(AN: For disclaimer, see my profile.)


Soul of the Seal - Story 1 - Arc 2 - Chapter 4

Chapter 4 - "The Evil Eyes Of Experience"

Sakura and Sasuke, kneeling over Naruto's unconscious body, were both thinking the same thing as they saw the injured Zabuza emerge from the underbrush.

'Oh no! What happened!? How did he find us so fast!? I thought Naruto and Kakashi-sensei had beat him up enough to keep him away! Sensei just left! Maybe he's still close enough to signal him somehow!? He caught Naruto off guard! We need to wake him up! He should heal in a minute or so!' Sakura's thought's rushed a mile a second as she was trying to inspect Naruto's wounds at the same time as keeping an eye on the enemy.

'He's here... This is bad. Kakashi-sensei obviously didn't think that he would be able to be active again so soon. Or maybe he had faked his injuries in the previous fight. But those bloodied bandages obviously imply some injuries, and he doesn't seem to be entirely sure of his footing. Since Kakashi-sensei isn't around, he could be underestimating us, especially after knocking out Naruto so easily, thinking that I'm as weak as him. With his guard down so much... It will be easy for me to finish him off. A nice bonus to add to my mission record.' Sasuke smirked as he stood to face the mist-jounin.

Ok, so maybe they weren't thinking the exact same thing...

Zabuza slowly stalked towards the genin, glaring down with barely restrained KI, as he didn't want to risk Kakashi sensing him if the copy-nin was anywhere nearby.

'Which means no jutsu... Which is just fine with me.' Zabuza grinned to himself. 'Beating them into submission will be more effective anyway.' He raised a kunai in his left hand, that still dripped with wet blood. Naruto's blood. "Alright you pathetic excuses for ninja," Zabuza growled, "First, you're going to tell me where the old man is, and then, you're going to tell me every single detail, no matter how slight, that you know about your sensei's abilities." He pointed the kunai at them.

"Well, I'm afraid that isn't possible, since our so-called sensei doesn't talk about himself all that much." Sasuke stated, pulling a pair of kunai. He turned back to look at Sakura. "Stay down, and keep him down too." He gestured to Naruto, then turned back to the enemy, but paused when Zabuza chuckled.

"Well, well, well... It seems you can tell me more about your sensei than you think... or claim." Zabuza twisted his head to crack his neck as he put his kunai away... somewhere.

"And what makes you think that?" Sasuke sneered as he took his taijutsu stance, his own kunai at the ready.

"That fan on the back of your shirt." Zabuza shook his head in pity. "I don't know if I should consider it bad luck to run into Kakashi Hatake on this job, but the unbelievable luck of him having the famed 'Last Uchiha' as one of his genin... That just is a bit much to swallow. However... It does mean that you can tell me all about Kakashi's sharingan eye, what it can do... and how to counter it!" Even though the bottom of his face was as bandaged as the rest of him, his maniacal grin could practically be felt in the air as his semi-blood-shot eyes bore down on them.

"You're crazy if you think we're going to tell you anything!" Sakura screamed out, trying to sound more vicious than scared. And she was VERY scared. She looked at Naruto again, gaining hope when she saw his bruise and cut lip had already vanished, and the gash across his shoulder would be totally healed in just another few seconds. Her eyes then darted to Naruto's backpack, sitting some ways away. 'Flares... And maybe smelling salts... If Sasuke-kun can keep Zabuza busy even for a few moments...' She thought as she looked back at her dark teammate.

"Somehow I doubt you'll be of any use, little girl." Zabuza snarled, then paused to cough uncomfortably before re-focusing. "So you can die quick, like the old man. But I owe the blonde something... slow, for destroying my sword! And after that, I can take my time interrogating the little heiress-boy here..." Zabuza grinned when Sasuke shot forward.

'Now!' Sakura dashed a fraction of a second after Sasuke, trying to keep away from the mist-nin even as she tried to go straight for Naruto's backpack by the shortest route possible.

The black-haired genin of an Uchiha slashed at the tall man's chest, but Zabuza barely had to lean back to avoid the attack as his foot kicked up to slam Sasuke in the stomach. As Sasuke tumbled to the ground and rolled, Zabuza noticed a streak of pink in the corner of his eye. He lunged out and grabbed a handful of Sakura's long trailing hair, yanking her around as she yelped in pain.

"Whoa there! Now what do you think you're doing!?" Zabuza growled as his fist hammered into the girl's back between her shoulder blades. Then she too received a kick to the stomach that nearly folded her in half, allowing Zabuza to rip her shuriken holster and ninkit off her and toss them aside. He shoved the girl over, and she hit the ground, curling up and groaning over her injury. "Now... What were you going for I wonder?" He looked around to spot the hefty backpack on the ground. "Something in that? Some kind of weapon, or-"

Zabuza ducked and rolled forward to dodge several shuriken. He jumped to his feet with an annoyed grunt, momentarily gripping his left side as he turned to see Sasuke pulling two more shuriken from his holster. Sasuke threw them, but this time Zabuza simply caught them between the fingers of one hand. Sasuke's eye twitched as he glanced at Sakura, who was slowly trying to crawl back over to Naruto. Taking a quick estimate of distance between himself, his teammates, and Zabuza, Sasuke quickly focused a spike of chakra as he performed his long-familiar handsigns.

"Fire Art-" Sasuke didn't even get to finish as Zabuza was instantly in front of him, the man's larger hand clamping over Sasuke's intertwined fingers at the same time as delivering an elbow to the temple, sweeping out his feet, and slamming the Uchiha face-down into the ground with a foot on his back.

"I may need you alive for information you little snot, but I ONLY need you alive. You can easily do without your arms or legs, so think twice before doing anything stupid." Zabuza growled down at the boy, ripping off Sasuke's ninkit and tossing it over with Sakura's.

With panicked glances at the assaulting ninja, Sakura had managed to get to Naruto's side, trying to shake him awake.

"Naruto! Naruto, please wake up! We're in trouble! Please wake up!" Sakura hissed urgently as she shook his shoulder. She screamed when Zabuza grabbed her ankle and dragged her backwards several feet.

"This is the reason I never took a genin team while I was in Kiri! You loud-mouthed brats are always causing trouble!" Zabuza snapped as he took out some wire and began binding Sakura's hands and feet. But he paused when Naruto groaned, and started to stir. "Oh-no-you-DON'T!" Zabuza walked up and viciously kicked Naruto across the head, knocking him against the broken tree and slumping back down... silent.

"NARUTO!" Sakura screamed out, struggling against her bonds as she looked back at her other teammate. "Sasuke-kun! Get to Naruto's backpack! Use a flare to signal Kakashi-sensMMPH!" The girl's exclamations were cut off when the increasingly angry mist-nin stuffed one of his sleeves into her mouth.

"If you don't shut up, I'll rip out your tongue and let you drown in your own blood!" Zabuza snarled as he tightened the wires on her. Then he looked over to Sasuke, who had managed to stagger to his feet again. Zabuza's scowl crinkled the bandages on his face. "Stay down for a moment, I need to make sure our 'talk' won't be interrupted!"

Zabuza threw a shuriken at Sasuke's feet, and the boy jerked to dodge it, only to stumble and collapse to the ground, still dizzy from the elbow to the head. Actually, his head was throbbing quite badly, but not in a way that he had ever felt before...

Zabuza pulled out some more wire as he hunched over Naruto's body, tying his hands and feet as well.

"You... You're not going... to get away with this..." Sasuke growled out, lurching to his feet again.

Zabuza, finished with Naruto, looked up with a false look of astonishment.

"Oh! Oh no! Whatever shall I do!? How shall I escape now that the little heiress-boy is assaulting me with bad clich├ęs!?" Zabuza gasped sarcastically, then growled as he stood and started towards the remaining genin. "Time to squawk you little prick. Tell me what you know about Hatake's sharingan eye."

"You really expect me to give up my clan's secrets!? You're even dumber than Naruto looks!" Sasuke pulled out a kunai and rushed at the enemy.

Zabuza merely gave a small grunt of annoyance as he fended off the assault, simply swatting away Sasuke's hands and feet as the shorter male tried desperately to slash, punch and kick at the tall mummy-man. Sasuke twirled, jumped, tumbled and somersaulted left and right and all around Zabuza, attempting to land a hit, any hit. And never once did he try to get to the flares in Naruto's backpack, mainly due to the short fuse problem...

"You should be careful!" Zabuza chuckled as he deflected another swipe, "We wouldn't want the little heiress-boy over exerting himself!"

"STOP CALLING ME THAT!" Sasuke raged, slashing wide.

Zabuza just caught the boy's arms at the wrists and yanked them up, then promptly stomped on the boys toes. Zabuza grinned at the cries of pain. He grabbed the front of Sasuke's shirt and lifted him off the ground, marching over and slamming him up against the very tree he had been trying to climb sometime earlier.

