Warning list
COPYRIGHT
In Soviet Russia, you own Naruto. Here and now, Naruto owns you.
YADA YADA
You know the rest. Otherwise refer to previous chapters.

Foreword:
You read the first Lost Segment. Heh.
And if you haven't, this maybe a more interesting read if you do.


Fox Identity
by Arkhe

Chapter Five Beta: Shattered Ocean

Descending Storm

The following day had arrived and it brought with it, darkened clouds. In fact, this is probably its darkest all week. It is clear, that a storm is brewing on this day.

Team 7, minus a certain member, had prepared themselves with appropriate weaponry and attitudes for their guarding session. All were wary of the possibility of engaging in battle.

"What about...?" Sakura had left the question hanging, though everyone knew who she was referring to.

"I'm pretty sure he's fine." Kakashi nodded to himself. "Knowing him, he'll join us in a bit."

"Let's move out." Sasuke ordered.

And so, they headed to the inevitable.

---

Just as most of Team 7 left the Tazuna home, a pair of swordsmen arrived. A pair of sky-blue eyes watched them break in and enter.

"Cowards." The figure spat, before advancing.

---

Sasuke eyed Haku warily, an excited grin plastering his face. Kakashi's gaze swept the field and he barked his order.

"I'll take down Zabuza. You guys watch over Tazuna."

Sakura whipped out a kunai and held it defensively in front of their client and herself, as Kakashi and Sasuke broke away to fight their respective opponents.

---

Inari was shaking.

Those vile samurai thugs had just taken his mother away and he didn't even do a thing to defend the matriarch of his family. His current thoughts had been a mess, as he couldn't even begin to shape coherency at this point. Then he felt his cheeks become wet.

He was crying again.

A shadow was cast over him and he'd brought his arms to his face, fearing for his life. When he peered between the gaps of his arms, he found Naruto's neutral visage bearing down on him.

"You disgust me."

Inari looked sharply away, sniveling as he did so.

"You just left your mother to die."

The younger boy covered his ears and closed his eyes tightly, wishing that things were not so.

"Kaiza would be ashamed."

Involving his father's name had triggered a rising contempt in the back of Inari's throat and he instinctively lashed back.

"You don't know anything!" Inari shouted. "I'm too weak! I can't do anything!"

Naruto didn't respond right away. He'd, instead, turned away and began climbing out the nearest window. Once he was outside, he'd stopped and gave a passing but stern look to the younger boy.

"You still have two arms." And with those parting words, Naruto disappeared.

Tazuna's grandson froze, as vivid memories of his father-to-be cascaded.

'No matter how tough, no matter how sad, you must try and try... And even if you lose your life, protect it with these two arms. If you do that, even if you do die, the proof of a man's life will remain... Forever.' Kaiza had once told him.

Inari's head hung low, eyes staring at the wooden floor.
The speech continued to echo.

'Even if you lose your life, protect it with these two arms...'

He brought his hands to his face, but stopped.
They felt damp.
His hands were wet with tears.

'Even if you lose your life...'

His hands.

'Protect it with these two arms...'

He gave them an experimental flex...

'...proof of a man's life will remain...'

...then tightened them into resolved fists.

'Forever.'

---

"MOTHER!"

The trio turned his way, all a little surprised.

"Inari?-! Get away from here!" Tsunami cried out.

"Stupid kid!" The scarred one sneered.

Inari hadn't heard the thug, as he was already beyond caring about what was going to happen next. His thinking was already set.

"I was wrong, Mom! As long as I have my two arms, I'll protect everything I love! No matter what!"

Inari ran blindly forward and both swordsmen tensed, readying their blades.

"NO! INARI!" Tsunami screamed, covering her eyes unable to watch.

But the sound of tearing flesh never occurred.

Inari and Tsunami opened their eyes and found Uzumaki Naruto standing over them and a few more Narutos (?-!) tying up the two unconscious hired goons.

The one standing over them finally noticed their attention on him.

"You realise you still got two arms, eh?" He laughed.

Both Tsunami and Inari gave him thankful tearful smiles for his part. Seeing his work done here, Naruto opened his thigh holster.

"If they tried to get you, then that means the bridge is under attack." He scanned his equipment and was satisfied.

"I'm gonna have to go and kick their ass." The blond boy declared and set to leave.

"I'm coming with you!" Inari took a step forward, recklessly determined.

Naruto rolled his eyes.

"You got the courage part down, I'll give you that." Naruto nodded at Inari.

"But you need to use this," and he gave Inari a poke in the head, "if you want to get much further ahead."

"Naruto's right." Tsunami put a hand down on her child's shoulder. "You'll just get in the way on your own."

Naruto gave the environment another scan before giving the woman and her son a respectful nod. Then he was an orange blur, as he set off towards the main fight.

Once the blond genin was out of sight, Inari turned to his mother.

"Well, if I can't help on my own..." He murmured and dashed off in another direction with his mother in tow.

---

Team 7 currently wasn't faring too well. Somehow, they were now all divided into three groups; Sasuke and Haku's fight, Kakashi facing off against Zabuza and finally Sakura being the final defense for Tazuna.

It wasn't long before Zabuza settled a thick mist on the surrounding area and Kakashi was forced to stay facing off against his opponent, unable to keep a watchful eye on his charges.

An over-sized sword swung from his blind-angle and the cycloptic-jounin was forced to parry it with a kunai. Weapons clashing, both ninjas fought for dominance.

A flash!

Kakashi looked over and saw another Zabuza that had passed him and was on a direct course for Tazuna and Sakura!

Withdrawing another kunai, he motioned to throw it at the vulnerable enemy's back but the action had been stopped as his current enemy's free hand caught the wrist. The silver-haired jounin anticipated this and pivoted to swipe Zabuza with the kunai parrying the sword, hoping the swipe would be strong enough to disfigure the assumable water clone he was fighting, knowing full well that he'd take a lesser hit from Zabuza's unguarded blade.

The swipe drew blood.

Kakashi's eyes widened and immediately attempted to break away but was unable to do so.

"Sakura! Watch out!"

---

"Sakura! Watch out!"

The female genin of Team 7just caught the shout and went into full alert, her mind going into over-drive. Knowing that Zabuza was heading her way, she'd quickly tore through what she knew of the enemy and the present situation. Statistics told her that her opponent would go for the maximum area of effect with his giant cleaver. Instincts would chance on this as she lashed her leg backwards, catching Tazuna's ankle and sending a sharp pain into the aging man, causing him to lose his balance. Though he would have righted himself, Sakura sprung backwards and kicked off him.

Since Sakura used Tazuna as a springboard, sending her upwards and him downwards, the horizontal slash from the Zabuza water-clone's enormous sword missed both the genin and the client.

Luckily, since the clone had come in close to take a swipe, Sakura had jumped over her enemy and landed on the flat end of his blade on the completion of his rotational swing. In a split-second, Sakura used her tree-walking exercise to anchor herself to the sword, turn on her heel and attack the source of the blade.

Before it could even react, the clone was caught in a fierce kick under the chin, causing a momentary break in the chakra construct. With its loss of cohesion, water exploded in every direction.

Without a foothold, Sakura fell in an undignified heap, but salvaged it into a tuck and roll. Within moments, she found herself by Tazuna's side once again, the older man a little bruised but none worse for wear.

Then her thoughts caught up to her. She took down Zabuza's water-clone all by herself! Inner-Sakura gave her two thumbs-up! HELL YES!

"No worries, Kakashi-sensei! I got this!" She said aloud instead.(1)

---

"No worries, Kakashi-sensei! I got this!"

Kakashi suppressed the need to sigh in relief. He sent a water-clone to take out Zabuza's clone but halted when he saw Sakura react amazingly. It drew some tutorly pride seeing his student defend the way she did.

