Chapter 8: Preparations

Anko stood over Naruto holding a bucket of water filled with ice and salt to get the base temperature down as much as possible. She had contemplated shaking him awake but where was the fun in that? There just wasn't any, and besides he was supposed to be roughing it as part of his training. He should have guessed that without her need to say so.

"Rise and shine gaki!" The water splashed entirely over Naruto and resulted in him spluttering and gasping for air as he bolted upright.

Anko only grinned as he looked around and saw that the 'bed' he had been in was now gone and he was in a small clearing between a few of the huge trees. He looked up at Anko and her now empty bucket, trying to formulate just what it was that he was trying to think at this point. The freezing water had worked in waking his body but his mind seemed to be only filled with thoughts about how he was likely going to freeze to death.

"What the hell Anko?" Naruto threw off his wet shirt, grabbing the still dry jacket by her feet. "Where did the tower go? I remember falling asleep in a bed THERE, not in a clearing."

Anko's grin didn't drop as she explained. "You were asleep so I woke you up. It's training time gaki and you were in the tower, yes... WERE. This is training to toughen you up so no more going there, you're sleeping in the woods. Got it?"

"Shaking me or something wouldn't work? And what time is it?" Looking around the forest it was deceptively dark. For all Naruto knew it was high noon and that's why there was any light to see at all in the shade of the trees.

"Sun rose, you rise. What's it matter? Now here's the list of things we're working on." Naruto was a bit pissed at his rather rude awakening but it's not like he hadn't had it happen before.


Naruto woke to freezing water hitting his small form. He bolted upright and saw Anko standing a bit to his left. "Good, you're up time to train!" Grabbing Naruto before he could so much as begin to speak, she sped to a random training ground dropping the bucket next to the door on their way out.

"Anko, why am I up so early?" The six year old yawned as if to help with his point.

"Because today we start your training. You have a lot of shit you need to practice if you plan to be half as good as a clan kid. And I plan to make you better." Anko gave an evil smile as Naruto slowly caught on to what she had said.

"I have to do a lot of work to be a ninja? But you make it look so easy! Little practice, a few missions, and dango!" Naruto had never seen her do more than just gently toss a kunai into the wall occasionally, and had only heard a little of what she actually did.

"Not at all gaki, I work hard every day. I train my skills everyday, I practice and practice till I drop. Then I get up and practice the next thing. That's what I did and that's what you'll be doing." Anko didn't elaborate on her work but Naruto still saw her eyes change to something with a bit more malice behind them. "So for your first bit of training, run away from the big snake that's going to try and eat you."

Naruto almost laughed at Anko's words but before he had the chance Anko had already summoned a snake ten times larger than the biggest one Naruto had ever seen. It was easily twenty five feet long and two feet thick. "Yes mistress?"

If the size had freaked out Naruto, that it could speak made him speechless. All he could do was stare at the snake. "Ah, Takeda good. See this kid in front of me? You can catch him, you can try and eat him. Got to get him whole in one bite though. Got it?" Naruto was still frozen as he didn't really believe Anko would let the snake eat him. Was just a joke right? She'd make him run laps or-

"Run boy. I like my food to be tired." The snake let out a menacing hiss and Naruto was snapped out of his delusion as he took off. Takeda waited a bit to announce, "Ah, that's better. The hunter and the prey." It seemed like the snake grinned as he went after the boy keeping a near match for Naruto.

End Flashback

Naruto still remembered how that damned snake had nearly taken a bite out of his hide before the day was out. "I won't be running from Takeda will I?" He took the offered note from Anko and saw that it was much like the other note. Survive was written at the top in red, but underneath it now had written 'Climb a tree.' This too was red. Looking at both sides of the note Naruto found no other instructions.

"The hell do you mean climb a tree? I can do that easily! I did it yesterday." Naruto wasn't too patient after his repeat of his first morning of training at her hands.

"You're right, but you didn't do it my way. Time to learn how." Anko demonstrated what she meant as she walked towards the trunk of a tree and proceeded to walk up it at a casual pace. She stopped about twenty feet up and looked back down at him. "Coming?"

Naruto walked towards the tree and put a foot against it trying to copy what he had seen his teacher do assuming it had to be some kind of reaction with ninja to the strange overgrown tree. Standing with one foot against the tree he lifted the other and immediately fell flat on his back with a small thud. "Did I forget to say it's to teach you chakra control and you need to put chakra at the soles of your feet?" She laughed as Naruto glared up at her rubbing his back a bit.

"Slip your mind or something Anko?" Looking up at her from his position on the ground he could clearly see she enjoyed the show.

"Not at all, I just thought it would be funnier to see you fall on your ass. Alright, see you tomorrow if you're still alive!" Anko waved before using a shushin to disappear, leaving a few leaves to fall from where she had been.

"Just going to leave me alone out here? How am I supposed to learn something without an instructor around!" Naruto yelled into the clearing but received no answer. Sighing he got up and pumped some chakra straight into the ground to get used to moving chakra to his feet without the resulting take off. After a few minutes on the ground without losing his footing he decided to try and run up the tree.

Got to do it sooner or later. Running at it, when his foot connected his world suddenly went horizontal and skewed his concentration. Pumping too much into his feet he launched himself off no more than a scant five feet up the tree. Flipping himself back to a standing position he landed lightly, bending his knees to catch his bodies momentum from the fall.

Huh, not as easy as I thought. Again and again he run towards the tree trying to get higher, each time succeeding a scant few inches higher each time. God this is taking too long and I need to practice all the seal crap those clone's were learning about... Wait... That's it! Clones can do this and they'll help me learn that much faster!

Putting his hands together, he summoned a small army of Naruto's that took to the various branches and trees before they too began to run up the trunks. Alright... Should master this stupid excercise before too long... Now I just need a few more clones to help me with scrolls. Popping another ten into existence Naruto began to talk with them about the seals the other clones had learned for him.

"First we need to go over what we learned. Who want's to start?" The original spoke to the clone's before him, and was pleasantly surprised to see that not all of them stepped forward to answer but just one.

"We learned the basics for a storage scroll and scanned over a great number of items looking for Anko's mark. Nothing was found, but we haven't read all the books in there, only skimmed a few of the larger ones. It's possible it's detailed in a book we haven't read or one we skimmed and didn't spot it."

"Alright then if we learned storage seals... Let's try storing some items. Pull out the supplies and get some distance from each other. Wouldn't want you all to pop because one of you put down the wrong thing." The clone's nodded before scattering and getting to work trying to draw out the simplest of seals. That's two issues down and I should pick up what they learn but... What do I do now? I could practice tree climbing but that would be a waste, drawing would be fine but if I mess up I might end up a bloody mess... I guess I can always try and increase my chakra by burning a lot.