"Alright already, I've had my fun, and my patience is done. I've already won and you have nowhere to run. Now-you-will-talk! Tell me what I need to know!" Zabuza snarled into the fear stricken face of the Uchiha.

Sasuke looked past the bandaged face of his attacker over to the bound and gagged and crying Sakura on the ground, who was looking on, shaking her head franticly. Sasuke's gaze drifted slightly to the prone, unconscious Naruto just a few feet from Sakura at the base of the half-smashed tree. Almost instantly, Sasuke's eyes snapped back to Zabuza's.

"I can not, and WILL NOT tell you anything!" Sasuke snapped in defiance. Zabuza regarded him for a moment.

"About the sharingan? Perhaps not." Zabuza conceded gruffly, then his hand holding the shirt lashed up around Sasuke's neck. "But you will lead me to the bridge builder, Tazuna." He certainly made it sound like an order, but immediately discovered the error in the chain of command.

"Go to hell!" Sasuke spat on the bandages encompassing Zabuza's face.

With a growl, Zabuza slugged Sasuke in the stomach, then another strike to his head made the lights go out.

Quite some ways from Tazuna's house, on the neighboring island, several men were running in a panic through the woods. There had been five, but they had been reduced to three. They had a few cuts and burns on them, and they each had a single sword as a means of defense, yet they evidently did not consider them anywhere near adequate enough for their current situation.

The men were running in the direction that they hoped was where some of their buddies were hanging out. And speaking of hanging, the man in the rear of the running trio was abruptly tripped, then was yanked up into the treetops by a wire, screaming all the while.

Not a hundred yards later, the second man still running just dropped dead... from the half-dozen shuriken stuck in his back, having severed his spine in three places. His body disappeared into the ground without a trace.

The last of the somewhat roughed-up men stumbled franticly, his eyes darting everywhere as he slashed his basic-forged katana left and right to try to ward off his unseen attacker.

"S-stay away! You can't do this!" The man screamed into the darkening woods. "You w-won't get away with this! Gato will have your head! H-he'll ruin your village for d-daring to interfere with us!" He slashed wildly at nothing.

Up in the trees above the man, Kakashi was looking down at the last of his first interrogation targets. The man, seemingly the leader of the group he had selected, was most likely to know the most. True, he might have been able to get a few additional details out of the others, but between the fact that it's easier and more effective to interrogate one rather than five, the fact that he was pressed for time during this precariously dangerous mission, and the fact that he didn't want to leave his team on their own any longer than necessary, he was opting for the more expedient courses of action. But unfortunately, his mind was still quite distracted from recent events, especially concerning Naruto.

'Naruto, willing to kill, trying to kill...' Kakashi thought as he dropped down on the terrified thug. 'Against Zabuza... Then that fire jutsu that was so powerful, yet strange. I couldn't see it. It made my sharingan burn.' He continued to wonder as he disarmed the man and cornered him against some tree roots. 'His insubordination, his reasoning, his resistance, his attitude...' He idly began terrifying the man even more by sharpening a pair of kunai against each other. 'And what in the world was going through his head, thinking that he was expendable!?' Kakashi's scowl, even through his mask, only further scared his prisoner, who was now pissing his pants. 'He somehow knows something about Itachi, though thankfully I don't think that Sasuke is aware of that...' Kakashi suddenly was writing notes on a scroll as the thug rambled off anything and everything he knew. 'And their actions, both of them... Having Tazuna worry for his safety from the team on top of everything else will not help matters any, though Naruto hasn't directly threatened him, unlike Sasuke...' Kakashi paused in his writing as he realized the thug was blubbering about some bad childhood experiences, forcing him to scribble out a paragraph. 'And now Sasuke seems interested in Kyaena-chan due to her efforts in training Naruto... One more thing to worry about when we get back to the village, though unfortunately Sasuke had a point about her being a potential security risk... Even though I don't think she would do what he thinks... maybe...' Getting a bit too confused, Kakashi pocketed his scroll and dispatched the man, quickly using the same earth jutsu as before to seamlessly bury the body underground like the previous one, cloths and all.

After making sure that all traces of the thugs were gone, Kakashi rushed off to find the next information target, trying to have some faith in his team that he had only left earlier in the day. He decided he would gather as much information as he could for the time being, then check back with the team in two days.

He tried to ignore his bad feelings, and tried to focus on the task at hand.

Sasuke had a whopper of a headache as he started to blink awake. He managed to sit upright, despite his feet being tied together, as well as his hands behind his back. He finally managed to focus on the words being said around him.

"-just another foolish mistake that you-" Naruto was saying.

"Stop it Naruto!" Sakura hissed lightly. "I think we've been through enough for now!"

Sasuke looked and blinked to understand his situation.

Sakura was sitting directly to his left, tied as he was, and Naruto was to Sakura's left, tied as she was. Although they both looked frustrated, they didn't seem panicked as they should be against an enemy jounin...

Sasuke's eyes, aching as they were, snapped wide as he remembered the events leading up to his unconscious state. But when he turned his head to see who was in front of him, he had trouble understanding what he saw.

Kakashi stood in front of the three bound genin, arms crossed as his one eye glared down on them with great disappointment and anger.

"Hey! What-!? What the heck happened!?" Sasuke demanded, looking around for signs of Zabuza, but saw nothing that he didn't already remember happening before he blacked out.

"Oh, so the last member of the squad finally re-joins us!" Kakashi sighed, shaking his head.

"What's going on? What happened to Zabuza?" Sasuke repeated, looking back and forth between his sensei and his teammates.

"Nothing..." Naruto growled out, glaring at the infamous copy-ninja.

"What do you mean, 'nothing'?" Sasuke frowned, trying to pull his hands free of the wire around his wrists without any luck.

"Zabuza was never here, Sasuke-kun." Sakura clarified, also glaring at her sensei. "It was Kakashi-sensei the whole time. He was testing us." She growled a bit. "He released his Transformation Jutsu right after he had knocked you out."

"A TEST!?" Sasuke shouted in outrage, then gave a grunt of pain as his very sore body protested. "What the heck were you testing us for?" He shot at the silver-haired man.

"I think he would beat us up just for kicks..." Naruto mumbled.

"You'll get your chance to kick his ass too, eventually. We just have to watch for the opportunity." Kyaena growled lightly with a big toothy grin.

"If you would all be QUIET, I'll explain, now that Sasuke is awake. I didn't really feel like repeating myself." Kakashi interrupted in annoyance.

"Lazy stupid Cyclops." Naruto shot back.

"I did this," Kakashi paused to make sure Naruto wouldn't interrupt him again, "To impress on all of you, just how serious this mission really is. I did it to make sure that you are aware just how dangerous things could get. And also to see what you would likely do if the real Zabuza shows up when I'm away." His gaze swept over the three younglings. "And before you bother having to ask, Sakura," The man said, noticing the pinkette starting to object, "Yes, I really did have to be that rough with all of you. You wouldn't expect a real enemy to go easy on you, would you?" He asked sharply.

"And yet, once again, you were completely careless!" Naruto shouted out heatedly. When everyone looked at him, all he could do was tilt his head, indicating the still slightly bloodied rip in his jacket across his shoulder/collarbone. "If you had hit either of them like this, they would have bled to death in under a minute!"

"Yet another incident we could include in a report to the Old-Man." Kyaena clicked her tongue with a chuckle. "It's just a suggestion..."

"But I didn't, did I?" Kakashi glared hard at the glaring blonde. "I was-"

"Using another excuse to try to cripple us or-PUH!" Naruto gave a jerk when Sakura managed to elbow him in the side.

"I think that's enough, Naruto!" Sakura glared at him, then sighed, turning back to Kakashi. "Well then, go ahead and tell us how we rated in your test. And would you please untie us now?" She squirmed a bit, as the wire bindings were starting to pinch into her skin.

"Another mark for-" Kyaena started to say with a scraping sound.

'Muzzle it.' Naruto huffed.

"I'll untie you in a minute." Kakashi sniffed lightly, enjoying watching the three grumble. "As for the test, your results are half-and-half. Naruto was caught off guard when he was preoccupied with his argument with Sasuke, leaving him unconscious and vulnerable during the fight. However, he packs prepared." The man flicked a finger at Naruto's backpack. "Sakura had the right idea about trying to get to the flares to signal me, with Sasuke trying to delay me while she did so. But after Sakura was incapacitated, Sasuke didn't try to get to the flares while I was tying up Sakura and Naruto. Sasuke, you should not have kept attacking. You should have either gone for the flares, or if you couldn't get to them, used your Fireball Jutsu to shoot up into the air, or heck, even set the treetops on fire (in moderation) to smoke-signal me. You should not have tried to keep fighting on your own." Kakashi glared at the black-haired boy, then sighed and relaxed a bit. "But, despite the danger and threats, as minimal as they were, Sakura, Sasuke, you did alright in refusing to surrender information. But this was about as light a beating as you could ever expect from common thugs. If you were actually captured by ninja, you could expect severe torture, both physical and psychological, regardless of whether or not you actually know anything of use to your captors. And even after that, you would be lucky if they let you live to ransom or such back to Konoha. Well, except you, Sasuke. You'd more than likely be dissected for information about the sharingan." Kakashi shrugged at that last comment, seemingly unconcerned. "Alright, lets get you three untied and head back for the night." Kakashi gestured at the sun, already laying half on the horizon.

