Disclaimer: Tries to go and steal all the rights to Naruto and attempts to run away into the night only to be caught by (Mishimato)… I cry and say, "Naruto isn't mine!!!"

AN: Heh, heh, heh… I suck… Long time no update my fellow readers! It's been quite a while (Please don't hurt me )… You are all very patient readers as I'm sure there are many other great fanfictions out there for you to read to pass the time (No sarcasm seriously) :P I'd like to thank and apologize to all those who have been waiting for this chapter and have given great reviews! To be honest this delay is pretty much due to me being lazy…haha (head bows in shame) and encountering a ton of writer's blocks. I had to catch up with the latest chapters of Naruto (Soooo sad!) and other manga as well… heehee… Please read and try to enjoy this chapter :) Hope to see you by the end of this page (Giving you all a teeth-baring smile). P.S.( this website recently made uploading so confusing for me too because of their new layout and whatnot :P haha… I'm still such a noob- took me the longest time!)

It was an hour before the sun's peaking hour. Naruto was resting against the village gates, eyes closed, submerged in his thoughts. A note, from the Hokage the night before, was clenched in his fists that contained a message saying another ninja is going to accompany him on the mission. What kind of joke is this? I don't even know who I'm waiting for! In the next few minutes, several other villagers and ninjas gathered near the gates including Kakashi (Surprise! He's early!), who stood opposite of Naruto.

The ANBU carefully scanned the small crowd, examining each person but concluded that none of them was the one he was waiting for. He turned his gaze to Kakashi where they locked eyes. Wind blew silently past their awkward moment.

"Did you wake up several hours earlier just to gel every piece of hair on your head?" Naruto spoke first.

A wave of déjà vu hit Kakashi before he replied, "It's none of your business." Leave my hair alone! He looked around for his partner in the mission. Is it really necessary to have another person on this? "Are you on a mission?" He asked out of simple curiosity.

"It's none of your business." Naruto promptly answered.

"Such a pipsqueak…" Kakashi muttered glancing away to the other side of the gate.

Eyebrows twitching, Naruto fumed at the man, being too sensitive about his height, "WHO ARE YOU CALLING A PIPSQUEAK WHO DOESN'T SHOW UP IN YOUR EYES?!"

"Oi! When did I ever say that--!?" Their watches began to beep.

Both scanned the growing crowd again for their supposed team-mate. Ten minutes passed without either of them realizing that their "partner" was already there.

"They're late!" They both said at the same time.

Hearing each other, their jaws clenched.

"Who the hell are you waiting for?!" They chorused together again.

"Heh! They must've come, seen you and left." Naruto commented.

"Perhaps, they came, saw how short you were and left." Kakashi offered his remark.

They wanted to avoid the only possibility that was offered to them. Slowly, yet progressing… it registered with them.

"Damn that perverted old man!" They both cursed the Sandaime.

Kakashi and Naruto began to close the gap between them in strides. "Look here, I don't need you on this mission with me, got that?" Naruto explained clearly.

Kakashi could only laugh sarcastically, "You're dealing with the toad sennin, like you have the ability to bring him back here."
"What makes you think I can't?" Naruto retorted.

"Okay," Kakashi became more formal, "Where do you think Jiraiya is right now?"

"Kumogakure no sato (Hidden cloud village)." Naruto had gathered all the information on the whereabouts of the sennin but he could tell that the man won't sit quietly in one spot for too long.

His Team 7 sensei began to laugh sarcastically to display how Naruto's answer was wrong.

Naruto felt much annoyance towards the man, "And I suppose you know exactly where he is?"

Kakashi cracked his back, warming up, "Of course! I've known him for some time; it's pretty easy to track him down." Stretching his neck, he glanced at Naruto. "Therefore, you don't have to come with me on this mission."

"Fine. I won't go with you… wait… I don't even want to go with you. I'll bring him back before you're even halfway to wherever you're going." Naruto said calmly while making sure his Ninjaken was strapped tightly to his back.

"Do you want to bet on it?"

"Sure!" Naruto automatically agreed, "Whoever loses will have to do anything the winner requests." (AN: Which is only one request :P)

"Sounds good! I already have some ideas of what to make you do when I get back first." Kakashi pulled out his "arrogance card" proudly. "We'll have to make this official."

"I was thinking exactly the same thing." The supposed blonde- now brunette- drew up a scroll with the wager written on it. Letting Kakashi look over the contents, the man drew his own blood first, printed it on the page and handed it back to Naruto.

"This is your last chance to back out." Kakashi advised carefully with a smirk.

Cutting his thumb, Naruto grinned under his mask, "Heh! I won't go back on my word…" The bet was now official as Naruto made it disappear into smoke. He found himself being stared at curiously by Kakashi. "What now?"

The former ANBU captain could only look away with a nagging feeling in his mind with the phrase "I won't go back on my word" echoing in his head."So when do you want to start?"

Naruto fixed his eyes to his watch, "Ten seconds." The man shrugged in response. They patiently waited for the time to count down. Five more seconds to go. "Don't you have a three-man team to take care of already?"

"Eh?" How did he know? Although many other shinobis have known that he had Team 7, hardly any ANBUs cared to learn of these miniscule things. "Are you stalking me?" He could feel a sudden menacing glare coming from the ANBU.

"Who would want to stalk you anyways?" The watch beeped. "Baka!" Naruto vanished from sight along with Kakashi who was cursing the boy.

Trailing back to the Hokage's room, Sarutobi leaned back in his chair reliving a sigh after watching the encounter through his crystal ball. "No need to thank me." He grinned, falling into a nap.

-Back to Naruto Clones (The one taking the exam and ANBU) (OMG NOT THESE THINGS AGAIN!!!)-

Only one day's notice, he's pretty responsible. Naruto sarcastically applauded the jounin after they received the registration papers. They were given a choice by Kakashi to choose whether or not they want to take the Chuunin Exam and left without another word giving them only hours to decide. I never really got the chance to take it before. He mused while he made his way back to the apartment. This should entertain me. The clone sank into the bed, waiting for morning to come.

"Oi." The other clone clad in ANBU gear nudged the one on the bed. "I'm going out for duty now."


"Don't forget to turn off the stove after you make ramen in the morning."

"You don't have to remind me, I'm you so I'll remember." Both clones stared at each other in silence. This is… awkward.

Next Day:

-Sigh- There was scribbling sounds surrounding him –Sigh- There was a cough and more scribbling. ­–Sighhh- Looking straight down at the table Naruto saw a piece of paper, not just any paper, but a test paper. "Naze?" A girl with pupil-less eyes turned to look at him. "Why…?!" He said a bit more angrily. His hand shook, I hate tests! I'm too lazy to write tests. Looking around the room he saw many heads down, some scratching their temples, others grabbing their head as though they didn't know what to do. He felt someone still staring at him. Glancing to his right he gave the girl, Hyuuga Hinata, a wide smile and quickly turned away hoping she'll stop gazing at him the whole time.

Izumo was seated towards the left of him, clipboard in hand, marking names off. Lucky, he only has to make check-marks. He glared at his team-mate.

