Disclaimer: I wish I owned these series. Then I could make people make this into a manga for all of you fine folks to read. Maybe a never ending anime and a series of video games as well.


Chapter 6: Making Waves, Losing Friends

The sun shone brightly over the forests of Konoha, small white clouds floating here and there upon the breeze. Hatake Kakashi sat crouched on a tree branch with a boom mic in front of his mask.

"What's the distance to the target?" He asked. He received a response over his headset almost immediately.

"Five meters. I'm ready anytime." "So am I." "Me too."

"OK!" He said with more energy. "GO!!"

Elsewhere in the forest the members of Team 7 paused for a moment as they peered around the trees they were hiding behind at their target, then as one and with a massive cry the trio leapt out in an attempt to capture their target.

"Gotcha!" Naruto yelled out as he grabbed a hold of a large orange tiger cat. He was promptly subjected to large amounts of biting and scratching as Sakura confirmed the target's identity.

"Ribbon on the left ear…Are you sure this is the target, Tora?" Kakashi's voice came over their head sets.

"Yeah, we're sure." Sasuke replied coolly.

"Good. Lost Pet "Tora" Search Mission Complete!"


In the Hokage's Office an hour later Team 7 stood arrayed before the Hokage and the client, the Fire Daimyou's Wife Madam Shijimi. As the large woman seemingly crushed the cat to death in happiness the members of Team 7 all sweat dropped.

No wonder it ran away. Sakura thought.

Haha. In your face stupid cat. Naruto thought as he fought hard not to laugh.

"Now…Kakashi's Team 7, your next duty is…" The Hokage began to speak as Madam Shijimi exited the room. "Hmm…Babysitting an elder's grandson, shopping in the neighboring village, and help with the potato dgging."

Naruto, who was tired of doing D-Rank missions for the past six months when he knew that the Hokage was very well aware of the real level of his abilities, snapped.

"NO!!! NO!!! NO!!!! No, thank you!!!" He cried out. "I want to do, you know, a more incredible mission!!! Find us a better one Jiji!!!"

Sasuke silently agreed with his teammate while Sakura muttered to her self that Naruto was annoying.

"You idiot!! You are just a rookie!!!" Iruka said as he stood up, slamming his palms onto the desk. "Everyone starts off with the simple duties and works their way up!!!"

The Hokage sighed as Naruto yelled back.

"But!! But!! We keep getting the crappiest possible duties!!"

"Be quiet you!!" Kakashi said as he intervened, bopping Naruto on his head with his fist.

"Naruto!! It seems I have to explain to you what these duties are all about." The Hokage began in a calm voice. "Listen, everyday the village receives numerous requests, from babysitting to assassination. Each request is written down on these lists…"

Naruto half listened as the old man explained things to him, respecting the old man too much to interrupt him again. He knew everything the Hokage was saying of course since he had just been playing dumb in school since he realized that he couldn't get a good grade even if he had a perfect score. He was absolutely certain that most of his teachers had been sabotaging his training, but he couldn't prove it without giving up the secret of his true skills.

In another world Naruto might have broken down and revealed his skills in order to earn some respect in the short term, but the events of his life had driven home to the blond be-whiskered boy just how few allies he had, and how many people were potential enemies. As much as it pained him to act weaker than he was, he knew that it was for the best. There would be plenty of time to earn respect later once he could protect him self from any threat.

When the Hokage finished speaking Naruto remained quiet and thoughtful, his arms crossed across his chest. Finally, after several long moments he spoke.

"I know all that, Hokage-sama." He began, the formality in his voice surprising both Iruka and the Hokage. "But the fact is that I am not the trouble-making brat you both still appear to think I am. I've improved, and you know it."

Naruto shared a staring contest with the Hokage, daring the old man to deny the truth of his words. Finally Sarutobi smiled and spoke.

"Ok, if you want it that much then I'll give you a C-rank mission. It's a protection mission of a certain individual." He said. "Hey, will you come in here?"

A door at the side of the room slid open to reveal an older man with a battle of alcohol in his hand and a pack on his back.

"What's this? They're all a bunch of super brats." He said as he took a swig from his bottle. "Especially the shortest one with the super stupid-looking face. Are you really a Ninja? Hey?!!"

Naruto's eyes narrowed and the blond boy used all the restraint he had to keep from growling. It wouldn't do him any good, and it might risk exposing his secret if his teammates actually turned out to be smart enough to put two and two together.

"Who are you?" He asked instead, his voice cold.

"I am the super expert bridge builder Tazuna." The old man replied. "I expect you to provide me super protection until I get back to my country and complete the bridge."

Rather than complain Naruto just nodded and turned to face his sensei.

"Permission to gather supplies and meet you at the main gates, Sensei?"

Iruka blinked in surprise, as he was the only shinobi in the room who hadn't been exposed to Naruto's more serious side.

"Permission granted, Naruto." Kakashi said.

Before the silver-haired Jounin had even completed his sentence Naruto had been out the door like an orange lightning bolt. Everyone else just assumed that Naruto wanted to buy a lot of extra equipment that they wouldn't end up needing.

The truth was that he wanted to say goodbye to his 'family' and grab a few items as insurance.


Naruto met back up with his team an hour later just outside of Konoha's main gates. He was surprisingly the last one to surprise, but he didn't let the surprise show on his face as he walked up with his hands tucked into his jacket and a large pack on his back. Kakashi noted with some surprise that Naruto had a large windmill shuriken strapped to his pack, but the Jounin wrote it off as Naruto attempting to be better than Sasuke again.

"Sorry I'm late, I got lost on the road of life." Naruto deadpanned, earning a narrowing of Kakashi's eyes and sweatdrops from his two teammates. "Anyways, let's go."

Naruto began walking again, taking point by virtue of his already being thirty feet out of the gates before anyone else began to move.

"Hey!! Am I really going to be safe with this brat?" Naruto heard Tazune ask Kakashi. He also heard Kakashi's reply, but he decided that discretion was the better part of valor and instead took a deep breath, enjoying the smell of Nature all around him.

This would be the first time that Naruto had actually left Konoha, so he was looking forward to being somewhere where the people did not glare at him constantly, someplace where he might be seen for what he was rather than what people mistakenly thought he was. He was also looking forward to communing with Nature in a new location, hoping that it would help his training in that regard.

They had been walking for about four hours when Sakura spoke up, asking Tazuna and Kakashi about the Wave Country. As Naruto listened absentmindedly to Kakashi's explanation with part of his attention the rest of his mind was focused on the flow around him. There was a silence in the trees around them that shouldn't be there, a silence that he had come to equate with the presence of either large predators or humans. As this region was not known for any large predators that would be stealthy enough to be this close without him having heard and smelt them, then it stood to reason that somewhere in the nearby trees enemies were lurking.

Slowly, so as to not alert anyone, Naruto slipped his hands up into the sleeves of his garish orange jacket, for once thankful that he wore the monstrosity as it allowed him to easily conceal this action and what he wore beneath the jacket. As they passed a puddle in the middle of the road Naruto's eyes narrowed and he tightened his grip on his weapons. He closed his eyes for a moment, blocking out sight as he temporarily took leave of his senses, instead reaching out with his spirit to feel the flow of Nature around him. Sure enough, the spot where the puddle was radiated no feeling of water, but rather two human chakra signatures.

The orange-clad shinobi smirked and prepared for the fight that was about to come, but even all his logical understanding of the situation that would come didn't prepare him for the resurgence of the chemicals in his bloodstream that triggered his fight or flight response.

As he sensed the two chakra sources begin to change he spun and prepared to strike with his kunai, only to watch in wide-eyed horror as a bladed-chain stretched tight between the two masked enemy shinobi chopped Kakashi into bloody pieces. Moments later his eyes widened even further in fear as a voice from behind him spoke softly while.

"Two down."

Naruto stared in fear as the bladed chain came streaming towards him, preparing to slice straight through his neck. At the last second the expression on his face suddenly changed like flicking a switch on a light. His eyes narrowed and his features stilled into a mask of determination as his entire body tensed, going from flight to fight in that instant. He didn't have time to do anything though as a shuriken suddenly whizzed through the air, dragging the chain away from Naruto and pinning it securely to a nearby tree. The two shinobi attempted to pull the chain free only for Sasuke to land on top of both of them and lash out with a spinning kick to their heads, knocking the pair away as they disconnected the chain from the clawed gauntlets on their arms.

The two shinobi separated to the sides, one attempting to circle around Naruto and attack him from the side while the other headed straight towards where Sakura was guarding the client. The first one thought that Naruto was going to be easy prey, so he was surprised when Naruto suddenly blurred and he found a kunai slammed into his shoulder. A second later Naruto reappeared, rushing straight towards him and lashing out with a vicious round kick which caused the air to ripple around it almost as if the leg were sliding through water.

The impact from the kick sent him flying to the left, but Naruto didn't let up in his assault. The blond boy raced under and launched his opponent into the air with a kick straight to the solar plexus before leaping after him. While still in the air Naruto grabbed his opponent and spun, delivering a smashing kick that sent the enemy shinobi plummeting to the ground. There was a loud crack upon impact and a small crater was left behind. Naruto landed beside the crater, breathing heavily, his eyes wide and almost manic as he began to come down off the combat high, the fear returning now that his system had ceased being flooded with nor-adrenaline.

Meanwhile the second shinobi had fallen prey to a fist slamming into his gut and knocking the wind out of him as Kakashi appeared before him. Less than a second later the man was unconscious as Kakashi struck him in the back of the neck rendering him unconscious.

Sakura smiled in excitement as she realized that Kakashi was still alive. Sasuke, who had chased after the second target and thus hadn't seen Naruto's display, muttered to him self something about "show off" while he looked at his teacher.

Naruto on the other hand had dropped to one knee as he attempted to regain control of his body, the fear that still flooded his system preventing him from noticing the cut he had received on his hand when he had first frozen, the blood dripping towards the ground.

"Naruto, I'm sorry I didn't save you immediately. I got you injured…but I didn't think you would freeze like that." Kakashi said. "Anyways, nice job Sasuke."

Naruto was still too wound up to care that Kakashi had ignored his contribution in favor of praising the Uchiha.

This was his first real battle, but he looks as if nothing happened. Was he not scared at all?

At this point it should be noted that the compound which Naruto's system had been flooded removed his safeguards, turning him into a happy rational killer. As this was the first time the situation had pushed his fight or flight response this close to the edge he was unused to the transition, so his memories of that part of the flight are blurry. He remembers what he was doing, but it's almost as if he were watching a recording rather than remembering actually doing it.

"Hey!!"

Naruto looked up and caught Sasuke smirking at him with his hands in his pockets. "You alright…Scaredy-cat?"

