Disclaimer: Naruto isn't mine, just having some fun it's sandbox.
"Urgh," Naruto groaned as he regained consciousness. Blinking rapidly to clear his eyes, Naruto looked up at a sterile white ceiling. "I know this ceiling," he muttered as awareness flooded back through his system. He was in a Konoha Hospital room judging from the blindingly white-checkered ceiling and the ammonia sterile smell surrounding him. Naruto tried to raise his head but his muscles screamed in protest. 'Seems like I still haven't fully recovered,' he thought. 'Kurama, are you there?'
'Of course I am you moronic ningen,' the Nine-Tailed Fox's voice boomed in Naruto's head. 'Where else would I be?'
'I didn't know if you were awake,' Naruto asked. 'Why can't I move my arms or legs? Why haven't you healed me?'
'I have healed as much as I can,' Kurama growled. 'Your chakra network was nearly torn to shreds. Using my chakra for such a prolonged amount of time has a very detrimental effect on you. You're lucky that I was able to do as much as I could, as well as that busty Hokage of yours. She was able to heal your more noticeable injuries, allowing me to focus on purging the remainder of that Hebi-teme's poison from your body.'
'Thank you Kurama, I owe you big time,' Naruto said. 'I underestimated Sasuke and let my guard down when Kabuto showed up. I should have finished Sasuke off when I used the Kirigakure no Jutsu, but instead I had to hesitate and let Sasuke use that Curse Seal.'
'No shit gaki, you should have slapped that Uchiha bastard down instantly,' Kurama shouted. 'I can't have my host be so weak! You could have beaten down that Uchiha brat with ease but you stretched it out and allowed him to get away. This will come back to bite both of us. I hope you learn from this, your enemies don't deserve any mercy from you. You can't hesitate when in a fight.'
'I know Kurama-san, and I'm sorry,' Naruto grumbled. 'This won't happen again, I promise you that.'
The fox stuck in Naruto's gut grunted in agreement before returning to sleep. Naruto looked back up at the ceiling and quickly fell back into Morpheus' embrace.
The next time Naruto awoke, he realized that he wasn't alone in his room. Slowly opening his eyes, Naruto saw two figures standing over him. One had long blonde hair and the other had shorter dark hair.
"Baa-chan, Shizune-neechan?" Naruto croaked out.
"Naruto! You're awake!" Tsunade cried.
"Naruto-kun!" Shizune screamed.
"What's going on?" Naruto asked. "How long have I been here? How's Sakura-chan? How did I get here?"
"Naruto, calm down or you're going to aggravate your wounds and I'll have to knock you out," Tsunade ordered, glaring at the young ninja. "In order of your questions, you've been here and unconscious for a little over a week, Sakura is recovering and Kakashi brought you back to the village. He found you in the Valley of the End and brought you back. It was still a close call though; you had severe blood loss as well as massive chakra exhaustion and a sword wound that just missed your heart. The sword that hit you was covered with a very noxious poison that I've only seen used by one person."
"Orochimaru," Naruto growled. "I know, he and his butt-buddy, Kabuto, ambushed me and that Hebi-teme stuck me from behind with his sword. Last thing I remember before losing consciousness was Sasuke leaving with those two."
"I see," Tsunade said. "Then I'm afraid I'll have to list your mission as a failure Naruto though everyone was able to make it back to the village alive. Choji and Neji received serious injuries but will make full recoveries in time." Naruto heaved a large sigh of relief.
"How long until I can leave?" he asked.
"I want you to stay here for at least two more days and then no strenuous training for a week after that," Tsunade said.
"Naruto, your body was pretty much torn to shreds when Kakashi found you," Tsunade barked. "If it wasn't for the Kyuubi, you wouldn't have survived! You're still recovering, if you try and push your body too quickly, you could lose the ability to use charka entirely. Your chakra network was nearly torn to shreds and I can't heal that with any medical ninjutsu known to man. Your network is slowly recovering but it will take some time. So no using any jutsu for at least two weeks."
