Rants: It's been a while since I wrote one of these. First of all, I'd like to apologize for the lack of update these few months. Updates will be going out more consistently from here on out. Actually, I've been rather busy lately: crammed for nights to finish my thesis, graduated last March, landed immediately after graduation, broke up with my girlfriend, (you may insert lame excuse here), etc, etc. Honestly though, I hit a pretty thick wall in this chapter and had to revise it several times. I even considered chopping it into two like what I did to chapters 8 and 9 but thought against it since I don't think each of half could stand on their own. It is quite lengthy and could feel like dragging for most parts since this is, well, a pivotal chapter connecting the first into the second half of the story arc. As always, comments and criticism are welcome.

Daybreak. A lone boat was drifting along the calm waters of the great river that silently cuts its way through the heart of the densely forested valley.

"The mist sure is heavy today. I can hardly see anything up front." Chitose mused aloud. She was shifting her head from side to side trying to catch a view of the surroundings. So far, all that greeted her was a boring hue of dull white.

"We should reach the capital soon." Haku offered. Standing by the rear of the boat and armed with a long pole, the difficult task of navigating the boat blindly through the haze fell solely on his shoulders. However, since he was used to fighting on conditions where the visibility was down to near zero, paddling the boat along the mist covered waters proved to be an easy task for the seasoned hunter-nin.

Seated at the front, Naruto's squinted eyes grew wide with excitement. Out into the horizon the silhouette of a massive structure slowly became visible against the curtain of mist. As the sun slowly crept up illuminating the heavens, the mist slowly lifted away and the shadow was soon revealed to be a magnificent castle towering behind the skyline of a huge and highly urbanized city.

"WOW! It's huge!" Naruto exclaimed.

"Welcome to the capital of the Water Country, Takayama-shi." Mikoshi, who had been sharing the backseat with Itachi for the entirety of the boat ride, spoke up in his usual bored tone. "See that huge castle over there? That is where the Water's sovereign holds residence, Takayama Castle. That's where we will be heading."

"Cool! So cool!" Naruto couldn't help but marvel at the sight. Takayama Castle was shining with a radiant reddish orange glow from the light of the sun rising behind it. It was simply stunning. Naruto was very thankful that at least once in his life he was able to go visit such a place and witness a truly breathtaking scene. "Hurry up! Hurry up! I wanna go see the castle right away!" He exclaimed excitedly, asking Haku to speed the boat up.

"Gomen. Since there wasn't any motorized boat available, this is the fastest we can go," the missing nin answered apologetically.

"Besides, there's no need to hurry Naruto-kun. We'll get there in time," said Chitose who was smiling at the enthusiasm the blonde kid was showing.

"Really! I can't wait!" Naruto said aloud before setting his eyes back unto the castle.

Mikoshi, on the other hand, simply shook his head at the childish display. "Geez, you really are a kid."

Soon the boat docked on a wooden pier jutting off the riverbank and the party disembarked to continue their journey on foot into the city's busy streets. Before setting out, Mikoshi and Chitose had to carefully set their wide brimmed straw hats over their heads while both Itachi and Naruto once again took off the Leaf hite-ates from their foreheads for the obvious reason of hiding their identities from the public.

"There sure are a lot of people around." Naruto commented as the group made their way through the city's main avenue. The boy continually glanced around as they ventured farther into the city. The place was bustling full of activity with a large number of people sauntering about, peacefully living out their daily lives. Also, there were a number of shops and other establishments that were lined up on either side of the road, this being the city's commercial center and all. It reminded Naruto so much of Konoha.

"Naruto-kun, don't put your guard down," reminded Itachi.

"Why is that, Itachi-sensei?" The blonde asked looking up at the young jounin walking next to him. "Shouldn't it be safe now that we've arrive at the capital?"

"Remember, our mission does not end until we get Kanamori-sama and Idaho-san safely back to the palace. Even though we're already here at the capital, an attack from the group after the prince is still very much probable. Should that happen, protecting the clients is still our topmost priority." Itachi instructed.

"I got it! I'm going to protect Mikoshi and Chitose-neechan and make sure that they make it back to the palace safely! No nukenin is going to get past me because I'm the man who is going to become Hokage someday, Uzumaki Naru-ACK!" Naruto yelped for before he could finish bragging when an apple smacked painfully right against his face.

"Keep it down, moron." Mikoshi followed immediately after learning that the fruit he tossed backward over his shoulder had landed truthfully to its intended target.

"Why you—!" Naruto seethed. He was about to erupt in another loudmouthed tirade in retaliation but wasn't able to do so when Haku suddenly told him off.

"Naruto-kun, please keep your voice down. We can't afford to attract any more attention than we already are." The Mist hunter-nin reprimanded the genin. "If information that Konoha shinobis are escorting the young master leaks out, it could cause a lot of trouble."

Acknowledging that Haku had a point, Naruto did not argue and opt to obediently clamp his mouth shut, something that others found to be thoroughly surprising. The irritated blonde however had kept casting sideward glares towards the masked boy. It seems clear that he hadn't gone through his apparent dislike of the young hunter-nin just yet.

Meanwhile, Itachi had been sweeping through the crowd with his pair of quick, sharp eyes, scrutinizing every minute detail and feature in search for any telltale signs of threat lurking about. His eyes landed upon a suspicious looking character in a long black cloak with red cloud markings standing in front of a shop several yards away. Just like the clients, the man was also wearing a straw hat which concealed most of his face. However, his most striking feature was massive sword wrapped in bandages hanging on his back.

Turning his gaze towards the Konoha jounin, the man's face was suddenly marred with a feral and malevolent grin. The mysterious person then raised one hand and reached out for the handle of his sword though he did not proceed to pulling the massive blade out, just tilted it slightly. That small gesture was enough to send his message clearly across to the Uchiha heir.

'This guy…' Itachi thought inwardly, sensing the dangerous aura emanating off the man. There was no doubt about it. The guy was also a shinobi. 'I see. So the presence that's been following us since we left the boat was his.' Itachi had been pondering about this new revelation when all of a sudden the man had practically vanished right before his eyes. Surprised, the jounin quickly scanned the area where the man was once standing. There was absolutely no trace of his presence left behind making it seem as if he had never been there to begin with.

"Hmm? Sensei?" asked Naruto. Noticing the look on his sensei's usually expressionless face, the boy trailed his eyes to where Itachi was staring and his sight fell on a roadside dango shop nearby. Squinting, the kyuubi brat cast a disapproving glare directed at his jounin-sensei. "GRRRYAAAAH! Itachi-sensei you glutton! All that you ever think about was eating dango!" Naruto yelled angrily, a trembling finger pointed accusingly at the Uchiha.

Closing his eyes, Itachi took in one deep breath before opening them once again. That marked the completion of his transition back to his normal composed self. 'That was to be expected. It isn't strange for the enemy to send high-level shinobis considering the fact that their target is none other that the prince of the Water.' The jounin thought inwardly, turning his eyes gazing over towards Mikoshi.

Trailing behind the group, Haku nodded lightly in acknowledgement. It seems that the person who had caught Itachi's attention didn't escape him as well. And like the jounin, he too kept his silence and continued to act like nothing was wrong.

