Of Snow and Whirlpools

Hello all! So, after suggestion from Okami no Shinigami, I decided to repost and continue this story. I was already planning on it, but this just quickened my decision. The first 14 chapters are completely re-edited as well, so there should be little to no mistakes anywhere. There also may be some slight rewording that alters the course of later chapters, but that's more due to a change in my plans than anything else.

Given all of these are going up at the same time, I'll explain the most major changes here. First, I've taken out all of the bashing completely. Also, Kyu has been renamed Kurama and no longer has a zanpakuto. Aside from that, the largest deviation from both canon and the original version is that the bijuu are youkai and youkai exist as dangers to the world. That sentence will make more sense as I get further on into the story. I promise that much. Aside from that, happy reading!

Chapter I: Friends with the Enemy

Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto or any other elements that may appear. I only own OC's, original Jutsu, the storyline, and any original kekkai genkai.

She saw him right there on the ground, asleep like he was safe. Yuki Haku, dressed in a pink kimono and her choker around her neck, was confused on what to do as she looked at the prone form of one of the genin that helped that Kakashi-teme harm Zabuza-sama. She was just out gathering herbs to heal her master and comes to find one of her master's enemies… asleep… and she has no senbon! What is she supposed to do?

Before she knew it… the ice-user found herself above him, and she knew she was prepared to strangle the blonde. His hair was set in spikes held back by a Konoha headband, his face was tan with three whisker-like marks on each cheek. He was dressed in a black shirt and ANBU pants, black fingerless gloves, and a trench coat that looked to be holding at the very least, seven scrolls. There was a ninja pouch on his left hip and another right below it, and his ankles and feet were wrapped in bandages while he wore jet black sandals. He was dressed completely for stealth.

Suddenly, his eyes shot open! Two orbs of the deepest cerulean she had ever seen… deeper than the ocean itself. Quickly, Haku put on a smile that only the best could tell was fake. "Why hello there." She said cheerfully. "I was just about to wake you. You know it's not very safe to sleep in a forest?" The boy stood up and chuckled.

"Nah, I'll be fine. I've been through enough danger to have a sense of when to be careful." Haku kept her smile up but on the inside… D-did he know? No… it's not possible. Not even a sensor can tell someone's emotions. Maybe I lost this chance… but no more!

"Are you a Shinobi then?" She asked, though she already knew the answer.

"Yeah, Uzumaki Naruto, Genin of Konohagakure at your service!" He stated cheerfully, but Haku saw… something in his eyes. Something she very well. The loneliness… fear… anger… hatred… despair… eyes like she held before Zabuza-sama found her… only much, much worse.

She smiled at him, keeping the act up. "That is quite amazing, Naruto-san. I am Yuki Haku."

Naruto grinned foxily at the paler girl, and for some reason it made her face warm a little, but she was able to get rid of her blush. "Nice to meet you, Haku-chan!" He said, and this time her blush came back. No one she had ever met referred to her as –chan. Not even Zabuza-sama. "So… are you picking flowers then?" He asked curiously and she nodded.

"Hai, Naruto-san. I am picking herbs to make a salve for my friend. He is injured and needs it to heal." He looked at her and smiled slightly, not the grin from before, but this one somehow looked more… genuine.

"Can I help you, Haku-chan?" She was taken aback by that, but nodded anyways.

"Hai, you see the ones in here? I need more of them." He studied them for a second and nodded, the two began working to find the herbs, as they talked. "So… Naruto-san…"

"Just Naruto, please? I don't like formalities much."

"Hai… Naruto. Why were you out here; were you training?" She asked, hoping to get some information on him for the next battle.

"That's part of it…" He sighed. "My team… doesn't exactly see eye to eye with me. I got into an argument with Sasuke, my teammate, and Sakura, my other one. She usually takes his side, and she's little more than his fangirl. I just wanted to see whether Sasuke had any tips for Katon jutsu, since I have an affinity for the fire element, but he just scoffed and told me I would never be able to do anything. Then Sakura agreed and yelled at me for being a 'baka' and tried to hit me. Damn Kakashi-sensei just stayed where he was at the table, reading his smut Icha-icha while it happened. So I decided to just leave the house and come here to try and train up."

Haku frowned at his explanation. "Your team doesn't sound very productive." Haku commented as she grabbed another herb. "In fact it sounds as if you never get along. Wouldn't that get you killed in the ninja world?" She asked with false curiosity.

"Yeah… but it's not like I have any choice. I mean… not really. The only reason I'm even able to be a shinobi is because of the spoiled Uchiha on my team… the Council will do anything to keep him happy… whereas they do everything to try and keep me from learning…" He sighed.

Haku was truly curious now and looked at the blonde. "What do you mean? Shouldn't they wish for their soldiers to be the best they can be?"

"You would think that, wouldn't you?" He shook his head. "Everything I know, I taught myself. Some of the Jōnin who know about my… predicament help me out from time to time, training, scrolls, supplies, even bringing me lunch now and again. But I can't say that there are more of them than I have fingers." Another sigh escaped his lips. "Sorry for ranting on, Haku-chan. I don't want to force my problems on you." She smiled sadly.

"Not to worry Naruto, I am quite okay with it. Even with that… you're pretty strong right?" The boy smiled another of those smiles that didn't look fake, and Haku found she liked that smile.

"I suppose so. With all that happened… I have to be."

"So… do you have someone precious to you? A person that means the world to you?"

