Chapter 28

Just What We Sacrifice

As a time draws near, each must face their darkness, and embrace it. The Sunny place grows dim, yet the fox refuses, doing all it can to undo the grudge-shadow's handiwork.

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Naruto let out a feral snarl, his whole body marred with his morning's exploits. In his hands, a Fuuma Shuriken that had, up until thirty seconds ago, been drenched with blood. He always found it weird how the blood didn't dissipate until after the Kage Bunshin did. His best guess was that the blood still had some lingering chakra inside it that kept it stable even after the clone no longer was. Still, all that mattered to the blonde on the subject was that it made cleaning after training a helluva lot easier to do.

Naruto let out a deep breath as his vulpine features receded; nails retracting, teeth withdrawing, and eyes reshaping with a barley audible 'plip' sound that always got on his nerves. Folding up his weapon, he put it back into a pocket seal before brushing himself off. Re-adjusting his hitai-ate, a trio of clones dropped down from the trees, each one eying him as though evaluating a work of art.

"You're reflexes are improving…but you still can't dodge more than half a meter in any direction, you have to work on your mid range jumping"

"You need to use your environment to your advantage more. Every rock, branch, twig and grain of dirt is your tool, remember that"

"You could try and increase the number of weapons that you can manipulate at any one time. At the very least you should be able to manage two Fuuma in each hand, one in your tail and one in the air at all times"

"Your footwork still needs work"

"Hai. Now get out of my face" Naruto said, walking away from his clones. Of recent, he'd began a little 'self-evaluation' during training, having concluded that it was impossible to notice little details like that in the middle of a frantic free-for-all, and unwilling to have anyone else supervise his morning mini-war.

The three clones shrugged, and leapt away, whilst the original made his way out of the forest. More than once on the trip he pounced on some hapless wildlife, devouring each catch in seconds. A little over a week had passed since he'd begun training with the Gama-Sennin, and between his sessions and his own Naruto had actually found himself burning through more energy than he ever thought possible, so as to compensate he'd been eating as much as four times his usual intake. Focusing mostly on protein and carbohydrates, with the occasional extra raid on somebody's vegetable patch. Needless to say Ichiraku had never seen such success, the forest was a little thinner for want, and a few haggard old housewife's had begun placing charms on their scarecrows, with the exception of the Hyuuga gardeners who refused to even admit that the thief had gone unnoticed by guards the whole time, although Hiashi had begun hearing rumors that the manor was haunted.

XXX

Kurenai let out a soft sigh as she glanced at her student's prone form, before turning to look out the window. The only sound in the room the rhythmic beep of the heart monitor, and the subtle hum of the ventilation system.

"Are you happy? In that dream world you're living in…is that why you don't return to us?" The crimson-eyed lady muttered, turning to stroke the girl's forehead.

"She dwells not in dreams, but upon the bridge across the Sanzu no Kawa (River of Three Crossings), she cannot cross for she has no money, but she cannot go back for her vessel is damaged…" A voice said, startling the Genjutsu mistress. Turning, she was all but shocked to see Uzumaki Naruto, standing before the bed.

"So much for doors…" She muttered, glancing at the window that was no longer in quite the same position it was earlier. "But still, I was not aware you were so philosophical"

"I'm told its one of my worst features" Naruto replied, grinning feebly. She let off a soft chuckle before returning her gaze to Hinata.

"At that time…" She began, causing Naruto to turn to her. "She had never looked so strong, so full of power and determination…"

"It is a sight I would like to see again…" Naruto replied, not making eye contact.

"The doctors say that there's only a thirty percent chance she won't make it" Kurenai offered hopefully.

"That's still to much for my liking…"

"She will recover" Kurenai said assuredly. "She's the kind of girl who pulls through when it matters most,"

"I only hope she realizes how much she does matter" Naruto muttered. Kurenai chose not to reply.