"Fine," Naruto muttered. Tsunade and Shizune had to look away from the pouting blonde in order to keep from giggling.
Naruto was released from the hospital, as Tsunade said, two days after he had woken up. During his time confined to the hospital bed, several of his graduates came to see him including Shikamaru, Ino and Tenten. Naruto noticed that several time the door to his room would open by itself but no one would enter the room. When Naruto was finally released, the first thing he did was go to Sakura's room to find her still unconscious and attached to several machines. Making his way over to Sakura's bedside, Naruto sat down in the seat next to the bed and gently took Sakura's hand in his own.
"I'm so sorry Sakura-chan," Naruto whispered to himself. "I failed you and my mission. We went after Sasuke and I wasn't strong enough to beat him. I got over confident in my abilities and paid the price for that. I swear to you though, I will find Sasuke and make him pay for what he's done to you. I swear to you that I will bring him back to Konoha, just so that you can decide his fate that will really send him over the edge, having the 'annoying weakling' decide his fate."
Naruto wasn't sure but he thought that he felt Sakura's hand tighten around his own for a second. "I'll come back tomorrow Sakura-chan," Naruto said as he stood up. Leaning over the bed, he pressed a soft kiss to her forehead before leaving the room.
It was another week before Sakura was deemed fit enough to leave the hospital, and even then Tsunade told her that she would be off active-duty for at least another two weeks. Naruto spent the next several weeks training with Kakashi, working on mastering his jutsus and working on his speed. He never wanted to be in the situation that he had been in at the Valley of the End. Naruto knew that he wasn't strong enough to beat the opponents that were coming after him; he needed to get stronger faster.
The answer came to Naruto soon after Sakura was released from the hospital. Jiraiya was going to take him on a training trip that would last for around three years. The Toad Sage promised Naruto that he would make Naruto into a shinobi strong enough to stand against the Akatsuki.
"So you are leaving?" Sakura asked Naruto as they walked back from Team 7's training ground. They had just finished a training session, Sakura's first one since she was cleared for active duty.
"Hai, at the end of the week," Naruto said. "Ero-sennin wants to get moving and he has some leads on…his spy network that he needs to check up on."
"I still can't believe that you're leaving," Sakura said. "For three years too. What's going to happen to Team 7 then?"
"Well, you're the apprentice to baa-chan Sakura-chan, you're going to learn so much," Naruto said. "I'm sure when I get back you'll be so strong and don't worry the time will fly by."
Sakura sighed. "I know Naruto but still, it seems that ever since the Chunin Exams, my world has just fallen apart. First we're attacked by Orochimaru during the exams, the invasion, Sasuke defecting and now your leaving."
"I know its hard Sakura-chan but everything will get better," Naruto said. "I promise. I made a promise that I will bring Sasuke back just so he faces justice, and I intend to keep my word."
"Just be careful Naruto," Sakura said.
"Hey Sakura-chan, it's me," Naruto said with a bright smile.
"I know, and that's why I'm worried," Sakura responded causing Naruto to sweat-drop.
"Sakura-chan," Naruto whined. Sakura giggled as they reached her house.
"Thanks for walking me home Naruto, I'll see you tomorrow for training right?"
Suddenly the door of Sakura's house burst open and an older man with light brown came storming out of the house. "Get away from her you brat!" the man roared brandishing a kunai. "Get away from my daughter!"
"Tou-san!" Sakura cried as Naruto leapt backward. "What are you doing?"
"Sakura, get inside now!" Mr. Haruno ordered.
"Sakura just go," Naruto said. "I'll see you tomorrow for training." He then leapt onto a nearby roof and vanished.
"Tou-san! What did you do that for?" Sakura cried.
"Sakura! Be silent!" Mr. Haruno barked. "I will not have you fraternizing with that boy."
"What are you talking about? What's wrong with Naruto? He's my teammate and my best friend aside from Ino."