Naruto clenched his teeth, shooting Sasuke a glare. Apparently the Uchiha-teme hadn't caught Naruto's part of the battle either.

"Naruto, save it for later." Kakashi interrupted. "Their claws are soaked in poison. We have to remove it quickly. We must open the wound and release the poisoned blood from your body. Don't move much, or the poison will spread."

Kakashi cocked his head to the left.

"Tazuna-san, I need to talk to you."

As Kakashi tied the enemies to the tree before they could wake up Naruto walked over to a tree on the opposite side of the path. Making sure that his teammates were otherwise occupied he unzipped his jacket and removed a small capsule. The blond boy pushed a button on it and dropped it to the ground between his legs, watching as a small rectangular white box appeared from a puff of smoke.

With a sigh Naruto took the remaining kunai that he had stashed up his sleeves and holding his arm carefully off to the side stabbed the kunai into the back of his hand. As he watched Kakashi question the old man about the mission and what was really going on Naruto let the blood run free, the poison being removed from his system by a combination of chakra burning it away and the blood carrying it out of his body.

Finally he could feel no more sign of the poison affecting his system so Naruto removed the kunai and dropped it to the ground. Opening the box before him he paused for a moment, considering the value of using one of the small vials resting in cushioned slots in one side of the box, before he pulled out a small jar of a creamy white salve which he applied liberally over the wound. Once he was finished he put the jar back and wrapped some bandages around his hand to keep the wound clean.

Aerith-nee-chan is going to yell at me SOOO much for letting myself get hurt. And Cloud and Vincent are probably going to put me through the 'Obstacle Course from Hell'© for freezing up.

As Naruto stood back up and began to walk back towards his team he heard Kakashi saying something that annoyed the hell out of him.

"I guess we should return to the village to treat Naruto."

Does that bastard think I'm so weak that I can't fight off a little poison? It's bad enough that everyone thinks I'm weaker than Sasuke, even though I've proved my self in fights three times now, but now Kakashi-sensei is suggesting that we FAIL our first C-rank mission and blame it on me? "NO WAY IN HELL!!"

This last part he shouted out loud as he reached his team, causing all four of those before him to turn and look at him in surprise. Naruto held up his bandaged hand, holding the bloodied kunai in his grasp.

"I've dealt with the poison Kakashi-sensei, and I swear by the pain of this left hand of mine that I'll protect the old man. We're continuing the mission!"

Naruto's tone was strong and firm, showing no sign of the fear that had gripped him during the fight. He stood with a look of fierce determination on his face, his eyes slightly narrowed and the blazing blue daring someone to challenge his assertion.

After a few moments Sasuke smirked and spoke up as well.

"Of course we're continuing the mission, Dobe. I'm not about to let my first real mission be ruined on account of you being so scared that you got yourself injured."

Kakashi nodded. "Very well, we are continuing on then."

Kakashi knocked the two captured shinobi out again and then sent off a messenger bird to alert the Konoha ANBU to send a team to retrieve the duo for interrogation before leading his team and their charge off down the path once again. All the while Naruto was stewing silently, not having missed the fact that Kakashi had clearly been about to end the mission and take them back to Konoha. That is, he was right up until the Uchiha-teme spoke.

Not for the first time Naruto found him self resisting the urge to growl at the injustice of it all.


Late the next day they finally reached the coast of the Fire Country. Following Tazuna's directions they found a man waiting for them with a small boat. Quickly and quietly they boarded the boat, taking advantage of the mists that obscured the waters dividing the Wave Country from the Fire Country to conceal their approach.

After about five minutes they were in the midst of the mists, and Naruto had his eyes closed and his hands together as he focused on Nature around him, like Nanaki and Aerith had taught him.

Feel the flow. Allow it wash over you like a wave of peace. Do not try to control it, but rather let it guide you. Trust in the spirit of the Planet and you will not be led astray.

As he remembered their lessons, imagining their voices in his head he opened him self up to whispering that always accompanied regions where Nature was strong. Quietly he meditated, completely ignoring the presence of his team. Sasuke-teme had been getting on his nerves, as usual, Kakashi-sensei had been ignoring Naruto if he could help it as if the blond-haired shinobi were not worth his time training, as usual, and Sakura was squealing over Sasuke, as fucking usual. Even after Naruto took down one of the enemy shinobi she still thought he was just a useless idiot, and took great pleasure in telling him so at every opportunity just because she thought it would endear her to Sasuke.

It's just not fair!

Naruto's mental concentration had been broken by his train of thought and no matter how hard he tried he was just too worked up to regain his focus again. Muttering quietly to him self he opened his eyes and reopened his senses to the outside world just in time to hear the man guiding the boat mention something about a bridge. Looking up Naruto watched as a massive bridge appeared out of the mist.

"Whoa…" He said softly, gazing up at the edifice as the boat drifted slowly and silently alongside the pylons, following the unfinished bridge back towards the shore of the Wave Country.

When they finally reached the shore Naruto marveled at the complex wall, full of small tunnels that had been constructed to help protect the coastal city against rough weather.

Silently they glided through the lessening mist up to a small ramshackle dock where they disembarked. The owner of the boat and Tazuna said their good byes and then the man sped off, using the engine on the boat now to get away before anyone could spot him associating with what were essentially "rebels".

"OK!!" Tazuna said energetically as they walked off the dock and towards a path into the woods. "Get me home safely."

"Yes yes." Kakashi replied flatly, clearly tired of the generally-drunk bridge builder.

About ten minutes later as they were walking along Naruto sensed something or someone moving in the bushes behind them. Acting fast he grabbed a shuriken and dropped into a crouch as he launched it into the bushes.

"There!!!" He called out as the projectile whirred through the air.

When there was absolute silence Naruto stood back up and narrowed his eyes.

Someone was there, I'm sure of it.

"Stop trying to act cool!!" Sakura's screeching voice came from behind him. "There was nothing there!!"

"Hey…please stop using shuriken…it's seriously dangerous." Kakashi added.

You'd both be singing a different tune if it had been Sasuke who acted. Naruto thought with narrowed eyes, completely ignoring Tazuna's comments of 'midget' and 'moron'.

After a few seconds he smirked and spun, launching a second shuriken into another set of bushes.

"There!!!"

"I said stop!!!" Sakura yelled again as she smacked Naruto in the back of the head with that scary strength she possessed.

"Somebody is after us, Sakura," Naruto muttered as he rubbed where she had hit him. "Just because your too busy sending googly-eyes to Sasuke-teme to be aware of your surroundings doesn't mean that I'm not aware."

"Yeah right!!!" She yelled back.

Kakashi meanwhile walked over and checked behind the bushes, finding a shivering white rabbit shaking on the ground just below where the shuriken had impacted. While Sakura berated an unremorseful Naruto over his actions Kakashi was thinking about the rabbit. Suddenly he sensed something in the trees above them and yelled out.

"Everyone, get down!!"

Sasuke pushed Tazuna to the ground while Sakura fell on top of Naruto, who much to her surprise had already dropped flat to the ground before Kakashi had even called out. A large sword came whirling through the space they had previously occupied until the blade embedded itself into a tree, a tall man wearing camoflauge arm and leg warmers and no shirt stood, his lower face concealed by bandages and his back towards the Konoha shinobi and their client.

"Well well, if it isn't the Hidden Mist's nuke-nin Momochi Zabuza." Kakashi said, his hands in his pockets presenting a falsely relaxed exterior.

Next to him Naruto had his eyes narrowed as he eyed the gigantic sword that the so-named Zabuza had brought into play.

Fuck! With a weapon like that in play, I'll have no choice but to reveal some of my secrets.

"Everybody get back. This one's on a whole other level." Kakashi said, putting out an arm to emphasize the need for his students to stay back.

Sakura and Sasuke both stared up at the figure of Momochi Zabuza as Kakashi reached up and pulled back the hitai-ate that perpetually covered his left eye.

"It will be a little tough, unless I do this." He said.

"You appear to be Sharingan Kakashi." Zabuza replied. "Sorry but the old man is mine."

Sakura and Tazuna looked up in confusion as Sasuke's eyes widened at the mention of the Sharingan and Naruto's narrowed.

Kakashi-sensei posseses the Sharingan? No wonder he's known as the Copy Ninja.

"Surround and protect Tazuna-san." Kakashi said to his team. "Do not enter the fight. That's the teamwork here."

Kakashi finished pulling his hitai-ate up.

"Zabuze first…" He said as he opened his eye, revealing a red eye with three black tomoe in a spiral around his pupil. "…fight me."

"Ah…I already get to see the famous Sharingan." Zabuza said as he turned to face Kakashi fully. "I'm honored."

Suddenly Zabuza bounded off of the tree, drawing his sword with him and leaping onto the surface of a lake that was sitting about thirty feet away from the surprised genin. He appeared holding one hand in the air and his other hand in a seal, his sword slung across his back. Naruto shivered as he felt the large amounts of Chakra that Zabuza was releasing.

"Suiton: Kirigakure no Jutsu." Zabuza spojke, vanishing as mist flooded out from his location.

"He'll come after me first." Kakashi said. "Momochi Zabuza…as a member of the Hidden Mist he was known as an expert in silent killing. You don't even notice until you're already dead. It's not like I can use the Sharingan perfectly. You guys be careful."

Sakura and Sasuke looked tensed, but Naruto merely nodded. He had his eyes narrowed and was extending his senses as much as he dared risk, knowing full well the trade off in reaction time he suffered while reaching out to Nature for direction. He had his hand closed into a fist, a small white capsule sitting there with the trigger already depressed. All he needed was an opening to trigger it where he wouldn't draw Zabuza down upon his head before he could make use of what the capsule contained.

"Eight choices." Zabuza's voice came out of the mist. "Liver, Lungs, Spine, Clavical vein, Neck vein, Brain, Kidneys, Heart. Which one should I go afer?"

Sasuke and Sakura both looked around in surprise and fear, while Tazuna just froze as his blood ran cold. Naruto on the other hand smirked, as his little surprise being unleashed in the middle of the mist would mean that no one would see or sense it happening. Silently Naruto let the capsule fall to the ground before him, none of his teammates seeing as smoke flushed out briefly from before him to reveal a sword as tall as Naruto him self.

A sudden wash of killing intent flooded over the genin. Sasuke's eyes widened and the last loyal Uchiha began to sweat.

"Sasuke… don't worry." Kakashi said, speaking calmly in an attempt to reassure the Uchiha. "I'll protect you guys even if it kills me."

"I don't let my comrades die." He said as he smiled at his students.

"We'll see about that!!" Zabuza voice echoed from the mist as the tall man appeared crouched between Tazuna, Sasuke, and Sakura.

