Disclaimer: I (obviously) don't own "Naruto," some rich dude in Japan does. I'm making no money in writing this, it's just for kicks. So please don't bother suing, you really won't get anything out of it.

Notes: AU, pre-Naruto, no Bijuu, one-shot (it could be expanded...but then again it might turn out to be like "Heart of the Fox" and go nowhere). I've kicked this idea around for a while, and finally found an excuse to write it out. Hooray for fictional characters' birthdays!

I hope that you enjoy it!

EDIT (10/5/10): I've edited the "demon-sealing" scene a bit...and there is a slight possibility of this expanding into a two-shot!


Part I

Minato irritably wiped sweat from his eyes as he painstakingly painted intricate circles and symbols in blood. Every now and then, he'd stop and step back and study the overall design and see if it fit with what he remembered. If something didn't look right, he'd scuff it out with his toe and rework it.

This would be easier if I had the book with me, he thought grimly as he agonized over a particularly loopy symbol. And if I didn't have to use blood, and had unlimited time, and half the pressure… Damn it!

The war never seemed to end. Every time things felt like they were winding down and peace was on the horizon there would be another big offensive on some front and it would get bad again. Last spring the end had seemed so close, but now it was October and still it was going strong. It had gone on for years, and had consumed the jounin years of his career, friends, teammates, two of his three students…

But what he was doing now had nothing to do with the war.

He and his former sensei had been on their way to help break the stalemate on the most recent front with Iwa when they'd come across several squads of high-level chuunin heading back to the village for some down time. At least, they'd come across what was left of them. Those that they'd found were dead and torn up and burned. Only one was still alive, although with the way that she was bleeding from her shoulder and side she didn't have too much longer without medical intervention.

They'd been laid low by a demon.

Demons were everywhere. Some were friendly towards humans and bound themselves to them with blood contracts. Some were neutral to humans, coexisting by ignoring people and minding their own business. And some preyed on humans in some way or another, for some reason or another. The demon here was obviously in the last group.

Generally, demons that harmed humans were left to holy men or specialized demon hunters to deal with, but as this demon had killed Konoha ninja he and his sensei had gone to find it and destroy it. A demon powerful enough to kill multiple skilled ninja was a serious threat, and since the attack had happened on a well-traveled route that was vital to get personnel and supplies to and from the front the sooner it was dealt with the better. It was an annoying and dangerous task, but it had to be done to prevent further pointless loss.

But even for him and Jiraiya, one of the three Densetsu no Sannin, this demon was too much to handle. It was a nine-tailed fox (one of the most powerful types of demons known to man) the size of a small elephant with a red-orange pelt so dark it almost looked black in the weak light of the approaching dusk. Fox demons were generally neutral towards humanity, playing mildly malicious pranks of people at the worst; but this one was surrounded by a smothering aura of malice and corruption. It had either suffered horrible torment at the hands of humans over its long life and was now lashing out, or it had consciously chosen to be cruel and aggressive.

Minato tensed as he heard a chilling roar echoing through the trees, and struggled to finish the complicated design he was painting with his own blood.

The fox seemed to be invincible. He and his old sensei had thrown everything they had at the beast to little effect. Minato had unleashed his Hiraishin no Jutsu and his incomplete Rasengan multiple times on the monster, only to see it regenerate and heal its own wounds. Its nature was fire, making his Fuuton type jutsu far less effective so he barely bothered with them. And Jiraiya, his sensei, had gone all out, even summoning "Ma" and "Pa" to enter Sage Mode.

But still the demon fox stood strong.

So now Minato was taking desperate measures. While Jiraiya, still clinging to Sage Mode with the help of the two small toads, kept the demon fox occupied, he worked on a complex ritual he'd only read about. As a seal prodigy and favored disciple of Jiraiya, the Sandaime Hokage had allowed him access to his private library of rare tomes and he'd come across something that might work…maybe.

Maybe I should be trying the ritual that summons the Shinigami, Minato mused. It takes far less preparation, and if I do it right a death god will kill this demon. But…the price would be my soul, and I'm not ready to die just yet. He poked the tip of his tongue out of his mouth as he smeared more blood onto his fingertips to draw more lines. If this fails though, and we can't lead it away to some remote place where it can't do much damage…I just might have to. Damn, I wish I had that book to double-check this design!

He had a great memory for patterns and designs. It was part of being a seal master. He needed to be able to recall complex formulas and design interactions to avoid being chained to reference books. A seal master who depended on referring to books for his craft was no master at all…

However, this ritual was meant to be performed by holy men; men who had the training to tap into divine powers. It had been invented by a lost sect of priests and priestesses and was a ritual of purifying corrupt spirits. Minato was no priest or wandering monk or anything holy; he was a ninja with the blood of countless people on his hands. But maybe he could make it work…

I have to try!