"Your genins are impressive. I've under-estimated them." Zabuza sneered.

"Well. Sakura is the number one smartest in the academy, Sasuke is the number one rookie and Naruto is the number one loudest ninja to have ever graduated." Kakashi replied boastfully.

"I'll be sure not to under-estimate them again then." The missing ninja avoided an attack from the Kakashi's water-clone before countering it with a devastating diagonal slice. The attacked caused Kakashi's clone to explode in a flurry of water, splashing the missing ninja with its contents.

"Neither I will you." The cycloptic jounin replied, whilst unveiling his covered eye.

---

Then things really started to heat up when Naruto exploded onto the scene (with the aid of a smoke bomb) and everyone anticipated the turning of the tide. However, despite his use of the replications pulling various wounded workers away from the bridge, his presence had become more liability than support when he'd used the distraction to position himself in Haku's technique.

With Sakura unable to leave her guard and Kakashi's dual not letting up, both boys were now finding themselves riddled with needles.

Naruto gritted his teeth, trying to locate the opponent.

"Haku! Stop this!"

There was a brief pause in battle as things became eerily quiet and each image on a mirror turned to solely regard the blond boy. A passing breeze weaved its way between the mirrors, picking up a chill from the cold bloodlimit and Haku's hollow response echoed off the frozen walls.

"If I have to," The masked boy started, his voice rising in intensity, "I will break my glass heart, and become a true ninja..."

"Haku..." Naruto gave a reflection of his enemy a look of pity.

"I WILL EVEN FOLLOW ZABUZA-SAMA TO HELL!"

And the one-sided battle resumed.

Frustrated and tiring, Sasuke kept up with most of the needles, only letting them graze him by a margin.

Naruto, however, wasn't so lucky. He'd taken just about every hit aimed at him.

"Dammit! He's been keeping it up for a while! Doesn't he get tired!-?" The blond boy growled, trying to deflect the attacks and attempting to return his own attacks -all of which were rendered useless.

"I can't believe you were so stupid enough to get yourself in this mess!" Sasuke growled, unable to hold back telling off his partner.

"Geeze, I already said I'm sorry! I did this for you, you know!" Naruto screamed back, now facing Sasuke. At this time, a few ice-needles had struck him but he'd been beyond caring at this point to take notice.

"Idiot! I don't care! I would've been fine without you!" Sasuke turned and shook a finger at Naruto threateningly, also taking a handful of needles but paying them no heed as well.

This caused them a momentary break as Haku watched the argument, confused. His attacks were being ignored, since his opponents bickered amongst themselves. The masked boy then made use of the pause to take a breather, as his stamina was severely taxed. He just needed to buy his master enough time to kill their opponents' client, then he would be able to make his escape without having to force his hand.

"Pfft! Look where it got you! You're still in his technique anyway!" Naruto bared his teeth poking the dark-haired boy.

"If you just stayed outside, we could have finished this already!" This time, Sasuke roughly jabbed a finger into Naruto's chest.

Having enough, Naruto wracked his mind for a solution and within seconds, an answer did present itself. He'd internally debated against the plan before he'd remembered another event. The fight against the demon brothers had Sasuke throw a kunai to stop their attackers from wrapping Naruto's body in chains...

...well, the flimsy excuse was better than leaving it to a battle of attrition like he'd originally planned when he'd entered the technique.

"FINE!" Naruto snarled back having enough. "You saved my life last time, so I'm going to do you a favour!"

The blond boy searched through his pack and retrieved a piece of paper, which both Haku and Sasuke immediately recognised as an exploding note.

"You want an exit? I'LL GIVE YOU AN EXIT!"

Naruto sported his shadow replications as a distraction and he sent one towards a mirror with the note in hand.

Haku saw through Naruto's plan. Knowing he could do nothing now that the note was set to explode, he could lower the scale of damage to his technique if he took out the clone and then retreat to the mirror furthest from the area of damage.

The clone hadn't gotten too far before it was struck with a needle. It was caught directly between Sasuke and a mirror during then. The note hung ominously in midair for a split second, being consumed by fire.

The explosion was punctuated with a well-timed clap of thunder.

---

The sound of an explosion rocked the bridge, sending a light vibration throughout the structure. Both Kakashi and Zabuza shared a glance to the sources of both explosion and thunder.

Kakashi swore.

---

Sakura was torn. She'd couldn't leave their client. But then again, her teammates needed her. And, of course, the sound of thunder herald the coming rain and the severe disadvantage that it will bring.

Time was running out. She was trapped by her duty.

---

Sasuke groaned and tried to pull himself up. A weight had lay across him, stopping him from doing so, however.

On closer examination, it was Naruto and not his target. Quickly filing the thought aside, Sasuke scanned the immediate area.

The heart of the explosion hadn't been that large. There wasn't a crater, but an ample amount of black soot on the ground -giving much credit to Tazuna's bridge building planning's.

However, the explosive note seemed to work where his earlier Grand Fireball had failed. The explosion had come in two parts.
The first, had been the heat provided. Though it did not provide nearly enough as much heat as Sasuke's own Grand Fireball, what heat that was provided was instantaneous enough to evapourate most of the moisture -like that of drying the cement on which they stood, then banishing away part of the mist and additionally causing light damage to Haku's technique. Though the damage listed is only of slight importance, its effects were undeniably valuable when combined with the second effect.
The second portion of the explosive note had been the massive concussive force generated that was able to -not only shatter a few mirrors, but also propel various shards and fragments off the bridge. All in all with the combined amount of damage, Haku would be hard-pressed to form materials to fix his technique.

But then Sasuke noted that the nearby mist from Kakashi's fight was slowly drifting in and was being converted to reform mirrors to fill in the gap.

He smirked. If he and Naruto were to get up and run through the gap, there would be a good chance they could get outside Haku's technique. Then their mutual enemy would have to release it or waste more chakra moving or making more mirrors, leaving him mostly exhausted for the rest of the fight.

His gaze drifted back to Naruto, he reached out to help his teammate get to his senses...
...but froze. Naruto's back was smoldering.

Naruto had taken more damage from the blast in comparison to Sasuke's own body.

Then it dawned on the raven-haired boy. His idiot teammate took the full brunt of the explosion for him. So now, the blond boy was incapable of getting to his feet right away, meaning that Sasuke would have to carry the other to escape.

But there wasn't enough time for both.

Sasuke glanced to his rapidly closing exit. An exit made as a returned favour.

Then back to his teammate. His completely defenseless teammate.

He'd have to make his choice now.

So he did.

---

Since sending the clones out with the explosive note, Naruto had forced a quick burst of red chakra to run through his veins. This had the effect of dulling the pain receptors of both current wounds and then buffering the coming explosion. It had barely kept him conscious as he took the full brunt of the impact.

It was a gamble, he knew, but once he'd done this, then Haku may or may not attempt to kill him. Either way, once Sasuke gets out, it'll be easier. Either the long way, with Sasuke on the outside providing cover support, or the fast way when Haku closes in on himself when he's still lying down.

Then when he felt a bit of movement to his side, Naruto blinked his eyes open and tensed to attack...

...only to find the dark-haired member of Team 7 standing over him.

"Sasuke...?"

A pair of red eyes met his.

---

Sasuke's logical mind was already outside the technique and was pulling out plans to get ready to counter-attack.

But on seeing his comrade down, Sasuke's feet held firm.

There was too much a resemblance to the way his comrade lay face down compared to his nightmares of all those years back. And in this instance, he knew that if he were to abandon Naruto, there would be a good chance that his teammate may die.

He couldn't let that happen.

Not again.

Not when he was here -now- and could do something to stop it.

