"This is all your fault." Sasuke said, making a gesture that took in all of the teams that stood outside Training Ground 44 waiting for scrolls. Naruto, who had somehow bluffed his way through the test despite the fact that he could've easily used his Sharingan to cheat, had fallen into that old habit of his, which had consisted of yelling at people who were trying to intimidate him. The ridiculous yelling, which Sasuke was half convinced was a bluff, had been so utterly inspirational that everyone who'd heard him had decided not to quit.
"How is this my fault?" Naruto growled, just knowing that Sasuke was going to launch into one of his lectures about how a Uchiha was supposed to go about being a Uchiha, which basically boiled down to being a stuck up snob who didn't let people know they were actually human behind their arrogant facade.
"If you'd behaved like a Uchiha and thought carefully about how and when you speak, we wouldn't have been stuck with so much competition." Sasuke said, apparently starting in on the lecture about how a "Proper" Uchiha was supposed to speak again.
"Well, if we'd let all the weak teams weed themselves out, we'd just be facing the really strong ones in there." Naruto replied, deciding to use Sasuke's lecture about how a Uchiha is supposed to act like it's all a part of the plan so they don't look unbecomingly blindsided when good fortune randomly drops in their lap against him.
"You cant possibly have planned that!" Sasuke hissed as Team 7 went up to grab their scroll.
Naruto just did his best to smile enigmatically, treasuring the brief gobsmacked expression he'd caught before Sasuke had schooled his features into something more properly Uchihalike.
Once the team had their scroll, they picked a gate and waited.
When the signal for the Second Phase to start went off and the Chunin hopefuls had all gone running into the forest, Orochimaru had followed behind a team of children not yet in their teens, waiting for his chance.
That chance came, and instead of mice frozen before a snake, he found himself confronted by a pair of would-be mongeese.
Standing in the forest that day, dodging and weaving around attacks from children who had no hope of defeating him like their older relative had done, Orochimaru had found himself faced with two choices where there had previously been only one. For most of the time he'd been planning this, he'd been planning it with just Sasuke in mind. Then had come the piece of intel that had completely blindsided him, coming out of nowhere when things were just shy of finalized. He had known both Minato and Kushina since Minato was a kid and Kushina a teenager, and neither had shown any signs of Uchiha Heritage or any knowledge of such. He didn't know how their child came to have the Sharingan which, to all appearances, was a natural one, and that intrigued him.
According to the reports he'd received, the Uzumaki child had improved in leaps and bounds since his graduation from the Academy; but he couldn't be certain if that had been a result of the Sharingan or not. The boy was the son of the Red Hot-Blooded Habanero, self-proclaimed "Victor of a Thousand Battles", after all, and Kushina's bragging hadn't been all that exaggerated, and might've even been understated, by the time she'd died. The former Dead Last who'd once been nicknamed Tomato had properly blossomed after she'd left the Academy, and continued to grow until she'd been forced to retire because she was pregnant with Naruto.
Faced with both boys there in front of him, both boys who'd bravely fought despite the fact that they were overwhelmed and outmatched by his skills and power, he found that he had to make a decision that was a much tougher one than he'd thought.
He knew what the smart choice was. The smart choice was the one that wasn't the Jinchuriki whose seal he'd been forced to block before the boy who'd been drawing on the Kyuubi's power seriously damaged him. He'd never put one of his cursed seals on a Jinchuriki before, and there was no telling how such a thing would interact or interfere with the seal that kept the Kyuubi contained. Sealing was a tricky art, and things could become exceedingly catastrophic if something went wrong. Far moreso than with Ninjutsu.
The smart choice was naturally the safest choice. The child with whom little could go wrong aside from the Uchiha boy being one of the ninety-percent who didn't survive the sealing because they weren't strong enough to live. Weren't strong enough to become his container.
The thing was, Orochimaru didn't do safe. If he'd stuck with safe, he would never have learned anything. If he'd stuck with safe, the young man who now called himself Tenzo would never have happened, a large number of his more fruitful experiments would never have happened, and he would've been stuck stagnating in this village wondering, but never knowing what was possible.
He didn't like stagnating, and things that sat still bored him.
What use was an eternity where he was bored all the time and nothing changed?
Orochimaru found himself with two choices.
He went with the interesting one.
Sakura sat by Naruto's side, worrying over him as she tried to tend to him using what skills she had, wishing she knew more, that she'd learned more rather than pined over Sasuke. Naruto was so unnaturally still and his sleep so comalike that she feared he would stop breathing and die while she watched, unable to do anything because she didn't know what to do.
