Naruto Fan Fiction ❯ Training for the Job ❯ Volume 3 Chapter 38 ( Chapter 48 )

[ Y - Young Adult: Not suitable for readers under 16 ]
Volume 3 Notes: This is the last ever set of author's notes under the old system of review replies. From now on (at least, as long as it's still operable), I'll be directly answering any questions I possibly can from FFNet in the 'review reply' feature. Please check the reviews from now on to make sure that your questions haven't already been asked and answered. I will still be making occasional 'story notes,' however, when such information doesn't appear to fit in a review reply. Once again, someone asked me how much longer until Volume 4, in addition to the people begging for the lemons (NC-17 stuff) to start showing up. Well, this chapter wraps up this arc of the story. Latest estimates are as follows: The next arc is the genin graduation arc, and should last a few chapters (three or four, minimum). Then what should be a one chapter (well, two max) NaruSaku romance (which will include the lemon for those reading from Mediaminer). Then, the long concluding arc, which should be three or four chapters, minimum. So, at minimum, six chapters... which is more than half as long as I initially intended this whole volume to be. How naive I was... although I think this estimate is much more likely to be accurate then that one was. Please do not ask me to review your fiction for you. If you do, I will be forced to NOT review your fanfic, on general principle -- I typically only read what I want to read, and review what I want to review. If I review something after you've asked me to I'll be deluged by others asking me to review THEIR work. In order to prevent that from happening, I just cannot afford to ever review the work of someone who asks me to look at theirs -- at least, in these circles. Certain environs (such as the one or two peer review forums I belong to) it might be acceptable, but not in your own reviews of my fanfic. There is, once again, Kakashi acting odd at the beginning of this chapter. There IS a reason for this other then him just being such an ass -- and I'm going to have to ask you to bare with me until I get there. Someone reviewed an earlier chapter, and may not get to read this note, but I figured I'd answer their complaint anyway. Namely, that (and I'm paraphrasing here) 'these characters are ninja, and should be used to death and killing. Any discussion and revulsion at such breaks my suspension of disbelief.' I'd like to remind them that Kishimoto himself has declared that his concept of ninja are NOT the same as the 'true' concept of ninja. He has his ninja care about death and killing, and worry about things like that -- the Wave Arc proves that with Haku's beliefs about killing, and Naruto's reaction. Therefore, I choose to portray my characters as human soldiers who may have never had to kill anyone despite years of training to do so, instead of as robots, and therefore capable feel pain at the need to kill and sympathy for those who experience death. Just as Kishimoto has done on a few occasions, himself. Naruto passing out despite the 'near infinite' chakra thing is just to show how impractical his healing technique is. The other time he passed out was after fighting off an entire village full of ninja while he was (unknown to him) dealing with a dangerous health condition involving his chakra -- I think that's justified. He shouldn't be passing out from chakra exhaustion very often.
Chapter 38
"Sakura-chan," Ino said, standing next to the pink-haired girl, "Maybe whatever it was is over. You said yourself you know he's alive."
"Yes," Sakura admitted, nodding slightly as she leapt to another tree. "But he could still be a prisoner. I know for a fact that kyuubi is too drained of chakra to even be awake, right now -- whenever I'm in the catacombs, he's too tired to wake up no matter how much I bang on his cage."
Ino knew everything about Naruto, Sakura, and the kyuubi, of course, but the idea of 'banging on his cage' was a bit much for her. "He might just not like being treated that way, you know, or--"
"No," Sakura replied. "Trust me on this, he's out. I'm... well, I never thought I would be, but I'm even worried for the 'towering demon which slaughtered half of Konoha seventeen years ago,' if you must know. Kyuubi is a force of nature, and so is Naruto -- usually -- but if something was powerful enough to knock him out...."
"God only knows what it would do to Naruto. Or the genin," Ino added. "Still... even if he has been captured and does need a rescue, what do you expect this lot to do?"
Ino was not putting their companions down -- rather, she was just being realistic. Cloud was reputedly the third most powerful military force in existence, and Blossom... was not. Furthermore, most of Blossom wasn't with them -- rather, it was a hodge-podge collection of volunteers who decided to go on the rescue mission after Kakashi had refused to send out an official rescue party. It wasn't, he had said, that he didn't want to rescue Naruto if he was in trouble, but rather that he figured he didn't have the resources to help if there was something that Naruto couldn't face down, himself. There was a bit of logic to that, Ino supposed, but it still seemed fairly cold-blooded of him. Then again, many experienced ninja, even in Konoha, had the reputation of putting logic before emotion... and it wouldn't be surprising if Kakashi was one such person, as well. Sakura and Naruto both thought he'd been acting odd for a while, admittedly, but Ino didn't know him well enough to make that judgement.
However, the team they had finally managed to assemble sort of bore out Kakashi's reasoning. Ino, of course, came along the moment Sakura explained it to her, and she didn't think she was exactly a slouch when it came to being a ninja -- not any more, anyway -- but as far as everyone else, well, there weren't very many others with experience. Konohamaru had tried to join them, but Sakura had refused to allow him, instead sending him to the hospital until his health recovered. Haruno-san had been explicitly ordered to stay behind and continue the training of those students who were still available. Jiraiya had been out of town, on one of his spy missions. Genma and his team were on a mission. Even Anko was unavailable, as she had apparently been asked to work with Jiraiya for his recent assignment. They weren't completely alone, however -- Hana had been willing to accompany them, and looked a bit anxious... for understandable reasons. Udon and Daichi were there, although niether of them were powerhouses, exactly. Even some of the Academy students had been willing to come along -- Inari, Adaha, and Ran Umiko were at their side, having been there when they flare of kyuubi's power shocked Sakura into action, despite several attempts by both Hana and herself to convince them to leave. Sakura had finally taken charge, saying that they could come but only if they followed orders -- orders which would likely keep them out of any serious combat.
