Teamwork : Progression

Series: Teamwork : Prequel
Genre: POV Naruto
Warnings: warnings vary with the drabbles, but include: yaoi, het, violence/gore, and fox sex XD
Betaread by Windshades, who rocks. Love you, babe.

Time passes between the drabbles, which are just snippets of Naruto's life as he grows up.

For his thirteenth birthday, Naruto gets a concussion.

'... urgh, not any less creepy than last time.' That's not the hospital anymore, is it? Greenish walls, sickly green light, water sloshing around his ankles -- or something that looks like water. But it's thicker, heavier. Like clear blood -- or like drool. Ew.

Red eyes stare down at him, from so high above it makes him queasy to guess the exact distance -- or maybe it's only because of the nauseatingly malevolent chakra. /What do you want this time?/

'Nothing. Got here by accident.'

/... 'feh./

'Yeah, I'm not especially happy to see you either, furball.'

Flash of teeth in the dark. /You wouldn't be that brave without the cage, brat./

The tone is offending enough that he almost lets the fox provoke him into getting closer, to prove him wrong. But he's not quite that stupid.

He wakes up to Sakura shaking him awake. Behind them, Kakashi is holding down a sneering, heavily bandaged up Sasuke in place. So the bastard won't apologize for knocking him out, eh? No problem. Naruto will just get his due the painful way. He forgets about the meeting, and pounces.

Sakura's shampoo smells really nice, flowery and sweet like her name. But that scent of blood and life coming from her with each moon is a lot more intriguing. He wishes she wouldn't cover it up with perfume every time she goes and sees Sasuke at the hospital; it isn't as if helping him with his reeducation will leave her smelling anything but sweaty.

Sasuke smells like medicines and drugs; not as much as he should, though. Naruto doesn't say anything. If he was in his place, he'd spit the damn things out too. Besides Sasuke can only handle so many "for your own good" interventions from anyone, and Naruto used pretty much all his credit for the next ten years in one go. So he takes all the snapping and the things thrown at his head and the frozen silences, and he waits. Underneath the drugs and the distress and the hospital food, Sasuke still smells like Sasuke.

Sometimes, rarely, Sasuke smells a little like Sakura, but Naruto doesn't say anything, even though he wishes she would hold him, too. Sasuke needs to get used to human touch again a lot more than he does.

Sasuke is thinking of leaving again. Naruto knows he is. Bastard won't talk to anyone anymore. And here Naruto thought that things were getting better, back to normal, just like before the whole mess began. Here he thought that the news of Orochimaru's death would put that fear behind them once and for all.

Trust the prissy son of a bitch to go the other way.

Sakura sees the restlessness, too. She watches him with worried eyes -- they're not happy spring green like they were when the bastard left the hospital and was allowed to go on missions with them again. They're dark, like a forest just before a storm, with the animals scared into hiding -- all life hiding away, waiting for the thunder.

He wants her eyes to be full of life again. He wants his eyes to show anything but that horrible emptiness.

He even dreams of it -- alone in a deserted Konoha, calling and screaming and howling. Iruka and Kakashi and Sakura are listless, their eyes unseeing, looking right through him, and Sasuke is leaving and he runs and runs and can't catch up to him, can't actually leave the streets of the town behind. Sasuke disappears in the dark, hunting snakes and beasts that want nothing more than to kill him.

/Herd some big prey closer to home and stop whining,/ Kyuubi growls, annoyed.

Naruto twitches, and wakes up enough to shut the voice off.

It doesn't stop him from asking Kakashi to teach more stuff to Sasuke. More dangerous stuff; no matter what the Council says about what a Genin of dubious allegiance should be allowed to know.

He tries to teach him the Rasengan too. Naruto isn't teacher material and Sasuke chafes at being taught by him -- that and his type of chakra isn't really adapted to Naruto's biggest move. Sasuke can't quite manage it, and it annoys him, but the approximation he gets is more than damaging enough.

Naruto still counts it as a success. So long as Sasuke works so hard to master it all, he's not thinking of what kind of prey he could find elsewhere.

Naruto is fourteen, and getting an unfortunate response to women wearing pelts. It doesn't help either that Kiba's older sister is a sexy woman, strong and confident and even sort of dangerous. And, if that isn't enough, there's no shirt underneath her Chuunin vest.

Imagining her on all fours while she lectures them on the peculiarities of the beasts Teams Seven and Eight are tracking in these barren snow fields is one of his guilty pleasures. He draws the line at imagining a bushy tail batting against his thighs, though.

'Keep your fantasies to yourself,' he mutters that night, half-asleep in his tent, hand down his pants, and vaguely hears a rumbled, blatantly insincere /don't know what you're talking about/ in response.

Kakashi-sensei smells shaken, and he forgot to cover his sharingan again; it spins uselessly as he stares through nothing, dazed. This must be the first time he's been so openly stunned; Naruto doesn't care enough to bother him about it, though. He feels the same; he can't quite believe it. On the other side of the waiting room, Sakura's parents are waiting, white-faced and shell-shocked. He wonders what's worse; being told that your daughter was just brought in with a badly gouged back and if she doesn't die she might stay paralyzed, or actually seeing it and not being able to stop it.

His thoughts chase each other like crazy dogs after a fox, around and around and around.

He can't believe she did that.

Kakashi-sensei must have it worse than him; it doesn't look good for a jounin sensei to be protected by his weakest genin.

At least Sasuke completed the mission.

Fuck the mission.

He can't believe she did that. He just. Can't believe. She was safe. She was out of the way. No one paid attention to her. She could have -- Kakashi-sensei would have found a way to dodge; he always dodges everything. Always. He can't die. It was stupid of her. She should have stayed hidden. Saved herself...

He knows that she couldn't have completed the mission even if she had stayed hidden and left them to distract the enemy -- not enough destructive power.

She's so smart, smarter than him, but somehow, not enough to know when to run away.

...Yes. He can understand. That doesn't mean he wants to accept it. She's supposed to be safe, they're supposed to keep her safe. Kakashi is right to keep the three of them out of sight behind that huge potted plant, her parents probably hate them. And he hates Sasuke for jumping into the opening like that, for using her sacrifice like a distraction.

He tells him so; Sasuke sneers. She's a professional. She's doing her job. How stupid is he to let himself get so attached that he'd rather drag her along as useless baggage than see her be useful for once?

They would no doubt get banned from the hospital if Kakashi didn't pull out of his trance long enough to grab them both by the hair, drag them outside, and knock their heads together, hard, when they try to free themselves. He doesn't say anything; he just stares at his students, eye still spinning.

Sasuke doesn't apologize, but he looks away first. He still smells like Sakura's blood from when he scooped her up and started running, still has it under his nails.

Naruto slings an arm around his shoulders, and Sasuke doesn't pull away, and it says everything that needs to be said.

