Beta'd by EmelyeUchiha

A mighty howl echoed into the air. The sky was dim despite only being noon. A tall silhouette of a beast stood in the large crater. The pattering rhythm of rain danced through the land, adding to the eerie atmosphere of the forest. A flash of blue light erupted from the dark clouds swirling within the sky followed by a loud cracking sound of thunder.

The beast shifted, slowly losing its balance before its enormous body slammed into the crimson puddle gathered at its feet. A weak growled rumbled from its throat. It clawed at the softened soil in attempt to get back up, but that only caused its wounds to further tear, releasing more blood.

"D-damn you!" The creature hissed before its voice broke into a painful cough. It desperately tried to get up again, but no longer having any more strength, it collapsed back onto the ground. Its arms were sprawled over the wet soil, shaky and limp. The beast made no attempt to get up again. Its amber eyes weakly opened, searching through the darkness of the shadows to catch a pair of illuminating crimson eyes.

"I–" The beast growled, revealing sharp rows of fangs that were about an inch long, coated with its own blood. "ITACHI!"

A bolt of lightning flashed across the sky, peeling off the shadows from the land as a black haired teen was revealed, leaning against a tree. The large leaves of the huge trees served as a shelter, protecting him from the chilling rain. Crimson eyes stared calmly as the large creature dug its powerful hind legs deep into the wet soil. Summoning all of its remaining strength, it kicked off the ground and charged forward. The boy watched with an apathetic expression as the beast parted its wide jaws.

Thunder roared down, deafening every other sound. For a second, it was like time had been temporarily stopped before it later resumed, as the rhythmic sound of the rain returned.

The beast stood on the ground, completely frozen in place with its fangs only mere inches away from chewing off the brunette's head. The teen stared at the unsightly creature, without an ounce of emotion, into those amber irises that were trembling in attempt to focus on their target. The beast made a weak attempt to pull away from the boy, but it couldn't. The boy's pale arm was stretched over his head, slipping past the wide gap between the creature's sharp fangs, his wrist disappearing into the fragile flesh of the back of the beast's throat.

The brunette's pale hand could be seen sticking out from the mass of thick furs on the monster's nape. The harsh rain was washing away the thick blood covering his unusually pale skin, revealing long, blackened claws that were stretched from the human-looking hand. The hand illuminated eerily against the black background and the dark, indigo fur.

Crimson eyes watched as the amber orbs rolled back into the monster's skull. With one final struggle, the creature's body sagged, hanging limply by the hand that was the only force holding it up. With a swing of his arm, the teenager casually tossed the massive body aside and relieved himself of the extra weight.

Not even sparing the corpse a look, the brunette turned and began to slowly walk away. As he stepped through the shadows, his long claws slowly retracted back to his fingers. The colour of the blackness in the claw began to fade, becoming transparent and the sharp tip rounding out smoothly. Once it was complete, the claws were no more, and in its places were ordinary human nails.

"I-Itachi-sama…!" A voice squeaked as a small, white-furred weasel, with long ears like a rabbit's and talons for paws, suddenly rolled out from the bushes and stopped at the teen's feet. "Blood. Lots of blood." The small creature stumbled over its wordings, seeming to have difficulty in speaking the language.

Itachi looked down at his company before he finally took notice of the blood staining his hand and clothes.

"This isn't my blood," he replied, holding his hand up to show his undamaged skin as the rain continued to wash off the sticky substance from him.

"Leave?" The weasel squeaked, its ears dropping low when the raven-haired teen nodded.

"He found me," Itachi said with an even tone as he stepped around the small creature and made his way through the dark woods. "I cannot stay any longer."

The small Shoukanjuu stared at the back of its retreating master. Its ears twitched as it then peered back to the beast that hadn't moved ever since its throat had been impaled. With a sharp hiss, the creature's body began to grow. Its legs and neck stretched out until its height reached up to three feet tall. Its stomach shrank into its body along with the other baby fat its smaller form had. Black markings slowly materialized, scribbling over its snow white fur once its transformation was completed.

The large, white weasel hissed as its sharp talons dug into the mud. It parted its mouth to suck in a deep breath. With a roar, streams of orange fire were breathed out of its mouth and set the corpse of the monster into flames. The fire burned wildly, the rain and pond having very little effect on it as the creature's body was quickly being reduced into ashes. The weasel stood for a moment to watch the fire hungrily devour the body before darting into the shadows and vanishing without making the slightest sound.

Itachi gazed up to the smoke rising within the distance before he turned back to his path and stepped over a root sticking out from the ground. Within the pouring rain, he could hear the rushing sound of water growing louder and louder.

He stepped out of the trees and found the source. There, before him, was the rapid rushing stream of the usually calm river that was sped up by the storm. He walked over to the river bank and knelt down. The black haired teenager rolled his sleeve back before he dripped his blood covered arm into the strong current of the water. The debris in the water hit against his skin, but he wasn't affected in the least and began to scrub the blood off his skin and some trapped within his nails.

As the he cleaned himself, the colour of yellow suddenly flashed by his view. His head instantly snapped up as his crimson eyes darted over the rapid stream, catching sight of a tan, human hand before it sank back down into the water.

