Author's Notes:

I know it's been freaking forever, and I really didn't want to make everyone wait for the last chapter, but a number of factors contributed to the delay.

A brief summary would be: One of my hard drives got messed up, so I went and bought a new 300 gig drive and copied all the files I wanted to it, then formatted (completely erased) my old drives to clear off all the crap. I was happy as a clam for two whole days, then it turned out that my new drive had a small defect, and by small defect I mean it crashed. Now a real hard drive crash is when the write head hits a platter, and a good analogy for what then happens to the drive would be that its like taking a power sander to a CD.

So in less than 3 seconds, I lost more than 200 gigabytes of data that I had collected over two years. I returned the defective drive and got a new one, but at this point it had already been a couple weeks since my last update, and I had just lost all the original files for all the writting I had ever done, including the final chapter, so I kind of fell into a funk for 10 days or so and didn't do any writting at all.

Having brought my machine back to life from the ashes of it's demise and gotten things somewhat back to normal, I decided it was time to stop sulking and get to re-writting the last chapter, and so two weeks later, here we are.

Being the final chapter, and since you have all waited so patiently, this one is way longer than usual (and nearly twice as long as it was when I wrote it the first time).

In other news, Never Cut Twice got nominated for a Naruto Fanfiction Award in the Humor/Parody category. Awards are given based on votes, and voting is open from December 2nd to Febuary 28th. The Awards are hosted by narutofic(dot)net, so go check out the site sometime.

There might be an epilogue at some point, though don't hold your breath.

Most of my effort is going to now be channeled into Consanguinity, which you should check out if you haven't yet. Some people might be put of by it being AU or by Sasuke being a main character (I know a lot of people don't like him), but you may find yourself suprised if you give it a try.

I'm writting the author's notes last, so these are the words that are going to end a story I started six months, 33 chapters, and a few hundred plot-holes ago. I'm a little sad about my first forray into the fanfiction world comming to an end, but I have way too many other projects going to reflect on it too much.

I've had a blast writting this, and hope you've enjoyed reading it, but I think thats enough pseudo-blogging from me, so on to actual story!

/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/

Szark watched Naruto with something akin to amusement as the boy circled him slowly. Szark had thwarted numerous attack runs, all using the Kamaitachi, and Naruto just kept getting blasted back.

The old man walked sideways over the sand, keeping in rhythm with Naruto's circling, "Do you know what the problem is with shinobi today, Naruto-kun?"

The boy was focusing his attention on regenerating a part of his arm that had been slashed, but wasn't going to waste an oppurtunity to stall for time, "No, what?"

"None of the young people today have any respect for power, since none of them had to earn it. All the kiddies rely on their blood limits these days, or in your case, a demon."

Naruto glanced at his arm; it was 40 percent healed, "What about you then? You use demonic energy too, and even have a tenken."

"Wrong, Naruto-kun. I worked harder than anyone growing up. When other students in my dojo trained five hours, I trained ten. At sixteen, I designed and hand forged Gyakuryuu, which by the way isn't a tenken, but an ordinary sword that uses some simple principles of physics. By twenty I had designed a new type of summoning tattoo so I would always have my sword on hand."

The boy looked again at his arm; which was now almost fully healed, "So what?"

"When I was thirty one, I was an elite guard for a merchant ship. Our vessel was attacked by a sea demon, and I beat the bastard with nothing more than a sword and my wits."

Naruto paused for a moment, "I guess I have to give you that one. Beating a demon is pretty damned impressive, but that was a long time ago and the world has changed."

"Oh really? If you think you can beat me using your borrowed power, I dare you to try!"

Naruto gritted his teeth in frustration. His arm was healed, but Szark was holding back, obviously mocking him. None of his usual strategies were going to work, since he had to assume that with his experience, Szark knew everything Kisame had taught him and most of the things Itachi had taught him. Naruto supposed that the old man's comments about borrowed power might not have been that far off, since to win he would have to improvise.

He ran through a mental list of all the jutsus he knew, and something resembling an idea started to form.

Szark had been using the Kamaitachi almost exclusively so far, and that wasn't likely to last, but if Naruto could strike while the old man was still overconfident, he might have a chance.

The boy took a moment to pull off his shoes while the old man whistled carelessly, and he tossed the boots to one side, digging his feet into the sand and ensuring he had good traction.

"Alright, geezer, get ready to eat your words!"

Szark yawned dismissively as Naruto started what appeared to be another blind frontal assault.

"Alright then, Naruto-kun, lets kick it up a notch!" Gyakuryuu cut through the air, "Daikamaitachi!"

A cloud of sand was kicked up as the wind tore across the desert, but Szark didn't hear an impact, implying Naruto had evaded the blast. The old man surveyed the empty landscape, but there was no sign of the boy.

Then he heard it.

It was an almost inaudible high pitched whine, and it set his teeth on edge.

Sword clones burst from the dust cloud and closed on him from all directions. Szark counted 4...6...8...9 swords total.

Interesting, the old man thought, he replicates his thrown sword and the demons chakra allows their flight to be controlled.

Szark started to rotate Gyakuryuu over his head, passing the blade from hand to hand as it steadily built up momentum. Once it was up to speed, he twisted the sword about his body like a baton twirler. The wind created kicked up sand, forming a miniature sandstorm surrounding him.

The first of the Seirei Kirite clones was vaporized upon contact with this cyclonic barrier of wind and chakra, to be quickly followed by the second, third, forth, and fifth sword clones. As his attention shifted to the sixth blade, he felt the sands beneath him shift. Just as the sixth clone was banished, a hand burst from the desert and Szark was faced with an orb of chakra being propelled towards his nose.

The old man brought Gyakuryuu down and obliterated the kage bunshin, dissolving the rasengan, but in doing so he embedded half Gyakuryuu's blade in the sand. With three spinning blades bearing down on him, his sword was immobilized.

Very well done, Naruto... Very well done indeed.

He slammed his left hand into the desert, "Kuchiyose no Jutsu!"

The final three sword clones vanished with a muted poof and Naruto, hiding in a dune a few hundred feet away, felt a cold feeling settle in his belly as a massive cloud of smoke filled his vision. The smoke cleared slowly, and a massive serpentine form lifted it's head into the desert sky.

Naruto had faced Orochimaru's giant serpents, but even Manda paled when compared to the monster that was now fixating it's gaze on his hiding spot.

"What is this, Szark? Have you become so weak that even with my chakra, you cannot defeat a child?"

"Oh, shut up, Leviathan. It's not like you had anything better to do today."

"I'll have you know that I was in the middle of a very nice dream about mermaids. You interrupted my mermaid dream."

"You can dream about mermaids any day, but how often do you get to face another of your own kind?"

"Have you gone senile, old man? We're in a fucking desert. How many sea serpents do you know who hang out in deserts? All I see is a brat hiding in a pile of sand."

"Not a sea serpent you dumbass, a demon."

"The brat hiding in the pile of sand is a demon? Generally, I expect demons to be more than five feet tall, and scarier than mozzarella cheese, and I have seen cheese way scarier than that runt."

Naruto, despite the immediate threat to his life, wanted to correct the demon by saying that he was at least five and a half feet tall, but decided he would have to restrain himslf to take full advantage of the bickering going on between Szark and Leviathan.

"Hey, bastard fox, got any ideas?"

"I have one, but..."

"Yeah, I was thinking that too, but theres a pretty good chance that I'll die in the process, so I 'm really not a fan of that strategy."

"Well, fighting as you are now guarantees that you'll die. Szark may have become a softie in his old age, but Leviathan will kill you without a second thought. Or even a first thought, for that matter."

"So I have no choice then?"

"Not really. Unless you want to fall on your knees and beg for forgiveness, which is always an option."

Naruto looked up, "Alright then, here goes nothing..."

There were 37 seals to this jutsu, and he remembered them as well as the day he had first used it.

By the time Szark noticed that Naruto was actually doing something, 15 seals had been completed.

By the time Szark managed to point it out to Leviathan that Naruto was actually doing something, 30 seals had been completed.

The serpent snapped forward, intending to finish the boy with one bite, but the final seal had been completed. Naruto streaked a line of blood across his belly, "Shikifuujin KAI!"

His final thought was: Shit... I'd forgotten how much this hurt.

/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/

Skimming across the sands, Temari was making excellent time. She had made it to the village in seven hours, and with just a ten minute turn around, she was now moving at high speed on a platform of sand along with Gaara and a squad of sand ANBU.

A trip which she had originally thought would take sixteen hours was going to be completed in just a little more than half that, but she was still anxious about what they might find.

They were still a great many miles away, but Gaara suddenly poked her in the shoulder, "Look."

She did, and was almost blinded by the light. Though still far in the distance, a section of desert was reflecting light like a mirror, blinding anyone who looked directly at it.

"Go faster!" Temari said suddenly, "Go FASTER!"

/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/

When they finally arrived, Gaara lowered his sand platform and everyone disembarked, moving like zombies. The ANBU commander couldn't keep a stutter out of his voice, "Impossible... not even..."

He looked at Gaara fearfully, but the sand boy shook his head, "No, even I couldn't do a thing like this."

Right in the middle of the desert, there was a square mile of glass.

Temari just stared, ignoring the others, because she knew exactly the kind of power that would be needed for something like this, and the only way that power could have been released.

"Naruto did it... That bastard broke the seal!"

The ANBU leader looked at her skeptically, "Highly unlikely, Temari-sama. Humans cant handle a third this much chakra. Anyone who ran this kind of energy through their body would be completely incinerated from the inside out."

Resisting the urge to squish the ANBU leader, Gaara grabbed hold of his sister's arm, "Listen to me Temari, you have to explain everything thats happened."

She shook him off, "It doesn't matter if he's dead, Gaara."

"We don't know that..."

"What the hell are you talking about? The sand was liquefied for a quarter mile in every direction and all that power came from inside Naruto. Not even he could survive that."

