Tsunade sat at her desk staring at Jiraiya. Jiraiya's left cheek was adorned with a large hand-shaped bruise. If their identities were taken away and someone was told what they always did when they were reunited, they would swear they were a young couple in the throws of courtship. But as it was, everyone assumed that it was just a friendly thing, after all, after more than thirty years of friendship anyone would develop some odd quirks somewhere along the line.
"So, you think Naruto is ready for it?" Tsunade asked over her interlocked fingers.
"I promise you, you'll be surprised to see what he can do. He knows most of my normal jutsu and can summon any toad at will. His seal speed is astounding, his reserves have more than doubled, when he channels his chakra his strength could possibly rival yours and that's without knowing your technique and lacking your control. Overall, I'd rate his control as a C+, but the more powerful a technique he uses the better his control is or appears. It could be because of the immense amount of chakra he has it's easier for him to control larger amounts than smaller ones," Jiraiya said gruffly with his arms crossed over his chest. "I'd say he'd be able to beat Kakashi now. He can give me a run for my money if he doesn't hold back."
"Hn, I see," she replied focusing her eyes on her hands. "How is he for leadership and brain power?"
"Definitely worth the shot, I haven't done any missions with him but he can tie me at shogi and his short term plans are incredible. His plans don't fail often, but as soon as his plan goes to shit he comes up with another one without missing a beat, so it's hard to tell."
"Good, I'll test him tomorrow, but tell me something: is he still our favorite knucklehead? I never wanted his innocence and great heart to go away," Tsunade said sadly.
"He's a true ninja now, but I think our knucklehead is there, just needs some love to coax him back out," Jiraiya said softly, placing his hand on Tsunade's shoulder comfortingly.
Naruto was laying on the underside of a tree branch waiting for his test. His meeting with the Hokage had been brief as she had decided to have him tested out now rather than wait. His mind was focused on what his goals should be now. With his future hinging on the next few hours, he had delved into his own thoughts. His long term goals were similar to when he was a child. He could not stop wanting to become Hokage, it was too ingrained into system. But he had added love to his list and it seemed like he had at least one girl interested in applying for the spot. He had read one of Jiraiya's books and decided that lust was not for him, at least not like that. Sharing it with one person, one faithful partner did appeal to him however. He wanted to find one girl, only one, to spend the rest of his days with. However short that may be. His short term goals were something of a toss up. Akatsuki had been active for several months and would probably start looking for him soon. He should probably be on the forefront of the assault on them to prevent people or damage inside of Konoha, give him a small bit of control over where and when the battle happened. Sasuke needed his ass handed to him just because he was troublesome and dangerous to everyone and Orochimaru posed a threat to Konoha until Naruto kills him. Somehow, Naruto knew that he'd be the one to have to kill the old snake. But everything hinged on this test and what his superiors thought best of him.
"So, my student finally mastered tree climbing, eh?" a deep, familiar voice drawled.
"I follow spiders around when I can't sleep," Naruto said with a smile, he didn't need to move his cloak to know who it was.
"I'm guessing you already know why I'm here?" Kakashi said in a calm but no longer drawled voice.
"True enough, I wasn't told who but that they'd be here thirty minutes ago," Naruto complained gently.
"I have a legitimate excuse this time: I was taking a little extra time to prepare for you," Kakashi said as he revealed his sharingan. "Your test is not the bell test, it's an all out fight. You lose if you yield or fall unconscious, and the same for me," Kakashi was instantly above Naruto's head with a kunai poised to strike, but the blade at his own throat held him still.
"Not, so hasty Kakashi, you never said start," Naruto said from behind Kakashi.
"I was right to take the extra time if you're this good," Kakashi said smiling despite himself. "Fine then, start."
Both ninja disappeared.
Kakashi had chosen to hide himself to get a plan. He was hunched against a tree under several bushes. He did not know the slightest thing about Naruto's new strength and skill so he'd need some sort of way to test him but safely. The wind shifted and he got a very bad sign stealing his attention.
Naruto's fist cracked the tree where Kakashi's head had just been. Naruto scoffed and launched his opposite elbow at Kakashi, only to have it caught and the force behind it used to put distance between them.
"Wow," Kakashi said shaking his hands upon landing. "My palms are stinging."
Naruto simply covered the twenty meters in half a second and covered Kakashi's front in fists and feet, shins and elbows. Nothing landed, but Kakashi could not fire off his response to anything thrown at him. After a few seconds of relentless assault, the heavens opened for Kakashi and he launched his counter into Naruto's only opening. His fist flew underneath Naruto's guard left open by an overzealous jab and slammed into his ribs. Naruto grunted but seemed otherwise unphased, but the blow was enough, Kakashi launched his own assault to which Naruto could not come up with a reply.
Kakashi landed a sweep kick and a hard knee sending Naruto back several feet.
