An hour after leaving Shizune's room Naruto and Tsunade stood in the training field once again. "Whenever you're ready," Tsunade said as she climbed into the tree next to her so she could watch from a safer vantage point.
Naruto nodded. "Yeah." The chakra glowed around him again. It reached the same height as before, only this time it stayed stable for a little longer before Naruto stopped. A very small pulse escaped his body, but nothing Tsunade needed to worry about.
Tsunade smiled. "Much better... Again!"
Sakura sat on the front steps of her home. She was lost in thought. Sasuke had warmed up to her considerably since Naruto brought him back to the Leaf, but he still wouldn't respond to her advances. "What if he never accepts me?" she thought in despair. She put her head in her arms in sadness.
"Sakura-san?" said a familiar male voice.
Sakura looked up to see Rock Lee looking down at her with a concerned face. "Hi, Lee-kun."
"Are you okay?"
"Nothing you can help with," Sakura said as she wiped away the tears she hadn't realized were there.
Lee frowned. He knew exactly what bothering her. "Damn you, Sasuke. Why must you make my goddess cry?" He suddenly felt the need to do at least something. He put a firm, yet loving, hand on Sakura's shoulder. "Sakura-san. Wait here. I'll be right back!" he said as he disappeared.
Sakura stared at the spot he had previously occupied in confusion. "What the...?"Lee jumped from rooftop to rooftop, looking for his quarry. "Even if this hurts me, I must help her." he thought with determination.Sasuke kicked the tree for the fiftieth time. Each time his inspiration for the kick alternated between Orochimaru and Itachi's faces. The tree was beginning to groan under the strain as the base became thinner and thinner with each kick. Suddenly, there was a green blur and his kick was stopped in mid-air.
"Uchiha Sasuke. I must speak with you," Lee said with a glare as he dropped Sasuke's foot.
Sasuke glared back. Not because Lee was glaring, but because his training was interrupted. "What is it, Rock? I don't have time for this."
"It's about Sakura-san."
Sasuke sighed and lowered his head. "Fine...talk."
"Do you know she loves you?" Lee asked.
"Of course I do. And she told me as much before I left," Sasuke said as he sat down with his back against the tree.
"Why do you push her away then? Do you understand how lucky you are to have such a wonderful girl want you?" Lee lowered his eyes. "I only wish I was that lucky," he said sadly.
Sasuke sighed in frustration. "You want the truth? I don't want anyone right now. Until I kill Itachi, a relationship just wouldn't be worth it, because I don't care if I die fighting him. And besides that...I could never see her that way. She's just a good friend. But if I tell her that, it will kill her."
"She needs to know the truth," Lee said firmly.
Sasuke shook his head. "I think right now it's best if she thinks she still has a chance with me, until she finds someone else. It's less painful that way."
"So...you don't mind if I pursue her then?" Lee asked carefully.
Sasuke smirked ruefully. "Do as you like."
A bush behind the two boys rustled. Just as they looked behind them a splash of pink disappeared though the trees. They looked at each other. "Sakura..." they said in unison before running off after her.
"Sakura! " Sasuke called.
"Sakura-san! Stop!" Lee yelled. "Damn it. She's already got four second head start! Which way did she go?" he thought as he turned his head in different directions, looking for her.
Sakura ignored the stinging of the whip-like branches as they made red marks across her face. She couldn't think. She just had to get away.
"Sakura-san, please!" Lee yelled with desperation while fumbled with his leg warmers as he ran, trying to get them off so he could remove his weights.
Sakura could hear nothing but the pounding of the blood in her veins. "Stupid. I'm so STUPID!" she screamed inside her mind.
Lee got sick of wasting time. He took out his kunai and sliced off both his legwarmers and his weights, cutting his bodysuit and scratching his skin in the process.
Sasuke had to shield his eyes from the dirt and debris that Lee kicked up as he ran at top speed. "Good luck, Lee," Sasuke thought as he halted his pursuit.
Sakura's head start had only delayed the inevitable. Lee saw her to his right. "There!" he thought. He caught up to her and grabbed her wrist.
"LET ME GO!" Sakura screamed at the black-haired ninja.
"Sakura! Please, calm down!" Lee begged as he grabbed the other wrist to keep her from flailing her arms.
"Leave me alone!" the pink haired kunoichi raged.
"Please!" Lee said as he lowered his gaze. "I don't want you to hurt yourself!"
Sakura stopped struggling immediately. "Lee-kun...I would never hurt myself," Sakura said firmly.
Lee sighed in relief and released Sakura's wrists. "Thank goodness."
"I'm glad you care about me so much...but I just want to be alone right now," Sakura said in a choked voice.
Lee blew out a frustrated puff of air from his nose. "Alright. But, if you need someone to talk to..."
Sakura nodded and Lee left. "Thank you...Lee-kun"
The last bit of chakra dissipated, this time leaving no shockwave. Tsunade jumped down from her perch in the tree. "Excellent, Naruto!" she said, clapping her hands in approval.
Naruto's face broke out into a foxy grin. "Thanks, Granny Tsunade."
Tsunade ignored the jibe at her age. She had gotten used to it in the week Naruto had been there. And, she had noticed, that he said it less often now that it didn't bother her as much. "I think you're finally ready to start on the obstacle course," she said with an approving smile.