Gaara didn't know what to say. He wanted to believe in Naruto's invincibility, but he would be deluding himself. He looked to the ANBU, "Search the area for this Szark. If he is found I want him brought to hidden sand immediately. I'm going to take Temari back now, the rest of you can run."

Grabbing Temari's arm again, he directed her away from the ANBU then lifted the two of them off the ground, heading back to hidden sand as fast as possible.

/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/

Naruto smelled something.

It was a unique smell, there wasn't another like it in the world, and it was one that hadn't tickled his nose for a very long time. He couldn't see anything, and wondered if his nose might be deceiving him, but his nose had never been wrong before.

"I smell instant ramen... pork variety... with chicken stock used instead of water, a little soy sauce added, chives, paprika, horseradish, and a dollop of sour cream on top."

"It's almost done. I hadn't planned on your coming around so fast."

The voice was muffled, but Naruto would know that voice if he was hearing it under water, "Iruka-sensei... this is a surprise. It must be my unlucky day."

"Hardly. You should be dead right now."

It occurred to Naruto that the last thing he remembered doing was unsealing the demonic chakra in his stomach, "Maybe you have a point there... How did my fight with Szark end up, anyway?"

"I can't say I even know who your talking about. I just found you in a field of viscus liquid sand suffering from whats honestly the worst case of chakra burns I've ever seen."

"Weird... Nothing on my body hurts."

"That's because your body was so badly damaged that you don't have any feeling in most of it"

"Then why can I hear, smell and talk?"

"There are virtually no chakra pathways in your ears, tongue and nose."

"Hm, I didn't know that... Is the ramen done yet?"

"Not quite. Your sight should be coming back pretty quickly, and the rest of your body should regain feeling within an hour or so."

"Cool. What have you been up to recently?"

"Pretty much just hunting you, actually. I headed for hidden sand right after the mess in Konoha, and have been traveling around the country of wind ever since. I figured out that there are only three main towns directly between the borders of wind country and hidden sand, so I've been patrolling from one to another in hopes of running across your trail."

"You people never give up, do you?"

"The village did, I didn't. I've been using my vacation time to go after you, if Tsunade found out, she'd have my hide."

"So how did you find me anyway?"

"I saw Temari in Ocean an hour north, she was all rattled up and mumbling directions. I followed them, and found you."

"Wait... how long was I out?"

"Half a day, so eleven or twelve hours."

"Phew... I still have another couple hours. How far are we from where you found me?"

"Just an hour. We're in Ocean again, and I just found an abandoned warehouse and set up a camp stove."

Naruto suddenly noticed that he was able to see blurs now, and turned his head to look at the blur that was Iruka, "An excellent segue to my next statement. Is the ramen done yet?"

"Yes, actually. Pork Ramen with chicken stock instead of water, a little soy sauce, chives, paprika, horseradish, and a dollop of sour cream on top. Just the way you like it."

"Wait... making my favorite kind of ramen... you want something from me, don't you?"

"Well, I'd like you to renounce everything you've done, come back to the village, apologize to the Hokage and pay your debt to society."

"..."

"Or, you could think of this as a ramen to celebrate the fact that you haven't gotten yourself killed yet."

"You know, Iruka, I don't remember you being this cynical."

"Things have changed a little since the last time we met."

"Thats true, at least."

His sight now good enough to distinguish his hand from his body, he held out his arm as Iruka-blob held out ramen-blob. Naruto slowly closed his hand around the object he couldn't feel, "Do I have it yet?"

"A bit more... there!"

Now holding the cup of ramen, Naruto just tilted his head back and drank the whole thing, "Ahhh... that was good."

"You do realize that I spent nearly ten minutes making that for you."

"I was hungry, and I really can't use chopsticks right now."

"Are you seeing better?"

"A little, still just shapes, though."

Though Naruto couldn't see it, Iruka took off his mask and dug around in his pocket for a cigarette, lighting it on his camp stove, "You know something, Naruto? I've spent more time than I want to admit thinking about what I was going to say to you when I finally found you, but now that I'm here, none of it seems appropriate."

"We've talked a thousand times, so why would you need to plan it this time?"

"Put like that, I have to admit it was pretty stupid of me."

"I'm not going far for a while, so tell me whats going on in Konoha."

Iruka blew a cloud of smoke into the air, "You mean apart from all the madness that you caused?"

"I deserve that, but Itachi wasn't about to let his brother get killed, and the only time anyone got hurt is when you attacked us."

"I don't understand you... Sasuke broke the law. Not only that, his leaving was the catalyst that made you run away."

"Yes, Sasuke broke the law, but the law is wrong. And yes, his leaving was one of the factors that drove me to run away, but running away turned out really well for me."

"How can you enjoy living this way? Spending every day afraid?"

"Afraid? Who am I supposed to be afraid of, you? The other leaf hunters? You're sent on missions by superiors, sometimes those missions will almost assuredly end in death, but you are forced to do it anyway. I, on the other hand, do only missions I want to. Why should I be afraid?"

"It's frightening to be alone, though. As a nukenin, you don't have a village to support you when you're in trouble."

"Ah, your logic fails again. Sasuke was a nukenin, and when he was in trouble other nukenins supported him. Not only that, his few supporters took on your entire village and won by a landslide."

Iruka didn't like all the weaknesses in his argument, "Do you really like being a nukenin that much? You never miss anything about Konoha?"

"I used to be a lot more polarized about it, but I've come to accept that there are a lot of people in the village I hate, but there are as many that I'm indifferent to and a few I actually like. The thing is that I'm not willing to put up with the people I hate just to be in the presence of a few people I like."

"I still can't see that being a good enough reason to just abandon your village."

"Iruka, you and I agree on a lot of things, but not this, so lets just not talk about this, ok? I originally asked you how things were in Konoha."

"Really, they're pretty much the same. Neji trains constantly in hopes of beating you some day, Chouji eats a lot, Shikamaru whines, etc, etc, etc."

"There must be something."

Iruka blew another cloud of smoke into the air, "Well, I was only there for a little while, but after you and your demon pal tore up the city, Sakura started spending all her spare time in the archives. It took her a day and a half to learn more about Demonology than any other shinobi in the village save Hanzo himself, and she shows no signs of slowing."

"I really didn't want to hear about her, you know. In fact, I would have rather you talked about that ugly old fruit stand lady who used to make me pay five times market price than talk about Sakura."

"You really have some issues with her."

Naruto reflected for a moment, "Maybe a couple."

"You didn't part on very good terms, but of everyone in Konoha, she's spent more time thinking and worrying about you than anyone else."

"That won't work, I've perfected the art of apathy. Nothing you say can make me care."

"Sakura was depressed for weeks after you left."

"Don't care."

"She cried herself to sleep every night."

"Hear that? Its the sound of me not caring." Despite what Naruto said, guilt was starting to poke at him.

"She forgave you."

Naruto bit back his planned witty reply, "What?"

The boy still couldn't see that well, so Iruka allowed himself a triumphant smile, "You heard me. I've had a lot of discussions with many people about you, and Sakura is the only one who told me that she couldn't hold what you had done against you."

The guilt was now stabbing him through the few chinks in his emotional armor, "Dammit... You've made me care."

"I've always been good at that, though you are pretty predictable. More importantly, though, is what you're going to do now."

"Now you want me to do something?"

Iruka ground the stub of his cigarette into the floor, "Part of being a man is paying recompense for your mistakes, so I want you to at least think about what you could do for Sakura."

"If I promise to think about it will you make me more ramen?"

"Sounds like a fair deal to me, but you better seriously think and not just stare off into space."

Naruto thought about it for all of thirty seconds, got bored of it, and decided he'd think about it later. The next nine and a half minutes were occupied by him staring off into space. Iruka noticed the boy's inattention almost immediately, but figured he had at least set things in motion.

After adding the various toppings, he helped Naruto maneuver the second cup of ramen into his mouth. Again, it all disappeared in one swallow.

"I'll think even more for a third cup of..."

"No."

"Stingy..."

"Yes I am, but I don't see you paying for any of this."

"I could if you wanted. That would make a great story in Konoha too: How you found Naruto but let him go because he bribed you. I'll bet that goes over real well with Tsunade."

"I'm hoping beyond hope that no one in Konoha ever finds out about any of this."

"Thats probably a good philosophy, even if we both know its really unlikely."

Iruka fished around for another cigarette, "Yeah well, a guy can dream."

"You know that smoking is bad for you, right?"

"Yes I do," he said as he lit up, "As you may recall, we used to have a monthly 'no smoking day' in class where we'd spend fifteen minutes talking about exactly how bad this is for your health."

"So how did you get hooked, then?"

"Needed a stress reliever."

Naruto reached out and swatted the cigarette to the ground, "There are other ways to relieve stress! Get a girlfriend or something."

"I was never very good with women, Naruto, and even less so since I joined the hunter-nin. I walk down the street and all the girls just stare at me."

"Wait... you think it's bad when they stare? That means they dig you."

"Come again?"

"You heard me."

"Listen Naruto, I am much older and much more experienced than you, and I can tell you that women stare at me because they think I'm weird. I can see it in their eyes."

"I'll make you a bet, how about that. I need to get a message to Temari, so if I win the bet than you have to go leave a note where I fought Szark and mark it with something obvious so that they'll know I'm alright. If you win, then I'll go peacefully back to Konoha with you and do all the things you want me to. Repent or whatever."

Iruka almost fell over, "Give me the terms..." he said eagerly, "I'm not entering into an unreasonable bet"

"Now I'm trusting you here, so you better play fair. I want you to go outside into a market or somewhere and introduce yourself to the best looking woman you see who's not either married or too far out of your age bracket. I'm going to bet that as long as you really try to be nice and all, you'll have a date within ten minutes."

"Thats absurd... but you're serious about coming back home if you lose?"

"Completely serious."

Now excited, Iruka ran and vanished outside.

/-/-/-/13 Minutes Later/-/-/-/

Iruka stumbled back into the warehouse in a strange kind of daze, "What did you want that sign to say, again? I have to hurry because I'm going to coffee with a woman named Roxane."

