Hinata was pleased to have discovered a third male who didn't make her feel uncomfortable. She wished she could say the same about his bugs. They were
the size of the nail on her pinky finger, with rather shiny gray-blue shells. But they had sharp black pincers as big as their bodies. She sent a nervous look
from Shino's palm up to the glasses obscuring his eyes. "Do they bite?"

"Only if I want them to. These aren't natural insects. They're a manifestation of my energy. Would you like me to alter their appearance so they look more
harmless?"

"No," Hinata smiled with relief. "The shells are very pretty."

"My mother's look like opals. She's better at this than I am." She would have lectured him severely for what he was about to do. Hinata had only been
momentarily forgotten. The others would recall her existence soon enough and they would have nothing in common. Except their desire to help. It was
probably wrong to take advantage of her desire just to give in to his own. He curled his fingers lightly over the two jeweled insects. "Are you sure you want to
do this? He will recover on his own eventually. His energy isn't low enough to kill him. It's just a coma."

"It's unnecessary," Hinata said firmly. "He brought Naruto-kun home. He shouldn't be left in a coma if he doesn't have to be." He certainly shouldn't have been
left with no one to watch over him. A well-meaning stranger was better than no one. She was better than no one. "I want to help."

"To be a part of things." He had entered Kakashi's room for the same reason. Unfortunately there wasn't much he could do with his current energy level so it
was just as well that Hinata had gotten here first. He extended his hand and was impressed that she didn't hesitate to cup her own hands. A girl who wasn't
skittish of bugs? His mother would be making wedding arrangements if she ever found out they had been in a closed room with only a comatose man as
chaperone. He was glad she would never know. "Hold one in each hand."

Hinata winced at the ticklish feel of tiny legs on her palm. She wanted to shake them off or curl her hands to keep them still. Instead she focused on keeping
her hands flat and standing as motionless as possible. "Now what do I do?"

Shino smiled at her determined voice. "Nothing. Just hold them. They won't take any more than you can afford to share safely. When they become too heavy
to hold comfortably, that means they're full. Then you set them down on him. They'll get a feel for his energy and transform yours so it's compatible."

"You could do this with anyone, then?" Hinata was sure Kiba and Lee would be willing to offer some of their energy as well. Sakura definitely would have if she
hadn't been saving her energy to help with Naruto. Maybe even Ino would - no, she doubted even Sakura could convince Ino to touch a bug. "If some of the
others shared their energy as well-"

"I doubt anyone else would be willing to do this. Too many people detest and fear insects."

"But if it's to help-"

"I wouldn't expect help from anyone else, save maybe Akamaru."

"You can get energy from a dog?"

"Every living creature has energy. Even plants, though it would take far more insects than I can currently make to gather enough energy from plants to be
useful in this situation." He frowned at Kakashi. Hinata wouldn't be able to help him much. A dog could share even less energy than a human could. Adding his
own would bring Kakashi into a natural sleep, but it would mean putting himself out of commission without getting any answers as to what had happened to the
four of them. He supposed that was the price of being useful. If he were intelligent he would learn from this. Hinata shifted her weight from one stiff leg to the
other, and a quick smile crossed his face. "You can sit on the edge of the bed. You won't bother him."

"Oh, no! I couldn't!" Hinata blushed furiously at the very idea. "I'm fine. Really!"

Shino fetched her the chair from the desk and sat on the edge of the bed himself. "It shouldn't be much longer. Set them down as soon as they start feeling
heavy." He hadn't thought much of her at first sight. Now he suspected she was hiding a stubborn streak. She would probably try holding them even if it hurt
her arms. "If you accidentally drop them, they'll explode."

"What?!"

"Not a violent explosion," he assured her. "They're just fragile. They would shatter on the floor and all of the energy you wanted to share would waft away. It
would be a horrible waste."

"Yes, it would," Hinata frowned. "I won't drop them." She glimpsed a smile before it was hidden by his high collar. She smiled back. "I've never done anything
like this."

"Shared your energy with a mutant?"

"That, too."

.-.

