Disclaimer: Naruto is the property of whoever it was that made it.
AN: 6 months? Bleh, that's pathetic. I hate the wave mission. It's slowed me down like crazy. If I ever write another Naruto fic, mark my words, I'm totally skipping wave.
What I listened to while writing this: KMFDM - Ultra. It might as well be Naruto's Anthem.
He didn't so much walk as stalk, his stride wide and heavy, moving through the dim dusk light with a purpose, though a poorly understood one. He moved as if he knew where his destination was, but that could not be further from the truth. He was simply moving. Not because he had somewhere to be, or even a place worth being. He was just moving for the sake of moving. Without motion he would be still, and to be still was to rest. Rest would lead to sleep, and in sleep, only the images waited.
That was why he moved, strode through the forests with a false sense of purpose as the sun lazily began its climb to signal the beginning of the new day. This was not his home; he could not decorate here. He could only move, and had been moving all night. He wasn't about to stop now. He had rested enough, and sleep was for the weak. Yes, that must be it. He was a strong ninja. Iruka would make him strong. Sleep was a weakness, and Iruka punished him for that weakness with the images, and all they brought. The pain, the fear, the flashes of tooth and nail and blood. He could not be weak, so he would not sleep.
Why? Naruto slowed slightly, a look of confusion crossing his face as he looked around. He glared at the shadows the sun had brought with suspicion in his eyes, sure that they had defied him.
Why do you struggle? He turned quickly, a frown on his face.
"To become strong!" he shouted at the trees, a few birds escaping their perches and taking to the sky. He stayed where he was for a moment in wait before slowly choosing another direction and starting off at random. Though he moved with the same purpose as before, his mind was no longer focused, now just as lost as his feet were. Struggle? What struggle? Struggle against sleep? Against stopping? Against death? He needed these things. If he did not struggle against sleep, how would he hold off the images? How could he show his strength if he could not even deny them? If he did not struggle to move, then he would stop, and then how would he stay awake?
And if he did not struggle against death, then what would be the point of life?
Why are you alive? Naruto turned, a growl on his lips as the flames built up within him, begging for release. He glared into the shadows of the forest as the sun just began to climb above the horizon, daring them to speak up again.
He did not know how long he stood there, staring into the shadows in anger. The sun was well on its way towards the sky by the time he heard movement approaching, breaking him out of his trance.
"You." Zabuza muttered, looking down at the blond as the boy spun to face him, "One of Konoha's brats, playing at ninja?"
He glared at him, and the boy glared back, an odd glint in his keen gaze. Zabuza could feel the hint of killer intent bubbling beneath the surface. He smirked slightly at it, finding it almost refreshing.
"No," He began after a moment's pause, "You aren't like those green kids. You've got a killer's eyes. You know what it means to end a man."
"Ending? What's the fun in an ending?" Naruto replied with a grin, the killer intent in his eyes intensifying as a slight chuckle rose in his throat, "It's the beginning that's the best, when they first start to scream."
Naruto noticed the others for the first time as Haku stepped forward defensively. The blond's gaze carried over their shoulders to the lines of men behind them, seeing the unease that crossed their features from the killer intent Naruto was now giving off. A few ninja in the ranks, but mostly mercenaries and bandits, men who barely understood which end of a sword was sharp.
There wasn't a leaf among them, but they were so weak it'd hardly be worth the effort. Naruto forgot them as quickly as he noticed them, instead turning all his attention to the two in front, the masked men.
"Are you a leaf?" Naruto asked with a grin, his tone becoming obviously threatening. His eyes were still locked on Zabuza, sparing a glance toward the lopsided headband that declared him a member of the hidden mist. His grin grew wider, finding his answer.
"You're out of your league, killer or not. Now get out of my way, I've got a bridge builder to kill." Zabuza stared the boy down without showing any sign of tension, though he was ready to act if he needed it. He'd known many like the blond, those that killed just for the pleasure of experiencing the death of another. He had never expected to see such an attitude in a child so young in this day and age, however, especially one from Konoha. He was almost curious what had caused this boy to go so insane.
"The bridge is my mission. Strong ninja don't fail missions." Naruto replied, the air around him starting to ripple with the heat he was beginning to give off. Zabuza remained unfazed. The boy's fire jutsu was another mystery, one he could not easily explain. It must have been some kind of bloodline, but one unlike any he had seen in the past. Even Haku needed seals to use his special power. Regardless, as interesting as he was, the boy was an enemy. He'd be a lot less interesting once he was dead.
"Then I'll kill you, too." Zabuza grabbed the handle of his massive blade, the muscles in his arm tensing as he began to support its weight and prepared to cleave the boy in two. Naruto simply began laughing.
"I want you to try. I will make you burn." There was an audible snap as Naruto burst into flame, his flesh peeling away and vanishing into the fires only to regrow and begin again. He was still laughing, the fires licking at the sides of his mouth as his tongue seemed to boil in his saliva, the muscles in his cheeks and the occasional flash of jawbone becoming visible through the flaming flesh. The mercenary fodder behind his prey took a collective step back at the horrifying sight. He was pleased to see the masked men still standing tall.
"I will not let you hurt Zabuza-sama." Haku declared with certainty, stepping in front of his master as Naruto just laughed again.
"Then stop me." Naruto was off like a shot, flying through the air like a flaming cannonball as he came down towards Zabuza with every intent to kill. He never made contact, however, as something violently connected with his midsection and knocked the wind out of his lungs, throwing him to the ground. For a moment, Zabuza regarded the flaming blond before he slowly released his blade, disinterest showing on his face. He had other matters to attend. Haku was better suited to take the boy, anyway.
"Take care of him, Haku." Zabuza said dismissively, leaving the small clearing behind with his band of mercenaries following closely. Naruto regained his feet and growled, glaring at Zabuza as he left and pouncing once more. Just like before, he was intercepted by a blur, landing roughly on his back and rolling to a crouch to glare at the masked boy.
"You will not harm Zabuza-sama." Haku insisted, his left shoe blackened and smoking. He was glad his assumption had proven true, and that kicking the boy fast enough prevented the flames from burning him. Still, he doubted his shoes could take much more punishment. He'd likely have to pull out all the stops if those flames didn't die down. Naruto growled at him, rising to his feet with a frown, his flames intensifying. He glared at Haku for a moment before a slight smirk found its way to his face.
"You're strong." Naruto noted, staring into the unblinking surface of Haku's mask. "I'll enjoy killing you."
"Why do you kill?" Naruto blinked at the question, his smirk faltering a little. "Do you even have a reason?"
"I'm strong. The strong kill the weak. I don't need a reason." Naruto replied, but it sounded hollow. He had never considered it. The idea of needing a reason never crossed his mind. Looking for one, he found himself wanting.
"You are not strong."
Why do you struggle?
Naruto's smirk disappeared completely, confusion crossing his face as he once again found himself glancing towards the trees.
"You have no purpose."
Why are you alive?
Naruto took several steps back, as if struck, glaring openly at the masked boy now. He hated masks. He couldn't see his eyes. Couldn't see his face. Was he even speaking, or were the voices tricking him now? The shadows were after him again. Where were his eyes? Did he even have eyes, or was he another red eyed cat? He couldn't tell, hated that he couldn't tell. He decided then that he would break that mask. He hated the faceless. If the boy didn't want a face, Naruto would burn it off for him.
"Someone like you could never be strong." Haku continued, watching as the blond once again seemed to recoil. His words were clearly upsetting him.
"Shut up!" Naruto insisted, his eyes wide and crazed. "I know strong! We're both strong. Don't tell me I'm not strong when we're the same!"
"We are not the same. I'm nothing like you." Haku quickly replied with a shake of his head. "You will never be truly strong without a purpose greater than yourself."
Naruto's eyes narrowed and his teeth clenched, the words of the Hokage coming back to him from all those years ago.
"No matter how powerful you become, you would never be strong with that mindset, Naruto. When you want to protect something important to you, more important than your life, and you're willing to fight to protect that important thing, only then can you truly be strong." Sarutobi's words seem to echo in his mind as he glared at Haku, wanting so desperately to tear that faceless mask off, and take the face underneath with it.
"Why...are...you...strong..." Naruto barely managed to say it between a growl and a whisper, his body visibly shaking with rage as he clutched at his head and glared at his enemy.
"I am Zabuza-sama's tool. I live to serve him, and that desire is my strength." Haku stated, watching Naruto flinch with some curiosity, "When a person has something important to protect, that's when they can truly become strong."
"...Protect...?" Naruto muttered, the flames around him dying out into small embers on his skin as his shaking worsened. Haku watched in silence as the shaking became more of a vibration as the blond seemed to quietly laugh, building and building until he threw his head back and was cackling as loudly as his breath allowed. Haku took a slight step back at this, confused. Had the boy snapped? He had already seemed fairly unhinged, but now....he looked downright mad.
"LIES!" Naruto finally shouted as he finished his laughter, his exclamation punctuated by his flames bursting back to life at full intensity. "It's all a lie. Protection makes you weak. How can you be strong while worrying about someone else? How can sacrificing your life for theirs be strong? You'd be dead! That's the opposite of strong!"
Naruto glared at Haku fully now, his smirk once again on his face as he pointed towards the mask he wore.
"I will kill your strength!" He exclaimed, "I will prove to you and the old man that my strength is real. I will kill your strength and make you watch him die. Then we'll see how strong you are."
Haku narrowed his eyes, reaching for his senbon as his entire body tensed. This boy was serious. He could feel the killer intent that was practically rolling off his body. Every hair on his body was standing on end, but he did not let it faze him. The blond had threatened Zabuza. Haku's own fear did not matter.
"I will never let you harm Zabuza-sama." Haku repeated, pulling out his weapon of choice as Naruto's smirk expanded to a toothy grin.
"Then stop me." Naruto repeated as well. Haku gave no reply as Naruto rushed forward, responding only with action. He would not allow this boy to reach Zabuza, even if he had to die trying.
In Fire and Ice
His foot found purchase and he pushed off again, his legs and back straining from the effort to keep him horizontal as he continued to run up the length of the trunk. It was getting hard the higher he got, as the branches grew in number and the trunk continued to shrink and bend under his weight. He glanced to his side, seeing that his teammate was right behind him on his own tree, weaving between the branches and swaying with the breeze as the tree moved under him.
They had been practicing almost non-stop for the past three days, despite the fact that Kakashi guy told them to take it easy and save their strength for the fight to come. They knew better, though. Zabuza had escaped the battle mostly unharmed, while their own Jounin-sensei had suffered a cracked rib, and was still not back to a hundred percent. Against a monster like him, they'd need all the training they could get, and they had no idea when he might finally strike.
"Ah shit!!!!" He heard Kiba shout, glancing towards another tree as he saw the Inuzuka boy falling towards the ground and bouncing off nearly every branch on the way down. He didn't have time to spare more than a glance, though, as he was approaching the end of his own run. He took another step and felt nothing but friction as he failed to stick to the tree, swearing under his breath as he slashed at the bark and reflexively pushed away.
'Here comes the tricky part,' he thought as gravity reasserted its hold over him and insisted he return to the ground immediately. When they had began, it was no big deal as they slipped and fell, but now that he was nearly 90 meters off the ground, landing became something of a task in and of itself. He descended a ways before lashing his foot out towards the tree again, kicking off towards another and kicking off of that as well. He flipped, his feet finding a branch large enough to support his weight for a few seconds before he kicked off again, repeating this process all the way to the ground and landing in a crouch that gave way to a roll, returning to his feet with an intake of air.
He was starting to get used to the adrenaline rush of doing that, he realized, when he noticed his hands were no longer shaking after landing. He looked up, trying to spot the kunai mark he had left, and failed miserably. It wasn't until he activated the Sharingan that he could pinpoint the telltale depression in the wood very nearly at the top of the tree. He frowned slightly under his mask as his eyes wandered, spotting the mark Shino had just left in his own tree. The detail the Sharingan was capable of annoyed him at that moment. He could easily tell Shino had gotten more than a meter higher than him. There was a whistling of air an instant before Shino hit the ground, landing solidly on his feet before standing up straight. He also seemed to look up from where he had just descended, but whether he was marveling at the height he reached, disappointed for not getting higher, or ultimately uninterested in either, Sasuke could not tell.
"I know I have it. The tree just moves too much at the top." Sasuke said, but even he wasn't sure if he was talking to himself or Shino. Shino just turned slightly towards his teammate, regarding him passively for a moment before looking back towards the trees.
"Hinata and Haruno mastered this quickly. They made it seem...easy." Shino replied in an even tone, somehow managing to sound annoyed and monotone at the same time. "I'm disappointed in my own ability by comparison."