Kakashi covers his eye, finally, and goes back inside. His steps are dragging just a bit, wearily. Naruto and Sasuke stare at nothing a while longer, pretending that they're not leaning against each other, pretending that their world hasn't just trembled on its axis. Sakura isn't supposed to put herself in danger so recklessly. Sakura is the least likely of the four of them to die.

Sakura is a ninja, just as they are. This is the first time that they're forced to accept what it means.

When they go back in, her parents are gone. Kakashi tells them that the couple is inside, visiting.

He stares at them a second longer, then shakes his head and pulls his book from his pocket, slowly, and they understand that she's going to live. The doctors wouldn't have let the Harunos in just yet if they were still operating on her. And if she had died, Kakashi would have read it in the nurse's body language and -- and, no book. No book is a bad thing. Naruto is happy to see that stupid book. So very happy. He's never going to try stealing it and scribble all over the pages again.

He's not allowed to visit her until the next day. He camps in the waiting room anyway. Sasuke stays almost all night, then leaves, sneering. When he finally gets to see her, Sakura is awake and pale and still pretty, and she's eating an apple that still smells a little like him. Naruto grins.

'We gotta stop meeting like this,' he mutters the next time, as he awakens half-floating in front of the cage.

/Lost a fight with your bitch again, brat?/ the fox sneers, and licks a gigantic paw in a not-quite-uncaring way.

Naruto doesn't sneer back, or posture. He finds a relatively dry place and sits down against the wall. 'No. Jiraiya's checking on the seal.' Naruto doesn't like the way he's been sleepwalking. The other night he woke up with his hand in a rat hole, clawing at the hidden rodents frenetically. He got plaster and mortar everywhere. His landlord hates his guts already.

Kyuubi bares his teeth, but doesn't reply.

It's dark and cold and damp in here, and the only light comes from Kyuubi's eyes and the chakra oozing from him. There's a dripping noise coming from somewhere, irregular enough to startle him every time, frequent enough to be a real nuisance. After ten minutes it's already getting on his nerves. Kyuubi is silent like mountains are silent -- just the wind of his breath and the heaviness of his sheer presence and the weight of everything there is between them.

They sit in the dark for a long time, waiting.

At the end he gets to leave. Kyuubi doesn't.

He's comfortable, sprawled on soft fur covering warm, squirming bodies. He doesn't care if he's squishing his littermates. They're making him a bumpy nest on which to drape himself. When one of them whines and tries to squirm free, he nips. And then they yelp -- especially since it's hard to say which ear belongs to which sibling, and sometimes he misses and they all start fighting. They tumble against each other until they get tired out and he invariably wins again. And then he sprawls on them and naps, and then he starts over. It's fun.

He wakes up face down on his bed, upper body on his pillow, legs on the bunched up blankets, the mattress bumpy from piles of clothes he was too tired to put away. His back aches like a son of a bitch, and he's got the headache from hell. The worst, though, is that he's jealous of Kyuubi, because if that dream wasn't just a result of his subconscious fucking with him, his furry tenant didn't start life in loneliness.

And the bastard already abused them back then.

He wonders if the fox regrets, now. He wonders if he can even feel regret.

Naruto calls himself a bleeding heart, and tries to forget about it. He needs an aspirin now.

The next time he comes by, the fox is howling crazily. Naruto doesn't reply to the taunts and screamed insults. He just -- reaches out for the wall, and pushes, and pushes with all his strength and his crankiness and his rage at being unable to do anything else. He can feel the thud in his head when the brick -- the mental block, or whatever it was -- falls off on the other side, and then there's false wind ruffling his dream hair, and a ray of soft golden light that cuts through the reddish semi-obscurity.

Kyuubi's muzzle is against the bars, just four steps away. He doesn't look at Naruto. He looks at the tiny hole in the wall just outside his cage. His red eyes are half-closed, lids heavy; the wings of his nose are fluttering wildly.

At least he isn't making a racket anymore.

Naruto wakes up with his semi-permanent headache gone, and for a week straight he can smell so many things he needs to camp outside the city walls; the garbage cans are killing him.

It's summer and he's lonely.

They haven't gotten a lot of missions, and they're all D or C rank, because the Council members are all old idiots who prefer the traitor and the demon to have too much time on their hands than do something honestly useful. And Team Seven's request to participate in the chuunin exam was denied. Maybe next year. Yeah, right.

Sakura-chan left with her parents. A whole month without her, and while they've spent longer than that not seeing each other, he still doesn't like knowing that she's so far away. Out of reach. She's not supposed to leave town (his hunting grounds).

Sasuke is moving out of his old place and into a new flat -- and he doesn't want any help. Naruto isn't that clumsy; he could be helpful. But it's like Sasuke wants Naruto's presence in his new place even less than in his old one -- Naruto only knows the address because he followed him once. It feels like a negation of their tentative, slowly-healing not-quite-friendship.

Kakashi-sensei's taking quick solo missions. Iruka-sensei's doing the mission assignment gig full-time. Konohamaru is forced into summer lessons by his closet pervert of a teacher, and the guy doesn't want Naruto hanging out with them -- they distract each other.

He hangs out with Hinata and Kiba and Shino, when they're in town, when they're not participating in the exam. He fights with Kiba a lot -- stupid dog always bossing him around. Hinata -- he's aware that she wants him, her scent spikes whenever he goes shirtless and he might be oblivious to visual and behavioral clues, but scent doesn't lie. Kiba is aware too. Kiba is jealous, and they fight even more, but in the end he grudgingly, nobly gives Naruto his wordless benediction. Naruto is tired of the group dynamics. He wants his own group back -- he fits there better. Hinata is nice and pretty and brave when she's not busy stuttering away, but she wears Shino's and Kiba's imprint too deeply -- just like Sasuke and Sakura wear his. Besides, he's not yet ready to let go of his crush on Sakura.

It doesn't stop him from fantasizing about doing both Hinata and Sakura together, but hey, he's a teenager.

The fantasies don't stop the loneliness, but waking up on Iruka-sensei's roof does, because he always invites Naruto in for breakfast.

Sakura dares to come back from her vacation stinking of another male -- not even a ninja. But she smiles wide at Naruto, and says how glad she is to be back, and the next day she smells of nothing but soap and shampoo and perfume and tons of flower-scented girly things, all pink, soft skin as if she'd spent the night scrubbing him off her. He's mollified.

He still sulks and (tries to) ignores her and gets into as many fights with Sasuke as he can, just so she doesn't get a chance to latch onto the bastard. He's sure if Sasuke knew, he'd be sulking too... unless he really doesn't care, but Naruto doesn't want to think of that. He wants to keep his certainty that Sasuke does care about them both, and belongs to them both -- that Sakura belongs to them both too -- to him.

He bites Sasuke's shoulder to the blood during a fight, almost deep enough to scar, and somewhere wishes it had been Sakura. Sasuke is already wearing enough of his marks.

