As Naruto was about to walk out of Tosaku's shop, he stopped for a moment with his hand on the door handle. Pausing, he could feel several murderous intents outside. Stepping back, he created a shadow clone who proceeded to leave the shop. Hiding himself among the reams of fabrics, Naruto watched his clone go ahead and walk towards the inn he was staying at. Before long, the clone was out of sight.

Tosaku was behind Naruto, looking out the window as well with a curious look on his face. Naruto turned to Tosaku with serious about his next instructions. "Tosaku-san, I need you to act as though nothing wrong is happening. I believe that someone is outside watching your shop. Is there a place that I can hide myself while watching you?"

"Not in particular. You could hide in the back, or perhaps behind the counters. But otherwise, the shop is quite open."

Naruto nodded as he followed Tosaku and moved into the back of the shop. Patiently he waited inside the back room, staring at the for anyone that might enter. Yet, as the time went on, no one entered the shop for the half hour. Naruto began to doubt his feeling that someone was watching the shop. Tosaku went in the back, working like normal, but stopped next to Naruto.

"Naruto-san, I don't believe that anyone is out for my life. I told this to the Suna jonin already, and I promise that none of the work that is public knowledge would warrant any ninja village to seek me out."

Naruto was hesitant, but nodded as he moved out of the back room. "I'll be back tomorrow."

Tosaku nodded and waved at Naruto as he headed for the door.

Naruto grasped the handle of the door again, noticing that the aura he had felt before was gone. But, just for precaution, he used a henge to transform into an exact replica of Tosaku, walking out of the shop. As he walked away, he tried to sense if his clone had made it back to the hotel. He hadn't received any of the information from his clone, so he could only assume that no one had attacked the clone. But, it didn't make any sense to him. To have sensed such a killing intent and then to have it disappear after Naruto had left the shop and for the clone to not have been attacked during that time, it made Naruto wonder what was going on. Who was it that was releasing such an aura? And towards who?

Without ignoring his instincts, Naruto proceeded to the inn. He met with his clone as he opened the door. Dispelling the clone and henge, Naruto gathered his things and left the inn, heading for where Kara was staying with the genin. If Tosaku and Naruto were not the targets, perhaps the Suna group were who the focus of the killing intent.

Walking out of the room with Mia, Kara knocked on the boys' room. "Are you two ready? It's time to head home."

Opening the door, both boys walked out rubbing their eyes while yawning. Kara looked at them only slightly amused as she ushered them out of the inn. Gathering at the front Kara, looked at each of them.
Shin was stretching his hands over his head, Hayato was touching bending down to his toes, and Mia stood there patiently awaiting her instructions.

"Alright everyone. Today, we're going home. Is everyone ready?"

Unanimously, the genin nodded to their sensei. Kara smiled and began walking through the village gate with the three genin following behind. They sauntered out the gates casually, happy to finally be going home.

It was then that Shin chimed from next to Kara. "Kara-sensei, what happened to Naruto-san?"

She turned to the boy, who was suddenly joined by the other genin, anxiously awaiting her answer. "Well, Naruto-sanhad his own business to take care of. After all, he wasn't on a mission like we were. I haven't seen him since yesterday though."

The three genin seemed to deflate after hearing this. But, Mia's head popped up quickly a moment later. "Sensei, how strong is Naruto-san?"

"I'm not sure Mia. He surely is a strong ninja though. After all, he was the talk of the village a few years ago. And even now, he is held in high regard within our village."

Hayato looked over to Kara with a particularly curious face after she had said this. "But, I thought he was dead?"

"Well Hayato, I'm not sure if those were just rumors or if perhaps someone did think that he was dead. As it is, we saw him in the flesh. He looked a bit different than what people had described of him, but I do think he is the same person. Perhaps we'll have to ask Pakura-san about it one day."

Each of the genin nodded at this as they continued to walk. But, as they did, a couple of people jumped in front of them. Without any hesitation, Kara jumped in front of her genin with a kunai drawn, looking at the two people carefully.

"Hold on Kara-san. It's just Maki and I."

Kara relaxed as she looked at Pakura standing in front of her. "Pakura-san, you startled us. What are you and Maki doing here?"

"You were expected back in the village over a week ago. Where have you been?"

