AN: What's this?! An update?! MIRACLES HAPPEN!

Eh. Whatever. I managed to ground out enough free time in between jobs that I managed to get this chapter done. I apologize for those who wanted a chapter full of EXPLOSIONS and COMBAT and STUFF BLOWING UP (did I repeat myself? WHO CARES?! :D), but I felt like it was time to shine some light on our wayward hero's state of mind, as opposed to the goofball he shows everyone. Also, this isn't a Michael Bay movie. :P

As always, I encourage you to read and review! :-)

- MB


Unknown...

Naruto could easily list out the number of times he'd actually feared for his life.

Surprisingly, it wasn't that long.

However, more to the point, he was pretty damn scared right now.

He supposed it had something to do with the fact that a gigantic, evil, human-fox hybrid was apparently staring down at him as though it was consciously making the choice not to eat him.

Equally gigantic metal bars in the way notwithstanding.

Nor was he capable of formulating words at all. For once in his life, he'd been stricken dumb, unable to speak as he still processed the fact that this enormous evil plushy of doom was somehow stuck in his gut. How was that even feasible?

The Bijuu chuckled at the sight of him, and somehow that stuck in Naruto's craw. He supposed he had a fairly low tolerance for people mocking him, and he knew the giant furball was looking down on him...literally and figuratively speaking.

"What's so funny, assbreath?" Naruto challenged. A bit of an unfair remark, considering the Bijuu's breath actually smelled nothing like that, but it did the trick of stopping the Bijuu cold.

Instead, it now slammed several its tails against its prison bars.

The whole world seemed to shake as the monster fox rammed against the rails. As expected, Naruto lost his footing and fell on his ass, a little shaken by the sudden act of violence. The Bijuu snorted.

Pathetic. You call yourself shinobi?

Naruto glowered up at the monster fox despite his fear. He knew there were many things he didn't understand, but he knew this much: he was being underestimated, and mocked. That was good enough for him to get fired up.

"Big talk from the world's largest prisoner, fuzzbutt," he snarked. The Bijuu growled throatily, but said nothing. "Where am I? Did you do this?" he demanded as he got to his feet and stepped closer to the cage. A casual observation told him the bars didn't seem even remotely affected by the tail swipe.

Again, the Bijuu chuckled.

Me? Summon my jailer? Amusing.

The beast shifted, its fur rippling as it moved into a more comfortable position. For all appearances, it had decided to ignore Naruto, opting instead for a nap.

Though it irritated Naruto to no end, he decided caution was the better part of valor, and maintained his distance from the jail bars. "If not you, then who?" he insisted.

The beast snorted. There are only two of us present. Whom do you think?

Naruto frowned. He knew what the beast was getting at, but it made no sense. Why would he willingly bring himself to meet his prisoner? Ever since finding out about his burden, he had just assumed that it was out of reach, beyond contact. Though, to be honest, even if he'd thought he could contact the Kyuubi, why on earth would he?

As far as he was concerned, he knew enough. This beast had plagued his mother, and his ancestor, Lady Mito. It had brought him nothing but misery during his childhood. It continued being a focal point of anger amongst the villagers he still desperately wanted to accept him.

Why would he come here indeed?

You reach, yet you do not understand. Typical human maggot.

Naruto snapped out of his thoughts to see the Kyuubi had opened one of its eyes, its terrible gaze on him. It was unnerving, seeing the giant, yellow, slitted eye peering down on him. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?!" he demanded.

The Kyuubi snorted, clearly unintimidated.

Information isn't free, my jailer. Why should I help you, when already you take my strength, my power, to wreck havoc on your foes?

Naruto frowned. That didn't sound right; when had he used the Kyuubi's power? He could practically feel the foul chakra radiating from the Bijuu, and he could safely say he'd never used anything like that.

"You're lying," he accused. After all, he was here, so how could he be wreaking havoc, or whatever?

You truly do not understand, do you?

The Kyuubi shifted again, slowly getting back to its feet. Its lips curled into a nasty, toothy grin.

Release your senses, my jailer, and you will understand.

Naruto eyed the Kyuubi warily. There was little sense in listening to it, much less taking advice from it. Especially when it looked giddy at the thought of him doing so. Even so, it had raised a troubling question: had he used Bijuu chakra? It would explain how he got to this weird dimension, where he could finally see his prisoner and the seal that kept him at bay. In the face of that, he had to wonder whether or not it was worth the risk. He supposed that as long as he kept away from the piece of paper, everything should be fine.

Edging further away from the cage, prompting an dark, amused laugh from the beast, Naruto glowered at his prisoner before closing his eyes and taking a deep breath. Honestly, he had no idea how he could possibly release his sens—

Pain.

All at once, Naruto was overwhelmed by a tidal wave of heartache, despair, and fury. It felt like every fiber of his being had been coated in anger and grief. He felt his muscles contract and stretch, clearly doing something, though what that was, he had no idea. He tried to control himself, to push back against the tide, but found it an exercise in futility. In the distance, faintly, he could hear screaming and the sound of combat, but even as he tried his best to see, he could not.

Soon enough, he hoped he could just go back to the sewer, and to his surprise, his surroundings shattered like glass again. The Kyuubi was there. The sewer-like environment.

Right back where he started.

