Edited by Yasuhei and Haze.


Crimson Edge

Chapter 5


"Eclipse."


"You have stamina."

Naruto heaved, Benihime in his sweaty hand.

"But you waste it."

A cough.

A single one.

Naruto had no idea how he did it, but when he moved - there was none. No hitch, no cough, no heavy breathing. Hayate just... moved. No grace, no deliberate, lazy artistry like Sasuke. He just did things. Move to the left. Move to the right. Cut up, cut down, to the side...

All with the same, sunken-eyed stare.

It was just so. DAMN. Annoying.

Cough.

"You run around a lot, but you cut wrong." Hayate stood calmly, sword out.

Naruto growled, arcing forward, only for the sickly-looking swordsman to step out of the way.

Only idiot blocks with a katana, he said. Idiot, or a person with a chakra blade. Though Hayate still didn't like blocking much. All the dust in Naruto's mouth attended to this.

"See?" Hayate coughed again. "Don't use your HAND. Use your body. It is not your hand that fight - your whole body does."

Naruto wiped the sweat off his brow. Hayate had been running him ragged. Run. Cut. Attack. Defend. Run some more.

Limit and ability, he said. Need to know, he said.

"...the HELL you mean?" The blond scowled.

Hayate sighed.

"Your whole body goes INTO the cut." He explained. "Not enough to be completely vulnerable, but you need your mass, you need a strength of the whole body. Mass, torso, shoulder... everything. Weapon can't move alone. Like in taijutsu. You don't punch with the fist. You punch with your whole body."

Naruto blinked.

Hayate blinked back.

"You do know that, right?" He asked after a long moment.

Naruto chuckled nervously.

The swordsman sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose.

"You... are the single most..." The ninja trailed off, before Naruto learned what he was 'the single most', "Okay, let's do it this way, then." He muttered with a cough, pulling off two strips of paper and a brush, quickly scribbling something on them, before giving them to Naruto.

"Tie them around your wrists cough would you?"

"What for?" Muttered the blond curiously.

"You'll see." Hayate coughed, sheathing the sword.

Naruto did as asked.

"You can lay down your sword. It won't be necessary for this."

"She."

Hayate blinked.

"She. Benihime's a she." The genin corrected.

"...Okay." Hayate nodded. "Now, put her down. And come at me."

Naruto cocked his head to the side with confusion.

"...huh?"

"Weapons, ninjutsu, taijutsu... Whatever you can use." Hayate motioned at him with a cough. "Come on."

"Aren't you teaching me how to fight with a sword?" The blond scratched his head.

"I am teaching you how to win." Hayate said flatly. "Just do it."

Naruto shrugged, before charging, Kage Bunshin erupting around him.

It was over quickly, of course. Hayate had to give it to the kid - the sheer stamina he had was enormous. He had the kid running around and attacking him the whole morning, and the brat just kept on going. Oh he was tired, all right. But he knew seasoned chuunin who'd be laying in a sweaty, heaving heap right now. After all, it was the brat that did all the running.

Though stamina he might have - anything approaching economy he lacked in entirety. Hell, he doubted the brat even knew what it was.

The sheer amount of unnecessary moves he made in a simplest attack was just staggering. At first he thought that - with the sword - it was because he was just inexperienced. And he was. Half of it was instinct, the other hand was bizarre... something that Hayate couldn't exactly name. It was halfway in between of badly ingrained habit, or... or as if he watched but never had a proper teacher to correct his flaws. Some of the things he tried pulling off were evidently something a person with more reach, mass and height would do - not a teenaged midget lacking all of it.

'Hmm... the last one might very well be the case. Hatake never got any formal sword training beyond the ANBU-issue, and he'd never been all that good with it. Doubt he'd teach him - there is no trace of that in it. More like... some classic swordsmanship but... damn, mangled beyond belief. Though some things...' He shook his head. He'd never even seen some of the things the brat pulled. They were shaky and missed the point entirely, but with some practice, he could see them working. Also, the brat was even a bigger enigma. When he started pushing, he expected him to fall apart under stress. Instead, the less time to think he gave him, the better Naruto got. When he had gone slow, he could scarcely believe it was the same kid who went fairly evenly with the budding weapon master. When he pressed him... 'Instincts, damnit! The kid got them in spades. And some good memory, if what I suspect is true.'

Now, what was the bigger enigma... was this.

Hayate surveyed the heaving, somewhat bruised figure in front of him.

With the loss of the sword, he expected the boy to tighten up his defense, move to the proper pattern of the attack. It would be a good lesson. It would show him what he was doing with his body - and then simply get him to do with his sword.

Only there was a big - huge even - problem.

"Kid... Do you even know what 'taijutsu' means?" Hayate deadpanned.

Naruto glared at him.

"I mean... good grief." Hayate coughed, sitting by the blond. "You swing around, use mostly hooks, your kicks try to be elaborate but fail the point entirely, you have no cough precision whatsoever and I don't think you ever heard of proper atemi in your life."

"Hey!" The blond snapped." I had good grades in the academy in that, you know!"

