A/N: All right, this is my personal fleshed out version of my "Broken Fox" Challenge that I've posted in my forum. Actually, the only reason I wrote it out was because I was bored and had hit stumbling block with "The Angel and the War of the Balance" (though I'll hopefully have the eighth chapter of that up soon). Still, if you're interested, let me know. So anyway, here it is.


Naruto was panting heavily as he stood there staring at Sasuke. The raven-haired boy was panting also, as they had been fighting each other for thirty minutes already. The sounds of the waterfall crashed around them, the two statues almost seeming like they were staring down at the two, as if this battle was more than just a simple fight. It was a contest of wills, a fight to see who was right in their beliefs. Naruto, in his belief that the village was your family and that your loyalty should never be shaken; or Sasuke, whose mission of vengeance and honoring the dead had driven him to try and run to Orochimaru's waiting hold with promises of power? Both boys believed heavily in their precepts, and neither could be shaken from them.

Or, at least, that what others always thought.

Naruto glanced around, his face never betraying anything but his mind reeling and somewhat nervous from the presences he felt. Damnit, he thought, Orochimaru must be desperate to get Sasuke there. I guess the snake is still hurting from Jiji using the Shinigami to cut off his soul's arms. I wonder why they haven't made a move yet, unless...ah, there you are, Kabuto. Come here to see just how powerful we both are? You pathetic traitor, getting your kicks from watching this. At least with Orochimaru, he only plays around with you when he wants to test your limits, but you're just a wannabe has-been whose only joy is pain and suffering. Still, you unfortunately have numbers on your side, so even if I do beat Sasuke, you'll prevent me from taking him back to the village.

The kunai in Naruto's hands slipped to the ground, and Naruto fell to his knee while lowering his head, confusing Sasuke a little. Why do I keep fighting? I mean, seriously, what's really going to change? Even if I do get Sasuke back, everything will just go back to normal. Kakashi will just keep on being a lazy pervert. Sakura will just keep fawning over him while calling me an idiot and hitting me across the head. Baa-chan will just slap Sasuke on the hand and give him some sort of punishment while trying to keep the council happy. Ero-sennin will keep on peeping on girls while just barely training me. And me...I'll still be scorned, no matter what. People will just keep ignoring me or whispering behind my back about the furball. They'll keep on wanting to see how far I'll go before I'll eventually fail. Hell, maybe I would become Hokage eventually, but they'll never respect me. They'll just respect the position I hold, but never me. This is all just so...pointless...

The kunai in Naruto's shoulder and right leg were aching, though it's not like the wounds were too serious. However, the one in his side was getting to be excruciating and making it a little hard to breathe from the pain. Thankfully, they had missed any major blood vessels or organ, though they were still impeding Naruto's movements. It was odd that Kyuubi wasn't healing his wounds right now, but then again, he was just probably being spiteful about Naruto being his jailor.

Naruto finally raised his head again and looked back at Sasuke, his brother in everything but blood, but his eyes now were almost dead, which unnerved Sasuke greatly. Naruto was one of those people who was always so full of life and energy. No matter what the situation, he never lost hope in himself or his comrades and tried his hardest to make things right. But now, he just seemed so broken. Come on, Naruto. This isn't like you. Get up and fight! Prove to me your strength!

He put on a sneer and said, "What's the matter, Dobe? Giving up already? We haven't even pulled out our strongest techniques yet! Maybe you really are weak after all!"

Naruto would have normally risen to the bait, but now he just looked at Sasuke with those eyes before sighing and lowering his head again. "What's the point, Sasuke? What does any of this prove in the end? It's not like if one of us loses, it's going to say that person is wrong. Besides, even if I did go all out and possibly defeat you, it's not like I'll get that far in taking you back."

Sasuke looked confused for a second, and Naruto sighed again. "Can't you sense them? The Oto nin all waiting in the forests on their side of the river? The moment I defeat you – if I could find it within me to do so – they'll just pop out of their hiding places and take you away while killing me. I guess Orochimaru really wants to make sure you make it to him."

Sasuke stretched out with his senses, and his eyes widened when he realized Naruto was right. He growled a little and angrily gestured towards them. "What does it matter, Naruto? If they were going to interfere, they would have done so already! All that matters is we prove once and for all who is the strongest between the two of us!"

Naruto chuckled mirthlessly, his empty laughter actually stinging Sasuke a little, before asking, "And then what? If you win, you'll kill me to get those eyes to defeat your brother and carry out your vengeance. After that, you'll realize that you've spent so much time chasing after power, you've forgotten other important things like finding love and happiness. Does Itachi need to die? Sure, I'll agree with you on that. But don't you think that if you just asked me, I would have helped you?"

Sasuke scowled and said bitterly, "Only I can be the one to kill Itachi! I can't have anyone else getting involved, or else the honor of our fight would be sullied. Two or three on one is not the way to end this!"

Naruto's chuckle now turned into a hollow laugh. "You forget that even Uchiha need teammates to watch their backs. Hell, even Itachi did when he was still in ANBU! You really think that Itachi had reached the peak of his power that night? That he'll stay at that level just so you could catch up? You may be a prodigy, Sasuke, but don't forget he was too! And don't forget that he probably won't be alone either when you find him. Even if it's only one guy, no doubt he would strong too. Suddenly, your one-on-one battle has become two-on-one, with you alone! Think you could become so strong as to fight two S-class nuke-nin and still live after the battle? Orochimaru may have once been a part of their little group, but I've been told he was one of the weaker ones! That's why he left them! Because he couldn't stand being around those stronger than him and stole from them out of spite!"

Sasuke was starting to get furious. "Don't act like you know everything, Dobe! You're just trying to use words to deter me from my path, but they don't mean anything!"

Naruto's laugh this time filled the valley, a mad cackling that screamed pain and loneliness to those who could hear it. "You're right! It's all meaningless, because nothing matters no matter what I say or do! Even if I did manage to drag your ass back to Konoha, I'll just get shunted off to the side again! And if I don't? I'll probably be even more hated than before, this time with our own team turning their backs on me – AGAIN! You would think that while Kakashi was training you for the Chuunin Exams, he could have just pulled me off to the side and used a Kage Bunshin to train me as well. But, no! He didn't! And why? Because he seriously didn't care about what happened to me! Hell, he was probably hoping you would use his ultimate technique on me when we faced each other so that he could be rid of me! So he just shunted me off to the side with some shit teacher and taught you everything he could! I know he taught you more than just the Chidori and how to move faster! Hell, if all three of us had managed to get through the Exams, I know he would have made the same move still, only then he would have taken Sakura along while spouting off some bullshit about her needing some intense training to ensure her survival and needing to concentrate on just you two! And Sakura? She probably would have just agreed with anything that was said, just so that she could be with her precious 'Sasuke-kuuuun'! Because, let's face it, I don't have a snowball's chance in hell in ever getting her to like me, no matter how many times I try to help her!"

Naruto laughed the same laugh again, which was starting to tear at Sasuke a little as he watched his normally exuberant brother give in to his grief and frustration. He did this for a few more seconds before continuing his rant. "You think Neji wouldn't have tried to kill me? I can damn sure tell you that if he hadn't underestimated me, he probably would have! And that's because even when Jiraiya taught me, I still learned next to nothing except for summoning! Where was that mighty Rasengan technique when I could have needed it, instead of it being something to keep me occupied and out of his hair when we were looking for Baa-chan? What about some sort of taijutsu that could have helped me evade those Jyuuken strikes that hurt like hell? Hell, even if I had tried to summon one of the toads to help me, they probably would have blown me off because the Boss Toad would have claimed I wasn't ready to use them yet! The only reason he helped me in that fight with Gaara was because of the Ichibi and probably had some sort of duty to Konoha to help protect it, not because I needed the help!"

The dark clouds were starting to form, a few droplets of rain falling from them every here and there. A few tears were falling down Naruto's face, but he hardly noticed them nor the broken smile on his lips. He gestured wildly to the sky and yelled, "And it's all because it's meaningless! Every. Single. Thing. I. Do. Is. MEANINGLESS! All I am is just some weapon for the village to use and then put aside when they're done with me, because MY happiness and MY dreams don't matter! I'm not a person to them; I'm a TOOL! A THING! And 'things' don't have feelings! They're just meant to be used! What's even better, the power that I'm encouraged to utilize for the 'good of the village' comes from the Kyuubi – the very thing that the very village despises and hates because it attacked our home the very day I was born! So suddenly, I'm not only the person Kyuubi was sealed into, I've suddenly become the Kyuubi, which gives them the excuse to pile on the hatred and misery because they somehow feel justified in doing it! Did I ask for this? Did I say that I wanted to live this life? Did I want some fuzzy murdering chakra entity put inside me? NO! Because it's all just some big, goddamned cosmic JOKE that's being played, and I'm the goddamn punchline!"

His grin was starting to turn more and more insane, his eyes widening to match, and he raised his arms and head towards the sky and screamed, "So, come on! Laugh with me about my pointless life! Laugh with me at the gods' cruel jokes! COME ON! LAUGH WITH MEEEEEE!"

His broken laughter sounded through the air and seemed to travel for miles, cutting through the rain and reaching the ears of everyone nearby. The Oto nin, even Kabuto, could only stare wide-eyed at this child who exuded such misery and loneliness that it had broken him in so many ways.

Kakashi, having finished his A-rank and was going to help Naruto's team secure Sasuke, had arrived just in time to hear Naruto rant and was staring wide-eyed from the treeline as well. Does Naruto really think that I don't care about what happens to him? I only got Ebisu to teach the boy because I thought Naruto's chakra control needed a little bit of work before being taught anything new. I hadn't known it was because of a seal until later, and by the time that had been discovered, Jiraiya was teaching him, so I just figured it all worked out in the end. How was I to know the famed pervert would ignore him? He's the kid's godfather for crying out loud!

Yet, Kakashi knew that Naruto's words were ringing true. He could have taken Naruto along for training and done just what Naruto had said. In fact, he should have taken all of his team on the trip so that Sakura would have been able to get her skills up while Naruto and Sasuke prepared for the Finals, but he had focused so much on Sasuke fighting Gaara that he'd forgotten that Neji was a dangerous opponent as well.

Kakashi lowered his head in shame and thought, Minato-sensei, Kushina-sama, Obito, Rin, Father - I've failed all of you...

Sasuke just stared wide-eyed at this broken boy before him before looking away. Both of them had suffered, but Naruto had suffered more - that much Sasuke could tell. To kill him just so Sasuke could get the Mangekyo Sharingan wouldn't prove anything. In fact, killing Naruto probably wouldn't grant him anything except guilt, as he didn't truly understand the boy before him. He had only seen the mask Naruto wore, not the boy behind it, and therefore, how could he call Naruto his best friend when he didn't really know him?

