"…M'lady?" Came the concerned voice of the Lady Hokage's right-hand assistant. After getting permission to enter, she stepped in quietly, arms wrapped around a small plump pig wearing a red vest and a large necklace of pearls. A sympathetic and caring expression on her face, she stared on at her mistress and waited for recognition.
"What is it, Shizune?"
"…Lady Tsunade, you've been here all day. Don't you wanna get some rest?"
That was right. Tsunade lazily lifted her hands from her stomach, and gave a heavy sigh. She had been sitting there, staring out over the village for over half an hour and hardly noticed that it was nearing night. She had been half-expecting to see an explosion from a rampaging Kyuubi at any moment, as it illuminated the darkening sky. Late as it was, Yamato's clone had not returned. The darker the sky got, the more and more the fear in her chest built and built.
"I can't. Not yet." Tsunade said sternly. A hint of anxiousness clung to her voice. "I need to know Yamato's report."
Shizune looked down at Tonton, who returned the gaze and gave a worried oink. The assistant was more than aware of the massive amount of risk, and stress to this situation. It went beyond simply the danger of the Nine-Tailed Fox getting out of hand. This entire operation was secret to any and all advisers of the Village. Jiraiya, herself, Tsunade and Yamato were the only people in the world other than Naruto that knew the truth; that the most powerful tailed-beast was once again walking about as he pleased in the human realm.
"Lady Tsunade, do you remember what I told you? Back when you and Master Jiraiya first came up with this idea?"
Blanketed in the moonlight, Tsunade's face appeared as white as ghost, and it perfectly matched her uneasy stomach. Digging her heel into the wooden floor, she forced herself to spin around in her chair, away from the village's silhouette, and to her assistant.
"You had concerns about not telling the elders, right?" She said matter-of-factly, planting her elbows on her desk and her chin atop the back of her palms. Shizune gave no response, but again looked at the ground.
"Look at me Shizune." She ordered, tension building on her patience.
"It should be obvious that they'd never approve of this idea. Normally, I wouldn't either, but…"
She spun around ninety degrees, and crossed her legs. Never had she felt so tense; fighting Orochimaru and Kabuto, dealing with Naruto's constant dogging to have a mission to chase after Sasuke, no, none of it compared to this. Nothing compared to the risk of keeping a secret this dangerous.
"I was cornered." She muttered. "The Land of Wind and a few of the other allied nations are willing to help us put up more defense, but I don't want to make a prompt for a declaration of war by more or less publically stating that we're dragging our friends into this potential mess, without a single threat or attack having been made yet. We need to protect ourselves alone until a decision is finally made, so we can't spare our best man-power…yet, we need Naruto to develop as soon as possible, for obvious reasons."
"Lady Tsunade…" Shizune breathed, the difficulty of the situation pressing onto her as well.
"But that's when Jiraiya made his proposition." The Hokage said, starting to lift a smile as she thought of her perverted, goofy partner's face. "Heh, he was so determined to make it work, so eager to prove to me that he could do it. Just like when we were kids…"
So unusual for the Hokage's office, it was wrapped in complete silence. The entire building shared the noiseless peace with the rest of the village, as night completely took over the sky. Tsunade and her assistant avoided eye-contact for quite some time, before the Lady Hokage had reached a mental breakthrough. She stood from her chair, planted her hands to her hips, and smiled confidently out at the brightly lit moon.
"And he did, he made it work."
"But…the demon is-"
"I have no choice but to trust Kyuubi's word, unless he proves to me otherwise." Tsunade explained flatly. "The determining factor for if I can or not, lies within Yamato's wood clone now. That is why I'm not asleep yet."
Shizune nodded, swallowing the concerns she still harbored over the matter. Tsunade turned her back to her, and proceeded to stare out over her village, her kingdom with a look of uneasiness. No doubt, her hazel eyes were darting in the direction of Naruto's apartment. Naruto would be heading home for bed anytime now, most likely; he must have been training with Kyuubi all day, for Yamato to be this late. At least, that was her hope.
"My lady…I just hope you and Master Jiraiya know what you're doing."