"Shortly after we had left the village with our client, we were being actively tracked by several unknown ninja. I tried using a longer route to see if we could shake them, but unfortunately it led to a confrontation. Luckily, we received some assistance in defeating the unknown assailants. After that, I was able to escort out client to Ishigakure yesterday. We're on our way back now."

"Assistance? From who?"

Shin raised his hand high as she stepped forward. "Naruto-san!"

Pakura looked at him incredulously, sure that she had heard him wrong. "Naruto?"

Kara nodded. "That's right. He appeared out of nowhere and took care of four ninja single handed."

"Really? Where is he now?"

"He said he had business with someone in Ishigakure. He stayed in a separate in though, so I haven't seen him since yesterday."

"I see. Well, I'm glad that you all are alright. We'll be coming along with you for the journey home."

"Thank you. That will be much appreciated."

"Did you get any information from the ninja?"

"Unfortunately not. They were using unmarked uniforms and committed suicide before interrogation."

"Understood. Shall we get going then?"

"Yes, let do Pakura-san. Pentagon formation?"

"Sure. Lead on."

With Kara at the head, followed by her three genin, Maki and Pakura covered the flank position. In that formation, they continued their journey back to Suna at a leisurely pace for the time being. Kara and Pakura knew it would be best not to press the journey in case of the appearance of more ninja. Pushing their genin to keep up could render them unable to escape in an emergency.

Maki on the one hand was glad. She turned to Pakura with a smile on her face. "Isn't that great Pakura-sensei? Naruto is back. I wonder when he'll head to Suna."

"Maki, I'm sure when Naruto is done, he'll stop by."

"I hope so. After all, he did say at some point he would have to leave to rejoin his group. And then after that, who knows when we'll ever see him again."

Pakura only nodded to this, solemnly thinking about that possibility of when Naruto would once again leave. And for how long, she couldn't begin to imagine. He certainly wouldn't be able to make any promises of when he would return, given that the movements of Akatsuki were still unknown. She only gave Maki a small smile and turned back forward to continue their journey.

But as Pakura did so, she saw a glint of something to the far left side. She recognized the eyes of someone else watching. Using her right hand, she signaled to Maki that they were being watched. Maki looked forward, nodding only slightly as she looked to her right to see if she could notice any others around. Kara turned her head to look over her shoulder, seeing how Pakura was acting. She noticed the signs and began looking left to right in search of how many might be around them. She placed her right hand on her back, flashing several signs to her genin. Mia noticed them, tapping Shin and Hayato on the back as they nodded in confirmation.

After three count, the group leaped forward and began racing through the forest. Pakura watched as four ninja to the left began running to keep pace. Maki noticed an additional four ninjas on the right side were following as well.


"I noticed Maki. Kara."

"I'm on it Pakura-san. Five hundred yards in front."

Nodding, Pakura kept her eyes on the enemies next to them. They had yet to attack, making them wonder what their goal was. But, it only took a minute or so before Pakura, Maki, and Kara landed in around the genin in a clearing. Eight ninja stopped, surrounding them with black masks and hoods to cover everything but their eyes. Pakura's hands produced her scorch technique instantly as Maki pulled out her cloth strips. Kara held onto two kunai looking at the ninja in front of her.

"You three be on guard and protect each other at all costs. Is that understood?"

Each of them nodded, steeling their gazes, trying their best to ready their hearts for the fight that was about to begin.

Throwing her kunai, Kara started first. She raced towards the first of her opponents, starting a taijutsu fight. Pakura sent out the scorch orbs towards her first two opponents, guiding them to follow their movements while they were within the clearing. Maki had singled out one opponent, leaping at them quickly.

Kara had been lucky to pair up with a chuunin level opponent, landing several hits to her opponent before a second opponent came in to assist. The second enemy was easily of a higher quality than her first, but she smirked at her luck that both opponents were below her level. Sweeping under the chuunin, tossed several kunai to her second opponent to give her enough time to land the final blow in her first opponent. The knee she sent into the gut of the chuunin, knocked the wind completely out of her first enemy.

Pakura's opponents were dodging fairly well enough, but she could see that while Maki had one opponent, the three other opponents were moving towards the genin. Creating several more orbs, Pakura sent them directly at the three other enemies. Leaping back, she manipulated the 5 total orbs to make sure the enemy were unable to come any closer to the genin.