"You don't hit as hard as I thought you would," Kakashi jeered.
"Oh? Jiraiya tell you something?" Naruto said letting his arms fall to his side, relaxing his guard.
"Just that your strength was supposed to match Tsunade's, what I've seen leaves me thinking he-"
Naruto cut Kakashi's jeering short with a launching thrust. Kakashi barely contorted his body out of the way, but he could not avoid the follow-up. Kakashi threw his forearm down and over trying to redirect Naruto's uppercut, but found that the force behind the blond's fist was much more than anything he could counter. The blow struck home on Kakashi's ribs, the exact manner in which he had struck Naruto, the only difference was that this had easily ten times the amount of force behind Kakashi's entire body.
The silver-haired ninja buckled under the blow only to fall prey to a knee to his solar plexus that sent him head-over-heels careening down the clearing. He rolled and slid to his feet his hands already blurred in seals. He fired off a dragon of fire from his mouth further fueling his backward motion. Naruto had already covered half of the distance between them when the fast flying dragon was launched. It covered the distance in the twinkling of an eye, but Naruto was already halted and ready to counter. His hand was saturated with formless chakra, and as soon as the dragon was close enough he switched the chakra to wind and quadrupled the amount. The dragon's flaming teeth on either side of him, Naruto swung his wind blade up and across his body, shoving as much chakra as he could into his strike.
The area was rocked by an explosion and two lanes of fire.
Three hours into their bout, as the level of techniques being used could hardly be called just a test, Naruto had barely broken a sweat while Kakashi was hunched over breathing heavily. The surrounding area had lanes of glass, large trees felled by blades and explosions alike, craters and slashes and various broken and discarded weapons. Naruto was simply staring at his examiner.
Naruto held his hand out beckoning to Kakashi. "I told you that you didn't have a chance with your reserves. We stand on almost equal grounds except that I can go for miles to your one."
Kakashi chuckled airily.
"I was right to take the extra time then," he muttered to the ground. "Not that it mattered. You still beat me."
Jiraiya walked into the clearing arms folded, beaming in pride. Kakashi only gave a thumbs up to Jiraiya as he collapsed from exhaustion. Both Naruto and Jiraiya simply sighed at Kakashi's antics.
"Naruto, grab Kakashi and get to the tower," Jiraiya said before sinking into a black marsh.
Naruto nodded his head and moved towards Kakashi.
"Come on, taichou, you should have your ribs looked at," Naruto said as he gingerly slid Kakashi onto his shoulder.
"You mean to tell me that Naruto beat you without getting hurt himself?" Tsunade asked incredulously as she moved her green-glowing hands over Kakashi's ribs.
"Not beat, tied. We were matched blow for blow, I just couldn't hit him hard enough to give him more damage than Kyuubi could heal in two seconds," Kakashi said whining as she stitched his third and fifth ribs back together. "No jutsu landed, where I countered him with finesse, he countered with force."
"What did you do to him?" she asked befuddled, turning away from her patient to Jiraiya.
"Gave him everything he wanted and more. No drugs, nothing unnatural, just lots of intense, hands-on training. He still did most of the work, I just was actually there only to correct his sloppiness," Jiraiya said with a smug look on his face. "I'm not even sure when he got to be so physically tough or strong, that was entirely him. Sometimes I wonder how much of his progress is due to me and how much is due to his self training. No matter what I'd tell him, he'd go off on his own at night and come back sometime before dawn, sleep for four hours and wake at dawn with me and be fully rested, he really is an amazing kid, where his father was brilliant, he just doesn't quit nor even get tired."
"Good job, Jiraiya. You've trained him to just what we'll need, and more importantly, what he needs himself to be," she stood and patted Kakashi's shoulder. "You're good to go, go tell him your promotion recommendation stands."
"So that's how I did it," Naruto finished as he bit into his apple.
"Typical Naruto," Sakura said with mild annoyance. "You beat everything by just rushing in and overpowering it."
"Whatever," Naruto said annoyed by the way he'd been treated and regarded by Sakura. "I still hear that tone that comes right before you compare me to your glorified view of Sasuke."
Sakura's head reeled at his verbal assault. She hadn't been expecting Naruto to be this sharp, and neither did she realize how much she still hung onto the idea of Sasuke rather than the reality of Sasuke. In this one instant, she realized how much of a stupid girl she'd been and remained.
"I'm still amazed by how much you've grown in only three years," Temari said trying calm Naruto down then glaring at Sakura behind Naruto's back.
"Thanks, Temari-san," Naruto said much more quietly, his metaphorical fur being unruffled. "Something I'm curious about, Sakura, how do you feel about Sasuke now?" he didn't look at her but stared straight in between both girls at the wall to the small coffee shop they were in.
"Huh? What do you mean?" Sakura said dumbfoundedly.