XXXX

"Come on boy! Put some backbone into it!" Jiraiya shouted, ducking below a clone before hurling it make at its maker. Cursing, Naruto flashed through some seals.

'The desire to destroy, to make undone, consume my enemies so that I may become stronger; Katon…'

"Katon: Karyuendan!!" The blonde yelled, a thick stream of fire erupting from his mouth and seemingly engulfing his mentor.

"Wrong!" Jiraiya yelled, appearing behind the box-boy and delivering a sturdy kick to his ribs, sending him skidding across the ground before righting himself.

"Kuso!! If you'd just give me a chance to get used to the damned thing I might get it right!" The blonde swore, hurling a shuriken at the white-haired sage. "Kage Shuriken Bunshin no Jutsu!" One became many, and subsequently deprived a log of its bark, but Naruto had been expecting that.

'There!' Spinning on his heels, Naruto swiftly made a clone, and hurled it towards a bush, shape-shifting it into a Fuuma Shuriken in the process. Grunting, Jiraiya smashed right through it with his fist, the faux metal shattering, before dispersing into smoke and chakra. The toad sage deftly leapt into the air, just as a hidden explosive tag went off beneath him, the force of the blast propelling him further into the air, and throwing him off balance.

"Katon: Karyuendan!!!" Another torrent of fire billowed out; however fell short of the ninja author by a full half-meter.

"You see? You need to do it larger, faster, hotter!" The Gama-Sannin ordered, pushing off his hand as it made contact with the ground, and landing on one leg.

"Katon: Karyuendan!!!" A demonic voice roared, and another surge of flame, paler, hotter than the last tore through the air, disintegrating the log formerly known as Jiraiya.

"Getting there, but the technique's not the important part. Do you feel any extra Youki yet?" Jiraiya asked, stepping out from behind a now-branchless tree (those logs have to come from somewhere).

"Not a thing, that last one chewed through most of my tail as well" Naruto cursed, adjusting his posture unsteadily, having used up much of his chakra.

"Tch, some good you are, you expect to beat the Hyuuga genius like this?" Jiraiya scoffed, turning his back on the blonde.

"Urusai! I could do this if you just gave me some time to concentrate on working out the faults in the damned thing"

"You and me both know that's bullshit. Kid, you have three things going for you in a battle; insane quantities of stamina for your age, the ability to think on the fly, and the habit of learning from your mistakes. The more mistakes you make now, the less you'll make in future, when it really counts, because in a real fight. There is no room for mistakes, no second chances, and no mercy. Ever" As he finished his sentence, Jiraiya vanished, appearing next to Naruto in less than a second, and, before he could even blink, brought his foot down on his leg, breaking it just below the knee.

"Kutabare (Fuck You)!!!" Naruto snarled, a flash of Youki knocking the elder Shinobi to the ground. The blonde clenched his fist as the bones knitted themselves back together, the break healing in a matter of seconds.

Jiraiya raised his eyebrow at the sudden outburst, a slight grin finding its way onto his lips.

"Never assume a fight is over, ensure a fight is over." The Sannin said, before flipping off an errant grin. "I'll be going now, why don't you go home and break something?" Jiraiya taunted, before disappearing in a swirl of leaves, leaving an angry and frustrated little demon behind him.

"KILL YOU!!!!" The disgruntled Youko bellowed at the empty field.

XXXXXX

"Shannaro!!!" There was a terrific crack as Sakura's fist came down in the spot where, up until a few moments ago, Yamanaka Inoichi had been standing. Instead, the elder Nin was now driving a kunai towards her unprotected back, only to have her leap above his attack. Channeling chakra to her hand she used the ceiling as a springboard and pushed off, slamming down onto the ground once again, only to be sent staggering forward by a kick to the back.

"Haruno-san? You need to stay awake, remember?" The elder blonde asked, earning a glare from the Kunoichi.

"I know! It just doesn't seem real when I'm on the inside!" She complained, shifting her stance.

