Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto

...

Hands on his knees and his breakfast threatening to make a special return visit after having done the running task that Itachi had set out for them. That being said he only felt this way after having pushed himself to the limit with the knowledge that there was a prize to be had at the end. He had no idea what he had just won but at least his ego had been given a boost.

"Congratulations Naruto," said Itachi as he patted the blonde haired boy on the back as both Sasuke and Kiba completed the run with little space between them as both Chouji and Shikamaru lazily jogged around the circle, knowing full well they still had another three laps to go. "Hopefully you didn't burn out all of your energy just in the warm up."

"I'm...good," said Naruto through deep breaths as sweet oxygen made it's way back into his lungs. "What'd...I...win?"

"Ah, about that, I've just sent a clone to go pick something up which I believe will be a suitable reward for your efforts," said Itachi. "Until then you'll just have to wait for it."

"Fine," sighed Naruto as he pushed himself into an upright position.

"Wow you're fast," said Kiba exhaustedly as he congratulated Naruto on his run. During the first lap the five students had made quick introductions with one another before either upping or slowing down the tempo as was the case with Chouji and Shikamaru.

Despite being relatively quick on his feet, Sasuke had to admire the speed that Naruto had put in to the winning effort, even if he had nearly brought himself to the point of collapsing by doing so. As for his own performance he was happy to have been able to keep up with the Inuzuka clan member, knowing full well that the clan was well known for it's speed.

"Sasuke," said Itachi getting the attention of his younger brother. "When Shikamaru and Chouji finish their laps I want you to lead the rest of the boys through the stretches that I showed you yesterday."

"You're not going to be leading us?" asked Sasuke.

"Think of this as a test straight away," said Itachi as he placed a comforting hand on his brother's shoulder. "This is a test to see how much of yesterday's lesson you remember as well as to see if you can instruct your peers through a very basic routine. Years from now when you're leading your team into a potentially dangerous mission you have to be very precise and exact with your orders as sometimes the smallest wrong detail can lead to everything going wrong. You understand?"

"Yes," said Sasuke as he realised that Itachi was slowly prepping him for the future ahead.

"Good, you can begin as soon as the last two finish their final lap," said Itachi.

Another couple of minutes passed before the last two crossed the finish line and Sasuke stood in front of them nervously. While he had been focusing on this mentally beforehand now that the actual situation was in front of him he couldn't help but feel his hands start to shake. Closing his eyes, he breathed in deeply trying to calm himself knowing full well that not only were his four peers waiting for his instructions but Itachi was watching from his every move from nearby. "Alright," he said as he finally composed himself as he began doing the first stretch that Itachi had shown them and watched as the other kids copied his movements in a mirror image which helped to break the nerves almost instantly.

With every passing stretch he gained more and more confidence but was brought back down to Earth as Naruto piped up during one step and mentioned how Sasuke had forgotten about one of the calf stretches they had been shown the day before. Apart from that minor hiccup the rest of the exercise went off without a hitch before Itachi stepped back into the teaching role. For the first hour he put them through basic workout material ranging from push ups to jumping jacks, simple things that would help improve their general fitness levels.

Like how Itachi had gotten Sasuke to lead in the stretches, Naruto was chosen to lead the group through the kata that the older Uchiha had taught the two students the day before. Sasuke couldn't help but watch Naruto and picture himself standing beside only an hour earlier. While he had been nervous about standing in front of his peers Naruto seemed to absorb the attention and respond in better fashion by putting emphasis on something so simple. Every step was fluid and the way the Naruto was explaining it put the demonstration Sasuke had given to shame.

"Alright, I want all of you to repeat that kata ten times before you go to bed tonight," instructed Itachi as Naruto concluded his demonstration. "While the moves are simple and repetitive sometimes muscle memory is one of the things that will save you out on the battlefield. It is not uncommon for instinct to kick in and provided your instinct is good enough it can even be enough to swing the tide of battle back into your favour."

"So what do you want us to do now?" asked Shikamaru as his gaze drifted upwards towards the clouds that had started to drift across the sky.

"I'm going to have the three newcomers take on Naruto and Sasuke," said Itachi as he indicated towards the two boys.