Itachi immediately bounced onto his feet and ran along the river side in an inhuman pace to keep up the exceeded speed of the current. His eyes swept over the surface of the water before he spotted that yellow lock of hair resurfacing again. With a kick off the ground, he flew across the surface of the water and landed onto a wash log. When he was flying over the location of where he last saw the hair, he thrust his hand into the water and grabbed a fist full of what felt to be clothes. With chakra gathered at his feet, he landed on the unstable surface of the water and leaped into the air before the violent current could knock him off his balance.

A loud splashing sound could be heard as the object in his hand was fished out of the dark water. Once back onto dry land, the Itachi looked down at a young boy dangling in his hand. As he laid the blond down, he noted how young he was, seeming no more than twelve or thirteen.

"A human?" The brunette mumbled as he checked beneath the boy's jaw for a pulse. Although it was faint, he could certainly feel the beating of the human's heart moving beneath his fingers. However, the boy wasn't moving. His body was still without any indication of breathing. Quickly pinching down the kid's nose, the teen tilted the blond's chin upward. He dipped his head down and without hesitation, locked their lips together so that he could insert air into the water-filled lungs. He pulled back, waiting a couple of seconds before he repeated the process. After long seconds of attempts, Itachi felt the body under him twitch. He drew away just in time to narrowly avoid having the blond haired teen spit water into his mouth.

Itachi carefully rolled the human boy to his side so that he could properly cough out the fair amount of water that had been trapped inside his lungs. As he waited patiently, he noticed the boy's eyes that had been struggling to open, but couldn't due to the layer of mud caked over his face. So after the dark haired teen set the younger onto his back, he reached out, using his bare hand to wipe away the dirt. When he did, his lips parted to take in a sharp breath as his hand froze.

"Minato." That name was whispered softly from the stunned teen.

Despite the heavy coughs, the boy seemed to have heard him.

"Who…," He managed to speak between the coughs. "Who are…y-you?"

The older teen didn't respond. Having gotten over his own shock, he lifted the boy's torn shirt and looked over all the bruises and cuts he had suffered. With great care, he placed a hand onto the blond's chest. He felt around the ribs, pausing each time the poor boy screamed out in pain as he desperately tried to squirm away from the foreign touch.

"Don't move," Itachi spoke in a rather demanding tone that caused the blond to freeze. The blond haired human breathed heavily, his body still weak from the lack of air he had to endure. He tried to open his eyes to look around, only to squeeze them shut from the fat droplets hammering down at his face. While the boy was furiously trying to get his eyes open so he could see where he was, Itachi had slipped his hand under the body and was now feeling along the boy's spine. He could feel some lumps indicating more bruises, but other than that, there was nothing out of the ordinary.

'He broke his floaters and three of his false ribs,' The raven-haired teen mentally noted before he ran his hands over the boy's firm legs, then his left arm stopped when the blond cried out again. 'His ulna is cracked, but does not appear to be entirely broken yet.' He looked over to the other arm and discovered how it was dislocated at the elbow. Both arms were in serious condition. However, despite the hideous swell formed around the right elbow, the left arm was much more serious, as the smallest movement might have resulted in breaking off the rest of the bone that was still attached.

Momentarily leaving the blond's side, Itachi went to the nearest tree and snapped off the straightest branch he could find. Spinning out a kunai from his sleeve, he made quick work to peel the bark off. After he was finished, he pulled off the deep crimson cloak he was wearing and tore it into strips so it could be used as a substitute for bandages. He positioned the wood on the blond's broken arm and wrapped the makeshift bandage around it. With a swift and hard tug, he tightened the bandage, forcefully straightening the arm against the stick.

The boy grunted and gritted his teeth in response, but other than that, he didn't seem to be in too much pain.

Itachi waited, allowing the human to adjust before moving to the other side to inspect the dislocated arm. He looked over the joint that was hidden within the swollen flesh. After making a quick calculation, he grabbed the fragile arm and with a strong push, he snapped the joints back in place. A sickening sound was emitted, followed by a sharp cry that tore out of the boy's throat. Cornflower blue eyes snapped open, but before he could even get the chance to move, the spikey-haired boy was pinned to the ground by the foot pressing down on his better shoulder.

The raven-haired teen watched as the boy panted heavily while his body trembled at the aftershock and from the chilly air. Glancing down to the child's chest, Itachi carefully laid both of his hands over where he had felt the broken ribs. With some concentration, a soft glow of greenish chakra began to emit from his palm.

Softness glazed over the brunette's eyes when he saw that the teen he rescued began to relax under his touch. However, the peaceful expression on him disappeared as fast as it came, hardening into a glare as he looked up at the shadows within the trees.

With another flash of lightning, the silhouettes of dog-like creatures that had been hiding within the dark were revealed. Golden eyes glowed eerily within the darkness as the sound of multiple growls dominated the sound of the rain.

The creatures slowly walked out, one after another as they bore fangs towards their prey. Itachi stared at the wolf-like creatures as the three tomoe in his crimson eyes began to spin. With a loud bark from the alpha of the pack, the beasts charged forward. Their saliva spilled through the wide gaps of their teeth as golden eyes locked hungrily onto their targets, only to have the emotion reflected inside suddenly go blank.

The howls disappeared into the back of the creatures' throats as they all stilled in their dash. Itachi didn't even bother turning to look as the beasts hit the ground one after another, collapsing under the storm with their irises rolled into the back of their heads.