Maki had moved in close on her opponent, using her taijutsu to push them back while her cloth began to act like an additional limb. Thrusting her fist forward, her enemy crossed their arms to block the blow. But just as the block occurred, Maki sent her cloth around her enemies neck. It tightened quickly as the ninja began trying to pull it off, but Maki sent a hard upper cut directly into the solar plexus of the assailant. And with one last gasp, they went limp as they were now unconscious. Maki noticed the predicament that Pakura was in, moving on to the next opponent closest to her.

Kara sped through several hand signs as she brought two fingers to her lips. Breathing in quickly, she exhaled a great tornado towards her opponent. Too close to react, the ninja was tossed like rag doll into a tree truck. The cracked, falling over with the ninja still pasted to it. Rushing over, Kara pushed off another tree and sent an axe kick into the gut of the ninja. Her enemy screamed in pain as he exhaled out everything he had, before rolling off the trunk and onto the ground. The ninja hit the ground with a thud, laying limp on the ground.

Pakura was still holding back the five ninja, but was joined by Kara and Maki shortly. "Three down?"

"Yeah, I took out two. Maki?"

"One so far. What about these five?"

"They're certainly not making this easy. Maki take the far left one. Kara, I'll leave the two on the left to you."

Nodding, the three of them split to take on the remaining five opponents.

Watching in awe, the genin still stood resolute in their task to protect each other. As they watched in amazement, each of them began to regard the ninja in front of them with even more respect.

Maki once again moved in close to her opponent, thrusting with her punches while trying to sweep after the punches were blocked. But, as she started her moves, she could see that she was facing a much stronger opponent. Maki kept moving though, knowing she had trained so hard for so long to one day show how strong she was. Flipping back, Maki raced through hand signs. "Air Bullets!"

Several air pockets shot at her opponent. With each dodged, she watched as they pierced the tree trunks. But her opponent was quick and easy to dodge.

"Little girl, you obviously have some training. But, it won't be enough to save you and your friends."

"Shut up. We'll see who is little when I have you looking up from the ground!"

"Such fire, such a shame. I, Akisawa, will extinguish it."

Grinding her teeth, Maki started with another several hand signs. "Cloth Viper!"

Racing from her, the cloth snaked from left to right as it moved towards her enemy. Following behind, she watched the cloth snake towards her opponent. She was sure that once the attack either hit or was dodged, she would be able to take advantage. And as she thought, Akisawa had dodged by jumping over the cloth. Moving above her opponent, she was about ready to plunge her heel kick down onto her opponent, surprised as she knocked down an earth clone into the ground. As she looked around, she couldn't see her enemy. Unsure of where her opponent would come from, she jumped onto a tree branch to try and get a better look for the enemy.

Looking around, she could not see him. In the distance, Pakura and Kara were holding their own against their two opponents, but nowhere did she see Akisawa. It was then that her cloth exploded on her back, sending Maki off the tree and onto the ground.

"Earth Spikes!"

Several spike of rock erupted from the ground into the dazed Maki. They pierced both her legs and arms, holding her over the ground. Enduring the pain, she lifted her head and saw Akisawa walking towards her. His eyes showed the grin beneath his mask. "That's a good expression for someone who is going to die."

But, as he approached, a dozen shuriken flew at him from behind. Launching into the air, he was able to avoid the attack, but watched as Shin and Hayato broke the rock spikes and caught Maki.

"Maki-san, hold on!"

On Shin and Hayato's shoulders, they leaped towards where Mia had thrown the shurikens. Gathering together, they stood in the clearing in front of Maki, who was still bleeding from her wounds and burn marks on her back.

"Brave, but futile little genin. It will not save you at all."

Kara had her hands full with her two opponents. Each of them were easily jonin, and both were sending out earth attacks in conjunction. The duo looked like they were accustomed to attacking in tandem. Kara continued to dodge as best she could, but she had no opening to even try to attack.

"Earth Wave!" "Stone Rain!"

Leaping from the ground, Kara used her two kunai to block the stones as they approached her. Another pinch attack sealed her making any headway in the fight. Jumping out of the attacks range, she made a push towards one of the enemies. Throwing both her kunai at the one opponent, she followed with several kunai aimed above her opponent. She hoped the attacks would force the opponent to stay on the ground. Luckily, she had made the right moves, attacking just as enemy number one deflected the two attacks.

