"Iruka, you're here already!" Taichi greeted.

Iruka looked around. The front gate of Konoha was busy with people entering and exiting but he couldn't find any of his teammates.

"Oh don't look for them. They'll be here in about five minutes. I'm always the first one here. Glad to have someone who values time on the team again." Taichi patted Iruka's shoulder warmly.

Right on time, five minutes later, three blurs sped to Iruka and Taichi's location.

"See, what did I tell you?" Taichi muttered over his shoulder to Iruka. He turned to the rest of his team. "Where's Yujiro-kun?"

"Here captain." Came a lazy reply by the gate.

Iruka turned toward the voice. A young man leaned on the gate, his body resting all the weight on the metal bars. The man had his mask on but Iruka could make out dark teal colored hair.

"There you are Yujiro-kun. Now that everyone's here, shall we begin?"

"Hai!" came the reply of all the subordinates.

The group formed three lines with two people in each line. Taichi took his place at the front as squad leader and they set off.

Naruto…
"What would you like to order?"

Naruto surveyed the menu. His eyes lit up when he spied the words 'Ramen-various flavors'.

"Um…two bowls of miso ramen please!" Naruto replied.

"Two bowls of miso ramen coming right up."

Naruto took a pair of chopsticks and waited patiently for his ramen. There were many people in the small restaurant. Naruto felt out of place in his torn black t-shirt and orange pants.

"Here's your two bowls of miso ramen. Enjoy!" the waitress grinned before hurrying to the next customer.

Naruto took a long sniff of his ramen and sighed happily. Just the smell could raise his spirits to such high levels, considering he was almost broke, didn't have a home, and he was a missing-nin. Also, Kyuubi was nowhere to be found.

Naruto pushed all the depressing thoughts to the back of his mind and dug into his ramen, eagerly.


"Have you recovered Uzumaki-san's chakra trail?" Taichi asked his group when they regrouped.

"Hai. His trail was at least a week old. It was headed in the northeast direction." Tomiko and Tami reported.

"Very good. Let's go." Taichi commanded.

Iruka placed a hand to stop Taichi.

"Captain, please allow me to go ahead to scout." Iruka requested.

Taichi stared at Iruka through his mask. "Good idea Iruka. I give you permission to continue ahead of us. After a few minutes, we will follow. If there's anything out of the ordinary or if you catch sight of Uzumaki, do not make any move and wait for us."

"Hai." Iruka jumped up into a tree and set off.

Taichi stared after Iruka.

"Captain-." Momi started.

Taichi held up his hand. "I know, but as teammates, we must trust him. Whatever he intends to do, let him carry it out. We'll judge him later rather than skipping to conclusions now and jeopardizing the entire mission."

The team silenced.


Naruto settled down underneath a tree in a small clearing. He was warm, full and content for once in that past two week.

Suddenly, Naruto sensed presences traveling in the forest. He quickly sat up and extended his senses.

The presences moved silently and skillfully. Naruto's heartbeat increased.

What if it's the ANBU coming for me? What do I do?

Naruto leapt to his feet. The presences were to his left. He leapt to a tree and sprinted to his right. After sprinting for a couple of yards, he sharply turned left and continued with renewed speed.

A few minutes later, he leapt back down to the forest ground. The presences were still there. What's more, they had altered directions and were headed directly for him.

Naruto swore and leapt up into a tree to begin his escape. He didn't have a doubt in his mind that his pursuers were ANBUs from Konoha.


Iruka traveled through the forest, recalling his memories of ANBU classes from his mind. He moved without a sound and camouflaged his chakra with his surroundings.

He had set out around five minutes ago. He knew that Taichi and his group would have also begun their race to catch up to him. He only had a few minutes of a head start so he would have less time to talk to Naruto and save him.

Considering that Naruto had two weeks head start, Iruka believed Naruto would be somewhere close to the border of Fire Country. He had to get to Naruto first before the others. He had to…for Naruto's safety.


The pursuers were gaining ground. The distance between them shortened by the second. Naruto's heart beat increased. His hair was matted with sweat, his clothes were soaked through and his energy and chakra were running short and quickly depleting.

Naruto bit his lips and pushed his limit. His legs ached and he almost lost his footing on a branch. His breathing turned into pants and his lungs hurt. Stars burst inside his eyelids. But he kept going because he knew, if he slowed down for a minute, the ANBU would catch up and he would lose everything.

His legs numbed for a second but that was all it took for him to twist his ankle and fall to the forest floor. He sensed the pursuers a few meters away.

Naruto dug his nails into his palm. He felt liquid trickling onto his palm. The pain renewed feeling into his body. Naruto stumbled to his feet and was about to leap onto a branch when his legs wobbled and collapsed beneath him.

The pursuers' chakra signatures got closer.

Naruto gripped the tree's rough bark and pulled himself up. His legs refused to cooperate and threatened to collapse beneath him again.

Suddenly, a soft breeze ruffled Naruto's bangs. When Naruto looked up, two figures in robes and hoods appeared before him.

Naruto scrambled away from them, forcing his exhausted legs to stand.

His entire body numbed and froze when the two figures stepped towards him. They were close enough that Naruto could make out what was beneath their dark hoods.

masks…These are the legendary ANBUs.


Author's Notes:

Eryn: Great, another cliff-hanger. What's wrong with you? You update once a month and you always leave us with a cliff-hanger or at an emotional part!

Terryn: Well sorry...

Anyways...

MERRY CHRISTMAS AND FOR THOSE WHO DO NOT CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS, HAPPY HOLIDAYS.

AND HAPPY NEW YEARS TO EVERYONE!!