"...must keep something back from the Akatsuki when they catch him -- and since you see fit to allow him to parade himself outside of our walls, that won't take long."
Naruto's hand paused, a couple of inches from the closed door of the Hokage's office. He did not know that voice -- but it was old, male, coldly displeased.
All too clearly referring to Naruto. No other Konoha nin was being hunted by Akatsuki.
He looked at Sakura, who had followed him inside to play mediator, or hit him again if his stupid tongue took over and his apology to Tsunade went wrong. He'd -- okay, he hadn't... really thought about her own feelings. It hurt too much, so he had lashed out. Though before Iruka and Shikamaru hit him over the head with some other truths, he wouldn't have been ready to hear Sakura point out his lack of consideration. 'What do you think she feels? He wasn't only your master. He was her teammate.'
Now it was already two days later, but it seemed the apology would have to wait even longer, because that old guy in her office, he sounded like bad news.
"Who's that?" he whispered to Sakura, eyebrows drawing together.
His teammate shrugged, frowning in wary confusion, as she moved in silence to the other side of the closed door to listen in.
"It is not your place," Tsunade's voice rang through the door with surprising anger, "To dictate to me how to deal with Jiraiya's last will!"
He flinched; he couldn't help it. Only two days -- two little days, and Iruka and Shikamaru had helped, and he was going to become strong, become an adult, he really was, he wasn't going to cry like a baby anymore -- but it hurt deep inside, still too fresh.
Jiraiya was dead. He was never coming back.
That old guy was hurting Tsunade, wanted to ... interfere with -- something Jiraiya had wanted.
Naruto wanted to punch him in the face. He didn't even need to know more.
"Are you truly intending to give that frog to--"
"That's Danzou!" Sakura blurted out suddenly. She immediately pressed her hands against her mouth, but it was too late.
Naruto grabbed Sakura's wrist and dashed off, towing her along.
Not to run away. Fuck no, not to run away. Danzou -- Sai's boss, who had fucked him up almost beyond repair, or at least allowed it to happen. The man who had put a hit on Sasuke. And now he was -- fuck him, fuck his plots, just no.
A frog. There was a frog that Jiraiya had wanted to meet him.
It would have come with the old tiny frog, and Boss Gamabunta. It would still be waiting close by. He started flinging doors open, checking rooms.
"Naruto! What are you doing?!"
"Looking for the -- oh." There it was. He'd seen it before, in Tsunade's office, but it hadn't spoken. He slipped in the room.
"Hey. You've got something for me."
It looked vaguely startled as he advanced on it. "Ah -- you're Naruto... Well, yes, I do--"
"We've got no time. Danzou wants to take you from me."
The frog opened its eyes wide. "But--"
Naruto snarled. "Who are you gonna listen to, him or Jiraiya ?!"
Sakura shushed him, standing by the door and checking through the crack nervously. Naruto was engaged in a staring contest with the frog, though, and he didn't break it.
It was the frog who gave in, in the end, body suddenly elongating like it had swallowed a scroll. And then -- unrolling.
There was a seal there, complex and dangerous-looking.
Naruto ignored Sakura. This was something Jiraiya had wanted him to have. He wasn't going to let Danzou attempt to take it away.
He reached out to place his hand on the paper.
"Oh god. Oh god. I'm going to kill you. I really am."
Sakura was strong. But if she could break boulders, it was only due to a trick of chakra manipulation, gathered and squeezed into a pinpoint and released all at once with explosive force. Without that trick, she was only as strong as her muscles.
Naruto was really heavy.
All three of the Narutos were.
"Wake up, damn it -- ow."
It didn't help that the two clones still leaked chakra, red and burning.
She didn't know why she hadn't stayed in that room and waited to be found. Save that neither Naruto nor his clones seemed to be transforming yet into that mindless four-tailed demon shape -- it any, past the first burst, the power had seemed to be going back down to more normal levels all on its own.
They just had the tails now, spilling from their backsides in whips of liquid fire, and Sakura could be as careful as she wanted and yet she still kept tangling her legs in them. If she hadn't been a medic-nin she would have been seared to the bone already.
If Danzou found them there, he'd use it against Tsunade-shishou and get them locked away. 'For their own good.' Hah. Sakura wasn't about to let that happen.
Even if they were dangerous. Even if they were half-crazy.
She was on Naruto's side first.
Which didn't mean he wasn't going to owe her until the next century. She finished lowering the last clone down the outside wall of the Hokage tower and into the room directly underneath the one where the frog waited. She was still busy maneuvering him inside, five tails and all, when she heard the frog greet someone and protest that, no, it hadn't seen anyone.
"Waaake up, wake uuup, waaaake up," she sang under her breath, as she dragged the clone through the room -- archive, dusty and unused -- and to the corridor. No one in sight.
No one used that particular girl's bathroom at this hour of the day, usually. She hoped the trend would hold. She closed the door with a blind kick back and went to dump the last body beside its original and the fellow clone by the sinks.