Attacking with a quick punch towards the face of her opponent, she felt the block push her attack away. Following up quickly with a stab towards the chest, she watched her opponent dodge. She managed to skim her opponents clothing, but didn't wait as she sent her left leg in a roundhouse towards the back of her opponent. Happily, she saw the attack land. It sent her opponent crashing towards the tree. But, unfortunately, with a slight move he was able to flip onto the tree truck without being damaged any further. Ready to attack once more, Kara moved to leap at her opponent. Without warning though, a hand grabbed her ankle and pulled her back to the ground. With a kunai in hand, she moved to stabbed the hand that grabbed her, but was too late as it moved back into the earth.

"Earth Dome!"

Lifting her head, she saw in slow motion as the earth was already surrounding her from where the hand had grabbed her leg. "Shit!"

Moving to the earth wall, she stabbed in her kunai. It made no mark whatsoever, and she could feel the drain of her chakra. Running through several hand signs, she gather her chakra into her fists.

"Wind Blast."

Punching against the walls with the blast of wind thrusting as well, the walls began to break. But, for every layer that broke, another was present. Over and over, she tried to break through the barrier, but at each turn, another layer was to follow. Her chakra was still being drained while the constant attacks from her Wind Blast kept burning more of her chakra. Kneeling, she felt the loss of all that chakra begin to weaken her more. She had little chakra to attack with anymore ferocity, and certainly not enough to break from her earthy prison. Within a minute, she collapsed where she knelt, laying while breathing heavily.

Pakura stood strong as the five orbs she had made were rotating around her at this time. In front of her, both opponents watched closely as she stood strong. Glaring at them both, she could feel that Maki and Kara were both in danger. Angrily, she sent all five orbs at one of the ninjas. Leaping out of the way, she redirected the orbs to flank the other ninja. The second ninja leaped as well, but as he was to land, Pakura moved quickly. From the ground beneath him, she pounded her fist into the ground.

"Flame Column!" Straight from the ground, a fire pillar raised instantly into the ninja that was still in mid air. With terrifying screams, his partner watched as he burned to death. His bottom half had turned to ash, while the rest of him was charred. It hid the ground with a thud. Turning to her other opponent, she glared at him as he held onto his two kunai.

Running, she jumped from tree to tree, running around him with each orb positioned in the shape of a pentagon. Watching her opponent, she looked carefully to make sure that he was watching only her movements. Every movement she made, the orbs would close in. She was almost ready to launch her attack when suddenly, another voice came from behind her.

"Earth Spears!"

Launching from the ground up, several dozen elongated stone spears sped towards her. Dodging from left to right, she was able to escape the attack unscathed. She landed on a branch as she looked down, seeing three opponents now looking at her. In the clearing, some hundred yards away, she saw a single ninja closing in on the genin and an injured Maki. Behind her, without looking, she could sense the weakened Kara drained of chakra. Gritting her teeth together, she looked at the three ninja.

"Just what do you want?!"

With a grin, one of the ninja leaped onto a branch above where Pakura was standing. "I wouldn't worry about it. Soon enough, you won't have a need to know anything."

Pakura readied herself as she released her scorch orbs. Her chakra was still at at least half, but keeping up her scorch technique was depleting her chakra too quickly. Seeing that she now had three opponents and the genin were facing an opponent that would likely be able to overtake them easily, she could only think of one sensible idea. If it failed though, it would put her at great disadvantage.

Back flipping off the tree branch and landing on the ground, she began running deeper into the forest. The three followed in pursuit quickly after, following in a straight line.

"Mud Wall!"

Pakura watched as a large portion of earth rose up from the ground in front of her. Stopping, she turned around and instantly threw out a half dozen kunai at the enemies to the left and right. Her opponent in front of her, charged at the opening. Pakura brought two fingers to her mouth, blowing out a great burst of wind.

"Great Breakthrough."

Covering his face, her opponent dug into the ground until the attack passed by. By this time, his two comrades landed next to him. With a smile, Pakura stared at them while taking a stance. In an instance, she began to go through several hand signs. As she did so, the three ninja approached her at great speed. As she was about to finish her hand signs, her enemies were upon her. In the last second, she blocked two punches and felt a kunai rip her clothing at her side. Grabbing the arms of two of the enemies and wrapping her legs around the third, Pakura pulled them in tight.