With one exception. Whereas he had left the place several meters away from the cage, he found himself now reaching up for the seal, under the watchful, eager gaze of his prisoner.

Ah, it returns…

The Kyuubi sounded disappointed, and slowly curled back into a more comfortable position.

A pity. A little more, and I might have wrecked my vengeance on your pathetic kind to my heart's content…

Naruto belatedly realized he was breathing quite rapidly, and his heart felt like it was trying to tear its way out of his chest.

"What...What the hell was that?!" he demanded. "What did you do to me?!"

The beast snorted from behind the bars. I did nothing. You merely saw what your feeble mind tried to block. The unrepentant, unrestrained fury you are capable of.

"LIAR!" Naruto shouted, though deep down he knew the Bijuu wasn't lying. What he had felt...as much as it had felt like drowning in emotional agony, it had been his agony. He couldn't explain how he knew that, other than its intrinsic familiarity.

The Kyuubi snorted. So you say, yet you already recognize the truth.

Naruto clenched his fists until his hands hurt. Then he clenched some more. He was worried — more worried than he'd ever felt, actually. If his friends had been around, he might've just cut the tension with a joke, or played the fool, but he was alone now, and he recognized the dire straits he was in. His body wasn't under his control anymore. Was it under the fox's?

"Give me back control of my body," he ordered the beast, despite his fear of it.

The Kyuubi actually laughed at that. Amusing. You still think I am the one in control? What a poor jailer I am chained to.

Naruto grimaced, feeling like he'd been suckerpunched. That had cleared up one worry and then magnified it a hundred fold. If it wasn't the fox controlling his body, that meant whatever it was doing, it was his own fault.

"Why is this happening to me?" he asked softly. He hadn't expected an answer, truthfully, so when the Bijuu decided to speak, it surprised him.

Humans. It snorted contemptuously as one eye opened and gazed down on him. So proud and boisterous, yet so feeble of mind. You think yourselves masters of all, yet you are but usurpers of the natural order! And when the power you steal becomes too much, you whine, you cry, you collapse. Feeble minded and fragile of spirit. A pathetic race.

Okay, the fox might have a point, but at this point, Naruto really didn't care. He wasn't about to let some giant fox monster stuck in his stomach look down on him any more, damnit! If he was so powerful, why was the so-called "Lord of the Bijuus" stuck in some kid's stomach, huh?!

"So what does that say about you, jackass?" he challenged, recklessly drawing nearer to the bars. "My ancestor held you. My mom held you, and now you're my prisoner. If we suck so hard, what about you?"

That actually drew out an angry snarl from the fox monster.

Such brave words...I wonder how brave you would be if not for this cage, jailer.

Naruto knew the fox was still trying to entice him into releasing the seal, but he'd seen this play too often to fall for it. Not again. "Who knows?" he asked with a knowing smirk. "But for now, you're just going to rot in there, while I take care of this problem."

The growl from behind the bars grew in magnitude, but Naruto was already moving away, knowing he'd scored at least a small, moral victory against his tenant. Another problem presented itself now, however. He had tried to return to a full state of consciousness before, but the experience had nearly overwhelmed him. If the beast was right, that meant he was pretty much beyond reach.

It didn't take him too much effort to realize why that was.

Naruto prided himself on keeping things internalized. When he whined, cried, or complained, people who enjoyed tormenting him just made things worse. Therefore, the best offense, in that sense, was no offense. If he looked like he was enjoying himself just as much as they were, then the taunting and discrimination would...well...not stop, but definitely lessen, as people lost interest.

But even if that had just been a defense mechanism, though he didn't recognize it as such, he had failed to account for the fact that it had permeated into his dealings with even those he considered friends. He laughed, and smiled, and joked with Kiba and the others, but the truth was that behind that perfectly happy facade was a young boy suffering under enormous psychological pressure.

His family was back. That had been cause for celebration; but at the same time, it had provoked the rise of another slew of problems. He could play the idiot until the cows came home, but he knew his family was having trouble integrating into Konoha. He also knew it wasn't entirely the locals' fault.

Then there was the whole business about him becoming Clan Head. At 13! How ridiculous was that?! Yet, he was so desperate for his family to love him, to accept him, that he'd thoughtlessly charged into the situation without looking back. Now, he had two Clan cells out there in the world waiting to see if he could prove himself a worthy leader, while trying to bring back Kimiko into the fold, and dealing with Raiden's taunts that he would fail.

And that didn't even touch upon the fact that the Hokage trusted him to remain impartial between his clan duties and his duties as a shinobi. Trusted him. He hadn't felt that in so long, he was desperate not to let the old man down. But at the same time, his family expected him to honor his Clan by becoming their best show of talent.

It was all just too much, and then Tazuna, his charge, had gone and died. On his watch. To some no-name thugs with adequate aim in the use of a bow and arrow.

And that's when he broke.

Naruto sighed, pushing aside the depressing thoughts as he looked around him and saw the sewer go on forever. There would be no "walking" out of this one. He would have to regain control of his body the old fashioned way — by sheer guts.

Except the last time he'd attempted to do so, he'd almost let out the Kyuubi. He couldn't let that happen. Unfortunately, he also didn't have ropes or anything of the sort to chain him down.

And that's when the first bit of pain hit him.