The brunette stood up with the injured blond cradled safely within his arms. He stared down at the human, knowing that he had fallen unconscious again due to his slowed heartbeat and light breathing. With a quick glance towards the thick clouds swirling over their heads, Itachi darted into a sprint and began whizzing through the forest.

He sped through the area at an unbelievable pace and quickly arrived at the foot of a mountain. Chakra wrapped around his feet. With a graceful flip into the air, the teen landed against the slippery rock wall and to run upward. Within no time at all, he landed inside a large cavern located at the side of the mountain where his temporary home was. He placed the blond onto the damp ground before he carefully stripped him of his battered clothes and laid them out over the driest spot he could find. After discarding his own clothes as well, Itachi returned to the younger boy's side. He leaned over the unconscious blond, taking a look over his face once more before his muscles tightened. Veins struck out of his flawless skin. His nails blackened and began to extent from his fingertips, curving downward into long claws.

A low growl resonated through the cave as another crack of thunder shook the land. The rain continued as the dark clouds gradually began to thin out over the night.

By sunrise, the rain had completely stopped. The forest that was once ominous glittered against the soft ray of morning light. When a warm breeze blew by, the branches shook, causing the clear droplets gathered over the lush, green leaves to shower down.

A pair of small, brown sparrows sat at the mouth of the cave, chirping in delight as they welcomed the start of the day. Naruto awoke from the darkness with a weak groan. Sky-coloured eyes parted tiredly, blinking twice before closing once more. The blond sighed at the relaxing warmth surrounding him. He snuggled against his pillow, not wanting to wake up so soon; he had never before slept in such a comfortable bed. It almost felt as though he were wrapped by a thick layer of fur with softness rivalling Koyuki's. When the blond tried to turn so that he could get more comfortable, he let out a yelp as his side throbbed in pain.

His eyes immediately snapped open as the fog in his mind vanished.

A bed…why was there a bed here?

Naruto looked down and froze when his sight was greeted by a mass of blackness. The blanket wrapped around him wasn't like fur. It wasfur! And furthermore, it was moving! The pelt was moving as though it were a breathing, living thing. He didn't know if it was his imagination, but he could even feel heat seeping out from it.

Gasping in panic, Naruto quickly tried to get up again, only to let out a hiss at his own stupidity for forgetting his injuries. The teen stretched his neck, taking a look around before realizing that the fur pressed on his left side seemed to be a…tail. A bit further away, he could see a giant paw with extremely sharp claws sticking out from the charcoal black fur. As he let his gaze follow the thing's form, the blond's eyes widened in horror when he took in the size of the creature.

"A Shoukanjuu?" He stared at the Shoukanjuu that seemed to be about the size of the Hokage mansion. It was the first time he had ever seen a Shoukanjuu so big in real life that he couldn't help but gape like an idiot. He let his eyes sweep over the Shoukanjuu's form, but couldn't really see past the creature's shoulders. So biting down on his lower lip to hold in the pain, he adjusted his position until he finally spotted the creature's head that was lying on the damp rock floor, sleeping rather soundlessly. From the sharpness of the face and the slender, long body, the Shoukanjuu seemed to be related to weasel.

The boy's mind was all tangled up as he tried to figure out how he got stuck in a cave with an over-sized Shoukanjuu that could gobble him up in one bite. He was supposed to be in the region with only C-ranks. Never mind C-ranks, even B-rank Shoukanjuus weren't supposed to be this large, were they?

"I fell," Naruto whispered as he recalled his recent memories. The eyes of his glaring classmates, Iruka, the cliff, the river, and the cold darkness that followed after. He paused as a blurred memory of a person with raven hair flashed by his mind. He tried to focus on that particular image of the mysterious person within the rain.

"That's right…someone…someone must have helped me," Naruto mumbled to himself. Distracted by his thoughts, he didn't realize how he had tried to sit up until another sting pricked his body. He fell back down against the fur, giving a soft wince before he gazed down at his arms. He was expecting to see some type of nasty injuries, but to his surprise, he found his left arm bandaged up and secured to a stick so tightly that it wouldn't move.

"Your bones are fractured. I would suggest you not move too much," A deep voice suddenly spoke, causing Naruto to nearly jump out of his skin.

"Who's there?" He whispered, not wanting to risk waking the creature as he carefully scanned over his surroundings, finding no sign of anyone around. Suddenly, the blond felt the muscles beneath the fur ripple as the tail pressed tighter against him to hold him in place.

"My name is of no importance."

Naruto felt a chill run down his body when he realized that the voice came directly from behind him. When he turned around, his eyes flew wide at the sight of a very awake Shoukanjuu. Its head was hovering over him and staring at him with sharp eyes in the colour of blood that sent an unpleasant chill down the blond's spine.

"Y-you can speak!" Naruto shouted as the large weasel pulled its head back, as though it knew the closeness was making the boy nervous.

"I do," the creature replied simply.

"Are you an A-rank?" Naruto asked hesitantly, remembering how the book only mentioned A-rank being able to speak human language. He waited for a response, but when he didn't receive any, he decided to ask another question.

"Did you…you know, save me?" He glanced down at the warm fur wrapped around him before looking back up to meet those crimson eyes. The weasel still did not speak. It just stared at Naruto intensely, causing the blond to feel a bit nervous; he couldn't tell what the beast was thinking.

After a couple of minutes later, it finally spoke. "You're not afraid of me."