Sasuke only nodded, remembering how the two girls reached the top within one day. And here he was, 3 days later, still several meters from reaching the peak. It was emasculating to be outdone by a pair of kunoichi so casually. It was somewhat understandable with Hinata. She was Hyuuga, the heir to a powerful bloodline, and trained from birth in techniques requiring chakra control Sasuke had never seen before. But Haruno Sakura? That was just insulting. It was bad enough she was a nobody, but she also had a blatant, annoying crush on him.
Sasuke and Shino turned at the sound of barking, seeing Kiba pulling himself out of a bush with his dog barking at him at his heels.
"Quit gloating! You're using all four legs, damn it! That's totally cheating!" Kiba shouted. Akamaru's barks actually sounded like insults, somehow, though Kiba's reactions to them probably helped give that impression.
"I do take solace knowing that I'm not being out-performed by a dog, however." Shino suddenly added, earning a chuckle from Sasuke.
"Agreed." He replied, turning towards the bug user. They locked eyes for a moment, silence persisting between them as they looked at one another almost challengingly. Suddenly, as if signaled, they were both off like a shot, hitting their respective trees in a full run and going horizontal without slowing down. Sasuke grunted and pushed himself faster, climbing higher and higher as he began to serpentine through the closely growing branches. His Sharingan eyes spun as he quickly found the path of least resistance, flowing through it with practiced precision. He could see Shino in his peripheral vision and struggled to push himself faster. This was a race for the top. They would both reach it this time, he could feel it. The only question was which would get there first. He could see the top now, each step causing the entire tree to sway like a bridge in a hurricane. he refused to let that slow him down, though, taking another step and intentionally sending too much chakra to his feet, breaking the bark and hurling him up the last few meters.
They broke through the canopy in tandem, each spotting the other at the apex of their leaps, where gravity seemed to temporarily give them pardon and let them be weightless before pulling them back down. They each landed with an audible clap of sandal against wood, grabbing at the branches at the top for support as the tree swayed under them.
"A draw?" Shino offered, tilting his head as he regarded Sasuke for a moment. Neither one noticed Kiba make it three quarters of the way up his tree before he began to fall.
"Draw." Sasuke sighed, disappointed that he hadn't been fast enough, though simultaneously impressed that Shino had kept up. It wasn't until that moment that he allowed himself to really take in his surroundings, standing atop a tree taller than most buildings he'd been in. The forest was simply breathtaking in the mid-morning sun. He usually wasn't the type to enjoy such things, but something about the Sharingan made it hard not to appreciate it. He could truly see the magnitude of it all. He seemed insignificant in comparison.
The Sharingan saw more than just the view, however. It was truly an eye of details, as even the smallest movement in the forest far below, easily a kilometer or more from their trees, caught his attention almost immediately. It was a large group, moving with a purpose towards the village of waves where Tazuna's bridge was based. From the look of their chakra, at least six of them were ninja.
"I see them." Shino replied. Sasuke glanced at him in curiously, but said nothing. Another silent decision seemed to pass between the two as they both leapt from the branches on which they stood, very nearly free falling all the way to the ground before starting to rebound between the branches to break their fall. Still, they hit hard and fast, rolling with the impact and getting back to their feet just as quickly.
"Come on, Kiba!" Sasuke shouted out, not looking back to see if he had heard or was following as he headed towards the village.
Sakura stifled a yawn and brushed some stray hair out of her eyes, blearily keeping an eye on the bridge around her. Geez, building bridges sure was noisy. How could they wake her up so early in the morning and drag her out to such a loud construction site? Didn't they know girls her age needed their beauty sleep? She immensely regretted finishing her training so quickly, now. She had been trying to impress Sasuke, but all she managed to do was get stuck on Tazuna duty with Hinata. If she had pretended to fail, she could still be watching Sasuke train!
She glanced towards the other girl at that thought, watching her stare out over the side of the bridge with an odd look on her face. A salty breeze came in from the sea, blowing over the bridge and filled the air with the scent of the ocean. It also made Sakura's hair all frizzy.
"Oh, I would kill for a shower right now!" Sakura sighed at the thought, glancing at Hinata again, admiring her long hair for a moment as it moved gently with the wind. How did she get her hair looking so nice when out in the middle of nowhere for so long? Sakura almost wanted to blame it on good Hyuuga genes.
"So..." Sakura began, trying to think of a topic of conversation to break the silence. Her mind wandered back to Sasuke running up and down a tree, and she ended up voicing the first curiosity that struck her, "What's it like being on Sasuke's team?"
"He's a good ninja. He works well with the team." Hinata replied, not taking her eyes off the ocean. Sakura leaned back on the railing, sparing a glance towards the bridge builder before looking at Hinata again.
"That's not what I mean," She said dismissively, "What's Sasuke himself like? What's it like to be around him?" Sakura asked, watching as the mist began to roll in from the sea. Hinata stood up a little straighter and turned her head, her eyes following the same waves of mist Sakura had seen.
"...quiet." Hinata replied, turning her body fully towards the other side of the bridge. The mist was much thicker now, and was building surprisingly fast. The weather around here sure was odd.
"Well, I know he's quiet, but-" Hinata waved her hand in front of Sakura's face, stopping her mid sentence.
"No, you be quiet." Sakura obliged her, feeling a chill in her arms and tried to rub the goosebumps away as the cool mist filled air flowed past them. It was like a cloud had fallen out of the sky and landed on the bridge. Sakura couldn't even see more than a few meters in front of her, now. Throughout it all, she stayed silent, listening to the subtle sounds of the wind and the crashing of the waves on the piers holding up the bridge. She couldn't understand why Hinata wanted her to be quiet. What was she listening for?
"I don't hear anything..." Sakura whispered, leaning in towards Hinata so she could speak as quietly as possible. The Hyuuga nodded, her eyes locked on the mist in front of them. "It's quiet."
"Can you see the bridge workers?" Hinata asked in a whisper of her own. It suddenly clicked in Sakura's mind that she couldn't hear the sounds of construction anymore. She had been so busy trying to tune it out, she hadn't noticed when it had faded away. She tensed, expanding her senses and regarding the mist closely now, already trying to analyze their situation. Was this genjutsu, or ninjutsu? Could they not hear the bridge workers because this mist was blocking out the sound?
'No,' Sakura thought, pulling out a kunai with slow, deliberate movements as she ran the blade across her palm. 'I can still hear the ocean under us. This isn't genjutsu...so then...the workers must be...'
The sound of a massive splash somewhere in the waters below them caused both girls to jump in surprise, only to hear the sound repeated several times more in an almost rhythmic pattern, as if someone was dropping something heavy off the side of the bridge at regular intervals.
"The workers!" Sakura's eyes widened, clenching the kunai tightly, "We have to find Tazuna!"
"Byakugan!" Hinata hadn't wanted to use her Eyes, but she had no choice. She could only hope Sakura wasn't looking at them. Time seemed to slow as her vision sharpened, the veins on her face becoming pronounced as her gaze pierced through the mist that was thick with chakra. She could see the coils now, like a complex work of knotted yarn hidden within a haze. Seventeen bodies. Fifteen in the water, already dead, their coils dimming as the life left their bodies. Only two remained on the bridge. One stood like a statue, frozen before the perception of her Eyes. The other was in motion, like a man running in molasses, approaching the first with something held high overhead, ready to come down in a horrifyingly final instant. Hinata was already in motion herself, chakra raging through her legs to push her faster than the other, but she couldn't quite manage it. She had less distance to travel, and yet it seemed they would still reach him at the same time. In her wide, nearly 360 degree view, she could see a kunai knife cutting through the air to her side, following beside her. It seemed Sakura had correctly guessed the intent of her charge. This was her back up.
Hinata and Zabuza appeared out of the mist almost in unison as Tazuna's eyes went wide, staring up at the massive cleaver that was preparing to separate his legs from his waist. The Kunai arrived first, flying through the space Zabuza had been preparing to occupy, forcing him to hold back his lunge for the smallest instant to avoid the blow. That was enough, however. Hinata was down on her hands and hit the back of Tazuna's legs with a sweeping kick, throwing the man completely horizontal just as the massive sword tore through the air where he had been, the wind parting around the edge and causing the old man's clothes to flutter just before he hit the hard surface of the bridge on his back. He didn't dare complain about the rough treatment as the girl who saved him returned instantly to her feet. That sword had come close enough to take a little off the end of his beard.
"Not bad, kid." Zabuza quickly recovered from his missed swing, raising the blade high overhead with the full intention to split Tazuna down the middle, "But not good enough!"
A light blow took Zabuza in the chest before he simply exploded, Hinata's chakra tearing the clone apart. Tazuna closed his eyes as he was doused in water, coughing a few times before sitting up as Sakura appeared out of the mist. She stopped in front of Tazuna in a guarded position and drew another Kunai, glancing towards Hinata for a moment to ask, "What was that?"
"A clone. It had much less chakra than he would have." Hinata answered, Turning her face away from Sakura. She focused her mind, time seeming to slow again as she examined the entire length of the bridge, end to end, corner to corner, from the surface to the ocean, looking for their attacker. He was hidden somewhere in the mist, but where precisely, she was having difficulty finding. So much chakra floating in the air was making it hard to see as far as she normally could. Zabuza was the type to know well enough to use that to his advantage.
"We're in trouble, aren't we?" Sakura asked, glancing back and forth nervously into the mist. It was so thick it was almost claustrophobic, and the fact a mad man with a sword longer than she was tall was out there, beyond what she could see, just waiting for the chance to kill her, did not help.
Neither did the fact Hinata refused to answer. She just kept staring out into the mist. What little Sakura could see of her face looked just as nervous as she felt.
Kakashi's eye was on the bridge, but he did not see it. His mind was elsewhere entirely, almost lost in thought. Zabuza was a Jounin, one at his own level, with at least one ally of unknown power. But if this man Gato was as rich and terrible as Tazuna had suggested, he could afford more than one jounin. That left Kakashi in a bad way. Kurenai had a fractured rib, and wouldn't be able to fight well with it at all. Even if she were at a hundred percent, she was only newly a Jounin, still green behind the ears as far as Kakashi was concerned. Then there were the six genin they had under their care, now entirely under Kakashi's. On top of it all, there was the bridge builder, the man upon which their entire mission depended. If he died, it was over. A civilian, an injured jounin and six genin. Eight people Kakashi had to keep alive, against an enemy of unknown strength. That wasn't even counting Tazuna's family or the rest of the village. Nor did it take into account that one of the six genin might very well go on a violent killing spree if provoked, and last time that happened, Kakashi had nearly lost his arm trying to put him down. Not to mention his failure left two children with horrible burns, one of them to the point of crippling.
It went without saying that Kakashi was feeling just a little bit stressed. He began to understand why Asuma had taken up smoking. He could really use a cigarette himself. As that thought came to him, Kakashi turned slightly to regard the woman lying on a futon spread on the floor as another hacking cough wracked her body. He could see her wincing in pain from the involuntary motion and sighed a bit before looking back out the window.
"Breathe deep." He said simply, hearing another cough take her between shallow breaths.
"It hurts to breathe." She replied with pain in her voice.
"Do it anyway," He said as he turned away from the window, "You'll get pneumonia if you don't."
She glared at him indignantly, but said nothing. Instead, she began to breathe deep, taking full breaths with a wince of pain. Finally, Kakashi thought, she wasn't being difficult. He could understand Kurenai's desire to be seen as an equal. If they weren't in the middle of a mission with an enemy at the gates, he might even have humored her. But they weren't equals. He was pulling seniority and she was the one who had managed to get injured. He felt no need to indulge her foolish pride.
"You're the great Copy Ninja, aren't you?" Kurenai asked with labored breath, forcing herself to fully inflate her lungs with each intake of air, despite the pain. "I would have thought you would know at least a dozen medical jutsus." She was in pain, getting more irritable by the minute from the lack of relief, and there wasn't a god damned thing Kakashi could do about it. He had already given her all the pain killers they had in their field kits, and Wave seemed too poor to have a doctor, let alone a pharmacy. She had no choice but to suffer through it, and Kakashi had no choice but to watch her do it. He almost found himself wishing Zabuza would hurry up and attack, just to give him something else to worry about.
"Sorry," He began apologetically, "I've never had a medic try to heal me to death."
She tried not to laugh, she really did. Laughing hurt just as much as coughing, and it wasn't even that funny in the first place. But her sense of humor seemed to want her to suffer just as much as her ribs did, and she found she was chuckling despite herself. She started to sit up, wincing a little from the movement, but it wasn't so terrible that she couldn't take it.
