Caught in the Middle

Chapter 1

The Two Foxes

Disclaimer: ...yeah, I don't own Naruto.

Alright, here it is, my first official jump into Naruto. I couldn't wait to put this up!

Not much to say right now, the story will explain itself. Just keep in mind that Naruto has pretty much zero fighting ability in this story compared to other characters right now. It's just bare knuckle fist fighting for him right now. Don't worry, that'll change soon enough.

Let's get to the Naruto goodness!

A dark night in Konoha city; for most it was just another rainy night, a time to settle in with ones family, or to relax after a hard day or work. Not for one particular person in the downtown area though, she was in a different situation entirely. It wasn't every night that you get shot at out of no where with no explanation, but that was exactly what was happening.

A young girl, long red hair, wearing a pair of loose jeans and a red T-shirt ran down the wet sidewalks of the city streets. She ducked as another silenced round whizzed past her head. She knew coming here was a mistake, but she didn't think anything like this would happen.

She turned a corner into an alleyway and jumped onto the chain-linked fence in an attempt to escape her attacker. She felt a sharp pain hit her lower left leg and she fell to the ground, hitting the back of her head against the hard concrete. She groaned and rolled over on her stomach and tried to push herself up.

As she raised her head, she saw her attacker up close. He had a hooded cloak over his head and held a black pistol with a silenced barrel. He lowered his firearm to her head and prepared to squeeze the trigger, when a second gunshot rang out and hit the cloaked man in the left shoulder.

He fell over, but quickly rolled to his feet and looked up to examine the interloper. He wore an even darker cloak with red cloud patterns, and he held a white pistol without a silencer. He fired at the newcomer, only to have him seemingly disappear.

Once he was gone, he turned his attention back to the girl, only to find that she'd escaped. He clenched his fist and threw his pistol against the brick wall next to him, then stormed off into the darkness, holding onto his wound.

Only a few streets away, our favorite blond was walking home in the rain, a frown on his face under his umbrella. He hated the rain, it was so depressing, luckily he'd been watching the weather before he left and came prepared. It was ten o'clock and he was late to get home as it was, and grandfather Sarutobi was gonna be pissed as it was.

Yeah, he was an orphan, no mom, no dad. His grandfather…well, adopted grandfather anyway, said they both died in a car crash when he was little, so he'd spent the vast majority of his sixteen years alive with him. He was cool guy; well educated and kind, but when you got on his bad side, well…just hold onto your ass.

He'd been hanging out with a few of his friends from school; Sakura, Kiba and his girlfriend Hinata, and Haku. They'd all gone to go see a movie, but the show started late, so he was out an hour later than he would have liked.

So here he was, walking slowly down this street in the rain, not a cab in sight, and more than a few blocks before he got back to the suburbs. Did he mention he HATED the rain?

Just when he thought he might go mad from the sheer boredom this day had thrown at him, he heard a barely audible groan come from one of the alleyways. He looked over and saw what looked like a girl lying face down on the concrete next to a dumpster.

Without a second though, he dropped his umbrella and ran over to her. The first thing he noticed was an obvious bullet wound in her leg, and more bleeding from the back of her head.

He was about to turn her over when he heard her give a more audible exhale, presumably slipping into unconsciousness, and suddenly more was added onto her body. He nearly had a heart attack as he watched her literally sprout a furry tail and two fluffy ears on her head.

At this point, he was up against a wall, wondering what the hell was going on. He racked his brain as he thought about what to do. What was he supposed to do; he could call 911, but what would he tell them, 'hey, I just found a girl with a tail and a bullet wound in an alleyway, come help'?

First thing was first, he should probably get the bullet out. Fortunately she was already unconscious, so hopefully she wouldn't feel anything. He ripped her jean leg a bit and located the metal projectile. It looked to be in one complete piece, so with a sickened expression, he dug his index finger and thumb into the wound. After a few unsuccessful tries, he finally got a hold of it and yanked it out.

He then ripped off the right sleeve of his T-shirt, and used it as a makeshift bandage. Once that was done, he flipped her over. As he picked her up, he actually blushed a little at how pretty she was. She had silky smooth red hair and the perfect tone of skin with a small line of freckles running over her nose.

He ran through the streets again, the girl in his arms, heading back to his home. However weird this situation was, his grandfather wouldn't ever turn away someone in need, especially if they were injured. He was interested however, to see just who this girl was.