Naruto is on his first solo mission. Messenger. They wouldn't let him go alone if Jiraiya hadn't given his go-ahead -- Akatsuki is apparently having some sort of internal conflict; too busy to ambush him -- and if Sasuke and Kakashi weren't both out of commission. They double-KOed each other with the sharingan or something. He didn't ask, he was too busy laughing. Kakashi-sensei is still miles ahead of them all and he has his pretty sharingan, but they always forget that Sasuke's got two of them, and he can be really vicious when cornered.

Sakura's at the hospital, training under Shizune-neechan. And he really, really shouldn't word it that way. The mental picture is niiiice. Shizune-neechan is kind of plain, and she doesn't dress sexy at all, but when you look closer, she's kind of cute... Not as cute as Sakura-chan, of course. But still cute.

It's when he notices that he's adding the old hag Tsunade to his sweaty pile of pretties, and yet DOESN'T take his hand out of his pants, that he realizes something's a bit weird with him. But -- fuck. He doesn't care that she's long past the breeding age. He can just imagine her ordering her two pretty subordinates around -- though Shizune can be surprisingly bossy with Tsunade... would they fight for the right to initiate Sakura-chan? Would they team up? Would they scratch each other with their long nails and play with each other's hair, each other's breasts?

He could get jumped by the whole Akatsuki group and it wouldn't be enough to get him to stop jerking off. That's just the hottest thing he's ever imagined.

He's a hour late to hand the message over. It's hard to run fast when your legs are still shaking and your dick whimpers a protest every time it brushes against cloth.

On the way back to Konoha, he starts daydreaming about a mudfight between Ino and Sakura.

Sasuke forgave him.

How does he know? The bastard didn't say no when, not hoping for much, Naruto proposed the three of them hang out after the mission. He knows better than to ask Sakura on her own, by now; she adamantly refuses anything that could be construed as a date. He still wants to spend time with her. She's nice and clever and he even kind of likes being bossed around. She wouldn't nag so much if she didn't care, right?

He wants to spend time with the bastard too, even though he still keeps his distances, even though things haven't been the same since he brought him back from his attempted betrayal. But it's painful, because he still feels guilty, and so he doesn't dare force Sasuke into anything. He's waiting.

But Sasuke forgave him. After so long, he finally forgave him. And all it took was getting in such deep shit that he would have died if it hadn't been for the jerk. Naruto almost doesn't care that he messed up, that he needed to be rescued. That for once, Sasuke was better.

Because in the end, when it looked like he was going to die, Sasuke stepped in front of him. Protected him. Just like that first time -- minus the hedgehog look.

Sasuke said yes, and Sakura hesitated, startled, and then said yes, and Sakura and Naruto both know that this is way more important their little game of date-me-please, hell-no. This is Sasuke actually accepting to spend more time than required for the job around them. This is Sasuke actually going out of his way, out of his routine, to hang out with them.

Oh, sure, they hang out all the time, when they're waiting for Kakashi, when they're walking to and from mission objectives, when they're doing boring stuff. Sasuke even talks to them about casual, unimportant stuff, when he's in a good mood. Still ... this is a milestone.

Naruto is happy. He's got Sakura on one side, Sasuke on the other. Sakura frowns and pouts and rolls her eyes at him, but she laughs and doesn't hit him when he brushes against her, and Sasuke scoffs and sneers and snipes at him every chance he gets, but he's talking at least. It doesn't matter, because she doesn't have to meet Ino or wash her hair or anything, because he's not sneering and stomping off without even bothering with an excuse. They're here.

That doesn't mean he's not going to kick the bastard's ass from here to the Hokage monument if he keeps smirking about Naruto needing to be saved.

He's lounging in a sunbeam. There are several, smaller bodies pressed against his sides. He can hear birds singing, and the grass is lush and green under him, cushioning his little nest. One of them is licking his chest softly, shyly. He watches her, wondering how far she'll take it before losing her nerve. She's a frail little thing. The other ones call her Tsuki; she's as pale and silvery as the moon. He calls her "mine", and that is enough.

He knows that this is one of the other's dreams, but he doesn't care much. It's a nice dream. This is quite the harem; all more beautiful than the next, soft furs ranging from silver to ebony, through cream and falling leaf and soft earth and fire. None of them is less than a Three-Tails; five is average. Two of them are full with his kits; another is nursing. They all revere and adore him. They all belong to him. He could do anything to them, should he want them. He could kill the creamy one's kits, and she would only submit as he fills her with his seed again.

He could do anything, and this is why he's gentle when he nuzzles the moonlike one, nibbling on her ear. She rolls over, coyly hiding her small body behind her fluffy tails. She's so weak, so shy, but out of all of his vixens, she's the most faithful. This is why he's almost... not gentle, but careful, when he pulls her under him.

Then it dissolves into soft, soft fur and a welcoming body under him, taking without protest everything he gives, silvery tails caressing his sides encouragingly.

For some reason, he wants to call her Hinata. He doesn't see why; that isn't her name. But she seems like a Hinata to him -- which is a stupid reason to rename someone.

He's still on her when two of the other vixens uncoil and start rubbing against his sides, licking his shoulders, his jaws, whining softly. He's thrilled. They all want him -- but why should that be a surprise, though? He's ... amused. If they weren't in season, they would never dare to be so bold.

He mounts them all before he's satisfied. In the end it's a mass of fur and muzzles licking here and there, excited yips and little whimpers, tails winding around tails as his teeth clamp down on the back of his chosen vixen's neck. Pleasure, as much from the feel of them as from the knowledge that however much they might nibble each other and rub and wind around each other, he's the only one who can satisfy them. Pleasure from the way they look up at him fearfully, adoringly. He is a Nine-tails. He is their god.

He pulls away from the pile when he's done, abandoning them. He's hungry.

...He should care for them. They're his, bearing his progeny.

... But they can hunt on their own. He chose them in part because they were feral huntresses; he has no interest in sickly weaklings, except as food.

Maybe, he compromises with himself, maybe if he's full before it's all gone, he'll share the kill with the two gravid ones and the mother.

... Oh shut up. And Hinata -- even if that isn't her name.

He hasn't seen Hinata on her own in a while. Usually they only cross paths when they're on joint missions, or when he sees her team on the training grounds.

There's a festival coming up though, for some god or other. Or maybe the celebration of a past feat. The calendar on his wall is more preoccupied with which pretty girls were born on which day than by dusty, stuffy old events, and he's never been good at listening in history.

She asks him if he's going. He's about to say no, and shrug it off -- but, for some reason, he watches her more closely instead. He's not sure, but her scent, the tilt of her head -- it isn't a meaningless question.

No, he doesn't have anyone to go with.

Kiba has asked her to go with him. She doesn't know what she will do yet.

He watches her. Usually, he never gets the meaning underneath that sort of stuff. But today, for some reason, he has an epiphany -- and not hours after the fact either.