Kakashi moved to untie Sasuke, only to jump slightly when Naruto gave a grunt, yanking his hands free as the wire snapped loose.

"HEY! Watch it Naruto! You nearly zinged me with that!" Sakura yelled, barely dodging the wires from whipping her arms.

"Well I'm not the one sitting so close to me, alright?" Naruto grumbled, reaching down and ripping the wire from his ankles.

"I don't think that even made any sense." Kyaena blinked, tilting her head quizzically.

"Na-... Naruto?" Kakashi asked with a shocked expression, or at least as much of one as his covered face could convey. "How did you do that?" He was staring intently, momentarily ignoring Sasuke who was frowning at having his release delayed... as well as the 'dissection' comment a moment ago.

Naruto and Sakura both gave Kakashi confused looks.

"What are you talking about sensei? Naruto is able to enhance his strength, remember?" Sakura blinked in surprise, then turned to Naruto. "Oh, and I'd like to learn how to do that if you don't mind, Naruto." She said with a hopeful look on her face.

"Chakra control, Sakura-san. It's all about chakra control. But you'd better not use it to be hitting me, understand?" Naruto shot her a look as he reached to untie Sakura's hands.

"Oh, no, of course not. I wouldn't do that." Sakura cleared her throat nervously.

"Suuuuure she wouldn't." Kyaena rolled her eyes.

Oblivious to the two, Kakashi was glaring with a narrow eye at Naruto.

"The sword..." Kakashi muttered under his breath.

"Hey! Are you going to untie me or what!?" Sasuke snapped at the distracted jounin.

"Quiet. Or I'll drag you back upside-down." Kakashi growled suddenly at the startled Uchiha as he started untying the wire.

Once all three genin were freed, Sakura and Sasuke picked up their ninkits and holsters while Naruto stood picking unhappily at the tear in his jacket. Kakashi just watched them, with his hands in his pockets.

"Come on, Naruto. Grab your pack and let's go." Sakura waved him on while still nursing her sore stomach..

"Dang it. I don't know if I'm going to have time to sew this up." Naruto grumbled.

"Well, your shirt should only take a few minutes, but the jacket will need a bit more care to get it fixed right." Kyaena shrugged as Naruto was walking over to his pack, but Sasuke got there first.

"Jeeze, could you be any more of a wuss, you redic-OMPH!" Sasuke, who had tried to fling the backpack one-handed at Naruto, nearly dislocated his shoulder when the pack refused to budge from its spot on the ground.

"Man, you just keep embarrassing yourself left and right, regardless of what I do, don't you?" Naruto snickered nastily as he snatched the pack from Sasuke's grip and almost casually flipped the straps over his unmarred shoulder.

Sasuke glared in disbelief, and opened his mouth to retort, but Kakashi stopped him.

"Enough! Move your butts!" Kakashi snapped harshly, making Sakura flinch slightly, and Naruto and Sasuke just frowned at each-other.

The group started back to Tazuna's house, Sasuke out in front trying to ignore his intermittent dizziness, followed by Naruto and Sakura, the female of whom was carefully trying to pry a little more information out of the blonde about what kind of chakra control was needed to enhance one's strength. None of them took notice of Kakashi behind them, walking with his hands in his pockets, glaring at their backs, and occasionally shifting to favor his left side.

Sakura was grumbling about her aches and trying to ask Sasuke if he was ok from his injuries, but the Uchiha just kept repeating that he was fine in low and frustrated tones. Naruto and Kyaena kept snickering whenever Sasuke would wince in his walk due to his hurting feet, or rather, his toes.

They reached the village and walked towards Tazuna's house, with both Sakura and Sasuke putting a few feet between themselves and the dangerously squeaking boards under Naruto. Naruto just muttered something about at least wanting the height to go with it.

They walked in the door, setting aside their sandals, and in Naruto's case his backpack, only to find Tsunami scolding Tazuna who was just about to open a... bottle. Kakashi's gaze locked on the elder man.

"Ah! Wh-what are you guys doing back already!?" Tazuna yelped, trying to hide the bottle under his shirt.

"I tried to warn you!" Tsunami shook her head with NO pity involved. "You shouldn't be drinking during this time! You need to keep your head clear, and showing up at the construction site tomorrow with a hangover isn't going to help anybody!" She huffed with her hands on her amazing hips.

"You miserable old Troll!" Naruto snarled with a twitchy eye. "Do I have to go through every room in this house and get rid of every drop of booze to keep you in line!?" Naruto walked around the table to stand next to Tsunami, joining in on glaring at the aged architect who fumbled for some kind of defense for himself.

Despite her own annoyance at Tazuna's alcoholic tendencies, Sakura took the opportunity of the general distraction to slip close enough to Kakashi to whisper to him.

"Kakashi-sensei, I tried to do what you told me, but it hasn't worked very well so far." She said quietly. Slightly confused by his lack of response, she nudged him ever so slightly in the side with her elbow. "Hey, did you hear me? We got some training done, but-hey, where are you going?" She blinked when Kakashi just walked away from her.

Kakashi walked around the table opposite of Naruto and Tsunami, coming up to Tazuna who turned to the only other adult male in the room for a little support.

"Ah, Kakashi! A little help here? Surely you can explain to your students that old veterans like us are entitled to a little stress-relief now and again, right?" Tazuna, an old roughened man, made the 'puppy dog look' just seem WRONG in this situation, even though he tried to offer a glass to Kakashi to join him in drink.

The terms 'surprise' and 'shock' were the only coherent thoughts able to register in everyone's minds when Kakashi lashed out, wrapping one arm around Tazuna's neck and yanking him out of his chair while producing a kunai poised to stab through the man's heart.

"They say that death is the ultimate release of all mortal worries, so why don't we try that instead!" Kakashi snarled with an off-tone voice.

"AHH! Kakashi-sensei, what the heck are you doing!?" Sakura screamed out in confusion as Tsunami went deathly white and Sasuke snapped ridged.

"H-hey, take it easy! If this weak stuff isn't to your liking, I still have some sake in the-URK!" Tazuna gagged when Kakashi tightened his grip on his neck.

"Wh-why are you doing this?" Tsunami barely managed to whisper in terror.

"I'm just doing exactly what I was hired and paid to do!" Kakashi laughed before a burst of smoke surrounded him and Tazuna, to reveal...

"ZABUZA!" Sasuke snarled as he pulled out his kunai.

"Well now, little heiress-boy... It seems your team has lead me to the bridge builder, exactly like I told you to!" Zabuza sneered smugly... behind his bandages, of course.

"What!? You lead him here!?" Tsunami gasped in despair.

"No! We didn't- I mean we did- but we didn't... He tricked us!" Sakura shouted, pulling a kunai, but honestly didn't know what to do in the situation. Zabuza had Tazuna between himself and the group, and there wasn't any room in the room to maneuver around.

"Please! Don't kill my father!" Tsunami begged. "Why are you doing this!? Why does Gato want to ruin our lives for nothing! Just so he can make more money!?" She cried.

"Sorry lady, it's just business. That's the way the world runs. I don't really care what Gato's plans are, so long as they don't conflict with my own." Zabuza shrugged.

"Even if you kill him, you'll never get out of here alive." Sasuke declared, edging forward slightly.

"DON'T SAY SUCH THINGS!" Tsunami screamed. She turned her tearful eyes to the mist-nin. "Please don't kill him... If you promise not to... I'll... I'll go with you. I do wh-whatever you want." The poor woman trembled in fear at the thought of what might happen. But unfortunately, she wouldn't have to find out.

"Sorry lady, but I'm only getting paid for his head, not yours." Zabuza shook his head. "And since I've never like putting off tomorrow what I can do today..." Zabuza raised his kunai, to the screams of Tsunami and Sakura, and Sasuke franticly looking for some opening to strike... even when everything seemed to be in slow motion...

The kunai pierced into Tazuna's chest, making the man lurch with a gasp...

...Before disappearing in a poof of smoke.

Everyone stopped and blinked at the vanished man, even as Zabuza sighed, crossed his arms, and glared at Sakura and Sasuke as if annoyed, or disappointed.

"W-wait a minute, was that...?" Sakura turned to look at Naruto, who had merely been leaning up against the wall, looking on during the whole thing, and who now glared at Sakura and Sasuke with the same annoyed and disappointed look.

"Congratulations you two." Naruto declared bitterly. "You just got Tazuna killed, and caused the mission to fail."

"What!?" Sasuke gasped in rage as he looked back in time to see Zabuza poof in smoke to reveal another Naruto.

