Happy New Year to all of my readers! Thank you for the support.

Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto.



"Demon Talking" = can be heard by everyone

'Demon Talking' = can only be heard by Naruto


Naruto closed his eyes, letting the wind ruffle his hair. He enjoyed the feeling of exhilaration that always came to him at such heights. The village was far below him and he could imagine, just for a minute, that all of his troubles were just as far away.

It turned out that the waiting was probably the most tedious part of the plan. The gaps in-between tasks were excruciatingly long, and Naruto was always more prone to taking action than waiting around for something to happen.

He could still sense Kakashi's chakra signature from where the man stood a good thirty feet away, leaning against a tree behind the Hokage Monument.

The blond let out a sigh and thrummed his fingers on a piece of the Yondaime's stone hair, upon which he was currently seated. He really hoped that his fox summons were creating mayhem, because it really sucked to be the one stuck on a metaphorical leash when everyone else was getting stuff done.

Naruto briefly wondered how his subordinates were doing, but turned around and sent a glare in Kakashi's direction instead. He absolutely loathed this situation.

'Don't worry Kit; it shouldn't be too much longer before we can finally act. We both know the wait will be worth it.'

Naruto smiled to himself and nodded in agreement at Kyuubi's words. He realized a second too late that he would probably look like a crazy person to Kakashi if the jounin looked up from his little orange book long enough to catch Naruto nodding to himself.

The Uzumaki sighed again, thoughts drifting aimlessly.

There was a knock on the door to the Hokage's office. Shizune cast a worried look back towards the back hallway she had just passed through before slowly opening the door. The caller was a young man dressed in ANBU gear who wore a nondescript white mask.

Shizune gave him a questioning glance, as all ANBU had been told that the Godaime would not be seeing them for the next few days and that they should deliver their mission reports to a different department. His style of mask told her that he probably worked on undercover assignments, but at the moment she didn't particularly care.

"Is Hokage-same present?" The masked shinobi asked cautiously, eyes straining to look behind the Hokage's aid.

Affronted at how carelessly he dismissed her presence, Shizune stepped to block his range of vision. She eyed the scroll clutched protectively in the ANBU's right hand. "Mission reports are to be presented to the secretary's desk," she said, side-stepping a direct answer to the question.

The man held her unwavering gaze for a few minutes, studying her, before replying. "With all due respect, Shizune-san, this is not a regular mission report. It is a special document that must be presented directly to Lady Hokage."

The brunette simply shook her head. "She is not in a position to view any materials you may have at the moment." She made to close the door. "Just leave it with the secretary. That's what she's there for."

But the ANBU member was insistent. He stuck his foot out to prevent the door from closing. "Really, this must reach her immediately. It's…" here he glanced around nervously and lowered his voice "a report from Jiraiya's spy network."

Shizune's puppy-dog eyes widened slightly at the information before narrowing again in annoyance. "As interesting as that may be, ANBU-san, that does not change the circumstances. Lady Tsunade is currently unable to perform her duties to the highest standard, and you, being directly under her command, are obligated to obey her orders. Leave it with the secretary."

The shinobi watched, white mask still in place, as Shizune deflected all of his attempts to get the information directly to Tsunade. He couldn't help but feel frustrated at her attempts to made his mission that much more difficult. Why couldn't she seem to comprehend the importance of this? Lives could be hanging in the balance!

"I do not know what could be ailing the Hokage so, but this is incredibly important. If you would just let me see her-" he stepped forward, trying to force his way into the Godaime's office, but the gutsy brunette simply fixed him with an admonishing glare and took a step forward as well, rising to the challenge and confining him to the hallway.

"I don't think you understand what I'm telling you. Do not try and defy Tsunade-sama's orders. Yes, you are in ANBU, and yes, you report directly to the Hokage. However, I don't see how your case is any different than the others. I get that you think you're all that, but go and leave your "special" report somewhere else. She will tend to it when she sees fit." Shizune's voice descended into a hiss as she emphasized certain words with a threat clearly present in her eyes.

The ANBU member took a step back to appease the imposing woman. He had never met the Hokage's aid personally before, but she was said to be a sweet and laid back person. The rumors were nothing like the protective spitfire before him. He honestly didn't know how to calm Shizune down and explain the situation to her without sounding condescending and worsening the situation.

Little did he know just how vicious the woman in front of him could become when faced with an emotionally compromised female Hokage who needed to be tended to and an annoying rookie ninja who refused to leave her in peace. Not many people realized just how deep her bond with Tsunade went. The brunette would go to the ends of the earth to protect her mentor.