Meanwhile, back in the Konoha suburbs, Sarutobi was enjoying a quiet evening in his living room, reading a new book he'd bought the day before. He normally didn't get to read because of Naruto, the rambunctious teen was always a handful. Even now he was causing trouble, and he wasn't even there! He was supposed to be home an hour ago, but then again, he was never home on time, especially on a Friday night.

He was startled when the front door suddenly shot open and his grandson ran into the house. He quickly put his book down, ready to scold him for being late, again. That is, until he saw that he was carrying a clearly unconscious girl in his arms.

"Naruto, what's going on?" he asked.

"I just…found this girl in a…alley. I think she was…shot," he panted.

"Then why didn't you call an ambulance?"

He set her down on the couch, forgetting the she was soaking wet.

"Just look at her!" he shouted, pointing.

The old man got up and examined the girl, and instantly caught onto what he was talking about. The young lady had a tail, not to mention two small animal like ears on her head. He unconsciously stroked his beard.

"You say you found her in an alley?"

He nodded quickly.

"I think she's some sort of government experiment, or maybe an alien!" he said, actually sounding a bit too excited.

"Naruto, regardless of what she is, I think we should call the authorities."

"What, no! Grandpa, don't you get it? If they find her, then the governments gonna show up, and then they'll take her off to Area 51 and she'll get dissected and stuff! I know how this stuff goes down, I've seen the movies!"

Sarutobi shook his head and chuckled to himself.

"Your imagination is running away with you my boy. I'm sure they wouldn't do anything like that."

Naruto wasn't having any of it. He stepped between his grandfather and the girl, determined to find out just what she was from her mouth, and he couldn't do that if she was shipped off to the middle of no where and had her guts cut open.

"No way gramps, she's staying here. I'll let her have my bed, I'll take care of her, you won't have to worry about it at all!"

Sarutobi knew better than to try and fight Naruto's hardheadedness. It wouldn't matter what he said, he would remain adamant about his opinions. He found no way to win, so he gave in on the matter.

"Fine, fine, but she's your responsibility until she's healed."

Naruto sighed in relief. "Thanks grandpa. I'll get her settled in."

He quickly picked her up in the same manner he brought her in, and carried her up the stairs to his room. Sarutobi chucked again and sat back down in his chair, he hoped that grandson of his knew what he was doing.

Upstairs, Naruto cleared his bed off, throwing his book-bag onto the floor and smoothing out his blanket. He gently placed the redhead down on his bed so he could get her set up before leaving her to sleep. He went into his bathroom and grabbed a thermometer. He placed it in her mouth and took her temperature, it was a little over one-hundred; she was running a small fever, probably from the rain.

He re-entered the bathroom and gathered up some supplies. He grabbed some gauze for the wound on her leg and head, and a wet cloth for her fever. After adjusting her pant leg some more, he was able to properly dress the wound on her leg, and easily covered the wound on her head. Once he placed the cloth on her head, he covered her with his blanket.

With his guest finally settled in, he walked over to his desk and flipped open his laptop. He checked his e-mails, there were none, so instead he got on his IM account to see who was on. Sakura and Kiba were online so he decided to jump in.

IM screen:

Gold-Fox10 has logged in

Cherryblossom285: hey Naruto

InuzukaDawg7: sup man

Gold-Fox10: hey guys

Cherryblossom285: you get home okay? You live farthest from that theater.

Gold-Fox10: ya, no prob. Might be some interesting developments later, but right now we're good

InuzukaDawg7: ???

Gold-Fox10: long story, I'll tell ya tomorrow

InuzukaDawg7: so we still up for the mall tomorrow then? I've gotta pick out an anniversary present for Hinata and I need both of you to help.

Cherryblossom285: ya, ya, we know you're clueless and all

Gold-Fox10: lol

InuzukaDawg7: I'm serious :(

Cherryblossom285: sorry

Gold-Fox10: I'll be there. While we look I can tell ya about this weird thing that happened on my way back. You guys won't believe it!

InuzukaDawg7: gtg, Akamaru needs to take care of business and I've got laundry to do.

Gold-Fox10: I gtg to, stuff to do and all, I'll see you guys L8r

Cherryblossom285: L8r

InuzukaDawg7 has logged off

Gold-Fox10 has logged off

Cherryblossom285 has logged off

End IM screen

With that out of the way, he was pretty exhausted from the whole day. He went to his closet and pulled out a spare blanket and pillow he kept around for guests and the like. He plopped it down on the floor and laid flat on his stomach. He was a bit too preoccupied with his thoughts to sleep though, there was too much mystery surrounding the girl he had rescued.