Their final companion was very much a surprise, but was allowed to join them on the same conditions as the Academy students. Kireme Sakura, the prostitute, had actually been taking lessons in ninjitsu since her arrival. She would never even rate high enough to be considered for administrative genin duty, but she did hope to meet the qualifications that a lot of Konoha's citizens met even if they didn't attend Academy, and that was of the 'Auxiliaries.' Ninja Auxiliaries never took on the duties of a ninja except in time of war, and even then their positions were generally along the lines of behind-the-front-line medical staff, behind-the-line supply convoy duty, behind-the-line cooks, and any number of other behind-the-lines duties a large army could not do without, but which didn't usually require combat skills. Teuchi and Ayame from the Ichiraku Ramen stand, back in Konoha, qualified as good examples -- they hadn't ever used a single one of their ninja skills since learning them (outside of routine practice, Ino assumed), but they had enough ninjitsu in them that they would be allowed to cook for Konoha's forces in wartime.
If Kireme ever officially qualified as an Auxiliary, she could be allowed to leave for Konoha and learn what she needed in order to teach proper 'courtesan skills for ninja' on her own. As it was, Sakura and Hana would both have to work with her in order to present all the information, and even then it was a bit... iffy that her classes would 'count' when the kunoichi of Blossom returned to Konoha. What she thought a member of the Ninja Auxiliary-in-training could accomplish on a mission like this, however, was a bit... uncertain. Nonetheless, she was travelling with them, and the saying always was 'beggers can't be choosers.' Ino wondered if she would wind up being more trouble then she was worth, however -- as she was relatively untrained, there was a good chance that she would draw people away from more important roles in order to protect her. Then again... there was no way Sakura -- or anyone, for that matter -- would take this motley crew into any sort of battle, was there? And nine people, no matter how good they were, wouldn't be much of a threat to the cloud. No, whatever it was Kireme had told Sakura to allow her to come along, it probably had nothing to do with any combat situations. And, much to Ino's surprise, Kireme was keeping up. Apparently, whatever she was learning from those books on beginners ninjitsu was enough to allow her to travel with larger groups of ninja (which, as any formation did, always moved slower then smaller groups). Ino decided to check out those books, herself, later -- if they could teach a prostitute to be a ninja in only a couple months, maybe there was something in there she could apply to her own classes with the Academy students.
Sakura suddenly stopped, looking around the area. "We'll camp here for dinner," she ordered, setting her pack down. "And then six hours rest. Kireme-san?"
Sakura had partnered with her older namesake each time they camped. Ino had been partnered with Hana -- which wasn't exactly pleasant, thanks to the dog-like smell which perfumed their tent. However, she had accepted it -- for some reason, Ino suspected that there was a reason Kireme had been brought along, and obviously Sakura was talking it over with her whenever they were camped. The others also got to work on their own tents, the campfire, and the food. Hana started grooming her dogs -- as much as they were travelling, they needed care in order to keep running at top speed -- while Ino got to work setting up their tent. It seemed like just any other stop, although it had come about rather suddenly. Ino realized why, suddenly -- this was their last chance for a warm meal. Much closer, and they would have to start hiding their presence when they camped. It was only a day or two from the borders of Cloud Village, after all, and routine patrols would be able to spot things like tents and campfires much closer in. How Sakura had realized this before Ino had, however, was something of a mystery.
Sakura came by shortly after Ino was done setting things up. "Ino-chan, come with me. I've got an assignment for you."
"An assignment?" Ino asked, surprised.
Without saying anything, Sakura lead her to the tent she and Kireme were sharing. "Kireme-chan is going to be scouting out the town before us. She has a perfect cover, but she'll be asked questions the moment she enters town. I want you to prep her by asking those questions and providing scenarios. Her contact in the town will be one of Hana-chan's dogs, so you'll have to see if she can make up believable excuses for talking to strays. I've got to go get the Academy students prepped for their assignment, as well, so I've got to hand this one over to you. You've got twenty minutes."
"Uh," Ino began, but the pink-haired girl was gone before she could ask any questions. Shrugging, she entered the tent, where Kireme seemed to be laying out some grooming supplies. "Sakura sent me in to drill you on some things?"
“Yes," Kireme replied. "I'm going to be infiltrating Cloud using my... profession, as an excuse, and I need you to help me prepare for whatever questions or circumstances I may encounter, so that I'll know how best to deal with them."
"You're going to what?" Ino asked incredulously. "You're completely untrained! How the hell do you expect to get into Cloud in the first place? And just how the hell do you think you'll be able to figure anything out if you do?"