Kyuubi really was a fox. The ears were wrong, like narrow pointed wings extending past his shoulders. Humanoid musculature, particularly in the arms and
legs. The weight distribution was better suited for two legs than four. It wasn't as noticeable when Kyuubi ducked lower, closer to eye level, and the tails
churned around him. But even the tails were wrong, more serpent than fox. Was he aware of that? Had Kyuubi ever seen a real fox? Someone should have
told Naruto a real fox had a pointed snout, straight thin front limbs, open ears, and a bushy tail. Kyuubi really was a fox. But he wasn't a real fox.

Sasuke stared into and through those red eyes, the only aspect aside from the teeth that matched the image he had formed in his own mind. He spoke, his
voice sounding sane in the silence. "Did you ever look like that?" Or was it just in his mind? He looked closer at the image taking form there and
wondered...whose mind? His or Kyuubi's?

Sasuke's eyes had become a mirror and Kyuubi could see himself reflected there. Raw power, all teeth and fur and tails. Sasuke saw him as he was. But
another image ghosted beneath that, wispy and wistful and more familiar than Kyuubi cared to admit. The mane of jagged red hair was his, as were the eyes,
the sharp toothy grin, but the ears were wrong, there was only one tail, thicker and shorter than any of his own, and the body was nothing like Naruto's. The
only human body he had access to was Naruto's and he doubted Naruto would ever grow to be that tall. He would never look like that. Had he ever? "Maybe in
another life." Because that much of what Itachi had said was true. He must have been born with a body of his own. He refused to believe he had sprung into
existence the day he had met Naruto. He had come from somewhere and...for whatever reason...been unable to go back.

Kyuubi blinked when Sasuke's right hand dropped to curl in the fur on his left paw. He was clenching that paw, which really was shaped more like a clawed
hand than a rounded animal paw. Why had he never seen that? Because Naruto hadn't. Naruto saw him as he was and never looked any deeper than that.

"Naruto," Kyuubi growled, shocked that he could have forgotten even for a moment. "He's trapped in the cage I built. Itachi was in here. He left chains around
the cage and I can't get them off."

"Itachi took his eyes," said Sasuke. "I don't know what he did with them."

Fear clenched at the nape of Kyuubi's neck. He had been so reassured to see Sasuke appear in Naruto's mind, visibly uninjured, no screams or tears or
crumbling. Naruto would have noticed how blank Sasuke's face was, would have recognized the lack of emotion in Sasuke's quiet voice. Kyuubi didn't know
how Naruto would have reacted to this. He went with his own instincts. He caught Sasuke up in his tails and gave him a nice shake. He was relieved when
Sasuke's eyes narrowed and that hand clenched tighter around his fur. Anger, not fear. "Don't do it," Kyuubi growled. "Don't you dare break on me."

"I saw things," Sasuke bit out. Heard things. "I wasn't drugged this time. It came from me." It must have. "I went as crazy as he is." What if he still was? Would
the madness consume him the moment he went back into his own mind? Some of it had followed him in here. His grip was so tight Kyuubi's thick fur bit into his
palm, yet he could still feel cool little fingers pressing the back of his hand. Had that boy ever moved or had he been yanking on a corpse? Had there even
been a boy in that hallway? The dead didn't move. They didn't scream. He couldn't be crazy, too. "One insane Uchiha is more than enough..."

Kyuubi shook him again, so hard that his teeth clicked together. Iruka would have been apalled. Naruto would have been outraged. For Kyuubi, it was the most
natural thing in the world. "If you go insane on me I will rip it out of you. Stop wallowing in your own head and look around. You're not in your head now. You're
in mine!" Except he wasn't. Sasuke's eyes flashed up at him and suddenly he couldn't move. Sasuke's eyes were different from Itachi's, but they restrained him
just the same. There were no chains, nothing he could feel or see save those eyes holding his own. The sheer gall! He wasn't going to be bound by his own
mate! He bared his teeth. "If you-"