"Again" He said, and the two began clashing again. From the sidelines, Ino watched them fight, her face a cross between exhaustion and exasperation.

'They're still going at it? I guess Tou-san can dodge really well…my whole body's covered in bruises' The younger blonde let out a yawn as she stretched her arms, glancing once more to the fast decimated dojo.

'Knowing my luck I'll be the one to clean up again… ah screw it, I'm taking a shower. I stink!' She wrinkled her nose, before standing, idly slipping away unnoticed.

XXXXXX

Sasuke stood rigid, unaware of even his own surroundings. His right hand twitched sporadically as he mulled over his new technique.

'A 'blade' that can cut through anything…a thousand birds cry out as another soul departs for beyond…'

'A fitting end for the traitor." His Oni-Zenshin whispered. Sasuke had the distinct feeling of cold hands clamoring across his body. This 'blade' shall be the knife that pierces his heart. The cry of one-thousand birds shall herald your revenge.'

'From the front…I want to stare into his eyes as his life slips away from his grasp. Not even those special eyes of his shall save him next time we meet'

'Then only you will remain. The amalgamation of the Uchiha…the strength of an entire clan, contained within a single person. The power of a god!' Sasuke cringed as the voice bellowed, distorted and grotesque visions dancing before his eyes.

'That…will not do. When the clan has been purged of the traitor it must be reborn. There must be an Uchiha clan' He insisted, regaining metaphorical ground.

'Do you not understand? You are the Uchiha clan. Why divide what is mighty?'

'If I should die…then the clan will die with me…if I should die before Him…'

'You will not die before He'

'I can not be to cautious…I should take precautions…leave an heir to finish should a fail to myself'

'A helpless child…all to easy to kill for an expert in killing like Him…is THAT what you want to leave behind?'

'The child would be protected!'

'Against what? A man who, single handedly, wiped out 'the greatest clan of Konoha''

'It will be different! They will be prepared!'

'For how long? How long will they keep up their guard? A year? Five years? Ten? They will grow weary of guarding the child, make assumptions, cut corners'

'They wouldn't dare!'

'Oh but they would. You've seen yourself how they've treated the Other'

'Other? What 'Other'?'

'The one who is not like the others…who is 'not like other people' The name rang bells in Sasuke's head, long gone memories flitted past.

Flashback

"Keep away from that boy, he's not safe!" Fugaku said, the Uchiha clan's de facto head, and representative amongst the council, The father of Sasuke and Itachi.

"But…why?" Sasuke had asked, glancing at the blonde as he skipped rocks across a lake.

"He's…not like other people…" Fugaku replied sternly, leading his child back towards the Uchiha district.

'…he's different…is that enough to make him bad?' The young Uchiha had wondered.

Flashback end.

'…Uzumaki…Naruto…'

'Yes, he said himself that he holds great power within him. 'sealed from birth' so to speak' The Oni-Zenshin chuckled, causing Sasuke's eyes to widen.

'He is…different…I to…the last Uchiha…I to am 'different''

'The elder generation remembers the glory of your clan…but this? The next? They will only remember you. And whether or not the clan still lives in shame'

'Then my child would?'

' "There goes the Uchiha-Gaki." "Did you ever meet his father? How useless" "Couldn't even avenge his own clan, after all his hard work" "I guess the Uchiha aren't worth anything after all" "The Uchiha bring calamity wherever they go, better to get rid of him now" "What a worthless child" "What I he turns out like Itachi? Kills us all!"'

'That…I won't let that happen!!'

'How? If you're dead?'

"Sasuke!" The dark-haired Uchiha's eyes snapped open, Sharingan blazing.

"CHIDORI!!!!!" As he cried out, he thrust his lightning encased fist forward, embedding it to the elbow in the cliff-face before him.

"Sasuke, that's enough. If you kill yourself training, then what will you do?" Kakashi asked, smiling at the youth. Upon hearing the comment, Sasuke's eyes darkened.