From above the wall, Pakura was holding onto a large scorch orb. Looking down, she looked as her clone was holding onto the enemies. Without a moment to lose, she jumped down with her orb gaining size. All three were just about to free themselves when the orb exploded out. Each of them began to scream in agony as the extreme heat desiccated their bodies, leaving them as but mere dried out versions of themselves. Landing on the ground, Pakura was breathing heavily. Using up a third of her chakra for the attack left he a bit exhausted. But, the feint had worked, thankfully.

The three genin stared at their enemy, Akisawa, coming closer and closer to them as they held their stances with kunai in hands. Shin then turned to Hayato, winking. With a nod, Hayato tapped Mia while he looked at her. Similarly nodding, Shin then ran through some quick hand signs as he brought his fingers to his mouth.

"Air Bullets."

A dozen wind emblazoned objects left his mouth in quick succession towards Akisawa. Without much effort, the ninja dodged them while still approaching the genin trio. Hayato and Mia then split left and right, forming their own succession of hand signs. Pressing her hands to the ground, Mia called out loud.

"Mud Wave!"

Rolling towards Akisawa, Hayato then blew out a great fireball.

"Grand Fireball!"

Akisawa grinned a little as he jumped over both attacks. Though, while in the air, Shin once again fire several air bullets at the ninja. Twisting and turning, he could see he would not be able to dodge all the projectiles. But, without much effort, he was able to knock the attacks away. As he did so, several set of kunai were thrown at him from his left and right.

He smirked as he pulled out a kunai and deflected the attacks that were coming at him. Landing, he looked as the three genin surrounded him.

"I'm sorry young one, but unfortunately your lives have led to this unlucky moment. But do no worry, I will let you live a little longer while I finish your friends."

Without warning, Akisawa charged directly at Shin. Trying to dodge was futile as Akisawa punched Shin in his solar plexus, knocking him out instantly as his breath escaped his mouth. Hayato watched in horror, ready to run to his friends aid, but was too late as two spikes emerged from the earth, piercing through both his ankles. Mia, petrified where she stood as she watched both Shin and Hayato hurt, took a couple steps back as Akisawa turned to her. But, as he was walking towards her, his grin turned to a smirk.

"What a useless bunch of subordinates."

Pakura approached Mia from behind, placing a calming hand on her shoulder. Surprised, Mia gasped and turned, but was relieved the moment she saw Pakura staring at the enemy ninja. "When you can, go see to your teammates and move over to Maki. She'll protect you."

Nodding, Mia moved behind Pakura, watching as she moved forward towards Akisawa. For a moment, they begin walking in a circle, staring each other down.

"I asked this to your comrades before, but received no answer. What reason do you have for attacking us?"

"You need not concern yourself with such little details. You'll find out soon enough. All of you will."

Pakura grit her teeth as she watched the eyes of her opponent. The smug look she saw was starting to piss her off, but at this point she was low on chakra and facing a jonin level opponent. Stalling at this point was Pakura's best option, hoping she could figure out some weak point in her opponent. Round and round, they continued slowly to stare at each other in a standoff fashion, neither making the first move.

Yards away, Mia had helped Hayato pull out the stone spears that had struck his ankles. Slowly she helped carry him over to Shin. Maki dragged herself as best she could over to the genin, still feeling the intense pain of her wounds, still bleeding. They all watched the two ready to duel out in a real shootout fashion. Both never taking their eyes off of the other. As they did so, a bead of sweat was falling off of Pakura's brow. As it feel from her body, it approached the earth ever so slowly. Upon contact, both bodies disappeared from the sight of the genin. It was then that they heard the clashes and clangs of kunai hitting against each other.

Pakura slashed and blocked over and over, failing to make any contact with her opponent. Akisawa was meeting the same difficulty, but the advantage was slowly growing on his side. Pakura could feel the pressure growing, flipping back and out of his range as she had sensed the tide of battle move in favor of her opponent. Breathing heavy, she held her kunai out in front of her. Akisawa began molding chakra before Pakura sensed the attack coming. Jumping from her position, she avoided the spikes that sprang from the earth. Moving around, Akisawa began throwing shurikens at the mid-air Pakura. She deftly deflected the attacks, but failed to see a kunai with exploding note approach among the rain of shuriken. Blowing out a gust attack at the explosion repelled it a few feet before the explosion pushed Pakura away violently while she blocked her face with her hands. Landing on the ground, she could not see her opponent, or sense his chakra nearby. Bending her knees in order to leap back into the clearing, she felt a sharp pain in her foot as an earth spike pierced her sandals sole. Jumping off the spike quickly, she landed in time to watch as a wave of earth approached her. Back flipping away from the wave, she landed in pain and countered the attack.