He couldn't help but think that he'd seen something like this somewhere before. Instead of going to sleep, he got back up and accessed the internet. He went to Google and typed in: girl with fox tail. Most of the links he got were of some stupid clothes line or myspace pages, but about four pages over, he found one that caught his interest. It said: Info on Kitsune.

He had no idea why that seemed to stand out to him, considering he had no idea what a 'Kitsune' was. Nevertheless he clicked on it and was brought to a page with a traditional Japanese painting of a lady with fox ears and numerous swishy tails like a fox. He instantly became interested and read the mountains of text below. He read the first area, Kitsune Basics.

It read:

Kitsune is the Japanese word for fox. Foxes are a common subject of Japanese folklore, kitsune usually refers to them in this context. Stories depict them as intelligent beings and as possessing magical abilities that increase with their age and wisdom. Foremost among these is the ability to assume human form. While some folktales speak of kitsune employing this ability to trick others—as foxes in folklore often do—other stories portray them as faithful guardians, friends, lovers, and wives.

Foxes and human beings lived in close proximity in ancient Japan; this companionship gave rise to legends about the creatures. Kitsune have become closely associated with Inari, a Shinto Kami or spirit, and serve as his messengers. This role has reinforced the fox's supernatural significance. The more tails a kitsune has—they may have as many as nine—the older, wiser, and more powerful it is. Because of their potential power and influence, some people make offerings to them as to a deity.

Naruto was enthralled in the information, and if this was actually correct and the girl was a kitsune, then she must not be very old or powerful as he could only see one tail. To be prepared just in case, he skipped some of the historical data and moved onto the Characteristics section of the site.

It said the following:

Kitsune are believed to possess superior intelligence, long life, and magical powers. They are a type of yōkai, or spiritual entity, and the word kitsune is often translated as fox spirit. However, this does not mean that kitsune are ghosts, nor that they are fundamentally different from regular foxes. Because the word spirit is used to reflect a state of knowledge or enlightenment, all long-lived foxes gain supernatural abilities.

Physically, kitsune are noted for having as many as nine tails. Generally, a greater number of tails indicates an older and more powerful fox; in fact, some folktales say that a fox will only grow additional tails after it has lived 1,000 years. One, five, seven, and nine tails are the most common numbers in folk stories. When a kitsune gains its ninth tail, its fur becomes white or gold. These kyūbi no kitsune gain the abilities to see and hear anything happening anywhere in the world. Other tales attribute them infinite wisdom.

A kitsune may take on human form, an ability learned when it reaches a certain age — usually 100 years, although some tales say 50. As a common prerequisite for the transformation, the fox must place reeds, a broad leaf, or a skull over its head. Common forms assumed by kitsune include beautiful women, young girls, or elderly men. These shapes are not limited by the fox's age or gender, and a kitsune can duplicate the appearance of a specific person. Foxes are particularly renowned for impersonating beautiful women. Common belief in medieval Japan was that any woman encountered alone, especially at dusk or night, could be a fox.

Now this was just starting to freak him out. Not only could that girl over there be old enough to be his grandmother, but he couldn't even be sure if it was actually a girl or not! He wished…she? He'd just go with 'she' for now. He just wished she would wake up and answer his questions, he had so many now.

How old was she? Did she have more than one tail? What were her powers like? Was she even a she?

He'd just have to wait until she got better to get his answers. Until then, he'd best get some sleep, he still had stuff to do tomorrow and it do him no good if he was exhausted from lack of sleep. With one last look at the 'girl' on his bed, he slipped under his covers on the floor and went to sleep.

Morning came before Naruto knew it, and he wished it hadn't because he was still tired. Then again, he had more than a few reasons to get up today. First off, he checked on his patient; she was still running a fever, though it seemed to have already gone down a peg or two. He changed the bandage on her leg, only to find the wound already healed, as well as the one on her head.

This girl was just full of surprises wasn't she? Still, it only reinforced the obvious fact that she was one of those kitsune that he read about. He shrugged and went to the bathroom to brush his teeth and hit the can. After he was through with that, he exchanged his grey T-shirt for a white one with a graffiti pattern of a leaf on it. He kept his jeans the same; he always wore jeans, who would be able to tell the difference?