Naruto flinched, somewhat surprised, as he felt his left arm flare up in pain briefly. Just as fast, the sensation was gone. But then it was his leg. Then his left side. WIthin seconds, he was on his knees, grasping at phantom wounds.

What the hell was going on?!


Wave Country, Tazuna's Village, Moments earlier…

Kakashi could scarcely believe his hyperactive student was responsible for all this.

After establishing his shaky truce with Zabuza, the two skilled shinobi had returned to the main plaza, where they both half-expected to see Zabuza's protegé in dire straits against an enraged Jinchuuriki.

The reality was much worse.

Much of the buildings near the plaza had been levelled. On their way there, they had passed dozens of thugs and local residents running for their lives. Zabuza made quick work of the thugs, no doubt relieving some of his fury towards Gato by murdering his goons. Kakashi hadn't approved, but then he needed the man around for helping him neutralize his student, and as long as Zabuza didn't harm any civilians, he didn't really care enough to intervene.

But it wasn't until they reached the plaza that they understood the gravity of the situation.

Standing amidst the rubble, or rather bent onto all fours, with three very ominous tails swishing back and forth, was Naruto. Or what he expected to be Naruto. Truth was, he could barely tell anymore. There was a dark red cloak about him, which obscured his student almost entirely. Yet, he could still see hints of the boy's clothes, giving him a positive ID.

"Jeez, Kakashi," he heard Zabuza speak up incredulously. "If I'd known about this…"

"You'd still have tried," Kakashi cut him off. Zabuza shrugged. It was true. "We need to get him back under control. Fortunately, he's not all gone yet."

"How can you tell?" the missing nin asked seriously.

"There's only three tails," Kakashi answered honestly.

There was a moment of uncomfortable silence.

"Do I even want to know…?"

"Nine."

Kakashi heard Zabuza swear softly, and felt like joining him. To be honest, he'd rather wanted to avoid telling him that, but Zabuza would always be on tip toes if he believed Naruto be on the verge of going full Bijuu on them. This way, the missing nin wouldn't cut his losses quite so quickly.

Still, it presented a dilemma about what to do with the man afterwards. He'd promised him to let him go, but letting a missing nin, of all people, run around knowing who the Kyuubi's Jinchuuriki was...well, that was just plain idiotic.

Well, he'd have to cross that bridge when he got to it. Right now, he had a rampaging Jinchuuriki to deal with.

"Bringing that boy down is going to be a hell of a workout, Hatake," Zabuza noted.

"No killing, Zabuza," Kakashi warned him. "He may be out of control right now, but he's my student."

Zabuza scoffed. "Dream on, Hatake. If it comes down to me or him...let's just say I'm not feeling too altruistic right now."

Kakashi glared at the missing nin, but had to concede the point. Zabuza had zero incentive to even help him out, much less risk life and limb to safely capture Naruto. Meaning, if Naruto was to come out of this situation in one piece, Kakashi had to make sure to be the one doing the capturing.

"Master!"

Kakashi frowned as he watched Zabuza's partner show up, landing next to the missing nin. His mask was still on, but he did seem a little worse for wear. Clearly, he'd taken the safe approach and stayed as far away as possible from his student.

"Haku," Zabuza greeted his partner. "What the hell happened here?"

The masked shinobi was silent for a moment before nodding at Zabuza. Kakashi guessed he'd been wondering whether or not to treat Kakashi as hostile. Apparently not.

"I was chasing the bridge builder and the blonde boy when it happened," Haku said. "I lost sight of them for a moment, and the next thing I know, there's a large explosion and Gato's thugs are running for their lives."

Kakashi knew there was more to the story, but guessed Haku wasn't privy to it. The fact of the matter was, Jinchuuriki didn't just explode at random. They had mental triggers, typically tied to powerful emotions like anger or fear. Whatever had set off Naruto, it must've rattled the boy something fierce.

"Where's the bridge builder, Tazuna?" he asked then, hoping the old man had gotten out okay.

Haku was silent again for a moment before nodding. "I'm unaware of his whereabouts," the masked shinobi stated neutrally. "As I said, I lost sight of them while chasing them."

Meaning any number of things. Tazuna could be well. Tazuna could be dead. Tazuna could simply be missing.

Kakashi wasn't a betting man, but he was willing to wager some money that Tazuna had something to do with his student losing his cool.

"Zabuza, our deal is still on, right?" he asked, knowing that the real reason the missing nin had agreed to help was to retrieve the man's partner. To his surprise, Zabuza nodded.

"Gato's still alive. As long as he's not a head shorter, we still got a deal, Hatake. What's the play?" he asked. From a look at Haku's body language, Kakashi could see the sudden shift in allegiance surprised the missing nin.

"Keep my student busy. I'll work on a trap to hold him down," he stated. It was a sensible plan; after all, he doubted Zabuza's idea of a trap was anything more intricate than a jutsu or two, which would be ineffective against a rampaging Jinchuuriki.

The missing nin nodded and turned to look at his partner. "Haku, you're with me," he stated gruffly.

"Yes, Zabuza-sama."

In the blink of an eye, both missing nin were gone, charging his student head on. For his part, Kakashi sought the nearest high ground and crouched there to observe the situation from a broader perspective. He watched as Zabuza and Haku blindsided Naruto, though ineffectively. His enraged student merely turned to his new opponents and let off a bestial roar that sent chills down his spine. It reminded him all too much of that night, years ago, when his master had died.