"Hehehe…man that was great! I don't need that stupid fox to train, I feel stronger just by myself!" Naruto exclaimed, returning within the gates of the Hidden Leaf, and strolling down the darkened main road, using the street lamps' umbrellas of light to help guide him.
Stains of grass and dirt smudged his orange jumpsuit, cheeks, and even his bright blonde hair, as if he had tumbled down a large hill. A few small scrapes dotted here and there as well, from when his clones had nearly got him with a couple of thrown shuriken. But atop it all, the boy still grinned from ear to ear. With or without sensei or irritating fox demon's telling him what to work on, Naruto felt pumped as ever, and walked with a spring in his step.
In no time flat he covered a block and a half, and had found himself climbing the steps to his floored apartment building two steps at a time. At his door, he grabbed his keys from his pants pocket, threw them up in the air, and caught them in style before unlocking the handle and stepping inside.
"Hah, home sweet home." He said to himself, his grin turning into a content smile when he surveyed the familiar surroundings. Closing the door and locking it behind him, the genin's body went into auto-pilot: Off with his jumpsuit, off with his pants, off with his headband and sandals; Sandals by the door, and jumpsuit by the doorway. Now in nothing but his black t-shirt and boxers, he headed to his bedroom, headband in hand. This was nothing but mere muscle memory to him at this point, and he began to hum a tune as he made his way past the living room and through the door frame of his bedroom.
"Alright, after a long day of training, now it's time to catch a little-"
"I knew this place was an abyss, but I had no idea just to what extent."
Naruto froze mid-stride, and his 'end of the day' auto-pilot was replaced by two wide eyes, a slightly gaping mouth, and a rather unwelcome look about his expression. Laying there like a lounging cougar was Kyuubi, tails for once calm and unmoving in a pile of fuzz by his hands. But what baffled Naruto wasn't the simple fact that he was in his apartment…but exactly where he was in his apartment.
"W-What the…" Naruto stuttered, blinking in confusion and looking up at a part of his room he rarely ever took notice in; the ceiling. "Why the heck are you up there!?"
The demon fox's crimson eyes stuck out in the mostly-dark room like two flares. Perfectly situated upside-down on the ceiling, he looked down on the boy, and then glanced towards the floor.
"Because it's the only relatively clean place in this garbage dump you call an apartment." He said quietly. "And I'd knock it off with the yells if I were you, brat, unless you'd like to explain to the neighbors that you're arguing with the Nine-Tailed Fox."
Naruto gave a huff, muttered 'fine', and switched the light on. His room was a bit…untidy. But that never bothered him before, because he never had any visitors! Why should he bother to keep the place clean if no one else is gonna see it? Ignoring the ceiling fox for the time being, the boy placed his headband neatly on his wooden dresser and sat down on his bed. With his bed beneath him, and those pillows and sheets practically calling his name, Naruto found that fatigue was starting to set in more and more. But first thing was first.
"So, why are you in here anyway, fox? You said you were gonna go sleep on my roof, so why are you on my ceiling criticizing my apartment?" The boy asked, giving off a purposeful look and tone of annoyance. Kyuubi crossed his hands, and his tails began to come to life again.
"Think about it, kid. What happens when I fall asleep?"
"…You stop getting on my nerves?"
"I lose the ability to maintain jutsu." Kyuubi retorted, ignoring the boy's snide reply, but smiling eerily anyway. "It's a jutsu that keeps me invisible to all but you, so what do you think you're perverted teacher and hokage would think, when they get reports of seeing the Nine-Tailed Fox Spirit sleeping on your roof in the morning from all your ninja friends?"
Naruto blinked tiredly a few times; it took him a few seconds to make the connection. When he finally did, he rolled his eyes and angrily went about stripping off his t-shirt, to reveal his bare torso, and the seal. The shirt was then sent soaring through the air, only to fall and become just another casualty on Naruto's crowded floor. Ughh, the fox had to be kidding; now he had to deal with him at night too!? Baring his teeth, the blonde let his body fall with a rebounding thump onto the mattress below him. On instinct, he groped his sheets close to him.