"Great Fireball!"

The fireball exploded against the wave, stopping the attack successfully, but the flurry of attacks had taken their toll. Her chakra was now even more dwindled and now she was injured. Shrugging off the pain, she watched the approach of her enemy, slowly walking toward her. His smug face still the same. He stared at her, spotting the blood on her foot while she continued to breath heavily.

"See how futile it is to resist? If you give up now, I promise you I'll let the others live as well."

Lifting her hands up in defense, Pakura watched him carefully. She knew it though, that right now she was at a great disadvantage, and it was reasonable to see that she was going to lose this fight. She continued to grit her teeth though, ignoring the pain in her foot and the exhaustion she was feeling. Glancing over to the genin, she could see the fear in Mia's eyes. Hayato was next to Shin, holding him up as best he could. Maki was looking at Pakura with pleading eyes, begging her not to lose.

Closer and closer, Akisawa strolled slowly towards Pakura. Soon enough, he was only 15 feet away from Pakura. Slowly moving back, she kept her hands up, ready to defend against any attack.

"Come now. You're only delaying the inevitable. Just give up."

"Never, asshole!"

Pakura could feel the blood on her foot flowing still, angry at the predicament she was presently. But, she was soon to run out of room, sensing the tree trunk behind her. As she reached it, she leaned back against the trunk, thinking desperately at what to do.

Damnit, damnit. This son of a bitch! Think Pakura, think!

Molding hand signs, Akisawa stared at her as he gathered his chakra. Molding the last hand sign, he suddenly turned his head. Leaping back, a three prong kunai embedded itself into the ground.

Suddenly, from the trees, 20 of Naruto burst through the tree line from all directions. Engaging Akisawa immediately, his eyes began to show his anger at the interruption. From all directions, he would block and counter the countless bodies that were attacking him and moving out of his range. For a solid minute, the 20 bodies were simply using hit and run tactics. Frustrated, Akisawa finally went all out. Molding the hand signs and stomping on the ground, countless spikes emerged from the earth, attacking in all directions.

"Spear Garden!"

One by one, a dozen of the Naruto clones dispelled. Akisawa returned his smug look and turned to Pakura. Once again, 15 feet from her, he stared at her for a moment before turning to the remaining clones. His eyes showed his satisfaction with his attack.

"Is this all the reinforcement you can muster? A bunch of silly clones? What a pathetic and wasted effort by you little shits. So, come on. Where is the real one? Come on out and fight me so I can taste your blood as well."

Just as the last syllable left his mouth, a thunderous boom echoed from behind him. And before he could manage to even turn his head, he heard one last word: "RASENGAN!"

The blue ball swirled in the center of his back as Naruto pushed the ball further against him while his other hand held onto his shoulder. For a good 10 seconds, the rasengan pummeled the ninja, tearing his clothes and skin before Naruto finally released his shoulder. Then, like a rocket, the ninja across the field breaking the numbers stone spears and breaking multiple trees as Akisawa finally stopped after breaking the eighth tree, slumping to the ground lifeless.

Watching this in slow motion, Pakura, Mia, Maki, and Hayato could not believe their eyes. Even after it was all done, they looked at Naruto as he stood there like a superhero. His clones in the meantime carried Kara out of the forest, moving over to Maki and the genin. The real Naruto turned to Pakura, approaching her quickly. Pakura was speechless as she looked at the Naruto in front of her. She almost did not recognize the Adonis before her, but could not mistake the blond hair of her friend for anyone else. Still, she stared at him incoherent, and amazed. He training had done wonders for him, and for his body as she continued to ogle the tone and muscular size of all his appendages.

"Are you alright Pakura?"

Naruto was now next to her, lifting her with his hands behind her back and under her knees. She looked at him in adoration and gratitude, unsure of what to say to him. Naruto in the meantime just smiled at Pakura, carrying her over to the rest of the group. But, while he was holding onto her, she pulled him closer, burying her face in his neck, nuzzling her nose into his neck. As she smelled him, she closed her eyes, glad that he saved her, and glad to be in his arms.

