Chapter One

He was cursed. There was little doubt about it. Kurama knew this like he knew the front of his paws. He had the stupidest vessel on the planet. This was his penance for laughing at the Eight Tails when he found the ox's vessel: a child who rapped every single time he opened his mouth, and the rhymes weren't even that good. He thought that was the worst the gods could throw at a demon. He now knew better. His vessel was infinitely worse.

Naruto Uzumaki was a loud mouthed, bright eyed, juvenile, orange-wearing idiot. The worst part was Kurama had no chance of getting rid of the blond, at least not until the stupid idiot died.

Contrary to the Fourth's opinion, Kurama would not die with Naruto. The blond haired monkey had done a good job tying him to his son, but nothing a human constructed could bind a demon to a human's life force unless the demon agreed. Not even the God of Death's assistance could tie their lifelines. The High Gods themselves created Kurama. It would take all of their cooperation to undo his perfection.

While Uzumaki's death would not result in his demise, it would harm him. Kurama would be ripped apart from Naruto's soul and some of his power would be torn away. He could and would regenerate the power, but it would take time, time he didn't have now. He knew exactly who and what was chasing him and his siblings, and he had no desire to become part of the ancient Uchiha's crazed schemes. Once was bad enough.

The problem was his current vessel was just as hot heated and foolish as his last one. Was it something in the Uzumaki blood? However, unlike his mother, this child didn't have any sense whatsoever and no skills to speak of. While he liked to disparage Naruto every chance he gets, Kurama knows the child is not at fault. The human elders of Leaf village were incredible stupid. The old monkey was the most foolish of all. How he dreamed for the chance to show the idiotic Third how to command a village and raise a child.

Kurama was programmatic enough to focus on what he could change and that wasn't much. Fucking cage! Naruto Uzumaki needed to grow up and get strong. Soon. He lay on his belly and considered their situation. Whether he liked it or not the child and he were tied together.

Naruto needed to change his outlook and truly see the world around him, not just the spoon-fed words from the Third and his legacies.

Naruto needed to become a man. If only the human kit had a lover. Nothing made a child grow up and become a responsible adult like a partner. A good partner, at least.

A kit would truly stiffen Naruto's spine and make him stop pretending like being a ninja was a game. Honestly, the child didn't even attempt to kill his opponents. He tried to talk everyone out of doing wrong and changing their life around. What in the names of all the gods was that? The sound of his agonized growl echoing through the sewage system he called home startled him.

The young human was on a trip with one of his ninja elders. It was supposed to be a great opportunity for the child to learn how to be best of his kind. A fearsome ninja who sparked terror in the hearts of his enemy when his name was uttered, but after only a few weeks on this trip, Kurama knew the child would never become that man. Not if the white haired pervert and the child continued on this path.

He wanted to beat his head against the bars of his cage.

Naruto was obsessed with Sasuke Uchiha. Kurama wasn't human and so didn't understand human emotions, but he was a demon and there was nothing more important to his kind then fealty and family. The young Uchiha was a traitorous ninja who betrayed his village and comrades. Kurama could see through Naruto's eyes and no matter how the blond imagined it, he and Sasuke weren't friends. Not in the sense humans categorized friendship. They didn't hang out, share secrets, and get to really know one another. Gods! He wasn't even sure his vessel truly understood what happened to the child's family. How is that friendship?

His other obsession was a weak female with atrocious hair color and the spine of a cockroach.

Why had the gods damned him with this vessel?

He was the Nine-Tails, the strongest of the chakra demons and yet, the One and Two-Tails had the most respectable vessels. They were strong and devious ninja. The One might not be the sanest vessel, but at least no chunin with a rusty blade could kill. Kurama was pretty sure Naruto could not say the same. Even his village's best assassins couldn't best Gaara.

His vessel needed another focus. An Uchiha would never do and he wasn't going to speak on his female teammate. Words could not address that tragic situation.

Now, the question was which one of his comrade would pull the kit's head out of his ass and get him focused on being physically, mentally, and emotionally strong? The human needed all three strengths to best the crazed Uchiha, both of them. Or was it three? Kurama would be damned if his vessel was taken down by a Sharingan psychopath.

He systematically went through the females the blond was acquainted with. The number was few and regulated to his former classmates. Ino. She was a no on all three factors. She was just a step above the pink haired human.

The next to be considered was the dark haired female who was infatuated with his vessel, or The Stalker, as he liked to call her. She was a weak fighter and didn't have the emotional strength to force Naruto to stop focusing on the Uchiha. She was more likely to take up his foolish ambitions. Then there was the albatross he called her clan.

