Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto!

Note: I don't like using honorifics, but sometimes there is no real alternative. Occasionally you will see a 'sama' or something tacked onto someone's name, but for the most part there will be none unless there is a good reason.

Thoughts look like this.


The Crusaders

Prologue

Idle Leaves

She crouched low as she landed, sliding backward across the rocks and dirt. Finally stopping, she moved herself back into the ready position, left palm out in front, right hand in front of her waist. She squinted her white eyes against drops of sweat and the blood that came from a stinging cut above her thin eyebrows. She grimaced against the pain in her side as she again pushed away thoughts of hopelessness.

"Konohamaru!" she called out, maintaining her composure.

She sensed him appear to her left, standing with his right shoulder next to her left. His lead hand, which held a kunai tightly, was still wrapped in the bandage she had applied herself, though blood was starting to seep through. "Sorry about that," he chuckled, "Got a little carried away." The two of them were not good friends or anything, but she knew him enough to hear the effort that he put into his mirth. It seemed that he was under no illusion that they would make it out alive.

"I'm running out of chakra," she whispered to him, "I can't fight much longer."

She noticed for the first time that he was wheezing slightly, "Yeah, I haven't got much left either." She could tell that there was something more to it than him simply being tired, but there was no time, and not much they could do about it anyway. "If we were rested, we could really thrash these guys. Looks like things are going to be tough."

"We're about to die," she said, the strain seeping into her voice, "I'm pretty sure they don't care about your tough guy act." She shook her head, whipping some of the loose hairs away and flinging some sweat from her face.

"Just because the odds are against us doesn't mean it's hopeless," he responded firmly, "It'll work out."

"What the hell is wrong with you?" She finally lost it, the stress and fear of the situation coming to the surface, "Are you saying some miracle is just going to let us beat all these guys?"

She was surprised when he threw his kunai into the dirt and grasped her left hand. "It's going to be fine, Hanabi-chan. You and I are going beat these guys, and we'll go back as heroes. We'll even go on a date to celebrate!" She looked back over her shoulder at him blankly, unable to speak. "We'll do all those things, and everyone will be happy. So don't worry, I promise we'll make it out of here!"

Allowing a small smile, she squeezed his hand briefly before setting herself back in her ready stance. "I suppose we'll just have to give it everything we've got and hope for the best," she said.

"Yeah," he nodded, "For Konoha!"

She scowled as the veins around her eyes began to protrude, "For Konoha!"

The pair stood there for a moment, then sprinted forward. They didn't know how they would beat the remaining two squads of shinobi, but they knew that they couldn't loose. They simply couldn't.


Konoha

Two Hours Earlier

The clouds were particularly wispy that day. The warm sun was doing it's best to heat the land, but the autumn breeze would not be so easily defeated. In the end, the two forces had come to a stalemate, leaving the sky bright and the air somewhere on the edge between warm and cool.

That one looks like a boat.

Shikamaru was sprawled out on the side of a gently sloping hill, vaguely listening to the distant rustling of leaves. The grass was still soft, but loosing some of its green, and the view of the sky was great. Few trees in the immediate area made him feel free to stretch as far as he could in any direction he wanted, and the lazy movements of the clouds above gave him a soothing feeling that he could be as idle as he wanted to be.

It was a feeling that he seldom experienced anymore. When he became a Chuunin, he expected his time to be a little restricted, but it had become ridiculous beyond anything he had thought possible.

With the village still recovering from its losses during the Sand/Sound War (he hated calling it a war, it was just a single battle after all), more stress had been placed on everyone. In the last few years Shikamaru had found himself doing everything from working in the Chuunin exams, teaching at the Ninja Academy, training with Chouji and Ino, and doing errands for his mother.

He barely had enough time to eat and sleep some days, so getting some time off was something he had welcomed with open arms. That one kind of looks like an hourglass.

He smiled as he let his eyes close. Drifting back and forth between the real world and the world in his dreams, he felt himself suddenly awake at the sound of a woman's voice. "You know, if you ever manage to learn summoning," she criticized, "you'll probably summon a sloth so you can have someone else as lazy as you around."

Shikamaru opened a single eye to glance at Temari, who appeared to be upside down as she bent over his head, mischievous smile beaming down at him. He showed a wry grin of his own as he closed his eye again, feigning disinterest, "Didn't I get rid of you last month?"

"You know you can't get rid of me that easily," she countered, "Besides, I had to get here early for the next liaison meeting." He heard her flop down on the grass a couple of feet to his right. "It's this Friday, you know."

