Naruto had both his legs hooked around a tree branch, hanging outside down. He had his eyes closed, seemingly focused and ignorant to the world around him. The bliss and calmness of meditation. Sasuke could never chill like that. Not with the raging thoughts that wrecked havoc within his mind. Though he'd admit it to anyone, he was envious of how Naruto could be calm at times.

It wasn't that the blond didn't have his own demons tormenting him from within. But despite it all, he was normal. Infuriatingly, the blond used this to gloat that he was a more mature and controlled compared to him. It irked him at times. He disliked it when Naruto lorded his superior emotional intelligence over him.

Sasuke glanced at Sakura: she sat under the same tree, reading a book. Most likely a romantic story. She should be reading useful things, like Ninjutsu but there she was, reading useless things and then depended on her teammates to save her life. How she was even in their team mystified him at times. As smart as he was, he was dumb to the question of what kind of balance she brought to the team. Kakashi was sitting on the tree behind them, he had his back pressed against the trunk of tree, a curious mood around him.

In all truth, Sasuke was bored. Frustratingly so. This break was long. Whenever they were done with their missions, their pace in returning home was always tortoise. It got to him. There was nothing to do than just talk. And everyone else always had something to do when they took breaks, aside from him. At this rate, he was even going to miss Sakura to sweet talk his pride.

An idea came to him and he did a swift lunge into the air, his body twisting clockwise, while he stretched his right foot.

Naruto opened his eyes in a snap when he sensed an attack. Sasuke was in front of him in midair, twisting. Naruto immediately crossed both his hands across his face, predicating a kick from the Uchiha. Sasuke did indeed attempt to kick him with his right foot, on his face. The kick slammed into his defense. It managed to hold on, but the force made him lose his grip on the tree branch, and he was pushed backward.

Once he let go of the tree, Naruto flipped twice, trying to balance himself to land graciously.

"What the hell, teme?!" Naruto shouted before he could even land on the weed-less ground. He sent a glare toward his teammate, standing a couple of feet away from him.

Sasuke shrugged his right shoulder carelessly. "You were wide open."

"Doesn't give you the right to attack me like that. You know how hard it was to finally close out all the voices?"

"You shouldn't grow too comfortable. We are not yet home."

Naruto was a little incensed that Sasuke was being nonchalant about this whole thing. But meditating was a difficult process for him. Especially when he had to shut out the damn Nine-tailed Bijuu within him. It took joy in tormenting him with whispers of hatred and so forth. He still had to shut out the horrors of Orochimaru's bone chilling laughter. The many fears he had about being captured by that snake and stripped onto a table while Kabuto poked his body with needles and scissors. It took much inner prowess to climb those barriers for Sasuke pull him out simply because he was bored.

"You could have just asked."

"Well, there is no fun in that." Sasuke smirked.

"You're taking competition way too far, teme. If you're bored, take a nap!"

Sakura released a tired sigh, shutting her book. She glanced between her teammates. Naruto was still glaring at Sasuke. The whisker marks seemed to sharpen whenever he was angry. Gone was the orange, replaced by a crimson long sleeve t-shirt, short dark blue pants and shinobi boots of the same color. A pouch was tied around his right thigh. Sasuke wore his usual blue and white. For some reason, he seemed to enjoy making Naruto angry. Their usually argued. Sometimes, over who was the better shinobi. It was all good natured – most of the time.

She glanced at their sensei. He was sitting pretty, giggling perversely while he read his book. It was like he was ignorant that his students were going to end up in blows once more. It was harmless, but the two lacked timing. They would even start it in front of the Sandaime Hokage.

She shook her head.

"Be nice you two. Naruto, you don't have to get angry…" she lectured, shooting a threatening glare at Naruto. Sasuke would just toss that look to the side and ignore her.

But Naruto's response caught her a little off-guard. Not because of how harsh it was. He was at times stone cold in his treatment when she did something stupid. What caught her off-guard was the delicious word he used: 'boyfriend'

"Tell your boyfriend to stop attacking me whenever he sees an opportunity. I know his mighty pride was wounded after I won, but he needs to get over it!"

Sakura only heard 'boyfriend.' She blushed deeply, trying not to steal a glance at Sasuke but she did it anyway. The Uchiha looked stone faced. Any thought she was having was quickly crushed, and the look on his eyes stabbed her on the chest. Her deep shade was quickly replaced by anger. Perhaps trying to reflect Sasuke's thoughts. Or maybe anger that he seemed indifferent to the brought of being her boyfriend.

Either way, she could only look at Naruto.

"Stop teasing Sasuke like that!" She yelled at Naruto.

The blond blinked, while staring at her. He grinned and then burst out in a loud annoying laugh that echoed through the trees, causing even the resting birds to flee. He was laughing, pointing a finger at her. It caused all sorts of emotions to twitch within her. This sight was a little familiar and the reasons usually varied.

"You were actually thinking about Sasuke being your boyfriend… weren't you?!" He laughed once more, settling on his butt.

Sakura grew angry. That kind laugh she'd heard before. It frustrated her. It crushed any dreams she had with Sasuke. 'Just you watch, Naruto. Sasuke will belong to me one day.' She wanted to say, but she bit her lip.

"I wasn't!"

Naruto's eyes flashed. The blue seemed to radiate with mischief as he held out both his hands.

"Of course not. You'd never have such thoughts. You don't love Sasuke after all…" those baiting words, Naruto said them in a slow and purposeful tone before turning to Sasuke. "Hear that, teme? Sakura doesn't love you. She. Does. Not. Love. You."

"He's lying Sasuke… I lo-" Sakura halted, slapping both her hands across her mouth to stop herself from saying what she nearly uttered.