Shizune fixed the ANBU, who had suddenly gone silent, with a look that clearly said 'Get out of here.' When he didn't seem to get the message, she stepped forward, forcing him completely out into the hallway. He was bound by honor to step back, lest he be accused of invading the personal space or, god forbid, assaulting a high-ranking female ninja with the political backing of the Godaime Hokage.

"Look," Shizune began, seeing as the ANBU didn't appear to be leaving. She extended a hand. "If this is so urgent, then just hand me the scroll and I'll see to it that the moment Tsunade-sama is feeling well again, she will read its contents. Is that satisfactory?" Here, her voice took on a dangerous edge as she looked up at him with eyes that bored into his soul.

Suddenly at a loss for words, the man nodded fervently, pressed the scroll into Shizune's outstretched palm, and body flickered away.

Sighing with relief, the Hokage's aid stepped back, closed the door behind her, and took a few calming breaths. 'Took long enough.'

Suddenly, a faint sob from down the hidden hallway that she had forgotten to conceal before answering the door echoed through the walls. Face going white, Shizune rushed to return to her duties.

The scroll that the ninja had entrusted her with was tossed haphazardly in the direction of the Hokage's desk as Shizune ran off to tend to Tsunade. It bounced off of the cracked wood and rolled away.

And there it lay, forgotten.

The important information hastily scrawled inside of it would remain unread for quite some time.

Tsunade stared blankly at the panels on the wall in front of her. Her eyes were wet and red, and her features were an unhealthy cross between indifference and despair.

Shizune was leaning against the doorframe, regarding her mentor with sad eyes. Tsunade had become unresponsive shortly after another fit of hysterics. Between all of the incoherent blabber and tears, the Hokage had managed to convey what she had discovered, and it had shocked Shizune to the core. She couldn't imagine how miserable Tsunade must be right now.

Though, with another look at the defeated-looking woman before her, maybe she could.

It had been some time since the ANBU had tried to pry into the office, and he was honestly the last thing on her mind. She barely even recalled taking the scroll from him. All that mattered right now was the Godaime's well-being.

With a sigh, Shizune left her post and went to fetch a glass of water for the Hokage, lest the sobs start up again.

Naruto was walking down from the Hokage Monument, Kakashi trailing behind him, when Temari suddenly appeared out of the blue. She looked nervous, glancing between the blond and his old sensei, but approached them regardless.

Honestly, Naruto had almost forgotten that she was still in the village. He had assumed that she would head right back to Suna to report to Gaara, being the Kazekage's sister and all, but apparently that wasn't the case.

Temari plastered what she hoped was a calming expression on her face, only managing a hint of a smile at seeing how unhappy Naruto was here in Konoha. He truly did not think of it as home anymore. She could easily tell that he was only putting up with it to remain safe from Akatsuki's clutches and sure death. Temari was saddened at everything Naruto must have gone through in his life. He was faced with obstacle after obstacle, yet seemed to take it all in stride and never complained.

"Hey Naruto." Her words were cool but friendly.

The Uzumaki watched her carefully, remaining a few feet away, but nodded in greeting.

Kakashi watched the exchange sharply, eyes flicking to Temari's feet as she lessened the distance between her and the jinchuuriki. To his surprise, Naruto didn't step back. From his position, the Copy Nin couldn't see the expression on the Naruto's face, but remained where he was to avoid unbalancing the situation.

Temari perused Naruto's features. He didn't seem to be angry with her, despite the fact that she was part of the group of shinobi that had brought him here. And he had been so kind and lively when talking to her, Gaara, and Kankuro in Suna. 'His eyes are closed off to emotion, but hopefully he won't resist me as he has been doing to the Leaf nins.'

"So, I heard that they've got you under watch 24/7," she began. Naruto's eyes hardened slightly, but then softened as he realized Temari was only stating the facts and kicking around the topic before getting to what she really wanted to say. He had originally thought that she was rubbing it in his face.

Sensing the discomfort in the atmosphere, likely from Kakashi, who was trying halfheartedly to look like he wasn't eavesdropping, Temari decided to get right to the point. "Well, I know you haven't really talked to anyone, and the Hokage feels that it would be best for you to start interacting with your peers again…." Here, she trailed off, aware that she was on dangerous territory.

Deciding to avoid all of the formality, she took a step forward, approaching him the way that a friend would, instead of a wary onlooker, as the others had been. The kunoichi leaned in towards him, mouth close to his ear.

