All around Naruto was the echo of the eerie sound of dripping water in a large spacious room. He could feel himself standing ankle deep in water, and the air around him seemed foul; not particularly in a sense of smell, but in a way that he could feel in his soul. It was a feeling of very sinister chakra, and Naruto was all too familiar with it.
Naruto opened his eyes, only to look at the giant bars of a locked chamber with a seal placed on it. On the inside of the cage was complete darkness. That is, until two glowing eyes emerged from the darkness, staring directly at the blonde Jinchuuriki. The eyes glowed within the shadows like a glowstick, and were red in color. Naruto stared back at the eyes looking at him, grimacing as he did so.
"Why did you call me here?" Naruto asked the creature behind the bars. The eyes seemed to have squinted slightly, and eerie laughter was heard, echoing around in the extremely spacious room they were in. One would expect the voice to be deep and boisterous, however, the voice was actually light and... feminine.
Kyuubi no Yoko stepped forward in front of the bars of the cage, exposing herself from the shadows. Contrary to the form she took prior to being sealed inside the boy before her, her current form was more humanistic. She stood to be about three inches taller than Naruto, which was well above average for most human women. Her expression exhibited a very dark demeanor, and her red eyes that glowed much like the eyes of a fully activated Sharingan made her seem even more sinister. Her hair was bright orange, much like the fur of a fox, and was long enough to reach down to the middle of her back. Some of the strands dangled in front of her face freely, almost like half-opened blinds that draped in front of a window. Despite how sinister the demon looked, most would agree that her facial features were attractive, yet intimidating. She had the looks of a thirty-something-year-old woman, despite how she'd been around for thousands of years. Her frame was nothing short of voluptuous, much like Anko's, and the slim-fitting red kimono she wore hugged every curve she had. The kimono ended mid-thigh, exposing her long and fair-skinned legs. The fingers on her hands were long, and her razor sharp nails that were black in color only made them look longer. Overall, anyone would agree that the demon looked attractive, but anyone would also agree that she didn't seem completely human. She was a demon, after all; one that looked as though she'd rip into anyone she wanted to harm with ease.
The Kyuubi gave Naruto a dark grin, exposing her elongated canine teeth, "For no particular reason. I do get lonely in here from time to time, so I could use the company."
The Nine-Tailed Fox's voice was womanly, but had an eerily demonic undertone to it. Naruto grimaced at the evil being and crossed his arms.
"The last place I'd want to be is near you. You killed my friend."
Kyuubi's grin grew in size somewhat, "It's not my fault she provided as an easy target. If anything, she had it coming for a long time. I couldn't tell you how often I had to use my chakra to heal the wounds she inflicted on you."
The muscles in Naruto's jaw began to tighten, "She wasn't the enemy! I only used your power to fight Orochimaru, not my allies!"
"Orochimaru will get what's coming to him in due time. I still have not forgotten how he suppressed my chakra during your Chuunin exams." The Demoness then licked her lips thirstily, "As for your teammate... that was the most freedom I've gotten since I've been sealed by that damned Hokage. Despite how your body was too weak for me to kill Orochimaru, I went for the closest available target while I still had that much control. And it felt great to have finally killed. It is not something I've felt for a long time."
As much as Kyuubi's words angered Naruto, he couldn't help but feel a chill run up his spine upon hearing how enthusiastic she was about killing. It was almost as if she got off on it. Was this what it meant to be a demon? To get a kick out of murder and destruction?
Naruto's anger began to rise enough to a point where his breathing became heavy, and his fists began to clench up as hard as his body would allow, "You're... you're sick! What do you gain out of merciless killing, anyway?!"
The demoness began to chuckle sinfully. She stepped forward, revealing the nine large foxtails flailing tranquilly behind her, "Joy. Satisfaction. Pleasure. When you use my power, do you not feel how good it feels to inflict harm onto others? Did it not feel good to attack that cursed Uchiha when you fought him three years ago?"
Naruto grunted, unable to say anything. Despite how much he didn't want her to be right, he knew she was. Whenever he used her power... it made him insatiable. When he and Sasuke last fought, it felt good to have been putting his friend in his place at some points of the fight... despite how much he did not want to admit it. The very first time he used it in The Land of Waves where he fought on what is now known as The Great Naruto Bridge, he declared that he was going to kill Haku. And what was scarier was that he really meant it. Despite him not actually killing him, Naruto has never wished to kill anyone or anything. This demon's chakra... it was evil, yet addictive.