Thinking over which jutsu would be best to drain his chakra without totally depleting himself, he could only think of the Shadow Clones. They weren't to sturdy but they could at least assist him in gathering items for a shelter or he could put more of them to seals or tree walking. The more the merrier... Summoning another few hundred clones he felt only a bit winded, so he pushed himself to pour more chakra into the technique. The result was staggering as another thousand joined the fray.

"Alright guys, we need some of you to gather shelter materials, some to train, some to write, some to go meet up with the team, and some to just start running around to make a map of this place." The clones nodded and started discussing what they would rather do, dividing into teams then taking off on whatever they had decided. Naruto figured that this was probably going to be how he spent a lot of his days in training.

He was mostly correct. His days were filled with clone's doing the odd chore or learning materials and perfecting his abilities, but he eventually realized that too many clones bursting caused a headache to develop and if a significant number of them popped out of existence he was left clutching his head from the pain of a wall of memories slamming into him.

He spent his training in relative peace, Anko only showing up to deliver the tasks before leaving the boy on his own to figure it out. He learned a week in that while he had a grasp on some jutsu and how to utilize it, his survival forms were pretty poor. Especially his ability to escape being bound in rope. Four hours alone after being knocked out so his clones couldn't rescue him, he had finally managed to undo the knots Anko had bound him with.

His clones helped him keep up with Anko's insane methods and his endless reserves of stamina only just kept him from feeling as if he was about to die of exhaustion each night. He learned tree and water walking; escape tricks; survival techniques; a few scatting of new wind, water and earth jutsu; and a few of the local predators favorite hunting grounds.

He knew that she was strengthening him just like he had asked but some days he was sure that she was bordering on trying to work him into a grave. After only a few days he knew that if he hadn't asked for her help though he would have learned nothing under Kakashi. He preferred that the team focus on building trust and understanding between each other. While in theory cooperation was important, Naruto couldn't help but feel as if it was waste of time that could be spent rounding out their abilities and covering each other's flaws.

Between Anko's constant work and Kakashi's laid back attitude, Naruto couldn't decide which was better in the long run. He wondered if his team was actually just a joke the Hokage had thrown together. The demon no one would have wanted, the withdrawn avenger, the fan girl, and a cyclops that enjoyed a good read.

A joke may have been putting it lightly.

The days passed by Naruto in a blur, and before he knew it he had spent a month in the trees...

"Hey gaki, got your list for the day." Anko looked over Naruto glad that the Shadow Clones had been such a help in training him. What should have taken him a month or two he could complete in a day, and still have time left over for other things. He's come a lot farther than I thought he would. He took the list from her hand and read it over before he spoke.

"There's nothing new on here."

"That's right, today is a free day. Figured you could use a little break, and I wanted to spend some time in my favorite neck of the woods without having to keep an eye on you." Anko grinned at Naruto as he laughed lightly. His clones under Kakashi had had a free day almost every day after their mission.

"Ya sure. What's really the assignment for the day?" He figured that she must have another list in her pocket. Training under Anko had always been brutal and continual. She knew about his tenant and used the recovering factor to her advantage, pushing his training a lot harder than she would for anyone else.

"Take a break, do whatever the hell you want. That's it. Are you stupid or just not listening gaki?" Anko was still grinning, enjoying the fact Naruto seemed willing to continue working hard. "Today is a day off. You're free to do whatever." Her words finally made it through to him, and he seemed ready to bolt off somewhere.

"Does that mean I can go get Ichiraku? I haven't had any ramen in weeks! Can I?"

"Sure gaki, whatever you want. Just be back before night falls." Naruto took off before she had finished the last word, giddy to be getting ramen. Heh, offer the kid some ramen and he's about ready to walk through fire. She watched him race of in a blur of black, and wondered if she should have mentioned just how to get out of the forest. Eh, he's been here long enough. Should know.

Naruto was jumping from massive branch to massive branch in a hurry to get to the little ramen stand. In little less than an hour he burst from the trees, shooting out over the gate and landing on the dirt on the other side. Finally out of there! RAMEN! He grinned in delight as he raced for the shop, taking the rooftops as the village hustle and bustle was starting up for another day.

Landing in front of the shop, Naruto gazed at the cloth that was the last barrier separating him from a bowl of the best ramen on the planet. Breathing in the fragrance of ramen still being made, he made to step into the place when he was suddenly grabbed roughly from behind. He was so caught off guard it wasn't until he realized he was being dragged away that he spoke.

"What the hell! I wanted some ramen!" Standing, he braced his legs and stopped his assailant in their tracks. Turning to face them, Naruto was surprised to see Sakura had been the one to grab him.

"Clone-baka, you don't need to eat and you're late enough for the mission hall already! We've been waiting for fifteen minutes for your lazy cloned self!" She grabbed him again, this time by the arm, pulling him yet again.

"Wait... Clone-baka? Here, take one, take twenty!" Said amount came into existence in front of Sakura, and Naruto let himself out of her grip. "I want ramen, so take them!" Turning around he didn't even manage a step before her words made him stop.

"Wait! You're the real one? Why don't you want to come? Where have you been? What's so important about ramen? If you're free you shouldn't be making us deal with your clones!"

"Yes, because I want ramen, Training ground forty-four, it's Ichiraku ramen, and you were looking for clones, why do you want me?" Naruto rolled off the answers and turned to the girl wondering why she seemed so interested in his life all of a sudden. From the reports of the clones, there was only one thing she had the slightest bit of attention for.

"I was expecting a clone. You never actually show up at the mission hall, it's always one of your one hit wonders. Why don't you just come along to do the mission and we can ALL come for some ramen?" Naruto contemplated her words and was about to say no when she surprised him. "Please?"

"I'm sorry... What?" When you're used to the cold shoulder, or a heated glare please wasn't something one expects. Especially from this kunoichi, all he had ever heard was her screaming at him or demanding what she wanted.

"I said please. We are teammates right? Just come do the mission with us. The REAL you."

"The clones are just like me. What's it matter if it's me or them? I just want breakfast..."

"Then get a bowl to go. The difference is... I don't know, you're real they aren't."

"Hey!" The clones seemed a bit indignant at her words but did little more than protest. They couldn't exactly refute that claim.

"Look, I'll go on ahead. I'll take my time getting there, to give you a bit of time. Just get there before I do. Please baka." With that Sakura walked off, leaving a confused Naruto and twenty clones looking at each other.

"Anyone understand that?"

"Nope." "Nah Boss." "Can't say I did." The clones' answers didn't vary in meaning and Naruto simple negated them after they finished replying. The conversation replayed in his memory twenty times over and only made him feel like he really should go to the hall. She did say she was going to take her time... Maybe a few bowls to go wouldn't be so bad.