"Of course, it would be best to placate the old grandma, but what's the fun in that," here, she glanced up at Kakashi, who was watching their exchange with a puzzled but thoughtful expression. The coldness in Naruto's cerulean eyes vanished as he blinked, revealing an emotion that could only be described as warmth.

"They're having dinner tonight- a bunch of our old acquaintances, at some restaurant in town. I was invited, but was instructed to get you to come along as well. Sakura, Hinata, Neji, Lee, Choji, Shikamaru, and Ino should all be there. When this little get-together was mentioned the other day, it was obvious that the Hokage wanted you to end up reforming lost bonds, but I'm not going to force you into doing anything you don't want to do." Here, Temari's voice trailed off. Her playful gaze warred against his own as she awaited his verdict.

Weighing her words, Naruto fixed his attention on Temari's face. Ino's presence would definitely make him unconfortable, no matter how he would try to hide his emotions. The jinchuuriki hadn't heard a single word about Inoichi Yamanaka's disappearance, and that did make him a bit nervous. Hopefully, Zetsu had somehow managed to clean up the mess, but the facts still stood: He was the last person to see and be interrogated by Inoichi.

Deciding to put those thoughts off until later, Naruto put on a fake smile before declining politely. "Sorry Temari, but I really think it would be best to keep my distance. I need a bit more time to adjust, if you understand."

The Sand ninja nodded rapidly to show that she accepted his response. Before she could say anything else, however, Naruto abruptly posed a question. "Temari…how long are you planning on staying in Konoha?" His sudden question obviously caught the Sand kunoichi a little off guard, but she didn't hesitate in answering.

"Gaara insisted that I stay as long as it takes to get you settled in here. He knew you didn't want to ever come back here, but the Leaf nins captured you before anything else could be done. However, I don't think Konoha's council is thrilled having me here, and from what I've heard, neither is the Godaime. Rumor has it that they think they will be able to get you to assimilate better without outside influences that remind you of your time away. Therefore, I'll only be staying for three more days." As Temari finished, she took a quick glance into Naruto's eyes.

"I see," Naruto said. "In that case, thank you for staying as long as you have."

For a moment, Temari seemed confused. She then smiled, brown eyes lighting up. "You're welcome, Naruto."

"Well," the jinchuuriki said, glancing back at Kakashi, "I'm going to head back inside for a while. I'll see you around."

Temari nodded and waved as she turned to leave. "See ya, Naruto!"

Kakashi tried to glean anything he could from the conversation in an effort to figure out how to better approach Naruto in general, but it was clear that Naruto and Temari were just genuine friends. It was her that caused him to loosen up, not the tactics she used.

The silver-haired man trailed after Naruto as the blond again started walking towards the Uchiha District.

'Some day, I'll have to thank Temari for what she's done. At the moment, she's honestly the only person in this cursed village that I can say has sincere intentions.'

Naruto had never been so glad that he hadn't forsaken the Sand as well. Kyuubi rumbled in agreement.

He started walking again, only to feel a twinge of something at the back of his mind a few minutes later. Naruto instantly glanced at a tree to his right. His superior vision allowed him to see an orange form, bathed in shadows, perched in the midst of a tangle of branches. Leaves shaded most of the creature from view, except for its glowing amber eyes. Naruto turned his head just slightly to avoid attracting Kakashi's attention, who was walking off to his left.

Blinking, the jinchuuriki realized the creature was one of his foxes. It crept a few steps forward, paws placed strategically on the thick branches, just short of the sunlight. The fox stretched out one furry leg and lowered its head in a graceful bow. Naruto watched his summon sink into the respectful posture with warm eyes, then nodded once. The fox immediately straightened out of the bow and nodded back. It then quickly turned around and slunk back into the shadows. Satisfied with the knowledge that at least someone was getting work done, Naruto turned his head to face forward and forced himself to remain emotionless as he continued towards his temporary home.

In a distant area of Konoha, a wrinkled hand firmly grasped a wooden door and opened it, stepping into the building and hallway beyond. The somewhat elderly man was dressed in dark brown robes that swirled about his rotund frame. Despite the fact that it was nearing noon, the man was just beginning the work day. He continued down the hallway with calm, slow strides, as if he had all the time in the world.

