Title: Façade

Author: Blue-eyed Fox

Warning: Yaoi, Shounen-ai (Male/Male romance), OOC major, and a lot of swearing I presume would happen along the way… (Sheepish smile)

Pairing(s): Kaka/Naru, Ita/Naru among others. Still undecided on others…

Genre: Romance, Drama, Angst, General, among others… (sweatdrops)

Summary:

Four years have passed since Naruto left with Jiraiya to train. However, the real reason why he left the Hidden Village of Leaf was because of a certain shinobi. Now, two ANBU members will vie for his heart….

Authoress' Note:

I drew inspiration from shi-chan and Agni. So I know that there may be parts here that may be or somewhat familiar… So please don't sue me, I only have lint in my pockets…

Okay, in this fic, Naruto is 14 years of age when he left Konoha to train with Jiraiya and thus when he comes back, Naruto-kun is already 18 years old.

Kakashi on the other hand… Well, I made him younger alongside the other 20 something chuunins and jounins… Therefore, in this fic, the age gap of Kakashi and Naruto is only 8 years so that makes Kakashi 26 years old. (I really don't want to think of Kakashi being 30 something you know… I'm in denial…)

In addition, Sasuke never left Konoha to side with the perverted Snake sannin who has a demented taste in clothing. Just think, BIG, PURPLE BOW on his BUTT!

Orochimaru: Hey! I heard that!

Blue: Shut up!

Orochimaru: (sniffles)

Blue: There, there, here let's have some lemonade… Naruto-kun, kindly recite the disclaimers for me…(huge grin)

Naruto: Standards apply… She doesn't own Naruto; though I wish she did then Sakura-chan would be downright dating Rock Lee! :P

Blue: So does this mean you agree with most of your yaoi-fans?

Naruto: (Blushes incredulously)

Blue: Aww… Isn't that cute! (Waves a hand to all of Naruto's seme's) Look here! Naruto doesn't mind being paired up with all you!

Naruto: Kyaa! (Runs away as fast he can)

Neji, Kiba, Sasuke, Gaara, Kakashi, Itachi, Shino, Iruka, Haku, Kabuto, Shikamaru, etc: (eyes glinting in an evil manner as they start to chase a horrified looking Naruto)

Blue: Oh well, on with the fic! (Throws confetti)

Legend:

:…: Naruto's conversation with Kyuubi.

"…" Mental thoughts.


Chapter 1

It was a calm morning in the country of Fire.

From a distance, two figures were walking side by side, as they made their way to the gates of the Hidden Village of Leaf.

"We're here; home sweet home!" Jiraiya mused as he looked at Naruto.

The duo had arrived earlier than expected. They arrived around past eight in the morning at the gates of Konoha. Birds were chirping and the sun was shining brightly. From the distance, they could faintly hear the sound of the townspeople as they made through their everyday lives.

Naruto just grinned as he looked up to the gates of Konoha.

"Home sweet home indeed," Naruto thought. His eyes hinted sadness and sorrow, grief and anger however, as quick as it flickered through those expressive orbs, it disappeared as he looked at the toad sannin. "So, where to now?" Naruto asked.

"Well, its best if we dropped by the old hag's first." Jiraiya grinned as they entered the gates of Konoha. Jiraiya noted the emotions that appeared in those deep pools of blue.

"You, saying that, is going to break the old hag's heart if she hears you." Naruto commented whilst smiling.

"Well now, if I remember correctly, you're the one who called her that way first." Jiraiya retorted.

"Yeah I did. But now…Now it's different. Calling her 'Baa-chan' sounded nice and funny." Naruto smiled as he remembered the old days. "But now, I have to admit that I've grown to respect her even more."

Jiraiya had to smile. Naruto had indeed changed a lot during the past four years. Not to mention, the boy had improved drastically in his training. Heck! One can never really tell unless they had faced-off with the boy. Naruto, who had seemed to perfect the art of masking himself, hiding his true abilities impressively. He was far stronger than he used to be, faster and deadlier. But nonetheless, some habits really don't go away.

He never really found out the reason why Naruto asked, well literally begged him to go with him in his travels. He really didn't want to but the look on Naruto's eyes back then told him otherwise.