Naruto didn't know if that was a statement or a question, but he answered anyway, "You are intimidating," he admitted sheepishly before he smiled up at the creature. "But you kept me warm, right? I would have frozen to death if it weren't for you. Thank you."

Again, the Shoukanjuu only gave the human boy a look before it turned away. The blond licked his dried lips, unable to help but feeling a little awkward. The weasel's silent and stoic attitude greatly reminded him of Gaara when he first met the red head.

"By the way, my name is Naruto," he introduced himself, but as expected, the weasel still didn't respond. It just kept staring outside as though he didn't hear anything the human was saying.

Naruto sighed as he looked over the cave before noticing his clothes neatly laid over the ground for drying. He glanced back at the bandages around his arm. Wrapping them was something the Shoukanjuu couldn't possibly have been capable of, meaning that a human must have done it.

'Could it be that person?' Naruto wondered as he recalled the mysterious person. He briefly wondered if whoever had helped him was the owner of this Shoukanjuu. If he or she was, then everything made sense as to why the creature was helping him and why it kept staring outside. Perhaps it was waiting for its tamer to return–

"Wait…" Naruto stared at the sunlight beaming in.

How long had he been out for?

"Excuse me!" He shouted in panic. The weasel slowly turned his head. "Sorry, do you know how long I've slept for?"

"A day," was the instant response he received.

"A day?" The kid cried. "Then that means it ends at sunset!" The weasel stared at the human who began to mumble words that didn't make any sense.

'Naruto…' The weasel quietly whispered the name of the blond inside his mind. Although the human's appearance was very similar to the man he knew, his personality apparently was very different. As the large weasel watched the boy sort out his inner conflicts, his head snapped up, catching a very familiar scent within the light breeze.

"What's wrong?" The blond asked, noticing how the furred ears of the Shoukanjuu were perked up in alarm. The weasel glanced down to the boy and parted its muzzle to reply when the cave suddenly began to shake.

"What is that?" Naruto asked as small pieces of rocks fell from the ceiling. The shaking continued on and a heavy dragging sound could be heard. The human teen glanced over to the weasel that didn't seem the least surprised. They stayed in silence as they waited for the shaking to pass.

Once it did, a soft voice of a female suddenly came from outside.

"Itachi-sama!" Whoever had spoken sounded breathless and even wheezing for air.

Naruto turned only to have his eyes nearly popped out of their sockets at the sight of a giant head of a slug hanging upside down from the entrance of the cave. The blond's jaw fell when the slug began to crawl inside, revealing to be just as large as the weasel.

"Katsuyu-san," the weasel greeted as the slug scaled down the wall, leaving that same loud, trembling sound in her wake.

"My apologies…for…being late!" The slug panted heavily with its antenna-like eyes drooping down as she struggled to catch her breath.

"No. Thank you very much for being able to come at such short notice," the weasel said politely and respectfully.

Naruto, who couldn't say anything in the situation, simply stared. 'Are all A-ranks this huge?' He was curious, but didn't dare to question it out the slug's eyes suddenly turned his way, a loud gasp escaped her small mouth. The blond shifted uncomfortably as the next moment he found the slug right in his face, studying him; Naruto seemed not so tired anymore.

"It can't be…," she mumbled. It was obvious that the slug was speaking to herself, but its voice had come out quite loud in the silence. "It can't—b-but it is!"

Naruto shifted uncomfortably, not enjoying how the slug was examining him.

"Itachi-sama…" Whatever the slug was about to say, her voice had trailed off when her eyes met with the blood red ones.

Anxiously looking between the two Shoukannjuus, Naruto tried to understand the silent messages that were being exchanged, but failed.

"I understand," the slug mumbled softly, "I will get to work right away."

"Wait! Work with what?" Naruto watched as a smaller version of the slug grew out from the body of the large one. With a jump, the small slug flew into the air and landed onto the soft, dark fur. It began to slither towards the teen, leaving a trail of slime in her wake.

"Please hold still. I won't hurt you," the small slug said when Naruto tried to edge away from her. The blond stared at the gastropod. Despite the Shoukanjuu's appearance, her voice was soft in kindness. Neither of them seemed like they meant any harm. If they wanted to get rid of him, then they wouldn't need to go through so much trouble.

When the slimy creature crawled over his bare skin, Naruto involuntarily shivered. Goosebumps crawled over his skin and to be honest, the contact with the slimy creature wasn't exactly pleasant. When the small slug had fully attached herself to him, the blond noticed a green glow of chakra began to emit from her body and into his. Naruto recognized the hue of the chakra and when he felt his pain began to dull, he knew that the Shoukanjuu was healing him.

"Thank you." He smiled gratefully. If the slug had a proper face, he was sure she would be smiling too.

"You're welcome," she replied and continued with her work.

Naruto stared at the miniature creature lying on top of him. Now that he had a closer look, he felt as though he had seen the slug somewhere before. But that shouldn't be possible since the Shoukanjuus he ever came in contact with were the ones back in his village, and he was sure that no one had a gastropod.

"I see you have given him first aid, Itachi-sama." Naruto glanced up at the giant slug as she began to exchange small talks with the weasel.

'Itachi.' Naruto wanted to smile at how fitting that name was.

"It has really been a long time." The larger slug sighed.

"It has," the weasel replied in an even tone. "How are Jiraiya-sama and Tsunade-sama?"

