Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto or any of that stuff. If they want this story removed and deleted I will do so.

Summary: Itachi wants someone powerful to fight him, so he can properly measure his capacity. How does the future change when he decides Naruto is a possible measure?

Chapter 15

Team 7 walked in comfortable silence, broken only occasionally by mutterings from the drunken bridge builder they were hired to escort. They had been walking slowly away from Konohagakure for several hours under the bright afternoon sun, stopping only briefly to eat a light meal.

"How did I get stuck with a bunch of kids again?" Tazuna slurred for the umpteenth time as they continued to trudge steadily on in their journey.

"Because," Kakashi said, lazily following behind the others, "you paid for a C-rank mission, Tazuna. I can assure you this team is capable of handling the thugs and thieves you've hired us to protect you against."

Tazuna sent a resentful glare back at Kakashi before taking a swig from his bottle and increasing his walking pace.

"He's right," Naruto called back, several meters ahead of the core group. "Wave country doesn't have any shinobi so there's little chance of any dangerous combat." The lack of enthusiasm in Naruto's voice was not lost of the rest of the group, who got the impression Narutowanted a fight.

Sasuke couldn't help but feel the same disappointment as Naruto. He needed to test his skills against real, enemy shinobi to know how close he was to attaining his revenge. And he was dying to use thatin real combat.

Hinata walked silently beside Tazuna, intending her presence to be of some comfort to Tazuna in the event of an attack. Her training with Naruto over the past months had inspired a confidence in her she didn't realise she had, which in turn caused her abilities as a ninja to improve visibly, boosting her confidence even more.

"That's correct, Naruto." Kakashi said. "But how did you know Wave country had no shinobi? The country is not very well known."

"I travelled a lot," was Naruto's reply. "You can't go somewhere without knowing something about the destination's politics and customs or you'll run into unwanted trouble."

As he was speaking, Naruto's foot splashed into an inconveniently placed puddle, mud splashing his white coat. Naruto, however, could only smile as he realised what the puddle meant.

'Ne, Kyuu-chan, wake up' Naruto called out in his mind. 'We might see some action soon!'

Naruto continued on his way without stopping, although the whites of his eyes developed a very slight pink tinge; his vision sharpening and focusing well beyond normal human perception.

'Oh?'Kyuubi asked groggily. Naruto got the mental image of a fox blinking the sleep out of its eyes.

'Yep. Poor stealth, can't be higher than Chuunin in rank. Probably Mist or Rain ninja.'

'Chuunin? You woke me up for that?' Kyuubi muttered tiredly, her voice sounding disappointed.

'I know you want to see some bloodshed, Kyuu-chan.' Naruto countered, sensing that Kakashi had now passed the puddle without stopping. 'Don't you demons have a monthly bloodshed quota that needs to be fulfilled?'

'I'm hurt you think that, Naruto-kun. You obviously haven't realised just how nice I can be.'

'Is that right? You'll have to show me some time.'

'I'm sure you'd enjo-'

Kyuubi's reply was cut short as a shout rang out from behind Naruto, who turned just in time to see Kakashi's body torn into bloody chunks.

"One down!"

Naruto watched as two Mist Chuunin jointly carrying a deadly looking chain between them ran towards, and then behind Hinata trying to encircle her in the same way they had Kakashi in order to tear her to pieces.

Hinata paused only briefly from the shock of the ninja's sudden arrival before falling into a loose Jyuuken stance, her Byakugan activated and a kunai in hand. As the two Mist nin charged towards her, their progress was cut abruptly short as Sasuke immobilised their chain with strategically placed kunai and shuriken, pinning the chain connecting the two ninja to a tree.

Launching himself on to the two enemy ninjas' giant metallically clawed arms Sasuke paused only briefly, seemingly deciding what to do. Taking a moment to gain his balance, Sasuke kicked the two ninja simultaneously, causing the two to break apart, the chain binding them snapping in the process.

Now free from their bindings, the two enemy ninja quickly recovered and charged rapidly at separate targets. One tried to once again get behind Hinata who was guarding Tazuna, but was easily able to follow his movements with her Byakugan. The other ran at Sasuke who had now activated his Sharingan, allowing him to easily avoid the large metallic claw of his opponent. Sasuke smiled at how easy it was to see the ninja's movements. The weapon was slow, and left a lot of room for a counterattack from a ranged attack. Spotting his opponent overextending himself for the third time in as many lunges, Sasuke decided that next time he would take the opportunity to heat things up a little. With that, he began making hand seals.