"This is Naruto's mind," said Sasuke. "I won't invade yours. Yours is back there." Further in. Deeper than he would have ventured even if he had been
confident of his own sanity. Naruto had Kyuubi to protect his mind. Kyuubi had no one. How deeply had Itachi penetrated their minds? He didn't want to know.
He brushed the loosened tails away from him. His right hand didn't feel empty even though he knew it was. Hallucinations with no hallucinogen. So long as he
didn't look at it, he didn't have to acknowledge it. His mind might be ruined but he wasn't in his mind. He was in Naruto's. "Where is Naruto? What did Itachi do
to him?" Kyuubi gnashed his teeth with a rumbling growl Sasuke could feel beneath his feet. Sasuke's eyes narrowed. He didn't want to know, but he needed
to. "What did he do to you, Kyuubi? There are marks. I can see them." They weren't as deep as scars, but they were clearly visible against the red. The ghost
of Itachi's energy as if it had lashed all over him.

Whatever paralysis had held Kyuubi vanished the moment Sasuke broke eye contact. Kyuubi sent a quick look back over his own shoulder. He didn't see any
marks. "He caught me with chains. The ones he put around the cage are still there. I can't break them. You'll have to do it."

Sasuke swayed when a cage appeared out of the void. He had to remind himself that wasn't impossible because this wasn't real. This wasn't his own mind, it
was Naruto's, and Kyuubi dwelled here. This place didn't have to follow the rules of the real world. It was whatever the two of them chose to make of it. Yet he
couldn't help worrying about what else might appear out of the dark. Kyuubi stepped forward, now small enough to be at eye level with him, and Sasuke curled
his hand in the fur on his shoulder because that felt real even if it wasn't. "You really are a fox," he muttered. That was so wrong. "I would have trouble
accepting that even if I weren't questioning my own sanity. A fox. You really are a fox. It's no wonder you're so bad at kissing."

Kyuubi sputtered and would have defended himself furiously if not for the small smile flitting over Sasuke's face. He could tolerate being insulted if it made
Sasuke feel better. For now. "I don't get much practice in here," he pointed out. Though that could change if Sasuke could be persuaded to visit again. He
might even find a way to take that dream form, since Sasuke seemed to prefer it so much.

Sasuke's step faltered as an old image passed before his eyes. Naruto licking an unconscious Naruto. Only this time it was Kyuubi, who really was a fox, and
that made it all the more wrong and bizarre. "You better not be practicing with Naruto."

"Of course not," Kyuubi spat. "That would be disgusting!"

No, Sasuke decided, his mind wasn't to blame for that not making sense. Kyuubi and Naruto were insane all on their own and probably had been long before
they had met him. True insanity was not accepting that one's thoughts were insane. He could still recognize sane from insane, so he had to be sane. Didn't
he? More sane than the two of them, at any rate. He felt Kyuubi's muscles tense beneath his hand as they reached the cage. Naruto wasn't breathing. Sasuke
snapped his eyes closed to keep from staring blankly at the pale hand curled limply near Naruto's head. If Naruto were dead this world would have collapsed.
Besides, he didn't want to drag yet another ghost around with him. Not that there was any such thing as ghosts, of course. He knew there wasn't. He knew that.

"He's just sleeping," Kyuubi said quickly. "We don't have to breathe in here. I sleep the same way when we use too much energy. Get the chains off and he'll
be fine."

They didn't have to breathe? Then there was no point gasping in hopes of getting enough air to clear his dizzy head. It wasn't a lack of oxygen making him
light-headed. He pushed away from Kyuubi. Now wasn't the time to be leaning on a fox the size of a horse and wishing he could sleep wrapped up in those
improbable tails. He was getting dizzy because it took energy to be here. He might not be here much longer. If the mind he returned to was as damaged as he
feared he might never have another chance to undo what Itachi had done. He reached out and clutched the chains. They were just energy given form. Itachi's
energy. Itachi's ghost. This ghost didn't scream, but he heard it all the same. Murmuring to Kyuubi, taunting Naruto's demon, tempting him, in that sickeningly
intimate voice as if it wasn't bad enough he had invaded their mind to begin with.

