Choosing One's Path:

Life's Hard Road:

Chapter One:

The Return…

Some things don't ever Change.

Summary: After three years, Naruto returns. His quest to become Hokage continues as his learns life just gets harder. NaruHina, SasuSaku, and more….

A new day has just begun. The sun barely in the sky and a light breeze in the air have brought a bright new beginning.

"Slow down you moron. There is no reason to rush," A taller, white haired man said to a blond young man who was walking with a sense of urgency.

"Shut up Ero-Sennin!" The blond said increasing his pace.

"You don't see Gaara getting all excited and rushing like a total moron, do you?" The older man said to the blond.

"Gaara doesn't get excited over much though, now does he?" The blond asked.

"Naruto, was that really called for?" A red haired young man asked showing an annoyed expression.

"Look Gaara you've changed a lot over these last few years but you still have emotions that would make even Neji or Sasuke look like super loud annoying brats," The blond replied.

"This is coming from the number one, hyperactive, annoying, ramen slurping, orange wearing moron?" Gaara asked.

"Very funny Gaara," The blond replied as the group reached the front gates of the Village of Konoha.

"Looks like we're finally here," The old man of the group said as they entered the village and were quickly spotted by two chuunin who were watching the front gate.

"It's you! You've returned finally have you?" One of the chuunin asked. "Welcome back Jiraiya-sama, Gaara-san, Naruto-san,"

"Thanks, we'll be immediately heading over to see the Fifth," Jiraiya told the chuunin.

"Yes, I bet she'll be glad to see you guys," The chuunin replied as Jiraiya nodded and the trio continued on their way.

The trio was walking through the village when Naruto suddenly charged straight up a nearby building and when he reached the top he merely stopped and looked around the village. Gaara slowly followed up behind him to also get a better look at the village.

"Man the village hasn't changed a bit," Naruto said aloud but then suddenly spotted the new addition to the Hokage faces. "Oh man, they actually added Nee-chan's face up there huh?"

"She is the Fifth after all," Gaara replied. "It's only natural that her face be added as well,"

"That's true," Naruto commented but then took a deep breath. "Hey everyone Uzumaki Naruto has finally returned!" Naruto shouted.

"N-Naruto? Is that really you?" A voice from below asked as the blond hearing the voice quickly jumped down to get a better look at the source.

"S-Sakura-chan!" Naruto said in shock as he noticed his former teammate. The thin, frail body of the girl he remembered had been replaced with a tough, muscular frame just like her sensei. While Sakura wasn't overly large, each of her muscles was clearly defined and noticeable; a fact she was obviously happy to show off as much as possible. Her arms were shown off by the bright red tank top she wore. The black miniskirt and skintight black shorts she wore underneath revealed enough of her legs to make anyone turn their head. She was especially proud of that part of her body. She had been a bit distraught when she realized that she was the least endowed of all her friends, but she (and a certain raven-haired young man) felt none of the other girls could compare their lower extremities to her own. She was glad she had something over them… especially Ino. "Is that really you?"

"Of course it is silly," Sakura replied. Sakura looked Naruto over carefully. He had definitely grown over the last few years. He was now just a little less than six feet tall, and had his hair a little longer and spikier. He was wearing black cargo pants that were left loose to cover the tops of his shoes. His sunset orange shirt was buttoned up to its banded collar, and over it was an unzipped lightweight black jacket with a matching orange stripe going down each arm. His build was difficult to discern since his clothes were so loose, but judging by how broad his shoulders were, one could guess he had quite a set of muscles concealed under those clothes of his. Sakura couldn't help but to smile at the thought of how much time could change people. "But look at you, you've grown so much. You're a lot taller now too,"

"Yea, at least I'll be tall like my dad was and not a midget anymore," Naruto said with a smile.

"Hey did you forget about me, you clumsy idiot?" A certain raven-haired young man asked standing behind his pink haired girlfriend.