"Isn't that a bit unfair brother?" asked Sasuke wondering whether he had it in him to take on the numbers advantage.

"There will be times when the situation you face is unfavourable," said Itachi speaking from experience. "Both the team with the numbers and the team with fewer members have to face different obstacles. The smaller group will always need to fight safely and be on the defensive until they can find an opening. Meanwhile the numbers have to be careful that they don't get overconfident and underestimate the enemy, as overconfidence can easily be your downfall in any given situation."

Taking the information in the five kids quickly realised that this wasn't just a lesson for today but for every future mission that they ever took. It didn't take them long to line up against the other group as information quickly bounced from team member to team member as they tried to come up with a plan to go against their opposing teams. Seeing that they were constructing strategies, Itachi told them that they only had another thirty seconds to spare, stating that they wouldn't be given the luxuries of time in a sudden encounter.

"Begin!" shouted Itachi at the end of the given time as he moved away from the battlefield as the two groups began their assault, or so he would have thought. Knowing of the Nara on their side, Itachi had figured that the strategy that would be held by the numbers would have the utmost advantage in this situation, more pieces on the board as it would seem. With their limited timeframe, the older Uchiha figured that the three man squad would provide a divide and conquer method, most likely Kiba and Chouji targeting Naruto and putting him out of the bout so that the three of them could tackle Sasuke without any hassle from an outside party. Yet this was all provided that Sasuke and Naruto acted how he thought they would by standing their ground and confronting them head on. What he was watching now however was completely different as he watched the three man team chase Naruto and Sasuke as the two boys led the bigger group towards and eventually into the forest. Giving chase himself, Itachi couldn't help but wonder which of the two boy's had constructed this strategy.

Shikamaru sighed as he along with Chouji and Kiba raced after the two boys. This had not been how he had thought the two would react and hadn't planned accordingly, he wasn't even sure if this idea would have crossed his mind even if he had had more time to think. Now he had to come up with a new plan on the fly against opponents who knew what they were doing, at least to some degree. "Kiba, can you keep track of them?" he asked, knowing full well the abilities that the Inuzuka clan member had.

"I've already got their scent," said Kiba as he leapt over a large branch.

"Good, cause we're going to take another route," said Shikamaru as he led both Chouji and Kiba off to the right and out of sight.

...

Looking over his shoulder, Naruto noticed that they were no longer being followed and thus signalled for Sasuke to stop. The two boys quickly came to a halt in a small clearing. "Do you think we lost them?" asked Naruto.

"All we've done is run in a straight line, somehow I think they're still chasing us," said Sasuke. "Plus Kiba's and Inuzuka, meaning that he's probably got our scent already."

"Wait, what do you mean?" asked Naruto unsure of what Sasuke was pointing out.

"Kiba's clan have a really good sense of smell, they probably diverged from the path knowing that they can blindside," said Sasuke.

"Damn, I never would have thought of something like that," said Naruto. "So even though they can't see us they're still following us."

"Yep," said Sasuke as he looked around at the different openings that they could be ambushed from.

"Give me your shirt and jacket," said Naruto.

"What?" questioned Sasuke a little louder than he probably should have.

"I've got an idea," said Naruto with a cheeky little grin.

...

"So they're just through there," said Chouji as he laid in wait alongside Kiba and Shikamaru.

"Yep, are you two ready?" asked Kiba.

"Okay, remember the plan," said Shikamaru.

"Got it," said Chouji as he burst forward through the bushes closely followed by his two friends as they pounced into the clearing which Kiba had said that Naruto and Sasuke were located. To a certain degree Kiba had been correct but his sense of smell had led them to where the two boy's upper clothing resided on the ground, the sweaty articles of clothing having been enough to lure Kiba's sense of smell towards them.

"Get back," shouted Shikamaru but it was too late as the topless forms of Naruto and Sasuke charged forward from opposite sides as they converged on the larger group with their fists already in attacking position.

...