He was shook out of his musing when Naruto paused in his tracks and said,

"Ano sa, ano sa! Shall we go visit Tsunade-nee-chan now? I really want to see how she's doing."

Jiraiya gave out a hearty laugh as he nodded. The two jumped up the nearest making their way to the Hokage Tower.

"I'm sure Tsunade would be surprised when she sees you. She misses you terribly, you know." Jiraiya said as they jumped from one roof to another as they landed gracefully at the steps of the tower and made their way to the Hokage's office.

"Ready?" Jiraiya peered at Naruto who gave a cheerful nod as he knocked at the Oak door. They heard Tsunade's voice as she giving them permission to enter.

Jiraiya slowly opened the door and entered followed by Naruto.

"Tsunade-nee-chan!" Naruto grinned as he saw Tsunade sitting behind her desk amass the paperwork that piled up neatly in front of her, thanks for Shizune for that matter.

Tsunade looked up from the piles of paperwork as her eyes widened at the sight before her.

"Naruto!" Tsunade jumped up from her chair her eyes brightening up as she gathered Naruto in her arms for a rib-crushing bear hug.

Shizune who was also there inside the office was wiping away her tears as she watched the two. It was like the reunion of two long lost siblings after being separated for a long time.

"Nee… -chan… Can't… Breathe…" Naruto gasped as tried to escape from Tsunade's clutches.

"Ah! Gomen! Gomen!" Tsunade said as he ruffled Naruto's golden locks. Naruto pouted cutely as Tsunade messed with his hair. "Oh my god, Naruto, you've grown! Jiraiya! What have you done to Naruto?!"

"Ha-ha-ha! Four years certainly does a lot of changes to a boy who was in the stage of puberty when he left Tsunade!" Jiraiya said as he earned a scowl from Naruto and a light punch on the arm from Shizune and Tsunade.

"True, but I must say Naruto-kun, you look amazing!" Shizune piped in as Ton-ton gave out a happy squeak.

Tsunade and Jiraiya for that matter nodded in agreement. Naruto did change… A LOT!

Naruto gave out a cheeky smile as he removed his black cloak that reached his ankles revealing a super sexy figure. Underneath the cloak, Naruto was wearing a breathable turtleneck black shirt with an orange stripe on either side; his black stretch leather-like pants were fitting him perfectly. It was neither too tight nor too loose therefore giving him absolute freedom of movement without constraint.

Shizune was literally drooling at the sight while Tsunade gaped at him. Jiraiya huffed proudly indicating that it was his idea. Naruto looked like a rock star! No! Scratch that! He was a living, breathing, talking, and walking Adonis!

"It seems that you have grown out of the orange jumpsuit eh, Naruto-kun?" Shizune said snapping back to reality.

"Jiraiya-sensei said that I should lose it."

"Naruto insisted that nothing was wrong with the orange jumpsuit until I forced him to try on some similar and different outfits." Jiraiya said as he motioned to the ones that Naruto was wearing.

"Hey! There wasn't anything wrong with the orange jumpsuit!" Naruto pouted.

"Hmph! As if! Whenever you were in that suit, it was as if you had a "DANGER, COME TO ME!" banner waving on top of your head, not to mention, it was an eyesore, you stood out like a sore thumb." Jiraiya teased, which of course earned him a punch from Tsunade that sent him flying to the wall. Luckily, Shizune moved about before Jiraiya went flying about in her direction, foreseeing the oncoming doom that the white-haired sannin had placed upon himself.

Naruto smiled and winked at Tsunade for doing that to the toad sannin, the slug sannin herself had to smile, though mentally she somewhat literally agreed with Jiraiya on the "danger" part.

Tsunade then eyed the blonde boy and noticed the changes in him. He was no longer that emaciated 12 year-old she first met and no longer was he that 14 year-old brat who used to give her constant migraines (aside from the ones that gave her even more monstrous migraines were her equally monstrous debts) not to mention, called her 'Baa-chan' or 'Old Hag' for that matter. Naruto was now a little bit more polite and courteous. He studied the boy from head to toe and took into heart the more seemingly obvious changes in the boy.