The teen blinked at the two names. 'Jiraiya and Tsunade?' Now those were names he was definitely sure he had heard before. But where?

"Jiraiya-sama is traveling across the lands as usual so his whereabouts are unknown. But I do believe he is well; I have heard from Gamabunta-kun that he just published his fourth book. Tsunade-sama is currently in Yu no Kuni* with Shizune-sama on a vacation."

"I am glad to hear that they are well."

"Tsunade-sama greatly misses you, Itachi-sama. They will be returning back to the village very soon. She was hoping that you could meet up with her for–"

"Ah!" Naruto's sudden outburst broke off the slug's sentence as the two gigantic Shoukanjuus turned to the small human.

"By Tsunade and Jiraiya, do you mean those S-rank Shoukanjuus?!" He shouted, finally able to recall where he had heard their names. And now that he remembered, Naruto realized why the gastropod, Katsuyu, seemed so familiar. She looked just like Tsunade's Shoukanjuu form he saw in Haku's book, only that Katsuyu has blue stripes, not yellow.

"So you have heard of them?" The smaller slug on his body asked. Naruto glanced between the larger slug and the smaller one, not sure which to reply to.

"Er…kind of. I read their names in a book."

"Then you must be a Tamer," the larger slug said.

"Well, no, I'm kind of taking an exam right now to become one," Naruto replied before he froze, remembering how the ones he was talking to were the very Shoukanjuus that any Tamers would go crazy trying to seal. Surely these two Shoukanjuu would have developed very negative views on Tamers…?

"You are referring to the exam where you capture your first Shoukanjuu?" The weasel suddenly asked. Not trusting his voice, Naruto swallowed thickly and reply with a hesitant nod.

"That's amazing, to be able to catch Shoukanjuu at your age." Naruto turned his wide eyes to the smaller Katsuyu. He couldn't believe what he had heard. The Shoukanjuu was complimenting him, the person aiming to be a Tamer to capture them?

"Umm…aren't you guys angry?" He asked cautiously, trying to be careful with his words. One wrong step would be over for him. "I mean…I'm trying to be a, well, Tamer," he stressed the keyword, hoping for his message to get across.

"You think we hate Tamers?" Itachi questioned.

"Tamers are what keep both worlds balanced," Katsuyu said as she stilled her head to show her confusion. "Why would we hate them?"

"Balanced?" Naruto looked between the two. "What do you mean by balanced?"

"You don't know?" Mini-Katsuyu asked. "Shoukanjuus from D-rank to B-rank are unfortunately very weak. There are very few born with the ability to manipulate elements through chakra, and there are even fewer with a higher intelligence."

"But I thought B-ranks can use elemental jutsus."

"Yes, but they do not have access to their full powers due to their lower intelligence. The reason they are able to manipulate their elements is merely based off of their survival instincts," the larger Katsuyu explained, "If this continues, sooner or later, the higher ranking Shoukanjuus would become extinct. Once that happens, B-ranks will stand on top of the food chain. Without competition, they will grow weak and follow the previous higher ranks into extinction. That is why Tamers are important to our world. There are only a handful of us born with higher intelligence, but humans are a different story. They are all naturally intelligent, that's why they are able to fully access all the secrets in the chakra system. They pass their knowledge onto the Shoukanjuus they've made contracts with, allowing them to grow in ranks and even teach them human speech. Once the human dies or when the contract is void, the Shoukanjuus will live their own lives and produce heirs which they can then teach the knowledge they had learned from the Tamers. In return for intelligence, the Shoukanjuu provide humans with various services."

"In the past, things were much different than now." Naruto shifted his gaze to the weasel. "Long ago, there were rarely any C-ranks or D-ranks. They were all powerful, but they lacked the intelligence to control those powers. Shoukanjuus in those times were simply the symbol of destruction. They foolishly fought one another for dominance and destroyed the lands. If not for the appearance of the Sage of Six Paths, we would not be living in such a peaceful era."

"I see!" Naruto smiled cheerfully. "That's a relief. I always afraid that you would…you know, hate them."

"It's not like we like all Tamers," Katsuyu replied, "There are good Shoukanjuus and bad Shoukanjuus, just as there are good humans and bad humans. That is why our world and yours are able to keep balance. The good Tamers, the ones you call, hmm, was it Blacklist Hunter?"

"It's Bounty Hunter," the teen corrected.

"Ah, yes. Bounty Hunter." The slug nodded. "They take care of this own kinds who abuse Shoukanjuus and use them to commit crimes. In our world, a Shoukanjuu who acts too violently will be taken care of by our own kind. It would also go vice versa with Tamers sealing the violent Shoukanjuu and Shoukanjuu taking care of bad tamer."

"I never knew they helped each other out like that," Naruto said before shivering upon feeling the smaller version of Katsuyu detaching her slimy body from him.

"It's done," Mini-Katsuyu said as she leapt off Itachi's tail and made her way back to her main body. Naruto blinked, giving a quick look over his own limbs before he slowly sat up. When he felt no pain, he pulled the bandages off his left arm that was supposedly broken and moved it around.

"It's healed!" He shouted in delight. Remembering his manner, he quickly turned to the slug and gave her his most grateful thanks.

"You should thank Itachi-sama." Katsuyu looked over to her companion. "It is because of his first aid that your body is in such a good condition."