Once more, Naruto's laughter disturbed the peace, making her red. In anger, she hurled her book toward him. If he was closer, she'd just punched him on his gut. If he didn't decide to dodge anyway.

Seeing the incoming book, Naruto waved his right hand and caught it. Before he could pass off another comment, he sensed movement from behind. Kakashi landed soundlessly behind him, still holding his book.

"Alright, you have rested enough… Let's move." The Jonin announced, lone eye still staring at the pages of his book.

"Just when it was getting fun." Naruto mumbled, getting up. He looked around for his bag and then walked over to get it. He smiled, handing Sakura her book. She girl just snatched it from him.

Naruto shook his head, placed his hands inside his pockets and looked ahead. They were within the Fire Country, returning from another C-class mission. He considered them mightily easy these days. But Sakura would never agree with his assessment. And for Kakashi, it would just be 'meh.' The Jonin could look indifferent to any situation. Though, it was not as it looked. The only one who had his back was the brooding bastard who was now in the lead.

Kakashi glanced at Naruto who was walking by his right side and then his eyes fell on the back of Sasuke. Sometimes, you'd think this team was dysfunctional. Naruto and Sakura could be like water and oil at times. Then again with her disappointing attitude, she was at times at odds with the boy she was evidently obsessed with. It reminded him of Obito, but the dynamics were different in this team.

But the Uchiha was still the jealous type. And unlike Obito, Sasuke had deep hatred that at times scared him. Naruto was the only other person who seemed to be able to handle it. Unsurprisingly, Naruto's whole life couldn't be defined without hatred taking a large chunk of the explanation. A lonely life that has found some tonic in this team life. At least, he thought that way.

"Can we not request another mission when we get home?" Naruto asked, staring at Sasuke's back.

"Did Sasuke-kun hit you hard?" Sakura asked, apparently genuinely worried for him.

She was mocking him, he knew.

Naruto had to hold himself from laughing. She had these eyes of concern. It would be something if she wasn't mocking his thirst for missions. He'd never rejected any. As long as they were not those damn chores they called D-rank missions. But he wasn't the only one, was he? Of course, the devoted Sakura would never put him in the same bracket as her future husband.

"Am I that bad?"

Sakura stared at him, unblinking. "You'd remove bandages and flee the hospital if we were going out on a mission without you. Even if you had clutches, you'd stumble all the way into a mission!"

"I always flee the hospital…" Naruto shrugged.

"My point exactly."

"But I'm considerate to my condition…" be paused, digesting things over. "I you speak facts."

Kakashi wanted to flip a page, but Naruto's request was strange. Naruto abstaining from a mission was the same as an Akimichi rejecting roasted meat, dipped in hot sources. He closed his book, with much protest from his love for the seduction Jiraiya always wrote. He then pocketed the book and glanced at Sasuke. He didn't seem to have any interest but he could see the Uchiha had both ears working overtime, so not to miss anything. After all, the first thing he was willing to openly agree on with Naruto was the demand for a better mission.

Sasuke had his reasons. Naruto had his reasons. Both wanted to be stronger – for different ambitions. Sasuke was walking toward the path of hatred while Naruto was trying to conquer the hate that has threatened to drown his very existence since the day he was born. At least for the blond, he could assume that much. Nobody in this village could claim to know what Naruto was thinking. Not even the best intelligence collectors could observe Naruto and form a conclusive report on his thoughts based on his behavior. He wasn't predictable. Sometimes, it appeared to be by design.

"Why?"

Naruto looked up. The sun was out in full force, just above their heads. But the shades of the leaves at times stood between it and them. After a moment, he shook his head, clearing his thoughts and looked ahead.

"Ever since the Wave mission, we've done a handful of missions. Each time we seem to face stronger opponents. I have long realized that the shinobi world is not all fun and throwing cool jutsu around as we thought. We need to constantly reflect and improve ourselves."

The only person who seemed to still live within a bright world augmented by delusions was Sakura. Even till this day, she didn't appear to take things seriously. Then again, why did she have to worry about pulling her weight when her beloved Sasuke was always at her corner to defend her? Their sensei exacerbated the issue by not voicing his displeasure over her progress as a Kunoichi.

But who was he to judge? She'd probably tell him off if he tried. Best to just put his hands inside his pockets and keep his mouth shut.

Continuing, Naruto added. "I realize that anything can happen. We saw deaths in our first mission. We haven't been forced into that path, but eventually we will. I want to take some time to improve. Each mission always shows you were you lack."

Kakashi eye smiled. He didn't need to even confirm with Sasuke if he agreed with his teammate. Naruto made sense. Perhaps better than the rest of his teammates, he understood that one day, it was going to be kill or be killed. He didn't wish for them to live this kind of life. But the more they were exposed to dangerous missions, the more they saw the ugly truth of the shinobi world.

"I'll speak to the Sandaime Hokage when we arrive." The Jonin replied and turned his eyes to the back of Sasuke. But did not address the Uchiha. "You should also take the time to train as well, Sakura. But if you need any help, I'll be around to help."

Naruto rolled his eyes, knowing full well the moment they got home Sakura was going to take a long bubble bath and then spend the rest of her time colluding with her sinister personality of ways to seduce Sasuke.

The rest of the journey was quiet and peaceful. By the time they reached the Hidden Leaf, the sun was already starting to color the sky a bit bloody.

The large gates welcomed them. Looking at them, Naruto wondered just how much effort it took for anyone to build them. Then again, with Mokuton and how proficient the Shodai Hokage was with it, it would not be surprising if even putting up the walls didn't make him break a sweat.