"Don't make jokes. It's cruel of you to make an injured woman laugh." Kurenai muttered, getting to her feet as Kakashi stepped away from the window.
"Lay back down. You need to rest." Kakashi insisted, moving his hand towards her shoulder only for her to swat it aside.
"I've been in that bed for days. I can stand and walk on my own for awhile." She replied irritably, trying to stretch the kinks out of her joints without upsetting her injury. She would have said more, but her eyes were drawn towards the window, towards the view of the bridge. A view that was now obscured by mist.
"Shit." Kakashi swore under his breath. Hinata, Sakura and Tazuna were on the bridge. Three lives, all dependent on him. Why was he here? Kurenai could take care of herself. Zabuza was after the bridge builder, not her. He should have been watching Tazuna like a hawk.
"Go, I'll catch up with you." Kurenai said quickly. Without even giving the Kunoichi another glance, Kakashi was out the door, heading towards the bridge. He had to stop, however, when his eye noticed movement coming in from outside the village, his ears picking up the sounds of panicked cries of fear and surprise. He turned, seeing a large group of mercenaries and bandits coming out of the forest, from the direction he had taken the genin to practice tree walking. He knew them enough to know they would attack the group, if they hadn't already, and he could see from here the telltale signs of ninja among the enemy ranks. Kiba, Sasuke and Shino. Three more lives that were in his hands, plus those of the villagers that wouldn't get away.
Could he trust those three against those numbers? Compared to Hinata And Sakura, against Zabuza and possibly more within the mist? As much as he would have liked to debate it with himself, he didn't have time before yet another interruption captured his attention, turning towards a massive pillar of fire rising from the forest in the distance. Naruto. Something had set him off and quite possibly the entire town would pay for it before the day was done.
Kakashi was a Jounin, an elite ninja who had survived countless missions and even a war or two over the course of his career. He was hailed as a genius, and had always had a highly analytical mind to cope with crisis situations and consider his options. Here he was, one man, three options, eight lives in the balance. Could he leave Hinata and Sakura to fend off Zabuza themselves? Could he leave Sasuke, Shino and Kiba to stop an invading force from destroying the village? Could he leave Kurenai to fend for herself with her injury? Could he leave Naruto to rampage unchecked? Could he afford to even think about it, wasting time he wasn't going to get back?
Kakashi wasn't between a rock and a hard place. He was crushed under an avalanche pressing against a steel plate. Despite all his experience, he was hesitating, losing seconds he couldn't spare. Despite his supposed genius, his analytical mind, all he could find himself thinking was 'what now?'
Haku twisted through the air to avoid another blast of fire, kicking off a nearby tree as the ground he had been approaching suddenly exploded in flames. He cursed as he landed in a roll, Naruto leaping above him, flaming tail trailing behind him as he passed. He refused to let him get ahead, though. He could not allow the blond to pass. His hands flashed through the seals, the names of the Jutsu never crossing his lips before he lashed out with a gust of bladed wind. Trees all around the blond were severed in a single blow, knocked off their bases as they crashed to the ground in front of him, many never reaching it before being lodged between other trees. Naruto hit the wall of wood feet first, charring the wood but was still forced to hop off.
Haku didn't pause, each hand going through the seals of a separate jutsu as he threw another barrage of blades, hoping to drop the trees on the boys head. Attacking him with the wind directly would be pointless as long as he was covered in fire, but maybe he'd have more luck with his second jutsu.
"Moero!" Naruto growled and leapt back, holding out his hands as waves of fire exploded from his open palms. It rained flaming embers and ash for several moments, the trees that hit the ground around him now half as tall as they had been with smoking half circles burned into them. A solid wall of water blindsided him as he was burning the trees, throwing him into the wall of trees behind him. He growled again, his fires unaffected by the water that was now evaporating from the heat, spotting Haku at the source of the attack, making more hand signs.
"Tokero!" He commanded, a massive pillar of fire exploding from the earth where Haku stood. Though nothing remained but a smoldering crater where Haku had once stood, Naruto knew he had missed. There had been no screams. He ducked slightly as another barrage of wind sliced through the air around him, cleaving apart the trees holding up the fallen logs behind him. He barely had time to turn around before they smashed him into the ground, burying him in fallen trees.
'Is it over?' Haku wondered, narrowing his eyes as the smell of burning wood reached his nostrils. No. It would never be that easy. He watched as smoke began to rise from one of the logs before it seemed to catch fire at the center, burning out in a ring that revealed a hole within the wood. A hand shot up from the hole and braced itself against the edge, more bone than flesh, barely held together but for a few ligaments and tendons. But the flesh was returning, crawling up the hand from the wrist and adding volume to the badly abused limb until it was once again whole, the skin never quite managing to return entirely before it began to burn away again. To Haku's horror, the boy pulled himself further from the hole he had made, his face a massacre of flesh and bone, massive lacerations crisscrossing his head, with the tell tale signs of a crushed skull underneath the mangled muscles and skin. Blood fell from his body like water off a swimmer, his arteries and veins closing their tears before they seemed to crawl back into place, over and under his flesh, like ivy growing at high speed. Haku's jaw was hanging open now, his eyes wide as Naruto's skull returned to its natural shape with audible snaps, the cracks disappearing before the flesh returned to cover it. In that instant, the blond turned on him, and he was sure his heart would stop. Haku was the rocks against which the waves of Naruto's killer intent smashed, each one crashing with more force than the one before it. His left eye, red and filled with a savage fury, glared at him with promises of suffering. His right was an empty socket, though in the depths of that darkness, he could swear he could see a building light, as if the evil soul within the body now had a venue of escape. The eye began to regrow however, as the rest of his wounds closed. He opened his mouth wide as his jaw bone set itself, his teeth returning as sharpened fangs while his tongue rose out of the back of his throat. As the flesh returned to his face, he let out a roar, his body once again bursting into crimson flame. Throughout it all, Haku did not move. He simply sat and watched as the body of this boy seemed to reassemble itself after being crushed under the weight of those trees. Was he even human? Was he even mortal? Haku didn't know if he wanted to find out.
Naruto's roar drew to a close as his hair returned, looking down at his hands as the last of his bones snapped back into place. His eyes were locked on Haku now, his decision to kill Zabuza briefly forgotten as all his hate and anger settled fully on the boy before him.
Why do you struggle?
'To become strong.' He thought with absolute resolution, glaring at his intended prey.
Why are you alive?
'To become strong!' He decided without hesitation, pulling himself fully from the hole.
'If you desire strength, then take of my Power, and do with it what you will.'
"Youkou Ninpou," Naruto's hands formed a seal Haku could not recognize as the flames around his body grew stronger. The long, flaming tail swayed in the air lazily for a few moments before it seemed to stand straight up, towering high above him.
"Nibiton: Pyo!" Naruto's words were punctuated by a massive explosion that threw Haku clear off his feet, rolling several meters before forcing himself to stand. Waves of heat were coming off his body that rivaled any Haku had felt before as the trees upon which he stood instantly ignited. For several minutes, Naruto stood within a massive bonfire of trees, the intense flames forming a tower that seemed to touch the sky. Even through his mask, Haku could feel the heat of it, had to shield himself with his arms and look away. Even then, he felt the need to escape the heat, taking multiple steps back despite himself. Finally, the trees had burnt themselves out, and the fires died down. Smoke and ash hung heavy in the air, but with the flames gone, Haku's hands flashed through several seals, summoning forth a great wind the blew through the forest, pushing the smoke away with violent efficiency. With the air clear, Haku could see Naruto unhindered, his entire body tensing in preparation for whatever was coming. Naruto stood now as always, with his flesh burning away in his aura of fire, though it now seemed to twist and writhe around his body. It would gather with an odd purpose, flowing into odd patterns and shapes before dispersing again, making it seem almost alive. And above it all, a second tail now waved lazily through the air alongside the first.
Naruto looked up and locked his gaze onto Haku again, a crazed smile on his face as he charged. His right arm was pulled back as if ready to strike, with fingers outstretched like a claw. Haku tensed his legs, hoping back as Naruto reached him, striking towards his face in a raking motion. Fire twisted and flowed over the arm and down towards his hand, taking on a clear shape of blades that spread several inches out from his hand, extending his range enough that Haku's mask split into four pieces that immediately burst into flame. The boy gasped in surprise, squeezed his eyes shut and tearing it from his face as quickly as he could. For the first time, Naruto could see his prey's face, could see the fear in his eyes. He had a very feminine face, unblemished by flaw with a natural beauty that was rare for a man. Naruto hadn't been expecting his face to be so pretty, but that would only make it more satisfying to tear it off. He struck out again, claws of fire raking through the air, barely missing the tip of Haku's nose as the boy leapt back a much greater distance this time. Naruto refused to let up however, the claws flowing together into a blade several feet long that he quickly brought up in an attempt to split Haku in two. Haku ducked it quickly, lashing out his foot once more to take Naruto in the chest, hurling the two apart and giving him some space as he struggled to steady his breathing, trying to slow his heartbeat back to reasonable levels.
"I cannot fail here. It's clear to me now that you are nothing but a monster. I will never allow you to reach Zabuza." Haku announced, glaring at the recovering blond with his own wave of killer intent. There was no mercy in his eyes now, only determination.
"You said that already." Naruto remarked, the fire flowing across his body almost taking the shape of armor as he stalked towards Haku with the two tails of fire swaying behind his burning body, "You'll die trying."
"No, I can't die. You'll kill him if I die." Haku replied. The smirk on Naruto's face was enough to tell him he was right. "If I am to die, I will drag you down to hell with me."
"Hyouton." Haku spoke, his hands in a strange seal as his words carried oddly in the air. Haku's skin seemed to pale slightly, his lips taking on an unhealthy shade of blue as he breathed in deep. As he released it, his breath was visible, carrying a chill across the small clearing that seemed to make the wind stop and Naruto's fire flicker for a moment. He almost shivered, looking down at his own body angrily, seeing goosebumps on his skin as it burned away. Silence filled the air as an unnatural stillness settled on the clearing, as if everything had just stopped. Even Haku had stopped moving, his body growing paler, colder.
"Hyoutai no jutsu." Haku whispered, his breath hanging in the air as frost spread from the edges of his lips. Naruto was already in motion, his flames building around his arms as he approached, unknowing and uncaring of whatever defense Haku was attempting. Their eyes met as Haku raised one frost covered hand to intercept the incoming blow. Naruto's fist lashed out and Haku caught it in his palm, the fire being snuffed out in an instant as icicles erupted out of the length of Naruto's arm, his blood frozen into crystallized spikes that shredded the entire length of his frost covered limb. With a cry of pain, Naruto stumbled back, gripping his frozen shoulder in agony and falling to one knee. He looked up at Haku through a wince, seeing that he was almost entirely covered in ice, save for the palm of his left hand, which was clearly burnt and icing over.
"This...hurts..." Naruto chuckled, though it came out forced. "What is this?" He was on edge now, looking up at Haku with some apprehension. The ice on his body cracked as he moved, frost starting to spread across the grass from his feet as he regarded Naruto coldly.
"This is my strength." Haku answered, forming another seal while Naruto returned to his feet. The frozen arm burst into flames, the ice slowly melting as the wounds healed and closed. It was slow, agonizingly slow, but soon Naruto's arm was normal again, no worse for wear.
"Your strength can't stop me." The blond replied, his aura building in intensity again as he threw both arms out towards Haku with a cry of, "Tokero!" A massive pillar of fire erupted from the ground as Haku forced himself to dodge, his ice taking the brunt of the heat and melting almost completely, but returned just as fast as he turned towards the blond. But Naruto was gone, sprinting towards the village on all fours, his flaming tails trailing behind him.
"Makyou Hyoushou!" Haku called out, sheets of ice beginning to form on the sides of the nearby trees. As Naruto ran, sheets of ice like mirrors formed on the trees around him, with images of Haku that seemed to flow across them, from mirror to mirror. Naruto smirked and dashed between some trees, a mirror forming on a tree directly in front of him as Haku emerged from it at high speed.
"Kitsune Souga!" Naruto spun with his hand spread like a claw, blades of fire trailing from his fingertips as he struck. Haku caught him by the wrist, the flames flying from his hand and cleaving through the trees in burning lines as Naruto's entire arm froze again. He flinched and jerked back, sparing barely a glance at the spikes of ice and frozen blood piercing his arm before his shoulder dislocated with an audible crack. He brought his other arm around in the same motion, fingers trailing flames like fangs that came down on Haku from the other side, taking his own arm with it, burning through the frozen flesh that still held it to his body. Haku was smashed against the ground by the flames, his icy covering melting under the intensity as he quickly rolled away.
