I Disclaim ownership of Naruto.

Alert! There will be boy-lovin' in later chapters.

Pickled Brains: Dull title, I know. I was trying to think of something snappier, but it turned out more serious than intended.

I didn't really like starting this fic where I did, but after watching the anime again I found it to be the perfect time to use for its beginning. I'm still sorry for using the cliché, but hopefully you'll understand it as you read on. And yes, I have immature and petty reasons for writing this, but you'll have to wait 'til the end to find out what they are!

-o

First Chapter
of
Transcendence

-o

Standing across each other at the bottom of the waterfall, at the feet of statues representing people Naruto didn't know nor care to name, he could clearly see the lightning once again gathering into Sasuke's hand. On reflex, he focused his own chakra into the only attack he knew could counter the Uchiha's, even as he felt the last dredges of his energy disappearing from his grasp.

His body throbbed and his coils wailed in protest, but Naruto didn't care. Without asking and ignoring every complaint his battered body made known to him, he pulled more of the Kyuubi's chakra to the surface, satisfied when some of his fatigue was washed away.

He wouldn't lose Sasuke now, and wouldn't be defeated by him! Not after all they had gone through. Not after everyone had done everything possible to get him, Naruto, to where he now stood so he could complete this mission; so he could keep his promise! He wouldn't . . . absolutely wouldn't allow Orochimaru to have the Uchiha! He wouldn't let that snake claim his best friend!

And as he crouched, Rasengan swirling crimson in his palm, the shroud of Kyuubi's chakra thick and bubbling, Naruto narrowed his gaze on the almost maniacal features of his comrade.

Sasuke looked thoroughly unnatural. The chakra the other boy was expelling was even fouler than his own. This wasn't the boy he had chased for so long; the one he admired from afar; the one he had always wished to befriend, but ended up proclaiming as his rival instead.

This wasn't the boy whose friendship and acknowledgement he had almost attained after craving it for so long.

The creature in front of him wasn't the same person who had protected him within Haku's ice mirrors, or the one who had trusted him to fight Gaara to save Sakura. There was no sign of the boy who wanted nothing more than to save those precious to him, who wanted nothing more than to avoid losing them again.

Only malice remained. Only lust for power could he see in those Sharingan eyes.

This Uchiha Sasuke was tainted; corrupted by both Orochimaru's seal and Itachi's mind techniques. Naruto vowed, even as he launched himself forward for one last attack, that he would protect his precious friend — even if Naruto had to protect him from himself!

They clashed mightily and both techniques repelled themselves for a moment and then mingled, Sasuke's black and his own red chakra combining to create a heavy cocoon around them. They continued forwards with their last assault, both of them aiming their clawed hands at each other.

. . . But Naruto couldn't go through with it. If his claws continued their course, and with his current speed, they would imbed themselves into Sasuke's head, so he redirected the blow into a side-swipe and simply scratched the other boy's forehead protector.

To him, it proved everything the other boy thought of him wrong. It proved that he was worthy of acknowledgement. With this action and by fulfilling Sasuke's challenge given so long ago atop the hospital roof, and reiterated when they had first begun their fight in the valley, he knew he had proved himself to the other boy. He had hit the mark which had been laid out to him at the beginning of both battles with his rival.

He had, indeed, been able to scratch the Uchiha's forehead protector.

What surprised him more than anything, though, was that at the last moment Sasuke hesitated as well and instead of impaling him with his own claws, the Uchiha simply curled his hand into a fist and knocked the air right out of his lungs.

They flew apart and Naruto could feel his vision graying — could feel himself blacking out . . .

'No!' was the only thought which crossed his mind; harsh and undeniably obstinate. It couldn't end like this, he wouldn't allow it! He drew at his chakra, he heaved at it, ignoring everything else. He gave no mind to his fall, nor did he concern himself with his current lack of air. He scratched and he clawed to remain lucid, to stay out of darkness' grasp.

He was Uzumaki Naruto, damn it, and he always kept his words! He never broke his promises!

And he wouldn't start doing so now.