The reason why he had spent so much time awake last night was because he had been up plotting the next attack. Six of his friends had been executed last night after their failed assassination attempt was uncovered by the ANBU. It had taken him hours to destroy the documents that would link him to his deceased comrades, and afterwards, he had thrown himself into avenging their deaths. There was a detailed plan lying in the second drawer on the left side of his desk, that would definitely be coming in handy soon.

At last, the elderly council member reached the end of the hallway. He grasped the knob of another door, inserted the key with a practiced ease, and then sauntered into his office with the smug air of someone who knew they had won something major.

His overconfidence vanished as soon he got a good look at the interior of his prized office. Documents were strewn everywhere, shreds of very important papers dusting the floor. The man's incredibly expensive furniture was utterly and irreversibly destroyed, and portions of the walls were blackened as if they had been hit by bursts of flame. His expensive desk had been cleaved apart, the drawers mere splinters on the floor.

'Who…who would DARE to do something like this!' The council member shrieked within the confines of his mind.

An abrupt creak to his left made the man realize that he hadn't even thought to sweep the room for remaining assailants. As his head turned, he was met with the alarming sight of the bared fangs of an animal reared back on its hind legs. Saliva slapped against his visage as an angry hiss of air blew towards him. There was only enough time for the council member's eyes to widen in horror before he was struck to the ground and claws pressed through his clothes and into the skin of his chest, forcing the air out of his lungs.

The occupants of adjacent offices had no idea that their neighbor's throat was currently being ripped out by a snarling, sunset-colored demon.

Back at the Uchiha complex, a strange thrill of adrenaline coursed through Naruto's body. He reflexively closed his eyes, reveling in the feel of chakra. His foxes had killed someone, he noted vaguely.


That night, Naruto was dressed in comfortable clothes and sitting in his private training room. He was pondering his current situation and wondering how much longer he would have to bear the pain of pretending to be normal.

Reflexively, his hand drifted to the center of his chest, where the lump of the Akatsuki amulet was just faintly visible underneath his informal clothes. He hadn't taken it off since the other day when it had proved to be absolutely invaluable. He caressed the gold chain as he pulled it out from under his clothing. The blond smiled slightly as he ran his thumb over the glittering black diamond, but his smile turned wistful as he touched the ring strung on the chain above it. It was his "zero" ring, the one that he never wanted to remove. He was the leader of Akatsuki, dammit, and he was proud of it.

'I still wish the mission didn't have to take so long,' the jinchuuriki muttered, knowing his whining was pointless but still irked at having to hide his true self.

'If only revenge was easy,' Kyuubi drawled lazily, yet his words were still somehow compassionate.

Sighing, a habit that he had become far too familiar with, Naruto once again settled into a comfortable position that would allow him to meditate. He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply, focusing purposefully on the demonic chakra of his Three Terrors that was so familiar to him. The jinchuuriki took another deep breath and further honed onto the kitsunes. Naruto sent out a low-frequency burst of chakra that would hopefully go undetected by the ANBU guarding the place.

He relaxed into the familiar feeling of wind rushing by him, though it only lasted for a few seconds before he opened his eyes. Naruto was met with the sight of one of his foxes prowling through a dusty old office. Judging by the framed pictures on the desk, it belonged to a female councilmember he had seen occasionally in passing. His kitsune leapt onto the desk, scattering those pictures in the process, and began to prod around with its nose. Interested, Naruto sent out another low frequency burst of chakra from his physical body, which allowed his vision to focus in on the documents. After about thirty more seconds, the fox straightened up. Its stoic amber eyes glittered in victory, while the rest of its fiery body was muted by the darkness. To Naruto, it was apparent that his summon had found what it was looking for.

He peered closer, pumping more power into the jutsu, and was just able to read the writing on the outside of the single scroll that the fox's front right paw now rested on.

Information Regarding Enemies of the Leaf to Be Reviewed By the Council

Naruto really wished he had a physical body at the moment. There could be compromising information inside of that scroll and he really wanted to read it. How far had the Leaf penetrated Akatsuki? Because surely, there could be no greater enemy to Konoha.

The orange fox peered closely at the scroll, much like the invisible Naruto was doing, before sinking its teeth into the scroll and straightening up. The blond observed the kitsune as it leapt to the floor with a faint thunk and dropped the document on the ground. He watched as his summon closed its eyes, only to open them a split second later. The amber depths were now alight with yellow flames, dancing around the animal's pupil. The fox then bared its fangs, which seemed to glow like fiery embers, and sunk them into the scroll with a sharp hiss.