"For field exercise, I don't doubt it for a second." Hayate sighed. "You have incredible amount of stamina, and you can soak up punishment like no twelve year old I have ever seen."

"...thirteen."

Hayate blinked.

"I'm thirteen." Naruto muttered.

"...Really?" The sickly ninja coughed with bewilderment.

"I failed the exam three times." Naruto winced.

"Ah. Right." The man nodded. "No wonder."

Naruto threw him acidic glare.

"I am not trying to put you down." Hayate sighed heavily. He found out that pride was a soft spot early on. It wasn't that he boy had too much of it (though he did a little). He was just damn defensive. Even a slightest bit of criticism put him on the defensive. At first he couldn't quite understand it, but it became quite apparent quickly. After all, it would be naive to think a jinchuuriki of Kyuubi would have an easy life. He had heard more than enough derogative comments about him as the kid grew up - how bad was it for the brat himself?

"I am your teacher for now. I need to know what you can and what you can't do." He explained patiently.

It took all of half an hour to understand that, while not exactly book-smart, Naruto wasn't stupid. And while the kid did learn better by an example, forcing him to do anything was like herding a gaggle of cats. Hyperactive, orange, kyuubi-powered cats. Give him an incentive, though - and the brat was off like an explosive tag. Just as aimlessly, too.

"Give me the paper, Naruto." He extended his hand, grabbing the twin ribbons and looking at them.

'...wait. This can't be right.' The swordsman frowned, gazing at the seals he left there carefully. '...the hell?'

It was a very simple seal, one derived from ANBU mapping seals - to detect any chakra used on a person. Or by a person. With chakra paper, it could be made more precise, more flexible. With two or three conflicting seals on it, it would be ideal to show the rough distribution of the boy's chakra. Meaning his control, basically.

He looked at the readouts for a long moment, disbelieving.

"Okay, change of plans, brat. Come on. There is a place we need to go." He grabbed his sword and motioned for Naruto to follow.


Naruto looked at the large training ground with a small, but functional waterfall.

"Water?"

Hayate nodded with a cough.

"You know the tree walking exercise, right?"

Naruto nodded.

"Okay - there is a similar principle to use to walk on water. Only less pushing, more... fluidity." Hayate explained. "It requires more control, since you need to adjust the flow of chakra with exact steps, not just stick. Just so you know. But the basics are the same." He coughed again, motioning at the water. "Try it."

"Hey, I mastered the tree walking exercise - this will be a piece of cake!" Naruto boasted, walking confidently to the small waterfall and river.

One step later, there was a wobble, followed by a loud splash.

"A piece of a rather... soggy cake." Hayate smirked. "Remember. Even, calm, flow."

"...yeah, yeah... stupid water." Naruto muttered petulantly, walking to the shore, dripping the water all over.

At least he cooled off some, always a plus.

"Okay, here goe-"

Hayate took a step back, avoiding the water.

"...DAMMIT!"

"Even flow." The swordsman said mildly, sitting on a nearby fallen tree. "Even flow, Naruto."

"The HELL I need it for anyway!" The blond glared.

"For control, balance, proper chakra distribution and a whole slew of other things." Hayate coughed, pointing at the river. "Walk."

The blond grumbled, taking an angry step.

Hayate sighed, taking out a sharpener and one of his kunai.

He had a feeling it was going to be along day.


"Balance."

Naruto grimaced, swerving a little, but in the end standing firm.

"Good." Hayate nodded slowly. "Your chakra is an asset. You have a lot of it. That means you can train a lot."

Naruto blinked, cursing under his breath as his concentration wavered for a second, feet stumbling a tad.

"What do you...oof... mean?"

"With a lot of chakra, you train longer. More diligently. cough." The swordsman walked to the blond, not even breaking a step as he walked on water. "Continuous training can be very good, if one has stamina."

"Because you can train more, right?" The blond spread his legs a little, bending his knees, cursing again as the flow changed, his changing with it.

"Partially." Hayate looked at the unstable figure carefully. Gauging, surveying, cataloguing. He had never had the stamina, nor strength of other nin. But he was observant. He trained himself to be. Trained until he felt his eyes would bleed and senses scream. Watch. Plan. Cut. He had chosen a sword for a reason, after all. "Continuous training means you can cough see mistakes as they happen. See what works, without feeling the chakra exhaustion. Stomp out the flaws without gaining bad habits that would settle over a period of interrupted training."

Naruto blinked.

"Oh."

Hayate smiled faintly.

"Don't worry. You will see what I mean." He coughed, drawing his sword. "Understand, I don't have time to teach you proper kenjutsu. Not in a month."

"...ehh?!" Naruto grimaced. "But you said-"

"I told you I would teach you how to win." Hayate cut calmly. "Which is exactly what I will do."

Naruto cocked his head.

"...I don't get it."

"There are two ways of fighting, or rather, of learning to fight." The sickly man coughed, his sunken eyes not leaving Naruto. "The first is to train. Ingrain the patterns. Analyze, commit to memory, polish out flaws by practice and understanding of your own movement. cough This some call a proper way. A shinobi way." Hayate took a step, and Naruto's eyes widened as the dull side of the blade hit his hitai-ate. "There is, however, a second way."