"Stronger and stronger! Come on, show me all your strength!" Naruto cackled, blood pouring out of the empty socket where his arm had formerly been before flesh and bone began sprouting from the hole, knitting together to reform the lost limb. He was moving forward again, towards the village, not waiting for Haku to recover, but knowing he was close behind. It wouldn't be any fun if he wasn't.
Hinata took a few labored breaths as she continued to sidestep towards the end of the bridge, slowly, deliberately making whatever progress she could towards the edge of the mist. Sakura was behind her with Tazuna in tow, still clutching a kunai protectively in front of her as they all moved and waited for Zabuza to strike. Hinata's eyes were locked on the mist, the veins in her face bulging from effort as she examined everything around them, looking for any sign of Zabuza's approach. He'd already come at them so many times, from several angles, and each time she had only barely managed to stop his assault before he would flee back into the mist. His methods were confusing, almost maddening. She knew he was stronger, faster, and just generally better. And yet with every approach, he allowed her to stop his attacks. Why? She couldn't figure it out. He was testing her, of that she was certain, but she couldn't fathom a reason for it. What was stopping him from just killing them and completing his mission? It certainly wasn't her. She was already feeling winded just from fighting him off thus far. He wasn't even using clones anymore, striking out personally each time, and she couldn't understand why. It didn't make sense.
"Do you see him?" Tazuna spoke up, though an angry look from the pink haired girl immediately shut him up as she continued to corral him towards the end of the bridge like he were an unruly cattle. If this were any other situation, he'd go off on the girl for being so disrespectful to her elders, but something about the psychopath in the mist with the giant sword made him decide holding his tongue would be the smarter decision. Sakura continued to push and pull Tazuna down the bridge, slowly but surely, all the while holding a Kunai at the ready. She was doing her best not to shake from the fear, to ignore the overwhelming urge to just take off running and not look back. She was fairly proud of herself for succeeding thus far, though it helped that she constantly reminded herself that such moves would be instant death. The only reason she was still alive was thanks to Hinata's eyes.
"Sakura!" Hinata called out as she noticed motion at the edge of her vision, coming from behind. He was attacking from her blind spot more and more, striking towards Tazuna directly. Was that his intention? Was he probing the Byakugan for weakness, using this opportunity to study a powerful bloodline of Konoha for future reference? The thought of some other Hyuuga on a future mission dying because she allowed a man like Zabuza to discover its drawbacks made her sick, but she tried not to dwell on it as she flipped over Sakura and Tazuna, who had taken a dive towards the ground as soon as Hinata had spoken. She could see a barrage of shuriken coming in from behind as she focused her eyes, the veins bulging in her face and time seeming to slow down once more while her perception increased. Her hands lashed out towards the incoming projectiles, trailing chakra as she knocked them out of the sky with her fingertips. She spotted another flash of moment to her right and caught the last two shuriken in the barrage before spinning to the side and throwing them into the mist, though she couldn't tell if they had found their target.
"Those are some interesting eyes, little girl." Zabuza's voice carried over the entire bridge, coming from everywhere and nowhere. He was using auditory genjutsu again. "I never realized the Byakugan came in red. A variant evolution?"
"What does he mean by Red?" Sakura glanced at Hinata's back as she pulled Tazuna back to his feet, seeing the girl stiffen at the mentioning of her eyes. It suddenly dawned on her that Hinata had been hiding her eyes this entire time. She was constantly facing away, and whenever Zabuza struck from behind, she would jump over them to intercept. She hadn't actually seen Hinata's doujutsu yet... "Why are you hiding your eyes?"
"It doesn't matter right now, does it?" Hinata tried to say it confidently, but her voice trembled. She didn't dare look over her shoulder, instead glaring into the mist in front of her and relying on her wide vision to see the confused look on Sakura's face. She desperately wished Zabuza had kept his mouth shut. She had hidden what He had done to her for so long...she had begun to hope it could stay that way. Zabuza began to laugh, his voice still seeming to come from everywhere and nowhere. It was a very unsettling thing.
"A weak Hyuuga woman with an unknown Byakugan, ripe for the taking." Zabuza's voice carried over the bridge again, the tone of it sending shivers down Hinata's spine. "You're more valuable than the bridge builder. Playtime's over."
"Sakura, please, take Tazuna and run!" Hinata practically screamed, her entire body trembling as she locked on to Zabuza's chakra coils coming at her from the left. She spun towards him, watching him approach in slow motion as he tossed a handful of shuriken towards Sakura and Tazuna with the cleaver coming down at her with a one handed slash. She was vaguely aware of crying out a warning to Sakura as she sidestepped the slash, lashing out towards Zabuza's abdomen with chakra burning in her hands, determined to rupture his organs. He leaned back, pulling his cleaver out of the ground as he went, backstepping just out of her reach as her palm strike hit nothing but air.
Sakura heard Hinata cry out and reacted instinctively, pulling Tazuna towards her while spinning them both around, trying to pull them out of the way of whatever was coming, but she wasn't quick enough. Sakura's eyes widened as the shuriken struck, not even noticing the ones that missed as what had been aimed at Tazuna's head instead took her in the chest. She looked down in shock, her outcry of pain dying in her throat as she looked at three star shaped blades lodged firmly in her torso, memories of health class returning to her as she realized they had impaled her in the sternum. Blood leaked out around the wounds in a steady flow as she slowly reached up towards them, feeling weak in the legs. She slumped to her knees with one hand firmly gripping Tazuna's shirt hem for support, the other wrapped around the weapons stuck in her chest as she took in several ragged, shallow breaths. She was too afraid to breathe any deeper than that, unsure if the blades had reached her heart
Tazuna grabbed at the pink haired girl's arm as she slumped to the ground, the adrenaline rushing through his veins helping as he bodily dragged her towards the end of the bridge at a decent clip. He took one last look at the black haired one fending off the assassin before turning his head and concentrating on fleeing. He regretted leaving her behind, he really did, but there was no saving her now. What was important was getting out of this damnable mist, moving the girl to safety and getting the adult ninja in the group to kill this bastard for what he had done.
Zabuza took one glance towards the retreating bridge builder before placing his hand back on his shuriken box, grunting in surprise as Hinata's leg lanced out and managed to kick it clean off his belt, tearing the straps that held it on. He had to give her credit, that was pretty good. She twisted from the blow, placing her foot back on the ground and spinning into a back fist towards his abdomen that he dodged back to avoid. His free hand came up to support his cleaver as he brought it down in a horizontal slash towards the girl's mid-section, watching with some surprise as she hopped straight up. Hinata's byakugan was at full power now, the cleaver seeming to be moving at almost a snail's pace as it split the wind. She managed to pick her feet up just enough to clear the blade, the back passing within centimeters of the sole of her sandal. She used this to her advantage, remembering the treewalking exercise and adhering herself to Zabuza's blade with chakra as he completed his slash and took her with it. Zabuza blinked as he looked at the empty space in front of him, feeling the extra weight of the blade he was holding out behind him and turning his head in time to see the girl lashing out towards his throat with another palm strike. Hinata had to pull her attack back as Zabuza suddenly released the blade, but she had been expecting that. She pushed more chakra into her feet and jumped off, having the added benefit of hurling the large sword clean over the side of the bridge behind her as she struck out towards Zabuza again.
"I'm impressed!" Zabuza announced, catching Hinata by the wrist and flinging her across the bridge. She smashed through a stack of wooden planks before hitting the support bars of some scaffolding, which promptly collapsed on her. Hinata struggled to stand, pushing the weight off of her and returning to her feet just in time to see Zabuza on top of her, one hand lashing out and grasping her around the neck. "The bridge builder will get his soon enough, but first its time for you to go to sleep."
Hinata let out a choked gasp as Zabuza began squeezing off her air flow, lifting her clean off her feet as his massive hand crushed her neck like a vice. She grabbed him around the wrist for support, lashing out with several kicks to the abdomen and chest that he seemed to completely ignore. She was getting lightheaded as he increased the pressure, her lungs burning for air and her vision starting to tunnel. Zabuza raised an eyebrow as he saw the veins in her face bulge again, her blood red eyes glaring into his fiercely as she lifted her hand, fingertips extended. She could see his bones, his organs, his coils, his chakra. She could see it all. Even the tenketsu on his arm.
"Ha...k..ke..." She gasped out, her hand lashing out with surprising speed and stabbing him repeatedly in the arm. Zabuza grunted a bit, feeling like her fingertips were needles jamming into his flesh. His arm was suddenly getting numb as he noticed the pinprick bruises that appeared on his flesh. Before he could stop himself, he lost his grip and dropped the girl to the floor. She collapsed in a heap as she coughed and choked, desperately inhaling the oxygen she had been denied as Zabuza cradled his arm, watching it twitch involuntarily before glaring down at her.
"What the hell did you do to my arm, you bitch?!" He growled out, lashing out with a kick that took Hinata in the abdomen, robbing her of the oxygen she had just regained and throwing her across the bridge. Her back collided with the metal railing on the side of the bridge and her mouth opened in a silent scream, collapsing again and vomiting her lunch over the edge as she once again tried to re-inflate her lungs. She did her best to return to her feet, using the railing for support while she struggled to breathe. She wasn't able to keep the Byakugan active anymore, the blood draining from her eyes as they returned to their natural color and everything seemed to speed up. Zabuza was on her in an instant, his fist pulled back for a punch as she closed her eyes and braced herself for pain.
Only, it never came. She opened her eyes slowly, looking up to see the white haired Jounin, Kakashi, she think his name was, standing over her. Zabuza's fist was caught in his palm, and the two seemed to be struggling against one another.
"Hinata, go help Sakura," Kakashi said calmly, lifting his headband to reveal the sharingan in his left eye, "I'll make this quick."
Kiba frowned as he ran, following closely behind the two genin that weren't on his team. He wasn't entirely sure what they were running towards, or from, or whatever was going on, cause neither of the jackasses in front of him were the talkative type. He was glad they weren't on his team, to be honest. The silence would have driven him crazy. He sent a glance towards Akamaru as they ran, seeing the apprehensive look on his face. The dog returned the look with a few barks, catching Kiba's eyes for a few moments. Akamaru may have been a dog, but there was intelligence in his gaze, something most would see as a distinctively human trait.
"Yeah, I feel it too...Only reason I'm following these jerks." Kiba said, as if in reply, though no one but him could have understood that Akamaru had spoken. "There's killing intent all over the place."
Kiba's nostrils flared as the village came into view, Akamaru barking his findings to his partner. Kiba nodded without saying a thing. He knew Akamaru could smell it too, the blood in the air. Already he could see the men ransacking the village. Armed men breaking down doors and dragging people out into the streets, ignoring their cries as women were torn from their children, men from their families. The lucky ones were being slaughtered outright. The rest...
"Why didn't you bastards say anything about an attack? I could have been running a lot faster than this!" Kiba growled out, putting his hands together into a seal and channeling his chakra. "Gijyu Ninpou: Shikyaku no Jutsu!"
Kiba was down on all fours in a matter of moments, his fingernails extending into claws as his fangs sharpened and his eyes narrowed into slits. He was off at high speed within seconds of completing the jutsu, blurring past Sasuke and Shino with Akamaru at his side as the two descended into the fray.
Sasuke watched Kiba overtake them before turning his gaze back on the approaching battle, his sharingan rotating slowly as he took it all in. There were at least sixty armed men down there, all of them preoccupied with either raiding the homes for valuables, assaulting the women or murdering villagers in the street. Most of the villagers had already armed themselves with whatever they could and were fighting back, but they were just as quickly being put down by the five ninja in the crowd. Sasuke could easily spot them from the way they carried themselves, though it didn't look like any of them wore a headband. They weren't concerning themselves with the women or the homes like the mercenaries and bandits. Instead, they were systematically taking out those that had armed themselves and were fighting back. They were destroying whatever resistance the villagers could manage.
Sasuke quickly found Kiba and his dog in the crowd, tearing through the bandits and the mercenaries like a reaper in the mist. He was totally ignoring the ninja, instead concentrating on the men who were attacking women or children.
'That moron, can't he see the bigger picture? The ninjas are the real risk.' Sasuke thought to himself as they approached the village, turning his attention on the ninja in question. Damn, it looked like they had spotted Kiba. All five of them were making a beeline for him.
"Shino, we need to concentrate on those five. If we take out the ninja, the villagers should be able to defend themselves from the bandits without much help." Sasuke quickly said, pointing out the five ninja as the two reached the first of the houses. Shino nodded his head, accepting the plan as he rose his hands into a seal.
