So as you all probably know, shinobi, as well as techniques, in the Naruto world are ranked from E to S, E being academy level, and S usually meaning kage level and above. I've decided to include an AN at the end of each chapter regarding the rank of any techniques that were used (if they haven't been introduced yet), as well as where the relevant ninja in the chapter are ranked (if they have displayed their prowess in the chapter). With that said, I won't reveal a character's strength right off the bat if I want it to be a surprise.

Enjoy the chapter.

Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto.

Chapter IX: Escort to the Land of Waves

Team 7 stood at attention in the Hokage's office, silently dreading another poor excuse for a mission. It was only their second week of active duty, but Naruto already looked like he would blow a fuse if they had to retrieve Tora again. What made it worse was that Kurano had left for his first A-rank mission the previous day. That alone wouldn't be cause for his to worry, but ever since his surrogate brother had taken the mission, he had been in a strange mood. Naruto couldn't quite get a reading on what that mood was, due to the mask he had in place, but he almost seemed resigned, like he wasn't looking forward to the mission for whatever reason, and he still refused to talk about what the mission would entail. That uncertainty, along with the blandness of Naruto's own missions was really starting to wear at his nerves.

"Now let's see," the Hokage began, "Team 7, we have a few more missions for you to choose from today. "There is babysitting an elder's grandson, shopping for supplies in a neighboring village, potato digging…" Collectively, Team 7 groaned inwardly as the list went on. Kakashi, although amused by their grumbling, decided to come to their rescue.

"Actually Hokage-sama, I believe they're ready for a C-rank mission at this time," he said, earning excited looks from his team, Naruto in particular.

"Ah, I see," the Hokage said with a smile.

"Are you sure, Kakashi?" Iruka spoke up from beside the old man's desk. "It's only been a week after all."

"I'm sure," Kakashi replied. "They're quite the team. Hot headed, sure, but I'm confident they can get the job done."

"In that case, we do have a client, a bridge builder, who has requested an escort to the Land of Waves. I was going to give this mission to a small squad of chunin, but if you feel they are ready...Tazuna-san, you may enter!"

An old man carrying a bottle of sake walked into the room and scowled as he caught sight of the team that was assigned to him.

"What's this? They're just a bunch of brats. How are they supposed to guard me? Especially the short one with the stupid looking face."

Naruto twitched. That just wasn't fair. He wasn't even that much shorter than Sakura. An inch or two maybe, but to be called the short one? He was already in a bad mood and this old man was dangerously close to the line.

"Hey brat! I'm talking to you! Are you really a ninja?"

Yep, that line had just come and gone. Unwittingly, Naruto's chakra levels spiked to that of a jounin, earning curious glances from everyone in the room who could detect it. The client that it was directed at immediately began sweating as Naruto glared at him.

"I'd answer you, but sadly you're my client," he muttered.

Kakashi sighed. "Like you said, Naruto, he is our client, so if you would kindly refrain from directing any killing intent towards him…"

Naruto blinked as he realized what he'd been doing. His chakra settled down, and he smiled at Kakashi. "Whoops, sorry sensei."

As the group filed out of the room, Tazuna released the breath he'd been holding. Man, that's one creepy kid…

As the four ninja and their client made their way out of the gates, Naruto realized that this was his first time actually leaving Konoha. Excitement welled up in him.

"Hey, Sensei?" Sakura spoke up. "Are there ninja in the Land of Waves?"

"Well, there's no ninja village," Kakashi answered. If there are ninja there, it's because they're not affiliated with one. Usually nothing to worry about in a small country like Wave. Unless of course, they're after something in particular, which is unlikely." As he was speaking, Tazuna seemed to tense up, which didn't escape Kakashi's notice. Curious.

After walking for a little while longer, they walked by a puddle, which Kakashi, already on the lookout for anything unusual, instantly took note of. It had been sunny for the passed few days. There shouldn't be a puddle, especially not out in the open. This complicated things.

As they continued walking, two figures rose from the puddle. Naruto's head perked up, sensing a small amount of killing intent coming from behind them.

"Watch out!" Naruto shouted, drawing a kunai. Sasuke was instantly on guard as well, but before they could act, the two figures had wrapped a serrated chain around Kakashi, causing the jounin's lone eye to widen. A second later, he was ripped to shreds.

"One down."

Sakura screamed as Tazuna stared in shock. While Sasuke recognized the signs of a substitution being used and kept calm, Naruto was so affected by the sight of his sensei dying that he didn't notice. Instantly, the killing intent permeating the air multiplied many times over as a look of rage manifested on the blonde's face. As the two enemy ninja appeared behind him, he jumped backwards over the chain and aimed a kunai at the closer one's head, which was blocked by his gauntlet.

The other ninja decided to ignore Naruto, realizing he wasn't as easy as a target as they'd originally assumed, and went straight for Tazuna. Sasuke and Sakura, now understanding who their target was, quickly acted. Sakura dashed in front of Tazuna with a kunai at the ready while Sasuke assaulted the shinobi, stopping him in his tracks.

The other one attempted to get passed Naruto to help kill the bridge builder, but Naruto made three shadow clones and went on the offensive with the Uzuken, scoring a few hits on him and forcing him back. Finally, he created an opening and stabbed the kunai into his abdomen, but he burst into water. Naruto caught sight of where he had appeared after the substitution and threw the kunai, which the other ninja got ready to block. Unfortunately for him, it multiplied into a dozen, which were all then propelled by a wind ninjutsu. Not expecting that level of ninjutsu from a kid, the ninja was soon littered with kunai, none of which hit any vital areas. Still, it was enough to render him a sitting duck while Naruto walked forward with another kunai in hand.

Meanwhile, Sasuke had managed to graze the other one with a fireball jutsu, rendering his arm useless, before knocking him out with a taijutsu combo. After making sure he was really unconscious, he turned towards the blonde.

"Hey, Naruto!" His teammate didn't seem to hear him though. He noticed that the blonde's hand was trembling as he grasped the kunai, aiming it at the downed shinobi in front of him. He seemed to be struggling with the decision of whether to use it or not.

"That'll be enough for now, Naruto," came a voice from behind him, breaking him out of his thoughts. Kakashi quickly appeared in front of the enemy shinobi and knocked him out with a chop to the neck. Naruto's eyes widened.

"Kakashi...sensei?" He looked back at where Kakashi's corpse had laid, noticing that it its place was a pile of broken wood. A substitution. I can't believe I didn't notice…

"If you weren't really dead, why did you let the kids fight?" Tazuna asked.

"Two reasons," Kakashi replied. "First, I wanted to see how they would do in my absence. I might add that they performed admirably, although Naruto, I would suggest not losing control of your emotions in the middle of a life or death situation. If I were to actually die, you would have much better chances of survival if you kept a cool head. The second that I wanted to figure out who their target was."

"What do you mean?" Tazuna asked, sweating a bit.

"I mean it's no coincidence that two missing Kiri nin were out this close to Konoha. I needed to confirm that you were their target, and as it turns out, I was right. So, care to explain? With other ninja after you, this is at least a B-rank mission now."

Tazuna sighed. "I'm sorry. It's true, I lied about the mission. But our country isn't able to afford a B-rank escort mission. I had no choice."

"If that was the case, you should have informed the Hokage. He probably could have worked something out. As it stands, we're operating outside of our mission directives."

"Does that mean we have to return to Konoha?" Sakura asked.

"Well, that would depend on you three. I've done these kinds of missions before, but not with a group of genin. It comes down to whether you three are willing to attempt this mission. I'll be here supervising, but we don't know what will happen. Danger is part of the life of a shinobi."

"You don't need to ask me. I'm not backing down just because the odds are stacked against us!" Naruto said enthusiastically, slipping back into his normal persona now that he knew Kakashi was ok.

"I have to agree with the dobe. We're never going to get stronger if we shy away from danger," Sasuke said.

Sakura looked nervous, but nodded. She didn't want to abandon their client for dead, after all.

"Well then, I guess that's settled," Kakashi said. "We'll just have to be on our guard from now on." He quickly sent a smoke signal for the Anbu who would be patrolling the village outskirts before they set off.

About a day passed without incident as the group neared the Land of Waves. Currently, they were being rowed across the water towards the docks of a small market village as Tazuna explained who was really after him,about Gato's underground criminal activities, and the bridge that he was building. Most of the economic stuff went over Naruto's head, but at the mention of the word "slaves," the blonde decided that this Gato guy really needed his ass kicked.

When they arrived at the village, Naruto was enthralled by the scenery. This wasn't nearly this much water in Konoha. But he supposed the should have gathered from the name that the Land of Waves would be surrounded by water. As they made their way towards their destination, Tazuna's home, Naruto got his sensei's attention with a tap to the shoulder. Kakashi looked at the boy questioningly. Naruto looked down. He seemed really uncomfortable and began to speak in a low voice so that the others wouldn't hear. Sasuke noticed and began to listen in anyway though.

"Sensei...when it looked like those guys killed you...for a minute I...I mean...I wanted to…" he trailed off and swallowed, leaving the statement in the air. "I've never felt like that before. Is there something wrong with me?"

Kakashi sighed. "No Naruto, there is nothing wrong with you at all. It's natural to feel that way on the battlefield sometimes, especially when someone you care about is lost. But it's important to know when to give in to that feeling and when not to."

"When to give into it?" Naruto asked with wide eyes.

Kakashi nodded. "Sometimes it's necessary for a shinobi to kill. It's in the job description. But knowing when it's necessary can be a difficult thing. They say the first kill is the hardest. After that, it becomes easier. But that in and of itself is dangerous. I would never want for you to become desensitized towards killing, or worse yet, to ever start to enjoy it. But just remember this. I will never fault you for killing an enemy if it means saving one of your comrades."

Naruto looked uncomfortable at the thought of killing, but merely nodded meekly. Up ahead, Sasuke closed his eyes as bitter memories resurfaced.

After another hour of walking, during which Kakashi warned his team that the next shinobi they encountered would most likely be a jounin, Naruto began looking around every now and again, as if he was looking for something, which caught Kakashi's observant eye. For the sake of being thorough, he checked for any chakra signatures in the area, but found nothing. Naruto was getting increasingly twitchy, however.

There's no killing intent. So why do I feel like we're being watched? the blonde thought.

"Is something wrong, Naruto?" Kakashi asked. The genin's brow furrowed.

"Something just," he answered. His eyes swept through the trees, before finally settling on a branch above them. At that moment, all hell broke loose.

"Get down!" Kakashi shouted, grabbing Tazuna and forcing him to the ground. The three genin reacted on instinct, throwing themselves underneath the path of the rather large sword that came spinning through the air, imbedding itself into a tree behind them. The group looked at the sword to see an intimidating figure standing on top of the blade with his back facing them. His head was turned towards Naruto, eyeing the genin with deadly intent that made the blonde swallow. Kakashi conspicuously moved in front of his student, and to his relief, the assailant's gaze moved towards the jounin.

"Kakashi Hatake," he spoke for the first time, revealing that even his voice was intimidating. This will be tough now that I've lost the element of surprise though. To think that brat actually sensed me. Most jounin can't sense me. And to make it worse, it seems as though he didn't even know what he was sensing. "Sorry, but I'll be killing that old man behind you. Mind simply stepping aside?"

"Zabuza Momochi," Kakashi acknowledged. "Everyone stay back. This one's out of your league." He's said to be a master of silent killing. No wonder I couldn't sense his chakra signature. And yet Naruto did. Could he possibly be…?

"Seems as if you're not just going to let me kill him. Oh well," Zabuza said emotionlessly.

"This could be tough, even for me," Kakashi said, reaching for his headband. "Naruto and Sakura stared in wonder, while Sasuke stared in shock, as Kakashi lifted his forehead protector to reveal a red eye with three tomoe.

"Ah, the Sharingan already. I'm honored," Zabuza said. "It's said in the bingo books that you've learned over a thousand jutsu, Copy Ninja."

"Sharingan…?" Naruto asked as he thought back to his short crash course on shinobi knowledge just a few weeks ago. "Isn't that…?" He trailed off as he turned towards Sasuke, who was looking at Kakashi intently.

What's going on? The Sharingan is an ocular bloodline that only manifests in members of the Uchiha clan. Who is he?

"Well, that's enough talk," Zabuza drawled. "It seems I have to kill you before I get to that old man." He pushed off the three, bringing his sword with him and vanishing into a body flicker, and causing everyone save Kakashi to lose sight of him. There was a splash in the water nearby.

"On top of the water!" Sakura yelled. Zabuza was using the water walking technique and making a hand sign that Kakashi instantly recognized.

"Water release, Hidden Mist jutsu," Zabuza muttered as the mist surrounded him and he vanished from sight.

"Stay on guard and protect the client. Even my eye can't track him well in this mist," Kakashi warned.

"8 vital spots." Zabuza's emotionless voice echoed throughout the mist, seemingly coming from all directions. "Liver, lungs, spine, clavicle, jugular, brain, kidneys, heart. Which should I aim for first?"

Immediately the air was once again flooded with killing intent, which affected the three genin and the bridge builder substantially. Kakashi's own was soon added to it, and although it wasn't aimed at any of them, it didn't help. Sakura and Tazuna were both frozen stiff, Sasuke was trembling, and even Naruto, who had the most exposure to killing intent, was sweating profusely.

So this is the real thing. Aniki wasn't kidding. This is insane!

Sasuke was having similar thoughts. The air is so heavy. It feels like I'll be killed if I even move. I'll go crazy if this keeps up.

Sakura's thoughts were significantly less coherent.

"Naruto, Sasuke, Sakura." Kakashi's voice broke through their stupor, anchoring them back to rationality. "Don't worry. I'll protect you all with my life. I will not allow my comrades to die."

His words seemed to have the desired effect. Sakura seemed more aware of herself now, Sasuke's trembling lessened, and Naruto actually grinned, feeling more up to the challenge now.

"Don't be so sure." Zabuza appeared right in the middle of the genins' formation, blade at the ready. Kakashi was there in an instant, driving a kunai into the jounin's heart.

Naruto's senses were going haywire. Something felt off again, but he didn't know how to interpret what he was feeling. Suddenly, Sasuke shouted out. "Kakashi! Behind you!"

The Zabuza that Kakashi had stabbed burst into water, and Kakashi was bisected by a blade that came from behind, only to burst into water himself Zabuza's eyes widened.

He copied my water clone in this mist?

A kunai was now being held at Zabuza's neck, courtesy of Kakashi, who had appeared behind him. Naruto's head was spinning.

That many body flickers in such a short time...I can't even keep up here. But wait…

"Don't move," Kakashi commanded. "It's over."

Naruto gasped. "Sensei, no! That's a clone too!"

Kakashi reacted instantly, dispelling the water clone with a slight jerk of his kunai, before dodging out of way of Zabuza's blade once again, and then jumping out of the way of the follow up kick. Zabuza growled as he made two more water clones with a quick hand sign, before charging after Kakashi. "Damn brat! You're bothering me!" he shouted as the water clones went after Naruto. Kakashi tried to get around Zabuza to help, but the missing nin was too fast and blocked him off, forcing him onto the defensive with his sword. The two blurred into combat as Sasuke came to Naruto's aid.

The water clones were nowhere near Zabuza in terms of ability and couldn't use any ninjutsu, so Naruto was able to dodge the fist couple swings of their blades, long enough for Sasuke to back him up. The fight was still proving difficult for them though.

Sakura watched the encounter with an analytical eye and found an opening. Channeling chakra to her legs, she quickly dashed at one of the water clones from behind and attempted to dispel it with a kunai. Unfortunately, the other clone noticed her and kicked her away. She landed on the ground as Sasuke struggled to block off the clone from going after her.

"Sakura, don't!" Naruto shouted. "Stay with Tazuna-san in case he makes any more clones!" Sakura swallowed and nodded, feeling out of her depth.

"Shadow clone jutsu!" Naruto shouted once he got a bit of breathing room. 15 clones came into existence and launched an organized assault against the water clones. A few of them were dispelled right away, and others soon followed, but it bought enough time for Naruto and Sasuke to break away from the water clones.

"Sasuke!" Naruto shouted.

"Right," the Uchiha responded, already forming hand signs. "Fire release, Great Fireball jutsu!"

"Wind release, Gale Palm!" The wind fanned the flames as they crashed towards the two clones, which swiftly jumped away.

One of them burst into water as a kunai was jammed into its skull. Kakashi had taken advantage of the opening, using a substitution to break away from Zabuza. Before he could dispel the other one, the enemy jounin was on him again.

The lone water clone ran at Naruto, who braced himself, but it was just a feint. The clone jumped over his head, sights set on Tazuna. Sakura stood protectively in front of the bridge builder, who was desperately trying not to pass out by now, but Sasuke jumped into the air after the clone and lashed out with a kick, which it blocked with its sword, not wanting to be dispelled. It landed and was accosted by the remaining shadow clones as Naruto threw Sasuke a windmill shuriken. Sasuke caught in and threw it at Zabuza, but the water clone caught it out of the air, dispelling a shadow clone simultaneously. It then noticed the second windmill shuriken in its shadow, and ducked under it, but the second shuriken transformed into a Naruto clone right in the water clone's blind spot, and finally dispelled it with a kunai to the back.

The three genin each let out a breath, but continued to watch wearily in case of any more. Fortunately, the real Zabuza had his hands full with a fully focused Kakashi. Above their heads, two water dragons battled for superiority as the two jounin clashed underneath them.

Something's wrong...he's not just copying my movements. He's moving at the same time as me. My jutsu too. It's like he's…

"Predicting me," Kakashi said, causing Zabuza's eyes to widen as he jumped back, Kakashi mimicking him.

What? It's like he can…

"Read my mind?" Kakashi suggested, angering Zabuza.

Fucking hell! That-

"Creepy eye is pissing me off!" Kakashi finished, as his three genin watched in bemusement.

Zabuza growled as he started making hand signs, only for Kakashi to make the same ones exactly as he did it. "All you're doing is copying me, like a monkey!"

"You can't beat me with cheap mind games!" the two shouted at once.

In his anger, Zabuza lost control of his emotions briefly, allowing Kakashi to catch him in a sharingan genjutsu which caused him to freeze up once he finished his hands signs.

"Water release, Great Waterfall!" Kakashi shouted. A giant vortex of water slammed into Zabuza, propelling him back towards the forest.

Impossible! He's the one copying me, and yet I can't keep up!

Zabuza was slammed forcefully into a tree, and his limbs were pinned by several kunai, courtesy of Kakashi, who then body flickered onto the branch above him.

"This is your last battle," Kakashi lamented, gripping another kunai.

Suddenly, Kakashi heard a slight whirring in the air and spotted two senbon. Tracking the trajectory in a split second with his Sharingan, he realized they were heading for Zabuza, and so he made no move to intercept them. They both punctured through Zabuza's neck, causing him to go stiff and fall like a log.

"You're right," said a figure in the trees. "It was his last battle." Kakashi went over and checked Zabuza's pulse, confirming that he was dead, before turning back to the kid who had killed him.

"That're a Kiri hunter nin," Kakashi stated, earning a nod from the kid.

"Thank you for your assistance. I've been tracking Zabuza Momochi for a long time now."

Realizing the new arrival wasn't hostile, Kakashi lowered his headband again and nodded at him. Team 7 watched in slight amazement as as the hunter nin grabbed Zabuza and body flickered away.

"I feel like we just got shown up…" Naruto mumbled.

"Well, the important thing is that the battle has ended. Now, let's get Tazuna-san back home."

Tazuna, realizing that the danger had now passed, broke out into a wide smile. "I can't thank you all enough! Don't worry, once we get there you can relax for a while!"

The group started walking again only for Kakashi to stumble and fall to one knee.

"Sensei! Did you get injured?" Sakura asked worriedly.

"Well...not quite," Kakashi said sheepishly. "It's just a mild case of chakra exhaustion. It seems I've overused my Sharingan a bit."

"Will you be able to walk?" Sasuke asked.

"Yeah, I'll be fine until we reach our destination," he replied. "After that I'll just have to rest for a few days."

When they arrived at Tazuna's house, they were ushered in by his daughter, Tsunami, who fussed over them endlessly and practically forced Kakashi into bedrest. With Zabuza dead and the tension finally receding, Team 7 could finally relax.

In the middle of a forest clearing, a young boy in a mask knelt beside the body of Zabuza Momochi.

"I'll have to cut the mouth cloth and drain some blood," he said to himself, reaching out towards the body. Suddenly, his hand was grasped as Zabuza's eyes opened wide and glared at him.

"That's alright. I'll do it myself!"

Kakashi woke abruptly from his slumber, lone eye opening wide. Naruto and Sakura, who'd been hovering over him, screeched and jumped back in surprise. They both inwardly groaned as Sasuke rolled his eyes.

So close! What the hell is he hiding under that mask?

Kakashi ignored their antics, his brow furrowing as he wondered if he had missed something.

"Uh...what's up, Sensei?" Naruto asked.

"Well, it's just...hunter nin...they usually dispose of the body right where the missing nin dies, in order to minimize the likelihood of any village secrets being revealed. And yet, what did that Kiri nin due with the body?"

"Tough to say. He took the body away after all," Sakura answered.

"Exactly. If he needed proof of the kill, he could have just taken the head. Taking the whole body increases the chances of being targeted by enemy ninja. To any hunter nin, it's a dead practice. Also...the method he used to kill Zabuza. Senbon to the neck."

"So...what does that mean?" Naruto asked, as Sasuke's eyes widened.

"No way…" the Uchiha muttered.

"Yeah...exactly," Kakashi confirmed. "Most likely...Zabuza Momochi is alive."

A/N: Sorry this chapter was so close to canon. There wasn't really much I could do about it, other than change up the fight scene of course.

And now, shinobi ranks:

Kakashi: A (Elite Jounin)

Zabuza: A (Elite Jounin)

Naruto: C- (Elite Genin)

Sasuke: D+ (High level Genin)

Sakura: D- (Low level Genin)