He stretched and yawned, then began to gather his things. He put his Ipod, cell phone, and a little cash into his pocket, then went to check his computer before he left. He decided that before he left he'd print out that kitsune information he found on the internet, which he had luckily saved to a file in his documents.

The papers quickly slid out of his printer, and he stacked them neatly on his desk next to his computer. He was about to leave when he heard a groan come from behind him. He looked back and saw that the girl was finally starting to stir a little. She moved her hand up to her head and began to rub her eyes as she slowly rose up. Naruto moved back over to his bed and gently pushed her back down.

Now that she was up and moving, Naruto was amazed at how much better she looked. Her hair seemed much shinier than yesterday; her skin wasn't as pale either, gaining a healthy amount of color. Her eyes were a deep blood red, and she seemed quite thin. In contrast to her relatively thin and small body, her chest was…disproportionate to her body to put it lightly. Nothing that would cause, say, back problems, but it was none the less impressive, and Naruto couldn't help but stare, despite his goal to avoid becoming another teenage super-perv.

Regardless, he still forced her back down gently, she was probably still weak and not ready to move around so much.

"Hold up there, you just got shot yesterday, and you've still got a fever," warned Naruto.

"Huh?" she groaned.

"W-where…am I?" she asked weakly.

Naruto smiled his trademark grin. "You're at my house. The name's Naruto Uzumaki, nice to meet ya!"

She began massaging her forehead again and began trying to sit up, and again Naruto tried to stop her.

"Didn't I just say to lie down?" he scolded.

"I'll sit up if I want, thank you," she shot back.

Naruto crossed his arms. "Is that any way to thank the guy who saved your life?"

"I'd hardly call it that, I would have been fine regardless," she protested.

"Not with the fever you were running last night; another few hours and it could have been more serious. Like it or not, you're still not ready to be moving around, so lay down and shut up fuzz-ball!"

Her eyes shot open after Naruto called her that. "W-what did you call me?"

"Seemed like a good nickname considering the tail and all," he said plainly.

She looked behind herself and saw her tail swishing around, then felt her head, and sure enough, there were her fuzzy ears as well. She cursed under her breath and clenched her fist.

"You're a kitsune, right?" he asked with his usual tone of general curiosity.

"How did you know that?"

Naruto walked over to his desk and grabbed the papers he printed out just a minute ago. He brought the stack over and showed it to her.

"It's the magic of the internet. I just looked up 'a girl with tail' on Google and a site popped up about kitsune, so I stayed up and read it."

She huffed. "I doubt much of that is true."

"Well lets fine out shall we?"

He brought the papers up and started skimming through the paragraphs until he found the ones he wanted answers to.

"Alright, it says here that kitsune's age and power is determined by their number of tails, am I on the money?"

She sighed. "Yes."

"Okay, one for one. Now, it also says that you can transform into humans no matter your age or gender," he said, reading the paper further.

She snorted. "That one's a load of bull. We have one set human appearance and one set fox appearance, that's it."

He mentally sighed. 'Whew, that's a relief. At least I know she's a she now.'

"Okay, so let me ask you this. How old are you exactly?"

Before he even knew what hit him, the kitsune's fist impacted his cheek and he was thrown across his room. He rose from the floor in an instant with a pissed look on his face.

"What the hell was that for!?"

"Don't you know it's rude to ask a lady her age?" she asked, though it was more of a statement.

"So you decked me!?" he shouted.

"I mean come on, cut me some slack! It's not like I can tell just by looking at you! You could be anywhere from my age to…like…two hundred!"

She sighed heavily again. "Fine, if you really have to know, I'm only one hundred sixty-five years old."

"Only one hundred sixty-five, you're older than my grandfather and I put together!"

"Kitsune live longer than humans do. You're paper told you that I'm sure," she said plainly.

The blond scratched the back of his head and smiled sheepishly. "Oh yea, forgot about that."

The red haired fox demon sighed and hopped up onto her feet off his bed. She wobbled a bit and tripped, luckily Naruto was there to stop her fall. She blushed a little at her clumsiness, but shook off the momentary embarrassment.

"I'm telling you, just stay in bed. You're still not entirely over that fever," the teen insisted.

"I'll be fine. Besides, you and I have business to attend to."

"Huh? What business?"

"One thing we kitsune pride ourselves in is repaying our debts. You did help me, so I owe you a debt of gratitude. What's your request?"

He shook his head. "No debts, it's on the house."