Naruto's laughter finally began to die down before turning to sobs as the boy fell to his knees. A few minutes of this passed, before Sasuke looked back at him and asked, "What now, Naruto?"

Naruto didn't look at him, but he chuckled darkly through his tears. "Like I said, whatever I do is pointless. Return you to Konoha or lose you to Orochimaru – I still lose in the end."

Sasuke just stared at the broken form before him, considering his options. He wouldn't kill Naruto, since he did think it was pointless. He couldn't go back to Konoha, because now they would all walk around him like on eggshells, teaching him only enough to get by so that he couldn't use his skills on the guards that would no doubt be put around him. Orochimaru probably would hold up his end of the deal, but only because Sasuke knew the Sannin wanted the Sharingan for his own. It seemed that because of Sasuke's brashness and lust for power, he would lose no matter what as well.

Still, he chose this path, and he was going to see it through the end, damn the consequences.

Sasuke slowly walked to Naruto and knelt down to lay a hand on the boy's shoulder, causing Naruto to raise his blank eyes towards the Uchiha. Sasuke stared into those eyes for a few seconds before growling out, "You'd better get stronger, Naruto. The next time we face each other, I want a battle worthy of both our skills." He quickly undid his headband, slashing the metal plate before shoving it into Naruto's pocket. "Hang on to that for me." Before Naruto could say anything, Sasuke then chopped the blond's neck, sending him into unconsciousness. He stood on his feet as the Oto nin surrounded them.

Kabuto looked at Naruto's prone form before turning to Sasuke and asking, "Well? Shall we just kill him now and be done with it?"

Sasuke shook his head and started walking towards Rice Country's border. "No. It's not worth anything to kill a broken person."

Kabuto nodded his head slightly and said, "As you wish. Come on. Orochimaru-sama is waiting for you."

Sasuke nodded, and they all shunshined away, leaving Naruto alone in the valley.

Kakashi chose this moment to come out of the trees, Pakkun following closely, and the little pug examined Naruto's injuries for a few seconds. He then looked to Kakashi and said, "The boy's injuries aren't too bad, though I am wondering why his tenant isn't healing him. We could still catch up to Sasuke if you want."

Kakashi looked to the borders and then shook his head. "No. There were jounin in that group, and Kabuto is almost ANBU level. Fighting them would be suicide even if I wasn't only at half strength. Right now, we need to secure Naruto and his team and get them back to Konoha. Hopefully, when I debrief Tsunade-sama, we can figure out a way to fix this mess with Naruto. Kami, what have we done?"

Pakkun nodded his head and dispelled, intending to go to Konoha to inform Tsunade of the wounded. Kakashi lifted the boy onto his back, careful not to shift the kunai that were in him, and started to rush off towards Konoha. We'll fix this, Naruto. We'll fix everything.

Several hours later...

Tsunade sighed as she leaned back into her chair. She and Shizune had spent the better part of the day trying to repair the damage that had been done to her nin. Chouji Akamichi suffered from extreme muscle loss and chakra over dose thanks to his family's special pills. Neji Hyuuga had multiple arrow wounds, with the one in his shoulder going straight through and nearly hitting his heart. Kiba Inuzuka's injuries were lighter, but his partner Akamaru had been injured protecting him, and it wasn't clear if the dog was going to make it. Results were good so far, but it would be a battle for the puppy for a few days. Shikamaru Nara, the Chuunin team leader for the mission, only suffered from a couple broken fingers from his family's jutsu but was otherwise fine and currently sitting in her office with Kakashi to be debriefed. It was thanks to the Sabaku siblings, Gaara, Temari and Kankuro, that she even had nin coming back alive instead of in body bags.

Shikamaru had currently informed her of everything he knew regarding the mission, thanks to his questions to the Suna nins, but there was still one glaring hole in the story regarding Naruto and Sasuke's fight, as Naruto had gone on alone to try and get Sasuke to come back.

She turned to Kakashi, who hadn't spoken a word since coming into her office and was instead staring off into space with a look that something was on his mind. Wondering what was bothering the man, she nevertheless asked, "Kakashi? You were the only one aside from Naruto who could know what had happened in the Valley of the End. Can you please tell me what you saw?"

Kakashi turned his head towards the female Hokage and sighed a little before saying, "After I had left Konoha, I started to push a little more chakra into my legs so I could reach Naruto in time to aid with Sasuke. Because of that, I got there just as the two of them had a pause in their fight. Both Naruto and Sasuke were wounded, Naruto the most, but not heavily. I was about to join in the battle, until Naruto started talking. I think he was trying to get Sasuke to see his side and explain to him that he wasn't alone. Unfortunately, I think the message struck too close to home for Naruto, and he seemed to start breaking down at a massive rate. I mean, Kami, just listening to the boy's voice as he ranted about everything..." He ran a hand through his hair as he looked down. "I've never heard anyone sound that broken, and the Third Shinobi War broke a lot of people."

Tsunade frowned at Kakashi's words. Naruto, sound broken? Those words didn't exactly mix together, what with Naruto being the bundle of energy he was. She needed to examine this further.

She pulled out the Sandaime's orb and gestured to it. "This orb my sensei made not only makes it easier to see things within the village, it allows a person to project their memories for all to see. If you'll just put your hand on the seal, we'll be able to see and hear just what Naruto was talking about."

Kakashi looked at the orb and sighed after a few seconds. As he started to move his hand towards the seal, he said, "Believe me when I say this. On the one hand, you'll want to hear this, but on the other, you really don't."

He placed his hand on the seal, and the orb lit up and showed the image of Kakashi arriving at the valley. Not one thing was missed, showing Naruto ranting about his life being meaningless, Sasuke knocking Naruto out, and the Oto nin showing up with Kabuto before leaving with Sasuke.

When the orb was done, Tsunade was staring at the orb in shock. That couldn't have been Naruto. There's no way he would have given up like that. Shit, the kid faced down Orochimaru twice, for Kami's sake, and still couldn't be beaten down. I need to look into this further.

The female Hokage turned to the jounin and asked, "Where is Naruto right now?"

Kakashi just shook his head. "I got him to the hospital, but with his injuries as they were, he didn't need to stay there. For all I know, he could be anywhere in the village right now."

"Find him. We need to get him to Inoichi to ascertain if he is a suicide-risk or he's just playing lost it, and do it quick. The last thing we need is some idiot civilian deciding to make this worse."

Kakashi nodded his head slowly, his mind going through a few of Naruto's familiar haunts, until a glaring problem popped into his head.

A glaring, pink-haired, green-eyed, female problem.


Sakura was currently striding quickly through the village, hoping to find her wayward teammate. She had heard through the grapevine that Naruto had failed to bring Sasuke back to the village – not that she was really surprised, as Sasuke was on a slightly higher level than Naruto was – but she wanted to hear the words straight from the horse's mouth. Besides, she wanted to check and make sure at least one of "her" boys was okay, since she knew the two of them would have fought pretty hard.

Naruto had better not have hurt Sasuke-kun too badly in the fight, though. If he did, then he is going to get a piece of my mind!


She cracked her knuckles without thought and continued to look around the area. She was rewarded for her efforts when she saw him sitting on a bench in the park. She found it rather odd that people were shooting him weird looks and walking around him to keep a distance, but then again, he just seemed to be giving off this odd aura of gloominess and depression. His entire body seemed to slump forward, his head lowered so she or anyone else couldn't see it. His hands lay limply in his lap as he stared at them. His orange jacket was gone, leaving him only in his orange pants, black shirt and navy ninja shoes.

Sakura showed a little sad frown and slowly walked over to him. Poor Naruto. He's probably taking Sasuke's betrayal pretty hard. Oh well. Once I tell him everything will be alright and reassure him I'm not angry, he'll come back around in a few days.

When she got near him, he didn't make any movement to show he knew she was there, and Sakura wondered if maybe he was asleep. As she debated whether or not to wake him, she nearly jumped out of her skin when Naruto said quietly, "Hello, Sakura."

Sakura tried to calm her rapidly-beating heart, but she put on a soft smile and said, "Hello, Naruto. I've been trying to find you for a little while now. I wanted to see if you're okay."

He made a lackluster shrug and mumbled, " 'M fine."

She frowned again and wondered, What the hell? Seriously, Naruto's never this depressed. What happened out there? Making the frown go away once more, she smiled again as she sat next to him. "Be that as it may, I still want to make sure you're alright. Now hold still."

He barely even twitched when she laid a hand on his arm and started to gently run a hand along him, a steady stream of green chakra flashing from her palm as she ran a diagnostic jutsu she'd picked up in her spare time. Still, she didn't need to use the jutsu to see the areas where he was most injured, as the slashes in his shirt showed where the bandages were hiding. One deep stab wound on his leg, another on his shoulder, and one even deeper than those in his side, though thankfully it seemed to miss any vital areas.

Sasuke, what did you do to him? And Naruto, did you really respond in kind? Would you two have really tried to kill each other?

She narrowed her eyes when she took in his clothes again. Is he trying to make himself sick? Why didn't he get a change of clothes before wandering around? Just because he heals really well is no excuse to not take proper care of his bandages. Her expression turned thoughtful and she turned her head a little away from the boy. Actually, I wonder if anyone's ever tried to test him for a kekkei genkai. I mean, having some form of super-accelerated healing without any form of damage to the user would be-


She snapped back to the present and focused on the boy before her. Even before she had approached him, she knew something was off, but now she was getting more and more concerned about his behavior. Sure, missions could be stressful and make the shinobi need some downtime to get their head back on straight, but this mission shouldn't have caused this much damage to a person's psyche, even if it involved a person's best friend betraying them. Sakura needed to find out what was causing her boy such distress, and damn it, she was going to find out and fix it!

"Naruto, listen. I know you're probably sad that you failed to bring Sasuke back, but it'll be okay, alright? I mean, at least we know that Orochimaru wouldn't go through this much trouble just to kill him. And if you think that I'm angry that you didn't keep the promise, I'm not. You tried your best, and that's all that I wante-"

She was cut off by a hollow laugh, and when he raised his head to look her, she jumped back at his eyes. They were dead, as if his soul had decided to leave his body and leave behind a husk that moved and spoke.

He just stared at her with a mirth that would have been nice to see if it didn't look so creepy and sad at the same time. "My best, Sakura? I'll admit I tried my best at first. I really wanted him to come home, and damn it if I had to break his arms and legs and knock him unconscious to do so."

