I Must...!!

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Kakashi was still waiting in the jōnin standby station with his friends and fellow teachers. As far as he was concerned, everything was fine until he tried to turn to the next page in his book, and a small tear formed. Kakashi's eyes widened, startled by the damage he had just caused to one of his favorite objects. This particular volume was still relatively new. It wasn't like the paper had become fragile, so for it to tear like that...

"Ah!! Could it be... a bad omen?!" Guy gasped dramatically, having witnessed the whole thing from the spot on the floor where he was practicing backbends.

"Don't say such unlucky things..." Kakashi chided him calmly, sweat-dropping. 'However...' he thought, glancing out the window when he saw a flash of movement from the corner of his eye in time to catch a glimpse of an Anbu agent rushing by in a hurry. Kakashi furrowed his brow and narrowed his eyes slightly with concern. 'I do have a bad feeling about that...'

'Naruto...' Sasuke thought, staring at the other boy in shock. His 'scaredy-cat' taunt made him remember the time he had said the exact same thing to him when he froze the first time they had to protect Tazuna-san on their way to the Land of Waves. He had thought he was so cool back then, mocking his scared teammate. And then there was Naruto's other words... There's no way... such a stupid coward like you is the Sasuke I know!!

Sasuke and Sakura furrowed their brows, startled when the grass ninja's tongue abruptly shot forward from his mouth.

"!!" Naruto and Sasuke both gasped when it wrapped around Naruto and lifted him up off of the ground.

"Uwaa!!" Naruto cried as he was yanked back until the grass ninja had him held in the air in front of him. "Damn it!!" Naruto cursed, trying to flail around to escape the abnormally strong tongue's grip. "Let go of me!!!"

"Hehe... so the Nine Tails brat is still alive..." the enemy ninja said, quickly forming more hand seals.

"!!" Naruto exclaimed, furrowing his brow when he was jerked close enough for their forehead protectors to touch. He wanted to move, but the tongue was wrapped around his arms and upper torso, and he wasn't able to get a good kick in either.

"When your emotions are heightened... the power of the Nine Tails overflows... very interesting..." the grass ninja mused while the kanji for 'metal', 'wood', 'water', 'fire', and 'earth' formed in the chakra gathered at his fingertips. After that outsider got herself in trouble, Naruto's distress made his chakra flare and blend with the Nine Tails', allowing enough of it to flow through his body to increase his durability; so much so that the boy was able to avoid breaking any bones or being seriously burned by his fire release jutsu. He moved his tongue to push up Naruto's jacket to give him access to his belly. "Oh my... the seal is visible..." he could see the normally invisible markings very clearly. 'Five part seal!!' he thought, thrusting his glowing hand forward to place a new restriction over the old seal.

Naruto flinched and cried out in pain from the attack.

"Sasuke-kun!!" Sakura screamed. "Naruto is...!!!"

Naruto's eyes widened at the intense burning sensation. His instinct was to lash out in retaliation, and for a moment it looked like he would... but then his slitted pupil rounded, and his eyes drooped closed.

'Twelve years since the seal...' the enemy ninja thought, watching Naruto's body fall limp in his grip. 'Naruto-kun and the Nine Tails chakra are beginning to fuse... But right now, you are in the way...' He smirked and hurled the unconscious boy away, leaving him to his own fate.

'He's going to fall!!' Sakura thought, furrowing her brow. April was incapacitated from saving him before, and Sasuke was still frozen. "Naruto!!!" she cried, throwing a kunai to stop his fall by pinning the back of his jacket to a tree. She was relieved when it held. "Sasuke-kun!!!" she yelled, disappointed by his current behavior. Tears formed in her eyes when she saw the way he was trembling, but at the moment, she couldn't bring herself to forgive him. Like Naruto said, this was not the Sasuke she knew and loved. "It's true that unlike you, Naruto is clumsy and can get in the way, but..." Her eyes wandered to their unconscious teammates. She saw how beat up Naruto was from fighting, the blood dripping from the corner of his mouth. The way April's face was still cringing and twisted in pain even after she passed out, all because she had put her own life on the line to save a friend. She remembered how April had saved her and Sasuke when that grass ninja's bloodlust froze them with fear, the courage she gave them to move again. And the cruel way Sasuke had repaid her for it. "At least he's not a coward!! At least he would never choke a teammate!! Right!!!" she yelled at him.

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