The one-eyed ANBU felt uncomfortable… no… that was an understatement… excruciatingly uncomfortable. Making the effort to look up, he saw his captain giving him dagger looks which made him shiver. It's not my fault you have to take the test… The blue eyes didn't look away. You're the one who chose to do this, taichou. Finally finding the strength to turn away, Izumo proceeded with his "jounin" duties.

Discovering Izumo was ignoring him, Naruto faced the front to see Morino Ibiki, a man who he greatly respected. He once had to go through his testing to show if each ANBU member can withhold information through mental torture. Fortunately for Naruto and the rest of Squad 3, they passed with much exhaustion and painful memories. His interrogation skills were enough to have the suspect submit according to his command as though their will was in his control. I can learn a few things from him… He mused again, not planning to lift his hand to pick up the pencil.

Naruto scanned the room full of shinobis once again. At the side he spotted Gaara performing a jutsu creating a third eye. It's doesn't seem like he's here to earn a vest. The sand nin's eyes shot at him. Those eyes… it's so hard to tell… are they mint green or light blue? Light bluish green or light greenish blue? Huh… Naruto tilted his head side-to-side pondering the simple question while Gaara could only watch the blonde from afar. Several seconds passed till Gaara carried on with manoeuvring the third eye.

It was 10 minutes before the final question commenced. Morino Ibiki gazed around the room slowly and observantly. He noticed several shinobis have successfully discovered the true meaning of the test while others still had panicked looks on their faces. The Rookie 9 seemed to be holding up pretty well in his opinion, except for the blonde who seemed to not have picked up his pencil even once. A moment ago he found the boy staring at him with piercing blue eyes, which reminded him of that ANBU.

The room was only brightened by the tiny lamp centered in the ceiling; the only furniture that occupied the area was a chair. Several other members from the Torture and Interrogation Force were situated around the room as though guarding that one individual. He was the first for Squad 3, the last group to take the test. They always say to target the head of the group… once they are defeated the rest will crumble. Several squads have failed due to at least one member in their team who had given up the information; few have passed. In the sheer 15 minutes, he can make the interrogation seem like hours, days or even weeks, that was the beauty of his skills… attacking the human mind.

The one being questioned bore the kitsune mask Ibiki once remembered was worn by none other than Asako Nozue, an ANBU he only knew as the dangerous spy. Freely seated in the chair, the ANBU Captain silently waited for the torture to begin. The ANBUs were given the choice as to whether they were okay with their masks being removed. This was the first individual who requested to not have his mask removed.

Feeling curious, Ibiki asked, "Why?"

The ANBU seemed to smile, "That's your job to find out isn't it?" The 27 year-old couldn't help but grin. This will be interesting.

Flipping through the files to quickly gather some information on the "suspect", Ibiki discovered that the ANBU was merely 12 years-old. However, the air of childishness and immaturity wasn't present around his surrounding; instead the sense of maturity replaced that charisma. Guess the Uchiha kid isn't the only prodigy. He thought to himself. Ibiki handed the files back to one of his subordinates, while another started the clock.

"Let's begin." (AN: I won't include the process since I'm not one for torturing and interrogating haha… so I have no idea how to make people succumb to others… or do I?)

13 minutes have passed and the only thing that the proctor could get out of the ANBU was a casual response or a shrug of the shoulders. The mask was constantly facing the man as though following his every move, whereas others would usually avoid eye contact. Ibiki, while interrogating, constantly examined any sudden changes in the ANBU's body language or voice that he could use for his advantage. The untied hands and feet were calm and unmoving, the heart-rate was normal and there were no signs of any sweating. It made it seem as though the ANBU was having a laid-back conversation with the interrogator.

"I must admit, you're pretty good." The big bear-like man commented as he circled the room.

Staring just straight ahead the ANBU laughed, "Why thank you."

Meeting eye contact once again, Ibiki chuckled, "Too bad we can't use physical force on you."

There was silence for a while. "To be honest, you've already done a lot of damage to me." The ANBU Captain admitted. "I'm glad that Konoha holds such a great commanding officer like you. I wonder why they call you a sadist."

"I can say the same for you. But even though you've almost survived this test doesn't mean the rest of your squad will."

Deep cerulean eyes looked intently at the officer through the mask-holes, "They will survive." The interrogator master was surprised by the trust and confidence that the captain placed on his squad. Looking away the ANBU added, "If they don't… I'll have to think of something then… haha…" Shivers ran down the bear man's back. And I wonder why they don't call you a sadist…

--Beep-- Beep--

Standing up straight, the ANBU gave a small salute to Ibiki and exited the door. What an amazing kid… Ibiki remarked as his assistants called for the next person to come in, unaware that on the other side of the door the ANBU Captain stood trembling slightly, a bit of sweat running down the side of his head. Being true to his words, the rest of the squad passed all masks intact with painful memories and experiences.

"Squad 3… is strong." Other officers of the Torture and Interrogation Force commented. Even though the last three ANBUs showed more signs of being tortured they still held on.

"Ah…" The man simply said.

Only a minute till the tenth question was set out. Many pencils have been set down and many others scribbling faster within the milliseconds. Till then, Ibiki noticed the spiky blonde picking up the pencil for the first time. Looking away to watch the clock, the seconds counted down to… "Ok and now, we will begin the 10th question." His voice rumbled causing some to shake in their chairs.

Naruto twirled the hated pencil in his fingers ignoring the examiner's added rules to the tenth question. Boring… In the background voices were arguing. "If you choose to take it and answer incorrectly…" "What kind of stupid rule is that?!" Several seconds later, participants began to leave the room with their team-mates. I'm hungry… I want to eat ramen… ramen… "Shimatta!" His fist slammed the desk loudly. I think I forgot to turn off the stove when I made ramen this morning!

"N…Na…Naruto?" The timid voice made him jump having forgotten about Hinata sitting beside him.

Damn… I said it out loud… The whole room was focussed on him… What now…? Clearing his throat he presented wide goofy grin, "Ha…!" What were they talking about again? Sakura and Sasuke were sweating bullets wondering what Naruto was doing. Ah. Sou… "I'm not going to run away! I'll become the Hokage either way!"

Ibiki menacingly asked the question again, "This is the decision of your life, are you sure you want to take this?"

"Heh, of course… I never back down from my word!" Naruto finished off. Whew… saved myself from that…

The classroom had a very intense vibe circling them.

"To the 78 who remain congratulations on passing the first test!" Ibiki announced loudly with a pleasant smile as Naruto hopefully wished he hadn't set his apartment on fire.

Something suddenly made his ears perk up. Oh no… Naruto sweatdropped when a gust of wind blew in along with a black clump that could only be…

"ARRIVING!!!" The tomboyish voice of Anko's echoed throughout the room. (AN: I made Anko say her favourite saying ^^) She saw Naruto give her an expressionless face as though he did not know her. Small irritated marks appeared on the back of her head while Naruto shook his head slightly away covering his face in embarrassment. T-ta-taichou…! Ignoring him for now she proceeded with her duty, "This is no time to be celebrating! I am the examiner for the second test Mitarashi Anko!!! Now follow me!!!"