Dashing into the stand Naruto placed an order for five bowls to go and laid out the proper amount of ryo for payment, only needing to check the menu to be sure of the price. The bowls came out in record time and Naruto thanked Teuchi, taking off before the man could stall him with some idle conversation. Naruto was sure Sakura was already back at the hall but lateness be damned. He was going to eat and it would be ramen.

Landing in front of the building he raced into the hall, opening it slowly sure he was going to hear the screaming of Sakura that he was late. Opening the door fully, he saw Kakashi leaning casually against a wall reading with Sasuke next to him asking a few questions about when they would be getting real training, not the pathetic D-ranks they had been dealing with.

Sasuke noticed the second Naruto stepped into the room, casually walking over. "Hey dobe, what's with the ramen? Thought clones like you don't need to eat." Naruto set down the box holding his breakfast, ignoring the comment as he dug into the first bowl. "Hey clone I asked you something."

"Not... A... Clone." Naruto spoke swiftly between mouthfuls of ramen downing it quickly, and grabbing the next bowl.

"You're the real one?" Sasuke's voice had a dangerous tone as he eyed the sitting Naruto.

"Yup." He paused only to speak the one word practically shoveling the food into his mouth. Kakashi looked up from his book acknowledging Naruto's presence and Sasuke's silence. The chunin behind the table looked bored out of his mind as he waited team seven to get a mission and get out. Finishing the bowl, Naruto was getting tired of Sasuke's glare. "What? I'm real, I don't go poof."

"Then fight me." Not this shit again.

"No." Picking up the next bowl he made to get another sum of ramen, but was stopped by Sasuke grabbing his wrist.

"What do you mean 'no'? Afraid I'll beat you?" Sasuke smirked as Naruto sighed, taking it as an admission. "Is that fear what infected your clones? Is that why they were always so terrified to spar?"

"No, they just don't waste themselves to entertain you. Look, can I eat in peace? I haven't had ramen in a while and I'd rather not do this here." He could tell Sasuke wasn't going to let it go and tried a different tactic. "I'm not afraid, I just choose not to fight you. Why waste your time? You already know you're better why prove it?" The words were sarcastic but Sasuke didn't hear the tone.

"You're right. You're not worth wasting my talent on." Sasuke released Naruto's wrist and walked back over beside Kakashi. Naruto finished the bowls in a matter of a few minutes and packed up the dishes in the container knowing that he should at least wash them before returning them to Teuchi. He was one of the only villagers Naruto liked, as the man never seemed to take out any frustrations on the boy. Taking out on of the storage seals he had made, he sealed up the remains of his breakfast and dropped it into a pocket.

What's taking Sakura so long? I though she would have made it here by now. Maybe I should have just sent a clone... "Hey Naruto, where's Sakura? She went out looking for your clones and I hardly believe she could take this long." Kakashi gave an eye smile as he spoke, but he sounded more like he was accusing him for somehow delaying her.

"No idea Kakashi-sensei. I'm sure she's just-" The door opened to reveal a a slightly out of breath Sakura that strode in and over towards Sasuke. "-outside." Naruto finished his sentence even though it was unnecessary.

"Sakura, you look tired." Kakashi put away his book and turned to the chunin. "Got a mission for us?" Sakura glanced towards Naruto but didn't say anything, apparently satisfied he was the real one, or not caring if he was a clone.

"Yes. Tora seems to have made it out again." Handing over the scroll, Sasuke and Sakura groaned a bit and Naruto remained silent. The cat was annoying but it was relatively easy to find. Enough clones and he would catch the squirming mass of claws and teeth.

"Alright guys, let's go find us a cat." Kakashi gave off a happy aura and strolled out of the hall, the three genin following behind. All of them wishing that he had chosen a different mission, they knew generally where the cat frequented.

"Is that you or a clone?"

"It's me Sakura."

"Good, you can earn a few scratches like the rest of us." Sakura gave a sweet smile, and Naruto couldn't help but laugh.

"Did you know we'd be getting Tora or something? That eager to see a cat maul me?" Sakura's smile didn't let up and Sasuke smirked.

"Afraid of Tora?" He shrugged off the insult. Actions speak louder than words after all.

"No, but we're finally the whole team rather than us and a clone. Seems different. Sasuke-kun what do you think?"

"Clone of a dobe, or the original it makes no difference."

"Don't get used to it, I'm heading back after today and the clones will be taking my place again."

"Heading back where?" He had caught Sasuke's attention, as both of the genin had been wondering where he was.

"Training ground forty-four." Both males looked to Sakura as she answered his question. Naruto had figured she wouldn't care enough to remember his words and Sasuke was surprised she knew where he had been all this time.

"What's so special about there?"

"Nothing. I just like camping." Naruto smiled at the confused reaction of his teammates and sped up to catch up to Kakashi and avoid any more questions. "Hey, Kakashi-sensei."

"Hello Naruto. I assume you decided to show up for reasons other than just to meet the team. Care to share it with your sensei?" Kakashi eye smiled at the boy and Naruto nodded.

"Ya, I was given a free day and decided I wanted some ramen. Sakura caught me and told me to meet you all at the hall. I thought why the hell not, got some ramen and showed up." Close enough to the truth at any rate.

"Charitable of you. How's training?" He shrugged and looked up at the sky as he thought over an answer.

"It's more intense than what you do, but not so intense I'm in danger." Kakashi chuckled at the cryptic answer.

"Think you can be a little more specific? I am your commander you know. Got to know where to place you to best utilize your potential."

"My potential is more than what I had when I first fought Sasuke and less than yours. Put me wherever." Naruto smiled cheerfully at Kakashi and Kakashi seemed just as cheerful. He enjoyed having a student that was more banter than demands. Even if Naruto was a kid, it was enjoyable to talk to him.

"I'll keep that in mind. In fact, why don't you walk up to Tora over there and pick him up?" Kakashi stopped and pointed down a side alley where Tora sat comfortably in the semi-darkness. Naruto didn't have a reply so instead opted to follow the order. What's the worst that can happen? A few scratches and then they would take off after the fleeing feline.

"Hey Tora. How are you." Naruto approached Tora up until he was a few feet away and the cat was hissing at him. "Look, I know you don't like your home but is it really that much better out here on the street? Do you run away expecting to be free or to be able to go home before things get rough?" The cat stared down Naruto and Naruto stared back.

I'm talking to a cat... To many days in the forest. Maybe I went a little nuts? Naruto took another step towards Tora and waited yet again as a storm of hissing ensued. "Look, I'm not going to hurt you Tora." Another step, more hissing but the cat seemed less frightening and more like it was just tired of the boy. Stepping again towards the cat, Tora sat before Naruto and waited.