He glanced outside and each time he returned to the village, he felt a little bit of relief. The outside world was brutal, merciless and unforgiving. Konoha was hell, but it was the lesser evil. He could block out the stares and laugh with the few he knew. But outside, it was a life of the haunted. Danger always lurked at every shade. You never knew if your meal would be your last before those who pursued you finally caught up to you.

The eternal guards marked their registers as Kakashi addressed them. Another return from a successful mission. A few complaints that they remained stuck being Chunin and on this duty while the kids showed progress to surpass them soon enough.

"Go rest. I'll report to the Sandaime Hokage. We will meet tomorrow at 4pm to discuss how we go for the next couple of days…"

"At least be on time tomorrow!"

Kakashi merely eye smiled and disappeared in a swirl of leaves.

"I really need to learn how to do that."

"Probably too much for you to understand."

Naruto turned his eyes toward the raven haired Uchiha. His voice was so cold that a person unfamiliar with it would find it bone chilling. "Hmph… says the bastard who stole my moves."

Naruto took joy in seeing Sasuke's face twist. But after a moment, he settled.

"Yours was sloppy. I perfected it."

"My move nevertheless," Naruto waved his right hand, dismissively. "I'll see you tomorrow. Gotta go home and rest. And then go for ramen later on."

"Why don't we all go for something to eat?"

Naruto raised an eye brow. They did still need to collect their pay for this mission. But Sakura didn't have to worry about that. She had parents. They would be standing at the door, ready to welcome her back home. But both he and Sasuke were alone. They had no one. Yet, neither of them made such a fuss about keeping the team together and doing more things together.

Sasuke did not grace this with response, he just walked away – like the lone wolf he was. Naruto sighed. A couple of months ago, or maybe weeks, he would be offering to go with her, even when knowing she'd reject him and then put a knife through his heart. He'd do it. Just to puff her up a bit. But he was no macho. And so, he smiled, and then waved his right hand, leaving the girl alone.

Instead of walking through the streets, Naruto jumped into the rooftops. For a moment, he stared at the Hokage Monument. A mask of indifference settled for a couple of seconds before being replaced by a smile. He had to endure this.

After jumping around, Naruto finally arrived home. His damned apartment. The place he has lived since the orphanage became so toxic even the Sandaime thought it best he live alone, even when he couldn't even take care of himself. Even a sadist like Orochimaru would have found it too difficult for a child to live there.

Pulling out his key from his pouch, Naruto stuffed it inside the keyhole and unlocked the door. He stepped in and then shut it behind him. He removed his boots right at the welcome mat. Loneliness welcomed him. The cold den that often made him miserable when he reminded himself that others were probably laughing and maybe even arguing with their parents. He didn't have that. He never had it to begin with. It was nonetheless much better than being stripped onto a bed, with needles poking over his body. That torment was both physical and emotional. At least, he had now learned to live with the bitter loneliness.

Kyubi brat, huh?

Naruto smiled sadly as he walked away from the door. He shook his head, walking over to his bedroom. He threw himself onto his bed, and faced the ceiling, both hands stretched out. He smiled.

Things would change.

He would change them. He was going to conquer this. He was Naruto Uzumaki after all. And even with the curses and bad fortune it brought, he was the Jinchuriki of the Kyubi. And he took pride in it. It was his badge of honor. He couldn't run from it.

'When you have failed in your futile attempts to win them over, come to me and I will take over your body, show these village true hatred.'

Naruto shut off this discouraging voice. Nothing would keep him from his dreams. Not even a mountain sized Bijuu that honestly frightened the nerves out of him.

But the Kyubi was wrong about something. Did Naruto care to win over the village? The wealthy question. Naruto was just never going to correct it or anyone who presumed to know his motives.

It was fine that way. It was much easier for people to ruin you when they knew the roadmap.


Hokage Office

Hiruzen looked up from the stack of papers on his desk, glancing at Kakashi. He wearily smiled as the Jonin moved closer to his desk before dropping a scroll.

"Back so soon…"

"We managed to do this one a bit quickly."

Hiruzen nodded and then leaned back on his chair. He glanced at the scroll Kakashi placed and then back at the Jonin. "Anything I should know?"

He was supposed to read the mission report but there was much to do. He couldn't always read every little report on this desk.

"Sasuke's Sharingan has matured farther. In a couple of more months, it may be fully matured if we continue on the same path."

One person who'd rejoice on the progress was Danzo. Although out of character, if Danzo suddenly burst into the office with a bottle of alcohol, calling for a celebration, Hiruzen wouldn't be shocked. But more than any, the one person who would jump was Itachi. It was good news. Hiruzen should be happy that Sasuke was becoming an asset to the village. But the Uchiha had issues. He was major red flag – a flight risk. With each day, the danger was more and more clear. He hadn't done anything to make them wary – but his contempt for Itachi and seemingly unquenchable desire to kill his brother was evident with each passing day.

There was nevertheless some good news in all this mess. The bonds he was making, especially with Naruto would maybe persuade him to be grounded.

"I trust you're paying attention to the situation."

"I am." Kakashi replied with a nod of his head. The last Uchiha business didn't hold that much value to him. But Sasuke was still an important asset to the village and he had to take care of him and so was Naruto.

"Good… and Naruto-kun?"

Thirteen long years since the Kyubi incident and the greatest blunders of his tenure as Hokage. And still, Hiruzen could never quite climb over the bitterness he felt over how things have turned out with Minato's son. If not handled with care, it may have blown up on them and the village would have suffered massively. Likely, it would've given the villagers ammunition and the comfort to say they'd been right all along.

