EDIT: I give up, you all wore me down. The pairings are NaruHina and SasuSaku. It will be a long and bumpy road to get to that point though, so don't expect instant mushyness.

OOOOO

Rider: Yo! How you all doing? I'm your host for this story and…

Star: Did you not sleep or something?

Rider: Insomnia does occasionally have it's advantages.

Wraiths: What happened to my Red Bull?

Rider: Anyway…Um…Damn, used all my playful banter in my other opening. Oh well. Quick note on this story, time line wise it takes place during the filler hell. I figure if the guys who write the real story can give us 100+ episodes of filler, it's fair game. Also, this story will be slightly AU, so if you don't like that kind of story you have been warned. Third, I'm writing under the, possibly false, assumption that readers are up to date with the manga, ie chapter 300+. Seeing as this may not be the case for all people I will try to relay spoiler warnings for those people who aren't, but odds are I will forget a good portion of them. So, secondary warning their may be spoilers it you are not up to date. You have been warned. This is basically a prologue chapter to set things up and this is my first Naruto work so it's a bit of a shift from my comfort zone of Love Hina. As such any and all critiques will be most helpful and appreciated to improve future chapters. That said, pairings are not even close to decided yet…so don't ask.

Star: Do you want to read the fine print on the back of my credit card while you're at it?

Rider: (Glares at Star) Where's Itachi? (Star runs away) That's better. Enjoy the story everyone. See you at the end.

OOOOO

Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto in any way, shape, or form. I wish that I did, but it is not to be.

OOOOO

A Shinobi's Decision

Chapter One - Days Gone Past

They were waiting for him at the gate at the far side of the village. He nodded to the first ever so slightly as he took the provisions she held out to him.

"Are you certain that you must go?"

He nodded once again. He could hear the small amount of concern in her voice, but only because he knew what to listen for. To anyone else she would have sounded completely emotionless. "I am."

"Allow me to come with you." Her voice again nearly flat in tone.

His reply was a single shake of his head as he turned away. He placed the items she had given him into his hip pouch and continued toward the village gate. His gaze shifted to the second person at the gate line. His movement ceased as he came in line with her.

She looked down at the ground. "I don't want you to go."

He closed his eyes, nodded once, and continued to walk.

Her fists clenched as she spun to follow after him. She felt a strong hand grab her wrist and looked up at her friend. Tears began to fill her eyes as she twisted out of the older girl's grip. She ran after the boy, but he was already lost from sight. "I hate you." She whispered softly.

"I hate you!"

00000

"Damn it." Naruto muttered as he walked home. "Obaa-chan tricked me again. Promising me a mission worthy of a future Hokage, then giving me a lousy babysitting job." He rubbed his head where the three children had been pulling his hair. "I hope the stupid fox's power regenerates hair as well. Sakura-chan will never go out with me if I have bald spots." Even as he said the words he regretted it, it pulled up memories of the recent months.

The attack by Sound and Sand had left Konoha with significant losses. In the confusion of the attack, the Sound Four had come and taken Sasuke. Naruto had tracked Sasuke down and fought him at the waterfall, the place known as the Battle of the End. The irony of the name forced a small, sad, smile to Naruto's lips. Following his failure to defeat Sasuke and return him home, he'd had to face Sakura. She hadn't blamed him for the failure. She hadn't blamed him for losing Sasuke to Orochimaru. She hadn't blamed him for failing to live up to his promise to her. She had smiled at him, happy just to see him alive.

"Still…" He stopped for a moment and looked at the sky. "All that pain I saw in her eyes. It was because of my failure." He reached out to the sky and slowly closed his fist. "I made her a promise of a lifetime to get Sasuke back. I will keep that promise." He looked back down to the road and resumed his walk. "I need to get stronger first though. Hurry up and come back, Ero-sennin. I need you to train me."

Before long he spotted someone else on the road who seemed to be heading in the direction of Konoha. He quickened his pace to catch up to the figure. As he came closer, he could see it was a boy about his age.

The boy carried a light pack on his back complete with a small bedroll. He was dressed simply in a pair of dark green shorts and a black sleeveless shirt. He was fair skinned and had a what would be best described as a farmer's build. He turned as Naruto called to him, revealing his green eyes. His hair had looked black from behind, but his bangs could now be seen to be a striking pink in contrast. "Oh, hello there."