Kireme smiled softly. "Cloud is hosting a chuunin exam. Every time one of the major chuunin exams are held, calls are placed to the public for as many prostitutes as possible to come to town by the local brothels -- all save for Konoha, so perhaps you haven't experienced the situation. But in Sand, Rock, Cloud, Mist, and several of the smaller villages when the exam comes to town, calls are made for prostitutes to serve as the same messages as the call for nearby ninja villages to send their genin for the exam are sent. It takes months to fill the brothels with enough girls to satisfy the demands of the international audience for the final part of your exams, and we make good money for showing up. I am able to go because I am a whore, and I know more about being a whore then the kunoichi with the greatest understanding of 'courtesan service' will ever manage to learn. Getting in will not be a problem. It's how to handle things once I'm inside I need your help with."
Ino blinked. "I... well, what do you plan to do when you get inside?"
"Look for the brothels, like a good whore would," Kireme laughed. "Which is just what Jiraiya-sama would do, like any good pervert with his reputation. Of course, the fact that he is very good at getting information out of whores -- and, believe me, no-one knows more about what's going on in a town then the residents of a brothel -- helped him get known as a master spy with a 'massive' network of informants. I suppose the gossip shared between prostitutes like myself qualifies as a 'massive network,' but really, we're probably almost the only source he has."
Ino frowned. "Why would you be going to several different brothels? A ninja would wonder about that."
"Easy enough explanation. I'm shopping my services, after all, but the brothels are my best potential employers. They offer the steadiest income for a whore, and a solid, regulated structure which is generally better then what you'd find offered to you from a pimp or by freelancing. However, not all brothels are the same -- some specialize in certain things, some offer services which others done, and some try to offer a little bit of everything. Me? I've specialized in 'first times' for a couple brothels -- I'm very good at setting the nervous at ease -- so I'd probably go looking for the brothel which offers the best opportunity for someone in that position. I'm also a skilled masseuse, and can handle a few other less-common 'kinks' certain clients have. A specialty brothel wouldn't be my kind of thing, either. So, shopping my 'talents' to the local brothels is definitely a good excuse."
"I... I guess so," Ino said, feeling out of her element. "But you're going in as a spy, to gather information. What would happen if someone tried to, uh, hire you?"
"I'd accept, of course," Kireme laughed. "Not at a brothel -- I'd tell them I wanted to 'check out the other brothels first,' as most newly arrived whores do during the chuunin exam -- but if someone approached me on the street, I'd do my job and be glad for the money."
"But... you're on assignment," Ino pointed out. "There's a time pressure involved...."
"That's a problem," Kireme agreed. "I'd need an excuse if I was busy, but fortunately I have one that will usually work at least once. All whores find excuses for 'problem clients,' after all, but there's one every whore has whose ever been employed by the brothel I work at...."
"Oh?" Ino asked, intrigued in spite of herself. "What excuse is that?"
"Lunch," Kireme laughed. "Our madame once told us a story about a whore who was a co-worker of hers when she worked in a brothel about twenty years ago. She'd skipped lunch, and was trying to fulfill a client's request for... oral satisfaction, I suppose you could call it. Well, she was rather bored, having done that sort of work for quite a few years by then, and got to daydreaming. I could go on, but the details got a little bloody -- let's just say the poor guy was never able to be a client to my sort of business ever again. He was missing the limb required for it."
Ino winced at the image. "Ouch."
"So, our madame always gives us the same instruction: Never, ever take on a client when you're hungry. She isn't the first madame to give these instructions to her staff, and she won't be the last, but she made her case better then any I've ever heard about," Kireme laughed. "There aren't many clients who will be willing to sit through a whore eating a meal before taking on her services -- not when there are other whores in town who might be able to satisfy their needs faster."
"Sounds to me like you've got all of your excuses in the bag, already," Ino pointed out. "So just what do you need me for?"
"Well... I still need to worry about communication. Once I find out where they are, how do I find and talk to Hana-chan's dog without looking... wierd? Not many sane people go around talking to stray dogs, after all," Kireme explained. "Also, how would they get in touch with me if they found me first? And how would I reply without giving everything away? That's the sort of thing I really need help with."
Ino grimmaced. "Well, yes, those are definitely serious issues. Normally, I'd want a month to figure out what--"
Sakura came into the tent suddenly, a pensive expression on her face. "Cancel this assignment. I'm afraid we won't need your help to find them, after all, Kireme-chan."
"Oh? Why's that?"
"They found us."
* * * * *
Hanabi and Futaba were all in terrible shape. Sticks, twigs, mud, thorns, and worse were stuck to their clothing and thier skin. Scratches and bruises showed everywhere not exposed by their clothing, and they were quite obviously exhausted. They, however, were doing pretty well compared to the other two they had managed to drag with them. Moegi was slipping in and out of consciousness, the obvious victim of a concussion, and the amount of blood on her clothes couldn't possibly be attributed just to the few bumps and scrapes visible on her. She also seemed to be having trouble breathing, which was also a major concern. Naruto... well, he seemed intact, but he was unconscious, and apparently had beeen for a couple days if Sakura's suspicions were correct. Complete mana drain -- again -- though from what she could tell it hadn't damaged the seal this time. Not that it really had the previous time, but Sakura had been concerned that the cause of the seal's damage had been... misdiagnosed.