It took almost ten minutes but he managed to get close to Tora without being attacked and without him bolting. Naruto was a bit surprised not to have been scratched to hell but he didn't question it at the moment. Squatting down, he reached out a hand towards Tora, and before he could react Tora had bitten onto him. Resisting the urge to yank his hand back Naruto waited for Tora to let go of his hand.

This time Naruto was a good deal slower as he reached for Tora. When he got close, Tora bat his hand away and hissed softly. "Come on, let me pet you at least. You did bite me fur-ball." Naruto whispered the words, not wanting to be too loud and freak the cat out. Once more he reached out and attempted to touch Tora's fur and this time was rewarded with a lack of pain.

Tora looked pissed Naruto was petting him but after a minute of gentle petting Tora was purring. Never knew you could make those noises. According to the clones you're a little monster. Picking up Tora, he cradled the cat and continued to pet him. Walking out of the alley he was rewarded with the shocked expressions of Sasuke, Sakura, and Kakashi.

"Is Tora... Purring?" Kakashi was absolutely amazed at the sight. He had seen the cat terrorize genin teams over plenty of years and had not once seen it take to a single person. He thought that maybe it was the wrong cat but, no there was the trademark bell that marked him. What the hell is with Tora?

"Ya. Apparently all you need to do is pet him softly along his back and he's putty in your hands." Naruto couldn't believe this little fur-ball had been a terror for so long. Tora seemed kind of tame compared to what he had to deal with back in the Forest of Death. He had learned to deal with some of the more carnivorous of the nightly predators, and had gotten better with figuring out how to approach or deal with any animal he came across.

"Can I... Can I pet him?" Sakura reached a hand out before Naruto answered and was rewarded with a hiss before she quickly jerked back her hand.

"Apparently not. Lets head back." Naruto looked to Kakashi and waited for his orders.

"Alright Naruto, you hold him and when we get to the mission hall... You can explain what's going on with him." Kakashi was over his shock and was once again speaking in a rather care free tone. Albeit a bit forced but still attempted. Nodding his head he lead the procession back to the mission hall, and surprised those assembled there.

"Is Tora purring? Is that the right cat?" The chunin eyed over Tora suspiciously.

"It's Tora. Naruto apparently got Tora to like him." Kakashi didn't bother going into details, as the shock alone of seeing what was considered a demon happily purring up at Naruto as he stroked it's back, was enough.

"I see... I'll summon the diamyo's wife..." The chunin stood and was gone for approximately fifteen minutes. Naruto didn't mind terribly as he had a soft spot for animals, and Tora was rather nice once you got past the rough patch. Glancing up at the opening door, Naruto realized why it had taken the fifteen minutes. Following the chunin was both the Hokage and the woman.

"Oh, my little baby! You found him!" She bounded forward eager to snatch up Tora again but Naruto stepped away from her and caused her to stop. "What are you doing ninja?"

"Yes, Naruto. What are you doing?" Hiruzen wasn't sure if he should be happy Naruto seemed fond of the cat, or if he should pray for the cat's swift escape.

"Tora seems a bit on edge because of you." Naruto pointed at the woman and continued. "I think you aren't treating him right."




Hiruzen, Sakura, and Kakashi stared at Naruto then turned quickly to the daimyo's wife to see how she was reacting. Survey says, not well. "What do you mean I'm not treating him right? How dare you! I treat him like my little darling!"

"Then why does he run away?" Naruto still continued to evade the woman and decided the best place to be was on the wall above her reach. Walking over to a wall he proceeded up it and sat, allowing Tora to rest on his chest and look over the little crowd.

"He's a free spirit."

"No, he just doesn't like whatever it is you do to him. From what I've learned, it probably has to do with crushing him to death every time he comes back. Maybe stop squeezing the life out of him and he won't run away."

"Naruto, you can't say that to her!" Sakura was more worried about how red the daimyo's wife was than about how Naruto was acting. She held a lot of influence and he could get the village into a lot of trouble.

"Why not? So she's the daimyo's wife, what's it matter? She should still learn how to properly handle a cat. Titles mean nothing, you are who you are." She was getting more and more red, but her next words surprised those that were gathered in the mission hall.

"Alright... Then what do I need to do so my baby purrs like that for me?" Naruto eyed the woman and didn't move from his position on the wall.

"So you'll listen to what I have to tell you?" She nodded her head, too embarrassed to voice her words. "Alright. I'll come down and put him in your arms. Don't squeeze him and just lightly run your hand along his back." He dropped of the wall and did exactly as he said he would. The moment Tora hit her arms though he tensed up in preparation for being crushed.

Gently petting him, he quickly calmed down and began purring and rubbing himself against her. "Look! Look! My baby is rubbing against me!" She was practically jumping up and down in excitement and Tora tensed up again, quickly stopping her. "Right... Gentle." She calmed herself down and walked over to the Hokage. "I believe I have a mission report I am supposed to sign?"

"Ah... Yes, here you are." Kakashi handed the Hokage the scroll and the signature was quickly put down. She walked almost to the door before speaking over her shoulder to the Hokage.

"I believe I may be needing a ninja team to occasionally stretch Tora's legs... He is still a free spirit." She then proceeded out the door and left a rather stunned audience behind.

"Didn't even say thanks." Naruto's voice broke the silence and had the immediate result of three things. Hiruzen broke out in a wide smile, Kakashi whipped out his book and tried to get back a collected look, and Sakura decided she had something more to say.

"Baka! You could have been in deep trouble for what you did! You're lucky she didn't demand your head for taking that tone with her!"

"But she wasn't treating that cat right." Naruto put a hand to the back of his head and laughed lightly. "Now she is. What's the big deal? If it was anyone else you would've told them they were doing things wrong."

"While that is true Naruto, it was a dangerous gamble." The Hokage waited a moment to see if there was a response before adding to his statement. "A gamble that seems to have paid off."

"I'll consider my station more carefully next time Hokage-sama." Naruto's voice lacked any emotion as he gave the reply.

"That's not strictly what I meant... Alright team seven, you may go. Considered yourselves done with the mission." The genin were out the door more quickly than Kakashi, and he had almost made it out when Hiruzen stopped him. "Not you. Finish the mission debrief and written report. ALL of it I might add. Writing the name of the mission and 'Complete' under it, a full report does not make." Kakashi's head dropped and the Hokage walked happily towards his office. One more D-rank that won't be bringing him more paperwork. A good day.

"Alright, well... I guess this is the part Kakashi says go bond, and I want ramen. You two coming?" Naruto figured he may as well lay the offer on the table, even if he doubted they would accept.

"No." Sasuke then proceeded to walk towards his home compound leaving Sakura to glance once at Naruto then at Sasuke's retreating form.

"Go after him. I'll eat alone." Naruto knew what she would pick and sped up the process. She seemed relieved and took off after Sasuke, but she stopped mid-stride though and turned back to Naruto.