The Leaf ninja slapped a hand over his face as he let out an irritated noise. "Already? It's so troublesome to have those stupid meetings so often," he complained as he rubbed his eyes in vexation. "If they just consolidated things a little, we wouldn't be wasting so much time that no one has to spare!"

"Stop crying," she snapped at him, "You should be glad that the Leaf and Sand are on such good terms now. Besides, look who's talking about wasting time! Laying about like a bum and complaining all the time, I'm surprised nobody's grabbed you by the ear and shaken some sense into you."

He sighed in frustration, "I finally get my first day off in eight months, and I can't even get through it without being reminded of work." His lamentations would fall on deaf ears, he knew. They always did. This time, however, he was surprised to get a different reaction.

"Yeah, I know," she sighed, "So what are you planning on doing the rest of your day off, Nara Shikamaru?"

He looked over at the blonde girl, who was lying on the grass and watching the sky with a soft smile on her face. It wasn't a smile that he was able to see very often, but when he did, he had a hard time thinking about much else. She noticed him staring at her and suddenly looked irritated, a strong blush coming over her cheeks, "What are you looking at?"

Quickly turning back to the clouds above, he answered, "Nothing, just enjoying the view." His voice was suitably annoyed given her snippy question, however, he allowed his smile to come out when she turned away from him. He couldn't see it, but she was smiling too.


"Sakura-chan!"

"No," came the firm reply, though there was a small grin that she couldn't keep from her lips. She turned her back on him to ensure it was hidden from him.

The teenaged Naruto was pleading as if he were ten years younger, practically on his knees, "C'mon Sakura-chan! I didn't do anything else the rest of the mission! We shook on it!"

Hardening her features, she spun on the surprised ninja, "You shouldn't have done it in the first place! Will have a reputation as a bunch of weirdoes after all those people saw your little 'technique'!"

"But it wasn't even my technique!" he protested, pointing at the only other person there, "I may have improved it a little, but he was the one who showed it to me!"

The silver haired ninja seemed to be enjoying the argument until that last part, "Now, don't be trying to drag me into this!"

"He's right, Naruto! Just because he's the pervert that came up with the technique," Kakashi slumped a little at the remark, "doesn't mean that you have to use it in front of so many people! There were kids there for goodness sake! I was mortified!"

"I'm sorry, Sakura-chan," Naruto repeated, "but that guy was asking for it! After all that garbage he said, didn't you want him to be humiliated too?"

Sakura shook her head and began to massage her temples, "Yes I wanted him to be embarrassed, but did you have to do that?"

"It was the most embarrassing thing I could think of," he smiled. She could believe that.

Their silver haired Jounin chuckled a little, "Still, I have to hand it to you Naruto, I never would have thought to do something like that with the technique. I was definitely surprised."

"Not as surprised as he was!" Naruto was laughing now, and even Kakashi was having trouble holding back.

Fearing that she would begin to have flashbacks of the scene, a smiling Sakura tossed something to her blonde friend. She had forgiven them long before the mission was over, but she couldn't help giving him a hard time. "If you tell anyone what happened on that mission, I will kill you."

"Thanks, Sakura-chan!" He took her threat as a sign of forgiveness, his mood seemed to go even higher when he saw she had given back his little frog wallet. "Let's go out to dinner to celebrate!"

"No."

His agonized cry echoed through the streets.


"Come on, Gai-sensei! One more round!"

Maito Gai looked at his prized pupil in a way that seemed to say 'Just give me five more minutes!' but it was Tenten who spoke first.

"Lee," she said, sweating and breathing hard, but still wearing a smile, "why don't you rest a little, just this once?"

"I cannot rest" he yelled vigorously at no one in particular, "until I have become a splendid ninja that everyone admires! Not only for my talents as a shinobi, but for my sense of style and charming good looks!" He struck a pose as he finished, winking with his chin framed by the thumb and index fingers of his right hand. When he smiled, his teeth flashed with a gleaming light that rivaled the hot sun overhead.

Neji, who was resting on a large rock next to Tenten, spoke up, "So you're saying that you will never rest?"

Rock Lee let out an odd little 'grrr' before spinning on his Hyuga teammate, "That was good, Neji! As expected of my friend and rival!" Thrusting a finger at the young man, he yelled out, "You'll train with me, won't you Neji?"

"No," came the unenthusiastic response.

Lee gasped, then seemed to cry as he said, "It's a dark day for our team, indeed! Very well, it's up to me to keep the training going! I'll lead by example and everyone else will be inspired to join in!"

"Lee," Tenten tried to get his attention, "You're saying your inner thoughts out loud again!" He did that occasionally when he was restless and excited to train.