Acting swiftly Naruto reached out and grabbed the hilt of the weapon before him, pulling out a pair of crystal spheres, one green and one blue, and slamming them home in two sockets that appeared to have been made specifically for them. Both spheres flared up momentarily, a stream of blue-green light connecting them along a groove in the weapon and suddenly Naruto was moving, spinning and stabbing under Tazuna's arm to shove his sword through Zabuza's back and out of the man's chest. He almost hit Kakashi as the Jounin leapt in to knock his other two students out of the way and attack Zabuza as well.

"Sensei!! Behind you!!" Naruto called out as Zabuza appeared behind Kakashi preparing to swing his sword and the Zabuza that Naruto had stabbed collapsed into a puddle of water.

Before Kakashi could react Zabuza's sword bisected him, earning a cry of fear and horror from Sakura before the two halves of Kakashi's body collapsed into water, earning a slight widening of Zabuza's eyes in surprise.

"Don't move!!" Kakashi yelled out as he appeared behind Zabuza, holding a kunai to the sword-wielder's neck. "It's over!!"

Sakura laughed as she thought that Kakashi had won, but Naruto kept a firm grip on his weapon, his senses expanded searching for any sign of incoming attack. This had been too easy.

"Hehehe…It's over? You don't get it. :Zabuza said with a chuckle. "There's no way you can defeat me with your monkey-like imitations."

Naruto tightened his grip on his sword, preparing to react to anything.

"Hehe…but that was impressive of you." He continued. "At that time you had already copied my Mizu Bunshin technique. You had your clone say those words to attract my attention while the real you hid in the mist and watched me. Nice plan."

Zabuza looked forward. "And that sword, boy, I don't know how you were concealing that, but kudos for bringing it into play without me sensing anything. That takes some real skill to conceal your chakra release that well. But…"

Suddenly a second Zabuza appeared behind Kakashi holding a kunai to the silver-haired Jounin's neck instead.

"I'm also not that easy…"

Suddenly Zabuza hauled back and attempted to slice Kakashi in half again but the silver-eyed Jounin dropped flat to the ground, allowing Zabuza's blade to spin all the way around and lodge in the ground behind Zabuza. Without missing a beat Zabuza pushed off and launched into a kick that connected with Kakashi's chest and sent him flying out over the water where he landed with a big splash.

Zabuza attempted to run forward, but before he could fully withdraw his sword from the ground he was forced to pull up short as Naruto's blade cut through the space he had been about to occupy, said blond ninja twisting in midair and kicking off the back of his blade to redirect it down in a slice that made Zabuza flip backwards and draw his own blade. Next thing the nuke-nin knew the boy was bringing the blade down in an overhand strike.

CLANG

Zabuza brought his own blade up to counter Naruto's and his greater familiarity with combating such large weapons and his greater experience and strength won out, sending Naruto flying off into the trees.

Taking advantage of having knocked the genin away Zabuza moved behind where Kakashi was struggling to get out of the water, performing a series of hand seals and performing the Suirō no Jutsu no Jutsu on the struggling Jounin.

"Heh, fool."

Before Kakashi could react he was suddenly trapped in a spherical prison of chakra enhanced water, held firmly in place by Zabuza as the enemy shinobi held one arm in the sphere to maintain it.

"You may have been trying to escape to the water, but that was a big mistake." Zabuza chuckled. "Hehehe, I now have you in my inescapable special prison. It makes things tougher if you can move, you know?"

Zabuza looked back towards shore and performed a one-handed seal.

"Now…Kakashi, we can finish things later. First I'll take care of them."

Another Mizu bunshin formed on the land and began to stand up as Sakura, Sasuke, and Tazuna looked on in fear. There was still no sign of Naruto after Zabuza had sent him flying.

"Hehe, wearing forehead protectors and acting like real ninjas…" Zabuza chuckled again. "But you know what? A real ninja is someone who has survived numerous brushes with death. Basically…Once you're good enough to be listed in my handbook…then you can start calling yourself a ninja…You guys should not be referred to as ninjas."

Suddenly Zabuza's clone disappeared, only to reappear in from of Sasuke as he lashed out at the emo-teme with a powerful kick…

SLAM

…a kick that was stopped suddenly as Naruto appeared between the Mizu Bunshin and his teammate. He held his sword behind him with his left hand, the blade pointed down but ready to strike at any moment. His right arm was held up in a block, his forearm having caught and stopped the clone's kick without giving any ground. Around Naruto fluttered a faint aura of orange, barely visible to Kakashi and Zabuza, and only able to be sensed by Sakura and Sasuke in the form of a dread chill upon their souls.

"That's enough." Naruto said coldly, his eyes cold and focused like blue flame. Within his system was pumping a powerful combination of biological compounds, Mako, and demonic youki, turning Naruto from the outwardly happy prankster he showed to the world to the cold hard killer that was buried deep inside.

"Just a brat." Zabuza muttered as his clone backed off from the blond, who's only response was to adjust his stance, moving the massive blade like it weighed next to nothing to him and bringing it into a guard traditionally reserved for use with katana or broadswords, one hand forward with two fingers raised while the other was back and above his head holding the grip of his weapon.

"You guys!!!! Take Tazuna-san and run away!!! You have no chance of beating him!!" Kakashi called out frantically. "As long as he's keeping me trapped in this prison, he can't move. The water clone cannot go very far from his real body. Just run away now!!!"

Naruto's eyes narrowed and he went into him self, memories flooding through him.

So even now, even seeing what I can do in two separate life-threatening situations, Kakashi-sensei stills doesn't think I'm ready? Maybe he's right, this foe is a Jounin for a reason, but I can't just leave my teammates to die, even if they don't recognize my talents.

A flash of purple flowed around Naruto's body briefly, an imperceptible flicker.

My father died to protect everyone, myself included. I know he used me to hold the Kyuubi because he couldn't ask anyone else to make the sacrifice if he himself couldn't.

A second flash of purple flowed around Naruto's body briefly.

Iruka-sensei recognized my skills, and he would have died to protect me. He almost did when Mizuki betrayed my trust and attempted to kill me.

There was a flash of green from the hilt of Naruto's weapon that bathed the entire weapon in a faint green glow for a moment.

And now, even though he may favor Sasuke-teme and barely actually teaches me anything, Kakashi-sensei is willing to sacrifice his own life to ensure that we have a chance to survive. "I WON'T LET HIM DIE!!!!"

This last part was screamed aloud as Naruto tightened his grip around his sword and with a flash of blue electricity began to crackle down the entire length of the blade. A moment later the blond boy swung the blade down with one hand, slamming the blade into the ground. To the surprise of everyone there a cutting blade of blue energy leapt forth from the blade, digging through the ground as it shot forth and sliced the surprised Mizu bunshin in half.

Naruto stared coldly as Zabuza's eyes widened in surprised. He didn't see it as he was entirely focused on his opponent, but all of his teammates and Tazuna had opened their eyes wide as well.

"Hey…you eyebrowless freak…Put this in your handbook." Naruto spoke coldly as he returned to his ready position. "The man who will one day become Hokage…"

Naruto's right hand formed a single seal that nobody recognized. Naruto was suddenly immersed in a cloud of smoke that then vanished in swirls of wind. As it cleared two identical copies of Naruto, each one holding the same sword out to their left as they swept the blades up and into identical ready stances as their creator.

"Konohagakure Ninja" Naruto finished. "UZUMAKI NARUTO!!"

Everyone stared at Naruto and his clones in surprise.

Oh…that midget…he's not as super useless as I first thought… Tazuna thought to himself.

That dobe! What is this power? How did he get so strong? I must have it!! Sasuke was thinking as he stared at Naruto, who was positively radiating power.

What's this feeling? Is…is this really Naruto…? Sakura thought, not noticing a faint blush rising on her face as the figure before her had seemingly lost all sign of the annoying prankster who always asked her out for dates.

"Now…" Naruto said with a grin as he shifted into a new stance holding his blade down and behind him like he had when he had blocked Zabuza's kick. "…let's get wild!"

"A lot of arrogance but…" Zabuza said. "…do you stand a chance?"

This is bad… Kakashi thought. Even if Naruto had been able to take down the Mizu bunshin with a surprise attack, there was no way he would be able to beat the Jounin.

"What are you doing?!! Run away!! This fight was over the moment I was caught!!" Kakashi yelled out to his student. "Our duty is to protect Tazuna-san!! Did you forget that?!!"

"Old man…" Naruto spoke softly as he glanced back over his shoulder at the old bridge builder, his face suddenly looking once again like the Naruto everyone knew and barely-tolerated, worry in his eyes for the first time since the fight truly began.

"Well… I planted this seed myself. I'm not going to say that I desire to live so much that I'd stop you." Tazuna said after a moment of thought. "I'm sorry guys…fight as much as you want."

Naruto smirked and turned forward. He didn't go cold again though, as the smirk remained plastered on his face.

"Hah…" Zabuza began to laugh. "Hahahaha…You guys will never grow up. Going to keep 'playing' ninja, eh?"

Zabuza closed his hand slightly and raised it. "When I was about your age…these hands were already dyed red with blood."

Naruto's eyes turned cold and the smirk left his face, replaced with fierce determination.

"And mine would have been too, had there not been three important people who looked out for me, and ten who taught me respect, responsibility, and duty." Naruto narrowed his eyes until they were slits.

"Kakashi-sensei." Naruto said with determination in his voice. "Sixth Lesson of Uzumaki Naruto, Trinity Blade."

The three Naruto clones blurred and suddenly vanished. They reappeared around Zabuza, one dropping towards him stabbing the sparking blade downwards, one racing towards him with the sparking blade extended to skewer him, and the third flying on a course to pass him with the sparking blade trailing ready to slice through Zabuza's chest.

Zabuza leapt up over both the slash and the chest stab, using his feet to grab the stabbing Naruto's head and fling him upwards into the path of the third and final attacker.

"Good." Zabuza said as he returned to his previous standing position. "But still not enough."

He dodged it!! Sakura thought, sweating droplets now out of fear.

"Heh." Sasuke said, having noticed something that no one else had caught on to in the months they had been on a team with Naruto…

SWICK

…for every one of his clones you saw, there were at least four more waiting in the wings.

Zabuza released the water prison as he dodged away from the three kunai that would have embedded them selves along the length of his right arm, grabbing one as he moved. He leapt away from where Kakashi was now regaining his footing on the water and saw a fourth Naruto fall into the water behind him, the one who threw the kunai.

"Damn brat." Zabuza cried out as he sped across the water hoping to skewer Naruto with the kunai he had grabbed.

His momentum was suddenly halted as Kakashi appeared before him, blocking the kunai with the metal plate in the back of his hand.

"Kakashi-sensei!!" Sakura cried out, elated that her sensei had survived.

"Naruto, great plan." Kakashi reluctantly acknowledged as the blond-haired boy's head broke the surface again. "You guys have grown up."