"Blond, brunette or redhead?"

"Redhead."

"Ooh... How old?"

"Two years younger than me."

"Care to make another bet? I'd be willing to accept the same terms as the previous bet, only if you lose this time you have to give me you're wallet. I can think of all kinds of things we could bet on... "

Iruka was only paying partial attention, "I don't think so, Naruto."

"Don't forget that you're a hunter-nin, so when dealing with girls you need to dazzle them with stories of your battles."

The older man searched around and found a large wooden board, "Lecture later, message now. I'll just carve it right into the wood."

"Better hurry, you have an hour to travel both ways."

/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/

Temari sat atop the highest building in hidden sand and looked out over the desert, her youngest brother standing a few paces behind her. Were it not for the Master's fan on the roof at her feet, she might have been able to pass off her time with Naruto as a grandiose dream. Here she was, back in hidden sand, and nothing had changed. She would be able to wake up the next day and return straight to her previous rank and position as a gennin.

It was all thanks to Gaara's influence, but it was still a shock to have normalcy so unexpectedly thrust upon her, who had become so used to the random and unpredictable life of a outlaw. She looked down at her fan, and for one fraction of a second considered burying it deep in the desert and trying to just forget that Naruto had ever existed.

But then reality sunk in, and she started to cry.

They weren't the sort of over exaggerated tears one might expect, and there was no wailing, sobbing or moaning. She just stood there as small tears traced paths down her cheeks and fell silently onto the tile roof. Gaara wanted to say something, but any words of consolation would seem pathetically insignificant when measured against his sister's pain.

He looked away and spoke softly, "I'm sure Kankuro will be glad to see you."

"Yes."

"And all your old friends... we should invite them over or something."

He got no response, but Gaara took the silence to be affirmative and dissolved into sand, leaving Temari alone on her rooftop.

/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/

Iruka practically danced into the warehouse, "That was great! Roxane wants to see me again."

Inside, Naruto was on his feet and looking at his reflection in one the few unbroken windows in the building. He glanced over as the older man entered, and their eyes were level with each other, "You forget to mention this one small detail."

Iruka blinked, "I didn't notice. It's hard to judge height when someone is laying down and I wasn't really paying attention, though I did notice that your limbs were out of proportion."

Naruto surveyed his body uncomfortably, and although the changes were similar in nature to the first time he had used the Shikifuujin Kai, the effects were much more pronounced. He had grown slightly taller again, and running his tongue over his fangs determined that they had again grown longer, but it took only a few more seconds of poking and prodding to reveal that his skeletal structure had become distinctly more canine.

He was finding his back hunching slightly, and had a sneaking suspicion that if he were to let himself fall forward he would be able to run on all fours. Contributing to this suspicion was the fact that his arms had grown longer in proportion to the rest of his body, all of his muscles had become leaner and stringier, and his shoulders felt somehow wrong.

"Oi, Iruka. Dogs have disconnected shoulder bones, right?"

"Yeah, running on all fours requires a wider range of motion, so having disconnected shoulder bones gives them more flexibility, a longer stride when running and lets them jump farther."

"...You sure know a lot."

"I used to be a school teacher. They paid me to be smart."

"Right now they're paying you to kill me, and you haven't done that yet."

"I'm better at being smart than I am at killing."

"Not really, you're just not quite used to it yet. Wait until you're desperate enough and I bet you'll find you have a great talent for killing. Everyone does."

"And you call me cynical?"

"I call them as I see them. How much money do you have?"

Iruka suddenly became suspicious, "Why?"

"Because I need to go clothes shopping." Naruto said dully, "Again. There seems to be some greater power obsessed with wrecking my clothes and/or wrecking my body in an effort to force me to constantly buy new garments."

"..."

"Stop looking at me that way. Do you have the money or not?"

"I guess."

"Excellent, now give me a hand here, since I really can't move very well yet."

/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/

Szark sat up against a sand dune and systematically examined his injuries. After fifteen minutes of careful examination he was able reach one conclusion.

He was fucked up.

Even with Leviathan's large girth shielding him from most of the chakra, he had at least three broken ribs, a snapped wrist, a broken foot, and a split lip that hurt like a bitch. Since he didn't have the luxury of regeneration like Naruto and Leviathan did, he always carried a soldier pill, but he would still have to bandage his ribs and a make a splint for his foot.

Looking down at Gyakuryuu, he decided that he didn't need the extra weight, so he pressed his right hand onto the blade and watched it vanish.

/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/

Somewhere in another dimension, Gamakichi was hopping happily down a river bank with his friend Usagi the bunny.

He heard a strange poofing sound and quickly looked around, "What was that?"

Usagi shrugged her small bunny shoulders, "I don't..."

Splat

Gamakichi stared in wide eyed horror at the large sword now lying on the ground where Usagi had just been.

And the splatter of red that was now Usagi.

"Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!"

/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/

Szark pondered his smoking arm. What he used to seal his sword was essentially a reversed summoning contract, so he couldn't help but wonder where exactly the weapon went when he wasn't using it.

But that was a question for another day.

With a grunt of pain, he started to dig in his various pockets, looking for his soldier pill.

/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/

Naruto pushed his way out of the clothing store happily, wearing apparel that actually fit him. Clothes that fit are important, since wearing underwear that's three sizes to small is never a pleasant experience.

His shoes had been lost somewhere in the desert, but he didn't really mind going barefoot for a while, and Iruka was starting to look annoyed at the quickly thinning pile of bills in his wallet.

"How are you feeling?"

"I can barely walk, Iruka. How does it look like I'm doing?"

"You really need to be more positive about things. Being able to move is an amazing feat for someone with your level of injuries"

"Amazing or not, it's still not enough. I'm helpless without my chakra."

"Naruto; I could cut off your arms and gouge out your eyes and you would still be a lot more dangerous than most shinobi I know."

"Hmm... True."

Iruka's eye twitched at the boy's tone, "And by the way, I'm assuming I can abandon any hope of ever getting my money back?"

"Yeah, pretty much."

Iruka really didn't know where to go from there, so more words were exchanged as they made their way back to the warehouse, and Naruto went straight back to sleep once they arrived.

/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/

He felt himself being sucked back into the world of the waking by some force or another, and opened his eyes to find a large dog licking his face.

Pushing the mutt off him, Naruto dug around in Iruka's pack and pulled out an energy bar, unwrapping it and throwing it to the dog.

"There, now leave me alone."

The dog jumped and caught the bar in it's mouth, munched for a moment, and seemed to find it satisfactory, barking once and then running out of the warehouse.

Naruto saw no sign of Iruka anywhere, and was feeling quite a bit better, though he still couldn't feel even a hint of chakra. He did a quick test of all his major muscle groups, and was pleased to find that most of them responded quite well. There was still a persistent burning sensation, but that wasn't likely to change until his chakra system started to heal itself.

It was strange to think about, but he had burns all along the inside of his muscles and organs. Even more annoying was that his regeneration would be massively slowed. It was, he realized, something of a vicious circle; he needed chakra to regenerate and needed to regenerate his pathways before he could use any chakra.

With a sigh, he pulled on his new vest and stretched out his arms, testing to see how extensive a range of motion his new shoulder muscles actually allowed him. He was surprised to find that he could actually rotate his arms like windmill blades, keeping them straight aligned with his torso.

Once he was loosened up, he started going through some basic taijutsu routines, trying to get a feel for his new body. He would flinch every now and then when a stab of pain would shoot through one of his arms or legs, but he wouldn't let himself falter.

After twenty or so minutes, he took a breather and started to heat some water to make instant ramen. Sweat ran down his face as he watched the water start to boil and lost himself in the hypnotic bubbling.

He wasn't sure how much time had passed when he snapped out of it, but a good amount of water had evaporated by the time he poured it over his par-cooked noodles. Slurping loudly, he left the warehouse and started to wander through the nearby streets.

He turned a corner and paused as he saw a bunch of rather large men surrounding a smaller man with very greasy hair.

"Is there a problem, gentlemen?"

Attention immediately centered on Naruto, who continued to eat his ramen.

"Get out of here, brat. We're just doing a little business."

Naruto slurped down more noodles and gestured to the surrounded and shivering smaller man, "It looks like you're being a little rough."

"This is none of your concern, so just walk away."

When the boy showed no intention of doing so, a few of the larger men started to advance towards him. He watched them approach but held out a hand as they moved to surround him.

"Wait a second." Naruto tilted his head back and drank down the rest of his ramen, throwing the cup to one side. "Okay, I'm ready."

One of the men went to grab his arm, and without so much as a change of facial expression, Naruto caught the thug's hand and crushed it. With their companion now laying screaming on the ground, the rest of the men were slightly more hesitant.

The leader (Naruto assumed, since he was the biggest and looked the meanest) stepped forward, "What the hell do you want kid, money?"

"I just want to know what's going on, and why you appear to be ganging up on someone obviously weaker than you."

"I'm only telling you one more time, leave!"

With a sigh, Naruto ducked under a punch thrown by one of the thugs who had managed to get behind him, grabbed his wrist and and threw the man into a nearby pile of trash. Two more tried to flank him, but Naruto flattened them with his all time favorite, the scissor kick.

"What IS it with you people and resorting to violence? All I do is go for a walk, and the next thing I know, people are attacking me. I'm injured, you know."

Those who could were now running away as fast as possible, leaving Naruto surrounded by a bunch unconscious or pitifully moaning thugs.

He shrugged to himself, "Whatever," and continued on his walk.

/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/

Sakura dropped into a chair and surveyed her kitchen table and the paper that covered it. Every day she received her mail along with all the mail addressed to the Uchiha estate (since she was the only one who cared) which she sorted to one side every day and looked through once a week. There was an unusually large amount this particular week, but she suspected most of it was junk mail.

Her suspicions were for the most part confirmed, until she reached an innocuous looking letter that made do a double take. Scribed on the front of the envelope were the words: "Are you Uchiha Itachi? If so, the do we have some deals for you!"