"I mean, he knocked you unconscious, put a hole in my chest, endangered several of our comrades, nearly got three of them killed, and two probably would have died had Temari and her brothers not shown up, and he betrayed not only our village, but you. How. Do. You. Feel."
"I... um... I hadn't really... thought about it..."
"Well, I've thought of little else, I've spent three years training like hell, night and day, so that I could bring back your precious little ass-wipe just to prove how I feel about you, felt about you. But now, since you haven't given it any thought in the past three years, I'm considering rescinding my promise. What's the point in keeping it if the recipient has already forgotten? Sakura, he is training under the single most evil ninja we know of, and you haven't given any thought to the things going on behind the names. You're still just a girl with a crush."
Naruto dropped a single bill onto the table, well overpaying their tab, stood and left.
"You seriously haven't thought about this in three years?" Temari said nearly spitting her disgust at Sakura.
"I have!" Sakura snapped back. "I'm just still confused..."
"What's so goddamn confusing? You had a crush, but then that crush betrays your village to gain power under a ninja whose sole goal is to destroy Konoha, and then probably the rest of the world, and you're confused about how you feel," Temari growled. "You aren't even using that brain in your thick skull for anything. If anyone else betrayed," Temari paused an idea striking her like lightening. "If Naruto had betrayed, how would you feel?"
Sakura could only look up shocked at the unexpected question, her mouth open and twitching with desire to speak, shout, anything. But she couldn't come up with anything.
"That's what I thought," Temari growled standing. "You are only using Naruto for your own gain. Once that's done who knows what you'll do. Maybe, you'll keep him around to fetch you anything else, but probably, you'll just throw him away."
Temari stalked off after Naruto, pausing at the door briefly. "He's furious right now and he still paid for your food," She growled. "Would Sasuke ever have done that?" she finished and turned walking away.
Sakura could only stare at where Temari had once been.
Naruto was walking down a crowded street with his eyes on the ground, but no one was bumping into him. In fact, no one was within several feet of him, while everywhere else people were hard pressed to do anything but press harder into one another in an attempt to move. Naruto was unconsciously tapping into his massive reserves and letting it flow through his entire body, giving him an intimidating glow, as well as making anyone within a few meters of him feel like soiling themselves.
"What the hell is her problem? I've just wasted several years of my life on some stupid girl who hasn't even thought about what she was training for," Naruto growled under his breath. "I guess it's to be expected, she never applied herself to understanding Sasuke or herself. She only used it on berating me and passing written exams."
He continued down the street with no destination in mind at all, just anywhere Sakura was not.
"Naruto! Naruto wait!" a voice called from behind him.
He turned his head to see Temari land in stride beside him and a tensions he didn't realize he was feeling evaporated from his shoulders along with most of then chakra he had been exerting. As the crowd pressed back in on them, Naruto looked around confused, he had been so wrapped up in himself he did not realize that he was in the middle of a crowd. He motioned up with his head and both vanished. They landed on top of a nearby building.
"Any particular reason you're following me? Last I checked, I wasn't that interesting to any girl, let alone foreign royalty," Naruto said much softer now that she was there.
"Yeah, my meeting with the Hokage was to tell me that I was given the option of becoming a Konoha ninja, even if only in effect. I'd get to work with a Konoha squad, and Tsunade actually gave me the option of picking my team," Temari said soft but confident. "I was wondering how you'd feel about working with me?"
"At what level would we be performing missions?" he inquired, happy to talk about work. Anything to distract him from Sakura.
"If you choose him, Temari, you'd be choosing someone who outranks you," Kakashi said as he popped into position behind Naruto.
Naruto's face about split into two.
"You mean she..."
"Yup," Kakashi said his one eye flipping into its ever-familiar arch.
"Score!" Naruto yelled hopping around.
Temari could only look confused at the pair of odd shinobi.
"He got promoted to special jonin?" Temari asked cocking her head softly.
"Yes, Tsunade saw," Kakashi said turning to her his face still beaming. "fit to-"
He was caught completely off guard as he saw her grab him in a huge hug and squeal.
"Yay!" she yelled as he spun her around.
Kakashi chuckled inwardly at their antics. Clearly they both at least liked each other, but how obvious was that to them?
"Ahem," Kakashi cleared his throat to get their attention.
They stopped and looked at him, then at each other. Naruto hastily put her onto her feet and they both took a half step away from each other.
"I'll leave you two love-birds alone for now, don't forget to tell Tsunade your requests, Temari," Kakashi said as he vanished in a swirl of leaves.
Naruto smiled as he looked at Temari and noticed she was looking at him, too, and smiling no less.
"Well, it's kinda late," Naruto started shyly.
"Yeah, I have to get to my hotel, else they won't let me in at all," Temari said with tones of both happiness and unsatisfaction.