'Right now…' Itachi thought inwardly, this time focusing completely on the road ahead, not paying the slightest attention to Naruto's loud ranting about the reasons as to why ramen was ways better than dango. The loud blonde had been going on for quite some time that he was slowly garnering unwanted attention to himself from the people around. '…for us, making the first move isn't an option.'

"Shut up you moron!"

"OUCH!" Naruto yelped aloud after an irritated Mikoshi smacked him painfully in the head.

"Everyone, let's move faster." Itachi suddenly said.

Catching his sensei's instruction, Naruto stopped caressing the small bump that appeared just recently on his crown and, just like everyone else, nodded his assent. That's when he suddenly had an idea. "Hey everyone, let's have race and see who gets to the castle first!"

"Oi Naruto-kun wait—" Chitose called out but was already too late as the energetic blonde had already dashed further along the road leaving a trail of dust in his wake. All she could do was heave a small sigh while beside her Mikoshi was shaking his head.

"Geez, he never grows up," commented the prince.

The group finally made it to Takayama Castle however the sight that greeted them wasn't quite welcoming. The castle's massive gates which were usually open had been barred tight and its immediate vicinity guarded by a sizeable squad of heavily armed palace guards.

"Hey. Are you sure this is the right place?" asked Naruto.

"STOP!" A burly man who looked like he had been squeezed forcefully into that tight fitting armor two sizes smaller emerged from the balcony above the gates. Standing proudly before the party, the man ran his eyes through each and every one of them. Given the number of tourists he had to drive away for the day he was particularly suspicious of the group and for quite understandable reasons since its members were composed of the idiot-looking blonde, the two people whose faces were hidden by the large straw hats over their heads, the young man in black with a somewhat arrogant look on his face and a Mist hunter-nin at back. Coughing his suspicions aside he began his announcement, "The Court is currently in session! Visiting the palace at this moment is prohibited! Turn around immediately and–"

"Shut up old man and let us through."

"What did you say!" The man growled obviously enraged by the blatant show of disrespect for authority. He fixed his beady eyes angrily at the thin boy at the middle. A grin of satisfaction formed over Mikoshi's lips after witnessing the annoyance he was causing the old soldier. "You there! State your name before I have the mind to have each and every one of you arrested and thrown in the dungeons!" The man demanded threateningly of the rude brat.

"Senile old man..." Mikoshi pulled off his hat revealing himself fully to the man before him. Faintly audible murmurings from the guards soon filled the air as the supposedly missing prince had just suddenly made an unexpected appearance. "Why don't you just go and retire already," he finished.

"Good morning, Aomori-sama. It's good to see you again." Chitose greeted, also revealing herself by casting the large hat aside. She then graced the plump old soldier with a smile.

"Y-young master…" The man, Aomori as Chitose called him, trembled in a mix of emotions dominated mostly by excitement and relief. Tears began to stream from his small eyes down to his rugged face as he spoke. Unable to contain himself, old man Aomori raced towards the prince only to forget that he was standing on a terrace meters high above the ground. Naruto, Mikoshi and Chitose all flinched as a huge cloud of dust erupted from the ground.

"Are you sure he's going to be alright?" asked Naruto

"Don't worry. He does that all the time," answered Mikoshi.

"I'm not so sure." Naruto was feeling highly doubtful. Both boys sprouted huge sweat drops at the back of their heads at the sight of the old man who down on the ground twitching in pain inside the wide foot-deep crater he himself had just unwittingly created.

A second look at Mikoshi and the old man seemed to have miraculously recovered as though nothing had happened. He raced forward and locked the prince in a tight bear hug. "Young master, where have you been! Everyone was so worried about you!"

"I-I c-can't breathe…" Mikoshi uttered gasping for air. The man's huge muscular arms not only impeded his oxygen supply but also threatened to break the prince's fragile looking body.

"Oh, that's right. You must have been tired from your journey." The man said finally releasing Mikoshi. He spun around and screamed so loud there's no way his voice wouldn't reach those on the other side of the gates. "Hey! What are you lazy morons doing! Open the gates now! The young master needs to rest!"


Immediately, loud rumblings echoed through the air as the castle's massive gates started to swing open.

Somewhere within the castle, nobles from all over the Water have gathered forming the daimyo's Court. Here in this large spacious chamber was where many of the issues pressing the country were discussed and debated amongst the members of the aristocracy. This was also where all laws governing the land are created. Nobles were seated on the tatami covered floors in rows while on the slightly elevated throne at the far end of the room sat none other than the daimyo of the Water Country Kanamori Sanno. A man in his mid-forties, the elaborate outfit and headdress and the stern look on his face reflected the dignity and respect attributed by the position he held.

"What is it?" The daimyo asked when an attendant approached him while in the middle of the session, his voice sounding strict.

The attendant quickly got next to the all important leader. She moved her head closer and whispered in his ear.

"I see." Kanamori Sanno got on his feet and without a word started for the door, his attendant trailing closely behind.

"Kanamori-sama?" Someone from the congregation asked.

"That will be all for today. You may leave." He instructed, addressing the entire chamber without so much as to turn his head around, continuing his march until he disappeared from the room.

"Ohh… so this is what the inside of a castle looks like. This is the first time I've been inside one."

"Can't you keep quiet for once?"

Traversing a wide and seemingly endless hallway, the group was being lead by Mikoshi on a grand tour inside the huge castle. Every single person that they've met on their way, servants, guards, important guests and several members of the nobility, all bowed to show respect for the esteemed heir.

"I wonder what the daimyo is like." Naruto mused aloud. He was looking around marveling at the castle's beautifully decorated interior. Not just from the expensive antique furniture and displays, the place itself held an unmistakable air of elegance around it.

"We're about to meet my father so behave yourselves, especially that blonde moron over there." Mikoshi remarked snidely causing Naruto to send another murderous glare down at him, something that the prince ignored completely while he kept his eyes straight on the path ahead.

"Don't worry Naruto-kun. Sanno-sama is a nice person. I'm sure you'll like him." Chitose reassured, smiling at the blonde.

Suddenly, at that exact instance Mikoshi stopped dead on his tracks causing everyone else behind him to come to a halt. "Chichiue…" he uttered. Sure enough, standing before them just a couple of steps away was none other than the daimyo himself. He was flanked on both sides by two of his personal attendants.

Itachi, Haku and Chitose immediately lowered their heads before the daimyo's presence. Naruto also bowed just like the others but did so only after noticing that he was the only one aside from Mikoshi who had remained upright.

The daimyo eyed the group for a while before waving his hand gesturing everyone to stand up straight. He then proceeded to cast a stern look down at Mikoshi which prompted a prolonged moment of silence not just between father and son for everyone else present on the scene. A light feeling of tension filled the air. Finally, it was Mikoshi's father who broke the silence. "Idaho."


"Take my son back to his room. He will have a press conference in two hours. I want you to make sure that he prepares for it." The daimyo ordered.

"Hai." Chitose responded, bowing once again.

"Chichiue, I…"

"Go." The daimyo lashed harshly at his son.