He knew that if he didn't fight, if he didn't stay awake, Sasuke would be able to leave. And that was something he would greatly regret.

It went against everything he stood for, and everything he was.

So when he found a scrap of energy within himself, he pulled. He pulled hard and he pulled fast. He didn't care about anything else, even as chakra flooded his system. He ignored the burning sensation of his body as Kyuubi's vile power covered him once more in a shroud, and he clamped down on his agony as he landed with bone jarring force atop of the water.

There was only one thing on his mind, even as his lungs sputtered a bit before faintly starting once again. He focused solely on Sasuke, who had landed safely on the shore, at the foot of a statue, and was staring unsteadily at him with wide obsidian eyes; looking normal once more.

Naruto was about to hurl himself at the tired looking Uchiha, to knock him out and restrain him. To end this fight once and for all and drag his friend back to Konoha— but he couldn't. He found he simply couldn't move, and what's more, he couldn't feel anything; his whole body was unresponsive, numb. The well of absolute pain that had before suffused his entire being was slowly fading into nothingness.

He screamed in his mind and willed himself, forced himself to move.

One hand first, that was all he needed. He struggled with it, and he pulled more and more chakra from his prisoner, for if he couldn't move his muscles himself, then he'd move them with the life-bearing energy. He watched as it bubbled and thickened even more, and felt a second tail sprouting from the shroud.

It was then that his mind slipped a bit, just a tiny fraction, and he suddenly felt the Fox's overwhelming, enraged presence surfacing with staggering force, seeping into him from its cage. For a moment, his own eyes widened, panic building, until he felt the seal start burning in his stomach.

Never before had he known such sudden suffering or such searing agony, but the result was instantly apparent. His own chakra was building; his own reserves were being filled! The seal was forcibly converting the Kyuubi's chakra into his own, and that was enough for Naruto to regain control of himself, if just by the merest amount.

. . . If just by the tip of his figurative fingertips.

Sasuke was clearly exhausted, he could see it clearly now, and he was slowly backing away from him, something Naruto could not allow. He wouldn't let Sasuke leave! He would have shouted at him if he had a voice, but his throat burned too much to do even that, so he willed his chakra to the surface and directed it to his right arm.

It pushed at the Kyuubi's chakra and mixed with it in a swirl of red and blue, and as if following his thoughts, his own charka stretched and covered the distance between the two of them and grasped Sasuke as he stumbled before quickly pulling him back to where Naruto was, motionless; trapped. It took everything he had to move his right arm, but with a strained snarl, he managed it and soon had Sasuke's powerless form grasped both with his real hand and trapped within a giant claw made out of his own, blue chakra—

And then something broke, and his mind compressed in on itself as his burned throat hoarsely screamed his pain aloud. The seal blazed and his chakra kept pouring out of him, unchecked. He could feel the Kyuubi surfacing more quickly and he poured his entire mind and all of his will into pushing that presence back behind its bars, but he felt like he was a single bucket trying to push the ocean back into place.

He lost sight of the outside world, only the feel of Sasuke in his grasp allowing him to focus. He pushed at the Kyuubi even as the Fox's chakra kept pouring out, even as the seal kept frantically converting it as fast as it could.

It dawned on him clearly just what was going on; the bastard Fox was trying to escape! The Bijuu was hammering all of its chakra out, probably trying to overpower Naruto to gain its freedom. The energy surrounding him bubbled and thickened more and more by the second and Naruto could already feel a third tail forming, and seeing as he wasn't being even slightly successful in his bid to suppress the fox's attempted escape, he did the next best thing he could think to do; the only thing that came to mind:

He sent his own chakra to the seal.

He concentrated every available scrap of it into his stomach, leaving only what was needed to keep Sasuke in place.

He poured everything he could into it, and he felt as if he were burning alive from the inside. It was almost too much for him and as the fourth tail formed, and Kyuubi surged in his mind, and his control slipped once again; he almost gave up. He couldn't feel anything but pain, couldn't focus on anything but his chakra and the feel of Sasuke in his grasp, and he . . .

. . . He wouldn't be able to win against such powerful a foe as the Kyuubi.