So, they were alive, but that was all Sakura -- or anyone else, for that matter -- knew so far. "What happened?" she finally asked, now that she was reassured that the camp was secured. It had been agonizing waiting that long to turn their attention to the people they had been coming to rescue, but when the first words out of Hanabi's mouth were 'we're being chased,' Sakura felt obligated to make sure their encampment could withstand a simple attack before asking any questions... or treating any wounds. And, as much as she'd like to deal with Naruto at the moment, she knew that all three of the others were in much worse need.
As she started healing Moegi, Hanabi asked, "Who's in charge? Hana?"
"Me," Sakura snapped back. "Now answer the question."
"Sorry, but we have a prisoner. Futaba-chan?"
Futaba let out a dog-like howl, which was answered a moment later by another dog's call. Kuromaru showed up a moment later, dragging a bound -- and drugged unconscious -- man in his grip. The dog dropped him in front of Sakura carelessly. "I thought we should kill him," the old dog snarled. "But he's more valuable as a hostage. Proof of a crime, or something like that."
"Sinobi Gashir," Hana said softly, glaring down at the man. "Long thought to be dead, although we Inuzuka clan members were always suspicious of that. We never detected his scent at the crime scene. I remember seeing him during the diplomatic event he was supposedly killed at, and I caught his real scent then. Even though I was just a kid, there's no doubt in my mind that this is that same man."
"He's responsible for my Uncle being forced to commit suicide," Hanabi spat. "I think he should answer for those crimes. And for trying to kill me a few days ago. He's... insane."
Sakura muttered something under her breath about complications before shaking her head. "No time to worry about that, now. You said you were being followed?"
"We thought we managed to make a clean escape by tunneling through a collapsed wall, but Kuromaru smelled a small army of about fourty or fifty ninja following us a few hours after we left. We've done what we can to slow them down, but they're still coming. How far away are they, now?"
"At the rate they're going, the first wave will hit us in about an hour. They're organized into three groups, however, and the two larger ones won't be here for another half hour," he replied.
Sakura nodded slowly. "We could run, but I suspect they'd catch us before we got back to Blossom. I'm going to want a full report at some point, but we've got better things to do -- since they're going to meet us, anyway, I think we'd better spend out time fortifying our position. Hana-chan...."
"I know, early warning. I'll post the dogs."
"Good. Ino, take Kireme into one of the tents and keep her safe. If we survive this, I don't want anyone to see her -- we might want to send her into Cloud one day, anyway, and it wouldn't be a good idea if she could be recognized."
Ino winced. "I'm probably one of the better fighters here, and you're putting me out of the action?"
"I'm hoping there won't be any action, beyond repelling any sort of surprise attack they might launch," Sakura sighed. "While fifty men is a large number of attackers, I'm not sure if they're willing to risk an all-out war because... well, whatever it is they're coming after our genin over. If they tried to take out an encampment this large, it'd be hard for Blossom -- or Konoha -- to ignore it. They just might be willing to negotiate."
"Possibly," Hanabi said, "Although I think that this is a rogue operation on their part -- Gashir's crazy, and I think he tried to do this whole thing on his own. He's an important figure, however, so I think his supporters could muster those fifty ninja coming at us right now... and that they'd be willing to slaughter us just to get him back."
Sakura sighed. "Well, we'll fight him if it comes down to it. And Moegi will be fighting at your side -- I've fixed the concussion and the cracked ribs. A soldier pill should be enough to get her in fighting trim."
"We're out," Futaba explained. "We used them up fighting and escaping. And running for almost two days straight."
Sakura sighed, taking out three of the grey medicines. "We didn't exactly stock up on these, as Blossom doesn't exactly have that many in storage at the moment, so this is all we can spare for the three of you. Each of you take one... and pray that it's enough."
Hanabi looked at the pill distastefully, but took it anyway. Moegi seemed rather greatful for it, despite the fact that -- as any Akimichi clan member knew -- it was the most bitter 'food' in existance. Futaba, however, considered hers carefully. "We need Naruto-sensei awake. Any chance that this would work for that?"
Sakura flinched. "I... don't know. He's not awake, though, so he can't swallow it anyway."
"Would kyuubi be rejuvenated?" she asked suddenly. The lack of reaction by anyone present to the open mention of the dreaded demon just showed how the 'secret' was being spread, but Sakura didn't notice. She was too busy trying to answer the question.
"He... he might. But that doesn't help if Naruto can't take the pill."
Futaba flicked the pill back to Sakura and pointed to the still visible seal on her abdomen. "You take it, then -- once kyuubi's revived, I'm sure Naruto will be, too."
Sakura's eyes widened, as this concept suddenly entered her. She, too, had a part of kyuubi inside her, now, and so it just might work after all. If there was one thing Sakura was doing if -- or rather, when -- they got out of this mess, it was to sit down with Naruto and figure out all of what they could do together, now that they both had kyuubi inside them. Right now, though, she had to go about making sure they did get out of it. She swallowed the pill, and waited for something to happen.
Hanabi, curious, had activated her byakugan with the minimal amount of chakra, just to observe what happened. What she saw was rather remarkable: Twin flames of red chakra, mirroring each other along a spiral path throughout both Sakura and Naruto's systems. It was the oddest thing she'd ever seen... but she was glad it worked. Naruto was being revived -- slower then she thought anyone intended, but it was working -- and... and...