He stood tall and brought about all his focus. Unconsciously, chakra gathered to his eyes as he forced himself to see what was happening. His eyes turned the shade of blood as the working of the Sharingan had slowly begun to process.

There was a flicker of movement and things seemed to slow.

But he could see it.

A flurry of needles bearing down on him!

He could see it!

Sasuke readied a kunai and positioned himself taking guard over Naruto's laying form, easily parrying all the projectiles the masked boy sent.

Then a feeble voice called out his name.

"Sasuke...?"

Sasuke met Naruto's eyes for second, before turning his attention back.

"You're... still here?" Naruto coughed in disbelief.

It was plain as day that Sasuke smirked.

"Geeze... And they say... I'm the idiot." Naruto jibed weakly.

"I don't like owing people, dead-last." Sasuke responded in kind, deflecting another attack.

---

By this time, Haku found his stamina far too taxed. He'd have to move now and finish this if he were to even think about aiding his master.

This was when Naruto started to rise.

So Haku did the first thing that came to mind.

---

Sasuke saw the needles coming.
But the trajectory was low.
Naruto was in the way.

So Sasuke did the first thing that came to mind.

---

Naruto swore under his breath when he recovered from Sasuke's crushing body slam.

"Dammit Sasuke! I-"

The complaint had died in mid-sputter seeing Sasuke's neck pierced with a handful of needles. Naruto instinctively rushed to his fallen teammate, his own nerves frazzled as he tried to take in the situation.

Sasuke took a hit for him.

"W-why?" Naruto's voice threatened to crack. "Why did you do this?"

"I don't know, I just did, idiot." Sasuke croaked, even managing the effort to insult Naruto in the same sentence.

"Back when we first started the mission -you saved my life already! I was supposed to pay you back when I got you an exit, idiot!" The whiskered genin said desperately.

"You counted it wrong, moron." Sasuke wheezed. "I did you a favour for the demon brothers..."

And there was a pause as he fought to breathe.

"...but you got me out from under Zabuza's foot."

Naruto's eyes widened. He did save Sasuke from Zabuza... But this was different! This was very, VERY different! You don't just take a hit meant for someone else!

But before he could say so, Sasuke interrupted.

"Besides..." Sasuke whispered in a far away voice, watching an old memory.

"I can't... let the people around me... die again."

Then he gained a focused edge for the merest of seconds as he stared eye to eye with his rival.

"Top this, dead-last."

Red eyes dimmed to an empty black before closing. He went limp.

Carefully laying the body of his teammate down, Naruto's body shook as he slowly stood.
He tilted his head agonisingly and grimaced wider, baring fangs.
A lone tear slid down his face.

So Naruto did the first thing that came to mind.

And everything turned red.

---

The flare of chakra gave pause to Kakashi's battle with Zabuza. Kakashi swore under his breath and withdrew a scroll, intending to finish this confrontation immediately.

Another clap of thunder punctuated the urgency to finish it.

---

Sakura had been facing Kakashi's area of battle, poised and ready to defend from any more incoming attacks when the burst of malevolent chakra burst coming from the direction of her teammates' battle.

A small prayer hung from her lips, hoping against hope that her teammates were still in good health.

---

Haku held a hand in front of him, unable to look at the supernova of chakra that was emanating from his opponent.

He felt like he'd awakened something...
...something that could sweep him away with just a thought.

---

When Sasuke fell limp, Naruto knew his teammate wasn't dead. He knew this because he had seen Zabuza keel over 'dead' the exact same way.

No.

He was overcome with emotion now not because of the fake-death.
But because his teammate had unthinkingly took a hit meant for him.

At any other point, it could have been a fatal hit, yet the other took it for him all the same. He took it because he didn't want to see his closest people die again.

Was he a close person to Sasuke?

Could he now consider this teammate his friend?

Raw emotion took over again and wounds rapidly healed. Eyes slitted, turning red and 'whisker' scars darkened and thickened as his destructive emotions hit an apex.

He cast a baleful eye to the closest chakra source he could feel.
Then Naruto lashed out.

The direct hit scored against Haku had effectively destroyed the older boy's mask as well as the concentration required to hold the ice-mirrors together. With the technique broken, Haku's remaining chakra drained in an unconscious effort to sustain his bloodlimit and so his reserves just about ran dry.

Realising the futility against such a strong foe, Haku could only wait for the finishing hit.

But it never came.

Naruto's fist had stopped directly in front of Haku's face, the intensity of red chakra emanating from Naruto had all but dissipated. The silence stretched as both combatants could only stare tiredly at the other.

"Why don't you kill me?" Haku's question had came about as a whisper.

"Why did it have to come to this?" Naruto replied just as quietly.

"There are people who make this mistake! Not killing because of pity!" Haku quoted one of Zabuza's own teachings.

"I am of no use anymore! I'm not strong enough for Zabuza-sama! Take my life as I had taken your friend's!"

Naruto remained impassive for a time before replying.

"Even in the end, you still could not kill either." The blond boy stated.

Haku's eyes widened a fraction.

"You had prepared yourself to do it, but you still could not."

The missing ninja looked away, ashamed.

"Now tell me why we still fight."

Haku grasped for excuses.

"Because we are on opposing sides."

"We're too similar to be enemies."

Then the sound of a thousand birds had drowned out their thoughts.

---

"...and I created that water-clone containing my blood from when you cut me. So when you destroyed it and it splashed all over you, the smell of my blood had neatly outlined, not only your location, but your critical areas for my dogs to target." Kakashi all but bragged.

"And now, your future is death."

Kakashi went through a handful of hand-seals and his palm lit with chakra. Lightning coursed and crackled through the silver-haired jounin's right arm.

Then he sprinted forwards, towards his opponent. The distance was closing as Kakashi neared his mark, his arm extending, intending to tear into his enemy.

But then someone else entered his line of attack.

At the last second, Kakashi tried to alter his direction, without compromising his target, by pushing hard on his heel and diverging his aim in a viable direction.

The results was that he'd stood over Haku's prone form, his hand curved over the boy's left shoulder. Kakashi's attack had skimmed Haku's shoulder and effectively flash-frying the cut flesh.

Zabuza had been less lucky. Though the attack had also missed his critical areas, the tendons connecting his ribs to his shoulder had still been in the area of effect. The technique had pushed the areas sharply, making the flesh collapse in on itself. Thanks to the heavy bleeding, it was impossible to determine the amount of internal damage, though it was clear the connecting arm was useless.

Both fighters stared at the entrance of the other combatant. Then, at the same time as Haku collapsed and the dog summons disappeared, both jounins took it as a sign to further their fight.

---

Sakura quickly pulled up a guarding stance as someone descended on her position, the fog had been lifting slightly at the arrival. Then she recognised the figure.

"Naruto!" Sakura and Tazuna chorused with pleasant surprise.

Naruto closed in and halted, giving them both a quick once-over.

"You guys, okay?" He asked, finding that Tazuna wasn't putting weight on a certain ankle.

Sakura and Tazuna both gave an affirmative. Though seeing Naruto looking somewhat fine struck Sakura as odd but she had gone on to ask her next question and the thought was forgotten.

"What about Sasuke?" The question came about hopeful.

Naruto reflexively flinched. The other member of Team 7 had different standings in his eyes now and he hadn't come to terms with it just yet.

"He'll be... okay." Naruto chose his words carefully.

Before Sakura could push him onwards about it, he'd already bolted and headed in Kakashi's direction.

The mist cleared just enough to allow her an unobstructed view of Sasuke's still form.

---

"Kakashi-sensei!" Naruto called out before skidding to a halt just behind his teacher.

"Naruto?" Kakashi glanced over to said charge, confirming the presence.