It shouldn't have hurt so much, shouldn't have hurt at all, but it did because Naruto was right. Itachi wasn't just insane. He was a sick fuck. Who else had Itachi
offered him to? Had anyone taken him up on that offer? Sasuke didn't want to know because Itachi was also right. His mind would shatter into a million pieces.
If it hadn't already done so. He pulled on that energy, drawing in every nauseating drop, and brought his arms down to stare blankly at the struggling crow it
had become. The bird had Itachi's eyes. He wanted to crush it into a pulp, but didn't want the bits squirming around in the recesses of Naruto's mind. He
couldn't leave it here. He would have to take it with him.

Kyuubi caught Sasuke's arms before the crow was close enough to peck at his face. "What are you doing?"

"Eating it."

"Are you insane?!"

A startled laugh tore from Sasuke's throat. The laugh sounded almost normal despite how close to hysterical he felt. That was something. "Sane for the
moment," he assured himself. Rational, even. "This is energy. It's Itachi's energy. It can't be destroyed. It has to be absorbed or contained. I'll take it with me."

Like hell he would. Kyuubi pounced, tails yanking Sasuke's arms away so he could snap the bird up himself. He jumped away from Sasuke and spat the bird
into his tails, wrapping three around it as tightly as he could without crushing the thing. A flash of his claws severed the tails. The pain was stunning. He was
almost blind with the searing feel of it. Naruto's pain had never felt this real, not even when he had been in control of his body. The tails would grow back, just
like Naruto's body healed and their energy replenished itself, but the memory of this pain? He feared that would last much longer. No wonder Naruto had so
little tolerance for pain. He would probably have to learn to shield now, just so he wouldn't suffer guilt or sympathy each time Naruto was hurt. There would be
no more joking about ripping off his tails, either.

By the time Kyuubi had replaced his tails, which looked better but didn't stop them from throbbing horribly, Sasuke had wrapped the severed tails into a tight
ball. A tight and wetly matted ball. Kyuubi's nostrils flared. "You're bleeding? What did you do?!"

"It's just energy. I don't have a body in here," Sasuke muttered. His body was no more real than Kyuubi's was. Strange how that didn't stop it from hurting.
Even stranger that his chest hurt the worst even though it was his hands he had drawn the blood from. He watched as the blood hardened into a casing as
sturdy as Itachi's chains. He hoped. He sat back on his heels and closed his eyes. The pain was getting worse. His face hurt as well now. Why was that? "Hide
that away where Naruto won't stumble across it," he told Kyuubi quickly. "A cage of its own wouldn't be a bad idea. I'll try to help you get rid of it later." If he had
the energy and sanity to do so. Unlike his current body, the pain was real. He was feeling his real body. He was being pulled back to it.

"You're leaving?" Kyuubi whipped his head around and cringed. Sasuke was see-through. So were the bloody scratches dripping down his cheek. He had
somehow forgotten about those.

"Not by choice," Sasuke murmured. The screams hadn't stopped in his absence. Had they been screaming all these years? Itachi must have locked them
away. Why had he let them out now? He had been so convinced that Itachi wanted him alive and sane. Why had he thought that? Itachi was insane. What
would Itachi care if he lost his mind as well? At least Itachi was gone now. For now. Wasn't he? "Is Itachi gone?" he asked desperately. "Is it over?" For now? At
least for now?

"Yes," Kyuubi said, wishing he felt as confident as he sounded.

"And Naruto will be able to get out of there on his own now. Won't he?"

"Yes. As soon as he recovers enough energy to wake up."