Thinking it must be some sort of prank, she tore it open and pulled out a single sheet of paper, which opened to reveal a form letter.

Dear Uchiha Itachi,

We know that life as a 19 year old No, thank you can be hectic, particularly when you're working hard as a Shinobi. It may not always be easy to eat healthy, but if you want to weigh a little less than Don't know, we have some great deals on Pocky, Pocky, and even Pocky for after dinner. If any of this sounds good to you, feel free to give one of our representatives a call at 555-FAT-GONE, thats 555-328-4663.

Sakura read through the letter again just to be sure she wasn't going crazy, then bolted out the door.

"Tsunade is not going to believe this."

/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/

When Iruka got back, Naruto was doing one finger push ups, "Did you go out today?"

"Hmm? Yeah, why?"

"There's a big story going around. Apparently there's a water shortage in the city, and most of the water supply is controlled by a guy named Crisco, who's backed by the local gangs. Now a group of cops went undercover six months ago to bust this guy, and managed to get hired as his bodyguards."

Naruto didn't like where this was going.

"Now they were only few people in a large group of bodyguards, and today was the first day that his detail consisted of all undercover cops. They managed to get him away from the rest of his organization and were interrogating him, but just before they got him to roll..."

Iruka just let it hang, and Naruto flipped onto his back, "Well shit."

"So I take you were one who beat up the police?"

"It would seem so, but I didn't know they were police at the time."

"Their cover was blown as soon as they confronted Crisco, so now they're screwed."

"They must have evidence against this guy if they followed him around all that time."

"Yes, but he escaped from the police and is now holed up in his fortress of a house, surrounded by minions, and sitting on top of a tank filled with water that the city needs to survive."

"Ouch..."

"And once Crisco found the name of the man who had led the undercover team, he had his daughter kidnapped."

"Ack..."

"And he had all the puppies and kittens in the city gathered together up and is hanging them over a pot of boiling water, threatening to drop them in."

"..."

"Okay, so I made that last one up."

"But the thing about the daughter is real?"

"As far as I know."

Naruto growled, "Fuck... If this Crisco was just a greedy asshole, I could let it slide, but since he plays dirty I'm going to have to something about it."

"What exactly are you going to do?"

"Kill the bastard."

"Just like that?"

"Just like that."

"What about the girl?"

Naruto pondered for a moment, "I'll leave that you to you."

Iruka stood slack jawed as Naruto walked out of the building, then ran after him, "Wait a second!"

/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/

Crisco's mansion wasn't hard to find, since it was pretty much the largest building in the city. That, and the fact that there were a hundred or so police outside.

He vaulted easily over the wall and made his way to the open front door and peeked in.

He saw a few of the men from this morning, most noticeably the man who Naruto had dubbed 'Head Thug', who was standing near the door in a police uniform and looking very nervous.

Across the gigantic entrance hall, at the foot of a set of stairs was the greasy haired man Naruto had protected this morning, surrounded by a small army of tough looking guys armed to the teeth. There were a few more police, but they were looking scared senseless.

Naruto strode in, and those who recognized him grew wide eyed. He looked over at the big cop from this morning, "Oi, you the one who's daughter was kidnapped?"

The man appeared to be trying very hard to restrain himself, "What the fuck do you care! This is all your fault anyway!"

Naruto rubbed his head, "Okay, not getting anything from you." He looked across the room, "You there, Crisco. Did you kidnap this guys daughter?"

"Um... Yeah."

"Are you threatening her life?"

"That IS the point of holding someone hostage, isn't it?"

"Alright then, I guess I have no choice. You police guys might want to get out of the way for this."

With everyone else in the room staring at him, Naruto meandered slowly towards Crisco and his cronies.

Crisco scowled, "Listen boy, I'm grateful for your help this morning, and will pay you well, but stay back and let me deal with this first."

Naruto continued his advance and shook his head, "I'm afraid that won't be happening."

Some of the gang members raised their crossbows, but Crisco held up a hand, "What do you mean by that?"

The boy narrowed his eyes, "I think you know exactly what I mean."

The greasy haired man snorted, "Well, go ahead and attack me then, but you'll find I have some very good protection!"

He snapped his fingers with a flourish, and the ground started to rumble as a trap door opened in the floor and smoke billowed out. Out of the smoke rose...

An empty platform.

Everyone stared at it for a moment, then a flushing sound could be heard from somewhere in the building. A young man in shinobi garb came through one of the doors on the second floor and jumped over the railing onto the platform, "Sorry! I was just in the..."

Crisco pointed, "Fight him."

He looked at Naruto, "Whoa... I actually have someone to fight today. I may not look like much, but I almost passed the chuunin exam a couple years back, and I wont go easy on you."

Naruto looked on blankly, "Exactly how low are your standards around here?"

"Don't insult me!"

The young man formed two bunshins, and each of the three drew a kunai and they attacked Naruto from all sides.

He watched them charge towards him pityingly, "Well, let's hope you get lucky."

The three boys laughed, "Lucky?"

Naruto was attacked from the left first and dodged the kunai thrust, grabbing the boy's neck with his hand. He blocked a thrust from the right a half second later and again grabbed his neck. The third attack came from straight ahead, and he ducked under the final kunai and tore into his assailants throat with his fangs.

The forms in his left hand and teeth dissolved into smoke, leaving a quaking boy being held the air by his right hand, "What do you know, your luck was good today."

He looked down at Naruto shakily, and more specifically at his teeth, "You re... re... really didn't know which was the real me?"

Naruto grinned, and the boy fainted dead away. He dropped him casually and turned his gaze to Crisco, "Anything else?"

The greasy man looked manic, "All of you, KILL HIM!"

The terrified gang members drew throwing weapons of various varieties and hurled them at Naruto, more out of self-preservation than any sense of loyalty.

Just as the weapons were about to hit him, Naruto blurred and vanished.

Crisco looked around desperately, "Above!"

It was far too late, as the first row of thugs were taken out by weapons they had only seconds before thrown themselves. Twisting in mid-air, Naruto planted his feet and hands on the ceiling, digging in with his claws to adhere to it.

"Really, Crisco. When you hire mindless minions, make sure they have good aim."

At this point, Crisco's men were running for the exits as fast as they could, and the police had to get out of the way as the throng forced it's way out the front door. When the mass exodus was over, the greasy man was left with his few loyal supporters.

"You may kill me, runt, but that police-man's daughter is going to die with me! She's probably being strangled to death in the basement even as we speak!"

Naruto dropped off the ceiling, again twisting to land lightly on his feet, "Do you have her, Iruka?"

The hunter-nin appeared just outside the door, holding a young girl, "I have her and the guards have been dealt with."

As his last few men deserted him, Crisco's eyes took on a look of madness, "Ha... ha... HAHAHAHA! So you think you can kill me, do you? Then we'll all die together, how about that."

He pulled a stick of dynamite out of his pocket, "I was going to use this on the water tank as a last resort, but it should work just as well to kill you!"

Everyone outside watched tensely as the madman lit the stick and waved in the air, "TAKE THIS!"

Crisco threw the explosive, and Naruto watched as it tumbled end over end toward him. He glanced down at the kunai scattered about the floor and kicked one into the air. He studied the tumbling TNT even more closely, then snatched the kunai and threw it with a small flick of the wrist.

The weapon traveled through the air at an untraceable speed and embedded itself in Crisco's head with a wet thunk.

The dynamite turned end over end a final few times, then Naruto caught it. The boy turned his attention to the center of the room, where a small piece of wick was burning as it floated slowly to the ground. He watched it for a couple more seconds, until it quietly burned itself out.

"Boom."

Naruto dropped the dynamite and walked back out the mansion's front door. He stopped for a moment to check on the little girl and her father, who looked up as Naruto passed by, "You can't know how much I appreciate this..."

"Give my regards to the guys I busted up, and consider us even."

With that, Iruka and Naruto vanished.

While most of the cops were arresting members of Crisco's ex-gang, one got curious and went over to examine the stick of dynamite.

The wick had been cleanly severed a half inch above the top of the stick, and the man's eyes then traced a path to the kunai in Crisco's head, and the small piece of wick lying on the ground in the middle of the room.

"Sir... You'll want to see this."

/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/

When they arrived back at their warehouse, Iruka collapsed against a wall, "There are no words to describe how nervous I was back there..."

"About the mission?"

"I was worrying about what would happen if I was caught taking an action like this without orders."

"Be content that you did some good today, Iruka."

"So after this, how long are you planning on staying in the city?"

Naruto shook his head, "Not long at all. Probably going to leave tomorrow morning. Why, are you planning on following me?"

"I have to return to Konoha soon, and tomorrow is as good a time as any."

"So tonight is our last chance to hang out, huh?"

"Yes it is, and you are going to do some talking."

"About what?"

"You've been sick, so I've been doing all the talking, and now I want to hear about you a little bit."

"There's nothing really to say about me..."

"If you need help, start with Temari and go from there. From the impression I get, you two are getting pretty close."

Naruto choked and started to cough violently, while Iruka just smiled.

/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/

The next morning Iruka awoke to the smell of ramen.

Figuring he owed Iruka breakfast, Naruto had made a full ten cups of instant noodles (eight for him, two for Iruka). Actually, he had taken the ramen from Iruka's pack in the first place, so all he had really done was cook it, but that was a minor issue.

"I'm surprised you're still here, Naruto. I would have thought you would have left as soon as you got up. Don't you have all kinds of important things to do?"

"I'm going to dig my sword out of the desert today, and I'm not really looking forward to it, so I'm procrastinating."

"You do realize that it's probably under the section of desert now covered by glass?"

"Hence the procrastination, but I want to get to hidden sand as soon as possible, and before I can do that I have to settle the score with an old man, which requires my sword."

"You're going to go back and fight the same guy who kicked your ass last time, but this time without chakra?"

"I'm kind of hoping that my chakra pathways will heal before I find him."

Iruka finished his breakfast and subtlety pulled a smoke from his pocket, "Great plan you have there."

"I like to improvise."