Hinata's opponent was attempting hit and run tactics on the young Hyuuga, mostly trying to get past her to attack Tazuna. Hinata was defending herself and Tazuna well enough but was having a hard time counterattacking against the massive bulk of the Chuunin's weapon. The long metallic hand seemed grafted to the ninja's left arm and was sufficient enough to keep himself out of Hinata's range of attack, allowing him to attack without any real fear of a counter attack.

As Hinata's opponent retreated once more only to prepare another attack, Naruto thought about getting involved. He was calmly watching the battle rage on from several meters away, content to let his team mates fight for themselves. It was quickly becoming clear however that although Hinata was holding her own, she couldn't defend forever. She didn't have enough experience to take down a Chuunin with such a formidable weapon. While it was nice to see what his team mates were capable of, it wouldn't look good if he stood there and let them die.

Deciding, Naruto sprinted forward just as the Mist ninja ran in to assault Hinata once again. It was clear that the Chuunin had forgotten about Naruto, and he didn't notice as the blonde came up behind him, Naruto's two blades extended to their full length. When the Mist ninja drew his massive arm back to strike out at Hinata, Naruto slashed out with his right arm, the razor-sharp blade cutting deeply into the enemy's back leaving a foot long gash. Crying out in pain, the ninja spun around to face Naruto, the mask on his face doing little to hide the pain he was in. Not hesitating for a second, Naruto slashed out with his other arm, aiming for the throat. The Chunnin only just managed to move his heavy arm up in time to block the blow, leaving his stomach wide open to attack.

Easily spotting the opening with his sharp, chakra-enchanced eyes, Naruto launched a swift kick into the ninja's midriff, causing him to double over, gasping for air. Now seeing the ninja's vulnerable back exposed, Naruto retracted his blades and slammed an open palm into the ninja's left shoulder, releasing as much chakra as he could from his palm as he did so. The ninja screamed out in pain, right hand instantly clutching his left shoulder as his heavy claw suddenly hung uselessly at his side, the muscles and chakra system in his left shoulder mangled beyond repair by the explosion of foreign chakra. Grabbing the ninja's now useless arm, Naruto twisted it behind his opponents back as far as he could, soon hearing a sickening 'Pop!' as the ninja's shoulder dislocated. The man let out another scream of agony, falling to his knees as he did so, unable to stand due to the pain.

The commotion his cries caused did not go unnoticed by his comrade. His attention turned from Sasuke, who had proved impossible to hit, and had managed to both cut and burn the Chuunin, to his fellow ninja. Seeing his brother screaming in pain caused him to charge towards Naruto, masked face not concealing the fury in his eyes. His rage was put to an abrupt end as Kakashi appeared out of no where, immediately knocking out the enraged Chuunin with a swift blow to the back of the neck.

'I think you over did it a little,' Kyuubi observed as the injured Mist shinobi attempted to crawl away from Naruto, who merely observed his attempts at escape without emotion.

'True,' Naruto agreed, thinking he may have done more than necessary. 'But that weapon made him dangerous. I did what I thought was required to end that threat.'

Realising the battle was virtually over, Naruto turned to Hinata. Her Byakugan engulfed eyes were wide and she was staring at Naruto with an expression Naruto couldn't quite place. Forcing a smile, Naruto spoke. "Hinata, can you disable this guy's legs, please?"

Not even acknowledging that she had heard him, Hinata silently proceeded to close the Tenketsu in the Mist nin's legs, preventing him from moving.

"Now," Naruto said, turning to the disabled Chuunin who was still clutching his useless arm, anguish etched over his features, "who sent you and why are you here?"

The Chuunin merely groaned in pain. Naruto sighed. He didn't enjoy inflicting pain, but he realised and accepted its necessity in the real world. You couldn't flinch or hesitate or hold back, as it could be the last thing you do.

"If you don't talk," Naruto continued. "I'm going to have to do the same to your other arm."

Unseen by Naruto, Hinata's eyes widened even further as he said this. She was seeing a side of Naruto that she hadn't realised existed. While he had been harsh in her training with her at times, he had never beencruel. Kakashi watched impassively, while Sasuke - his eyes returned to their usual onyx black - studied Naruto, trying to figure out how Naruto had so completely incapacitated his opponent while Sasuke himself had only caused minor damage to his opponent.

"It was…" The ninja finally gasped, "…Zabuza… Momochi Zabuza. He told us to kill the old man."

'A missing nin, eh?' Naruto thought, having heard the name somewhere before. 'Things might get more interesting, Kyuu-chan.'

'Mmhmm,' Kyuubi replied. 'You should be more careful though. You've let a lot slip today.'

'What do you mean?' Naruto asked.

'I'll tell you when you let me out later.'