"...but, if you don't train... what do you do?" Naruto asked with confusion, only to yelp as the blade cut down, splitting the water in a lazy arc.

"Simple." Hayate smirked. "You fight." His chakra blade spun, a fancy maneuver of no use in real combat, but enough for a confused genin. He watched Naruto's eyes trail the edge warily with satisfaction.

"What do you mean?"

"Fight. Patterns are good, even necessary. They might save your life. They do, really. But cough experience is just as good, in some respects."

"...I don't get it." The blonde frowned. "Iruka-sensei always said that we must know what to do before we do it."

"And that's good. And that's what an academy teacher would say. I will even teach you some of that," Hayate nodded, "But I don't have time to cram all that knowledge. No, it would take months for any proficiency. Years, for any reasonable fluidity." He let the katana's top touch the water. "If you want to beat a Hyuuga prodigy, you don't have that time. So, we are going to do like proper ninja."

Naruto's eyes widened, hands unbidden reached for Benihime, the swords reverberating as they met.

Hayate smirked.

"We will cheat."

"...the HELL?!" Naruto growled, trying to push the man back, only to get an elbow to the face for his trouble.

"Not wise. I am stronger." Hayate said calmly, arcing his sword lazily, only to be blocked. He lashed out with a kick. "Better. Watch out for the whole opponent, not just for a weapon. The warrior IS a weapon."

The blond growled, stabbing forward, only to meet air, and a painful jab to the back of his head.

Hayate waited for the soggy genin to swim up.

"You're wide open, kid." He said with a cough. "Stand up. Raise your sword."

"...The HELL are you doing, Hayate-sensei?!" Naruto spat some water, climbing on the surface of the river, a distinctively odd experience.

Hayate smile faintly, noticing the distinctive decrease in the wobble.

"Teaching you." He said calmly. "I told you - no time for going by the book. But I am not teaching you swordsmanship. I'm teaching you fighting."

Naruto jumped back, as Hayate's weapon stabbed forward lazily.

"Good. See?" The man nodded, coughing. "That's the way. Move. Run. Attack. Defend. All at once, until you drop. Learn to fight. Learn to hold her to the point there is no distinction cough between your body and her." He motioned at Benihime.

Naruto stared for a long moment, blinking owlishly, before a slow grin made to his face.

"All out?" He asked.

Hayate just looked at him flatly.

"I told you I need to know what you have, kid."

Naruto's grin turned savage.

"Okiro, Benihime!"

The faint pulse erupted and for a briefest of moments, the edge was tinted in faint red.

Naruto looked at Hayate, bright blue eyes gleeful as he heard that faint, but oh-so-sweet song and laughter echoing in his mind.

"You're ON, Hayate-sensei!" He said with glee.

Hayate made a lazy come hither gesture.

"Come on, then."

Naruto charged.


Naruto blinked as the red lifted from his eyes.

He didn't feel pain, he didn't feel the welts he had from Hayate's blunt edge. He didn't hear the burn, like there on that river as his body pumped that oddly burning chakra to avoid falling in cold water.

He only felt a warm hand, toying with his hair gently.

"Hello." Benihime smiled at him, her burgundy kimono loose, sliding more than enough to show off her shoulders and cleavage.

"Hi." The blond frowned. "...Ugh. Fainted, didn't I?"

"A little." The woman laughed. "But you pushed yourself for hours. It is only to be expected, no?"

"...man, Hayate-sensei looks sick but..." Naruto rubbed his head, still feeling the painful jab he got there with the pommel of the older nin's katana. "And he tells ME I have stamina?!"

"To be perfectly honest, my beloved - you did the running." The spirit smiled, ruffling his hair. "Though I guess his strength is impressive."

"Damn, you think with that cough and all he'd fall over any moment." The boy grumbled.

"Now, now, my beloved. Don't complain." She hugged him, laughter in her voice. "Was it not glorious? Sparks flying, edges cutting...? Was it not like then, during that exam?"

Naruto chuckled, leaning into her embrace.

"...Yeah. Yeah, it was."

"This... my beloved, is what I told you about." She whispered. "This is what I meant."

"I think... I think I'm starting to get it now."

She laughed, a lilting, melodious tone that resounded into the chamber in an almost unreal fashion.

"Of course you do!" She leaned conspiratorially, her warm breath over his ear. "How could you not, my beloved?"

There was an odd note in her voice. Almost like... pride, Naruto noticed.

"You really liked it, didn't you?" He grinned.

"Always." she breathed, a slight shiver running through her body. "I am who I am, after all."

"...You know... It would be nice to know who you are." Naruto frowned thoughtfully.

"I am here. I am with you. Is it not enough?" She smiled, her tresses spilling over him as she leaned forward. "You know my name, is it not enough? I will sing for you, my beloved. A song of love, a song of glorious crimson." She drew him, hugging him tightly, her kimono and raven hair spilling all over him, covering him. Naruto closed his eyes as her scent made him drowsy, though in a pleasant way.

