Kiba was having trouble believing what he'd just heard. "Th-the end of us all? Surely, it can't be that serious!" he said, trying his hardest to make light of the situation. It wasn't that he didn't believe his teammate...it was that he DID believe her, and believing made him extremely nervous.
Hinata simply looked into Kiba's eyes, her own white eyes very clearly conveying what she didn't have to say: "You wanna bet?" The look sent a slight chill up Kiba's spine, and the slightly feral Genin shivered. Hinata looked away from her teammate back to her long-time crush. Reaching out, she gently brushed his hair back from his face, where it had apparently fallen in all the excitement. "I hope you'll be okay, Naruto," she thought to herself with a soft smile.
Kiba, watching this, snarled slightly. "Why did it have to be HIM?" he asked himself. "Why did she have to have a crush on the densest, goofiest guy I've ever met?" He couldn't decide whether he was jealous that she didn't like him or whether he just felt bad for Hinata since Naruto had no idea how she felt, so he just settled on something in between the two.
Kiba sighed and shook his head. There was really nothing for it, he knew. He took a step forward to try to comfort Hinata, but, just before he could rest a hand on her shoulder, both Genin were thrown backward by a pulse of chakra. The two came to rest sitting in two of the chairs along the wall of the room and looked up at Naruto, half-expecting to find him awake. The blond continued to slumber. "What in the world was that?" Hinata asked, half to herself, half to Kiba. Kiba just shrugged; he didn't know what it was, but he did know it just proved even more just how much power Naruto had within him. It was impressive...and a little scary.
Naruto had spent what felt like hours looking around the inside of his rather small cage, trying to find any weakness in it. He had found nothing. The entire time he'd been doing this, the fox had been watching him with a mix of morbid curiosity and absolute bewilderment. "Why do you bother looking for a way out of there, brat?" the fox asked at one point. "As much as I hate that reptilian...being that was in here before, he's absolutely right, the only one who can break out of that seal is in here with you."
Naruto sighed. He wasn't exactly pleased with his current situation, and the fox's commentary was not helping. "I don't care what that bastard Orochimaru said," he told Kyubi, turning to look the fox straight in his huge red eyes. "I'll find some way out of here, and I'll do it without letting you out! I never give up, and I never go back on my word! That's my ninja way!" He glared at the fox with absolutely no fear in his eyes as he said this.
Kyubi snickered at the boy in front of him. "You're lucky this cage is between us," he told the blond. "If not for it, I would have devoured you long ago...and your pathetic village with you."
Naruto took three slow steps toward the Kyubi's cage, his eyes burning with rage. "You can threaten me all you want, you stupid fox, but I will NEVER let you lay a paw on the village!" he ground out through clenched teeth. "Even if it means I have to give myself over to the most evil force the world has ever seen, I will protect the village from any threat that comes against it, even YOU!" As he spoke, the boy let out a pulse of his chakra in what he knew was a vain effort to intimidate the fox. He had no idea that doing so would knock Hinata and Kiba off their feet.
Then something happened that no one could have predicted. The fox laughed. It sounded like some weird combination of a bark and a roar, but Naruto could tell by the look in the creature's eyes and the way the fox was rolling around as he let out the sound that the fox was laughing. Naruto folded his arms and glared at the fox, not amused. After a minute, Kyubi calmed down and gave Naruto a grin. "You know what, brat," the fox said, still amused, "I'm going to do something for you. Your determination might be foolish, and your courage may be all bravado, but you still earned this. I'm going to tell you my name."
Naruto rolled his eyes. "Your name? Your name is Kyubi, isn't it? Oh, big prize!" he said sarcastically.
The fox snarled. "You really think my NAME is Nine-Tails?" he asked. "That's just what you pathetic humans call me since no one can remember my true name anymore. But I'm going to tell it to you. I am Kurama."
