Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto nor make any money off of writing this story.

A/N: Here is chapter sixteen. Sorry for the long delay, but I've been busy. I'll try not to let my updates take too long from now on, but no promises. To anyone interested, I have a new fic out. It's called Uzumaki Naruto: Master of the Elements and so far people seem to be responding well to it. Anyway, let's get on with this story...Read, review, enjoy.


Naruto silently walked down the street. He had just dropped off Ino after going shopping all afternoon and now he needed to find Sakura. She was probably waiting for him in a dark alley by now...

The blonde Jinchuuriki sighed to himself. Things were, to quote a friend, "so troublesome." Why didn't he just go to her house and see her before disappearing for six months? Because he knew he'd probably regret it. He knew that wasn't a worthy excuse, but still, it was Sakura. The woman was hellbent on having things her way. If he said that he was going, then she wouldn't let him leave until he told her where he was going. And that wasn't a chance he could take. Like or not, secrecy and acting cold were some of the most valuable tools for him at the moment. What with a group of S-rank nuke-nins after him and all. Boy, where they gonna be pissed when they found out what he did...

He hoped they didn't get to see his handy work. This new seal was still foreign to him. Sure, he knew the basics of Fuuinjutsu, but nothing of this caliber. That was Jiraiya's area of expertise. Aside from ninjutsu and perversion.

Speaking of which, Jiraiya still needed to examine the seal. He had seemed very interested earlier and Naruto was actually surprised he hadn't been forced to show it to him more by now. He bet the reason probably involved hot springs...

Oh well, that was just something else to add to his "to-do" list. Right after speaking to Sakura. Which just sounded oh, so fun...

That could either go one of two ways. One involved being honest and her hitting him really, really hard into a concrete wall. The other pretty much ended up the same way, but at least he'd be able to escape with most of his vital organs functioning normally.

Naruto looked up. It was getting darker and the street lights were flickering on in the distance. After six long months of constant training and studying up on jutsus, he was back in his home. Sure, people still didn't respect him. Sure, some would rather have him dead. And sure, the village as a whole seemed to despise his very existence. But there was something deep down that made him fight on. It wasn't about the recognition or acknowledgment. It wasn't about being powerful. It wasn't even about living up to his father's expectations. In the end, Naruto always thought it was because he was truly a good person. He loved everyone he met and tried to befriend them, regardless of how they acted around him. He'd admit, it wasn't the best trait for a ninja, but he wasn't just a ninja. He wasn't just a weapon. He wasn't just someone's tool for war. He was a person. And a damn good one at that. And no matter how many people said he was a demon or tried to kill him because of it, he knew that in the end, he was human. And sometimes, that was all that he needed to pick himself up and try again.

Naruto sighed to himself as yet another villager glared at him as he walked past. It would only be a matter of time until all of that changed.

The blonde Jinchuuriki chose to head over to Sakura's house. He figured that she had given up on hunting him down a while ago. Maybe she had some time to cool off and think about why she shouldn't strangle him. Not likely.

Naruto approached the Haruno house. He knocked lightly on the door. He could hear footsteps from inside. Sakura stood there in the doorway after opening the door, with her back turned to Naruto, speaking something to her parents. Then she turned around. Her face quickly contorted into one of pure, unadulterated rage. And Naruto gulped.

"Hey, Sa-Sakura-chan... I told you that I would come by later. Well um... I'm here."

She glared at him before rearing back to deck him. Naruto noticed this sudden movement and dodged in the nick of time. "Okay, we can do this," he said while backpedaling away from her. She let out a cry of rage and slammed the door before following the blonde. Naruto took this opportunity to run. Really, really fast.

"Come back here, Naruto! I'm going to make you sorry for making me chase your clones all day!" Sakura roared as she took chase. The two headed away from the main residential district.

"Calm down and I will. But right now you scare me, Sakura-chan!"

"Be a man and take your punishment!" Sakura said as they went passed the tree line of the forest. "How dare you leave like that and send me on a wild goose chase the first day you get back!"

"I had to do it, Sakura-chan," Naruto called back to his pursuer.

"Bullshit, Naruto. You could have at least told me."

"Sakura, it would have been bad if people knew where I was. Only Kakashi-sensei and Baa-chan knew where I was training and that's because they were there when I left!"

