Sasuke was slowing down and Naruto, though he still had plenty of energy, had no means of using it.
They were trapped.
Naruto growled and created more clones before they too were quickly disposed of.
"We need a plan." Sasuke hissed as he removed the senbon from his arm.
"I'm working on it!" Naruto yelled back, a bit hysteric. It seemed the masked nin was giving them a moment of reprieve but not even Naruto was about to keep his eyes off the block of ice that the mist ninja was residing in... for the moment.
Before they could regroup, another round of senbon hailed on them. They hit non-vital parts but for Naruto it was suddenly a lot harder to use his left arm. He shook it, ignoring the discomfort and glancing over at Sasuke to see that he looked even more tired than before and judging by the amount of senbon that littered the floor meant that he was dodging a lot more than Naruto was.
Naruto was annoyed that he wasn't deemed the bigger threat but let slide for the moment.
They had been the dome of ice for at least twenty minutes and it was obvious that they were being toyed with. He strained his hearing but there was no sign of the other battle that Naruto knew was going on.
Stupid elite ninja.
Distracted, he didn't hear Sasuke's shout of warning but he did snap to attention when he was suddenly pushed away. He hadn't dropped his guard so he resisted, thinking it was Haku. What happened next was completely unexpected.
"No!" The masked ninja called out.
Naruto blinked and realized it was Sasuke who had pushed him and that it had been to save him from the projectiles headed his way.
But Naruto realized it too late.
A senbon embedded itself deep into his throat and his hands reflexively headed to his neck. Unfortunately, three more senbon entered his heart... and only went deeper when he collapsed onto the ground, the senbon from his throat tapping his spinal cord, paralyzing him.
"Naruto!" Sasuke yelled, his eyes widening.
Naruto heard nothing of his teammate's cries as he choked on his blood and struggled to breathe, unable to keep the panic from has gurgled breaths.
No! I-I can't die here!
Stupid human flesh bag! Such a weak vessel!
A flood of heat erupted from his stomach but before he could question it, he passed out from the blood loss.
He was floating.
It was an odd disconnected sense of being. There was nothing, he was nothing... just nothing.
He was adrift for a long time, that he knew for sure, and normally he would have tried to investigate what was going on but he couldn't feel anything but tired.
Slowly, an oppressive feeling began to flood into his tired tranquility.
Stupid... human... delicate... heart...
They were muddled words that Naruto was barely able to understand. But as they grew clearer, a hint of... red(?) something began to flood his vision and the tired floating feeling became heavier, like he was underwater.
The red began to get closer to him or he was getting closer to it? His half lidded eyes blinked a few times and he began to feel more aware and confused as the red substance – chakra? – began to recede, like it was looking somewhere else.
Naruto panicked and reached for it.
"Looks like your not as weak as I thought..."
Naruto winced at the loud booming voice and shook his head to ward off the resulting headache. It made him dizzy for a moment but when his vision aligned itself, he was suddenly facing a gate, and was sitting crosslegged on the floor.
"Where- where am I?" Naruto asked, his voice oddly clear. He expected his voice to be hoarse for some reason. In fact, he expected to be hurting all over. Why was that?
"This, you insolant brat, is your mindscape and my prison." Kyuubi said, closing his snout with a loud clang.
"Prison? Why am I here?" Naruto tried to think but it just made his raging headache grow worse and he cried out, clutching his head. A pang of phantom pain resonated from his throat and he clutched at it before realizing that it was fine and that the motion was wasted.
"I can't fix it." Kyuubi murmured, his irritation growing as he pulled his chakra behind the seal. If he tried messing with the thing too much, he might destroy it completely.
"What the hell is going on!" Naruto yelled, his hands went to his temples and he rubbed at them, hoping it would alleviate the pain of the headache.
"You were injured cretin." The Kyuubi boomed, annoyed that he had to explain. "The deadly needles penetrated your throat and your heart rendering you useless – I, Kyuubi, took over."
