Naruto laughed whenever somebody told him that he had eaten so much ramen that if he was ever sliced open it would just be ramen flowing out. He grimaced as he realised that at this point he could prove them wrong.

He ducked under the enemy Shinobi's – who he had dubbed Douche Bag #5 - next attempt to behead him. He had gotten close last time, but that was as close as he would get. Douche Bag's sword lifted, facing Naruto, apparently he was the leader of the group Naruto had just slaughtered.

"I've killed all your friends." Naruto pointed out the obvious.

"I just wounded you." The man replied with his own statement, and Naruto's eyes narrowed behind his mask. "And I'm going to kill you."

"Funny that, I was just planning to kill you too." Naruto said, realizing that Douche Bag had a sense of humor – if the circumstances were different, they could have become friends. Naruto unsheathed his own wakizashi, the short blade gleaming with blood. "Would you like to be killed with your whole body in tact, or just do you not mind?"

"It's quite unprofessional for an honorable Konoha Shinobi like yourself to converse with an enemy like you are now. And the answer to that question is irrelevant." Douche Bag rushed forward, and Naruto easily ducked under his attack, before realizing the pain coming from his wound. Trying his best to ignore it, he made one clean, twisting motion – taking off Douche Bag's head with a quick slash.

He staggered away from the man's body as he sheathed his sword, letting go his hold on the pain, clasping his hand over his wound, looking around cautiously before he even attempted to try and recite the bare handful of healing jutsus he had learnt from Tsunade and Sakura.

He had hesitated and for that he had paid the price. He was surrounded by a group of dead bodies, the standard five-cell team that Sound-nins were currently operating in. He ripped off his ANBU vest, though left the singlet on, slowly inspecting the wound under the light of the moon, letting out a small hissing noise as he traced his fingers over the gash.

At least it wasn't as bad as he thought, it was what he had dubbed 'an Ino-like wound' - it put up a terrifying and what seemed like a life-threatening front, but inside it was rather the opposite. Not to say that a gash across the chest was beautiful and caring. The mere mention of her name brought thousands of distractions into his head, some of them memories, others fantasies – but his bleeding abdomen brought him back to where he really was, a battlefield in the middle of a forest of silent trees.

Swearing under his breath before reciting a jutsu, he was able to stop the bleeding, deciding to let the Kyuubi do the rest.

'That's the closest anyone has gotten to you in a while.' The Kyuubi said in a strange tone, half-mocking, but something that sounded like actual sympathy was felt. 'It's not an emotional attachment.'

"I would think less of you if it was." Naruto clenched his teeth as he felt the Kyuubi's chakra pour into his wound to heal it. Every time the Kyuubi healed him it brought back the pain of what had caused the wound.

'You're careless.'

"Just hurry up and heal the wound." Naruto said, as the Kyuubi growled.

'You're in no position to abuse my help.'

"Do you really want to let us both die?" The absence of Kyuubi's mocking voice proved that he had bested the demon in their battle of words.

'Why did you hesitate?' The Kyuubi asked, breaking the silence.

"I didn't want to die." With a grim smile, Naruto realized that though the Kyuubi had finished his own method of 'healing', their conversation hadn't.

'And a great job of that you've done. You had an opening, and you didn't go for it, instead you just froze like an idiot.'

"I didn't freeze. I contemplated." Naruto corrected the Kyuubi, admiring the new scar that had joined the many on his battered body, barely kept together by the Kyuubi's help. He cursed the old hag for purposely picking him to go on these suicidal missions. "If I went and attacked him at that moment I may have finished it faster – but at the risk of leaving an opening in my throat. I weighed out my chances, and -"

'And then he slashed at you with that katana he was hiding..' The Kyuubi finished his sentence, much to his annoyance. 'You paid the price.'

"Right before I beheaded him."

'Only when I reminded you that you were in the middle of a battle. Haven't I told you never to hesitate?'

"I –" Kyuubi won this time. Naruto decided to start walking, slowly at first as he adjusted to the multiple cramps in his body, the after-effects of a large scale, chakra-draining battle. He didn't have a sense of direction, but he wanted to walk for the sake of doing something other than standing there and waiting to be ambushed.

'I'll ask you again Naruto, why did you hesitate?'

"Because I have something to live for now." Naruto answered truthfully, he and Kyuubi had found solace in speaking to each other – Kyuubi began to be less of the homicidal, destructive demon he was and Naruto saw talking to the said mass-murdering fox as therapeutic.

'The stupid dreams of yours?'

"I gave up on dreams during that bastard snake's first attack, you of all 'people' know that." Naruto tightened the mask on his face – the fox-mask was his true face, one of a killer, with streaks of red, some painted on, some sprayed on with blood.

'The girl?'

"It seems so." Naruto began picking up speed, climbing to the trees and with a sudden burst of chakra he was able to move faster than a normal human's eyes could trace.

'We're screwed, aren't we?'

"Romance and war are two dangerous things." Naruto repeated a quote the Kyuubi had told him once.