The Kyuubi noted his hesitation and grinned, "I know you know that I'm right. If only that last attack had landed... It would have been very fulfilling to have killed an Uchiha despite me being sealed inside you. One of these days, I'll eradicate any remaining Uchiha on this earth. I swear it."
Naruto looked at the ground, clenching his fists, before looking back at the Kyuubi, "... I'm not going to use your power anymore."
The female demon looked at Naruto with an amused expression, before lowly chuckling. Then, gradually, her laughter began to bellow out into the large spacious room she was in loudly, echoing all around them.
"That must be a joke." She stated after her howling died down, "The only reason you've ever gotten as far as you have in your pathetic shinobi career was because you relied on my power. Without me, you're nothing. Without me, you'd have died a long time ago. You do realize that, right?"
Naruto looked down, "It's true that without you, I probably wouldn't be around anymore. You have saved my life countless times, even in situations where most people wouldn't have made it."
Kyuubi grinned triumphantly, "I'm glad that you-"
"But..." Naruto continued, holding a grin of his own, "Without me, you probably would be dead, too. If you hadn't gotten sealed inside someone as gutsy and stubborn as me, you probably would have died sealed inside someone who doesn't have what it takes to take on the path of a shinobi."
This silenced the demoness for a few seconds. She then scoffed at him dismissively.
"Fool. Do you really think that?"
"I do." Naruto said confidently, "It's like I said three years ago, I'm your jailor. And not everyone has what it takes to keep you in check like I do."
The Nine-Tailed Fox rolled her eyes, "You're clearly deluded. You do not, by any means, 'keep me in check'. I challenge you to remove this seal and say that again."
"Nice try." Naruto scoffed, "You're not getting free any time soon."
The Kyuubi then smirked devilishly, granting Naruto a light but dark chuckle, "We shall see about that, Naruto-kun."
The conversation Naruto was having with his demon tenant in his own mindscape was interrupted when he felt someone shaking him by his shoulder. Naruto opened his eyes and turned around, only to be face-to-face with his replacement sensei while Kakashi was out of commission.
"GAH!" Naruto screeched, jumping back deeper into the onsen, splashing the Jounin in the process. Yamato's face was closer to him than he'd originally anticipated, nevertheless considering how Naruto wasn't expecting to be snuck up on in the first place.
Yamato's face deadpanned as water from the hot springs dripped off of his face and clothing, "...You didn't have to splash me."
"You didn't have to scare the crap out of me!" Refuted Naruto, trying to calm his pounding heart, "God, your face freaks me out!"
Yamato furrowed his brows, "What was that?"
"Nothing!" Naruto sighed, "Er, so what's up, Yamato-sensei?"
The wood-style user shook his head, "The Hokage summoned you. She wishes to talk with you."
Naruto looked at Yamato and immediately frowned. Part of the reason why he chose to go to the onsen was to avoid Tsunade. After all, he technically lied to her, seeing as she doesn't know the whole truth as to the cause of Sakura's untimely death.
...Or does she?
"Do you know what she wants to talk about exactly...?" Asked Naruto with a tone and expression that inquired if it were about his most recent mission.
Yamato huffed, "She did say that it was in regards to the spy mission. But if you're wondering, I didn't mention anything to her about Sakura, nor did she mention her herself. I don't know exactly what it is she summoned us for."
Naruto looked down at the ground momentarily before meeting Yamato's gaze again, "Yamato-sensei... if it's about what I think it's about, then I don't want you getting in trouble because of what I asked of you." Said Naruto cheerlessly, "I realize that it wasn't right for me to ask you to lie to the Hokage for me. I was scared and desperate... but if there are consequences I have to face, then I have to face them on my own, without dragging people down with me."
Yamato frowned and looked at his subordinate with empathy. Yamato was undoubtedly uncomfortable with going on with what can be considered an act of treason, but did it anyway for Naruto's sake. He was aware that it may not have been the smartest or most ethical decision, but chose to do what he could for Naruto considering the circumstances.
"I appreciate the nobility, Naruto. But your secret's safe with me, and just know that I chose to do what I did in an effort to look out for you. You're my comrade, and I know you meant no harm." Yamato then sighed, "But I do encourage you to come clean eventually. It would be better for the Hokage to hear it from you than anyone else. I don't know how she would handle the news, but trust me when I say that no matter the outcome, it'd be much worse if she found out through another source at this point."
Naruto nodded slowly. He knew Yamato was right. Hence why he wanted to drag it out as long as he could to begin with.
"Alright, I hear you. Let's go."