Right then, Naruto almost surrendered.

That is, until he felt the red chakra seeping into and trying to overpower the arm that held Sasuke safely.

Everything changed after that.

Demon or not. Kyuubi or not. Power incarnate or not. He didn't care; No one threatened his friends.So he fought.

And he did so fiercely.

-O●O●O●O-

It was starting to rain, and he doubled his pace as he felt the sheer amount of absolutely foul chakra being expelled from up ahead. The skies were black with it. The air reeked of its tainted nature. He dreaded what he would find and he left Pakkun in the dust when he felt that loathsome chakra begin to increase exponentially.

Kakashi could feel it from this distance, and he wasn't even all that sensitive to chakra. He just prayed to whatever deity that could hear him that his students were okay, that his fears were unjustified; that the Kyuubi were not breaking free.

It took too much time to reach his destination, and what he saw there was both frightening and awe-inspiring. For the sight which greeted him wasn't like anything he was expecting. The feel of it was like nothing he'd ever witnessed.

"Is that . . . ?" Pakkun asked when he arrived beside him at the edge of the rock face, even as rain began to fall, the sun disappearing behind stormy clouds.

"That's Naruto," he answered with certainty as he revealed his Sharingan eye. It was hard to understand what was happening. In the center of the valley, standing stock-still atop the water except for four waving tails was what would appear at first sight as a miniature Kyuubi.

But on closer inspection he noticed something was off about the miniature fox.

Odd bulging spots of blue chakra would appear and spread throughout the fox-like body. It mixed and swirled and fought the red chakra so the whole thing appeared to be a mix of blue, red, purple and varying darkening shades of each.

The torrents of energy being released sent the water of the river spraying and splashing away from the jinchuuriki, even as whatever liquid that touched the transformed boy was instantly evaporated. It was a vicious storm of wind, water, steam and chakra.

His worst fears were becoming reality, for it looked as if the red chakra was winning; it was taking over everything, constantly expanding, which was what Kakashi dreaded the most. And that's when he saw something move. Sasuke was there, staring fearfully at Naruto as the Kyuubi's chakra seeped into the energy-made claw that held him in place.

The Uchiha tried to faintly struggle but was unsuccessful, his efforts increasing even as the boy's panic visibly did the same.

The copy-nin doubted he would have reacted differently if he were in the same position. And there was no way Kakashi could get close to them now; the sheer power being expelled would make it impossible for him to approach. And if he somehow managed it; if he got close enough to deal a killing blow to Naruto, the Kyuubi could very well gain its complete freedom, regardless.

None of the people capable of suppressing the demon were even in the village, and they would be too late arriving in case they were. In fact, should the Kyuubi escape the seal, the safety of the village should be Kakashi's greatest concern.

Though again, no matter what he should be doing, if it meant leaving one of his precious students behind then it was a completely unacceptable course of action.

As things stood, Naruto was the only thing standing between the Fox and the outside world and Kakashi was loath to risk doing something that would jeopardize the boy's chances of success.

His other option, if he managed to get close enough, was to save his other student, but that alternative was equally dangerous. If he tried to get Sasuke away, he could break whatever concentration Naruto had, and whatever chance the boy had of winning this struggle.

And if the way the glowing eyes of the fox were staring at Sasuke was any indication, the Uchiha had certainly become Naruto's only lifeline.

Kakashi was reluctant to take that away.

Whatever the case, he was about to act and do something, because he couldn't just stand uselessly by. But then something changed. Not even with his sharingan could he see exactly what happened or what triggered it as blue chakra literally exploded around Naruto and wrapped around him in a secondary layer of power, seemingly smothering and fighting the Kyuubi's vile energy with renewed fervor.

Where the boy was getting all of it, he didn't rightly know, but he hoped it would be enough.

As it was, he hoped the seal wasn't compromised.

Wherever the two chakras touched they either mixed into purple and darkened, or fought for dominance. It was a sight to behold; like a battle fought in a hundred fronts, even as the fox grew larger the more chakra was expelled. A fifth and a sixth tail soon sprouted before something remarkable took place.