Naïve; Danzo was right about him. Ideals were good. Even at times, to hope was the only thing you could muster. But he had been naïve and maybe childish to actually think the villagers would accept Naruto. When had he even seen it? In his dreams maybe. He should've known better. But he wanted to hope. For what exactly, Hiruzen couldn't tell.

As a result of his naivety, Naruto has suffered greatly. And try as he might, Hiruzen couldn't repair the damage. He could only swallow his bitterness and hope that he didn't make the same mistakes.

Nonetheless, Naruto was strong – both mentally and in the heart. He had his weak days. He was a child after all. So, he too cried. But the fact that he's held on, hopeful and still dreaming just meant he truly was strong. Perhaps more than him and how he was willing to give him credit.

"No issues…" Kakashi replied with a thoughtful look. "His capacity to learn and willingness to admit that others are better give him the edge…" he sighed just thinking about Sasuke.

"He has always been willing to better himself."

"Indeed. But unlike him, Sasuke's pride gets the better of him."

"Most Uchiha were prideful… but you're his sensei. I put you there to handle it. Nobody matches the potential of those two in their generation. We could be looking at future Hokage…" The Sandaime Hokage said in a stern tone. "You need to ensure that they remain close and kill any thought that may not align with that of the village."

"Hai…" Kakashi paused. "But I struggle with Sasuke. He doesn't open to anyone. While he sometimes seems to be willing to give everything for the team, there are times the thought of revenge seem to overtake him."

Admittedly, even when he took Sasuke to his wing when teaching him Chidori, they hadn't exactly bonded. The one person who seemed capable of pressing the right buttons with the Uchiha was Naruto. And the blond was smart about it, at times. There were days Naruto pressed Sasuke just for his amusement.

It astonished him just how much Naruto had analyzed his teammates. And him. He hadn't seen the sheet. It was just in the way that Naruto handled both his teammates that made him realize the blond knew when and how to press them.

"He is on the right path. It is only true bonds and companionship that will ease his heart. Return later to collect the pay," Hiruzen smiled, thinking about Naruto. "But I'm sure Naruto is going to come and demand his before the day ends…"

Or maybe he was just being hopeful. He always was. And what has that yielded for him till so far? Hiruzen took comfort in that despite many failures, Naruto was still around. Konoha had yet to be knocked off its pole position as the mightiest Hidden Village. This has come under threat nonetheless. And owing to his ideals. When Kumo had threatened, he'd bowed to the pressure. Danzo may have been right, if they had continued to battle with Iwa, they would have won and dealt a massive blow to it. Yet he quit the war and now Iwa's strength now made him nervous.

He hoped, one day, nobody would take advantage of such choices.

To his disappointment, the blond did not come.


The Following Day

The creeping atmosphere of the Forest of Death no longer bothered Naruto as it did first time around. Even as he sat under a tree, surrounded by dark shadows, the cries of insects, the stench of predators and mournful moans, he could afford to close his eyes and try to meditate. It was of importance for him. Especially with the Kyubi always trying to push its hatred of humans after him. He amused himself by thinking that perhaps if he was able to conquer the hatred of this village, he would also deal with that of the Kyubi. It would probably do its chilling laugh if it heard him say those words.

Naruto's eyes snapped open when he sensed movement. He glanced behind through the corner of his eyes and then sighed.

"You have a bad timing, teme."

Sasuke stared. Asking Naruto for something was a problem. The words always got stuck on his throat and he usually just resorted to just attacking. These days though, the result was not always pleasant.

"How did you even know I was here?"

"Kakashi-sensei told me." Sasuke shrugged. "I need a training partner. Training alone is different compared to training with someone who exposes weaknesses."

Naruto smiled, as he stood up and then faced the Uchiha. "Are you acknowledging my greatness, Sasuke?"

"Hnn…"

Naruto shook his head. "Then?"

"What do you mean then? I want a training partner."

Naruto sighed. Sasuke was not asking but demanding. Arrogant prick. Even when he was asking for help he had that stick up his behind. Naruto sat down. He had time, he could fool around. He knew, it would probably just boil his teammate, but that was the target. It was always a laugh when the Uchiha was all red and blowing steam through his nose and ears.

"Ask someone… I'm busy. But if you really want to do it with me, ask nicely."

Sasuke glared. "I can just attack you."

"Oh?" Naruto did hand seals. "You think I'd permit you to do that? But if you want to play it like that and refuse to ask, let's do this." He grinned. "Tajuu Kage Bunshin no Jutsu." About a hundred clones appeared, some standing behind him, some standing on the trees. Basically, they surrounded them. "Defeat the clones and you get to spar with me."

Sasuke gritted his teeth, seeing the hundreds of clones lunging at him all at once. How was he supposed to even fight them all when they were attacking like that? They were clones, but still copies of the original. Whatever Naruto could do, they could do.

He leapt backwards, inhaling oxygen while doing hand seals. "Katon: Great Fireball no Jutsu!" Sasuke released intense flames from his mouth. The huge ball of flames charged toward the incoming horde of clones. To give it range, he kept releasing the flames while spinning. However, before the jutsu could collide with the clones, they all dispersed, creating a huge cloud of smoke screen. He was forced to cancel his jutsu as he couldn't even see Naruto or sense him.

Sasuke jumped backwards, trying to escape the trap he'd created for himself. He landed gracefully, but on alert.

Naruto touched down behind the Uchiha like a leaf. Even though he made no attempt to attack, Sasuke spun around in a flash, and then leapt away from him.

He frowned when landing a couple of feet away. What made him frown was the smirk on Naruto's lips. Only Naruto could use hundreds of clones just to make a smokescreen. And he had once tried to make those damn clones and nearly kicked the bucket. Hell, even Kakashi couldn't even create as much as Naruto with the same ease and nonchalance. And that was even Naruto's greatest asset.

