I have returned.

The Fox and The Flute

Chapter 11: Don't Go Looking for Snakes

The serenity of the forest was barely disturbed as four of the best shinobi that Konoha had to offer rushed through the trees, jumping from branch to branch. They were the three Jonin sensei of the Rookie 9: Asuma Sarutobi, Kurenai Yuhi, and Kakashi Hatake. Accompanying them was Jiraiya of the Legendary Sannin. They had left Konoha at dawn on their mission to investigate the last of Orochimaru's hideouts in the Fire Country that Tayuya had known about, and were nearing their destination.

"I still have a bad feeling about this Jiraiya-sama," Kakashi said the older shinobi.

"You always have a bad feeling about missions Kakashi," Asuma interjected.

Kakashi shot him a deadpan glare and replied, "That's because things tend to go wrong from my experience."

"I have the same feeling Kakashi. I have very little doubt that Orochimaru has something in store for us. He isn't one to let his hideouts be raided and destroyed with no retaliation," Jiraiya stated solemnly.

"That's true, but with you here with us Jiraiya-sama I'm sure we can handle whatever he throws at us," Kurenai added confidently.

Jiraiya's reply was empty of his usual cheer as he said, "Do not underestimate Orochimaru, on the off chance he actually shows his own face up ahead we'll be in for one hell of a fight."

The three Jonin didn't reply other than nodding their heads, the idea of fighting one of the Sannin, especially the one who had been praised as the prodigy of the three. The four remained silent as they came within a few miles of their destination, lest they alert any enemies to their approach.

As they looked down to where the entrance had been marked on the map by Tayuya, all they saw was a stone outcropping. "Is this the wrong place?" Asuma asked quietly.

Jiraiya rechecked the map and replied just as quietly, "No, this the place indicated on the map. She did say she had never actually been to this hideout, but she knew its location in case she needed to go here."

"The entrance may be hidden with a Genjutsu," Kurenai stated, then turned to Kakashi and asked, "Think your Sharingan can see through it?"

"I'll give it a shot," Kakashi replied. He shifted his forehead protector off of his left eye, and focused his Sharingan on where the map said the entrance should be. Within a few moments part of the outcropping faded from his view, revealing a heavy metal door. "The large rock in the center isn't real, it's concealing the entrance," Kakashi informed the others.

"Do you see anything else down there Kakashi?" Asuma asked.

Kakashi took a few moments to sweep the rest of the area with his Sharingan, but did not see anything else concealed by Genjutsu. "Nothing hidden by Genjutsu, but that doesn't mean there aren't more rudimentary traps around here," he replied.

"Alright, we're going to do a sweep of the area for traps, and then Kurenai will undo the Genjutsu, we don't know if it has a secondary function," Jiraiya stated as an order. They all nodded before splitting into separate directions to search for traps. After twenty minutes they regrouped in front of the rock formation and Jiraiya said, "Alright Kurenai, start on undoing this Genjutsu."

She nodded simply before starting her work. Asuma spoke up by asking, "Isn't a bit odd that we didn't find any traps around here?"

"Not if Orochimaru was trying to keep a low profile and keep this base of his hidden. For that purpose, the Genjutsu alone is enough. Traps would alert people that there's something here to find," Kakashi replied.

"That's right. If he was operating here in Fire Country, Orochimaru would definitely want to remain undetected," Jiraiya concurred. They remained silent for the rest of the time it took Kurenai to undo the Genjutsu that was concealing the entrance. Once it was finished they gathered around and Jiraiya went over their plan one more time, "Alright: Kakashi will take point with his Sharingan, I'll be right behind him in order to back him up if need be. Kurenai I want you a bit behind us, far enough back that you can react to us being attack with one of your Genjutsu. And Asuma, I want you right behind Kurenai, to protect her and cover the rear so we don't get blindsided. Understood?"

They all nodded in agreeance and moved into position before making their way to the entrance. "How are you feeling about this Kurenai?" Asuma asked quietly.

"About as well as can be expected, but with Jiraiya-sama here I feel better about this mission," she replied just as quietly.

"How about if this goes well, you join me for dinner?" Asuma asked hopefully.

Kurenai smirked slightly before replying, "We'll see." With that the four shinobi entered the underground base.