"Like… a girlfriend?" He asked, his searing blue eyes staring into her own chocolate ones.

"T-that's not what I meant!" Haku argued, a deep crimson blush flooding her cheeks. After she was in control, she smiled. "No… a friend that you would give your life for?" The blonde's eyes seemed to wander as he was lost in memory and thought.

"I… used to, Haku-chan. And I tried to keep her safe… but I just wasn't strong enough. She was like a mother to me… since I never knew my own." Haku saw the despair in his eyes, as well as the happiness at remembering his precious person, so she put one of her slim hands on his shoulder.

"Would you like to tell me about her?" He smiled sadly.

"My own mother, a great kunoichi known as Uzumaki Kushina, died the day I was born. From stories I've heard, she was as strong as the Yondaime Hokage, Namikaze Minato, the Yellow Flash, and became known as the Red Death of Konoha, the Konohagakure no Akashi. She was exceptionally strong with her genius in seals, her chakra chains, her kenjutsu style, and her affinity for Suiton surpassing even that of the Nidaime Hokage, who could pull water right from the air. She was also student of the Slug Princess, Senju Tsunade along with Hyūga Hitomi and Uchiha Mikoto, one of the few all kunoichi teams that made it to ANBU together. After my mother's death… both of her teammates, Mikoto and Hitomi, tried to adopt me, but… the Council would not allow it, unfortunately. So I stayed an orphan.

"Hitomi-chan and Mikoto-chan were the only two people that saw me as a human and not… for my differences everyone hated me for. They didn't care that they were wives to the two most powerful clan heads of Konoha… I was like their son, and they would never abandon me. I even grew to see their children as my own siblings. Hinata was the shy sister and Sasuke was the brother who always wanted to be stronger. Hanabi was the little sister who wanted to prove herself. And Itachi… he was the older brother we all looked up to. But… Hitomi-chan fell deathly ill after Hanabi-imouto's birth and in six months… her health deteriorated so much that she died, leaving Hiashi, her husband, as clan head and father of two. Hinata, Sasuke and I were only six years old…

"It was really sad… because Hinata withdrew into herself, becoming even meeker than she was, stuttering like crazy and blushing over the smallest thing. I think that since I was the closest she had to family, she grew an obsession towards me, following me everywhere I went like a lost puppy and always trying to impress me. Sasuke… he seemed fine, but he became a little colder to us after the woman he saw as his obaa-san died. I just trained harder, hating that I couldn't help her, that I was useless. I forced myself to becoming stronger, faster, smarter, and I had to refine my chakra control more and more so that I could reach one of my goals of learning medical ninjutsu. My… difference towards everyone else stopped it though. I kept trying harder and harder, just as Sasuke was getting colder and Hinata meeker. Then…"

"Then?" Haku asked. She didn't care about the information for Zabuza-sama anymore. She was enthralled by this boy's story.

"Three years later, we were on the road to recovery. Hinata had gained enough confidence to finally master a few katas of the Jūken, and Sasuke was open, though only with us, Hanabi, and his older brother, Itachi. Then… tragedy struck when we were nine. Sasuke's family suffered a great loss."

"Mikoto died?" She asked with a gasp.

"Uchiha Itachi murdered… all of the Uchiha besides Sasuke. He was stuck in a coma of shock for a whole month and a half and when he finally recovered enough to return to the Konoha Academy… he wouldn't talk to anyone. All he ever did was train and brood about how he would kill his brother Itachi and avenge his clan. Hinata was so depressed after the incident of losing the other mother figure in her life, she tried to kill herself… seven times… in two months. She became a shell of the sister I once had and cried herself to sleep. She was even worse with her obsession with me… she practically worshiped the ground I walked on and her meekness disappeared for rage at anyone who dared insult me, even slightly or accidentally. My entire surrogate family turned either dead, insane or criminal, and I was powerless to stop it. So you know what I did? I trained… more and more. I only did the bare minimum necessary to pass the Academy, sleeping through classes, all the while getting better and better. But… it didn't take away the pain. Or the guilt.

"I could've become a genin after Hitomi-chan's death… or after the Uchiha massacre… but I wouldn't. I wouldn't leave my two mentally instable siblings and go off on dangerous missions, perhaps as an ANBU by now. Even Hanabi-chan… my poor little sister, she became completely obsessed with taking over as clan head, beating Hinata in everything… and Hiashi could do nothing. If the public knew of his daughters' insanity… it would ruin the Hyūga clan. So, I have to get stronger. It may be a lost cause, I know it… but my siblings, I just know that I might be able to save them somehow one day, if only I could get stronger."

"Then… you truly are strong already." Haku said with a soft smile. "You wish for power in order to keep your precious people safe. When someone fights for their precious person… that is when they truly become strong." The blonde smiled and looked at their baskets, frowning as he saw both full. "It seems I must go and help my friend."

"Can I see you again, Haku-chan? Perhaps… next time I can hear your story?" He asked with a sad smile. Haku hesitated… she really shouldn't… she should stay with Zabuza-sama… not know this boy. She should've just said no, should've apologized and made up a story about this being the only day she would be here, maybe her friend was a traveling merchant or something?

"Hai… I would like that, Naruto…kun." She said with a smile before walking off, a light blush on her cheeks at the thought of the boy, the cute boy with a past just as bad as hers. Maybe… she really would talk to him again. But first…I'm coming to help you, Zabuza-sama.