"Later Naruto-baka." With a wave she was once again chasing Sasuke. Huh... That somehow seemed like it was supposed to be a little less insulting. Naruto pushed it out of his mind and headed for Ichiraku hoping to fill up on some more of the prized ramen as this morning he had not had enough. He walked slowly to the stand as there was plenty of time and not much need to push himself.

Feeling a pair of eyes on him, Naruto decided to cut through an alley that wasn't used too often to see if maybe the follower would back off. As he walked he felt once again the eyes, and sighed to himself. He didn't want to have to deal with some stupid villager with a grudge. Taking another corner he created a clone to walk ahead before he hid himself by using a transformation to turn himself into a beat up old box. The clone worked perfectly and Naruto saw it was Hinata following after the clone.

What's with that girl? Dropping the henge when she had made a good amount of distance he left the clone he had made to talk to her. Every other time he had tried speaking to her she had ended up feinting and not saying a word but now that she knew he had the Kyuubi, he wanted to know if she was keeping tabs on him for her father. An older Hyuga would have looked suspicious following him around but one of his 'friends' wouldn't.

That reminded him... He had to get around to that seal for Ino. He knew what he needed to make up the inner workings of it, but he still needed to iron out the details. Time and place I guess. Finally reaching his destination, Naruto pulled aside the cloth entrance and came face to face with Iruka.

"Hey Naruto! Finally caught you at a free moment. Want that bowl I promised you a ways back?" Iruka smiled at Naruto and Naruto tried to push down the memory that last time someone had seemed so caring and he had meant to meet them at Ichiraku, he had ended up betrayed.

"Hey... Iruka-sensei. Um, I guess... Ya. Free bowl right?" Naruto forced a grin as he sat at his usual seat and Teuchi rolled out a bowl of Naruto's usual order. Teuchi even offered a smile as Naruto brought out all the used bowls and gave something of an apology for not bringing them back clean. Teuchi smile didn't falter and he simply waved of the apology with a "No worries Naruto, Ayame can handle a few bowls," before going into the back to cook up more ramen.

"So Naruto, how are things with your new team? I've seen you all over the place with them. You must be becoming great friends." Iruka smiled as he broke his chopsticks and took the first bite of the ramen. Ya... Great friends. The replay of Sasuke stalking off and Sakura following like a dog at it's master's heels went through his mind. He only wants to fight me, and she wants nothing more than to be alone with Uchiha. Great friends alright.

"Hey Naruto, you okay?" Naruto broke out of his thoughts and gave a small smile to Iruka before replying.

"Ya, fine. Just fine." He broke his chopsticks and proceeded to dig into his ramen, not convincing Iruka at all that he was in any way fine.

"Naruto, you know you can always talk to me right? I'm one of your friends." Iruka couldn't be sure but he thought he had seen a dark look flash over Naruto at the last bit.

"Ya... One of my friends. I'll keep that in mind." Naruto finished the bowl of ramen and put it on the counter. Can I leave now or is there a point to this 'friend'?

"Alright Naruto, what's wrong? I've never seen you hesitate on a bowl of ramen, and now you haven't asked for seconds. Who are you and what have you done with the real Naruto?" Iruka tried to play off his words with a little joke but he had never seen Naruto look so spiteful when he had a bowl of ramen in front of him or in his belly.

"Nothing. Just remembering what was said here the last time I showed up for ramen with some 'friends'. Look, I've got to go. Later Iruka-sensei." Naruto didn't bother waiting for Iruka to say something as he turned on his chair and was half way out before he finished his goodbye. Moving quickly he took to the rooftops, heading back to his apartment. He had to check and see what had spoiled and what hadn't.

His clone's memories came to him mid jump on his way home and he couldn't help but bitterly laugh. Today was turning out to be getting better and better.

He could tell Hinata was stalking behind him, so he started heading to the park. Wide grounds, very little cover. Either she would talk to him and he could find out what she wanted or she would leave him alone, either way was fine in his book. It didn't take long at the pace he set for them to be at the park, and he strolled out into the middle of it and waited for her to decide to leave, or follow.

She hesitated at the edge of the park, but worked up enough courage to follow after him. She still hid behind trees but with her speed, he could easily keep track of her. When she had made it as far as the sparse landscaping allowed he once again saw her have some form of internal struggle before she started walking towards him.

I guess she has something to say. Wonder if she'll pass out again talking to me. She stopped a good ten feet away and seemed once again to be locked in some kind of internal battle. "Hey, Hinata. If you have something to say hurry up. I haven't got all night." She let out an eep as if she had been caught doing something embarrassing and her face started turning a deep shade of red. She paused another moment before walking out towards him.

"H-h-hello, N-n-naruto." She stuttered over her words and she couldn't seem to make eye contact with him. Guilty about something or scared the monster is going to attack you? "I was just... I mean, I was... Well, I-"

"Spit it out Hinata." Naruto's voice was cold and she flinched at his tone. "If you've got something to say, just say it." He wasn't in the mood for games, and Hinata seemed about ready to have a heart attack. He figured either she would either say what she wanted or have a clot from all the blood that raced to her cheeks.

"I'm sorry. I was j-j-just wondering... Where were you? All I've seen of you have been clones that pop out of existence w-w-when I try and talk to them..." Hinata looked to the floor and poked her finger tips together, somehow managing to darken another shade.

"I've been training." The clone turned to leave as it believed the conversation to be over. As he made to step away he suddenly felt his coat either snag on something or had been grabbed by Hinata.

"Wait! There's something else... I... I don't care about the Kyuubi... I still... I want to be your friend." Her voice was hardly more than a whisper as she finished but she did manage to get her words across.

"My friend huh?" Turning around to face her, he saw that she was probably only a few seconds from feinting and the darkest shade of red he had ever seen a person become. "Shikamaru convince you to for the 'good of the village'? Why be friends with a demon?" She shook her head at the first remark, and her voice caught as she tried to give an answer to him. She collected herself and some of the blood fell away from her cheeks before she worked up the courage to speak again.

"You aren't a demon... You just have the Kyuubi. You're not a killer or a monster!" She said it with conviction and even managed to look up at him. She tried to hold eye contact but after a mere moment she dropped her gaze again and began to play with her fingers again. "You're not..."

"I am a killer." She looked at him with shock and he continued, smiling as he spoke. "I went on a basic mission while in the academy because the festival for the 'Slaying of the Kyuubi' was coming up and I didn't want to be here. I went out with... Someone, and all we had to do was catch a thief. Not long enough for me to miss much at the academy, but just long enough to skip the worst of what could have happened. We found him, and he tried to stab me. On reflex I caught his wrist and disarmed him."

"But you... Why? How?" Hinata was in shock at his words, as she had never believed the rumors she had heard that he was a killer. That he was a murderer... A monster, something to be hated and scorned. But here she was listening to a story about how he killed someone, and he was telling it with a smile.