"I will not have my daughter be influenced by that thing," Mr. Haruno growled. "That thing is the reason that Uchiha-sama left the village! I don't care what anyone else says, I will not have my daughter being on the same team with it!"
"I've been teammates with Naruto for nearly a year and you've never acted this way," Sakura cried. "What do you have against him?"
"That was because Uchiha-sama was on your team as well, also he's the reason you were hurt! For Kami's sake Sakura, you were in the hospital for over a month!"
"That was because of Sasuke, not Naruto!" Sakura cried. "Sasuke attacked me, not Naruto! Why are you blaming Naruto for Sasuke leaving the village? Sasuke left on his own! Naruto risked his life to bring Sasuke back to the village."
"You wouldn't understand Sakura, just stay away from it," Mr. Haruno ordered. "That thing is nothing but trouble! End of discussion, now get inside this house!"
Sakura glared at her father and stormed past him, racing up to her room and slamming the door behind her. Mr. Haruno sighed and followed his wayward daughter into the house.
The next morning at training Sakura tried to apologize to Naruto for her father's outburst but Naruto just waved her off.
"It's fine Sakura-chan," Naruto said. "Unfortunately I'm used to that sort of thing."
"Why?" Sakura asked. Naruto bit his lip.
"I guess he must have gotten caught up in a prank of mine or something," Naruto lied. "Don't worry about Sakura-chan, your tou-san just wants you to be safe, same as me."
Sakura frowned. She knew that Naruto was hiding something from her. "Naruto…"
"Hey there Kakashi-sensei, so what training are we doing today?" Naruto cried out as the silver haired jonin appeared behind Sakura. Sakura wasn't fooled by the conversation change but turned to her jonin-sensei.
"Yo!" Kakashi said breezily. "I was thinking we would work on your hand seal speed. The faster you can do those seals, the faster you can perform jutsu."
"How do we do that?" Sakura asked.
"First you perform each of the hand signs in a string, slowly at first and then build up speed until you can do them all in a single row without a mistake and without thinking about them," Kakashi said. "After you can do that, we'll move onto making the actual hand signs for your jutsus."
The remaining members of Team 7 spent the morning as Kakashi said, working on their hand signs. After lunch, Kakashi had them work on their taijutsu by sparring against himself and a Kage Bunshin.
"Good job both of you," Kakashi said as the sun began to set behind the Hokage monument. "Now, tomorrow will be our final training session as a team since Naruto, you'll be traveling with Jiraiya-sama and Sakura, you'll be starting your training with Hokage-sama, so we're going to have a repeat of what your very first training session with me."
"You mean the bell test?" Naruto asked.
Kakashi gave the blonde his signature eye smile. "That's right," Kakashi said. "I want to see how you've both grown so we will be having a team spar tomorrow. Naruto, you and Sakura against myself. Now remember…"
"We have to come at you with the intent to kill or we won't get the bells, ne sensei?" Sakura quipped.
"Correct my cute little genin," Kakashi said. "Now head on home and remember, don't eat breakfast or you'll throw up."
"Gonna be on time tomorrow sensei?" Naruto asked. Kakashi chuckled.
"Yes, I have to be or Hokage-sama will have my hide," Kakashi said.
The next morning saw Naruto, Sakura and Kakashi standing at the three posts were they became Team 7 along with Sasuke. Also there were Jiraiya, Tsunade and Shizune as well as the rest of the Rookie Nine and Team Gai. The rookies and Team Gai had come because Ino had caught wind of the upcoming team spar and had quickly spread the news around.
"Looks like we've got an audience," Naruto commented as he stared down his sensei.
"Ino-pig is behind this," Sakura grumbled.
"Are we going to do this?" Naruto asked. "Who cares if they are here, it's just an opportunity to show off our skills."
"Right then," Kakashi said. "Let's begin." Kakashi raised his forehead protector to revel his Sharingan and barked, "Begin!"