Naruto inwardly berated himself. Clearly, that chakra surge he had little control of had alerted all ninja within miles of the bridge of him and his possible capabilities. Just another reason to have a paranoid teacher figuratively breathing down his neck from the shadows for the days to come.

But there were more important matters at hand at the moment.

"Haku's collapsed, but Zabuza's still got one good arm." Kakashi reported then he turned and regarded Naruto with an order.

"Stay back Naruto. This is my fight."

Naruto made no move and after a second of hesitation, he gave a nod to his teacher. Kakashi understood the double meaning. His student will not advance, but won't back down either; ready at a moment's notice to back him up if necessary.

---

The pink-haired genin cradled her dark-haired teammate's head carefully.

"You're taking this too calmly." Tazuna remarked.

Sakura didn't say anything for a time, but just stared down at her fallen teammate. It was a while before she would choose her answer.

"Rule 25 states that in no matter what situation, a shinobi must keep their emotions on the inside and that the mission must take top priority."

Then she steeled herself for the last part.

"A shinobi must possess a heart that never shows tears."

Tears were already inching their way down her face as she said so. Sakura sniffled as she'd still futily tried to hold it back.

"He's not dead. Zabuza didn't die from this and Naruto didn't say he was dead."

Tazuna bowed his head.

"Then why are you crying...?" The older man asked.

Sakura couldn't answer. She had an epiphany about what the future would bring. What would happen should someone really die?

---

Zabuza knew he was outnumbered, but strategically, he was better off. Jounin teacher's would have to look after their charges and thus, it was a weakness to exploit.

Zabuza charged in Naruto's direction.

Expecting this, Kakashi also sprinted to intercept. However, he was surprised that Zabuza zigged away into his path. Kakashi bounced backwards, only for Zabuza to zag in the direction heading for Naruto again.

Kakashi's eyes widened. A double feint! He tried to adjust his trajectory but found that he would be hard pressed to make this.

On seeing he was the target, Naruto pulled out a kunai for each hand, preparing himself for the incoming attack. Zabuza had just reached Naruto's position and went to deliver the crushing attack for a horizontal slice. Seeing this, Naruto knew that blocking wouldn't be able to stop the missing ninja's fierce swing from throwing him down, so he forced a shadow replication to appear in front of him to push himself out of the attack range, but was surprised.

The attack had dipped at the last second, tearing up sparks as it scratched along the ground, missing Naruto and the clone entirely!

The attack wasn't meant for him.

Kakashi had just reached Naruto's position when Zabuza's attack changed direction -directly aiming for the jounin! The silver-haired jounin had just enough time to hold up a kunai to block, and the brunt of Zabuza's over-sized sword clashed with Kakashi's small dagger. The silver-haired jounin was hard-pressed to hold it off, but suddenly, the sword's pressure had alleviated.

Kakashi looked up over and found Naruto within Zabuza's defense. The young blond ninja had used the clone he'd just summoned to grab him by his jacket and pull himself over into Zabuza's personal space, allowing Naruto to pin both kunais, held hand over hand in a scissors vice around Zabuza's throat. The missing ninja couldn't even swallow lest he would cut himself. Then Kakashi's quick movement had him slap away Zabuza's sword, sending it further along the bridge.

The wind kicked up, each combatant's eyes met.

Check and mate.

A sinister laugh filled the air.

"How pathetic!"

---

"How pathetic!" A diminutive, stocky little man called out, his cry earning the audience of the battling ninja.

"Gatou..." Zabuza hissed, recognising the name behind the voice.

Kakashi and Naruto tensed at the name. Just at the edge of the bridge stood the root of their problem...
...And a much bigger problem, as many bandits had lined up at the edge of the bridge, backing up their sole employer. Many more were still climbing over the edge from the many boats below.

"I knew you were bound to fail, Zabuza, which is why I hired you." The little man sneered and he cast a pointing hand over the bridge.

"All of you ninja are the same! All of you are only tools of war but the missing ninja are the most pathetic! They think they have a purpose, so they are desperate and never question what they are told! Now my men will finish the job."

Gatou took several steps forwards.

"Your services are terminated, Zabuza..." He pushed up the bridge of his glasses with his index finger. "And so are you."

Kakashi pulled away from Zabuza and took some heavy breaths.

"Stand down, Naruto. Zabuza's not in Gatou's employment now, but we're still in Tazuna's protection. Get ready." Kakashi ordered.

Hesitantly, Naruto pulled back.

The Devil of the Mist did not react. He kept his eyes cast down, disbelievingly in mild shock at how far he had fallen. One of the Seven Swordsmen. To die here at the hands of such scum.

"Ah! This is the one that broke my arm." Gatou remarked, when he'd come across Haku's prone form.

Then he pulled his leg back and delivered a swift kick.

"HAKU!"

A well of feelings pulled to the surface and Naruto attempted to dash forward, but a swift yank from the back of his jacket had denied him the chance to jump to Haku's aid.

"Don't just blindly jump in. Look at their numbers." Kakashi advised through clench teeth.

"Haku's being hurt!" Naruto shouted. "We can take them!"

Kakashi's grip tightened and Naruto knew he couldn't depend on his teacher for this instance.

"Aren't YOU going to do something?-!" Naruto changed tactics and turned to their once-opponent.

Zabuza still said nothing, having not looked away from the floor.

So Naruto dropped one of the kunai's he held and, with that free hand, reached out and grabbed Zabuza by the bandages that wrapped around the missing ninja's face. The older ninja was pulled down at Naruto's eye-level, and then forcibly turned as to be positioned to see Gatou give Haku another kick.

"He's your friend, isn't he!-? Shouldn't you do something!-?"

Zabuza's unfocused eyes kept looking past Gatou and Haku.

"Aren't you going to do something about that?-!" Naruto shouted at Zabuza. "He's still alive!"

The missing ninja met Naruto's eyes, tired.

The short man gave another swift kick into Haku's ribs, causing a trickle of blood to run at the unconscious boy's mouth.

"Bastard!"

Having seen enough, Naruto pushed Zabuza away, and with his kunai brandishing hand, he cut through his jacket's material at the base where Kakashi held him by -thus allowing Naruto the freedom to run to Haku's defense.

Seeing the threat, Gatou ran head long into his followers, hastily issuing orders to kill their opposition.

Once Naruto reached Haku's prone form, the mob had descended, intending on bearing down on the boys. Naruto drew forth several Shadow Clones to defend as best he could, each going in with punches and kicks flailing in an attempt to keep the crowd from swarming.

---

Zabuza had been caught in a reverie consisting of a series of jumbled images of every waking moment that finally built up to this. Built up to Naruto rushing to Haku's aid. His supposed enemy was rushing to his fallen accomplices' aid. Based on what? On a solitary afternoon?

And for the first time in years, Zabuza truly opened his eyes.

He was simple boy once.
He grew up with simple ideals.
Simple hopes and dreams.
Hopes and dreams he worked hard for.

-It was supposed to be a show of strength... It didn't mean he was trying to...-

Then one day, an honourable swordsman of mist had fallen.
And he took someone of such pure heart with him.

And just like for each rock that helped paved in making the very bridge he stood on, he saw each sin that built the road to where he stood today.

He'd paved a road to hell from good intentions.

He glanced over to his side and Kakashi met his gaze only for a second. Then the mismatched-eyed jounin rushed to his pupil's aid.

"Today's a good day to die." Zabuza muttered under his breath.

---

The silver-haired teacher could hear an echo of footsteps on pavement behind him as he sprinted to his student. Scooping up Zabuza's sword along the way, he lightly tossed it over his shoulder and was rewarded with it not making a clattering sound. Zabuza was right behind him and had caught his weapon.