In the Hokage's office sat Tsunade, the Fifth Hokage of Konohagakure. Standing beside her was her right-hand woman, Shizune, who held Ton-Ton protectively in her arms. Shizune was aiding Tsunade in the process of reading and signing paperwork, which was every Hokage's dreaded responsibility.
Their concentration on the paperwork was then interrupted by a knock coming from the door.
"Enter!" Tsunade called out. Naruto and Yamato both emerged into the room a second later. Naruto had hesitated to enter, attempting to think of any last minute alibis that could aid him in getting out of the situation, despite his earlier nobility. But he inevitably forced himself into the room and immediately looked at Tsunade to gauge her facial expression to see what mood she was in. From what he could see, she was not angry. However, she didn't seem particularly happy, either. She was unreadable, and that alone began to make Naruto's anxiety skyrocket.
Before Tsunade could say anything, Kakashi Hatake entered in behind Yamato and Naruto. The silver-haired Jounin had fully recovered from the hospital, seeing as he had his favorite little orange book in his hands as he walked in.
Tsunade looked at the three shinobi, "Ah, good, you all are here." She then looked at Kakashi, "You're reading Jiraiya's smut again, so I'm assuming you're fully recovered."
The son of the White Fang smiled with his eyes in response to her annoyed tone, "Yup."
After a brief eyeroll, Tsunade looked over at Naruto, who jumped internally once her eyes fell on him. To his surprise, she looked at him with a look of genuine concern.
"You holding up okay, Naruto-kun?"
She spoke to him in a way that a mother would talk to her hurt son. Naruto was touched by this, and was relieved, seeing as that was a sign that she didn't find out exactly what happened on his mission. But it still brought him discomfort to know that he still had to come clean, and it made it difficult for him to look her in the eyes.
"Y-Yeah. I'm... fine." Awkwardly responded Naruto. Tsunade made a mental note of his response, but simply nodded and didn't prod any further.
"I guess you all are wondering why I summoned you here." She began to the remaining members of Squad Seven.
"You mentioned that it had to do with the mission a few days ago, correct?" Asked Kakashi, putting away his book. Naruto was now curious. If she didn't know the truth, then what could she want to tell them?
"It does." Nodded Tsunade, before giving out a huff of air, "Sai... has been reported dead."
There was a brief silence in the room, as none of the other shinobi were prepared to hear such news. A small grunt from Ton-Ton seemed to break the silence after a while.
Tsunade took their lack of a response as demands for elaboration, "After sending out ANBU to pick up after the trail to Orochimaru's hideout, they found that Orochimaru had left and abandoned it by the time they got there. After searching the hideout, they stumbled across Sai's body. And after inspecting his wounds, they found that he was finished off with a technique that you, Kakashi, should be familiar with; The Chidori."
Naruto's and Yamato's eyes opened wide in shock, while Kakashi's exposed eye squinted.
"So Sasuke killed one of our ranks, then?" Asked Kakashi with a slightly frustrated tone. He was beginning to gain feelings of regret to have ever taught Sasuke that technique.
Tsunade nodded, "It seems that way. But there's a catch." She looked at Yamato, "You reported that Sai joined up with Orochimaru and departed with him after you and Naruto fought with him, correct?"
Yamato nodded, "Yes, my wood clone saw everything."
"Then why would Sasuke turn around and kill Sai if they were on the same side?" Asked Kakashi.
"That's the catch." Answered Tsunade, "After informing Danzo that one of his most trusted ROOT ops had sided with the enemy, he confessed to me that he sent Sai out on a separate mission without informing me. A mission to find Sasuke Uchiha and kill him after making an illegitimate proposal to join Orochimaru's efforts in destroying the Leaf."
Yamato rubbed his chin, "So Sai was actually following Danzo's orders, not turning his back on the Leaf..." He then crossed his arms, "Why wouldn't Danzo inform you of these plans?"
"Because he's much like Orochimaru in the sense that he's very reptile-like." Tsunade grunted, "First off, he knows that I wouldn't approve. And he's been known to do things behind my back like this, and whenever I'd bring it up to the council, his defense of doing it in the name of the village gets him out of the crosshairs every time. The most punishment he's ever gotten from stunts like these was a slight slap on the wrists. Sneaky bastard." Spat Tsunade.
"Are you saying that Danzo should not be trusted?" Inquired Kakashi, "He was a friend of The Third, after all."