"But are you any good at it?"

Naruto rolled his eyes and tossed Iruka a scroll, "Here you are, oh great master of sarcasm. Something for Sakura."

"I'm amazed, Naruto... What is it?"

"None of your business, so just give it to her."

Iruka looked at him flatly, "It's not going to explode when she opens it, right?"

"No."

"Release a poisonous gas?"

"No."

"Start playing music from the Katamari Damacy soundtrack?"

"God no, I would never do something that inhumane."

"Is it going to do anything that might get her or me in trouble?"

"Nope; 100 safe, I guarantee it."

"I'm trusting you on this, so if anyone gets hurt because of this scroll..."

"I'm not a very good person by most people's standards, but I don't lie, and I would never even consider being so underhanded as to try and hurt the village through you. We clear?"

Iruka looked at the ground, "I'm sorry."

"Don't be."

That line was a pretty effective conversation killer, so Naruto just helped Iruka get ready to go. Neither of them were working very fast, but all the work seemed done far too early.

Iruka lifted his pack onto his back, "In the grand scheme of things, you haven't been gone that long, Naruto, but somewhere along the line you leaned some maturity."

The two of them walked out into the street and arbitrarily turned right, "Nah, I'm just really good a faking it."

"If you say so, but I see maturity."

"Anyway, are you sure you don't want to hang around a bit longer and help me dig through a few hundred metric tonnes of sand?"

"No, I think my life can go on quite happily without my ever having to dig through any sand at all. And I figure it's better if we keep our time together short; we live in different worlds now."

"Maybe... But yesterday, you felt a little rush, didn't you?"

"A rush?"

"Play dumb if you want, but you know you did the right thing yesterday, and you did it without being ordered to by anyone. Tell me you didn't enjoy it even a little bit when you beat those thugs away from that little girl."

There was heavy silence as Iruka realized his mouth would not open to deny it.

"See? I'm not going to suggest you leave the village or anything, but stand up to your superiors once in a while. It will keep them on their toes."

"So now you're promoting insubordination?"

"It's part of a long term plan to force hidden villages to reconsider how they operate."

"And how do you plan to get support for this mass coup of yours?"

"Under my organizational structure, all shinobi will be given a fifteen minute doughnut break twice a day."

"What if they're in the middle of a battle?"

"It won't matter, because if I get all the villages to operate this way, both sides will take their breaks at the same time."

"What kind of doughnuts?"

"Chocolate sprinkle."

"Vive la revolution."

"What?"

"Sorry, historical reference. Look it up."

"I need to head the other way pretty soon, but I have something I want you to say to the Hokage for me when she inevitably finds out about our meeting, and you have to use the exact wording."

"Sure, what do you want me to say?"

"Tell her that I have no problem doing missions for Konoha again, on one condition."

"What's the condition?"

Naruto grinned, "That she pay the same price as everyone else."

Iruka gulped, "She's going to kill me..."

Naruto stopped walking and started to turn around, but suddenly had an inspiration, "It would be even better if Kakashi was in the room too."

"As a matter of detail, what is your price?"

"You don't seriously think the Hokage would hire a missing-nin from her own village, do you?"

"If she were desperate enough."

It had never crossed Naruto's mind that his joke might be taken seriously, so he had to think for a minute, "2,000,000 yen."

Iruka initially balked at the cost, but tucked the information away for a day when he might need it, "So I'll see you later then, Naruto?"

The boy laughed, "I'm sure we'll run across each other again eventually. Take care of yourself, sensei."

With that they went their seperate ways, and neither looked back.

Iruka would make his way to Konoha without giving the scroll much thought at all, completely unaware he had in his pocket a text that would change the study of demons forever, as it contained everything Naruto knew about the history of the demon race.

/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/

Szark stumbled through town, his stomach grumbling noisily. He, like Naruto, had lost most of his possessions to the shifting sands, and had only a few thousand yen.

He was pondering this dilemma when he saw a group of young people doing what appeared to be dancing on the street. He watched as money changed hands, then two people would start dancing, and after a couple minutes they would stop and more money would change hands.

Szark didn't know what kind of dancing it was, and had never heard that type of music, but he knew a competition when he saw one, "Hey! You kids over there, can I try?"

There were a few snickers, but one of the boys held up his hand, "Sure, old man, I'll take you on."

"What odds?"

There was some muttering, then someone whispered something in the same boy's ear, "20 : 1."

The old man counted his money, "I'll bet 9000 yen on myself, then."

Full fledged laughter broke out, but a few courageous people put money down for Szark to win, usually because their friends dared them to.

The old man took his place across from the cocky teen and someone started up the boombox.

/-/-/-/ 7 Minutes Later /-/-/-/

Szark walked away with a large bag on money, leaving a number of gaping jaws and one crushed ego behind him, "Remember, kiddies; never underestimate a geezer!"

Two boys near the edge of the crowed watched the old man walk away.

"Dude... did that guy just do a disco to rap music?"

"Uh huh."

"I didn't know that was rhythmically doable."

"Me neither."

"..."

"..."

"It was a damn good dance, wasn't it?"

"Yep."

"..."

"..."

"Think he'd teach us the disco?"

/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/

Naruto surveyed the field of glass morosely. Having been unconscious the last time he was here, he hadn't actually seen the glass field his uncontrolled chakra had spontaneously formed. It was big. Really big. Like... Szark's sword kind of big.

Obviously he would have to rethink his plan of systematically digging in the desert. If he wanted to find his sword, some use of the mush between his ears would be required.

So he sat down, and pondered.

What did he know about glass? Though technically a liquid, it existed as a solid for all intents and purposes, so no help there. Despite looking like a crystal, glass was also amorphous, which meant that the atoms had no order or structure, so speaking atomically it had more in common with cotton candy than anything crystalline. Interesting as this fact was, again Naruto couldn't think how it would be useful.

But then the wanderings of his mind brought him to something Kisame had taught him by the campfire one night, and it had to do with resonance.

All substances have specific frequencies at which they will vibrate, the lowest of which being the resonant length. Kisame had told him that if one were to create a vibration very near to, but not exactly, that frequency, the glass would shake itself apart.

This effect, although boring in theory, was really fun to do in practice; since when a scientist says glass 'shakes itself apart', what he really means is that it 'shatters violently.' And that was exactly what Naruto needed to do.

"How on earth did Kisame learn something like that?"

Naruto lurched at the voice and fell onto his back, "That you, bastard fox?"

"Are there any other dashingly handsome demons currently forced to cohabitate with you inside your head? Cause if there are I'd love to meet them, it gets lonely in here."

"See, I knew it was you."

"The why did you ask?"

"So I would have time to collect myself after the surprise of having you talk after being quiet for so long."

"I'm more surprised than you are, brat. I've been trying and failing to get your attention for a couple days, and I went to some pretty extreme lengths."

"I had a really weird dream last night, and it included you singing Candy Girl."

And thus awkwardness ensued.

"So you really were singing candy girl?"

"I thought you might be just ignoring me, so I tried to come up with the most annoying thing I could think of."

"You were right. I didn't sleep very well at all last night."

"Back to my initial question: How does Kisame know about something like resonance?"

"He has many hobbies, one of which is science that involves breaking shit."

"..."

"I'm just quoting what he told me one day, but anyway, on to more important things. I don't suppose you would be so lucky as to have any space in which to manifest?"

"I don't, but even if I did, you can't give me anywhere near enough chakra in the pathetic state you're in right now."

"You could have stopped after saying that you didn't have any space."

"I could have, but I derive great pleasure from pointing out your insufficiencies."

"If you can't manifest, we really will have to use vibrations."

"I can oscillate my 'body' with a very small amount of chakra, but I'm not sure how accurate I can be in controlling the frequency."

"How much chakra are we talking here? As of now I have pretty much none."

"If you have enough to maintain a connection with me, I can probably draw enough to shake things up a bit, even if you can't feel it."

Focusing with all his might, Naruto felt what might have been the tiniest hint of chakra, but he would have to trust the Kyuubi on this one.

Strangely, that thought wasn't very comforting.

With a self-resigned sigh, Naruto lay down on the glass and placed his ear against it, then lightly ran one claw over the glass' surface in slow circles. The sound created was complex, full of overtones, but Naruto listened very carefully and soon isolated the frequency he needed.

"Oi, bastard, can you hear that?"

Having immersed himself in the boy's mind, the Kyuubi could indeed hear it, and started to hum throatily, trying to match the pitch. One the demon had it, he drew on just the tiniest bit of chakra and, deep under the surface of the glass desert, Seirei Kirite started to shake.

It took a little while for the Kyuubi to get it exactly right, and as soon as he did, Naruto jumped away and clamped his hands on his ears as the glass resonated, massively amplifying the sound and turning the desert into a giant speaker.

He wasn't sure how long he would be able to stand it, but after just a couple seconds the Kyuubi varied the frequency a teeny tiny bit.

300 ft away from Naruto's position, a section of the glass desert shattered, launching the sword into the air. The boy ran forward as it landed and skittered across the ground, grabbed it up and slid to a stop.

"Hey fox, remind me to pick up some sodium if we ever some across a place that sells it."

"Why..."

"For Kisame, we owe him one. It's pretty much his favorite stuff on the planet, but Itachi won't let him keep it around."

"What would he want with a lump metal?"

"Sodium ignites upon contact with water."

"Like 'makes a little fire' ignites or 'explodes' ignites?"

Naruto leaned his blade comfortably against his shoulder, "A half pound of sodium dropped in water can level a small building, assuming you have enough water."

"We definitely need some of that stuff."

The boy laughed, "We can get some for our own personal use too, then."

Preparing to head back to Ocean, Naruto took a moment to admire Iruka's sign. It was just a wooden board with a simple message telling Temari he was ok, but it made him feel better after having not seen her for what felt like far longer than the few days it had really been.

There was a part of him that wanted to just run all the way to hidden sand right then, not stopping until he collapsed at her feet. But Naruto could feel in his bones that Szark was still somewhere nearby, and he couldn't leave their fight unfinished.