The blond ninja grimaced as he eyed the cut on his arm that he'd used to get the blood that he needed. It had clotted up to the point where he wasn't getting anything that he could use. Growling in frustration, he pulled out a kunai and started to make a fresh cut.

"If you need more blood, just use mine."

Minato looked over his shoulder at the sole survivor of the fox demon's earlier rampage. She was pale and still bleeding from bite wounds on her left shoulder and right side, and hovering near physical shock. They would've sent her away to a safer location, except her ankle was badly twisted and with how much blood she'd lost there was no way that she'd make it. The red-haired young woman was vaguely familiar to him, but he had no time or attention to spare on digging through his memories to try and place a name to her face. She was probably one of his old classmates that he'd lost touch with over the years as he was promoted faster and farther than most of his peers.

He quickly considered her offer. He'd already laid down the major structures of the design with his own blood, so all that was left to do was a few details here and there. So he might as well put all the blood that she was losing to good use…

"Thanks," he mumbled as gathered some blood from her shoulder and went back to work.

It was nerve-wracking work. The markings looked right, but without the book he'd first seen it in to double-check he just wasn't sure. If only he'd had the feeling that he would've found a use for the ritual when he'd first read about it, he would've studied the designs involved far more closely.

That should do it…I think.

A much closer roar of bestial rage put an end to his hesitance. It was now or never. Clenching his teeth, Minato pulled out a flare and fired it over his head—the red glow signaling to Jiraiya to lead the monster over.

Now for the tricky part, Minato thought with a grimace as he crouched near the complex knot of circle and symbols. Figuring out how to make this work…

The details that he had read in the book on this ritual were sketchy at best. It seemed that priests were just as tight-lipped about their secret techniques as ninja were. The most information had been on the blood symbols necessary. Whatever other steps there were, they were not well described ("begin prayer ritual" was not a clear instruction).

And then there was the fact that Minato had no spiritual training of any kind. Spiritual power and chakra were theorized to be similar although they had many different uses and applications. But were the energies similar enough to be interchangeable? Could chakra power a holy ritual? Could spiritual energy properly form a jutsu?

He was about to find out.

Focusing, he fed chakra into the patterns of blood drawn in the bare hard-packed dirt. Soon the symbols were almost glowing were gathered energy. And then he waited.

In theory this should work… This is supposed to be the ultimate purifying ritual—something that burns away corruption and wickedness down to the deepest parts of the soul. If I can make it work, this should take the rage right out of that fox…maybe even make it friendly.

The sounds of battle drew closer: roars, snapping branches, and the odd explosion or two.

If this fails, I'll have to summon Gamabunta and see if we can't lead this fox as far out into the middle of nowhere as possible… He swallowed hard. …Or summon the Shinigami.

His sensei—distorted and frog-like with the two small summons perched one on each shoulder—burst through the trees and leaped over the blood circle, ready to move the helpless kunoichi if things went wrong.

And then it was upon them. The red-orange fox charged, its nine lashing tails snapping tree branches, and even whole trees, as it rushed forward. Puffs of steam and smoke burst from its nostrils as small embers fell from its jaws. Bright red eyes stared at him with boundless hatred and madness.

It lurched into the circle, bare feet away from where Minato crouched so that it loomed over him, blotting out the stars and the moon in the night sky. Time slowed to a crawl from Minato's perspective. The fox was moving too quickly and wasn't centered properly over the circle. With a roar it reached for him with a hand-like paw to crush him like a cat swatted a mouse—

Bluish-white chains with thorny links erupted from the ground and snaked around the beast, binding it back and down and in the perfect position over the blood-circle.

Minato forced a spike of energy into the circle, and prayed—


…Hear me.

It was light, all around, so bright and white that he could barely make out anything around him. He felt strange, like he had no substance or weight. Glancing around, he could barely make out himself in the glare of the light that came from everywhere and nowhere, and he appeared to be completely alone. The atmosphere was warm and peaceful—the polar opposite of what he'd experienced barely a second before.

"What is this place?"

You are no priestess…or even a priest.

The voice was gentle and soft, yet it rattled the very marrow of his bones as it washed over him. Before him, the figure of a woman coalesced out of motes of colored light. She looked young and beautiful, but wise and incredibly ancient at the same time. The woman looked like no woman he'd ever seen before, and somehow she reminded him of his dead mother.

"I'm…sorry?" he managed to squeak, completely unsure of what was going on or how to proceed. Is she…a goddess?