This wasn't the first time she'd held back and did little to nothing because she couldn't really do anything. During the mission to Wave, she'd "guarded" Tazuna because Kakashi had wanted her out of the battle where she would've gotten killed in an instant. During the battle that they had just been in, Sasuke and Naruto had fought, Naruto fiercely trying to protect both her and Sasuke from an opponent who'd had them so outclassed that they might as well have been civilian children. She however, had mostly hung back, overcome by her fear.
She had only just started to care for Naruto now that she'd started seeing him as something more than the idiotic annoyance that had constantly demanded her attention, never once letting up, never once taking a hint. The boy the adults had told her to stay away from, and the teachers had pretty much all called a failure despite the fact that they'd never really given him a chance to succeed. Except for maybe Umino-sensei, and she wasn't entirely too sure with him. She didn't want to lose that boy, the boy who had never gave up, never gave in, never backed down, even when outmatched and outclassed. But, she could lose him soon, forced to watch as he slipped away bit by bit his mind and his life eaten away by the fever that had started shortly after that creature that couldn't possibly be human had bitten him.
Sasuke was alternating between standing guard and coming back to check on Naruto, occasionally shaking him as if to try to get him to stop playing and wake up and be his loud and obnoxious self. She didn't know if the last shreds of Sasuke's obviously frayed sanity would hold if Naruto died. If they didn't, she was probably the first person he would kill for having failed Naruto, and Naruto's attacker would be added to Sasuke's list alongside that brother of his who had killed virtually his and Naruto's entire clan.
She didn't know how she could've ever found Sasuke a tragically romantic figure. He was tragic, yes. But, studying him, really studying him, rather than sighing over him and swearing that she'd be the one to heal all his hurts with love, she could see that he wasn't anywhere near stable and about the only things holding him together were Naruto and his quest for vengeance.
Watching Naruto lay there so unnaturally still and quiet as a fever ravaged him, and watching Sasuke shake the boy more frantically each time he came to check on him, Sakura had never felt so useless as she had then.
Inside his cage within his seal, the Kyuubi studied the new addition to the wall that was just within reach of his paws now that he could push his forelegs through the bars of his cage thanks to his jailor having cracked the seal a bit in Wave. He was hindered from doing so now, thanks to what the individual who'd created the new addition to the wall had done to the seal that contained him, but it was only a matter of time before that was fixed since the man's enemies wouldn't let such a thing stand.
"Interesting" Kurama said as he studied the seal that had appeared and was settling itself into the wall, divining its purpose. Being sealed within a pair of Uzumaki who'd been good with seals had had its perks.
While the seal was edible now, it was only just. That, and it was meant to be the part of something a good bit larger and possibly more tasty than just the seal itself.
Many would be surpised that a Chakra construct could eat, but he put out energy, and if he didn't take in energy to replace the energy he expended, he would shrink away to nothing. Normally, he had consumed his energy from sources of Natural Chakra, though he could and would get it elsewhere in a pinch.
A pinch such as now when he hadn't eaten in a very long time.
Fortunately, he'd learned his lesson after he'd eaten a pair of shinobi to see if they were edible, and corrected the mistakes that had led to a part of him being consumed instead before the two bastards had created a butthole where there previously hadn't been one because there hadn't been a need for one. That lesson would serve him in good stead when the final piece of the seal that had just been placed arrived and tried to take over, serving himself to the Kyuubi, who'd be able to reach him well before he was fully settled, in on a silver platter.
"Hopefully my dinner won't take too long to arrive." the Kyuubi said as he sat down with a huff in order to wait.
One of the things being sealed away had taught the Kyuubi the value of was patience.
Naruto twisted in the throes of a high fever and dreamed. He dreamed of the stares and the glares that seemed a hundred times colder. He dreamed of the slights against him. He dreamed of standing in a sewer, facing an ancient entity who was sitting, plotting in the dark, tapping his claws against flooded flagstones as it hummed a tune not heard by living ears in more than five centuries.
"Oh, you're here then?" the orange creature said looking mildly amused. "You're supposed to be stewing in your anger, swearing vengeance, and accepting the seal so you'll be 'strong'. Either that, or fighting to live so you can get back to your loved ones who've been sticking by you, and utterly refusing to die. Not sure which really, since either one would work."
"Considering the fact that you're Uchiha enough to have those damnable eyes, I know which one you'd choose." the creature continued, flicking a tail dismissively. "Pity I can't get at you now, and end things before you can try to take control of me like your arrogant bastard progenitors."
Naruto wasn't paying attention however. He'd stopped paying attention at "loved ones who've been sticking by you".
After a lifetime of loneliness, learning that there were people who were willing to stay...