"Take a break, you've done well, but there's still a ways to go" The copy-Nin ordered, sending Sasuke back towards the makeshift camp. Sighing, Kakashi brought his copy of Icha-Icha paradise back up to his face.

'He did Chidori twice…he was at his limit…then…he did a third…three Chidori…and he only got the technique right today…is this the power of an Uchiha? No…there was something wrong with that last Chidori…It didn't…if only I was paying attention! But I could have sworn he was out of chakra…did he? The Curse Seal?'

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Naruto slumped back onto the hard rock, not even noticing the pain that flashed through his head. He let out a growl as a bird flew past the moon. The full moon had been and gone, but the moon still retained much of its glory.

"Tsukuyomi no Mikoto (Lord/Prince)…Inari-Daimyojin…Namikaze Minato…Uzumaki Kushina…Kuroi Tsuku…who among you has most claim as my parent?" The blonde wondered aloud, the great expanse of night spread out before him.

"…As a Bijuu…I am the immediate successor to Tsuku-Sama…in a way his son…I am inheriting all that is his…and yet…I am more his child through adoption…in that case Tsukuyomi-Sama and Inari-Sama are…lords? 'Lord of my father is my lord as well'? Or something…but then, they have done more for me than Tou-san or Kaa-san…through the blessings of the Kami, I have power…and though the teachings of Tsuku-sama, I know…do they claim that I am theirs? Never once have they spoken to me…save Tsuku-sama…and he…, he does not look at me like a son…more like his own reflection…something to be made beautiful for his own vanity…" Groaning, Naruto rolled over, tipping his head over the edge of the cliff.

"And you? I am thrice cursed, and thrice blessed through your actions…how much of that did you intend? Did you truly love the village more than your only child…how great was the difference between out value?" The blonde scowled before flipping himself back up, grasping a cleft of the Yondaime's rocky hair for support.

"Every day it seems like the human in me is too weak…when the human in me dies…could you still call me your son then? It would be so easy…I would die…and I would be unleashed as the Kyuubi no Youko to do as I see fit…to protect who I want, and desire what I want…and all of Hi no Kuni would be mine to treasure…would that be too easy? When all the world is but an anthill…would I still care about the ants?" Standing, Naruto turned and faced the edge.

"It's still here…in my mind…I fell from here…I 'died'…knowing that I was expendable and therefore, with my time running out, useless…so I chose to die by my own hand. If they knew…who is it that knows? Kakashi-Sensei…is it like this for you? Have you died a vain and worthless death? How many times? Kage Bunshin…forbidden for a reason I suppose…the worst…the worst is when I 'forget'…In the heat of battle…I forget who is the original, and who is the clone, and I go charging in perfectly willing to sacrifice my life because I know it is 'expendable'…" The blond let out a hollow laugh, before sitting down again.

"No…it is my life-oath, is it not? I will not die until I have become Hokage. I will protect my precious people. I will live a life of no regrets. I will never go back on my word. My 'Nindo'…hey Tou-san? Did you have a Nindo? Heh, from what I've heard of you it was 'be flashy, and be quick', I mean, where's the fun in that? Or was 'fun' not important to you? You did only have one child hehehe, had to of had some fun, ne? You were always smiling in all the photos they've taken of you…or was that just for their sake? 'Nine-o-clock and all's well'? Or maybe you didn't care about all the precaution stuff…just lived life for the moment…'getting the most out of life'? Is that why you where in such a hurry…or was being quick and flashy all you where good at…Kazama Arashi…I'd give anything to see you in a fight, they still talk about it today, you know? 'May cause seizures' I heard once. 'Don't stare directly into it' was another…still, everyone holds you in high regards…then again, everyone holds the Teme in high regards so I guess regards are worthless in the end." Letting out a soft chuckle, Naruto rapped the immovable figure on the head.

It went 'thonk'.