Uzumaki Naruto smiled to himself as he watched Haku leave the forest grove that he was in, carrying her basket away with a cute blush as she exited. Once she was out of sight, he frowned. "She… she's just like me…" He stated to himself quietly, an inaudible whisper. "I saw her eyes… they were part of a mask… hiding… hiding her true self. Her loneliness… her despair… her anger… her… isolation. Her mask is even easier to read and harder to understand than Anko's… what happened to her?" Naruto shook his head. "And on top of that… her chakra… her killing intent… her Negative Emotions… she's that hunter nin from before."

In the back of his head, the blonde heard a familiar voice. "True, kit. Very true. But I felt little to no lying on her part. This Haku… she told the truth in most everything she said. Even the last part where she wanted to come back and talk to you. I sensed… deep pain within her very being. Pain she has tried to bury within her. I don't know what happened to her, or how she's dealing with the immense amount of hurt she is experiencing within herself… but she is definitely like you. What will you do about it?"

Kurama-sensei…the blonde thought back. I'm not entirely sure. She is an enemy of the mission… but I don't want to harm her more than she already is. She's like me… and I hate doing anything to those who already have enough pain within themselves.

"Or maybe my little kit has a crush?" Kurama snickered in his mind as the blonde blushed slightly.

Sh-Shut up! I do not!

"She was really cute though… you have my approval, Naru-chan!"

Just shut up Kurama and let me train some more.Just then, Naruto's stomach growled. Right after I get some breakfast!With that, the blonde jinchūriki ran out of the clearing, already having all his possessions within the storage scroll in his trench coat, one of seven scrolls he always kept on him.

[Tazuna's House]

Tsunami looked at the table curiously, wondering something. It was breakfast and mostly everyone was already seated and eating. Well… seated anyways. Her father was on one end, eating the meager breakfast she served while drinking a little sake, and her son as well, minus the sake. The masked jōnin was eating while reading, and the black-eyed Uchiha boy seemed to be brooding over something while eating her cooking. The pink-haired girl was also seated, right next to the Uchiha in fact, but she favored staring at the emo-looking boy with hearts in her eyes instead of eating her breakfast. That was insulting! Was her food not good enough?

Inwardly, the civilian woman panicked. Was she not a good hostess to these shinobi? Were they not comfortable enough and well-fed? They had come and were protecting her father and her village from the good of their hearts when they didn't have too, and she wasn't being the best she could be in return! Oh no!

Breaking the woman's negative thoughts was the opening of the front door, which caused Sasuke and Kakashi to get up, kunai in hand, only to see it was… Naruto. The silver and black-haired duo simply sat back down wordlessly, uncaring of the blonde. He didn't seem to care about them either, instead taking a seat at the table furthest from his team, and next to Tsunami, where a plate was already set up for him. With a smile, he began speaking to Tsunami. "Good morning, Tsunami. How are you? Your cooking smells delicious, as always."

She smiled at him, relieved she wasn't being a horrible hostess to her village's shinobi protectors. "Good morning, Naruto. I am very well and thank you." Then the woman looked at the state of the boy's dress… dirt covered everything. "Where did you go last night? You didn't sleep outside, did you?"

After he finished his mouthful of food, he replied. "Hai, Tsunami. I was out training and by the time I finished, I was too tired to come back. I prefer sleeping outside anyways, it is more comfortable to me and reminds me of home…" He smiled sadly before shaking his head. "Anyways, I hope my team didn't argue too much after I left? They didn't give you trouble?" Tsunami shook her head.

"No, they were quite alright. Though Sakura was a bit loud…" Naruto raised an eyebrow. No matter how much it welcomed her to be rude, she shouldn't. "Sasuke and Kakashi were quiet enough though, if you don't count Kakashi's giggling…"

"Yeah… I suppose that's how I expected them to act." The blonde spotted Tazuna finished with breakfast and at the door, waiting. "Anyways, it's my day to guard Tazuna, so I'll see you later, Tsunami. Ja ne!" And with that, he went to Tazuna and they made their way to the bridge.

[Zabuza's Hideout]

Zabuza's place of dwelling within the village of Nami in Nami no Kuni was rather simple. On the edge of the village, within the forest to the northeast just two miles outward lay a large warehouse made of chakra steel and covered in fading seals left over from the time that Uzushiogakure still existed and was allied to the small island of Wave. It was some thirty feet high and looked to be medium-sized on the outside but on the inside was a different story. Over seventy feet tall and well over five thousand square-feet and four rooms, two for storage, one for a kitchen, and the last was a bedroom with four beds, one for Zabuza, Haku, and the Oni Brothers respectively. In the storage rooms were many different things the four had gathered over the years since their abandoning Kirigakure: weapons, scrolls, disguises, ryo, and all manner of treasure, gold, and jewels. Even at only A-rank, Momochi Zabuza was a wealthy individual, but not near the wealth he needed for his true dream, to fund the rebellion and kill Yagura so that the Bloody Mist would exist no longer and the true Kirigakure would be revived once more.

In the bedroom lie the prone figure of one Kirigakure no Kijin, Momochi Zabuza himself. The Kubikiribōcho lay leaning against his bed and Haku stood on his other side, a bowl of salve in her hands that she was treating his wounds with. Each time her slender fingers applied the healing solution, one of the most feared missing-nin living winced at the stinging sensation it presented to his injured body. "Gomenesai, Zabuza-sama." The girl apologized once more for harming her master.