"Way to go, stupid." The Naruto humphed. "OK! COME ON OUT NOW!" He yelled out, making everyone wonder what the hell was going on.

The sound of a door opening and closing drew everyone's view as another Naruto came in from the other room... leading in a perfectly healthy, and grumpy, Tazuna.

"Father!" Tsunami cried out in relief as she ran over to hug her father.

The Naruto next to them tossed some kind of chain mesh at the first Naruto, then went up in smoke. The other Naruto who had been Zabuza, nodded, then also went up in smoke. Sakura was looking back and forth with shock and confusion, as was Sasuke, even though he was royally pissed as well.

"Hey, Naruto," Tazuna spoke up after calming down his distraught daughter, "Did you really have to scare Tsunami like that as well?"

"Sorry, but I needed it to be as believable as possible." Naruto shrugged. But his nonchalance made Sasuke snap.

"NARUTO! What the hell is going on!? What did you do!?" Sasuke shouted in outrage, pointing his kunai at the unconcerned blonde.

"The brat's double-whatever, uh, clone, said this was some kind of training lesson." Tazuna's comment caught the Uchiha's attention as the old man guided the stressed Tsunami to a chair.

"A LESSON!?" Sasuke turned back to Naruto, nearly ready to beat him to a pulp.

"Yes. For both of you." Naruto growled, making Sakura flinch.

"But why? Why did you... Hey!" Sakura's worried look turned to one of anger. "That means it was your clone that beat us up! How could you do that to us!? We're your teammates!" She pointed accusingly.

"TO REMIND YOU BOTH THAT THIS ISN'T A GAME!" Naruto's sudden vicious exclamation made everyone jump. "If you're angry that you got a little roughed up, how do you think you'd feel if the real Zabuza KILLED you!?"

Although Naruto's comment made Sakura pause and pale, Sasuke was not accepting the situation.

"How dare you!" Sasuke snapped at his teammate. "You think that I-"

"SHUT IT DUCK-BUTT!" Naruto shouted, making Sasuke jerk back slightly. "This was a lesson, AND a test! You were going on and on about how you think that you could really take on a jounin, but you couldn't even take on ONE of my shadow clones!" Naruto and Kyaena were pleased when Sasuke's mouth snapped shut. "A lesson, and a test. Both of you should have been able to tell that the clone masquerading as Zabuza and Kakashi was a fake, but you didn't, even with all the clues I deliberately threw your way!" Naruto glanced back and forth between his teammates, temporarily ignoring the curious looks coming from Tsunami and Tazuna. Unfortunately, as Naruto expected, Sakura was the only one who looked like she was really listening.

"Clues? What clues?" The pink haired girl asked, trying to relax a bit despite her irritation at the whole mess.

"Remember to use small words for these two, Naru-kun. If you blow their tiny minds, you'll just have to repeat yourself." Kyaena sneered in amusement at the impending humiliation of the two that dared to consider themselves in the same league as Naruto.

"Well, for starters," Naruto attempted to keep any emotion out of his voice at his personal vixen's opinion, "It should have been obvious that there was no way that Zabuza, after the pounding he took in the fight at the lake, could have possible been up and about, let alone managed to come after us again in the same day! Especially if he didn't know if Kakashi would still be around!" He huffed at the absurdity of the notion.

"That did occur to me." Sakura admitted carefully, wincing when Naruto raised an eyebrow at her. "No, really. Kakashi-sensei had said Zabuza would be to injured to come after us for a while, so I was surprised when 'he' showed up." She shrugged.

"Ok..." Naruto nodded slowly, glancing at Sasuke who was still glaring at him, merely waiting for all the explanations to be provided. "The second clue was the fact that 'Zabuza' didn't just kill us all straight away. I seriously doubt that other villages are that much different than us when in comes to security. For Zabuza to expect us, genin, to know anything about Kakashi's secrets or abilities, those of a jounin, is just stupid. With Sakura-san and myself being plain unknown genin, Zabuza would most likely kill us all, dispose of Sakura-san's and mine's bodies, and taken Sasuke's body away with him for study." Naruto smirked slightly at the dark boy. "That IS one of the drawbacks of being a 'great Uchiha'. It means you've got a target painted on your back."

"Yeah, but who doesn't these days?" Tazuna sighed, making Naruto shrug.

"But that doesn't give you the right-" Sasuke tried to speak.

"I. Wasn't. Finished. Yet." Naruto glared at Sasuke, shutting him up despite his growing anger. "Now, as for when 'Zabuza' pretended to be 'Kakashi', you again missed the clues. First, he wasn't as lazy as he normally is. He was too attentive. Then there was the matter that he never once pulled out that perverted book of his. Then the fact that he showed surprise at my strength when I freed myself from the bindings, even though he should have been well aware of it. He even showed some anger when he mumbled about 'the sword', as 'Zabuza' would likely still be pissed at me for destroying it." Naruto was rambling off the issues one after another, making Sakura feel quite foolish, and making Sasuke angrier with each passing moment. Tazuna and Tsunami were actually listening with interest.

'Why do I feel like I'm being scolded by Iruka-sensei? But... I can't get mad... Everything he's saying is true.' Sakura thought, swallowing down any retorts that threatened to come up.

'How can he stand there and accuse us of such failings!? He doesn't have any more experience than us! He has no right to lecture us, especially when Kakashi-sensei put Sakura in charge! Not him!' Sasuke could feel his blood rushing, making all his bruises and injuries throb with pain. 'And I REFUSE to believe that I lost so badly to only one of Naruto's CLONES!' His teeth were grinding behind his tightly thinned mouth as Naruto continued.

"Then there's the matter of the fact that 'Zabuza' was injured, yet even when 'Kakashi' looked normal, he was still acting like he was in occasional pain. That is, if anyone had bothered to pay attention to him. And that's the final thing. 'Kakashi' didn't know how to get to this house. He let us walk out in front while he silently followed behind. So he-" Naruto paused when Kyaena cleared her throat.

"Actually, Naru-kun, I don't think that last one applies. The inconsiderate ass always does that." The fox flicked an ear in annoyance.

"Oh, wait, scratch that last one." Naruto suddenly shook his head. "Kakashi always puts us in front, between himself and any danger." He grimaced.

"I don't think that he does that for that reason. He more likely does that to protect our backs." Sakura objected lightly, slightly curious as to Naruto's abrupt switch. He merely snorted at her perception of the evidence.

"Anyway, this whole thing overall was to show you, all of you," Naruto paused to make sure Tazuna and Tsunami were still listening, "That if one of us could think of a deception like this, so can the enemy. If Kakashi is really so determined to leave us behind for the wolves, I for one intend to be ready to shred their hides into jerky if they come after us. I can only hope that you'd agree with me." Naruto started checking over the chain mesh in his hands, seemingly finished with his lecture.

"Naruto, were you planning all this earlier while we were training?" Sakura asked due to a nagging feeling at the back of her mind.

"No, I came up with idea when Duck-Butt here was mouthing off at me because he wasn't as good at the tree-climbing as you." Naruto responded, making Sakura's and Sasuke's eyes widen. "When I said I was going to go get water, I walked out of site, and made two clones. One to pretend to be Zabuza, the other to come back here and tell my other clone and Tazuna what I was planning."

"I still wish you would have told Tsunami as well." Tazuna spoke up, causing the pretty mother to shake her head.

"No, it's okay, dad. Nobody really got hurt, and until the threat of Gato is over, everyone is going to be on edge." Tsunami said, having finally calmed down.

"W-wait a minute..." Sakura was gaping at Naruto. "Y-you mean, that you planned out this whole thing in barely even a minute's time!?"

Naruto raised his attention from his chainmail to give a disappointed look at the kunoichi.

"Sakura-san, ninja have to be able to think fast on their feet. The sooner and better you learn to do so, the easier you'll survive. Believe me." Naruto muttered the last bit almost under his breath. "Now if you'll excuse me," He turned to Tsunami and Tazuna, "Can you point me to the bath please? I got a bit scuffed during this mess." Naruto paused to bring a hand to his jaw. "Although, that stupid clone didn't have to hit me so hard..." He mumbled.

Sakura nearly choked at the effort of keeping down the laugh at the thought of Naruto literally beating up himself.

"If it weren't for the fact that it was also you, I'd have suggested you rip it's tongue out." Kyaena chuckled.

Naruto blew her a mental raspberry as Tsunami nodded to the blonde genin as she stood up.

"Yes, I'm sure all of you want to wash up, but with only one bath you'll have to take turns so-OH MY GOODNESS, YOU'RE HURT!" Tsunami screamed in shock as she noticed the gash on Naruto's shoulder for the first time.

"Wha-, oh no, no! Don't worry!" Naruto waved her down after realizing to what she was referring. "I'm fine! It was just a scratch, and I'm fine now." Naruto's mouth twitched. "But if you don't mind my asking, do you have some sewing material handy? I have a little in my pack, but-"

"Watch the Uchiha!" Kyaena snapped with a roar, just as Sasuke came up and shoved Naruto back up against a wall.