"Sleep, my beloved." She whispered. "Sleep and rest. Much is before us."

Naruto drifted off to sleep, Benihime's wordless, gentle song echoing in his ears.


He opened his eyes drowsily, looking up.

"...Huh..." He murmured looking at the unfamiliar ceiling. "...where...?"

"So. Awake?"

There was a faint cough accompanying the now-familiar voice and Naruto looked to the left, noticing a small table, Hayate's form sitting by it and eating a sandwich.

"...Hayate-sensei?" He asked with confusion. "Where am I...?" He muttered, looking at the small, but comfortable sofa he was on.

"You collapsed in the evening." The man shrugged. "And I didn't exactly know where you live. So I brought you home." He coughed. "Breakfast?"

Naruto blinked, looking at the generous spread of sandwiches, some milk, what looked to be a large bowl full of apples and other fruits.

"I-" His stomach growled and Hayate smirked.

"Eat." He pointed. "We have a long day ahead." he said with a cough. "Keep your strength up. You'll need it."

"Oh." Naruto nodded, hesitantly getting up and walking up to the table. It was... odd. Save for Iruka (and Kakashi once - but better not to think of it now) nobody ever... well, fed him. Much less did it with such matter-of-fact nonchalance.

"Are you going to stand there whole morning?" Hayate raised an eyebrow.

"Oh. Sorry." The blond rubbed his neck sheepishly, sitting by the table.

"Eat. A lot." The older man advised him, standing up. "I need to go out for a while. Finish your breakfast by the time I return." he frowned, coughing. "Just don't break the bowls. My girlfriend would give me hell." He pointed at the clay... thing.

Naruto blinked.

'...That's a bowl?' He thought with disbelief. 'This looks like.. hell, I have no idea WHAT it looks like. But not a bowl.'

Though he had to admit it, it DID look a little bit cool. A lot of colors, and a lot of orange. That was always a plus in his book. Nothing with so much orange could be bad.

Some of it must have shown on his face, because Hayate smiled weakly.

"She makes them as a hobby. I'd rather not have her... upset."

Naruto's eyes widened, and he nodded. He could understand that very well. He learned pretty early on, that upsetting girl's make up, figure, taste or almost ANYTHING ended... painfully. Sakura hit him damn hard for that odd thing that was supposed to be ikebana in the academy. He felt it for days.

"Okay. No breaking the bowls, Hayate-sensei. Roger." Naruto said with a shudder.

Hayate chuckled weakly, before walking out.

Naruto blinked, as the doors closed by the older man.

"...Huh." He muttered, before his stomach growled again. "All right, all right already."

Ravenous, he dug into the spread food.


"You. Are not Hayate."

Naruto tried not to nod to that. Really. Because that business end of the kodachi under his chin looked to be really, really sharp.

The violet-tressed woman, her face almost emotionless, looked at him.

It was an odd feeling. At first he thought her eyes were... cold. Like the villagers. But there was no dislike. No hate, no anger, no disdain.

The twin pools of dark violet, so dark they were black unless a stray ray of light hit them, just... were.

"Uzumaki Naruto." She frowned lightly, her voice as impassive as it was ever since she just appeared in front of the table. "Explain yourself."

"...Uh, well, I was training with Hayate-sensei and-"

"Hayate has no genin team, Uzumaki." The blade didn't waver, but Naruto was sure it dug in a little deeper. "Your teacher is Hatake Kakashi. Explain yourself."

"...Wait, wait!" Naruto said, trying not to fidget. "Really, I trained with Hayate-sensei, for the chuunin exam!"

"Why?" The voice was the same, continuous deadpan.

"Because I didn't have a teacher!"

"Hatake Kakashi is your instructor."

"But he doesn't TEACH me anything, the bastard!" Naruto scowled.

The violet-tressed woman seemed to ponder it for a moment. Seemed to, because her expression didn't change for a second and her eyes were as unsettlingly clear as they were the moment she saw him.

"Hayate doesn't teach." She said finally.

"Well he offered." Naruto tried to shrug, but a light stab, not-quite-drawing-blood-but-close warned him against any moves. "I dunno why."

"Provided you speak the truth, why are you here, then?" She asked calmly.

"I... uh, well, lost consciousness during training." Naruto admitted sheepishly. "Hayate-sensei brought me here."

"You eat his food." She asked. "Why?"

"Because I am hungry and he offered me some?" Naruto hazarded.

The woman blinked once, seemingly pondering it, before nodding almost unnoticeably.

"Acceptable for now." She said calmly and her sword left his throat.

"I am Uzuki Yuugao." She sat by the table, halting for a second.

One violet eyebrow went up.

Naruto fidgeted.

Damn, but for a calm person - that was one intense lady!

"The bowl." She said tonelessly, indicating the orange thing before Naruto that held his cereal. "You are using it."

"Uh... Yeah." Naruto blinked, confused at the sudden change of topic.

"Why?"

"Hey, hey... I won't break it!"