"Yeah, can we meet sometime tomorrow?" Naruto said his face and eyes glowing in anticipation.
Temari smiled wide, all traces of her dissatisfaction gone, and stood taller to kiss his cheek.
"Yes," she whispered beside his head before pulling back and staring at him excitedly.
Naruto blushed the deepest shade of crimson Temari had ever seen a man blush as she turned, giggling, to walk to her hotel. Naruto stared at her before his head snapped up in realization.
"Training ground seven! the memorial area, noon!" he yelled to Temari's back who responded with a wave of a hand and her hips swaying in a tempting manner.
Naruto was walking through Konoha without a care in the world. He was walking with a destination in mind and he let nothing stray him from that path: he went from street to rooftops in his straight line to some spot. He had forgotten what his destination looked like, but not where it lay nor how to get there.
It took him nearly thirty minutes to get there at his leisurely pace but that didn't bother him at all. He knew it was worth the wait somehow. He knocked on the large door to the equally large, white house. The windows were almost big enough for Jiraiya to enter without hunching at all, there were also wooden window shades, and the assorted shrubs and flowering bushes adorning the base of the walls were all in full bloom.
The door finally opened and a blond woman wearing only a black silk dress answered.
"You're early, foxy," she cooed as she moved to wrap her arms around his neck gently and dearly.
"I couldn't wait to see you, Sihaya," he said as his arms moved around her hips and pulled them to his.
"Well, should we head out early or burn some time?" she purred into his ear with loaded intent.
"I think we should burn some time, we have two whole hours," he almost growled back with desire.
She grinned with palpable sensuality as she pulled him inside and instantly tackled him to the soft carpet. She kissed him with fiery desire which he wholly returned and he grabbed her firm, round rump and rocked her hips to his. She moaned softly and whined before placing her lips next to his ear.
"Should we move somewhere that's more comfortable?" she whined as his fingers massaged her backside.
"I'm fine with here," his voice filled with lust that it was like a cloud of the finest alcohol, intoxicating her and driving her to want more.
Her fingers flew over his shirt as he unzipped the side of her strapless dress causing it to fall and expose herself to him. Her soft mounds were a firm putty that he toyed with gently.
"Temari," he cooed while fondling her softly.
The door rattled slightly at a sudden knocking making Naruto jump and grab for someone who was not there. Looking to his clock he cursed at the intruder who knocked again as he thought his curse.
Flinging the covers off of him and swinging his legs over the side of his bed, he called, "I'm coming, for god's sake can't a man get some sleep."
He crossed his spacious bedroom and entered the small hall that led to his living room and kitchenette to the small front door. He opened it in a hurry, knowing he was only wearing his skivvies.
After seeing who it was rousing him at this ungodly hour, he growled, "What?"
"I'm sorry for coming so early, Naruto, I know how you hate mornings, but this is my only free time for the next three days and I did not want to let our last encounter stand for that long," Sakura started rather quickly and morosely. "I'm sorry for everything I've ever done to you, all the beatings all the verbal assaults, the belittling, you never deserved it. You were never anything but nice to me, I should have at least accepted your hand in friendship."
"No, it's fi-" Naruto started, not wanting to deal with this so early.
"NO, IT'S NOT!" Sakura yelled before she could catch herself. "I-I mean, it's not. It's not okay how I treated you. I'm so sorry. And then I try and use you to get what I want, when what I want isn't even real anymore. You were right, Sasuke never was the way I saw him, he never really was our friend, and now he is just a traitor, willing to kill any one of us without a moment's hesitation."
"You don't know that," Naruto said softly, his heart breaking at seeing his friend so hurt.
"Yeah, yeah I do. And so do you. He tried to kill you twice at the Valley of the End, and he punched a hole in your chest at least once. You never really told anyone what happened there, but I know that he did at least that much. I'm sorry I ever made you try to get him..." Sakura trailed off staring at the ground in between them.
"I could have killed him," Naruto said simply, Sakura's head snapping up, wide-eyed in awe. "Yeah, I said it. And I mean it. I could have killed him, but I couldn't. He was my friend, or I thought that he was. We were both fooled by him. All we can do now is show him, one way or another, that leaving us was the biggest mistake ever, even if that means killing him."
Sakura stared up at her one time teammate in confusion, shock and awe.
"Now that our mess is cleared up," Naruto started. "Go to work and don't get anyone killed. You didn't sleep tonight, don't deny it." She had opened her mouth to protest but he caught her short. "I can read people much better than when I was just a brat. You haven't sleep tonight and you probably didn't eat since we last spoke either. Go get food and coffee before hitting your shift and we'll see each other later."
She only nodded and left her head down but her spirits higher.
"Silly girl," Naruto whined as she walked off the pathway of his apartment. He closed his door and turned to return to bed and many pleasant dreams he would never remember.