"Kage Bunshin!" Naruto cried out. Five clones of Naruto appeared, surrounding Kakashi. The clones charged forward, trying to engage Kakashi however the jonin showed his strength by quickly dispelling the clones. When he turned back to face Naruto and Sakura, they had vanished into the woods. Kakashi grinned under his mask. 'So they're going to make this interesting I see,' he thought before following his students into the woods.
"Naruto, what are we going to do?" Sakura asked. "You know Kakashi-sensei will be following us, so if you have a plan you better hurry up and set it up."
"Too late," an amused voice echoed around them. Kakashi appeared above the pair and quickly tossed several kunai at them. The pair of younger ninja leapt apart, the kunai spearing the ground between them. Naruto flashed through several hand signs and called out a jutsu, "Futon: Daitoppa!"
A great burst of compressed air spat from Naruto's mouth and shot toward Kakashi, who leapt backward into the trees. The jutsu smashed into the ground and sent a mound of earth into the air. "Now Sakura!" Naruto cried out.
"Doton: Domu!" Sakura roared as she struck the mound of flying earth. An earthen spear shot from the mound and sped toward Kakashi. Kakashi dodged easily, as the attack slammed into the tree that Kakashi had just vacated, spearing itself through the thick trunk.
"Not bad but not good enough," Kakashi chided. "Doton: Doryuudan!" A large dragon's head made of earth rose from the ground and sped toward Naruto and Sakura.
"Raiton: Kiriorosu!" Naruto cried. A bolt of lightning shot from Naruto's hands and slammed into Kakashi's jutsu. Kakashi's eyes widened as Naruto's jutsu sliced through his own easily, leaping backward, Kakashi avoided the lightning bolt.
"I see you've worked on your Raiton affinity," Kakashi said. Naruto nodded. "Well done but just having a some new jutsus won't be enough to beat me."
"That's not all I've improved on," Naruto said. "Kai!" Kakashi blinked as a yellow blur appeared beneath him.
"U…" A sliding Naruto kicked up at Kakashi's chest, the silver haired jonin blocked with his arms. The force of the kick however, sent Kakashi into the air.
"Zu…" another Naruto appeared at Kakashi's side and landed a rising kick to the man's side.
"Ma…" A third Naruto appeared and kicked Kakashi higher still.
"Ki!" A fourth Naruto struck Kakashi in the back, launching the jonin farther into the trees.
"Naruto Rendan!" A fifth Naruto appeared above the flying Kakashi, a spinning axe kick aimed at Kakashi. Kakashi raised his arms to block but the kick sent Kakashi flying down toward the ground.
"All right!" Naruto cried as he dispelled his clones. However the Kakashi lying on the ground below poofed into smoke reveling a splintered log. "Kuso!" Naruto cursed.
"Damnit Naruto," Sakura cried as she appeared at his side. "How could you let him get away?"
"Sorry Sakura-chan, I thought I had him," Naruto said, frantically looking around for Kakashi.
"Looking for someone," a voice chuckled from behind them. "You should never let your opponent get behind you." Naruto paled as he shoved Sakura aside. "Sennen Goroshi!"
"AHHHHH!" Naruto cried as he was sent flying through the air, clutching his ass. "Kuso Kakashi-sensei! Really, did you have to do that?"
"It's a great teaching tool," Kakashi chuckled.
"You really are a pervert," Sakura commented. "Suiton: Teppoudama!" she cried, spitting a ball of water toward Kakashi, causing him to leap away from Naruto.
"Rasengan!" Naruto roared as he descended from treetops toward Kakashi.
"Kuso!" Kakashi cursed as he leapt sideways just in time to avoid Naruto's attack. The Rasengan drilled into the ground where Kakashi had just been standing.
"Doton: Taiga no Deido!" Sakura's voice called out as the clearing filled with mud. "Doton: Ryusha Ageita!" Kakashi cursed as he felt his feet begin to sink into mud. Suddenly there was a puff of smoke and in place of Kakashi, a straw dummy that looked like Kakashi was now sinking into the mud.
"Damnit," Sakura growled as she cancelled her jutsu. "I really hate that thing."