"No. Why." Yuugao frowned. "There are other bowls."

"Well, they are smaller." Naruto shrugged, before grinning. "And hey, this one is cool!"

Yuugao's eyebrows shot up.

"Cool." She said tonelessly.

"Yep." Naruto nodded vigorously, happy to be on what he thought was safer ground.

"Cool. Why?" She looked at him, her eyes boring into his.

"Well...I mean... Bowls are bowls, right?" Naruto said, unsure. "They are all... round, and stuff. Only the color changes. But this one is cool. It is orange!"

"So you like it because it is orange." Yuugao concluded somberly.

"No, no! See, orange is cool - but it isn't just that. I mean.. when you look at it, it isn't boring at all. You look at it right, you see a cat." Naruto turned the bowl carefully - no WAY was he going to allow any harm come to it - motioning at the side. "If you turn it a little more, then it is a cloud. If you push it even a BIT... it kinda looks like a kunai, that grove here. See?"

Yuugao stared at the bowl for a long moment.

"I see." She said finally, her face unreadable.

Naruto nodded with satisfaction, going back to his cereal, only to blink as another bowl was set in front of him.

"This one." Yuugao pointed.

"...Huh?" Naruto blinked.

"What do you see?"

Naruto frowned, cocking his head.

"Well... Hmm... Now that I look at it..." He peered. "Oh, hey. It looks like a bird. Sorta cool, even." He said, squinting curiously.

"Bird." Yuugao said thoughtfully. "Hmm."

"Well yeah, see. Here.. and here - you've got wings. and the tail. And beak. Man it looks SHARP!"

The woman blinked, peering at the bowl curiously.

"...Indeed." She muttered. "...this here looks like a dog, though."

"Yep. Or a wolf." Naruto and Yuugao leaned over the bowl. "And that's... kinda..."


"..like snowflake."

"No. More like a star."

"Oi, oi... You're missing it completely. Here. Look. See?"

Hayate blinked owlishly.

"Hmm." Yuugao frowned, tracing something on the 'bowl'. "Manageable. But I still say it looks like a star."

"From this angle, maybe." Naruto was clearly unconvinced. "I still say snowflake's better."

Hayate cocked his head to the side, looking at the calm, if definitely discussing (he wouldn't say arguing - arguing Yuugao was a cold, cold Yuugao) and the lively, golden haired, orange-clad... student (as odd as it sounded) he took on himself.

He didn't expect her to be here, not this early anyway.

And he didn't expect the duo to get along. Yet, they did. Against all odds, they talked.

Over bowls.

Talked. Discussed. Hell, bonded!

The deadpan ANBU woman, and the hyperactive outcast.

'The world is truly a strange place.'

"Hayate." She turned to look at him.

"Good morning." He turned to Naruto. "Ready?"

"Yeah." The blond grinned. "Thanks for breakfast, Hayate-sensei!"

"You won't be thanking me cough later on." Hayate deadpanned. Or as close as he could, with his cough going. "Come on, we have work to do."

Yuugao observed them for a moment, head cocked to the side like some kind of exotic bird, before she looked at Hayate.

"Are you considering to have him train in that?" She pointed at the ripped t-shirt and fatigued, frayed pants carrying signs of both battle and yesterdays' training."

"Well, we can stop by for clothes."

"If he goes out in this, it will fall apart." Yuugao said in that familiar deadpan he knew so well.

Hayate sighed.

"Mine are too big." he pointed out.

"Not standard fatigues." She said calmly.

"...aren't those ANBU-issue?"

"Konoha-issue. Not ANBU." She corrected him, raising an eyebrow.

Hayate shrugged.

"Second room to the right. Left closet, lower part. Shower." Yuugao looked at Naruto.

"...But I-" the blond protested.

Yuugao said nothing. Not a muscle moved to change her calm, somewhat deadpan expression.

"...uh, right..." He chuckled sheepishly.


"He says he is your student." She said after he was out.

Hayate nodded.

"Ah." Yuugao said thoughtfully. "Why?"

"Because he has the will to defeat a Hyuuga with a sword." Meandering wasn't good. Not with Yuugao.

Her face was unreadable.

"It is only a month."

"I know." He said calmly.

She looked at the door, a slight frown on her brow.

"Interesting." She said finally, before getting back to her breakfast, as if nothing happened.

Hayate raised an eyebrow, looking at her calmly destroying the cereal in the large, misshapen bowl-that-wasn't.

He smiled.

He didn't think he'd ever really figure her out. But it was okay.

She halted his eating for a second, cocking an eyebrow.

Hayate just kept on smiling.


"Well... a tad big but manageable." Hayate declared.

The pants were a bit too big, despite being the under-mesh variety and reaching only to calves (for him anyway) the t-shirt as well, and the jacket (one of his, like the t-shirt) was most certainly too big, looking more like a coat, but nothing a kunai or two wouldn't help with. Besides, ANBU clothing had a wonderful property of having the 'tearing zones' in such places like sleeves. Well, sweats did. And nothing Yuugao's kunai couldn't handle.