"Sasuke!" Naruto said with a grin noticing the Uchiha boy. Sasuke stood with a slight smirk and his hands in the pockets of his blue jacket. It was left unzipped, showing his white shirt underneath. Those who had been around him much lately knew that the symbol of the leaf was as proudly displayed on the back of his shirt and his forehead as his clan's symbol was on the back of his jacket. His long black pants were taped down to the tops of his shoes.

"So I see you finally made it back. How did the training go Naruto?" Sasuke asked the blond.

"It went great, I'm a lot stronger then before," Naruto replied.

"Great, I can't wait to spar with you again and test your new found strength," Sasuke said to the blond.

"Well then let's go!" Naruto said confidently.

"I'd love to, but I can't right now. We're getting ready to go on a mission. We're on our way to see Tsunade-sama as we speak," Sasuke told Naruto.

"I see, we'll we're going to see Nee-chan as well to report in and stuff," Naruto told Sasuke. "Gaara lets go!" Naruto shouted up to Gaara who promptly joined Naruto on the ground.

"Gaara? You look different," Sasuke said to the red-haired young man. The first thing most people would notice about how Gaara looked was that he seemed to be wearing glass. Sure enough, on each forearm and shin there were thick plates of glass that looked like pieces of medieval armor. On his back he had a solid glass yari (spear). He wore the standard blue pants most upper-ranking shinobi wore, with the bottoms of the pant legs wrapped down to the tops of his shoes. His long sleeved shirt was a dark cream color, and ended just above the middle of his thighs.

"Time is capable of changing people is it not?" Gaara replied.

"Indeed, well let's go we can't be late or Tsunade-sama will be angry," Sasuke said.

"Yes, Naruto you do know how much of a temper your big sister has when she's kept waiting," Jiraiya reminded the blond.

"Besides, we still have to meet up with Akina and Hinata," Sasuke said aloud.

"Akina-chan and Hinata-chan?" Naruto asked.

"Yes, they're coming with us on this mission apparently," Sasuke replied.

"Isn't Akina-chan your teammate anyway?" Naruto asked.

"Naruto, we're all chuunin now. So we're not an official team anymore," Sakura told her former teammate.

"So everyone made it to the Chuunin level?" Naruto asked.

"Yes, and even better Shikamaru, Shino, and Temari are Jounin now," Sakura told Naruto.

"That's awesome but I'm a little surprised that you and Neji aren't Jounin already by now," Naruto said to the raven-haired young man.

"Its true we could have been by now but Neji and I were waiting for your return before we became Jounin actually," Sasuke told the blond.

"I don't understand," Naruto said looking confused.

"Naruto, Sasuke-kun and Neji want to take the Jounin exam with you. They want to compete with you and test themselves," Sakura told the blond.

"Ah, I see. Well you guys shouldn't have waited because if it's a competition then I absolutely won't lose!" Naruto said with a confident smile that had the small group walking together all form grins on their faces.

"Naruto-nii! Is that really you?" A voice said from behind.

"Huh?" Naruto said aloud as he turned around only to be hugged tightly.

"It is you! Naruto-nii, you're finally back!" The voice identified as Akina said with tears in her eyes.

"Akina-chan!" Naruto said finally recognizing the voice. Naruto quickly took a look at how his sister had changed over the last three years. Akina was wearing a deep crimson tank top that accentuated her well-toned frame. It clung tightly to her body and stopped just above her belly button. On the back was the tell-tale swirl that marked her as a Konoha citizen done in black, covered slightly by the pony-tail she kept tied with a thin leather strip. She wore her forehead protector around her waist, a habit she had picked up from her brother's teammate, Ino. With it she was wearing black cargo pants made from a thick material to resist tears. In contrast to her shirt, they were very baggy. The final pieces of her outfit were the long black finger-less leather gloves. They covered roughly an inch of each finger, stopping just behind each finger's middle knuckle. There was a stud on each of her four finger's knuckles where they met the rest of the hand mounted to a metal plate, which was sewn into the glove. This gave her punches a more solid impact. Each glove had a plate on the back of the hand with the leaf symbol. The gloves continued about three-fourths of the way up her forearm, stopping a few inches before her elbow. There were several strips of metal that went from the back of her wrist to the end of the glove. The many strips together practically cocooned her forearm, which allowed her to block bladed weapons without injury.