Naruto now had a gorgeous build muscular, almost slender and lithe like, but not as brawny with the likes of Jiraiya. He had grown a foot taller, towering now at 5 feet 9 inches compared from his previous 4 feet 9 inch scrawny built. His features have become more effeminate than manly. The skin on his face was almost flawless, though he still had those whisker marks on his cheeks making him look more vulpine in a sexy way, but despite that fact, his skin seemed to glow. His eyes have become an even more beautiful shade of blue-deep endless pools of blue emanating from those now almond-shaped ones giving him a more vixen look, though mischief and innocence still somehow lingered in them. His lips were tinted pink, almost red like the cherry blossoms. His voice had that airy quality in it that seemed to have a giddying effect to the listener. Naruto had grown his hair a bit, his blonde, sun-kissed locks reached the nape of his long slender neck. His hair was windswept and no longer as unruly like it was before.

Tsunade had to admit it, if she were 30 years younger, she would definitely have pursued the boy! But not in the likes of her apprentice Haruno Sakura and her best friend Ino who were love struck with the Uchiha brat and stalked the boy like there was no tomorrow! She mentally slapped herself as she settled with the fact that Naruto was her lovable adopted little brother.

"Ano sa, ano sa! Nee-chan, how have you been? How's everyone?" Naruto asked as he took a seat on the nearby couch.

"I'm fine Naruto, but now I feel even better now that I've seen you." Tsunade said with a warm, genuine smile. The 'nee-chan' part had her inwardly floating on cloud nine.

Naruto sheepishly rubbed the back of his said when he heard that.

"As for everyone," Tsunade continued as she continued to study her favorite brat. "Rookie 9 is still the same."

"So desu…" Naruto said with a thoughtful look in his eyes.

"What about you? How have you been? You guys didn't even send a word on your whereabouts… The only thing I've heard from Jiraiya is that you passed and won the Jounin Exam at Cloud Country and for a fact that you've improved." Tsunade drawled as she cast a meaningful yet irritated look at the toad sannin who had just peeled himself off the wall and was now dusting his clothes whilst nursing a bump on his head as he took a seat on one of the chairs in front of Tsunade's desk.

"Eh? Didn't Ero-sennin send you letters?" Naruto asked bemused.

"Really now?" Tsunade said as she threw an empty bottle of sake she concealed somewhere from her desk at Jiraiya's head that didn't see that one coming.

"Ouch! You didn't have to do that Tsunade! And here I was going to surprise you!" Jiraiya said as he pulled out four scrolls and handed them to Tsunade.

Tsunade eyed the scrolls and looked at Jiraiya questioningly before she opened it. Her eyes widened as she studied each of the scrolls right in front of her while from time to time gasping or gaping at it like a goldfish. Shizune, who was standing near the Godaime also took a peek at the scrolls. Her face faulted as her jaw dropped.

"Jiraiya… Are these… Are you sure? These are real right?!" Tsunade asked she looked and double-checked two of the scrolls in front of her.

"Yes Tsunade, those are real. And as you can see on, I've noted everything that Naruto has improved on and achieved. Not to mention, his mission profile is quite impressive, ne?" Jiraiya grinned as he winked at Naruto who was either confused or embarrassed at his current situation.

The first two scrolls weren't that hard to believe since the two were scrolls given to those who passed the Jounin exams the previous year. One was the accomplishment scroll that was given to the Jounins who passed the exam. The other was the scroll given by the Jounin test administrators with their seals of approval who gave their insights and suggestions of the possible higher levels of profession that the recently graduated jounin can further delve into with the use of his/her talents and skills. (1)

The third and fourth scroll however had her reeling.

The third scroll contained all of the skills that Naruto has learned or should I say, mastered in the span of four years. Although during the first year, Naruto basically lived like he was about to drop dead at any given time. I mean, who could blame him? Undergoing rigorous hell-like training under one of the Three Legendary Sannins was not a joke. But all in all, he improved during the two-year training period under the Jiraiya amidst the fact that he had to suffer the cruel fate that he had unintentionally brought upon himself, that is, being hounded by the women who had been victim of Jiraiya's perverted and lecherous acts.