She grabbed him by his collar and yanked him down to her level –he just noticed he was a few inches taller than her- staring straight into his eyes.

"I don't think you get it. It's kitsune law to repay debts. Until I perform a deed of equal or greater value, I'm physically bonded to you, we can't be more than one hundred feet from each other," she said in a frustrated and grave tone.

"You serious!?"

She nodded. "Now just let me repay my debt so we can go our separate ways."

Naruto broke free of her grip and walked around his room, scratching his head. What could possibly equal him saving her life other than her saving his life? He wasn't going to put himself in danger just to get rid of her; it had more cons than pro's. If what she said was true, and he had no reason to doubt her word, he was probably going to be stuck with her for a while.

"I don't think I can come up with anything that would equal me saving your life, sorry."

She smacked her forehead and groaned. "I'm not staying stuck with you, now either come up with something or I'm gonna kill you!"

"I can't! I want to alright, but I'm not throwing myself off a bridge just so you can save me and we can go off in separate directions!"

She was on the verge of screaming. "I haven't known you for five minutes and you're already the most annoying human I've ever met!"

He was getting pretty frustrated as well, but was interrupted when his phone started ringing. He flipped it open, and heard Kiba's voice on the other end of the line.

"Dude, where are you, we've been waiting for a half an hour."

Naruto looked down at his watch, it was eleven o'clock; he was late! He sighed, this day just got more and more complicated.

"Hold on a minute man."

He turned his attention back to the kitsune.
"Okay look, I've gotta go meet my friends at the mall. Seeing as you're bonded to me or whatever, you'll just have to come along. Is there any way you can just hide your tail and stuff?"

She nodded. She made a series of odd symbols with her hands and just like that, her tail and ears were gone in a poof of smoke.

"That'll work."

"Alright Kiba, I'm on my way now. I'm gonna have to bring along a…friend though, is that cool?"

"Sure, sure, just get down here! I have no clue what to buy and every second counts!"

"Right, I hear ya. I'll be there in ten minutes tops. See ya."

With that, he flipped his phone closed and walked towards his door. The redhead followed close behind. Naruto suddenly stopped at the stairs and crouched down, and motioned for her to do the same. She complied, but was curious.

"What exactly are we hiding from?"

"My grandfather stupid, if he knows you're awake, then we'll have to explain all sorts of crap, and I don't feel like dealing with it. Just move slowly and quietly, no sudden movements."

The pair slowly sidled down the carpeted stairs, careful not to make a sound. Luckily, Sarutobi was in the kitchen at that particular point in time. With some stealthy footsteps they made their way to the door, grabbed the car keys, and snuck out of the house. Naruto quickly slipped into the driver's seat, careful to close the door slowly. One the two of them were in the car, he turned the key and backed out of the driveway, his grandfather none the wiser.

"Don't you think your grandfather will eventually notice you've taken the car?"

He grinned. "Eventually ya, but we'll deal with that when we get back."

Naruto drove through the suburbs, downtown Konoha could be seen in the distance and the traffic was slowly becoming more of a hindrance. Naruto saw it as an opportunity to ask a few more questions.

"So I never caught your name," he said suddenly.

"It's Karen."

He tried to hold back a snickered, but failed miserably. She glared at him with a strike of anger in her red eyes.

"Just what the hell is so funny!?"

"Your name, it means 'sweet'."

She was becoming extremely aggravated with his behavior.

"What's wrong with that!?"

"Its just that, sweet isn't the word I'd use to describe you."

She glared at him with those red eyes that seemed like rubies with a bright flame inside them, it almost made the blond a little nervous.

"If you weren't driving I'd punch you again."

He couldn't help but laugh. "Yeah, I kind of got that vibe. I like your name though, it's nice. At least you're not named after a ramen topping."

"I'm assuming your parents liked ramen if they named you after a topping."

He shrugged. "I guess, gramps always did say my dad was a bit of a ramen freak. I guess that passed over to me because I love the stuff."

"Where are your parents anyway?" she asked.

"I'm not sure of the exact position in meters or miles, but I do know they're somewhere in West Park Cemetery."

"I…oh…I'm sorry."

"Don't worry about it. I honestly can't even remember their faces; I was only like three weeks old. I suppose it was lucky, it saved me the pain of getting to know them, then losing them. At least this way it doesn't hurt as much."

Karen sighed and looked out the window. She couldn't help but feel a little connected to him all of a sudden; after all, they were on the same boat.