I'm fine now, Naruto.

Meanwhile, Maki looked that the Naruto cloned and when one was close enough, pulled him to her. With a big hug, she held onto his neck, relieved and thankful.

"Naruto, Naruto, Naruto. You're here. It's really you, you're here."

The clone just smiled as the other clones got a good look at the wounds that were on the genin. The clone with Maki and the real Naruto with Pakura placed the two down as the real Naruto cut his finger and placed his hand to the ground.

"Summoning Technique."

From a puff of smoke, a pure white tiger appeared before him. "Kashera, can you help my friends?"

"You don't need to ask that, Naruto-san. I'll start with the youngest ones."

Half an hour later, Kashera and Naruto had finished healing everyone except Kara. Kneeling over her now, Naruto focused his chakra on healing her. Around him, everyone watched carefully as he concentrated on replenishing her with enough chakra to awaken. It didn't take long, but eventually, Kara's eyes opened slowly. Looking up, she saw everyone around her looking down with smiles of relief.

Instantly the genin team gathered on top of her, holding onto her tight with great appreciation that their sensei was alive. Naruto smiled, standing up and moving away from the group to Kashera.

"Can you escort them back to Suna?"

"Of course, but why aren't you doing so?"

"I still have business in Ishigakure. But I also want to look into these attacks. This is the second group to attack."

"Indeed. Kuro was thorough with his report. He believes the ninja are not from any of the Five."

"I'd have to concur. It's outside of the range of anyone but Suna. So, who then?"

"That is the question that needs to be answered."

"Yes, yes it does. I leave it to you Kashera. If you need me..."

"Do not worry so much. I will be more than enough to help them return home."

"Thank you, Kashera."

Turning back to the group, Naruto smiled as Maki and Pakura helped Kara back to her feet. Naruto walked back to the group, putting his hands onto the shoulders of Mia and Hayato. "Is everyone alright now?"

The genin trio nodded fervently while Maki and Pakura gave singular nods in affirmation. Kara on the other hand wouldn't look at Naruto, evading her eyes from his. Pakura then moved forward to Naruto. "Are you not accompanying us?"

Naruto shook his head, sporting an expression of apology. "No, I'm sorry, I won't be. I still have business in Ishigakure to attend to."

"I see. Will you be returning to Suna after?"

"Yes, I intend to return to Suna once my business has finished. But, Kashera will be accompanying you for the rest of your journey."

Pakura turned to the white tiger, nodding as she turned back to Naruto. "And what of our assailants?"

Naruto pulled a scroll from his pocket, handing it to Pakura. "All eight are here but only four are alive."

"The leader?"

"I"m afraid not. That would be my fault though. His spinal column was destroyed and his neck snapped on the last tree."

"A pity, but well deserved."

"I thought so."

Naruto smiled and rubbed the back of his head, looking as he always did.

With a smile, Pakura looked back at him as well. "Hurry with your business, Naruto. I'm sure everyone would like to see how you've grown."

"I'll do my best."

Waving back to the group, Naruto walked through the forest back towards Ishigakure, thinking about where the ninja came from and why they were continuously attacking Suna ninja. His mind was slowly going through the possibilities, but heard a voice behind him. Turning around, Kara was now in front of him, panting after running to him.

"Kara? Is something wrong?"

Catching her breath, Kara stood up straight and approached Naruto. "Naruto..."

Naruto moved a couple steps closer, standing in front of Kara, looking at her with a puzzling look. "Yes?"

Raising her head, she looked into his eyes. Still in wonder, Naruto stood still patiently. As he waited, Kara wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling him to her. And with a swift movement, Kara's lips claimed Naruto's. In surprise, Naruto stood there dumbfounded, feeling her lips against his, kissing him deeply. Eventually, Naruto closed his eyes and rested his hands on Kara's waist.

Parting after a moment, Naruto looked at Kara once again.

"Thank you, Naruto."

And before Naruto could even say anything else, she turned and left. But as she left, Naruto could see the red in her cheeks before she disappeared from sight. Naruto stood there for a moment, touching his lips softly as he kept staring at where she had left.

But as he stood there, in the distance, Pakura watched Kara return to the group as her own heart felt an ache echo in her chest. Grasping her chest, she turned to where she could see Naruto through the trees before turning away again. Still, she held onto her chest for a moment more, before finally leaving with the group to return home.