They wouldn't need any more help from him, then. That was something. "Don't wait for him. There's no telling how dangerous I'll be if I've lost my mind. You'll
have to kill me. I might not be able to do it myself. You'll have to do it. I refuse to be another-"

Insane Uchiha? Another Itachi? Kyuubi wished Sasuke had lasted long enough to finish that thought. He would have reassured him with complete confidence.
Maybe it was just as well that he hadn't gotten a chance to, though. Naruto should be the one to explain why they were familiar enough with crazies to know
Sasuke wasn't one of them. Naruto was still hiding the time he had spent in mental institutions. Naruto wouldn't like Kyuubi being the one to tell Sasuke that
part of his past. Besides, Naruto had arms to hold him with. All Kyuubi had at the moment were tails, three of which were still pulsing with pain. He snatched the
ball of bound energy between his teeth and limped back into the murky edges of Naruto's mind. He buried it in the same place he hid his private thoughts,
nightmares, and dreams. Naruto never looked back there. He was swaying on his feet when he finally made it back to the cage. He couldn't make a door to
open that cage. Naruto would have to envision one himself when he woke up. Kyuubi should have considered situations like this when he had designed the
damn thing. He collapsed just outside the bars, his remaining tails twining around the throbbing replacements. Naruto's body had probably fallen right on top
of Sasuke's. He wouldn't be able to move it now. And he still didn't know what Itachi had done to Iruka.

He stared blearily at the boy behind the bars. He felt as if he were the one caged. Were the chains binding him to Naruto ones of his own making? He had
turned and gone back to him all those years ago. No one had forced him to do that. Kyuubi snorted softly. He couldn't for the life of him figure out why he had
done that. If that was a choice he had made, he had long since forgotten his own reasons. No, he didn't believe he had made that choice. He had gone back
because he had to. He knew that. He wasn't gullible enough to let some insane Uchiha convince him otherwise. A memory niggled in the back of his mind. Or
maybe those were the nerve endings from his severed tails. The pain might be making him a little crazy as well. Maybe he should have eaten the damned bird
himself.

.-.

There were squabbling children in Kakashi's bedroom. He cracked an eye to take in the unwelcome sight. Correction, there were two squabbling boys, one
loud and one quiet, a whining dog, and a slip of a girl cringing and trying to sneak out the door behind them. With a long sigh at this clear evidence Iruka had
yet to recover, he sat up in his bed. The girl gasped, turned bright pink, and bolted from the room. The boys, unfortunately for Kakashi, did not.

"I assume there's an explanation for this," Kakashi drawled. "Oddly enough, I'm not interested in hearing it."

Kiba's face reddened at the easy way Kakashi rose from the bed, as cool and capable as if he'd merely been taking a nap. That was all the proof he needed
to haul off and deck the bug-ridden swine. Akamaru could sing the guy's praises for the rest of their lives and that still wouldn't justify this. Shino lurched back
a step but didn't fall. His glasses hadn't even been knocked askew. Damning proof Shino could have used his own energy instead of leeching off Hinata. "How
much did you fucking take from her?! You-"

Kakashi stepped between them, pushing them apart and turning both toward the door. "Fights are to be done outside. From the last I saw of Naruto, there is
enough blood in this house already."

Kiba bristled furiously. "Do you even know what he did to her?!"

"I didn't harm her in any way," Shino stated.

"The hell you didn't!"

"Outside," Kakashi ordered. He swung Kiba into the hall before he could pounce the taller boy. He had no idea if Shino was capable of fighting, but he clearly
recalled that Kiba was a biter. A tussle between them would definitely involve bloodshed.

"He sucked her dry!" Kiba spat. "And gave her energy to you!"

Kakashi's eyebrows shot up. "I see. I'll have to thank her, then. I don't suppose you could do the same thing for Iruka, could you?" he asked Shino. "Or the
other two?" Naruto was probably a priority, unless he had managed to grown some skin while Kakashi was asleep. "How long was I out, anyway?"

"Only for-" Shino jerked back a step, catching Kiba's fist en route this time. He frowned down at him. "If you have that much energy, you shouldn't be wasting it
on me. She said she was going home. She could be halfway there by now. Akamaru won't be much help to her if she passes out along the way."

"What?" Kiba yelped. "Damn it! If I don't finish you off, you can bet your ass Naruto will." He should have been able to promise Akamaru's vengeance as well.
Damn the guy for turning his own dog against him. That was bullshit and a half.