The problem was that a Jinchuuriki had massive chakra reserves to tap into, meaning that just confining Naruto wouldn't cut it. He needed to be knocked out, or drained enough to cut off his link to the Kyuubi's chakra. The problem was, how to do so without taking most of the village with them?

Kakashi growled irritably. He wished he'd used the Sharingan on one of the Uzumaki's restraining seals, but he knew that such acts were considered grievous offences amongst the newly returned clan. He glanced down at his arm, where his temporary Uzumaki tattoo lay. Could he call up Hikari to come and help? Doing so would leave Tsunami, her son, and his other two, unconscious students unprotected...and with Gato running loose, with an army of mercenaries probably on their way, he wasn't that anxious to leave anyone undefended.

Which just left Kimiko, but she had gone AWOL ever since his student had chewed her out. At the time, he'd felt proud of Naruto for standing up for his beliefs, but he was starting to wish the blonde had gone easier on the girl, as they were now left without a Fuin user.

Kakashi grit his teeth as he watched Haku narrowly save Zabuza from being eviscerated by a pissed-off Jinchuuriki. Things weren't going well, and his only options were using conventional Jutsus. Maybe form a trap hole, or bury Naruto while they went for the money shot to knock him out…

Kakashi already knew they'd fail. Right now, the best shot they had was to wear his student down, while avoiding getting killed.

"Damnit," he cursed softly. So many things could go wrong with such a plan. A hand could slip, or a jutsu misfire, and suddenly he didn't have an injured student, but rather a dead one. Or one's footing or blocking maneuver could go wrong, and suddenly he was down one man.

He was really starting to wish that he'd asked Jiraiya for some Fuin lessons now…

"Zabuza-sama!"

Kakashi's attention snapped to the fight once more, belatedly realizing that Zabuza had missed a wide swing, and was now completely open to Naruto's retaliatory swipe. From that distance, whatever Naruto did to the missing nin, the man would not be getting back up.

While Haku quickly flipped through hand seals, already apparently forming what appeared to be a slab of ice floating about five inches above ground, Kakashi swore and jumped from his perch into the battle, managing to catch Naruto's attention in time and knocking his student aside with a well placed kick to the face.

He made a mental note to apologize later.

"Thanks, Hatake," Zabuza said as he came over to his side. The man's partner swiftly joined them, challenging Naruto with a united front. Kakashi nodded in acquiescence of the man's thanks.

"Any ideas, Hatake-san?" Zabuza's partner asked. Kakashi grimaced beneath his mask.

"None worthwhile. Looks like we'll have to slug it out till either he's tired, or we're dead," he said honestly.

Zabuza glared at him, then returned his attention to the enraged Kyuubi container. "Fan-freaking-tastic," he muttered. "Don't suppose he'll let me and Haku go if we just bolt, huh?"

Kakashi chuckled. "Probably not."

He heard Zabuza sigh exasperatedly. "Figures. Haku, you still good to go?"

"Yes, Zabuza-sama."

Kakashi eyed the duo and felt a bit of respect for them. They were clearly well matched, and fully in sync. He'd seen them trade blows with Naruto from his perch, and they'd complimented each other beautifully. Ahead of them, Naruto's shadowed form growled angrily.

"Hatake, I'll take the front. Haku'll pepper your boy with long range attacks. What's your contribution?" Zabuza asked.

Kakashi chuckled again. "I'll keep his attention divided," he said.

Naruto's growl became a bestial howl as the shrouded boy charged them. Immediately, Haku jumped away, while Kakashi waited a second longer to do the same. Only Zabuza stood his ground, greatsword in front of him, and faced the oncoming Jinchuuriki with a challenging cry of his own.

Spinning on one foot, Zabuza dodged the swipe of the boy's clawed hands and smacked him aside with a swing of his greatsword, using the flat of the blade to avoid killing him. As Naruto flew, Haku appeared next to him mid-air and drop kicked him, right into Kakashi's position.

"Sorry, Naruto," he muttered as he watched the boy fly towards him. Without another second's hesitation, Kakashi clasped his hands together, raised them above his head, and smashed down onto Naruto's head as he came into range, smashing the boy into the ground, kicking up a fair bit of dust.

Clearing his vision with a wave of his hand, Kakashi looked down at the still body of his student, still shrouded in that demonic red chakra. Had it worked? Would he finally calm down? He started to crouch to reach for his student...

"Kakashi, MOVE!"

Before he knew what had happened, Kakashi felt a stinging sensation on his cheek, right before he was knocked aside. Looking up at the sky, he only had moments to wonder what had happened when he heard Naruto howl in pain. For a minute, he thought Zabuza had gone back on their deal and killed his student. Looking over, he could only blurrily make out what seemed to be numerous large, thin objects pinning his student down into the ground by his limbs.

Shaking off disorientation, Kakashi flipped onto his haunches and was about to charge at his student's attacker, only to realize that it hadn't been Zabuza who'd hurt his student.

It was Kimiko.


Kimiko had never felt so conflicted in her life.

Well, that wasn't true. The day her parents died she'd certainly been a basket case. Even so, this was either a close second, or a tie for first.