He shot to his feet, causing Sakura to jump again, but he didn't seem to notice as he waved his arms erratically, making random gesturing as he continued, "But you know what I realized as the battle wore on? What hit me after thirty minutes had passed of the two of us beating the crap out of each other? Huh? HUH? Do you really want to know?"

Sakura was reaching for him, her tone frightened when she said, "N-Naruto, please calm down. Your wounds-"

He ignored her, his eyes far away now. "It's all just so fucking pointless! Everything that I do will be meaningless to this village, no matter if I give my absolute all or my piss-poor worst! And it's all just because of what I hold inside me! No one wants to care about the Kyuubi brat, because, after all, since that's what he holds, it must be what he's become! Ooooooo, he's now become the very thing we hate! Well, I guess we don't need to care anymore! Let's chase him down in the streets! Let's beat him into the ground! Let's throw stones! Let's starve him and overcharge him so that he's dirt poor and hungry no matter what! After all, he'll heal from it all and be good as new, all happy and shit like some goddamn retard!"

Sakura had frozen as she listened to the boy. Naruto holds the Kyuubi? I thought the Yondaime defeated it, not sealed it away! And what's he talking about? Surely no one would be as cruel as do that to a child?

Would they?

By now, a small crowd was starting to form, all of them wide-eyed and fearful of the crazed boy. Many of them whispered things about the Kyuubi breaking free or Naruto finally losing his mind, and they all wondered why the ANBU weren't trying to restrain him before he hurt anyone. The fact was, the ANBU were watching, but they were, for once, as stunned as the crowd as they watched the boy. Anyway, it's not like he had pulled a weapon or really done anything threatening, so it's not like they could just tackle him to the ground just because he had decided to start screaming in the middle of the park.

Naruto had now noticed his little audience, and he smiled a crazed smile as his dead eyes took all of them in. He then cackled and yelled to them, "Yes! Yes! Come and stare at your handiwork! Let's all just stare at the Kyuubi jinchuuriki like he's just some circus freak behind bars! In fact, let's just put him behind bars because we can! We can then spit on him and throw things at him more easily when he's no longer a moving target! Ten points if you can hit him in the heart! Fifty if you can hit him on the head, with bonus points to anyone who can knock him out so we don't have to hear his screams of pain!"

Sakura felt tears welling up in her eyes as she stared at the teammate who was once so gung-ho and devil-may-care be reduced to what she was looking at, her hand clamped over her horror-dropped jaw. How could anyone do this to a child, especially one as sunny and bright as Naruto? I mean, yeah I would hit him every now and again when he needed to calm down, but it's not like I hated him or anything! It's not like every single time I saw him, I'd greet him by knocking out his teeth! Naruto, what's happened to you?

Naruto let out another cackle and looked around again before yelling, "Hey! We need more people, don't we? We can't form any angry mobs with just a few people, after all! I guess we need to get to the village center then! There will be tons of people to piss off there!"

He jumped into the air towards the rooftops, and Sakura managed to come back to her senses long enough to rush to her feet and jump after him, screaming, "NARUTO! WAIT!"

He just laughed an empty laugh and kept bounding away, forming his signature jutsu and sending a hundred of his clones in random directions. She didn't know what he was doing, but she knew it wouldn't be anything good. Hopefully she could reach him before he did anything drastic.

Naruto finally landed in the village square, and Sakura landed near him, on her knees trying to catch her breath before standing straight and saying, "Naruto, please! You need to calm down! Listen, we can go to Tsunade-sama! She can make everything-"

Naruto just laughed bitterly and cut in. "Make everything what? Better? Nicer? Back to normal? Like any of the Hokages, past or present, really care about what happens to some no name orphan whose future was sacrificed so some ass-wipes can have their damn comforts! After all, if the Yondaime really worried about me, then maybe he wouldn't have been so quick to use me for his insane plan! If the Sandaime had really cared about me, then maybe he wouldn't have been so quick to tell every asshole of the last generation what I held and just kept a goddamn secret! Or at the very least, he could have told me sooner about the damn fuzzball instead of when he had absolutely no choice except to! But, NOOOOOOO! I'm evidently not deserving of happiness or a future, because I guess my pain and suffering is meant to be some sort of mana from the gods for this forsaken speck of dirt! And the Godaime? You really think some damn Council is just going to let her have all her power just because she says so? Face it! She's just a general whose been buried in so much red tape, she can't see anything that's three feet in front of her."

The clones had evidently done their job, because nearly everyone in the village had converged on this location, some confused, some angry, and all curious about what was so urgent. Naruto's crazed smile seemed to grow even further, and he spread his arms out to gesture to all of them. "No! THESE people right here are the true rulers of this god-forsaken village! Everything here is just a matter of public opinion, and if the public doesn't like it, then it must be changed to their benefit! And if it pleases the village to have a scapegoat for their anger, then by Kami, they're going to get it! What do they care if some boy is sacrificed! Actually, that's what makes it so much fun, hurting someone who can't even defend themselves!"

He then turned to the stunned crowd and kept on yelling. "That's what you all came to see! The Kyuubi brat evidently wants to show everyone something, so you might as well come and see it! Well, guess what? I FUCKING DON'T CARE ANYMORE, BECAUSE YOU ASSHOLES TOOK EVERYTHING OF MEANING FROM ME SINCE I OBVIOUSLY DON'T DESERVE IT! YOU WON! YOU ALL GODDAMN WON!"

Naruto started to laugh again like back in the Valley, and the whole of Konoha shivered in fright, from the most hardened shinobi to the smallest of children, as the sounds of broken pain washed over them. Sakura could only stand there, tears falling freely down her face, as she wished to do something – anything – to just make this pain in her teammate stop.

He then looked towards his stomach and yelled, "Hey, Fuzzball! Wake up! Everyone's come here to see you! It's impolite to keep them waiting!" When the stomach obviously didn't answer, he punched it a couple times and screamed, "WAKEY WAKEY, FUZZBUTT! YOU DON'T WANT TO MISS THIS!"

But Naruto wasn't done just yet, as he lifted his head towards the sky and screamed, "Hey, are all you gods up there watching this? Because if not, then you're about ready to miss the final punchline of your little joke down here! HOPE YOU ENJOY IT!"

Everyone's eyes widened when the boy snatched a kunai from his pouch and raised it into the air pointing towards himself, and Sakura heard screaming, only to realize that it was herself doing it.

The kunai swung down, and Sakura froze as blood sprayed in her face. No. Please no!

Naruto just laughed as he looked at the kunai now in his stomach, dark blood that was almost black gushing out as he ripped it out. He kept laughing insanely as he stabbed himself once more, twice more, three times in the same area. Even as blood began to flow out of his mouth, he didn't stop laughing.

Still, he proved he was only mortal as he began to sway slightly as he grew weaker and weaker from the blood draining out of him. With the last of his strength, he managed to throw the kunai into the air randomly towards the crowd, saying, "Here! A souvenir to remember the day you watched the Kyuubi container die! Remember to cherish it!"

He cackled again as he started to fall, but he then felt something crash into him and lower him gently to the ground. When he looked at the person's face, he saw Sakura kneeling over him, tears running freely and choking out terrified sobs as her hands glowed green with what little healing techniques she knew. She kept on saying things between sobs, like "I'm sorry, Naruto!", "Please, don't leave me!" and even "I need you! I need you so much, Naruto!"

Sakura kept trying to close the wounds, but her skill was just barely holding back the bleeding. She raised her head to the crowd and pleaded, "Please! Someone! Anyone! Please help him!"

But no one moved, so stunned about the boy's actions that they might as well as been statues.

Sakura was about to scream at them again, until a red mist began to rise from the wounds and form into a red-headed, red-irised woman of striking beauty who floated above the dying boy and glaring at him. She wore a red kimono with black trim, and nine tails that were waving around all over the place came out from her waist behind her.

She continued glaring at him for a few seconds before saying in a melodic tone, "So, this is what you finally boil down to. After all that posturing and bravado, you're just a child who just can't deal with his problems and tries to run away through death! If I had known this was going to happen, I would have just let you die when the old pervert threw you off that cliff several months ago! At least then, you would have died on impact instead of prolonging your suffering!"

Naruto just chuckled and looked at her. "What'chu...complaining...about, Kyyubi? At least now...you can go free...from your prison. Why...do you think...I stabbed there?"

Kyuubi snarled and raised her hands in exasperation. "Oh please! If I had wanted to escape that badly, then I just would have let you die the first chance I got, you little baka! No, I wanted to see what you could become. You had potential, Naruto! More than both of those Uchiha brats and Orochimaru combined, and you choose to willingly throw it away by killing yourself!"

By now, Tsunade, Kakashi, and Jiriaya had landed in the middle of the square. Tsunade managed to get one look at Naruto before her eyes widened in terror, and she screamed, "Naruto!"

Kyyubi snorted and turned to them. "Oh yes, and now the idiot brigade arrives, and rather late I might add. Come to see the result of your hard work up close instead of through that little orb? After all, this is what the village wanted, right? To see the so-called Kyuubi die for its sins of attacking the village and killing your precious Yondaime? Fools, the lot of you. Your wretched Uchiha clan tried to use me as a weapon, only to lose control and set me loose upon the village. And killing your Yondaime? The man chose to sacrifice himself to seal me; I didn't make him do jack shit. In fact, I'm more of the victim here than the rest of you, and the rewards for my troubles is to be sealed away. Besides, I am immortal, and as such, I can't be killed in any way. Even if I were to be dragged to the afterlife, I would still just come right back. So really, if you managed to kill him, the most you would have accomplished is killing one boy."

As the villagers around them widened their eyes and paled at what this meant, she turned her glare back at the boy and said, "You think you can just run away from your problems? Tough. I was hoping that by withholding my chakra, you would snap out of it and seek my help to achieve your goals, but your self-righteous stubbornness is about to get you killed. So guess what, buddy boy? You're living, and that's final!"

The Kyuubi collapsed again into red mist and flowed back into Naruto's body. He spasmed a little as the red chakra began to envelop his body completely, his wounds healing at an extraordinary rate.

Sakura could just sit there, amazed at what she just saw, but her gaze snapped back to the boy as, too weak to do anything else thanks to blood loss, he whispered out, "Please...no, Kyuubi. I don't want to do this anymore. Please, I'm begging you."

Her heart stopped as he said, "Please let me die."