Naruto came up along side the boy. "Hey! Where you headed?"

The boy laughed nervously. "Well, I seem to have gotten a bit lost." He stopped as he spotted Naruto's forehead protector. "Hey…You wouldn't be from Konohagakure are you?"

"Of course!" Naruto exclaimed loudly. "I'm the number one ninja in all of Konoha! Remember the name! Uzumaki Naruto! Future Hokage!"

The boy blinked at the sudden outburst. "Uzumaki…Naruto?"

Naruto nodded. "Yep! Have you heard of me?"

The boy nodded. "Yes, though…"

"Though?"

"I thought you'd be…" The boy brought his hand up and marked a line in the air. "Taller."

"Eh?!" Naruto face faulted before quickly springing back up. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

The boy smiled apologetically. "I'm sorry. I passed through Wave Country a few days ago. I believe the bridge was similarly named." He shrugged his shoulders. "Every villager's tale varied quite a bit, so I'm not sure of the exact story, but they all referred to a great ninja who saved their village."

Naruto blinked in surprise. "They named the bridge after me?" He jumped around in excitement. "That's amazing! Wait until I tell everyone at home! I'll be famous!"

The boy laughed nervously. "Well then…"

"But they're never going to believe me." Naruto continued to think aloud as he ignored the boy's confused expression. "You can come with me right? You'll tell them what you saw, won't you?" Naruto grabbed the boy's wrist and began to run towards Konoha at full speed. "With you there to prove it they'll have to believe me! And then Sakura-chan will have to admit that I'm a great ninja!"

"Na-Naruto-san…dame…" Called the boy weakly.

Naruto did indeed stop and looked back over his shoulder. He sweat dropped as he looked down at the bruised and bloody face of the boy who had just been dragged along the road behind them. Naruto quickly helped the boy to his feet. "Gomen-ne. I guess it's been a while since I've hung out with people who aren't ninjas. I thought you'd be able to keep up behind me."

The boy rubbed his face as he tried to wipe away the dirt and faint traces of blood, but only succeeded in smearing both further. A small grin turned his lips. "It's ok, I finally got a taste of what it's like to move at a ninja's speed."

"What do you mean?" Asked Naruto as he handed the boy his water bottle.

The boy poured some of the water into his hand and rinsed his face. "I wanted to be a ninja when I was little, but I went into the family business instead." He stood and handed back the water bottle. "I never imagined ninja could move so fast."

Naruto grinned. "So, uh, would you mind coming to Konoha with me to tell my friends about the bridge?"

"I don't mind." The boy nodded in agreement. "I was actually trying to find your village when I lost my map."

The blonde shinobi blinked. "You were looking for Konoha? How come?"

The other boy laughed nervously. "Well you see…I have to repay a debt that's long over due."

Naruto began to laugh. "Tsunade-obaa-chan must have gambling debts to pay off if she's finally calling in old payments." He turned and began to walk. "Come on I'll show you the way."

The boy nodded and followed after the blonde. "Domo."

OOOOO

Sakura stared down at the numerous medical books that Tsunade had assigned her to read. For a brief moment, she almost regret the fact that she was a some supposed med-nin prodigy. She sighed and shook her head. "Don't think like that. You have a lot of work to do if you're going to help bring Sasuke back. It's not fair to expect Naruto to do all of the work." She looked down back at the text book and watched as the text began to blur.

"Don't forget that taking a break once and a while is just as important as actually studying." Called a voice.

Sakura turned as someone came up the stairs. "Shizune-sempai. What are you doing up here?"

Shizune smiled and lifted a tray with tea into view. "You and Tsunade-sama share many characteristics, but your work ethic is not one of them." She laughed lightly. "I just woke her up in her office, and I figured you'd still be hard at work from when you came in this morning."

Sakura laughed lightly as well as her stomach growled. "I guess I have been at it awhile." She cleared some of the books out of the way and made room for the tray to be set down. She was happy to see that not only had Shizune brought tea, but some small sandwiches as well. "Thanks for looking out for me Sempai."

Shizune smiled. "So what were you working on?" The pink hair kunoichi passed over one of the texts as she reached for a sandwich. "The effects of chakra on non-regenerative tissues?"

