Crap. ANOTHER late chapter that I'm less than satisfied with. You know what? You guys deserve better than this. And that's why I'm putting this fic on a short hiatus. But never mind that; I'll elaborate at the end of the (crappy and short) chapter.

Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto. Masashi Kishimoto does. I only own Hazumi and the contents of this story.

Chapter 7

Inside the Fire

I clutched my arm, more in pain than worry it would be seen, although I heard gasps coming from the sparse audience and that didn't sound good. My arm was patching itself back up already, but DAMN, those flames really hurt!

Hazumi pointed at my arm. "What the hell is that?" he asked calmly. "Whatever that is, I don't think I signed up to fight it."

I tried to respond to him, but I felt my own chakra flaring up even more, cutting me off mid-thought. Red, glowing chakra bubbled up around me, its tendrils slowly covering me. "No…" I protested hoarsely. "No, I don't need more chakra. I've got enough."

"It's too late to shut off the flow, Kit," the Fox laughed.

"Uhhh, Naruto? Who are you talking to?" Hazumi asked.

"I can just keep pumping it into you now until I'm in control!"

"Are you alright? You don't look too good. How about we end this fight?"

"Now, crush this bug. He has attacked you, attacked US, using underhanded tactics like poison, and he deserves to die!"

"No… he's not so bad… he just fought us to get his village into the next Chuunin Exams."

"Who is this guy talking to?!" Hazumi called out. I noticed in some corner of my mind he was calling to Ino, who had taken Chouji back up to the front row of bleachers. She just shrugged.

"Crush him! Murder him, now!"


"KILL HIM!" And this time, I heard Kyuubi's guttural voice come out of my lips. My lips! By now, the red chakra had enveloped me completely, and like when I fought Sasuke, had taken a roughly fox-like shape.

Hazumi hadn't just sat dumbstruck – he had raised his palms to me. "Sorry, but..." then I heard a pair of clicks. He paled as we both realized – he was out of fuel. "Gotta run!" He turned, but I was already on top of him, crushing him to the ground and kicking him away like a ragdoll. "Ugh…" he got up and began to crawl away, but I roared and chased after him. "Shit!" he slashed clumsily at me, but missed entirely and I drove an uppercut into his half-raised gut, driving him into the air. I crouched and tensed my legs, preparing to take off after him – but suddenly I was surrounded.

"NARUTO!" Kakashi-Sensei yelled sharply. "What the hell are you doing?!" he was right in front of me, with Tsunade and Shizune behind and to either side of me. Neji and Ino had landed in nearby trees, along with Gaara and his siblings. The Kanadzuchi guy had caught Hazumi in the air and righted him so that they both landed on their feet; Hazumi looked dazed but not too badly injured.

"I…I…" I gasped out.

"HOW DARE HE STOP YOU?!" Kyuubi raged. "Kill that bored-eyed fool!

"How dare you even suggest that?!" I whispered to Kyuubi, horrified.

"Naruto, who are you talking to?" Kakashi-Sensei asked. Judging by the apprehension in his voice, he already knew the answer.

"I… help?" With this, the chakra covering me contracted, then burst outwards, causing the high-level ninja around me to jump back in alarm. It slowly settled to the ground like a blanket, burning everything in a five-foot circle around me, then exploded upward, creating a colossal reddish pillar of poisonous, demonic chakra that stretched toward the sky. I screamed in pain… normally the chakra didn't hurt me, but my skin felt like it was dipped in acid.

"NARUTO!" Tsunade yelled.

"Hmm… I didn't anticipate this," the Fox rumbled. "That chakra column will warn every Shinobi in the town of my impending arrival." Then he laughed, a barking sound that felt like it drove flaming spikes into my ears. "Oh well, bring them on."

"What… what are you doing?!" I asked him.

"Reshaping your body, just like I promised." It was true; I saw, and felt my left hand, rapidly growing fur and changing to match the right. Red-orange fur was crawling up both of my arms, towards my shoulders.

"NO!" I yelled, even as I felt it reach my shoulders. "STOP IT!"

"You're not giving orders here anymore, Kit!" More flaming spike laughter. I could see the fur turning white as it reached my chest. It was climbing up the back and sides of my neck as well, and creeping down my back.

I broke down. "Please…" I muttered, my eyes tearing up. "Please stop it…"

"NARUTO!" I looked up.

Oh no. Not now.

"Naruto! What's… what's going on?" Sakura had entered the stadium, was making her way over to me. She called to me from behind the wall of burning chakra. "Naruto!" I think she was starting to cry; it was hard to see details through all that red.

"Hey… Sakura…" I managed. I could feel my ears stretching out into furry points as they moved around on my head, but I tried to ignore it. "Sorry you had to see me this way." I made a pathetic attempt to smile, and she started to cry in earnest. Maybe it was the fangs.

I heard a weaker voice mumble my name, and looked past Sakura. Hinata was looking at me and crying as well, although she hadn't gotten so close. Oh crap, the entire town had shown up, just like the damn Fox said they would. Made sense with the column of fire up there, I suppose.

"Sakura! Get back!" Kakashi-sensei forcefully pulled Sakura away. "It's too dangerous!" Kakashi led my friends and some other Genin who were under 15 or 16 away, and my new ears picked up that he was explaining what had really happened to the Kyuubi to them (abridged version). I looked away, down, and noticed that my toes were gaining claws and fur as well. Through it all, the pain (along with some weird force) held me in place, kept me from trying to escape the chakra pillar, or even shifting to a more comfortable standing position. To be fair, I don't think I could have escaped the chakra, since it was coming from my body.

"My body, in just a minute or so more," the Fox taunted me.

"Shut the hell up! You don't deserve this body!" But he was winning. The fur had reached my face, and I felt my nose and mouth start to pull out into a fox's muzzle. "No!"

"Yes!" I felt a tight pressure at the base of my spine, building up stronger and stronger. Finally, a tail burst free from my pants, a long, red-furred tail - and then another, and another. In just a few short seconds, there were nine long, deadly tails whipping around me. "I win, kit."

"Like hell you do," I whispered. "I'm not going to stop fighting you, no matter what." But I was quickly growing tired, the burning chakra sapping my strength as it pulled in and swirled around me, changing from a pillar to a small dome. I noticed dully that high-level shinobi were taking up positions around the dome, ready to act as soon as it went down. I noticed Gramma Tsunade giving the ready signal - and I noticed she was crying, too. Then I blacked out, and I don't remember anything for quite a while after that.

End of Chapter

Yeah. So I'm doing a short hiatus; unlikely more than a month or two; hopefully I'll have it back for you guys as a Hannukah or Christmas present at latest. The thing is, four late chapters in a row is a sign that the fic's not going well. It's become a chore to write this, and that's not good. In addition, I need to deal with college, and other, more fanfiction-related activities. If you want to know what's so important, feel free to check out the A Winner Is You! tournament I'm hosting, the Blood-Sport tournament on deviantART I'm entered in, or my works in the Cartoon Crossovers or Lilo and Stitch fandoms. Anyway, ciao for now.

Next Chapter: We shift point-of-view to a character who can more accurately fill in for Naruto while he's blacked out. Who? Who else could it be...?