That was odd. It seemed as if there was a tiny bit of red flicker in Moegi's chakra, as well. Not nearly as strong as either of the chuunin pair, nor really in any distinguishible pattern... just, a flicker of red here and there dancing with the blue flares that the soldier pill had given to her natural energy. A bit of information to file away for later, she supposed -- for all she knew, it was just more of whatever Naruto did to heal the girl in action.
Naruto's eyes finally opened... and they were quite red. His bared his teeth, revealing growing fangs, and rolled onto all fours. Sakura, curiously, started matching him -- her eyes turned red, as well, and teeth grew in her mouth as well. They started staring at each other with wild expressions on their faces. Claws formed on both of their hands, and they leapt at each other.
At first, Hanabi thought that -- for some bizarre reason -- they were attacking each other. It soon became quite apparent that they weren't. While the claws both had grown were, indeed, slashing through their flesh, that flesh was healing the instant it tore... but the clothing that appeared to be the actual target of those attacks was not. They were... almost eating each other's mouths, it looked like, before they drew back and started biting each other... elsewhere. In a very bizarre way, they seemed like two wild animals in heat, trying to rut.... Oh.
"Um, guys?" she said gently, but firmly. "Uh, Cloud army coming by in less than an hour, and there are impressionable minds present. Any chance you could hold off on your mating dance for a bit?"
Sakura blinked, the humanity returning to her eyes, and pulled away. Naruto snarled, and she almost went back to him, but then she shook her head. "Not now," she hissed at him.
"You're ready!" he growled back. "I can smell it on you, mate!"
Sakura blushed. "Doesn't matter if I'm ready or not... kyuubi. Now is not the time."
Naruto shook his head, his hair flipping around him. "Instincts are hard to fight when the brat isn't conscious. That smell...."
"Well, then, wake him up!" Sakura demanded.
"I cannot," He shook his head. "He needs another day to heal. The brat is weak. That is why I haven't recovered on my own, sooner. He's not even strong enough to manage his own chakra, now, much less my own."
Sakura's eyes narrowed. "Well, then, you'd better be able to control your instincts, hadn't you? Because, fox, I am the one in charge, here -- which means you will have to obey me if you don't obey him."
Naruto's nostril's flared. "Mate... we love it when you take control. We'll obey... for now. But we love when we're in control, too, so don't expect this to work all the time."
Futaba snorted, trying to stop herself from laughing. "Color me scarred for life," she said. "Okay, so, what are we supposed to do, now?"
Flushing as she remembered her audience, Sakura cleared her throat. "Right. Well, let's get ready for a fight, shall we?"
* * * * *
Naruto was pacing circles around the campfire, still looking rather feral with his fangs and claws exposed. Sometimes, he walked on two legs, sometimes on four, but he continued pacing. His chakra had regenerated faster then he'd expended it -- and he'd been expending it plenty since his awakening -- but only as kyuubi. The human part of him was still unconscious, and would be for some time. Sakura quickly realized she was a bit of a distraction for him in this form, and set herself up as far from his sight as she could... but he was still feeling the rush of their earlier activities. So, when he sensed an intruder approaching (through enhanced smell and hearing, courtesy once again of the kyuubi), he was not happy.
"Grr," he growled, much like a dog would. Kuromaru, returning from having checked his fellow dogs' patrols, was rather impressed with it -- he was able to annunciate doggish better then most of the Inuzuka could, even. Of course, the fact that he was partially transformed into a beast thanks to the dominant presence of the kyuubi might have had something to do with it, but then again the Inuzuka could use several ninjitsu to make themselves more dog-like as well.
"Calm yourself, beast," the dog huffed. "Your instincts for battle can make you powerful, but they can also make you careless... and considering what we're up against, careless probably isn't a good idea."
"I've been fighting wars for hundreds of years longer then you've been alive, puppy," Naruto growled. "I'll be fine."
"No, you won't -- not as angry as you already are. You're forgetting the side effects of those pills -- they make you enflamed, out of control... feral. Why else do you think you can't calm your passion for your mate?" the dog pointed out.
"Because I can smell her readiness!" the kyuubi snapped back.
"No, you silly fox-cub!" Kuromaru chortled. "Because both of your passions were enflamed when she took that pill! Even if she had wanted to rut with you before taking that pill, the heat of an upcoming battle should have overwhelmed that sense. Tell me, would you even have noticed her with the chance of battle around, if it weren't for that pill?"
"I always notice her," the kitsune pointed out.
"Naruto always notices her."
"And I am Naruto. Or had you forgotten?"
Kuromaru paused. "I am still talking to the demon, right?"
"Of course!" Naruto growled. "The brat won't be awake for some time."
"The brat is Naruto. You--"
"I am also Naruto," he snorted. "We both live in the same body, share the same mind. The brat is my jailor, yes, and usually in control of our actions and thoughts, but that doesn't prevent me from being a part of 'Naruto,' as well. We are usually the brat and the fox, both -- the brat being dominant, and me being... of little influence. But I do have some influence -- he would undoubtedly not have become quite the trickster he did if it weren't for me. Actually, I admire the brat -- he is what I would aspire to be, if I were human. And his own people have become my own. But he cannot claim to be Naruto any more that I can. And so if he can claim to be us... so can I."
Kuromaru hesitated. "Still, you are a fox demon. Surely a pink-haired girl isn't what your instincts crave, is it?"