All in all, Naruto made a vow to himself that he would not, he would NEVER in this lifetime or in any other lifetime follow the toad sannin's perverted legacy.

Either way, within the second year of his training, Naruto had been training and practicing like mad. He had studied and perfected all the basic to the most complicated type of jutsu known in all elements as described by Jiraiya was like child's play in Naruto's part. Total chakra control, including Kyuubi's was just like a walk in the park. Not to mention, 10 forbidden jutsus and 20 original ones under his sleeve.

The fourth scroll was proof to all that was mentioned above. It was Naruto's mission profile as a jounin of Leaf doing missions for Cloud and Mist Country. (2)

"59 A-Class, 45 B-Class and 5 S-Class missions! All missions successfully accomplished with no casualties. I must say, I am truly impressed!" Tsunade exclaimed amazement lacing her words. Naruto darted out his tongue as he again scratched the back of his head. (3)

"So, what do you want to be Naruto?" Tsunade said as she eyed the blonde with rapt interest. "ANBU or Hunter-nin?"

Naruto rubbed his chin while he thoughtfully ran over the offer.

"I really don't know. Both sounds cool." Naruto said as he stared at the ceiling.

"Why don't you go for both Naruto?" Jiraiya piped in. All in the room stared at him as if he had lost his mind. (4)

"Wait, is that even possible?" Naruto asked.

"It is, however, it would be strenuous since it would require you to live two lives. Being a Hunter-nin means you have to keep your identity secret from the people around you." Tsunade informed.

"I see. So that means I can either be ANBU or Hunter-nin or BE both right?" Naruto said as the two sannins nodded their heads in agreement. Naruto pondered on the thought for a moment before speaking up.

"I really, really, REALLY want to be an ANBU member nee-chan, so for the meantime can we put a tab on the hunter-nin part? I really would like to think it over." Naruto said as he cast a meaningful look at Tsunade.

"Of course, Naruto, of course! Wait here, while I get you your uniform." Tsunade said as she stood up and entered a room somewhere in her office. A few minutes later, she came out with a bag and a tattoo needle in hand. Tsunade handed Naruto the bag as she motioned him to use the room where she came out to try on the ANBU uniform.

Naruto's eyes lighted up as he quickly nodded and made his way to the room to change. A few minutes later, Naruto came out of the room draped in his equally sexy ANBU uniform.

The three adults in the room were eyeing him in a way that it made the hair on his neck stand up.

"Oi, don't give me that look. It's creepy, it's like all of you are checking me out!" Naruto said as he quickly made his way back to the couch. All of them just broke in to a grin.

: What are you giggling about Kura-chan?: Naruto asked the Kyuubi no Youko who was giggling like mad in his cage.

: Oh nothing, I can't help but agree with them when they think you're drop-dead sexy gorgeous looking.: Kurama grinned in his cage.

: Pervert…: Naruto mentally slapped himself.

: You know, you should be thanking me for adding details to that gorgeous look of yours: Kurama rolled his eyes as he swished his magnificent tails.

"Naruto, come here for a moment will you. I have to mark you as an official ANBU member, give me your left arm." Tsunade said raising the tattoo needle as Naruto obliged.

It took like around thirty minutes to have the tattoo done on Naruto's left arm. Naruto examined at the tattoo carefully, smiling as he did so. Thanks to Kyuubi, the healing of his slightly swollen left arm hastened.

:Thanks Kura-chan!: Naruto mentally thanked Kyuubi for healing his arm.

:No problem kit...: The Fox smiled in its cage.

"You're now officially an ANBU member Uzumaki Naruto a.k.a. Shadow Fox." Tsunade smiled at Naruto.

"Shadow Fox, eh… Cool…" Naruto drawled with a silly smile on his face.

"So Naruto, come back here 9am tomorrow and I'll brief you with the rest of the details of your position and you new assignment. And also, for the meantime, like you said, think over the hunter-nin position." Tsunade said as Naruto nodded.

"And oh by the way," Tsunade quickly added as she glanced at the wall clock. "It's already 9:30 am, I'm sure you'd want to see everyone including Iruka-san, ne? I'm sure most of them are in the Shinobi lounge. Shizune will take you there." Tsunade said seeing the sparkle in Naruto's eyes by the mention of his former sensei's name. Tsunade dared not mention one more name, knowing that might cause the blue-eyed blonde distress. She didn't want that for now seeing that her favorite blonde smiling again.