'If I let you out.' Naruto corrected.

Kakashi approached Tazuna when he heard this. "We haven't heard anything about ninjas being after you, especially ones as powerful as Momochi Zabuza. Our mission was simply to protect you from thieves or thugs. This mission has become at least a B-rank mission, A-rank if Zabuza gets involved."

Kakashi turned back to the still conscious Mist nin. "These two are Chunnin Nukenin from Kirigakure. They are well known, called "The Demon Brothers" for their willingness to continue fighting; even until they die. Though, it seems that without the use of their favoured weapon their reputation fails them."

Sighing heavily, Kakashi looked at his team, clearly thinking. "You guys did well, I'm proud of you. Especially you, Hinata, you protected Tazuna instinctively and fought better than I thought possible. Sasuke, you have obviously been practicing with your Sharingan. To become that proficient at such a young age is rare. You also used some Katon jutsu that I haven't seen you use before. Naruto… you obviously acted in the way you thought best, and obtained some valuable information, though in a way that was not according to my initial plan."

Once again looking at the silently shaking Mist nukenin and then back at Tazuna, a frown was easily evident on Kakashi's masked face. "However, even with that impressive display, Momochi Zabuza is on a completely different level. I cannot allow this mission to continue with the possibility of higher ranked missing nin showing up."

At that, both Naruto and Sasuke frowned, while Hinata looked disheartened. Tazuna looked outright fearful, his drunkenness doing little to quell the anxiety he felt at the possibility of continuing without ninjas protecting him. At the impressive show the three kids had shown during their ambush, Tazuna had been feeling a lot safer to be under their protection. But now that they were apparently unable to continue their mission, despair washed over him. The anxiety Tazuna was feeling had a sobering affect on his drunken mind, the weight of his predicament crushing his spirit. If he didn't have an escort, he would likely die. If he died, the bridge would not be completed. If the bridge wasn't completed, then his country would continue to fall into ruin under Gato's tyranny. It wasn't his life that Tazuna was worried about, but the lives of those he would leave behind if he failed.

"Please," Tazuna pleaded, "if I don't complete the bridge, my country will fall into despair under Gato's monopoly. This bridge is my people's only hope to escape the poverty they're in."

"Gato?" Naruto asked, turning his gaze from the now unconscious missing-nin to the old man. "Isn't he that rich shipping company owner?"

Tazuna nodded vigorously, his attention focusing on Naruto. "If we don't finish the bridge, Gato will continue to monopolize trade and transport. Wave country cannot afford his outrageous prices, so we need this bridge for travel and trade. Gato has hired ninjas to kill me so that this doesn't happen."

"The solution is simple then," Naruto said thoughtfully, "we just need to take out Gato. Without him, no one would have a problem with the bridge being built, and with no one to pay their mission since Gato would be dead, Zabuza will have no reason to attack."

"A fine idea, Naruto, but we have no idea where Gato is, or what he's like." Kakashi reasoned. "Even if we did, I cannot allow anyone to go on a mission with so much danger."

Naruto didn't let up. "I have worked for Gato before, Hatake. He doesn't trust ninjas, and so only keeps regular samurai as personal body guards. As for where he is, he always makes his presence known so that any missing-nin looking for 'work' can easily find him. His is a popular employer of many, always making good on deals if you do what he asked."

If Kakashi was surprised by Naruto's knowledge he didn't show it. Sasuke wondered about just how many dangerous missions Naruto had been on before coming to Konoha. Hinata continued to watch Naruto with apprehension, wondering what enabled Naruto to matter-of-factly discuss an assassination mission with their sensei.

Kakashi wasn't convinced, however. "Even if that's true, I will not allow any member of my team to endanger themselves on such an unnecessary missio-"

"I have never failed to complete a mission," Naruto interrupted, "and I'm not about to start now. I can dispose of Gato and be back here before the sun sets today."

Kakashi didn't doubt that what Naruto said was true, but he still wasn't comfortable with the whole idea, and he certainly didn't want his team to split up and go on different missions. His primary concern was protecting his team - that came before anything else. But still, Kakashi reasoned, he had a duty to his client, and had heard about Gato's schemes before this. He did not doubt Tazuna's word that he would die without their help, and the bridge that an entire country was relying on would never be completed. Even if the bridge was somehow completed, Gato would continue to scheme and undermine the people of the country until he somehow had absolute control over them again. Naruto's plan to take care of Gato would ensure the peace of the people in the Land of Waves.

"Very well, Naruto. I agree to your suggestions." Kakashi finally conceded. "We will continue with our mission and protect Tazuna, providing everyone is in agreement."