'Thank god she's better with needle than with clay.'

"Thanks, Hayate-sensei." Naruto rubbed his neck sheepishly. "I'll give them back to you when I buy something."

Hayate blinked.

"That was your only outfit?"

"I have t-shirts, and stuff - but jackets and pants... No." The blond shrugged. "I'm growing, you know."

"Ah." The jounin nodded. "Keep them for now. Just buy something decent for training."

"Sure." The boy nodded. He'd been in need of some new clothes anyway.

'That you are, my beloved.'

Naruto blinked.

'Hey, you're awake!' He thought with joy.

'Of course I am. We are going to train soon, will we not?'

Naruto grinned, tapping the sword.

'Sure. I just need to buy some clothes and-' Naruto froze mid-step. '...DAMN!'

"Hayate-sensei..."

The jounin looked at him.

"I... I know we have training and all, but... My teammates are in hospital and..." Naruto trailed off.

"I understand." Hayate nodded. "Be on the field by eleven. And don't be late."

"What do I look like... Kakashi?" Naruto grumbled.

He heard Benihime's snort and rubbed the end of the somewhat curved end of the hilt gently.

"Just be there." Hayate shrugged. "I have a few things to get for your training anyway."

Naruto nodded, and the two shinobi parted ways.


"...you again!" The nurse scowled. "And with that sword AGAIN?"

"Hey, I have her bandaged now, don't I?" Naruto snapped. "...Stupid hag."

"I heard that, brat." The woman glared at him. "What do you want?"

"I'm here to see my teammates. Haruno Sakura and Uchiha Sasuke."

The nurse snorted.

"Uchiha Sasuke is under ANBU guard in a different wing of the hospital. You don't have the clearance, brat." She looked at the sheet. "Haruno Sakura... Haruno girl is in 114." Naruto began to walk away. "I am NOT finished!" The nurse grumbled.

The blond turned to her reluctantly.

"She was near-ICU yesterday, and unconscious for most of that. We had her chakra-healed, and she'll recover. BUT!" The woman glared at him. "Visiting hours are ten minutes ONLY. If you weren't her teammate and a shinobi, you wouldn't get even that. So be quiet, don't bother her and stop waving that sword, for kami's sake!"

Naruto rolled his eyes, going away.


The blond had to refrain from a wince the very moment he entered.

Even with Sakura's face to the window, sitting on the bed, the bruises were clearly visible. Chakra healing or no, bandages covered her hands, one arm was in a sling. Bandages, from what he could see, covered also the lower part of her torso. And Naruto knew what that meant - they had first aid.

'Ribs... Damnit...' He thought miserably.

Still, as battered, broken and bandaged as her body was, her face was worse.

Seals and the medic nins took care of a broken nose, but some cuts remained. Faintly, and not all would scar, considering the miracles medic-nins did but...

"Hey there, Naruto.

Naruto froze, suddenly reminding himself that he had no flowers, that he had too big clothes and a bandaged sword, that he had scrapes, bruises and he probably looked like an idiot.

And Sakura was... injured.

"...So... How are you...?"

He felt the words dying in his throat. He just tried to ask. but...

Her cheek was covered in a long bandage, and Naruto could see more of them. All over.

"...Oh damn..."

"Don't worry." Sakura smiled weakly. "It... they said it won't scar... much. Only... only the arm." She rubbed her hand, the one in a sling in a nervous gesture. "I... I hit the wall, see?" Her lips quivered. "I... I hit the wall..."

Naruto fidgeted.

Naruto wanted to pace. Or speak. Or do... anything. But he just couldn't. He stood. And fidgeted.

"It... looks worse than it is." Sakura whispered, trying to smile. "See... those bandages aren't so... bad. I... they said I am lucky, you know. She... She just... threw me. Not as much." Sakura's voice broke a little. "Pulled her punches... some. Just some broken bones. A gash... or t-two..."

Naruto blanched as Sakura's hands shook.

"...T-the wall... Naruto... I... H-hit... the wall...!" Her shoulders were shaking now. "I... c-completely... I completely... I...!" Sakura's eyes teared up and Naruto didn't think much, taking a step forward he slowly and carefully put his hand on her arm.

His eyes widened, as the pink haired girl's grip closed on his neck and Sakura shook.

"...W-why... w-why... that stupid... idiotic... wall..." Sakura whispered, voice quivering. "S-she... she pulled her punches... Pulled her punches...! Naruto... She pulled them... and... a-a-and I... I...!" At that time, the hysteric note left her completely, her voice finally breaking fully. "...I... couldn't do... a damn thing..."

Naruto stood, stiff, wide eyed and completely lost.

"Sakura-chan... I-"

'...Gods... What AM I supposed to tell her...? He thought with panic.

"...P-please... don't...look down..." She stammered out. "Just... Please...! N-Naruto...!"

And even as he felt the tears made his shirt wet, one after another, as her harms shook, Naruto kept looking up.


The doors closed behind him and Naruto flinched at the almost unreal amount of noise they made.

But Sakura wouldn't hear it. She wouldn't hear a thing after simply fainting as she did.