"Why did you tell me you could sleep on my roof earlier at the training field, then!?" He asked demandingly.
In a split second, the fox made a silent and majestic leap from his spot on the ceiling to the doorway of the moderately sized room. Naruto wouldn't have even known he had moved, if he hadn't spoken again.
"Because I only figured it out after thinking aloud." The bijuu said. "And I didn't want to listen to you whine about it."
"Pfft, yeah? Well how's that workin' out for ya?" Naruto snipped sarcastically, mess of hair pushing up against his forehead from the pillow.
Kyuubi shot the boy a glare, but continued to move out of reach from the bedroom's light, and into the dimmer living room. Naruto's azure eyes tracked him all the way to the couch, where he stepped on it, and casually laid down. Body now cast in shadow, it was only by his bright crimson eyes that Naruto could tell the fox was staring right at him. His long-eared head was still upright.
"Keep up the smart-ass remarks, and I might be tempted to see just how well you can dodge my attacks while curled up in your bed. 'Oh I'm so sorry Lady Hokage, I didn't mean for the brat to break anything, it was just some spontaneous training he was ill prepared for, that's all.'" The fox threatened, faking a hypothetical apology to the Hokage. Naruto simply gave him a sour look, and muffled a scoff through his pillow.
"Man, you're just as vicious as you act in your cage." He commented. "You'd think an ancient demon would be able to handle stuff without getting so worked up-"
"Shut up you little runt!"
Before Naruto was aware of what was happening, the entire world was turned on its head, as a thick bushy tail wrapped itself around his foot, and yanked him out from underneath the covers. Giving a yelp of pain upon banging his head against the wooden frame of his bed, the blonde genin was suspended there in the air, upside-down, in nothing but his boxers. A faint blush coming over him, he frantically struggled around.
"H-Hey! Put me down you stupid mangy-what do you think you're doing!?"
"You don't even know the definition of a demon. You think I'm just some fox can talk, hmm?" Kyuubi interrupted, a menacing growl built into the back of his words. His tail, still dangling Naruto, began to retract. Naruto began to sweat, and a feeling of dread began to attack him; the darkness of the living room took him over, and those twin red eyes grew closer and closer, floating there above the couch while the tail continued to reel him in towards them.
Soon enough, Naruto's face was inches from Kyuubi's, and though it was too dark to make out more than an outline, the fox's stare was bearing right into him. The genin could feel his heartbeat beating against his chest.
"I am a concentrated, living manifestation of malevolence and hatred. An uneducated, helpless little kit like you cannot hope to understand how my mind works." The fox whispered, using one claw to sharply prod the dangling pre-teen ninja in the belly, and make him sway back and forth. "So I highly recommend you bury your accusations, assumptions and expectations for what you believe I am. I am not your sensei. I am not your pet. I am not your friend. I am someone who would slay you, and anyone else in a heartbeat, if it meant I could be truly free of you."
Naruto remained silent. Even as he was made to comically sway back and forth in the air, he couldn't even blink. His face was hard as stone, and his brows furrowed as the demon spoke his last sentence.
"As it is, this is the only alternative, and thus, I will abide by your Hokage's rules to have this…relative freedom. But as of right now, I've had it with your commentary." Kyuubi finished, his tail suddenly loosening, and dropping the boy to the floor on his side. A shirt or two and some scrolls blanketed his landing, but Naruto didn't give even the slightest noise, not even an 'ouch'. He kicked a few of the bumpy scrolls out from underneath his legs, and sat there, suddenly as cool as cucumber.
"…Ya know, it feels like a long time ago now." Naruto began, rubbing his shoulder. "But back then, shortly after first meeting you, I fought against a genius. He had told me that no matter how hard you work, how hard you try, you can't change your fate. He said fate was pre-determined by 'destiny', and that it was 'my destiny' to lose to him. He said that you can't change who you are. You can't alter your destiny."
The Nine-Tails watched as Naruto slowly stood back up. He placed his palm against the seal encircled around his navel, and to the beast's surprise, gave him a look of utter seriousness.