"I know what you're talking about, when we first became a team he used one of those during training and afterwards I took it home and used it as a training dummy," Naruto said.
"I was wondering what you were doing with that dummy," Kakashi said as he appeared in front of the pair. "Now you two aren't giving up are you?"
"Hell no," the pair shouted.
"Sakura-chan, let's take this out into the open," Naruto said. "I need some more space for my idea." The pair leapt backward out of the woods and back into the open. Kakashi followed them.
"Suiton: Kirigakure no Jutsu!" Naruto called out. A heavy mist rolled in, surrounding the entire clearing and inhibiting everyone's view of the battle.
"What the hell, now we can't see what's going on?" Ino cried out.
"Troublesome girl," Shikamaru muttered.
"What did you say?" Ino growled.
"That isn't going to work on me Naruto," Kakashi chided. "Zabuza was a master of this, and you are years away from being a master of Silent Killing."
"Kunai Kage Bunshin no Jutsu!" Naruto's voice cried out.
"Kuso!" Kakashi cursed as he drew his own kunai and leapt backward, dodging or deflecting the dozens of kunai descending from the mist.
"Suiton: Mizurappa!" Sakura cried out. A jet of water shot through the mist and clipped Kakashi in the side, spinning him around. "Now Naruto!"
"Rasengan!" Naruto roared, appearing behind Kakashi in a yellow blur. Kakashi leapt upward to avoid his sensei's signature attack.
"Damnit!" Naruto shouted as he dispersed the jutsu. "I nearly had him."
"You know that this is only a spar," Kakashi said. "That would have killed me if you had hit me."
"Well you said to come at you with the intent to kill didn't you Kakashi-sensei?" Naruto said.
"True but I didn't think that you'd get so close to actually killing me," Kakashi said.
"That's enough Kakashi," Tsunade called out. "Naruto, Sakura, come on in. I believe we've seen enough of what we need to, right Jiraiya?"
Jiraiya stepped forward. "I think so," the Toad Sage said. He looked to his former teammate. "So are you going to do it Tsunade-hime?" he asked.
Tsunade had to hide a blush at the nickname that Jiraiya gave her. "Yes I believe that Sakura has shown enough to warrant it. Haruno Sakura, step forward." Sakura blinked but did as asked. "Haruno Sakura, you have shown much improvement these past few months as well as a very good grasp of tactics and jutsus. Your ability to wield several different chakra natures is most impressive for someone of your age, as is your near perfect chakra control. So as Godaime Hokage of Konohagakure no Sato, I confer upon you the rank of chunin. Do you accept?"
Sakura was stunned. "Of course milady," she stammered. "Thank you," she added with a low bow.
"Congrats Sakura-chan!" Naruto shouted. "Now we're the same rank." Sakura smiled broadly as she took the chunin flak jacket that Tsunade gave her. She slung it over her shoulders and put it on. "Looks great Sakura-chan."
Sakura blushed under the praise coming from her teammate and peers, as the rest of the Rookie nine and Team Gai gave their own congratulations.
"Right then, this calls for a celebration," Kakashi said.
"Ramen!" Naruto cried.
"No Naruto, I think we should let Sakura decide where she wants to go, don't you think?" Kakashi said. Naruto blushed and nodded. "So then Chunin Haruno, where do you want to go?"
"There's this new BBQ place in town," Sakura said. "I've always wanted to try it."
"Then it's settled," Naruto exclaimed with a broad smile.
"Let's meet there at sundown," Ino said. "Come on Forehead, we've got some work to do."
"What are you tal…" Sakura began but she was dragged off by Ino before she could finish. Sakura's protests were quickly eaten up by the distance as Ino dragged her out of the training ground.
That night came quickly for the Rookie nine and Team Gai. Naruto was the first to arrive at the restaurant; soon Team Gai as well as Team Eight met him. The two teams and Naruto entered the restaurant and were brought to their reserved room. The owners were new to Konoha, and didn't know of Naruto's reputation in the village.