"Let's go, Ryuji-sama." Chitose said ushering the downhearted Mikoshi away.

Waiting until his son was out of sight, the daimyo once again settled his eyes at the three shinobis before him, "Shinobis from Konoha, follow me." He instructed. The daimyo turned his back at the group and started to head down the corridor.

"I shall be taking my leave then. Itachi-san, Naruto-kun, good luck," Haku said before turning heel and walking the opposite direction leaving the two Leaf shinobis on their own.

Itachi and Naruto trailed after the daimyo and were granted the privilege of being lead into his own private reception room – a place that was reserved only for foreign dignitaries and personalities of very high position and importance. The room in itself wasn't that large, just enough to comfortably hold a couple of visitors. Aside from the low chair where Itachi supposed that the daimyo seated and the paintings hanging on the walls the place was basically devoid of any other nonessential things giving it the illusion of having twice as much space as it already had.

The place reminded Itachi of a similar room back in his residence in Konoha which also served a similar purpose. However, aside from being a place where guests were entertained, it was where his father tells him of the clan's great expectations as well as the goals that were made for him to accomplish all for the greater good of the Uchiha name. Most of all, it reminded him of his place as the clan's useful connection. But he was over that now. He had already delegated the post to his younger brother, Sasuke.


The daimyo's voice snapped the Uchiha off his reverie. Already the daimyo has been seated while his two attendants sat by the floor next to him. Itachi obediently sat down on the tatami under his feet and was fully expecting his student to do the same however instead Naruto took several steps forward and…

"Harken unto me! Harken unto me! I was born and raised in the Country of Fire's Hidden Village of Konoha. I love to eat at Ichiraku. Also known as the village's number one genius ninja who will one day become hokage, I am the great Uzumaki Naruto-sama!" Naruto said, reciting his dialogue with an unmistakable kabukiage tone and finishing with a rather weird pose. "Daimyo-sama, it's an honor to make your acquaintance!"

An awkward silence suddenly filled the room as Itachi, the attendants, even the daimyo were left completely speechless.

'Ha! Looks like they were all taken by my beautiful speech! Even the daimyo must think what a super cool genius ninja I am! Hehehe… Naruto you're incredible! You really are the greatest!' Naruto mentally snickered, congratulating himself for a job well done.

The period of silence and the looks everyone was giving him however signaled something that was quite the opposite.

"Sit down before you further embarrass Konoha and yourself." Itachi said, further adding insult to the injury. That remark gave Naruto the realization that none of the occupants of the room found his self-introductory speech and dance appealing. That resulted in a dejected Naruto plopping himself sadly on the floor.

The daimyo cleared his throat loudly. It was a sign saying that the time for fun and games was over. It's now time for serious talk. "Hmm. Honestly I've never imagined Hokage-sama to send such young shinobis to be the escorts of my son. Old Sarutobi must have high regards for the both of you." He started.

"Thank you very much for your kind words." Itachi replied, bowing once again.

"Before we proceed, there's something that I want you to answer truthfully. I'd like you to tell me what you think about my son Ryuji." The daimyo asked. "You've spent enough time with him traveling from Konoha all the way here to the Water. I just wanted to know what your opinions are about him."

Itachi took some time to organize his thoughts before speaking out. "I personally think Ryuji-sama is an intelligent man. Also, from our travels I found him to exhibit qualities that would qualify him as an excellent leader. With all due respect, I think he is a worthy successor to the throne since he clearly has the capacity to lead the Water and its citizens."

The daimyo nodded once after hearing Itachi's feedback. He then turned his attention to the boy sitting next to the Konoha jounin. "And you young lad, what do you think?"

"Hmm…" Naruto sounded, crossing his arms over his chest while he gave the question some serious thought. Several scenes from his journey with the prince flashed before the boy, from their disastrous first encounter back at Konoha's, pass the several attempts at Mikoshi's life, their little stay at the hot springs and the time when they've finally managed to reach their destination upon setting foot on the castle gates.

"I don't know about Mikoshi. Sure he's stupid, arrogant, selfish, vain, bossy, a moron, and is a great big jerk most of time." Naruto pondered aloud. "Also, he really is an absolute bastard."

Intrigued, the daimyo had arched an eyebrow after hearing such a bold and blatantly disrespectful comment about his son. Itachi, for his part, had been casting a disapproving look sideways at the blonde. More than what his expressions show, the young jounin was actually feeling awfully embarrassed for the things his student had just said. As shinobis, they also act as representatives of Konoha and the way Naruto had been acting before the daimyo had certainly brought great shame on their village.

"But he can certainly be reliable at times so all in all I guess he's an okay guy." The blonde finished, vehemently nodding his head up and down to emphasize his point.

A loud laughter suddenly echoed throughout the room. Naruto quickly snapped his eyes open and realized that the laughter was coming from none other that the daimyo himself. That caused confusion to settle over both Konoha shinobis, mostly to Naruto who had glance over questioningly at his sensei. After a whole minute Kanamori-sama had stopped laughing, just as abruptly as that when he had started, and settled his eyes gravely at the blonde. The look he gave unnerved the kid.

'Great! Now I've really done it! The daimyo is probably going to have me executed!' thought a panicking Naruto who was now heavily sweating, trembling in fear. Various torture scenes and other horrible forms of suffering with him as the victim played wildly with his imagination. 'I'm going to die!'

The next line that followed was something that no one in the room had expected.

"I like you." The daimyo told Naruto. "Of all the people that I've ask personally you're actually the first one who ever had the guts to comment about those negative traits of my baka of a son." He then flashed a hearty smile at the foxy brat. "And I like people with guts."

Hearing those, Naruto finally heaved a sigh of relief. He welcomed the knowledge that he won't be placed in line for execution anymore. However, his relief was immediately replaced with surprise when the daimyo suddenly began to cry out loud.

"What! What have I done wrong to deserve such a delinquent son! I've done everything I can to raise him into a fine young man yet why!" The daimyo wailed his misery, totally unashamed of the unsightly behavior he was showing his guests.

'What's wrong with this guy? Early on he was standing all high and mighty, dignified daimyo and all then the next thing he's been reduced to an old wreck of a crybaby,' was the thought that swam through Naruto's mind as he watched the unsightly scene. Suddenly, the daimyo reached out and grabbed both of his shoulders giving the blonde quite a bit of a shock.

"You understand, don't you? You definitely understand, don't you!" The daimyo asked, shaking Naruto with all his might. Tears were generously pouring like waterfalls from his eyes. Meanwhile in the background the attendants were sniffing, wiping dry the tears in their eyes for they too shared their master's pain.

"Y-yeah… I guess so…" Naruto stuttered in response as the sweat drop at the back of his head grew bigger. 'Really, this place is full of weirdos.'

"HAACHOOO—!" Mikoshi sniffed and rubbed his nose. "For some strange reason my nose feels kinda itchy."

"Maybe there are people somewhere talking nice things about Ryuji-sama,"

Mikoshi, who was standing before a full body-size mirror, saw Chitose from the reflections as she entered his private chamber. She was carrying with her the prince's royal costume and headdress which he was to use for the press conference later that day.