First around Sasuke and then in other places where Naruto's chakra was pushing the Kyuubi's down more heavily, where the fox was clearly loosing; instead of blue, a thick silver chakra was left in its wake. As if Naruto had taken his chakra and purified the Kyuubi's with it; as if he were polishing the filth from a stained antique before making it his own.

And with the way that Naruto's chakra was spiraling; he could be doing just that.

It almost looked as if were scraping that vile power clean before sucking it down a whirlpool. And wherever this happened, where the silver chakra was denser, the Kyuubi's despicable chakra shirked from it, as if afraid.

Seeing that bright chakra reminded Kakashi sharply of his father's white chakra fang.

Still, as he watched, the phenomenon happened more and more and the fox stopped growing and seemed to condense in on itself even as a seventh and an eight and then the last tail appeared. It was both astonishing and unbelievable. Kakashi looked on, enraptured, as Uzumaki Naruto: the Number One Most Surprising, Knuckleheaded Ninja did it again and surpassed all expectation.

By doing something that should be impossible.

"Did he just do what I think he did?" Pakkun asked, incredulous.

"That boy . . ." he whispered even as he watched the last of Kyuubi's red chakra be consumed, and with it, the loathsome feel and oppressing pressure of its presence. Without another word, he made his way down and watched the churning chakra settle and compress in on itself once again, even as it became solid and tried to turn into silver fur.

Slowly, the torrent of expelled power slowed. The rain diminished to a trickle and the river settled somewhat beneath their feet.

Spots of blue and purple remained, but were absorbed into the silver fox-like shape, even as its chakra fluctuated; seemingly confused as to how to hold its form.

When he cautiously approached, he felt a low rumbling growl and watched as the silver fox in front of him opened clear blue eyes. The vertical pupils narrowed into thin lines, looking over at him before that giant head swung from side to side, its gaze settling on its right paw, where Sasuke was securely held.

"Naruto . . . ?" Kakashi asked lightly, but in a carrying voice, not sure what to think, but not risking getting any closer until he was sure it was safe; until he was sure this really was his precious, clumsy little student.

The fox's muzzle opened and its lips curled, showing misty, unformed fangs. For a moment Kakashi wondered how much trouble Naruto was having in controlling this massive amount of power; that was, if it was really Naruto in control. If it was, just how was he even keeping his shape? After all, his control had always been somewhat abysmal, though the boy had been improving steadily.

Even as he thought this, a patch of fur lost consistency and a paw became slightly insubstantial; almost as if it were silver tinted glass before the chakra thickened once more and became opaque.

Questions plagued his mind.

Was Naruto alright? Was his real body hurt? Shouldn't the boy or the seal be absorbing the chakra back into himself? The chakra was too tightly packed for his Sharingan to penetrate, and Kakashi was forced to cover it up.

It would be of no use if it couldn't see.

"Naruto, is that you?" he asked as he stepped a bit closer, his voice louder. He could see that Sasuke was clearly in shock, even as the silver fox became slightly smaller; more compressed. The chakra output steadied and the water alongside it.

If the frown of concentration on the fox's face was any indication, and if this really was his student, then he was getting the hang of regulating his chakra.

In fact, standing upon the water was probably helping quite a bit.

"Naruto?" he called once more, almost ten meters away. The pupils in those clear blue eyes widened slightly and Kakashi could see by the way the fox opened its mouth that it was trying to speak. It frowned at its failure and Kakashi smiled at it. "Just nod your head if it's you, Naruto," he suggested, smiling both in happiness and utter relief when the silver foxes' eyes widened in realization before the giant head nodded enthusiastically.

He would have laughed out-loud if he weren't controlling his outward emotions, his relief was that great. Not to mention, seeing such a giant creature nodding so eagerly was a sight to behold.

Again, the silver fox frowned and the thick, syrupy chakra condensed a bit more, becoming more solid.

He worried for the state of his student's body when he finished his approach and extended a hand. Soft silver fur greeted his fingertips, and if he hadn't known that it was pure chakra, if he hadn't seen it, he wouldn't have believed it, thought it kept shifting under his fingertips.