"I have limited knowledge in the medical field. I didn't do anything," Itachi politely argued, but Naruto just smiled and gave the weasel his appreciation. The slug giggled at the joyfulness of the human as the weasel's tail, which had still been wrapped around Naruto, slowly lowered the boy onto the ground.

"Your clothes should be dried," Itachi informed. A dark blush swept over Naruto's face when he realized for the first time that he was stark naked. Looking down in embarrassment, he hurried over to his pile of clothes while the two Shoukanjuus resumed their conversation as though nothing was wrong.

The blond crouched down by his garments and picked up his pants. He winced at how filthy and torn they were. When he first wore them, they were practically brand new, and now they resembled the rag he used to wipe the floor back home. Heaving out a sigh, Naruto knew he couldn't be picky, so he hurriedly put them on.

After he pulled the ruined shirt over his head and tugged at the collar to fit it, he caught sight of something sticking out from behind a rock pillar. When he leaned over, he discovered another set of clothes that were very different than his own.

"Huh?" The blond walked over and picked up a shirt that was a larger size than his. "Why are there other clothes here?" He whispered almost inaudibly to himself. He glanced to the two Shoukanjuus. There was no way any of them could wear clothes.

"But both Tsunade-sama and Shizune-sama miss you greatly." Naruto found himself unable to help but listen back to the Shoukanjuu's conversation as he carefully put the clothes back down. The blond recalled the blurry image of the stranger and wondered if these Shoukanjuus had a Tamer after all. However, from their conversation and everything, it didn't seem to be the case.

"I will visit them, but now isn't the right time. Please give my regards when you see them," the weasel said, his voice portraying no emotions.

"Itachi-sama…" The slug seemed as though she wanted to say more, but stopped and instead turned to human boy. "Oh, please pardon my rudeness. I have forgotten to introduce myself. I am Katsuyu."

"Ah…" The blond scratched the back of his head, already knowing the slug's name through their conversation. "I'm Uzumaki Naruto." He waved a little at the awkward, late introduction.

"Uzumaki?" The slug questioned. Her eyes that were sticking out pulled together as she paused in a moment of silence before seeming to gather herself again. "Naruto-kun, you're from the Uzumaki clan?"

"Yep!" The boy nodded. "My mother was an Uzumaki. She was a pretty well-known Bounty Hunter. At least, that's what I've been told."

"I see." Katsuyu nodded. "I always thought that Uzumakis are identified through their red hair though"

"Yeah." Naruto laughed light-heartedly and faked disappointment. "Unfortunately, I take after my dad. I think I would look pretty good with red hair." As Naruto made his joke, he never noticed the hint of sadness that shadowed over Itachi's eyes when he heard the boy's words.

"I see. You have quite the rare blood in you. There aren't many Uzumakis nowadays after their village had been destroyed," Katsuyu said, "You must know a lot of seals then, Naruto-kun?"

"Well…no, not really. There's still a lot I'm trying to–" Naruto stiffened at the remembrance of seals. With his body completely recovered from injuries, he ran to the mouth of the cave and saw how high up the sun was in the sky.

"Ah! The exam ends at sunset and I haven't prepared anything!"

"You should forget about it," the black Shoukanjuu said, "The Shoukanjuus in this area are all B-ranks. You will only die if you step out."

"B-ranks?" Naruto's eyes widened in horror. Just how far did the river carry him?

"T-that's…" The blond glanced at the sun, then to the peaceful looking forest below. He didn't have time to go back and if he used the teleportation scroll, then he'd just end up failing and that would only make everyone believe that he really was the cheater Fusao accused him of being! He didn't want that, not after what Kakashi and Izumo did for him. He didn't want to see that disappointed look from Iruka, or his only two friends who were cheering him on.

"Naruto-kun. Do you have any method of returning to your village?" Itachi asked.

"…I have a teleportation scroll," Naruto replied as he glanced down at his backpack in his hands. He pulled down the zipper and there it was: the teleportation scroll, safe and sound without even a scratch on it. It would seem that Kakashi wasn't lying about the barrier placed over it.

"Then use it to return," the weasel said, and blue eyes opened wide at his words.

"What?" The blond stared up at the Shoukanjuu who almost seemed as though he were waiting for the blond to activate the seal and return to his village.

"I can't!" He gasped, "If I use it, my exam–!"

"Judging from your age, the exam you speak of should be the capture of your first Shoukanjuu, the Seal of Bond, correct?" Naruto stared at Itachi for a moment before he sluggishly replied with a light nod.

"The goal of the Seal of Bond is to tame a C-rank. I can sense that you hold an unusually large amount of chakra due to your clan's bloodline, but you cannot fully utilize it. With your current ability, capturing a B-rank is impossible. Unless you wish to die in this forest, I advise you to return to your village and retake it next year."

"I can't do that!" The blond argued. Itachi's eyes narrowed at the strange worry, and even panic, in his voice. "You don't understand, I–…just because this place is for B-ranks doesn't mean there's no C-rank around right?"

The giant blue gastropod shifted as she looked at Itachi, then to the human boy. "There certainly could be C-ranks, but–" She tried to speak, but the blond wasn't listening. He was continuing in his strange rambling.