Sasuke nodded quickly. The possibility of stronger opponents turning up did little to discourage him. Though the idea of Naruto going off on his own, on an assassination mission no less, irked him greatly, he wasn't about to let that stop the mission from continuing.

Hinata was less decisive. She didn't know what to think about this new side of Naruto she was seeing. That Naruto was suggestion dangerous assassination missions in order for the group to continue on an even more dangerous mission was startling. However, Hinata did not want her first big mission to be a failure. Besides, she slowly began realising, she had just experienced her first real fight with a dangerous ninja, and she wasn't dead! She had succeeded in completing her mission – Tazuna was alive – and she even held her own against a higher ranking ninja. The realisation inspired more confidence in Hinata than she thought was possible. She was ready to face whatever else life could throw at her.

Finally nodding with as much confidence as she now felt, Hinata agreed.

"We are in agreement then - we will continue." Kakashi said, much to Tazuna's relief. Kakashi moved to tie the unconscious Demon Brothers up, and the rest moved to clean the area of spent kunai and shuriken, salvaging what they could. When they were ready to leave, Kakashi used a summoning jutsu to summon a small nin-dog to send a message back to Konoha.

"Let's get going," Kakashi said when he was done.

The group started to head, moving at a brisk walking pace. After several minutes they came to a crossroads. Naruto paused for a moment, glancing at the signposts. Stopping, he turned to the rest of the group.

"Gato will most likely be in a mansion to the west of here," Naruto said, pointing down one of the roads. "I'll be going this way. Expect me to return in a few hours. If you keep going at this pace, I should catch up easily."

Kakashi nodded. "Be careful, Naruto." He levelled his one visible eye on Naruto and his voice became serious. "I'm only letting you do this because Jiraya-sama has a high opinion of you. I wouldn't let any other Genin do what you're about to do. I hope you understand that."

Naruto gave a short nod as Sasuke glared at him angrily. 'Is he saying I'm not as good as him?' Sasuke thought.

Naruto created a single clone. "I'll leave this guy with you," he said, nodding to the clone. "If anything happens, I'll know and come to help."

"Good idea," Kakashi said, nodding his approval. "Good luck, Naruto."

Naruto's smirk was hidden by his large coat as he vanished in a burst of speed. The group was left standing in silence for a moment before Kakashi turned and led the way down another road.

Hinata followed, but soon paused to activate her Byakugan. She wanted to see – if she was able – where Naruto was heading. All she saw, however, was something that left her wondering.

'Why is Naruto with someone? And why does that person have red chakra?'

"So," Naruto said as he ran along side Kyuubi, who was happily jumping from tree to tree near the road they were following as they sped towards their destination, "what did I let slip earlier today?"

"Oh, that." Kyuubi replied easily as she flipped gracefully through the air, her long, flame-like hair flowing after her. "It was just a few little things, really."

"Such as..?" Naruto pressed.

"Well for one, you kept your Akaigan activated during the fight, despite both the Hyuuga and the Uchiha having their bloodline limits activated. If they were paying attention, they would have noticed the concentration of my chakra in your eyes." Kyuubi paused as she launched herself to Naruto's side, landing softly before continuing on at the same speed.

"You also used that taijutsu of yours directly in front of the girl. If she didn't notice the chakra in your eyes, she at least saw that huge burst of chakra. She might not think much of it right now, but with enough of those slip ups she'll start wondering."

As Naruto started pondering the complications of the last fight, Kyuubi sped ahead. Looking back over her shoulder, she called out. "You're too slow, Naruto-kun."

"Stupid fox, it's harder to run when you wear weights like me."

Kyuubi smirked back at Naruto. "Even if you took them off you couldn't catch me." She taunted.

Naruto was about to reply when knowledge of his clone's memories came to him. Abruptly stopping, Naruto assessed the situation. From his clone's memories, Naruto became aware that Kakashi, Hinata, Sasuke and Tazuna had been ambushed by Zabuza. Kakashi had instantly turned to Naruto's clone and told the clone to make Naruto return.

Kyuubi had stopped and was now watching Naruto curiously. He was clearly thinking quickly. "Naruto-kun? What is it?"

"My team needs help." Naruto stated. Looking towards Kyuubi, her flawless white skin contrasting with her black ninja clothes, Naruto had an idea. "I need to return to them, but I don't want to fail this extra mission. I still need Gato to die."

Smiling, Naruto sized up Kyuubi. "Nee, Kyuu-chan, want to have some fun?"

Chapter ends here------

I know, I know. I'm probably the worst author at updating ever. I have no excuses for you all this time, but I'll do better!