"When did you get back?" Akina asked.

"Just now, we're going to go see Nee-chan. Ero-Sennin, Gaara and I that is," Naruto told the girl.

"Great I was meeting up with Sasuke and Sakura anyway so I'm going tag along. I can't believe you're back. Hinata-chan is going to freak out," Akina told her brother.

"Hinata-chan? Where is she?" Naruto asked.

"She should be waiting for us outside Tsunade-nee-chan's place," Akina told Naruto as the group continued toward Tsunade's office.

"Yo! Naruto! So you're back huh?" A familiar voice said. Naruto turned around and was shocked to see Kiba and Akamaru. Kiba had grown greatly over the past three years. At a glance it was easy to tell he had put on at least thirty pounds of muscle. He had elected to not replace his furry jacket after he had outgrown it. He left his armor in sight these days, draped over a crimson short sleeved shirt that was tucked into his black pants. His forearms were covered by armored plates, which met his finger-less black gloves. His finger-less gloves ran three inches past his wrist toward his elbow. The final touch was a studded belt with the plate from his forehead protector as the buckle. As for Akamaru the once small puppy that rode in Kiba's jacket had become nothing short of a monster in appearance. His head came up to his master's chest. He had a studded collar that matched Kiba's belt, which was also clasped with a Konoha head protector.

"Damn Kiba, Akamaru you two definitely changed," Naruto noticed.

"It would seem you have forgotten about me as well. I am deeply saddened that a comrade would forget about me," the bug ninja said appearing beside Kiba.

"Sorry Shino, I didn't see you there." Naruto told the bug user. Shino, at least had remained mostly the same. He had a new jacket. It was made the same as the one he wore three years ago, but was now black. The only other obvious change was that instead of his old round sunglasses, he now had a new set of sport styled wrap-arounds.

"I'll forgive you because we are comrades," Shino told the blond young man.

"Naruto-kun is that you I see there shining with your youthful energy?" a voice said from behind whom Naruto instantly recognized and shuddered.

"Yes, yes fuzzy-brows it's me plain as day," Naruto replied noticing how Lee had changed or rather, how he hadn't changed. The only difference between the new Lee and the Lee of yesteryear was that he was taller and had a larger build. Frighteningly enough, now he looks even more like his beloved Gai-sensei especially with the chuunin vest. "Sorry I don't have time to talk I got to go," Naruto said with a sense of urgency that everyone around knew was just his way of trying to get as far away from Lee as possible as fast as possible.

"Naruto did you really need to run away from Lee-san?" Sakura asked.

"Sorry Sakura-chan but I'm in no mood for a headache," Naruto replied getting a chuckle from the small group.

"Naruto! Oh my god, you're actually back!" Ino said in shock as she was face to face with her former teammate as he rounded the corner. Ino quickly hugged the blond.

"Hey Ino-chan!" Naruto said happily.

"Naruto, how's it going?" Chouji asked standing beside his girlfriend.

"I'm great, man you two have changed haven't you?" Naruto asked looking the couple over. At a glance, Ino looked racier than ever. She kept her trademark purple, but she showed more than most women dared. It displayed the great confidence she had both in her appearance and ability to take care of herself. Her hair was still in a long ponytail, with one fringe that covered the left side of her face. The focal point of her look was the skin-tight midriff tank top. The plate from her forehead protector was affixed to the top of the shirt just beneath the cleavage it revealed. However, men who had any sense gave up looking when they saw the necklace she displayed for everyone to see. Most everyone knew where the second half of that pendant was, as Ino was known to take pride in telling people that Akimichi Chouji already had her heart. The pendant was attached to a simple black ribbon that clung to her neck, which barely let the pendant touch her collarbone. The loose forearm sleeves were attached to the tank top by tight black netting. The same netting connected the bottom of her tank top to the top of her shorts that ran slightly past the middle of her thigh. The tight purple shorts were partially covered by a slanted piece of black fabric that went from her left hip to the middle of her right thigh in the front and back. Finally, netting ran from the bottom of her shorts to the middle of her calves.