For years — hell, more than a decade! — she'd carried the burning fury and despair of her loss deep within her, feeding off of it in order to grow stronger — stronger than anyone. Strong enough to prevent another, similar tragedy.

But it'd come at a cost. She understood that, but she'd never regretted it. By walking down her chosen path, she became isolated even within her family. No one wanted to be near her because they feared her. Even those closest to her — Hikari, Natsu, Keisuke, Akemi — held their distance, and treated her differently than the other clan members. Every smile was just the tiniest bit forced. Every thanks held caution. Every time she got "bad news," they'd walk on eggshells around her.

She didn't mind.

No, that wasn't accurate. She did mind, but she forced herself not to mind. None of them understood the depths of her pain, and that she was doing what she thought was necessary to protect the clan. The only family she had left in this world.

But at what cost? The very family she swore to herself to defend with life and limb crept ever farther away. They respected her, treated her well, but she could see it now, in hindsight, that she was almost a foreigner within her own family. What did she know of her fellow clansmen? How many nieces, nephews, cousins, aunts, and uncles had she gained and lost over the years? She knew how many clansmen there were in total, but she realized she knew none of them.

It was jarring, and it was all the new (future) Clan Head's fault.

The moment he confronted her, the moment he threw back her pain in her face, it was as though she had been forced to turn around, and see the wreckage of her life for the first time, in all its dreadful glory. She had envisioned herself the stalwart shield of the Uzumaki, but she now realized that she had no one behind her to protect.

And then there was Hatake, her (future) Clan Head's teacher. Even as Naruto's words cut deep into her soul, he slid the knife in even further, reminding her that a Clan Head without integrity is not a Clan Head worth having. Personally, she prided herself on her moral righteousness. It was one of the backbones of her sense of duty to the Clan.

Yet there she was, advocating in favor of leaving behind a suffering nation just to save a future Clan Head who wanted to stay and fight for what's right.

When had she become the villain?

Kimiko hated to admit she was wrong, but she had to concede this time. She was wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. Maybe, practically, it would've been best for them to leave Nami cold. Leave Tazuna and his family to Gato's mercy; after all, they were just nobody civilians who'd lied about their offered contract.

But morally, it would've been repugnant. There was no honor in leaving the weak at the mercy of the strong and cruel.

She couldn't remember how long she'd stood where Naruto and Hatake had left her, but it seemed like ages as she reflected on her life, her choices. She distantly realized Hikari and Hatake exchanging messages over the tattoo, but made no move to answer them. She was in no shape to do anything.

Until she felt the demonic chakra.

Kimiko had never faced a Jinchuuriki in combat in her life. No one in the Uzumaki's newest generation had. What little they knew about the whole concept of Jinchuuriki had been theoretical knowledge passed down by Keisuke and Heiyako, based on their own experiences, until the day they had met Naruto. Even then, it wasn't like he paraded his status.

However, the moment the Bijuu chakra wave hit her, she recognized it immediately. Based on Keisuke's lectures, there was mistaking it for anything else, which meant that something had happened to Naruto.

Immediately, Kimiko had departed for the source of the wave, taking in the exchanged messages between Hikari and Hatake. Apparently that little toad, Gato, had decided to backstab his employees. Big surprise. However, the most pressing matter was suppressing the demon chakra, and Kimiko knew Hatake would be handicapped by his reluctance to hurt Naruto. She had to respect that, at the very least.

Which meant there was a pressing need for a Fuin user, such as herself.

Rushing towards the scene of battle, Kimiko flipped her hands in strange hand seals, which, once finished, served to boost her speed substantially. She'd heard Hatake ask Hikari about the hand seals, but her clanmate had done well in keeping the clan's secret: body tattoos.

Every inch of their hands and feet were covered in invisible ink tattoos. Outwardly, they were perfectly normal, but when used together or individually, the slightest shifts in movement allowed them to spell out the Fuin formulas they needed for their Jutsus.

However, Kimiko was different. Therein lay the foundation of the Elders' decree forbidding anyone from ever emulating her.

When she was younger and even more reckless, Kimiko had tried to emulate the Fuin formula used to create Jinchuuriki on herself. However, without a Bijuu to store within her, she sought to make herself into a container for innumerable weapons, which would come at her beck and call, effectively making her into a walking arsenal.

Except she had ignored the Elders' teachings regarding how incredibly dangerous it was to do such a thing. Seals weren't meant to be permanently etched on the human body; even the Jinchuuriki formulas were considered last resorts. The slightest error could easily have killed her, and given that she'd done the entire process by herself at her young age , it was a miracle it hadn't.

"Kuchiyose," she grunted out, ignoring the flash near her hands as five needle like weapons appeared. Without faltering in her step, she grasped them and continued her way towards the sound of battle, past all the running civilians and terrified thugs.

She arrived in the middle of a rather remarkable scene. Naruto — or so she assumed, by process of elimination, given that he was all but unrecognizable now — was holding his ground against Zabuza, the man's partner, and Hatake. Then, in a feat of spontaneous teamwork, the three had managed to knock Naruto down. Unfortunately, that's where Hatake's professionalism ended, as he tried to reach down to his student. A minor flinch in the chakra-cloaked being's musculature informed her that it was a potentially fatal mistake.