Naruto smirked and then frowned. He could feel the combat high dropping.

Damn, this fight lasted longer than either of the previous two combined. I can't keep this up for much longer.

Naruto focused as much of his remaining energy as he could and thanked the Kami that his instructors had made sure he knew how to swim. Taking a deep breath Naruto dove under the water, using the power of the Materia he had inserted in the bracer hidden under his jacket in order to increase his speed until he was speeding like a dolphin towards the shore. At the last second he curved his path up and went flying out of the water and over the heads of his surprised teammates as Kakashi spoke to Zabuza and the pair sized each other up once again.

Only enough energy left for one last trick. Naruto thought as he brought his hands together in the more familiar cross-shaped seal he used for what had fast become his favorite technique.

There was a puff of smoke and a clone of him appeared flying through the air below him and caught him just before their momentum carried them into the trees and out of sight.

Now to take care of business before they find me.

Acting quickly Naruto pulled out a pair of small capsules and depressed the triggers, holding one in his left hand and over the bracer on his right arm while the one in his right hand was held pointing towards his sword. A red glow shot out from the two capsules and embraced both weapons, converting them to red energy after a moment and drawing them back into their capsules. As he stumbled to his feat and tucked the capsules away Naruto stepped out of the trees and looked forward to see Zabuza and Kakashi standing in the middle of the water and blurring through a series of hand seals at blinding speed.

"Naruto!" He heard Sakura call out, but for the life of him he couldn't understand why she would be worried about him when Kakashi-sensei was still fighting.

It was at this point that Naruto realized that the ground was approaching at a very rapid pace, and as he wondered what was going on his eyes closed and he drifted into unconsciousness' sweet embrace, dead to the world as his sensei fought to protect them all from the Demon of the Mist, Momochi Zabuza.

In four words, Uzumaki Naruto had fainted.


AN: I will admit, I seriously considered ending the chapter here, but I had made a commitment to writing the ENTIRE Wave Country Arc as a single chapter for this story. So enjoy, because at least half of the chapter is still to come.


When Naruto finally regained consciousness he found himself to be in an unknown strange location. From the feel of the air around him he was inside, most likely in a structure of some kind. He could feel vibrations in the floor that were indicative of people walking around, and his ears were registering vibrations that indicated he was hearing sounds, but Naruto's mind couldn't process the input yet. Slowly he changed his breathing, slowing it from the panicked racing it had been to a steady pace as he worked to sort out his senses. Slowly his hearing returned, and his panic abated momentarily as he recognized Kakashi's voice.

The blond boy shot upright and opened his eyes wide as soon as he realized what Kakashi had just said.

"Zabuza is alive!"

"What the hell do you mean?!!" Naruto cried out, causing the other occupants of the room, Sakura, Sasuke, the old drunk, Kakashi, and a dark-haired young woman that Naruto didn't recognize fell over in surprise as the blond boy shot to his feet, ignoring the faint pain he still felt in his limbs, an aftereffect of overtaxing his system using his abilities.

"Naruto, you're awake!!!" Sakura cried out as she ran to hug the blond boy, momentarily forgetting her annoyance with the baka for getting involved in a fight with a Jounin.

"Of course I'm awake." Naruto spoke with surprise in his voice while his blue eyes were glued on Kakashi's one visible eye. "Why wouldn't I be?"

Sakura finally realized her position and she leapt back from Naruto.

"Hey, don't get any ideas. I was just worried about you as a teammate, that's all! I love Sasuke-kun!" She yelled at him as she backed up to Sasuke, who Naruto saw had turned pale and was sweating like he usually did when around his fangirls.

"Whatever." Naruto muttered, dismissing the object of his crush as unimportant at the moment. "Kakashi-sensei, what do you mean Zabuza is still alive? Did you fail to defeat him after I passed out?"

Kakashi shook his head. "Unfortunately it was not I who defeated Zabuza, but a Kiri hunter-nin. I passed out from chakra exhaustion shortly thereafter. But now that I think back, I realize that the hunter-nin violated many rules of disposing of a deceased nuke-nin, so I am forced to assume that the hunter-nin was working with Zabuza and used the senbon needles to place him in a temporary coma to fake his death so that he could rescue him."

Naruto looked down at the ground thoughtfully as Sasuke and Sakura stared at Kakashi in surprise and worry. After a few moments Naruto looked up.

"Well, Kakash-sensei, what is our next move?"

Kakashi looked up at Naruto in surprise.

"How are you even up, Naruto? You knocked yourself out from chakra exhaustion as well, so you should still be down."

Naruto narrowed his eyes and crossed his arms. "I recover from injuries quickly, Kakashi-sensei. I've always just assumed it was a blood-line I'd received from my unknown parents."

Naruto stretched and then grinned seemingly back to his old self. Kakashi watched this sight and the sighed.

"Anyways, you guys will receive training."

"Training?" Sakura asked incredulously. "Sensei!! What's a little training going to do?!! Our enemy is a ninja you struggled against even with the Sharingan!!"

Sakura was channeling Inner Sakura, though none of her teammates knew that.

"Sakura…Who saved me while I was struggling?" Kakashi asked. "You guys are growing rapidly. Especially Naruto!!"

Kakashi eye smiled, drawing a narrowing of the eyes from Naruto. Sasuke looked at Naruto with a faint glare while Sakura looked at him with a thoughtful look on her face, unaware that a faint blush had formed.

What the hell does he mean by saying that I've improved the most? I was already better than Sasuke-teme or Sakura-chan. He's just been too focused on Sasuke to notice me at all.

"But obviously…This is just training until I get better. You won't be able to defeat him without me." Kakashi continued.

"But Sensei," Sakura asked as she returned her attention to him. "if Zabuza is alive he could attack at anytime, so should we really be training?"

"Yes, we should." Naruto said in answer, narrowing his eyes. "Because if Zabuza was as injured as Kakashi-sensei says he was, the he will need time to recover as well. Isn't that right, Sensei?"

Kakashi blinked in surprise.

"That's a very astute observation Naruto." He said. "But I guess I shouldn't be surprised. You've been surprising me left and right during this mission."

Naruto shrugged noncommittally to the faint-praise that Kakashi had paid him. He noticed Kakashi was surprised that Naruto had not smiled at receiving praise from the Jounin.

What's going on? Naruto always seemed to smile a bit brighter whenever I praised him before. Could something be wrong with the-no, no, if there was I'm sure I'd feel it.

"Anyways, tomorrow I will take you into the forest and I'll tell you what you will be doing for training. But for now…"

Kakashi fell back onto the bed-pad he was laid out on and was asleep before anyone could react. Sakura and Naruto both had sweat drops on their foreheads while Sasuke sighed and exited the room, muttering to him self. Naruto promptly stood and began walking towards the other exit from the room. Sakura remained kneeling, looking between the two boys with a faint blush on her cheeks, trying to decide whether to run after her crush or her teammate. After a few moments she decided that whatever was wrong with Naruto he would get over it like he always did, but her Sasuke-kun would need her love to cheer up after having been little use in the battle.

As the pink-haired girl ran off, leaving the two surprised civilians alone in the room with Kakashi, she was unaware of Naruto standing just outside the door he had exited through, leaning against the wall.

As soon as he was sure that the pink-haired girl had followed Sasuke Naruto let out the breath he had been holding in a dejected sigh and shoved his hands in his pockets, heading off to take a walk and clear his head.


An hour later Naruto was still walking, having reached the edge of the Wave Country and deciding to follow the shore for a while in order to clear his head. He had tucked his hitai-ate in his jacket, just in case he encountered any potential hostiles while he walked, and his hair dropped over his eyes as a result. He had thought about many things in the past hour, ranging from evaluating his skills against those of Uchiha Sasuke, wondering why he still hoped that Sakura might see him for who he was and give him a chance, and wondering why he was so tired every time he drew on his abilities in a real combat situation.

The last part had been the easiest for him to answer, of course. He had a decent understanding of biology and physiology thanks to Aerith, and Cloud and Yuffie had practically shoved Materia and Jutsu theory down his throat over the years. He figured that it likely had to do with his altered biology and the changes carrying the Kyuubi no Kitsune had wrought on his body. His teachers had confided in him that he carried a second chakra source sealed inside him that was much closer to pure Mako in its makeup than to the chakra produced by most living beings.

His instructors had theorized that life on his world had developed a way to convert the faint Mako residue that permeated everything the Lifestream touched into a usable energy source called Chakra. However, demons like the Bijuu were most likely entities that had arisen from pure Mako itself, possibly altered by some rare confluence to utilize an existing life-form as a physical basis for manifestation. They had theorized that the beings were likely similar in nature to the Summons that would sometimes become bound to Materia, but there were distinct differences in the frequency this altered Mako, called Youki by the unimaginative Cloud since that was what the energy of the demons was called in the legends and history of the Planet, possessed as opposed to that of either Summons or any other Mako life-form on the Planet.

The first part had been easy as well. As far as Naruto knew Sasuke had been receiving special training from Kakashi-sensei, but the boy had shown no new jutsus in the past few months. Naruto figured that either the bastard was either hiding his skills, an option that Naruto found unlikely given how arrogant the last loyal Uchiha was, or he was just lazy and was merely waiting for Sharingan eye so he could just order people to show him techniques so he could copy them.

Naruto's money was on the latter.

He second part was the hardest part for the blond boy, by far. Even after everything he had gone through, he couldn't help but like Sakura. She was the smartest girl he knew…well, next to his Nee-chans. She was cute, and her chakra control was very impressive, even if she did need to work on her reserves more. No matter how many times she chose Sasuke over Naruto or hit Naruto for being a baka he just couldn't stop liking her.

Sighing to himself Naruto shelved the thoughts for later consideration, not realizing that the mental shelf he had placed them on was high, in a dark corner, dusty, and already covered by numerous such other thoughts that had lain there forgotten for months.

Uzumaki Naruto, King of Denial or King of Optimism, you decide.

Naruto was suddenly drawn out of his depressing thoughts by a glint of green down in a tidepool near the water's edge. Curious he carefully maneuvered over the craggy terrain to the pool and peered in. What he saw inside made his jaw drop in surprise and let out a cheer that he was sure must have been heard all the way to Konoha. Reverently he hoisted his find in his hands, brushing some loose seaweed off in order to get a better look. It was covered in barnacles that would need to be carefully removed, but it was without a doubt a Materia. The green crystal sphere glowed faintly as he gazed reverently into its depths, and Naruto once again failed to notice as his genuinely happy mood affected the plant life around him, causing it to grow and turn greener despite being out of the water.