She keeps talking softly, describing the fair and the many things to do there. He's distracted by the memory of the possessiveness he -- Kyuubi -- felt toward the silver vixen, the one that reminded him so much of her. He would have flayed alive anyone who dared to even look at one of his females. Hinata doesn't belong to him, though -- she never has, because he never took her up on the silent offer -- and this is what makes him choose. He's not going to agree just because it's the last time she will ask. It's so nice to know that he's wanted, loved, but he remembers all too well the kids who destroyed the cheap presents their parents got them, or threw their ice-cream down ; even if they didn't want them, no one else was allowed to have them anyway. He doesn't want to be like that.

He smiles at her, and lets her go. She will have fun with Kiba. And if she doesn't, he'll beat up the mangy dog. That's a promise.

She closes her eyes to hide the rising wetness there; after a moment, she smiles.

He berates himself for a good hour because he wasted a perfectly good chance with a really nice, cute and stacked girl, and then he meets Sakura coming back from the mall. She bitches him into carrying half her purchases, even though they both know he'd do it even if he wasn't asked. After a half-hour, his arms are aching and his fingers red and numb, and he's been smacked over the head three times, but he's laughing so hard that it doesn't matter so much.

He keeps dreaming of foxes -- fucking them and sleeping in the sun with them; hunting with them and just plain hunting them -- and then there's blood and death and pleasure, often... much like when he fucks them. Sometimes he dreams of other things, but they don't stick in his mind as much; when he dreams of foxes he usually spends a good hour afterward vaguely wondering where all the people's furs have gone and why they bother walking on their hind legs.

There are dreams, though, that stay even longer.

Like the ones where he devours people alive, slowly. Or the ones where he runs through villages and fields just for the pleasure of watching them burn.

Or the ones where he accepts challenges, instead of just crushing the challenger outright.

The challenges usually come from young, strong males, only a tail or two less than himself. They are defying him like he defied his own father and countless others, hoping to steal his females -- take them back, whatever, it's all the same to him -- or right a wrong he committed, or just to gain a tail from his lifeblood.

They need to be utterly fearless, and ruthless, and quick-witted. He loves measuring himself against them; making sure that he hasn't dulled his edge is a good side effect, but the real reason is that it's fun. Perhaps, sometimes, it is even better than random massacres.

Naruto doesn't like these dreams either, but he minds them a little less than the rest; it at least looks like they have a fighting chance. Even if they all end the same way -- blood and death.

And pleasure.

This one does NOT end like the ones before it ended. Sure, it has all the tearing at each other with razor claws, and the taste of blood on fur, and his strong jaws snapping bones with an ease that delights him -- fast, so fast, dodging and counterattacking, foxfire scorching the grass and singeing their pelts -- kicking and twisting and rolling on the ground -- down a rocky slope, fangs clenched, don't let go! -- and landing so hard even his bones protest.

There, it's over. The other fox is sprawled under him, seven blood-red tails matted and seared, his own teeth solidly planted in his ruff. He pants, tails waving and weaving in satisfaction and pleasure that Naruto can't help but share. It was an exhilarating fight, but now, it's the end. It will only take a quick snap forward, a twist -- he's done it before. He's killed so many opponents just like that.

Instead, he lazily avoids a last, exhausted snap of fangs, lowers himself, growling in the way that sounds like a purr -- or like a landslide -- wraps his front paws around his opponent's chest, claws digging in, and...


Naruto wakes, fighting the sheets that cling to his sweaty skin as if that could erase the sheer thrill of that final victory.

The cold shower helps him distance himself from the whole experience; the sick feeling he gets from knowing intimately that Kyuubi enjoyed giving pain as much as taking pleasure helps too. The fact that it was a fox underneath him doesn't -- he got used to translating foxes into people.

Neither does, surprisingly, the fact that it was a male.

What's truly disturbing is that his translation of that swift, proud, stubborn, red-furred fox ended up looking a bit too much like a redheaded version of someone he knows.

Makes his sparring sessions with Sasuke kind of awkward for a long while.

So he might like guys too.

Huh. Took him a while to even think of it, although he's heard of guys going a lot longer without noticing. Or maybe he's a hundred percent straight and it's just the fox messing with his brain. He can't help but wonder, though -- fighting Sasuke tends to make him a bit too happy in his pants these days, and it's always been extremely satisfying even before that dream (which he keeps having, by the way, except with different protagonists). It's not even his dark eyes or his girly hair; it's the way he keeps coming at him with everything he has. The way his muscles tense, in sharp relief under his skin, when they're grabbing onto each other, trying to gain enough leverage for a throw. The way he moves through these fancy forms like water, like liquid power and lethal grace. The salty, virile scent of his heated, sweating body.

It's in the way he bleeds, sometimes -- but Naruto knows that is Kyuubi talking. Mostly.

But he still doesn't know if the boners are because Kyuubi's a sick fuck who gets off on beating up and humiliating people -- or because he honestly feels attraction toward the half of humanity that does not possess round, supple, soft, enticingly bouncing boobies.

... Uh. Yeah.

So he might like guys, too. Or maybe he just likes the fighting. But if that's the case he's fucked, because he hasn't met yet any girl who had the will and the power to come at him with such intense resolve to grind him into tiny pieces. Besides, he isn't sure he could have fun fighting with a girl. Either he'd sorta like her and the idea of hurting her would make him cringe, or she'd be an enemy ninja, and he's enough of a shinobi by now to know not to play with his enemies. (Even if, sometimes, when they're not creepy psychos and he can afford to lose the time and they haven't hurt any of his team, he lets himself forget.)

So. Guys. Yeah.

Could he fuck a guy? If it was just a fuck, not a fight -- though, okay, maybe a fuck with some biting. And rolling around. And maybe even some very, very mild violence -- argh. Whatever. A consensual thing, anyway. Could he?

Civilians -- hard to see what they look like, much less get to know them, even the few he regularly crosses paths with, when he's trying to ignore the fear and the hate. Besides, he'd be scared to break them. So it's other ninjas.

Teachers -- yuck, no way. Urgh.


Chouji : no. Not even because he's fat -- that would be comfy at least -- but because he's so nice and uncomplicated and peaceful and -- and, well, not innocent, but pure, in a weird way he doesn't have words for. Naruto doesn't think "Chouji" and "kinky tumble" should be in the same language, much less the same sentence.

Lee... ahaha, no. He'd probably spout out something about youth and strength and passionate ... things. Then Naruto would die laughing. There's a time and place for Lee's speeches, but it's not in bed.

Shi -- "OH THE FIRE AND BEAUTY OF YOUTH! LET MY SEED ENTER YOU AND LET US BECOME ONE ENTITY OF FIERY SUMMER HEAT!" Ahahahaha. Hahahahaha. Oh god. Okay, deep breath. Heh. Back off, Lee. It's Shino's turn now.

...Shino... bugs. Just -- bugs. Besides, he's creepy. And he probably keeps his shades on in bed. Come to think of it, Naruto can't even remember if he's ever seen his eyes.