Upon reaching Naruto and Haku, Kakashi shoved some of the men away, intending on defending both boys. Zabuza, however, didn't stop in his run. He'd kept dashing forwards, swinging relentlessly as he took down man after man in his frenzied sprint.

He had Gatou squarely in his sights.

Seeing Zabuza forcing the bandits' attention on him, Kakashi made use of the diversion to grab both Naruto and Haku and pushed themselves further back along the bridge and away from harm's way.

When it looked like Zabuza would reach Gatou and deliver his redemption, he was tackled and mobbed, his mop of hair drowning out under the wave of attackers as spears and swords were raised and lowered repeatedly. Teacher and student flinched at the sight.

But then...

"Kakashi-sensei... That chakra..." Naruto gasped.

Zabuza's chakra flared astoundingly bright, throwing back the huddled crowd. The aura had formed into an image of his Demonic name-sake and he'd rose with weapons still hanging off him, now intending more than ever to finish what he'd started.

Kakashi nodded to his student and began to explain.

"To use up that much chakra to make a physical manifestation of his intent... Though capable of deflecting attacks, it is not effective for battles, for not only do many ninja lack extensive stamina at their disposal, but it also easily damages your chakra pathways and can hospitalise a person for months at a time and still possibly end in death."

Kakashi halted in his explanation as Gatou was finally within Zabuza's reach.

"However, for the ninja that have nothing left to lose, an intent to not recover... This is what is called a death march."

Zabuza closed in with one mighty swing.

And Gatou was no more.

---

With their leader down and his killer collapsing, the bandits turned to set their sights on the Wave, wanting to tear down the little country that denied them their ill-gained wealth-to-be.

It wasn't going to happen when all of Wave's citizens had taken a stand at the entrance of their Country.

Tazuna gaped.

"Inari! Tsunami! What are you doing here?-!"

Sure enough, Inari and Tsunami wore cooking pots as substitutes for helmets. The former having somehow acquired a crossbow whilst the latter wielded a frying pan.

"We're going to protect the Wave, gramps! We'll all protect it with our lives!" Inari shouted.

He was chorused by a round of cheers and battle cries from the citizens that were backing him. Pride lined the old architects heart at seeing the courage radiating from the crowd.

Seeing themselves out-matched, the would-be attackers fled. There were many who thought that taking the ropes and ladders were better off than those that went directly for the ocean. Though it was proven wrong, as the many that did take those modes of transport going down had been, in effect, forced down from the people above them, thus loosing foot and grip and inadvertently followed the example of those that jumped.

It wasn't long before the last bandit had disappeared and a great victorious cry rose among the citizens of the Wave.

They'd stood face to face with adversity and triumphed together.

---

Soon, the crowds had departed, celebrating their victory, leaving the original group from before Gatou's interference.

Kakashi took to delegating the tasks that need be done, for instance before all the civilians left, he had some of them dispose of the bandits and Gatou's cold dead corpse. No one felt bad about going through what the corrupt little man had in his pockets.

Then Kakashi had Sakura, Tazuna and Naruto help relocate the unconscious forms of Haku, Sasuke and Zabuza to get them ready to be moved out for when his order of a couple of stretchers would come.

It was at this point in waiting that Zabuza's dying voice drifted over to the commandeering jounin.

"Kakashi." Zabuza wheezed. "I want to make a request."

The silver-haired jounin walked over to the dying missing ninja and kneeled at his side.

"What is it?"

"You were right about my future containing death..." Zabuza morbidly joked, but he was quick to turn it into a serious inquiry.

"I want to borrow one of your students to help me."

Kakashi had a vague idea where this was going and wasn't sure what to make of it.

"What do you mean?" He asked for clarification.

"The boy... He's ready to become a true ninja." Zabuza answered plainly.

Kakashi gave pause. It was a very delicate matter. Then after much thought, he made his decision.

"Sakura, Tazuna. We'll be moving Sasuke and Haku to the foot of the bridge and wait for the stretchers there." He ordered.

Both people addressed did so, but having not had the privilege to hear what was being said between the two jounins, they gave curious looks towards the teacher before moving the wounded away.

When they were at a suitable distance, Kakashi singled out Naruto.

"Naruto. Zabuza wants to talk to you. I'll just be further down the bridge."

Naruto nodded and approached the fallen mist ninja.

"You don't have to if you don't want to." Kakashi added mysteriously after Naruto passed him.

Kakashi's parting words echoed in Naruto's mind. Naruto gave a curt nod and did not bother to turn around to face his teacher. Whether his teacher saw it or not, did not matter -they were at an understanding.

The blond genin walked over and waited for Zabuza to speak first. The older ninja only did so once everyone left the immediate vicinity, with the exception being Kakashi who was still at a fair distance. The dampness of the weather turned Kakashi's form into a silhouette and the others disappeared from sight.

"Naruto... I have a favour to ask of you."

"What's that?" Naruto asked cautiously.

"Though I am undeserving of a second, I cannot act on my own. Will you aid me?"

"A second...?" Naruto tried to discern the words and quickly realised what the missing ninja meant.

"You mean... Seppuku?" Naruto gasped, looking into the missing ninja's eyes for confirmation of the ritual suicide. When Zabuza did not answer, Naruto knew he'd hit the nail on the head.

"Why... why me?"

"Because... For me, too much has happened and Haku holds you in high regard... I saw with my own two eyes what he meant... "

"It will be an honor for me." Zabuza meant every word.

Naruto closed his eyes and took a deep breath, before nodding slowly. Zabuza kneeled and Naruto brought the larger man's useless arm to rest on his lap. Removing a kunai from his pocket, Naruto placed the weapon in Zabuza's hands and closed the fingers around the instrument of death, the bladed edge facing towards the older's stomach.

The young genin was never able to comprehend the point of ritual suicide. It didn't need to be said, that at times, he'd wanted to just simply lay down and die, but he found there was so much to live for.
Revenge...
Goals...
Strength...

...friends...?

"Are you... are you just going to leave Haku?" Naruto asked. It was the only thing he knew that related to keeping the older ninja alive.

Zabuza gave pause, considering his next words.

"It is best Haku finds his own dreams." He stated simply. "But when this is over, I want you to pass this sword to Kakashi."

"Why?"

"He will know when you give it to him."

Naruto hesitantly conceded and gave the older man a few breaths to steady himself.

"Is it true what Gatou said? All ninja are only tools of war for their countries?" Naruto asked out of the blue.

"Do you think so?" Zabuza replied, staring back into Naruto's eyes long and hard.

Naruto didn't know what to think. A long meaningful silence echoed around them, which was punctuated by a thunder clap and a flash of lightning.

"Enough talk. Do it now."

Naruto took a few breaths, then held one of Zabuza's arms tightly as with his other hand around the other's fingers, he gave a sharp push.

A groan escaped Zabuza's lips. Then he hesitantly coughed a little.
Blood was pooling out of his mouth and staining the bandages crimson.

"I... had a... dream... once." Zabuza choked, through bloody gasps.

Naruto felt his own throat tighten.

"I wanted... to be... the Mizukage..." The older choked through more coughing fits, some of it spraying all over Naruto's face. Blood mixed with tears.

"You are what I could become." Naruto whispered.

The blond boy grimaced and pulled the last of his will to finish the ritual suicide. The kunai went higher, directly into the middle of the rib cage area.

Zabuza breathed his last.

And the heavens shed its tears.

---

The rained had picked up in velocity, and the damp change had thickened the mist, covering much of the bridge in a vague silhouette. Because of this, Kakashi had lost sight of both ninjas still on the bridge. Despite knowing the mist was a natural affliction, Kakashi internally warred a little at the thought of leaving his pupil in this predicament. Even if Zabuza held true to his word...