Was this why Kyuubi had been almost impossible to defeat? Because the fox was made completely out of energy? This would explain the lack of a body after its defeat; or even an elemental medium like the other Bijuu used. Everyone had assumed the Kyuubi had been sealed entirely, body and all.

Kakashi would have suggested they move toward the village immediately, but too much about the situation was unknown, and he wanted to give Naruto the time he needed to get a grip on what was happening. Hopefully the boy would find a way to get back to normal.

"Congratulations Naruto," he praised proudly instead of voicing his concerns, "You've completed your mission."

Kakashi didn't mention anything about the fox, though. He was mightily proud of Naruto for conquering the beast, but he didn't know if the Kyuubi was completely gone, or if Naruto was alright. For all he knew, the boy might be running on borrowed time.

Still, when the silver fox gave him a panting grin, tongue lolling about and all, he couldn't help but chuckle. "Follow me back to the shore so I can take charge of Sasuke, eh?"

And with a gesture, Naruto followed, walking a bit unsteadily on his three paws until he finished with a long jump towards the slip of land at either side of the waterfall. Kakashi took it all in as the fox sailed above him; the nine streaming tails and all, and wondered, even as the silver chakra fluctuated and rippled, if everything would turn out alright.

When finally on land, Naruto set Sasuke down, the Uchiha landing unceremoniously on his ass while looking nervously stunned up at Naruto as the boy-fox sat down on his hindquarters, long tails curling around him and the Uchiha. If Naruto had even a fraction of the control the Kyuubi had possessed over those tails, he knew Sasuke would be unable to get away, even if he had the energy to try.

He considered the situation carefully and knew he had to get both boys back to Konoha, no matter the current risks, though he worried about them all the same. "Naruto?" the fox turned toward him, a frown still wrinkling its silver muzzle, as Pakkun finally made it down to the valley floor, "Can you return back to normal?"

It was something he needed to ask, and he knew the answer immediately when the fox's long ears drooped and those clear eyes showed such worry. Naruto always had the most expressive face.

A sharp cry rent the air then and Naruto turned his head so fast that Kakashi suddenly knew there weren't any bones there to strain or snap or any muscles to slow its movements. His heart sank a bit as he came to that realization. Damn.

They needed to get to Tsunade as soon as possible.

He was with them a second later only to see Sasuke grasping at his shoulder painfully. In the exact same spot where Orochimaru's mark was. Kakashi was about to go pick up the boy when a menacing growl shook the earth beneath his feet.

Naruto was glaring intensely at the Uchiha's shoulder and with a few deft —though seemingly unconscious— swishes of his tails, the raven boy's shirt was made tatters. The silver fox lowered his giant head and Kakashi felt its chakra shift as it took a deep breath, scenting the air. And then, before he could protest or ask what he was doing, Naruto batted Sasuke's hand away somehow and lowered his head, shrinking a bit more as he did so, and bit down.

Sasuke screamed and Kakashi shouted at Naruto, but a tail came forward and held him gently at bay.

And then he felt it again, a weird shifting of the fox's, or Naruto's, massive chakra.

He uncovered his Sharingan when Sasuke passed out and watched through his red-tinted vision as Naruto did the improbable, again: The boy was sucking the cursed chakra from Sasuke's body and burning it!

And as if from far away, but coming from all around, he heard a whisper of Naruto's voice, "I won't let Orochimaru have you— Sasuke!"

It seemed the small blond had found his voice.

-O●O●O●O-

Everything was different.

Everything was completely and utterly weird.

He couldn't feel his body; he couldn't feel the steady thumping of his heart or the rhythmic movement of his lungs. Everything had changed.

Oh, he could feel, but that was different as well. He could see more than he had ever been able to before. He could hear more clearly than he thought possible, and his sense of smell was simply extraordinary.

Things he had always taken for granted looked, smelled and sounded new to him now; it even felt different. While he could feel the wind against his, well, chakra . . . or was it fur? And the ground under him quite normally, there was something new there as well; something he had never felt before. It was as if he could feel life itself, but that was a bit out there, so he pushed it out of his mind.