Shikamaru... he's so lazy. He'd let Naruto do everything and just lay back and watch with his bored expression that doesn't say anything about what he really thinks and that always gets on Naruto's nerves -- argh. The question isn't really how they would behave, it's if he would do them. Maybe if Shika had a personality transplant or something...

Although, the lazy bum doesn't have a reason to shy away from mesh shirts. It's surprising to see the abs he has, with how little exercise he gets around to do. Naruto contemplates them mentally, making himself imagine touching them.

It doesn't repulse him, at least, not as he thought it would; and it might be interesting in the way touching any kind of skin is interesting, but that's pretty much it.

Kiba might be fun. Oh yeah, he might be fun. They spend their time tussling and brawling and shoving each other and growling playfully -- it might be really fun. At least he won't freak if Naruto starts biting him. He could imagine rolling around with him naked -- hell, they did that before, that day where they fell in the mud and then started shoving each other around in the river. It was very, very fun. His balls were very, very frozen at that moment, though, so he can't tell if arousal was part of his enjoyment.

But at least he can see naked wrestling with Kiba. From that to hands playfully traveling down south, there isn't much of a leap... and then panting in each other's ear as they -- heh -- give each other a hand, and then a chuckle and a smirk and business as usual.

He can see messing around with Kiba; but he's not sure that's real, active desire instead of absence of repulsion. He can't see the two of them as anything but buddies. Buddies who happen to fool around, maybe, but buddies. That's still inconclusive.

... Neji. Well, he has pretty hair, but that's something Naruto likes in girls, too, so it doesn't count.

He has sharp features -- not ugly, but definitely male. Naruto used to think that he found Neji handsome because of his resemblance to Hinata. If he were to be honest, though... He doesn't know the reason, and he doesn't feel like any more soul searching today, but the fact is that the thought has gone through his mind once or twice.

So. Neji is handsome. Could Naruto playfully grope him, like he could with Kiba?

Fuck no. He'd lose an arm.

The thought makes him swallow. It's not all fear.

Could he shove him down and pin his hands and overpower him?

... maybe. Only if Neji knows what's going to happen, because Naruto doesn't do rape. If Neji knows that he's going to get topped, and it shocks him, makes him flustered, and yet he wants it anyway. Oh yeah, Naruto could.

Naruto would kill to see Neji flustered. He bets Neji's used to leading the encounter, with girls who are so awed by what he bestows on them that they submit all too happily.

Nibbling on Neji's neck might fluster him more. Holding him down as he tries to buck Naruto off. Nudging his legs apart. He'd glower up at Naruto, gritting his teeth, with his hair strewn all around his shoulders in messy, silky tangles, and --

He'd disable Naruto in two pokes, and then send him flying with Kaiten. Naruto knows that. It doesn't help a lot. He squirms a little, and puts this one on the "oh yeah, you so would" side of the balance.

Well, maybe he just likes pissy bastards.

Who else does he know?

... there's still Gaara, even though they haven't seen each other in months. Gaara, who is the epitome of touchy bastard, and who trumps Neji's ice prince-ness with insanity and Shuukaku. Gaara, who still gives him shivers of unease, sometimes; even though he's so, so, so much better than he was back then. Even though sometimes he actually smiles now -- although that's not really a good thing. A smiling Gaara is almost as freaky as a smiling Sasuke.

He's so powerful. Almost as full of chakra as Naruto himself. And so very vicious when cornered. He would enjoy beating the crazy bastard -- without the help of that giant frog this time. He knows he can do it. He can beat Gaara. He can beat Shuukaku. He's invincible ...

... he's not Kyuubi, so he shuts him up. 'Down, boy,' he mutters to himself. He's not going to let the fox distract him or influence him. He wants to figure out what he likes; he knows what his tenant likes well enough by now. There are places in which they're frighteningly similar, Kyuubi and him, but that's not something he feels like bragging about, and he wants to know very precisely where the differences are.

If he doesn't take into account the "powerful bastard with whom he could enjoy very long and violent matches" angle, what's left?

Well, Gaara is sort of pretty. Well, not pretty-pretty, but striking enough. And it looks like he wears mascara -- a bit too much of it, but it does help show off his eyes.

He has crazy eyes, sometimes, and they're such an unlikely pale green; Naruto never knows if he should stare at them or look away. And a narrow jaw. And pale, unblemished skin that doesn't belong on a shinobi...

... So he has a sort-of pretty face. It could do with some eyebrows, but that doesn't shock Naruto. Gaara doesn't have enough expressions to look much weirder without eyebrows to underline them.

He's not very muscled; it's not as if his style of fighting is hard on his body. He pretty much stands there and makes seals and sandblasts people. And Naruto is surprised to notice that he is growing taller than the redhead.

/Tanuki have big balls/ Kyuubi comments idly -- not really in words, just a few flashes of memories.

Wow, that was graphic. Naruto makes a face. 'Too much info.'

/Do him. You bested him before. You could make him submit./

'... no.'

/I wonder if anyone ever touched him/ Kyuubi muses, and there are echoes of dark amusement in his voice. He likes leaving his imprint on things. Besides, the idea of his vessel topping Shuukaku's vessel gives him a thrill. It will keep him amused for months.

'Not gonna fuck him for you.'

/And for yourself?/

'Even if I figure out that I could do him, it doesn't mean I will. Did you have sex with everyone that drew your eye -- uh. Forget that.'

Of course he did. The bastard has entitlement and instant gratification issues, and he's too powerful and too much of a sadistic bastard to take no for an answer.

/...the kid's a killer, and he's about as approachable and welcoming as a rabid dog. Take it as a good deed/ Kyuubi adds, contemptuous. /If you don't do him, no one ever will./

Naruto is getting uncomfortable. It's not as if he holds conversations with Kyuubi all that often, even when he's dreaming or unconscious; so when he's awake, it's even weirder -- and the fact that the fox sounds almost civil makes it all the more unnerving.

/He'll die a virgin. Isn't that a waste?/

Naruto could answer that he's not stupid enough to get tricked into thinking he's doing it for anyone but himself. Besides, he's not about to use one of his friends like that; but Kyuubi wouldn't understand why the fact that they're friends stops him -- hell, he'd think it's one more reason to do it.

He gets a flash of pale inner thighs, a skin that show so little scars for all the inner damage he's taken. Gaara would probably trust him, if they spent enough time together and Naruto could talk him into it. He'd be uneasy, and he'd scowl, and pretend he's not totally weirded out, but he'd trust him. That's... kind of hot. Besides, he's really not ugly.

... Okay, so Naruto likes guys. Some guys. Sometimes. Physically, at least. But dating one -- he can't see it. The kind of guy he seems to like is so macho and introverted he'd have a more fulfilling relationship with a rock. At least the rock couldn't pick itself up and throw itself at his face.