"Don't you dare!" Sasuke shouted viciously, thinking he had Naruto pinned. "Don't you dare think that you can assault me with your stupid clones and then just treat it like-"

"Like what!?" Naruto snapped. "Like NINJA!? Sorry to burst your bubble duck-quacker, but this is real life! Outside of Konoha, you'd better quickly get used to being treated like dirt, because the enemy will never care about anything except how to either kill you, or use you for their own goals!" Naruto growled out.

Naruto's last statement, about being used, snapped the lone thread holding the Uchiha's anger back as the black haired boy drew back his fist to crush the blonde's head through the wall.

"NO ONE USES ME!" Sasuke raged as he tried to drive his fist forward, only to give a strangled gasp when in an unseen instant, Naruto had reversed their positions, the blonde holding the brunette against the wall, and off the floor as well as Naruto had lifted Sasuke like he was made of paper.

"What the hell is your problem, Uchiha!?" Naruto snarled out, making the others in the room give 'eeps' at his viciousness. "We don't get along, you sneer, insult or ignore me, accusing me of being the dobe-loser, yet each time I try to offer anything to you or the team, you get pissed off and refuse to accept it! Maybe if you actually trained instead of brooding left and right, you'd actually know how to handle these things! I mean, what in the name of Arceus do you DO on your own time!? Just walk around the village, fantasizing about how glorious your ninja career will be, without even putting in the effort to make it a reality!?" Naruto gave Sasuke a shake. "It's no damn wonder you're delusional about your abilities if you... won't even... listen..." Naruto trailed off, his eyes going wide in disbelief as he glared up at his teammate. "What the hell...?"

"AAARRRRHHHH! NO! NO, NO, NO! DAMN IT ALL, WHY!?" Kyaena howled in denial as she raged and thrashed at the sudden discovery.

"What the hell are you staring at, loser?" Sasuke demanded after a few moments of silence.

Naruto shut his mouth into a tight thin line as he set Sasuke back on his feet. He turned to Tsunami.

"The bath, please." Naruto prompted, obviously straining to keep his voice calm as he picked up his backpack out of reflex.

"Um, ok, its this way." Tsunami began to lead him around to the other side of the bottom floor. "I can start working on your jacket for you if you like." She indicated the rip/gash. Naruto blinked, giving the pretty woman a somewhat surprised look.

"Well, I wasn't going to ask you to do anything, since I scared you before. But if you're still offering, I need to do my jacket myself, as it requires the non-standard thread I have with me, but if you could do my shirt, I would appreciate it." Naruto was saying as the two walked out of the room.

Sasuke watched the blonde go, his clenched fists trembling at his sides.

"That arrogant little-" He hissed to himself, but stopped when Sakura stepped closer to him.

"Sasuke-kun, I know you're angry at Naruto for what happened and being rough with us, and I am too." Sakura said carefully, trying to diffuse the tension in the air. "But... Naruto did have a point. This was a very effective lesson, and-"

"You're defending him!?" Sasuke whirled on the girl. "You're defending him after he be-, injured us!?" Sasuke corrected mid-sentence, refusing to used the term being 'beaten'.

"So he's a bit rough and hard-skinned." Tazuna spoke up before Sakura could open her mouth. "But the guy certainly knows how to drive a point home. I would gladly take a scare or a bruise or two over being killed by the real enemy any day of the year."

Sasuke was about to retort, only this time it was Sakura that interrupted.

"Gah! Sasuke-kun, you're bleeding! Your eyes are bleeding!" She shrieked in shock.

"Wh-what!?" Sasuke immediately reached up with both hands, wiping quickly at his eyes, but his fingertips came away clean.

"What is it? What's wrong?" Tazuna jumped to his feet, leaning over the table slightly.

"It's behind your irises! You're bleeding internally! Oh Kami, we need to get you to a doctor, or call Kakashi-sensei!" Sakura was starting to panic, and it caused an unpleasant afterthought. 'Cha! No matter what point he was trying to prove, Naruto has seriously hurt Sasuke-kun! He's in BIG trouble!' Her private mind raged.

"But, I don't feel any pain... At least, not in my... eyes..." Sasuke blinked as he looked at Sakura's worried face. He suddenly realized how clear everything was. He could see the minute color speckles in her own eyes, could count every hair out of place on her head that wasn't held by her Hitai-ate. Colors seemed so distinct. Something clicked. Ignoring Sakura's pleas, Sasuke rushed over to a small mirror next to the sink.

Sakura and Tazuna could not have been more confused when Sasuke started snickering, then out loud laughing.

"S-Sasuke-kun? Are you alright?" Sakura asked in hesitant confusion, though noting that he couldn't be hurt that bad if he was laughing.

"Alright? Alright!? I've never been better!" Sasuke crowed mirthfully as he continued to laugh and inspect his red eyes, that each had one black marking in them.

In the other part of the house, Tsunami was waiting outside the bathroom door for Naruto to hand out the last of his cloths. She glanced nervously at the pile of equipment and heavy weights on top of the orange clothing in the corner, that he had somehow shed beforehand. She hoped that the floor would hold up. She was caught off guard when she heard laughing coming from the kitchen.

"Oh, well, it seems your teammates aren't too mad at you about what you did, if they're already laughing about it." Tsunami commented pleasantly.

"Trust me," Naruto's voice came through the crack of the door, "That is NOT what he's laughing about." He grumbled.

"What? What do you mean? What is he laughing about then?" Tsunami blinked in confusion as Naruto's arm poked out from behind the door, holding a torn navy blue shirt.

"Um, well, nothing you need to worry about." Naruto muttered behind the door. "So, all that's needed on the shirt is to close the tear over the shoulder. I'll take care of everything else. Thanks." Naruto closed the door.

Tsunami turned to deal with the shirt, but when she held it up, she stopped cold in horrified disbelief at the size of the cut, and the blood that was mostly dried in the fabric.

Unaware of the kind woman's distress, Naruto had set his boxers aside as he turned on the shower, then stepped into the tub, drawing the curtain around to prevent water splashage. He let the water run over his head for a moment or two as the water finally got up to a tolerably warm temperature.

"How... COULD YOU!?" Kyaena shrieked at last, making Naruto flinch and scowl.

'Hey, I didn't MEAN for that to happen, I didn't PLAN for that to happen, and I didn't WANT that to happen!' He snapped harshly, beginning to scrub at his dirty skin.

"Don't try to play innocent with me buster!" Kyaena growled with her tails whipping around. "You knew full well that danger and stress are the primary means of activating the sharingan! Things were already tense from that incident with Zabuza, then Hatake was getting on everyone's cases, and-"

'I was only trying to get those two to grow up! It doesn't matter how annoying or stupid they are, they're my teammates, and I am not going to just let them keep fumbling through dangerous missions without at least a little support!' Naruto argued, soaping his hair.

"Support!? At the rate things are going, you're not going to be supporting them, you'll be carrying those worthless meat-sacks the whole time! They never listen to a word you say!" Kyaena snarled, having to stop herself from wrecking her homey prison cell and all her belongings. Imaginary or not, they were still hers, and it would be a hassle to regenerate them all with the same details and whatnot.

'That's not entirely true! I think... well... Sakura has started to come around, sort of. She's been a bit more, ah, subdued, lately.' Naruto tried to sound convincing, but was only half successful.

"Oh really? Then explain why that pinkette still yells at you, hits you, and always sides with the Uchiha, whom you've just helped achieve the one thing that makes all Uchiha so damn troublesome!" Kyaena yelled, eyeballing the Sasuke doll sitting on the shelf next to her.

'Helped him!? HELPED him!?' Naruto seethed, barely keeping his chakra under control as the shower water hissed and steamed on his skin. 'You're going to blame ME for this, miss 'Oh-he's-so-weak-and-pathetic-there's-no-way-he'll -ever-posses-the-sharingan'!?' Naruto's rage actually rattled the great seal cage slightly, making Kyaena cringe a bit.

"But he, I mean, you, that, I..." The vixen stuttered, trying to think of a comeback, only to howl in frustration. "IT'S JUST NOT RIGHT! ALL UCHIHA DESERVE TO BE WIPED OFF THE FACE OF THE EARTH!" She gnashed her teeth a few times before flopping down in a grump with her ears laid back.

Naruto paused in his washing efforts at his soul partner's outburst.

'Hey, Kya-chan, I know that neither of us wanted this, but there's no reason to get THAT worked up.' Naruto frowned. 'After all, it's not like he's any threat to us, even with the sharingan, right?' He listened as she shuffled a bit.

"Well, yeah... Obviously." She mumbled unhappily. "But it's still going to be annoying. Now that he has those cursed eyes, his arrogance will increase tenfold." Her tails flicked slightly.

'Then I'll just have to be ten times more efficient in showing him up, right?' Naruto grinned at a few thoughts to make sure that Sasuke's ego would suddenly find multiple pegs missing from under its feet.