"Just get it over with, Haku." He replied. "The quicker I'm able to move, the quicker I can kill that damn Kakashi-teme and get my pay for offing the bridge builder." He growled again as the stinging returned.

"Zabuza-sama… what about the genin with him?" Haku asked cautiously, her mind still on the intriguing blonde she had met just two days ago.

"The genin?" He thought. "The pink one will die, definitely. Those boys show promise though. Recruiting one of them might be beneficial. That black-haired boy had the looks of an Uchiha, but that clan was known for nothing if not backstabbing. No, I don't think he would be a good long-term investment." Zabuza mumbled.

"A-and the blonde?" Haku asked.

"Heh, never know. I saw his eyes, Haku. Just like yours. Bet I could get him on our side, if the hatred in his eyes was any indicator. He hesitated to protect that kunoichi. If I'm not mistaken… the other two on his team ignored him as if he were nothing more than the air or the ground they walk on. But that's beside the point and just wishful thinking, you know." Haku clenched one of her fists and brought up as much courage as she could muster.

"W-what if… what if I could convince him to come with us? What if I could get him to our side?" Zabuza set his gaze on the girl, eying her suspiciously.

"Hm… If you could, I suppose I could take him with us. Yeah, if you can get him on our side, then I will let him come." The ex-Kiri nin smirked suddenly. "Does Haku have a crush on the little blonde genin?" Haku fought down a blush as she applied more of the salve to Zabuza, a bit more forcefully this time.

And she very much enjoyed the yelp of pain that resulted.

[Tazuna's Bridge]

Naruto and Tazuna arrived at the bridge pretty quickly and just as they did, the blonde noticed a worker coming up to Tazuna. It was apparent he wished to quit for fear of his life as they had a conversation and Naruto shook his head. "So, I gather this happens a lot nowadays?" Naruto asked the man who nodded.

"I suppose this is your first time up at the bridge, ne? Well, my men are quitting left and right. I don't blame them either. They just want to stay alive, I suppose… and who am I to deny them safety? But I will finish this bridge, even if I have to build it myself! For I am the super bridge builder Tazuna!"

Naruto smiled at his client's enthusiasm. "So… you'll really do it all by yourself?"

The bridge builder nodded. "Hai… though I have no wish too. I am a designer, not a worker. I'm nowhere near my prime and I would likely die in the process of creating the bridge. I just wish I had a workforce that didn't keep leaving me."

The blonde nodded and smirked. "I believe I can help with that. I'm not too experienced with building but…" Naruto made a single hand seal with his index and middle fingers crossed over one another. "Mass Shadow Clone Jutsu!" In an instant and a cloud of smoke later, at least two hundred copies of the original blonde materialized. "Just give them orders and every time one is destroyed the rest will get their memories!"

Tazuna gaped at the sheer amount of workers he just gained. "This will cut the time for building by so much!"

Naruto laughed sheepishly and rubbed the back of his neck. "Yeah, but… unfortunately I can only do this on my guard days, because the other days I'll be training and need as much chakra as I can. But you'll get more workers every four days, Tazuna."

"Still… this is impressive. Can your teammates do this too?" Tazuna was careful not to call the other three his friends, as it was apparent for one reason or another, they were no friends with him. Well, Tazuna and Tsunami sure appreciated the kid, for sure. He regularly helped Tsunami cook whenever he was at the house and not training, and now he just gave Tazuna double the workforce he currently had! Uzumaki Naruto was something special alright.

"No… it takes a lot of chakra to make even five. I think Kakashi-sensei can only make ten at once… but thanks to my… kekkai genkai, I have much more chakra than other people normally. I could make at least five times as this if I wanted, but I need these to learn more before I give you too many and wreck your bridge. Hehe…"

The builder nodded and began doling out orders as the blonde stood to the side, keeping an eye on all of the things going on. The workers were working hard… but there seemed to be a sense of foreboding with them. An imminent doom they were prepared for. Or at least preparing for. He could feel their fear and despair, constant and looming, through the Negative Emotions Sense granted to him through being the Kyūbi jinchūriki.

This Gatō is really evil… He deserves to die for all that he is putting these people through. All for greed too. He merely wishes to have more money, and with it power, so he does all in his power to make sure Nami is in his vice-like grip, unable to become independent, unable to do anything for themselves whatsoever. This is why greed is one of the Seven Deadly Sins of the Western Lands' primary religion, if those books I 'borrowed' from the Konoha library is any indication. Greed is a deadly thing to any ailed by it, and any who are victims to its evil…

"Ever philosophical, aren't you, kit? Yes, greed does do this to you ningen… it is most unfortunate, really. So much potential in your race to achieve things not even Akuma, Yama, Kami or Shinigami can do… all wasted on the sins of the few in power. Greed… Pride… Gluttony… Wrath… Lust… Envy… Sloth… The true power of demons relies not on that of our chakra, or our youki, or of our knowledge, or our size… it remains in tempting those with a small seed of darkness in them into going down one of these seven paths. It is a game of speech, not power, and one all bijuu, as well as the lesser demons, have mastered over centuries of psychological games. Looks like my lessons with you have really paid off. You're thinking like a fox now, kit."

Hehe… should I be worried you approve? Wouldn't matter anyways. You're one of my few friends, Kurama-sensei. Ever since you healed me on my fifth birthday when we struck that deal.