Naruto was now feigning a fake smile at her as her entrance failed to entice the participants in a non-weird way. Such messy writing… the blonde referred to the black cloth that she forcefully hung. I can't believe she's an ANBU… let alone in my squad… and she's not even pretending to be herself... How does the old man read her reports? An image of the Hokage appeared in his head which said, "I don't even attempt to look at them."

Ibiki emerged from behind the sign with a disgruntled expression, "Bad timing." Izumo couldn't help but sputter a laugh behind his clipboard. A deathly aura filled the room heading towards the right-eye covered man.

"There's too many left…" The "aura" hovered over Anko's team-mate threateningly. "… At least the second test will cut the number down to at least half. I'm getting excited already." Her face was now hidden in the shadows creeping out the others in the room. The room began to empty but Izumo could only stay in place not being able to move. Taking the moment where Ibiki had stepped out of the room for a brief moment, Anko released her threat upon Izumo. What remained was a man sprawled on the floor cursing his team-mate… Damn you short woman!

The first testing area was now free of all bodies except for one who was now picking up the tests that remained on the tables. Picking one up in particular, his eyes widened slightly. If I remember correctly… this is where that blonde sat… A flash of Naruto's face shone in his mind… There was only a minute left… Remembering the first time he picked up his pencil was in those last 60 seconds… Yet he managed to finish each question correctly without even having to cheat… Uzumaki Naruto… Before he could finalize a conclusion he heard some movement. Passing through the chairs and desks he saw Izumo laying there with a disgruntled face. "You look comfortable..." He joked knowing the reason why he was in that position.

"Urusai ne!" Izumo could only mumble having his whole body paralyzed, "I'm going to kill her!"

Retreating back towards the door, the examiner laughed, "Good luck with that." And he was gone.

"W-WA-WAITT!!!" His last hope of getting out of his situation sooner was lost.


-Back to Naruto and Kakashi

"Damn." Stepping out of the last bar in town, Naruto felt a tad bit defeated. He already drained every bit of information of Jiraiya out of every single person in the Cloud Village. "If Spiky Hair gets to Jiraiya before me I'd rather give up ramen than follow what that gel-obsessed man tells me to do." Naruto gritted through his teeth. "No… not ramen… anything but ramen…" Before he could continue his self-rant, there was a tap on his shoulder. Straightening up before turning he wished to Kami-sama that it wasn't someone he knew. "Eh? Can I help you?" There was a middle-aged drunken old man who stood wobbly in front of him.

"Heard you're –HIC- lookin' for Jiraiya- HIC- no?" Naruto nodded still in shock that he was talking to a drunk in broad daylight. "You seem like a nice boy so I'll tell ya okay?" Making a toothy grin he whispered to the ANBU quietly, "Good fellow… treated me to a couple of drinks and before he left he said he was going to Takumi no Sato… heeheehee." He quickly covered his mouth as though he was afraid that the information would get him into trouble.

"Ojisan!" Someone shouted from a distance. Before Naruto could turn to see who it was, the person had arrived in front of them already. "How many times have I told you to stop running away from the hospital? And drinking sake!?" She pinched the man on his arm. Naruto could tell she was in her late 20s but what caught his interest were the dark marks on her face. There were two strips that ran downward from the middle of the cheek to the side of the face, similar to the Inuzuka Clan's but different. Her light brown hair was put up in a ponytail and she was now currently dragging the patient by the ear.

"ITAI!!! It hurts Rin-chan!" The drunkard yelled trying to get away. "Boy, boy! Help me!"

"Are you a ninja, Rin-san?" Naruto asked straightforwardly ignoring the man's cries for rescue.

The woman paused in her steps. "You're from Konohagakure right?"


"Then I have nothing to say, excuse me." She continued on while seething about how the man was having an eye surgery soon and shouldn't be going on drinking alcohol.

Naruto stood, still watching their backs, "…" Can I believe that guy?!

With Kakashi:

"Chikusho… he's not here." Kakashi believed the pervert-sennin would wander around the Grass Country but it seemed like he was wrong. "Damn! I can't let that shortie get to him first!" His thoughts ran through their bet not realizing that he came upon a grand bamboo forest.

Coming to a slow stop, Kakashi sighed and looked around the surroundings remembering the past. "Obito… Rin…" He situated himself on the spot for a few more minutes till he managed to bring himself out of the haunting forest.

The sun was beginning to set already yet the scarecrow man didn't have any new leads as to where the sennin has gone to. "This won't do…" Cutting his thumb along with creating some seals he summoned, "Kuchiyose no Jutsu!" his Ninken. A ninja dog with the Henohenomoheji design on its back appeared as Kakashi crouched down to its level, "Help me track down that pervert sennin."

-Back to Naruto Clones (The one taking the exam and ANBU)-

"Kowai…" Sakura failed to hide her fear of the Forest of Death.

Team 7 stood with the rest of the participants at the entrance of the second test. Naruto had used the excuse to use the bathroom as a chance to check if his house was on fire. Thank kami-sama…

"You'll soon find out why it's called the Forest of Death." Anko smirked at the bunch.

"Sooo original…" Naruto said out loud. "Isn't it basically a forest where there are things that could easily kill you?"

Laughing sarcastically she grabbed her kunai out and threw the weapon towards her captain. Taichou… you're not helping at all!

"Oto… Sakura-chan, it's dangerous." He dragged the pink-haired kunoichi into the line of fire.

"NARUTO!" Sakura shrieked immensely causing the creatures in the forest to become unsettled. Pushing her away just in time, Naruto caught the kunai with a finger.

"What the hell are you trying to do woman?! You nearly killed my team-mate!" Naruto yelled at the pupil-less woman.

"What the hell are you doing?!" Sakura bashed the blonde on the head.

"All right before we start I need you to sign these agreement forms." Anko passed the papers around in which they all signed.

Sigh… five days with an annoying girl and a loner… great… Securely hiding the "Heaven" scroll away, Team 7 ventured off into the forest. Being the last to enter, Naruto took one last look at a particular Grass team… It feels like his chakra…

After settling a mist ninja and creating a codeword, not a few more steps Naruto could sense the chakra again. Hmm… He knew that Sasuke knew that the ninja was hiding underground listening in on their conversation, and the only opportunity where he would reveal himself to the other two was when he left the scene. Sure enough he was "attacked" and is now facing a giant snake who could only be summoned by him…

"Having trouble?" Naruto rolled his eyes to the ANBU clone. "Go back to the team I'll take care of things here." The ANBU jumped down while Naruto went back. Taking out his ninjaken the fight began and ended with the slice of the metal.

Perching on a tree branch, Naruto just witnessed Sasuke and Sakura being struck with a genjutsu causing them to go into shock. Taking the opportunity, he took off and landed right on top of Sasuke. "Oops, did that hurt?" Naruto asked with a wide smile.