"You were open… Sasu-chan…"

"I knew you were going to do that, dobe. You enjoy sparring with me as much as I do."

"Okay… let's do this. I've been itching to remove that chip off your shoulder anyway."

Sasuke scoffed. "It isn't like you can do it."

Naruto grinned. "By that, you admit you got a chip on your shoulder? Damn, Sasuke. I didn't think you'd admit it like that." When the Uchiha only glared at him. Naruto only laughed. "Let's do this."

He said before disappearing in a blur.

Sasuke looked around the trees. Despite the massive chakra amounts that even he envied, Naruto had gotten rather good at hiding. But this was just a revision of their first training session with Kakashi. Hide first before making a move. Yet, with Naruto, it was different. Only on occasions was he the first to strike.

He jumped onto a tree, landing on a strong branch and then extended his senses. He smirked, sensing the blond hiding behind a tree, just behind him.

Naruto had his back pressed against the trunk of a tree, standing on a branch while watching Sasuke. When the Uchiha suddenly vanished, his senses went on overdrive as he tried to locate him. Sasuke materialized in midair, facing him with an arrogant smirk.

Sasuke didn't give Naruto the chance to even lift his hands to attempt to block an attack. He attacked swiftly, sending his right foot toward his temple. The kick connected but instead of Naruto being pummeled to the tree, he disappeared in a puff of smoke.

A clone?

Sasuke tried twisting while still in midair, but he was only welcomed by Naruto's right foot. It slammed into his face. Sasuke cursed at the pain. But it was nothing compared to the throbbing ache he felt when his body slammed into the trunk of the tree.

Naruto didn't stop there. He landed on the branch of the tree, and then lunged at Sasuke who had yet to recover. He raised his knee, hitting the Uchiha across his chest.

"Grrr…" Sasuke gritted his teeth, holding himself. Naruto hit hard, always. The knee to the chest made him feel like a brick had been slammed right into his ribcage.

He ignored the pain, the momentarily loss of the ability to breath and took a swung toward Naruto. The blond saw it and jumped away. Smirking, Sasuke took out a small shuriken and then swiftly hurled it toward the airborne blond.

While airborne, still facing Sasuke, Naruto tried to shift his legs to the sides to avoid the shuriken. It missed him, giving him a second of relief. But then if turned around, wrapping around his right leg around the ankle. He glared at the smirking Sasuke.

Sasuke grabbed the thread with both hands and then yanked it back. The sudden pull forced Naruto to change directions and he was sent crashing to the ground on his back.

"Ouch!" Naruto cried as he crashed into the ground on his back, getting buried there.

Naruto's eyes widened slightly when Sasuke came crashing toward him. He waited for the right moment to act; he raised his right leg, aiming at the Uchiha's chest when Sasuke got closer to him. Sasuke responded by lifting his right knee. His knee collided with Naruto's foot, suspending him in the air. But he quickly grabbed, Naruto's leg as he landed on the ground. Using all his strength, he took a step back, lifting the blond into the air. He then did a 360 degree twist, before hurling Naruto toward a tree.

While airborne, Naruto glanced behind for a second and then toward Sasuke, who was dashing toward him. He flipped twice, forcing his body to the ground. He landed on one knee, skidding backwards under the momentum. The back of his right foot hit a tree as he came to a halt. He stood up, ready to defend himself as Sasuke's right foot stomped to the ground in front of him, his left cleaving through the air for a high kick.

Naruto lifted both his hands, only using his left as shield and his right with its palm open. He winced slightly when the kick hit his wrist, but quickly ignored the pain to grab Sasuke's leg. Once he grabbed the leg firmly, he pushed the Uchiha back slightly, just to put him off balance. His right foot swept through the ground, hitting Sasuke's grounded leg. The action caused the Uchiha to fall backwards.

While falling on his back, off balance with no way to balance himself, Sasuke quickly folded his hands across his chest the moment Naruto leg go off his foot. But the blond didn't leap into the air. Instead, he flashed below him, and then wrapped his hands around his waist and then dragged them both to the ground.

Boom!

Sasuke cursed when Naruto slammed him to the ground, head first.

Naruto didn't need to channel chakra into his hands. He had enough strength and he could act before Sasuke could recover his bearings. His hands slid from Sasuke, and then pushed the Uchiha into the air. There was enough space between them for him to knee the Uchiha on his back.

Sasuke gritted his teeth when the knee collided with his back. He tried getting away from Naruto, but a thread wrapped around him, binding his arms with his body. He glared below, as the blond pulled him to the ground and then slammed him hard.

"Arg!"

Naruto stood up, holding the thread firmly with Sasuke tied up. He smirked. "You shouldn't leave your things on me, things like this happen."

Sasuke glared at Naruto. To be brought to this level. Disappointing. He couldn't allow Naruto to get the best of him. But he hadn't used the Sharingan yet. Still that worried him. His arms were still mobile. He quickly clapped them, kneading chakra before inhaling chakra amounts of air.

"Katon: Fireball no Jutsu."

It was a small ball of intense flames that spread out toward him. Naruto quickly let go of the thread and leapt backward to avoid the flames. He stood, watching the flames disperse knowing that Sasuke was still on the ground. After the flames dispersed, he watched Sasuke get up, grinning in an infuriating manner.

"I entertained you enough. Come back next time when you can win without the Sharingan." He said, waving his hand in a dismissive manner.

Sasuke glared at him. "That was just the first round."

Naruto released a long breath, knowing that Sasuke wasn't going to go away unless he entertained him. Well, it was not like he didn't gain anything from him and he always did enjoy fighting with Sasuke. "You're going to buy me lunch after this."