Itachi looked at the five boys standing in front of him with torn and bloodied shirts as well as scrapes and bruises upon most of their skin. While their idea had been sound and would have been completely successful had they had more of an arsenal of weaponry and skills, the counter ambush had just turned into a melee style brawl as the numbers game fought back against the surprise attack. To call either side victorious would have been a joke as there really was no clear winner. From now on he would stick on having the group fight each other in one on one confrontations, he didn't think another lesson like that would be necessary over the coming days.

"Alright guys, since I only have you for another hour I'm going to have you do a bit of kunai training," said Itachi as he deposited the arsenal he had sent a clone to go and pick up. It had taken a little chunk out of his mission pay but it would be worth it in the end, or so he figured. To anybody else watching they would likely say it was a little irresponsible for the Uchiha to give a bunch of kids dangerous weapons without any prior training but that was what he was there for as he helped the boys with how to throw the sharp objects. His clone had debated on whether or not to buy blunted weapons but there was always a minor deviation in the angle the kunai travelled so he figured to go with the real weaponry all the way; after all it was better to learn with the right equipment to begin with rather than have to change technique when switching from false kunai.

Over the hour Itachi helped the five boys, making small adjustments that helped their technique in a way that they would be able to improve over time. It was common sense that there was no perfect way to throw a kunai but rather everybody had their own way and would need to learn in time how such tactics were comfortable to them. "...And that's the end of the lesson," announced Itachi.

"Couldn't you stay and teach us a bit more?" asked Kiba having really enjoyed the lesson.

"Sadly no," said Itachi. "I've actually got to go be on hand for the peace treaty signing between Konoha and Kumo that's happening this evening."

"That's alright," said Chouji having had enough of training for the day. Despite being taught the basics from Sasuke and Naruto the day before he was completely exhausted and needed a solid meal to refuel his energy.

"Before I forget, this is for you Naruto," said Itachi as he held out a kunai pouch. "Your prize for the race this morning."

"Thank you!" shouted Naruto as he took the gift. He reached down and strapped it to his leg and bent down to pick up a nearby kunai to place into his gift only to get cut off by Itachi.

"As much as I'd like to give you a kunai as well, I think it'd be a little difficult to explain when you got home tonight where you had gotten a weapon from, and you wouldn't want to get me into any trouble or anything now would you," said Itachi knowing that allowing the blonde to walk out of the training ground with a kunai simply would be asking for trouble.

"Okay," said Naruto as he left the kunai where it was.

"Alright then, with that being said and done I'll see the five of you here again tomorrow morning," said Itachi as he dismissed the boys. He watched with a smile as they turned around to go do whatever it was that they had planned for the rest of the day. Wandering around the training ground he spent the next few minutes collecting all of the thrown kunai and gathering them atop a scroll to seal them away. He recalled the exact amount that his clone had purchased but couldn't find one of them for some reason but concluded that one of the kunai had simple been thrown into the tall branches of a tree somewhere and it'd be found by somebody in good time.

...

"Sorry guys, I'd like to stay longer but Mum told me to be home early for dinner, I think she wants me to help feed the pups," said Kiba as he broke apart from the rest of the group. Chouji and Shikamaru had already left due to a prior arrangement between their families as their was the monthly dinner with the Yamanaka family. Chouji seemed to believe that he could convince Ino to come to their training the next morning but Shikamaru was confident that the Yamanaka heiress would refuse to get out of bed before sunrise.

"It's alright, I guess it's getting pretty late anyways," said Naruto as he looked towards the Hokage monument where the rays of the setting sun caused shadows to jump from face to face.

"Well I'll see you two tomorrow morning," shouted Kiba as he ran off towards his clan compound.

"So what now?" asked Sasuke, not particularly wanting to go back home just yet.

"Spar?" questioned Naruto.

"Thought you'd never ask," said Sasuke cheekily.

"Well we can't really head out to the training grounds, by the time we get there the it'll already be dark," noted Naruto.

"Well..." started Sasuke as he looked around the area they were currently in and trying to figure out a solution to their problem quickly. "What about the forest area near the Hyuga compound? That's not too far from here."

"Sounds like a plan," said Naruto as the two boys took off down the street, weaving in-between civilians who were going about their business.