Kurenai? Too old and she was no killer.

Anko. Possibly. Unfortunately she was infertile. The seal guaranteed that and while his chakra might be able to undo that he wasn't sure it was smart to join two outsiders together. The civilians would have a heart attack and his vessel had enough to deal with. That headache might derail his focus.

He considered the blond's team leader. Kakashi. No, he was weak emotionally. He smelled of grief every time he looked at the child.

Then there were the children he sometimes hung out with. Kiba was an automatic no. Their personalities were too similar.

Shikamaru. Hmm. He was smart, frighteningly so for a human. He was strong, blessed with the gifts from his kind, shadows, how enchanting, but he was lazy. Too lazy. He just might convince the child to stop training all together and watch the clouds…. though that might be a step up from chasing the Uchiha. He still couldn't swallow the thought of his vessel chasing after any Uchiha. He was the Nine-Tails, the greatest of all the demons.

Choji. Good, but he couldn't best Shikamaru.

Shino. Just no. Even Kurama thought his bugs were creepy.

Neji. Better than Choji, but he shared the same damned clan as Hinata.

Lee. He wasn't the smartest human. After all he participated in those crazed jutsu his master created and he liked Sakura. Kurama shuddered. Emotional stability was a must and Lee was clearly lacking.

It seemed Shikamaru was the smartest choice. It would not be easy but Kurama was a demon and he could be patient when it came to something this important.

He looked around the sewage system of Naruto's mind. The waters were rising. He lifted his head just before the uncomfortable ache of skin peeling, bones fracturing and healing, and the burn of molten lava filled his veins. He was just feeling a fraction of what Naruto felt. It didn't hurt him. He didn't feel pain like a human did, but he knew it was too much for his vessel and the amount of demon chakra flowing through his veins was just a step below being poison.

Jiraiya was an idiot.

"Now, I am sure the gods cursed my very existence," a deep voice rumbled.

Naruto smacked his head and wondered what he'd done in a past to deserve his painful existence. This must be some kind of punishment. Was it not bad enough the greatest demon in the world was renting his soul? The Nine-Tails in question just had to be talkative and dramatic.

"Why I am here?" he asked the demon once it was done with its latest rant on what was wrong with the world, the gods, and his life.

The Nine-Tails sat back on his hunches and sent Naruto a disgusted look. "You're here because that stupid teacher of yours tried to get you to pull forth more of my chakra than you are capable of handling. Your fragile, human body did the sensible thing and shut down. That is why you, idiot human, are unconscious and here."

Naruto swallowed thickly. This was getting to be a common occurrence. That could not be good.

What was Jiraiya thinking? He knew Naruto could only handle one tail of power.

The giant fox sat back on his haunches and sneered at Naruto. "I don't believe that white haired fool is even thinking. If he was he would be training you to be a stronger ninja."

Right, he could hear Naruto's thoughts when he was in here. Great.

The demon's words penetrated his wayward thoughts and Naruto bristled. He was working his ass of and this massive freak of a demon was acting as though he wasn't doing his damned best to be the most awesome Leaf ninja ever? "That is exactly what he is doing, Fuzzy!" he yelled and pointed a finger at the fox.

"No, he's teaching you to rely on my power, you stupid infantile human!" the demon roared. Naruto stumbled back, a little frightened at the sight of Fuzzy's fury. The fox wasn't a sweet tempered renter, but he was more sullen than anything. He'd shown anger but nothing like this rage.

"What do you think will happen when someone places a seal on you to lock away my chakra? That snake faced demon wannabe is not the only one with the knowledge about the five points seal!" the fox continued, but at a slightly lower decimal.

"I'm not sure, but nothing good," he admitted softly. He didn't have many skills. He might not be the smartest kid in their class like Sakura, but he wasn't stupid. He knew he didn't know much. He'd been training with Jiraiya and so far he'd only learned how to pull forth one tail's worth of the demon's chakra. The Super Pervert was one of the three Sannin, and according to his boasts, the best of them all, and yet in the three months since they began this trip, Naruto hadn't learned anything.

"You need to grow your own strength, little human."

"Easy for you to say, Fuzzy." He'd asked Jirayai before if they could work on something other than Fuzzy's chakra and he'd gotten some convoluted statement about Itachi and his fishy partner and being strong enough to bring Sasuke back. He figured the Sannin knew what he was talking about and let it drop since he promised he'd be strong enough to best Sasuke. Now, well, he wasn't so sure.