Sakura tried to catch up with Naruto, but she was already at her maximum speed. Both were blurs amongst the trees of the forest. "Why didn't Shishou give me a message then? Why did she stay so secretive?" Sakura asked as she began flexing her arm muscles. She was going to catch up to him sooner or later.

Naruto picked up more speed. Sakura had just unleashed another massive wave of chakra laced with killer intent. "Sakura! Enough of this! We are teammates. We shouldn't be acting like this! I get it! You're upset! But so am I! So let's stop this! We're acting like children!" Naruto screamed back to his pink haired friend. You more than me, but still...'

Naruto landed neatly up ahead; Sakura, a moment later. Naruto could just feel the anger rolling off her in waves. She was still going to try to kill him, he just knew it. "That's better. Now, I'll answer as many questions as possible as long as you settle down and stop charging your fists with chakra. Deal?"

Sakura looked thoughtful for a moment. On the one hand, she could beat the shit out of him here, since they were out of screaming distance from the rest of the village. On the other, she really wanted to know just what the hell had kept him busy for so long. Then she could beat him within an inch of his life. Yeah, that one worked. "Fine."

"All right. Now what do you want to know?" Naruto asked while looking up in the tress. He had chosen a particularly wide clearing to land in. He never knew when her temper would get the best of her and she'd go ballistic over nothing. At least here, he had a large area to escape her "Death Fists," as he had playfully nicknamed them.

"Damn it, Naruto...you can't just do this! What about me? What about Team 7? What about Sasuke-kun?"

Naruto visibly winced. He had thought of his ex-teammate very much over his time away. He wanted desperately save him. But then, one day he woke up and that hope, that determination, that dream...it just seemed...pointless. He knew that Sasuke had been consumed by darkness. And he knew that he was the only one who could help him. But why did he begin to feel so distant about? Why did these feelings just become known to him one day? He didn't know. He just knew that after that day, he had forced himself to forget it. He forced himself to grow up. He forced himself to accept the truth: Sasuke was gone. That was it. There was nothing more that could be done.

"I'm sorry, Sakura-chan. I really am. But...I don't think things can go back to the way that they were. We are shinobi. We aren't supposed to be able to handle things like this. And I know how hard it is. I just...don't think that we can...bring him back."

Sakura's eyes widened. "Na-Naruto...what are you...What are you saying, Naruto?!" Her voice was filled with fury. Her hands unconsciously tightened into a pair of fists. "What about your promise? You...you said that you would bring him back, Naruto. You made "a promise of a lifetime!" How can you say something like this?! What about your nindo? Did you just give up on that, too!?" Tears streamed down the kunoichi's face in a very non-ninja-like way as she spoke.

"I'm sorry, Sakura."

Said girl stayed silent. Her pink hair that wasn't kept down by her hitai-ate moved gently in the moaning wind. The wind stopped suddenly, letting her hair fall back to her scalp in slight disarray. She spoke. "Bring him back."

"Sakura, I can't. I don't think I can do bring back Sasu-" He didn't get to finish.

"Not him. Bring back Naruto. The real Naruto. Quit this charade and bring back the Naruto I know. Bring him back. Now."

Naruto let the words hit him, wash over him, sink into him. "Sakura, this is me."

"NO IT'S NOT! THE REAL NARUTO WOULDN'T SAY SOMETHING LIKE THIS! BRING HIM BACK, NOW!" she shouted at the top of her lungs, her head still low. She sobbed silently.

Naruto looked at his female teammate. She was affected this much? Just from him? How was that possible? She only treated him a friend since he came back with Jiraiya and less than that before. He did stupid things and they got along like it was perfect, despite the absence of their Uchiha comrade. He had never really thought about how influential he truly was. No one really seemed to notice, except those he had affected. Naruto had the greatest gift a person could ask for except the one who had it and he didn't even know. He was the answer to many people's prayers, except his own. It was impossible to put into words. It was just a combination of his strength and his determination that left an indelible mark on anyone's soul, forever changing them after just coming into contact with him. That was it: change. Naruto inspired change.