/Who's talking about a relationship. It's not as if you can get them with kits. Who cares what they do once you're done?/

Naruto makes a face. 'Oh, stop whining, as if I'd let you watch anyway.' Besides, he'd like his first time to be with a girl. Ideally Sakura-chan. Ah, Sakura-chan...

Kyuubi snarls as Naruto rebuffs him, and then tries again. He really must be bored to tolerate Naruto talking to him like that. /That Shuukaku brat lives far away. You wouldn't have to deal with him afterwards. And you think he's desirable./

'Thinking he's desirable doesn't mean I desire him...'


Naruto is getting a bit annoyed. 'You want a real good reason? He'd get sand everywhere. I mean everywhere.' And he shoves at Kyuubi the memory of that time he was washing with Kiba in that river and they started shoving each other and he landed butt first on the little beach. And he details for the fox. Every. Single. Grain of sand. In every. Conceivable. Orifice.

Yeah, he knows, humans suck; no fur to protect them of such abrasive encounters. Heh.

And now his brain is broken enough, and he's weirded out more than enough; and he's tired of pondering about wide shoulders and big hands, not to mention tired of trying not to ponder about more prominent physical attributes, like the one currently vaguely stirring in his pants. He's not ready to think about handling THAT just yet. He gets up, pulling himself out of his 'thinking' mode, and looks around. He's going to go down the street and ogle a few babes, that's always a lot less complicated.


"So, Sasuke gets me hot and bothered. Do I like his pretty face, or am I a masochist, or do I really like guys, too? Hm. So... Would I do Kiba?" :watches Kiba: "Uh, maybe not. Chouji -- no, okay... Would I -- oh yeah, I'd do Neji. If he wasn't even more touchy than Sasuke, that is. Gaara..."
/... yes. Yes, you would. We would. Do it. Him. I DON'T CARE WHO, BUT DO SOMEONE. I WANT SEX./
"... uh. Okay. How about 'melty giant badgers don't really do it for me' and 'keep your thoughts to yourself' and 'how did you come up again'?"
/... think of the red-headed takuni brat. He looks so frail, doesn't he. Such a contrast. Bet you he's a moaner. Bet you no one's ever touched him like that before. No one. Bet you.../
"... dude, shut the fuck up. His sister would castrate us."
/ how about the white-eyed one?/

When B-rank missions turn into S-rank, you don't pause and wonder about unnecessary stuff, like the dreams you keep having or the sudden inability to decide if your nighttime fantasies would be worse or better if you added your pissy, wiry teammate to your harem of pretty, curvy girls.

When "possible missing-nin using genjutsu to scare people into submission" turns into "slender, dark-haired, red-eyed, high-level missing-nin making people die of fright", you don't pause and swear at the bad intelligence report. You make sure to keep up with Sasuke. You watch his back. You don't lose sight of Kakashi-sensei and Sakura-chan, though -- ever. Bad things happen to people who lose sight of their team. Bad things happen to their team.

When you lose sight of them anyway, when even their scents disappear and it's suddenly dark, so dark -- you don't panic. This is a genjutsu user you're tracking. You can't panic. They're still out there. They're out there, and you are...

... in a cage.

You are in a cage and it's dark and eternities pass in loneliness -- no one comes to get you. No one cares. You don't care (or do you?) but you still hate it. No one comes. And that drip drip drip sound, driving you crazy. You want to rip off the bars, but nothing works. You are powerless, and it is the most awful thing to be.

No one comes, because they're outside getting on with their lives...

... their mission...

... no one comes, because they're dead. They're dead and fighting is pointless now, useless -- it's too late. You deserve to be here, in this cage. You deserve it. Deserve to see your teacher with his stolen eye gouged out and the girl you love broken on the ground and your rival-best friend torn apart, thrown away, last to join the pile of rotten bodies that all looked like him.

You should just stop screaming and accept it. You're worse than useless. There's a reason no one wants you around; there's a reason you deserve the cage.

You should. You're not going to.

What you're going to do is slaughter the person who killed them -- locked you in. The person who took away what was yours.

You could slip out between the bars of the cage -- you break it instead. Splinter it in a million shards of shrapnel. You've wanted to do that for so long.

You open your eyes and snarl. You forget that you own weapons. You don't need them. Your hands (your claws) are all the weapons you will ever need.

You track him down and you don't bother to dodge. Nothing he does can hurt you (more than what he already did, what he already took, your freedom, your team). You can hurt him.

You do it.

With hands and claws. With teeth.

There's something strangely soothing in clamping your jaws down on the prey's throat, feeling his pulse flutter wildly under your tongue, and then -- tearing.

Blood splattering your face, your enemy in his death throes underneath you. It is a victory. You are free.

... they're still dead though -- they're still dead and gone and nothing's going to change that, nothing, oh god, you want them back, you want them, you want them. You'd even accept the cage again if they could come and visit you sometimes, but there's no compromise with death -- you plunge a claw-tipped hand in his ribs, tear out his heart, (you're not crying). He is not going to get the chance to compromise; you'll make sure of that. You take him apart.

You reduce him to a messy pile of meat and organs and broken bones. (you're not crying)

And then she's here. She's here and she smells like salt and stomach acid; it should be disgusting. You blink up at her. She's pale, grimacing. She's alive.

She lets you cling to her, even with the blood all over. (now you cry.) She rocks you; she's humming something you've never heard before and you wonder if that's what a lullaby is. She sounds shaky; you don't care. She's warm.

Your teacher and your best friend don't say anything. You feel stupid for falling for it, for trusting them so little. Your best friend looks more like your worst rival right now. There's not a lot left of the body.

You cringe, even though you're not really sorry.

It isn't Itachi.

You think that it should be wrong to feel so relieved, with a man's blood on your hands -- your arms, up to your elbows -- with bits of his flesh still between your teeth. It should be wrong to be relieved that you killed (devoured) the wrong sociopath.

It isn't Itachi.

The world slides back into its proper place. Sasuke calls you a moron. Sakura-chan grimaces and berates you for getting her clothes dirty. Kakashi-sensei sighs and promises lessons in breaking out of genjutsu, lessons he admits he should have given you years ago.

You make yourself throw up; even though you're anything but disgusted by the taste of human meat, you know you should be.

On the way back, Sasuke is... different. Silent, but not really pissy. Colder than that. Remote. He stares at you. He wants to hear that you won't steal his prey, when the time comes. That you won't get in the middle -- even if his brother kills him.

You won't lie to him. You say you'll try; this is all you will give. (you don't say anything about how hard.)

(you are not letting go. ever.)

He wakes up on Sakura's roof. Well, the roof of the building where her parents live. He doesn't have a clue if they just rent an apartment or if the whole building belongs to them. He's never been inside. He doesn't really want to ask if he can come in; what if her parents hate him, and tell her exactly why? He doesn't know how he'll deal with her knowing, even though he's aware that one day -- soon -- he will have to tell them.