"Kyuubi... Deadly needles...?" Naruto focused, regardless of the pain in his head and with another painful flash remembered the fight at the bridge.
"Am I... dead?" Even as he asked, he knew that coudn't be the case.
"You're alive." Kyuubi paused before continuing. "You won't be able to do extrenuating things but I managed to salvage your heart and fix your spinal cord."
"Fix my spinal cord?"
"The needle went passed your throat and voice box and hit your spinal cord, you lummox."
"And thats bad?"
"Ignoring the amount of bloodloss from your throat and damage to the chambers in your heart which should have killed you, you would have been paralyzed from the neck down." Kyuubi said with disgust. His host was such a benighted dullard.
Naruto was quiet, absorbing the extent of his injuries before letting out a thankful sigh. He would live.
"How do I wake up?"
"Don't bother me with useless constituents. However, I was unable to fix one thing." Kyuubi admitted with a grumble, it wasn't every day that the great Nine-Tailed Fox was unable to do something.
"What- what was that?" Naruto asked meakly.
"Your voice box."
Having done one failure in a dozen years (the last one being underestimating the blonde's sire) was enough for him and seeing the blonde clone was enough to anger him. So he stepped away from the seal and used his chakra to jolt the little human – enough to rise him out of his subconscous.
And just like that he was left to cogitate over his apparent inablity to fix something so simple – alone.
Naruto woke with a silent gasp and he sat up despite his body screaming at him to not move an inch.
Naruto blinked a few times before slowly turning to notice that his team was by his side with an aura of distress pushing up against him.
Naruto opened his mouth but when he tried to say something the only noise that came out was some odd chortling noise that hurt his throat. He grimaced and tried again.
Nothing came out.
"...You can't talk." Kakashi stated grimly. Feiging nonchalance was out of the question and he couldn't muster up the discipline to do so. He'd let one of his own get hurt and there was nothing he could do about it. The fact of the matter was that they were lucky that he was alive from what Sasuke had described to him.
"N-Naruto." Sakura stuttered, her eyes watering.
Sasuke remained silent but not once did he take his eyes of him. He couldn't miss the anguish that was painfully settling onto Naruto's face. He committed it to memory like the massacre. It was his fault after all – he hadn't been strong enough.
Naruto opened his mouth trying again but failing to make a noise.
Unable to meet their eyes, he mimed writing something down.
"I can read lips." Kakashi said softly. Naruto blinked up at him before mouthing 'Thats really cool'.
Kakashi merely smiled sadly under his mask and nodded.
'What happened?' Naruto mouthed, feeling silly. The fact that he couldn't talk hadn't really hit him yet considering just moments ago he thought he had died.
"What happened?" Kakashi supplied letting his visible eye fall onto Sasuke.
"You fell and I think you passed out but then this... this red chakra surrounded you and you rolled until you faced up again and pulled out the senbon from your throat and your heart, the rest just kind of popped out." Sasuke said, having difficulty explaining what happened.
"And thats when Gato showed up." Kakashi continued. "He had about a hundred mercenaries, double crossing Zabuza. He and Haku, as we found out his teammate was," Kakashi made a note to ask Naruto's apparent recognition of the name at a better time, "ceased their assault."
There was a noticable pause and Naruto stopped breathing in suspense.
"Before I could get you out of there," Sasuke continued, "You started... getting up. You were coated in the red chakra and began to kill the mercenaries – even Gato."
Naruto's eyes widened and fisted his hands.
I don't remember.
Naruto tried admitting it out loud but still, no noise escaped his person. He could no longer face his teammates. He turned away, clutching his eyes tightly closed.
Wordlessly, Kakashi rose motioning the other two to do the same. Sakura hesitated but with a shake of Kakashi's head, began to follow him out.
Sasuke stood frozen unable to form any kind of words. Instead, he briefly put a hand on Naruto's shoulder before exiting the room.
Naruto was left alone for the rest of the day.
I don't know what got into me. I thought I was done with posting stories on a whim but clearly I was mistaken.
Beware the sporadic updates.