"He was then incapacitated and my companion gave me the same knife he tried to stab me with. They told me to take his life. I brought it up to his throat and hesitated because I was scared, terrified that all those things the villagers said would be made true if I did kill him. I couldn't bring myself to end another life." Naruto gave a dramatic pause before his smile widened and he continued. "That was until he said something that made me snap."

"W-w-what... What did he s-s-say?"

"He laughed and said he probably would have been rewarded if he had actually killed me. Leaf-nin or student if only he had actually managed to finish me off. Then he laughed, like how the villagers laughed after they said just about the same thing. I slit his throat without hesitation after that. I realized something, I may not be the demon Kyuubi, but I am the demon they made me. The monster the villagers keep poking and prodding. I may not be the monster they think I am, but I am the monster they created."

"You're not a monster!" Hinata's words caught the clone off guard as he had expected her to just take off after that small revelation. "You're not..."

"I am what I am Hinata. Get used to it, and don't bother with the friends facade. I already heard Shikamaru talking about how he had to convince you all to pretend so I don't go crazy. I'm not going to destroy the village. So just stop trying."

"That's not why-" Hinata's words were cut off as the clone dispersed and left her alone in the park. She was proud of herself for being able to talk to Naruto, but somehow it had all gone wrong, from bad to worse to completely and utterly horrble. She had tears in her eyes as she started walking back to the Hyuga compound alone, and finally understanding why Naruto chose to be alone at the academy every day all those years.

Another friend. Who needs enemies when you've got friends like mine? The truth was though that the actual memory had been so much worse in his mind than he had explained to Hinata. He knew he had blatantly lied about some of it but he didn't care. He didn't want to talk about what had really happened...


It was a cold day and he and Anko had headed out on a routine mission. He had begged her to be allowed to come along and had sworn, cross his heart and hope to die, he wouldn't tell the Hokage if she let him come along. She smiled at that and after a little more persuading she agreed. He was so excited he almost jumped into the air, but he settled for hugging her before taking off to gather his gear.

"This is a simple bag 'n tag, alright gaki? We go in, BAG the perp, take him to the sheriff of some spot that has a few more people than buildings, and get him to TAG the contract. Got it?" Naruto nodded his head, an enthusiastic grin plastered to his face.

It wouldn't stay there through that whole day.

The day passed Naruto's memories in a blur, and suddenly he was back in that too dark room. They had found the thief simple enough but it had turned out to be a group of thieves and they had gotten the jump on Naruto as he had run ahead to 'scout' for Anko. A lone ninja of his caliber was simply not enough to handle the bandits and so he had been hit with something then everything had gone black.

Then he had opened his eyes and found himself still looking at inky blackness. His eyes slowly came into focus and what he had taken for darkness was instead just the inside of a blindfold.

"This kid's got ninja tools. He must be an academy brat coming out here alone to teach us big bad bandits a thing or two." The sound of laughter exploded in front of Naruto and he couldn't help but wince. "Oi, the kid is awake. If one of you would be so kind?" Another hard smash to his head and a blackness darker than the fabric embraced him again.

Coming too for the second time, Naruto realized two things. He had a severe headache more akin to a full-bottle-of-sake hangover than a headache, and he didn't have a blindfold on anymore.

"So princess if finally waking up again?" Naruto's eyes searched the small room, but the headache and his unfocused eyes saw nothing for a moment. "It's okay princess, we won't hurt you... Much. Now tell us, do you have a rich set of folks? We better like the answer or you won't like our response." His eyes finally came into focus and he could identify the man in front of him. He looked exactly like the sketch Anko had had.

"I'm an orphan." He knew he was playing a dangerous game telling them the truth, but with the pain in his head, he couldn't come up with a convincing lie.

"Ah, guess you'll be dying like mommy and daddy then brat." The bandit stood up and pulled a large knife from his belt.

"Not man enough to take on a kid? Got to have too buddies to knock him out and tie him up before you can get close? You must be a shitty bandit." Naruto knew his words would stop the man for a second, and he prayed to Kami that he was as stupid as he looked.

"The hell did you just say?" The bandit said it lightly, but was clearly holding his anger in check.

"I'm sorry, let me speak slower for your stupid self then. You... Are... A... Shitty... Baaaaaandit. Slow enough for ya or do I need to go over it again?" Life or death time... It's up to how this guy responds. Naruto's thoughts were sporadic but this was the one he had remembered most clearly after the incident.

"Untie him."

"But boss, it's just a kid. Slit his throat and be-"

"I said... Fucking UNTIE him! I don't give a shit if he's a kid. He's insulted me now, and I'm going to have fun beating him to pulp and watching that smart ass attitude of his go away." Naruto hadn't turned around earlier but when he heard the second voice he had immediately followed it. Two grunts stood in the same corner probably debating if they should be the one's to untie the bosses new punching bag. One of them lost the silent war and gave a sigh, leaning forward to cut Naruto loose.

"There. Kid's out." He took a step back after the ropes fell and Naruto stood. He could barely up to the men's waists but he stared down the leader not betraying the fear that was trying to make both his legs into jelly and his hands shake like an earthquake had hit.

"Good. Ready to die kid?"

"Going to talk me to death or fight me like a man?" Naruto hadn't seen the punch coming as the man simply jutted it forward and knocked Naruto flat on his ass.

"Heh, tough talk from a weak kid." Getting back up took him a few moments but when he managed it, he simply spit some of the blood that was pooling in his mouth and smiled.

"You hit like a bitch." Another punch, this time to Naruto's jaw. Again, he got up and spat a goblet of blood out. "Thanks for that massage, when does the fight-" A kick to the ribs knocking him out the door and into a little clearing. Landing on his back, he tried to turn his tumble into a roll but simply managed to make it so he landed on his belly.

"Going to keep talking tough or have you had enough brat?" The leader of three stood in the doorway.

"Is it just me or did you get three times as ugly with only twice the light?" The man jumped down beside Naruto, but this time he rolled away. His healing had already started pumping through his system and he supposed that he would be fine if he could avoid getting hit for another couple of minutes. "Nope, it was just me. You're WAY uglier than that mugshot I saw in town."

"I'm going to kill you you damned pest!" Taking the knife from his belt again he charged Naruto and only found open air. "What the hell?"

"Sorry but you kill about as good as you look. Not very." His jabs were getting less creative but he didn't know how else to keep the man on the offensive. He just needed a little more time to heal and he would be able to handle one bandit. The other two he could deal with later.

"Fucking BRAT!" Another reckless charge and attack but this one ended with it followed by Naruto diving under the leader's legs and tripping him. He gave a grunt of pain as he caught himself on his hands and he dropped the knife. Leaning in to his ear to whisper, Naruto tried to take the leaders attention from reclaiming the knife to attacking the boy again.