"Yeah right," The boy sneered while untying the strap around his waist. He then allowed the bathrobe to fall freely on the floor leaving himself naked down to the pair of boxers covering his privates. "If that were true then I would have been sneezing and slobbering snot all over the place non-stop since the day I was born."

Chitose positioned herself behind the prince and helped him put on the first of the multi-layered ceremonial robe that he'd be wearing for the press conference later that afternoon. For the entire time both occupants of the room were engulfed in silence, not one uttering a single word.

"From what I've heard," It was Chitose who broke the silence while she was helping Mikoshi put on the final layer of his royal kimono, "Itachi-san and Naruto-kun plans to head back to Konoha immediately after their talk with your father Sanno-sama."

"I see…" Mikoshi said softly. From the mirror, he saw a small grin forming on Chitose's lips arousing both his curiosity and annoyance. "What?"


"Say it. It bothers me." The prince pressed on.

"H-hai." Chitose nodded obediently. "I see that Ryuji-sama is fond of Naruto-kun."

"What makes you say that?" Mikoshi's face flushed which he quickly contorted into a frown in a lame effort to hide his embarrassment. "Hmph! Just to let you know, I totally hate that brat. He's so loud and noisy, dumb and totally useless! I hate idiots like that!"

Chitose didn't say anything though she continued to snicker silently, pursing her lips to muffle the sound, while straightening up and putting the final touches on Mikoshi's outfit.

"You know…" Mikoshi offered, dropping the facade. "It's just that I haven't even got to say goodbye to them properly. After everything that we've been through together these past few days… for giving their best for my sake, that was the least that I could do."

Understanding her ward's feelings, Chitose smiled and placed a comforting hand on top of Mikoshi's head. "Please don't be sad, Ryuji-sama. You'll definitely see each other again. It won't be long, I'm sure of it."

"…I know." Mikoshi finally cracked a smile himself. "But I wish that at least I could have thanked them personally for a job well done." Examining himself thoroughly in the mirror and after finding the work on his clothes satisfying, Mikoshi whipped around and started for the door carrying with him the dignified air of the Water Country's true heir. "Let's go."

"Ne ne, Itachi-sensei, can I go sightseeing first?" asked Naruto as the two slowly made their way out of the palace. "I wanna walk around and take a good look of the city first before we go home. Besides, now that the mission is complete we don't have anything else to do right? Right?"

The stoic teenager nodded. "We'll rest for the day and head out for Konoha first thing tomorrow morning. You may take the rest of the day off and do as you please."

"Yatta! Arigatou Itachi-sensei!" The blonde rejoiced, throwing both arms high into the air. "Then it's settled! Yosh, I'm going to have so much fun today!"

Soon the two Konoha shinobis emerged from the castle's huge front doors heading for the gates. Walking slowly along the stoned pathway, they saw a familiar hunter-nin, greenish kimono and white full-face mask, standing alone in the middle of the courtyard.


"Oh everyone, I see that you're done meeting with the daimyo. So how did you find him?" Haku said to the two approaching shinobis.

"Well, it was fine," answered Naruto. "At first I was nervous. The daimyo was strict and scary but soon it appeared that he was a really nice guy, exactly like what Chitose-neechan said. I just didn't expect him to have a weird side to him, though."

"I see. That's good to hear."

"And what are you doing here standing all alone?" It was Itachi who asked.

"Nothing special. I was just waiting for you guys."

The hunter-nin's casual answer caused Itachi to raise an eyebrow. Haku was quick to catch on to what the young Uchiha was thinking and quickly went to dispel his suspicions. "I just wanted to express my gratitude for helping protect our prince. That means a lot to us. In behalf of the Hidden Mist Village and the Water Country, Itachi-san, Naruto-kun…" Haku bowed, "…arigatou gozaimasu."

Naruto and Itachi exchanged glances following the hunter-nin's gesture.

"That was our job. There was no need for you to thank us," said Itachi.

"Really." Naruto seconded nodding vehemently. "But you gotta admit that I was super cool during the mission! I really showed that no-eyebrows and that chain bastard who's boss!" The blonde continued boasting shamelessly, going into a tirade of how good he was and how he's going to be hokage.

"Man, I kicked so much ass I – huh?" A pair of hands suddenly grasping each of his shoulders caused Naruto to stop midway through his speech. Looking up he came face to face with Haku.

"Naruto-kun, ganbatte," said the hunter-nin.

Naruto blinked both in surprise and confusion. He didn't know where this came from nor did he expect it coming.

"I hope that you'll be able to realize your dream someday."

Naruto's eyes shone after hearing those words. For the boy who was used to being ignored or talked down to, hearing someone tell you to do your best and whishing for your dreams to come true came as a much welcome change. It felt rather heartwarming.

"Yeah," the blonde responded. He could feel Haku smile from behind that white mask of his.

Haku then took his hands off Naruto. "I'll be taking my leave then. I still have a few appearances and reports to make. Please excuse me." He once more lowered his head in a polite gesture before walking past the duo as he went in his way towards the castle.

"Yosh! I'm going to do my best and work harder!" A very lively Naruto said aloud. Next to him, Itachi turned his gaze towards Haku, watching over the Mist hunter-nin's back intently with a pair of dark, wary eyes.

Naruto was found wandering along the city streets later that day. He had already left his entire luggage back at the cheap inn he and Itachi found earlier. Armed with nothing but a travel pamphlet and a map, the blonde was out on a quest to tour around as much of the city's sightseeing places as he can for the remainder of the day.

"Hmm… perfect to visit especially during autumn… hosts some exceptional locations for relaxing under the changing leaves… a good place to unwind with nature…" Naruto read aloud whilst shifting gazes between the pamphlet and the map. "Let's see. It says turn right on this corner and move straight ahead…"

Five blocks and several wrong turns later and Naruto arrived at his first destination: Takayama-shi's largest and most famous park, Oomori Park. "Wow! It's pretty!" The blonde exclaimed after being met with a scenery colored in shades of red. Not just the hundreds of trees and bushes but the ground was also colored red with layers of fallen leaves covering the grasses that used to occupy the area for most of the year. Occasional gusts of wind send leaves flying through the air adding to the relaxing autumn atmosphere.

"The place seems pretty full." Naruto commented noting the good number of visitors relaxing under the trees, whole families taking leisurely strolls, couples walking lovingly with their hands held together, and picnic goers partying the time away. It was to be expected though since he came during the peak of the season, the time when visitors flock the park by the dozens.

His eyes were then pegged upon the lovers that seem to have dominated the numbers among the park's visitor population. 'Ah Someday I should take Sakura-chan on a date here. Then she'd definitely say 'yes' to me after that and then…" He thought inwardly, his imagination moving into high gear. "Hehehe" Blushing furiously, Naruto was giggling so hard he didn't even notice that he was already catching the confounded looks of the people around.

'Huh? I wonder what that is.' Glancing around as he went on, Naruto saw something that caught his attention. The blonde walked over towards the large stone sculpture of what looked like a giant megaphone. The statue was placed at the center of the platform elevated several meters above the huge man-made lake – one of Oomori Park's main attractions. His curiosity doubled when he saw people making a beeline towards the small end of the stone megaphone and shouting at the top of their lungs.