"So Naruto-san, are you excited to be leaving on your training trip with Lord Jiraiya?" Shino asked.
"I'm not sure," Naruto said. "I mean sure Ero-sennin is an extremely strong ninja and I know that he'll have loads to teach me and help me get stronger but he's also a massive pervert and I'm probably going to spend half my time dragging him out of hot springs and away from his so-called research."
"You shouldn't call Lord Jiraiya names," Hinata stammered.
"He is a super pervert though," Naruto argued. "He's proud of it. He's also the author of those dirty books that Kakashi-sensei always reads." Hinata's face grew a massive blush as that was the most Naruto had ever spoken to her at one time.
"There you guys are!" a very familiar and loud voice cried out over the rest of the chatter coming from the restaurant. It was Ino with the rest of her team along with Kakashi, Sakura, Jiraiya, Tsunade and Shizune.
"Hey guys," Naruto called out. "Glad you could join us, I'm surprised that Kakashi-sensei is on time."
"This is important," Kakashi muttered.
"Right, I'm sure that baa-chan threatening you didn't have anything to do with it," Naruto commented as everyone sat down around the table. Kakashi chuckled nervously while scratching the back of his head.
"Forget about that, let's drink," Tsunade barked.
It had finally come, the day of Naruto's departure from the village. The Rookie Nine, Team Gai and their jonin senseis, as well as Iruka, Tsunade and Shizune were all waiting at the front gate to Konoha with Jiraiya. They were waiting on Naruto, who was surprisingly late.
"Where is the gaki?" Tsunade growled. "We're all waiting on him. Kakashi, I swear if he's picked up your habit of showing up late, I will tie you up and make you watch as I burn all of those smutty books of yours."
Kakashi chuckled nervously. "I don't know where he is," the silver haired jonin said. "But I promise you that I had nothing to do with this. "
"Hey you guys," Naruto called out as he leapt down from a nearby shop.
"Brat, where the hell have you been?" Tsunade shouted.
Naruto scratched the back of his head and chuckled nervously. "Sorry baa-chan, I was just saying goodbye to tou-san and kaa-san," he said solemnly. Everyone paused and nodded, Jiraiya, Tsunade and Kakashi smiled sadly at the blonde boy. "I mean, it'll be three years before I can see them again so I wanted to let them know that I wouldn't be around for a while."
"So gaki, you ready?" Jiraiya asked. "We need to get moving, we need to meet my contact tomorrow and it'll take sometime to get to the meeting point."
"Hai Ero-sennin," Naruto said, hoisting his pack on his shoulder. "Let's go."
Each of the Rookie Nine and Team Gai said their goodbyes to Naruto; Ino, Tenten and Sakura each gave Naruto a hug, Sakura being the tightest. The male members of the younger generation shook Naruto's hand, though Lee gave Naruto a 'youthful' hug. Hinata tried to say something but her stammering was indecipherable.
"Naruto," Jiraiya said. "It's time."
Naruto nodded. "Well, this is it guys. See you in three years. You all better be at least chunin by the time I get back, though I'll still be able to kick all your asses."
"What was that?" Kiba shouted.
"See you," Naruto laughed as he and Jiraiya made their way out of the village and down the path. Just as Naruto and Jiraiya reached the edge of the forest surrounding the village, Naruto stopped and looked back. It would be the last time that Naruto would see the village for three years. His gaze shifted upward to the Hokage Monument, to the last massive stone face carved into the mountain.
'I will make you proud tou-san, kaa-san,' Naruto said to himself, raising his fist to the sky. 'Watch out Konoha, when Uzumaki Naruto returns you're going to be in for a surprise!'
A/N: Well, there you have it, the final chapter of Underneath. I know it's a shorter chapter than normal, but there isn't much to be added after the battle at the VotE. There will be a sequel but it will be a long time coming. Honestly, I'm thinking of going back through UtU and changing some things, clean up some things. But hopefully you've enjoyed the ride.
Til next time,