"Baka!" Sasuke was annoyed by his team-mate's taking of their situation; however the impact made him come back to reality. "He isn't a normal opponent! He's on a totally different level!"

"Hn… Is that so?" The blue-eyed frowned while rubbing his chin. "Give me the scroll."

"Nani?!" The raven-haired boy retorted.

"Just for now okay?" Before you go giving it up… geez… Naruto gave his best confident-like smile.

With a grunt the Uchiha quickly passed him the scroll.

"Are you done now?" The "Grass" nin appeared inches away from the group.

"Almost." Naruto said lightly while securing the paper roll. This only triggered the man to wipe a line of blood across the tattoo on his left arm to summon a snake to knock the blonde away. "Uwahh!!" Dodging just in time while the others avoided it as well. Spotting the man, Naruto made his way up to where he situated on the snake. "Pretty skin you have on." He managed to cut the man's face, leaving a gash where blood did not seem to run down.

The man scowled at the boy, "Ah, if memory serves me you're the Kyuubi vessel aren't you?" The others were too far down to hear him say it.

"Yeah and what?"

A clone came behind up from the back to hold him while the "Grass" nin performed a Fuin Jutsu. Before the nin could commence the seal, someone laughed beside him.

"These old-school tricks are really old you know…" Naruto brought a blue flame around his arm and grabbed the man's face. "…Orochimaru."

"AHHH!" The snake man tried to salvage the deteriorating skin but it was useless. "Kisama!" He glared at the boy while his last piece of stolen skin fell to the ground. Orochimaru was still wondering whether this boy was as stupid as others had said. Adjusting his hitaite with the Sound Village symbol, the sennin laughed. "Kuzo… you're forgetting one thing." Raising his arm, "You're stepping on my snake." He swung down his arm as he took off while his summoned beast attempted to swallow the blonde whole.

Sasuke had activated his Sharingan to see what was going on but before he knew it, the same man that had attacked them was flying towards them with a seemingly different face. "Shimatta! Sakura watch out!" The two genins jumped out of Orochimaru's way. Getting into a fighting stance the Uchiha was about to attack.

"Too bad I don't have enough time to test out your skills but I'm sure that they are as just as good as your brother's." Orochimaru smiled sadistically towards him.

This caused the ears to perk up at the mention of his brother, "Omai… who the hell are you?!" He demanded angrily.

"Fufufu… my name is Orochimaru, someone who could give you the power that you seek." He lured with his silky voice catching Sasuke with his words.

Drunken in the bait that Orochimaru set out, Sasuke didn't realize the man had already created some seals that caused his neck to extend towards him. "SASUKE!" Sakura alerted the Uchiha somehow not being able to do anything about it. The fangs sunk into his neck. Grinning in succession of marking his next victim, Orochimaru retreated back into his normal neck size.

"Just a little present from me—." His victim disappeared into smoke as well as the girl. "Nani?!" Looking for the source of trouble in his plans, he spotted Naruto once again facing directly towards him. "Kuzo… who exactly are you?" The snake man's eyes narrowed in curiosity as though scanning the boy for more information. He could sense his prized snake was sent back to its realm. It's a challenge to manage such a feat in mere seconds.

The blue flame surrounding his arm had dissipated but the ones in his eyes remained. "You don't have to know." Taking a step towards the missing-nin, the man unconsciously moved back slightly. "Scared?"

His teeth clenched tightly together having been slightly intimidated by a 12 year-old. Coughing up Kusanagi, the metal glinted in the minimal sunlight that was leaking into the forest. He sprung towards the boy at a sharp speed, "You're just asking for death!"

Naruto could only smirk. "Maybe I am." They clashed in center.

"Sasukeee!" The childish female scream rang in his head while the image of Orochimaru extending his neck towards him haunted his vision. Am I dead? This can't be happening… I… I have to kill him!! I can't be dead… Dark eyes shot open staring up towards the branches of the grand trees belonging to the Forest of Death. Sasuke noticed he was taking short panting breaths while cold sweat ran down the side of his face. Calming down he turned his head left and right, spotting Sakura a few feet away from him still seemingly unconscious. "What happened?" All he could remember was Orochimaru attacking them and then it was black.

It was quiet; too unusual, as if something was missing. "Naruto…" Believing the blonde's hair and orange jumpsuit would be spotted easily, his team-mate was nowhere to be seen. "Dammit, where'd that dobe…" Stopping mid-sentence, Sasuke reflected back on the last couple of fights, "Dobe… are you really that stupid?"

"Sasukeee!" Sakura sprang up from where she lay. Her whole body was shivering, skin prickling and pale. Looking around and realizing where they were she sighed a relief to see Sasuke in an un-dead state. "Sasuke…" Joining the Uchiha they both observed their surrounding, "Where are we? Where's Naruto?"

There was a roaring echoing from a distance; turning their attention towards the source of the disturbance, they spotted a massive snake emerging, overlooking the forest. "What the hell…?" Sasuke could only utter at the moment as Sakura gripped his arm tightly. "Let's go." He forcefully pried the girl's hands away from him as he jumped off from branch-to-branch. Naruto… you better stay alive!

"M-ma-matte!" Sakura quickly tried to catch up.

"Fufufu… Maybe I should consider you as my new target." Orochimaru licked his lips with an anticipating smile, watching Naruto while perched on top of Manda. "It'd be rude of me to leave now but…" The snake began to raise its tail, "… I have some matters to attend to."

"Shimatta…" Naruto dodged with Shunpo as dirt and rocks flew everywhere masking his vision. He knew he was gone by now, but Naruto certainly knew where he was headed. Ears perking, Naruto quickly sprang off towards some branches to meet up with the rest of Team 7. Anko… Something caught his attention out the corner of his eye; Naruto decided to take a short detour getting ready to earn the team an "Earth" scroll while sending his other clone new information about the "Orochimaru" he had just encountered.

"As you can see… they have no faces. They're blank… as if they were melted off." Izumo was standing with her without any means of revenge for before. He bore a very cautious expression as well as a concerned eye for Anko. Kotetsu continued, but the Hebi mask-bearer could only think of one person. "Orochimaru!" She growled while ricocheting off another tree. She had passed off instructions to the Chuunins outside the borders of the forest as she set off to go after the snake man.

"Anko…" Izumo could only warn her at the moment having to follow the others to inform the Sandaime. "Be careful." She could only send him a quick nod before leaving without another sound.

"I've been waiting for this day…" Anko managed to slide four needles down from her sleeve, readying herself, "… to destroy you once and for all, Orochimaru."

Emerging from the tree trunk upside-down, the snake man laughed, "That's impossible."

Springing away from where she stood, Anko quickly directed the needles towards her ex-sensei. Orochimaru lengthened his tongue to catch Anko in his grip. Quickly using her "Shadow Snake Hand" technique, she managed to drag the sennin out of his hiding place and within her grasp. Grabbing a kunai from her sleeve she embedded the weapon into both their hands. "Heh, caught you." She snarled at the man, regretting that the last person she would ever see was Orochimaru. Initiating Souja Sousai no Jutsu with the help of his left hand, Anko could only focus on destroying the man before her.