It's still early; he slides down her wall and tries to look in, but she closed the blinds. He sighs, and prepares to jump off and go back home to get dressed, and then almost gets brained by her blinds opening violently. He loses his balance and his hold on the wall. She grabs him by the shirt, and snarls, something about perverts and voyeurs and -- oh, hello, Naruto.

She stares at his clothes as he finds a hold on the tiny windowsill-thing masquerading as a balcony.

"What are you doing here at this hour? In pajamas?" she asks, and pulls him all the way in.

He grins sheepishly and searches for an answer, not bothering to get up from the floor. The bottom of her robe brushes against his foot. Lavender. He wonders what she's wearing underneath.

"Couldn't sleep?" she sighs, and closes the window.

He answers only with a sheepish grin and a little laugh, uncomfortable with lying to her openly. He looks around curiously; he's never been in a girl's bedroom before. It's a nice little room -- a polished, tidy desk; a dresser; a mirror; a few posters on the walls. Rosy nail polish, a ribbon. Very girly. No shinobi gear anywhere in sight -- ah, wait. Kunai under the bed... but that's it.

"Say, Sakura-chan--"

She hushes him quickly, wincing. "Quiet! If my parents hear a boy in my room..."

"They'll think we're having a torrid love affair?" he whispers with a large grin. He doesn't bother dodging the slap he knows he deserves.

It's not as strong as usual, though, and he blinks up at her, puzzled. "Sakura-chan?"

"Ah, no... nothing." She sits on her bed, back to the wall. He leans against the bed, watching her. She's hugging her knees, robe pulled tight around her.

"... Sakura-chan?"

"Are you... Naruto, are you... all right?"

He blinks at her and, for a moment, thinks that she knows everything. She's watching him with such sad, horrified eyes.

"That mission..."

Oh. That mission. He's doing his best not to think about it too hard. It's over and done with. The most important thing is to make sure it won't happen again.

"Eh. I'm alright."

Apparently he doesn't look convincing. She slowly slides off her bed and sits down at his side, hugging her knees against her chest, twirling a lock of pink hair around her finger nervously. She's close; he can feel her warmth.

"You... I don't know what he showed you, what he did to you, but..."

"You were dead," he replies without thinking. "The three of you."

She doesn't say anything, she just slips her arm around his neck, slowly, hesitantly. He blushes a bit, gives her a crooked little smile. If he didn't feel so awkward, he'd be delighted. It isn't often that he gets hugs from her. But she's being so careful, as if the smallest wrong gesture could set him off. Damn it, it's not as if he's Sasuke.

"... That wasn't all, was it?" she asks softly. "I mean, you -- you bit him."

I ate him, he thinks. Part of him. Sure, shredding was more cathartic than swallowing, but there were still a few missing bits afterwards. And he's less sickened by the act itself than by what it means. "I went berserk," he replies bleakly.

She shivers. He wonders if she's afraid of him now. It hurts.

"... There was a cage, and I was alone, and no one cared. And when I remembered there were people who'd care..."

"It changed into something even worse, something that burrowed even deeper," she continues, nodding thoughtfully.

"... Yeah."

There's more silence. And yet more silence. It's not natural, not between the two of them, and he hates it, but he doesn't know how to break it.

The moment is well suited; he's been sort of leading up to his huge revelation and, after all, she isn't pulling away yet. He could tell her the truth. He could. He should.

He doesn't dare. He's too scared.

"Hey, where's all your ninja stuff?" he asks, so that he doesn't say something else.

She tenses, and then shrugs, appearing uncaring. He winces; way to go, Naruto.

"Oh, in that cupboard. I didn't want to litter my room with the stuff."

"But what if you gotta get something fast?" he asks, bewildered.

"Then I open the cupboard; it's not that complicated."

"... Oh." It doesn't sound very efficient to him, but he doesn't add anything; he doesn't want her to snap again.

She sighs. "Sorry, Naruto... My mom just doesn't like walking in and seeing shuriken and exploding tags all over the room. Besides, it would look out of place here, wouldn't it?" she asks, gesturing at the tidy, girly bedroom. The bed sheets are pale purple with a patterned trim; nothing fancy, but pretty and delicate. The laundry basket is empty, tucked away in a corner. The cupboards are closed. Even the papers on her desk are stacked neatly, held in place by a glass paperweight -- a kitten, he thinks, frail and precious and yeah, definitely not ninja-ish.

It's all very Sakura, in a way -- tidy and girly. And yet, in a way, totally not.

"Do you study medical scrolls sometimes?" he asks, because even if she hides the weapons, there must be some traces of her job that don't conflict with the dainty and studious atmosphere.

She gives him a look, like she can hear his train of thought and isn't impressed. "They're locked away, Naruto. You're not supposed to let ninjutsu scrolls out where anywhere walking by could take a look. Didn't you listen to anything they taught us in class?" And she knocks her knuckles against his head.

"Ow! I leave my scrolls on my desk all the time," he mutters back, pouting.

"And on the floor beside your desk, and on your kitchen table, and beside your bed..."

She laughs when he starts looking dejected, and nudges him in the ribs with her elbow.

"Ah, it's alright, you don't have anything but basic scrolls, anyway, right? You learned all your big techniques on the field. But the Fifth's own medical jutsu... well, it's not top secret either, but..." she shrugs. "I don't want to look for specific scrolls for ten hours. At least that way I always know where they are."

"Yeah, right, you're just a neat freak," he teases, and can't help but grin when she scowls at him and threatens him with her fist. She wouldn't treat him like this if she didn't care, if she didn't trust. He never wants to let go of that.

She pouts, and then reluctantly smiles. "Maybe I am," she admits with false annoyance. "But it wouldn't hurt for you to be a bit of one too!" she adds, bossily.

She pokes his chest with her finger. They're so close, and if he caught her hand and leaned forward, he could kiss her. It's a line he's not sure he can cross without consequences, though. What if she never wants to invite him back in her room because she doesn't trust him alone with her?

"Yeah, yeah," he mutters, and looks away from her because he doesn't need more temptation.

There are pictures on her wall, over her desk. A copy of the same Team Seven one they own, but other pictures too. Her parents, alone and together, or with other older people that he assumes are family; Ino holding a cat, or being silly, or wearing fancy clothes; a picture of Naruto himself and Lee during a pushup contest; other girls and boys he only vaguely remembers from the ninja academy, or doesn't even know.

"There's only one Sasuke up here, and that's when he was twelve," he comments, pointing at the board on which the bulk of them are pinned. That's just plain weird. She hasn't publicly proclaimed her undying love for the bastard in years, but he knows better than to assume that she doesn't have romantic feelings for him anymore.

Sakura blinks, then winces and looks down at her feet, sheepish and disappointed. "He hates having his picture taken."

"So you don't have any?" Okay, the idea of Sasuke and her dating isn't one of his favorites. But pictures are probably important to her, and, potential boyfriend or just teammate, Sasuke is important to her, too. Naruto narrows his eyes determinedly -- he's going to stalk the bastard and take a ton of them, just for her.