Naruto then look a moment to examine the other half of the couple. Chouji had changed a good bit over the last three years. He had abandoned his old attire long ago for a style that was better suited to his new found speed. His upper body was now covered in a skintight black suit that ran from his neck out to cover each hand, and then tucked into his pants. It was a fairly thin material that seemed to fold into the crease between each of his muscles. His body wasn't very bulky, but very well toned and defined. The shirt also came up the back of his head, and had a band that ran around the forehead that held the metal plate of his old forehead protector. His shoulder-length hair came out came out of the top and was parted in the center and draped to the sides, just barely touching his chuunin vest. His pants were also close to his form, but not nearly as tight. They pants were made from a tough material, and were black and white with a camouflage pattern. He wore his normal style shoes with the outfit only they were now black. His outfit was completed by the silver chan that was barely visible around his neck. At the other end, carefully tucked into his shirt was a round gold disk. When Ino had given this to him she told him how her father had given it to her mother while she was pregnant with Ino. The charm had a square hole in the center of it and some strange carvings around it. He had given the part Chouji had to her mother, and kept the other part that Ino had. The two disks were made as one then split apart. When the peg from Ino's piece is pushed into the hole in Chouji's, the carvings on the two combined to form the symbol for love. She told him how this charm was said to ensure the two lovers would always be reunited, and symbolized that without each other, neither would be complete. "You two look great," Naruto said finally.

"Thanks Naruto-kun, you don't look so bad yourself. You've even gotten taller," Ino replied. "Hey Shika-kun, look whose back!" Ino called to her former teammate as he and a familiar blond haired girl made their way over to the group.

"So its Naruto is it?" Shikamaru said with a lazy expression on his face. "And Ino, don't call me that. Its bad enough Temari does it but not you as well,"

"So its bad that I call you Shika-kun is it?" Temari asked looking annoyed.

"Damn it, you're all so troublesome," Shikamaru replied getting a smack from his girlfriend and a giggle from Ino.

"So Naruto-kun, Gaara I see you two are back. I'm glad," Temari told the two young men.

"I see you are doing well Temari," Gaara replied.

"Yeah, you look amazing!" Naruto said almost with a slight blush on his face. To say Temari looked amazing was an understatement. Temari had filled out more than any other girl in Naruto's group of friends had. Of course, if any of the other girls were asked, they would say it was just because Temari was older than them, but they knew better. She was second only to Tsunade. She clothed herself in a sleeveless one-piece cream-colored dress with a banded collar that clung to her neck. The dress as a whole from the waist up seemed like it should be hard for her to breathe. Even though she was covered, it left very little to the imagination. It ended several inches above her knee and was split up to her waist on each side revealing tight black shorts. Over the shorts was a set of fishnets that ran all the way down her legs. Her forearms were covered by royal blue baggy sleeves, which concealed tight, armored bracers. Her fan was held on her back by a matching royal blue sash that circled her waist and held the plate from her forehead protector. As for Shikamaru, he hadn't changed much over the years. He still looked blatantly uninterested in everything that was going on, and still wore his same outfit, only larger. The only real changes were that now he wore a camouflaged jacket like his father, and when he could get away with it, he would go days without shaving.

"Why thank you Naruto-kun," Temari replied.

"Shikamaru, you're a lucky bastard!" Naruto stated quite bluntly.

"Hey stupid that's my sister you're talking about!" a familiar voice said leaning up against a nearby wall across from Naruto.

"Who the hell are you?" Naruto asked looking confused.

"What the hell? You don't recognize me?" the young man said looking even more annoyed.

"Kankurou, you can't really blame him. You do look completely different than when they left," Temari replied.

"That's Kankurou?" Gaara replied looking almost shocked.

"Damnit Gaara, don't joke around like that! I know you've seen me plenty of times without my makeup," Kankurou said.