"Kakashi, MOVE!" she yelled, as she hoisted up the five needle-like weapons and, one by one, threw them at her future Clan Head with remarkable accuracy, just as the masked shinobi tackled Kakashi out of harm's way, for Naruto had shot one chakra-cloaked arm up at his teacher and nearly taken off his head, merely nicking him on the cheek instead.

With unerring accuracy, her needles did their job, pinning Naruto's limbs to the ground. She winced as she heard him cry out in pain; it was her duty to protect him, not harm him. She would have to perform penance later.

Her hands flipped and slid off each other as she raced through hundreds of character combinations, years of training telling her that the formulas were on the right track. Unfortunately, a simple binding seal wouldn't do at this point. She knew she would have to create a whole new one for her future Clan Head. Still, even a basic seal would keep him down for a little bit longer.

"Kosoku Fūin!" she cried out, slamming her open palm onto the pinned Naruto's back. Black lines of characters spread out over the enraged Jinchuuriki, who despite the strength of Kimiko's seals continued thrashing. Neither her barrier needles nor the restraint seal would last very long at this rate.

She wasted no time. Flipping over her (temporarily) subdued clansman, she used her still bleeding thumb to streak another line of the red liquid along her arm, causing another series of Fuin characters to glow green.

"Kuchiyose!" she incanted. She was distantly aware that Kakashi was calling out to her, but couldn't afford to break her attention. Instead, she snapped up her hands and caught the two glaives that appeared in the air...just before she was then tackled to the side.

Blinking away her disorientation, she was surprised to find Kakashi pinning her down. Instantly, her fiery temper flared. "Get off me, Hatake!" she snapped.

Kakashi's one good eye turned to look at her and frowned. "Is that really the right way to thank someone for saving your life?" he asked archly.

Kimiko frowned and looked around, noticing that the masked shinobi and Zabuza were quickly cutting down a trio of archers that had appeared while she wasn't looking. A quick look around her informed her that three arrow shafts were planted in the ground she'd occupied moments earlier. Kakashi had indeed saved her life.

"...Thanks," she ground out, before getting out of his grip and back to her feet. "I'll deal with Naruto-sama," she told him. "You keep Gato's dogs off my back."

Kakashi stared at her silently for a moment before looking over to Zabuza and the masked shinobi, then back at her. "They're doing just fine. Considering your focus, I'm going to guess we're on a tight schedule, right? So how about you let me help you?" he asked.

Kimiko glowered, but a furious howl from Naruto quickly reminded her of how pressed for time she was. If Kakashi managed to help her get the seal done as quickly as possible, then all the better.

"How much do you know about seals?" she asked, readying both glaives beneath her armpits.

Kakashi frowned. "More than most, less than I'd like."

Well, at least he was being honest.

She quickly used the blade end of one of her glaives to carve a series of symbols on the ground. "I need to make four of these sets around Naruto-sama," she explained quickly. "I'll take the inner circles, you deal with the outer circles. One inch, each stroke. Time is of the essence."

She watched Kakashi study the markings, then nod. "Understood. Will I need blood or…?"

Kimiko shook her head. "Carving them will do just fine," she said. "Now, hurry. The barrier needles won't last for much longer, nor will my restraining seal!"

Without another word, both jumped into action.


Inside Naruto's Mindscape…

Naruto was in a quandary, and he didn't mind admitting as much.

First of all, he was apparently stuck in a mindless rage, destroying everything in his path with utter disregard for his safety or that of others.

Secondly, he had no control over himself at the moment or a way back into his conscious mind without losing control.

End of list.

Small, sure, but no less messed up for it. As he stood in the middle of his sewer-esque mindscape — and it didn't escape his notice that apparently his mind was apparently no better than a tunnel conveying sewage — he reckoned he had very little time to devise a way out of his predicament before Kakashi was put into a position where he might have to do some serious damage.

He grimaced. It wasn't pleasant to think about, but time enough amongst his family — short as it may be, comparatively speaking — had taught him that sometimes drastic measures had to be taken, even if you really didn't want to.

And frankly, now understanding what primordial feelings were driving his conscious self at the moment, he was rather hoping someone would stop him, no matter what, before things got too out of hand.

The last thing he wanted was someone else's life on his head.

He still felt the phantom pain of objects piercing his extremities, but he had learned to ignore it. As far as he was concerned, it probably meant the others outside were trying to contain him.

He glanced back at the Kyuubi's cage, in the distance. The beast had insinuated that this entire fiasco was the result of his emotions getting out of hand. Perhaps that was why he wasn't angrier, or more desperate. The more he fed into those emotions, the more dangerous he'd become.

In a sense, he sort of understood Kimiko on a much deeper level now.

He brought up his "hands" and looked at them. The whole incident had come as something of a wake up call. Never before had he been out of control like this, and he hated the feeling. He hated not knowing or being able to control himself. Sure, he flew off the handle more than a few times, but then, he was temperamental like that. This, however, was different. He could be hurting his friends, his teacher, his family for all he knew. He could've killed an innocent person, and there was nothing he could do about that.

It sucked.

In a twisted way, he supposed he could see where the villagers were coming from, now. If he lost control like this, he was a danger to everyone. Worse yet, what if he remembered none of this, and just committed the same mistake later on? He certainly hoped it wasn't the case, but it certainly didn't stretch the imagination.