Reigning in his emotions, Naruto set off yet again across the desert.

/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/

Leaning in and surveying the room, Temari tried her best to cheer up. In her time with Naruto she had steadily forgotten more and more of her old life, but seeing all the people she had grown up with gathered all together almost brought a smile to her face.

Gaara had gathered everyone an hour or so ago, and they had all patiently waited for her, chatting among themselves and keeping quiet even though many of them could sense her hovering just outside the door.

Finally rallying her courage, she pushed the door open, walked in, and found herself immediately swamped. Some were happy with just a handshake, but many insisted on hugs and it seemed like every person in the room wanted nothing more than to make her feel better after what many called her 'terrifying ordeal.'

It swiftly became apparent that no one in hidden sand had even the slightest clue about what she had really been doing all this time, and so she mostly just nodded to whatever they said and accepted the raw sympathy everyone seemed to be exuding. That was, until she got to Bando.

Now Bando really wasn't a bad guy, and she had known him all her life, but he was somewhat lacking in the tact department. As she passed, he gave her a hearty thump on the back, "Glad to see you, Tem. Guess it was a stroke of luck that bum who was holding you got whacked, huh?"

The change in the atmosphere was palpable as Temari stiffened and her chakra flared. Bando started to slowly take a step backwards, but was suddenly helped along by Temari's fist, which sent him flying through the air and out the window.

There was a moment of shock as everyone in the room tried to figure out what had just happened.

Temari, like most all sand shinobi who used battle fans, was quite well known for being physically weak. Bando wasn't a huge man by anyone's standards, but he was at least 180 lbs. It required quite a lot of force to send 180 lbs flying across a large room.

One of her old academy teachers laughed quietly, "Been working out a little, Temari-san?"

The sand girl was quiet for a moment, surprised to find that the random act of violence actually made her feel better. She reveled in the adrenaline rush for a few moments, then walked through a parting crowed over to the broken window and looked out, "Are you okay?"

"I... I think I broke my leg in the fall."

"Can you move?"

"No..."

"Perfect."

Temari felt energized for the first time in days, and there was a little more bounce in her step as she walked away from the window and the feeble whining coming through it.

Kankuro pushed open the door to the kitchen and emerged carrying a tray of hors d'Ĺ“uvres, his stuffed mouth suggesting he had sampled a few already, "Whash goin on? Whysh efewyone tho quiet?"

/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/

Szark walked into the hospital and looked around, grabbing a doctor as he passed by, "Hey, I need some medicine to speed the healing of broken bones."

"I'm sorry sir, but I'm busy right now and..."

The old man held out his bag of money, "Is this enough?"

The doctor stuttered, "I... I'm sorry sir, but we don't just hand out valuable medicine to anyone who asks."

"Where's the nearest discotheque?"

"The nearest what?"

"The place where the young people go to dance."

"Leave the hospital and turn left, go a couple blocks down, turn left on main, go a few more blocks and its on your left. A place called Ziggy's."

"Thanks." Szark let go of the doctor and quickly left the hospital.

/-/-/-/20 Minutes Later/-/-/-/

The old man walked back into the hospital with two huge sacks and found that same doctor, "Okay, I have more money now. Give me the medicine."

The doctor stared at the sacks of money for a couple seconds and drooled a little, "Of course, sir, right this way. We have many fine brands of product to help speed healing, and you'll be ship shape in no time."

"No bullshit sales pitches or fake courtesy please, doctor. Just give me the best stuff you have and I'll be on my way."

His rather harsh tone took some of the wind out of the doctor's sails, but Szark had his medicine within five minutes in the form of a salve.

"Just rub that on the injured area liberally," the doctor said, "and anything broken or bruised should heal in a couple of hours tops."

"Thanks, your help has been appreciated."

Leaving his sacks of money behind, the old man walked out the automatic doors.

/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/

Walking the streets of Ocean with his sword, Naruto felt his body drain of tension he hadn't even noticed before then. Despite their mutual dislike for each other, both Naruto and Kyuubi derived a sense of comfort from the other's presence. For Naruto the Kyuubi was his power and source of (usually sarcastic and snide) wisdom, while the demon had Naruto to thank for his life and the few freedoms he enjoyed.

The boy continued to contentedly wander, knowing that he would feel Szark's presence if he ever got close. Normally he would never be so brash, but the one advantage of not having any chakra flow was that no one could sense him. Anyone who saw him, even other shinobi, would not be able to distinguish him form a normal man. Or rather, a normal man with claws, fangs, facial markings that looked like strange tribal tattoos, and a sword large enough to bisect a cow.

So maybe he wasn't going to be very inconspicuous, but in a relatively large city like Ocean, they weren't very likely to run across each other, and that was only if Szark was even in the city, but Naruto still kept a small part of his brain alert in case of attack.

Having had no real direction in mind, he just let his feet take him wherever they wanted to, and after an hour or so he unconsciously made his way to the police station. Upon realizing where he was, Naruto immediately ducked into a side street and scaled a fire escape, doing his best not to draw attention to himself.

Once he was safely on top of an office building across from the precinct, Naruto took a moment to try and figure out what on earth had possessed him to go to the one place in the city where all the people who could recognize him would gather and came up blank, but even then he felt compelled. Performing a quick henge into his usual disguise of Sasuke (a fact for which he was sure the Uchiha was going to yell at him some day), his knees almost buckled as his whole body burned with a sharp pain.

"You know, I never get tired of watching you do stupid things. Not ever."

Ignoring the fox, Naruto hid his sword in an obscure corner of the roof and went back over to the fire escape, sliding down to the ground. He had left the Uchiha fans that adorned Sasuke's shirts out of his henge, since having been primarily a clan of police, they would probably be well known among their law-enforcing counterparts.

Trying to look innocuous, Naruto walked casually over to the station and pushed open one of the double doors, immediately taking inventory of his environment. He was somewhat surprised to find none of the air of suspicion he would have suspected so soon after an officer's daughter being kidnapped. In fact, things seemed somewhat jovial.

Everything was polished and looking shiny, a janitor mopping the floor was singing a little ditty to himself, and everyone moving around in the lobby seemed to have a little extra bounce in their steps.

Rather at a loss as to what to do, Naruto went over to the display cases and started searching for faces he knew, quickly finding the one he was looking for. Naruto had, during their first meeting, called this man the head thug, but looking at a picture of him in his full uniform, there was nothing thuggish about him at all and Naruto felt just a little guilty about having so brashly used such a moniker. Shifting his attention to the nameplate, he was able to apply the more correct title of 'Hidori Katsu.'

Catching the eye of the receptionist, Naruto walked over and smiled politely, "Hello there, I heard a friend of mine got in trouble the other day. His name is Hidori Katsu and..."

"Oh, yes! His daughter... well, I'm not supposed to tell anyone about the specifics, but you can ask him yourself. He's probably in the break room, so I'll have to page him."

The receptionist picked up a small microphone and spoke into it, her voice echoing through the building, "Officer Hidori to the front desk please, Hidori to the front desk."

Fighting the urge to twitch nervously, Naruto settled on just pacing slowly back and forth until one of the doors leading to the lobby opened and the man himself came through, glancing at Naruto then at the receptionist, "Can I help you with something?"

Naruto tried for a friendly look, "Hey, Katsu, it's been a while."

"Do I know you, sir?"

The receptionist looked at Naruto with a bit of distrust, "This young man said he was a friend of yours."

Hidori looked about to deny it, but Naruto interrupted, "You don't have to be this cold, Katsu, I thought I'd made up for the alley incident. Didn't we agree to call it even?"

Gears started to turn in the policeman's head and he suddenly smiled semi-exaggeratedly, "Well, you did cause a pretty big mess."

Thus ensued a round of nervous laughter.

As the receptionist sighed to herself and went back to work, Naruto gestured with his head for the policeman to follow him out the door. Once they were on the street, the boy found himself the target of a bombardment od questions, starting with: "Who on earth are you?"

"See... Thats a complicated question, but I'm not going to be anything but peaceful."

"You can't expect me to just take your word for it."

"What happened to gratitude?"

"Don't get me wrong, but a lot of cops saw what you're capable of, and someone of your power just wandering around our city makes a lot of us nervous."

"You guys get nervous way too easily then, but I'll be gone soon. I just wanted to meet you."

Hidori looked slightly taken aback, "You wanted to meet me?"

"Is there something strange about that?"

"We have a few shinobi posted in the city from hidden sand, and they probably wouldn't even talk to me. It would break the chain of command."

Naruto laughed humorlessly, "Trust me when I say that I'm not the kind of person to worry about something like that. My only motive is curiosity, and I have no superior to report to."

"So is this you're real form?"

"Nah, just a henge."

"So that bestial form was..."

"Yep, me in all my glory, but I don't want to keep you away from your work."

"Oh, I wasn't working. We were actually having a little party of sorts. With Crisco gone, the crime rate is already dropping through the floor, and someone made the joke that now they'll have to lay off half the police."

Naruto leaned against the wall of the building, "Would you mind if I hung out for a little while?"

"What?"

Everything in Naruto's head told him not to say what he was about to, "You said you were having a party, and I could use a party right now. Just say I'm a family friend or something."

"That sounds great, but your not going to answer any more questions, are you?"

"If you really want to know, do a little digging through your logs of missing nin."

Hidori pushed open the precinct door, "I was already planning on it."

/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/

Naruto waved at the rabbit, "Hello, Bunny-san."

The small furry creature hopped over to him, "Hello, Naruto, how are you today?"

"Pretty good, though the world seems a bit blurry."

"Ah, but Naruto, thats because you're drunk."

"Heh... Silly rabbit, I can't get drunk."

"No, you are most definitely drunk. I think there might have also been something in those brownies you ate."

"But my chakra burns all the alcohol and other crap out of my system..."

Naruto blinked.

"Shit."

The rabbit nodded authoritatively, "See, I told you."

"So what do I do now?"