The younger girl nodded. "I've been looking at the differences between tissues that are able to undergo regeneration verses non-regenerative tissues. But, I've been wondering, if the chakra was molded into an elemental form that was suited to that tissue wouldn't it condition the cells as they grow to induce regeneration?"

Shizune stared at the girl a moment. She herself had been training for almost two years before she had begun to ask such questions. It wouldn't be long before she and Sakura were at the same level, and not long after that, Tsunade's. "It's not as simple as that. It depends on the extent of damage to an area really."

Sakura sipped her tea and raised an eyebrow. "How so?"

"Think of it this way." Shizune flipped through the textbook and pointed to one of the diagrams. "Nerve tissues don't regenerate, however, they have a high affinity for lightning-type chakra."

"So, if the nerves are only slightly damaged they will still provide enough of a conduit for the electricity in the chakra…" Ideas slowly came to light within Sakura's mind. "The transmission of the electricity will basically drag the healing chakra along with it forcing the tissue into a state of regeneration." Her eyes lit as endless applications began to form in her head. "If the damage is too extensive however, neither chakra type will move and no regenerative effects will take place." Sakura hastily finished her meal and opened a four new books and a series of scrolls. "Arigatou Sempai. That makes things much clearer."

Shizune nodded and gathered up the dirty dishes onto the tray. She studied Sakura from the top of the stairs. She almost laughed at how the young apprentice's eyes darted from source to source taking everything in at once. She moved down the steps as quietly as she could. "She's going to be a force to be reckoned with as she gets older."

OOOOO

"Akamaru! Juujin Bunshin no jutsu!" Kiba called out to his partner as he prepared to attack. There was a puff of smoke and two feral looking Kibas now stood ready. "Garou Ga!"

Hinata swallowed hard as her teammates came spinning at her at incredible speeds. "Byakugan!" The world slowed and she could see the rotations of both attackers. Her hands fell into the positions she had learned ever since she was a little girl. She forced her arms to stop shaking as chakra began to center in her palms. "Juuken!" Her palm extended and struck the first target before spinning and releasing her other palm into her second attacker. Her eyes went wide as both of the clones dissolved into thousands of black insects. "Kikai bunshin?"

The young Hyuuga heiress barely manage to roll out of the way as the real Kiba attacked her from behind. Leaping backwards she threw three kunai, two of which held Kiba and Akamaru at bay while the other forced Shino out from hiding in her blind spot. "When did they switch the jutsus?" She quickly scanned through the training ground. "And where is Kurenai-sensei?"

Kiba charged again. "Let's go Akamaru!"

Shino raised his arms and thousands of insects began to fill the air. "Kikai."

Hinata braced herself for the two attacks. Akamaru was first to enter her attack range. She hated the idea of hurting the little dog, but she had to treat this as an actual mission. A focused chakra punch landed to the canine's abdomen effectively incapacitated him as she turned to face Kiba.

She flipped back to avoid his fist but walked right into Shino's destruction bugs. The insects hit her like a battering ram in the back. For a moment she panicked. She had seen the effects of people on whom the kikai had fed. She felt her muscles begin to weaken as her chakra was eaten away. She focused the way her cousin and father had taught her. "Hakke Shou Kaiten!" Chakra poured from her body as she began to spin, forming a protective sphere around her that repelled both Shino's bugs and Kiba's attack. The jutsu ended nearly as quickly as it began and Hinata stood ready for a new attack, but her breathing was labored. The technique was a trademark of her family, but she didn't have the control that Neji and her father had. She was still new to using it and she had used far to much chakra performing it.

She leapt back as flash of white darted past her. "Akamaru?" Her voice barely noticeable. The little dog should not have been unable to move for at least another hour. Hinata braced herself as her to teammates attacked again. Her hands raced to her front and formed the seal she needed. "Kai!" The world, and her teammates, shimmered and vanished. She looked around and found her teammates and teacher on the far side of the training grounds.

Kurenai clicked her watch and smiled. "One minute twenty-seven seconds. Excellent work Hinata-chan."

Hinata smiled, but it was short lived. "I should have been faster though. I should have seen through the genjutsu when the Juujin bunshin turned into kikai bunshin. My Byakugan should have seen the difference."