New sobs threatened to come out, but she choked them back and reached down to the boy. The red chakra began to recede, allowing her to pull him closer as she wrapped her arms around his chest. She rested his head against her chest, her knees propping his back up to allow her to hold him. As Tsunade rushed over to check on the blond boy, tears spilling out of her own brown eyes, Sakura gently stroked Naruto's hair and hummed softly to him as he began to finally go to sleep, still murmuring, "Let me die. Let me die. Let me die..."

Kakashi could only sit there in the Hokage's office, his head in his hands as he tried to figure out where everything went wrong with this team. A traitor to the village, a broken boy who attempted suicide, and a former fan girl who would no doubt now suffer her own emotional issues from watching aforementioned second teammate try to kill himself.

Yeah, he was definitely not going to be winning any awards for "Best Sensei" any time soon.

He finally lifted his head to survey the other occupants in the room. Tsunade was trying to fight back more tears as she tried to figure out what to do now. The Kyuubi had been right; Naruto would have gone far in the shinobi ranks, possibly even have become Hokage eventually, but now he was strapped down to a bed in the psych ward with no fewer than six ANBU keeping watch over him to make sure either he himself or some uppity villager didn't decide to finish the job. No doubt the Council was going to try and justify Naruto's attempt as reason enough to have him removed from Konoha's forces. After all, you can't have some of your nin breaking down just because life gets a little hard.

Kakashi wanted to snort at the thought. Yeah, it must really look that easy from your high perches, especially when you're the ones making things hard.

Jiriaiya was standing near one of the windows, scowling down at the village both his own sensei and student had died for. Most of the people were in shock after seeing Naruto's little display, and not even his most die-hard opponent could deny that they had done more than just a little in helping to break the boy. All of his plans on a training trip to get him away from Konoha and hide him from Akatsuki now lay shattered at his feet, and all just because some dumb-ass villagers couldn't keep their hypocritical traps silent for two minutes to really see the boy for who he was. What was even worse was the fact that he realized that he himself hadn't helped any by ignoring the boy's training for his research. By acting like he didn't care, he wound up shattering the boy's trust in authority figures, and it was going to take a while for Naruto to trust anyone in a position of authority for quite a while.

Finally, Sakura was just sitting there on the couch, staring at her hands while her eyes seemed so far away. The girl was going to need some major counseling before she could be let back on to the forces as well, though at least Kakashi could be thankful that she probably wouldn't try to commit suicide as well. Still, he would need to keep an eye on her just in case.

He sighed and turned back to the Hokage. "You're sure you can't just head them off and declare Naruto under some sort of medial emergency?"

Tsunade shook her head. "When you brought him in after the mission, the doctors checked him out and nothing else wrong with him aside from the cuts and stab wounds. Maybe if I could have confined him to the hospital in time, we could have avoided this somehow, but it's too late now. When the Council convenes tomorrow, he'll be removed from the rosters permanently. The only to save him now would be to make him seem like he's too valuable to go to waste, and their prejudices against the Kyuubi will work against him in that regard. Up until now, they believed that Kyuubi would die if Naruto did, and I don't think they're going to be willing to listen to her no matter what she says."

There was more silence at this revelation, until Jiraiya cautiously said, "Well, there is...one way to help him keep his shinobi status, and probably give him diplomatic immunity as well."

Tsunade's eyes snapped over to her perverted teammate, and she said, "Jiraiya, no! We all swore it would be too risky until he was a chuunin. He's not ready to know this, especially not now when he's so vulnerable! The knowledge would crush him!"

Jiraiya snorted and turned to look at her. "Come on, Hime. You know as well as I do that the kid would have made chuunin during the last exams if the Council hadn't been so biased against him. Hell, it probably would have taken him killing Orochimaru himself in order for them to give him the rank, and that's still grudgingly! And as for the knowledge breaking him? Seriously, Hime? I don't think he could become any more broken than he is now. If we want to keep him as a Konoha shinobi, this will probably be the only way, and you know it!"

Tsunade scowled before turning away. "Of course I do. I just don't have to like it. There's too many unknown variables to risk, and the kid's luck looks like it's running out. If we do this, not only do we run the chance of it backfiring, everything that is supposed to be his to inherit could wind up filling the Council's coffers."

"What are you all talking about?"

The adults in the room jumped, as they had forgotten the fourth member in the room who was currently staring at them in curiosity.

Tsunade managed a soft smile for the girl and said, "I-It's nothing, Sakura. After all even if we wanted to implement the plan," she spared a glare for Jiraiya before smiling back at the girl, "we would still need a few more certain circumstances to happen to make it ironclad."

Sakura narrowed her eyes at the woman, and Tsunade couldn't help but wonder, Damn, this girl is going to be formidable one day if she gets the right training. I wonder if she would be interested in an apprenticeship with me? Shizune is nearing her mastery after all.

The girl just kept staring at the aged Hokage before saying icily, "What do you mean, and if it will help Naruto, then why aren't you trying it?"

The three adults glanced at each other and then sighed at their own carelessness before Kakashi said, "Listen carefully, Sakura. What you're about to learn in this room cannot leave it unless we decide it can be shared. The information told could be more of a danger to Naruto than he already knows. If the wrong people in this village find out about it, Naruto losing his rank will be the least of our worries."

Sakura nodded her head in acceptance, and Jiraiya pulled out a scroll and unsealed several items, mostly official documents. Motioning the girl forward, he slid a piece towards him and asked, "Do you know what this is?"

Sakura glanced at the paper and answered, "It's a birth certificate. Why?"

"Look at the baby's name."

She glanced down the page, and she blanched at the name. "It's Naruto's certificate."

"Good. Now look at his parents' names."

Sakura's skin started to turn even paler, and she leaned back into her chair. "Kushina Uzumaki and...Minato Namikaze. The Yondaime Hokage and his wife were Naruto's parents."

Tsunade nodded her head and said, "Exactly. Naruto is related to four Hokages by blood – his father directly, and then the Shodaime, Nidaime, and Godaime – me – through his mother's lineage. That alone is enough to get the Council howling after him. If they managed to sink their claws into him, they could have cared less about the 'last Uchiha' and would have kissed up to Naruto instead. If they were to find this out now, when Naruto is not in a right mental state, they would use this as an opportunity to access everything that belongs to him and steal it for themselves."

Jiraiya pulled out a separate stack of papers from the pile and said, "These right here are clan documents signifying the validity of a clan's status in Konoha. Since both the Namikaze and Uzumaki lines had been legally recognized as clans, that would make Naruto the dual head of these families. Hell, he could even probably try to obtain the Senju name for himself if Tsunade were to pass on unexpectedly or if she named him her heir. In any case, this creates another problem, as being the head of even one nearly extinct clan puts him automatically in the Clan Restoration Act when he turns fifteen. At which point, if he doesn't already have a wife by then, the Council could see fit to select their own candidates for the position. Add in to his other titles, actual or potential, and we're looking at no less that six women all handpicked by those bastards."

Sakura rubbed her forehead as her eyes almost seemed to pop out of her head in shock. "Which means that Naruto could have a large group of wives whose only motivations would be to steal from him and keep him on a short leash. Once a few heirs are born, then Naruto would be probably be killed in some sort of arranged 'accident' or 'unfortunate incident' to get rid of him."

Jiraiya smirked. "Smart girl. Now you're beginning to see our dilemma. If we were to introduce this tomorrow as a way to save Naruto's shinobi career, then chances are he'll be dead by sixteen, at best. At worst, well, let's just say he'll survive long enough to impregnate a few of them."

Sakura frowned as she recalled some of Jiraiya's earlier words. "But that would only be if he wasn't married before fifteen, right? If he was married, then he would be able to hold off the Council and decide whether or not he wants more wives or just the one, correct?"

Tsunade sighed and nodded her head. "Yes. That is correct. Shinobi law allows marriages as early as twelve, due to the number of premature deaths in our line of work. And while it is understood a child between the couple shouldn't be born until eighteen, many dying clans choose to overlook that unspoken rule and allow children to be born when the mother is fourteen. An archaic and somewhat barbaric practice, but also one we've never really had to worry about for a while now. In any case, the main problem is we don't have any girl who would be interested in-"

Sakura's whispered voice cut through Tsunade's words. "Yes, you do."

Three pairs of eyes snapped to the girl, who had lowered her head to avoid their gaze. Kakashi's mouth could be seen moving wordlessly behind his mask before he turned to the other two adults. Jiraiya looked at shocked as he did, but Tsunade just looked suspicious. The elder woman stared at the younger for a few minutes before asking, "Why? Why would you be willing to go so far for Naruto when up until now you only had eyes for Sasuke?"

Sakura sniffled a little before raising her teary eyes towards Tsunade. The Hokage searched the girl's eyes and body movements for any deceit or play-acting, but she was either completely genuine or a better liar than anyone thought her capable. She listened as Sakura said, "What else have I got? I don't know if I'm capable of being a shinobi, and even if I were, my team has either turned traitor or attempted suicide. At the very least, I can help keep my other teammate's dream alive, even if it means I'll have to give up my own future. Sure, you could ask Ino or Hinata or Tenten-san or even Temari-san to do it, but it wouldn't be fair for them to have to give up their shinobi careers to take care of a broken man, not to also mention their families probably wouldn't approve of the match no matter what. Aside from marrying Naruto, how else am I really of use?"

Tsunade had to admit, she was impressed with the girl's conviction. No doubt seeing her only remaining teammate lose it like that and try to kill himself caused her to latch on to him any way she could so that she could have some sort of stability left in her life. Sakura had gotten too deep into the shinobi lifestyle to just walk away from it, and at least this way, by marrying into a shinobi clan, she could still train to be a ninja if she desired. If not, then she would be plenty busy with other clan matters such as managing the books and tending to the estate to keep her active – something she is right about regarding the other girls, who were expected to stay as shinobi due to their particular skills.

Finally, a soft smile graced Tsunade's lips, and she leaned forward to stroke the girl's cheek. She then gently asked, "Are you sure about this? Because once you do this, you can't ever go back. Divorce is not legal when it comes to clans. When you're in, you're in for life. So even if Naruto were to turn out to be an abuser – not that he ever would – you would have to grit your teeth and bear it until you die. So I ask again, are you sure of this?"

Sakura's eyes seemed to steel themselves, and Tsunade could feel the girl firm up and strengthen herself underneath the older woman's touch. When Sakura nodded her head, Tsunade pulled the girl close to her and kissed her forehead before hugging her tightly, whispering, "Thank you, Sakura. Thank you for saving him."