"Lesser kitsune demons are known to stalk humans to rut with. Why then could I, much stronger then common kitsune, not choose one as a mate?" the kyuubi asked after a short pause. "Truthfully, I don't know if I would have even noticed her -- or any other female of any species, were I not trapped in this infernal human body, but... since I have, she has become my mate as much as she has become the brat's. I no longer even know which of us chose her first -- although I think it was both at once! And so, my instincts are as in tune with her as they should be to any creature I considered my mate."
"You still need to be careful," Kuromaru warned. "Demon or not, you are weaker then usual, only having half of your demonic strength thanks to the sharing of your spirit and the exhaustion of the human. And that energy, thanks to those pills, is tainted with wildness, as I said before... you are looking rather feral, I must say."
"Feral? I've always been wild, you idiot! Never been tamed!" the kyuubi ranted. "I haven't been domesticated despite being trapped in this pink-skinned creature, so how would I become a feral--"
The bitter ramblings were cut short as other noises finally announced the attack they had been waiting for. Naruto turned and snarled at the source. It appeared to be more people then were expected -- not many, though. Just two more... but that was bad enough, considering the relative skill level of most of the force from Blossom. They descended onto the camp in a rapid assault, weapons drawn and ready for battle.
Two of them went down in less then a second -- or rather, two of them never really existed, as the traps they sprung revealed that they were clones and dispelled them. Naruto slammed into a third, knocking him across the camp and into another set of traps. Kuromaru took a sniff of the air, and called, "Only five real humans -- the rest are clones!" A howl came from the air, which the dog immediately interpreted. "The remaining five are attempting to circle around and attack from the other side. My brothers will try and delay them."
By that point, Naruto was unintelligible. He had his own clones out, each of them also fighting as a fox, and he was quickly sorting the real Cloud ninja out from their clones by dispersing them. The battle was short and bloody, but the kyuubi appeared in control of himself enough to stick to the plan. Kuromaru was grateful for that -- he didn't want to have to try and stop him from killing anybody. Their only hope was in negotiation, and live ninja were easier to talk to then dead ones.
"There's only one of them!" one of the Cloud ninja called out. "Where's the rest?"
"I think this one's bad enough, don't you?" one of his companions, who had just recieved a rather painful kick to the crotch, shot back.
"Not when the reinforcements arrive," commented a new arrival -- as he and the remaining four cloud ninja who had been circling the encampment entered the fray. "What the hell is going on?"
"You're losing," came yet another voice... this one belonging to Haruno Sakura as she landed in the middle of the action. The moment her feet touched the ground, the battle was over. Her voice was the signal to her team to go into action, and when it did it moved quickly. Nearly invisible wires ripped out of the ground to entangle themselves around the arms and legs of the attackers, dogs emerged from the underbrush to surround the enemy, and Sakura's appearance itself was the final act. The entire enemy force was pinned, trapped, or knocked out in less then a second... and Sakura was there with a grin on her face. Naruto had disappeared the instant she arrived, and was nowhere to be seen.
The apparent leader of the Cloud group glanced over at her and sighed. "Fine. You've got us. But there are others on the way, and I know you know that. How long do you think you can hold out?"
"Long enough to open negotiations," Sakura replied. "We hold Gashir as hostage, and now we hold you. Now, ninja are always prepared to die, so holding you all hostage might not matter too much, but it's enough to maybe give your 'friends' pause long enough to find out if we can live through this without starting a war between Cloud and ourselves."
"I'm afraid that you'll find that we're past that," the Cloud ninja replied. "The moment you found out Gashir was alive, you all had to be killed. I'm afraid we have no choice."
Sakura smirked at him. "Really? Even if the fourty remaining ninja pursuing us fall?"
"Not likely!" he scoffed.
"Naruto! Come on out!" she called. Before she'd even finished speaking, there he was. "Sir, allow me to present Uzumaki Naruto. The boy who singlehandedly wiped out the Grass occupation force of Rainbow village. Naruto, the leader of the cloud assault force attacking up thinks there's not much chance of us beating his fourty ninja. What do you have to say to that?"
"I took care of them before these bastards got here," he growled harshly, but casually. "They're in the stockade you had built, as ordered. The puppy girl is keeping an eye on them."
Sakura grinned. Still a little charged, herself, she reached over and rubbed a spot behind his neck, in what felt like a cross between giving the boy a brief neck massage and giving the fox a scratch behind his ears. On anyone else, she would have felt strange doing it, but on Naruto -- at least, while he was this feral -- it felt right. "Good boy. Remind me to give you a reward for that one."
That brought the Cloud ninja up short. "Well... you might be able to catch us all, but now what? You're stuck here while you keep us prisoner. We will resist being moved, and you should know that means you will have to kill us to move us. And that would start a war, which I gather you wish to avoid."
"Which is the only reason I feel like negotiating," Sakura pointed out, turning her attention away from Naruto reluctantly. "And when we negotiate, I'm going to need something a bit stronger then your word to keep you in line. After all, the very existence of Gashir proves that oaths taken by the cloud are meaningless, unlike those taken by citizens of Konoha -- which, in most cases, are considered as law."
"I don't know what you think you can get us to do, then," the ninja said. "If you won't take our word for anything, what kind of negotiations can we have?"