A proud look and the arrogant smirk, Naruto wanted nothing more than to slap Sasuke across his face. But he did not. He just held out his right hand while sitting on the ground. Sasuke took it and then pulled him up. Both their clothes were torn, but there were no deep wounds. They just had to eat, go home and then change before waiting for the meeting with their sensei later on.

Naruto dusted himself and then faced Sasuke with an expressionless look. "Using Genjutsu is cheating."

Sasuke shrugged. "It is not my fault that you haven't mastered the art of escaping it…" It was Naruto's glaring weakness and Sasuke didn't mind taking advantage of it.

"I ought to get this done… learn Genjutsu at least." Naruto said with a slight shake of his head. "I know you just need to disrupt the chakra, but it is still difficult." Especially when he didn't understand much about Genjutsu.

They were now slowly heading back to the village. It was enough for training today.

"Your Taijutsu has improved… I can't even confidently say I can beat you without using the Sharingan."

Naruto stopped walking at stared at Sasuke, a shocked look on his face. "Can you repeat that? I'm not sure I heard you correctly."

Sasuke didn't bother responding to this. It had been enough that he actually said those words. Still, there was no denying that Naruto was a rival. There was no one else he saw as competition in their age group aside from Naruto.

Naruto looked ahead, walking slowly. His relationship with Sasuke was brutal. They understood each other. But there was no mixing of words. The Uchiha told him exactly what he thought of him and he didn't shy away from telling him that he was an arrogant prick with a superior complex.

Yet, as they reached the village streets, the fact that they walked in opposite sides became quite clear. Sasuke was the beloved Uchiha and he was the outcast. The loathsome demon brat. There were days they didn't seem to know how to react to him walking around with Sasuke. Perhaps for some villagers, it was fine; the Sharingan could control the Kyubi. It was sad. But he had to fight this. To earn his place in this village.

Looking ahead, Naruto couldn't help but smile. Sakura and Ino were walking toward them. How he loved this convenient meetings. He glanced at Sasuke – he seemed to want nothing more than to flee. At least, it wasn't like the academy days were fan girls would be chasing after him. How he envied that love and obsession. It was annoying but Naruto didn't have anyone chasing after him. Not unless it was Anbu or Iruka.

"Sasuke-kun!" Ino waved her hand, her speed increasing.

Sakura kept up with Ino and then pushed the girl away from Sasuke when she stopped in front of him. Sasuke was her teammate. He beloved.

"Were you two training?"

Sasuke looked to the side, but did stop walking. He was just not going to entertain this. It was pointless. He glanced at Naruto through the corner of his eyes; the blond openly enjoyed talking and teasing. He did it with either him or Sakura. Neither of them found it amusing.

"Well, some of us do take the shinobi life seriously," Naruto said carelessly. He then grinned, ignoring the look Sakura was giving him. "Besides, I need to get stronger. No weak person becomes Hokage."

Sakura rolled her eyes.

"Keep on dreaming. You are never going to make it. Not with Sasuke with around."

Naruto smiled. Sometimes, he didn't stop himself from responding in kind to Sakura's jibes. She deserved at times. Even though he did pity her.

"I have more chances of becoming Hokage than you actually dating Sasuke…" he shot back, his tone a little cold.

Ino whistled. "That's just cold."

Naruto shrugged. He wanted to say Sakura irked him at times. "My dear, Ino-chan. Sakura is going to take the lead here. You know, she gets to spend time with Sasuke in missions. Did I tell you that he even acts as Prince charming at times by rescuing her from danger?"

That foxy grin on Naruto's lips. He was baiting her. Ino glanced at the uninterested Uchiha and then swallowed hard. She had stopped feeling the obsession long ago. But she would never stop acting like she wasn't interested, not when it would give Sakura a free run. Or maybe she still held some interest.

She folded her hands across her chest, looking defiant. "I highly doubt it."

Naruto shook his head. "Just the other day, they were doing the night watch. And you know, I don't sleep at all… so, I'm in my tent, and I hear Sakura's voice…" he changed his voice, imitating Sakura. "No Sasuke-kun… we are not yet married. Hmm… Sasuke-kun… don't touch there…"

"Kya!" Sakura shouted, her face all red. She lunged at him, trying to punch him. Naruto quickly hid behind Sasuke to avoid getting hit.

"You were actually thinking about it, weren't you?"

Sakura faced Sasuke for a moment and then looked away. Why did Naruto have to be like this? He was always trying to make her look like a fool in front of Sasuke.

"You truly are a pervert." Ino remarked of Naruto.

"Now now…" Naruto said, his tone a little serious. He stepped away from Sasuke, walking over to Ino. He stopped in front of her, smiling slyly. "But not as much as you, ain't it, my dear Ino-chan?"

"Don't put me in the same bracket as you." Ino puffed her cheeks.

"We are not in the same bracket. You exist at a higher level. And I admire you for it. Should I call you master?

"Naruto," Sasuke's cold voice halted any thoughts. "If you're going to continue with this, I will go home."

Naruto let loose of a long breath. "Such a bore," he said. "Well, ladies. We will be on our way." He walked past Ino, waved his hand.

"Where are you going?"

"To eat."

"We can join you."

Naruto and Sasuke exchanged looks and then ran off without responding.

Sakura glared at the dust. That was Naruto's fault. The way Sasuke seemed to agree with Naruto and even go along with him, bothered her as she could never get to that level. She shook her head. She just had to do her best.

"You know they are going to Icharaku ramen, right?"