Naruto could somehow tell that he'd been given a truly great gift, though he would never have been able to explain how he knew this exactly. He bowed to the fox, yet another thing neither he nor anyone else would have expected to happen. "It's an honor to truly make your acquaintance at long last, Kurama," he said formally. Raising himself up from his bow, he looked into the fox's eyes, and both could sense that the dynamic between them had...shifted somehow. The change was subtle, but both could sense it nonetheless. Some of the latent hostility between them had lifted.
Kurama thought about smiling at the boy's show of formality, but decided scaring the blond at that moment wouldn't have been the best idea, so he just nodded. Then a thought occurred to him. "Boy, why do you not blame me for all the pain you've gone through in your life?" he asked.
Naruto shrugged. "Is it your fault the villagers are uneducated morons?" he asked back.
Kurama chuckled. "No, that would be the fault of your beloved Third Hokage," he said back, his tone slightly sarcastic. "But I'm surprised you see it that way. I mean, really, if it weren't for me being in here, you probably wouldn't have been treated so badly for so many years."
Naruto gave the fox a slight smile. "I'm guessing that's the closest thing to an apology I'll ever get from you," he said. Kurama nodded slightly, acknowledging Naruto's point. "Really, though, I know it's not your fault. Now, my parents being dead...I have to assume that is your fault, somehow or another, and believe me, I'm nowhere near forgiving you for that one."
Kurama gave out a sigh. "I doubt it'll do much good, but I think this is a good time to tell you what really happened the night you were born," he said. Naruto looked into the fox's red eyes, an eyebrow lifted in curiosity.
The Hokage had to raise an eyebrow at what he saw when he entered Naruto's hospital room. He had been coming to check up on the blond, but what he saw was almost too cute to interrupt. Hinata had apparently pulled a chair up next to the boy's bed, and she was even now sitting there, Naruto's hand gently held in one of hers as she caressed it with the other. Hiruzen smiled and shook his head, then cleared his throat. Hinata let out a squeak and leapt from her chair, blushing a deep red as she turned to greet the Hokage. "Y-Yes, Lord Hokage?" she said.
Hiruzen chuckled. "Don't worry, Hinata, I'm glad he's finally got someone who will care for him," he said. Hinata smiled, though her blush persisted. "Anyway, I came to check up on Naruto and to let you and Kiba know I'm going to have Inoichi and Ino Yamanaka come and take a look at him later today."
"Of course, Lord Hokage," Hinata replied, bowing. "But do you really have to pull them away from the Finals just for this?"
Hiruzen was slightly surprised that he'd been caught out by a Genin of all things, but he decided to tell Hinata part of his reasoning at least. "Due to Naruto's...special circumstances, his well-being is a matter of grave importance for the whole village," he said. "And if those circumstances have anything to do with his current state, it is of utmost importance that we have him examined immediately."
Hinata turned to her teammate, who was leaning back in his chair and listening to the two converse; not sure what he could add, Kiba had been silent so far. "Kiba, would you mind giving the Hokage and me a moment in private?" she asked.
Kiba was about to refuse, but then he saw the look in Hinata's eyes. She was pleading with him silently to do this for her. "Okay, sure," he said, giving her a slight smile. "But just so you know, it doesn't matter to me what secret the knucklehead has; he's a comrade and a friend, and nothing is going to change that."
Hiruzen had to smile upon hearing that. "Kiba, if you're truly sincere in saying that, you're welcome to stay," he said kindly. "Just know that anything you hear about him in this room stays in this room and is an S-ranked secret. Telling it to anyone who does not already know is punishable by death."
Kiba gulped slightly, but he nodded. "I meant what I said," he told both Hiruzen and Hinata. "He's my friend, and nothing I learn here will change that. As for the other...I know how to keep my mouth shut."
Hiruzen smiled. "In case you're wondering, Kiba, your mother and sister already know about this," he said. "So if you feel the need to discuss it with them, feel free." Kiba nodded and waited to see what he would learn about his friend and rival.
Hinata smiled at Kiba, her eyes grateful for her teammate's words. "I already know, too," she said, surprising the dark-haired boy. "I found out at the same time Naruto did."