"Geez Hinata." Kiba released Akamaru to let him run towards Hinata. "Don't be so hard on yourself."

Shino nodded. "Kurenai-sensei is a genjutsu specialist. The fact that you were able to see through a jounin level technique is impressive."

Kurenai placed her hand on the girl's shoulder. "They're right you know."

Hinata smiled and looked down at the ground.

Kiba laughed. "Well, that's the standard Hinata response." He jumped to his feet. "So? What's next Sensei?"

OOOOO

"Oi! Naruto!" Kotetsu called out from his post at the gate. "Who's that with you?"

Naruto turned. "Oh this is…" He turned slowly, suddenly aware of the fact that he had spent the last few hours traveling with someone who's name he did not know. "Ano…"

The boy smiled. "Daiki."

Kotetsu waved them over to his post. "Please sign you name to the visitor's log." He looked the boy carefully. "The purpose of your visit?"

"He owes Tsunade-obaa-chan money." Naruto laughed.

"Na-Naruto-san, please don't announce my business affairs so haphazardly to the world." Pleaded Daiki.

This time it was Kotetsu's partner, Izumo, who laughed. "You'll find that Naruto can often be heard in the village running at the mouth."

"Eh!?" Naruto's finger pointed accusingly at the chunin guard. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

Izumo laughed at the young gennin. "Exactly what it sounds like. You never shut up."

Daiki laughed nervously and turned to walk away. "Well, I'll let you guys finish this argument privately."

Naruto spun and raced after the boy. "Wait! I need you to prove that they named a bridge after me!"

Kotetsu raised an eyebrow and shook his head before returning to his seat at the gate. Izumo shrugged his shoulders and did the same.

Naruto caught up to the boy quickly. "Come on, I'll take you to see Obaa-chan."

"Actually, first I need to see about finding an inn for the night." Daiki replied apologetically. "I'm sure you have to report in immediately. Please don't let me keep you."

"Don't worry about it! Come on, I'll show you were the inn is." Naruto dragged the boy along behind him and in short order Daiki had a room reserved. "Now let's go!" He stopped as he heard Daiki's stomach growl. "You hungry?"

Daiki nodded sheepishly. "Please Naruto-san, I don't want to waste any more of your time." He found himself once again being dragged behind the blonde as something about ramen was said. Minutes later he found himself sitting at small ramen shop.

"This place has the best ramen anywhere." Naruto proclaimed as he placed two orders. "Once you taste it, you'll never eat anything but ramen ever again."

Daiki sweat dropped. "You mean to tell me…you only eat ramen?"

The old man laughed as he served up the two orders. "You kidding? Naruto here's my best customer. I'll be able to retire early at the rate he eats."

Daiki sweat dropped at this. "But all that salt…"

The old man's eyes glimmered with evil intent for a moment. "Are you saying my food is salty?"

The young traveler panicked. "Not at all! I meant from the instant ramen! I would never criticize this fine, wholesome, fresh food you serve here!"

"Oh, ok then."

Naruto began to laugh as her polished off his first bowl and ordered a second. Daiki ate a bit more slowly.

"There you are." Muttered a voice as a hand parted the blue half curtain of the shop. "Godaime-sama wants to know why the hell you haven't reported in that your mission was completed."

Naruto didn't turn as he began eating his second bowl of ramen. "The fact that she called that a mission is reason enough."

Daiki turned and bowed to the young man in the green vest. "It's my fault I'm afraid. He was helping me."

"Don't apologize to him." Naruto turned. "Shikamaru doesn't really care."

The young chunin nodded. "No I don't, but you're being troublesome…for me." He grabbed the back of Naruto's collar and began dragging him from the ramen stand. "I was given orders to drag you to Godaime-sama's office before moving on to any of my other duties today. It's my job is troublesome enough without you creating more work for me."

Naruto struggled to free himself, reaching for his half-eaten meal. "My ramen!"

Daiki waved as the two friends disappeared into the crowd. "Could I get a second order? And some naruto on the side?" He tapped his foot lightly on the ground and waited for his meal. He ate this bowl slower. "I don't suppose you'd consider coming to my home town and opening up a stand would you?"