Naruto had never fathomed he had elicited such emotion and feeling in his teammate like this. He had always wanted that in his younger days. He had wanted her to like him, to acknowledge him, to treat him special. And she never did. But he remained optimistic, still hopeful that she would treat him like the one she claimed to love. And even after spending every day for two and a half years thinking about her, longing for her, loving her; she never returned his feelings when they were reunited. The most she did was treat him like a "friend" and nothing more.

Still, he tried to get her to see him like he was. But she persistently rejected his love. So, when he left again, he thought that this time he would be able to make her love him. Instead, something happened that allowed him to...move on. Naruto, the boy no one loved, saw things better. He just accepted the brutally cold truth that Sakura was not right for him. And the part he still didn't understand was this: why didn't he feel regret about giving up? He may never know, but he did know that there was someone who out there who would look past everything and see him, Naruto, and would love him, acknowledge him, treat him special. Not as a demon, nor an abomination, nor a weapon; but as someone who was aching to be loved. Little did he know, he had already found her. Now if only he could see that.

"Sakura." The single word, although spoken many times in the conversation, held something hidden in the tone unlike before. The addressed girl ceased her crying and looked back up to Naruto, who stood there with an unreadable expression upon his features. "I intend to fulfill my promise. I just can't guarantee that you will like the result. I'm sorry, but Sasuke is lost to us. If I am able to bring him back, I fear it will be as a corpse."

The blood drained instantly from the former fangirl's face. Her mouth shaped like she was preparing to speak. "Na...ru...to..." she whispered more to herself than her fellow ninja.

She had no idea how to take this. Naruto, her Naruto, had said that he might have to kill Sasuke, her Sasuke. Her ever obedient, idiotic Naruto would have to kill the object of her every daydream, fantasy, and dream for the last nine and a half years since she first saw him on the first day in the Academy. She was...destroyed. But the thing she found worse than the thought of her beloved Sasuke-kun's death was the fact that it was her best friend that would be doing it. That stung the most.

"I'm sorry, Sakura," he said, effectively regurgitating the same thing again. "I don't know how much you loved him, but I don't think he can't be saved. If he was willing to put us behind him for power, when we were practically family, then I see no alternative. He...he wanted to kill me that day. I think he would have, too. But for some reason he didn't. He didn't stop because he thought back to those days when we close, or because he saw me as his brother. No; he didn't kill me because...his brother told him to. He didn't care about my life. He cared about defying his brother, that's all. It took me this long to figure all of this out, but I did. And I regret it more than anything. I want things to be different; I really do. But it seems that things can't work out for us in the end.

"I don't expect your forgiveness. I know that what I'm saying doesn't make sense to you, but it does to me. And I don't think I can bring him back to you. He...he's too far gone for our help to pull him back. Sakura, I hate this more than you do, but I am sorry. I just hope you can find it in yourself to forgive me in the future."

There was no response; that much was expected on Naruto's part. He stood there for several agonizingly long minutes, watching as Sakura's eyes became colder and more withdrawn. She fell to her knees silently. And then she let a single tear fall once more before passing out, falling forward in the process.

Naruto moved to stop her from hitting the ground. He picked her up gently, adjusting his arms to hold her bridal style. He looked down at her passed form nestled tightly in his muscular arms. She held a sad, almost heartbroken look on her face; her cheeks were still wet from the tears earlier.

Naruto took to the trees, moving just fast enough to make the trip short but not enough so to disturb her. He landed just outside of the edge of the forest a few minutes later. The blonde Jinchuuriki looked at the sky, almost completely purple with the setting sun. The village's lights lit up the area, long shadows reaching even his shape, some two hundred yards away. Naruto walked to the furthest point of town, near the village's residential neighborhoods.

Naruto kept on walking, keeping his eyes low. He approached the house of his sleeping teammate. Deciding not to make a scene about arriving at her parent's door with her unconscious, Naruto opted to try her window to her bedroom. The blonde Genin went around the side stealthily, not that he needed to; Sakura's parents weren't shinobi, nor were any of her extended family from what Naruto could tell. There was little chance that they would hear him. He stopped at what he guessed was her room. The inside was pretty hard to see, but Naruto noticed a bedspread with a reddish hue. The Genin took off his sandals and left them next to him on the ground. Naruto silently slid the window open and slipped inside, managing to keep Sakura from hitting the wall in the process; he wasn't as lucky.