He sighed explosively, scratching his head furiously as he tried to come up with a way out of this predicament. Leaning back, he rested his "head" on the "wall." What could he do? Trying to take control again would likely result in his getting overwhelmed once more, and he wasn't about to let out the Kyuubi because he got overconfident…

He eyed the dark tunnel that led back to the Kyuubi's cage. Ideally, he could just ask the damned beast to back off, but he doubted it would work. It was clear that the giant fox monster wanted out, and wasn't too shy about causing mass destruction to get his way.

Wait.

Something was wrong with that train of thought. Narrowing his eyes, Naruto raised his head and looked back towards the cage. Hadn't the Kyuubi mentioned something about how he wasn't the one lending the power? Hadn't the Kyuubi insinuated that it was he who was taking away the power?

Rising to his feet, Naruto looked both ways down the tunnel, then down to the water. The water came from the cage, based on the way it was flowing. Did that mean the water was the Kyuubi's chakra?

He groaned. He hated difficult situations like this. Give him a nice, big target and license to go nuts, and he was a happy boy. Make him think this much, and he was liable to just develop a headache.

Still, his family would expect him to try, at least.

He winced as his limbs flared with pain, but ignored it. Instead, he went nearer to the water and stared at it for a moment. He knew his next act would be all sorts of boneheaded, but he had no choice at this point. Getting to his knees, he tentatively brought his hand nearer to the water, and then put in a finger.

It was surprisingly warm, and not at all evil. Yet, he could feel the latent power within the liquid, trying to push into him. He frowned as he realized that it did not just do so automatically. Did that mean that he needed to want it in order to use it?

Well, this certainly wasn't the moment to try and figure that out. Right now, he had to put a stop to this flow, for he was certain that it was the cause of his loss of control.

Now knowing that it wouldn't just force its way into him, he stepped into the water, and soon found that, despite initial appearances, it appeared waist deep. That could be a problem. Perhaps it was a reflection of how much power was flowing into him?

If so, he was fast running out of ideas on how to stop it, considering that he had nothing on hand to build a dam or anything of the sort.

He tried spreading his arms in a vain attempt to stop the flow of water at either side. It didn't work; the water just flowed around and under his small arms. He thought about lying sideways, but realized the water was high enough that it would just submerge him.

Naruto growled. He hated this situation. How on earth was he supposed to regain control if nothing went his way?!

At that moment, however, he felt his lungs tighten, as though he'd been punched in the gut. Doubling over, he nearly touched the water with his face before straightening up, yet leaning on the edge of the waterway. What was that?

To his surprise, he felt his stomach growing colder, despite the warm water, and slowly began realizing that the water level itself was beginning to go down. Something was halting the flow of chakra, and he was pretty sure it hadn't been him.

A smile grew on his face as he realized that something on the outside was happening, and that whatever it was, it was going to bring him back down under control.

Still, as he waited and watched the water go down, the situation still stuck in his craw. He had been useless, helpless. He had no control over his own body, or any control over the Kyuubi's chakra. He had placed his family in danger, his friends and teacher too, and hadn't been able to live up to the expectations he'd raised.

He clenched his fist, more angry at himself now than at the world, though Tazuna's passing still stung.

He had to grow stronger, and take things more seriously now. He had a lot of power at his disposal, and unless he could control it, it would inevitably harm his friends.

Once more in his life, he felt something he'd felt only a few times before.

He'd felt it when the other kids at the orphanage had shunned him.

He'd felt it when the adults whispered mean things about him.

He'd felt it when his teachers, pre-Iruka, had taunted his dream of being shinobi.

He was motivated.

He swore then and there, that he would learn to control his power, and be the very best shinobi Konoha had ever seen.

He knew he would do it, too, because he never back on his word.

That was his ninja way.


Tazuna's Village Square…

Kakashi and Kimiko breathed hard as they watched Naruto's Kyuubi-fied self start to calm down, the four strips of Fuin characters pulsing black as they seemingly choked off his Bijuu chakra. On the periphery, they both realized that Zabuza and his partner seemed to have kept the mercenaries at bay, but were beginning to run into endurance problems. Gato's army was nothing if not substantial.

Still, Naruto had given as good as he got. Even pinned down, Kakashi's wayward student had managed to fling balls of...something at them, and whatever they touched seemed to blow up. It chilled the jounin when he realized they looked like bastardized versions of his late master's Rasengan.

He eyed his female partner then. Kimiko, for all her attitude, all her whining, and so forth...had actually proven to be rather reliable in combat, when her emotions weren't getting in the way. With a swiftness and grace he'd scarcely seen before, the female Uzumaki warrior had carved her symbols with the ease of years of practice, and managed to fend off her clansman's attacks in the process.

Kakashi hadn't done so bad himself, either. Despite his unfamiliarity with Fuin, he was able to carve out his symbols in quick succession, only stopping once to remember a particular stroke pattern. And fortunately for everyone involved, the seal had stuck and done its job.

"Kakashi."

He turned to see Kimiko looking right at him. It surprised him to realize that this was the second time she'd called him by his first name. There was no warmth there, however, only suspicious anxiousness.

"What happens now?" she asked warily.

He could see where she was coming from, of course. His student had wrecked quite a bit of damage in his rampage, and enough people had seen him go berserk to basically let the cat out of the bag. Worst case scenario, Gato would use the attack to rally the people behind his corrupt, albeit secure administration, thereby derailing all of Tazuna's lifework.