"So," Kakashi drawled, once Kiba's pounding steps had ceased echoing in the hall. "You drained the only human in this house? For me?" That was incredibly
stupid. Downright flattering, in fact.

"No one else was interested in looking after you. She wanted to help someone, and there was no one around to stop us." Until Akamaru had sniffed them out
and Kiba had burst onto the scene. By then it was too late. He should have known his insects weren't to blame for the delay. He had never created faulty ones.
His very first attempts had been ugly, but even they had functioned perfectly. He really should have guessed. It wasn't unusual for him to be the first to know
something. It was unusual for him to stumble so clumsily onto it. He couldn't decide if he should be pleased or irritated.

Kakashi was definitely irritated. How was it that after all the time he had spent in this house the only ones to concern themselves with him were two kids he'd
had nothing to do with, one of whom didn't even live here? Under-appreciated didn't begin to cover this. He shook his head in exasperation and stalked across
the hall to check Naruto's room. The house was suspiciously quiet considering the chaos that had erupted when he carried the boys downstairs earlier. How
much earlier? "How long was I out?" he asked Shino, who was nosily shadowing him. Naruto's room was empty. It was also conspicuously clean. Sasuke's
influence, no doubt.

"Less than two hours," said Shino. "Tenka left to fetch Bunchu. He said he would be able to utilize Sakura's talent to help Naruto. There doesn't seem to be a
need for that now, however." He directed this observation to Kakashi's back as the man swept into Sasuke's room to lift the unconscious and visibly uninjured
Naruto off Sasuke's chest. Shino had only caught a glimpse of Naruto's previous state. He could almost believe he had imagined that to look at him now.

Between the deep scratches on Sasuke's pasty face and the damage Naruto's weight had undoubtedly done to his broken ribs, Kakashi wasn't feeling
magnanimous enough to let him sleep it off here. The sharingan revealed Naruto to be even emptier than Sasuke. He didn't want to know how the two of them
had managed that in such a short amount of time. They shouldn't have even awakened on their own. "Put this one in his own bed, first room over." He started
to hand Naruto over, but hesitated when Shino's raised arms revealed bandages. He recalled what little he had heard about this one. "You're the one who was
taken out early, to a hospital, right? Can you carry him?"

"He isn't that big. My injuries are largely cosmetic at this point." And liable to remain that way whether his energy fully recovered or not. Convenient that he
preferred concealing clothing anyway.

Shino must have gotten lost on the way to Naruto's room. By the time he returned Kakashi had fetched his supplies and bandaged Sasuke's face. Naruto had
better hope Sakura or Iruka was able to heal that because otherwise it would require stitches. Kakashi doubted Sasuke liked Naruto enough to want matching
scars. He looked back at Shino. "Where are the other kids?"

"Sakura and Ino were sitting with Iruka. For some reason they're in the downstairs bathroom now." Shino frowned back into the empty hallway. "Kiba and Lee
were supposed to be tending to Naruto." It was strange that no one had come to see why Kiba was making such a commotion.

Naruto obviously hadn't needed as much 'tending to' as Kakashi would have thought. The brat could have used a jailer, though, to keep him out of trouble.
Kakashi left the rest of his supplies on Sasuke's desk and waved Shino out of the room. Provided no more blondes flopped on his chest, Sasuke would keep
for a while longer. His energy had been just high enough for him to wake violently when Kakashi had placed him in that bed. Now there was no chance of that.
Kakashi couldn't help resenting Naruto for that. When he had found them in that rubble Sasuke had been a warmed-over corpse and Naruto had been a
bloody monstrosity. Now Sasuke was a chilly corpse and Naruto would be just fine with a bit of energy to jump-start him. With all of the talents Kakashi and
Sasuke had copied, they should have had some sort of healing ability between them. Kakashi was left wondering if he had broken his rules for nothing.