"Eh! Shinobi lounge, since when was there a 'Shinobi lounge'?" Naruto inquired.

"You have no idea how those shinobi's keep on whining about having or should I say wishing that coffee breaks and lunch time being more comfortable." Tsunade frowned as she remembered the time when requests and suggestions flooded her office non-stop for a week.

"Hahahaha! You better not spoil them Tsunade or else they would be requesting a movie house built nearby." Jiraiya laughed at the horrified look on Tsunade's face. "Well then Naruto, why don't you run along now with Shizune and go meet all your friends. I'm sure you have a lot of catching up to do. I'll go drop by at your place tonight." Jiraiya said as he smiled at Naruto.

Shizune placed Ton-ton on Tsunade's desk as she made her way to the door as Naruto gathered his belongings. He removed the arm protectors and folded them neatly before tucking it safely within his bag. He then again wore his black turtleneck top before putting his cloak again.

"Waaa! Wait! I almost forgot!" Naruto almost panicked as he rummaged in his bag looking for something. Tsunade, Jiraiya and Shizune looked at Naruto with concern.

"What is it Naruto?" Jiraiya asked.

"Ah! There it is!" Naruto said as he took out one small pack and two large parcels from his bag. "Shizune-nee-chan, this is for you!" Naruto beamed as he handed Shizune the parcel as he quickly strode towards Tsunade.

"This is for Ton-ton," Naruto motioned for the small package in his hands before he handed Tsunade the last parcel in his hands. "And this is for you Tsunade-nee-chan!" Naruto beamed as he saw the amazement in their eyes.

"For us?" Tsunade said, surprised that Naruto had gotten them presents including Ton-ton.

"Arigatou Naruto-kun! Can we open it now?" Shizune asked as she looked at the parcel in her hands. Naruto nodded as he prodded them to open it.

Jiraiya smiled. He knew what were inside those packages. Naruto had insisted that he help him pick them and it took them half a day arguing which one to pick.

"Ero-sennin and I were arguing over what I should get you when he insisted that I should instead get both of you a serphmrr-" Naruto's words were muffled as Jiraiya cut him off by covering his mouth and hooking an arm around his neck.

"Ha-ha-ha! Never mind the kid, go on, and just open your parcels…" Jiraiya drawled as he motioned for Naruto to be quiet about it. He eyed Naruto warily sending him a look saying: "Don't-tell-them-I-told-you-to-get-them-a-set-of-lace-underwear-instead-of-those-darn-kimonos".

Tsunade and Shizune eyed the white haired sannin suspiciously before they carefully opened the package as Jiraiya opened the one for Ton-ton. Naruto bought Ton-ton a set of vests similar to the ones it was wearing.

The two women gaped when they saw the contents of their gifts.

"I know I should have had them gift wrapped but I knew the wrapping might get ruined along the way here. So I had the shop owner make sure to have it wrapped up in several rice papers." Naruto scratched the back of his head as he grinned.

Both women received very beautiful high-quality silk kimonos. Tsunade's kimono was of blue, green, and silvery white fabric with a peacock and sakura details embroidered in the finest silk threads. Shizune's was of red, black and white fabric with a flowing river and springtime detail done with the same finest silk threads of silver and red.

The two were speechless as they eyed and examined the Kimono before them.

"Oh my! Naruto, you shouldn't have!" Tsunade exclaimed as she hugged Naruto and thanked him.

"Thank you Naruto! I'm going to treasure this! This must have cost you!" Shizune said as she as well hugged Naruto and placed a soft peck on his left cheek.

"It's nothing really. Besides, I really wanted to get something for everyone, and when I saw the kimonos, the first thing that came to my mind was both of you. And oh, promise me you're going to wear that okay! I really want to see them on you." Naruto said as he fiddled with his fingers.

The two women tuck away their kimonos as both of them promised to wear it soon.

"Well, we better get going Shizune-san, see you tomorrow nee-chan!" Naruto said as he walked back to gather his stuff.