"Anko." The familiar voice steered her attention to behind her. "He's over here." Anko quickly veered her head towards the speaker as her victim vanished into smoke; standing with his sword against the pale neck of the real Orochimaru was her captain. "And I thought I was about to lose a good team-mate." He added casually. "You acted too rashly this time, Anko."

Freeing herself from her kunai, Anko faced Naruto with an annoyed expression. "This has nothing to do with you taichou." She growled at the ANBU captain. "This is between me and that man!" She spat preparing herself to attack directly towards them reading her team-mate's eye movements.

"Hm." Orochimaru managed to break free of Naruto's grip, "Thank you for talking so long." He kicked the ANBU towards a mass of trees leaving a trail of broken branches and fluttering leaves in the air.

Anko raised her readied weapon, using Shunshin no Jutsu to allow her to disappear briefly with leaves surrounding her vanishing. Your mine! The woman struck from behind her ex-sensei only to be stabbed by Kusanagi midway and pinned against a tree trunk, sword still intact.

"Fufufu… though I hardly cared for you at all, I was your sensei once before." Orochimaru twisted the sword causing Anko to utter a scream in blinding pain. Blood was slowly yet voluminously flowing down her body; Anko tried hard to pry herself away from her situation but could only go as far as glare at the man in front of her. "You fail yet again." He roughly and savagely released Kusanagi causing Anko to spurt blood from her wound as she fell towards the ground growing unconscious by the milliseconds till it was dark. Kai! Finally realizing she was struck with a genjutsu, Anko immediately broke the curse.

Nearly faltering in her steps, Anko controlled the bile that was rising in her throat from the illusion. Still in attack mode, realization hit her as she leaped forward. The snake man released himself from Naruto's clutch as he kicked him away. Following the illusion, she vanished out of Orochimaru's line of vision using Shunshin no Jutsu. The man sensed the woman striking from behind as he readied his sword to counter while the remaining swirling leaves fluttered in her place. Fixing Kusanagi through his ex-student, Orochimaru laughed at the naivety of Anko's attack. "You fail---." Before he could finish, a tearing pain could be felt piercing through his back.

"I was your student once before, Orochimaru…" She twisted the kunai causing him to grunt, "… don't forget that." Forcing him to face her, she grabbed his hand initiating Souja Sousai Jutsu wanting to end it all forever.

The man stared her in the eye, expressionless. The veins at his temples pulsed seemingly as though he was forming a plan at that moment. "If only I could applaud you for this sudden turn of events, too bad you still can't tell between a clone and the real person themselves."

Anko instantly turned pale, gritting her teeth, "Still a coward who can't risk hurting his own body…" She continued to tear the man internally, angry at him… at herself. Their hands were still connected with Anko still contemplating whether she should stop. The man grinned before her, watching his ex-student struggle mentally.

"You shouldn't be hesitating..." Orochimaru advised her silkily; Anko became rigid giving him an opening to attack. Lifting his hand, Kusanagi freed itself from the tree and straight through the woman. "… Or you'll get killed instead."

"Ch-ch-chikusho!" Anko cursed loudly feeling the sword tear through her heart as darkness engulfed her. "CHIKUSHOOO!" She suddenly found herself sitting upright on a grand tree branch, staring up at the barely seeping in sunlight. There were beastly calls echoing in the surroundings around her, stirring uncomfortably due to her outburst. Noticing she was free from any kind of injuries, questions raced repeatedly in her mind. "N-nani?" She grabbed her head in confusion unable to tell if she was still in an illusion world or reality, "What's going on?!" Ears perked up hearing a familiar presence; she quickly threw a kunai towards the shadowed trees. "Why…?" Emerging was her captain, her kunai caught in between his fingers. "Why are you stopping me from killing the man I hate the most in my life?!" In that instant, she sorrowfully wanted to stab her captain more than the sennin. "It was just a clone…" Anko mumbled miserably; she realized that Naruto managed to destroy that clone. "I let him escape… again."

Naruto slowly made his way over to her, stopping in front of her while he took off his mask. Seating himself next to his team-mate, he took a deep breath letting the wind freshen up his face. "Is this… about revenge?" He asked slowly still staring away from her.

"N…" Stopping midway, Anko couldn't help but touch her neck where Orochimaru had implanted the Cursed Seal years ago. She couldn't find the effort to answer anymore, knowing he wouldn't understand.

"What would I know, right?" Naruto posed the question she wanted to spit out. "Just like you, I want him dead, perhaps not as much as you do but the feelings are mutual." A brief image of Nozue flashed in his mind which pained him to remember.

"I'm merely performing my duties." Anko retorted emotionlessly, "If there is an outsider who disrupts this exam, I have the duty to stop them at all costs."

"Hai, hai… and of course I don't have the right to stop you, the examiner, but as a team-mate I can't let you sacrifice yourself for someone who couldn't even use his real body to carry out his own missions."

"He seemed so real just like taichou's—" Anko tried to reason hopelessly. "Joutou Bunshin no Jutsu…" She whispered to herself. "But how does he know how to use that?" Believing only Naruto knew how to perform the technique. The rest of the squad had tried countless times to perform the jutsu successfully but it never worked to its full potential like their captain's.

Naruto didn't respond immediately. He completed it after that time… He thought to himself, thinking back to the time where they met after their mission. Che… Running his hand through his hair, Anko could see how young, yet grown-up, he looked from where she seated. "Revenge…" He muttered quietly. "If we were to go an eye for an eye to exact our revenge, it would make this whole world go blind. You must understand that not everything will go your way, even if you really want it to." Naruto advised her softly.

Anko found herself absorbing all the words that came out of his moth, subconsciously surprised how a 12 year-old seemed to hold such meaning to his words as though he had already experienced them first hand already- unbeknownst to her that he really did.

"Oto…" Naruto stood back up replacing his mask back onto his face, hair turning brunette once again, "We should go back and see what the old man is planning to do." Anko nodded and joined him.

Skimming through the trees together, Anko couldn't help but admire how calm and mature the ninja beside her was. I hope that I'll always be able to fight along side you, Naruto…

"Something on your mind?" The ANBU casually inquired.

Clearing her throat to straighten out her thoughts she answered promptly with another question, "How did you know I was there, let alone know I'll go after Orochimaru?" Though a proud woman she deeply respected and looked up to her captain and the question had probed her mind since they had taken off.

"As the head of the squad I am inclined to know how my team-mates will react to certain situations based on their personalities, and you with your past history with Orochimaru… it's pretty straightforward." Noticing her silent response he added, "Crazy woman trying to catch a snake, pretty easy to locate." He explained in a matter-of-fact tone.

"Nani? Crazy!?" Her eyebrows twitched at such a description of herself. "I'm not crazy!"

"But certainly not sane either." Naruto added more fuel to the fire.

Teeth began to gnaw together creating an audible sound for Naruto to hear.