Sakura smiled a little and returned the hug. When Jiraiya then hollered, "Come on, everyone. GROUP HUG!" and proceeded to encase the two of them into large embrace, she couldn't help but laugh at his antics, especially when Tsunade kept playfully hitting him while grinning and yelling for the pervert to put them down. When Shizune came in, making sure to close the door behind her, to see what was going on, Kakashi decided to rush to her and wrap his arms around her before swinging her around and around, confusing the poor girl and causing Sakura to laugh again.

When they had finally calmed down, Tsunade then began to feverishly rifle through her desk. "Okay, first things first. We need a blank marriage certificate. Kakashi! You and Shizune go find one of the time stamps. There should be some from the last few days in the storage room."

Kakashi nodded and nearly left before Sakura said, "Sensei, make sure the date is for two nights ago."

The man nodded and followed Shizune through the door. When Tsunade finally found the paper needed, she looked at the girl strangely. "Why two days ago, Sakura?"

Sakura grinned a little. "First off, it will make the document seem like it has had time to go through proper channels. If the Council were to go looking for it tomorrow when this all happens, they would find a marriage certificate that they can't refute since it went through the forty-eight hour wait period for appeals. Second, it will give us a better edge, because Naruto's breakdown occurred today. If we signed the marriage license two days ago, when he was still considered to be in fit mental health, they can't claim that Naruto signed this with his judgement impaired. This then ties in with my third point, which is, on that night, Naruto and I were seen by various witnesses together before Sasuke even left the village, which would further solidify our case against the Council. For all they know, Naruto had just convinced me that he was the one for me, and I insisted that it be made legitimate. We could even spin some kind of story about how we were going to announce our upcoming wedding ceremony for the public to attend when Naruto came back from the mission, and how my tearful plea was for a dear friend rather than a crush gone wrong."

Everyone stared at the girl in shock, before Tsunade's lips formed into a sadistic grin. She barked out an amused laugh and said, "Oh, Sakura. You are going to be formidable for the Council to deal with, indeed."

Sakura's grin widened a little further before she continued. "Actually, it gets even better, Tsunade-sama. I also know of a way we can undercut the Council entirely and get the Fire Daimyo involved to dissolve the Council permanently. This will allow us some more breathing room in the future, and then we don't have to worry about them breathing down Naruto's neck to marry more women."

This got both Jiraiya's and Tsunade's attentions, and Jiraiya said with a slow grin, "Go ooon."

Sakura got up from her chair and grabbed a book of the Konoha laws before flipping through the pages rapidly. When she finally got to the law she was looking for, she laid the book down and pointed out the text. "Alright. It says in Law 26, subsection D, regarding all clan matters in Konoha, that, 'once a person has been named to be part of a clan by the Council, under no circumstances may the Council prevent said individual from attaining their rightful positions.' When the Council named Naruto as an Uzumaki but declared him an orphan of common status, they inadvertently denied him as being a part of the clan, meaning that the Council was involving itself in clan affairs they had no right being involved in. They wouldn't even be able to claim ignorance of the matter, because the Uzumaki clan was still well-known enough to have some pull in political circles in Hi no Kuni."

As the two older nins' grins grew wider, Sakura raised a halting finger and sing-songed, "But waaaaait, there's even mo-ooore. Since it is unlawful to name a person who is not of clan blood to be part of a clan, as listed in subsection F, they all but admitted directly that Naruto is Kushina-sama's child, since she was the only possible Uzumaki living in the village at the time who could be his mother. Henceforth, by wrongfully denying that Naruto was Kushina's, they also wrongfully denied his right to the Namikaze clan, since it was proven that Kushina and Minato were married. If anyone were to try and deny this, like by saying that Kushina-sama could have slept with another man, then they would have to subject their claims to a blood test – which would be performed by an independent party and would test positive anyway since we know Naruto is Minato-sama's son. In other words, Naruto was not only wrongfully denied his heritage by the Council, they prevented a dual-head of two clans from doing his duties for his family. The Fire Daimyo would then have no choice but to remove every council member from office, since they were all present the day he was declared an orphan, and give full powers once more to you. You can then, in turn, use those powers to declare the Council dissolved permanently, bringing Konoha back under military dictatorship like it was meant to be and allowing you to rewrite the laws so that it stays as such."

By now, Jiraiya had started cackling with delight before saying, "By Kami, girl, you are the most devious individual I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. I'll get started on this and send a missive to the Daimyo now. If we plead urgency, he'll get here right on time tomorrow for the Council meeting. With the independent third party already there, the Council is as good as gone!"

The two women were now alone in the room, and Tsunade leaned back from her desk and rested her head on her arm. "You do realize that the little plan you just told us would probably work without having to get married, right? If the Council can be dissolved-"

Sakura shook her head, stopping whatever the woman was going to say. "No, Tsunade-sama. If we try to do this without the marriage in place, the chances of it succeeding drop drastically. I will admit it would still be possible, but you would have to introduce the issue in a delicate manner – which will require time you don't have. This will be the quickest and easiest way."

Tsunade wanted to ask more, but the resolve in the girl's eyes prevented her from doing so. Oh well, so be it then. Let's see just how far that resolve goes in fixing Naruto and making him happy. If anything, this will give me enough time to find someone else before revealing the documents as 'falsified'. The punishments from that will teach her if she decides to utilize this to her advantage. She glanced down at the certificate and sighed a little. I just really hope I know what I'm doing.

"Alright then, Sakura. Go ahead and sign here," she pointed to a line on the page. "In the first line, sign your new name as Uzumaki-Namikaze. The line next to it is reserved for your maiden name Haruno."

Sakura did so, signing her full name with a small flourish, and smiled a little. Sakura Uzumaki-Namikaze...I will admit, it does have a nice little ring to it.

She looked up to Tsunade. "Tsunade-sama, how are we going to get Naruto to agree to this? With the state he is in right now, he might be suspicious of our motivations, and we need his actual signature in order to make this work."

Tsunade shook her head a little. "We'll worry about that on our way to the hospital."

"You are certain about this, Jiraiya-san? If this all turns out to be a lie-"

Jiraiya bowed to the man and said, "Yes, my lord. I swear to you that everything is as true as I say it."

Truly, this was one of the most clever things Jiraiya had ever done, even counting that one time he managed to sneak into the all-women's hot springs resort when Tsunade was bathing there and not get caught. He thanked the gods every day that he was never discovered, since if he had been...

Well, he liked his family jewels intact and where they currently resided, thank you very much.

In any case, coming back to the present, this little scheme was truly one of his best ideas. Rather than send a message to the Daimyo right away and hope it got to him in time, Jiraiya reversed summoned himself to Mount Myōboku - the home of the Toad summons – and then, informing the toads of the current situation (and put some of them, especially Gamabunta, into a right angry state), got one of the stronger toads to take him via reverse summoning to right outside the gates of the palace of the Fire Daimyo. This way allowed Jiraiya to relay the message personally and leave nothing to chance. Every single advantage he could get Naruto for tomorrow was needed, after all.

The Fire Daimyo stood from his seat at his desk and strode over to the windows, gazing out at the gardens as he began to lose himself in his thoughts. "So the child of Minato and Kushina survived that night. Not only that, but he is the jinchuuriki of the Kyuubi. Why have I never been informed of this?"

"My lord, with all due respect, Sarutobi-sensei felt it was too risky to reveal the boy's heritage given the climate of Konoha at the time. I would have agreed, but I have always questioned his decision to reveal his jinchuuriki status. It seems that everything that has happened in the last two days has been because of that choice."

The Daimyo hung his head and let out a sad sigh. "Truly, this news is heartbreaking. To hear that the child of my close friends was abused in such a manner that he would attempt suicide, it makes me wonder if I should be filled with sorrow or rage at this whole scenario." He looked back to the old pervert. "And you are certain they would deny his heritage if you mentioned it in their meeting tomorrow?"

Jiraiya nodded his head. "Without a doubt, my lord. They have done so once already out of ignorance, and they will most assuredly stick to their resolve to ensure Naruto's life stays miserable. After all, it's not as if this infraction of the rules will have probably been the first time."

The man's gaze hardened a little as his thoughts took him away again, and Jiraiya wondered for a moment if he had pushed too far. Much to his relief, the Daimyo turned back to his desk and said, "I will have my entourage prepare everything, and I shall leave for Konoha at first light. If I do not appear at the time for the meeting, tell Tsunade she has my permission to delay it until I get there. This issue will not go unresolved!"

Jiraiya bowed to the man and shunshined away.

Sakura felt nervous. No, scratch that. She was a bundle of nerves that were tightly tied together and threatened to shake her whole body. There was also this overwhelming fear gnawing at her mind that something horrible might happen while she was inside that room. After all, the last time she met with her teammate to try to help, she wound up setting him off on a self-destructive rampage. That was probably the reason she stood frozen outside Naruto's room with Tsunade looking at her strangely.

She managed to draw in a shaky breath and let it out slowly. No, it's not going to be like last time. Calm down, Sakura. This will show him that there is someone who cares about him. Oh Kami, please let him see that.

Taking another deep breath, she raised a hand, opened the door, and nearly froze at what she saw.

Laying on the bed was Naruto, his arms and legs drawn into a spread eagle position by the straps on the bed. Clad in only his boxer shorts and a hospital gown, he didn't look like he would be able to move in the slightest, as the restraints weren't just on his wrists and ankles but his upper and lower arms, thighs and calves as well, with a large strap across his chest as well. He was facing away from her, looking out the window, but she knew his eyes were probably as dead as before, if not worse.

Steeling herself, Sakura turned to Tsunade and asked, "Tsunade-sama, can you have your ANBU leave the room? I want this to be private."

Tsunade nodded and made a motion with her hands, and Sakura felt six presences leave the room. She then turned back to the bed and put on a soft smile as she approached her hurting husband-to-be. She leaned down and gently placed a hand on Naruto's cheek, saying in a soft tone, "Naruto?"

He slowly turned his head towards her, and she stopped herself from jumping back at the sight of his eyes. No matter how many times she saw them, it always frightened her to see something without the light of life within. Steeling herself once more, she leaned down and smiled at him. "Listen, Naruto. There's something very important I need to talk to you about, but first, I need you to do something for me."

Naruto snorted at the last part. "Figures. Even strapped to a bed, I'm still being ordered around like a dog."

Sakura tried to not let his words cut too deep. After all, he was kind of right, but this was necessary. "Naruto, I need to speak to Kyuubi-san."

Naruto's eyes widened, and for the first time that day, Sakura finally saw some emotion in his eyes.

Pure, unbridled fear.

He thrashed a little in his bindings, trying to pull away from her, as he whispered, "No, no, nonononono-"

Sakura leaned forward and touched his face again, the smile replaced with a sad concerned look. "Naruto, please. I wouldn't ask you if it wasn't important."