"Something is up with him, and I can't particularly point out what it is right now, so I won't make that bold of a claim. All I'm saying is that he's done some things that have rubbed me the wrong way. And I'm gonna get to the bottom of it one way or another." She stated, mumbling the last sentence to herself moreso than anyone else in the room. Shaking her head to clear those bothersome thoughts for another time, Tsunade's eyes fell on Naruto once again, who inwardly panicked a bit in response.
"Naruto, you're unusually quiet." Tsunade pointed out, acknowledging how normally Naruto would have at least a short list of somethings to say in response to the news brought to him.
Naruto's eyes wandered around the room as he tried to think of something to say.
Kakashi glimpsed at him, "I think he just has a lot to take in. You know, considering."
Naruto mentally thanked Kakashi for speaking up for him. Tsunade nodded, accepting Kakashi's statement.
"That's understandable... Feel free to come in and talk to me anytime if you need to get some things off your mind, Naruto-kun. I know you're dealing with a lot right now."
"Thank you, Tsunade-sama." Was all Naruto responded with. The leader of Konoha noted his lack of use of her notorious nickname 'Baa-chan', but chose not to prod again.
She simply looked at Shizune, who met her gaze with a sad one, before sighing, "In any case, considering the circumstances, I will give Squad Seven a week off duty. Sakura's funeral will be held two days from now, and Sai's will be held the day after. I hope that everyone will be attending."
Naruto felt a lump beginning to form in his throat. It took quite a bit of effort to not have a small breakdown right in front of everybody.
"That is all I have to inform you of. Take advantage of the days off to mourn and recover. You all are dismissed."
Yamato and Kakashi both nodded and proceeded out of the room. Naruto fell in behind them both, and just as he was one foot out the door, Tsunade called his name, stopping him in his tracks.
"Yes, Tsunade-sama?" He answered, peeking past the door to look at her.
Tsunade looked at him with a sad smile, "Keep your chin up, Naruto. Everything will be okay."
Naruto looked down at the floor, before nodding and stepping out of the room, closing the door behind him.
Shizune frowned, "He's going through a lot."
"I can only imagine." Tsunade responded with a sigh.
"I hope he'll be okay..."
"I owe that brat a lot, unfortunately. I'll do everything I can to make sure he will be."
Naruto stepped out of the front entrance of the Hokage tower to see Kakashi sitting there in front of the border, who was apparently waiting for him.
"Yo, Naruto. We have to talk." Stated Kakashi. The way he phrased it began to make Naruto worry that Yamato may have told Kakashi what happened, considering how he did technically only ask him to withhold the information from Tsunade more than anyone else.
"Okay... what's up?"
"Well, it's a number of things, actually. Maybe it'd be best if we spoke about it over at Training Ground Seven." He offered. Naruto hesitantly nodded and shunshined over to the broad and open location. Kakashi sat on a tree stump and directed Naruto to sit on the one across from him.
Naruto's anxiety began to flare up for the umpteenth time that day.
"I won't beat around the bush here, Naruto. Yamato informed me of what happened on the mission."
"He did, huh?" Naruto sighed, "I didn't mean to do it... it just... happened."
"I understand, Naruto. There's not much to apologize for. It's not like you have complete control over the Kyuubi, so try not to beat yourself up over it."
"How can I not?" Asked Naruto, "I not only cost us the mission, but my actions lead to the death of not only one of my teammates, but probably two now. And if we include Sasuke, it'll probably be three at this rate."
Kakashi raised an eyebrow, "Now I wouldn't go that far, Naruto. Don't place such a heavy burden on yourself. Sai and Sakura both put their lives on the line for their village on that mission just as they would in any other mission."
Naruto wanted to agree with Kakashi, but he just couldn't, "Yes, but I'm sure Sakura didn't plan to go on that mission, only to have an ally turn on her..."
Kakashi's eyebrow was still raised, "Uh, from the intel that was brought to me, Sakura had fallen before Sai sided with Orochimaru. So how could that be the case?"
"I'm not talking about Sai. I'm talking about me." Said Naruto.
The Sharingan bearer made his rising confusion known, "...So you were the one who sided with Orochimaru?"
"You're losing me here, Naruto." Kakashi stated, scratching his head, "What exactly is it that you're saying?"
"I was saying that it's hard for me to not feel like things are my fault when I'm the reason Sakura died... I know that technically it was the Kyuubi, but..." Something then dawned on Naruto, "Wait, didn't Yamato tell you...?"
"All Yamato told me was that you grew four tails into your Kyuubi state, which is the worst its ever gotten. So what's all this about Sakura's death being your fault? I was told that Orochimaru was the one that attacked her."