"Ne, oneechan, what are those guys doing?" Naruto asked the young woman that came nearest to him.

"Oh that. They are shouting their wishes."


"Yes, wishes." The woman repeated. "It is said that if go shout your heart's desires through that monument they will surely come true."

"Really! Is that true!" Naruto exclaimed aloud, his face was beaming with excitement. "Will my wish really come true!"

The woman smiled heartily at kid. "Well, you wouldn't know if don't try."

Without having a second thought, Naruto dashed towards the stone monument. "Thank you oneechan!" He called out as he went, waving his arm vigorously at the nice young woman. Quickly, Naruto moved to the end of the megaphone. He took a deep breath, placed both hands on each side of his mouth and shouted with all his might, "I WANT TO BECOME HOKAGE!"

Naruto was on wide smiles afterwards. "Iyaaah that felt good." He was still on high heavens when something small with green hair suddenly collided on his side causing both the blonde and whoever that was to crash painfully unto the wooden floor.

"Ouch—" moaned the small boy who was about the age of five. He was caressing his temple when a hand shot from out of nowhere and grabbed his shirt. The next thing the poor kid knew he was already pulled face to face with a pissed Naruto.

"Watch where the heck you're going, you moron! You just ruined my good mood, you idiot!" Naruto screamed angrily at the kid's face. Tears began to swell at the corner of the little boy's eyes and his body started to tremble as he was just too terrified of the raging blonde whose face he could feel steaming.

Suddenly, something cold and sticky struck the back of Naruto's head. Feeling his crown with a free hand, he found that what hit him was ice cream. Fuming, Naruto whipped around and found the perpetrator to be a girl around the same age as Konohamaru.

"Hey you! What do you think you're doing to my little brother!" The short pigtailed girl shouted at him. As Naruto loosened his grip on his shirt, the boy quickly escaped to hide behind his sister's back.

"HA! Brats like that with no manners deserve to be taught a lesson!" Naruto snorted.

"Shut up you moron! Nobody messes around with my brother but me!" The girl pointed proudly at herself. "Ready!" She raised her hand and four boys her age flanked her on both sides, each one having a cone of ice cream in hand. "FIRE!" At the girl's command, the kids all threw their ice creams at Naruto before making a run for it.

Wiping the disgusting mess off his face, Naruto saw the girl stuck her tongue at him. "Bleh! You're it!" She said before turning heel and dashing away with her friends.

That caused the throbbing knots of nerves on his forehead to multiply both in size and number. "GRRR!" Naruto sounded, shaking furiously as a deadly aura began to emanate off him. "Come back here you punks! I'm going to kill you all!" He screamed starting to give chase.

Alone in the vast cloudless blue skies, a majestic falcon was soaring high above the city circling around in search of one particular person amongst the thousands that crowd the bustling metropolis. That didn't come to be a problem though as several moments later the bird began its sharp descend. It swooped down towards one among a tightly packed cluster of buildings around the area, continuing on towards an open window on the fourth floor.

'A message at this time?' The room's only occupant curiously went towards the bird that had perched itself on the window sill, opened its backpack and took out a scroll bearing the red and white fan insignia of the Uchiha Clan. Itachi broke the seal and spread the scroll open and as expected the message inside was written using the clan's special encryption that even members would take some time to decipher. Itachi, however, read the words without having any difficulty at all as if they were written in plain letters. A few moments later and the Uchiha prodigy rolled the scroll back.

Itachi took some time to carefully consider the contents of the message. His contemplation was rudely interrupted when he felt an intense killing intent that suddenly filled the surrounding air and sure enough when he stared outside the window towards its apparent source his eyes widened upon seeing two missiles of white water streaking towards the room at incredible speeds.

Looking out from the rooftop of a building a hundred meters away, the tall man dressed in a black cape cracked a smile under the shadow of his straw hat. He watched in satisfaction at the sight of the rapidly growing cloud of dust rising from the partly demolished building. He then raised his right hand grabbed the hilt of the huge sword covered in bandages hanging on his back in anticipation.

Several moments later Itachi streaked out of the dust cloud unscathed. Landing on the roof of an adjacent building, he continued leaping from rooftop to rooftop heading towards his attacker. The young jounin narrowed his eyes and the pupils that were once black turned deep red, "Sharingan," he silently called out activating his bloodline limit.

The cloaked shinobi quickly pulled his sword and slashed Itachi as soon as he got within range. The force from the blow dealt threw the Uchiha back. Blood sprayed out from the large slash wound that spread across his torso. The attack may have connected successfully but the enemy wasn't one to be fooled. Twisting his sword, he spun around and struck two Itachi clones that appeared on either sides of him.

That was when something strange began to happen.

The three struck down bodies of Itachi that were slowly on their way to falling down started to break apart turning into several black masses. The black masses slowly changed figure to become birds that began to circle around the cloaked man leaving him confused. As time went on the flying shadows grew wider and wider in size and soon enough the man found himself engulfed in absolute darkness. "Not bad for a kid," he said for at that moment a kunai was hovering dangerously close to his throat. Standing behind him was none other than the revered heir of the Uchiha.

"Who are you?" asked Itachi. There was venom in his voice.

"Hoshigaki Kisami. Nice to make your acquaintance."

"And what do you do want?"

Kisami turned his gaze to the left and found a second Itachi standing there with a kunai pointed against his face. Without having any change in expressions despite the difficult predicament he was currently in, Kisame still managed to speak calmly. "So you're the one who fought against Zabuza. Hehe, the kid didn't seem to take that too well after you completely crushed him. The fool's been itching to give you a payback." He chuckled.

"I won't repeat myself," said a third Itachi who, this time, appeared on his right.

"Hmph! Assertive, aren't we?"

One of the Itachi clones saw blood dripping from Kisame's hand that was currently holding the hilt of the bandaged sword. Acting on instinct, the jounin pulled away just when the enemy suddenly threw out a full swing with his massive blade. Unfortunately for Itachi, his reaction came a split-second too late for the attack had managed to create a small shallow cut on his chest while his two clones took the full force of the hit and were cleaved cleanly in half. As for Kisame, the darkness started to fade away along with the remnants of Itachi's fake bodies while sensations from the real world slowly returned to him. Itachi landed safely several feet away and quickly resumed a battle ready stance. "I see that you've managed to free yourself from the genjutsu."

"You should've known from the start that petty tricks such as that won't work against me." The cloaked man boasted.

Digesting everything that he's heard so far prompted Itachi to come to a conclusion. "You said Zabuza's name earlier. That must mean that you work under the same group as him or at least have the same motives as him."

Kisame merely shrugged. "Who knows?"

"I see…" Itachi tightened his grip on the kunai. "I'm sorry but I can't allow you leave this place freely. You're coming with me."

Paces away, Kisame held his sword with both hands and raised it at the ready. A thick and deadly air filled the rooftop as both shinobis spent a few moments staring at each other, carefully sizing the opponent's overall strength and battle prowess. Itachi was about to make the first move when the missing-nin spoke again.