An hour passed when the two decided to call it quits for the night, both of them exhausted and rather beaten. Anybody who would have been watching the playful confrontation would have easily been able to see that while Sasuke was the largely in control of the fight he was by no means winning, Naruto seemingly able to become stronger the more injured he was. From his seated position Sasuke tried to play over the fight in his mind, trying to figure out where he could improve in the future. Comparing himself to the blonde he knew that he needed to work on his stamina, the strength of his blows diminishing significantly over time. By the end of the bout he had barely been able to raise up a guard to counter Naruto's blows.

"That was so much fun," said Naruto ecstatically as he pushed himself up to his feet. "We need to spar every day!"

Sasuke swallowed at the thought of tackling his friend head-on on a daily basis but knew that his skills would improve his skills steadily. While there were lessons he knew he would be taught in time by members of his clan he couldn't help but imagine how much better he would be in the long run if he chose to take up Naruto's offer.

"So...how do we get back to town?" asked Naruto a little unsure of where they were at that moment.

Sasuke thought that he knew the answer but when he looked around at the surroundings he knew that he could give just about as good an answer as Naruto would be able to provide. That being said he was able to see light from nearby and pointed it out. "I think the Hyuga compounds in that direction, we can probably make our way back from there," said Sasuke making several assumptions.

"As good a plan as any," said Naruto as he helped Sasuke up to his feet before the two boys made their way towards the only light source excluding the moon and stars hanging high in the sky. It didn't take the two boys long to make their way through the scrub like forest ad the light got closer and closer. Eventually they made their way out of the undergrowth and into the clearing near where the compound was and were undoubtedly surprised to find a Kumo ninja standing there, the unconscious form of a young girl being held underneath a single arm.

For a few seconds the two groups simply stared at one another, the two boys for having stumbled across what they could only comprehend as a kidnapping while the Kumo ninja couldn't believe that he had been caught so simply. Surprisingly it was Naruto who reacted first, charging forward to assist the young girl whatever way he could, Sasuke quickly responding by following suit.

Whatever little surprise they had went out the window as Naruto found his charge abruptly screeching to a halt as his face was met with the ninja's boot, leaving the blonde a dazed mess on the ground as blood poured from his nose. With the ninja's leg raised though Sasuke saw his chance as he kicked at the enemies grounded leg much like a similar scenario with Naruto the day before. Even though he put everything into the strike, after having trained that morning and spent the last hour sparring against the blonde his attack would barely leave a bruise on the man's leg.

Staring in disbelief as the Kumo ninja towered over him, Sasuke didn't even have the time to block as he found himself backhanded to the ground, his cheek already turning red from the force of the attack. The Kumo ninja though was now able to see the insignia on the back of Sasuke's clothing and immediately recognised it and quickly assessed that this boy was from the Uchiha clan. While he would be rewarded handsomely for bringing the unbranded Hyuga, a young Uchiha would likely give much more of a pay check for his efforts.

His thoughts were quickly shut down as a sharp pain ran across the base of his ankle, Naruto having slashed at his Achilles heel with the kunai he had snuck out of the training ground. A bloodied grin crossed his face as the Kumo ninja dropped to one knee, unable to remain upright with the injury. Whatever confidence he had of getting out of the village unscathed was destroyed as he realised that with his ankle in such a condition he wouldn't even be able to get anywhere close to the village exit.

Looking up, he could see the form of Hiashi Hyuga staring at him, cold hatred held within his eyes and the Kumo ninja knew that suicide was his only option so that the Konoha ninja weren't able to pull too much information out of him. Before that however he would get revenge on the boy who ruined all of his chances as he pulled out a kunai of his own and plunged it into Naruto's stomach sending a splash of blood into the air as Naruto screamed out in pain.

The blonde had never felt anything so painful as he placed a hand over the stabbed area and lifted his palm up to see crimson blood staining his skin. He could hear screams and shouts from around him, to what point and purpose he couldn't tell, every sound just sounded like a muffled blur he couldn't make any sense of. His eyes became heavy as light seemingly faded as the blonde passed out on the path in a growing pool of his own blood.

...

Hope you enjoyed.