"Oh, Naruto, before you leave, here are your house keys." Tsunade opened the drawer of her desk as she took out a medium sized box made of cherry wood and handed it Naruto. "Sandaime left a note saying that this should be given to you when come to right age, and I guess this is the right time."

Naruto took the box and looked at Tsunade questioningly. "Why? What happened to my old apartment nee-chan?"

"Your apartment is still there but I think its best that you start claiming what is rightfully yours. Yondaime wouldn't be happier knowing that his son is under the roof that he built with his own hands." Tsunade smiled. "And I also took the liberty of having your some of your belongings transferred to your new home, I hope you don't mind."

"Well, if that's the case, I'll look for you later Naruto so I can accompany you to your new home." Jiraiya said.

Naruto looked at the box in his hands and caressed the smooth contours, taking note the every detail in it. A small albeit happy smile graced his lips as his eyes began to water. Tsunade stood up from her seat and gathered the blonde shinobi in her arms for a warm embrace. Jiraiya on the other hand patted and ruffled the blonde's hair.

"Welcome home, Naruto, welcome home." Tsunade said as she kissed Naruto's forehead and wiped away the tears from his eyes.

Naruto nodded as he gave Tsunade one of his sincere and heart-warming smiles before he followed Shizune out of the door.

As soon as Naruto and Shizune left the Godaime's office, Tsunade eyed Jiraiya thoughtfully.

"Jiraiya, tell me, how IS Naruto?" Tsunade said quietly, her voice full of concern.

Jiraiya had to let out a heavy sigh; he knew what Tsunade wanted to talk about.

"As I've said in my past letters Tsunade, he was distracted, troubled and burdened by a lot of things for that matter. I could see it in his eyes no matter how much he denies it when I confronted him by the time we reached the Hidden Village of Rain." Jiraiya said as he recounted.

Tsunade frowned at the fact; she clasped her hands together, and recalled the day Naruto bade her goodbye for the meantime. She never really got to know the real reason why Naruto badly wanted to leave the village that time. She felt bad, that she could not do anything for Naruto that time, even with all her power as the Hokage. All Naruto said then was, he wanted to train, be stronger and better so that he would be worthy of being called a ninja of the hidden leaf and so that he could be worthy of the position he promised himself that one-day he would become the next Hokage of the village.

Tsunade closed her eyes as she brought a hand right above her heart as she remembered that cold, rainy afternoon…

- Flashback -

It was raining for the past two days now and the whole village of the Hidden Leaf seemed to have their spirits damped because of the depressing weather. But that day had more than just a depressing ambiance to have the Godaime Hokage be brought to more than just moments of tears.

A knock resounded through the room as Tsunade gave out a soft almost irritated 'come in' to the person on the other side. Not looking up from the scrolls that she was reading, she could hear the person slowly shuffle in.

"Tsunade-baa-chan."

"What's up brat? Did you come to-" Tsunade's words were cut off when she looked up to meet the boy, her eyes widened at the sight before her.

"Naruto!"

Tsunade stood up from the comfort of her armchair, the scroll lay forgotten on her desk as she hurried towards the blonde. Naruto's head was bowed down, his orange jacket was tied to his waist and was dripping wet. The boy had scratches on his face and arms, blood was trickling down his cheeks from the deep cut that wasn't seem to be healing itself.

"Naruto, what happened to you? Why are you soaking wet?" Tsunade said as she did a few hand signs and healed Naruto's cheek. It was then that she noticed the blonde's muddied and disheveled state and sensed there was something amiss with her favorite brat.

Naruto wasn't exuding that warm aura nor did he have that goofy grin on his face. His eyes were bloodshot, his shoulders slumped…

Tsunade placed a firm yet gentle grip on the blonde's shoulders and felt the eerie coldness that seeped through her hands and fingers. She felt a chill run up her spine as widened yet again when the boy's gaze met hers. His eyes didn't have life in them, they were dull, lifeless and void.

"Naruto-"

"Baa-chan, I'm going with Ero-sennin to train. I don't know when I'll be back but I'm going to promise you this: I'm going to train harder, I'm going to be stronger, better and prove to you and everyone that I'm worthy. That I'm more than just a vessel for Kyuubi."