"Ah yes… I grant you a few abilities of the Yoko and teach you and in exchange, you give me access to your senses and keep me entertained with fights and tricking Konoha. Those pranks you pull are very foxlike… painting the Hokage Monument in broad daylight on the very day of your graduation exam and outrunning all the ANBU? Very much a kitsune if I ever saw one."

And very good for my training, you know. My stealth and speed have increased dramatically ever since I began my pranks. And it also got me a few of the better jutsu in my storage scrolls.

"Ah yes… why have you yet to look in the one you got from…"

Not yet, sensei. I won't be like so many of the Hyūga and Uchiha, before nii-san killed them anyways, and rely on one thing passed to me. My skills will be my own. Plus… I probably didn't even get my kaa-san's kekkai genkai, you know.

"Yes… Kushina-chan was really special. But you'll find your own way, Naruto. I believe in you."

Thanks, Kurama-sensei. I just hope I don't screw it all up…

[Team 7]

Kakashi eyed his two remaining students… well one. Sakura never did anything productive… besides staying out of the way. He would have to fix that sometime soon. They had already finished tree walking, way ahead of schedule. Sakura could at least do that, though she needed to increase her chakra reserves. Sasuke had worked to the ground getting the exercise finished once he found out that… Naruto could do it. That certainly had been a surprise.

Just what could he do?

Now that he thought of it… Kakashi had never seen him not training, yet his grades at the Academy were trash. The file said he slept through the classes on a regular basis… even more so than Shikamaru. What was going on? He had no clan… no tutor… and just a little help from a sympathetic Chūnin, Jōnin or ANBU every now and then to give him the one tip he needed to move on. But he was… it was eerie how powerful he was, for a genin anyways.

Not that him or Itachi hadn't been so strong at such a rank, but Naruto was the exact age a genin should be. And yet he could probably take on all of the current Konoha genin… and possibly even an inexperienced Chūnin. The boy could already use some low-level Fūton jutsu, dispel genjutsu, make solid clones, and knew the Hokage's own Shadow Shuriken Clone Jutsu rather effectively. Plus he had his chakra control refined to a level that allowed him to fight on water, a skill most Chūnin had trouble with until they were experienced.

And then… there were those scrolls he kept with him always. He had been reading one just last week and Kakashi saw Sasuke try to get it… only to fall to his knees in immense pain as soon as he touched it. Then the blonde had proceeded to scold the Uchiha heir about not thinking before he acted. He had explained to him about how all of his scrolls were protected by seals that would repel any chakra-based attacks, protect against the sharpest steel, were fire-proof, and even would harm someone with either a nasty shock, a cutting blade of wind, or an immense burn if anyone that did not hold his chakra touched them. Sakura had proceeded to ask why couldn't do that and the blonde's answer was quite simple.

"Well, Sakura. If the Uchiha had bothered to remember about my heritage instead of blindly following the short-term path to more power so he could kill Itachi-nii-san, then he would remember that us Uzumaki have fuinjutsu in our blood. Almost a… kekkai genkai you could say. Seals are second nature to me by now, Haruno. He should remember that next time he tries to take anything from me."

Kakashi may not be the best with fuinjutsu… but even he knew that those seals were all at least level six or seven alone... not even counting being able to cross them into one seal and then include a storage seal on each one… that had to be high level, complex stuff. But only Jiraiya and the Sandaime had such skill of those living, and Kakashi doubted they could even do such a thing. Only… Kushina and Minato-sensei were really that good. Perhaps Naruto had inherited the skill of two fuinjutsu masters from his parents?

The silver-haired jōnin shook his thoughts away as he saw Sasuke prepare to cast a jutsu. Kakashi had promised to teach the Uchiha genin a new Katon technique if he could finish tree climbing in less than a week… he did it in two days. "Fire Style: Great Fire Hound Jutsu!" He opened his mouth and spewed forth a stream of orange fire that slowly began to swirl and shape itself into the rough shape of a canine… before exploding outwards and throwing Sasuke back, his body littered in a few first-degree burns that would heal in no time.

"Sasuke-kun!" Sakura ran to the fallen genin and crouched next to him. "Are you okay, Sasuke-kun?"

"Get away from me." He emotionlessly responded as he stood up and caught his breath with struggle. "What did I do wrong, Kakashi-sensei?" He demanded to know.

"Well… you used too much chakra that time. Didn't I tell you already? Too much chakra and it will explode, too little and it'll burn out. Fire is the hardest element to manipulate the shape of, Sasuke. Didn't you learn that already? Adaptable Water is the easiest, followed by Flowing Wind. Steady Earth will shape to your will and Lightning Conducts through the right material, but Fire is raging and only calm can control it."

Sasuke growled. "Fine! I'll use less chakra this time!" He got back up, ready to try again and Kakashi eye smiled as this time he used too little and the technique dispersed in seconds. The jōnin sensei of Team 7 then leaned against a tree, opening his Icha-Icha as Sasuke continued to try, and continued to get burned, and giggled perversely. Such naughty girls you are, Nagata-chan and Yahiki-chan… and such a lucky boy you are Kona, now I want to go to the Village Hidden in Monsoons… if only it existed!