Naruto wanted to smack himself. Due to his lingering guilt over the situation, he exposed the truth to Kakashi inadvertently. He felt he should have had more faith that Yamato wouldn't just tell anybody without consulting him first. Not that Yamato really owed him that much, regardless, but still.
The blond felt that it was far too late to back out of the discussion now and ultimately decided to come clean all the way to Kakashi.
"Orochimaru didn't attack Sakura... I did. Or at least I did while I was in that state. I don't recall having any control or memories of my actions at that point... But Yamato saw everything and did what he could to stop me, but..."
Naruto shook his head. Today was becoming a pretty emotionally exhausting day for him, to say the least.
"I asked Yamato to keep things between us. And I thought when you said he told you everything, you meant that he told you that, too. But I guess I kind of exposed myself on this one." Naruto ended with a dry chuckle.
Kakashi allowed this information to process before crossing his arms, "Well, that certainly makes more sense. I was wondering why Orochimaru would go after Sakura when you're usually the one who chooses to be on the front lines."
Naruto said nothing.
"In any case," The silver-haired Jounin started with a sigh, standing up, "I'm not going to blame you for any of that. It's not your fault that the Kyuubi's chakra broke out so much. I can only imagine how bad it could have been if Yamato wasn't there to yield the Kyuubi's influence on you. So don't beat yourself up."
"I don't see how that's possible. Like I said before, I cost us the mission. No matter how you look at it, I'm tied to the cause of Sakura's death. And if we hadn't had to retreat due to what I did, we probably could have saved Sai, even if it is that Danzo guy's fault initially." Naruto put his face in his palms, "That was easily the worst day of my life... and what makes it worse is that I can't even remember everything..."
Kakashi stared at Naruto as he sobbed for a while before looking towards the sky. The Jounin closed his eyes and sighed before walking over to Naruto, placing a comforting hand on his shoulder.
"Hey." Kakashi called for his attention, "I know how you feel more than you think."
Naruto sniffled, "You do...?"
Kakashi nodded, "Yeah. One of these days we'll go out for a drink and I'll tell you something that I don't speak with anyone about. All I'll tell you now is that I can sympathize with you. And I need you to trust me when I tell you that what happened wasn't your fault. You are not a bad person, Naruto."
Naruto nodded and thanked him for his endearing words. He was also curious about what it was Kakashi was talking about, and made a note to definitely accept his drinking offer whenever he chose to propose it.
"Thanks, sensei." Said Naruto, wiping his tears.
Kakashi smiled with his eyes, "Don't mention it. You have the next week off, so definitely use that time to get your mind together. Mourn, if you have to. And I definitely encourage you to tell Tsunade what you know if you haven't already."
Naruto nodded, "I know... Yamato-sensei told me the same thing not too long ago."
Kakashi nodded as well and chose to change the subject, "Well, as interesting as this conversation has been, I'll get back to where I originally left off. Seeing as the Kyuubi's influence is growing stronger each time you use it, I think at some point we should use the week that we have to train. I was doing some thinking while in the hospital, and I devised a new training method where you can create your own original jutsu."
Naruto was about to refuse the offer of training as he did with Anko, until he heard the mention of creating his own original jutsu. Even despite Naruto's current mental block, he couldn't turn down an offer at learning something cool.
"Original jutsu?" Naruto repeated, his facing lighting up slightly.
Kakashi grinned. It felt as though he just told a child that he had candy waiting for him, "Yup, an original jutsu. But there are some measures we have to take beforehand."
Naruto always hated how Kakashi seemed yo enjoy exciting him with something, only to bring up something not so exciting that he had to do prior, "Okay, like what?"
"Well, I wasn't going to say this originally, but considering what you told me, I think it would be best if we do something about the seal holding the Kyuubi. From what I can tell, your seal weakens every time you use the Kyuubi's powers. And we need to make sure that seal stays on tact for as long as possible before we engage in anything that can rouse that chakra. Nothing against you, but if that chakra is getting as out of hand as it has been recently, then we have to ensure that you and everyone around you will be safe."
Naruto nodded, seeing as that was something he wanted to look into himself already, "Yeah, I know. I actually planned to find Ero-Sennin soon so he can try to do something about it."
"Good. I'm glad to see that we're on the same page." Said Kakashi, "We can still get started on some of the preliminary training, however, since it won't be very intense. So if you're available, come meet me here tomorrow morning, and I'll have a little something ready for you."
"Sounds good." Naruto said with a small smile. Kakashi responded with his usual happy expression of the eyes.