Immediately, the thick document blackened and began to disintegrate. Naruto's mental lips curled in appreciation as flakes of paper seeped off of the scroll like sand off of a dune on a windy day, before disappearing completely. In mere seconds, the potentially compromising intel had been completely destroyed. Satisfied, the jinchuuriki withdrew from the jutsu and returned to his physical body.

'They're doing a good job, Kyuubi,' he stated, pleased with the slow but substantial progress that his foxes were making.

'Indeed they are. I'm glad I gave you the summoning contract when I did. They've bonded well to you and will do anything to keep us safe,' Kyuubi affirmed.

'Yeah,' Naruto snorted, 'Who thought we'd make sure a good team? The nine-tailed fox demon and his warden, together forever.'

Kyuubi chuckled from deep within his lair.

Deciding to find out what the other two were up to, Naruto once again focused his chakra and let out the signature low-frequency pulse. He reopened invisible eyes, which, if they had been physical, would have widened at the scene in front of him.

Not ten feet away was a medium-sized wooden building with black smoke choking out of its windows. The poisonous vapor seeped out of every available crevice before drifting off into the sky. A flicker of orange that Naruto originally mistook as a flame snaked its way out the front door, only to be revealed as one of the other two kitsunes. The fox, amber eyes aglow with yellow energy, brushed up against the house, immediately igniting the wood. It shot into a sprint, causing a burst of fire to scorch the building. Wherever the demon's tail touched, as it trailed lazily behind the animal, flames instantly began to climb up the old wood.

Naruto caught a glimpse of the second fox in an upstairs window before a burst of flame shielded it from view. A shriek filled the air, only to be silenced with a low boom and another flash of flame. Besides the smell of smoking wood, the odor of burning flesh filled the air, though Naruto was surprised to realize he could even smell it due to not actually being present. He realized a second later that he must be unconsciously channeling the heavy scent from his summons.

Leaving them to do their work, Naruto retreated, blinking away the images of the burning building as his consciousness returned to the training room in the Uchiha mansion.

Later that night, after resuming his training session, Naruto crept into the bed he claimed as his and allowed his mind to drift. He really hoped that the rest of Akatsuki was doing their best to fulfill their mission objectives. News of their unusual activities should be spread around within a few days, and that's when the real fun would start.

He idly wondered how long it would take Sasori to get to Konoha. The jinchuuriki had always liked the company of the redhead, and he couldn't wait to get another man on the inside. There would finally be someone who knew and accepted his true self here, and he simply couldn't wait.

Surprisingly, the next few days passed in a blur. Temari returned to the Village Hidden in the Sand, assuring Naruto that she would visit if he ever needed the company. Naruto found himself running into his old acquaintances much more than he would have liked (which would have been not at all), and couldn't help but find it suspicious. In addition, Kakashi had been extra clingy as of late and Naruto wondered if they suspected him in the recent attacks. Of course, no one leaked a word of it to him, so he couldn't even ask anything. Yet, his alibi was strong, since his foxes were taking care of the dirty work while he was in plain view of multiple ANBU members.

As for the criminal organization that he was the head of, Naruto had received a few notes that assured him that everything was on-schedule and moving along nicely. Itachi even informed him that a few spies had been found in the lower ranks and had been promptly executed in plain view of the others. The jinchuuriki was glad to know that Akatsuki could handle itself when he wasn't around to lead and direct.

His Three Terrors had communicated snippets of overheard conversations back to him. Apparently, one of the council members that they killed had been involved in the poisoning attempt, and not only had he been discovered dead by ANBU, but documents linking him and a few others had been found in plain view by his body. Speaking of which, the man's throat had been ripped open by what looked to be either a knife or a very sharp set of teeth, and he had died with his eyes wide open in terror.

The woman whose scroll he had watched being burned was apparently fired from her lofty position for losing crucial intelligence and was demoted an impressive number of ranks and lost a lot of social respect, since no one actually knew what the scroll contained, seeing as how the spies who wrote it had apparently been executed a day prior after being discovered as traitors to Akatsuki. Naruto smirked at that bit of information, impressed with Itachi's foresight.

The house that the kitsunes had burnt to the ground was owned by a civilian male whose wife and adult son lived with him. All three of them had been present upon the foxes' arrival, and had perished after being set ablaze along with the walls surrounding them. From what the foxes had heard, the ANBU who had been dispatched to the smoldering ruins didn't know what to make of the deaths of the three seemingly unimportant civilians. They had no idea that those three were often the instigators of many attacks on Naruto as a child.