"Oh, you'll just have to wait it out, and I'm afraid you'll have to do it alone. We hallucinogenic bunnies are in high demand these days."

"Okay then, bye bye."

"See you later, Naruto."

The rabbit disappeared in a swirl of color and Naruto looked around the room, "He he... things are spinning!"

/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/

Naruto ambled out of the police station, flinching as the sun hit his eyes, "Man... when he said party I thought he meant a bunch of cops eating doughnuts and drinking coffee."

"You owe me another one, brat. I maintained your henge for you when you were out of it, which was most of the night."

"And I'll bet you were enjoying every minute of it."

"Hell yes. I particularly liked the part when you danced with the stripper on the table."

To his horror, Naruto did remember something to that effect,"You've got to promise me never to tell Temari."

"We'll see about that."

"Dammit, why didn't you snap me out of it before I got in over my head?"

"Bah! You need to let loose once in a while or you get all tense and act like even more of a jackass than usual. Plus, its fun watching drunk people."

Naruto stumbled across the street and climbed up onto the roof where he had left his sword, "I'd shoot back a clever comeback, but my head hurts too much."

Finally able to let his henge slip, Naruto lay down next to his sword and closed his eyes, "I'm gonna take a little nap, ok?"

"You don't need my permission."

"Hmmmmm."

Not really listening, Naruto drifted off, dreaming of a world where his head didn't feel like it was splitting open.

/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/

As alarm bells went off all around him, Naruto bolted upright and snatched up his blade, "Fox! What the hell is going on?"

"I don't know. Everything was completely peaceful until about five seconds ago."

Running to the edge of the roof and peeking over, the mayhem confirmed Kyuubi's statement. Everyone was running around haphazardly with no apparent idea what was going on, but police were pouring out of the station and running down the street, so Naruto followed along the rooftops.

As the procession of cops led Naruto through what was beginning to be a disturbingly familiar part of the city, Naruto dropped down into the street and grabbed a man who was running the other way, "Hey! Whats going on here?"

The man gasped, "Some freak just ruptured Crisco's water tank! God knows how he got past the police but he did, and nows he's just standing there as the water runs onto the ground."

"Then why hasn't anyone stopped him!"

The man started to sob, "We tried, but he has this sword and..."

That was all Naruto needed to hear.

He jumped with all his strength and landed on a roof half a block away, already bracing for another jump. People turned to look as he tore across the rooftops towards Crisco's mansion. As he approached, he could see a ring of police surrounding the house as the people who weren't running away looked on in horror as the water they needed to survive formed a slowly growing pool on the ground.

Naruto landed in the mansion's courtyard, ignoring the water that started to seep into his shoes, "SZARK! Where are you!"

There was dead silence, then a small splash.

Naruto rotated his arm back with a snap and stopped Gyakuryuu and inch from his neck, flinching as the blade dug into his palm, "That was dirty, old man."

"We seniors have to take every opportunity we get, Naruto."

The boy brought Kirite to bear as Szark lashed out with a Kunai, and Naruto was forced to release his hold on Gyakuryuu to catch the old man's other arm. So now they were deadlocked, Blade against blade and hand against hand.

Naruto growled, "How can you even hold that sword with one hand?"

"Oh, I just eat my Wheaties every morning and never drink alcohol or smoke."

"Bull."Pushing with all his strength, Naruto started to overpower his opponent. Szark ducked and suddenly broke away as Naruto toppled forward. Rather than try to regain his balance, the jumped forward into a roll and the ground he had previously occupied was torn up.

Flipping back onto his feet Naruto immediately broke to one side as Gyakuryuu again barely missed him. He brought Kubikiri around for a low hamstring slice and at the same time Szark went for a follow up decapitation. Naruto ducked and the old man jumped as both continued to spin, keeping up their momentum for a full 360, their blades clashing again with a grinding sound as the two again found themselves deadlocked.

This all happened in a period of just a couple of seconds, and the large crowd of onlookers was completely speechless.

Naruto glared up at the old man, fully aware of his situation. With all these people around, using jutsus could become extremely hazardous, and if either fighter used any offensive jutsu, even a low level one, the other would be forced to respond in kind, thus creating escalation.

On one hand, being forced to use nothing but taijutsu was good for Naruto, who could still only use a small amount chakra, but at the same time it meant that...

As expected, Sazark suddenly blurred out of existence.

Naruto didn't think for a second that Szark had ruptured the tank just to draw him out, the old man was too nice for that, but he needed the water to boost his speed. And man did it boost his speed.

Szark came down with a diagonal slash from Naruto's blind spot and the boy just barely escaped with a nicked shoulder. Without missing a beat Szark attacked again, opting for a straight cross cut. Escaping narrowly again, Naruto suddenly turned an ran away.

The old man was stumped for a second, then gave chase.

Just as he was almost to the doors of Crisco's mansion, the boy suddenly slammed his sword into the dirt in front of him and planted his feet against it. The blade flexed liked horizontal springboard and Szark skidded to a stop as Naruto was launched straight towards him and hit the old man with a very un-shinobi like but still very effective flying tackle.

Gyakuryuu went flying as Naruto and Szark hit the mud, the old man grabbing Naruto's shoulders and kicking kicking the boy with both feet, flipping him over and sending him skidding through the mud following the massive sword.

They were a little scuffed up, but on their feet in fractions of a second and back at each other. Szark drew a pair of large kunai without much hope of them being able to stand up to Naruto's claws, but he wasn't planning on going long without his sword.

Figuring that for once he had an advantage, Naruto immediately went on the offensive, being careful to not move too quickly and give his opponent a chance to slip by him. If the old man went straight for his sword with Naruto directly in his way, it would leave him open no matter how fast he was.

Unlike typical shinobi battles, which are typically fast and bloody, two swordsmen facing off against each other involves a lot of waiting and watching. Naruto advanced slowly, his entire being focused on Szark, waiting for the old man to make his move.

The boy was just taking his eleventh step when he saw Szark start to shift. He thought the old man was going to go left, but he had to be absolutely sure. His pupils dilated and he could suddenly see through the feint, masterful as it was.

He broke right and Szark, immediately sensing his ploy had been detected, tried in vain to reverse direction at the last moment. The two clashed, Szark scoring a light hit on Naruto's shoulder but paying for it dearly when the boy's claws raked down his side.

Breaking away and diving for his sword, the old man forced Naruto to do the same unless he wanted fight against Gyakuryuu with his bare hands. Grabbing Seirei Kirite as he ran by, Naruto jumped out of the mud and landed on the house next to the now deceased Crisco's.

Szark stood below him, unwilling to leave the advantage of the water and confident that Naruto wouldn't waste any time, as the tank was still slowly draining. The boy obviously knew this, and worked his mind furiously trying to come up with a plan.

A straight sword battle between him and Szark might take hours, and he had to finish it soon. He felt for his chakra and could now draw on more than any normal human, but still only a mediocre amount for someone like him. He would lose in a ninjutsu battle, sucked at genjutsu way too much to even try that, and didn't have time for a drawn out straight taijutsu match.

So it was time to get creative. The biggest problem he was facing was the issue of water, because the more drained from the tank the stronger Szark got, to say nothing of how much it might cripple the city.

He was desperately puzzling over this conundrum when the astoundingly simple answer suddenly came to him in a flash of insight.

He flashed through seals with the ease of someone who had done them a thousand times, and molded a huge amount of chakra, "Kirigakure no Jutsu!"

The old man caught on a moment too late as all the water on the ground suddenly evaporated into mist, and a violent explosion rocked the house as the tank ruptured, all the water therein having also been transformed by the jutsu.

Szark felt a momentary stab of regret as the water surrounding his feet also vaporized, canceling his speed jutsu. He had been hoping for things to last a bit longer.

Sensing that Naruto had left his rooftop perch and was now stalking him through the mist, Szark raised Gyakuryuu and charged forward.

Naruto blocked his first strike and the two slid into their respective stances; attacking, blocking, parrying and counterattacking in a flurry of strikes, flowing from one to the next with no delay or hesitation. It was a battle of wills where the slightest insecurity would mean death, and neither faltered in the slightest, Naruto's more brash and offensive style countering but not able to overpower Szark's sweeping defensive slices.

They moved through the mist like phantoms, making no sound with their movements as their blades clashed again and again. Every second felt like an hour, every minute like a day, but neither would concede.

It would have been easy for one of them to break away, giving them both a chance to rest, but that might leave the first to retreat open to attack, a position that couldn't be risked.

So they continued on.

A particularly powerful stroke of Gyakuryuu cleared the mist, and for a second or two, the two fighters could actually see each other. Naruto had a serious expression that showed his complete and total focus on the fight, but the boy was slightly disturbed to see that Szark was smiling. Their eyes met for a fraction of a second, and the old man abruptly changed the rhythm of the battle.

He broke away and then attacked from a different angle, catching Naruto off guard with a forward thrust. The boy couldn't block it, and he knew it, but was going to try anyway, bringing his blade around at what he knew to be far too slow a speed.

He watched the sword close in, and Naruto suddenly jerked as control of his body was torn from him.

/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/

Szark looked down at form kneeling in front of him, "This is foolishness, and I want no part in it."

"But why!"

"You are too weak. Your coup will fail, and my only regret is that there are people stupid enough to follow you to their deaths."

"We could win easily if you helped us! Everyone would rally around you."

"Why would I help you? Why would I help a self proclaimed devil gain control of an entire country?"

"I am a devil, Szark, but I'm one you helped to create. And besides, I don't care about politics and all that crap, but I care about keeping the country strong, and the scum who run things now care about nothing but their own fat useless selves."

"I am a shinobi of hidden mist, and I will defend it against anyone who threatens it, no matter the circumstances!"

Szark glared as the man who had once been his greatest student rose and faced him, "Fine then."

"I thought I taught you better than this. You are acting like a petulant child."

"I am going to take this country over, old man, and there will come a time when you realize I was right to do it."

"Get out of my sight, Momochi;. You are a disgrace to me and to our sword style."