"That's makeup boy over there?" Naruto said looking rather shocked.

"God damnit, I'm so going to kill you!" Kankurou replied. Kankurou had long since abandoned his strange black outfit and face paint. He had finally settled on the general look for a shinobi in Konoha. He now wore the standard dark blue pants, and a light brown long-sleeved shirt. He had also stopped carrying around his bulky package he usually kept on his back. He now carried scrolls similar to Tenten's to hold his burden. He kept the three scrolls he had tied to his left thigh, with his weapon pouch on his right. He wore his forehead protector in its proper place, and carried a small toolkit on his left hip for field repair of his puppets.

"Sorry about that man. You just look different," Naruto told the older boy.

"Naruto, you're not making him feel any better," Shikamaru replied.

"I see you guys are as lively as usual," Neji said dropping down from the rooftop. His girlfriend dropped down beside him a moment later.

"Neji! Ten-chan!" Naruto said happily as he noticed the two teens.

"Hey Naruto-kun, how have you been?" Tenten asked.

"I've been great!" Naruto replied as he studied the two teens before him. Neji had changed very little. He had grown taller, and had become disturbingly more feminine looking (mainly because of his rather long hair), but that was pretty much it. He had traded his shorts and short sleeved shirt for a standard pair of dark blue pants and a dark gray shirt. The shirt fastened down his left side and tucked into his pants. He still used his forehead protector to cover his seal. As for Tenten, the biggest surprise about her was her hair. She had finally turned her back on the buns she had worn on her head (after many subtle requests from Neji). She kept her hair long enough to reach just below her shoulders, though most of the time she kept it in a high ponytail. She still dressed basically the same. She just loved her sleeveless Chinese shirts; no one thought she would ever wear anything else. The only other change to her general look was the fact that most days she could be seen wearing one of Neji's shirts like a lightweight jacket. Whenever anyone asked her about it she would just smile and remain silent. Neji was the only one who knew how much Tenten loved the smell of him. Soon after they had moved in together she had started helping herself to some of his clothes in the mornings.

"Naruto, it really is good to see you again," Neji said with a smile. "We must get together catch up sometime soon,"

"Definitely, but for now we really got to get going before Nee-chan rings all of our necks," Naruto told Neji as the group everyone parted ways and went in separate directions. Naruto, Gaara, Sasuke, Sakura, Akina, and Jiraiya all continued toward the Hokage's place. They arrived in short time and Naruto immediately spotted the one person he had been waiting to see more then anyone else since his return to Konoha.

"Hinata-chan! Look at who's back," Akina yelled to the Hyuuga girl.

"Gaara-san! Jiraiya-sama! Welcome home," Hinata said getting a nod from the two ninja. "But, where's Naruto-kun?" Hinata asked.

"What are you talking about? He's right here…." Akina said but then noticed her brother was nowhere in sight. "Well he was here,"

"Hinata-chan…." Naruto said tapping the girl on the shoulder from behind.

"N-Naruto-kun?" Hinata asked as she slowly turned around and blushed fiercely when her eyes met with a certain blond haired young man.

"It's me alright my love," Naruto said with a wink and a sly smile as he planted a kiss right on the girl's lips that quickly drew the breath away from her.

"Welcome home," Hinata said with a blush and a smile as she stood before him with her hands behind her back. Naruto quickly blushed and stared as he admired the changes his girlfriend had been through these last three years. Hinata had changed the most out of the group, well except for maybe Chouji. She wasn't as conservative and modest as she had been in her younger days, though she was still far more modestly dressed than her kunoichi comrades were. She had abandoned her baggy jacket that hid her figure from sight, and replaced it with a short sleeved royal blue top that zipped in the front up to her collarbone. The dress-like top didn't have the usual collar at the top, which left her neck completely uncovered. Its bottom came to the middle of her thigh, and underneath it were tight black pants. There was a lotus blossom stitched into the back with a deep purple thread. The entire outfit showed how much she had grown over the years. What she hadn't gained in height, she had in other places. Her muscles had toned through her training, and gave her a rather athletic build. However, her training had not taken away the voluptuous womanly curves she had developed. She now kept her hair longer, just past her shoulders, and generally kept it in a single loose braid with a few fringes framing her face. Many men noticed Hinata now, and over the last three years she had become one of the most sought after women in Konoha. She was no longer as shy as she once was; instead of looking down all the time and speaking too soft to be heard, she would now look at people and speak in an almost conversational tone. She retained just enough of the shyness in her personality to drive the men wild. Naruto was no different. The blond instantly shut up and Akina could have sworn she saw her brother start to drool at the sight of Hinata.