"Right," he said, apparently not hearing his teammate, "Two hundred handstand pushups!" Sprinting forward to the middle of the training field, he jumped into a handstand and began to count them off.

Tenten, still smiling at her tireless friend's limitless endurance, turned to her other teammate, "You really seem to know how to push his buttons."

She was rewarded with a wry smile, "He works harder than anyone else in Konoha, I don't think it's too much to spur him forward a little. After all the times I berated him, I think it's the least I can do."

She chuckled a little. "You just want to see him fulfill his dream," she said knowingly.

"Maybe," he spoke, tilting his head a little.

She noticed it too. Three young academy students ran out to Lee from the woods on the other side of the training ground. It was Konohamaru and his friends, she realized, probably running from Ebisu again. "Looks like we're saved from Lee-kun for a while," she laughed. It even drew a light chuckle from Neji.

Lee talked to the three for a few moments while still doing his pushups, then flipped himself upright and dashed over to a slightly less sweat-covered Gai. "Sensei, can I train with Konohamaru, Moegi, and Udon while everyone else takes their break?"

Gai sighed a little, then stood up with a roar, "No! You cannot train with them while we are on break because break is now over!"

"But Gai-sensei!" A raised hand from the older man quieted him.

"If the three of them are going to get training here," Gai said, pointing to the young trio, "then all of us will train with them!"

Neji closed his eyes and sighed, a small smile still on his lips. Tenten just laughed, "I guess Gai-sensei decided to take the opportunity to tone down the intensity for the rest of the day."


Hyuga Hanabi was not happy. Her Gennin team's mission had been a joke. A tedious joke to be sure, and one that took all morning, but a joke nonetheless.

She had asked her instructor to give them extra training, but he had paperwork to file or some such nonsense. Even when she had returned to the Hyuga estate, she had discovered that her father was not available to train her. That meant she only had one other person that could teach her anything.

Knowing her cousin's team members, and the excessive drive to train in taijutsu that some of them had, she went to their favorite training area. She found him right where she had expected, though she didn't quite see what she thought she would.

"Neji?" she asked as she approached, "What are you doing?"

Hanabi had found him working with a boy that she had graduated from the academy with. Konohamaru was in a fighting stance, his arm placement being adjusted by her older cousin. The two looked over at the younger girl when she spoke.

"Hanabi-sama," Neji said, giving her a polite nod, "Is your team already finished for the day?"

"Yes, we are," she nodded as she asked again, "What are all of you doing?"

She looked to see Tenten working with Moegi on throwing technique, something the young Gennin seemed to have some small amount of talent for (from Hanabi's perspective, anyway). Tenten was a very impressive kunoichi, though. Hanabi liked the older girl very much, and looked up to her almost like she was a sister.

Further past them stood a boy she thought was named Udon. She wasn't sure, she barely ever heard him speak, and even then he seemed to mumble. He never seemed to display much talent either, though he did seem to try awfully hard. That was something Hanabi respected, a respect that came from the Chuunin who was sparring with him.

Rock Lee had always seemed so strange to her, to the point that she was glad that she never had to interact with the 'no-talent drop out', as Neji used to call him. After the Chuunin exam several years before, however, her cousin's treatment of the odd boy seemed to change dramatically.

When Hanabi finally met Lee, she had taken an instant liking to him. She had never been around someone who was so upbeat and energetic all the time. He was also pretty funny, even when he wasn't trying. She had made it a habit to ask him to spar with her at least once a week, not only for her own training, but because it seemed to make him so happy.

Right now, however, he and Gai-sensei were instructing Udon in their form of taijutsu. He seemed to be getting better at it, though he was still no match for her. From what she knew, he had only been learning it in his spare time in the last year.

"Ebisu-sensei had something he had to do," Konohamaru's voice brought her back to reality, "So we came here to get some extra training from Gai-sensei!"

She had to fight to keep from twisting her mouth in distaste when he spoke to her. Ever since the day he had used that perverted technique in class (and right in front of her, too), he had just gone downhill in her eyes.

Hanabi had always tried to maintain a stoic face, one that was befitting the Hyuga clan. This guy was the grandchild of the Third Hokage, and he acted like a complete fool. Even worse was that he was actually a decent shinobi from what she could tell. She would have had some small amount of respect for him if he hadn't been such an idiot.

He didn't seem to be aware of her disdain, however. He just grinned and slipped back into a fighting stance, "So, you're saying this way is better, Neji-ni-san?"

He nodded as he stepped over toward Hanabi, "Just like that. Now let me see if you practiced the katas that Gai showed you."