[Naruto's Training Grove, Later that Day]

"Nine-Tails Shadow Clone Jutsu!" Naruto had his hands in the ram seal as he created a single clone infused with a part of Kurama's soul and youki, allowing her to materialize in the world, even if only for a small time. Once the cloud of red smoke dispersed, she appeared in her human form. The queen of kitsune was maybe six inches taller than her container with long red hair that fell past her waist and shining crimson eyes with slit pupils. She wore a crimson battle kimono with black edging that did little to hide her impressive hourglass figure, D-cup breasts and tempting curves. From the back of her waist nine, bushy and crimson tails with orange tips protruded, swaying gently back and forth, brushing each other and the surrounding flora of the grove. The demoness' slightly opened mouth revealed short fangs and her hands had two-to-three inch claws on each finger. Of each side atop her head were fox ears and on her cheeks were three whisker-like marks resembling Naruto's. Her feet were bare of anything and had no claws.

Kurama stretched her limbs to loosen up after being stuck in a cage for so long. "Thanks for letting me out, Naruto." She said with a foxy grin.

"You're welcome… sensei. You know, I called you for something specific though." He told his bijuu. "Yoko are known for two things, fox illusions and foxfire. My control is nowhere near enough to use illusions, but I know you know how to help me with fire."

Kurama smiled. "Hai, Naruto-kun. I do know at least that. Though I am much better with the youki-powered foxfire, I can use all types. That is why you have an affinity to it just by holding me within you. I know quite a few Katon jutsu that the Sarutobi scroll doesn't contain."

"I thought you might."

"Hai, hai. I know. Now, let's see about teaching you, ne? You will need to first begin on your fire-natured manipulation. Just as Asuma showed you that with wind-natured chakra you must cut a leaf with only your chakra, fire-natured chakra can be trained by setting things alight." One of her fox tails grasped a dead stick from a tree and tossed it to Naruto, who caught it. "The trick to training you fire affinity is to raise the temperature of your chakra enough to actually set the oxygen in the air on fire. The simplest way to take your first step is to heat up this stick with chakra by moving it faster and faster through the stick itself. The first lesson is to actually light the stick. I will give you the next exercise when you can accomplish lighting it on fire within five seconds. That will put your fire manipulation up to C-rank, enough to teach you your first technique."

"Hai sensei." Naruto nodded.

"Good. As you know, our mental link is still active even while I'm a clone, so just contact me through there if you have trouble or are ready to move on and I'll simply look through your eyes to see."

"Where are you going, Kurama-sensei?" The blonde asked curiously.

"I have… an errand to do here in Nami. Just a hunch I've had for the longest time. If I am right, then you will thank me. Until then… train. Practice makes perfect!" Kurama's grin was the last thing Naruto saw as she disappeared in a swirl of purple foxfire.

"Well… may as well get started." And with that Naruto attempted to push his chakra into the stick faster and faster and set it on fire… only for it to explode into splinters. "Hm… too much chakra. This… could take a while."

[Gatō Corporation, Nami HQ]

In a swirl of purple flames, Kurama appeared on the side of a large building of marble. It looked at least five stories tall and she could feel – at the very least – sixty signatures in and around the building. Hm… so it looks like Gatō is on the top floor, and one other chakra signature is up there, presumably his secretary. A few others on the fourth and third floors… and the rest are obviously hired thugs to act as bodyguards, by the emotions they're emitting. This will be too easy. He should've hired at least a few missing-nin for protection. "Fox Illusion: False Shadow!" Her form suddenly was wrapped in a cloak of the surrounding shadows, giving off the illusion of her becoming invisible. This was the simplest and lowest ranked of all the invisibility fox illusions and perfect to infiltrate this place.

She used a bit of demonic chakra then to stick to the wall, slowly crawling upwards to the top with the cloak of shadows concealing her form from all. She passed over the first four floors easily, seeing nothing interesting for her or her kit. But on the very top floor, she cursed silently. Just as she thought, Gatō was inside his office as well as his secretary. She was a relatively plain woman of mid-forties, by her look, with brown eyes, lightly tanned skin, streaks of grey in her brown hair, which was set in a single bun at the back of her head, and wore a blue kimono with a lighter blue for the edges. It looked like they were talking, so being a curious fox, Kurama performed a few handseals, activating one of her secret kekkai genkai she had… acquired over her long life. "Mangekyō Sharingan. Kamui." Her red eyes showed three black tomoes that quickly spun into the shape of a four-armed star as she phased through the wall in front of her, still invisible.

She smirked to herself. I love these ningens' bloodlines. DNA is just so fun to play with… and so easy to manipulate if you know how. All those shinobi and kunoichi in my experiments were well worth the sacrifice. It is just too bad I was captured by Mito before I could reform otou-sama's abilities. And then damn Orochimaru! Finding all of my research and using it for himself… I swear I'll kill him if I ever see him!

She shook her thoughts away though and paid attention to the conversation, keeping her regular Sharingan active so she could memorize it. "He should be all healed up in two weeks…" the secretary stated. "And then I believe Zabuza and Kakashi will in fact fight, on Zabuza's own chosen battlefield, if my guess is correct." She continued.

"Yes… that is perfect. By then the rest of the bandits I hired will have made it here in Nami. After the battle is finished, regardless of the victor, I will make sure they kill the ninja. All of them. After that is all finished… then Nami will be under my complete control." He chuckled to himself, then stopped. "Tsuki… is there really an Uzumaki among the Konoha ninja?"