"Maybe if I can find some I'll be able to–"

"Naruto-kun," Itachi said firmly, and the instant his name was spoken, the teen became silent. He stared up to the Shoukanjuu's hypnotizing eyes that didn't allow him the option of looking away. Katsuyu stared between the two, feeling a very uncomfortable tension beginning to form. She quietly backed away to give them room, knowing that whatever her companion would discuss, it wasn't her place to interfere.

"What is your purpose for attending this exam?" Itachi questioned, the coldness in his voice causing the child to flinch.

"T-to catch a Shoukanjuu." The blond couldn't help but stutter at the pressure seeping from the large weasel.


"Because…" Naruto hesitated. He briefly wondered why the Shoukanjuu would ask him something like that when it should be obvious.

"I want to become a Tamer." It was true. That's why he came to this exam, so he could graduate from the Academy. But if that was true, why did Naruto feel something was off with this response? He didn't know what it was, but that wasn't the right answer, and he knew it. That wasn't the answer in his heart…and definitely wasn't the one the Shoukanjuu was waiting to hear. Not daring to look up to the weasel, Naruto stared at the ground. A droplet of sweat rolled down from his forehead as he felt the air around him beginning to tense.

Itachi was silent. His scarlet eyes examined the young boy before he continued with his questions. "Do you know why the capture of a Tamer's very first Shoukanjuu is known as the Seal of Bond?"

"That's because the first seal is the only seal you engrave on your body, and it allows the Shoukanjuu to become a part of you," the blond replied, "It's the only contract formed through the bonds of the soul rather than the usual blood."

"That is correct." The Shoukanjuu's gaze softened as he glanced to the sparrows that were still hanging around at the opening of the cave. "However, there is more to it. The Seal of Bond is a very special ritual for both the Tamer and the Shoukanjuu. The Shoukanjuu is sealed within your mindscape, allowing you to draw out its power and freely call it to your side without the need of summoning seals and chakra. It can be only performed once with the very first Shoukanjuu you seal. Your body will be able to adapt to the Shoukanjuu's chakra, allowing you to draw out the Shoukanjuu's power. Once the human body grows used to a certain chakra, sealing another Shoukanjuu into your mindscape would simply destroy your chakra system due to your inability to keep adapting."

Naruto stared at Itachi. He could recall all these from the lessons with Iruka, but he couldn't figure out what the Shoukanjuu was trying to say.

Knowing that his message was not getting across, Itachi dipped his head so that he was a mere meter from the blond. "The Seal of Bond connects the hearts of the human and Shoukanjuu. It is a sacred contract that many ignorant humans saw as simply tools, and wasted. It can only be performed once in your lifetime. It's not to be used for the mere purpose of simply passing an exam," crimson eyes narrowed, "or to prove one's ability."

At that last sentence, Naruto froze as he finally realized what the other was trying to tell him.

"Shoukanjuu are not tools. They are living creatures just like humans. I will ask you again, Uzumaki Naruto." The weasel towered over the boy. "What is your purpose of entering this exam?"

"I–…" Naruto thought back to those many times he would waste standing in front of the pet shop looking at the Shoukanjuus. He remembered the times he interacted with Koyuki, and chased Pakkun around for stealing the pork in his ramen. Then finally, he recalled the night he spent looking through the book Haku lent him. He could remember the smile he had when he was excitedly looking through all those pictures of the beautiful creatures.

"I wanted a friend," the blond whispered.

There it was—the answer that had always been inside his heart. He couldn't believe it. How could he have forgotten something so important? After what happened back at the Academy, Naruto became so blinded with proving his innocence that he nearly tossed away the reason why he had worked so hard to come to where he was.

"I want a friend—a partner." Naruto spoke louder, his voice becoming surer with each word. He looked up, cerulean eyes meeting crimson ones bravely. He recalled the warmth over Haku and Gaara's faces when they spoke of their Shoukanjuus. He remembered the stories Enma would always tell him of the Sandaime Hokage and his Shoukanjuu. He remembered the lonely silence when he ate and how empty his home always seemed no matter what he did to try and brighten the place up.

"I want someone I can call family."

A low rumble was emitted from the weasel's long, slender throat. It wasn't a threatening one, nor did it sound displeased. In fact, it was just the opposite. The weasel was content with his reply.

"I understand the importance of this exam to you, Naruto-kun," Katsuyu said as Naruto turned to see the slug slowly making her way back to them. "However, please keep in mind that this area you are in is filled with B-ranks. If Itachi-sama says so, then you are no match against them. I'm afraid we can't allow you to recklessly leave knowing you would be killed." She tiled her eyes down to properly look at the blond.

"B-but…" Naruto wanted to argue, but now that his head had been cleared, thanks to Itachi's words, he knew Katsuyu was right. B-ranks were extremely dangerous. He didn't even know how he'd fair against a C-rank let alone something even higher that had the ability of using an elemental jutsu.

"It would be fine if we went along with him, wouldn't it, Itachi-sama?" The slug asked. "This is a rare chance. I have always wanted to see how the Seal of Bond is performed."

"Go with me?" Naruto asked, trying to confirm if he had heard right. He glanced between the two large Shoukanjuus, but mainly to Itachi who remained drowned in silence.

"Itachi-sama," Katsuyu spoke again, but the black furred Shoukanjuu turned away. Those sharp, crimson eyes continued to stare at the two tiny sparrows playing in the distance. It wasn't until the birds flew away that he came out from his trance and stared at the human boy from the corner of his eyes.