He could have gotten lost seeking them out. He could have arrived right in the middle of the fight and gotten himself or one of them killed. He could have
arrived a few minutes too early and been crushed by whatever building that rubble had originally been. He could have shown up too drained to bring them
back with him. He could have appeared right in front of the shark and been left wishing he had taken on the guise of Itachi instead. So many ways his
involvement could have gone badly. In the end he'd had just enough energy to bring them back here and hand them into the care of Iruka's meddling brats
before passing out at their feet. As if any of them could have protected the boys had Itachi followed him back here to finish what he had started. Kakashi
wasn't a good semaritan. He couldn't think of a single justification for breaking his own rules so completely. He had no choice but to blame it on Iruka. The
motherhen had rubbed off on him.

"Still want to make yourself useful?" he asked Shino. It wasn't really a question. "Watch the hall and try to keep anyone from going in or out of their rooms.
Including Naruto." He wouldn't put it past that fox of his to power him up somehow. He didn't bother telling Shino to sent Tenka up to Iruka's room when he got
back. Iruka was bound to be the first person Tenka checked on. Iruka was the last person Kakashi checked on because he already knew what he would find.
He wasn't looking forward to seeing that again.

.-.

Tenka had crashed the car three blocks from Iruka's house. Of all the stupid shit to do. Kiba, who had been irritated to find Lee already escorting Hinata
home, was suddenly glad for his presence. Kiba was pretty damn strong, in his own opinion, but even he couldn't have punched the dash in enough for Tenka
to get his legs out. After crying about how it was her fault the paramedics didn't have any 'jaws of life', the bus driver nearly drowned Lee in kisses and did her
best to suffocate him in her sagging breasts. Kiba was very happy to be a useless spectator. It didn't hurt that Hinata was leaning more of her weight on his
arm than she was on Akamaru's back.

Tenka was still cursing when he was forcibly loaded onto the ambulance. He cursed Iruka for buying such a flimsy car, the bus driver for not getting out of his
way when he was in a hurry, and Iruka for jumping into dangerous shit again without even warning him. He would have knocked that nonsense out of his head
for sure. Most of all he cursed the damn officers and medics for not believing he had someone waiting who could heal him better than any damn doctor. In
between the curses, he gave Lee directions to his house and set him off at a run. He wished he had run himself. As long as he'd been stuck in the fucking car
he could have been home and back by now even if he had walked the whole way. Had he known that damaging the dash of a car wouldn't make the thing
explode he would have cut himself loose to begin with. Damn the old man for not making him memorize his phone number. Parents were supposed to make
kids do shit like that. Double damn him for not knowing how to drive, either. Really, this was all Hiko's fault. If his old man had to go and hook up with another
man he could have at least picked one who could teach him and his son how to fucking drive a damned car.

"You should go with him," Hinata whispered.

"What," Kiba scoffed, "and reward him for cussing his fool head off?" He should have realized all that yelling and bad language would upset her. He didn't even
use language like that around Ino and she barely counted as a girl. Tenka should have his ass kicked for burning Hinata's ears that way. It would serve the
dumbass right if Sakura was too worn out to heal him once she was done with the others.

"Come on," he said to Hinata. "Let's get you home before you trip over your own feet." He winced when she ducked her head. "Not that I'm calling you clumsy!
Or that I wouldn't be able to carry you if I had to. I carry Akamaru all the time and he must weigh twice what you do. Not that I'm calling you scrawny or
anything!" She ducked her head lower, leaning away from him in favor of Akamaru. Kiba bit his tongue miserably. He was missing Lee already.

.-.

Gaara watched the mutant sitting in the backyard while slowly picking bugs off his eyeball. There wasn't much to see now that Naruto and Sasuke were both
asleep. He would still have a talk with that bug-user for interfering. His eye had only entered the room in order to see what the boy was planning to do with
Naruto. Had he known the boy was just putting him to bed he wouldn't have cared. There was no cause to coat his eye in bugs and throw it out the window that
way. Closing the window and curtains was especially rude. He flicked a sand skewer through each bug he picked off, leaving them pinned to the roof. They
continued to wriggle. Real bugs wouldn't have. A talk was definitely in order. There were some odd talents in this house. He picked off another bug and
wondered about the long-haired boy sitting below him. Was he not concerned like the others, or did he have nothing useful to offer? He would ask him when
he ran out of bugs. He didn't have anything better to do.