"Be cautious, Sasuke. At least one of them is likely a Jounin." Shino remarked evenly, feeling the colony buzzing to life within him as he called on his soldiers to rise to the surface, emerging from their burrows and scurrying across his body to his arms and face. Sasuke sent a curious glance at him, but said nothing. They were in the midst of the fighting now, ignoring the bandits rushing the homes around them as they focused on the ninja they had spotted in the crowd.
"No, please! Let go of me!" A woman cried out, struggling against the laughing man dragging her towards the street, one hand grabbing her by the hair as he lifted a large dagger in the other. He seemed to vanish in a blur as something large collided with his body, dropping the woman to the ground as she quickly scrambled away. She barely even looked back to see the body who had just knocked her attacker out cold, instead fleeing for safety.
Kiba glanced her way, making sure she wasn't being attacked again, before he turned his attention to the mayhem around him. Akamaru barked out a warning and he quickly dodged away, narrowly avoiding a barrage of Shuriken that were now stuck in the bandit he had just taken down. He glanced up, seeing a man crouched on the edge of a roof, shuriken in hand.
'Shit, they have a ninja, too?' Kiba thought, glancing to the side to see another man approaching with a kunai in hand, handling it with much more skill than he had seen in any of the mercenaries so far. More ninjas? Damn, this might actually be difficult. Kiba moved as more shuriken came at his position, dodging to the side as he approached one of the ninjas he could see in the crowd, in the midst of going through handseals.
"Tsuuga!" Kiba growled out, pushing off from the ground as he entered a spin, his chakra flowing through his body as he twisted into a tight spiral that tore through the air towards his chosen opponent. He felt impact as he tore right through the man, frowning at the smell of sawdust and wood chips. Kawarimi, huh? Where did that bastard go?
"Raiton: Raikou no jutsu!" Kiba heard Sasuke call out as he arrived, followed by the distinct crack of electricity and the sound of a man crying out in pain. Wherever that bastard had gone, Sasuke had apparently intercepted him with a lightning bolt.
"Not bad, Sasuke! I might actually start to respect you a little!" Kiba called out to the other genin, who only glanced at him through his weird red eyes before focusing on the other ninja that were emerging from the crowd.
"Stay focused, Inuzuka. We will need to work together to take them all." Shino took position next to Kiba, his eyes on the ninja in front of them. He completely ignored the boy's snide reply, completely focused on the colony within him. The hive was a mass of activity, the drones within their burrows feeling the flows of chakra in the air and relaying this info to his mind. His gaze crossed their enemy, locking onto the one his colony was telling him had the greatest chakra reserves and quickly focused on him. Soldiers marched down his arms, collecting in a writhing mass near his wrists as he held his arms out at the ready. A few scouts were already marching down his legs to spread across the area they would be fighting while a pair of females made their way to his palms, readying themselves for the jump. With the smallest of thoughts, Shino directed his colony as if he and they were one and the same, a veritable hivemind at work. They would not fail him.
"Are they all stopping?" Kiba muttered, his eyes not on the ninja that were surrounding them, but rather on the mercenaries and bandits beyond them. Activity had oddly slowed down as the rampaging men gathered around, apparently eager to see the two groups of ninja go at it. The villagers were equally still, eying their tormentors occasionally while mostly keeping their attention on the ninja, too afraid to run out of fear that doing so may incite the pillaging to continue. Kiba just sighed a little in relief and turned his full attention on the ninja, tensing for the upcoming battle.
"It makes things easier." Sasuke replied, slowly drawing his sword as he looked between their enemies. Four men left standing, two of them drawing weapons themselves while one looked at them tensely and the last just stood calm and ready. His sharingan was at work, taking in every detail, watching the slightest movements in his foes. The one in the middle was a short man with a nervous disposition, face covered in a mask and looking fairly pathetic in general. The sweat pouring down his face and the nervous twitch in his hands suggested he was the least skilled, possibly even a genin, while the other three held themselves with far greater confidence. The two that had armed themselves were taller, each wearing bandanas to cover their faces and handling their weapons with absolute familiarity. The general way they held themselves suggested they were well trained, likely chunin. The last one put Sasuke on edge, as he was much calmer than the rest. He was a well muscled man with a strange weapon hanging from his belt, looking like an axe on one side and a hammer on the other. He held himself evenly, but at the ready, with an almost bored air about him, and yet not betraying any overconfidence, unlike the previous two. Judging from the way Shino hadn't taken his attention off the man for a second, he could only assume this one was the jounin he had spoken of.
'A genin, two chunin and a jounin, huh?' Sasuke thought, sparing a quick glance at his own allies, 'Against three genin and a dog?' He lifted his sword and firmed his jaw under his mask, locking eyes on the jounin. They might actually be in a little trouble here.
Kiba wasn't exactly the smartest guy around, but he could tell that the big guy with the axe-hammer-thing was worrying both of his fellow genin. He had to admit, he held himself differently than the other two, and Kiba didn't like the smell coming off him. He reeked of blood.
"We might have to go all out on that one, Akamaru," Kiba whispered, pulling a small pill out of his pocket. Akamaru barked in reply, staring at the group in front of them and growling. For a moment, the two groups just stood their ground, staring one another down without moving. The short nin gulped as he looked at the three Konoha ninja across from him, unable to take it anymore as he brought his hands together to form a few seals. Sasuke's eyes immediately turned to him as soon as he started to move, dropping his sword as he brought his hands together as well.
"Suiton: Mizurappa no Jutsu!" They intoned in unison, lifting one hand to their mouthes as they completed the Jutsu, pulling down their masks and letting lose with a massive wave of water from their throats. As the water collided in between the two groups, they scattered, Kiba tossing the pill in his hand to Akamaru as the two chuunin flanked around the spray of water to come at him and Shino with their knives at the ready. Kiba ducked a slash aimed at his face while Shino rose his forearm to catch his attacker at the wrist, the soldiers billowing from his sleeves crawling up the chuunin's arm in a mass that was quickly trying to completely encase him. However, he vanished in a puff of smoke, leaving the bugs surrounding a length of wood as shuriken and kunai rained on Shino from above, which he quickly dived away to dodge.
"Back off!" Kiba muttered, kicking the chuunin in the stomach and sending him stumbling back while Akamaru, now red furred and growling loudly, leapt onto Kiba's back.
"Juujin Bunshin!" Akamaru disappeared in a puff of smoke, replaced by an identical copy of his master as the two growled at their chosen opponent. The chuunin narrowed his eyes slightly over the bandana covering the bottom of his face, twirling his knife around before waving at Kiba to attack. The two identical Inuzuka just growled and charged, happy to oblige him.
Sasuke put his mask back in place and picked up his sword, charging forward towards the other ninja. The genin looked up and yelped as he saw Sasuke coming at him, drawing multiple Kunai and shuriken into his hands and hurling them at the approaching Uchiha. Sasuke didn't even slow down, tracking the trajectories of the projectiles with his sharingan as he dodged and weaved in-between them, closing on the Genin and bringing his sword around in a diagonal slash. The genin lifted two Kunai from his belt and crossed them, catching the sword between them and wrenching it out of Sasuke's hands before lashing forward to stab him in the chest.
"You're way too slow." Sasuke muttered, evading the stab and lashing out at the Genin's face with a back fist that took him full in the cheek. His feet left the ground from the impact, twisting through the air before landing roughly in the dirt and not rising again. Sasuke's eyes turned away from the downed Genin towards the Jounin that had yet to move, picking up his sword as he stared at the smirking man.
"Oh, is he finished already? What a shame. I thought he'd last longer than that." The Jounin remarked, arms crossed as he looked towards his other two allies. They were running around like a pair of chickens with their heads cut off against that bug user and the dog boy. It was shameful. "What's wrong, you two? They're just kids, kill them already!"
"Shut up, these kids ain't normal!" One of the Chuunin replied as he dodged another pair of swipes from the twin Kibas, backpedaling all the way to try and get some distance.
"Why don't you quit talking and help us?" The other replied as he once again had to kawarimi away from a swarm of bugs. What the hell was with this kid, anyway? He was like a walking infestation. Couldn't even get close to the little punk without getting a shit ton of bugs crawling up his ass. He had little choice but to resort to a distance game.
"Alright," The Jounin sighed, before leaning back sharply as Sasuke's sword passed through the space he had previously been occupying, "If you insist."
Sasuke's eyes widened as he watched the fist coming at him, seeing its trajectory perfectly and knowing he was about to get punched in the solar plexus. And yet, there wasn't a damn thing he could do about it. His eyes could see it, but his body simply wasn't fast enough to respond. He took the blow to the chest with a grunt of pain, tossed clean off his feet to go flying away towards a nearby house. He didn't stop when he hit the wall, or after hitting the wall of the kitchen, or the living room, or the opposite wall, or even the wall of the neighbor's home. In fact, Sasuke passed clean through three houses until he finally came to a stop, smashing into a support beam of somebody's patio and cracking it clean through before he finally ran out of momentum and slumped to the ground.
"What, that's it? I didn't even use my axe." The Jounin remarked as Sasuke struggled to a kneeling position, looking up at the man as he took the weapon in question off his belt and rose it overhead. "You've gotta live long enough for me to use this at least once."
Sasuke shut his eyes as the axe descended, hitting with such force that the ground split open and exploded. A massive cloud of dust and dirt rose into the air on impact as bits of rock smashed into the surrounding houses and pelted the bandits and villagers that were too close. Everything seemed to stop at once, both Chuunin, Kiba and Shino freezing in the middle of their fight to see what the commotion was. The bandits and villagers also had their eyes glued on the slowly falling cloud of dust, none daring to move as they waited to see what had happened.
The Jounin pulled his axe out of the ground and stood up, turning towards a nearby rooftop to glare at its occupant. Sasuke slowly opened his eyes upon realizing he wasn't dead, looking up to see Kurenai standing over him on the roof.
"K...Kurenai-sensei?" Sasuke muttered in surprise. Wasn't she injured? Not that he was complaining, but what was she doing here? Kurenai looked down at Sasuke with a reassuring smile before standing to her full height, pulling a kunai into her hand and locking eyes with the Jounin on the ground.
"Leave this one to me, Sasuke. Go help the others." Kurenai ordered, raising her free hand to her face in a seal. The Jounin on the floor smirked, resting his axe on his shoulder as he looked up at her.
"You're the teacher, eh? This should be interesting." He said, before turning towards the gathered bandits and mercenaries, "What are you idiots standing around for? The party's only just starting!"
"Shit, what's he getting them riled up for?" Kiba muttered, looking out at the bandits that were now starting to laugh to themselves and eye the villagers hungrily. The last thing these bastards needed was a morale boost.
"So, you ready to go?" The jounin asked, not even sparing Sasuke a second glance as he leapt from the roof, instead fixing his gaze firmly on Kurenai. In the blink of an eye he was on the roof, axe in motion as he cleaved straight through the building with a single swing. Kurenai had moved just as quickly however, twisting through the air and landing on the next building over with a wince as she aggravated her wound. She ignored it, however, turning her full attention on her attacker. At the same time, everyone else seemed to explode into activity, the bandits assaulting the village again as the Chuunin attacked Kiba and Shino, the entire area becoming loud with the sounds of fighting.
"What in the hell is going on out here?" Tazuna muttered in surprise as he finally cleared the mist and got Sakura off the bridge, looking out in horror at the men tearing his beloved village apart. A ragged gasp from the girl at his feet drew the bridge builder's attention back to her, seeing with a grim look that a rather large amount of blood was now staining the front of her dress. What was he supposed to do? She was going to die at this rate, and there wasn't a damn thing he could do about it.
"Sakura!" Tazuna looked up to see the black haired girl rushing out of the mist, falling to her knees next to the pink haired girl. Hinata frowned as she saw the three shuriken embedded in Sakura's chest, channeling some chakra into her fingertips as she tore open the front of her dress to get a clear look at the wound. Tazuna had the good sense to look away when she did so.
"I'm so sorry Sakura, if I had been a little faster, this wouldn't have..." Hinata began, but stopped as Sakura gave her a stern look. The pink haired girl was still breathing shallowly, and didn't seem to have the energy to speak, so instead settled for just glaring at Hinata. Now wasn't the time for the blame game. She needed help, damn it.
"I'm sorry. I'll do what I can. Just please hold on." Hinata muttered, forming a seal as she activated her doujutsu. Sakura's eyes widened as she stared at Hinata's face, watching the veins bulge and her eyes suddenly go bloodshot. The red lines stretching across her eyes grew rapidly, as if blood was leaking into them, until they were completely red. It made her look downright scary.