After Naruto had given Tayuya the flute, the rest of their day had gone by relatively uneventfully. Tayuya had been exhausted from the effort of using her legs for the first time in a month and had fallen asleep on the couch fairly early. Naruto had made sure that she was comfortable before heading upstairs himself; he was surprised to find himself tired as well.

The next day found Tayuya back at the hospital for the first day of her physical therapy to regain the strength in her legs with Shizune over-seeing.

"God fucking dammit!" Tayuya shouted in frustration. They had started off slow, and moved on to gradually more difficult exercises to see what her limits were right now. She was currently trying to repeatedly push a sliding weight up with her legs. The weight weighed twenty five pounds, and she had pushed it up just over a dozen times before she felt her legs give out and she couldn't lift it anymore.

"It's alright Tayuya, now we know what you can do right now. You should be back to normal in just a few weeks. I'll set up a therapy plan that we'll start two days from now, and you'll come back every other day so that you have a day in-between each session to let your legs rest. Once your legs are stronger we'll change the schedule so you'll come in every day until you're back to top condition," Shizune stated as she finished writing a few notes on her clipboard.

"Sounds good to me, I can't fucking wait until I can push that weight up with one leg and break it off of that thing like I should be able to," Tayuya replied as she gave the weight a death glare.

Shizune chuckled to herself as she said, "I'm sure you'll make that weight rue the day it crossed you."

Tayuya laughed evilly to herself as she replied, "Damn right I will, it won't fucking know what hit it!"

"Naruto better watch himself. Who knows what you'll do to him once you're back in top condition, you might end up putting him in the hospital," Shizune stated.

"Oh I know what I'll do to Shithead if he pisses me off," Tayuya replied with a smirk.

Back at the house he had been staying in with Tayuya, Naruto was in the fenced in training area in the back with Shikamaru. He had been practicing using the Rasengan with one hand, with Shikamaru giving pointers he thought might help, while looking over the scrolls detailing the technique. Naruto was about to try again when he suddenly sneezed very loudly. "Ugh… Where did that come from?" Naruto asked himself.

"Maybe somebody was talking about you just now," Shikamaru paused as he looked over the scrolls again, "I knew the Rasengan was a complex jutsu, but I had no idea it was this troublesome."

"Yeah it can be a real pain, but it's worth it once you get the hang of it. But I still need my clones in order to use it, it's meant to be used with just one hand. My way is too slow, which could cost me in battle," Naruto replied solemnly.

Shikamaru looked at his friend thoughtfully, 'He's been different ever since he fought Sasuke… He's still Naruto, but he's a bit more reserved and he… Well he thinks more than before.' Just as Naruto was about to try forming the Rasengan again something dawned on Shikamaru and he asked, "Hey Naruto… Weren't you supposed to be at the hospital five minutes ago to get Tayuya?"

Naruto paused as Shikamaru asked this, and his eyes slowly widened before he shouted, "SHIT!"

Tayuya was sitting on the bench outside the hospital's front entrance with Shizune by her side, and an angry frown forming on her face. "I'm going to kick his fucking ass," she stated simply.

They soon heard the sound of rapid foot beats drawing closer very quickly, accompanied by panicked shouts of, "Shit! Shit! Shit! Shit!"

Tayuya then very calmly leaned down in order to pick up a good sized rock, sat back up, and began tossing it up and catching it. As soon as Naruto came running around the corner she threw the rock with deadly accuracy and hit him in the exact center of his forehead. The sound of stone striking metal rang out and Naruto fell flat on his back. "YOU'RE LATE SHITHEAD!" Tayuya yelled out in frustration.

Naruto got to his feet and made his way to the bench where he proceeded to try to explain why he had been late, which only caused Tayuya to curse him out again. As Shizune observed this, a smile began to form on her face and she thought to herself, 'They really are growing on each other. If she had wanted to, Tayuya could have knocked him out with that rock, but she aimed for his forehead protector, it only stunned him for a second.' She was snapped out of her thoughts by the two saying goodbye to her, and beginning to leave.

"So how did it go today?" Naruto was asking Tayuya as he walked besides her in case she lost her balance.

"Not bad, we figured out a schedule for my therapy, and I should be back to normal in a couple weeks," Tayuya replied as she slowly walked using her crutch to help support her weight.

Naruto replied with a loud, cheerful voice, "That's great!"

A smile formed on Tayuya's face as she added, "Yes it is! What were you up to while I was here?"