"The Chuunin exam…they say it makes or breaks a ninja…showcased to the world on a silver platter 'here's the menu, make your order please'…and what will I be known as? 'Greater than the Yondaime'? 'Unstoppable'? 'Terror'? 'Demon'? …" Before the blonde could continue, he was interrupted by an abrupt yapping noise as a small white dog ran up to him.

"Eh? Akamaru?" Naruto asked, before suddenly stiffening, realizing the pup's message.

/You swear! You say 'won't die'. What now? Shiro-Hime (White Princess) dying!/

/Where? When?/ He snarled, causing the pup to tremble slightly.

/Same place. Not moved. They say she 'broke'. What do? You swear!/

/Oath will be upheld!/ Junjou Mugen growled, before leaping off into the night.

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In the Konohagakure general hospital, there was an eerie silence, one that heralded death.

In the operating theatre, a small group of surgeons where doing all they could to stop that from happening. All that was in their power to keep the small girl before them from slipping away.

Above them, unnoticed, a Kitsune observed the whole seen, his form cloaked by the moon's blessing.

"She's fading fast, I'm not sure how much longer we'll be able to hold on"

"Her lungs and heart have been badly damaged, it's a wonder she survived for so long"

"Its no good, The ACE inhibitors are having no effect, the damage is far too extent to heal with Shousen no Jutsu (Art of the Mystical Palm) we're losing her" A doctor said, the glow around his hands fading and growing irregularly.

'They have failed…I will not! ' As the surgeons worked frantically, time seemed to slow down…what was once furious now barley even moved…no, it didn't move. Mugen slipped down from his hiding place, landing silently next to a frozen doctor.

'Seven seconds…I can hold this moment for seven seconds!' With a grunt, Naruto grabbed a scalpel from a nearby tray and slipped over to Hinata's side. He quickly removed her oxygen mask, and not even pausing for breath tore the scalpel across his wrist, dark red liquid flowing forth from the wound into the dying girl's mouth.

"I offer you my blood so that you may live long and prosper, the blood is my life and my life is eternal, take this sacrifice, live long and prosper. Do…garkh" Naruto grunted as his control waned, the scenery almost seeming to strain against his control.

"Not…"

'2…1…'

"Die!"

There was a flash, and the room was illuminated by a furious red light, burning across the girl's chest. A steam of blood flowed forth from the blonde's wound and into her mouth, defying gravity in its movement. The girl let out a gasp, a single, silent gasp…all in the space of a single moment.

'0' Naruto vanished, reappearing on the roof of the hospital. One could argue that he'd never left. Letting out a groan, he collapsed onto his back.

'It has been done…' He smiled, sadly, before arching his back in a fit of pain.

"Grhkkk!!" He bit down on his tongue as his body paid the price. To play with time was nothing something a mortal body could endure, was never meant to endure. Adverse side effects where unavoidable.

The roof around him creaked and groaned, his claws lashing out at anything that he caught eye of, anything to stop the pain. Arms lengthened and grew, bones shifted, and he suspected the sizzling sound was his own brain frying.

And there he stood, a disheveled, old man. His hair bleached with age, and his flesh worn and weathered. He glanced about him and let out a small chuckle…and promptly fell dead.

More pain, more movement, swirling, swirling, everything swirling, and he could swear for a moment, everything tasted orange. But then, it all seemed to 'snap', and he was there again, a blonde, twelve year old boy, panting atop a hospital ceiling.

'For tampering with time, and for forming a blood-bond with an unwilling soul, 26 years, four months, two weeks, five days, nine hours, and forty-one minutes have been deducted from your mortal life-span' A voice bellowed within his head. He had a feeling whatever it was; he had just woken it up.

"It was worth it…" He muttered, the wind carrying his voice. "Every second…"

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'Naruto' sat in the waiting room across from the operating theatre, his eyes darting from the 'operating' light to the other people seated around him.