"Shitty bandit." Worked very well surprisingly. Sadly, it did surprise Naruto who ended up being headbutt by the bandit. "Ah, son of a bitch!" The headache was coming back with a vengeance... The fist did to. Hitting him in a wicked uppercut Naruto went straight into the air and back a foot or so landing flat. The wind was knocked out of him and he hesitated to move.

Slamming a boot down on Naruto's belly the leader wore a triumphant smile that jeered down at the boy. "Come on punk, say something smart I dare you!"

"I would but I'm the only one here that would get it." The boot stomped hard on his ribs and Naruto gasped in pain.


"Did you know that from this perspective you kinda like a monkey, which is a big improvement over-" Again the boot came down, but this time Naruto heard a crack. A rib? Please not my spine... "If I had a dog half as ugly as you, I'd make it wear a mask and teach it to walk backwards." Somewhere deep down, Naruto thought it was his last joke and smiled. It was one Anko had taught him. She had taught him a lot over the years they had been together. He closed his eyes as the boot rose off his chest and went higher and higher.

He waited for the pain of his ribs being broken, of puncturing his internal organs. The pain of a slow death as he bled from the inside. The pain of... Was he just being overly dramatic as he waited to kill Naruto? For the boy's eyes to open so he can watch the light leave them? Then he heard a whimper of fear and the bandit take a step back. Curiosity easily being one of the strongest factors, he opened his eyes.

Standing over him was no longer the bandit. He had taken a step back with unequaled amounts of despair and fear in his eyes. He was staring at something just behind Naruto, but his position made it too awkward for him to look back and confirm what the hissing he was hearing was. Although he had a relatively good idea just what it was.

"May I eat them Mistress?"

"Yes. But I want them to stay alive. Take your pound of flesh, but do not take his life."

"If I may Anko?" Coughing hard and trying not to choke on the blood that was pooling in his mouth and throat he spoke again. "There's two more in the shed if they didn't run away." Laying still Naruto could feel the rib pull out of his lung and he could breath easier, even with the blood still pooling in his system.

"Gaki, I expected you to do better than this. I'm a little disappointed."

"Sorry, I guess I got a little caught up in insulting him that I forgot it was still a fight." Naruto smiled back at her, able to shift himself into a sitting position. The man he had just been fighting found the will to move that instant and he took off in an attempt to outrun the snakes. With his futile try at escape exciting the snakes Anko let them take after him and his buddies telling them one last time, "I want them ALIVE." She emphasized the last word and knew they understood when they took off.

They would listen. They always did when she gave them direct orders. Walking over to Naruto she sat down next to him and did something he didn't expect. She gave him a light smack on his shoulder. "Ow, that hurt Anko! What the-" She shut him up with a tight hug that seemed to more for her benefit than his.

"Gaki, this never happened." She was still holding him tightly and he wasn't sure but she seemed to be gripping him tighter. He wasn't sure if she meant the hug or him being on the mission, but he just simply nodded and she seemed to accept that as an acceptable answer. "Okay, good. And since there were two unclaimed idiots out here, I have something special for you."


"Yes Naruto, I'm giving you a chance at your first two kills. You have to pick one of them at least and the other will be put down by the snakes. You can get rid of both of them if you want, but we got to take the ring leader back for trial." She had let go of him and was looking him over, as if giving him an examination with just her eyes.

"But... I don't want to kill someone... I can't do that Anko... I can't!" Naruto looked into her eyes and saw a sadness there, one so deep and so rooted in her Naruto knew it wasn't going to ever really go away.

"We all do Naruto... We all want to stay innocent and pure but one day the piper comes to collect and it's you or them... And if you freeze... It'll be you. If you do it now you won't have that freeze up, that tension. It's best if the first is a scumbag at least. That's what I hope..." She whispered the last part to herself and Naruto almost hadn't caught it, but thought better of asking her to repeat it. Instead they waited in silence for the snakes to finish and bring the lambs to slaughter.

Anko had been both right and wrong about the act of killing in Naruto's eyes. She was right that it was something he would have to do eventually, he was a ninja after all. A dangerous profession with a dog eat dog attitude. But she was wrong that killing these men would be easier. He had contemplated killing of course. During the course of beatings, being insulted constantly in public, and after having his home broken into. Those thoughts had been filled with hate, malice, and intent but when it came time to act...

Now his hands were shaking. He was trying to envision one of the villagers he hated the most as one of the two men kneeling before him, but his mind wouldn't give him the delusion. It insisted that this moment be as real as possible. Everything about the men was in sharp detail, from the stubble that was on their chins, to the way they looked bound, beaten, and bitten...

That was the worst part in his mind. They had experienced a similar pain to Naruto's and he wanted to let them go, but he knew Anko wouldn't allow it. He had to follow through if he wanted to become a true ninja... He had to! ...Right...? Naruto wasn't sure and that hesitation stayed his blade. He was holding the discarded knife, the very one that had nearly ended him and he JUST couldn't got through with it!

He stared into the man's eyes and his shaking got worse. The blade almost fell from his hand it was shaking so bad and in the end, that's what had done it. He had been such a coward his shaking had ended up cutting the man's veins open on his neck. It had been a complete accident and somehow that made it worse. The man was slowly starting to bleed to death, and it was his fault. His... This man's blood was literally on his hands.

Naruto couldn't keep his stomach from churning and ran to the edge of the woods before he threw up. He had just made it so a man's life was going to end today... And he threw up again as the thought struck his mind. He gagged, unable to get the image of the man looking at him as his shaking hand had accidentally pressed too deep when Naruto had tried to straighten it. He couldn't accept that he had done it... He hadn't... He hadn't meant to kill the man... Just stop that damned shaking. That fear... or was it excitement?

Naruto was immediately sick again at the thought. No... He wasn't a monster, he didn't like killing... He hadn't meant to! ...But he had... And... And he was realizing something else... As much as he hated doing it... He didn't regret it. He hated the act but somehow, it didn't feel as WRONG as he thought it should. He had taken a life but it was turning into something else... He had ended a monster... One that had attacked people and done wrongs. One that chose to be a monster instead of a man and had lost it's life for that reason.

Looking at the other ma... No, the other monster he decided he had to do it right. He had to get rid of a monster with his own intent this time. Again a voice screamed at the back of his mind that it was wrong but it was slowly drowned out by a kind of haze in Naruto's mind. Walking back to the one that had bled out, he didn't bother checking for a pulse.

Not breathing, not alive (I killed him... It's my fault). Simple as that. He took the head of the second one and looked him in the eyes, much the way he had looked at his first, and accidental, kill . This time though, his grip became tighter on the hilt of the dagger and he raised it to the man's neck. There was a spark of understanding between the boy and the man, the man (not a man, a monster) knew he was about to die (monsters die, will someone kill me?).