"Let's move to a more appropriate location where we can have our chat in peace."

Looking past the young Uchiha and out into the horizon, five figures can be seen leaping from roof to roof as they made their advance. Those must have been Kirigakure shinobis based on the capital that were alerted by the blast and were now fast moving in on their location. Not bothering to wait for the black haired teen's response, the missing-nin leapt high into the air with the intention of moving away following the same direction as the shinobi reinforcements were heading.

"You won't get away." Itachi clasped both hands, forming a series of hand seals in a blink of an eye before taking a deep breath. "Katon: Goukakyuu no Jutsu!"

Floating above, Kisame glanced behind and saw a massive sphere of hot glowing flames fast headed his way. "Devour it, Samehada!" The missing-nin made a quick spin and hacked away at the huge fireball. Unbelievably, as the blade made contact with the flames it began to absorb them at an astounding rate. A second later and most of the fireball had been eaten away by the Samehada, its coverings were completely burned off exposing the blade's rugged texture. The blade itself was moving spasmodically giving the impression as though it were actually chewing unto something while at the same time emitting sickening sounds of gnawing and gnashing. Meanwhile, the remnants of the fire attack that Samehada hadn't eaten away were left to be dispersed harmlessly into the surrounding air.

The sudden gusts created by the midair clash caused the straw hat to be blown away revealing to Itachi for the first time Kisame's features. His appearance had a somewhat shark-like resemblance to it. The thing, however, that Itachi mostly took notice was the hite-ate tied around his forehead. It had a long slash that curiously ran over symbol of the Hidden Mist Village extending to almost end to end of the metal plate. Kisame cast a provocative grin down at the youth below before continuing on his way.

Not allowing himself to be aggravated by any means, Itachi also leapt into air to give pursuit.

"Where the heck are those brats hiding?" Naruto mumbled irritably. He had been scouring the park for quite some time now and still hadn't found a single one. How was it that six little kids were able to hide from a full pledged shinobi? Naruto gave the question some serious thought and came up with two possible answers. One was that the kids knew the park's best hiding places and terrain by heart that they can slip past him unnoticed. The other was that he was just extremely stupid.

"That's it!" Naruto yelled in frustration. "No more Mr. Nice Guy! It's time to get serious and show those snot-nosed brats the power of 'Ninja Hokage Naruto'!" That said, Naruto dug through his pocket and pulled out his trusty green goggles. Since he was particularly forbidden from wearing his hite-ate while they're still in the Water he'd just have to settle for this one. He went and placed them around his forehead just like how he always does back during his academy days. "Alright! Ninja Hokage Naruto, GO!" Naruto broke into a dash determined more than ever to catch and punish the insolent kids who dare disrespect Konoha's 'future Hokage'.

Finally putting all those months' worth of harsh training under Itachi-sensei's wing to good use, Naruto was able to locate the brats one after another. The first person that he found was the girl's little brother who, being the smallest of the group, had hidden himself inside a broken vending machine that appeared to sparkling new on the outside. At first the green haired kid tried to struggle when the foxy boy pulled him out but complied nonetheless after Naruto threatened to drop the whole vending machine into the lake.

With his first prisoner in tow, Naruto next found the boy who wittingly hid under the lake using a thin bamboo stick to breath. Grinning slyly, Naruto plugged the end of the stick with a finger. A few moments later and the kid emerged from the water gasping for air. Stepping up on his search efforts, he found the three other kids well hidden under the most inconspicuous places.

"Ha! Only one more left!" Naruto was currently traversing the densely forested area at the eastside of the park tagging along with him his five prisoners, each one linking hands with one another forming a chain.

"You better give up 'Evil Ninja' coz you won't find my oneechan!" squeeked the green-haired boy.

"Yeah! Yuki-chan is the best! You can't catch her!" piped another boy.

"Shut up you brats! I'm going to catch that girl and then I'm going to make all of you suffer hell! BWAHAHAHA!" Naruto yelled at the kids laughing off in a perfectly evil and sinister fashion.

"NO! Oneechan will rescue us! Just you wait!"

"Fool! Like that'll happen!" Naruto's ears perked up when he heard some rustling on the bushes upfront. Pulling his charges with him, the blonde dashed forward and scanned the shrubs expectant only to find out much to his disappointment that what was hiding there was, "Tsk. Just a rabbit."

"Wow! It's pure white! The rabbit's pure white!" The little kid piped. "Kawaii"

"Enough of that," interrupted Naruto. "Alright peons, let's go thi—"


Naruto's eyes grew as wide as saucers in shock for when he turned to face his prisoners, the missing girl jumped out appearing from his blind side and chopped down on his and her little brother's linked hands severing the chain. The kids then all broke in a frenzy running as fast as they can away from the stunned Naruto.

"How's that! My cute rabbit sneak attack and rescue operation!" The girl boasted.

"Hey! That's cheating! Prisoners can't run away once they're caught!" An indignant Naruto yelled out as soon as the stupor from the sneak attack had worn off.

"Says who! It's in the rules! Breaking the chain frees everyone!" The girl told him while making her escape. The only thing poor Naruto could do at that time was seethe in frustration.

"Fine! You are sooo dead this time, you cheating bitch!" He screamed angrily as he gave chase yet again.

"How are you feeling Zabuza-san?"

Momochi Zabuza, who was currently recuperating in his bed, turned gaze when he heard the door click open. Standing by the doorway was a beautiful girl. "I see that you're finally back."

The girl fully entered the room, leaving the door ajar to allow ample light to invade the nukenin's dark and gloomy chamber, her long, jet-black hair flowing in the air in her wake.

"So, how did things go?" asked Zabuza.

"You should avoid thinking about worrisome things. Right now you shouldn't strain yourself too much, Zabuza-san. Please concentrate on your own health and take ample rest. Stress and exhaustion will only prolong your stay in sickbed," the woman reminded him. She whipped out a chair and took her seat next to Zabuza's bedside. "You can relax. I'll handle all the necessary preparations."

The missing-nin remained still and quiet in his bed.

Without another word, the girl pulled the blanket away and began to give a careful eye at the full extent of the man's injuries. She was totally unfazed by the fact that the man was completely naked underneath the covers and continued with her examination. "The wounds seem to be healing perfectly well. I guess three days of rest should do it and Zabuza-san will be back on his feet feeling good as new."

"That long?"

"Well, it's a good thing that you didn't take too much damage from that fight." The girl offered while she began undressing the bandages around Zabuza's body. "Going against that genius Uchiha Itachi and having our sharingan-counter strategy fail miserably. It was almost a miracle that you escaped with only minor injuries."

"Uchiha Itachi." The Mist nukenin said the name in contempt. "I'm going to get him back for what he did to me. Him and that little brat, I'll make them pay."

"Now, now, Zabuza-san you shouldn't think about worrisome things. Like I said, you should go concentrate on healing yourself." The girl reprimanded him. She cast the used bandages into a trash bin and proceeded to rub ointment she made herself unto the man's wounds to hasten the healing. "The real plan will be put into execution in a week's time. You need to be in full health before then. I suggest you should put Uchiha Itachi aside for now and once you're done recovering then we can finally set our minds back to the more important task at hand."