Naruto walked over to the bed, making sure his cargo was still fine. He placed her on the mattress and made his way back to the open window, turning his head only to whisper, "See ya later, Sakura." Naruto stepped into his shoes and closed the window before disappearing into the approaching night.

Naruto slept deeply. His body needed some really good rest after sleeping on the floor of a cave for over six months. The Jinchuuriki woke up early, like normal. He checked his kitchen for some food, having to toss most of it for going bad in his extended absence. He settled on a bowl of ramen from one of his sealing scrolls. Naruto made a mental note to get some more food; he had consumed most of his stash while training. His clothes shopping had set him back a bit; he also needed to ask for a good mission soon to bring in some more funds. At the very least, he could just use Kage Bunshin and complete a dozen or so D-rank missions; that would last him for a while if there was nothing else. He only prayed it didn't come to that.

Finishing his bowl of ramen, Naruto went back to his bed to try to find the scroll from the day before. He wanted to shower and change then start learning his new jutsus. Unsealing the shopping bags with the swipe of a finger, Naruto laid out his ensemble for the day: a long pair of black ninja pants, a white t-shirt, a brown button up over shirt, and the orange sash. Naruto left a clone to put together his supplies and gather it by his clothes while he went to shower. Having clones never got old.

The only real things he had to do was check on Sakura and see if Iruka was available to work on his kodachi training. He never thought much about taking up Kenjutsu before; sure, he thought swords were badass (who didn't?), but they never seemed to fit his style. Of course, he never really got to tell just how a sword would be with his taijutsu and ninjutsu style. The only real Fuuton jutsus he knew were basic, except for the Rasenshuriken and Fuuton: Rasengan. But those relied on point blank contact. Unless he were to come up with a way around that. That would make them so much more efficient and there would be less chance of damaging himself in the process.

He had been practicing on some minor Fuuton jutsus, or at least, getting down the basic concept and trying them out after Suiton training. And then he had this new one from his father. It sounded like it too would need to be point blank, but if he was successful with making the other two longer range, then there was the chance that this could be done too. And he had something from the Sandaime: Kage Shuriken Bunshin no jutsu. It involved some pretty complicated looking chakra dispersion to be able to make a shuriken moving in the air replicate however many times over. He was putting learning that one off for second.

Naruto stepped out of the shower clad in only a towel and walked outside the steamy room. His clone had just dispersed to let him know everything was ready. Naruto dressed quickly. He chose to let his sash go across his chest and over his left shoulder. It had some extra rooms and even a pair of small straps on the inside. Naruto assumed that they were for hiding weapons. He picked up his blue sheathed kodachi and put it next to his chest, making sure it wasn't noticeable from the outside. It fit snuggly and best of all, his right hand could reach behind it and pull the blade out in less than an instant from below. The hilt rested just above his right thigh while the end of the sheath was near his left shoulder. He jumped once or twice, experimenting to see if the sword would fall from it's straps or sheath. Satisfied at the fact that it didn't move an inch, he continued hiding weapons on his person, deciding to keep his kodachi there.

Naruto walked out of his apartment some ten minutes later, weighed down with his chakra consuming weights, normal weights, his bag filled with scrolls and weapons, and his small collection of kunai hidden in clothes totaling just under twenty. There was no such thing as over doing it to shinobi.

The Jinchuuriki began seemingly flying over buildings, skimming over the rooftops like it was effortless. He made his way to one of his favorite training grounds: number 11. Training grounds 11 consisted of a massive waterfall overflowing into a small lake. There were plenty of trees and stumps around to practice taijutsu on and some training posts with special seals affixed to them to absorb chakra. Basically, you could throw whatever ninjutsu at it you wanted and it would absorb the chakra to help strengthen the earth around it, making it near invincible rock from the massive amount of chakra compressed into it over time. Naruto had discovered the area some time ago by accident. He had been looking for Kakashi so he could get him give him some pointers on finalizing Rasenshuriken. Instead, he found one of the best training grounds in Konoha, and as luck would have it, there was almost never anyone there. He just naturally assumed not people knew about it or it's usefulness.

