Disclaimer: Not mine.

A/N: A more serious Naruto.

Chapter Nex: Blood Pact

"I know what I gotta do today," muttered Naruto. He looked himself over in his bathroom mirror with a gaunt expression, pulling on the flesh under his eyes. They were cerulean. Using a tender touch, he traced the catlike whisker groves over his cheeks. "Yeah...and it's gonna be painful as all hell."


The sky outside of Naruto's crummy one-room apartment was overcast, the clouds above looking as though ready to burst with rain. None of that mattered to Naruto as he dashed over the rooftops of Konoha. Today he had forgone his usual orange jumpsuit in favor of something that more matched his mood. A red wife-beater that fit snuggly over his torso and a pair of loose white jeans that tilted sideways off his hips. On his feet were the standard zori issued at the beginning of the academy. Poor kids like him received a boon in the way of hand-me-downs.

He flat-out refused to touch his hair today and was left with a bed-head look, but his eyes...there was a certain fire to them not seen since dueling Haku. All the joy and laughter was gone-he might as well have been a different person.

"Naruto!" yelled Sakura as the blonde landed before her. "You're late! Kakashi told us to be here at seven o'clock sharp! It's almost nine!"

Training ground 17, cell seven's preordained spot for team-training and sparring. Nothing but wide, grass fields, a few trees, and those three posts where once Naruto had been tied to and deprived of food. Ignoring the raving pink-haired girl next to him, Naruto glanced towards the sky as a flash of thunder ran through-his nose tingled. Rain was coming.

Leaning against one of the posts was Sasuke, arms crossed with his sights on Naruto. He offered no form of greeting or scolding.

"And what are you wearing?" Sakura continued, staring Naruto up and down. "What...what happened to your jumpsuit?"

"Yeah," said Sasuke passively, "it's going to be hard to accomplish missions now when the enemy ninja actually go for us instead of the big orange target."

Giving a proud smirk, Naruto tugged on his wife-beater. "I know, right? Maybe now you'll finally pull your own weight instead of using me as a decoy." When Sasuke's eyes widened, Naruto turned to Sakura who had risen a fist to strike him. "And we all know Kakashi is late to practically everything."

"Don't you badmouth, Sasuke!" she roared, swinging.

Should I take this? Naruto watched her fist fly towards him in what felt like slow-motion; he saw her face contorting in a mad yell that he didn't hear, felt the power in her fist that would undoubtedly leave a bruise if it connected-

Using reflexes honed to a point, he dropped like a cat to all fours-her arm whizzed just above him-and struck out a leg. Like a stack of cards, Sakura came crashing down, landing hard on her back. In an instant, Naruto had whipped out a kunai. He deflected the three shuriken thrown at him and backflipped into the air a good measure away from Sakura who was gasping in the grass.

The sky's rumbled with thunder as Naruto grinned, standing with his kunai at the ready. He eyed Sasuke as the raven-haired boy approached Sakura at a leisurely pace, flipping a kunai of his own in his hand. "And just what do you think you're doing, moron?"

"Nothing," said Naruto. "Is there a rule in the Shinobi Conduct that says I have to take hits from a girl?" He shook his head. "No, there isn't. I've read the Shinobi handbook-"

"And when did you learn to read?" shot Sasuke, and where Naruto thought he was going to help Sakura to her feet, he simply walked right past her, taking calculating steps until stopping exactly five feet away. "I didn't know monkey's could read."

It was tough not to simply rush that smug-smiling Uchiha bastard right then and there but Naruto mastered the impulse, feeling his heart begin to race. "Sakura, Sasuke...we're gonna be the best," he declared to his teammates shocked expressions.

Finally getting to her feet, Sakura came up to Sasuke's side, clearly not affronted that he ignored her. "Are you high, Naruto? What're you talking about?"

Naruto had only just opened his mouth when, in a clap of thunder, Kakashi appeared between the cellmates, wispy trails of smoke rising off his form. Wearing his trademark mask, he turned to Naruto, who froze, then to Sasuke and Sakura, his only visible eye holding them in a stern glare. "Hello ya'll."

In unison, both Naruto and Sasuke stowed their kunai.

"As you were saying, Naruto," he spoke, placing his hands in his pockets. "I was helping an old lady across the street when I just had this...inkling. Turns out I was right rushing over here. As your sensei, all group meetings should be before me, am I right?"

At first, Naruto was too shocked to speak. His sensei had literally appeared before them in a bolt of lightning and come out of it perfectly fine. What was that, a jutsu? Gulping, Naruto found his words. "Y-yes, sensei."

Still issuing smoke, Kakashi nodded, his eye growing relaxed. "Then continue."

A drop of frigid water struck Naruto on the nose and he blinked, looking up. It's about time. He turned his attention to Sasuke to find him staring back with eyes narrowed in confusion. Every inch of Naruto's wellbeing wanted to punch that uppity boy right in the eye-then spit in his ear…."But rule number 62 of the Shinobi conduct is this: A ninja is only as strong as those at his back."

While Kakashi eyed the blonde-haired boy with amazement, Sakura shook her head with a snort. "Yeah, sure that's what it is. You're just guessing again, aren't you?"

"Actually...he's not," said Sasuke as though he himself couldn't believe it. He turned to Sakura with an arched eyebrow. "Never thought I'd say this but...he's right."

Like the both of them were mental, Naruto slowly nodded. Cold droplets were falling from the sky in a light drizzle but his animal instincts told him it would soon grow into a storm. All around them, trees swayed in the increasing breeze; the grass at their feet rustled noisily and birds took to the sky in search of drier nesting.