'It is important that Naruto be seen by these people…otherwise they will say 'where were you?' 'You said you would be there!'…Hopefully they won't realize I'm a clone…'

"…I wonder…just what's going on in there…" Kiba asked, glancing about the room. His furry partner pacing the floor in front of him.

"…There is…much blood…and very little chakra…I'm afraid that's all my brethren can tell me" Shino said, staring intently at the Kikaichu sitting on his finger.

"…At the very least her bastard father could have turned up!" Kurenai swore, glancing at the empty seat beside her.

"I'm sure he would like to be here…" Naruto offered cautiously.

"No, that fool is blind to his own daughter, he'd probably see her dying as 'convenient'"

"Surely.."

"That 'man', if he can even be called that, doesn't even try to hide it. I can't imagine what its like to grow up like that" The crimson eyed woman muttered.

'This is the life she has before her?' Naruto wondered to himself. 'Something must be done!'

There was a 'ding', and the light went out. As the doctor stepped forward, all held their breath until he smiled.

"It's amazing, I don't know how we did it, but we did it. We saved her. She should get a few weeks bed rest, and then she should be right as rain, no adverse side effects whatsoever. I'm telling you, that girl must be blessed by the gods."

'No…gods do not give out blessing so easily to mortals…but the blessing of a demon…' Naruto let out a sad smile, before extending it into a full-blown grin.

"Yeah! Go Hinata-Chan!!"

XXXXXXXXXX

Nothing…there was nothing…everywhere, nothing. An infinite expanse of penultimate nothing. She wasn't even aware of what she stood on anymore.

'There is nothing…even if I go further there is nothing…there is…no point in going on' In an act of surrender, she collapsed to the ground, where darkness soon claimed her.

XX

"Ah, you're awake" A voice said. It was cheerful, and friendly, yet seemed to hide something dark and sinister.

"Wha-" She croaked, but her throat seemed to close up on her, neither sound nor air could get past. The man smiled, and offered her a bowl.

"Eat. You shall yet live" Eyeing the stranger with wide eyes, she quickly grasped the bowl, and poured its contents down her throat; a warm, chunky broth that tasted delicious, even in her current state.

"Good?" He asked, to which she nodded furiously. "Then drink up, there's plenty" The man smiled, gesturing to a simmering pot beside him. She knew not how long she stayed in that place, eating the man's delicious stew. It never seemed to drain, and she never seemed to lose her hunger. After the umpteenth bowl, he happened to notice him slicing up some meat to add to the both.

"I must ask, where in this barren land have you found such bountiful game?" She asked the man, to which he smiled.

"No game. Here, there is nothing. Just you, me, and this blade of mine here" He replied, tossing the blade into the air and catching it, only to cut his hand as he grasped the blade.

"Such a fickle blade, only ever tastes but a single food" He laughed, but his laughter fell short, and his body collapsed, revealing not a man, but a fox; a gaping wound in its side. The girl realized the contents of the broth and cried out.

"Why have you done such a thing? Surely it better to just let me die?"

"Silly girl" The fox replied. "I have a great plenty of flesh upon my body, and yet, there is only one of you. Better to sacrifice the expendable, lest lose the irreplaceable" The fox laughed, even as his tail drove into the wound yet again.

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A/N: I am SO sorry for the wait, I have had lots of things to do for a while, my grandparents are on vacation, so my older brother and I have been on our own for a bit, I'll try to update sooner, the same goes for my other story I'll do my best! Once again, sorry.

Naruto's 'time meddling ability'. In folklore, the occasional Kitsune has been attributed to meddling with time and space, yet not very often, so surely then, some sort of restriction has been put in place. 'Gain from loss' so to speak, or perhaps 'the power of sacrifice'. This kind of meddling is not tolerated, and to do so repeatedly would ultimately result in Naruto's mortal death (over 26 years was deducted for a combined offence, most of that was for the time, and said time was only 7 seconds of freeze.) and the price is communicative, he does it again he pays double the price. And, as they say, three strikes, you're out.