Naruto walked through the gate of the chain linked fence surrounding the acres of land that made up training ground 11. Like usual, there was no one there from what he could see. He headed south, towards a small field of training posts and the waterfall. He wanted a nice warm up before learning Fuuton: Kaze Tsume. Naruto made his way through the trees, arriving at the waterfall in no time. He assumed a stance in the middle of the knee deep water. Naruto expected his pants to become heavier from the moisture, but they felt the same as when he was on solid land.

'Must be something done to the fabric to repel water...Ino made some good choices...' Naruto thought to himself as he began releasing chakra into water. While he could have just as easily done that by standing on top of the water, it was more effective based from his experience to just stand in the water. He flashed through a blur of handseals as water rose from behind in the shape of a dragon's head.

"Suiton: Suiryuudan!" he called through the clearing as the dragon charged full on overhead into the line of posts fifty meters in front of him. He pumped more and more chakra into the attack, making sure that it could make the distance; he had never tried to use it for long range attacks before, mainly sticking to medium range at about twenty yards.

The water dragon slammed into the ground around the posts. Almost instantly, the water disappeared as fast as it struck the pallid white, five foot tall posts. The chakra had been easily taken in by the seals; the stone ground around them didn't even look wet after three seconds of completing the attack. The seals were just that powerful.

Naruto panted a little; using that technique took a lot out of him, especially that particular one, having required using almost twice the normal chakra to reach the target. Naruto walked out of the water, heading closer to the chakra stealing seals. He stopped approximately halfway on his way to the posts and sat down, removing his bag from hanging against his left hip at the same time. He made himself comfortable and picked a scroll from one of his bag's pockets. The reddish-blonde opened up the scroll in front of him, starting at the top. He read through the basics and how to form the correct amount of chakra three times over. Naruto stood up and placed the scroll so that he could see it.

Naruto had a fierce look in his eyes as he looked at his hand. "Let's get it on."

It was a little after nine when Ino woke up. She lifted her eyelids slowly, savoring every second of quiet that she knew would be inevitably ruined. Ino's iris-less took in every aspect of her room. It was filled with her favorite color: royal purple. To her, it was the most beautiful and tranquil color of them all. Any shade of purple was wonderful: lavender, violet, heliotrope, magenta, anything. You named it, she adored it. It was just so...refreshing. There wasn't much purple in nature compared to the other colors, so she thought it was nice to like something so uncommon and even sometimes, rare; to be able to enjoy something so simple.

Ino stayed sprawled out in bed for another couple of minutes. Shikamaru hadn't mentioned any training or missions for the day, so she was free to herself. She glanced around her mostly purple room and laid her eyes on the dress that Naruto had bought for her the day before. It was diving looking and the design was so ornate; she loved it. She would have to thank the blonde again later...and maybe try talking him into another shopping trip in the near future... That reminded her, he had promised to show her Kage Bunshin. She would have to see him about it later. From there, her thoughts drifted on to Sakura; she had promised to help her look for her teammate and instead she spent the afternoon with him in secret. She'd probably have to make it up to her. Though, Ino was plenty confident in Naruto that he would talk to her. Sakura's feelings were understandable, her friend that she had fought by on countless occasions had just abandoned her. Well, he hadn't technically 'abandoned' her, just gone a way for a while. With no word as to where he was. Or even a goodbye. Ino had to admit that his actions were a little rude, but Naruto was sort of known for being blunt and a tad dense. He most likely didn't think of her at the time. That had to have been it.

The platinum blonde rose from her still warm bed and proceeded to start her morning routine. After getting ready, Ino left her family's home/flower shop. She mostly wandered around the market district for a while, browsing the shops and what not. She was in no rush to be anywhere, except maybe pop in on Sakura to see how her talk had been. Finally after an hour of pointless meandering, she changed course and headed toward the mostly civilian part of the village.

The blonde kunoichi stood in front of her friend's front door. She looked up at the heavily clouded sky that leaked out just a small amount of bright blue from between the rapidly moving clouds. Ino stared at it for a moment, transfixed for some reason. She pulled herself from her cloud induced stupor and focused on the door. Ino's hand rapped the door lightly twice. She could hear heavy footsteps on the other side, most likely from someone dragging their weight. The deep brown door opened up to reveal Sakura in a very disheveled state. Her hair was askew and normally emerald eyes bloodshot. She looked horrible.