"Yes... But only if you're careful not to reveal any of our IMPORTANT secrets." Kyaena, despite her foul mood, cracked a slight grin at Naruto's intentions.

'Never intentionally, although...' Naruto frowned as his memories of the last thirty-six hours replayed.

"Yes, I know." Kyaena sighed. "Your superior abilities have raised some questions and caught their attention. And that bastard Hatake is going to want to question 'me' when you lot return to the fourth level of hell." She turned to start looking though some information to address the potential problem.

'Fourth? I thought you were still calling Konoha the fifth level of hell.' Naruto questioned curiously.

"You learned the Shadow Clone Jutsu when you graduated to genin. That was the changing point." The vixen replied half-heartedly as she continued to think.

'Ah. I see.' Naruto nodded in understanding. 'So as to when we return, why can't I just use the Transformation Jutsu to-'

"No, I don't think that would work this time." Kyaena twitched an ear. "At least, not as well as I would consider it to be safe to try."

'What are you thinking would be the problem?' Naruto asked, starting to rinse off.

"I'm thinking the problem would involve interconversational responses lapsed between the relay delay of our psychic link..." She explained.

Outside the bathroom, back in the kitchen, four of the five other occupants of the house were each involved with their own devices.

Tazuna was sulking to himself at the table, crying into his glass of... fruit juice. It had been made fairly clear to him that he would either cut back on the drinking until the bridge was finished, or he would be sleeping on that bridge for a year. He was trying to ignore the female glances tossed his way from time to time.

Tsunami was also sitting at the table with her father, quietly working on fixing Naruto's damp shirt. Damp, in that the scared civilian woman had given it a very brief wash in the sink to get at least a little of the blood out of it. She was trying to understand why anyone would choose to put children through such dangers, and why any child would want to live a life of death. She felt ill when she imagined her son being brainwashed into wanting to live such a life.

Sasuke was leaning against the wall, smile-, err, smirking, into a hand mirror. He was turning his sharingan on and off, making sure he knew exactly how to focus his chakra to do so.

'To think, what I saw as Naruto's greatest insult to me, turned out to be quite... rewarding.' He mused to himself. 'Not to say that he's off the hook, I'll still need to put him in his place. But maybe, this once, I'll make it a... lighter, humiliation. The question is, how to do it?' He pondered, trying to think about what annoyed the blonde the most, or what kind of vulnerabilities he had.

Sakura was sitting at the table with the two 'older adults', feeling very uncomfortable. So much had happened in only one day's time, and she was having a hard time sorting through all of it. Scares and stress and problems. And almost all of it was because of Naruto. She was angry with him for that, especially for the 'lesson/test' he had pulled only a while ago. But she couldn't just dismiss what was going on. Naruto kept trying to impress on her and Sasuke how dangerous being a ninja is, and as much as she didn't want to face it, the trick he pulled to teach them, to teach HER, this lesson, had been VERY effective.

'It was only a clone, and it still took us down like we were nothing.' Sakura thought somberly, massaging her sore abdomen. She was certain it would be bruised by the morning. 'His explanation and 'assessment' of our reactions sounded so... accurate. I felt like I was being scolded by Iruka-sensei again.' She looked at Sasuke, who had paused in his examination of his sharingan, and seemed to be contemplating something pleasant. 'I was going to beat up Naruto because I thought he had seriously hurt Sasuke-kun, and yet I was wrong. It turned out to be something very good, if Sasuke-kun's behavior is any indication, though I still don't know exactly what the 'Sharingan' is.' Sakura frowned ever so slightly, and her brow creased as she was forced to think about her skills, or lack thereof. 'Sasuke-kun and Naruto always take things seriously... mostly... But I...'

"I mean, what in the name of Arceus do you DO on your own time!? Just walk around the village, fantasizing about how glorious your ninja career will be, without even putting in the effort to make it a reality!?"

Sakura's jaw tightened remembering Naruto's words. They were a little too accurate. She hardly did any training when not with the team, and barely any studying either. Although, she wondered who 'Arceus' was. Another teacher, maybe? She recalled him mentioning the name several times before.

Tsunami paused in her sewing, noticing Sakura's tense posture.

"Sakura-san, are you alright?" The woman asked in genuine concern.

It took a nudge from Sasuke to get the kunoichi's attention, who looked up with a slight blush of embarrassment.

"Oh, uh, yeah, I'm ok... Just tired." She stretched slightly with a groan at her sore muscles. "I want to be next in the bath. Shouldn't Naruto be done by now?" She glanced around, hoping no one would question what was on her mind. 'A real enemy, the real Zabuza, would have killed us without a second thought...'

"He's only been in there a few minutes." Tsunami blinked in comment.

"Yeah, well, he's a boy. He doesn't need as much time as I do." Sakura got up to go and check on the blonde mystery that was her teammate.

"What, are you saying that girls are dirtier than boys?" Tazuna muttered to himself in amusement, only to be pounded into the table by the two females present.

"I'm going to go now." Sakura said as she walked away from the lumped old man, her eye still twitching.

"Why me?" Tazuna groaned as Tsunami shook her head in irritation, returning to her minor task.

Sakura followed the sound of running water until she was standing outside the bathroom door. She raised her hand to knock, only to pause when she noticed the pile of stuff in the corner. Naruto's backpack, weapon holsters, ninkits, his orange jacket and pants and several other things she couldn't immediately recognize. Curiosity taking hold for a moment, she turned and leaned down to get a better look. She went to pick up one of the odd wide and slightly bulky leather straps, only for it to slide right out of her fingers, shifting the pile as it thudded heavily to the floor and spilling a few shuriken and kunai from their pouches. Surprised, she tried to pick up the item again, only to find she couldn't. She grabbed it with both hands and strained with all her might, and only succeeded in sliding it a few inches. She noticed a shadow over her and looked up.

"What are you doing?" Sasuke asked, observing the panting girl, and gazing at the small mess.

"I was just curious about some of Naruto's equipment. I don't know exactly what they are, but these things weigh tons! I can't even lift this one!" Sakura straightened up as she pointed to the item of her attention.

"It's probably just some stupid thing that Naruto thinks will help him get stronger." Sasuke scoffed, leaning down to pick up the leather straps. "Who knows why he carries around this junk that-OMPH!" The dark hair boy grunted as the offending item refused to budge from the floor. Irritated, he clamped on with both hands and yanked hard, jerking the heavy bulky band up only an inch before it dropped again. Sasuke's fingers slipped off, and he toppled backwards onto the floor.

"Are you alright, Sasuke-kun?" Sakura immediately moved to help him. "You see what I mean? How can Naruto even walk around wearing that kind of weight?"

Sasuke swatted her offered hands away as he jumped to his feet.

"That miserable little-!" He growled, his sharingan activated with his rage. But then he stopped when he noticed a glow. A red glow.

"Hey, what's...?" Sakura blinked as she noticed it also. The source of the glow was a kunai on the floor, spilled from the rest. "That's... That's Naruto's red kunai..." She whispered as she stared in slight shock at the glowing object. In the back of her mind, she absently noticed how quiet it was all of a sudden.

Sasuke was staring at the kunai through his sharingan eyes, his mind momentarily blank. Then a word came to him...


"I swear, on this kunai that is stained from the blood of my labors, that I will continue to protect you as is my duty as a ninja of Konoha!"

Sasuke remembered Naruto's claim, and what the softly glowing red kunai was supposed to represent. A slow, devious grin began to grow on his face.

"Hey Sakura," He stated, unable to look away from the red glow, "How'd you like to give a little payback to Naruto for what he did to us today?"

"Wh-what do you mean?" Sakura asked nervously, slightly scared of the glowing weapon, and not liking the look on Sasuke's face.

"Oh, nothing much, just a little PRANK on Naruto. You know, to make HIM sweat a little." Sasuke said, his grin increasing. 'There's something about this kunai... Something I couldn't see before. But now that I have the sharingan...' He thought. He stepped forward, and stopped suddenly when the kunai started glowing brighter. Sakura saw it and suddenly became much more frightened.

"S-Sasuke-kun, I... I don't think we should mess with Naruto's stuff anymore... I shouldn't have touched it in the first place. We should just leave everything for Naruto to pick up. Ok?" Sakura pleaded, but Sasuke wasn't listening to her.

'This kunai... What is it? I can't tell...' Sasuke thought, mesmerized as the kunai glowed brighter and brighter with every inch closer he came to it.

"Please, just leave it alone! We don't know what it is!" Sakura warned desperately as her teammate kneeled down.

'I don't know exactly what this is yet... But whatever it is, it's POWER...' Sasuke reached for the kunai that was now glowing so brightly that his sharingan ached to even look at it. 'And I think it's calling to me...'

"No Sasuke-kun, don't!" Sakura moved to stop him, but was to late.