The masked ninja chuckled as he immediately sped up to escape from her grasps, "Heh, heh…" As they both ran through the heavily-dimmed forest effortlessly while avoiding beastly creatures, Naruto pondered whether or not to tell her the truth about the encounter with "Orochimaru".

By the time Anko had entered the forest, the sennin's clone had already been destroyed by Naruto before he could come face-to-face with her. Knowing the after-effects of the Jouto Bunshin no Jutsu, Naruto knew that Orochimaru would go into hiding to recuperate. True to his words, Naruto knew that Anko would head into the forest head-on without caring for the outcome. And based on her individuality she will never accept the fact that Orochimaru had sent, yet, another clone of him without witnessing it herself. In the end, he decided to simulate the possible encounter by creating an illusion around the area, using up a good amount of his chakra. But at least he was able to talk to Anko when she was calmed down.

Gome, Anko… Naruto decided, in the end, he couldn't bring himself to tell her the truth.

-Back to Naruto and Kakashi-

Naruto had heard many rumours on whether the village he just entered really did exist. But after walking past its gates, all was clarified. It was a pretty well hidden village in Naruto's opinion. Looking around the would-be market of Takumi Village, there were many people who seemed to want to hide their identities like he was doing with masks, cloaks and of the sorts. Displayed in the small to medium-sized stalls lay various weaponry in numerous amounts. Ranging from plain and ordinary to intricately designed and rare, Naruto couldn't help but stall his search for Jiraiya to look at the artefacts.

Most of the stalls had interested customers milling over items as the owners monitored closely, disallowing any chances of thievery. One particular stall managed to capture his attention. It seemed to be the most ordinary of the rest with only a white banner with the words "Swords" hung at its front. However, the owner didn't seem to mind that he wasn't receiving any customers as he read scrolls leisurely. He only seemed remotely surprised to find someone standing in front of his stall but after saying a quick "welcome" he returned to studying the scrolls piled by his side.

To passer-bys and buyers, the swords displayed were definitely dull and unappealing. But somehow an invisible sensation prevented him from leaving. His hand automatically reached out to pick up a particular sword that looked practically the same as the others around him. "Hm?" The man had put his reading on hold and was curiously studying the ANBU with one eye as the other bore an eye patch.

Naruto didn't notice the sudden attention from the owner; his only focus was the sword in his hands. The sheath was plain but he ignored the simple details as he continued to the handle. Without looking up, "Can I?" He quietly asked the owner for permission to unsheathe the weapon.

"Ho… tousen." The owner nodded, very intrigued.

Breathing slowly, Naruto swiftly slid sheath and blade separately producing a sounding ring that could only be audible to him at that moment.

It was a masterpiece.

Bringing the blade close to his face, its sharpness, balance… he could sense the power lurking in its metal.

"Omoshiroi…" Blue eyes transfixed themselves behind the counter. "This is the first time Sandai Kitetsu has been picked up first by a customer."

Shifting his concentration to the man, Naruto felt more curious by the second. "Hm?"

"There aren't many wielders who are able to tell whether the sword is of good quality or not." He answered huskily. "And even if they did manage to pick up the Sandai Kitetsu after they've gone through a couple others, they either don't recognize its value or they buy it and meet their final fate." Naruto noted a hint of laughter in the man's last few words.

"Final fate?"

The man scratched his chin with a small grin displayed on his face, "You can put it this way…" He pointed a finger at the sword, "… it has a mind of its own with a temper and after the first few incidents people began to believe that it was cursed… since everyone who ever used that sword… are all dead. " The shopkeeper waited for the customer to drop the weapon and leave like many others have done before him but the kitsune-mask remained still examining the hilt.

"Curse, ka?" Naruto felt excited having found such a rare item. "I'll take it." He finally said, "How much?"

The man gave him an unreadable expression, "Heh… I'll give it to you for free." He liked the aura that emitted from the shopper. "Even if you die, it will somehow make its way back here. But if you survive its fate, then I'm finally glad that it has finally chosen its owner." He added lightly. "To be honest, it has been lying around for so long ever since Seimei, our founder, crafted that and the first two."

Naruto strapped his second sword onto his back along with his ninjaken, Shuusui. "Arigatou gozaimasu." He gave the man a bow before leaving.

"Wish you luck then." The man responded with a wide grin, watching the cursed sword leave his sight probably for the last time.

Naruto couldn't wait to test out his new weapon but groaned when he remembered why he was even at the village in the first place. However, he sensed that he was being targeted when walking through the crowds. How troublesome… Looking forward, he saw a small throng of people surrounding a stage. Apparently there was a competition and the winner had received a rare sword. Air hitched in his throat when he saw who had won.

Standing with his prize, Kakashi seemed satisfied to have won it. How the hell did he know to come here?! Irritation marks appeared around Naruto's head, And when will he ever use that sword?! What a waste… But this isn't good; I still don't have any leads on Jiraiya… Suddenly, a plan formed in his head.

Out of the corner of his eye, Kakashi spotted the familiar white, spiky hair making his way over to a building with the sign "Hot Baths" and entered. That's Jiraiya for you. Gripping his newly won sword, the jounin jumped down the stage quickly and manoeuvred around the crowd whose attention was back to the stage when another piece of weaponry was up for a prize.

Getting past the receptionists unnoticed, Kakashi managed to catch a glimpse of the man, clad in a towel, passing through a sliding door. Making himself seem discreet, the Sharingan-user slipped inside to find the room empty at the moment. Quickly, he opened the door leading to the hot springs.

He felt hot. Not from the heat but at the many eyes that belonged to women!

Shimatta…! "Hontou sumimasen---"


"Iie! It's not like that…" A smack was heard.


"… it's an accident…!" Splashes of water was heard.


"… Jo… Jotto matte… I thought you told me to get out!" One managed to knee him in his most vital area. "…" Though a strong ninja in nature, he could not escape the grasps of the angry women.

It's not like there was anything interesting to see in there… Kakashi thought miserably while lying sprawled on the street dripping wet, tossed out by the owners… if it was the men's baths--- his thoughts were put on hold when a loud laugh erupted from the side.

"Tanoshii ne?"
Kakashi found himself staring at Jiraiya or rather… then it struck like lightning! "Teme!" Damn! I fell right into his trap!

"Took a nice beating there didn't you? You look a lot better than before, so you should thank me haha!" The sennin-look-alike tapped his head with a smirk. "Mada, mada, this is only the beginning." Having said that, the clone disappeared in a cloud of smoke.

Kakashi got up gracefully, calmly dusting himself off. Ignoring the stares and laughs, the man smiled a tad bit too widely where it obviously showed behind his mask. "Don't worry… I'll make this much more interesting for you too, kuzo…" He disappeared from the spot with speed with the #1 priority being not to find Jiraiya but the annoying ANBU.

Every so often, Naruto couldn't help but burst out laughing from remembering the look on Kakashi's face. "Heh, heh…" Not dwelling on his prank, he heard a roaring laughter with women's giggles coming from a restaurant. Entering the smoke-filled building, he spotted the famous sennin lounged on a large sofa chair with at least one woman in each arm and a table full of sake bottles at his feet.