"I know."

After finishing putting in some medicine, next on the list was to wrap the wounds with fresh, clean bandages. "By the way, I haven't seen Kisame-san around. Is he out?" the girl asked.

"Yeah. He said he wanted to pay a certain someone a visit."

"I see." The girl nodded lightly. "Let's just hope that Kisame-san doesn't overexert himself. He can barely restrain himself especially when he's fired up."

Zabuza snorted. "Knowing him, he probably already did."

"True." The girl said, drawing a sweet, serene smile across her beautiful face.

Itachi found himself standing at the middle the same river that they had previously traversed on their way into the capital. This was the place where he had curiously lost track of the nukenin despite the fact that the place was a wide expanse of open area with no obstructions whatsoever. The Konoha jounin was currently scanning through the surroundings when he felt a sudden surge in killing intent. Instinctively, Itachi jumped away for the waters he was standing on a split second ago erupted violently upon the emergence of Kisame. Wasting no time, Kisame rushed towards Itachi.

Seeing this, Itachi, who was still in midair, twisted his body and blew a number of smaller fireballs directed at the charging nukenin. "Katon: Housenka no Jutsu!"

Kisame simply hacked through the fire attacks while continuing on his assault. The young jounin's foot had barely touched the surface of the water when the attack came forcing him to block the giant blade with his kunai. Their weapons interlocked for a short moment. A confident grin curled up Kisame's lips after which he began channeling more force into his sword.

'…strong…' Itachi couldn't handle the sharp increase in power and was sent staggering backwards.

"Right now I have no interest in going after that brat…" said Kisame pertaining to the jounin's former client. Pressing on his advantage, the nukenin showered Itachi with a continuous barrage of slashes and strikes from Samehada. Itachi managed to dodge most of the attacks but with every blow that he had to block, Itachi was pushed a couple meters back as the other ninja simply outclassed him as much as physical strength is concerned.

"…so don't think about anything at the moment…" Kisame threw another massive swing that Itachi was again forced to block which in effect knocked him several paces back. Upon landing on his feet, Itachi returned his gaze forward and quickly realized that the enemy was again nowhere to be found. Noticing the shadow that was slowly growing wider under his feet, the Uchiha turned above and found the missing nukenin fast raining down on him. "…and just concentrate on having fun with me!"

The power from the clashing blades created a strong shockwave that ripped through the river's calm waters. Several droplets of blood flew through the air along with water that was displaced following the recent exchange. Kisame and Itachi stood paces away in silence, both shinobis facing the opposite direction as the other.

"I now see why that kid Zabuza lost to you." It was Kisame who broke the silence. Floating on the surface of the water was the severed left sleeve from his black cloak. "Well then, I guess I have to start getting a bit serious about this fight." The mist nukenin said, shrugging nonchalantly as he turned to face Itachi once again. For his part, Itachi chose not to say anything and returned into battle ready stance.

Submerging part of his sword into the water, the river which was once calm began to turn rough, worsening only with each passing second. Forming a half seal with his left hand, an unmistakable bluish glow surrounded Kisame's body as he molded insane amounts chakra and channeled them into the water under his feet. "Suiton…" Kisame gripped the hilt of his sword with both hands and swung Samehada upwards in full force. "Suishouha!"

Itachi readied himself as a five-storey tall wall of water came rushing at high speeds towards him. Kisame leapt high up and landed atop the wall of water, riding the roaring tsunami as it made its rapid advance. Soon the gigantic wave loomed overhead threatening to crush the Leaf jounin with its raw power. In his descend, Kisame had Samehada raised high ready for the strike while below Itachi remained rooted in his place, unfazed and determined to meet the attack head on.

"DIE!" Kisame screamed from the top of his lungs as he made his attack. The sound from the resulting explosion drowned the sounds from the ongoing battle.

Itachi struggled to regain proper orientation after the strain from being shoved several feet underwater at forces amounting to several G's momentarily knocked off his senses. Back on the surface of the river, Kisame released Samehada, clasped both hands forming a series of hand seals first before extending his right hand into the water. Itachi, on the other hand, saw everything the Mist nukenin was doing from a distance and with the use of his sharingan was able to perfectly replicate the enemy's movements.

"Suiton: Goshokuzame!"

'Suiton: Goshokuzame!'

Five jets shot out from both shinobis' outstretched hand, one coming the tip of each finger, each morphing into the shape and size of that of a great white shark. The shark-like projections attacked and annihilated one another causing another massive blast to once again rip through the waterway. After everything finally calmed down, the unmoving body of Itachi was seen floating face down into the water.

"Hmph! How disappointing," Kisame, resting Samehada over his shoulder, eyed the dead body with disgust. "I can't believe I went out of my way to fight such a weakling."

"I've always said this before…" Startled, Kisame whipped around and was shocked to find Itachi standing several paces away, alive and well. Meanwhile, the Leaf jounin's unmoving body burst in a small puff of white smoke which after clearing was revealed to be nothing more than a piece of cut log. "…don't judge others by your preconceptions and their appearance."

"So you do have some good stuff inside you. Sorry if I mistook you for some random pretty boy –all face no brains and no talent." Kisame pulled his sword back at the ready. "This time I'll make sure to shave that annoying face first."

Itachi only had one word to say in return for all that taunting. "Come."

Seething in rage, Kisame wasn't able to hold himself and charged full speed towards the young man. "I'll wipe that arrogance off your ass!" He soon reached the Uchiha, who hadn't move an inch, and smite Samehada down the arrogant boy with all the strength he could muster. Itachi lifted his left hand at the exact moment and caught Kisame's hand, much to the nukenin's surprise, completely stopping the attack. He then turned his red eyes straight into Kisame's.

"I told you it won't work!" The Mist nin easily recognized the attack pattern and quickly channeled massive amounts of chakra throughout his body to neutralize the genjutsu before it takes effect. The consequence however was that it took a precious second off his reaction time allowing Itachi to land a sharp knee to the gut, an elbow to the back of the neck, a straight uppercut, and finishing the combo was a full roundhouse kick to the face that propelled the missing-nin into skidding backwards against the water's surface.

Kisame managed to recover back to his feet sliding to a full stop. When he raised his head, however, what greeted him was a swarm of razor sharp kunais flying in his direction.

"Kunai Kagebunshin no Jutsu," announced the Uchiha prodigy.

Even with the great number of kunais, one swing from Samehada was all it took for the seasoned swordsman to deflect every single one of them.


Kisame's eyes widened when all of a sudden the deflected kunais that were currently floating around him exploded all at once. Each one of these kunai shadow clones had the power of one explosive tag creating a combined effect of an explosion equivalent to that of setting off a thousand's worth at exactly the same time. Fortunately, Kisame was able to cast Suijinheki around himself. Though the protective jutsu did not completely blocked the explosion off it was able buffer most of the damage allowing the missing-nin to come out suffering only minor injuries.