Sasuke's howl of pain echoed through the house as the crackling hiss and smell of burning flesh overwhelmed the genin. A vicious jolt disrupted Sasuke's chakra as he managed to drop the weapon clattering to the floor even as he collapsed to the ground, curling into a ball, holding desperately at the wrist of his damaged hand. In the commotion, no one noticed that the kunai had stopped glowing when Sasuke had dropped it and his sharingan had deactivated...

There were shouts and bangs, Tazuna and Tsunami running into the room even as the bathroom door opened, and a boxer-only clad Naruto jumped out.

"What's going on!? What happened!? Are we under attack!?" Naruto asked in a rush, looking everywhere, noting Sasuke on the floor and everyone else standing around.

Now, Sakura very likely would have explained everything in the hopes of expediting the treatment of Sasuke's injury, but that was impossible as her brain had shut down. You see, Sakura had never known Naruto to wear anything other than his orange jumpsuit. That is, she had never seen him wear anything other than his orange jumpsuit. And she certainly had never seen him wear less than his orange jumpsuit. So beyond the occasional thought that it was weird that he would wear cloths that seemed a size too big for him yet fit him fine at the same time, she had never even thought about what it would be like to see him without it.

So, for Naruto to suddenly be standing in front of her in nothing but his boxers, displaying muscles she didn't believe someone their age was capable of possessing, the leftover water from the bath quickly steaming off his flawless lightly tanned skin, and his unbound golden hair softened by it's recent dampness...


Those present were shocked when Tsunami fainted, her face bright red and a slight trickle of blood dripping from her nose.

Tazuna could only sputter at his daughter's reaction, as Sakura forced herself to speak.

"N-Naruto! Sasuke-kun is badly hurt!" Sakura managed to get out, though she was trying to avoid looking at her blonde teammate. 'Oh no, PLEASE Kami no! This can't be happening! Naruto cannot possibly be THAT HOT!' She thought in a panic as she shivered. 'CHA! ARE YOU KIDDING!? It's no wonder Hinata never liked Sasuke if her byakugan could see THAT under his cloths!' The other voice barely had time to speak before being abruptly silenced.

Naruto was completely confused by events as he looked back and forth between the people in the room.

"What in the names of Arceus, Gaia and Shinigami is going on!?" Naruto demanded as he kneeled down to inspect Sasuke's injury, but jumped back when said dark boy took a rather feeble swing at him.

"You... you careless ass..." Sasuke managed to gasp out through the pain of his burnt hand, struggling to at least sit up. "What were you thinking... leaving trapped equipment... laying around?" He winced badly at the pain, not only in his hand, but his whole body felt like it had been clobbered. 'My chakra is totally messed up! What the hell did that kunai do to me!?' He thought madly, even though the sensation was slowly fading.

"Trapped equipment?" Naruto repeated in total confusion. "What are you-" He paused when he noticed his gear had been spread out a bit on the floor. His eyes widened when he saw his red kunai separated from the rest, near Sasuke. When his cold accusing gaze hit his teammates, they both gulped. "What were you doing going through my stuff?"

"THIEVES! THEY'RE FILTHY LITTLE THIEVES!" Kyaena howled, making her own conclusion from the evidence.

"W-we... uh, just wanted to know..." Sakura stammered, trying to avoid sounding guilty, and failing miserably.

"We needed some additional weapons, and-" Sasuke started to say, only to stop when Naruto stomped one foot, making the whole building shake.

"BULLSHIT!" The blondes shout made Sakura flinch and Sasuke's mouth to shut. Tsunami was also woken by the jolt and shout. "You haven't even used your own beyond our scuffle earlier, so you wouldn't need any. And even if you did, the fact that you didn't just ask means you had other intentions!" Naruto quickly bent down and picked up his red kunai. "I don't know what you were doing when you were trying to STEAL-"

"No!" Sakura interrupted, desperate to head things off. "It was my fault! I was coming to see if you were done with your shower, I saw your equipment and was just curious! I tried to pick up one of those leather strap/bands, but it slipped, and everything slid over, and-"

"SAVE IT!" Naruto snapped as he turned away and began gathering up his things.

"This is unacceptable! Get out of this place, and leave those two... buckets of slime, on their own!" Kyaena snarled, infuriated at the thought of those that dared to steal one of Naruto's few precious personal possessions.

Tazuna was a bit concerned over the argument going on, but was less than sure how to handle things.

'Maybe it wasn't such a good idea for Kakashi to leave these three alone after all.' The old bridge builder thought as he helped his daughter to sit up.

"Whaaa..." Tsunami was sitting up, shaking her head. "Whoa, that was... I thought I saw..." She blinked when she saw the near-naked Naruto repacking his equipment. "Oh my..." She moaned lightly as her face was turning red again.

Sakura and Tazuna eyed the young mother with no small amount of... concern. Sasuke was glaring at Naruto, who hand strapped one of the bulky leather bands to each of his legs over the shins and ankles, then pulled on his orange pants.

"You still haven't explained what happened, Naruto." The Uchiha demanded, feeling well enough to stand again, though he still held his badly burnt hand. "What the hell did you trap that kunai with?" Sasuke wondered, concerned. 'I couldn't tell what it was with my sharingan, and it wasn't anything simple. I need to know, so I won't fall for it in the future.'

Naruto, who had grabbed his fixed shirt from Tsunami's hands, paused to glare at the injured genin.

"I didn't trap anything, though it's obvious I should from now on." Naruto hissed, paused, then smirked. "Which means whatever happened, it was solely due to your own incompetence." He turned his back as he pulled on his shirt, then the chain mesh shirt on top of it.

"What!? How dare you-!" Sasuke's anger was interrupted by the throbbing pain in his hand.

"Sasuke-kun, we need to treat your hand!" Sakura spoke up, noticing his discomfort.

Tazuna and Tsunami now noticed the injury and immediately stepped forward.

"Damn, that's something nasty! And I've seen my share of injuries over the years!" Tazuna balked. "We definitely need to get that cleaned and wrapped, right away!"

"Yes, come on, we can help with that." Tsunami offered as she forced herself to look away from the young blonde, putting a hand on Sasuke's shoulder, who, though he pulled away from the touch, grunted an acknowledging nod.

"Wait," Sakura stopped them. She looked back at Naruto who had placed the remaining two leather bands onto his forearms, and was frowning as he held up his orange jacket for inspection of the tear. Sakura was a bit surprise when she could see on the inside of the jacket, numerous pockets and zippers. "N-Naruto? Surely you have some medical supplies in your backpack right?" She asked, then mentally slapped herself. 'Duh! Of course he won't have any, why would he need any with that healing power of his? We'll just have to do with the first aid kits in our own packs.'

Naruto glared at the waiting group, then opened up his pack, sifting through it for a moment.

"Hey, wait a minute! Why are you going to help them!?" Kyaena snapped in angered surprise.

'To shut them up so they won't bother me anymore.' Naruto growled. "Here." He tossed a small white box (standard first aid kit) at a surprised and slightly relieved Sakura. "It's all I have. So deal with it." He snorted as he closed his pack and pulled it onto his shoulders, rolling up his orange jacket under an arm as he slipped his feet into his sandals.

"Hey, wha-, where are you going?" Sakura asked with growing fear as Naruto walked past everyone.

"You really think I'm going to give Duck-Butt the chance to do anything else? Like cut my throat in my sleep? I'm out of here. I'll be back in the morning." Naruto growled as he headed for the door.

"Wait! You can't just stay out in the woods all night! What if-" Tsunami tried to stop the angry youth, but he just waved her off.

"Don't worry, I do this all the time. I know what I'm doing. Unlike SOME PEOPLE." Naruto shot at his 'teammates'. "Besides, you don't want any of Gato's men sneaking in at night, right? I'll be on look-out." He opened the front door.

"Wait, Naruto, we're sorry! Please don't-" Sakura called out.


"...Leave." Sakura muttered, now feeling seriously miserable as she looked down at the medkit in her hands.

There was a moment of silence before Sasuke broke it.

"Well what are you all waiting for? Hurry up and get the other medpacks to treat my hand already!" He snapped as he head into the kitchen. "Just forget Naruto! Kakashi-sensei can deal with him later!"

Sakura, Tazuna and Tsunami all stood, slightly stunned at his attitude.

"How the hell did you three ever get to be a team?" Tazuna asked Sakura.

"..." Sakura couldn't bring herself to answer as she went to her backpack and pulled out her medpack, adding it to the one Naruto had given her.

"When will your sensei be back?" Tsunami asked, taking one of the medpacks from Sakura.

"Day after tomorrow." Sakura replied dully, remembering the conversation she had with the jounin right before he had taken off.

"Excuse me for asking, but were you two really going to steal Naruto-kun's belongings?" Tsunami asked, making Sakura give her a weird look.

"No. It was going to be a... prank." Sakura said slowly, instantly not liking the sound of her own excuse. Sasuke's excuse. 'That lesson he tried to impart on Sasuke-kun and I... Could that be considered a prank? Even if it did have a point to it?' She looked down at the medpack in her hands again. 'It was so completely convincing. How far ahead of us is Naruto really?'

