Chapter 3 - Reconciliation
A slow breath oozed from Tomoki's tortured lungs. He reached, without moving, to take hold and become a part of that distant land he longed for until a single thought washed through his mind.
"Naruto," he whispered into the night air.
Though he'd spoken the name softly its significance boomed in his mind like thunder across a chasm. His distant recollections ceased.
What happened to him? The question weighed heavily on Tomoki's mind. He turned into a demon, an…an apparition of the Nine-Tailed Fox…then went off to fight Tsao-Tsao. The boy's thoughts whirled as he remembered. Maybe he won too and killed Tsao-Tsao; maybe he's still a demon. Or, he gulped at the thought, maybe Tsao-Tsao won. A thousand possibilities filled his mind but over all of them loomed the idea that Naruto Uzumaki, his classmate, his friend, could be laying alone and bleeding to death somewhere out in the unknown depths of the forest's dark heart just like he was.
He'd never known Naruto well and had never wanted to, yet now the young ninja's mind assailed him with memories of the boy who always struggled: with every lesson, with the endless insults, with the cold eyes of all those old enough to know what was contained within him.
Cruel laughter from his classmates and scorn from everyone else – a double onslaught as terrible in its way as any demon yet he'd never given up. Naruto would always come back, babbling as ever about how he was going to be hokage, with his ridiculous, braying laugh and lurid, orange clothes!
Tomoki again saw the boy's face: smirking with his sometimes-unassailable self-confidence; sullen from having failed another test, or bruised and beaten, black-eyed and split-lipped from fighting. But in the end it was a face that beamed with justifiable pride. He'd passed the academy's final exam; he'd become a genin in spectacular fashion and had flourished ever since.
In the darkness within Tomoki's closed eyes, he looked again for that trickle – the tie that bound him and yearned to carry him back to the only place he'd ever known as home but it was no longer there.
Shit, Tomoki reassessed; his plan thwarted.
Even if he was no longer content to acquiesce to death's peaceful embrace, his tortured body demanded that he stop, that he cease. But what it would mean if he did: if he abandoned Naruto to his fate; if he were the last person to see that strange boy alive and look into his face; if he went on with his life or even into death knowing that he might have done something to save him!
"I can't go," the young ninja concluded somberly as his eyes popped open. "I can't rest…there's just no way."
Images of the yellow-haired genin came to him again, from his arrival at the clearing to the last time Tomoki saw him falling into darkness toward the stream. 'I'm gonna stay 'cause I feel like it' – wasn't that what he'd said?
At the remembrance, Tomoki cried out in anguish and his hands clutched his face. That's why you didn't go no matter how hard I tried to make you! the thought burned in his mind. It's not because you're stupid, stubborn or crazy! You stayed for the same reasons I have to now! Naruto!
All at once, everything he'd ever thought about that odd, brash, loud, emotional, forever in trouble, dead-last loser of a ninja flew apart and reassembled. All this time, I didn't know. I didn't know anything about you, Tomoki pondered and his eyes welled with tears. All this time!
The young genin's body shivered and creaked painfully under his intention to rise. "Get up!" he growled to himself but found he could not.
The extent of his injuries intruded now into his mind and could no longer be ignored. Blood flowed from his broken face. His chest, he knew, was cut to the bone - wounded so horribly that he couldn't bring himself to look. His clothes were plastered to his skin and it hurt terribly to breathe.
Of course, Tomoki had never planned for an aftermath. The thought that he'd actually still be alive by this point had seemed quite impossible…even unwelcome. As he lay there, paralyzed from wounds and fatigue, his vision went black for a moment and knew he'd have to attempt something drastic.
I wonder…I wonder just how good Ichi's tea really was, the boy thought and frowned. To try another jutsu in his exhausted state seemed unwise at best but he had little choice. Unless he could ameliorate his condition he would certainly bleed to death. Then again, if he expended too much chakra – that would kill him too just as sure.
Tomoki slowed his rasping, gurgling breaths, hoped for the best, then inhaled deeply and made hand signs for what he thought might be the last time. Chakra energy coursed through his body; he could feel its electric flow. As his jutsu, the one Ichi called 'Five Elements/Eight Harmonies', began to work he could feel the bones in his cheek, nose and eye-socket rejoin and splinters expel from his back and shoulder. Tomoki's body trembled. He felt hot, as if buried in coals. The power of the jutsu crackled over his chest and he sensed the muscles knitting together, the spider-web cracks in his breastbone sealing shut and his skin creeping back over bared flesh.