"Hinata-chan, you look amazing! No… Amazing doesn't do you justice. No words can describe how beautiful you look," Naruto told the girl causing her to turn several shades of red.

"So Hinata-chan, the idiot finally came back to us, of course he seems to have lousy timing, but at least we have something to look forward to," Akina said to the girl.

"That's right you guys got a mission or something don't you?" Naruto remembered from what Sasuke and Sakura told him earlier.

"Yes, it would appear as so," Hinata replied. "We mustn't keep Tsunade-nee-chan waiting any longer,"

"We have business with Tsunade as well, so we shall accompany you to her office," Jiraiya informed the Hyuuga girl. The group made their way inside and up a long flight of steps and finally reached the Hokage's office. Sasuke knocked on the door.

"Who's there?" Tsunade called from behind the door.

"Uchiha Sasuke, Haruno Sakura, Uzumaki Akina, Hyuuga Hinata, and a bunch of wanderers," Sasuke replied from the other side of the door.

"Come in!" Tsunade ordered. The door opened slowly and Tsunade set her eyes at the entering group. Shizune who was as always by Tsunade's side as well as Hatake Kakashi was also in the room and all their eyes wandered to the extra set of people who had joined Sasuke's group. "N-Naruto! Is that you?" Tsunade asked looking stunned.

"Yes Nee-chan, I've returned. Gaara and I are back and better then ever," Naruto said with a grin.

"Naruto-kun, welcome home!" Shizune said to the blond.

"Well it looks like you're not a midget after all Naruto. You'll reach sensei's height if you continue like this," Kakashi commented.

"Kakashi-sensei, are you looking to pick a fight just as soon as I return?" Naruto asked looking annoyed.

"Now, now don't be upset. I'm just saying you've grown up a bit," Kakashi said.

"You have a funny way of saying that then," Naruto said almost in a half pout.

"Anyway, Naruto, Gaara, Jiraiya, I am glad to see you guys," Tsunade told them. "But first I must handle the business at hand. Kakashi, I want you to lead this next mission, it's an A-Ranked mission,"

"An A-Ranked mission?" Kakashi questioned.

"Yes, the request comes from a village close to the border to the Lightning Country so you must very cautious on this mission. The village has requested our assistance. They are being harassed by rogue ninja from the now dead Sound Village. They've requested a combat team with at least two medical capable shinobi,"

"Two medics on this mission? Isn't that a bit unusual?" Kakashi asked.

"Indeed, but apparently there are a great deal of injured villagers that need treatment, therefore, I will be sending you, Sasuke, Akina, Sakura, and Hinata in on this mission. You are all capable as combat shinobi and of course Sakura and Hinata are very good medical-nins," Tsunade told the group. "Just use caution and do not drop your guard. You are to leave immediately, so you all are dismissed," Tsunade told the group. They turned toward the exit, Kakashi just nodded to Naruto as he exited the room. Sasuke merely smirked and Sakura waved as they two exited the room.

"Naruto-nii, I guess I'll see you when I get back," Akina said giving her brother a hug and then making her exit as well.

"Naruto-kun, I'm very glad you've returned. I'll see you soon," Hinata told Naruto as she hugged him and kissed him on the cheek as she too left the room. That just left Naruto, Gaara, and Jiraiya standing before the Fifth Hokage and her assistant.