"Aw… Yuki-chan's so mean!" The 50-something year-old man pouted at one of the girls. Naruto shivered at the sight. "Hm?" Out of his bliss he managed to spot the ANBU in front of him.

"I have a message from whoever constantly sends you messages." Naruto plainly informed, not bothering to tell him the details in public.

"Eh? Is it from Saru-chan?" Jiraiya gave him a gleeful and drunk smile.

Sweatdropping, Naruto could only answer, "Ah."

"Ho… then can you tell me later---"

"Saru-chan has something urgent to tell you." Naruto said firmly

A frightened look came onto the man's face, "Shimatta. Don't… don't tell me Saru-chan's… Saru-chan's pregnant?!" The women immediately reacted with pitiful sounds.

Naruto didn't say anything, only sending out a silent message through his eyeholes as if to say, "Fuzakenezzo!"

Stopping his laughing, Jiraiya stared at Naruto for a moment, "Wakatta, wakatta… gome my pretty-chans but we'll play some more later!" He got up a tad wobbly but regained his balance while motioning for Naruto to follow him, grabbing a napkin to wipe his hands along the way.

Setting up a chakra bubble that would soundproof their conversation. Naruto slid into his seat facing the entrance as Jiraiya sat at the opposite side. Taking out a large fan to cool himself, Jiraiya listened patiently. Naruto relayed the message to him just like how Sarutobi had told him in detail. Nearing the end of their meeting, a waiter came over to their table asking if they needed anything. Releasing the jutsu, the sennin ordered for more sake as something interesting caught Naruto's eyes. With a small smirk, he waited for the waiter to leave with their, well… the old man's order.

"So it has come down to this." Jiraiya said seriously, hands folded together.

Naruto didn't bother to answer the man immediately as their waiter returned with the drinks. "Ah…" Taking a cup of sake, he examined the contents, "Too bad I can't drink this."

"Ah! I forgot! Haha! You're underage!" The man laughed heartily. "Demo… a sip won't hurt… right?" He made a movement causing Naruto to grab a small tin dish to cover his face. "I still have a debt to pay back to you." An unsheathed sword was held at his neck while Kakashi stood next to him calmly.

"Hm… not bad." Naruto placed the dish back down with a now frozen-in-place clone with a Sharingan that had tried to paralyze him across from him. "But… too bad."

Kakashi felt a similar weapon being pointed to his throat, "You've left some holes out in the open."

The jounin stared to his right, When did he?

"Do you want me to monologue on how I knew? Since we have a bit of time…" The scarecrow man stood motionless. "You don't like women that much I know from what I've observed from before…" Kakashi restrained himself from reliving the memory. "But I was pretty impressed on how fast you got here." Naruto really meant what he just said. "Too bad the sennin loved women as much as you love watching men in bath houses---"

"---Oi! When did I ever say that?!" Kakashi countered immediately.

"Geez… it was written all over your face!" Naruto rolled his eyes. "But on another note… you couldn't help but get whatever the women got on you, off."

Kakashi couldn't help but admit that he desperately wanted to take a shower after immersing himself in a couch full of women. Not able to help himself he had to take out a fan to get rid of the many perfume scents that lingered on him.

"And! To end it all… the major breakthrough was…" The ANBU nodded his head towards the couches where the real Jiraiya sat. "…of course, him. And for all I know, he never met me so how did he know if I was underage or not?"

"Because you're short!"

"Urusai ne!"

Kakashi sighed, "Do you know what your major flaw is?"

"Talking too much."

He sweatdropped. "That too…" At least he's not too full of himself, "But…" He nodded back to where Jiraiya sat again. One of the women right next tot the sennin had just passed the man a small note. Very discreetly, Jiraiya accepted the small paper. "…for underestimating me."

With eyebrows raised for no one to see, Naruto examined the scene, "Oh really?" Jiraiya began unfolding the paper. "Are you sure it's the right message?"

Kakashi's eye widened. "You didn't…" He said quietly.

"Hm? What makes you think I didn't?" The ANBU asked nicely.

Eyes locked. The fire has now evolved into an inferno.

Jiraiya had imagined the night to be filled with sake, women, sake and more WOMEN! After gathering the latest information on Akatsuki, the man felt he should be rewarded with a fun-filled and relaxing night with no interruptions--- but when do these things ever work out your way?

While impressing the women surrounding him, one of the women in his arms had passed him a small note secretly as she gazed seductively at him. Not one to refuse, Jiraiya had taken the paper and realized that it had the Konoha seal on it. Looking back to the woman who seemed to have been staring off somewhere else gave him a small nod as if to say, "Open it!"

Chuckling while breaking the seal, tables and chairs were tossed right across his vision. The women screamed, scrambling to get out of the way. "MATTE! MY SWEETIES!" Jiraiya called after them desperately, eyes brimming with dramatic tears and arm outstretched uselessly after them.

Next thing the sennin knew, the note in his hand was snatched away. About to retaliate, he noticed it was a familiar face who had taken it. "Kakashi?" However, the said person didn't seem to hear him as his attention was on an ANBU with the kitsune mask. Eyes focused and sharpened on the shorter figure. Kitsune… It was definitely the same mask Nozue had worn…

Naruto watched as Kakashi tore open the note, weapons still raised towards each other.

Kakashi felt both shocked and relieved simultaneously when he read its content

It was the original; the same message that he had planned to give Jiraiya. He bluffed? His gaze went back to the ANBU. The mask does help with hiding his expressions but usually if anyone else was stuck in that situation, they would've shown it obviously and make a mistake. Ano kuzo… he's not simple.

"Oi Kakashi, what are you doing here?" Jiraya asked in an irritated manner, blaming the two for ruining his evening. "Were you the one who gave me that note?" The owner was near collapsing at the sight of the mess in his now near-empty restaurant.

"You seem very handy with that." Kakashi commented to Naruto indicating the Sandai Kitetsu, oblivious to any other sound and beings around them.

"Tousen." Naruto replied simply, "You used to be an ANBU right?" The silent response meant a 'yes', "How about putting our new weapons to the test? I promise I'll go easy on you."

"Oi, did you hear me just now?!" Jiraiya fumed; aggravated he was being ignored at the moment.

Kakashi smirked at the challenge, "You won't even be able to go easy on me."

Their comebacks… so bad. The sennin noted with a blank look. "Jiraiya." Both of them called his name. Confused with the change of conversation he couldn't say anything but generate a small "Hm?" sound. He waited for an answer again as he found the two glaring at each other again. What the hell is wrong with the two of them? "Nani---?"

"---The Sandaime wants you to go back to Konoha immediately!" They both shouted at the same time.

"If you try to get out of it, I'll personally drag you back!" Kakashi added quietly, unaware he had just threatened the sennin.

"Heh, are you even capable of doing that?" The ANBU said in a false surprised tone.


"Mah… I'll make my way back myself." Jiraiya sweatdropped not wanting to get dragged back- somehow getting the feeling they really would and can- by either of them.

"Good!" Was the not-so-warm reaction. The sennin could only watch idly, confused.