"Hey! What's taking you people!?" Sasuke called angrily from the kitchen, making Sakura flinch slightly.

'I know Sasuke-kun is just upset for being injured, but... Naruto said he hadn't trapped the kunai. But if not, what happened?' Sakura frowned to herself as she and Tsunami entered the kitchen and went to work on Sasuke's burnt hand.

Everyone stayed quiet afterwards, but Sakura was constantly nagged by a feeling that there had been several very important facts about what had happened that afternoon that she had missed. It would be quite some time before she ever found out or realized what they were.

Out a ways in the woods, Naruto was sitting next to a small firepit he had made up. Having already set some traps, he was now sitting in the dark, sewing up his orange jacked by the light of his small campfire.

"With the way those two maggots have been behaving, it would be safer in the interests of the mission to just tie them up and leave them in the closet or something until the whole thing is done with." Kyaena growled, having laid herself out on her comfy pillows as Naruto worked.

'And what about the next mission? And the next after that?' Naruto muttered back, only half listening. His mind was on something else.

"They can either shape up or-" Kyaena paused in her angry rant. "What is it?"

'What did happen to Sasuke?' Naruto's rare use of the Uchiha's name the indication of how distracted he was. He glanced at his red kunai that was sitting on the ground next to the fire to dry after he had given it a quick scrub to make sure none of Sasuke's blood lingered on it. 'From his injury, it looked like he simply went to pick up my kunai, and got burned. But I didn't trap it or anything like they thought. So what caused it?' He wondered, taking a moment to make sure his repair work on his jacket was going correctly.

"Don't know, don't care." Kyaena grumbled, her tails making her Naruto plushy doll dance on her head. "He was probably just jealous of the damage from your fire jutsu earlier, and tried to do something without knowing what he was doing." She growled.

'No, I don't think so. He may be a jerk, but he's not that careless.' Naruto wondered. Finally satisfied with his patchwork job, he gave his jacket's shoulder a few careful tugs to make sure it was secure before putting it on.

"You realize they're going to tell the brainless Cyclops when he gets back, and will try to get you in trouble." Kyaena said, more than a little annoyed that even when Naruto is outside of Konoha, people continue to try to use him as a scapegoat..

'I'll deal with that when and if it comes up.' Naruto poked at the fire a little. 'But, that aside for the moment, I think we need to continue our discussion about what will happen when we get back to the village. When Kakashi gives his report, you know people are going to want to speak to you, and Hokage-jiji isn't likely to take no for an answer this time.' He sighed.

"Well, we have a while to think of something, at least while this mission is going on." Kyaena shrugged.

'Yeah. Though I still think using the Transformation Jutsu is the only way at the moment.' Naruto mused, twisting and laying down on his back.

"And like I said, it most likely won't work. I would have to speak to them myself directly to avoid certain problems, and we're a long ways from figuring out how to release the seal without killing you." Kyaena stated firmly.

'Damn it. Both ways necessary, yet both impossible. If only there was something in-between.' Naruto sighed again, closing his eyes.

"Yeah." Kyaena agreed.

After a few moments, she began humming to ease Naruto to sleep.

The Next Morning

Haku walked through the woods of the island, searching for her targets. And he was not happy.

After getting Zabuza back to their current base the day before, after the disastrous fight with the Konoha ninja, they had further refined the plan they had been considering while Haku further treated Zabuza's injuries. They agreed on the plan, just not the timing. Zabuza had ordered her to initiate the plan immediately, while Haku had wanted to wait until Zabuza was at least somewhat recovered. Gato's appearance and attitude that had interrupted their conversation had only made things more tense, even with Haku's normally calm demeanor.

But Zabuza had been adamant, and had ordered Haku out in the morning, leaving him no choice but to leave Zabuza to recover on his own. Haku had at least made sure that she had gotten one of the doctors at the base to keep watch on Zabuza. The man wasn't a ninja, but it was better than nothing.

So as soon as Haku had woken, it was out of the hunter gi and into a more inconspicuous kimono. And now he was searching the island where the bridge builder was supposed to live, looking for him and his ninja bodyguards. She had reluctantly agreed to Zabuza's reasoning that there was no point to delay gathering information, for it would be best to attack the moment that he was healed. Waiting until he was healed to gather information would only make it more likely that the bridge would be completed, which would force them to attack the Leaf-ninja without the advantage of information.

Haku sighed. Find the ninja. Pretend to be a civilian. Gather the needed information on their abilities and weaknesses. Return to Zabuza. Attack when Zabuza was healed.

And if a secure opportunity presents itself, kill whoever of them he could. That part however, was not likely in Haku's opinion.

Headed towards the next village, Haku suspected it would take at least several hours to track down Tazuna's exact location. Imagine her surprise when through the trees, in a small clearing lit by the morning sun, she spotted a boy dressed all in orange asleep on the ground next to a small camp pit.

Knowing that the likelihood of another boy running around in that much orange, let alone one that would be camping out in the woods when the village was so near, was so absurdly ridiculously small, Haku started forward. And the options of the situation ran through his mind.

Option one: Wake the boy and proceed with the infiltration. Option unfavorable due to unknown ability of boy to sense deception. Risk unavoidable if infiltration is to be performed anyway. Presence of jounin Kakashi Hatake also risk of discovery.

Option two: Try to subdue and capture him, take him back to base for interrogation. Returning for further recon to be decided afterward. Option unfavorable due to the perceived power of the boy during previous confrontation. Odds of confrontation better after obtaining at least some information about abilities and team. Infiltration preferred.

Option three: Kill the dangerous blonde right now, dispose of body, continue with efforts of infiltration to the rest of his team. Option unfavorable due to ninja team being put on guard of team member's disappearance, and increased suspicion of a person who attempts to follow them around. Increased chance of infiltration failure, however, neutralization of blonde boy's power may increase chances of successful fight at later time. Lack of information on other young teammates poses possible risk, but is estimated as low at this time. Threat of the sensei, Kakashi Hatake, still present. Abilities of jounin only speculated. However, chance of two-on-one against Kakashi increases chance of successful fight, regardless of information obtained or not.

Although logic seemed to point to option one as the best course of action given existing factors, Haku couldn't get it out of her mind that this lone blonde boy had quite thoroughly outclassed Zabuza when he witnessed their fight before, using only a small number of low level jutsu other than the Shadow Clone Jutsu. She was unsure that he would be able to take on the boy if Zabuza was forced to face Kakashi.

As Haku approached the sleeping boy, the few birds and squirrels, and a lone fox, that had been idling around all took off in various directions. Haku paused to see if the noise and movement of the animals had woken the boy, but it seemed he was still asleep. But when Haku got close enough to really get a good look at him...

It had struck Haku as slightly off that the boy was out in the woods alone. But seeing the tears running off the boys sleeping face, it suddenly didn't seem as suspicious.

Haku stood just several feet away from the blonde boy, looking down at him.

'What pain do you suffer?' Haku wondered. 'Is it from your teammates, or something deeper? Is it only now, or have you carried it with you from the past?' She glanced around, taking in the arrangement of the tiny one-man campsite. There was indication that it was made with easy familiarity. 'So, you are alone then? By choice, or...' Haku started to approach the last several steps to the sleeping ninja boy. 'If it would end your pain, and save the one that is most important to me...' She began to reach out with a tense hand, 'Then... Perhaps it is best if I do kill you now...'

He bent down as her hand reached for the boys throat...


Author's Notes:

So I cliffed it again. So what.

I realize I was a little too obvious in the last chapter about the Zabuza clone and Naruto and all that, but hopefully I at least fooled a few people to think it was Zabuza, if only for a minute or so. Oh well. It was kind of necessary.

Don't think that the posting of this chapter means that my problems have been solved. It just turned out that I had more free time while looking for a job than I thought I would. So again, the next chapter will probably take a long time to put out, especially since it's in the next chapter that things start to divert even further from the canon wave arc.

Due to the chaos in my life at the moment, I'm afraid I haven't had as much clear thought of late as before, and as such, have no real comments about this chapter at this time. Also, I'm sorry, but I am postponing on responding to reviews until the posting of the next chapter so I can clear my head and get things organized a bit.

I hope at least that you'll continue to enjoy my story with what effort I'm able to put into it.

But there is one thing, I looked at the story stat history as well as seeing in my e-mail where notices are send by the site, and noticed that there are many of you wonderful readers that have faved this story, or put it on your alert, BUT HAVE NOT REVIEWED! (cries)

Well, I hope that you might give it some consideration to write some kind of comment, or thought, or something. You never know, I might like what you mention, and include it in the story at some point! So don't be shy, and don't worry, I definitely read every review (what writer wouldn't), but as is evident in my comments of late, responding to them might be hard for me.

Thank you for your time, attention, interest and reviews.

This chapter edited: