Alrighty, guys! Here is chapter 8! How long did it take me to get this out? WAY TOO LONG. I have no excuses. But I am very, very sorry. Truly, my shame comsumes me. Please forgive me. I can assure you that I plan to write in this story much more frequently. (Yeah, you've never heard THAT before.) Anyways, on with the story...
DISCLAIMER: No, I don't own Naruto. My B...but someday I will...
Naruto faded in and out of consciousness, catching little snatches of what was transpiring around him before fading back into the black void.
He heard the clickity-clack of his hospital bed being wheeled down a corridor, each bump and swivel sending pain shooting through his body. Lights passed overhead, shining way too brightly. Why did they have to make the lights so bright? He felt like he was sinking, being pulled down into the blackness.
He was back. The light was blocked. A tall man who looked like a doctor was towering over him; he'd stopped moving. Turning his head to the side, he could see Willow's dead body on the bed next to his. That was weird…did they think they could save him? A nurse appeared beside the doctor and Naruto felt a sting right above his elbow. He was fading out again.
The next time Naruto woke, he was lying on his stomach in his cell. No one was in the room and he could feel thick bandages wrapped around his torso. He tried to turn over but froze as intense pain flared across his back. A shrieking cry of agony ripped itself from his lips.
It felt like he was choking, drowning in the pain. The blonde bit down on his lip and tasted blood. He writhed in an attempt to make the pain stop, but only succeeded in falling off the bed. New levels of torment shot through his back, increasing ten-fold. God, it hurt so much!
Naruto knew pain. He knew it well, but this surpassed even his high tolerance levels. He dimly registered Kyuubi trying to talk to him somewhere in the back of his mind, no doubt trying to calm him down, but he couldn't make out what he was saying. His entire being was consumed by the fire raging on his back, burning everything it came into contact with.
The pain made his muscled automatically tense, but tensing only made the pain worse. It was a vicious circle that went round in endless torment. Through the pain, Naruto could feel the Kyuubi's chakra permeating his back, beginning to heal him. But healing took time and all that Naruto could focus on now was the pain.
It engulfed him, burned him, and tore him apart. Seconds ticked by like hours untill eventually the darkness returned, affording Naruto with some temporary relief.
He regained consciousness hours later, the only indication was that the pain had lessoned. Someone had entered his cell and moved him back onto the bed, into his original position. This time he did not try to move.
'Before you ask, I don't know exactly what they did to you. I can only see what you see and with you unconscious that wasn't much. They made an incision along your back and injected something into your spine.'
'You don't know what it is?'
'No, but I do know that it won't kill you. You are too precious to Orochimaru's plan. He wants to use you for something, no doubt about that, and he wouldn't risk you dying now.'
'How much have you been able to heal me?'
'Not as much as I'd like. Spinal damage like this would normally leave a person crippled…Scratch that, a normal person wouldn't have even survived the surgery. You're probably the only person who could. Besides that, whatever they injected you with has been affecting your cells; my chakra has to adjust to the change. Hopefully, I'll have you healed enough by tomorrow that you'll be able to sit up my yourself and walk around a bit, but don't push it. By 'walk a bit' I mean hobble around with support.'
Naruto drew a deep, shuddering breath.
The blonde suddenly felt very young as he struggled not to let his emotions get the better of him. He could feel the pressure of tears in his eyes and tried to blink them back. He had to be strong.
A warm sensation enveloped him as his vision momentarily darkened, coming back to him moments later only to reveal the dankness of the Kyuubi's cell. The demon fox himself was close to the bars, a saddened and worried look on his face. Naruto stepped through the bars as he had many times before and settled against the fox's flank, letting himself by encircled by one of his companions enormous tails.
At least here he could escape from the pain. Here he was not affected by what was going on with his body in the outside world. He'd hid away with the fox more than once after a particularly vicious beating by the villagers. The fox was a source of comfort for him, second only to Itachi. He absently stroked the fur of his prisoner-turned-guardian and friend.
"Naruto, we will get out of this, have no doubt about that. Orochimaru believes that he can control you, turn you into a killing machine, but he is making the same mistake as so many others before. He's underestimating you. All of your experiences have made you stronger and more determined to meet your goals. There is nothing her can do to change your nature. You will overcome anything he tries to throw at you. It is what you do, after all. You tend to live your life as a perpetual wild card."
He smiled fondly at the youth lying against him. A bitter chuckle escaped the blonde's throat and he buried himself further into the familiar warmth of the Kyuubi's fur.
"Thank you…Kyuubi, can I…May I stay here for a while?"
"This is your mind, Naruto. As far as I am concerned, you can do whatever you want."
*/.\* SHARINGAN PAGE BREAK! */.\*
"Uchiha…It certainly has been a long time since I've seen you. To what do I owe the pleasure of a face to face meeting?"
Itachi slid easily into the bench beside the white-haired elder. The legendary toad sage munched lazily on his stick of dango, but a keen observer could see the tension in his frame. Both parties knew only the most serious of situations could bring the Uchiha to a physical meeting between informant and mission supervisor. He was much more comfortable sending messages through his crows.
"You must know by now that Naruto has disappeared."
"Yes, I heard. Sarutobi wasted little time informing me. Was Akatsuki involved? Your partner controls water, correct?"
"There was no involvement from the organization." His eyes flickered to his companion. "You know I would not allow any harm to come to Naruto."
"You always were the best at protection missions, even if this one is self-assigned and off the books." The elder winked. "Technically you're only supposed to be passing my information about the Akatsuki. Speaking of which, if they aren't involved, why are you here?"
"I have information as to who might have taken him. The three most likely candidates are Kazumi, Saru Inuzuka, and Orochimaru. I have my partner checking out Saru and I'll be leaving this mission to check into Kazumi."
Jiriaya eyed his younger counterpart for a moment.
"So you are leaving Orochimaru to me."
"For the time being. Rumor has it that Kazumi may be dead or otherwise incapacitated. I am hoping to eliminate her as an option in a relatively short manner. With Kisame handling Saru, I will be able to then turn my focus solely on Orochimaru."
"About that, are you sure you can trust Kisame? I hate to sound hypocritical, but he is a member of the Akatsuki."
"There is nothing to worry about. I have come to know my partner quite well and am assured that his loyalty lies closer with me than with Akatsuki. He has a thirst for battle and going up against strong opponents. He only joined the organization for the chance to do such things. Their goals hold no interest for him. He has helped me with my tasks for Konoha more than once in the past and has met Naruto on several occasions. The two seem to have taken a liking to each other and I believe Naruto to have an excellent sense of a person's true nature."
"Very well, I trust your judgment, Itachi."
He clapped a hand on the raven's shoulder as he stood.
"It is good to know you were able to find a friend even in a place like that. If anyone deserves one, it's you. I will get started on information concerning Orochimaru. I try to keep a pretty constant eye on the bastard so it shouldn't be too hard to look a little closer. The snake is so arrogant that he hardly tries to hide anything anyway."
Itachi nodded in response as he stood as well.
"I will contact you in four days. If I do not have my answers about Kazumi by then, expect one of my crows. Otherwise, I will meet you in Konoha myself."
"Your usual hinge?"
With their arrangements settled, both ninjas took off.
*/.\* SHARINGAN PAGE BREAK! */.\*
"What the hell do you mean they couldn't find anything?"
"Sasuke, calm down."
The Uchiha grumbled but went quiet at his teacher's command. What remained of cell 7 stood gathered in the Hokage's office along with the two Anbu teams assigned to find Naruto. Sarutobi himself sat behind his desk, worry and exhaustion lining his face.
"As I was saying, nothing to point towards who took Naruto or where he may have been taken could be found at the bridge. I have, however, received word that Jiriaya has heard some reliable information through his network and is now headed here. He asked that I hold this meeting before he gets here so no time is wasted."
He paused to allow time for questions but continues when none were forthcoming.
"It is time for you to learn the truth about Naruto Uzumaki. Naruto is a jinchuriki, a living prison for a demon. Most specifically, he holds the Kyuubi nine-tailed fox."
Sakura gasped as her hands flew to her mouth and Sasuke stumbled back a step, shock all over his face. Sarutobi continues as though they had no reaction. Better to give them an opinion than to wait for them to formulate their own.
"Naruto is a hero of this village, though many are unable to see it. He keeps the Kyuubi at bay. Were he to fail at that duty, we would have the demon fox back on our doorstep. Many of the villagers do not understand the pressure that is constantly upon his shoulders. There are those who even believe him to be the embodiment of the Kyuubi."
"I've seen it." Sakura's trembling voice brought her to the center of attention. "The villagers always glare at him. I always," she sniffled, "I always thought it was because of his pranks. I never would have guessed…"
Kakashi placed a hand on the girl's shoulder and squeezed reassuringly. Sarutobi nodded to him in thanks.
"The mistake was partially my fault. I chose to withhold information about Naruto that could have improved his image among the villagers…You see, his true name in Namikaze-Uzumaki Naruto. He is the son of Namikaze Minato, our fourth Hokage." This time shock registered throughout the room. "Not even Naruto himself knew of his lineage. Minato had many enemies who would be more than happy to take it out on his son. I tell you this because it is possible that one of these enemies has caught wind of our secret and took Naruto for that reason. You will all be working with Jiriaya to find Naruto and I would like that everyone keep an open mind."
There were nods around the room. Sasuke and Sakura both appeared to still be struggling with the information they'd been given, but they Hokage had no doubt they would be fine. He just wasn't sure how they would react to the news he was about to give them.
"Lastly, I would like to introduce you all to Sai." At the sound of his name, an emotionless boy entered the room and came to stand beside the Hokage's desk. "Sai is a member of our ROOT operation and is highly skilled. He will be acting as a part of cell 7."
Rage colored the Uchiha's face, banishing the confusion that had been there prior. Sarutobi held up a hand to forestall his argument.
"This is only untill Naruto is found and brought home. I cannot allow you to operate a man-short, especially on a mission as important as this one."
The Uchiha grumbled but backed down.
"Good. Now, Jiriaya will be arriving later tonight. Meet here at 7 o'clock tomorrow morning. Dismissed."
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