"Naruto's not like me." Kakashi speculated. "I doubt he's ready for such burden."

His worries were alleviated when he noticed a lone figure approaching him.

As he came closer, it was easier to tell it was Naruto, dragging along an overly large blade. The front of his clothes had been stained with a dark hue. His hands and face covered in blood that the rain just spread further.

However, Naruto's hunched countenance spoke volumes of being tired; both physically and mentally. This had the effect of reviving Kakashi's worry and sending it to new heights. He'd personally hoped that Naruto would have turned it down. Once again, he'd been surprised.

When Naruto stopped in front of his teacher, the boy refused to look his teacher in the eyes.

"Everyone's already gone back to Tazuna's place." Kakashi said, providing the explanation why he was alone.

Naruto held out Zabuza's sword, presenting it to Kakashi. Understanding the gesture, Kakashi placed his hand on the handle to keep the over-sized weapon steady, and with the other hand, gave Naruto's shoulder a reassuring pat.

"I'll take care of it, Naruto." The jounin acknowledged. "You can clean up now. You've done enough."

"Thank you, sensei."

---

Wave Aftermath

A new day came and with it, a new hope for the people of the Wave. It was as if the rain last night had washed away all the evil that threatened their country.

Most of the population of the Wave had come out and drove the lingering remainder of Gatou's groups out of town.

Naruto spent most of his time to himself and though only Kakashi knew of the boy's reasons for doing so, everyone gave him his space.

Sakura had spent most of her time training, as well as standing guard over Tazuna. It wasn't because it was necessary, but simply because it was still their job.

Sasuke and Haku were placed into separate rooms, resting and recuperating from their respective injuries.

Kakashi was moving between resting and casual meanderings, as he took his assignment with a more casual outlook. Every other day of the week would have him going about the town where he would be given heartfelt thanks from the people.

Tsunami had been festive with her cooking and had been in a better mood than ever, as was her son.

Tazuna went back to supervising the building of his bridge, though now with the whole town aiding him, they would complete the bridge within a week.

---

Wave Aftermath: The Wave's Ease.

As of the moment, Sakura had taken a seat and wiped her forehead with a handkerchief. It was only the day following the one of taking Wave back from Gatou and the weather was a little sunny today. Still pretty cloudy, and good chances of rain but it held a promise for all the sunny days to come.

Tazuna caught how tired Sakura was and decided to call for a break, however his entourage had laughed and had told him to rest while they continue. Clearly the excitement was sparkling and everyone wanted to keep moving on forward to finish as soon as possible.

The aging architect seated himself aside with the pink-haired genin.

"Inari had united the people of the Wave that day." He suddenly stated.

Sakura tilted her head in question.

"But it was Naruto that inspired that courage." The grandfather also added.

"Oh?" Sakura didn't know where this was heading.

There was a gleam in Tazuna's eye.

"Well... This bridge does need a name..."

Making the connections, Sakura had laughed. The thought of Naruto having such influence over so many people to have an amazing structure already being affiliated with him...
...but it also made her believe for a moment, that Naruto stood a chance at becoming Hokage. Or at least a possibility to reach such great heights.

After her chuckling died down, she managed a glance at the town behind them and an odd thought occurred to her.

"You know, I think it'd be a good idea to start a new ninja village here." Sakura commented thoughtfully to Tazuna. "It might bring better trade and make the Wave into a proper city."

"No." Tazuna shook his head. "No one from the Wave would approve of it."

"Why's that?" Sakura asked.

"Many of the people and even the Feudal Lord had been opposed to hiring ninjas for help. Even I was really nervous! That's why I've been drinking so much when we'd first started off!"

The old man gave a hearty laugh after the confession.

"Though I'm sure everyone's glad we called you guys, I don't think we're ready for that sort of thing."

Sakura's brows furrowed as she'd realised something. She hadn't been getting odd looks as of late.

"Is that why we were getting weird looks when we'd first arrived?"

"Yes." The architecture nodded. "It's not personal, it's just that the superstition is wide spread among the populace."

Sakura pivoted her body slowly to face the older man, all of her attention now on him.

"What's this superstition?"

"Most believe that if a ninja ever sets foot back in the country of the Wave, it would herald the return of the Nine-tails."

---

Wave Aftermath: Forging Verses.

There was light rain during midweek. Everyone confined themselves indoors but the weather hadn't dampened the citizen's spirits. The bridge had a set completion time and many were getting ready for a small festival on its opening.

It was this day that Haku finally awakened from his chakra-induced slumber to the sound of pitter-patter of raindrops above his head. Kakashi was the first person he saw when he opened his eyes.

"I am a prisoner?" The boy made the logical assumption.

The silver-haired jounin put away his preferred reading material and gave Haku his full attention.

"No. Gatou and Zabuza are dead." The older ninja replied.

The mist boy had become numb.

"W-what? H-how?" The younger boy was starting to shake.

The jounin then explained that when Haku collapsed from chakra-exhaustion, Gatou made an appearance, revealing his true intentions and that Zabuza had made sure to take down his former employer. And then with great reluctance, Kakashi also told Haku of Naruto's part afterwards.

The younger mist ninja did not say anything for a time.

"What's to become of me then?" He asked.

"That's solely up to you." Was the reply.

Haku could only nod.

"I... I want to see where he's buried."

Kakashi gave Haku instructions on how to reach Zabuza's burial spot and that he would send Sakura in a few moments with something for him.

---

Zabuza's grave was a mound of dirt and a simple erected cross with a chain of flowers hanging off of it.

Haku's still form stood in front of it for what seemed like an eternity. He did not think of bringing an umbrella, and was completely drenched for not thinking to do so. It's not that he lacked owning an object to prevent him getting wet nor was it because he didn't mind the rain but it was due to him being too distracted. He had too many questions, too many options and too many emotions.

He had reached his own dead end.

Some rustling alerted him to someone approaching, but he didn't bother to take a defensive stance against the visitor.

"Haku."

Haku turned around at the greeting.

"Sakura, I believe."

Sure enough, it was the pink-haired female he'd noted on the several occasions he'd crossed path with Team 7. She seemed a little uncomfortable, but that was understandable. They were once opponents and it was reason enough to keep her guard up.

Unlike him, she held an umbrella in one hand. In the other, an object bound in cloth.

There was a brief silence as neither was willing to speak first, but when Haku's gaze landed on Sakura's parcel, the girl was compelled to explain.

"Kakashi told me to give you this."

Sakura held out the wrapped cloth, to which Haku carefully accepted. Upon opening it, he found Zabuza's broken blade. Though the handle was still intact, the blade had been severed a few inches off the hilt. He took it by the handle solemnly and held it close, one of his fingers tracing the serrated edge.

Sakura was about to leave him alone with his thoughts, when Haku's voice reached out to her.

"There's a tradition in the Hidden Mist." He felt the need to explain.

"They say that in the great swordsmen families, when the son comes of age, the Father will pass his blade to his son."

There was a deathly silence as air seemed to condense. An aura of cold mist wafted off the missing ninja accomplice. Sakura's hand hovered over her pouch, but she knew it was unjustified. Haku continued regardless.

"But the blade is always broken when the son accepts. He will have to forge his own sword from the remainder of his father's. This is because his grandfather's sword is his own... And his father's sword is his own... And now, the son's sword is his own... But it is also a bond between all family that inherit it."

The silence extended with the explanation, and Haku turned around dropping the weapon to linger at his side, as he once again stared at the marker. Sakura bowed, taking it as a sign to give the boy his peace.

Lost in his thoughts for what could have been hours, Haku eventually looked upwards, to the heavens.

"Am I to forge my own blade for you, Zabuza-sama?" He asked the Heavens. He even gave pause as if expecting an answer.