"Well, we are the ones holding all the cards here," Sakura pointed out. "And all we want is to go home, unmolested and without starting a war. You... have already failed your mission. So, I'm going to give you two choices. The first choice is -- well, we'll have to kill you all, and destroy any evidence that we were ever here. From what I can tell, your operation against us is rogue, and so it's highly unlikely that your people would acknowledge that you were after us in the first place -- as long as there was no evidence that we were the ones who killed you, there would be no way for them to blame your deaths on us, and therefore no cause for war."
The Cloud ninja winced. "I... see. And our second option?"
"Simple enough. You trust us to send your village the means to deactivate the lethal amount of explosives we'll be placing on you and all of your companions," Sakura replied, grinning. Ino showed up moments later, specially prepared explosive tags in hand. "You either die, and fail your mission, or live, and fail your mission. Either way, war is prevented and my companions and I will survive. So, which is it?"
"Please," Naruto growled, bearing fangs and claws. "Choose death. I beg you."
The Cloud nin were almost too eager to accept their explosive tags after that.
* * * * *
A loud explosion announced yet another failure to remove an explosive tag, and yet another dead Cloud ninja. The team leader, Yobutsu Ogata, sighed. "All right, that's it. I tried to tell you all that you should only attempt to remove those at your own risk, but apparently no-one here seems to understand just how stupid it is to kill yourselves unnecessarily so I'm now making it an order. Everyone is to just accept the fact that we'll have to wear these explosive seals until that kunoichi from Blossom sends us the removal instructions. To make sure you follow these instructions, I'll kill anyone who tries -- even if you succeed. Clear?"
"Yes, sir," came a disheartened chorus of acknowledgement.
With a sigh, Ogata stood up and marched off to get some privacy. He hated being in command of such incompetents, but these people were all he had to work with... at the moment. Gashir hadn't exactly left him with the cream of the crop, but he could manage. Getting away from them all, and outside of camp, was a nice luxury he could afford as their commander. However, being alone did have its drawbacks, as he realized the moment he sensed the intruder. After a few moments, he sighed.
"You're late."
"I know," the intruder said, jumping to the ground in front of him. "But it seems things went as we planned."
"Hardly! I'm losing people because they're too incompetent to know when to quite! If you had shown up when we'd agreed, there would have been no need to undergo all this farce."
"Sorry about that, but I think it's for the best. If Naruto and Sakura had discovered me, it would have been... disastrous."
Ogata shuddered. "That Naruto kid... scary. I'd be afraid for my life, too."
"For my life? Hardly," the intruder snorted. "I don't think he's ever killed anyone in his life. Beaten them to a bloody pulp, yeah, but killed? No."
"Well, those fangs and claws certainly looked lethal enough to me," Yobutsu replied. "And those red eyes...."
"Fangs and claws? Red eyes? How... odd. I've seen him do that, before, but usually only when he was really angry. Did you do anything to anger him?"
"No. But he and the girl seemed... oddly connected. She had red eyes, too, though no claws or fangs."
"Sakura had red eyes, huh? Hm... peculiar. I wonder how that happened... well, irrelevant. So, it seems there's little I can do, now. Sakura and Naruto have succeeded in our mission for me, huh? Gashir has now been removed, and you are clear to assume power."
"Yes, but I wish that Naruto brat hadn't ever been given any power in Blossom," Ogata sighed. "Most of my funding had been coming from the money laundering scheme we'd worked out with the former Gatoh organizations, and once he stopped that my money has dried up."
"It couldn't have continued much longer," the intruder pointed out. "Blossom was just about out of money, anyway. What you manage to obtain should last you long enough."
"Hm. We'll see. When I do become Raikage, however, I'll remember your efforts to get me that money... Kakashi."
Grinning darkly under his mask, Kakashi nodded. "As we had agreed, Ogata."
* * * * *
Notes: More is going on then you think with Kakashi. I don't want another set of flames because Kakashi is talking to this Cloud guy in secret, okay? Please? I would like to remind FFNet people that certain things, such as URLs, do not show up in reviews. I've had a number of reviews asking me to go 'here,' with no explanation of what 'here' is (or, in one recent case, a suggestion that I read some song lyrics which... just aren't there, nor include any sort of indication as to song title, artist, etc.) because people aren't quite so familiar with the current form of the ffnet review system. You CAN send me personal e-mail for such things and I will read it (or possibly use this new messaging system, although I have no idea if it allows urls yet). I just want some way of identifying the message as being related to this fic, such as 'Training fic' in the subject line or something like that. Thank you. Anyone who thinks that Naruto and Sakura's charged up behavior, especially Sakura's line about giving Naruto a 'reward,' is an indicator that they're in a sexual relationship already, well, sorry, but... not quite. They are in what some might call the, forgive the pun, 'heavy petting' stage, however. Or at least, they are when they're as charged up as those pills make them. (I figured there had to be a weakness in them, or else they would be standard issue on all missions -- they aren't, or else Naruto would have known about them before the chuunin exam) They have explored a bit, but just a bit... just enough that Sakura might be comfortable giving a 'reward,' so long as it doesn't go all the way yet. Some people tend to use 'feral' and 'wild' interchangably. They aren't... quite. Feral tends to refer more to domesticated animals which revert to being wild, rather then all wild creatures in general. (I used to think they meant the same, too, until I read a news article about 'feral parakeets' finding a home in parts of the US). That's why Naruto felt insulted when he was being referred to as 'feral.' Has anyone else