He leaned heavily on the door, his shaking hand rubbing his forehead, even as the other one gripped Benihime for assurance. But even her low, sad hum couldn't dispel the gloom he felt. Not at once. Not all.

"...damn." He whispered, slumping.

He wasn't even angry. Couldn't. He was furious, on some level, but...

He HATED what was done to her. He wanted to rage, he wanted to let the bandages fall, to let Benihime sing, to let Benihime deal out justice, for Sakura's each bruise, for each cut, for broken spirit, for each tear...

'...justice... huh?'

But how do you do that when no one was really at fault?

He loved Sakura. He loved her dearly. He'd bleed, break and get up from the dead for her. But this time he just didn't know what to do!

This wasn't Neji he could promise pain and suffering to. This wasn't Zabuza he could chuck kunai at.

This was Sakura. Broken, bandaged and crying Sakura. Who hit the wall of her own volition.

"...DAMMIT!" He punched the wall angrily.

They were ninja. Injuries were normal. Par of the course - academy at least tried to explain that. And proctors explained how this would go. This wasn't Forest of Death. Sakura could back off. She didn't.

He could... what, go and cut Temari up? Temari, who was spiteful and pissed off, but gave Sakura THREE chances to back off?

He knew that. He saw it. He witnessed it. He wanted to scream, to beg for Sakura to stop... But he didn't. Because he knew that look. Knew that pride, that burning acid and resentment that just built up until it spilled over and reason was gone.

What was he supposed to say to her? 'Good job, Sakura-chan! It will be all right!'?

He gritted his teeth, hands shaking slightly.

It wasn't good. It wouldn't be all right. He knew that better than anyone. He got up after every sparing with Sasuke, after every failure in the academy. He got up. And he knew it was never okay.

Sakura was a shinobi. Konoha's kunoichi. They were there to advance. To fight.

Fight she did. Fought until she broke.

And despite all, despite the bruises, cuts and tears... Naruto couldn't stop being, in some almost perverse way, proud of Sakura. Sakura who stood her ground against the fucking wall he beat against his whole life. Stood against that damn wall and ran headlong.

Benihime's gentle murmur echoed in his mind louder and he patted the blade absently.

There were no words here. Nothing he could do. Not a damn thing. He could only go against that wall again. Go and crush it, cut it to fucking pieces.

"...Please... Benihime..." he whispered nearly soundlessly.

The sword quivered briefly, assurance beyond words in that simple gesture.

He slid off the door, straightening up and blinked.

"...what are you doing here?" He scowled at the familiar and not exactly welcome figure leaning on the wall.

"Why, Uzumaki-san. So rude." Ebisu pushed up his glasses. "I am here as per my agreement with your instructor."

Naruto growled, his hand gripping Benihime's hilt tightly.

"I'm not giving her up. Not to that bastard, not to you or even Old Man Hokage." He snapped. "Don't even THINK about it!"

"Your weapon holds no interest for me whatsoever." Ebisu said calmly.

"Good. Then leave me alone." Naruto muttered, stalking through the corridor, back rigid. "I got to train."

"Alone? Without an instructor?" Ebisu quirked an eyebrow. "Don't be juvenile, boy." he said flatly. "You need help. A lot of help, if you want to face Hyuuga Neji in the finals." His glasses caught light as he pushed them up again.

"'Help?" Naruto barked a mirthless laugh. "And what do I need help for, closet-pervert, eh? After all, I will lose anyway, right? Just a loser, that's all, right."

Ebisu snorted.

"Loser is just a word." He said. "But unless you get some help, you really will be one."

Naruto looked at the glass wearing nin for a long moment.

"What is it to you?" He said suspiciously.

"I owe Hatake-san a favor." He said calmly. "He called it in - that is all there is to it."

Naruto scowled, walking past Ebisu angrily, before halting.

The jounin tutor cocked an eyebrow.

'So. He isn't as unreasonable as he seems. Good.'

Naruto stood, motionless, a thoughtful frown on his face, his hand tapping Benihime's hilt for a long moment.

"You want to help me?" He said finally, looking at Ebisu.

The tutor nodded, pushing up his glasses.

"Okay." Naruto nodded slowly. "Then help HER." He pointed at the door.

Ebisu blinked.

"...excuse me?"

"Help Sakura." Naruto looked at him earnestly. "She is there and..." He halted, wincing, his hand clenching. "Help her. You'd be teaching me, right?"

"Getting you ready for the finals, yes." Ebisu nodded.

"That would mean... a month, right?"

Ebisu nodded again.

"So... teach her."

"...I am not her instructor, Uzumaki-san." Ebisu said stiffly. "And I can't tutor you and her at the same time.

"Not me. Just her." Naruto looked at him. "A trade. The moment she walks out of there. For a month."