Hinata did not notice the look on Sakura's face. She didn't even realize she had just activated her doujutsu in plain view for the first time in years. She was too busy concentrating on Sakura's wound, looking through her body to see the extent of the damage. She was lucky, they hadn't completely pierced her sternum. Her heart was fine.
"You're going to be fine, Sakura. Just hold on." Hinata reassured her, reaching into her supply bag for some dressings and bandages before grabbing a firm hold of the weapons. Sakura stared at her with frightened eyes as Hinata slowly counted, swiftly pulling the blades out in the same direction they entered as she hit 'three.' Sakura cried out in pain at this, but it was over quickly as Hinata pressed the dressing over her wounds, applying pressure as it slowly started turning red from the absorbed blood.
"See? You're just fine. That wasn't so bad, was it?" Hinata said, trying to smile at the pink haired girl as she kept pressure on her wound. Hinata released her doujutsu as she looked up at the fighting going on, Seeing Kurenai-sensei fighting someone on the rooftops while Sasuke and Shino were locked in one on one combat with what seemed to be ninja. Kiba had apparently duplicated himself at some point and seemed to be trying to protect the entire village at once from the multitude of bandits and mercenaries in the area.
All that ceased to matter, though, as an explosion of fire erupted from the edge of the village. Everything seemed to stop at once as the eyes of all present turned towards this newest arrival, seeing a boy who seemed to be covered in ice leaping backwards to avoid a massive blast of fire. The sound of a boy cackling like a madman could be heard clear across the village.
Hinata's eyes widened as she saw Him, her entire body locking up and her breath catching in her throat. He was after the first boy on all fours, his body surrounded in flames with two long tails stretching out behind him as he went. Hinata found herself close to hyperventilating.
"Hahaha! Come on! Come on!" Naruto shouted, landing on all fours and digging a small trench in the dirt as he looked towards Haku, who was quickly rising. He grinned, looking around at the gathered villagers, bandits, mercenaries and ninja in search of the second masked man, "Where is your strength?"
'I have to kill him. He's just not going to stop.' Haku thought as he tried to gather his breath. He had used a lot of chakra already, and it didn't seem like the boy was slowing down at all. What was this strange fire jutsu he was using? He just couldn't understand it. He had let the boy lead them all the way to the village, and from the looks of things, Zabuza was around here somewhere. If he didn't end it now, he could very well fail.
"You'll have to go through me to find him. I won't give you that chance." Haku replied, lifting his hands into a seal as he glared at the smirking boy. This was it. He had been reluctant to go all out thus far because of that fire aura, but he no longer had time to play around. He was willing to risk his life for Zabuza. Losing a hand to put an end to this boy would be worth it.
"Heh, you can't stop me. You've already tried." Naruto replied with a grin, his fire burning brighter as he rushed forward. The shape of a clawed hand began to form in the fire around his arm as he went, rising his arm up in preperation for a swipe. Haku simply stood his ground, raising one hand to his face in a seal, holding the other out towards Naruto.
"No, I haven't," Haku replied, ducking the swipe and entering Naruto's guard. He completely ignored the flaming claws that passed over his head, ignored the heat coming off the boy's body, ignored the flames that were inches from him. He was only concentrating on his goal, "Not until now."
Haku thrust his palm into Naruto's chest, aiming for the solar plexus. Naruto grunted in confusion, but Haku didn't notice. His hand was on fire. His ice covering had melted almost instantly, his skin vaporizing shortly afterward. He could feel his flesh burning as he struck, forcing his chakra into the boy as he activated the jutsu. "Sokushi no Hyouga!"
Naruto didn't even have time to scream as ice exploded around his body, encasing him completely. Haku stumbled back, clutching his badly burned hand in pain as he looked at his own handiwork. The boy was frozen solid, sealed completely within a block of ice. He could see the blood inside the ice from where it had burst through his flesh like tiny icicles, his arms, legs and head a mess of frozen blood and torn flesh. However, his torso stood out. It was simply covered in ice. It hadn't frozen all the way through. He could still see the heat of the flames crawling across the boy's chest, under the ice. It was melting.
"What? How..." Haku muttered, clutching his hand. The fire around his torso had been so much hotter than around his limbs. Had his jutsu not been cold enough to freeze him solid? This meant his heart was likely intact. But...his brain was surely damaged. There's no way he could survive...was there? Still, he could see the fire. His ice was strong enough that no normal fire could even touch it, but the heat this boy put off was something else entirely. Was he really alive enough to escape?
"He's...dead?" Hinata muttered, staring at the ice encasing her tormentor. Sakura looked up at her in confusion. Hinata's voice had sounded...hopeful.
"Finally done playing with that runt, Haku?" Zabuza walked out of the mist, his face uncovered and his sword held in his good hand. He looked to have seen better days, bleeding fairly badly from a wound on his face and showing the initial signs of bruising across his torso. Hinata jumped as she heard him, turning towards the jounin in shock.
"How? Kakashi was-"
"He's lost in the mist, playing with clones. He got me good a couple of times, but he relies on his eyes too much." Zabuza replied, turning towards the bridge builder who was now cowering and slowly backing away. "It wasn't easy finding my sword again, bitch. Once I'm done with the bridge builder, I'm gonna make you regret kicking it off the bridge."
"Shit!" Sasuke muttered, moving towards the bridge only to have the chuunin move between them, lashing out with his knife in a slash Sasuke quickly parried with his sword.
"You think I'm letting you get away? Don't even try it." The chuunin said. Kurenai and Shino met similar results with their own opponents, while Kiba and Akamaru took three steps towards Zabuza before a small barrage of senbon hit the ground in front of them.
"Don't take another step, or you'll end up like him." Haku said sternly, gesturing to the ice block that still held Naruto. His eyes lingered on the block however, seeing that a small cavity was forming in the center. The blond had changed position inside, and his face had already started to heal. He was glaring directly at Haku.
"Damn it..." Kiba muttered, looking between the ice block, Haku and Zabuza. He wasn't sure whether or not he was surprised Naruto was still alive. He didn't think anybody could survive that kind of treatment, but then again, if anyone could, the fire obsessed blond was on the top of Kiba's list of candidates. He was clearly melting his way out, but it wasn't going fast enough. 'Come on, Naruto. I can't save the bridge builder with this guy on my ass. Akamaru and I can't take a hit like that.'
"Heh." Zabuza chuckled, standing over the bridge builder. Sharingan Kakashi was lost in the mist, the pink haired girl was bleeding to death, and if the hyuuga bitch took her hand off that dressing, it would only happen faster. The other ninja Gato had hired after his first failure were holding off two of the genin and the Jounin, and with Haku in the way, the last genin couldn't make a move. He lifted his sword in his one good hand, readying himself for the downward strike that would end the old man once and for all. There was nobody that could stop him. "Looks like your luck has run out, bridge builder."
The ground around Zabuza exploded as a pack of dogs emerged from beneath him, their jaws snapping towards his limbs as he quickly tried to avoid them to no avail. Two of them had a grip on his legs, and six more were coming out of the ground from all angles to pin him down. Zabuza refused to let this stop him, however, swinging his sword anyway. Tazuna saw this and flinched, only to see Zabuza's cleaver stop a few inches from his face as the pack of dogs now holding him firmly in their jaws and paws caught his arm, preventing him from completing his attack. Zabuza clenched his teeth, struggling against the dogs holding him, but made no progress. There were too many of them, and with one arm rendered useless, he didn't have the strength to shake them off.
"Zabuza-sama!" Haku cried out in shock, rushing away from the block of ice that still held Naruto. An odd noise emerged from the mist then, like the sound of a thousand birds chirping in unison. Zabuza craned his neck to look, his eyes widening as he spotted Kakashi charging towards him with his hand literally glowing from the amount of chakra he had charged into it.
"How?!" Zabuza growled out, struggling some more. Haku was in motion, but he was too far away. He wouldn't be fast enough. His hands came up in a seal, ignoring the pain in his burnt hand as he began to form the ice mirror.
"I had your blood, Zabuza. No matter how thick the mist, you can't escape my nose." Kakashi replied, the chakra in his hand crackling like lightning as he ran. His Sharingan picked up the ice mirror appearing to Zabuza's left, but he continued unhindered. He was too close to pull back now, thrusting his palm forward towards Zabuza's exposed back.
All throughout this, Naruto watched from within his icy prison, rage in his eyes as his flames burned and his body healed. No! They were his! The masked men were going to die by his fire! He had to prove his strength! The cold boy's strength was not better than his! It couldn't stop him!
"NO!" Naruto roared, the ice around him cracking as he flared his fire as much as he could, willing it to burn hotter, melt the ice faster. The ice began to crack, but it wouldn't be enough. He wouldn't be fast enough.
"No, dammit, no! I'm stronger! I'm stronger! This can't stop me!" Naruto roared, but there was nobody that could hear him. The ice finally cracked and gave way, shattering to pieces in an explosion of fire, just as Haku emerged from his mirror between Zabuza and Kakashi. Naruto had no choice but to watch as Haku was run through.
Everyone flinched back as the ice shattered, looking at Naruto in surprise as he charged towards the end of the bridge. Kakashi didn't notice him though, his eyes wide in horror as he found his arm stuck through Haku's chest. Despite the Sharingan, he hadn't seen him move into position. What was that mirror Jutsu? He hadn't been able to follow the speed.
"I'm sorry...Zabuza....Sama....This is it...for me..." Haku coughed blood onto Kakashi's face, his vision tunneling as he lifted his good arm up to the hand that was sticking through his torso. He gripped it firmly, his eyes locking onto Kakashi's. "I'll at least...take...this arm..."
Kakashi tried to extract his arm as ice crackled across Haku's fingertips. In an instant, his arm was frozen solid, frost covering him up to the shoulder as frozen blood and ice stuck out of his limb like blades. He cried out in pain, his nindogs disappearing into puffs of smoke. Zabuza didn't get the chance to turn on him, though, as Naruto appeared in a blaze of fury, descending on Zabuza with his fire shaped like claws. As Kakashi kicked Haku's corpse off his arm, Zabuza was intercepting Naruto in mid air with his cleaver, hurling the blond towards the water.
"Tch...careless..." Kakashi muttered to himself, kneeling on the bridge and staring down at his arm through the pain. He couldn't move it. He wasn't even sure if it could be saved. He glance up to see Zabuza with his cleaver in hand, a victorious grin on his face.
"Kakashi-sensei!" Kiba shouted, Akamaru right beside him as the two ran at Zabuza so fast their vision was tunneling. Zabuza turned to look at them, grunting as he moved. With one crippled arm, the damage he had previously taken from Kakashi and numerous large wounds from the dogs that had just attacked him, he wasn't exactly in tiptop shape. However, he wasn't about to let some punk genin get the drop on him, preparing himself for when Kiba got into range.
"Kiba, don't!" Kakashi tried to warn, but he didn't listen. In an instant, they were in range, and Zabuza swung his sword with all the strength his one good arm allowed, intent on bisecting both Inuzuka approaching him. Were it not for the Sharingan, Kakashi never would have seen the determined look that crossed Kiba's face at that moment.
'Now, Akamaru!' Kiba thought, sensing the counter as he and Akamaru rose their arms and pushed off from one another. At the last possible instant, they broke off to either side and Zabuza's strike hit nothing but air, much to his surprise. Kiba and Akamaru both landed and sprung back in the direction they came, coming in towards Zabuza with a pincer attack from either side.
"GATSUUGA!" Kiba yelled as he attacked. Zabuza moved to dodge, only to find that Kakashi had grabbed hold of his ankle with his good arm much too late to do a thing about it. The twisting vortexes of fangs, claws and chakra smashed into his body on either side, tearing through flesh and bone with equal ease as he cried out in pain, blood and bits of torn flesh being spread across the area in a fine mist as Akamaru and Kiba touched down after their attack. Kiba looked down at himself, breathing heavily and staring at the blood now staining his hands and arms. His life had flashed before his eyes in the middle of that. He had reacted more on instinct than anything, and he just...he just tore a man apart. He'd never used that technique on a person before...
"You've done well, Kiba. Be proud." Kakashi reassured him, standing and looking down at the fallen body of Zabuza. The Inuzuka clan jutsu were vicious, but effective, he had to admit.
Kurenai all but collapsed with a gasp of breath, clutching her side painfully as she looked down at the dead body of the Jounin. She had been lucky to get him with that last genjutsu. She was pretty sure that her ribs had broken even further, and now she doubted she could move much at all without risking puncturing a lung or something.