Naruto's voice was raspy as he spoke.

"I know what you're going to say baa-chan, but for now, please… Just… please allow me to go. I'll answer your questions next time if there are any that is…"

Tsunade nodded in understanding as she gently squeezed Naruto's shoulders, then all of a sudden, Naruto hugged her tightly. Tsunade stood there surprised by the suddenness of Naruto's actions.

"Ne, baa-chan, sorry for all the troubles I've caused you. Forgive me… I promise I'll be back, besides, I still have to be the next Hokage, right? I'm going to miss you baa-chan… Take good care of yourself alright."

And then Naruto let Tsunade go as he bolted towards the door and closing it with a soft click even before Tsunade can say a word. Tsunade silently burst into tears as she brought one hand to her face. She didn't even hear the soft sounds of running echoing down the hall. All that kept ringing through her ears were Naruto's last words. She felt her heart twist into knots as the words echoed repeatedly shutting out the sound of the soft raindrops.

Tsunade kneeled on the floor as tears continued to run down her cheeks. The sound of the rain had become her companion the rest of the afternoon.

- End of Flashback -

But Tsunade knew better. She knew that there was something that troubled the young blonde during that time. She suspected that the reason why Naruto wanted to leave the village badly had something to do with the silver-haired Jounin.

"Hatake Kakashi." Tsunade whispered the name under her breath.

"What did you say Tsunade? Why did you mention the name of the copy-cat ninja?" Jiraiya inquired.

Tsunade looked up to the white-haired sannin realizing that she had said the name out loud. She thought that it was no use keeping her suspicions to herself.

"Jiraiya, what do you know about Naruto's relationship with Hatake Kakashi?" Tsunade drawled as she looked out the window of her office.

Jiraiya rubbed his chin thoughtfully.

"All I know is that, of course, he was team 7's instructor and jounin guide. Not to mention, he and Naruto seemed to be rather close and if you look at it closely and study it, it seems that their relationship wasn't just that of a student-teacher type." Jiraiya pointed out flatly.

"Well, your observation is slightly true. I asked Kakashi about the matter when he asked me if I knew about Naruto's whereabouts. All I said to the jounin was that you took the boy with you to train. He accepted that information and I assigned Inuzaka Kiba as temporary replacement in team 7 to replace Naruto in his absence. I asked him if there was something between them but he was tight lipped about it. Not to mention, he seems to be spacing out from time to time with a far away look in his eye." Tsunade informed.

"The rest of rookie 9 are still chuunins right? Naruto has surpassed them."

"Iie, Hyuuga Neji is already a jounin." Tsunade paused before eyeing Jiraiya contemplatively. "Jiraiya, what else happened during those four years he was with you?"

"Well, aside from his own personal dilemmas, he lightened up when I told him who his parents were. And I personally think that it was the best move. The boy has suffered too much at a very young age. He knows what agony, pain, betrayal and loneliness is. He didn't deserve it but I guess it was somewhat good for him in terms of him being able to stand up on his own two feet whenever he stumbles down.

"The villagers here don't realize it but the prominent clans know how special the boy is. As much as they want to take in and care of Naruto under their wing during those times, they can't because of the villagers." Jiraiya paused in his musings and looked at Tsunade with a meaningful glance.

"Those four years that he was away with me was good for him. He was able to loosen up from the mask he was wearing all those times."

"Mask?" Tsunade queried. Jiraiya merely nodded. It was then that realization had hit her. Tsunade wanted to cry for Naruto. She wanted to cry for the pain, the loneliness that Naruto had to go through. "God damn it!" Tsunade cursed as she slammed her fist on her desk.

"I know how you feel Tsunade. It was good that you allowed him to go with me. Or else he would have snapped and broken down. During those times, rejection and hatred from the villagers, the discovery that he was the Kyuubi's vessel, the attack during the chuunin exams, Sandaime's death, Akatsuki and whatever it was between him and Kakashi, all of it had placed strenuous weight upon his shoulders, his mind and on his heart as well.