"I proved him wrong. You can make yourself whatever you're willing to strive to be."
Total silence followed. Naruto walked straight back to his bedroom, flicked off the light on his way by, and returned to the cool comfort of his blankets, sheets and pillow. This time, he faced away from Kyuubi, and towards his bedroom window. The moon was high in the sky by now, casting an eerie glow over the bedroom, and leaving the living room to complete darkness.
"The Hyuga Clan prodigy, huh?" Kyuubi recalled. "Another example of turning to me for help. Dependent child."
He remembered that battle all too well. It was shortly after first meeting him, when the kid barked up to him through the bars of his prison and claimed that a nearly omnipotent creature like himself, owed a little child like him 'rent'. Up until the very end of the fight, the kid had been doing mediocre if nothing else, and then trudged up on the fox's own power to defeat him. All he scored from it was a single uppercut, too. Pfft.
The fox looked down at his claws, which flexed and reflected the scarce light from the moon.
"Then, not hours later, the kid summoned upon that ridiculous toad, and transformed into me. And then when that didn't finish it, he yet again demanded I feed him even more chakra, just so he could land a head-butt on Shukaku's host. The son of the White Fang is right; he's a complete and utter knucklehead. The amount of chakra he wastes is sickening, and with me, it's a complete disgrace."
The old rickety apartment building began to give off shallow tinking noises and other bumps and creaks, as the pipes inside the walls went to work. Kyuubi put aside his criticism, and lowered his hand again.
"Still…the kid has backbone, I'll give him that. Daring to mock me repeatedly is alone a testament to that."
Eyes closing half-way and reflecting over all the events of today, the fox too laid his head down, and tried to enjoy the limited comfort of the small couch.
"If you're wrong about one thing child, it's that change cannot be done by anyone, about anything. Talking of working hard to become a powerful ninja from nothing is one thing. Foolish thoughts of a so-called demon becoming anything other than an otherworldly beast is pure nonsense."
Amongst his thoughts bringing him closer and closer to falling into unconsciousness, the fox's divine ears twitched at the sound of the kid's voice. Eye opening, the outline of Naruto half-sitting up in his bed was blatant against the backdrop of his moonlit window.
"…What do you want, now?" The demon asked coldly. He may acknowledge that the brat had a few positive points, but if the kid thought they were suddenly going to be buddies, or that he would tolerate pointless small talk, he had his head in one too many ramen bowls.
"…When you were talking earlier, you called me 'kit'." Naruto said.
"And? What of it?" Kyuubi ground his teeth together and narrowed his eyes at the boy's silhouette. He reproached himself for slipping with that word…
"Well, what's that mean?"
"It means young fox. 'Kid' is the name for young humans. 'Kit' is the same term for young foxes."
"Then you…what did you mean by it?-"
"Nothing." Kyuubi said sternly, sounding more agitated and eager for the conversation to end. "The two words are incredibly similar, and mean the same thing. I simply decided to use this variation this time, seeing as how my appearance is that of a fox. Now shut up and go to bed. Without energy you'll be nothing but a target to my jutsu tomorrow, which will land you a one-way ticket into the hospital, and you'll get no sympathy from me."
"Heh, whatever you say." Naruto replied flatly. For one more time that night, he grabbed his blanket and turned around, finding the will to finally return to sleep, now that both he and the fox had finished their bickering. What the demon didn't know was that Naruto had a wide grin on his face as he turned on his side and closed his eyes.
A young fox, huh? 'Meant the same thing', yeah right, fox, nice try.
Soft and melodious, and quiet as a whisper, a man in a mask chuckled to himself, though his voice could barely be extracted from the howling wind. Crouched on the slanted ledge just out of view from Naruto's window, the ANBU member shifted his leg, and sighed as he felt it twitch on pins and needles; he must have been sitting there longer than he thought. But that had little importance. At the moment, it appeared the demon was more docile than hostile, and that was reliving and encouraging news to not just Lady Hokage, but to Naruto as well.
"I hope she's still awake. She'll want to be aware of this." He explained to himself, before vanishing in a blurred black streak.