Sakura blinked. Of course, Naruto probably even had dreams eating ramen. She wouldn't be surprised if his fridge was empty and there was nothing but instant ramen in his cupboards

"Let's just go."

To their surprise, the two weren't there.


It was about an hour before Naruto was supposed to be at the training ground for the team meeting, he didn't immediately head there but went to the Hokage tower. The Third wanted to speak to him. The steps and the passages were all too familiar. Who didn't he know inside the tower? For as long as he has known to walk, Naruto has often found himself drawn to this place. The main reason being that the old man was the only person who'd shown him kindness – aside from the good Samaritans at Icharaku ramen who even allowed him to eat for free.

The office was usually busy. Even as he stepped in, the Third was busy with some people. Naruto minded his business and settled on the couch within the office.

He glanced at the frame of the Yondaime Hokage – the greatest Hokage as far as Konoha was concerned. And also the man who sealed the Kyubi within him. And most recently as he'd come to find out, the man was his father. It was laughable that he'd heard it from the Kyubi. The Bijuu had been taunting him, trying to get him angry. It had told him, he was the son of the Minato Namikaze, and yet the village hated him. When he denied this, the Bijuu had remarked, it would know best since it had been sealed within his mother and had nearly come close to killing both parents. The latter had been said in passing, but Naruto had observed the watchful gaze, the Bijuu had said it purposefully. A test of some sort. If there was any doubt, that hateful snake had smugly broke the news, simply to watch his face twist in anger.

"Naruto..."

He turned to face the Third Hokage. The people he'd been speaking with were now gone. Naruto blinked: had time just flown away while he fought with his thoughts?

He stood up and walked over to the Sandaime's desk and sat on a chair. The old man was a little hidden under the stack of papers on the desk. It was always work. Even he, it his dream became a reality, he would end up getting drowned in that kind of work.

"How are you, Naruto-kun?"

Warmly, Naruto responded. "Fine…" despite the lies and the secrets. There was no doubt. This was the person who had loved him more than anyone else.

"Good good…" Hiruzen stared at him. "Kakashi tells me that you still don't use Mokuton."

It was not that he didn't want to use it, it was just that there has never been a need to use the extravagant jutsus. He was also still learning. Sakura didn't even know he could do wanders with it. She'd seen him do small things. But if he did big things, she would be forced to accept that he could use the bloodline to the same heights as the Shodai Hokage. She would probably faint when she is forced to accept it. For now, they all treated it as if it was normal. He smiled, amused at the image he painted of her trying to rationalize how he could use it.

There were some undeniable psychological issues that he refused to think about even when the Sandaime Hokage tried to lead him to it.

"It isn't that I don't use it. I only use the minimal efforts. The ridiculous jutsu have not been perfected. When there is a need, I will use them."

Besides, it was better to keep his cards to his chest.

Mokuton was highly coveted. There was the danger. And for him, it was just double fold because added to it, he was a Jinchuriki of the Kyubi.

"It doesn't have anything to do with how you came to use it?"

Hiruzen was careful with the question. He was gentle, so not to trigger anything. Naruto had gone through worse. When the villagers had been busy with him, Orochimaru had found him as a perfect human for his experiments. He was a Jinchuriki with regenerative abilities, and above all, an Uzumaki. For more than a year, Naruto had disappeared and they had searched for him. Had Naruto not exploded in anger with the Kyubi wrecking havoc in Orochimaru's base, they most likely wouldn't have found him.

How Orichimaru got him was still something they couldn't solve. Either way, that Naruto had been angered enough to permit the Kyubi's chakra to influence him and go after Orochimaru had been a been a blessing to them. It also provided them evidence that Naruto was indeed being held hostage. There had been some disturbing thought that he had fled from the village to escape the horrors he faced every day.

Naruto's lips turned upside down, just thinking about Orochimaru. The loathsome snake that terrorized many yet winning the hearts of many of its followers. Even he had been defiled and cut open by that slithering snake. The Sannin was perhaps the only person who made him bristle with contempt. And he had tried to recruit him saying it was better with him than with the village. Maybe he had considered it. But he could never admit that to anyone. He'd have Anbu watching his every move every day and night because of it.

While Konoha was bad, Orochimaru was worse. The outside world was worse. For him, he could never be safe. He would always be hunted for the power in him. If he could not be loyal, he would be killed. He'd done his math. Those who survived the outside world were those with power. The weak got devoured.

At this stage, even with Mokuton, Naruto was weak. There would be nights someone could get him while he was sleep. Or when he wasn't expecting it. Konoha provided him safety. And he wasn't going to let it go.

"No… that does give me a bit of nightmares but it has nothing to do with it."

"I worried that may be the case," Hiruzen released a sigh of relief.

Naruto's life was just tragic. A tragedy that Kushina would not have wanted for her son and would not have stood for. But this was on him as Hokage. Still, things looked better now. There has been days he found Naruto holed up in his apartment, a miserable look on his face. But now, he smiled. He had friends and got along with his team. It made him happy that Naruto was finding that happiness.

Yet, a part of him worried that as Sasuke was lonely, the loneliness within Naruto may not be solved that easily. After all, after team sessions, back in his apartment, he was all alone.

"I told you about Yamato, right?" Naruto nodded. "If you ever need help with anything, please come to me. I'll arrange for him to help you."

It would be good for the village if Naruto used Mokuton in outstanding levels. It was not that his use of it was not already good. Maybe he could even do more than Yamato. The problem was that Naruto was secretive about it. Even at missions, he did the minimal things and used his other skills to get ahead.

"When I need the help, I'll ask." He'd never been the one to deny himself that opportunity to grow because he refused to ask help. Maybe then some people would have refused to help or even try to sabotage him, but things were different now.