"Very well," he replied, much to the blond's surprised delight.

"Really? You guys would do that?" Naruto smiled wider when the weasel reinforced his answer with a single nod of his head. "Thank you so much!" The blond shouted with a low bow, causing Katsuyu to giggle even more.

"You're very welcome, Naruto-kun," she said before a loud grumble suddenly echoed throughout the cave. The two Shoukanjuus stared at the teen who was flushing in embarrassment, holding onto his stomach that was twisting in pain.

"When was the last time you ate?" The slug asked in concern, but it was Itachi who replied.

"I found him yesterday at noon. He only woke shortly before your arrival, Katsuyu-san."

"Oh my," Katsuyu said with a light gasp. "That isn't good for your body, especially when you're still growing. I will send some of my clones to gather some food, but you're in a hurry for the exam, aren't you?"

"Eh?" Naruto blinked before he nervously glanced at the sun still hanging in the sky. "Well…actually, I have to redraw my seal."

"I thought you were supposed to have your seal prepared," the slug said as she tilted her head to show her confusion.

"It was–…it's a long story." The blond sighed, not really feeling up to sharing what had happened.

Both Shoukanjuus saw his discomfort, so they didn't press on. The large weasel slowly pulled himself onto his paws, taking care as to not hit the roof of the cave.

"Katsuyu-san." Itachi turned to the blue slug. "It's better if you leave a clone here. With your size you will scare off the lower ranks. During the time while Naruto-kun draws the seal, please allow me to escort you out of this area. It's the least I can do after calling you here."

"Thank you very much, Itachi-sama. I think I will take you up on your offer," Katsuyu said in relief as Naruto watched a human-sized form of Katsuyu leap out from her main body. "I really appreciate your offer. It's indeed quite a long way for me to go with my speed."

'Escort?' The young Uzumaki stared at the huge weasel. By escort, did Itachi mean that he was going to carry the slug back? Even though both Shoukanjuu were roughly the same height, there was an obvious difference in terms of weight. Itachi was very slender, being a weasel, and Katsuyuu was…rounded out. Strangely, that issue didn't seem to bother either of them. Itachi dipped his head in a low crouch. Naruto watched in interest, wondering what he was doing when the weasel suddenly vanished before his eyes.

Blue eyes dilated after witnessing the speed of the weasel, which might have even exceeded Haku's, before a strong blast of wind slammed against him. The blond quickly threw his arms protectively in front of his head while gathering chakra to his feet to prevent himself from being knocked to the ground.

Once the strong wind faded away, Naruto lowered his arms. He opened his eyes, only to be faced with the darkness.

"What is this?" Naruto mumbled to himself as he looked around. His eyes took a few seconds before they were able to adjust to the darkness. Once his vision cleared up a little, he turned to where the opening of the cave should have been and found a wall there.

"Don't worry," Katsuyu said when she noticed the boy's tenseness. "It's only–" She stopped in mid-sentence when the wall began to move away, letting the light back inside so they could see properly again.

Naruto winced at the blinding light, but forced himself to keep his eyes open as he studied the black wall and found it to be covered with…fur? "Don't tell me…!" He hurried over to the larger Katsuyu who was waiting at the mouth of the cave. When he looked out, he nearly screamed at an even larger form of the black weasel whose height was now twice as what it should have been.

"I-it couldn't be…," Naruto trailed off, not knowing how he should finish that question as he turned to the giant slug.

"Yes. That is Itachi-sama's real form." Katsuyu confirmed his suspicion. "Though usually, he takes up smaller forms for convenience." The slug shifted further against the edge when Itachi crouched down. With a jump, Katsuyu flew out of the cave. There was a loud, heavy sound of impact from the slug's massive weight onto Itachi's back, but the weasel didn't seem as though he felt it.

Sparing only a quick glance to the dumbfounded blond, the large, black Shoukanjuu kicked off the ground, sending an even more powerful blast of wind into the cave that successfully threw the human back a couple meters. Thankfully, Katsuyu's clone reacted quickly by jumping in and catching him with her slime-covered body.

"Naruto-kun, are you alright?" The clone Katsuyu asked, but her words fell deaf to the blond's ear. Naruto lay against Katsuyu, staring out of the cave with a single question spinning inside his head.

Were A-rank Shoukanjuus supposed to be that big?

Yu no Kuni – Hidden Hot Spring Village

"The pain of being not an easy one to bear…" – Naruto.

A/N: I am very sorry for leaving this story for as long as I did. I'm really thankful to all the wonderful reviews everyone left. It's my first time having so many reviews for only one chapter so I have to say, I'm blown away and is really happy about all this. I also have to thank EmelyeUchiha who kindly agreed to beta this story and to the people who added this story into their communities. It's also the first time my story got chosen into a community so that's another thing I must thank you of.

I didn't mean to put this story on hold for so long, but the story Morning Orchid is taking up longer than I had hoped… plus the fact that I took a small vacation from writing to deal with the pressure of projects. I'm still hoping to get my other story done before I get to this, but I honestly can't be sure how long that'll take anymore so I'm happy to announce that this story will officially start. While Morning Orchid will have a higher priority, I can't leave this story for another eight months.

However, due to the fact that each chapter of Seal of Bond are fairly long, I can't give anyone a promised update time. All I can tell you is that I'll try my best on it, so I hope everyone look forward to it =)