"Shikamaru stopped by while I practiced using the Rasengan with one hand, he looked the scrolls over and gave me some advice he thought might help. I didn't make much progress today though, it'll be easier with Kakashi-sensei or Ero-sennin helping me, since they can both do it," Naruto replied.

As the two walked away, continuing to talk about how their day had been so far, Shizune thought to herself with a smile, 'I wonder if Tsunade-sama knows what she's done by making those two spend so much time together…"

Jiraiya, Kakashi, Asuma, and Kurenai had been making their way through the base for about twenty minutes and had only come across a couple of rooms. They were proceeding cautiously so they wouldn't miss anything, or accidently trigger a trap. Unknown to the four shinobi, they were being watched from the moment they had entered the base.

"I didn't expect Jiraiya to come with whoever they sent, and I must say that Tsunade sent quite the elite team," Orochimaru mused as he watched the monitor.

Kabuto was silent for a moment before stating, "She must have thought that you would send a team here as well, won't they be in for a surprise?"

Orochimaru chuckled darkly before he replied, "Indeed. But the fact that Jiraiya is with them presents a problem. Even I wouldn't try to take them all on, even with you as backup because of him being here. It will be in our best interest to split them up, and they're own formation has saved us the trouble." He chuckled again as he finished his statement.

"You're right Orochimaru-sama, as usual. Asuma and Kurenai are far enough back from Jiraiya and Kakashi that it should be quite easy to separate them into two groups," Kabuto observed.

"I will take Jiraiya and Kakashi; I trust you can handle the other two?" Orochimaru asked flatly as he rose from the chair he had been sitting in.

Kabuto smirked slightly before he responded, "Of course Orochimaru-sama. Konoha still doesn't know what I'm capable of, but I know what Asuma and Kurenai can do, I have the tactical advantage."

Orochimaru smirked as he said, "That's what I expect from you, let's be on our way." With that said they both made their way out of the room to confront the intruders from Konoha.

The Konoha shinobi were proceeding at a slightly quicker pace now, but still being cautious. Jiraiya signaled them all to stop where they were as he heard a low rumble come from beneath them.

"What is it Jiraiya-sama?" Kakashi asked quietly.

"I thought I heard something, a rumbling sound…" Jiraiya trailed off as he tried to see if he could hear it again. Asuma was about to speak up when suddenly the walls closed off, cutting him and Kurenai off from Jiraiya and Kakashi. Jiraiya managed to shout, "Son of a bitch!" before the floor beneath him and Kakashi dropped out and they found themselves sliding down a perfectly smooth chute.

"Jiraiya-sama! Kakashi!" Kurenai shouted through the wall as they heard their shouts of surprise fade away.

Asuma channeled his chakra into his chakra blades and sliced the wall apart, only to reveal that their comrades were gone, with no sign of where they had gone. "Dammit!" he shouted, "This is bad, we have to find them."

Before Kurenai could reply, a voice spoke from behind them, "I'd say you should worry more about yourselves at the moment."

They turned around to see Kabuto standing about ten feet away, with a smug look on his face. "Kabuto…" Kurenai stated simply.

"The one and only," Kabuto replied darkly.

Kakashi and Jiraiya slid down the chute for about a minute, before they landed on a stone floor with a solid thump. As they got back to their feet Kakashi stated, "And Asuma thought I was being paranoid…"

"Well to be fair Kakashi… You kinda are," Jiraiya replied with an attempt at humor.

Before Kakashi could argue that observation his Sharingan caught a faint glint and sudden movement off to side and he shouted, "Get down!" Both of them managed to duck underneath an impossibly long sword blade at the last second, and when they looked up two snakes shot from the darkness at them. Before either snake got within five feet of them Kakashi had hit them each with a kunai, pinning them to the far wall.

A low chuckle echoed to them from the shadows, before a man they both immediately recognized walked out of the darkness right in front of them and said, "I didn't expect to kill you two that easily, and honestly, I'm glad I didn't."

"Orochimaru… I knew you might show yourself, but I was hoping you wouldn't," Jiraiya said in a flat tone, any hint of his usual enthusiasm was gone. Orochimaru simply smirked in response, daring them to attack him.

"How does that saying go Kakashi? Don't go looking for snakes…." Jiraiya trailed off as he got into a fighting stance.

Kakashi finished while he also got into a stance, "You might find them."

Yes I am being evil. Hope you enjoyed, please Review!