"No matter how we look at it, no matter how Naruto says that he will never give up, one way or the other he has been forcing himself to smile, especially during the times where he is already miserable. It's a good thing that his soul was never tainted. How his heart had remained pure during all those times really is a wonder." Jiraiya sighed. He peered at Tsunade through his lashes and saw that she was crying.

"Here, better wipe your face before your assistant suddenly returns and pound me to death." Jiraiya joked trying to lighten up the atmosphere. Tsunade smiled as she accepted the handkerchief.

"We are now his guardians. All we can do now is assure him that he is never alone; that he never was." Jiraiya said as he and Tsunade made a silent agreement that from that moment on, they would do in all their power to keep the boy smiling.

"You know, I was surprised to hear that you had told Naruto about his parents. And I'm glad that you did. He has all the right to know. What was his reaction when you told him?" Tsunade said as she wiped the tears from her face.

"He was gaping at me like a god damn goldfish the whole time. I could've sworn that if I didn't smack him from time to time his mouth would have been a good home for the squirrels." Jiraiya said which earned him a glare from Tsunade.

"But after reality had sunk in, he kept on asking questions about Yondaime, what he was like and all the stuff. Good thing I kept and collected pictures. You should have seen how his eyes brightened when he saw Yondaime in color. And you know what?" Jiraiya said as he looked at Tsunade as the said woman just looked at him egging him to go on.

"I just found out myself how much those two are alike. Brings back old memories when I taught Yondaime myself, who would've known that I would be teaching his son as well."

"But Naruto was more of a brat compared to Yondaime, ne? He has more mischief up his sleeve. Good thing you're still in one piece." Tsunade joked.

"You can say that again. You have no idea… By the way, what's up with this town? Anything new, what news do you have?" Jiraiya inquired.

"Well, as you can see and I know that you are aware of this, in one of the S-Class missions that Naruto was sent to, he had to deal with Uchiha Itachi."

"Yes, I know. Naruto was in the hospital for a week after he beat Itachi."

"I was surprised that Naruto was able to beat Itachi's Mangekyou Sharingan not to mention, beat Itachi himself. Jiraiya, tell me, how did Naruto manage?" Tsunade asked.

"Well, you do know who Minato married right?" Jiraiya said as he got a semi-knowing look from Tsunade.

TBC


Yes, I know, lovely word isn't it?

(1) Okay, I have no clue whatsoever on how the Jounin exams work. So I imagined it almost like the chuunin exams minus the forest of death thing… But I faintly remember one of the works of shi-chan having the same comments on the jounin exams. (Scratches head)

(2) Another mind boggle for me… I assumed that this is possible, let's just say that Mist and Cloud Country are in good terms with and are allies of Leaf. So to speak…

(3) Another familiar line… I did say that who the authors are to whom I got my inspiration from didn't I? So don't sue me… As I've said, I only got lint in my pockets… (Sweatdrops)

(4) I don't even know if it's possible, but hey! This is a fic and I can do and write whatever I want, ne? (peace!)

(Authoress' Note: Woot~! My first Naruto fic! So be kind… Flames are used to roast chickens to perfection…

I'm surprised that my brain is still working. And also, I apologize for the errors; my beta-reader is currently in hibernation mode. I had fun doing this part. I was literally drooling while describing Naruto's sexiness in this fic! Not to mention, I can't believe I made the first chapter this long… (bangs head on the nearest wall)

And oohh… Is that a love triangle that I'm brewing? (evil glint) Har har… Shit... I shouldn't have said that… Anyway, please be kind and leave a review… It would relieve this poor and despaired soul of mine…

By the way, for those who have been my avid readers in the Slam Dunk Fandom, well…I'm still deciding whether or not I should continue since I lost all the hard copies of the finished parts (yes… I've finished all those hanging fictions…) and when I say finished, I mean all of those already have an ending. How I lost the finished parts? Well, let's put those flamethrowers in to use by cooking the damn virus that crashed my PC… (T-T) Burn, baby, burn!

Naruto: So, whom will I end up with here?

Blue: (turns around) (blink) (blink) Huh?

Naruto: (sweatdrops)

Tsunade: (pops out from nowhere) Anyway, read and review please! ( ^.^ )V

Naruto: where did you come from?!