"To follow my own path and my own ideals?" He asked again, this time nearly a whisper.

Though he wished it, there was no reply. He wasn't expecting one either.
The feminine boy sighed and let his head drop. Then his eyes widened in surprise.

He pulled the sword closer to his face, examining how the rain hit the sword. He'd activated his blood limit unconsciously earlier and the metal had chilled at his touch, so when the rain droplets inched downward to the severed edge, his bloodlimit had the drops frozen before they could drip off the sword.

It built up when he had been distracted and now he held the base of a sword, with an edge of ice.

"Zabuza-sama..." Haku choked.

And the rain fell harder.

---

Wave's Aftermath: Conscious Decisions.

Dark pupils dilated as eyelids flickered open.

Sasuke blinked.

He was alive.

He'd attempted to sit up but found the task difficult. After much struggling, he'd managed it but it took a strenuous amount of effort. His straining had attracted the attention of Tsunami. She fawned over him for some time before going back to her own tasks and sending in the nearest available teammate.

"How are you feeling, Sasuke-kun?" Sakura asked, as she stepped into the room.

"I'm fine." He gave a curt reply, ignoring his sore muscles.

Then he turned to look her in the eye.

"What happened? I take it we won, since Tsunami looks to be happy?" He deduced.

"Yes!" Sakura nodded enthusiastically.

The female genin of Team 7 went on to explain the events of the bridge.

"Haku's alive and he's here!-?" Sasuke exclaimed. The thought of the older boy had given him a bad taste in his mouth. The avenger didn't like the idea of someone who was stronger than him.
...but then he realised that he'd finally activated his bloodlimit and he gained the upper hand since then. If there would be a follow up confrontation, Sasuke assured himself he easily would be the victor.

"Well, yes and no." Sakura bit her lower lip. "Haku's alive, but since Zabuza and his client are dead, we shouldn't expect him to attack us." She explained almost reading his mind and replying so (though it was her own fears that led her to ask this of her teacher much earlier).

"And he's not here anymore." Sakura added. Sasuke furrowed his brows.

"He didn't come back yesterday since visiting Zabuza's grave."

Sasuke gave a slow nod.

They stayed silent for a bit. Then Sakura spoke up again.

"Naruto will be happy to know you're awake."

"Hnn?" Sasuke grunted.

"He's been real quiet lately. He's been going off by himself again, like when we left our village."

Sasuke's eyes narrowed. Naruto's been training again, so that'd mean he would have to push himself further into training as soon as possible.

But he smirked also.

The thought of their battle against Haku was fresh and he knew that his teammate would prove to be an interesting challenge come soon.

---

Wave's Aftermath: Think Pink.

The cotton-candy haired petite ninja of Team 7 sat on the pier, her legs dangling over the water. She'd unconsciously kept her legs above the water as her thoughts erratically jumped here and there.

Waking yesterday, the raven-haired avenger had taken to working out so as to be perfectly in tip-top shape for their trip back tomorrow. She thanked various deities for his hasty recovery. Though he seemed... Quieter? No. More determined.

And then there was the case of...

"So, how's Naruto?" Inari asked much like her inner-self did and was now seating himself by her side.

God, she was just about to get to him.

"I honestly don't know." Sakura answered aloud. "He's always going out in the woods by himself a lot. I think he's training even harder."

"Training? Wow!" He accepted her explanation completely.

It was a half lie, but a lie none the less. She didn't want the little boy to worry. She really didn't know what was going on with him. He was more subdued now than when they were on the road to Wave. Whenever she tried to approach him, he looked to try to force himself to respond.

Things were changing... And she didn't like the look of it.

---

Wave's Aftermath: Stalling.

Naruto had been avoiding everyone all week -more so than when they'd first left the Hidden Village of Leaf a while back. For some reason, he felt he couldn't face anyone. Not Tazuna's family or the rest of the Wave, not his teacher, not his teammates and certainly not Haku (when he was around).

Everything seemed to be moving too damn fast for him to comprehend.

Zabuza's death.
Sasuke's sacrificing himself for his sake.
Revenge on the Village.

Then the combined thoughts of how he wanted to be perceived by his friends! Just how would Haku see him now? How would he have to act around Sasuke now? How would Sakura see him when she finds out he'd took killed Zabuza!-?

God! How was he supposed to get revenge at all when people would just pop up all around him and just... just...

The confused genin growled.

It was all too distracting.

So Naruto had tried to distance himself for the week. Sort things out himself. But now was the beginning of the morning that they would leave. And he wasn't ready yet; in both sense of the word.

So, here he was, standing outside the blacksmith's door. Afterwards, he'd need to get to the bridge and say goodbye...

Naruto sighed loudly. Just when did things get so complicated?

Taking a deep breath, he resolved himself with a practised grin.

Just take it one day at a time for now.
Just one day at a time.

And he stepped inside.

---

Wave's Aftermath: The Exit of Greatness.

A team consisting of 3 genins and a jounin stood at the entrance of the bridge to Wave. They were all shouldering packs and had been ready to leave, now only taking their time saying goodbyes to all the well-wishers gathered.

Inari was getting all teary-eyed at the goodbye.

"So you're going now, Naruto?" He sobbed.

Naruto gave a grin and ruffled the younger boy's hair.

"Eh, don't cry Inari."

Inari nodded but found himself getting too teary-eyed. Ashamed at being caught crying in front of Naruto, Inari had turned to his mother and tried to share the blame.

"Look mom! You're crying too..." He tried to wipe away his tears.

Tsunami had gave a light laugh.

"But it's alright to cry when you're happy!" She replied pulling her son into an embrace, to which he leaned into.

There was a general chorus of goodbyes and Team 7 had pulled away. They were the first people to cross the bridge and it was widely agreed that they should be allowed the honour of its first use.

"So what were you thinking of calling this bridge?" Tsunami smiled at her father.

"I was thinking of calling it after my grandson, for he gathered the courage to unite the Wave." He said a little too loudly, whilst giving a smirking side-look to said grandson.

Hearing all of this, Inari jumped away and crossed his arms in refusal.

"No way!" He denied. "Naruto's the one who helped me! You should be naming the bridge after him!"

Tazuna and Tsunami nodded, sharing large smiles.

"Then..." Tazuna turned and to the crowd. "I proclaim this, the Great Naruto bridge!"

There was a unanimous roar of approval.

---

Wave's Aftermath: Requiem for a Purpose.

After a day's travel and the Wave long behind them, Team 7 re-entered the Fire Country. All were content with looking forward to finally arriving home.

However, Kakashi suddenly held up a hand, causing the group to pause and take up a battle formation.

A sole figure stepped out from behind a nearby tree that everyone was watching anxiously.

"Haku." Sakura breathed.

Indeed it was. He wore the same kimono that he sported when he and Naruto had gone out on the town in. At the moment, one arm carried a small bag -assumably full of travel necessities and a certain broken blade was slung over one shoulder.

"I request to accompany you." Haku announced.

Three pairs of eyes turned from the boy to their teacher, and patiently awaited the answer. Kakashi stared long and hard at the teen.

"Why?"

The rest of the members of Team 7 turned back to Haku.

"I want to learn the answer to that too." Haku admitted.

"There will be politics and procedures involved." Kakashi warned.

"I had a most compelling argument to come." Haku shifted a glance over to Naruto.

The silver-haired jounin accepted, slowly nodding his head and after a quick thought, held out his right hand. Haku shook it.

"Welcome to the Hidden Leaf."

"Thank you."

Then Haku turned to greet the other members of the Leaf.