"It will not be easy, child, but you have never feared hard work. Do not allow your foolish and weak trainers to depart you from your task. You want to be greater than the greatest your village has to call theirs. None of them relied on another's power. You are a demon vessel, different, yes, but demon chakra is still my power, not yours."

"Yeah," he muttered. He understood what Fuzzy was saying but…

"You have your own strength. It just needs to be brought out. Contact that lazy child from your class and seek his assistance."

Naruto opened his mouth to ask the fox why he was being so nice to him and what exactly he thought he should ask Shikamaru when he heard a voice calling his name. Jiraiya.

He woke to find Jiraiya standing a few feet away from his prone form. "Good. You're awake. Well, that's enough for today. It's Thursday, you know," and then he released a little giggle.

Right, Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights were party nights in the civilian region they were staying within. The area was dominated by a city, larger than Leaf, which had a large learning institution called a college where kids older than him went to finish their education. The schooling kids tended to go crazy when they were released from their classes. Naruto didn't blame them. Of course the pervert couldn't pass up on the chance to chase intoxicated young women.

"Before you go, I just want to know, can I learn something new or were you just lying about being strong. I'm sure the snake freak is teaching Sasuke something right now and so far you haven't shown me anything!" he yelled as he sat up.

The glare he got back in response almost made Naruto shiver in fright, but he refused to back down. This was important and as frightening as it sounded in his head, he was going to take Fuzzy's advice. He needed to be strong on his own.

"We'll talk about this when I return. I've got some research to do." Then the pervert jumped to the trees and leapt in the direction of the city.

It looked like Naruto was going to have to listen to Fuzzy and seek outside help for his training. It's getting kind of obvious that Leaf lacked reasonable teachers. The ninja might be some of the strongest in the Elemental Nations but they can't teach worth shit. Kakashi is supposed to know more jutsus than the Third but he didn't teach them a single one. All he taught them was how to walk up trees and that's not a jutsu!

Now, how was he going to contact Shikamaru when he was at least two weeks travel away in Northern Fire Country? He supposed he'd have to write a letter to the lazy brunet and send it civilian style. There was no way the local city had a rental bird service like Leaf did. He grabbed his pack and fished through his stuff for parchment, brush and ink.

He was writing his letter when he realized it was just too quiet. Naruto didn't like silence so he summoned one of the toads. Gamakichi appeared with a pop in a light cloud of mist. "Yo! Jiraiya's gone again?"

"Yeah," Naruto replied and relayed the toad with tall tales of what he did since they last saw one another last Thursday and what he was doing.

"Want one?" Choji offered.

Shikamaru shook his head and took his customary spot on the grass so he could watch the clouds and think. He'd been doing a lot of the latter lately. Shikamaru was worried. That was normal; at least it had become the norm since the Sand and Sound invasion. He tried talking himself into not being so, well, worried, but that only made things worse.

He was smart, too smart to fool himself and he knew he had good reason to feel the way he did. Leaf was his home and as expected he wanted the Hidden Village to be the strongest of the great Five. For years, especially when Leaf was governed by the Fourth and under the Third's first reign, it was the best of the Five Great Hidden Villages. The Third died in service to the village and Tsunade, his student, was the new leader of the village.

Since the Third's death three months ago, he'd noticed a quiet apprehension settle upon his home. The ninjas were concerned Leaf's reign unofficially come to an end with the damage sustained under the invasion. Everyone was hoping that his or her worst fear was nothing more than that, a fear that never became reality. Everyone from academy students to ANBU was working hard to prove Leaf's strength.

Shikamaru wanted to do his part but he was unsure of how to strengthen himself as both a ninja and a leader, especially after the disaster that was his first chunin led mission.

He worried he wasn't really read for the green vest he was awarded at the end of the Chunin Exams. His first experience as team leader was an utter disaster on so many different levels. He was very relieved to know no one died on the mission, but his comrades came too close to that fate for him not to look back and analyze the mission and figure out what went wrong and how to prevent it from occurring.

It hadn't taken Shikamaru much time to come to the realization that his first mistake was in accepting the mission. Was Leaf really that strapped for ninja that they found the newest chunin in their roster and assigned him a team of genin to bring back the kidnapped Uchiha, the last holder of the elemental nations' most revered and desired bloodlines? Looking back he's surprised the mission didn't turn out even worse. He could easily see another village, even Sand, finding out they had a rogue Uchiha and deciding to acquire another bloodline. ANBU or Hunters should have been sent on the mission. Why were he and his classmates sent instead? It didn't make any sense, but he was determined to find the answer.