Carefully Naruto wiped off the sphere and tucked it in his jacket before he turned and scrambled back over the rocks to solid ground. Excitedly he ran off back towards Tazuna's, his former gloom forgotten in the exhilaration of finding his ninth Materia. Not even the memory of how he received his eight could dampen his spirits.


Flashback

Team 7 had been training late into the afternoon on New Years Day, and as Kakashi dismissed his hot and sweaty team for the evening he pulled Sasuke aside as usual and pulled out a large scroll which he handed to the dark haired boy.

"Here, this is a technique scroll with a powerful Katon technique which I believe you should be able to master. It's a New Years present." Kakashi said blandly.

He was about to turn and leave when Naruto's voice piped up.

"Ne, sensei, what did you get me and Sakura for New Years?" The blond prankster asked energetically.

Kakashi sighed and thought quickly. He hit upon a bright idea and opened one of his kunai pouches and extracted a small pink-quartz hair clip and a small blue crystal sphere from it. He handed the hair clip to Sakura and tossed the sphere in Naruto's direction, not caring whether the blond dobe he got saddled with caught it or not.

"Here. Sasuke told me you liked collecting stones." Kakashi muttered before taking their shocked silence as an opportunity to shunshin away.

Damn, I'll need some new tributes to leave at their graves now. He thought sadly as he sped away.

Meanwhile Sakura was busy clipping the hair clip on and bugging Sasuke by asking if he thought she was cute while wearing it. Naruto on the other hand couldn't believe his luck.

The bastard probably only gave us anything because he didn't get away before we asked so he couldn't be accused of favoritism, but boy will he be surprised when I reveal what these babies really are. I bet this one will be pretty useful for combat, too.

Naruto's grin as he ran all the way home was infectious, and more than a few people who normally glared at him found themselves grinning for a reason they couldn't understand. As the boy ran past the Yamanaka Flower Shop a surprised Ino Yamanaka watched as all the cut flowers and bulbs in the shop suddenly seemed to grow larger and brighter as they all burst into full vibrant bloom. She frantically called to her parents to come see what had happened, completely unaware of the source of the mysterious transformation.

End Flashback


The next morning Kakashi led his team into the forest into a small glade with tall trees ringing it. He was leaning on a crutch and was clearly exhausted, but the way he got his team ready to go that morning had gotten Naruto to actually believe for once that Kakashi-sensei was going to actually teach them something.

Boy was he ever wrong.

All Kakashi had done was explain how to perform a chakra exercise he called tree climbing, demonstrate how to do it, and left them to their own devices. This had of course ticked Naruto off, but he had refused to let it disrupt his chakra control. He merely pretended that it had. As soon as Kakashi had left he had promptly made it to the top of the tree just as Sakura had on her first try.

Or rather, he walked calmly to the top and hung upside down from a tree branch while Sakura had had to run up the tree to get going and then sat on a branch. This of course drew an angry glare from Sasuke and a surprised blush from Naruto, both of which just ticked him off further.

Are these two really so wrapped up in their own little worlds that they never saw past the façade? Hell, they keep looking surprised even after that fight with Zabuza.

Inwardly Naruto shivered. He had gotten damn lucky in that fight and he knew it. He had taken Zabuza by complete surprise because the older man had assumed that as a genin Naruto wouldn't be able to do anything. He was certain though that Zabuza wouldn't underestimate him the second time around, so he would have to make sure that he had a way to surprise the man again. And that meant completing aspects of his training that he had been delaying work on because he wouldn't be able to hide the changes in his skills once they were done.

Ignoring Sasuke's question of "How the hell did you do that, dobe?!" and Sakura's "When did you get so good Naruto?!" the blond hopped to the ground and tucked his hands in his jackets as he walked off into the forest.

"I'm going to go train. I'll meet you all back at Tazuna's this evening."

Naruto had a lot to think about, and a lot of preparations to make.


The next three days passed relatively uneventfully for the members of Team 7. Sakura joined Kakashi in guarding Tazuna during the day since she had mastered the tree climbing exercise the fastest. Naruto kept disappearing every morning and Kakashi just assumed that the blond boy was too embarrassed to admit that he needed help with mastering tree climbing. Sasuke was too annoyed to reveal otherwise, ashamed that the dobe had beaten him at something and driven to master it as well, and Sakura was too busy thinking about Sasuke to realize that Naruto should have been joining her in guarding the old drunk.

Naruto on the other hand spent most of his time in the forest, having found a large meadow that served his purposes perfectly. When he had arrived he had promptly summoned over four hundred clones and detailed them to practicing. Fully a quarter of the clones was working on each of the variations of his personal fighting style, and the remaining three dozen or so were all in a small corner of the field working on something that Naruto had challenged himself to do.

Four of the clones each wore copies of Naruto's bracer, but with a different Materia insert into each one. Another four clones were acting as antagonists, using Naruto's sword and attempting to stop the clones from attacking. Off to the side eight more clones sat and observed, watching what each attacking and casting clone did correctly and what they needed to improve. Whenever a member of a pair was dispelled the observing clones would create a new copy of that one of their number, and thus the training would continue.

Another dozen stood in front of a work table that Naruto had produced from a capsule and were working carefully on manufacturing modified kunai. It was an idea that Naruto had had years before after nearly blowing himself up while working on some explosive, and he had decided that given the number of unknowns involved with this mission that having some specialized demolitions ready would be a great asset to his team. Thus he had twelve of his clones hollowing out and filling kunai with his Special Explosive Powder Number Three and then filling the holes with the special detonators that Naruto had designed with Barret's help. Each completed kunai was then attached to a long wire and stored in a special roll.

The remaining sixteen clones had gathered in a circle around Naruto as he sat on top of a rock in the clearing. Each clone had their hands held before them in a Tori seal and their eyes closed. Around the gathering the winds had swirled and howled as Naruto retreated within him self.

It was this sight that greeted Hatake Kakashi when he went to investigate his student's disappearances on the fourth day.


..N..o..

..N...ar...o...

..Naru..o..

..Naruto..

The almost ethereal voice had been pushing at the back of Naruto's mind for months, and once again it had begun to intrude as he attempted to commune with Nature. Naruto attempted to ignore it, but no matter what he did he couldn't block it out completely, and it was really starting to get on his nerves. His patience wasn't infinite, and it had in fact taken him a lot of hard work to develop what he had.

So it was no surprise that his ability to ignore the vaguely feminine voice finally broke down under the stress of his mission.

"WHAT?!" He yelled into the darkness of his mind, the communion broken.

The only response was the sound of a girl giggling and two whispered words that vanished as quickly as the wind.

..at last..

The giggling continued as Naruto felt the vaguely familiar presence drift away. Sighing and realizing that he wasn't going to be able to concentrate properly Naruto opened his eyes, taking in the sight of all sixteen of his guardians eyeing him worriedly. Blinking, Naruto realized that he was lying on his back on the ground staring up at the clouds rather than sitting in his meditative position. Naruto looked to one of the clones, a question on his lips.

"I'm sorry, but the winds suddenly grew wilder and we lost control. Part of the vortex slammed into you and knocked you off of the rock. Are you all right?" One of his clones said as two more reached down and pulled Naruto to his feet.

"Yes, I'm all right. I just had a really odd experience, that's all." He replied as he dusted himself off. Looking up Naruto realized how late it was getting and turned to the only one of his clones to appear different than the rest. This one wore a dark black bodysuit that clung tightly to her feminine curves and her short blond hair hung loosely around her face. "Sera, I want you to tell the others we're done for the day and then dispel yourself. You all did good work, I'm proud of you."

Sera was an altered clone, the result of an experiment of Naruto's combining the Kage Bunshin with his modified Henge that had gone awry. Rather than creating a Kage Bunshin that had already been transformed using the solid-form Henge that Naruto had developed in his search for the ultimate anti-pervert technique the experiment had instead produced a clone that was for all extents and purposes solid, unless she took too much damage or was knocked unconscious that was. This clone resembled a teenage version of Naruto's Oiroke transformation, but with short blond hair and wearing a matte-black body suit. She had also somehow developed her own personality, and Naruto had discovered that if he attempted to use his new technique again he just managed to summon her with all her memories and his intact. She had since become an invaluable tool in his training, able to direct the clones in their training while he was otherwise preoccupied with meditation.

"Whatever. Just make sure you keep your promise and summon me next time we're near a place that sells ramen." Sera muttered back as she turned toward the mass of worried clones, performing a few hand signs that told the mass to dispel them selves. Smirking and crossing her arms, silently pleased that of all Naruto's clones she alone was special, Sera walked back over to her creator as he was gathering the remaining explosive supplies and storing them away and bent over, kissing him lightly on the cheek before dispelling her self.

Naruto just looked up in surprise, a blush rapidly spreading on his face. Even in the two months since he had created her, he still hadn't gotten used to the cold girl who never smiled.

Shaking his head to clear it of disturbing thoughts he hurried and finished up putting his gear away before he headed off into the forest, heading back to Tazuna's house.


That night Naruto had noticed Kakashi looking at him with an appraising eye over dinner, but when Naruto raised his eyebrow in question Kakashi just eye smiled and went back to somehow eating without taking off his mask. Naruto had shook his head and muttered something about "perverted old shinobi" before he went back to his meal. When he finished his meal and got up to leave he didn't notice the thoughtful look that Kakashi had on his face.

Just what are you playing at, Naruto? Oh well, it doesn't matter. Soon Sasuke's Sharingan will awaken and then I can have you demonstrate your techniques for him so he can improve. The stronger you get just means the stronger I can help him become.

If Naruto had known what Kakashi really thought of him, he'd have left Team 7 after their mission was over. As it was, he had months of being treated as nothing more than a tool to fuel Sasuke's competitive spirit to look forward to. If only Sharingan Kakashi had been able to look beyond Naruto's prisoner and his record as a prankster and seen the young man that stood before him, perhaps he could have forged a friendship with the other member of his team tied to his past.

But Kakashi, like so many others, only saw Naruto as the jailor of the fox, not someone who would one day change the world.


The next two days passed much the same as the first. Sasuke finally got up the nerve after his constant failures to ask Sakura's advice on the tree-climbing and had begun to make progress. Sakura continued to guard Tazuna and escort Tsunami into town, and the depressing atmosphere of the town had begun to get her spirits down. And Naruto had continued to train himself into the ground.

He had given up on communing with Nature, since every time he tried that strange voice kept interrupting his focus. So instead he had taken to training him self into the ground fighting multiple opponents. At the end of the seventh day he finally felt that he was ready to put his abilities to the test in actual combat and he fought alone against over four hundred of his clones, Sera off to the side with a pair of clones just in case Naruto was defeated or lost consciousness.

None of them detected the clone of Hatake Kakashi observing them from the trees.