The boy knew the man (monster) would've begged for his life if he had not had his tongue bitten out by a snake, but his eyes still begged for him. Naruto suddenly understood why some of the elders in the village called the eyes, 'The windows into the soul.' When he cut, he saw the light fade from the eyes of the monster (he's a man and I just... I...) before him, but this time he kept from gagging, barely, and watched the light go. He had let go of the man (monster, monsters are what you kill) and he fell on his side, blood pooling around him and soaking the ground (Man and monsters share blood, red...).

Anko remained silent through the entire ordeal and once it was complete she walked to him. When she stood beside him, she hesitated for a minute, maybe more as Naruto hadn't kept track, his mind too busy with other thoughts. Then she hugged him to her, and Naruto started to cry in earnest unable to hold back the flow of tears...

A day later they were back in the village and the mission was complete. Anko didn't bring up his first kills and neither did he. He still even had the knife... A trophy? A guilty reminder? Naruto wasn't sure, but he knew he wasn't going to just get rid of that survival knife. It had spilled blood for him, and he felt it deserved better than to be forgotten and wasted.

So he had kept it as a grim reminder of what he had done, and what he one day might need to do again...

End Flashback

The bitter smile was still plastered on his face when he walked into his home and found it in more or less the condition he expected. What little he owned had been scattered, broken, or destroyed. Home sweet home... Naruto had figured the village would do what it always did and attack his things when he was out but this had been one of the few times they had taken it so far.

He was used to the sight and so didn't give it much thought, simply casting it aside as something to be dealt with later. Walking into the kitchen Naruto saw that they had taken everything from the fridge and scattered it over the floors, and if the rot was anything to go by it wasn't a recent event. Without bothering to clean any of it he turned around and went to the bedroom. This was going to be the last visit he ever made here. Naruto was sure of it.

He walked into the bedroom, surveying the damages, and looking for anything that might be the least bit salvageable. The mess splayed out over the entirety of the room made it hard to decide but Naruto figured there was nothing worth keeping anymore. That is until a small picture frame caught his eye. The glass had been shattered out of it, but the picture seemed no worse for wear. Just a little dusty. Walking over to it, Naruto pulled it out of the frame and looked it over more carefully.

It was one of his most treasured possessions. Naruto had kept that picture ever since the day it had been taken, usually in a protected spot in his bag but this time around he had been to preoccupied to remember. Taking it Naruto looked at the picture, and a tear fell. Scratched into the photo in ink as if by a child, horns and a tail were coming from Naruto, and a snake's tongue and eyes were placed on Anko. At the bottom written in neat printed characters was the message, "The Brat and the Snake. The worst part of Konoha!"

The worst part... The worst part of this crappy village? Naruto didn't cry the single tear over the picture or even the message. No it was something more personal than that. He had endured the most horrifying treatment at the hands of this village, he had contemplated killing himself, even jumped. But it wasn't the 'best of Konoha' that saved him. No, it had been Anko.

When he had been beaten in public, attacked in private, or verbally abused it had always been the 'best of Konoha'. They had demonized him, attacked him, and abused him. That was the legacy of the best this village had to offer.

When he had needed someone, Anko had been there. Countless times when he had been on the edge and needing only a push for it to all come crashing down... She would gently reach out to him and pull him to safety. Yet they called her the worst... They who were demons that had plagued his life and she was the angel that had saved it.

Taking the photo, he deemed it the only thing he would need. He left the apartment complex and left a note for the landlady that as his room had had a break in, he no longer felt the need for lodging there. She could rent the room to anyone else she wanted. He still had the photo clutched tightly in his hand as he walked away, heading for the Hokage's office.

The door to the administrative building that housed the Hokage's office was not a far walk but by the time Naruto had arrived, the sun was well into setting, and he wondered if Anko had been serious about him returning before nightfall. Probably. I'll find out when I go back or she drags me back. Either way works. Walking up the stairs to the office, Naruto put his hand in his pocket and hid the photo.

He didn't know why he did it but he didn't want the Hokage seeing it just yet. As he reached the top of the stairs, he was surprised to see the Hokage standing before the doors locking them up for the day.

"Oh, Naruto. How are you doing? Or is this just one of the many clones you've been taking over the library?" The Hokage smiled thinking it to be just another clone.

"No Hokage-sama. It's me. I have a favor to ask you..." Naruto gripped the photo tighter in his pocket and tried to figure out what it was he really wanted as his favor. The criminals to be punished? The council would get them off. Compensation for the apartment? He had more than enough to fix it all himself.

"Yes Naruto? What can I do for you?" Possible favors rained down and Naruto rejected them all in his mind, until he found one that seemed a bit more promising.

"I want to leave the village." The Hokage seemed about to say something and Naruto clarified his meaning. "A mission, anywhere but here..."

"Naruto you can't just ask to go somewhere. Your genin team is relying on you to help them with D-ranks and to train with them. I'm sure your friends would miss you too."

"Then send me on a mission with them. Anything! Just please let me get out of here..." Naruto whispered the last part and with a sadness he didn't know it would cause, lifted out the little photo and handed it to the Hokage before the man could answer. He took it and immediately recognized it as the photo Naruto kept in his home and saw its condition.

"Alright Naruto... I have a few options. How far would you like to go?" Naruto's eyes rose to the Hokage's and he registered the sadness that was there. It was well hidden, but his eyes always betrayed his real emotions. The Hokage saw the same pain in the boy's eyes as he was sure where in his and understood it. As far away as I can go. "Your team has a mission in the morning Naruto. Pack for a long trip."

Naruto smiled a little and didn't ask for the photo back. He simply smiled and nodded his head. Naruto then spun around and rushed back out of the building leaving the Hokage standing alone, the hand holding the photo shaking with anger and the other clenched tightly around the key to his office.

The Sandaime had been truly angry only a few times in his life, but he was going to find out exactly who had destroyed the boys home. Council be damned, that person or those people were going to pay hell for what they had done. Naruto may not call him Jiji anymore, but he still considered the boy family.

Turning back to his office he opened it back up and went to work completing the necessary paperwork.

Wave... I truly hope he can find a little peace there.

AN: Sorry I took forever getting this all typed up but college and work have been hitting me pretty hard with crap to do so the fanfiction kind of took a backseat for a little while. As you can tell the next chapter is going to be the wave arc and before I get the same "Sticking to Cannon" reviews, yes they are going to wave, yes they are escorting him, no things will not be the same. Things will be different just wait. Sorry this chapter is more filler than anything else but had to give you guys something, especially after taking all this time.

I'll do my best to get the next Chapter out faster but no promises. Don't really feel like lying and saying I am going to keep to a regular update schedule.