After a few more minutes of downtown traffic, they pulled into the malls parking lot. Naruto was lucky enough to get a spot near the front of the mall, and locked the doors after they both exited the vehicle. He could see Kiba, Sakura, and Haku all waiting near the front doors, and waved to them.

Kiba was wearing his favorite grey hoodie and a pair of dirty old jeans. Of course, all his clothes were usually dirty; he did work at an animal shelter. Sakura was wearing a red T-shirt with cherry blossom petal designs on it, as well as a skirt. Lastly, Haku was wearing a dark blue long sleeve shirt and black cargo pants. Naruto has suggested on several occasions that he finally get a haircut because his hair was so long it made him look like a girl, but so far he hadn't listened.

"It's about time you got here dude!" shouted Kiba.

"Sorry, sorry, it's been an eventful morning," he groaned in response.

"Who's she?" asked Haku.

Naruto saw that she was pointing at Karen, and sighed.

"It's a little hard to explain. Through a very unusual set of circumstances and events, she's stuck with me for a while. It's alright though, she's cool," he shrugged.

"Yeah, that's great, but are we forgetting my imminent doom here!?" shouted Kiba.

"Our anniversary is tomorrow and if I don't get Hinata a present then she's gonna think I forgot, and if she thinks I forgot then she's gonna start crying, and I can't deal with that man, I can't!" he yelled, now shaking Naruto back and forth, as if to somehow free a present from his person.

"Kiba, Kiba, settle down, you're going to kill him!" shouted Sakura.

Both Naruto and Kiba were now breathing deeply; Naruto out of relief, and Kiba simply to lower his skyrocketing blood pressure.

"Okay, I'm good, let's go."

Kiba sped into the mall, followed by Sakura and Haku. Naruto stayed behind, not too eager to find out what would happen if he and Karen were somehow separated. The two walked side by side, just following Kiba as he fast-walked nervously down the sections of the mall.

"Interesting friends you have," she grunted.

"Yup, not a dull moment with these guys; Kiba isn't normally like this, but he's pretty attached to his girlfriend Hinata, and he's freaking out about screwing up on even the smallest thing. Honestly, it's been pretty funny to watch," he laughed.

"What about you?" she asked.

"What about me?"

"Do you have a girlfriend?"

"Why the sudden interest?" he asked slyly.

Without hesitation she slammed her fist into his gut, knocking the wind out of his lungs and causing him to double over.

"Don't flatter yourself blondy, I'm just curious."

When he finally regained his composure, he rested his hands behind his head and caught up with her.

"Well to answer your question, no I don't. I'm not really a 'ladies man' type person. Then again, neither was Kiba, so I guess there's hope for me yet, huh?" he chuckled.

"Now Sakura, I have no clue how many guys she's been with. She just can't seem to make it work. As for Haku, I'm honestly not sure; he keeps to himself about that kind of stuff."

She grunted, obviously sounding uninterested. He shrugged and put his hands into his pocket

"Yo Naruto, over here!" called Kiba.

The blond looked over at his brunette friend, who was holding, frankly, a beautiful painting of a full moon in the night sky with shooting stars in the background. Normally this would only be categorized as a 'good' gift, but for Hinata it was perfect. See it all began six months ago when Kiba first asked Hinata out, he commented that her eyes looked like moons because she has ocular albinism, and since then, she's been collecting stuff that had to do with the moon.

She'd actually had her eye on that painting for quite a while, but it had a hefty seventy dollar price tag, and her father wasn't going to "feed the fire" as he called it, by buying her more items for her collection. He wasn't exactly a fan of Kiba, and saw this whole collecting things as just strengthening their relationship. This was definitely going to score him some big points.

"Nice dude, I didn't know you'd saved up that much money! I thought you said you'd have a forty dollar budget tops!"

"Yeah well, I forgot that I hid away some extra cash under my mattress for just such an occasion. Think she'll like it?"

"Dude, she's gonna love this!" he shouted out of excitement.

"Yeah Kiba, since when were you such the romantic?" asked Sakura.

"Hey, I can be a sensitive and loving guy when I want to be! I work at an animal shelter for Christ's sake, that's like, the most passionate and deep job a high school student can get!"

Naruto looked around, noting someone was missing. "Hey, where did Haku go?"

"He said something about a bookstore down a ways, he'll probably show up any time now, let's hit the food court in the meantime, I'm starving!"

"Yeah! You guys thinking what I'm thinking!?"