Sakura had eyed the older boy. Her assessment of when they spoke earlier had her believe the boy was sincere and was looking for a purpose. She would give him the benefit of the doubt and hoped that he would become a trustworthy person eventually. She gave him a bow when he turned her way, to which he returned with a thankful air. (2)

Sasuke gave Haku a hooded gaze. He unlocked his Sharingan now, so he had the edge required to beat the older boy, as well as any foe that he would cross. He could not care any less what Haku did or did not do. When they crossed eyes, he summoned his bloodlimit and smirked smugly at the kimono-clad male who still bowed formally.

Naruto was last and he couldn't meet the older boy's eyes. Haku formally bowed and Naruto returned it uncomfortably. Haku swore that he would talk to Naruto when he was ready to.

---

Wave's Aftermath: Stilling the Blood.

Night had fallen and everyone but two people had been taken in by the embrace of sleep. Naruto waited until he heard everyone's breathing become steady, then he got up and sat next to the current sentry -his teacher.

Kakashi had glanced to his student with a lazy acknowledgement.

"Kakashi-sensei..." The blond boy began.

"Is something troubling you?" The jounin asked, though he knew this talk was a long time in coming.

"Do you..." Naruto paused, then tried again. "Do you remember the first time you'd killed someone?"

Kakashi did not answer for a time, his mind elsewhere. It was only his visible eye that gave away a tired form.

"Everyone does." He replied, as he collected himself.

"Does it get easier?"

"No. No, it doesn't."

Naruto exhaled audibly and Kakashi went on to explain himself.

"Even in a heated battle, it will always be them or you. You may not think about it then, but you will when it's over."

His words called on distant memories. Not very pleasant memories. The first had been that certain time he'd seen the mask of death on his father.
If only he listened to his father more...

"A ninja's profession will always lead to death, one way or another. So even though it's expected and people move on, most will find themselves thinking too much on it at some point or another."

Obito's visage had smiled back at him, even long after the sharingan eye had been removed.
If only he'd been watching over them more...

"Just try to live the best you can. There's nothing else to it."

He watched the Fourth's back as he rode headlong into battle, knowing full well that his teacher wouldn't be riding back.
If only he'd been there with him...

"When the time comes and I will be judged, I hope that all that I've done to protect my village will be enough."

A brief silence enveloped them. The last one had been more painful than the last few. He swore he would protect Rin. Kakashi had too many 'if only's' but Rin's had the most that he could have done something about.
If only he'd heard her out.
If only he'd came in time.
If only he'd stopped The Forgetting from ever taking place.
If only...

Naruto's voice woke him of his reminiscing.

"What's The Forgetting, sensei?" Naruto asked out of curiousity.

Kakashi cursed as he figured he'd actually mumbled his inner monologue.

"Nothing, Naruto. It was nothing." He harshly dropped the subject.

Seeing the blond boy flinch made Kakashi regret his tone of voice. Naruto was only seeking advice for such a trying time after all.

"Some people would say you were counted lucky. Lucky to be able to kill someone who asked for it." Kakashi got back on track.

Naruto chose his words carefully.

"I don't think so, sensei. Taking another life will still always be taking another life."

"I would say that too."

There was another companionable silence. Each were comfortable in their own individual thoughts and no one wanted to ruin it. Eventually, the orange-clad genin stood, brushing himself off to go back to sleep.

"Thanks for the talk, sensei. I feel a little better." Naruto admitted.

"It's no problem Naruto. But..." Kakashi paused to weigh his words.

"Hmm?"

"You should talk to your former teacher, Iruka."

"Iruka-sensei? Why? Did he do something like this too?"

"I don't know him that well, but there's a reason why some ninjas only ever make it to chuunin but don't want to go any further. I am sure that he's one of them."

Naruto caught the implication and nodded slowly.

"Good night." Kakashi waved.

"Nothing good about it." Naruto responded.

---

So here he was again. Naruto stood before a great entrance. And right there, after he'd spent the whole of last week soul-searching and contemplating all of life, a simple conclusion finally came to him.

Sure he had more questions than before.
Sure he was more muddled than ever.
Sure he didn't know himself anymore.

And he decided to hell with it all. He was going to wing it.

So when the great gates before him opened -the Gates of the Hidden Leaf- a real grin appeared on Naruto's face.

End Chapter Five

Feedback, constructive criticism and flames welcomed.
I'll take it like I'll take my daily dose of crazy pills!


(1)
I honestly thought the fight would be like this. Maybe not Sakura, but maybe Sasuke or more likely Naruto, since I thought that was the real point of tree-climbing.
C'mon! You can't be telling me that once you learn tree-walking, you wouldn't hesitate running along a sword edge?-!
(2)
Sakura's feelings towards Haku had been very, very odd. She was attempting to catalog Haku in a folder within her mind, but every time she tried to do so, the folder was always marked 'pretty' or 'dainty' or just plain 'girly'.
She'd glanced over at Sasuke and Naruto eyeing the feminine boy, then she'd folded her arms and huffed.
Here we go.
She marked Haku under 'men-thief'.
Quick heads up:
Demon Village: A pretty good fic! I gave firebirds416 the okays to borrow a scene I done, so don't flame him bout it, ok? (redo series with Kyuubi)
Point of Origin: Garret pi's work is far better than mine, so I'd recommend giving his work a gander! (takes place after 3 year jump)
Author's Notes:
Well, how's that? I'm afraid I'm still not happy with the rhythm, but l can't seem to find it. I'll give it another 5 chapters before I get back on this. I need a break from the writing the same chapter over and over again.

About Haku. He will not become a main character but rather take a similar role as the other rookies.

What'd you guys think of the segment headings? I only started them as tabs of the sequences I'd completed, but I'd ultimately left them.

And did you happen to read Fox Identity: Lost Segments before this chapter? Did you expect something else? Well now, you readers should be on to me, so maybe you all can start figuring where I'm going with this. :p
That was one of the reasons why I cut that out. That and no over do on the angst.

And thus concludes the Wave and (the main portion of the) Hidden Ocean arc. But did you notice that it doesn't seem finished? Or the fact that I didn't include certain important scenes from the series? If you caught all that, you're pretty quick. I'll be FORMALLY concluding all loose Wave ends in the next chapter -before the chuunin exams.

Since my notes are getting too big, I've placed an explanation in my profile for why this chapter is split into two and why it's also late.


FAQ Section

:For Answering Questions:
Once again, I'm changing my method for answering questions. All general questions will be answered here and I will personally email you, should you leave method of contact.

Hmm... No general questions? Okay. Let me just say that I'm trying to work in more of each of the Team 7 characters as I go along. I'm afraid that people outside of Team 7 will not be getting as big a role though.

The weapons, purchased in Wave, will make appearances during the Chuunin exam. They'll only be of the normal variety however.

And if anyone's new to this, this fic will mostly do little changes but will still stay close to the series, only vastly diverging starting from the 3 year arc.

My thanks to the following:
hmr
PhiloWorm
aznpuffyhair
Miss Selame
JohnnyG
MingShun
Peter Kim
Kitsurumenokitsune
Little Fox Kit
Meh
Saetan
cheerful-pinkstar
madnarutofan
blabityyloloco
Gogolu
dragon-wing3
Zhuyou
AzureSky123
deathtraps
Cyberwing
Sanosuke
Dual Rasengan
dragoninvoid
Gato-sama
Viky
hyuugaman
Onikami-no-Shinobi
Goyana
Kuzo the Golem Pwner
ChaosRonin
grayfox42
gourry-gabriev610
Tokyo no Ecchi

Once again, thanks all of your for your support!

And lastly, a special thanks to Tom for helping me out with the chapter!


Stats
'Classic WITH CHE word counter'
Vers. 04.3 (9/11/05)
Fic: 11,520
Notes: 634

(Does not include stats)

Have a Great and Happy day!