Naruto's eyes instantly lit up. He looked positively insane with glee. "Really!"
"Really," Tsunade replied.
Naruto clenched both his fists in front of his face in excitement. "Yes!" he said with a grin.
Tsunade's face became serious. "Don't get carried away. This course was not designed for gennin. If you don't take it seriously, you will wind up back in the hospital."
Naruto grimaced, but his foxy grin returned quickly. "Don't worry about me, Granny! I can handle it!" he said with confidence.
Tsunade folded her arms and smiled. "We'll see." She walked over to the course. Naruto followed, barely able to stop himself from running ahead. She stopped in front of a wooden platform raised ten feet off the ground. "This is the starting point," she barely got out before Naruto jumped up onto the platform. She eh hemmed. "Please pay attention, Naruto."
Naruto nodded fervently as his eyes darted all about, taking in the different aspects of the course. "Just tell me when I can start."
Tsunade rolled her eyes and shook her head. "Alright. First we have your basic zipline," she said, waving a hand toward the long, inclined rope in front of her student.
Naruto looked dejected. "A zipline! I used those in the academy!"
Tsunade smiled. "Yes. But did the ziplines in the academy do this?"she said as she pulled a lever in front of her. Suddenly, the ground under the zipline came alive with extremely wide logs moving in a piston-like fashion, threatening to pound the life out of whoever tried to pass them.
Naruto grinned. "Now that's more like it!" he said as he cracked his knuckles.
"Now, I'm not going to show you everything on the course in advance so you will need to be suspicious of everything. Don't let your guard down. Even if you think the course is over," Tsunade said warningly.
"I got it," Naruto said with a nod.
Tsunade raised her arm. "Ready...BEGIN!" she said as she brought her arm down in a cutting motion.
Naruto took a running leap and grabbed onto the zipline's handle. Tsunade pulled the lever and the logs began to jut upwards. As he was moving he realized, to his horror, that the logs didn't stop at a low enough height to allow him to pull his body over them. A log came up under him and the force of it shot him into the air like an undignified sack of potatoes.
Tsunade rushed under the falling boy and caught him. She set him down. "Are you alright?" she asked.
"ALRIGHT!" Naruto yelled indignantly. "What the hell is that!" he said as he pointed toward the zipline.
Tsunade cocked an amused eyebrow. "A zipline?"
Naruto was extremely irritated. "There's no way in hell to get past those things!" he raged.
"You have to find a way. Be creative," Tsunade said, ignoring Naruto's rant. Naruto made an indignant growl. She grinned. "Are you going to give up?"
"Hell no!" Naruto said confidently.
Tsunade smiled. "Alright then." She pointed to a picnic table twenty three feet away that had a book laying on it. "I'll be over here if you need me," she said as she walked to the table.
As soon as Tsunade's back was turned Naruto's grin disappeared and he glared at his new found foe. "Alright," he said as he jumped up on the platform. He stared at the zipline for a moment. "Dammit. She's just as sadistic as Ero-sennin," he thought in irritation. He jumped up and started down the zipline, only to come to the same end as before. "DAMMIT!" he yelled in frustration and pain.
As Tsunade read her book a maid brought her a glass of juice. She heard Naruto cursing the zipline and laughed. She then noticed the glass that had been set down in front of her and frowned. "Yamiko," she said to the maid. "I asked for sake."
Yamiko bowed. "I'm sorry, Tsunade-sama. Shizune-san told me bring you juice instead."
Tsunade tensed in annoyance. She curled her right hand into a fist. "That interfering little..."
Yamiko knew where this was going. "Excuse me, Tsunade-sama. I have other duties to attend to," she said as she bowed and hurried away.
Naruto tried dodging to the side, but the logs were so big around that it was useless. Finally, he sat on the platform, gasping for breath. "Damn it. How the hell do I...?" Suddenly, Naruto stood up. He stared at the zipline for a second more then nodded in affirmation. He brought his hands together into a chakra molding seal. His hands began to glow. He looked at them and smiled. "Alright!"
Naruto jumped onto the zipline. As the dizzying speed brought him close to the first log he used the chakra to stop the handle's movement. Once the log went down he began moving again. He continued this all the way down the line until he jumped triumphantly onto the end platform. He began jumping up and down, punching the air. "WHOOOOOOOO! YA HAAAAAAA!"
Tsunade heard Naruto's yelling and looked up. As soon she saw him jumping around on the platform she grinned. She knew exactly how he had beat it. She stood and walked over to the hyperactive Gennin. "I knew you could do it, brat," she said with a grin as she reached him.
Naruto flipped off the platform and landed perfectly in front of the Fifth. "What's next!" he said excitedly.
Tsunade grimaced. "Home," she said with a yawn.
Naruto looked completely deflated. "But..."
"Naruto. You passed a pretty tough chakra control test. I think that's enough for today. Besides," She looked to the sky, "It's getting too dark to see what you're doing." She put a hand on the boy's shoulder. "I'm proud of you, Naruto"
Naruto smiled widely. "Thanks, Granny."
"When are you going to stop calling me that?" Tsunade asked with a frown.
Naruto simply grinned evilly at Tsunade. She sighed and began to walk toward the house. Naruto followed.
As they walked Naruto looked back at the training field. "I can't wait till tomorrow!"
...TO BE CONTINUED