Face down on the bathroom floor. They deserved it for doing that to her.
It was really easy to see which one was the original. For one thing, he was the only one who wore clothes. Which was really strange, because usually Kage bunshins popped up wearing exactly what Naruto wore at the time of creation.
For another thing, one of the clones was a woman, Naruto's stupid sexy no jutsu. She didn't get it. Sakura raked a hand through her hair, trying to make sense of everything.
The way that chakra had exploded out -- she could understand, imagine, that in that split second after he touched the seal Naruto's first instinct had been to make clones to shunt the excess power into, before he could be burned out. But... why that female shape?
The original Naruto's chakra tail was already almost entirely reabsorbed inside him, and the clones's were much diminished. She frowned, worried. She hadn't had time to think, much less to count, but...
One lashing trail of fire for him. Three ... she thought three, for the girl.
It was hard to count higher than that at a glance, especially when they were all frothy and tangling and half-melding together, but, mathematically speaking...
That left five for the male clone, which made nine, and she didn't know what it meant that one of the three had more than the other two put together, but it didn't sound like anything good. Especially when that one wasn't the original demon bearer.
His hair looked already a couple of shades darker than Naruto's, and there was something off with his nails.
"Wake up," she muttered, kicking Naruto's foot.
Light-headed with relief, Sakura watched her teammate blink at the tiled floor under his cheek and push himself up. He sat, dazed, head lolling. Sakura put a knee down on the ground so she could check him out, green-glowing hand brushing his temple to check for injuries, berating herself for not doing that immediately.
"There, don't move, I've got to check you out." He didn't, just blinked dizzily at her. "How do you feel?"
"Sakura-chan? ... What happened?"
"Do you remember the frog? The seal?"
Nothing seemed to be physically wrong, save that he was at the edge of chakra exhaustion. Worried, she channeled a little into him, though she couldn't spare much.
"... Oh. Oh yeah." Naruto groaned. "I really don't feel so... Huh?"
His gaze had just fallen on the two pairs of bare legs bracketing his body. Sakura winced, and watched him stare up the male's legs, stopping at his ass -- still two tails there, draped across his thighs, stunted and melting bit by bit -- and upwards to its face. Naruto's face, just with those deeper, spreading grooves.
He turned to the girl, once again up her much shapelier legs, and flushed upon being faced with her ass. Sakura groaned and punched him lightly in the shoulder. "Concentrate."
He poked the girl in the shoulder. No reaction. He poked harder.
She groaned sleepily and swatted at his hand. "Ow dammit."
Naruto stared up at Sakura, bewildered. "... Didn't go pop."
"You didn't poke that hard." Sakura winced. "Though I don't think that's going to change a thing. I, uh. I kind of, accidentally dropped her, earlier, and she didn't. And I bumped that one, the guy, against a pile of books, and it didn't do anything either. I think..." She bit her lip. "I think there's way too much chakra into them for them to dissipate from so little."
Naruto flung his hands in the air. "What the hell is going on! What was that stupid seal about?! I don't need clones, I can make my own! Is that some kind of training? Argh!" He prodded them again. "Why are they K.O. anyway!"
The female clone groaned, groped along the floor in the classical gesture of someone searching for a pillow or blanket, and opened a bleary eye on them.
"What the hell is -- gah!" She sat up in a leap, pointing at Naruto. "Why am I here?! Did I use kagebunshin? I don't remember using kagebunshin!"
Sakura winced. Well, at least she didn't look evil or dangerous. "Shh! People are probably looking for us. Don't --"
"--What is it?"
The clone lifted her head to stare at Sakura, eyes huge. "I've got tits!"
Then she grabbed a double handful of them and lifted them up, for emphasis.
Sakura's fist had bonked the clone in the back of the head before she could think better of it.
... At least now she was really sure the clones weren't going to pop upon impact. The girl whimpered, rubbing the back of her head and giving Sakura a 'why meee?' sulky look.
Original-Naruto was staring at the both of them like he was tempted to crawl back and cower in the corner. Sakura glared at him. He better not try. "What? It's your stupid clone, you tell her not to touch herself!"
"What's going on?!" the girl-clone whined, throwing her hands up in a frustrated gesture Sakura had seen a hundred times.
Oh, hell. She didn't know she was a clone. Sakura's heart sank. She'd never heard of it happening, but then again if you used kagebunshin unconsciously...?
"I, uh." She threw a glance Naruto's way. he still looked spooked; no help from that side. "Do you remember the frog, and the seal?"
"Yeah -- wait, that's what made me... uh... us?"
"Near as I can tell, yes. There was so much light, and it happened so fast, I didn't see." Sakura sighed. "I was blinded by the flash and then next thing I knew you three were on the floor."
"And you don't pop when you get bonked," Naruto added, looking disturbed. "I don't know how hard--"
The rasp of metal on leather stopped them all cold. They turned to see the last clone sitting up, one of Naruto's kunai in hand. He considered it for a second or two, eyelashes lowered, thoughtful.