She nodded. "Hai, Gatō-sama." She stated. "If the reports from your spies in Nami are to be trusted, there is. Even if he has blonde hair and blue eyes, unlike most Uzumaki, he shows to have great amounts of chakra, one of the signs of the Uzumaki kekkai genkai. It is no coincidence, I think. Zabuza's apprentice too… she is a Yuki."

"There is no possible way they know what I have in my vault, is there? They were expensive enough off the black market, you know. The Fuyu no Daikama and that Uzumaki scroll cost a fortune… I thought both clans were dead? That's the only reason I bought them. If I had bought that Hyūga scroll from the Byakugan wielder in Taki or Terumi Haon Staff off my contact in Iwa… I just know I would have either clan on me in months."

"Hai, Gatō-sama. I don't believe they know yet, but perhaps it would be safe to double the mercenaries in case? I am not sure it would be a good idea to leave your most prized possessions unguarded, just in case they survive the battle?"

Gatō nodded from his chair. "You are right, Tsuki. Hai… hire that second camp we know of, just in case. That should bring our numbers past 700, easily enough to stop any genin."

"Hai, Gatō-sama. I will send a messenger immediately." She bowed her head before dashing off to fulfill her employer's orders as the redheaded Yoko in human form looked at the short man in thought, eyes closed in concentration.

Hm… this information… what should I do with it? The scroll… I absolutely must get it for Naruto… but the scythe? I know of it. It will freeze anyone without Yuki DNA from the inside out, a very painful, and effective, defense mechanism. Gatō probably had to transport it in some sort of high-grade chakra draining container… This trip will be even more productive than I imagined. The possibilities… they are great.

Gatō never even noticed the sudden disappearance of a patch of shadows in his office as one nine-tailed Yoko disappeared without a single trace elsewhere.

[With Haku]

Haku made her way through the village of Nami, dressed in her civilian clothes once more as she headed to where she hoped Naruto would be, in that same grove as last time. Her thoughts had been occupied with only him since yesterday. He was… an enigma. He seemed so cheerful… but she had seen his eyes, more than once. Throughout the entire morning that he helped her, she caught that look in his eyes. The same look as herself.

That look of loneliness, the loneliness which can only be brought by the voluntary shunning of others… by being persecuted for something out of your control… by being hunted simply because of what you hold, without anyone's regard for who you are.

That look that she held her entire time in Kiri after her parents died. Kaa-san by tou-san's hands… and tou-san by my own. She shook that thought away. Long ago, Zabuza-sama had taught her to stay away from those thoughts, lest she go insane. To this day… her tou-san was the only kill on her hands… even with being by Zabuza-sama's side all these years.

Soon, Haku came upon the grove she had found her blonde companion in yesterday and saw him. He was holding a single stick, no longer than a foot, in his hand and appeared to be in concentration. Haku observed him in curiosity and saw that the stick began smoking at the tip before it burst into flames. He grinned to himself and the ice-user heard him mutter "That was still seven seconds. I need to cut the time by two before I can try the jutsu… just a little more practice."

It was at this moment that Haku walked into the grove and Naruto spied her. "Oh, hey Haku-chan!" The blonde smiled to her. "I knew you'd come back today."

Haku smiled a little. "Yeah… I said I would, didn't I? So… what were you doing? And how'd you get that stick to light up?"

He grinned, but Haku noticed it didn't have the same… feeling as the smaller smile he gave her yesterday. This one seemed… practiced… fake… a mask. "Well, I got my sensei to tell me how train in fire-nature manipulation." He stated. "I'm supposed to light this stick on fire with my chakra in five seconds and then she'll teach me a Katon jutsu."

"She?" Haku asked. "But… isn't the only jōnin that came with you a man?" She asked.

Naruto smiled before sitting on the grass, motioning for Haku to do the same, so she sat across from him. "Yeah… I don't really think of Kakashi as my sensei though. He hasn't taught me anything I know. Well… I suppose he did give me a small tip when I was nine on how to train my speed… but I only have one true sensei. She taught me everything I know, for the most part, besides my abilities with Fūton manipulation and ninjutsu. So Haku… how's Zabuza doing?"

The girl started at that, looking at Naruto with wide eyes. He smiled that true smile of his then, the one that made her heart speed just a little for some reason. "W-who is Zabuza?" She asked in a somewhat convincing tone.

"Please don't lie, Haku…" the kunoichi noted the lack of –chan and it bothered her more than it should have. "I won't tell my team about him. Even if I'm sure that Kakashi already suspects Zabuza still lives. I can tell he's special to you. And you know… out of everyone I've ever met, you're the closest thing to a friend I have, right? My family is destroyed, my village despises me, and the adults who don't try to assault, poison, or otherwise harm me either act as if I don't even exist or only talk to me for about five minutes before leaving me alone for weeks at a time. Those of my own generation… my own ex-classmates in the Academy… Sasuke, Sakura, Ino and Kiba despise me, for differing reasons, Shikamaru, Shino, and Chōji are indifferent, and Hinata is half obsessive stalker and half insane bodyguard. It is quite sad, you know… that a girl I only just met treats me better than my entire village, and she is my supposed enemy. I also saw my pain in your own eyes… the loneliness… it hurts, right? Everyone either ignoring you or attempting to kill you? You have a bloodline don't you? Is that why you had to leave Kiri with Zabuza?"