"So how did it go Jiraiya? I must say Naruto and Gaara definitely look different," Tsunade asked her fellow Sannin.

"They've both become a lot more powerful. Gaara has complete control over his and his tenant's chakra. Naruto has mastered his chakra capacity as well as got in touch…. With an old friend," Jiraiya told the woman.

"What do you mean by that?" Tsunade asked.

"You'll see in due time," Jiraiya informed his former teammate. "Also the two have completely mastered there different elemental training."

"What! Seriously they've even done that?" Tsunade asked looking amazed.

"Indeed," Jiraiya replied with a smirk.

"We kick ass now Nee-chan!" Naruto told the woman.

"So… what elements?" Tsunade asked.

"Almost to be expected because of where I lived most of my life, I freely control earth and wind," Gaara told the older woman.

"As for Naruto, he's a bit different in that department…." Jiraiya interrupted.

"Different how?" Tsunade asked.

"Naruto controls three elements," Jiraiya told the woman.

"T-That's impossible!" Shizune couldn't help but say.

"Normally I'd agree, but this is Naruto we are talking about," Jiraiya replied.

"Tsunade-nee-chan, Shizune-nee-chan, I control wind, water, and… fire," Naruto told the older women.

"Wind, water, and fire?" Tsunade said. "Is it because of Kyuubi's past influence on his chakra system?"

"Most likely… Regardless these brats have improved and could probably give us a run for our money or better," Jiraiya told the woman.

"So are they a match for the Akatsuki?" Tsunade asked.

"I'd hope so considering we killed three of their members off recently," Jiraiya replied.

"What! You guys took out three members?" Tsunade asked.

"Yes, I believe their names were Sasori, Deidara, and Zetsu," Jiraiya told the woman. "We were lucky to catch them exchanging information. We had the element of surprise and I'll tell you, it was rough but we managed to defeat them. We also learned some very interesting information," Jiraiya said.

"What information is that?" Tsunade asked.

"The Akatsuki has managed to get their hand on nearly all the Bijuu. Only four remain," Jiraiya told his former teammate.

"Only four remain?" Tsunade asked.

"Yes, the one tailed inside of Gaara, the four and seven tails, and of course Naruto," Jiraiya told the woman. "We have Naruto and Gaara of course. But I have also arranged for the four tail's container and the seven tail's containers to both come to Konoha. The four tails' is a young lady from Hidden Grass. The seven tails' is also a young lady she is from the Snow Country actually," Jiraiya told the woman. "I'll fill you in with the rest of the details later,"

"I see, so you guys have been busy," Tsunade said to the small group. "We have also had some problems during your time away," Tsunade said grimly.

"Problems?" Jiraiya asked.

"Yes, we had problems with two Akatsuki members as well," Tsunade told Jiraiya. "Their names were Hidan and Kakuzu," Tsunade told the group.

"I see, then that's excellent news. The Akatsuki is very little in number now. But judging by the look on your face, something happened," Jiraiya said.

"Indeed, we are down two of our best Jounin now," Tsunade told the group getting a stunned reaction from Naruto. "Kurenai is no longer on active duty, she is currently carrying Sarutobi Asuma's child," Tsunade told the group.

"Sarutobi-sensei's boy huh?" Jiraiya stated.

"Asuma-sensei and Kurenai-sensei got together?" Naruto asked looking shocked.

"That's not all however…." Tsunade said getting their utmost attention. "Sarutobi Asuma…. Was killed in action by Hidan of the Akatsuki," Tsunade told the group.

"What! What the hell was that? Asuma-sensei is…. He died? But what about Kurenai-sensei?" Naruto asked with anger and sadness mixed together in his eyes.

"Kurenai is indeed taking this hard but she is strong. Asuma died to protect the future generation of the village," Tsunade told her little brother.

"But…" Naruto wanted to say something, anything, but he simply couldn't.

"Shikamaru took out Hidan shortly afterward. Sasuke and Kakashi's combined efforts took down Kakuzu. It was a fierce battle," Tsunade told the blond.

"I see…." Naruto said as he turned and started to make his way out of Tsunade's office.