Enough! Tomoki thought suddenly and stopped at the boundary of his limit. The ninja's breath raced, his skin smoked and his limbs shook with seizures. I…went too far – used too much. A tremor of fear took him as he felt himself drift again toward the precipice of life but stopped and teetered right on the edge.
Tomoki allowed himself a minute to rest and then: "Move!" he commanded and slowly rolled over. Gathering his strength, the shinobi struggled to his knees then braced with both hands to push himself to his feet.
"Naruto!" he shouted into the forest, so loud that his lungs strained and his throat tingled aridly. The boy staggered for a moment then set off into the darkness.
Long into the night, Tomoki searched. It was hard to set aside the sheer stupidity of running around in a forest at night, injured and tired but thought he was going about it as well as he could under the circumstances. The fires from the earlier battles with Xiaomei's monsters still raged around the clearing and from its light he could orient himself. The novice ninja's healing jutsu had not made him whole but only patched him up enough to continue, just barely. Some of his strength had returned, fueled in part by a heady combination of adrenaline and the lingering effects of the potent infusion Ichi had given him. Though much better off than before, he couldn't fool himself into believing that it was anything but the depths of his reserves and he knew it would not last long.
At first, Tomoki had jumped from branch to branch, high in the trees. In had been from that vantage that he'd found the track. Two gigantic demons locked in mortal combat had left a clear trail of snapped trees and scarred earth. The boy had then dropped down to follow it with a mixture of hope and trepidation.
Now he plodded desolately on foot. Of Naruto, there had been no sign and all was quiet. "Naruto!" the genin shouted again as loud as he could but his voice broke with weary desperation. Tomoki paused and rubbed his bleary eyes with a palm then looked up into the black, star-speckled heavens. Though he'd fulfilled his life's dream tonight, to put an end to Xiaomei, he felt cold now, alone and entirely without merit.
"No…," he answered the unasked question, "it wasn't worth it." The young leaf-ninja's eyes watered but he shook the accompanying feelings away. It was still too soon to give up. "Nar-ooo-tow!" he bellowed for all he was worth then listened as his own cries came back to him in diminishing echoes.
"Dammit," Tomoki cursed sullenly and grit his teeth.
The path he followed continued on endlessly through the forest - a ruined landscape of shattered and upended trees; raw, jagged wood reflecting eerily in the scant light like bared bones; tangled, exposed roots dripping caked earth crafting quite-unearthly shapes that did nothing to settle the ninja's already troubled mind.
"How much farther could they have gone?" he moaned, noting that the softening glow from the increasingly distant and fading fires was on his left now rather than at his back. The track was taking him back around. Inspiration took him. "Oh, wait!" he exclaimed, remembering, then patted his vest pockets. Very carefully he pulled out a small cylinder and a smile broadened on his face. The smile fell as the flashlight came apart in his hands. Continuing the search through his inventory, Tomoki found that almost all of his useful equipment had gone missing or been ruined during his fight but his heart lifted again as he chanced upon matches. In a few minutes the boy had assembled a torch and struck it to life.
Tomoki rose, happier for the moment as he held up the blazing light, then cowered as a cyclopean claw leaped from the darkness. Jumping back into a protective crouch and fumbling for his sword, the startled ninja grimaced but looked again and noticed this time that it wasn't moving. Slowly, the boy straightened, ran a hand over his closely-cropped head and moved toward the apparition, supposing this 'claw' was only another fallen tree animated by the flare of his fire. But a pass of the torch revealed that it was indeed the scaly and scabrous hand of a giant, its curved, blood-clotted talons frozen in mid-clutch rictus. As he circled the gruesome limb warily, giving the thing a wide berth, the wrist and forearm behind it revealed themselves along with the ragged, charred flesh and ghostly-white bone where the monstrous appendage had been blasted away.
Tomoki stared grimly. Well, he thought, at least I know that didn't come from the Nine-Tails. Still, he couldn't say if he should really take this grisly discovery as a good omen or bad.
His eyes searched the torch-lit darkness. "Naruto," he ventured again though not so boldly as he left Tsao-Tsao's arm to vanish into the gloom behind him, continuing his quest along the trail of devastated and cratered timberland as it curved jaggedly back, downstream a ways from the clearing where this all began.
Slogging forward, it felt as if the night was closing in around him, pulling right up to the shrinking glow of his flickering torch which only seemed to illustrate how very alone he was. For all his training and deadly skills, still the boy found himself all but helpless against the age-old instinct to be afraid of the dark. Again he steeled himself as he called out in an uncertain voice, "Naruto?"
Light flickered in the darkness up ahead – two tiny pinpricks side by side. Puzzled, and with an unwelcoming stygian timberline looming on either side compassing him, Tomoki crept slowly forward. As he did, the flame from his torch revealed an outline, an outline that resolved into the shape of an enormous and terrifying leonine visage. Bristling whiskers and scaly lips peeled over glistening bloodstained fangs. Glimpses of bare, white skull showed through in great gaping rents in its leathery hide, and there in the bulging hemispheres of Tsao-Tsao's lifeless, glassy eyes, Tomoki found himself twice staring back, mouth agape, stunned features distorted by convexity and awash in an orange halo of torchlight.
The genin's lips quivered nervously into a tick of a grin as the appearance of this monster's severed head conjured in his mind something like a wayward tiki statue or stray mo'ai from far away. Then too, the concept of any power vast enough to tear something as fearsome as Tsao-Tsao apart and leave the thing's sloppy ruins strewn over the battlefield was not something his mind was capable of digesting easily.
"I guess," stammered Tomoki after a time though the observation was a step past obvious, "I guess you won that one, Nine-Tails…Naruto."
The leaf-ninja's musings were 'rewarded' with a low growl…a deep basal tone that vibrated through his ribs and filled him with instinctive terror. His cheek twitched. The hopes he held that it was 'only' a tiger or perhaps a wolf were dashed as he was struck by a surge of overpowering, supernatural malevolence; the wasteland where he stood illuminated slightly by a faint, tenebrous and preternatural glow. Tomoki turned slowly then froze. There between the trees rose the terrible shape of the Nine-Tailed Fox but it was different than before. A skeletal form towered now, shrouded in billowing energy, animated by the ancient evil of its chakra. The demon's eyes glowed and, not four, but six tails lashed now as horrid power spiraled around it in an angry, red maelstrom.
Tomoki's mouth moved to speak but no words came as the beast slid from the darkness of the forest into the moonlight then stalked toward the genin with teeth bared, the thing's clawed feet pitting the ground as it came.
Nearly paralyzed, the young ninja took a quaking backward step, dropped his torch then threw himself aside and fled in abject terror as the Kyuubi's fanged maw gaped wide and a bolt of baleful light brighter than the sun flashed through where he'd stood, melting a valley in the ground clear out to the horizon and erasing from existence the head of Xiaomei's demon.
A tortured, patchwork landscape flew past in a dark blur. The boy's legs pumped, his lungs burned as he broke for the tree-line and the promise of shelter. The Nine-Tails titanic, skeletal paw slammed into the earth behind him, cratering where it struck and gouging trenches with its claws. Tomoki leaped, passing into the forest, as the Demon-Fox crashed headlong into the trees after him, shattering stout timber like matchsticks. The boy broke right sharply, breath heaving pitchy with fear as he covered his head with his arms while debris rained down. Behind him the Nine-Tails bellowed fury.
Scrabbling through the twisted undergrowth, the ninja summoned his chakra to leap again into the trees and from there from branch to branch until a shadow crossed the moon and he found himself headed straight for the beast as it landed before him with a crash like thunder.
Jaws snapped and fiery tails cracked like whips overhead and through the trees as Tomoki threw himself to the ground and stumbled, scrambling to head deeper into the forest but again the Kyuubi headed him off, baying and snarling, razor teeth flashing, crouching low to catch a glimpse of its prey between the boles.
Finding shelter behind an escarpment, the young ninja huddled, his breath wild and ragged, eyes wide in terror. Tomoki swallowed hard, forcing himself to take a second to think but it was a second he didn't have. The earth rumbled under the Nine-Tails' charge. In a flash it was over him, eclipsing the night sky as it glared down, snarling, drooling, tails whipping red against the darkness.
Down the Demon Fox came in a blur of blinding, bone white and fire red while Tomoki, swallowing hard and standing resolute, rendered seals with his hands only to crumble away into an effigy of branches and tangled undergrowth as the monster's claws smashed through him.
Tomoki, racing clumsily, as fast as his spent body and depleted chakra would carry him, heard the Kyuubi no Yoko, destroyer of the Hidden Leaf Village, bay with rage in the distance behind him knowing it had been deprived. The sound rattled through the trees and through the boy's ribs, stirring the ground and sending leaves to flight. Hideous and terrifying as the sound was, Tomoki had gained a lot of ground with his gambit and he couldn't help but be a little proud at having stood his ground, maintaining enough concentration in the face of the Nine-Tailed Fox's power to work the Replacement Jutsu.
Sometimes the simple tricks are the best!
Almost giddy with relief, the young ninja allowed himself a chuckle but willed himself on, enforcing an even faster pace. Whether he survived or not might still be an open question but if he didn't it was NOT going to be for lack of running! Even so, he spared one backward look toward where the Tailed Beast had already slipped from view. I'm sorry, Naruto, he thought fervently but not without a twinge of conflicted guilt. I'm sorry.
Just ahead, the terrain sloped up and Tomoki could hear the cool and clean waters of the stream on the other side beckoning him on. Just a little…further! the ninja thought as he struggled to keep his pace, strain and weariness pulling at him with every stride, his mouth dry as cotton. …A little more!
At last he was there. Heaving a sigh of relief with a smile brightening his otherwise grimy, sweat-slicked and exhausted face, Tomoki coasted at the top, using the last of his momentum, then flung himself into space. As the cool wind whistled past his ears a riot of motion and harsh color flared up at him from the ravine below, cavernous and inescapable. In a flicker too short for thought, Tomoki felt the gust of furnace-like breath, sensed the chakra - overpowering, elemental, evil and ancient beyond anything in creation. And as jaws of bone capacious enough to gorge on a hundred Tomoki's closed around him, within them ensconced a brilliant pearl of annihilation, perfect and white as the sun, there was no time for fear but only an instant of near-transcendent awe.
Bright morning light slanted over Tomoki's face and his eyes fluttered open. "Gyaaaah!" he screeched and pulled his arm over his face reflexively as the full force of the arisen sun sent spears of pain searing through his tender pupils. Under his sudden, jerking motion, the fresh scabs on the young ninja's many wounds pulled open and he cried out again even louder. The boy hunkered pitifully then on his elbows and knees, trying not to move, whimpering as his whole body throbbed in angry protest.
At last he allowed himself to flop gingerly to a side and peeked out. The experience of waking up in the middle of the woods, disoriented and half-torn apart instead of safely in the bed of his attic apartment in Konoha informed him that something wasn't right. By and by the memories drifted back in jigsaw-puzzle flashes and explained to the awakening boy most of what had happened.
"Heaven and Earth," he muttered to himself, crawled to his feet then dragged a hand down his slack and puzzled face. "Am I really still alive? How is that possible?" The whole concept seemed completely absurd and yet if this was the afterlife, Tomoki found it strikingly similar to the material world.
The boy looked down at himself, sighed and looked away. To say he was a mess would be an understatement.
The sunshine that beamed down over him and the forest this morning was warm and bright with only a suggestion of the day's heat to come. A soft breeze drifted through the trees. Birds sang, insects keened and flew about, and along the swath trampled and blasted the night before by raging, brawling demons, a deer grazed.
Tomoki rubbed his complaining muscles, flexed stiff joints then jumped. Just a few paces away, almost nude and so silent and motionless that he hadn't noticed before, sat Naruto upon an uprooted tree. The sight drove all thought from Tomoki's mind, though he wondered if he shouldn't be terrified.
The ninja's eyes went wide as the Kyuubi's incarnations flashed before them, menacing and murderous.
I guess…if he was going to kill me he would have done it by now, he rationalized at last, gulped, then moved slowly toward the lone, yellow-haired figure.
"Well, N-Naruto," the boy ventured nervously as he drew alongside with a facile smile on his face. "That was some night, huh? I thought I had some secrets, what with the witch and all, but, I mean…wow, right?"
Tomoki grimaced at the awkward inanity of his greeting then examined his classmate's wounded, chakra-burned body and haunted, expressionless face; there was no trace of reaction. The genin winced and instinctively took off his multi-pocketed vest to drape around Naruto's shoulders only to find what a useless gesture it was – there was hardly anything left of it but a threadbare ruin of burnt and bloodstained shreds. "And you were complaining about a slit in your sleeve," he offered drily, casting the garment aside with a disgusted gesture. "I guess we both got challenges in the clothing department."