In her icy realm Shiva watched over Naruto, nervous because of what she knew was coming. Naruto was precariously close to a shatterpoint, a point in the channels of Fate that was inevitable and had far reaching consequences. Everything beyond it was blurry, hard to see. The possibilities were ever changing, and the fate of everything involved hung by a thread over an abyss of chaos.

Silently the stern Summon wished Naruto the best of luck, for the results of what was to come was out of even her hands.


Naruto woke the next morning to sun streaming through the window of Tazuna's house. Groaning as he sat up and rubbed his eyes the memories of the previous night slowly came flooding back. He remembered returning well after dark, exhausted and bruised from his training. He remembered dismissing his clones before entering the house, reassuring his surprised teammates that he was alright and that he just needed a bit of rest after training hard all day. He remembered an argument with Tazuna's grandson Inari and vaguely yelling something at the brat. He remembered Kakashi telling him that they would all be escorting Tazuna to work on the bridge early the next morning. He remembered stumbling up the stairs and falling onto his bed pad.

Wait…Escorting Tazuna early this morning?! SHIT!

Naruto shot to his feet as he realized that the sun was at least two thirds of the way to its highest point in the sky and that the other bed pads in the room with him were vacant.

"Hey, where's everyone?" He asked as he rushed downstairs, already slipping his bandolier and equipment on under his jacket.

"Oh! Naruto, you're already awake?" Tsunami replied from where she was kneeling and knitting in the main room. "Your sensei said that you should rest…"

"I knew it! They left me behind!!" Naruto yelled as he frantically ran out the door, worry gripping his heart. If Zabuza showed up when he wasn't there, he sincerely doubted that the Uchiha-teme and Sakura would be able to handle things while Kakashi was preoccupied with the Demon of the Mist.

As Naruto left the house and leapt into the trees, intent on reaching the bridge as soon as possible, Naruto heard the sounds of two people conversing in the woods. He pulled up short and silently crept towards the pair of male voices.

No one should be out this far. Everyone is too scared to associate with Tazuna.

When the sources of the two voices finally came into view Naruto's eyes narrowed and a switch was flipped. Below him walked two mercenary samurai, each with a katana strapped to their hips. Frowning Naruto performed a series of hand seals ending with a strange one that had Kakashi been there he wouldn't have recognized. There was a silent puff of smoke and when it cleared Sera was revealed standing on the branch next to Naruto.

"Those two guys are likely some of Gatou's goons. He probably sent them to kidnap or kill Tazuna's daughter and grandson." Naruto said, cutting to the chase. It had long since become clear that if business was involved Sera didn't like wasting time with unnecessary conversation.

Naruto performed a cross-shaped seal and the duo was joined by ten clones emerging from a cloud of smoke.

"Follow them, learn what you can, then take care of them. Avoid revealing yourself at all costs Sera. Deploy a single clone only unless the situation becomes dangerous. Do not hesitate to dispel a clone to send a message to me."

Sera and the clones all nodded in the affirmative as Naruto handed a capsule to Sera. The blond girl took it silently and tucked it into a pouch at her hip.

"What do you wish me to do once the threat has been neutralized?" Sera asked in her cold emotionless voice.

"Determine if there is any further threat. If there is, remain with the clones and prepare defenses. If there isn't, leave one clone masquerading as me, the rest in the trees as guards, and dispel your self. I may have need of your assistance if Zabuza shows up at the bridge, a possibility I am now certain of since Gatou appears to be making his move at last."

Sera nodded and then she and the ten clones were gone in the blink of an eye. Naruto narrowed his eyes further and then turned away, speeding off through the forest to meet up with his team.

He hoped he wasn't too late.


Meanwhile, on the bridge, Haku had Sasuke pinned down in a dome of ice mirrors. The masked boy was moving so fast he could barely be seen, and he was quickly wearing Sasuke down with his senbon assault. So Zabuza and everyone else was surprised when Haku was knocked free from one of the mirrors by a thrown shuriken.

There was a large puff of smoke and a voice echoed from within as the cloud slowly dissipated.

"I told you before, Zabuza. The man who will one day become Hokage, Konohagakure Shinobi…" Naruto's voice echoed as the smoke cleared to reveal him in a crouch with his right arm held forward with a kunai grasped in it and his right arm held down and behind his back. "UZUMAKI NARUTO!!!"

Hakua and Zabuza both wasted no time in responding, both lashing out with a flurry of shuriken and senbon. Naruto narrowed his eyes and tensed his body up.

I've got one shot at this…

Just as the sharp and pointy projectiles were about to collide with him the senbon needles impacted with the shuriken, knocking them out of the air. As Zabuza turned to ask Haku why he had interfered Naruto's eyes narrowed further, remembering the morning of the seventh day.


Naruto had been getting up before the sun even rose all week, choosing to enjoy the dawn in meditation before he began training for the day. On this particular day though he was interrupted in his meditation by a strange woman with long black hair.

"You'll catch a cold sleeping in a place like this." She had said.

Naruto had sat up in surprise.

"Hehe, sorry." He replied as he stood and stretched. "I must have fallen over while I was meditating."

The next half hour had been peaceful, even while something about his companion nagged at him. Why was she so familiar?

As they talked Naruto felt relaxed, finally having a chance to speak to someone who didn't know how he was treated, who just saw him as a normal boy.

It wasn't until he had said good buy and the woman had informed him as she walked away that she was actually a boy that Naruto frowned. As the girl, Haku, disappeared into the trees, Naruto finally figured out why she/he had seemed so took a deep breath, smelling the air around him.

Yes, there could be no mistake. Haku had been the Hunter-nin at the lake.

Sighing, Naruto had headed off to begin his training for the day, unaware that Uchiha Sasuke had been observing him from the trees.


"So you don't want me to interfere, Haku?" Zabuza asked. "You're as soft as always…"

Taking that as Zabuza's assent to Haku's request Naruto narrowed his eyes and focused on everything before him. The way Sakura was covering Tazuna. The way Kakashi and Zabuza were in a stand off. Sasuke on the ground in the middle of that strange dome of ice mirrors. Haku standing between him and his teammate.

Even if he never sees me as anything other than a dobe, I can't let him die.

Naruto glowed with a faint blue light for a moment before suddenly he leapt forward.

Ice. Naruto noted as he approached the mirrors.

Swiftly he sped between two of the mirrors, grabbing Sasuke with his free arm as he attempted to get them free of the trap.

SWISH

Naruto was brought up short as Haku suddenly passed before him, launching a barrage of senbon at him.

"I can't let you leave."

Naruto let Sasuke take his own footing and the blond boy drew another kunai. As he frantically tried to track Haku's movements through the mirrors and discover what the trick was Sasuke came to the same realization about the mirrors that Naruto had just a minute before.

"GOUKAKYU NO JUTSU!!" Sasuke cried out, blasting at the mirror where Haku was with the most powerful Katon jutsu currently in his arsenal. The flames burned around the mirror, but all they did was melt the barest amount of frost off of the mirror.

"You can't melt this ice with that level of fire." Haku replied from within the mirror.

Naruto frowned and looked down at his hand. He had palmed a small capsule when he drew his kunai, but he wasn't sure if it would be enough. And it would be wasteful to unveil an advantage if it wouldn't be of use.

"Damn." He heard Sasuke mutter.

Another barrage of senbon knocked both of the genin off of their feet. As Naruto struggled to his feet he groaned and removed one of the senbon that had struck dangerously close to the tendon in his arm. Silently he slipped the capsule in his hand back into his bandolier and then dropped the two kunai he held to the ground.

"Damn it!!" Naruto muttered. "I can't die here…I have a dream I must fulfill…"

"Becoming a true shinobi is difficult for me…" Haku spoke softly. "If possible, I don't want to have to kill you. Nor want you to have to kill me. But if you come at me, I can destroy my kind heart with a blade and become a true shinobi. This bridge is the place where we fight…to connect to our dreams."

Naruto looked up at Haku in surprise, his fear currently held at bay as he listened to Haku reveal a little bit of his heart.

"Me, for my dream. And you for your dreams. Please don't hate me. I want to protect someone precious to me. To work for that person. To fight for that person. To make that person's dreams come true. That is my dream. For that, I can become a shinobi. I can kill you."

Naruto and Sasuke both smirked back at Haku, determined for different reasons.

"SASUKE-KUN!!! NARUTO!!! DON'T LOSE TO THAT GUY!!!" Sakura's voice came to them from outside the dome.

The next several minutes were pure hell. Even with his enhanced speed Naruto had been unable to catch Haku, instead being worn down by lucky hits from Haku's senbon delivered via Haku's still superior speed. He had repeatedly used his Water Kick and Beat Rush in an attempt to catch the speedy shinobi, but no matter what he did he was just too slow, and he could feel his vast energy stores beginning to wane. He was still struggling to get back to his feet from where he had fallen after Haku's latest barrage when Sasuke suddenly appeared in front of him, having taken the latest flurry of senbon intended for him.

"Geez, all you ever do is get in the way…" He heard Sasuke mutter as Naruto looked up at him in surprise.

Why the hell did he take the hits? I thought he hated the 'dobe'?

"What's with the face you moron…" Sasuke muttered again as he coughed up some blood.

"Why?" Naruto asked, the fear beginning to grip his heart in its vice-like grip and the faint aura of orange chakra around him, invisible to all but the most perceptive of shinobi, began to darken towards red.

"How should I know…I hated you…Even though sensei never saw it…I was always watching you surpass me…"

"But…why? Why me? I never asked for your help!!!!" Naruto cried out. The fear was closing around his heart, and the blond shinobi was worried that he had just let his teammate die, all because he hadn't been strong enough to defeat the opponent quickly enough.

"I don't know…My body just moved on its own…idiot…" Sasuke said as he fell backwards. Naruto caught him and settled him carefully to the ground.

"That man…My brother…I told myself I wouldn't die until I killed him…" Sasuke coughed up a little blood. "Naruto…for me, please…don't die also…"

Naruto just stared down at Sasuke, surprised to find tears forming in his eyes as his body shook.

"He landed a blow on me and without flinching died to protect you. To protect a precious person, knowing it was a trap, he was able to still jump in. He is a shinobi that deserves respect." Haku spoke as he got back to his feet. "Is this your first death of a friend? This is the way of the shinobi."

"Shut up…" Naruto bit out as he felt the surge rising, stronger and faster than it had any time before. He felt an alien power welling up inside him, a burning fire of rage and anger and the desire to tear and rend.

"I'LL KILL YOU!!!" He screamed out as his body suddenly became surrounded by a rising spiral of red chakra that tore up the ground around him. He was radiating so much power that it carried a killing intent all its own. His eyes had already turned slitted and red, and his whisker marks and his canines had both grown more prominent.

As Naruto began to stand up the spiral of power peaked above him, taking on the appearance of a ghostly grinning fox face, growling down at Haku.