'If I was you, I would flee the village – hell, I'd flee the country. War changes people. I liked you better when you were an idiot kid.'

"I liked you better when you stayed in your cage."

- -

"You're late." The 'old hag', and legendary Sannin – and sucker – the Godaime, Tsunade paced up and down her office, in front of the young man. "It's already the middle of the night."

"It's good to be back, too." Naruto replied sarcastically, though it lacked his normal humor, replaced with a gruff tone of voice. The young man certainly did have a lot to be 'gruff' about – Tsunade had failed to acknowledge the state of disarray he was in.

"I can see you got yourself wounded." Tsunade pointed out the obvious, one of the many traits that had led her to losing many different games of gambling.

"Oh, you mean the giant scar in the middle of my abdomen?" Naruto gave her a look of shock and disbelief, as she simply shook her head.

"Don't be melodramatic, it's not cute on you any more." Tsunade replied, and Naruto pulled a face of a hurt puppy. "You're ANBU Naruto – I doubt even a tenth of the blood sprayed on that filthy uniform of yours belongs to you."

"I think this guy had an STD." Naruto said gesturing to the discolored blood on his shoulder. "Do you think I could've accidentally caught something?"

"Did he bleed in your mouth?"

"Blood is oh-so-tasty, I couldn't resist, baa-chan." Naruto said, making a point to add in and emphasize what he called an 'affectionate nickname'.

"Living alone all these years has gotten to you, Naruto." Tsunade put her head in her hands, opting to just try and wrap up the mission de-briefing. It was only during the rare S-Class missions in which the Hokage herself did the de-briefing.

"I blame it on the tax-payers choice to put me in my own apartment by myself than in an orphanage." Another humorless joke was said, as Naruto withdrew three scrolls from one of the few pockets on his pants – ANBU nin were required to travel with the minimal. "The mission statement and the two 'special orders' from the Sound base. Excuse me if I accidentally spilt blood on it."

"Accidents happen."

"I'll leave you to it." Naruto's shoulders slumped, as if he had a large weight taken off his shoulders. He walked to the door quietly, though Tsunade stopped him before he even got close.

"Wait – Neji's looking for you, urgently. I suggest you seem him." Tsunade said, as Naruto turned around, annoyed.

"You know who I want to see first. Unless it's a life and death situation for Neji, I'm going to see her now." Naruto said firmly, causing a small smile that had been absent ever since the start of the war to appear on Tsunade's face.

"She's changed you, hasn't she?" Tsunade asked, as Naruto nodded silently. "But I still strongly suggest you see Neji. He's in the ANBU tower."

"Fine, I'll see Neji, but I'll tell her it's your fault if she starts threatening me." Naruto left the room in his blood stained ANBU uniform, quickly putting his mask on, and making his way down to the ANBU tower – occupying himself with thoughts of why the architect of Konoha was obsessed with building towers.

- -

"Naruto." Neji said, as Naruto gracefully landed in front of the ANBU tower to find Neji waiting outside in the darkness, looking rather impatient and formal in what he called 'standard Hyuuga clothing', but to Naruto just looked like a straight jacket and baggy, white pants.

"Haven't seen you in a while." Naruto said, mentioning the fact that the Rookie 9 barely had time to meet, and the only exceptions to that for him were Sakura and Ino.

"Missions." Neji stated the universal reason of every Konoha nin. "How is she?"

"Haven't seen her yet." Naruto said, as Neji shook his head. "You better have something good to show me."

"It's not very pleasant, but follow me." Neji led Naruto into the ANBU tower, and into what the ANBU Shinobi from the Assassination and Capture Branch deemed 'the pit' – a place where A and S-Rank criminals go, and never come out.

"Who are we looking for?" Naruto asked, as Neji led the down the gloomy hallway, as soon as Naruto walked in he felt a chill run down his spine, as the grey walls and lack of any form of cleaning made this place feel like a cold, harsh environment.

"Day before yesterday, we found this criminal half-dead. We were shocked to find out his identity, though he was in a terrible state. Because of his 'special' status we were forced to try and bring him back alive." Neji said. "It was a bad idea, even though he was half-dead he put up one hell of a fight."

"Let me guess - Sound-nin, carrying a Cursed Seal?" Naruto asked, as Neji continued his story.

"Yes. We didn't expect it, though it took most of us to subdue him – mind you if we didn't have to keep him alive we would've done it a lot faster. He put Kiba, along with two others in hospital." Neji said. "I fared out the best, but he got a couple of good shots in." Pure Neji – pride, with a bare hint of humility that Naruto had knocked into him during their last battle.

"So who is this guy, if he was able to land a hit on the 'great Hyuuga prodigy'?" Naruto asked, as Neji stopped in front of a certain door.

"See for yourself." Gesturing to the window on the door, Naruto looked inside, seeing a raven-haired man sitting in a chair, facing the floor, chained to the chair he was sitting on – hands far apart so he couldn't perform any jutsu. With a look of disgust, Naruto turned to Neji bitterly.

"That man is not Uchiha Sasuke."