experienced the difficulties of trying to have a dog converse with a fox before? Niether of them can just 'say' anything, usually, so you tend to run out of verbs. At one point, I referred to a doggy laugh as 'chortled,' because, well, it's the only way I can think a dog capable of laughing. A human, at the same time, much have chuckled or giggled, instead. Ergh, I'm obsessing over certain details too much. I was once asked why I never capitalized 'kyuubi' in this fic (except when I should because it was the first word of a sentence and so forth). Simple -- in my mind, the only name kyuubi has is 'Naruto.' He is a kitsuni, he is the kyuubi (or nine-tails), but those are just... species identifiers, similar to dog or parrot or beetle, not a title or anything like it... in my mind, anyway. I've always thought of Naruto being the kyuubi's name -- either because Naruto the boy was named after him once he was placed inside, or because he had no name until he was sealed inside -- and therefore fused with -- the boy named who had been named Naruto. In my mind, Naruto is the brat and the kyuubi both... which makes for some existential problems, especially as Sakura has a piece of him inside her, but solves some other problems. Such as what to call Naruto's body when the kyuubi is in full possession of his body -- he is still Naruto, it's just that the kyuubi is dominant for once. It's why he never calls boy-Naruto by his name, or anything like that. I won't capitalize kyuubi for that reason, just as I won't capitalize 'blonde-haired boy' or anything else that describes what Naruto is. And I hope that answers that question from so long ago. I didn't feel comfortable answering it until now because then I know people would have wondered how that made anything different... well, finally I can. Kyuubi took full control of Naruto for a bit and had dialogue that required I use 'his' name. I also realize I had 'Naruto' conversing with kyuubi from time to time in the story. I think of it sort of as having (Haruno) Sakura talking with Haruno-san (her mother) and Kireme Sakura (the prostitute who she shares a name with). Sakura is always referred to as 'Sakura' when talking to them, or about them, or anything of the sort. Similarly, 'Naruto' is a name shared between the brat and the kyuubi, but the brat is always 'Naruto,' even though they have the same name. (Uzumaki is, um, reserved for someone else coming up. And I think I've said enough, there). For the record, I'll admit that not everything I've written for this story has been planned from the beginning -- after all, it's kinda hard for six pages of planning to turn into hundreds of pages (as it is now) without 'expanding' the story a bit. Several of the subplots came to me as I was writing, usually as some sort of 'gee, wouldn't it make sense if I did that' sort of situation. And I always sat down and developed them out to know why and how they would fit in the final outcome before continuing. For the first time, however, I didn't do that 'sit down and plan it out' thing for one such subplot. Namely, I'm not quite sure where I'm going with Moegi's red chakra, yet. We'll see where it goes, though, won't we? I might be able to figure something out as I write -- I usually do. You MIGHT think Ino and Kireme's conversation is an unplanned occurance, too -- and you'd be right, since it wouldn't have gone into the fic had I felt that Sakura's story was going to fit into the last chapter -- but it's actually going to be good background for the Vol. 3 finale arc, where Ino and Kireme are working together. It'll be Kireme's final significant appearance, btw, until the sequel... unless, of course, she dies, in which case it will just be her final appearance. Considering this arc is one of the main reasons I built her character, I figure saying she plays a prominent role isn't too bad. For the record, in all of this fic, there are seventeen characters who I have the ability to kill off in this fic without ruining an aspect of my intended sequel, but who could ALSO live through to it (although in at least once case I've already made my decision to kill them off). Kireme is one of them. As an example of some of the others (five selected randomly from the list): Tenten, Chouji, Lee, Hyuuga Hiashi, and (as much as I rate her at the top of my 'if she were real, I'd try to marry her' list of Naruto kunoichi) Inuzuka Hana. I don't expect to kill all seventeen off -- in fact, I expect most of them to survive, and have nameless faces killed off for most of the deaths that will occur -- but we'll see how the fic wants to write itself with regards to their fates. It could be a bit of a bloodbath, if it comes down to it. This chapter was significantly delayed when I had a severe computer problem. A power out killed power to my computer longer then my 'uninterruptable' power supply was able to keep things running, and I wasn't home to take care of it at the time. When I came back, I found that the power out had corrupted the operating system to the point I had to reinstall it (despite trying for more than a day to use various methods of repair). That had me fearing that I'd lost this fic for a while (sorry, but I don't usually consider my fanfics important enough to make special back-up copies, and I only do a full backup every three months), but fortunately everything came through fine... except I have a lot of software installed on this machine that the registry doesn't acknowledge the existence of, so it's all essentially taking up space. Oh, and I lost my entire e-mail archive which included records of all my c&c not just for this fic, but every fic I'd ever written... and a mirror of the reviews I'd recieved from ffnet. Sigh. Also, this past weekend I was at an Anime convention (Anime USA... argh! They scheduled the fanfic panel across from the 'Move' concert that had the line that stretched across the entire hotel, so there wasn't anyone there), so that has cut into my writing time as well. BTW, for the first time, I started getting people wonder if I was EVER going to update this fic again (which is odd, as I've had longer breaks between chapters before without this complaint), so I guess my 'update once every day or so' reputation with this fic is finally gone. It gets worse, because I'm not even going to be able to look at this fic for at least the next two weeks plus (until December 10) thanks to work. Sorry.