That's impossible for the chakra to change like this!!! And such an evil chakra…!!!

Haku watched in shock as chakra poured off of Naruto's skin, the visible wounds on his hands appearing to burn off, revealing unblemished skin beneath them. Naruto turned his head to look at Haku and the ice-wielder suddenly felt his heart crushed as if it were in a vice. The killing intent radiating off of Naruto was practically visible to the nuke-nin.

Naruto faced Haku and crouched before suddenly leaping into the air towards the mirror where Haku was hiding, a feral guttural growl emanating from his throat. The ice wielder launched several senbon towards his changed opponent, and watched in surprise as Naruto roared and lashed out with a round kick with his right leg. The air around his leg seemed to ripple for a moment before literally exploding in flaming waves and the senbon were deflected away before they could even make contact with the feral blond boy.

Haku decided to attempt a direct attack as Naruto landed on the ground and looked around him for his opponent. Haku took two senbon in hand and launched directly downward in an attempt to catch Naruto by surprise. It was not to be however as before Haku was even halfway to him Naruto had blurred and vanished. Haku was prepared to push off the ground and race for another mirror when Naruto appeared behind him and slammed him into the ground with a wild thrust kick to his back.

Haku struggled to his feet and barely managed to dodge a wild haymaker from Naruto who had his now claw-like fingers extended and was attempting to tear out Haku's throat. Naruto roared and leapt towards Haku again, blurring out of sight for a moment before the first of his kicks collided, launching Haku into the air. The dark-haired boy barely had time to register the impact before Naruto followed him into the air and lashed out with a round house kick. Again the air around his leg appeared to ripple like water and hefore it ignited into flames as it connected, blowing Haku out of the dome straight through one of his mirrors, shattering the ice and chakra construct in the process.

Haku went skidding over fifty feet away from the dome, and as he got to his feet his mask cracked and dropped the ground. He watched with dead eyes as Naruto crouched, his feral appearance sparking a piece of primal fear in his heart. He watched with fear as Naruto let out another roar and then sped forward, his arm pulled back and glowing with an aura of red chakra as the blond boy prepared to punch Haku in the face.

I can not defeat this boy…Zabuza-san…

As Naruto saw Haku's face the resurgence of memories from their pleasant meeting in the forest fought with the beast inside him. It wasn't much, but it was enough to monetarily stem the tide of demonic youki that had been pouring forth from within him. Naruto paused for the barest of moments, to allow recognition to appear in his eyes, before he completed the punch.

But with the loss of the demonic youki he had also ceased channeling all energy, and his punch was only powerful enough to knock Haku back and cause the boy to spit up blood.

"What happened to your intensity? You can't kill me with that…" Haku said as he got to his feet.

"Why?" Naruto asked quietly, his eyes cold but betraying the conflicting emotions he was feeling. "Why is that guy precious to you? Why someone like that, a bad guy who takes money from a criminal to kill an innocent person who is just trying to support his family and his people? Is that eyebrowless freak the only important person to you?!! Well?!! Is he?!!" Naruto practically screamed the last part as the orange-red chakra suddenly surged around him again, a whirling fire of primal rage that radiated power unlike anything that Haku had ever felt before in his life.

Haku remained silent for a few moments before finally replying in a soft voice.

"I had people very dear to me…a long time ago…My parents."

The storm of chakra around Naruto abated until it was a faint ambient orange glow as Naruto and Haku held one another's gazes, Naruto's eyes showing signs of emotion.

"I was born in a small snowy village in the country of mist. I was happy…my parents were very kind people. But….when I grew up and began to learn the ways of the world, something happened."

"What happened?" Naruto asked, remembering his own brutal awakenings to the ways of the world, and those that had done their best to life him free of the darkness.

"This blood." Haku said as he wiped some blood off of his lip. "My father killed my mother, then he tried to kill me. The Country of Mist had endless civil wars, and those with Kekkei Genkai came to be hated. Because of these abilities, clans with such special bloodlines were used as weapons in countless battles. As a result, these blood clans were blamed for bringing misfortune and war to the country."

Haku looked down towards the ground sadly.

"My mother was from one of these bloodlines. My father discovered this…and by the time I realized what I had done, I had killed him, my own father!!"

Naruto felt a faint tear at flow from his eye.

"And at that time…I thought of myself as…no, I had no choice but to think that, and I realized the most painful thing…That in this world, I am a person who is unwanted."

Naruto's eyes widened as he finally realized that the boy standing before him was much like he had been as a child, alone in the world until someone who cared had appeared. For Haku it must have been Zabuza. And for Naruto, it had been his guardians, his teachers…his family.

"You said to me you wanted to become the best ninja in your village and have everyone acknowledge you. Now if someone who acknowledged you from the bottom of their heart appeared…wouldn't that someone become the most important person to you?"

Naruto's eyes widened as images flashed through his mind. Iruka, who had acknowledged him, his family, who had chosen him out of the entire world, the Hokage, who always made sure he was taken care of…and even Sasuke, who in the end had acknowledged him.

"Zabuza-san took me in knowing I was a person with a Kekkei Genkai…this blood that everyone hated…he desired it...I was so happy!!"

Naruto could see tears leaking from Haku's eyes as the older boy cried.

"Naruto-kun…Please…Kill me…"

Naruto looked at Haku, who stood there with tears in his eyes as he smiled sadly. But no matter what, Naruto just couldn't draw on his anger or hatred at Haku for killing Sasuke. It just wouldn't come.

No.

It was more like it just wasn't there any longer. When one truly understands another person that is like them selves they cannot help but pity them.

"Please hurry and kill me. Why are you hesitating?"

"Why would I do that you idiot!?!" Naruto yelled back in response, surprising Haku. "You are beaten, there is no reason to fight anymore. Just stand down and you don't have to die."

Haku sighed. "The day I met you in the forest…I thought you were like me…you should be able to understand…I'm sorry that you will have to stain your hands…"

"Is…is this the only way…?" Naruto asked, clenching his fists and grinding his teeth. Naruto did not want to hurt anybody if he could help it. Yes, there were times when it was necessary and sometimes even inevitable, but that didn't stop him from trying to end things without death.

"Yes..!!" Haku replied.

Naruto closed his eyes as he heard Haku tell him to follow his own dreams.

"Haku…If we'd met under different circumstances…we might've become friends. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."

Naruto raised his right arm and pointed it towards Haku, looking away in shame as a green glow began to surround his arm and hand.

"Thank you." Haku said as he felt the energy build. It felt similar to the roaring red power that had encompassed Naruto before, but at the same time absolutely alien. It felt more peaceful, and Haku felt that whatever was about to happen was likely the kindest death Naruto could bestow upon him.

Just as Naruto opened his mouth and began to speak Haku's eyes widened.

"I'm sorry Naruto. I can't die yet!" Haku said, performing a hand seal and vanishing in a water shunshin.

As Naruto whispered "Blizzara" and a massive crystalline spire shot up from the ground where Haku had been standing moments before there was a massive splash of blood where Kakashi had just been about to run the prone Zabuza through using his Raikiri. Haku had moved in front of the attack, taking the brunt of the damage and saving Zabuza's life, at least for the moment.

Tazuna, Sakura, and Naruto all stared in shock as Haku spoke his last words.

"Zabuza…san…"

Zabuza's eyes hardened.

"My future is death? Heh…you're wrong again, Kakashi." Zabuza said, remaining silent for a few moments. Finally he chuckled lightly. "Great job…Haku."

As Kakashi realized that Haku was already dead Zabuza grabbed his Kubikiri Houchou and prepared to slice through both Kakashi and the dead corpse of Haku.

"I sure picked up something useful!! Giving me this final chance!!"

Zabuza swung, but Kakashi vanished before the blade hit, reappearing nearby and letting Haku to the ground gently.

"Naruto, stay out of this. This is my fight."

The blond shinobi walked over and stood by Haku as Kakashi stood back up to face Zabuza.

"Naruto!!! You're alright!!!"

The blond boy turned his head to look at Sakura, the pain of what he had witnessed and the loss he was already feeling visible on his face and in his bright blue eyes.

"Huh? What about Sasuke-kun? Naruto!! Where is Sasuke-kun!?!!!"

Naruto's eyes widened and then he looked away, closing them tightly in an attempt to prevent the tears from falling.

I failed…to protect him…

"Kakashi! This is no time for sightseeing!!"

Naruto had is eyes closed too tightly to see Kakashi intercept Zabuza's rush with a side kick to the taller man's chest, nor did he see Sakura run past on her way to check on Sasuke with Tazuna in tow. He didn't witness as the two rushed one another a second time, nor as Kakashi disabled Zabuza's right arm, leaving him unable to perform seals or lift his sword.

He did hear as an unknown knew voice echoed out of the mists obscuring the end of the bridge.

"Ooh…you're getting your ass kicked. How disappointing…"

Zabuza and Kakashi both turned their attentions towards the new voice while Naruto finally opened his eyes. All three took in the sight of a short fat businessman wearing dark sunglasses and leaning on a cane standing before a mob of several hundred mercenaries.

"Gatou. Why are you here? And what's with all these men!?" Zabuza asked, already fearing that he knew the answer.

"Hehehe, the plan has changed…Well actually, I planned to do this from the beginning. Zabuza, I'm going to have you killed here."

"What?"

"I never planned on paying you any money. Hiring a normal ninja from the village is expensive, and they may betray me. So I get you missing-nins who are easy to take care of afterwords. I have the ninjas battle each other and once they're weakened I kill them off with numbers…It doesn't cost me anything, good plan don't you think?"

Gatou was clearly going to say something else, but a certain enraged blond interrupted.

So Haku died for nothing? He died for nothing more than a corrupt bastards manipulations, a bastard who would have had Haku killed regardless of whether we defeated him or not. This will not stand!!!

Naruto gazed out over the collection of mismatched mercenaries and criminals, and the rage within him rose once again like a hurricane upon the coast, obliterating his self-control and his compassion as easily as a hurricane would obliterate a city on the coast.

"Shut the fuck up you bastards!!!" He screamed as he leapt into the air, pulling out a scroll and unrolling it above his head. Naruto floated in the air, surrounded by a turbulent vortex of red chakra as the scroll finished unrolling.

"Ending Cry!!!"

The scroll was nearly forty feet long and as the shocked shinobi behind him and Gatou's mercenaries before him watched thousands of kunai began pouring forth from the scroll, each one connected by a thin black metallic wire. Some of the kunai impacted the gathered mercenaries, but that appeared to be simply because there were just so damn many of them. Kakashi, even with his Sharingan, had lost count, and Zabuza couldn't even see the individual kunai as they flew down. As the storm continued to rain down his eyes widened as he realized just how outmatched he and Haku had been against this mere boy. For whatever reason, the boy had not used or was not even aware of his full potential, and that fact alone scared the Demon of the Mist to his very soul.