What he was completely sure about, even as his fangs sunk more deeply into Sasuke's tenketsu, was that he could also feel, smell and taste chakra. And the Uchiha's tasted completely foul to his tongue.

But he ignored it and did the same with that chakra as he had done with the Kyuubi's; he turned it on itself and used his own chakra to help the process along.

Naruto didn't understand everything that was happening, and didn't particularly care at the moment. He only knew that he couldn't feel the Kyuubi anymore and that he had tons of chakra; a chakra more potent and purer than his had been. And it was all under his control.

True, he seemed to be stuck into the shape of a nine-tailed fox, but he was confident that Tsunade-baachan would be able to help him get back to normal; so none of it concerned him all that much.

What did have all of his worry, however, was the unconscious boy between his jaws. And wasn't that absolutely the coolest thing ever? Ha! He could probably kick ass and take names more awesomely than ever before! Or rather, bite the baddies in the ass instead.

. . . Though actually biting someone in the ass would probably taste pretty awful, now that he thought about it.

Naruto shuddered.

He shifted his tail so that Kakashi-sensei could come closer and concentrated once more when he noticed that he was almost done getting rid of all that cursed chakra and removing that foul seal from his best friend's shoulder. Hopefully Sasuke would be back to normal without its influence.

How he was doing what he was, he didn't have the foggiest, but he was and he knew without a doubt that it was working. He just knew Sasuke was going to be just fine.

Frowning, he opened an eye when Kakashi's hand came to rest on his head, ruffling his fur as he had his hair. "I don't know how you're doing it Naruto, but we should head back to Konoha as soon as you're finished. Are you up to making the trip?"

Naruto blinked a bit, somewhat startled when he found that Kakashi was so much smaller than he was, before something caught his attention. He concentrated and sunk his chakra more deeply into Sasuke's coils to see what was wrong.

There! Another foul, tainted chakra pulsed from two small sources, so Naruto directed his own in that direction. While equally vile as Orochimaru's, in a different kind of way, they weren't quite as vast, so it took mere seconds for Naruto to clean it out.

What effect it would have on the Uchiha, he didn't know. But something told him what he had done was right, and Naruto always trusted his own instincts.

Pulling his fangs from the other boy's tenketsu, he licked the Uchiha a bit and blinked as he tried to figure out where that impulse had come from. Shaking his head, he stepped back and allowed Kakashi to check on Sasuke.

He grinned; he'd done it! He really had! His nine tails wagged and Naruto winced when one struck the wall of the valley and almost caused a landslide.

"Careful, Naruto," Kakashi scolded him gently and his long ears flattened themselves in shame. And now that he thought about it, what was going on with the long-ass ears, anyways? They looked like they were from a freakin' rabbit! "Are you ready to go?" Kakashi asked, breaking him away from his thoughts.

"Hai," he answered, somewhat surprised he could speak now, though equally unnerved by the echoey, coming-outta-everywhere-at-once quality of it.

Creepy.

Kakashi looked over at him and Naruto knew he was smiling. "Good, if you can talk, then how about you start filling me in on your mission, eh?" And with a gesture to follow, he set off back towards the village.

Naruto stood there for a bit before giving chase, only to have to skid to a halt when he found himself out of the valley and at the edge of the forest in three swift steps.

He blinked and looked back to see an equally startled Kakashi coming up from the valley floor with Pakkun close on his heels.

"Pakkun! I didn't know you were there!" he exclaimed, completely ignoring the fact that he had covered so much distance in tree steps, and almost winced when his voice came out so much louder than he was used to.

"It's been awhile, Naruto," the small pug told him as he trotted up to him. He lowered his head, and concentrated a bit until he was only about half again the size of a horse. It took a whole lot of concentration to get to that size, since the chakra became so tightly packed, but even as he was thinking this, it became a bit easier to do it.

Only a bit, mind.