He held up both hands, a kunai in his right. "Remember that promise I made back when the demon brothers of Mist attacked?"

At once, Sasuke and Sakura gasped; Kakashi merely stared. "N-Naruto...what do you think you're-" began Sakura timidly.

"I'm tired of being thought of as an idiot," muttered Naruto with a hard glare at his teammates. Sakura fell silent, huddling next to Sasuke. "I'm not, okay? I'm damn smart-smart enough to know that I'm braver than most by yelling out I'm gonna be hokage rather than whispering it when nobody's around." Water dripped off the kunai's glistening tip as Naruto turned it sideways towards his palm. "I wanna be stronger...but I can't get there without you guys. I want us all to be stronger, a stronger team with the strongest teamwork. When the Chunin exams come up I want us to be able to blast right through that crap and go into Jonin."

"Whoa, Naruto," began Kakashi hesitantly. He didn't want to spoil the boy's fun and damper his spirits but a quick reality check was needed to prevent this foreseeable disaster. "I understand how you want to be the strongest and everything-that's all good-but setting your goal so high when you're basically just out the starting g-"

"No, Kakashi, we've been out the starting gate since we first graduated," said Naruto in all seriousness. "And I want us all to be the strongest, not just me. Did you forget rule number 62 already?" He faced the others, his stomach clenching at their thoughtful expressions. For once, Sasuke seemed to be listening to him; this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. "I'm not joking around here!" he yelled over the whistling rain. His hair was soaked, hanging in curtains around his face. "I'm willing to put aside all my differences to make it to the top! We're shinobi aren't we? What kinda screwed up shinobi do you know go around worrying about their ass size"-he stared at Sakura who flinched-"or ignore a teammate who's right in of them and needs help?" He glared at Sasuke who scowled slightly.

"But worst of all...what kinda self-respecting shinobi wears a target practice orange suit and constantly yells at the top of his lungs?" Naruto lowered his own head, letting the water drip off his bangs. "We each have stupid things wrong about us...and I wanna stomp it out right now! Please...I'm not asking this as Naruto the idiot...I'm asking as your teammate for pretty much ever. Join me!"

Grunting, he stabbed himself in the palm. While Sakura slapped a hand to her mouth looking just as horrified now as she did back then, Naruto swallowed the burning pain threatening to overwhelm him. It hurt...it hurt like hell actually. When he yanked out the kunai, a thick, scarlet liquid gushed forth, dribbling down his arm and off his elbow. He held it up for the others to see, mentally grateful that no one had offered him assistance.

"We...we make a b-bond of blood." He tossed it to Sasuke, surprised when the Uchiha actually caught it instead of letting it sail by. "I swear, Sasuke...I...I don't know who you wanna k-kill or whatever but...I swear we can make each other strong enough to-to do anything…."

Looking up at her idol, Sakura couldn't believe it when Sasuke lifted his other hand, placing the kunai's crimson tip to his palm. "S-Sasuke? What're you doing?"

"Good question...and I don't have the answer." Through his drenched locks, Sasuke glared at Naruto, struggling to find any hint of deceit in that obnoxious face. His promise sounded not only foolish but downright insane-work together? Get stronger? What in the hell was that blonde-haired idiot talking about? And yet, standing there in this hail, Sasuke began to tremble with indecisiveness….

"Trust me, Sasuke!" roared Naruto, and he squeezed his wounded hand causing blood to leak from between his fingers. Growling, he thrust it at both his teammates. "I don't back down and I don't run-that's my ninja way!"

"Agh!" Blood streamed down Sasuke's forearm and in a moment of blind anguish, he nearly dropped the kunai. "Just so you know...this d-doesn't mean that I'll quit calling you 'moron'," he smirked, panting as he held out the kunai for Sakura to take.

Naruto chuckled, lurching forward at a drunkard's pace. "Like I expected it…."

With his crop of his silver hair hanging low as though wilted, Kakashi turned to Sakura. She took the kunai but did nothing with it except stare at the fusion of her teammates blood splattered over the edge. "Sakura," he whispered and she jumped like a mouse, "I want you to know that you are a genin, a proud kunoichi of the Hidden Leaf. Whatever you choose to do, do it of your own regard, not because it's what your fellows are doing."

She stared up at him, then remarkably, her jaw firmed in determination as she lifted the kunai to her palm. "Thank you, sensei. I'm not going to lie and say I believe in Naruto one hundred percent but...well, he's an idiot and idiot's need looking after when they're about to do something incredibly stupid-"

"Hey now," said Naruto with a slight frown.

"-and also...he always keeps his promises, no matter how crazy or outlandish. Just this once, as a sort of trail I guess, I'll go along with him." She dug the kunai into her flesh, wincing as a few droplets escaped. "I want us to be the strongest!"

"There's no want, Sakura. We will be the strongest," prompted Naruto, holding out his wounded hand. "Let's shake on it."

Under a blackened sky, the three genin joined hands, letting their blood mix sealing the pact. The pain was nearly unbearable for each of them but neither one allowed a trace of discomfort to cross their faces.

"What's next, Naruto?" asked Sasuke, his left eye twitching.

"Y-yeah...and it b-better be g-g-good," stammered Sakura, her teeth rattling.

Naruto offered them a sporty smirk. "Well, first...we get the hell outta this rain."

A/N: This is just a one-shot. Had to write something after so long. (Nex means only; last; single).