Then he stabbed it home in his chest.
They all jumped, Sakura and the two blond clones. The blonds wrestled him unmoving and Sakura gathered healing chakra on pure reflex, because there was blood spurting from the wound, bright red arterial blood, straight from the heart.
He yanked his arm free from the girl Naruto and pulled the kunai out. Blood splashed Sakura's reaching hands, and she yelled a protest, pressing them against the wound. He wasn't popping like a clone, he wasn't, he was alive -- and he'd just killed himself!
The wound knitted closed under her fingers before she could even stop the blood flow. Slowly, she took her hands off him. Not even a scar was left beneath the wet red streaks.
She wasn't even surprised that his eyes turned out to be red, but the cold expression on his familiar face was a punch to the guts anyway.
"Not one of your fucking clones," he concluded, and swatted the original Naruto's hands away. Naruto allowed it, still staring at him in shock.
The girl was the same Naruto in a different package, but this one was the other way around, almost identical body but she knew who was inside.
"Well, shit," concluded the girl clone.
Five minutes later they had deduced that Naruto's ability to tap into the Kyuubi's chakra was all but gone, which Naruto was putting on a brave face about but Sakura could tell it unsettled him, that none of them had a clue why any of it had happened, and that the Naruto with the Kyuubi memories was an asshole.
Sakura couldn't help but think that he wasn't eating anyone alive yet, so perhaps he wasn't as Kyuubi as he thought he was.
"Don't be stupid! Far as we know, anything happens to him and we both go poof. You wanna check it out?"
The Kyuubi one grunted, arms crossed. He was leaning against one of the sinks, body language too-cool-for-you, disinterested -- kind of like Sasuke's. There were some gestures almost animal in there, but most of the time he moved more like an aloof human than like a prowling fox. Naruto was the one who paced back and forth, pulling out hairs and muttering under his breath.
"Listen... We all used to be the same person. We should stick together."
No, Sakura thought, she and Naruto used to be the same person. He might have some Naruto in there but he was mostly fox-demon.
"No," the Kyuubi-ish one replied. "You and I used to be the same person. He's just the receptacle."
Sakura and the girl-Naruto stared.
"You might believe you're not, but you're made out of kitsune chakra. You're just as human as I am."
Sakura felt like someone had hit her in the head and sent her reeling. What she wouldn't have given to be a chakra-sensor type right now, to be able to feel those differences instead of having to rely on eyesight and logical thought. The girl Naruto looked and behaved human, but what she was -- what they both were, as far as she could tell from her limited perception, it was utterly outside any previous classification.
"--No, you're wrong, I'm -- we're -- I'm Naruto, I'm not a demon fox -- I don't feel demony at all--"
"Does it matter?" the original interrupted them, serious like he so rarely was. Intense. "Does it matter who is what or who is copying who or whatnot? We're in this together. When I touch you..."
He reached out his hand, brushed the girl's bare shoulder, then stepped up to the male's and did the same, ignoring the cold measuring glare he was subjected to. He and Kyuubi stared at each other in silence for a moment longer.
"Can't you feel it?" Naruto asked quietly. "I'm not good with words, but... You can feel it, too. I know you do."
The other one twitched, and broke eye contact first. With a frustrated growl, he shouldered Naruto out of his way, and yanked the window open.
"We belong together!" Naruto yelled at him as he leaped out. Naruto watched a few seconds longer and sighed, turning back to them.
"He's an ass," said the girl, lower lip jutting out in a disgruntled pout.
"... Mergh. Ah, don't worry, he'll be back."
"Before or after someone tries to arrest him for streaking and he brings half the police station down?" Sakura inquired. "Because I can guarantee this is going to end up on Tsunade-shishou's desk about ten minutes later, tops."
The two Narutos exchanged an alarmed look and rushed for the window. Sakura narrowly managed to snatch the girl's long unbound hair and yank her to a stop.
"OW. What the hell, Sakura-chan?!"
"Are you going to go out like that?! You'd be even worse than him! God, I can't believe you."
The girl looked down at herself, blinked, and gave her boobs a curious poke. "Oh right. I'm used to streaking in this shape, that's why."
Sakura glared. "That's not something to be proud of." A sigh. She turned away, walked toward the door. "Stay put. You're lucky I keep a change of clothes in Tsunade-shishou's lab. I'll scout around a little while I'm at it. Then you two can go after him. I'll stay behind to do damage control, fish around for info. Sounds good?"
The blond pair exchanged a circumspect look.
"Er. Well, actually. Sakura-chan?"
She turned around, wondering what was wrong with her plan. Perhaps they wanted to thank her for taking risks and protecting them. "Yes?"
"I don't think her boobs are gonna fit in your tops."
"Yeah, not in a million years."
Sakura tore the soap dispenser out of the wall and threw it at their heads.