Kurenai looked up towards her students to see that both of their opponents were also down. It looked like Shino's insects had gotten on both of them, which could only mean the two had decided to work together. Kurenai couldn't help but smile a bit as her students stood over their fallen enemies. She had been worried about those two, since both were so quiet, but it seemed like they were bonding after all.
"Are you alright, Kurenai-sensei?" Sasuke asked as he and Shino approached their downed teacher. He had to marvel a bit at her ability when he saw the dead Jounin. He had experienced that man's strength first hand, and to take him out while injured? His teacher was apparently a force to be reckoned with.
"Yes, I'm fine." Kurenai replied, though she struggled to get on her feet, wincing in pain as she did so. It looked like the mercenaries and bandits were wisely making a run for it, most of them not even bothering to bring their weapons with them. The village was in shambles, though. The homes had been ransacked, and many of the villagers were now dead or dying in the streets. With the attackers fleeing, the able bodied were now doing their best to save the wounded, but things weren't looking good.
"Come on, we should help tend to the wounded." Sasuke said as he turned to Shino, who nodded in response. Kurenai started to move as well, however Sasuke quickly put his hand on her shoulder, forcing her to stop. "That means you, too, sensei. Try not to move too much."
Akamaru had returned to normal and was now nuzzling Kiba's hands, trying to get a reaction from the boy. He looked down at Akamaru, seeing the look in his eyes and hearing the whimper in his voice, nodding in response. He looked up again, seeing that Sakura was now sitting up, letting Hinata wrap her torso in a bandage, which was a good sign that she'd recover from whatever had happened to her. Kiba hadn't seen how she got hurt, but he was glad his teammate would be okay.
"The first one is never easy, Kiba, but you did what was necessary. You shouldn't dwell on it." Kiba looked up to see Kakashi sitting beside him and nodding slowly. His eyes drifted to his teacher's arm, seeing the ice that Kakashi was even now trying to break away. It...didn't look good.
"Yeah...I just...I wasn't expecting the blood, I guess." Kiba replied, looking down at the blood that still stained his hands. He desperately wanted to wash it away, but now wasn't really the time for that. "It never really dawned on me how...messy...my jutsu is."
"Yeah, I can understand how you feel." Kakashi replied, doing his best to talk his student through what had happened. Kiba had killed a man, and despite being a ninja, that wasn't something a 12 year old boy could easily cope with. It would need some time to come to terms with what he'd done. Thinking this, Kakashi's thoughts turned back to what had happened, at the way Kiba had avoided Zabuza's counter at the last possible moment. He was honestly impressed that Kiba could react so quickly.
While all this was happening, Naruto emerged from the water, staring forward through unfocused eyes as he made his way back onto the bridge. None of his teammates seemed to notice him as he climbed back up, standing on the end of the bridge before the dead body of the boy who had beaten him, proven himself stronger. The boy had stopped him. Despite everything, he had been stopped, trapped in that ice, unable to do anything as the boy proved his strength and gave his life to protect another. He died strong. But why?
"Why?" Naruto muttered, falling to his knees in front of Haku's body. Why had this boy sacrificed his life? What was the point of that strength if it meant he would die? He couldn't understand it. Was this boy really so strong, or was Naruto simply weak? No! He shook his head. That couldn't be right. He was strong! He just never had the chance to prove it. The boy didn't let him prove it. He went off and died like a coward before Naruto could show him he was stronger, before he could kill the boy's strength. It wasn't fair, he decided. He was supposed to prove his strength, and that had been taken from him. Naruto's fire began to slowly burn as he clenched his fists, glaring down at the corpse in front of him. His chance to prove himself was stolen from him. This boy had been strong, and now he was dead, and Naruto would never know who was stronger. It infuriated him.
"Grandpa!" Tazuna stood up and looked over the village at the sound of the boy's voice, seeing his grandson approaching him with tears in his eyes.
"Inari?" Tazuna muttered, kneeling down to catch the boy in his arms as he ran at him. "Why are you crying? What's wrong?"
"It's mom! Gato took mom!" Inari cried into his grandfather's shoulder, "He's gonna kill her, just like dad!"
"Heh, that's right, brat." Gato replied, his cane clicking against the ground as he approached. His two samurai bodyguards were on either side of him, one of them holding a woman hostage, his blade pressed against her throat. She was bound and gagged, and was struggling to no avail against her captor. "Give yourself up, Tazuna. I've got your daughter, and if any of your ninja friends come near me, she dies, understand?"
"Tsunami! Let her go, you bastard!" Tazuna shouted. Kakashi tensed, glaring at Gato and his two bodyguards. Were it not for his arm, he had no doubt he could drop all three of them and save the woman, but injured as he was, it'd be a gamble to see if he could move fast enough to prevent her death. And with Kurenai down as well, that only left the genin, and none of them were fast enough to guarantee her survival. Could he risk it?
"It's obvious that Mist ninja are worthless. You were smart to go to Konoha, Tazuna. I'll give you credit for that." Gato began, bowing slightly as he leaned on his cane, "But the game is over. I'm going to put an end to your life and the bridge in the same move. I'm giving you two choices, Tazuna! Kill yourself, or watch your daughter die!"
"Damn you, Gato!" Tazuna growled, trembling slightly as he considered his options. Naruto glanced over his shoulder at the commotion, hearing the pig faced man mentioning the bridge. Yes, that was it. The bridge. Strong ninja don't fail missions. If he finished the mission, he would prove he was strong. What had they called that pig faced man? Gato? He had heard that somewhere before. Gato was the one who hired the ninja they had fought, wasn't he? Yes, that was it. Gato was the opponent to the bridge. If he killed Gato, nothing would stop the bridge from being built.
Gato blinked as he saw the blond boy coming his way, not expecting such bold action. What was that boy thinking? Couldn't he see he was holding all the cards, here? He couldn't just waltz up to him and take the woman!
"Hey, what do you think you're doing, brat? Back off! I'll kill the woman if you get any closer!" Gato shouted, but it seemed the blond completely ignored him, still walking towards him with a purpose. The two bodyguards glanced at one another before the one not holding Tsunami walked forward, standing in Naruto's path and drawing his sword.
"End of the line, kid." The samurai said, slashing towards Naruto at high speed. His sword sank into Naruto's collarbone and didn't stop until it was halfway through his torso, blood spraying out of the wound. The blond didn't even look to be in any discomfort from the attack. Before the samurai could comprehend this factor, however, he could feel Naruto's hand touching his chest, and in the next instant, he was simply gone. Naruto and the samurai burst into flames in unison, the only difference being that the Samurai was screaming. He released his sword and stumbled away before collapsing to the ground, his body rapidly becoming nothing more than a piece of human shaped charcoal as Naruto simply pulled the now molten sword out of his chest and let the wound close, discarding the weapon without a second thought.
Needless to say, Gato was now looking at the boy in genuine fear, having taken several steps back. His second bodyguard was also on edge now, watching the blond bonfire continue to come towards them.
"D...Don't come any closer! I'll kill her, damn it!" The bodyguard shouted, tensing his arm as he held his blade at Tsunami's throat. She screamed into her gag and struggled desperately, but he didn't let up his grip. Despite his threat, however, the blond was still coming at them. Gato took several more steps back.
"No, stop! They'll kill her!" Tazuna shouted, but Naruto wasn't listening to him. He just kept moving forward. The bodyguard drew his sword across Tsunami's throat in one quick motion, blood pouring from the wound as the fear and pain in the woman's eyes grew. As she collapsed to the ground, the bodyguard finally realized his error. The boy never cared about the woman, and now there was nothing between him and the blond.
Sasuke and Shino moved towards Tsunami as quickly as they could, though both knew it was a lost cause. Neither were medics, and the best they could do would be to slow the woman's inevitable death. Sasuke pressed a dressing against the wound in the woman's throat, tearing off the gag as Shino held her upright to keep her from drowning on her own blood. Sasuke could barely stand to meet her eyes, seeing the desperation there as she choked and gagged on her own blood, trying to breathe. There was another burst of fire and Sasuke looked up, seeing the bodyguard's flaming body hit the ground as Naruto chased down Gato, who at this point was running in the opposite direction at a full clip. He stood no chance against Naruto's speed, however, and it wasn't long before another column of fire rose into the sky, accompanied by the screams of a dying man.
"Tsunami!" Tazuna cried out, sliding to a stop as he kneeled next to the two ninja trying to save his daughter's life. The bridge builder looked into the strange red eyes of the boy with the mask, looking for hope, reassurance, anything that was a sign that she'd pull through, but all he saw was grim pity. Tsunami's hand suddenly grasped his firmly and he turned towards his daughter. The pain and fear in her eyes were like daggers in his heart. He could barely stand it.
"You're going to be fine, honey, just fine..." Tazuna choked on his tears as he tried to reassure his daughter. The blood had soaked straight through the dressing in Sasuke's hand and was now pouring out between his fingers and down the woman's chest, and he knew even more of it was flowing down her throat. She coughed and hacked to clear her lungs of blood, but it didn't matter. She'd lost too much, and the grip she had on her father's hand began to loosen as the life faded from her eyes.
"Tsunami...Tsunami! No, wake up!" Tazuna insisted as his daughter slumped, trying to resist the urge to shake her. Sasuke let out a breath he didn't realize he had been holding as he let go of the dressing. Tazuna had taken his daughter out of Shino's arms and was now cradling her to his chest, tears pouring down his face. Sasuke and Shino both stood up, sharing a look before they both turned towards Naruto with no small amount of disdain as he approached Tazuna from behind. The blond may as well have not known they were there, for all he noticed.
"Finish the bridge." Naruto insisted. Tazuna either didn't hear him or didn't care what he said, continuing to hold his daughter's body and cry. "Did you hear me, old man? Finish the bridge."
Kakashi approached them now, a harsh look in his eyes as he regarded Naruto. The boy had just gotten Tazuna's daughter killed, and was now harassing the man when he needed to mourn. He had to put a stop to this.
"Naruto, you-" Kakashi never had the chance to voice his disapproval, however, as Naruto fixed his gaze on Kakashi and glared with absolute rage and hatred. His killing intent was palpable, coming off his body in focused, roaring blasts that made Kakashi feel like his chakra was being crushed and his blood was boiling. The pain was most evident in his sharingan eye, which he quickly realized was bleeding. He wasn't the only one, however. He was vaguely aware that Sasuke had collapsed, blood pouring from his eyes, and he could distinctly hear Hinata screaming behind him.
'His killing intent...it's like it attacks doujutsu...' Kakashi realized, suddenly understanding what had happened to Hinata all those years ago. He quickly redirected the chakra flow in his eye, lessening the pain substantially.
"You don't get to talk, cat!" Naruto growled, his killing intent focusing like a blade. Kakashi's eye widened as he saw it coming, charging his good arm with chakra to reinforce it and taking the blow head on. It tossed him clean off his feet to land about a meter from where he started, and judging from the pain in his arm and the wetness he felt, it had cut pretty deep.
'Is this the kyuubi's power?' Kakashi wondered. If he hadn't braced himself, that surely would have taken his arm clean off. The ability to kill with intent alone...it was horrifying to even think of it.
Naruto turned away from the one-eyed cat who had stolen his prey, instead turning back to look at the bridge builder. His killing intent faded away as he did so, much to the relief of everyone who had felt it. Tazuna was now giving Naruto his undivided attention, trembling like a leaf from having been so close to such a frightening presence.
"Finish the bridge." Naruto commanded. With the killer intent gone, a bit of defiance returned to Tazuna as he looked back down at the dead body of his daughter, the anguish and regret starting to overpower his fear.
"My daughter is dead because of you, and my village has been torn apart. What's the point of finishing the bridge now?" Tazuna asked, not looking at Naruto at all.
"Strong ninja do not fail missions. The bridge is my mission. If the bridge is finished, I will prove I am strong." Naruto replied, never taking his eyes off of the bridge builder, who still refused to look at him. Tazuna scoffed, looking over his shoulder at the boy.
"My life is over. I don't care about your mission or your strength." Tazuna remarked. He turned back to his daughter only to be pulled off his knees and spun around. The blond was now holding the bridge builder up, staring into Tazuna with those unnaturally red and slitted eyes.
"Finish the bridge." Naruto ordered in a tone that would not take no as an answer, glaring at Tazuna as his killer intent began to rise again.
"Go ahead and kill me, boy. It won't solve anything." Tazuna said evenly, staring back at Naruto. The blond let go of his shirt, dropping the bridge builder with a growl.
"No, I won't kill you now. I'd save you for last. If you won't finish the bridge, then I will, and I'll add the ashes of everyone you have ever known to my mortar." Naruto replied, his gaze crossing over all of the villagers still in the street as his killer intent multiplied. "I'll kill them all, and I'll make you watch them die. I'll take your arms so you can't struggle, your legs so you can't run, your eyelids so you can't look away. You will sit, and you will watch, and you will listen as they burn to death. They will die screaming, and you will see it. You'll see them all."