The old man laughed. "No, Konoha is my home. Nothing would get me to leave."

"I see. That's quite a shame." He finished his ramen and tucked the fish cakes into a small food bag before settling his tab and leaving the stand, tripping as he did so. The small pink-swirled naruto fell from his hand and spilled onto the street. Seconds later a few stray cats had grabbed them up and were running down the street.

"You ok?" Called the old man from behind the counter.

Daiki stood and brushed the dirt off his hands. "I'll live." He looked down the street as the cats made off with his leftovers. "Ah well."

"Let me make you another batch." Offered the ramen vendor.

Daiki shook his head. "I'm afraid I've already spent today's allowance. Another time perhaps."

The old man looked on confused as the boy walked way.

The traveler walked the streets slowly, taking in everything around him. "I almost regret the way we met Naruto." His words were soft so that only he could here them as he turned down a side street. "Under different circumstances, we may have been good friends." With a deep breath, Daiki vanished in a puff of smoke.

OOOOO

"I don't care if they named a bridge after you!" The vein in Tsunade's temple was now throbbing to twice it's normal size. "You know that you're supposed to report in as soon as you're done with a mission."

"That shouldn't have even qualified as a D-rank!" Naruto shot back. "Was it really that important to tell you those damn gaki tried to pull my hair out?"

Tsunade pounded her hand on the desk, causing it to groan with the strain. "You're lucky to be going out on missions at all with that attitude!"

"I've proven I can handle real missions!"

"Like the time with Itachi and Kisame during your training?" Tsunade's words were cold and deadly. She watched sadly as the fight went out of the young ninja. "Jiraiya sent word this morning. Akatsuki has moved recently and he's had some trouble in tracking them." She paused, her statement hanging heavy in the air. "Until further notice…you are to remain within the walls of Konoha. The only people who may rescind this order are myself, Jiraiya, and under emergency conditions, Kakashi. Is that understood." Minutes passed without response. "Naruto?"

"Hai…" Naruto grumbled softly. "Wakata."

The Hokage nodded and watched Naruto leave. "For what it's worth Naruto, I don't like what this means any more than you do." If there was a response, she didn't hear it as the door clicked shut. She looked down as Tonton pushed against her leg. "I know." She scratched the little pig behind the ears. "I know all too well."

OOOOO

Kakashi sighed and glanced up from his book. "Just how long do you plan to follow me?"

"That depends. How long have you known I was here verses how long you were pretending to ignore me?"

Kakashi sighed again as he turned around. "What do you want?"

"Oh, so very many things." Daiki smiled disarmingly. "Let's start with a few answers. Do you know who I am?"

Kakashi shook his head. "Should I?" He paused as he studied the boy. "If we're going to talk, at least release the genjutsu."

"I would have thought you'd understand the need for this. But if you insist, who am I to disagree." Daiki grinned as he bit each thumb and wrote the seals on his arms. "Shinkai."

Kakashi watched as the travel pack dissolved into nothingness and a small hip pouch became visible as well as a kunai holster on his right knee. A faint scar on the boy's cheek was also revealed. "Why use a genjutsu for such minor alterations?"

"It served to provide easier access to your village." Daiki smiled. "I expected to fool that idiot student of yours, but the guards' response was even more pathetic." He shrugged. "Next question, does it still hurt?"

Kakashi's visible eyebrow raised an inch. "Does what still hurt?"

"The scar on your cheek." Daiki's smile widened as he watched the jounin stiffen. "You know? The one my father gave you? Looks a lot like the one you gave me." He pointed to the scar on his own cheek and smirked as he saw the silver haired jounin stiffen.

"Who are you?" Kakashi finally asked outright.

"I've been going by Daiki recently." The boy reached for his hip pouch and pulled two items from it. "Tell me Sharingan, do you recognize these?"

In all his years, all his many missions, even as an ANBU, Kakashi had rarely allowed his emotions to get the better of him. The two forehead protectors he saw held in front of him now made his blood run cold.

The first was easily recognizable showing the distinctive swirl pattern of a leaf with a long and jagged crack ran through it, the symbol of a missing-nin. By itself such an item would have had little meaning, he had hunted a few missing-nin in his younger days, instead it was the other headband that gained his attention. Upon first glance one would think that the design was of Iwa origin, but the bottom was wider and smoke bellowed from the jagged top. It was the symbol of village thought fallen before it had even fully arisen. "Engakure…Naoki?"

"I see you finally get it Sharingan, but he vanished years ago." Daiki replaced the headbands to his pouch. "Perhaps after our debt is settled he will return."

"Our debt?"

Daiki continued to smile. "You took everything he worked for and destroyed it. He defended us until his last breath, but because of that damned eye of yours he never had a chance." His hands began to form into fists. "Without him, without them…our village had no one to lead the way. We nearly vanished completely." He laughed. "But we survived somehow, climbed back out of the blood and dirt you left us to drown in."

"Naoki…" Kakashi stopped as a kunai planted itself into the dirt between his feet.

"I told you, he's gone."

Kakashi was now beginning to realize that something was wrong with the boy. The smile was still present, but it did not match his body language nor the hatred in his eyes.

"Pull it up." Daiki ordered. "Your headband, pull it up."

The demand startled Kakashi. After what had just been said, this boy wanted him to use the Sharingan? It made no sense.

"You want to know why? Don't you?" The smile returned. "It's simple really. I want you to feel what they felt. That even at full strength, there was nothing they could do. It's unfortunate for you that the old monkey already croaked, you now have to endure it alone." He laughed at the confused look in Kakashi's eye. "The knowledge that it won't end cleanly with your death. That I'm going to tear Konoha to the ground."

"First you insult Sandaime-sama, and then threaten my home." Kakashi regained his composure quickly. There was history which needed to be addressed, but that could wait until after the problem was negated. He lifted his headband revealing the crimson color Sharingan. "I will not allow either of those to go free of consequence."

Daiki smiled, oblivious to the fact that other people on the street were beginning to stare. "We'll see." He bit his thumb and traced a seal over his forehead in blood. "Nikai."

The wave of bloodlust and killer intent that exploded out from the boy physically pushed Kakashi back a few steps. He could not remember anyone ever possessing so much hatred. Even Sasuke's hatred of his brother did not seem to compare. He would learn later that the civilians and less experience shinobi of Konoha would be reporting to the hospital with signs of unknown illness from these sensations. "I see. You used a genjutsu on yourself to mask your intentions."

"Modify my personality actually." Daiki nodded, the humor gone from his voice. "I seriously doubt I'd have gotten into the village like this."

They stood motionless for a few moments, seemingly evaluating each other. Kakashi had been expecting a fight. Anyone crazy enough to attack a man in his own village must have some level of skill, but he had not expected to encounter this level of bloodlust. By now there were certainly reinforcements on the way to their location, but he still had to look out for the other people on the street.

His hand began to move, intending to exchange the book he was still holding for a salvo of kunai and shuriken. Pain suddenly rocked his world as Daiki's foot collided with the bottom of his jaw and launched him into the air. He felt a second blow to his back at the base of his spine that caused his legs to go numb for moment. The third blow caught him below the solar plexus robbing him of his breath before he crashed into the street. He looked up as Daiki turned his back to him, purposely showing him the single, white, ring on the back of his black shirt.

"I have studied you and this village for a very long time now Sharingan in preparation of this day." Daiki's voice was low and full of deadly promise. "I know you better than you know yourself." He turned and stalked silently toward his target. "Know that there is nothing you can do. Know that you are the reason that destruction has been brought to your fellow villagers' doorstep. Know that you failed to protect them." He pulled a kunai from his holster and held it over Kakashi's throat. "And know that it all began when you betrayed someone who called you her friend."

End Chapter One

Rider: Alright then. As always, please leave a little something if you have some time. Comments, critiques, criticisms, are all greatly valued. Flame if you must, I'll use them to roast marshmallows or something.

Star: (Jealously guarding her Itachi plushie) You are such a dork.

Rider: Meh. Well that's all for now. Until the next, live well all.

Star: Later people!

Wraiths: Seriously, who drank my Red Bull? I'm looking at you Rider and I want an answer.

Rider: I don't know what you're talking about.

Wraiths: (Holds up a small plushie) Perhaps Hinata knows?

Rider: (chases Wraiths far into the distance) Give me back Hinata-chan!