"This is hardly... proper." The teacher muttered. "Hatake-san-"

"SCREW that bastard and the horse he rode in!" Naruto snapped. "One student, for a month, right? So if you really wanna help me - help her." Naruto drew along shaky breath. "I... I can't help her. I don't know how. She... I... I just. Don't. Know." he grimaced. "She needs... help. I can't. I don't even know where to begin!" The blue eyes bored into Ebisu. "But you're the elite tutor, right? Smart and stuff, right? So teach her. Ninjutsu, genjutsu... whatever. Just do it. For a month."

Ebisu stood there, looking at the blond thoughtfully for a long moment.

"In truth..." He said slowly. "Hatake-san had never mentioned you by name. He merely said to 'train one of his students'." The older man rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "So... Under right circumstances..." He nodded slowly. "But as I said, I can't tutor two people at once. Not for a chuunin finals fight. Not against a Hyuuga prodigy. Not when I am... rebuilding a kunoichi after a defeat." he looked at Naruto steadily. "Do you understand?"

Naruto nodded.

"Yeah. Yeah, I do." He said simply. "Just help her, and we're good."

"That will leave you alone." Ebisu said warningly. "No amount of fighting your Kage Bunshin will help you against Byakugan and Jyuuken."

"Don't worry. I've got it covered." Naruto gazed at Benihime for a moment. "Just take care of her, and don't worry about me."

Ebisu looked at the genin for a moment.

"Who?" He asked finally.

"Hayate-sensei."

The jounin's eyebrows shot up.

"As in Gekko Hayate?" He asked.

Naruto nodded and Ebisu frowned, halting as he looked at Naruto's sword.

"...I see. It would make sense." He muttered.

Naruto looked at him.

"Gekko Hayate is one of the top Konoha swordsmen." The tutor explained. "You have chosen wisely, Uzumaki-san." He pushed up his glasses. "Though I never heard of him agreeing to teach anybody before." He said thoughtfully.

"He offered." Naruto shrugged.

Ebisu blinked.

"Ah." He said.

"So, deal?" The blond looked at the jounin expectantly.

"We have an accord, Uzumaki-san." Ebisu nodded. "From the moment Haruno-san leaves the hospital, I shall tutor her for the following month."

Naruto exhaled slowly, nodding.

"Thanks."

"No thanks are necessary. I am merely repaying my debt." Ebisu said simply. "You or that girl - between the two of you I dare say teaching her would be easier."

Naruto smiled weakly.

"Heh. Yeah."

He kicked off the wall he had been leaning on and began walking to the exit, before halting for a moment.

"You know... You're not so bad." He said looking at Ebisu. "I thought you're all stuck up and all, but... you're almost cool, you know?"

"Well I am an elite tutor." Ebisu said smugly.

"Yep." Naruto nodded. "You ain't so bad..." Naruto grinned. "For a closet-pervert."

"...Why I never...!" Ebisu pushed up his glasses, ignoring Naruto's weak chuckle. "How vulgar. Maybe it is good fortune I shall be teaching a cultured kunoichi instead of you. I dare say I'd probably strangle you within a week."

"Yeah." Naruto smiled weakly. "Suppose you're right." He grabbed Benihime, pulling one of the bandages over his shoulder so he could mount her on his back and looked at Ebisu seriously. "Just... help her, okay?" He said softly. "I... can't help her so... Please. Make her... strong again."

Ebisu nodded.

"I will do what I can." He said simply.

Naruto nodded, before turning and walking away, Benihime over his arm.

Ebisu watched the young genin vanish in the doorway, a thoughtful frown on his face.

Finally he nodded slowly, before looking at the door to Sakura's hospital room for a second.

'114, hmm? Well. Time to find the head nurse and make my inquiries, then.' He thought absently, walking away.

After all, he had a kunoichi to train. It wouldn't do to be unprepared to the utmost of his professional ability.


Naruto walked into the training ground, pulling slightly at the collar of his new shirt.

He wasn't exactly paying attention, to busy thinking about Sakura, and he paid for it now.

It wasn't that the clothes were too small, or uncomfortable - quite the contrary. He asked the lady for something to train in, and he got it.

But if he only paid some damn attention to what he was buying... The clothes weren't bad. Simple dark pants, a thick, durable t-shirt and a dark olive jacket. Simple, durable, and utilitarian. Ideal for training.

If it just wasn't all so damn dark!

'Well, not like I can go back now.' He sighed.

He was cutting it close as it was.

'Hayate-sensei did say training clothes, right?' if anything, this looked to be more durable than his poor orange outfit.

Hayate was sitting on one of the stones, reading through a scroll that he rolled the moment Naruto walked on 'their' training ground.

"Ready?" The swordsman asked, getting up and stashing the scroll in one of the scroll-pockets inside his jounin vest.

Naruto simply nodded.

Hayate coughed.

"Very well." He drew his sword, taking a relaxed stance, sword slightly off to his side. "The sword grip is a deceptively simple thing, but a right way can help you more than you think. The same is with the position of the sword relative to your body and center of mass. We are going to start with a simple cut..."

Naruto watched the swordsman go through a slow cut, all distractions flowing away as he concentrated on the lesson.

'Just wait, Sakura-chan. For you, for Hinata... for myself... I swear I will cut that fucking wall apart!'


TBC...


-