"Ikimasho." Kakashi spoke menacingly.

"Ladies first." Naruto replied lightly.

Before the owner could ask either of them for payment for the damage they have created, they disappeared right on the spot leaving Jiraiya behind to pay off the owner for them, cursing the two of them.

-Back to Naruto Clones-

Before his two team-mates could yell at him, Naruto showed them the "Earth" scroll that he managed to take from the undercovers of Orochimaru's. "What…? How…?" Sakura gaped at him, emerald eyes blinking unbelieving. Sasuke, too, was shocked.

Naruto gave them a teeth-baring grin, "Heh, heh, heh… I managed to take this when two teams knocked each other out. Lucky, lucky!"

Sasuke still seemed sceptical; however Sakura had slapped the blonde the back, "Nice one Naruto!" Glad to know they would get out of the forest soon, forgetting about the massive snake that they had witnessed moments ago.

"Naruto." The Uchiha called out his team-mate's name.

In the midst of his laughing, Naruto stopped with a quizzing look, "Eh? Nani, Sasuke-teme?"

Dark, onyx eyes pierced through him, "…" What happened to that man? He wanted to ask but somehow he couldn't generate any words at the moment.

"Heh… if you're about to say smart I am---" Naruto smiled ruffling his own hair.

"---Of course not!" Sasuke retorted, blushing a bit when Naruto had ran his hand through his hair. "We should get something to eat and get out this forest." And he went ahead leaving the two behind.

While Sasuke had gone off to get some wood to help start their fire, Naruto sat with Sakura with fish-on-sticks in their hands. "Why do I have to stay behind?" Naruto pouted, portraying a three year-old.

"Geez… Sasuke-kun's able to get the wood himself without falling into a trap like you." Sakura responded, praising her crush. But something told her that that wasn't entirely true. Naruto… When they were being attacked, she felt something different about the "loud-mouth brat" at that moment. "You're strong… Naruto." She whispered softly.

"Heh?!" The fish nearly fell from his hands. She had caught him off guard. Observing closer, he noticed that she really meant what she had just said. "Sakura..."

"Every time I always have to rely on the two of you to get out of dangerous situations…" The pink-haired kunoichi continued to murmur, "… it makes me feel… so useless." She buried her head into her knees not knowing why she was telling Naruto this.

The sound of the rushing river was audible to the next of them. Naruto sighed lightly, "Mataku…" He stared at the gutted fish solemnly. "Do you have someone important you want to protect?" He relayed Haku's words to her.

"Eh?" Sakura looked up to stare at him.

Naruto didn't bother to look up at his team-mate at any moment. "What is your purpose as a ninja?"

"Purpose…?" The girl felt at a loss for words, even her inner ego was quiet. Purpose… purpose… It ran through her head constantly… For Sasu- "No." She thought out loudly, emerald, green eyes now faced him determinedly. "My purpose… my purpose now-" Footsteps approached them. Closing off their conversation she thanked Sasuke who had just arrived with an armload of sticks. However, Naruto began to feel that he may have underestimated the girl in front of her but didn't dwell on it as he moved on to cooking their fish.

After feeding themselves, the team decided to set-off once again in 15 minutes. Sakura took their water bottles to the river to refill. She gazed at her reflection in the rushing water, thinking back to their conversation. She had wanted to say that Sasuke wasn't the purpose for her becoming a ninja anymore but rather… taking out a kunai she carefully sheared off the hair that she had grown for Sasuke. My purpose…

"What's taking Sakura-chan so long?" Naruto whined as the two waited for their third member to come back. "I want to see the look on the other team's faces when we arrive at the tower before them, heh, heh!"

"Sorry for making you wait!" Filled water bottles were tossed to them.

Sasuke nearly gaped at her when he saw her while Naruto grinned on the side.

Her waist-long hair had been shortened significantly to mark her determined face that they rarely see. Even though I don't know exactly what or how but… my purpose now is to become stronger!

Not wanting to delay their journey, Sasuke decided to ask questions later. Ears perking, he quickly threw a shuriken towards the bushes. "Don't think you can hide from me." He warned the person.

Emerging, a ninja bearing the Leaf symbol on his hitai-ate came forth. With greyish hair put up in a ponytail, spectacles gleamed in the sunlight, he laughed nervously, "Sorry I'm not here to take your scroll, something happened and I got separated from my team-mates, so I'm making my way to the tower now."

Sasuke sharpened his gaze, "Who are you?"

"Yakushi Kabuto." He gave them a genuine-like smile, "It's good to meet you."

Sasuke didn't respond immediately while Sakura greeted him as well. On the side, Naruto scanned the newcomer; with a small smirk he whispered, "Omoshiroi."

-Back to Naruto and Kakashi-

Night batted the day away. Kakashi and Naruto managed to find a suitable location for their duel. A small lake separated the two of them, but the distance between them could easily vanish. Naruto was first to speak, "Heh… ready to realize that you're too old for this."

Kakashi could only spit out a laugh, "I'll admit that I'm older than you, but at least I have more height then you."

Gritting his teeth, Naruto calmly gripped the hilt of his new sword as Kakashi did the same. "How annoying… I hate spectactors."

The jounin cricked his neck, "For once, I agree with you… how about we change the rules?"

The ANBU shrugged, "Sure. There are an odd number of them, so there's bound to be a winner in the end."

Finally coming to a mutual agreement, Kakashi readied himself, "Minus one point for each one you kill."

Leaving the blade in its sheath, Naruto frowned, "Mou… that makes things difficult..." The clouds shifted away revealing the moon, lighting up their surroundings. In the surface of the waters, reflected people with various weapons in hand situated all around the two Konoha ninjas, preparing to attack them.

Watching a particular leaf float around towards the lake; it lightly landed on the surface causing a small wave of ripples surrounding it.

Time seemed to pause momentarily.

"… But this should be fun."

AN: It's really nice to see you guys again =)! You made it!!! Thank you very much! I LOVE YOU PATIENT READERS! My somewhat-of-a-goal was to make Kakashi and Naruto's character to become more open when they're with each other because it would really help with the pairing in the future… ^.^ Ibiki could easily find out that Naruto was an ANBU but lets pretend that Konoha has lots of blue-eyed 12 year-olds :D It's true that Naruto can kill Orochimaru right off the bat, but it's part of my plan to let him get away haha… Some of you may not have heard of the Craftsman Village it makes a brief appearance in the anime and there's a bit more information at this site… .?p=craftsman ^.^ I know Kakashi's dogs can only smell a target at a short-range but i'm assuming he has dogs who can track people from farther distances :P And yes, i used the swords' names from ONE PIECE (woot!) The changes in the plotline begins here almost, somewhat, though I may keep some things the way they are- just because ^^. Although the chapter isn't long enough to make up for the long absence but I tried to make it as long as my mind can turn… haha… Thank you once again for staying till the end of the story and the author's notes heehee… love you all!! I know, I know, the story is moving very slowly which I'm very sorry about but I'm hoping to see at the next chapter which I once again hope to be up by this year!!