"Oh God, not Ichiraku again," muttered Sakura.

"You bet your pink haired ass Ichiraku! Let's go pay the old man a visit!" shouted Naruto happily.

This time, Naruto was the one to lead the group. He marched happily like an idiot through the mall. Karen strode behind him, cocking an eyebrow at his stupidity and wondering how a person could make such a fool of himself and not care in the slightest. Sakura was behind her, rolling her eyes at her best friends usual behavior, and Kiba joined in half way there, the both of them making complete asses of themselves in plain public.

"How do you manage to hang out with them?" Karen asked Sakura.

"They may be idiots but they're fun idiots. Underneath all that rambunctious hyper-activeness are actually two really cool guys. We all met back in Elementary school; those two would always be protecting me from bullies who made fun of my hair."

"We all met Haku later in Middle school, he was a new student who knew absolutely no one, so Naruto took it upon himself to show him around, and he just started hanging out with us ever since," she explained.

"I see," Karen said plainly.

"Hey, you guys coming or what!?" called Naruto.

"Yeah, yeah, just slow down!" yelled Sakura.

The two girls ran to catch up with the two boys who were gaining a good amount of distance. Sakura was in a hurry because she was hungry and Karen because of the whole being physically bonded to him for the moment. She honestly had no idea what would happen if they were separated, but she wasn't exactly eager to find out in the middle of a mall, or at all for that matter.

The food court was relatively packed, people taking up random seats throughout the large room. Across the way, Naruto could spot his favorite restaurant; Ichiraku ramen. He was practically jumping over tables and chairs, his mouth drooling, and almost tripped four times. By the time he made it over, more than a few people were complaining and he'd knocked someone's drink over.

The bars owner, Teuchi, was already working on some ramen, anticipating his order. The other worker there, his daughter Ayame, was leaning over the counter, happy to see her favorite customer and childhood friend. Naruto jumped into a seat with his toothy fox grin.

"Hey Naruto, how's our number one regular?" she asked happily.

"Pretty good all things considered; Sakura, Kiba and I are just stopping by for some lunch; we've been shopping for his and Hinata's six month anniversary."

"Where's Haku?"

"Where do you think?"

She smiled and nodded, like she felt stupid for forgetting an obvious fact. Haku loved to read, and would almost always flake on something when he found a bookstore.

"Dude, you could have waited for us!" complained Kiba.

He turned around and saw the three of them finally catching up and taking seats. Kiba sat to his left and Karen to his right, and finally Sakura to the left of Kiba. Ayame caught sight of Karen immediately.

"Aw, did little Naruto finally get a girlfriend?" she asked mockingly.

"No, she's just a friend…sort of. It's complicated, can we not talk about it; I'm hungry?"

"Of course you are, that's why you're here!" said Teuchi. He handed him a bowl of miso ramen, and turned to the rest of them.

"What'll the rest of you have?"

"I'll have pork," said Kiba.

Sakura looked at the menu for a few seconds before deciding. "Vegetable for me."

Karen shook her head. "I'm not hungry."

"Don't listen to her old man, just get her miso," said Naruto through his monstrous slurps.

He nodded. "Right then, a miso, pork, and vegetable."

Karen glared at her blond companion again, but he was too busy eating to even notice, so she gave up. Like it or not, she was actually hungry and would have to just suck it up and eat the ramen. She couldn't help but feel a little sick though; at first she thought it was just the fever that she was getting over, but her instincts told her something was amiss somewhere.

On the other end of the food court, a figure stood leaning against a wall in a black hoodie with his hands in his pockets. He'd been eyeing Karen since she'd entered the vicinity with the others. The one other thing he noticed though was the man in the middle of the court in a formal suit and tie, but at the same time had a mask over the lower half of his face and a bandana wrapped around his head, covering his left eye.

He knew who that man was, and it wasn't a good sign. He freed his right hand from his pocket with his cell phone in its grasp. He flipped it open and hit the speed dial. After a moment of ringing, he heard the slithering snake like voice on the other end of the line.

"Yes?" he asked.

He eyed the man in the middle of the court, and then his eyes fell on the blond next to the kitsune. "Orochimaru…we may have a problem."

Okay, I know that was pretty long, and I'm sorry about that. Unless you like long chapters, in which case, you're welcome. This one will take a little longer to update than the other stories I've done in the past, I can already tell, so forgive me if I don't get these out in a timely fashion.

I could use some early feedback, so don't hold back on anything!