He stared right at her, but she could feel his body trembling under her touch. "Please. I don't want her out. I've finally managed to silence her. She whispers to me, always whispering, telling me to stop giving up, to make a difference." He laughed bitterly as his gaze traveled far away, his speech turning rapid. "Can't make a difference, never could. Why doesn't she yell at me anymore? Was always simpler when she yelled, could hate her easier, but whispering makes it hard to hate, almost makes it feel like she cares. But Kyuubi never really cares, only for herself, don't know why she'd act like she does. Probably wants something, yes, always wanting but never gives back. No no no, never gives anything back, would see it as weakness-"

Sakura replaced her hand onto his cheek, this time stroking his whisker marks with her fingers. The action seemed to have a positive effect, as Naruto stopped his rapid ranting and almost leaned into her touch and actually purred a little. She had to repress a small smile. Huh, so stroking his whiskers calms him down. That will help. Besides, it's kind of adorable. Aloud, she said, "Naruto, if you let me talk to Kyuubi, I'll try and get her to promise to stop whispering, but that's only if you let her come out."

Naruto turned to look at her, the fear still there, but, much to her relief, he then gave the most timid of nods and closed his eyes. At first, nothing seemed to happen, until his body suddenly relaxed. When he opened his eyes again, they weren't the cobalt blue of before, but the deep crimson of Kyuubi. His whisker had thickened, and his incisors were jutting out from under his lip, making him look more like the being that he carried.

Kyuubi-Naruto glanced around and took notice of Sakura. His lips scowled a little before a harsh tone then said, "And why, pray tell, would I be interested in meeting with you, Pinky? What can you possibly offer me that would be of interest?"

Sakura stared for a second before her lips tugged into a smug smile. "Don't act so superior, Kyuubi-dono. After all, what I've come to offer is a way for Naruto to keep his potential rather than be left to rot in a straightjacket in some padded room. That IS what you want, right? To see just how far Naruto can go in this world?"

Kyuubi growled for a second before then chuckling a little. "Well, I can at the very least claim you've caught my interest. Whether you obtain whatever help you need from me or not is a different matter all together. Speak."

"The way things are now, Naruto runs the risk of being removed from the shinobi corps and being shoved away into some mental asylum until the Council finds a way to remove you and put you into a new vessel. What I'm proposing is a way to protect both you and him, as well as allowing him to start reaching that great potential you keep mentioning. To make this work, however, I need two things."

"Name them."

She held out the marriage document for Kyuubi to look at. "As you can see, we have prepared a marriage license between Naruto and I. By having him get married, he will be able to finally come into his inheritance and begin to train in earnest – once we've managed to calm him down and help him past his problems, of course. In order to make this legal, I need him to sign this document of his own free will."

Kyuubi raised an eyebrow at the girl. "And where do I come in to all of this? Since it needs to be his own decision to sign thanks to the seals in that paper, I can't do it for him."

"What I need from you specifically is to seize control of Naruto's body should he ever try to take his life again. While you seem to be able to heal everything short of death, the added strain of the actions will do more harm than anything else in Naruto's recovery. I'd rather not have made some progress with him, only to lose it all some time later when he makes another attempt. Not to also mention, I'd rather not have the village make a spectacle of itself whenever Naruto decides to attempt this in public." She huffed a little and crossed her arms. "Also, will you please stop whispering to him? I don't know what you're trying to accomplish with that, but it's freaking Naruto out and making his condition worse. If anything, please speak normally if you try and talk to him."

Kyuubi rolled her eyes but nodded anyway.

Sakura's cheeks then turned a little pink, and she turned her head away slightly when she then said, "A-Also, there was one other thing I wanted to ask of you."

Curious about the girl's sudden nervousness but nonetheless amused, Kyuubi asked, "Oh? And that is?"

Sakura raised her head to look at Kyuubi again, though her cheeks were still pink. "I-I wish to ask for your blessing regarding this marriage."

Tsunade, content with leaning herself against the wall as this played out, widened her eyes in shock at Sakura's request. Kyuubi as well was shocked, until she narrowed her eyes and said, "I fail to see how that really matters."

Sakura shook her head and replied, "You're wrong, Kyuubi-dono. It does matter. None of this will make a difference if you refuse to see me as worthy of your help, and I can't help Naruto without yours. Even if I were to give up everything and be by his side 24/7, something may still happen that I might not be able to stop. I can't risk that, not when Naruto's life may be at stake."

Kyuubi stared at her for a few minutes, eyes narrowed and judging, before saying, "You are weak, girl. That much I have always been able to tell in all the years the kit has known you. The only time you ever made any effort towards someone else's happiness was when you were pursuing the Uchiha, and I honestly think that if he had wanted it, you would have stripped naked in the middle of Konoha and let the entire village gang-rape you without a care in the world because it was what the Uchiha wanted."

Sakura lowered her head in shame at her previous actions, and she was about ready to call this entire affair hopeless, when Kyuubi surprised her. "Still...you never were exactly cruel to the kit – beat him around a little, yes, but never cruel – and sometimes you showed that you cared, somewhat. I will even admit, you being willing to sacrifice your entire future for his with no guarantee of happiness – that takes real guts, kid. More than any other girl your age, and maybe even some twice yours. So, fine. You have my blessing for this union.

"But be warned," Kyuubi continued after seeing a happy smile on Sakura's face. "If you do anything that I see as unbeneficial to the kit's welfare, I'll make your life a living hell. Your life will become so horrible, that every night, you will beg me to kill you, only to suffer even worse the next day. Do you understand me?"

Sakura turned a little pale but nodded to show that, yes, she DID understand. Kyuubi smirked and said, "Good. Now, take off your shirt."

Sakura turned a shade paler as her eyes widened in shock, and she began to stammer out questions as to why, only for Kyuubi to roll her eyes and say, "You claim to need my help, yes? In order for me to help you to my fullest extent, I need a way to be in contact with you since I can't inhabit Naruto's body every single time we need to talk. What's going to happen is that I will place a seal on your shoulder, allowing the two of us to create a mental link, as well as giving you a couple other things that we'll discuss later. Anyway, since that cheongsam doesn't look like it stretches, you'll need to take it off if you don't want it ripped."

Sakura, still rather hesitant about the whole thing, nevertheless nodded her head and removed the afore-mentioned clothing, dropping it to the floor as she approached the bound, possessed boy. Kyuubi gestured to come closer and closer with her head, until Sakura was leaning almost nose-to-nose to her.

Suddenly, Kyuubi shot forward and latched her teeth into the girl's young skin, pumping in her demonic chakra through her canines while the rest of her body strained against the restraints, nearly snapping them in the process. Sakura stifled a cry as she felt something be burned in her, writhing and shifting in one spot, filling her with an unholy fire that seemed to peel away her very soul. She refused to scream, however. If Kyuubi was going to take a delight in her pain at some point, it wasn't going to be now. So she clenched her teeth and waited for the minutes to pass until this thing was finished.

Finally, after what felt like hours of agony, Kyuubi released the grip of her teeth, allowing the girl to stumble back. Sakura gripped the area she'd been bitten, but thankfully, the burning feeling was receding. She lifted her hand and saw the mirror in the corner of the room. Curious, she walked over to it and turned her back towards it before looking over her shoulder.

There, emblazoned on her right shoulder, sat a mark that looked eerily like a fox with nine tails, wrapped around a seal that she couldn't begin to comprehend. She didn't know how she knew, but to her, the seal looked completely complex despite being shrunk down to only about an inch or two wide.

Picking up her discarded clothing and putting it back on, she turned to Kyuubi and said, "Now that we've taken care of business, may I please speak to Naruto? If we don't get the document filed soon, the Council might hear word of it and try to block it."

Kyuubi stared at her with crimson eyes for a second before nodding and saying, "Very well. Before I leave, though, I wish to tell you this: if you somehow are unable to get the boy to sign that paper, then I will command the seal to vanish, since our deal involved the two of you being together."

When Sakura nodded her head in understanding, Naruto's eyes closed again. As he regained control, it was like watching the reverse of what happened earlier as his body seemed to tense back up when his cerulean eyes opened once more, his whiskers and canine teeth receding to their original states.

He nervously glanced around, his whispered mutterings turning erratic again, before Sakura reached down again and stroked his whiskers to calm him down. He silenced and cautiously turned to look at her. There was a gentle smile on her face, her green eyes sparkling with hope, and she was touching him with such care. Probably afraid I won't hurt her. Doesn't explain the hope, though. What does she want? Still, when she strokes my marks, it actually feels...nice.

She kept stroking his cheeks a little while longer, causing him to begin purring again (eliciting almost silent giggles from both Sakura and Tsunade). Finally, she then said, "Now, Naruto. I have something to tell you about, and I need you to listen to me, okay? Never forget that I am trying to help you, even if you think differently. Alright? Will you at least listen to what I have to say?"

Naruto stared at her, wondering what her game was, but nodded his head anyway. Sakura's smile widened a little, almost cautiously, and she continued, "As it stands right now, Naruto, the Council is going to do whatever it can to confine you further. They will claim that eventually you will turn on the villagers, and they will take you away. I know you wish to avoid this, Naruto. You may act like you don't care anymore, but I know you will dread being locked in a room alone, forever denied any human contact, with only the Kyuubi in your head."

Naruto's eyes widened fearfully again, and Sakura reached down to stroke his whiskers and calm him down. My, this is working better than I thought. If this is all I needed to do to calm him down, I would have tried this years ago instead of punching him. When he was calm again, she continued once more, "But there is a way out, Naruto. The Council denied you your heritage, and they will pay for it, but in order for you to claim it without trouble and get yourself out of their clutches, you will need to...um...well..."

Naruto looked at her with confusion, and Sakura finished rapidly, fully blushing, "Youwillneedtogetmarried."

His eyes widened and jaw dropped, before he managed to squeak out, "What did you say?"

Sakura steeled herself, preparing for the backlash she would no doubt receive from him (though the blush refused to leave), and said more clearly, "You will need to get married. Today. In fact...right now."

He continued to stare at her in shock, and she pulled out the marriage certificate for him to see, thankful that he was still restrained. She watched him read it, the shock on his growing, before he whispered, "Nami...kaze? I-I'm related to the Yondaime? How?"

Wondering if she needed to stroke his whiskers again but deciding to wait, she elaborated on this. "That's one of the things the Council has denied you and kept quiet over the years, Naruto. We don't know how many people knew about it to begin with, but the fact remains that all of the Council knew in the end. Naruto, you are the son of the Yondaime Hokage, Minato Namikaze, and his wife, Kushina Uzumaki-Namikaze."