He was also feeling uncomfortable about the lack of growth in his skills. Three months had passed since Sasuke and Naruto left the village, one with permission, and both teens were training under Sanin. He knew Naruto would come back strong and he worried that Sasuke would too.

Shikamaru had a chunin vest, but nothing changed. He didn't feel any stronger and he was doing the missions a genin would be granted. He still worked with Team Asuma and he didn't mind that, but he's working exclusively with them. He can't help wondering if this is some kind of punishment. He knows Leaf lost a significant portion of their chunin and genin ranked ninja, more of the former. He thought Leaf would utilize him, but they weren't.

On the other hand, he considered Leaf might prefer to leave him with his genin team because of the effectiveness of his father's team. If so, what was the point of granting him the damned vest when he would still be restricted to what Choji and Ino can do?

To make matters worse, Asuma wasn't training his team to the best of their abilities. Asuma doesn't push them and Shikamaru is self aware enough to know he needs to be pushed. He failed Leaf once and he doesn't intend to repeat the occurrence. To be honest, he can't place all of the blame on the chain smoking ninja. He's a jounin, an elite one, and Leaf needs to show their strength so he's been doing a lot missions lately.

He sighed and waited for the rest of his team to join them. Ino arrived a few minutes later. He ignored her words. He'd heard them all. He knew Choji was going to try and calm down the blond. He wondered why he bothered? Thankfully, it wasn't long after that when Asuma arrived. He sat up and immediately knew his day wasn't going to go as he'd hoped.

"Sorry, kids, but I'm going to have to cancel today's meeting. I have a mission," Asuma said with a sheepish shrug.

"When will you be back, or is this a one day mission?" Shikamaru asked.

Asuma sucked deeply on his cigar. "I should be back in two weeks, three at the most."

A heavy silence permeated the group. That was a very long amount of time for a mission. Normally, Asuma was gone for three to four days. The worst was a week.

"Well, good luck," Choji said softly. Shikamaru and Ino repeated his words.

A few minutes later it was just Choji and Shikamaru. Choji looked at him in concern when he admitted that he was not leaving. "I'm going to cloud watch here," he admitted. "Not really feeling like dealing with my mother," he continued when a look of alarm flitted across Choji's face. "Oh, okay," the brunet replied with an understanding smile.

When in doubt, use the mom card.

Shikamaru didn't fault Asuma for canceling their training session, but he's very unhappy that he didn't bother to find a replacement teacher for their team, nor did he give them tasks to complete while he's gone. At this rate Shikamaru would never get stronger. This was bad, so bad, because he suspects Leaf has hard times ahead for it. It was the strongest of the Five Villages and now it's been proven that two villages working together, One of the Five and a village they didn't even know existed, is enough to scar Leaf. While Leaf proved its strength by beating the invaders back, it wouldn't take much for Mist, Cloud or Stone to come to some kind of agreement and attack Leaf. They lost some good ninja and his generation had to be strong enough to fill the gap left by the dearly departed.

He beat Kin, but he suspects she was only fairly well trained cannon fodder. She wasn't the best Oto had to offer at genin level. Someone like Orochimaru wouldn't showcase his strongest genin, especially not if the whispered words he overheard from his father were true and Kin and her team were sacrificed to power the jutsu Orochimaru used to bring back the First and Second. He needed to be strong enough to beat the best Oto had to offer. Orochimaru is still out there and he won't stop until Leaf is buried. Now he has Sasuke to add to his roster.

He's also very ashamed that Asuma had to come to his rescue when the group of Oto ninja surrounded him. They were stronger, yes, but he had home field advantage. He knew the landscape or should have.

Leaf is working with Sand now. He respects and understands Leaf's leadership's decision to continue their alliance with Sand despite the village's betrayal, but he won't, can't forget that they are part of the reason why people he grew up with and his parents worked with are dead. He doesn't trust Sand and wants to be prepared for when they go back on their word. Again.

Though it wasn't in his nature, it looked like Shikamaru was going to have to push himself to be stronger. Leaf needed him and he fully intended to be there for his village. He sat up and almost jumped back at the startling sound of a balloon popping. He looked around. His gaze landed on a relatively large orange toad with dark purple markings around its eyes, mouth and on its chest. The animal wore an open blue vest. It was a summons. "Hello?" he said cautiously.

"Yo!" it, he, answered. "Name's Gamakichi and I got a letter for you from Naruto."

AN: This is Sillvog's 200th Review Story and my lovely reader requested Naru/Shika. This is my first time writing this couple. So, please review.