He sniffed at Pakkun and then turned back to Kakashi, who had Sasuke on his back. "Ne, ne, Kakashi-sensei, I think I can take us home faster. Why don't you climb on my back?""Are you sure, Naruto? Isn't being in this form a strain? I don't want to make things worse than they are."

Naruto just shook his head and crouched so that they could get on, his long tails knocking a few trees inadvertently. "I feel awesome Kakashi-sensei! I don't feel at all bad and I'm sure that Tsunade-baachan will be able to get me back to normal when we get back to Konoha. Besides, the faster we get back the sooner that'll be, so it's really for the best."

A moment later he grinned, nodding and almost patting himself on the back with a tail for having such a good argument. For some reason, he could think faster and clearer than ever before, and his grin widened when Pakkun just climbed through his snout and perched on his head. "He's got you there, Kakashi," the pug commented with a doggy smirk.

With a thought, he allowed Pakkun's chakra to latch on to his own so he wouldn't fall.

"Alright, alright," Kakashi said, placing Sasuke on his back before climbing behind the Uchiha and grabbing fistfuls of silvery fur. "I'm not hurting you, am I?"

"Not at all, Kakashi-sensei! I can feel you there, and I know that you're holding onto my chakra, I can feel that much, but it doesn't hurt at all!" He noticed Kakashi looking thoughtful, but set it out of his mind for now.

He walked in a circle to make sure that Kakashi and Sasuke had properly settled and to get a better feel of having four legs, which he found surprisingly easy to use (after all, he usually used both hands and legs when running through trees), before taking off with a whoop!

Kami, it was awesome! He was eating up ground like never before, and not feeling the least bit tired! He used the branches of trees when they were thick enough but otherwise kept to the ground, his long tails streaming behind him.

He began telling Kakashi everything about the mission and answered whatever question his sensei asked, marveling at how far he could see and dodging neatly through the forest floor.

It took no more than half an hour to tell his sensei everything he knew and to cover almost half of the distance to the village, even when it had taken them almost a whole day and night to cover the same expanse before.

And he was sure he could go even faster still, though he wasn't certain if he had the control needed for it.

His eyes darted to the left, where he had seen a flash of white. "Kakashi-sensei, there's someone at four o'clock, though I can't tell how far away," he sniffed, "And two others on our left, at eleven."

"I see it, Naruto. Those are Konoha-nin. Stop and try to look as non-threatening as possible, eh? Remember that you look like the Kyuubi, which is why they're hiding."

Right.

He'd forgotten about that. He would have scratched the back of his head, but stopped the action when he noticed his silver claws. Alrighty, then. They could probably slice Pakkun into dog-chow if he actually did any scratching. Sitting down sheepishly, he curled his tails around himself, hoping that he looked cool in this pose, and looked around for the medic team.

"You can come out, it's quite safe," Kakashi spoke into the still forest.

"Yeah, yeah, I won't eat you; it's not like I'm the bastard fox and all—" Kakashi cuffed him on the back of the head and Pakkun bit his ear, "Hey, why'd you bite my ear, you mangy mutt?"

"Shut up, idiot," the pug told him with an eye-roll and a sniff, "you're gonna scare all of them off. And besides, I'll have you know that I'm anything but a mutt; in fact, I have outstanding pedigree."

Naruto grumbled but fell silent when a medic in a white ninja outfit stepped out from behind the trees. "Kakashi-san," the man nodded, "Is he. . . ?" the man trailed off uncertainly.

Kakashi gestured vaguely. "He's completely alright, though seemingly stuck in this form. If it wouldn't be any trouble, could you check on him? We can't figure why the seal isn't absorbing the chakra back."

Startled, the medic nodded and approached carefully, signaling at his other two comrades to join him, "and Uchiha Sasuke?"

"He could do with a check-up as well. Naruto was able to capture him and somehow remove the curse seal," Kakashi said as he climbed down with Sasuke's limp form and set him down so the two other medics could see to him, looking as if what he was saying was nothing out of the ordinary. "If it's alright to keep moving, Naruto can get us there much quicker than if we where to go on foot."

"R—right," the medic-nin said as he approached him and Naruto grinned.