Again nothing. Tomoki looked toward Naruto then craned to search for any signs of life in his classmate's expressionless face. As his eyes fell on those whisker marks on the shorter genin's cheeks, he couldn't help but draw back a little and had to steel his nerve.
"Listen…are…are you ok?" Tomoki asked then took a seat a cautious couple of arms-length away from the plainly traumatized, yellow-haired boy as if he might suddenly combust but still there came no answer.
Tomoki rubbed his cheek. He wasn't good at this kind of thing. What was he supposed to say, anyway? This was a job for someone older, wiser…just plain smarter. Iruka-sensei would know what to do.
"I'm…I'm a monster," Naruto muttered at last, his words laced with despair.
Tomoki, startled at first by the utterance, frowned and shook his head. "You're not a monster, Naruto," the boy began only half-heartedly, his memories of last night begging to differ. "Listen, everyone's got a dark side. Yours is just -." He stopped himself short; reigned in his affected humorous tone and let his forced smile fall from his face. "You're not a monster."
"I remember last night…just bits and pieces," Naruto stammered. The sound of his voice, stripped of all its former brash vitality, lanced through Tomoki. "I remember I was going to kill you. I wanted to kill you!" he confessed and his eyes welled.
"But you didn't," replied Tomoki. "That counts for a lot. And anyway, it wasn't really you," he added with growing conviction.
"It was just luck. I could've killed you, could've killed thousands. It's all the same to the…to the Fox. Maybe it was only what you did, what you said…"
The taller ninja shook his head gently. "If you really were a monster then nothing I could have said or done would have stopped you. Anyway, I came here ready to die so it's not like I have any right to complain." Naruto's expression quivered but he again fell silent, leaving Tomoki again to wonder what he was supposed to do now.
Frustration burned as the ninja fought for some inspiration, some strategy. There were so many things he was good at but none of them were any use here. Thoughts gripped him - where he'd started and where he stood now, how he'd grown up alongside Naruto for years…years!…never noticing his struggles or his pain, his courage or his kind heart, never once offering to help, blind to everything and everyone but his own past hurts and the task he'd set before himself. How many others had there been? How many had he simply ignored in his self-absorption?
Naruto had known all that and still risked everything for him – his life, his dreams…
"Ok, look, Naruto," Tomoki began, testy with agitation as emotion crested over reason, "I can see that you're upset about this demon-thing you've got inside you but you know what? I'm glad!" he blurted, shot to his feet and threw up his hands at which his wounds reminded him that he shouldn't really be doing things like that. "Yeah, I couldn't be happier that you're the Nine-Tailed Fox. Y'know why - 'cause if you weren't then I'd be dead and you'd be dead and Xiaomei would still be alive! And after she'd re-grown her powers she'd be on her way to destroy the Hidden Leaf Village too."
The brown-haired boy knitted his brow and started to pace. "I can't imagine what it must be like to have something like that inside you. But where you see evil, I see, I don't know, something else too: fate, destiny, maybe even... I—," he restrained himself sharply, doubting that his getting carried away would help his disturbed companion any. "Sorry…I guess I'm still sounding pretty selfish again, like everything revolves around me," Tomoki admitted, deflated and self-conscious. "But don't you realize that being able to hold that thing back from killing me like you did…that takes strength, an…an…an extraordinary quality that comes from you and not it. That Kyuubi is a monster, there's no doubt, but you're not! Ok? You're not!" He waited for a moment in expectation of some reaction then stormed off. "Why am I even trying?" Tomoki cried, venting. "You didn't listen to me before, not when I begged, not even when I threatened to chop off your arm, so why should you start now!"
For a long moment Tomoki glared into the forest and silence reigned but then: "You really think so?" asked Naruto whose fragile voice lifted with hope.
Tomoki turned back to him slowly. He pained at Naruto's expression but a smile bloomed over his face. "Of course I do." Naruto grinned awkwardly at his classmate's confirmation and wiped at his eyes. "Listen, Naruto," Tomoki ventured, "I don't want to rush you. Please…take all the time you need…but back where you found me, assuming that my pack wasn't burned up or crushed or anything, I've got some food, a medical kit and a, uh, change of clothes…" He let the unasked question hang.
Naruto's expression shifted then rose into a faint smile. "Let's go."
It seemed to Tomoki that the walk back to the Hidden Leaf Village was going strangely fast. When he'd left, loaded with tools and weapons, on the back of a cart – a ride he'd begged from some cabbage farmer, he'd been so single-minded and focused that every second's delay had passed like an eternity.