How very odd, the woman murmured as she drifted closer to him. It's been so long since I've been so directly called on by anyone… Tell me, Minato, what is it that you wish?

He was startled that the woman knew his name, but immediately focused on her question.

"I…wish for a lot of things," Minato answered slowly and as honestly as he could. "I wish I was faster…" He always felt so slow—couldn't save his genin teammates, couldn't save Obito, couldn't seem to save anyone who really mattered to him. "I wish the war would end…" The constant grind of war missions was brutal, the endless killing, the weariness and anger on the faces of civilians—and all for what exactly? "But…in this situation…my most pressing wish would be for that demon fox to be calmed, to stop raging and killing, to find peace."

A wish for your foe, instead of yourself, the woman said thoughtfully. Very interesting… She turned to his left and spoke again. Tell me, Kushina, what is it that you wish?

That kunoichi is here, too? Minato wondered. He squinted through the brightness, but he couldn't even see her outline. That name…I know that name…don't I?

The female ninja's reply to the question was simple: "I wish I had family again."

I see…

The mysterious woman drifted even closer and placed a hand on Minato's chest. He thought that she might be doing the same for his companion, although the strange world of light made it impossible for him to see it. And then the woman's hand melted through his flak vest and penetrated his chest.

This may hurt a little…

It was a warm, tingling sensation at first—

It burned like nothing he'd ever felt before. It was like Kakashi was testing a new Raiton jutsu on him, only many times worse. It was like she was rifling through the very essence of his being, every corner of his soul, every thought he'd ever had, every seal he'd ever dreamed of, every sin, every regret, every kill, every—

The air stank of acrid smoke, blood, and fear. A young girl, barely ten years old at most, crouched on a ridge over a village perched on rocky cliffs by the sea. Buildings burned and people screamed as ninja overran the village, raiding and destroying as they went. The girl watched the scene unfold for a while, before pulling out a kunai from her pocket and raising it to her shoulder-length red hair. With hacking cuts, she sliced off most of her hair, leaving it boy-short and dropping the loose strands of hair into the wind. She put the blade away, snatched a hitae-ate from a nearby corpse, and slunk away from the collapsing village, melting into the marsh beyond the rocky ridge like a phantom…

Minato blinked, back in the realm of light, the pain gone. What was that? He frowned down at the ethereal arm that was still stuck in his chest. That girl…

You are both very interesting mortals, the woman commented. And since your summons has managed to reach me…I shall grant your wish.

Which wish? he blinked. Mine, or hers?

The woman slowly pulled her hand from his chest…and brought a spark of something with her. She pulled back her other hand, also with a strange spark cupped in her palm. The female being brought her hands together, pressing the two sparks into one—

Jiraiya winced and shielded his eyes as Minato activated the patterns the younger ninja had drawn up in blood, causing a blinding burst of light. The roars and howls of the chained demon abruptly cut off and all that could be heard was an eerie humming sound. When the humming stopped and Jiraiya's vision cleared, he found Minato collapsed, the kunoichi out cold, and the monster fox simply gone.

Stretching out his senses which were still boosted by the energies of nature, he could find no trace of the demon fox's intense, dark chakra. Exhausted, even with the boost that drawing in power from surroundings gave him, he released his hold on the Sage Mode and struggled to catch his breath. The two caped toads riding on his shoulders broke their fusion with him and jumped down.

The nine-tailed fox had given him a real run for his money. He'd needed all his wits and experience and strength to keep from ending up in the jaws of the beast. But he hadn't gotten away with leading the fox on unscathed.

I should not have tried to ride it like a pony, he thought with a wince as he rubbed the inside of his leg. Or invited it to bite my ass…

"The kid seems to be okay," Fukasaku announced as his webbed toad hands examined Minato's unconscious form. "Just sleeping."

"The girl's alright, too," Shima called out as she looked over the red-haired kunoichi. "Her wounds aren't bleeding anymore. It…looks like they've all healed up."

"Huh," Jiraiya grunted as he trudged towards his precious former student. "Looks like I'll have to carry 'em both—"

"Hey, look at that!" Shima cried.

Jiraiya followed the direction of her point and, at the center of what had been the complicated circles and loops that Minato had drawn, there was a small crater. In the bottom of that crater lay something small and pinkish…and wriggling. It was bare of any clothing, bearing only a strange sun-shaped seal mark on its belly and odd whisker-like marks on its round little cheeks. It had a fuzz of blond hair and familiar bright blue eyes…

The white-haired man gawked at the naked baby boy.

"Minato…what the hell did you do?"