"Oh, I have a few. Of his back, usually," she replies with a weird little wince of a smile. "And his shoulder, or his foot as he jumps off, or else there's a branch or someone's arm in the way..."

She reaches into her desk drawer, pulls out a slim book, opens it on her lap. Indeed, of the dozen shots she has of Sasuke, only two show more than a fifth of his face, and it's clear even these pictures are failures. Naruto snickers. "You'd expect him, of all people, to be photogenic."

"Oh, hush, you don't look any better."

And she turns the page. She has pictures of him, too. She's even in some of them -- so she didn't take them. So she went and asked the person who took them for copies. He stares at one of Kiba and him all tangled up in a length of wire in order to stop himself from looking at her face; he knows he'd kiss her.

They look at the pictures, and they talk about nothing -- "Hey, I remember that!" and "Wow, now he looks stupid here" and "We should do this again". And he's happy. He's happy because she wasn't scared away by his berserk fit and she's acting like they're friends, real friends, not just teammates, and they're sitting so close and she's letting him. True, she might be trying to comfort him, or distract him from the bad memories, but... he doesn't think she could fake being this at ease with him, this ... simply content.

Eventually, her stomach growls, and he's surprised to notice that it's already six-thirty AM. It's going to be a bitch to get back home, so he can get dressed, without being seen -- a good thing Kakashi's always late, because Naruto, himself, probably won't arrive on time.

She blushes, sheepish, and opens her mouth -- presumably, to apologize. And then her mother calls and she bursts into action. Naruto jumps to his feet, eyeing the door nervously.

"I'm awake, Mom!!" she yells as she stuffs the photo album back in the drawer. "Relax, she won't come knocking yet," she whispers to him.

And then she stares at him, biting her lip. "Ah... maybe you could... You could come out through the window and then knock at the door and I could invite you for breakfast... Mom wouldn't say anything..."

Privately, he thinks that she would. But that Sakura would even offer... he doesn't remember being invited to share a meal with a family. Iruka-sensei doesn't count; he's living alone, too. It's not the same.

"Thank you, Sakura-chan, but I don't think your mom would buy the old 'just happened to be in the neighborhood' excuse," he reminds her, and tugs at his pajamas pants, grinning.

She looks down at his pants and blushes. "Oh, right."

He would tease her, but there's another call from her mother. She yells back, even as she herds him toward the window, so fast that he stumbles. He's laughing silently as she opens the window and quickly scans the street and the other buildings for onlookers. Not that he can't appreciate how much she doesn't want to get caught, but she doesn't even look half that panicked during missions.

He takes a last, long look at her room, so pretty and tidy; and at her, so pretty and not so tidy, expression frenzied, hair in disarray, and so very kissable. He grins, and waves, taking his sweet time, and then throws himself off the banister, narrowly avoiding her exasperated shove.

She shakes her fist at him as he waves from the next roof. He bounces off, back toward home.

He's... a little deeper in than a simple crush, isn't he. He doesn't really manage to mind.

It's weird how difficult it is to recognize streets he thought he knew by heart, even though he's now a few floors over the ground. And yet--Konoha. The Konoha that he knows and doesn't, and people he recognizes because they're similar to people he knows and yet aren't.

It's a collection of snippets and flashes and bursts of scents -- things burning, blood and guts bared to the air, charred flesh. He flits from one to the other, a jumble of moments that don't follow any kind of linear progression.

And then something snaps into place.

He's face to face with an older version of himself, and he has never felt more hate than he does at this instant.

The fire in the streets dances with the fire in his soul. There is beauty in destruction, or so he has been told; but unless beautiful and entertaining are exactly synonymous, he isn't doing this for the sake of Art.

No, he's doing it because he wants to, and that's the only reason he needs. He could find excuses in the fact that he was born this way, that he does it because it is in his nature to destroy and disperse, but the fact is--who the hell cares about excuses. Not him.

Not the man with his face. Not the man who watches him with determination and sadness and a sort of heavy finality that vaguely puzzles him. And he wonders, even as he roars and lashes out, testing his bonds with the disdain of a dragon for a lizard, he wonders why this man feels that way and why the hell he even fucking cares about a human's feelings. It's just one more human.

A human who's come closer to stopping him than dozens of his peers put together. Fool of a human, he's going to regret hurting him dearly -- just wait until he gets free. And he will get free -- he never gives up. He will -- any second now...

The world fades out, and he screams as something is ripped out of him. Or he's ripped out of something. He doesn't care which -- it's red pain, and then black -- not the soothing oblivion kind. It's the kind that's full of monsters, the kind that eats you alive.

Even a nine-tailed fox can't do much against a God of Death. He rages, and prepares to abandon a tail in exchange for his life, like he did the last two times the stupid humans managed to press him this far. It's not as if he can't gain it back later.

... Except... he's not dying. He has never had to endure such pain, but he's not dying. He's not dying, so he can't trade -- and the God of Death laughs at him and doesn't say a word, and then -- and then...

And then he's screaming, because he doesn't understand -- cold, and afraid, and hungry, and alone, his sole company a crumpled, cooling body curled around him. And he's alone in the cold, threatening dark with no way out. And he's just been torn from the safe dark warm place, from his mother -- he screams and screams, unable to cope with the pain in his stomach, the pain in his soul...

And then he's torn apart again.

Ages in the dark -- small eternities. The next flash of light comes only a few years, a few centuries later. He's not yet crazy. But he's at his breaking point -- he howls and rages against nothing; and then the sickly green light comes and he can almost catch a glimpse -- angry voices, insults he can't understand, although the tone is clear enough. He's going to kill them -- he's going to tear them into pieces and piss on their remains, hunt down their wives and children...

Darkness again.

But at least he has something to hope for, now.

Naruto wakes up with the taste of blood in his mouth, a tenacious memory. He knows he's going to wait a few hours before he joins his team; he can still feel the echoes of that crazy, obsessive hate the fox has clung to for so long. He's already forgetting the details, though -- besides that face, the only things that stay are a feeling of powerless outrage and the memory of endless dark. He opens his blinds wide, and then curls up at the foot of his bed, basking in the morning sun.

Well, at least now he knows that he's going to grow up to be reasonably hot, even if he doesn't have those narrow, piercing eyes.

He thinks of asking Jiraiya what he is, really, in regards to the Fourth Hokage. But in the end, it doesn't matter. Some people see him as the Fourth's legacy, but he's himself. He received his own legacy from the man, and now he makes his life with it, that's all. It doesn't matter when or why. These are the facts, as they are now. He has enough on his plate without trying to shoulder the past as well.

He's here and now, with his fox and his team, and the people he loves and those who hate him. It doesn't matter what a dead guy was thinking, and what a herd of morons is still thinking matters even less.

He's here. He's now. That's enough for him.