Thanks to a good-sized squad of shadow-clones, Naruto and he had found his pack which had been left miraculously spared by the previous night's violence. They'd eaten the scant rations of bread, sour persimmons and salty, dried fish like it was a celebration. For Tomoki, it had all tasted better than anything he'd ever had before. The two genin drank their fill of fresh water from the stream, nursed wounds, bathed away cakes of dirt and crusted blood and felt much better for it.
Tomoki looked back at Naruto who still fidgeted, unaccustomed to Tomoki's ill-fitting clothes - typical drab Hidden Leaf Village ninja fatigues. The taller ninja couldn't help but suppress a smile. The blond looked quite unlike himself dressed in anything other than his signature orange. Despite the change in wardrobe, the resilient Naruto had otherwise returned to his confident, talkative self and Tomoki, who was by nature reserved anyway, was more than happy to listen to the number one, hyperactive, knuckle-head ninja's declamations about his past ninja missions and his pivotal roles in them, his personal philosophy, the virtues of different kinds of ramen, Sakura Haruno's prettiness, and his endless conflicts with his teammate Sasuke Uchiha who Tomoki would never have guessed was so diabolical!
Tomoki looked down the country road to where it vanished over the crest of a hill, then around at the peaceful woods – the tall trees and leaf-laden canopies.
"You're kinda quiet, Tomoki," observed Naruto but only after several hours.
"Hmm? Just thinking," replied Tomoki with a pacific grin. "Everything seems so different now."
"Huh? What do you mean? Different how?"
"It's hard to explain." The genin's eyes lifted in thought. "The sunlight seems warmer, colors look brighter, the leaves in the trees…I never really noticed them before, at least, not for a long time. I can hear the soles of my boots against the gravel and it sounds like music."
Naruto gave him a quizzical look. "So, that's good, right?"
"Not all of it." Tomoki smiled and shook his head. "For the longest time Xiaomei was always in my mind and I couldn't see anything past her. I can only think now about everything I've missed and all the people who I never gave a chance - you, Iruka-sensei, everyone." His footsteps slowed to a stop. "But things are going to be different from now on," Tomoki vowed. "I feel like I can start again. Change is hard but not as hard as, I don't know, fighting an evil witch and her army of monsters, right?"
Naruto laughed in agreement and rested his hands behind his neck. "Right!"
"It's all because of you, Naruto," said Tomoki, whose eyes shone with gratitude. "And I haven't even bothered to say 'thanks'. I guess I'm still a little selfish." He turned to face Naruto and looked at him squarely. "You told me that your dream is to be the strongest ninja around so that you'll finally be respected, but I couldn't respect anyone more than you, now or ever." Tomoki lowered himself gracefully to knees then, dropping his hands and forehead to the ground, knelt in a formal bow. "Thank you, Naruto," he offered humbly.
"Hey, stop it Tomoki!" cried Naruto uncomfortably as he grabbed Tomoki by the arm and pulled him up.
"You'll have to get used to it one day," the taller ninja chuckled, jostling into him "when you're hokage!"
"When…?" Naruto looked at him nonplussed then smiled with slight embarrassment. The yellow-haired boy recovered and said, "You're my friend, Tomoki. You don't ever have to bow to me!"
Tomoki laughed then turned serious. "Naruto, I don't think there's any way I can pay you back for everything you've done for me."
"Forget it. No big deal," said the genin who waved his hand dismissively. He looked away then looked back. "So you really think I could be hokage?"
"Sure!" Tomoki agreed eagerly. "Anything's possible and things aren't always what they seem. If I've learned nothing else since yesterday, I've learned that. Plus you've got me on your side…for whatever it's worth." Naruto's expression flickered but Tomoki didn't ask what it meant.
"Do you think I'd be a good one?" Naruto asked then gushed, his sapphire eyes shining. "The greatest ever!" Tomoki blinked as he mulled the question seriously. "Well!"
"Eh, we could probably do worse," the boy offered with a shrug.
"Ahhhhg, hey!" Naruto shouted and gave his friend a playful but still forceful shove.
"Hey, I'm just saying what I really think," Tomoki called out as he raced ahead. "Isn't that a part of that 'Way of Naruto' you told me about?"
Naruto made a sour face. "Yeah well, I take that part back, believe it!" he shouted then raced after him.