Today was about a week after he arrived in Konoha, and despite the promising news he had been gathering, Naruto was in a foul mood. Luckily, Kakashi wasn't there to accompany him every single time he ventured outside, but he still couldn't bring himself to like the nearly invisible ANBU that trailed him constantly. Regardless, the blond could at least pretend he was alone, and didn't have to be pestered with an unusually talkative silver-haired jounin.

It was still fairly early in the morning, and Naruto was currently taking a leisurely walk around the relatively quiet streets. Besides his own footsteps, he could just barely hear the sound of ANBU leaping from house to house as they followed him on rooftop. Sighing, Naruto ignored them and continued on his way. This was probably the last peace and quiet he'd get for a long time.

Out of nowhere, a body appeared and nearly slammed into him before rearing back to avoid the collision. Naruto's cool gaze assessed the offender before widening considerably.

'Holy shit, he grew!'

He observed the still-spiky brown hair, nearly black eyes, and Konoha headband. The shinobi in question lurched back as if slapped, eyes widening astronomically. His mouth opened and closed for a few seconds before he was able to actually form words.

"Naruto? Is that really you?" he asked in a tone that sounded strangely like awe. Naruto briefly wondered why the younger male was speaking with that particular infliction.

The blond simply dipped his head politely. "Konohamaru," he stated in some semblance of a greeting.

"They didn't-," Here, Konohamaru had to clear his throat after his voice came out too high-pitched and scratchy. "They didn't tell me you had come back."

Naruto's stoic gaze never faltered, remaining focused on the brown-haired shinobi's face as he studied the changes the boy had undergone. Certainly, he was much taller. He had lost quite a bit of baby fat too, and had obviously gained some muscle.

"I hadn't planned on it. I wouldn't have come at all if force hadn't been used." Naruto's voice was low, yet cutting, and Konohamaru couldn't help but glance away at the frustration that was communicated through it.

"Oh. I didn't…I had hoped you had finally just come home, you know, of your own power. So many people missed you and I couldn't help but wonder if you would ever return."

"I was banished, Konohamaru. I wasn't supposed to return at all. I was exiled into the wilderness. That's kind of hard to forget," Naruto muttered, through gritted teeth. Why did the boy seem so naïve? The whole lost puppy look was grating on his nerves. Apparently, just because someone grows up on the outside doesn't mean that their personality has equally matured.

"B-But I thought..I thought that was a mistake. Then, couldn't you have really could have come home at any time? Why didn't you try harder, Naruto? We would have fought for you, if only given the chance!" Here, the younger's voice took on a slightly betrayed edge. "You were away for five years. Five years! No one even got a chance to say goodbye. Do you realize how horrible that was for the rest of us? You just vanished from our lives without even a few parting words."

Naruto's eyes hardened. The boy's pointless love for his village was unparalleled. He was named after it, for god's sake. Naruto remembered how close they were as children, when they both shared that same devotion to Konoha and ambition to become Hokage, but forced himself not to give in to his emotions. He had to remain isolated. "Do you think that's what I wanted to do? That I chose to do it that way? Konohamaru, the council banished me! I had to leave immediately. I wasn't going to put up with their gloating any longer. But don't think for an instant that I have any obligation to justify myself to you."

The jinchuuriki could tell that the younger shinobi was hurt, if the faint glimmer in the corners of his eyes was anything to go by. Naruto immediately took a step back and quickly excused himself to get out of this uncomfortable situation. "I have to go. Good luck figuring your life out. Though judging by that," here, the blond pointed at Konohamaru's Leaf headband, "you're not doing so well."

Without giving the brunet a chance to reply, Naruto roughly brushed past him and turned continued on the route he had been planning to walk. When the younger man turned his head to say something, anything, he found that Naruto had vanished.

If Naruto had waited around for a few more minutes, he would have seen the longing smile that gradually worked its way onto Konohamaru's face, and the happy gleam that entered his eye despite the coldness of their exchange. Because despite everything else, Naruto was back. He was back. The younger shinobi was thrilled to the core.

And if he had waited around for a few moments after that, the blond would have heard two words whispered into the wind that would have sent a crack straight through his shield of indifference


AN: These rather dull chapters will soon be getting more interesting with the arrival of Sasori and a bit more action on the rest of Akatsuki's part. This update was a bit boring to write, but I'm excited to finally get it out there to you guys so I can start from a clean slate for the next chapter. See you then! Until we meet again, enjoy ;) .

As always, please review. I am really looking forward to getting to 1000!