.-.

"You expect me to extract endogenous DNA from ancient deciduous teeth?"

The contempt in Kabuto's voice would have shamed a lesser man, or at least have irritated him. Kisame just grinned at the door Kabuto had slipped out of and
closed behind him. He wondered what secrets were hidden away in this little house Kabuto had chosen. A far-from-dead bone guy, maybe? That would almost
make up for missing the fire. It had been months since he had last seen Itachi's black flame in action. Itachi was definitely holding a grudge, sending him here
instead of letting him watch the fun. Not that Kabuto couldn't be fun, too, now and then.

"They're not that ancient," Kisame argued. "A few centuries at most, I'd bet. Don't pout just because we found the body and you didn't."

Kabuto reigned in his temper. Obviously Kimimaru had failed. That Kisame had been sent meant neither Itachi nor Sasuke would be requiring his services. He
was glad to know that since healing Sai had made a serious dent on his reserves. It still pricked his pride to know Itachi had found the source of the negative
energy tainting that house despite him having searched the place first. He really did hate the sharingan. Still, at least Itachi was willing to do an exchange,
meager as it was. Kabuto pointedly lifted the bone Kisame had given him. "This is not a body. It's a jawbone. From an infant."

"It has teeth. That's all you need, right? Want me to crush one for you?"

"Why does he insist on destroying the bodies?" Kabuto demanded. "He knows I want them."

Kisame grinned. "That's why he destroys them. At least he saved you some teeth. When's the last time Orochimaru did that?"

Never, of course. Orochimaru disdained his research, when he bothered to acknowledge his theories at all. Anything that had happened before Orochimaru's
original life was of no consequence to him. In his eyes, demons were merely another stage of mutant evolution, one he had yet to capture and harness for
himself. Itachi's fanatical delusions about other dimensions and reincarnation turned Kabuto's stomach, but at least Itachi was willing to throw him a bone now
and then. Even if it was just an ancient jaw with three tiny baby teeth. Kabuto extracted the smallest of the teeth for Kisame to crush.

Kisame did so with relish and dusted his hands off into the little bag Kabuto provided. Having his own teeth damaged was a pet peeve of his. Crushing teeth
for Kabuto to test on Itachi's behalf? Now that was fun. He grinned as he watched him dip a finger into the dust and bring it up to his mouth. Kisame didn't know
of anything Kabuto would hesitate to taste in the name of that research of his. He had to respect that. The creepy little guy wasn't the least bit squeamish. It
probably came from working with the snake for so long. "Well?"

"Not human."

"Demon?" asked Kisame.

"I can't say that without running tests." He wouldn't have said that regardless. The only 'demons' he acknowledged were the ones made of energy and
contained within the bodies of mutants. As far as he was concerned, Itachi's 'ancient demons' were nothing more than a concentrated offshoot of the gradual
speciation mutants had continued along to this day. They represented what mutants were evolving into, not what they had been bred from. "I can confirm that
it is too mutated to be human." That was all Itachi wanted to know, after all. "How was it killed?"

"Hard to say since the house fell on top of it. Speaking of houses, you're not hiding the bone guy in yours, are you?" Taking him out would put him good with
Itachi. He hadn't just been forced to miss the fire, he had dug up half that damn house before Itachi had finally told him what he was really looking for.

"No," said Kabuto. "I haven't seen him."

"You sure? No sense saving a dead man. He tried to kill Sasuke, you know."

"No," Kabuto sighed, closing his eyes. "I didn't know that." He could easily believe that, though. Orochimaru would blame him for it, too, for letting it happen on
his watch. As if he had any influence on Orochimaru's lovesick fool. A heavy hand patted his shoulder. He opened his eyes to glower up at Itachi's lovesick fool.

"Look on the bright side," said Kisame. "At least you got some teeth out of it. Right?"

"Yes," Kabuto muttered. "There is that."

.-.
TBC



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