Konohamaru smiled as he began to swipe and stab at the air, spinning and jumping. "Gai decided that instead of taking a break, we would give them another round of training." He smiled briefly, "You new Gennin are, after all, in the Springtime of youth." Hanabi giggled as she imagined Gai yelling out one of his catch-phrases. She had just stopped when Neji turned to her and asked, "So what do you think, Hanabi-sama?"

"Of him?" she asked. Receiving a nod, she answered, "His footwork is sloppy, and he's wasting his inertia on his backhand thrusts."

She heard a huff from her cousin, causing her to look up and see the amused look on his face, "Not everyone fights with the same precision that you or I do, Hanabi-sama. He is actually doing quite well. You should not underestimate someone so easily."

She sighed, knowing he was correct. Konohamaru was actually quite good, possibly good enough to be a challenge to her. He was still an idiot, though. "Neji, I wanted to work on my Juuken, but Father is busy with something else."

He looked at her for a moment, then back at Konohamaru, "Perhaps you can spar against him, when he is finished."

The young Hyuga scowled at her cousin, "I don't want to train with him, I want to train with you!"

Neji looked at her again, this time with a small measure of surprise at her response. He did his best to placate the girl, "Hanabi-sama, I will be watching the whole time. I would like to see how your technique is against someone you aren't familiar with."

She didn't like the idea of doing anything with Konohamaru, but she did see why Neji was suggesting it. Neji watched her as she simply crossed her arms and looked sideways at nothing in particular. She never huffed around or pouted when things didn't go as she wished, as Hanabi had decided that sort of thing didn't reflect well on the Hyuga clan. She did have other ways to express her displeasure, and this was one that Neji had seen several times.

Hanabi, who was busy trying to convince herself that her elder cousin was right, found herself trying to look at the top of her head, where a hand had gently set itself. Following the arm with her eyes back to Neji, she saw the knowing look he was giving her. She felt her face warm a little as she tried to hide the smile that threatened to escape.


Otobo couldn't help but smile at the scene before him.

The city of Konoha seemed so peaceful, so calm. Even after the major attack that had struck several years before from the Sound and Sand, there was almost no discernable damage that had yet to be repaired.

Otobo knew, though, that even though the buildings and the walls had been repaired, there were wounds beneath the tranquil surface that was Konoha. He knew that there had been many important Jounin and Chuunin killed in that brief war. Far too many to be replaced in three or four years.

The mighty beast that was the Leaf, once the strongest of the Hidden Villages, had been de-clawed. But even if it has no claws a tiger can still kill if it grasps you in its jaws. Otobo knew that a misstep now could change who history sided with.

However, he had been patient for quite some time. He had honed his skills, trained his teams, and now the time that he had been waiting for almost his entire life was before him. He would not allow a mistake now.

"Sir," a ninja in brown pants, a grey shirt, and slate-grey vest was suddenly crouching beside him, "New message. The other groups are ready, we are now awaiting the order."

Otobo allowed a satisfied grin as he took a deep breath, "It's almost time."

The other shinobi nodded, "It seems that the patient planning that our fathers put into this operation will finally bear fruit for our generation."

"Not everyone's father planned for this," Otobo replied, the smile fading into nothing.

"I'm sorry, sir," he bowed slightly, even though Otobo wasn't watching, "I spoke without thinking. However, this day will also allow your clan to finally find peace."

Otobo smiled again at the young Jounin, clapping him on the shoulder, "We will win this day, and we will all celebrate together. Konoha has taken enough of Hidden Rock's children."

Hearing a noise over his shoulder, Otobo glanced around to see one of the roads leading up to the city heaving as the Earth split apart and stones the size of houses were thrust upward. When it made it to the gate, cracks appeared on the wall, followed seconds later by parts of it chipping off and falling away.

"It has begun," he said, "today, the Leaf will be ground to dust by the Rock!"


A/N

I want to give everyone a descent role in this story, but I want to try and focus more on Hanabi and Konohamaru. Granted they won't be the most powerful or the coolest ninjas to do stuff in this war, but that's how the idea for this fic came to me (the two of them). So generally, it will focus a little more on them than everyone else.

I had to start putting these ideas down cause they were interfering with my train of thoughts for Drifting Sand. I don't want to abandon either one, so it's going to be whichever one I feel like working on at the time that gets the next chapter out.

Let me know what you think, questions, or ideas. I have a lot planned out for this story, but quite a bit of it isn't set in stone yet. In short, talk to me and I'll try to make the story better for you, the reader!

Thanks for checking out my fic! See you next chapter!

Katamari Damacy