Zabuza turned away, "You're right about my being weak, but I won't be weak forever. One day I'm going to make you eat those words."

"You think you'll ever be my equal? I doubt you'll even survive this pathetic rebellion of yours!"

The demon of the mist paused mid-step and grinned sardonically, "Then I'll strike at you from the depths of hell."

/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/

There was a wet thunk as Gyakuryuu hit the mud, and all was still.

Szark held his paralyzed and only partially attached sword arm with his other hand and let out a sigh, "That was spectacular, Naruto-kun. A half twist parry followed up by a quick backhand slash. Tell me, do you ever remember learning a form like that?"

"No, but at the time it was just a means of stopping your sword from connecting with my skull."

The old man winced as he squeezed his wound in an attempt to slow the bleeding, "That defensive counterattack is the best one that I ever came up with, and I only taught it to one of my students." Szark laughed, "He was never very good at it though, that fool."

Naruto ran his thumb over the hilt of Seirei Kirite, "So is that it, old man?"

Gyakuryuu vanished in a puff of smoke, "Today is your victory, Naruto-kun. Strangely enough, I don't mind the feeling of losing. Short as it was, the battle was magnificent, and i haven't enjoyed myself so much since... well, never."

"But you'll leave me alone now?"

"Of course. You shall never be bothered by me again."

"Good."

"Except..."

Naruto narrowed his eyes, "Except what?"

"If you ever want a rematch, you know where to find me."

/-/-/-/-/3 Days Later/-/-/-/-/

Temari sighed as she sunk into her bath, a rare and treasured commodity in hidden sand. Citizens were allowed one bath every three months, but since Gaara never took any, he had allowed Temari to go in his stead.

The last few days had actually been semi-bearable, with her newly gained respect among her peers and Bando having spent almost an hour apologizing. There was even the occasional period of five or so minutes where she didn't think about Naruto.

She smiled slightly as she thought of the people who were trying so hard to cheer her up, particularly Gaara and Kankuro, who were willing to go to sometimes ridiculous lengths.

She was reaching reaching for the soap when there was a sudden violent knocking on the door, "Temari-sama!"

"If you even think about coming in here I'm going to tear you in half. What do you want?"

The door, which had started to open, snapped shut again, "I'm very sorry, but there seems to be some sort of disturbance at the south entrance. It seems there's a man who's been inquiring as to your location."

"Why is that a problem?"

"Well, he was carrying a large sword, and one of the gate guards insisted on inspecting it..."

Temari was on her feet in an instant (almost falling over getting out of the tub), and rushed to get dressed, not bothering to dry off. She flung open the door as she was pulling on her shirt and ignored the Chuunin on the other side, running strait down the hall towards the exit.

She wasn't sure why Szark would have followed her to hidden sand, but she wasn't about to be a burden on the village. It wasn't very far to south gate, but she needed to get her gear from her room, which was going to send her a couple blocks out of the way. All in all, Temari figured she had maybe two minutes, so she would have to hurry.

Her bedroom window was open, so she dove in headfirst, rolled to a stop with her hand grabbing her fan. It wasn't until she was halfway turned around to jump back out the window that she realized someone else was in the room.

/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/

At the south gate, a hundred or so shinobi had the intruder cornered up against a building. The highest ranking person present was a Kunoichi ANBU captain, so she took a few steps forward from the group.

"Who are you, and why do you insist on being senselessly violent?"

"Well, actually, I just kind of enjoy senseless violence. Now I have a question," he smiled fangily and held out his weapon, "Don't you think this is a sexy sword?"

The silence was deafening.

"I mean seriously, if you were to see this sword just laying at the side of the road, don't you think you'd suddenly have an incredible urge to run your hot hands over it?"

The various ANBU collectively took a couple steps back as their captain's self control started to waiver, "Now as I was saying, about your intentions here..."

"And then you could take it home so you could grind up against it just for the sheer joy of rubbing your body against a sword as sexy as this."

At this point, a storm of Kunai, Shuriken, and various other sharp pointy things converged on the poor cornered intruder, but he appeared undaunted as a red chakra flared up blasted all the projectiles back without any effort.

"Nice try, but not nearly good enough. Might I recommend some explosive tags next time?"

/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/

Temari's training kicked in and she tore a kunai from her holster and thew it blindly towards the only corner of the room where someone could be hiding.

"Now I have to say, that wasn't the kind of welcome I was expecting."

As the voice registered, her body suddenly stopped responding, and she could only stare as Naruto walked over and amusedly flicked her forehead, "You do realize that if I were someone else using a henge you'd be dead right now, right? "

Surreal as it was, the first question that popped into her head was: "How did you get in here?"

"The fox is creating a distraction of sorts, so I just hopped over the wall and found where you live."

"But... I'm pretty sure I have ANBU watching me."

"You did, hence the distraction involving the bastard fox saying he was looking for you. It drew all your watchers and guards like Itachi to Pocky."

They just looked at each other for a second, then Temari punched him in the stomach as hard as she possibly could.

"...Ow"

"I thought you were dead! How could you stay away this long and not even try to contact me!"

Now at this point, Naruto could have mentioned that he did leave a message, and that it wasn't his fault she didn't get it, but that probably would have been insensitive and she might have hit him again, so he held his peace.

"I promised you I'd come back alive, didn't I?"

"Yes, but..."

"There are no 'buts' when it comes to my promises. Ever."

Temari stared at him for a second, "How is it that you manage to make such a blatantly arrogant statement so comforting?"

"It's part of my charm."

For all her efforts, Temari felt her anger at him slipping away, but she suddenly noticed something odd, "Is there any particular reason you're standing six feet away and avoiding looking directly at me?"

"That depends, because there are two options here. You might have just gotten a lot more comfortable around me, but I think It's more likely that you haven't noticed yet that your clothes are completely soaked through."

Temari blinked.

"And rather clingy, I might add."

Her ears went bright red.

"Not that I'm complaining, mind you..."

Her voice was slightly strained, "Could you turn around, please?"

/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/

The demon posed dramatically, "No, Kristy, you can't leave!"

He switched to a high squeeky voice, "But I must, Jack. See... I'm your sister!"

Back to his low dramatic voice, "Noooooooooooooooooo! How can this be!"

An ANBU lieutenant sidled up to his commander, "At this point sir, I think he's just mocking us."

She looked over to where Kyuubi, in his usual Sasuke-ish from, was reading aloud from "Icha Icha Paradise: A New Beach of Love", and then looked back at her lieutenant, "Thats a very insightful observation you make there."

The lieutenant grinned like an excited puppy, "Thank you."

"I was being sarcastic."

"Oh..."

There was a gap in conversation, then a sob could be heard from the crowd of sand-nin, and one of the chuunin started to get teary eyed, "I'm sorry... but I just can't help it... It's so sad. Jack and Kristy love each other, but they both know it can never be... This performance is so touching."

An eyebrow started to twitch, I am commander of the ANBU, respected by all. I am not going to lose my cool. I am NOT going to lose my cool. I am not going to...

Kyuubi used the squeaky voice, "I don't care, Jack, I don't care! Even if we are siblings, I must have you!"

The commander's control almost snapped as the entire crowd of shinobi, including her personally trained ANBU, collectively gasped in shock, and she started to massage her temples slowly.

/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/

Temari, now dry, emerged from her bathroom to find Naruto sprawled on her bed staring blankly at the ceiling. "Making yourself at home?"

He spared a glance in her direction, "Yes, thank you. I'm a bit tired, since I really haven't slept for three days now."

"What could you possibly have been doing?"

"Re-condensing a numerous square miles of mist into thousands of gallons of water. "

"I trust that theres a long and involved story there, but I probably couldn't give less of a damn about it right now."

"Thats about what I figured."

Shoving him over slightly, Temari lied down and rested her head on his chest, listening to his heartbeat. When she spoke, her voice had none of it's usual vitality.

"I really thought you were dead. I honestly believed it after seeing that desert of glass."

"I know."

"You beat him, right?"

"Yeah, I beat him."

"So what now?"

Naruto let out a slow breath, "That depends on you."

"On me?"

"I can't stay in hidden sand for very long, so if you decide to remain here then..."

Naruto was cut off as Temari pinched his side, "Listen, after this last mess, you'll be lucky if I let you out of my sight for a few months."

"Well then, we don't have to meet Itachi and Kisame for some time yet, so I'd like to visit the country of the wave."

"Country of the wave?"

"Yeah. I figure we a base of operations somewhere, and Wave country has no shinobi, its relatively out of the way, plus I like it there, so I thought I might buy up some real estate."

"You're not worried about being vulnerable if we stay in one place?"

"I intend to take safety precautions, but I'm not overly concerned. There are a lot of politicians who have far more numerous and powerful enemies than I do, and none of them have a tenth my power, yet they sleep contentedly in their own houses."

"You've thought this through, it seems."

"I've been rolling the idea around in my head for a while now."

"But we can stay here for tonight, right? You're not planning on going anywhere?"

Naruto laughed and rolled Temari off him, leaning over to steal a quick kiss, "Tonight, I don't even plan on moving from this spot."

/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/

Kankuro pushed open his front door to find his brother sitting on their couch looking strained, "Hey Gaara, what are you doing?"

"Nothing."

"I looks like Naruto's alive."

"I know."

"What? How?"

"He's upstairs."

Kankuro did a little mental figuring, "And you're doing nothing?"

Gaara nodded, "Absolutely nothing. It's the hardest thing I've ever done in my entire life."

"I'm thinking we should get you out of the house. Hell, I don't think I want to be in the house."

"Where would we go?"

"We could go watch a demonic sword transformed into Uchiha Sasuke recite his own rendition of a porn novel in monologue."

"I'm assuming this is one one of those things that makes more sense when you see it?"

"Not really, but I kind of enjoy watching the commander of the ANBU tear out her hair."

Gaara stood up slowly and forced himself to walk out the front door as Kankuro continued talking, "And for what it's worth, the demon is pretty good with his different voices."

/-/-/-/The End/-/-/-/