"Of course."

How Hiruzen wished things were like the old days. There was something different. Ever since Naruto was found in Orochimaru's bases, there seemed to be a line he was not willing to cross, a line he'd crossed on will back then. Maybe there was something Naruto knew. It hadn't been a pleasant talk when it came to the Kyubi and the fact that he had decided to keep it from Naruto even lying when asked

But he hoped, Naruto would eventually speak to him.

The Sandaime opened a drawer and then took out a scroll. He had never even given this to Yamato. But Naruto could do with it.

"This contains some jutsu used by the Shodai Hokage. I cannot stress its importance to the village. I'm entrusting it with you, Naruto."

Accepting the scroll, Naruto beamed. He had begged the Third for some scrolls because he wanted to learn by himself but the old man kept him away from it.

"I'll take good care of it, Jiji."

"You're never to take it with you outside the village. If possible, study it within your apartment using Kage Bunshin. Once you have memorized what you need, bring it back," he then smiled. "And of course, I'll want to see your progress."

That was something he couldn't deny the old man. He grinned, he could offer that much and he was sure, the Third would be impressed.


Training ground 7

"Where were you?"

Naruto raised an eye brow, looking at Sakura. She was the captain already. She took note of everyone's time. He wouldn't be surprised if she even had time register. At any environment, she would be rather good. She had excellent chakra control, but hardly a feat worth noting since she had just a tiny bit that was pitiful in his eyes. Aside from taking registers, what good was his teammate for if not obsessing over Sasuke? A waste of talents, but she was still his teammate. If only she wasn't completely irrational when it came to her beloved, then she could be reasoned with.

"Talking to the Sandaime," Naruto said, pushing past the girl. He laid on his back under a tree, resting his head on his hands while facing up.

Sakura settled beside him, stealing a glance. Her relationship with Naruto was complicated. Sometimes he was nice and sometimes, he was just cold. His words could sting like a bee at times. He was mean, wasn't he? But to others, it was all jelly.

"Where is Sasuke-kun?"

"Sitting on the tree behind us."

Sakura immediately jumped and tried to look for her beloved. Once she saw him, she spoke. "Why didn't you tell me you were here?"

'It would not have made any difference.' Naruto wanted to tell her but he decided against it. He wasted his efforts at times by trying to push the hard reality into Sakura about her mad love for their teammate, but she has never responded in kind.

"You gone ignore your future wife like that?"

Sakura turned to him. "I don't need your help to get his attention."

"Really?"

Sakura registered the sarcastic tone. She realized, given the look in Naruto's eyes, he'd make a snappy comment if she responded harshly. She glanced at Sasuke for a moment and then sat down beside Naruto once more.

"Why do you have to be like that?" She asked in a quiet tone.

Naruto shrugged. "Trying to save you."

Sakura rolled her eyes. "And I deserve a cold response when I try to save you from your dream of becoming Hokage?"

Naruto glanced at the girl. She was in that mood now. Speaking to him like he was her teammate and the one who has saved her life more than once while her beloved Sasuke chased after their target.

"What makes you think Naruto Uzumaki cannot achieve his dream?"

"He refers to himself in third person." Sakura smiled. But what was the reason? Nothing really. Just that he wasn't Sasuke Uchiha. The Hokage was someone loved by the village and Naruto wasn't by an stretch.

After a couple of moments, Kakashi arrived. The Jonin called Sasuke to be closer. The Uchiha appeared, leaning against the trunk of the tree, hands folded across his chest.

"I've decided that we can take two weeks rest. But I expect all of you to continue training. Just know that if we are wanted for a mission, we will have to go. We must always be ready to serve."

"Hai hai…" Naruto responded, getting up.

"We missed the last Chunin exams, when are we going to join? While still Genin, we cannot do higher ranked missions."

"The exams are held every six months. Each village holds own exams. We will discuss that at a later date," Kakashi stared at Sasuke. "I didn't think you were in a hurry to become a Chunin."

"I just want to get stronger."

That response should have been predictable but Kakashi had hoped for something else. He shook his head. "If you need anything, find me." He disappeared in a puff of smoke.

Well, Naruto could use with some reading. And he needed to find a genjutsu master in this village to better learn the style or he else he would continue to fall for Sasuke's tricks. Allowing the teme to get one over was nothing more than a boost to his bloated pride and Uchiha superior complex.

"I'm going to the library to read some books."

"Are you going to be there tomorrow?"

Naruto glanced at Sasuke through the corner of his eyes. A hateful bastard whose hatred for his elder brother would only make the Bijuu within him giggle with pleasure. The only debate would only be whether the Kyubi's hatred for humans and especially Konoha, is more than the hatred Sasuke harbored for Itachi.

Thinking of the elder Uchiha, Naruto shook his head. The mention of the name was the only thing one needed to trigger Sasuke's anger. He lacked control over his emotions. Sometimes he truly looked like an unstable person who could blow up at any moment. But he was a friend and the only person who could understand his pain and loneliness. Naruto thought he needed to indulge the Uchiha a bit, just until he was able to twist him a little.

A work in progress but he would soon need to dip his fangs into the Uchiha's neck.

"Sure…"

Sasuke was gone the moment he finished talking. Naruto just rolled his eyes and then started to walk away.

"Wait, Naruto…" Sakura called, rushing over to him. "Let me join you."

Naruto raised an eye brow.

"What is with that look?"

"I'm just surprised you'd willingly join me for a round in the library."

"I've gone to the library more than you. And your new found love for knowledge has only started since we became Genin."

"Change is inevitable."


Hello!This is my take on a Mokuton story. I want this to be a little different from the stories I usually write.