As the storm finally seemed to let off Naruto remained floating in the air, still surrounded by the red flaming chakra. On the bridge before him nearly a third of Gatou's mercenaries had been outright killed, while most of the others were mortally wounded or struggling to regain their feet. At the back of the crowd the fat pompous businessman himself looked up at Naruto in horror and fear. The gathered survivors could see a pair of thin black wires running from the field of kunai to Naruto's outstretched hands, and as they watched a red glow appeared in one hand and suddenly the massive sword he had used against Zabuza appeared in front of him, floating in the air between his hands, the scroll still floating over his head and glowing red.

"Now, you will all pay for your sins. This Planet must be cleansed if it is to survive.

There was a crackling of lightning between the blade and Naruto's hands.

"Thundara!!!"

Suddenly the entire field of mercenaries screamed in pain as the kunai and the wires connecting them were all bathed in the blue glow of the lightning streaking through the wires. Their pained cries and screams of anguish did not last for more than a second though, as the second half of Naruto's attack resolved itself.

Kakashi forced Zabuza to the ground as Sakura hastily did the same with Tazuna, covering Sasuke's body in the process, the four barely reaching a horizontal position before the end of the bridge was literally consumed in a blaze of fire as bright as the sun. The wind and debris hurtling past them threatened to blow them all away, and more than one of them received cuts and bruises from the impacts or the wind itself. When the light and wind from the explosion had finally died down the four struggled to their feat, shaking their heads in an attempt to clear the ringing in their ears.

Before them the entire end of the bridge where Gatou's mercenaries had stood was gone. The ground in front of Naruto, who was still floating in the air, melted and was still glowing red hot; but beyond that there was nothing but a cloud of steam and smoke that rose into the sky like a mushroom cloud. As Naruto slowly floated back down to earth he dropped the wires he had still been holding onto as he reached out and clasped his sword firmly in his left hand. A moment later a red glow surrounded the blade and it seemed to compress and disappear, much to the surprise of all watching. A few moments later the scroll above his head rolled itself back up and dropped into Naruto's waiting right hand. The flames around Naruto slowly died away and the blond boy turned to face Zabuza, Kakashi, and the others.

"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." He said with tears in his eyes as he dropped to his knees, shedding tears for all those that Fate had given him no choice but to destroy. The sky suddenly sparked with thunder and it began to rain large heavy droplets, as if the Planet itself were crying with Naruto.

Further down the bridge Zabuza collapsed by Haku as Kakashi looked on, reaching out one hand to stroke the boy's cheek tenderly before the Demon of the Mist passed into the Great Beyond with the boy he had considered a son.


Thanks to Naruto's final attack repairs to the bridge were delayed by another week, meaning that Team 7 would have to remain in the Wave for another month after the battle of the bridge. Naruto had judiciously used his Kage Bunshin to speed the process up though, so they managed to complete the bridge in just over half that time. Naruto him self merely made the clones and directed them to assist the builders in any way required, while he him self dug two graves for Zabuza and Haku by hand, and used his skills to carve a proper memorial for them from a piece of obsidian he had found near the tidepools. He was fairly certain it must have been a relic from when the land that was now above sea level had been birthed at the bottom of the ocean, but he didn't question his luck in finding it. The glossy black pure stone had seemed to him the perfect memorial to the pair.

What had been an irregular chunk of rock had become a four-sided pyramid much like Konoha's memorial stone. Naruto had inscribed Haku and Zabuza's names on one side, and the symbols for loyalty, devotion, and family on the other three sides. As one last memorial to the boy who had reminded him so much of him self, Naruto had embedded Zabuza's blade in a slot in the top of the stone, and had summoned Shiva to ask for a boon. The goddess, proud that Naruto had survived the challenges of the shatterpoint, had acquiesced to his request.

Haku and Zabuza's grave stone would sit perpetually in a circle of snow, Zabuza's sword fused into the stone by a layer of unbreakable, eternal blue ice, both the sword and the pyramidal stone encased in a layer to ensure that they were never disturbed. On the day that Team 7 finally left the Wave Country Naruto had said his last good byes, placing the broken pieces of Haku's mask on top of his grave before walking away to meet his team at the bridge.

When he had arrived neither Sakura nor Sasuke said a word, merely nodding at him, Sakura shooting a small faint smile. Kakashi had merely waved his team onward and the four began to trek across the bridge back to the Fire Country, the populace of the Wave cheering as they went.

As they stepped off of the bridge on the Konoha side Inari reached up and pulled on Tazuna's arm.

"Ne, grandpa. We haven't named the bridge yet."

Tazuna looked up at the retreating shinobi, a thoughtful look on his face. As he saw Naruto pause for a moment and gaze back at them with a sad look in his eyes Tazuna smiled faintly.

"I think that we will call it…"


AN: Ah, another chapter finished. I hope you all enjoyed it. I'm sorry if it seemed long, but I personally felt that I did not want to do the Wave Arc in multiple chapters like with other stories. I decided that for this one I wanted to work on the entire arc straight through as a single chapter, especially since it allowed me to rewrite a few scenes to match changes I decided to make later on. And yes, I know that I am evil for not telling you what the bridge was being named, but I did that for a reason. Namely, I want to leave you all in the dark as to what it has been named until Naruto and some others visit the Wave Country again later in the story.

This chapter had a lot of help from my friend ShadowAI, who was not only my beta for the very final scene on the bridge (Naruto going boom boom) and helped me tighten it up a bit, but also has been a useful source for bouncing ideas off of and helping me refine them into more usable forms. He assisted me in refining Sera and her existence and origins, as well as some other secrets about her. He and another friend are responsible for me coming up with the below Omake, since they have been pressuring me to play/watch Fate/Stay Night and Fate/Hollow Ataraxia for months.

The next story in my cycle that I will be working on is Desert Fox Redux, so if you haven't read the first chapter yet, I recommend you do so. I hope that I can have a chapter up by the end of the weekend, but no guarantees. I need to burn stuff off of my computer so I can replace my Mobo, Core, and Ram with the new goodies I got as X-mas presents from my parents. You know what? Scratch that. I promise that by the end of NEXT weekend I will have a chapter for Desert Fox up. There, that will be much easier to keep.

Jaa ne.

-ZI


Legacy of the Planet Omake #1: Fate

Naruto gazed out over the collection of mismatched mercenaries and criminals, and the rage within him rose once again.

"SHUT THE FUCK UP YOU BASTARDS!!!!!!!!" He cried as he leapt into the air, pulling out a scroll and unrolling it into the air. Naruto floated in the air, surrounded by a roiling vortex of red chakra as the scroll finished unrolling.

"UNLIMITED BLADE WORKS!!!"

As the mercenaries of Gatou fell, somewhere in the multiverse a red-clad white-blond man sneezed and felt the undeniable and ultimately confusing urge to sue somebody.


Review Responses – Long time since I updated this, for which I apologize.

Kammari – I hope you enjoyed this chapter. I put a lot of time and energy into completing it to my satisfaction, and even now I wonder if I couldn't have done a little more.

Chm01 – Well, Kakashi let his guard down and wasn't using anywhere near his full power, plus Naruto had a few tricks up his sleeve. Literally.

Moonfal – Here is the awesomeness, my friend. I hope you enjoyed it.

Jaa ne.

-ZI

zerohour20xx – The probes are a good plot device, agreed, but there are major limitations and flaws with all of them, which will become evident as the story progresses further. And the only characters that will appear from other FFs are some of the versions of Summons. I simply prefer the versions of them in some of the other games, and because of how I am explaining summons in the story (later on) I can have them take those appearances. The pairing is Naruto girls, although one is being altered a tad from canon due to age issues. And single girl directly, but the relationship has a few twists and turns and some bumps and quirks. And before anyone asks, no, Sera is not Naruto's first girlfriend nor is she is ultimate love. She is something I have enjoyed developing and she will play an important role in some later events.

-ZI

Warper – Hmm, I think I may have sent you an email telling you who he was going to get with. If I haven't, drop me a line and I'll remind you. Anyways, I hope you enjoyed this chapter, and I'm sorry that I made Haku a guy, but I personally only like making Haku a girl when it suits the story, and here the Haku being liked Naruto bit was very necessary to the plot and to Naruto's continued development. And no, he is not getting with OCs. Well, not unless Sera *cough*tricks*cough* him into giving her some nookie. Of course, she's being manipulated into it by a third party anyways, if it happens. I won't spoil anything.

-ZI

naruhina-otaku – Heh, there actually is a Cerberus summon if I remember, but no, Ifrit won't appear for some time, and he may not get much story time, depending on how I make use of him.

Gunnslie – Nope. The closest thing to a Soldier showing up is Naruto when he is channeling his full potential. He is literally mixing his own chakra and the Kyuubi's demonic youki, which is like corrupted converted Mako, along with Mako he is channeling from the Lifestream/Nature. Otherwise, nope, no Soldiers, as half the elements needed to create a Soldier are completely absent from the Planet. (aka, Jenova cells)

Hope you enjoyed this chapter.

-ZI

OBSERVER01 – Thank you. Hope you enjoyed this one as well.

Ash nazg gimbatul – Why thank you. Hopefully you enjoyed this chapter and the fight scenes as well.

*whistles innocently*

Bobboky – Thanks.

Spedclass – Thanks. And sorry the update has been a while, but I am juggling a job, a novel, and numerous other stories.

King Hawke – He's still hoping to impress her of course, but that won't last too much longer. Coming events ultimately drive a wedge between him and her, and before she realizes what she has done she has driven the only boy who truly cared for her out of her life. But that will still be a while in actually getting it written time, unfortunately. There is just so much to happen between now and then.

Loveablevampire – I'm trying to do a Sasuke Naruto friendship thing for now, and perhaps he may be redeemable in the END of the story, but frankly, Sasuke-kun is on the path to get a snake-hickey, if you catch my drift.

Narutokid2k7 – That would be about the time this chapter goes up. ^_^

DarkSyde24 – I know I've already replied to you, and again, Thank you for leaving me a solid review. Criticism is to me the strongest form of flattery, since it means you actually CARED enough to critique my work. As you can see from this chapter, things are picking up and changes are beginning to appear. Thanks to these events and events coming up quickly, he will progress further and faster. Haku's wasted death will be a driving force for him to improve beyond anything he as already achieved, and is part of what drives him to cease hiding his abilities in short order. By the time he fights Neji, he isn't hiding anymore.

Twilightserius – Hope you enjoyed this chapter.

Gaul1 – Cool. Hope you enjoy this chapter.

esa his eym Naruto nds in his pockets presenting a falsley , his lower face concealed by bandages and his back towards the Konog