Tazuna stared at the boy with his jaw hanging open, his eyes wide. How could a child conceive of such torture? How could he say it with such conviction? Tazuna stared at Naruto's face, looking for any sign of a bluff or hesitation. He found none.
"Finish the bridge." Naruto insisted one last time. Tazuna just nodded in response.
Weeks had passed, and the bridge was slowly but surely reaching completion. Kiba barely noticed, however, having spent all his time in training. He was breathing heavily now, sweat pouring down his face as he quickly pulled off his jacket and discarded it. His eyes were locked on the large rock face in front of him, currently covered in large craters and holes. Damn, this jutsu was hard. It just took so much chakra, it was hard to hold onto it all. Akamaru was sitting on a nearby rock, barking the occasional encouragement, though it sounded similar to taunts to Kiba.
"I'd like to see you do better!" Kiba shouted to his puppy, only to get a few barks like laughter in reply. He frowned and turned back towards the rock, forming the seals and holding out his palm under him, firmly grasping his wrist with his other hand as he concentrated his chakra.
"Raiton...no, it's just pure chakra! So much it's visible?" Kiba muttered, looking at the crackling ball of chakra in his teacher's hand in amazement. Kakashi held the jutsu up in his good hand, his other arm in a sling and tightly bandaged.
"Ah, that's right. The chakra in your body naturally leans towards an elemental affinity, and the lightning you see is mine. This jutsu requires you to concentrate so much chakra into your hand, that it becomes visible. Even your affinity becomes apparent." Kakashi explained, letting the jutsu fizzle out as he locked his eyes on Kiba.
"This is an A rank Assassination Jutsu, designed to kill an enemy in one strike. The intense concentration of chakra causes heightened flesh and bone in your hand and arm, effectively turning your hand into a spear. With enough speed behind it, you can pierce anything. Going that fast can cause your vision to tunnel, however, making it difficult to avoid an enemy counter attack. I thought this technique required the sharingan to be viable, but you've shown me that you can respond fast enough in that situation." Kakashi finished. Kiba glanced at his teacher for a moment, a look of confusion briefly crossing his face.
"Why are you showing me this? Is it because I...killed that ninja?" Kiba asked, hesitating a bit as he recalled his first kill. Kakashi just shook his head.
"No, I'm showing you this because its the only technique I know that can pierce Naruto's fire." Kakashi replied, seeing the grim expression that crossed Kiba's face, "I realize now that Naruto is far from stable. He lashed out at me with intent to kill, and I cannot guarantee he won't try the same against you or Sakura. I need to prepare you in case you ever have the need to put him down, and this is the only Jutsu I know that could actually kill him."
"I...understand, Kakashi-sensei. I'll master this jutsu as quickly as I can!" Kiba tried to muster up some confidence in his voice, but it came out sounding hollow. The grim atmosphere was hard to overcome.
"Kiba, if you ever do find the need to use this technique on Naruto, aim for his heart. I cannot stress that enough. Aim for the heart and make sure you don't miss." Kakashi said with absolute authority, looking firmly at Kiba to stress his point, "Naruto will not give you a second shot."
"...Right. I'll be careful." Kiba replied, exhaling loudly as he began to form the needed handseals, "Wait, what is this technique called?"
"Chidori!" Kiba cried out as the chakra crackled to life in his open hand, a solid blue glow forming in his palm as wisps like smoke rose off the flawless center, as hard as stone. He was an earth type, and the perfect sphere in his palm showed it as the air was filled with the sound of a thousand birds. He grit his teeth as sweat rolled down the side of his face as he focused all his concentration on keeping the chakra in his hand, feeling it trying to escape and dissipate. With a yell, he was off like a shot, running towards the rock in front of him and thrusting his palm towards it. He hit with a crash, driving his arm into the large rock up to his shoulder as massive spiderweb cracks spread out from the point of impact. As he pulled his arm back out, large chunks of the rock face fell away, leaving behind a new crater.
"D...Damn...used too much Chakra...I'm still wasting so much of it..." Kiba muttered as he tried to catch his breath. He could only use it twice a day so far before he completely exhausted himself. It just took so much energy, he was having trouble keeping hold of it all. He had to get control of the bleed off...
"Again! I have to try for a third!" Kiba shouted, going through the handseals and praying he didn't collapse from exhaustion after this.
Sasuke glanced over his shoulder at the figure perched on his back, fear in his eyes and pain on his face as his red hot feet seemed to burn holes into his back. The flaming child grinned at him with a mouth filled with fangs, his wild, red slitted eyes standing out against the flames. He leaned in then, forcing Sasuke to turn away as he felt the fire on his face, felt his skin starting to crack and burn from the heat so close to him. His lips were practically touching sasuke's ear, and it was burning.
"Don't Scream, little cat. Your eyes aren't red. I'm not coming for you yet." The voice said, so quiet it must have been a whisper, and yet it sounded like the hounds of hell to him, breath like brimstone and a tone that vibrated into the depths of his soul a kind of fear unlike any he had felt before. It was only then that he looked up and saw another figure standing a distance away in the rain, body thrown into silhouette by the light of the flames all around them. The only thing he could see was the lines under his bright red eyes, and the shuriken shape of his pupils.
Sasuke gasped loudly as he sat up in bed, his clothes sticking to him in a cold sweat as he got his breathing under control. He remembered. He remembered. Oh god, he could remember it all. Ever since he had felt Naruto's killing intent that day, felt his sharingan practically boiling in his eye sockets, he had remembered. Naruto had been there that night, 4 years ago. Naruto and his fire had come to his home, and it had burned to the ground.
Naruto had killed his clan.
Sasuke glanced into the darkness of the room he shared with his team as the sound of slow sobs reached his ears. Hinata was crying again, like she had every night for weeks. She didn't even sleep the first night after the attack, so lost in her terror that she just sat there and shook like a tree in an earthquake. Now, she would wake up in the middle of the night, sometimes in hysterics, but always crying. It was getting better, though. She was recovering. He could just see the outline of her back shaking as she sat up in her futon, trying to control her tears.
"It's okay, Hinata." Sasuke said as he moved across the room, kneeling down behind the girl and putting his arms around her shoulders for support. "He's not here. He's not coming for you. He can't hurt you. I wouldn't let him."
Hinata turned and pressed her face against Sasuke's shoulder, not holding back anymore as she cried and cried. He just held her tighter, giving her whatever support she needed while she cried her terror away. Sasuke didn't know what Naruto had done to her, but the trauma she had suffered was obvious. She could barely stand the sight of the blond, and suffered a complete mental breakdown when he had let his killing intent lose.
"It's okay, Hinata." Sasuke repeated, not even noticing as he started to slowly rock the girl, "He can't hurt you anymore. I won't let him."
Yes, Naruto would never hurt Hinata again, or anyone else for that matter. Sasuke would see to that.
Naruto would die, and when that day came, it would be Sasuke looking down at his corpse.
Shino rose with the sun, letting his scouts and drones return to their burrows before closing his jacket and lifting his blanket off his body. He slowly stood and surveyed the room, noticing quickly that Sasuke was, once again, asleep next to Hinata's futon, still holding the girl in his arms. Shino watched the two for a moment, noticing their peaceful looking sleep, before turning and regarding Sasuke's empty bedding. It was a curious mystery. They began the night in separate beds, but by morning, they were together. Shino had yet to discover the reason, being far too heavy a sleeper to notice the way Hinata would wake up in the night. He turned away from them and moved towards the door, stopping momentarily as he finally realized it was brighter than usual. He pulled his sunglasses out of his pocket and put them in place before slipping out of the room. That had been close.
He could hear the distinct sound of sniffling as he stepped out into the hall, turning towards the room of Tazuna's grandson briefly. The boy had lost his mother, and apparently lost his father long ago, so the tears were understandable. Shino was hardly the type to console others, however, and after only a moment of hesitation, descended the stairs into the rest of the house.
It didn't appear as if anyone else was awake, the house feeling empty in the early morning. Sakura, Kakashi and Kurenai were all asleep in the main room, recovering from their injuries, but the rest of the bottom floor was empty. Shino glanced at the three for a moment before walking into the kitchen, seeing the stove that had not been used in weeks and imagining the lively woman of the house standing over it, cooking breakfast, as she had been the first several days Shino had stayed here.
"Good morning, Tsunami-san." Shino told the empty room, finding an empty chair he liked to sit in while he and Tsunami talked in the early morning, before everyone else had bothered to wake. She had been an interesting woman, one of the few in the village that still seemed to have any joy in her. Though he had only been there a short time, he had enjoyed his early morning talks with her. She had been one of the only people who seemed generally interested in the upkeep of the hive, a topic Shino would discuss at length. And when he spoke of it, she didn't look uncomfortable, like his teammates did whenever he brought it up. She would smile, and she would listen. It was a rare thing.
"I hope you slept well." And now she was dead. The colony bustled within him as he stared at the empty space in front of the stove, as if mourning the loss of such a hospitable woman. He had a feeling he was going to miss her.
Kakashi gazed out the window towards the bridge, knowing that today was supposed to be the day of completion. Soon, the mission would be over, and they could all go home. But could he really call it a success?
He looked down at his right arm, tightly bound in bandages and held to his chest in a sling. He had been constantly feeding chakra into it for the past several weeks in a desperate attempt to keep the tissue alive. It was the only thing he could do, try to sustain it until he returned to Konoha and got proper medical attention. As it stood, he could barely move it, and he wasn't sure if that would ever change. His career as a Ninja could very well be coming to an end, as far as he could tell.
At that thought, he turned to the other person in the room. Kurenai was once again lying in her futon, ribs tightly wrapped in bandages for support and breathing in fully despite the pain, on Kakashi's insistance. She, too, was in need of immediate medical attention. Unlike his wound, Kakashi doubted her injury could be a permanently debilitating one, but it was still severe enough that he was wondering how he would even get the woman home. She certainly wasn't going to walk. She shouldn't even be moved in her condition.
'Can I really call this a success?' Kakashi thought again, turning his eyes back towards the window. Sakura was making a full recovery, which was a bonus. Her wounds would still take some time to fully go away, but they had closed and were well on their way to healing, though he knew that they would leave behind obvious, nasty scars. For a young girl, especially one as vain as Sakura, it might as well have been a fatal wound. She had spent much of the past few weeks sulking, much to Kakashi's annoyance. It was worse that Kurenai sympathized with her, considering it meant he had to put up with the both of them. With all three injured, they hadn't moved much from the main room as they recovered, forcing Kakashi to listen to the girl talk as Kurenai tried to console Sakura over the loss of her perfect complexion.
'If only my problems were so simple,' Kakashi thought, looking out at the villagers passing by the window. How many of them had died in the attack? How many families had been destroyed, homes ruined? Tazuna was like a walking corpse, no life in him since Naruto's threat, almost mindlessly striving towards finishing the bridge. How many others had suffered? Could this really be called a victory?
'I had to teach one of my students how to kill his teammate. Can that really be called a success?' Kakashi wondered, knowing that Kiba was probably still practicing the Chidori even now. He didn't know how the boy managed to practice all day, considering how rapidly that technique drained his chakra, but Kiba would stay out all night and return in complete exhaustion. Kakashi was starting to worry that he might not come back, instead dying in the forest of chakra exhaustion.
"The bridge is finished!" Naruto shouted happily as he entered the house, quickly finding Kakashi and flashing the injured jounin a grin, "The bridge is finished! Mission completed! Strong ninja do not fail missions, and I didn't fail. I am strong!"
Kakashi looked at the boy through his one open eye, watching the childlike joy on his face with a mixed expression. How could Naruto be so innocent, and yet so deadly? It was almost hard to imagine that this laughing boy was a cold blooded murderer, a callous monster.
"Yeah, Naruto, you are strong." Kakashi muttered without much conviction. So much had gone wrong, so much had been lost, but they were alive. Team 7 and Team 8 had suffered no casualties, and the bridge had been completed. That would have to suffice, Kakashi decided.
The mission was a success.
To be Continued
Author's notes: The last installment of the Wave arc. Yes! Finally! I'm fucking done! And I'm never coming back to it again! I get to move on again.
Next Time: Gaara and her siblings return to Suna with the mission completed, but the Kazekage is unhappy with his living weapon. What will happen to Gaara as she faces her father's wrath? And what will come of his meeting with Orochimaru? Find out in the next installment of But for the Grace of God: Of Fallen Innocence.