Hiruzen smiled kindly. "Go ahead, Hinata, what is it you wanted to say?" he asked.
Hinata moved around to the far side of Naruto's bed and spread open his shirt, which she had closed after she and Kiba noticed the seal on Naruto's stomach earlier. She indicated the seal and told the Hokage, "This isn't Naruto's normal seal, I'm sure of it."
Kiba came closer and looked at the seal, curious. "And how would you know that, Hinata?" he asked her teasingly. Hinata blushed.
"I've had her monitoring the seal ever since she found out about what's in it," Hiruzen told Kiba. "Her Byakugan has been most helpful...and she's right, that isn't his normal seal," he added after briefly inspecting the seal himself.
Kiba looked at it a bit closer, and this time he noticed that there seemed to be not one, but two seals on the boy's stomach. Tracing one finger over the outer one, which was glowing, he conjectured, "I'm guessing that this one is what's causing him to be like he is right now." Hiruzen and Hinata both nodded. Then, tracing over the inner, black seal, he asked, "But then...what's this?"
Hiruzen smiled proudly at his Genin. "That seal, Kiba, is the S-rank secret I mentioned before. That seal contains the Nine-tailed Fox, Kyubi no Kitsune," he said bluntly.
Kiba pulled back in shock. "The Kyubi?" he said, confused. "But we were taught that the Fourth Hokage killed him!"
Hiruzen nodded. "The deception was necessary. I declared Naruto's jinchuriki status an S-rank secret in the hope that he would have a chance at a normal life," he explained. "But the truth is, even the Fourth couldn't kill the Kyubi. No one can kill a tailed beast. They're technically just huge masses of sentient chakra to begin with, so, in a sense, they're not really 'alive' in the first place. As such, the only way to defeat them is to seal them, as the Fourth did. He sealed the fox into Naruto here the very night Naruto was born, giving his own life in the process."
Kiba thought about that a minute. "So that's why everyone calls Naruto a monster and demon and all that," he said. Hinata and Hiruzen nodded again. "Way to go with trying to give him a 'normal' life there, Lord Hokage," he said slightly sarcastically. Hiruzen nodded, acknowledging his shame. Then, Kiba turned to Hinata. "How did you come to find out about this, Hinata?"
Hinata sighed; she knew she'd have to explain this someday, but she'd never thought the first one she'd tell would be Kiba. "You remember when we all took our Genin Exams, Naruto failed, right?" she began. Kiba nodded. "Well, after that, Mizuki-sensei tricked Naruto into stealing the Forbidden Scroll of Sealing. I'm sure you heard something about that, too." Kiba nodded again; he hadn't heard the part about Mizuki, but he had heard that Naruto took the scroll. "By then, I had gotten into the habit of...watching him sometimes, and I was there that night when he opened the scroll and trained until he had learned the Shadow Clone Jutsu. After that, Iruka-sensei and Mizuki-sensei showed up. Mizuki-sensei tried to take the scroll for himself, and Iruka-sensei protected Naruto...but he couldn't protect Naruto from Mizuki-sensei's words." Her face contorted in sadness as she remembered exactly what Mizuki had said that night. "Mizuki-sensei told Naruto that the fox had been sealed into him, but he claimed that Naruto had been taken over by the fox and was the fox now. Not going to him to comfort him that night was the hardest thing I've ever done," Hinata finished.
Kiba didn't say anything for a minute, processing what Hinata had said. "That's not true, though, is it?" he asked. "Naruto's...not the fox, is he?"
Instead of answering, Hiruzen pulled out a scroll. "Do either of you have a kunai?" he asked. Kiba pulled one out and passed it to the Hokage, a curious look on his face. Hiruzen proceeded to seal the kunai into the scroll. "Is this now a kunai?" he asked. Kiba shook his head. Hiruzen simply handed Kiba the scroll.
Kiba thought about what had just happened, then smiled. "I see what you mean," he said after a minute. "That was a stupid question, wasn't it?"
Hiruzen chuckled. "It's a question I wish more people would ask rather than simply assuming the answer," he said. Sighing, he added, "I also wish more people could understand that Naruto really is the greatest hero this village has ever had."