"Where are you going Naruto?" Tsunade asked.

"There's something…. I got to do," Naruto replied and left the room.

"If I may Tsunade-sama, I will ensure he doesn't do anything stupid," Gaara told the woman and followed Naruto out of the room.

Naruto walked silently through the village for quite a while. He eventually found himself at the training ground where he first became a genin. Gaara followed Naruto to the training grounds and watched the blonde stop and stare at the stone slab memorial with all the fallen Konoha shinobi's names engraved.

"Naruto?" Gaara said letting the blond know he was there.

"Sarutobi…. Asuma…." Naruto read the name out loud. "Asuma-sensei died…. Fighting the Akatsuki…."

"Naruto…. You can't possibly believe it was your fault he died?" Gaara asked. Naruto silently turned and walked away from the stone slab. Gaara silently walked beside him. The two made their way to Konoha's cemetery. After a while of searching Naruto stopped in front of the grave he was searching for. "Naruto…."

"I know it wasn't my fault, but I…." Naruto said kneeling before the grave of Asuma.

"Naruto?" A voice from behind said, getting the two teens' attention. Naruto turned around to see Kurenai standing holding a bouquet of flowers for the grave.

"Kurenai-sensei…." Naruto said, as he couldn't help but stare down at the ground almost as if he was too ashamed to look Kurenai in the eyes. "I…. Well congratulations…." Naruto said trying to lighten the mood.

"So you heard…. You've grown Naruto. You're taller. You look very much like your father," Kurenai said to the blond.

"Kurenai-sensei I'm so sorry!" Naruto said to the older woman shocking her. "I…. If I wasn't around … If I never existed … Then you.…"

"Naruto don't ever apologize for something like that!" Kurenai said to the young man. "Never regret your existence. If it wasn't for you, this village may have fallen back when the Sand and Sound invaded the village. If it weren't for you, Sasuke, Neji, Hinata, Akina, and so many others would have suffered. So never regret your existence!"

"I…. I understand, I'm sorry," Naruto replied.

"Asuma, he died to protect this village, the people in it, and the new generation to be born," Kurenai told the teen.

"Kurenai-sensei…. I, Uzumaki Naruto swear that I will protect you, the village, and the next generation to be born. I will become Hokage and protect this village and everyone in it, and that's a promise," Naruto told the older woman.

"Naruto…." Kurenai said looking at the teen in shock.

"I'll never break my promises and I'll never take back my words! That's my way of the ninja!" Naruto told the woman.

"I see…. Konoha is in excellent hands then," Kurenai said to the teen with a smile.

"You bet it is now if you'll excuse me, I've got to get some ramen!" Naruto said making a hastily exit.

"Excuse us if you please," Gaara said simply giving the woman a slight bow before chasing after the blond.

"Asuma, Konoha and our child's future is truly in great hands," Kurenai thought to herself as she placed the bouquet on her love's grave.

A/N: The sequel is finally here. It took me quite a while to write anything. I've had so much stuff going on in my life, and then writer's block set itself in for the long haul. I'm still not completely off my writer's block as ideas, are hard to come by for now. I just want to thank everyone who has been patient and who has supported me, I'll do my best to live up to everyone's expectations. The storyline is going to kind of try and stick to the original manga, but obviously at the same time it will be different. I want to try and make it seem as believable for the Naruto series as I can. So some things will change, characters, etc. Also some fights may or may not happen. Like for example how I sort of written off Deidara and Sasori and some of the other members of the Akatsuki. I did that on purpose. I like Deidara as a character but guys like Sasori and his puppets and Deidara and his bombs I'm not sure I could make any fights with them good, so I'd rather the characters not be there, then me slaughter them because I can't write them into a decent fight scene or whatever. That being said people such as Pein while he may still exist I'll have to wait and see how I do that and characters like Sai, and Sasuke's team Hebi will most likely more then likely not exist as I have my own character's I'll be adding to the story. Anyway, thanks again everyone for waiting and I hope you enjoy the story.