"We need to find Tazuna," he said. At her confused look, he glanced over to Naruto's normalizing form. "Whatever triggered this, Tazuna was involved in some way. We need to find him, in whatever state he's in, and get the real story out there."

"Before Gato gets here," Kimiko added. He nodded, pleased she'd followed his train of thought.

"Exactly."

She then glanced over to where Zabuza and Haku were still dealing with the mercenaries. "And them?" she asked.

Her voice was ice cold as she spoke of the two Mizu natives, but he could see a distinctly less impulsively hostile attitude developing. Clearly, the two rogue shinobi's act of staying behind and helping out had won them some points.

"They get to live, and leave," he told her firmly.

He saw quite the raging storm in those brown colored eyes of hers, but when she looked away, he knew she'd conceded. Another minor miracle, it seemed.

"Very well," she vocalized what he already knew. "Then I shall proceed with finding Tazuna. We must acquire the truth of these events as soon as possible, or else I fear Naruto-sama's...condition will prejudice the villagers."

The curled lip of disgust with which she spoke of the villagers was curious to Kakashi, but he didn't exactly have the luxury of time on his side. "No, I'll look for Tazuna," he said, pointing at his nose. "My tracking skills aren't too shabby, and I've got a pretty good tracking team on hand," he told her, using the tip of a kunai to draw blood.

Kimiko stared at him, then nodded. "Very well. I will guard Naruto-sama and inform Hikari of the situation."

Kakashi nodded; he had no doubts that Hikari would be worried out of her mind by now, given how much time had passed between their last communication. And to be honest, he was rather worried for his two injured students. Even if Naruto had taken up most of his attention, he was no less worried for his injured charges.

"Please make sure Hinata and Kiba are fine," he requested, relieved when Kimiko nodded.

Without another word, Kakashi flipped through the appropriate hand seals and slammed a palm onto the ground, kicking up some residual dust. "Kuchiyose!" he cried out.

In several puffs of smoke, Kakashi's ninken familiars appeared, much to Kimiko's surprise. In fact, if his eyes weren't deceiving him, she'd started to develop this sort of incredibly girly look of surprised joy before her cool facade slammed back into force. Kakashi eyed his ninken, then Kimiko, who was now looking away, and decided to file that information for later use and abuse.

However, any plans to search for Tazuna immediately ended the moment they both noticed a shadow on the horizon, growing thicker and larger by the second. Belatedly, they realized what these were.

Arrows.

"Zabuza! Run!" he shouted.

Fortunately, both Mizu natives seemed to realize the imminent danger and jumped out of range, even though a simple use of Zabuza's partner's ice could've shielded them. As the duo reached him and Kimiko, Kakashi cursed the horrible timing they'd been suffering these past few days, and turned to his dogs, who had wisely stayed quiet in the face of the mass devastation around them.

"Listen up," he said. "There's an old man lying around somewhere, probably has to do with this whole mess. He may be alive, he may be hurt, he may be dead. Whatever he is, we need to find him ASAP," he told his summons. "Find him, bring him back here. Before things get worse."

The small pug amongst his ninken snorted, prompting a surprised look from Kimiko. "This can get worse?" the dog asked sceptically.

Kakashi eyed Naruto's unconscious form, then the growing mass of people converging on the plaza from all sides. "So much worse, Pakkun."

The small pug stared at him, then at his companions, and nodded in a very human like fashion. "Right, then," he acknowledged. "Keep safe, Kakashi."

Without another word, the pug and his canine companions dashed away, leaving the quartet to face the oncoming wave of mercenaries, who all had murder in their eyes.

And right in the middle of that crowd, looking all too pleased with himself, was Gato.

"Well, Zabuza, you wanted him? There he is," Kakashi joked as all four warriors tensed, Naruto's body lying motionless behind them.

"Funny, Hatake," deadpanned Zabuza. "Five ryo says he begins monologuing."

"I'll take that bet," Kimiko spoke up, much to Kakashi's surprise. He supposed their imminent, shared danger was speeding along her tolerance towards the Mizu natives.

"Zabuza-sama, there are more coming in from behind us," the missing-nin's companion said then. A glance backwards confirmed the arrival of more mercenaries. Wherever Gato had gone during Naruto's takedown, he had really pulled out all the stops.

"Guess it's a party, then," Kakashi noted, slowly drawing back to cover his unconscious student. "Uzumaki-san, Zabuza, Haku-san, whatever differences we've had, I'd say now's a good time to put them behind us."

Zabuza chuckled as he, too, took a few steps back and joined Kakashi near the unconscious boy. "Feh. Joining forces with a Konoha nin. Never thought I'd see the day."

"Like Kiri is any better," Kimiko riposted, a little acidly. Even if she was willing, however reluctantly, to cooperate with Zabuza and his companion, her hatred for Mizu had just diminished, not gone away.

Kakashi watched as Gato stopped his march just in front of his men, and opened his mouth. Then, just as quickly, he closed it and shrugged, raising his cane to point at the group. Next to him, Kakashi heard Zabuza curse.

"Fuck. Looks like I'm five ryo short."

Kakashi chuckled, just as Gato finally gave the order.

"Kill them."