Hinata and Kiba both looked at the Hokage in surprise at this. "How so?" Kiba asked.
"Well, you both know that the Kyubi had been attacking our village," Hiruzen replied. "And that the Fourth Hokage sealed the creature into Naruto. What you may not have realized, though, is that, by containing the fox within his tiny body, and keeping it there to this day, Naruto not only saved the village, he has kept it safe with every breath he has taken for over twelve years now."
Hinata turned to Naruto and smiled. "I always knew he was a hero," she said simply.
Kiba rested a hand on Hinata's shoulder and teased, "I know he's always been your hero, I just never realized he was mine, too."
Hinata smiled at Kiba, then took Naruto's hand in hers gently and began caressing it again. "Please come back to me, Naruto," she whispered.
The Finals had been progressing smoothly so far. Shino and Kankuro had fought for a long while, Shino eventually triumphing, and Shikamaru had spent the past three hours seemingly wasting time while he and Temari fought. The Kazekage asked Hiruzen's clone, "Why are you not calling this match? It's clear that your ninja there has no chance of beating Temari at all."
Hiruzen chuckled. "You may yet be surprised, Lord Kazekage," he said simply. "There's more to Shikamaru than you might think."
The Kazekage hissed quietly under his mask. "That may be so," he thought to himself, "but I don't really care about this match, it's Gaara's fight that really matters!"
As he thought this, everyone got a shock as Shikamaru finally caught Temari in his Shadow Possession Jutsu. He had stretched his shadow all the way around the arena, through the trees that grew near the wall, until it came at Temari from behind. She never saw it coming. Shikamaru then used his jutsu to make Temari pick up her fan and close it. Then, to the audience's amusement, he made her beat herself up with it. Within moments, Temari was unconscious, and Shikamaru was declared the winner. He sighed. "That was a pain," he said. "I barely had enough chakra to hold her that long."
The Kazekage snarled. "Oh, my, that's unfortunate," he thought. "I hope she wakes up in time to do her part in our plan."
From the floor of the arena, the proctor called out, "This concludes the first round of the Finals! Due to the first two matches not putting a strain on the combatants, we will move directly to the second round. Neji Hyuga and Gaara, please come down here!" The two shinobi made their way to the ground, their movements and attitudes somehow similar. Neither acknowledged the other. When they had both arrived, the proctor said, "Let the second round of the Chunin Selection Tournament...BEGIN!" and jumped out of the combatants' way.
Naruto sighed. "If that's really true," he said to Kurama once the story was complete, "I really can't blame you for what happened. Thank you for telling me."
Kurama nodded. "You deserve to know the truth," he said. "I'm just glad you believed me. I mean, it's not like you don't have reason to distrust me."
Naruto shook his head. "Truth is truth, regardless of the source," he said simply.
Kurama looked at the blond in surprise. "You know, kid, there's a lot more to you than you show the outside world, isn't there?"
Naruto chuckled. "You just now figured that out?" he asked.
Kurama raised one eyebrow at Naruto. "Would you take the time to get to know someone who has deprived you of your freedom from the moment he was born?" he asked.
Naruto thought about that a minute. "Good point," he responded.
Kurama sighed. "I can't believe I'm about to say this, but I kinda wish there was some way I could help you get out of this fix," he said. He thought a moment, then added, "Well, I guess there is a way...but I don't think either of us would want to take that route."
Naruto looked up at him. "Well, that would depend on what it was," he said.
Kurama sighed again, rolling his eyes. "If we take that route, the best we can hope for is that your mind would be forever altered, possibly destroyed," he said.
Naruto gulped. "And at worst?" he asked somewhat nervously.
The fox raised an eyebrow at the blond, somewhat surprised he'd even asked that. Nonetheless, he had to admit, the boy deserved to know what he'd be risking if they tried what the fox had thought of, so he replied, "If we tried to do what I just thought of and something went wrong, you would either lose your mind entirely...or die."