At first, Naruto just laid there, his mind trying to comprehend everything, but he then suddenly began thrashing against his bonds, his eyes wild yet distant, screaming out, "NO! IT'S NOT TRUE! IT CAN'T BE TRUE! I'M NOT-"

Sakura, seeing nothing else available to her, did only one thing.

A resounding SMACK was heard, as her palm connected with Naruto's cheek.

Naruto laid completely still now, his eyes still widened in shock, completely speechless at Sakura's action. When he turned his head back to her, she was still standing there, a set look on her face while she tried to fight back tears.

When he failed to say anything else, she managed to say without breaking down, "I know it's not fair. Your parents never have had to die for this village. Your heritage never should have been kept from you. You never should have been abused and hated by the same village that should have treated you like a hero for the burden you bear. But none of that shit matters now because it's already happened."

A stray tear fell from her eye, and she turned to quickly wipe it away. Damn it, Sakura! Get a hold of yourself! It won't help you or him if you break down right now! Steadying her breathing, she turned back to him. "What matters now is that we can still make this right. I know you don't trust me because of what I've done before. Oh yes! I know you're thinking about it right now! About how I used to be Sasuke's number one fan girl! How I put you down when you were just trying to be nice to me! Hell, I'm amazed that Tsunade-sama and Jiraiya-san even approve of this whole thing, let alone allowing me to get this far. Yet the fact still remains that I'm more than willing to become your wife, because I know you better than ANYONE else in this village! More than Hinata! More than Ino! More than Tenten-san, Temari-san, or any other girl our age! In fact-!"

She choked back a sob and finally couldn't hold it anymore. As tears started to fall from her eyes, she gently sat on his bed and took his head in her hands before leaning in, saying softly, "In fact, I-I'm not just willing to do this. I...I WANT this. I WANT this marriage to happen, because I want to show you there is still hope in your life, that there's still a chance for so many good things to happen to you. To know love, to live peacefully, to see how happy you can make others just by being yourself! And all you have to do for this to happen is just sign this paper. Do that, and I swear to you with my whole heart and soul that I will do everything in my power to make you happy. So please..."

Her head dropped, shielding her eyes from his view as she clenched them shut to try and stop crying. "Let me make things right."

Silence reigned in the room, aside from the noises of Sakura's sobbing, and Naruto just stared at her. She was right, actually. He seriously first thought she was just doing this because she wanted the money and prestige of becoming the wife of the head of the Namikaze and Uzumaki families. After all, she had chased the Uchiha for so long because she wanted to be the wife of the "calm and cool heir of the Uchiha clan," not because she loved and cared for him.

That is, until she made him look into her eyes.

Naruto had always been a good judge of who a person was just by looking into their eyes, since he had hidden himself behind a mask for so long. It was how he was able to figure out the people to avoid and the people who would actually interact with him on some level. It was how he survived for so long, finding the people who were willing to sell him goods at a more fair price (though it was usually still somewhat inflated compared to those of normal people), the parents who didn't mind that he was nearby their kids so long as he didn't bother them, the ninja who didn't mind that he watched them train as long as he stayed quiet and not asked questions.

When Naruto looked into Sakura's eyes, he was expecting to see a calculating and greedy look underneath all the tears as well as a certain disgust of what he held. He was instead shocked to see compassion, sadness, and even some slight desperation to keep him close to her. In fact, when he looked closely enough, he saw it. The very thing he had always wanted to see from her for years yet had always been denied.

A deep caring that showed that she really gave a damn whether he lived or died.

Sakura's sobs had subsided a little, though she was still sniffling, and she heard Naruto say, "Untie the restraints."

Her head shot up, and she saw him staring at the restraints on his arms. When she was about to ask why, he then said, "I'll sign."

Her eyes widened, and a wide smile slowly made its way onto her face before she squealed and hugged him. She turned to Tsunade and said, "Tsunade-sama, we need some witnesses for this. Ones we can trust completely."

Tsunade had watched the scene with varying emotions throughout the whole thing. Yes, she would admit, she was still suspicious of Sakura's intentions regarding this whole thing, but she also knew that the sheer emotion the girl was showing couldn't be faked, even by the best. Seeing this girl try so hard to make her surrogate son happy actually filled her with hope that this was the best decision she could have ever made, and now that hope had become excitement. I'll show you I've always cared, Naruto. You'll see. Aloud, she said, "Neko! Hebi!"

Two women, hearing their Hokage's call through special seals, shunshined into the room and saluted her. Tsunade turned to them and said, "I need the two of you to do something for me. It requires the utmost secrecy, and I demand your word that you will tell no one of the events that will happen. If you feel you cannot, speak now. Otherwise, take off your masks and stand witness."

The two women glanced at each other before both nodded and pulled off their masks to reveal Yugao Uzuki and Anko Mitarashi, respectively. Tsunade then continued, "As you have given your consent by taking off your masks, you are now bound to secrecy. State your names and ranks, and be counted as witnesses to this joining."

The purple-haired woman saluted to her Hokage. "Yugao Uzuki, ANBU Black ops, currently designated as Neko. I stand witness."

The snake jounin grinned broadly and followed suit. "Anko Mitarashi, Special Interrogator for ANBU Torture and Investigation, currently designated as Hebi. I also stand witness."

Tsunade smiled and walked over to the bedside before continuing, "Naruto Uzumaki-Namikaze, Genin of Konoha and Heir to the Namikaze and Uzumaki clans, do you take this young woman as your lawfully wedded wife," Yugao's and Anko's eyes both widened at this, "to love and cherish in sickness and in health, until death separates you from this world?"

Naruto glanced at Sakura, and she barely noticed the – very! – faint smile on his lips, before he said to Tsunade, "I do."

Sakura barely held in her squeal of happiness.

Tsunade smiled even more largely and said, "Sakura Haruno, Genin of Konoha, do you take this young man as your husband and head of family, to love and cherish in sickness and in health, until death separates you from this world?"

"I do!" Sakura happily chirped out.

Tsunade undid Naruto's restraints, allowing the boy to slowly sit up, and held out the marriage contract. "Sign this paper and make this union legal in eyes of Konoha."

Naruto grabbed the offered pen and signed his full name Naruto Uzumaki-Namikaze above Sakura's.

Tsunade motioned to the two gawking women and said, "Yugao Uzuki, Anko Mitarashi, will the two of you come forward and sign this as well, acknowledging that you have witnessed the willing union of this couple as husband and wife?"

Both women nodded dumbly and signed their names in the witness box, and Tsunade snatched the pen from Anko's almost limp hand and signed her name as the officiator of the ceremony before pulling out the Hokage's stamp and almost hitting the paper with it with glee. "As the Hokage of Konoha, the true leader of this village, I declare this union to be valid and legal in the eyes of Konoha. So shall it be."

She grabbed the paper and rolled it up before turning back to Naruto and Sakura, the cheeky smile still there. "Naruto and Sakura Uzumaki-Namikaze, you are hereby declared as husband and wife. You may now kiss to seal this union."

Naruto turned back to his now-wedded wife, only to be thrown back as she launched herself at him and kissed him fully on the lips. There was a small burning on her shoulder as Kyuubi's seal set, but she ignored it as she focused on the kiss.

Since Naruto was probably expecting a full make-out session without any real love, he was surprised to discover it to be a chaste yet passionate kiss, as Sakura poured her warmth and caring into it. He instantly closed his eyes and gently pulled her closer. Maybe this won't be so bad...

After a few more seconds, Sakura pulled back, a blush firmly on her face, before leaning in towards his ear and whispering, "You know, this would have been the kiss you would have gotten if your stomach hadn't been bothering you that day."

He looked at her with shocked eyes, wondering if whether or not she really knew it was him instead of Sasuke the day they graduated, and she pulled back while biting her tongue as she giggled. She then pushed him gently back on to the bed as she said, "Now, you lay here and get some more rest while I go with Tsunade-sama to get these filed. If you be good for the ANBU and rest, I may just bring you some ramen from Icihraku's when I come back tonight. Okay?"

Naruto nodded dumbly, and she hopped off the bed and followed Tsunade out the door.

When the two women finally got back to the Hokage's office, they both collapsed into their chairs and sighed in exhaustion. Sakura then said, "Oh Kami, that was one of the most terrifying things I've ever done! For a minute there, I thought he was going to just reject me."

Tsunade chuckled. "Just be glad he saw your side and judged you to be trustworthy. When that boy doesn't trust someone, he shuts up tighter than a clam. If he didn't trust you, we would have been back at square one."

"Not necessarily."

Both women jumped as Jiraiya climbed in quickly through the window. The two glared at him, but he just chuckled and continued on. "I actually had one of the best ideas come to me earlier, and it involved me going straight to the Fire Daimyo's palace and explaining the situation directly to him. He'll be here sometime in the late morning, a little before the Council's meeting, and with him there, whether or not Naruto accepted the marriage, the kid would have still received his heritage. Still, better safe than sorry, and I'm glad that the you and Naruto managed to have such a heartfelt time back there."

Tsunade widened her eyes, and she growled out, "You were watching? Why didn't you come in and act as a witness then?"

Jiraiya, rather than be deterred by her anger, raised a warning finger. "Ah, ah, ah, Hime. You're not thinking straight. If my name shows up on that form – or Kakashi's or Shizune's for that matter – then the Council will instantly smell a set-up and try their hardest to repeal the marriage. The two ANBU you summoned, on the other hand, are third-parties who neither gain nor lose from this union. Sure, they're loyal to the Hokage, but it's more the position itself than the actual person, especially since you haven't been here long enough to instill that much loyalty towards you in them." He then scratched his head a little in embarrassment and shame. "Besides, I think my presence there would have deterred him from accepting, probably thinking that I was trying to pull something or that I coerced Sakura into doing it. As of now, I think the only authority figure he even trusts is you, Tsunade. Maybe Iruka as well, but I don't know. In any case, things are right on track."

Tsunade nodded and leaned back into her chair as she thought more carefully. "Good. And the Scroll of Marriages?"

At Sakura's confused look, Jiraiya decided to elaborate Tsunade's words. "Inside the Hokage Tower is a book that shows the names and dates of every marriage that is made legal. The seals on the marriage certificate not only allow the book to be self-updating, they show whether or not the person consents to the marriage itself. Sometimes, the seals sense when one or both of the couple are forced to sign the paper against their consent, and the paper then bursts into flames and voids the marriage. However, based on the witnesses present, the marriage may still be considered valid regardless of consent – another reason I shouldn't have been there as the seals may have taken that into consideration – and the book would have listed that as well. In any case, where I'm going with this is that the book not only shows the married couple's names, the names of the witnesses, and whether or not there was consent, it also shows the time at which the certificate was signed.