Haku suddenly found the ground interesting. "I… yes. I have the Ice Release kekkai genkai of the Yuki clan. I am the last member, as far as I know. You see… my mother was also Yuki and she held the bloodline herself, but my father, he never even knew. When I was eight… I first discovered my kekkai genkai and showed my kaa-san… and she told me to never do it again. But… I didn't listen." Haku could feel tears gathering in her eyes, but ignored it. "I… instead, I used it in secret and tried to get better, and I did. But someone saw me without my knowing… one of Yagura's avid supporters… my own father. He knew he was just a normal civilian, so he assumed it came from my kaa-san…

"What happened, Haku-chan?" Naruto asked the girl after she stopped talking for a few moments. He could clearly see the tears in her eyes, but knew she needed to tell someone.

"He… he took a knife from the kitchen and asked her about it… my kaa-san loved him, you know. So she admitted it… she admitted she had kept her bloodline limit a secret from him… and so he stabbed her! Seven times! I could only watch in horror as her body was opened repeatedly by the knife… I still see it when I sleep sometimes. And then… he turned to me. I could clearly see the look in his eyes… that look of hatred and contempt… and then he took a step toward me. I… I just reacted out of fear, and I only wanted to make a wall of ice like I had done so often before…

"But… but I didn't. My screams turned into mist… a mist that was just so cold… so cold… it wouldn't affect me… and it didn't affect my mother's corpse either. Because… the Yuki, we have a special body. Our bodies are colder than others, that's why we can produce ice out of nothing, by creating winds that are so cold they freeze water in the air… but tou-san… he wasn't like that. The mist… it froze him solid… into a statue of ice…" Her tears were flowing freely now. "I… don't know what happened next… except that as soon as I touched him… the ice shattered! My tou-san was a thousand shards then… and I couldn't do anything about it!" The brown-eyed kunoichi found herself crying into the shoulder of a boy her age she had only known for a day… and she didn't care. She had been holding it in for years… she needed to cry!

Naruto rubbed Haku's back and stroked her hair, whispering words of comfort to the troubled kunoichi. He knew just how important it was to let out your emotions… if he didn't have Kurama to comfort him throughout his life, who knows what would've happened by now?

She didn't stop crying for over two hours, but the jinchūriki didn't mind one bit and instead simply held her. When she stopped, she didn't move, and he felt he should talk.

"Haku-chan… let me tell you a story of something that happened to me…"

[Flashback]

Hyūga Hitomi and Uchiha Mikoto smiled to each other as they watched the trio of Hinata, Naruto and Sasuke playing in one of the fields in the Uchiha compound. A game of hide and seek turned tag that Hinata was winning with her Byakugan.

"I still don't quite understand all of what happened to change our relationship… I don't know why everything was destroyed."

The scene shifts to the funeral of Hyūga Hitomi, the entire Hyūga clan, Uchiha Sasuke, Uchiha Itachi, Uchiha Mikoto and Uzumaki Naruto all in attendance and dressed in black clothing to mourn her while the infant Hanabi was held by Mikoto.

"I don't understand why everyone I love had to leave…"

The scene shifts yet again with Naruto, Sasuke and Hinata laughing together as they made their way to the Uchiha compound only to stop dead in their tracks as they saw all of the corpses of Uchiha and all the blood everywhere… the slaughter…

The trio ran inside to go find the mother figure they all loved and did… but she was dead, their nii-san Itachi above the corpses of both his parents, Mangekyō Sharingan spinning as he turned to look at the three coldly. In a second after his uttered pronunciation of Tsukuyomi Sasuke dropped to the floor and he disappeared in a shunshin of ravens.

"But… I do know one thing, Haku-chan. Even if they are gone, Mikoto-chan… Hitomi-chan… even Itachi-nii-san… even so… I believe that they are still with me. Protecting me… watching over me… I may not understand why they left me… but I know that I will one day see all of them once more."

"B-but… Naruto… if they're gone forever… don't you feel guilt for not being able to protect them?"

"Of course I do… but I also can't help but feel proud that they believed in me…"

The scene shifts back to Hitomi's funeral where in her will she gives Naruto a scroll that once belonged to Uzumaki Kushina, given to her, and another that details her entire taijutsu style she used as a kunoichi, since she wasn't a Hyūga by blood.

At the reading of Mikoto's will… she gifted to him a scroll as well, one of the sealing variety that contained one of her most prized possessions, a scroll of every wind and fire release jutsu she had copied, proud to pass it on to one of the only ones in Konoha who shared her affinities, a boy as much a son to her as Sasuke and Itachi.

Naruto is sitting in the Forest of Death, wide-eyed as he stares up at a man he never thought to see again… his nii-san. The Uchiha nukenin looks at the blonde and gives a small smile, dropping to him one of the most prized Uchiha scrolls… a summoning contract used by Uchiha Madara himself…

"And because they believe in me, Haku-chan… I will fight on in their name. Even if I must be the one that everyone loathes… that everyone wants dead… I will be the one to carry the dreams of my mothers and my older brother. I will be Hitomi-chan's will to find peace for the Hyūga clan… Mikoto-chan's successor to find all of my family and protect them… and Itachi-nii's rival in finding a way to bring the world peace.""

"Why are you telling me this, Naruto?"

[Flashback End]

"Because, Haku-chan… I'm simply telling you to let your precious people live on… in you. Don't become a copy of your mother and father… but share their dreams, in your own special way. Do you understand?"

"I… I think so… thank you, Naruto… Kun."