"How are the others?" he asked, eager to find out if everyone was alright, his voice seeming to emanate from the whole of him instead of from his mouth, startling the medic. "Did everyone make it?" he asked again when no answer was forthcoming.

Seeming to relax at the sheer worry in his voice, the medic finished approaching and placed his now glowing hands on his flank. "Everyone has been recovered," the medic answered absently, the rest of his nervousness seemingly evaporating as he ran his hand over Naruto's head before going back to his flank. "After receiving emergency treatment they were moved back to the village safely. Nara Shikamaru had minor injuries, and while deep, Inuzuka Kiba's own wounds were not life threatening."

The medic paused and crouched to pass his glowing hand across his stomach. "Hyuuga Neji and Akamichi Chouji, however, are in critical condition. At the moment, we don't know if they will make it."

The medic frowned a bit and double-backed, seeming to concentrate more on his exam. "What about Lee?" he asked, worried for the taijutsu expert who had appeared and held back such a strong opponent, "And Sasuke, is he doing alright?"

"Rock Lee strained his body a bit too much and gained some superficial injuries, but it's nothing some rest won't cure. According to reports, Sabaku no Gaara lent him his assistance, while Kankuro and Temari of the Sand aided Inuzuka-san and Nara-san, respectively."

Naruto perked up at that. With Gaara's help, they should have surely won. He shook his head and looked back at where Kakashi was coming back carrying Sasuke. "How is he?"

"He's doing alright, Naruto. Some bruised bones and torn muscles, and near chakra exhaustion. The medics also said there are no signs of the curse seal left on his body apart from the strain it caused him while using it. Personally, I think you went too easy on him," Kakashi told him somewhat grimly.

"Hey, hey, he was really strong! That cursed chakra from Orochimaru's seal was even yuckier then the Kyuubi's and was making him act like he was insane," he told Kakashi, nodding to make his point, "If I hadn't pulled on the fox's chakra, I'd be dead three times over!"

"I know, Naruto, but still. . ." Kakashi trailed off and shook his head before turning the silent medic that had been examining him, "What's wrong with him?"

"There's nothing wrong with me!" he told Kakashi indignantly and received a deadpan look in return.

He sulked.

The medics stared at the pouting nine-tails and relaxed even more.

The shinobi who had looked him over gave him a helpless look, "He . . . well—"

"Spit it out, man," Kakashi told him impatiently.

"Hai," the medic said, before turning an apologetic look his way, "His body . . . his body has disintegrated; absorbed by the chakra. The seal is intact and his whole chakra is stable. In fact, there seems to be no sign of the Demon anywhere in sight; he has absorbed that too."

The medic looked into his widened eyes and then around at his speechless comrades, and Naruto faintly noticed that Kakashi, instead of surprised, looked almost resigned. He didn't know what to feel, so he just stood there, stunned.

"However," the medic said, and he focused instantly on the man, "His chakra has all the materials of life; as if it had a map of what made Uzumaki Naruto. All of his cells are there, scattered. I think . . ." He paused before continuing with certainty, "I think that Tsunade-sama may be able to guide you into reforming your body once again."

"I knew it!" He could always trust in the old hag to heal him up. "Then what are we doing standing around here? Hop on!" And without any notice he grew to at least twice his size, startling the medics and knocking a few more trees; "We need to get to Konoha!"He needed to get Sasuke there too, after all. He had a promise to keep!

Though, as he took off with five people on his back, shooting towards his home at amazing speeds, he couldn't help but think that it wasn't all that bad, being a fox.

In fact, he could get used to it.

-o

TBC . . .

-o

Pickled Brains: Why did I write this? Simple: I wanted Naruto to have overwhelming power from the near-start and explore how to use it, instead of having to gain it unrealistically, suddenly and through a week-long training session, when three whole years didn't do him any good. I think that having power, controlling it skillfully and using it wisely are completely different things, so I'm going to explore the latter two to my heart's content.

After all, every author is tempted to make his character the best there is, I simply fell into that temptation and I sure as hell am going to have fun with it!

So tell me what y'all think, okay?