That, however, wasn't the end Itachi's offensive. Clasping his hands together forming the hitsuji seal and silently uttering, "Kai," the Uchiha practically disappeared in a sudden burst of ungodly speed. Meanwhile, inside the huge thick cloud of black smoke that surrounded him as a result of that explosion, Kisame was left blinded and completely defenseless to receive the full force of Itachi's upward kick aimed at his jaw sending the nukenin skyrocketing high into the air.

Emerging from the cloud of smoke, the bright sunlight returned Kisame's vision with the irony of informing him that the Uchiha was now hovering overhead. 'Fast!' It was then that the nukenin noticed that Itachi's hands were forming the tora seal, the common final hand seal in the seal sequence for any fire element-based ninjutsu.

"Katon: Ryuuka no Jutsu!" A bright tongue of flames shaped that of a dragon blew out of the Uchiha's mouth. The fire dragon ruthlessly dragged along with it the poor nukenin's body as it made its dive straight into river below.

"Man, I'm beat." Yuki-chan said, plopping herself on one of the benches next to the park's playground. It was already sun down when they decided to call it quits. No wonder everyone was so tired since they spent the whole afternoon running around.

"But we had fun." One of the boys in the group followed. He and Yuki's brother relaxed on the swing while the other two opted to sit on the top of the slide.


"Oh, it's Evil Ninja!" The green-haired boy beamed pointing at a dirty looking Naruto that had just emerged from behind the bushes. "Evil Ninja! Over here!"

Naruto moved over to where the exhausted kids where and eyed each and every one of them with scrutiny. "Hmph!" He huffed, arms crossed over his chest. "Don't tell me that you're tired already from just that? C'mon! Let's have one more go!"

"Don't be so full of yourself. Of course we're tired. We're just kids after all." The pigtailed girl said casually, waving him off.

"Che, weaklings." The foxy boy snorted helping himself to a seat next to Yuki.

"Ne ne Evil Ninja."

Naruto glanced down after hearing that squeaky voice and found the green haired kid standing before him. "Huh? What do you want?" the blonde asked.

The little boy raised his hand and pointed at Naruto's face. "That thing on your head, it looks so cool! Just like a ninja!"

"This?" asked Naruto, tapping the goggles around his forehead.

"Umn!" The boy nodded. "Where did you get it? I wanna have one too!"

"Heh." Naruto sounded smugly. "I can't tell you."

"Ehhh! No fair!"

The blonde noticed the pleading look that the boy was giving his. More than that, he noticed the tears that were once again forming at the corner of his eyes. Heaving a sigh, Naruto leaned forward moving closer. "You know why I can't tell you?"

"Why?" The boy sniffed.

"Because you're a crybaby."

The boy's sniffing intensified.

"Having one of these means you're a ninja and ninjas don't cry. Ninjas fight back when they're being bullied and ninjas protect their precious people. Seeing the way you are now, you're far from being a ninja. That's why I can't let you have one." Naruto explained.

After hearing those words, the tears that the little kid had been trying to keep started to rush out into streams that flowed down his chubby cheeks.

"That's too bad. Shiro-chan is always like that. Really, such a big crybaby," his big sister commented. Yuki then turned sharply at her brother. "It's because you're like that that other kids always bully you."


Shiro suddenly felt some messing and fussing over his head. He was busy rubbing his eyes that he couldn't see who it was. It must probably just his big sister messing with him. She always does that whenever he cries so he was kinda used to it now. However, when the activities stopped, the voice that he heard told him differently.

"Alright! You can open your eyes now."

The boy complied and what came to him caused his face to burst in delight. Naruto was grinning at him, the goggles missing from his forehead. He reached up and touched his own forehead and found the device already sitting there.

"Listen," Naruto began, "you're a ninja now so you can't cry anymore."

Shiro nodded, wiping his tears dry.

"You're a man so stop taking crap from other people. If they mess with you, you gotta give them what they deserve and smack them on the face, even if it's your sister."

"Hey!" Yuki protested in the background while her little brother gave Naruto another nod.

"Also, if other people mess around with your sister or your friends then you give them a good smacking too." At that, Naruto placed a hand over the boy's head and gave his green hair a good shaking. "Protecting your precious people, that's the way of the ninja. Remember it." He finished with a smile.

"Umn!" The boy nodded once more. He looked up at Naruto with his face shining in admiration. That little speech moved not only him but also his big sister Yuki and her gang. "Arigatou Evil Ninja oniichan!"

"Hey that was cool of you. That's exactly what I wanted to have for a boyfriend." Yuki said jokingly to the blonde sitting next her. "Say, you wanna go out with me?"

"Blah! Who'd wanna go out with a little runt like you?" Naruto snorted at the little girl.

"How rude!" Yuki huffed in mock anger. She then pressed her undeveloped chest in a completely vain attempt to create a 'valley' from her perfectly flat breasts. "Can't you see my womanly charms?"

"Yeah right."

The slight redness in his cheeks was a dead give away of the embarrassment the boy was trying to hide with that indifferent attitude. Seeing that, Yuki continued on her teasing. "You don't have to hide it." Without warning, she threw herself up and hugged the eleven-year-old playfully around the neck.

"Dammit! Get off me!"

Everyone was having a good laugh that time watching Naruto's reactions while Yuki continued tormenting him. Unfortunately, the fun didn't last long as a sudden interruption came when the kids heard their parents call.

"Yuki-chan! Shiro-chan! We're going home!"

"Coming 'kaasan!" Yuki called back, getting herself off Naruto and proceeding to grab her brother's arm before making a run towards their mother who, along with three other housewives, was waiting at the playground's entrance. The other kids, too, got off their respective perches and went to their parents who came to fetch them.

"Bye Evil Ninja oniichan!" Shiro called out, waving energetically. "Let's play again tomorrow!"

"Hey, next time let's go out on a date!"

"Just go!"

"Bleh. Bye bye!" Yuki stuck her tongue at Naruto one last time before allowing herself to be led away by her mother.

Naruto was left there waving goodbye at the kids. Then something suddenly came to him. That time back then was also around sunset. He was standing alone in the playground. After spending the whole day playing with his friends their family had finally come to take them home. Shikamaru and Chouji was with their fathers while Kiba, with Akamaru slumped over his head, was fetched by his mother. He could still hear Kiba's complaining and Chouji munching on the new bag of chips his father brought with him. Standing there was all he could do as he watched the fleeting backs of those people happily walking home with their family while he was left there, all alone.

"…it's the same… even here…"

'Man, thanks to those brats I didn't get to sightsee much.' Naruto complained while on his way back to the hotel that night. Realizing how much he'd missed, all that the boy could do was heave a sigh. 'I wasted such a good chance and tomorrow we'll be heading home. Damn, I'm surely going to regret this.'

Checking his pockets, he was able to dig out fifty ryou, still enough for one decent meal. "I guess I'll go have my ramen first. Itachi-sensei can wait until later." With that said, Naruto went on a search for one of those cheap back alley ramen carts. As he soon as made a turn on the next corner he bumped into someone and fell down with his butt crashing on the cold street, his second for the day.

"Hey! Watch where you're going you dum—!"

"Are you alright, Naruto-kun?"

Naruto was left momentarily speechless. He certainly didn't expect meeting her anytime sooner and certainly not in place like this. "Chitose-neechan?"