altered. Now that the seal is gone, the illusion seems to have dispelled. I suppose human males are safer from most dangers than the females, aren't they?"
Jiraiya looked from Naruto to the kyuubi and back again. "Did you know about this?"
The demon continued to look at Naruto, pulling his fingers gently through the sudden bounty of hair. "No, and I do not believe Naruto did either."
Kakashi sighed and mumbled. "It figures. He always did scream just like a girl."
Tsunade rubbed her temples vigorously. "This is going to take some getting used to."
It was Iruka who abruptly pointed out the obvious, what made the others present falter in their train of thought. "How in the hell will Naruto even begin cope with this?"
But it was Jiraiya whose thoughts were darkest of the group. Not one part of this entire set-up made any kind of sense in context. 'Even Naruto looks significantly different, despite the significance change. It's like nothing I've seen. What really happened here…?'