"By utilizing a little loophole within the seal's matrix that Minato had discovered but never got around to fixing, I was able to change the date and time to about two hours before Sasuke left the village. This makes it seem as if you were actually going home that night after the signing the documents but then ran into Sasuke and tried to prevent him from leaving. He then knocked you out and left you on the bench, where you were found the next morning by the gate guards as they changed shifts. Since your original testimony was never filed, it allows us to bend the story a little bit to suit our needs."

Tsunade cackled a little and said, "Good! Very good, Jiraiya! And I trust you fixed the loophole?"

Jiraiya smirked. "Fixed and reinforced. The Scroll of Marriages is now completely fool-proof to everyone except myself. Only I now can break the matrix and re-establish the loophole, should we need it."

"Wonderful." Tsunade pressed a button on the desk. "Shizune!"

A few seconds passed before a rather-hurriedly dressed Shizune burst through the door. As she tried to fix her clothing (much to the amusement of the rest of the people in the room) and cover the hickies on her collarbone, she stammered out, "Y-Yes, Tsunade-sama?"

Tsunade raised her eyebrow at her student and nonchalantly said, "Take the certificate down to the filing room and put it in the appropriate space, please."

Shizune gingerly took the document and replied as she started for the door, "Yes, Tsunade-sama."

"Make sure the time and date on the stamp match the space you put it in."

"Yes, Tsunade-sama."

"And make sure it's alphabetical according to last name."

"Yes, Tsunade-sama."

"And make sure Kakashi uses protection."

"Yes, Tsuna-" Shizune froze before her hand opened the door, and she looked back with a heavily blushing face as she stammered out, "I-I, uh, I mean-"

Laughing at the woman's discomfort, she waved the poor girl out the room, something Shizune did with haste.

Sakura got up from her chair and smoothed her clothes a little. "Well, I'd better get home and grab a change of clothes before going to Ichiraku's. No doubt Naruto's hungry from refusing that hospital food." This caused a few more chuckles

Before she could head for the door, Jiraiya reached into his pocket, saying, "Wait. I have something for you two."

Curious, she turned back to the man, and he handed a small box to her. When she opened it, she was shocked at what she saw.

In that box sat a ring, a beautiful pure gold band with three flawless diamonds arranged in a diagonal line. It shimmered in the light, reflecting rainbows when the light hit, and she stared at it wordlessly, he jaw dropped slightly and eyes widened. It was surely one of the most beautiful rings she had ever seen.

She looked up to Jiraiya, who had now been joined by Tsunade, and he said encouragingly, "Go on. Put it on."

Unsure (since the ring looked too big for her finger), she picked it up and slipped it onto her left-hand ring finger and was promptly amazed when it sized itself to comfortably fit her.

She looked back to Jiraiya, who smirked smugly. "I made a few modifications to it. The rings will automatically resize to fit your finger no matter what, and only you can pull it off. Now that the ring recognizes you, no one else can put it on without experiencing discomfort unless you willingly allow them to."

Sakura looked at it again, shifting her hand around to catch it with various angles of light, and she said breathlessly, "It...it's beautiful. This must have cost you a fortune to get."

Jiraiya's smile turned more sad, but it was Tsunade who said, "It used to be Kushina's. We retrieved it before her body was cremated, and Jiraiya's carried it with him so that he could one day pass it on to Naruto to give to his wife. It's only right that it be given to you."

Sakura nodded her head, tears pinpricking the corners of her eyes, but she rubbed them off and hugged the older man in thanks. When she finally let go, he then handed her another small box. "In this one is Minato's ring. It's inscribed with the same seals like yours."

She nodded her head again and gently took the box, overcome with emotion to be a part of Naruto's heritage, and Jiraiya grinned more happily. "Now then, I believe you said you were off to get food for your husband. Best hop to it, before the boy decides to eat the bed."

Sakura giggled a little as she walked out the door, closing it behind her.

Naruto laid there on his bed for hours, just staring at the ceiling as his mind continued to process the day's events. All of this just seemed so surreal. Were the gods still messing with him, making him think he had a chance at a normal life before wrenching it away from him? Or were they trying to apologize, trying to make up for the cruelty he had to endure?

Or maybe this has nothing to do with the gods, and it's just a series of events that have happened to you because they just did.

Naruto scowled slightly. Shut up, Kyuubi.

Oh, stop feeling so sorry for yourself. The way I see it, you've now got a chance to really show these people what you can do. And so what if the gods are actually taking pity on you? It's not as if they forced that girl to suddenly become your wife right out of the blue.

What do you mean?

Kyuubi yawned a little, and Naruto could just picture her curled up into a big furry ball, her head resting on her tails. The image was actually kind of cute, now that he thought about it.

Why thank you, kit. That's so nice of you. She chuckled as Naruto's face turned a little red. Don't forget we now share a mental link, which means I can see what you're thinking. Any way, humans all have free will. That's what makes those terms "fate" and "destiny" to be such fickle things. The only fate they all share is to die someday, and a person may be destined to do something, but their destiny can still change based on their own choices. Needless to say, that girl cannot be forced to love you. She can be nudged in the right direction, but it's up to her to make the choice. Besides, she may not love you now, but she may choose to love you in time, if her current actions are anything to go by. Giving up your future just so another can have a chance at happiness? That's definitely not pity, kit; that's love. Now, hush. Your mate is on her way here, and I want to rest. I'm tired after saving you and helping that girl.

Naruto laid there and processed her words. Sure, he may not have to like them, but they did make sense in a way.

Hey, Kyuubi?


Silence and then, Thanks.

He could imagine the vulpine smiling softly before snuggling into her tails again and replying, No problem, kit.

The door opened, jarring him out of his thoughts, and Sakura poked her head in, a small smile on her face. She looked at him slyly and said, "I've been hearing from the ANBU that you've been doing as I asked, sooooooooo..."

She walked in fully and held up a carry-out box of Ichiraku's, causing the boy's stomach to growl loudly and Naruto to blush while Sakura laughed lightly at the sound. She set the box next to him and opened it, revealing three bowls of the stuff, before handing him the first, saying, "I got three different ones for you. The one you're holding is pork, and the other two are beef and chicken." She then bopped him very lightly on the head. "And make sure you eat all of it, including the vegetables. It's wasteful of both food and money to throw any of it away."

Naruto grumbled slightly but began to dig in. After slurping a few noodles, relishing in their goodness as they entered his mouth, he swallowed and asked, "What about you? Haven't you eaten?"

Sakura just grinned and held up a single container in one hand and a carry bag in the other. She set the bag on the ground and sat next to him, her bowl and chopsticks in her hands. They sat there in peaceful silence (aside from the slurping), and both thought after a few minutes, This is nice...

By the time Sakura had finished her bowl (and it was rather large too; she must have been more hungry than she thought), Naruto had finished his three and placed his bowls into the box. Placing hers beside them, she rose from the bed and grabbed the bag, confusing Naruto a little until she opened it. Then he just blushed, as it contained her clothes, and he could see a pair of her panties near the top of the bag.

A chuckle in his head, and then, Pervert.

He blushed a little more, but proudly thought, There's nothing wrong with lusting over my wife a little. Oh Kami, Sakura's my wife! MY wife!

He blushed even harder, starting to resemble a ripe tomato, and Kyuubi just laughed harder.

Sakura pulled out her night clothes and set them aside, but she then froze as a thought came into mind. Narrowing her eyes, she looked around the room and growled out, "If there are any male ANBU in this room, leave before I kill you!"

Three shunshins were felt as the ANBU fled the room in fear.

She chuckled a little (as did the three female ANBU) and undid her cheongsam before shimmying out of her biker shorts. Naruto tried to not stare much, but he couldn't resist watching her lithe form dress for the night. Her breasts aren't that big, but, Kami, they're perfect on her! She may not look it, but she's well proportioned underneath those clothes. She's like a pink-haired goddess! MY goddess!

Kyuubi laughed again at the boy's naivete.

Thankful she hadn't changed her underwear (Naruto didn't think he could handle that much without being blown back from the inevitable nosebleed geyser), she stepped into a pair of navy shorts and was about to put on her top, when she remembered her remaining male audience. Blushing a little, she froze as she stamped down her normal reaction to perverts, thinking, He's my husband now. It's going to be normal for us to see each other naked. Oh Kami! He's going to be seeing me naked!

Kyuubi, hearing the girl's thoughts from the seal, couldn't stop laughing and was now rolling around on the ground, wheezing out, Oh please! Make it stop! This is just too much!

Nevertheless, a more playful side of her came into play as she thought, Weeeelll, I might as well have fun with this.

Smirking, she slowly turned her head to Naruto and said seductively, "Like what you see, dearest?"

His nosebleed nearly shot him into the wall, but thankfully, he just shot back into the bed, staring up at the ceiling with wide eyes and a hand clamped over his nose.

In the Hokage's office, back in the tower, Tsunade was having a hard time breathing as she clutched her sides from laughing so hard, while Jiraiya just fell to the floor and rolled around in his own laughter.

Sakura giggled at her husband's reaction and pulled on the over-sized white T-shirt before heading over to the bed. Grinning down at him, she asked, "Feeling alright, Na-ru-to-kun?"

Naruto, his hand still clamped over his nose, just looked away and growled out, "Vixen..."

Sakura laughed and slipped under the sheets of the bed. When Naruto snapped his head back to her, she just lowered his hand and placed a finger on his lips, saying, "Just because we can't have sex until I'm fourteen doesn't mean I shouldn't share your bed. It is my duty to be near you, after all."

Not really seeing any problem with this, he held back any comments and just wrapped an arm around her thin frame before closing his eyes.

As she snuggled into his body – He's so warm... – neither could help but think as they drifted off to sleep,

I don't know why, but this feels so...right...

A/N: Okay, so now I'll give the challenge rules/general guidelines here:

1. Naruto must break down at the Valley of the End, whether or not Sasuke comes back with him to Konoha.

2. Naruto must try to commit suicide, only to be saved by Kyuubi at the last minute.

3. Sakura must be the one who marries Naruto, and Naruto may not come into his inheritance until they do so.

4. Sakura doesn't have to be nice or good to Naruto, but she must learn to love him as time progresses.

5. This can be a harem fic if you want (CRA, and all that), but it's not required.

So, like I said, if you're interested, either send me a private message or leave a posting on the forum. Thanks