"Sa-Sakura...what happened?"

"Na...ruto..." was her weak reply; her voice sounded hoarse, making the tone seem more pathetic.

Ino moved forward, taking her pink haired friend in her arms, letting her sob into her shoulder. Ino reached back and closed the door before easing Sakura over to the couch in the main room.

"Sakura, tell me what happened."

"He's not Naruto..." she sobbed noisily. "He's different. That's not Naruto."

"Sakura, I was with him yesterday; he seemed perfectly normal to me, albeit a little more mature, but he's the same." Ino's tone was soothing, persuading Sakura to trust her.

Sakura looked up from her hands and stared intently at Ino. "NO! HE'S NOT! THAT'S NOT NARUTO! NARUTO WOULD NEVER DO THAT!"

Ino flinched at the volume of her voice along with the tone. "Sakura, it's okay. You're just stressed. Now tell me, what would he never do."

"He-" Sakura hiccuped. "He said that he gave up. He gave up on Sasuke! He said that he was "too far gone" to be saved! But he's wrong! He's wrong! He has to be! There's no way Sasuke is really evil! He just wanted more power to defeat his brother! That's all; when he's done it, he'll come back!" She was practically in hysterics at this point. "Once we bring him back, everything will go back to the way things were! Right?!"

Ino chose to stay quiet. To be honest, she never did understand the Uchiha prodigy. After a while, she grew up past the rejection. Sakura was closer to him anyway; if he was going to let someone in, it would most likely be her. There was no real reason to pursue his attention and affection anymore. She cut her losses and focused more on her team and friends, her training, her actual life; not some fantasy that would only lead to heartbreak. But Sakura...she had been led to believe that he loved her. She may have been right, only Uchiha Sasuke knew that.

As for her thoughts on him leaving, she never was able to fathom why someone would place power above everything. He was even willing to sacrifice his body if it meant that he would beat Itachi. Nothing mattered but that to him. Ino couldn't understand what it was like losing everyone like he did. She couldn't understand what drove him everyday besides wanting to get stronger. But she did understand that sometimes we need to let things go in order to save ourselves. It was a tragedy that happened that night when Uchiha Itachi obliterated his clan, save one Uchiha Sasuke. But it was an even worse tragedy what happened to the sole loyal Uchiha: he let himself descend into the darkness and hide- no, corrupt his emotions. He wanted to be able to avenge his clan, but at what cost? Only Sasuke knew. And Ino knew that Sasuke would do anything to make sure his ambition was accomplished. So, did she think that there was a chance that Sasuke would let things go back to the way they were? No. But that's not what Sakura needed now. She needed comfort. She didn't need the truth. Not now, anyways.

"Yeah... You're right, Sakura. You just need to believe that Naruto is okay and that he will help bring back Sasuke. You know what? I'm going to go talk to him. I'm sure a talk will clear all this up. Don't you worry, Sakura. I'll help you. Don't worry."

Sakura's eyes lit up. She could...hope again. Her friend wasn't lost. Her dreams weren't ruined. There was still hope. Naruto was wrong. She just knew it. "Thanks...Ino. You...you and Naruto are the closest friends I have..." She wiped her eyes with her the backside of her hand. "Thank you..."

"Don't worry, Sakura. I'll talk to him for you. Why don't you get some rest in the meantime."

"Yeah...I think I will."

Ino stood up and walked over to the front door. "I'll talk to you later, Sakura. Take care of yourself until then."

"Yeah... Thanks again, Ino. Try to make Naruto change his mind..."

"I will, don't worry." She smiled, trying to ease Sakura's mind just a little more. Ino exited the Haruno house and turned before leaving the main part of the property. Her hand raised to wave her friend goodbye before setting off.

'Sakura... I need to find Naruto. I need to know why he would do this to her... This isn't like him at all. He was fine yesterday and then he does this? What's going on with you, Naruto?'

A/N: So sorry for the delay. The last two months have been hectic and this story gave me so many issues during that time. I had major writer's block, but it should be gone by now. Expect a lot more updates from now on. Also, please review.